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“They said on the news you’d just moved here.” Aunt Lila pushed her food around her plate, then nibbled on an egg.
“I grew up in a small Ohio town,” Amy volunteered. “There wasn’t much opportunity there, and when I decided to leave, Lexington seemed like a great place to make a fresh start.”
Aunt Lila nodded as if she understood completely what Amy meant, though that was impossible. From a corner chair, Matt sipped a cup of coffee while he quietly observed the exchange between the two women. Amy hadn’t given him a second thought until the curious look in his eyes turned smug. She had the oddest feeling that this moment was progressing exactly as he’d choreographed. And that bothered Amy.
“How long ago did you move here?” Aunt Lila asked.
“Today was my first official day.”
“Oh, my,” she exclaimed. “What a fine welcome you’ve received!”
“This morning was certainly more exciting than I’d hoped for,” Amy admitted.
Aunt Lila rose slowly, refilled the coffee mugs, then set a plate of sugar cookies on the table. “They’re Matt’s favorite. I know as long as I keep them stocked he’ll keep hanging around.”
Matt smiled, as if he’d heard this comment before. “Now, Aunt Lila, don’t be giving away my secrets so soon.”
“Don’t be certain this young woman hasn’t already seen clear through you,” Aunt Lila quipped.
“What’s there to see?” Matt joked. “I’m an open book.”
Amy looked from Matt to his aunt, suddenly feeling like the outsider. She’d been right, Matt was up to something. Impatiently, she stood, having had enough of the conversation. “If there’s something to be said, I wish someone would come out and say it. Otherwise, I’ve got to be going. While I appreciate your hospitality, I’ve got important matters to attend to.” Like finding a place to live and a decent job.
Matt opened his mouth, but didn’t say anything.
“Well,” Aunt Lila prodded. “Are you going to ask her or do I have to?”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Matt said.
Aunt Lila rolled her eyes.
When Matt didn’t respond quickly enough to please Aunt Lila, she charged ahead. “It’s fairly simple, actually. I’m only a few days home from the hospital, and my family is worried that I’m overdoing it. They’ve tried to convince me to hire help, but until now I’ve refused.”
Amy nodded, beginning to understand the situation. “And your nephew knows I’m out of work, not to mention that I’d like to repay him for his courage.”
Matt leaned forward in his chair. “Well, it just seemed to me that you both—”
“What do you think, Amy?” Aunt Lila interrupted.
“I don’t know what to say. You don’t really know me.” And I don’t know you at all, she thought. Though the offer seemed to be the answer to her immediate problems, was it prudent to move into the home of a virtual stranger?
“We’ll need to exchange references, of course,” Aunt Lila said, taking charge. “We could give it a try. See if it works, and if it doesn’t, what harm has been done?”
Amy bit her lip. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I need time to think this over.”
“I’d like to sleep on it, too. Let’s trade references now. That way we can both make an intelligent decision by tomorrow evening.”
Amy glanced at Matt, and by the amusement in his eyes knew the situation was as much out of his control as it was hers.
Amy was relieved when Matt didn’t talk on the drive back to the convenience store. He saw her safely to her car, then waited until she’d driven off. As she watched him through her rearview mirror, the oddest feeling overwhelmed her. She felt like she was leaving her best friend behind, and yet twenty-four hours ago she hadn’t even known him.
Forcing thoughts of Matt from her mind, she focused on the task at hand—securing a room for the night. When the hotel near the airport turned out to be more expensive than she felt she could afford, she passed it up. An hour later, she settled into a budget motel near the interstate. Despite the thin walls and veneer furniture, it was new and clean, and the woman who’d checked her in had assured Amy several times it was safe. Though the clerk didn’t come right out and say so, Amy had the distinct impression she’d recognized Amy from the news.
Only one day in town, and she’d already made a splash. This was hardly the fresh start she’d planned. Yet, there was much to be thankful for, and she wouldn’t forget that. She thanked God for safely seeing her through the day.
“And Lord, I know we haven’t been on the best of terms lately, but I’d really like to change that. I’m just not sure how. I know You haven’t abandoned me. You proved that today. Don’t give up on me. I’m really trying to find my way back to You.”
She sat for a few minutes in silence, and her thoughts turned to Teresa, her close friend from high school. They’d had a big falling out during their senior year, over a boy, of course, and hadn’t talked for months. And when they did try to rebuild their friendship, the first few meetings had been awkward and uncomfortable. Yet, she’d always known Teresa would have been there for her in a pinch if she’d really needed a friend. That was sort of the way she felt about God right now. When He’d sent Matt to protect her, He’d proved He hadn’t abandoned her. But the lines of communication remained strained, and it would take time and effort to get back to the level of faith and trust she’d treasured before her ex-fiancé had destroyed her innocence.
As for things between her and God, she had a lot of hope. However, it would be a long time, if ever, before she’d trust her heart to a man.
Those thoughts led her back to Matt and Aunt Lila’s proposal. But before she could even entertain their offer, she needed to decide whether or not she would stay in Lexington. She had no ties here. Maybe losing the job and apartment this morning that she’d secured two weeks ago on her initial visit, along with the robbery, were signs from God that she didn’t belong here.
But if she didn’t stay in Lexington, where would she go? Who was to say bad luck wouldn’t follow her wherever she went? A quick check of her wallet convinced her Lexington was the practical choice. She only had a limited amount of funds, and she didn’t want to spend her nest egg looking for another city and moving her belongings. She’d already seen how quickly the expenses added up. If she was going to make it, she needed to be settled with a job yesterday.
Maybe she was supposed to go home.
But she didn’t want to go back to Ohio.
And it wasn’t just because of the humiliation she felt every time she bumped into Garry in public, which in her small hometown was often. No, much more was at stake than her pride.
Between Garry’s betrayal and the robbery, she felt vulnerable and unsure of her own capabilities, and she needed to prove that she could take care of herself. That she could make it on her own. If she went back to Ohio, she’d never have the opportunity to prove this. Her parents, though well-meaning and loving, would shelter and protect her.
In the lonely motel room, she admitted to herself and God what she wouldn’t admit to anyone else. She was scared. But deep in her heart she knew this was a turning point in her life, and what she decided today would affect her forever. She could go back to the past she knew, or she could move forward to an uncertain but promising future.
Lost in silent prayer, she felt the peace that had eluded her for months. She would stay in Lexington.
But as she considered the pros and cons of Aunt Lila’s offer, that answer was not so clear.
Matt recognized the blue car as soon as it came into view, traveling slowly up the meandering driveway. He was certain Amy had returned in order to politely turn down his aunt’s offer. And why shouldn’t she? Taking care of Aunt Lila while she recuperated from surgery wasn’t exactly an exciting career move.
Latching the corral gate, Matt jogged toward the main house, leaving the horses and stables behind. In shape from the many hours he spent working outdoors, he wasn’t a bit winded by the time he reached Amy. Approaching her as she shut the car door, he realized how glad he was to see her.
“Hello,” he called.
Though Amy shielded her eyes from the late afternoon sun, she wasn’t able to conceal her surprise, and perhaps even her disappointment.
“I thought you’d be at work.” She turned away briefly. “I didn’t mean that like it sounded. It’s good to see you,” she added with false brightness.
Though he couldn’t be certain, he sensed she felt the same mixed emotions he did. It was crazy that a woman he’d just met could capture his interest so quickly, and he couldn’t help but wonder if she were the one. No, he had to let those thoughts go. He didn’t believe in love at first sight. Love took time to grow and mature, and as lonely as he was and ready to settle down, he wasn’t going to do anything foolish. Still, what harm would it do to take the time to get to know this woman? To find out if something special could grow between them.
Matt swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple sticking in his throat as he looked into Amy’s bewildered eyes and instantly knew that if she left today he’d never see her again. Oddly, that made him feel sad. Yet, if that was God’s plan, then it was for the best.
“This is such a lovely farm,” she said.
As her gaze wandered, he realized she was stalling. That perhaps her mind wasn’t made up.
“Are there any questions I can answer for you?” he asked.
Amy pursed her lips as she gave the matter serious thought. “We didn’t discuss specific terms yesterday. I really need to know more before I can make a decision.”
“Then you’re interested?”
Amy nodded. “Your family has a sterling reputation. I’d be remiss not to consider working for your aunt.”
“You checked us out?” Knowing she was treating this offer seriously pleased him.
“I called the references, plus I stopped at the library to do some research on the Internet. Your family seems well established and respected. I understand they’ve played an important role in Lexington’s past.”
“That’s true,” Matt said with pride. And he hoped to do his part by preserving the family property, where it all began.
“If you stay in Lexington, you’re bound to run into us Wynn cousins. We’re a pretty active bunch.”
“And about this job?” Amy asked, as if she had dismissed any qualms she might have felt concerning the family.
“Basically, we’d like you to live with Aunt Lila and oversee the house and her needs. Your job would include everything from light housework and fixing meals to making sure she takes her medication on time and to help her with the exercise routine her doctor prescribed. Most importantly, you’ll need to make sure she doesn’t try to do too much too fast.”
Amy smiled. “And I have a feeling that’s harder than it sounds.”
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