The Wishing Season
A Chapel Springs Romance
Releasing December 2014
From Thomas Nelson
PJ McKinley was almost ready to call it a night when she heard the sound. She paused in her bed, hand stilling over her tablet.
It was probably just the wind. Or the old furnace or a loose shutter. She’d been in the rental less than a week, wasn’t familiar with its sounds. She needed to chill. She was always freaking out over nothing.
She saved the changes she’d just made to her marketing plan. It was almost perfect. Just two more days. She took a breath, her nose filling with the savory aroma of the fettuccine carbonarashe’d made hours before. Next time she’d try it with pancetta instead of bacon for a less smoky flavor. Maybe a touch less Parmesan and a splash of white wine.
The sound was close. On the porch. She swung her feet to the floor. Not a 911 emergency yet, but she’d feel better with her cell in her hands. Unfortunately, she’d left it charging in the kitchen. Her heart pumped wildly.
Stop freaking, PJ.
This was Chapel Springs, not Indianapolis. But she was used to living on campus surrounded by dozens of students, not alone. Much less set back off the road in the woods.
Her heart raced. That one was even closer. At the front door. She reminded herself to breathe.
She had to get to her phone, never mind the curtainless picture window or her flimsy tank and boxers. It was definitely 911 time. What good would hiding do if someone were breaking in? She eased off her mattress and tiptoed across the room.
Please, God . . . I know it’s been a while but—
The doorknob rattled as she reached the living room. She sucked in a breath, her eyes darting to the door. The light from her bedroom shone into the darkened room, gleaming off the brass knob.
Her breath became shallow. Think, PJ! She grabbed the first thing she saw: a French violet in a sturdy clay pot. She darted to the backside of the door, lifting the planter overhead just as the door cracked open.
Her breath froze in her lungs. Her fingers curled around the pot. The door flew open, banging against her bare toes and bouncing back into the body that stumbled in. A man. Tall and broad.
She went up on tiptoes, aimed for his head, and came down with the pot as hard as she could. The clay broke apart in her hands as a squeak escaped her throat.
The man grunted, swaying in the doorway. Please oh please oh please! He dropped to the floor with a heavy thud.
“Omigosh, omigosh.” PJ danced in place, her hands trembling, her legs quaking with adrenaline. She flipped on the light, ready to grab another weapon.
But the man didn’t stir. She hopped over him and went for her phone. She tapped in 911 and reported the break-in to Nancy Lee, who promised she’d send Sheriff Simmons right over. But PJ knew what that meant. The sheriff moved at a snail’s pace, and she had a dangerous criminal facedown on her living room floor. A criminal who could wake any second.
Ryan. He could get here faster. She speed-dialed her brother and filled him in with a series of disjointed sentences.
“Lock yourself in your room and take your phone with you,” he said. “I’ll be there in three.”
She hung up, staring at the still lump on the floor, scowling. Not even a week on her own and already needing her family’s help.
The man wore jeans and a dark T-shirt. She wondered why he didn’t have a jacket to ward off the May chill. Maybe hardened criminals didn’t get cold. He had short dark hair and thick arms, one thrown out behind him, the other curling up toward his head. She squinted at something on the floor. Blood?
She tiptoed back into the room, her heart racing. It was blood, she saw as she neared. Matting his dark hair, pooling on the wood floor at an alarming rate.
Omigosh, I killed him.
No way was she checking his pulse. She just hoped he wasn’t bleeding out on her floor. A knot was already forming on his forehead, but it was the top of his head that was bleeding.
Thank God Ryan was on his way. He was a volunteer fire fighter, an EMT.Should she staunch the blood flow? But what if he woke up? She moved away from the man, staying by the open front door as if that would get her brother there sooner.
A couple minutes later she heard the hum of an engine and the crunch of gravel. Ryan or the sheriff. She was putting her money on her brother.
A car door slammed, and soon Ryan barged through the open doorway.
He took in the sight on her floor, then shot her a look. “I told you to lock yourself in your room.”
“He was bleeding.”
She neared the man, feeling braver now that her brother was here. She nudged his back with her foot until he rolled over.
“Mister? Hey, mister?” His chest rose and fell. “He’s breathing. Thank God.”
Ryan knelt down, taking his pulse, checking his wound.
Her eyes roamed the man’s face. It was a nice face. Tom Brady nice, with a sturdy jawline and long dark lashes that fanned the tops of his cheeks. A sheen of sweat covered his forehead. He didn’t look like a criminal, that was for sure.
Like you’ve seen so many of them?
“Get a towel and apply pressure to his head,” Ryan said.
She followed his orders, kneeling down and placing the towel on the man’s head.
“What’d you hit him with?”
She gestured to the shattered remains of the pot and clumps of flowers and soil. “Mom and Dad’s welcome home planter. So much for that.”
“Yeah, well, not like it stood a chance anyway.”
She shot him a look as he began treating the wound.
A minute later he frowned, setting his hand on the guy’s forehead. “He’s burning up.”
“What does that mean?”
Ryan’s eyes flickered up. “It means he’s sick.”
“But why would a sick man break into my house?”
Ryan looked around, picked something shiny off the floor, and held it up. A key. “Maybe he wasn’t breaking in.”
Her eyes fell on something else she hadn’t noticed before. A small gray duffle bag that had fallen between the coffee table and couch. “Look.”
Ryan’s eyes followed hers. “Looks like your burglar may not be a burglar after all.”
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