A Chapel Springs Romance
Releasing June 2013
From Thomas Nelson
Madison McKinley scanned the crowded town hall, wondering how many of her friends and neighbors she’d have to fight to get what she came for. Half of Chapel Springs had turned out to support the fire department. The faint scent of popcorn and coffee from last night’s Rotary club meeting still lingered in the air, and the buzz of excitement was almost palpable.
When she reached the front of the line, she registered for her paddle then looked for her mom. She spotted Joann McKinley seated on the left, near the old brick wall.
Before Madison could move, Dottie Meyers appeared in the busy aisle. “Madison, hello, dear. I was wondering if I could bother you about Ginger. I found a little knot behind her leg. I’m worried it might be something serious.”
Last time it had only been a burr. Still, Madison set a hand on the woman’s arm. “I’m sure it’s fine, but I’ll have Cassidy call you tomorrow and squeeze you in, okay?”
“All right, everyone,” the emcee was saying into the mike. “It’s about that time.”
“Thank you so much, dear,” Dottie was saying. “I’m so excited about this year’s play. It’s called Love on the Line. You are planning on coming out again, aren’t you? You’ll be fabulous as Eleanor.”
Auditions were still two months away. “Looking forward to it. See you tomorrow.” Madison participated in the town’s production every year. She enjoyed the theater, and the proceeds supported the local animal shelter, a cause she was committed to.
She turned toward her mom and ran straight into a wall. “Ooomph.”
Or a chest. A hard chest.
She looked up into the face of the one man she least wanted to see, much less slam into. She jumped back, looking square into his unfathomable coal-colored eyes.
She nodded once. “Beckett.”
He returned the nod. “Madison.”
His black hair was tousled. He wore a Dewitt’s Marina work shirt and at least two days’ stubble. His jaw twitched. She hadn’t spoken to him since she’d confronted him two weeks ago—for all the good it had done.
“Please take your seats,” the emcee said.
She stepped to the left at the same time as Beckett. He was wide as Boulder Creek and twice as dangerous. She’d always thought so. The incident with her little sister had only confirmed it.
“Excuse me,” she said.
He slid right and swept his arm out as if to say After you, princess.
She shot him a look, then hurried down the aisle and slid into a metal chair beside her mom.
“Hi, sweetie. Good day?” Mom’s short blond hair and blue eyes sparkled under the florescent lights, but it was her smile that lit the room.
“Twelve dogs, seven cats, two bunnies, and a partridge in a pear tree.”
Beckett passed her row and slid into a seat up front by his sister. Layla had long brown hair and a model-pretty face. Their mom must’ve been beautiful, though Madison didn’t remember her. Beckett leaned over and whispered something to his sister.
Madison tore her eyes away and loosened her death grip on the auction paddle. She refused to think about Beckett O’Reilly tonight.
The emcee took the podium and spoke about the importance of the fire station and their financial needs, then she introduced the auctioneer—hardly necessary since he also ran the local gas station. Moments later the bidding was underway.
Madison’s eyes swung to Beckett’s dark head. She could swear he was stalking her lately. He seemed to be everywhere she turned. If anything, the man should be avoiding her. Should feel ashamed of . . . well, whatever he did to Jade.
Madison tracked the auction items, ticking off each one as they sold to the highest bidder. A handmade quilt, piano lessons, pie of the month, a cabin rental at Patoka Lake, and dozens of other things generously donated by the community.
Someone had made a miniature replica of the town’s sign. Welcome to Chapel Springs, Indiana, it said. Prettiest River Town in America. A writer from Midwest Living had used the phrase twelve years ago, and the town had squeezed every last drop from it.
Evangeline Simmons, eighty-five if she was a day, amused all by driving up the bids. It was no secret that the fire department had saved her beloved Persian from a tree last month. So far her generosity had left her with two items she probably had no need for. But money was no object for Evangeline.
People trickled out as the auction wore on. Beckett left after losing a tool kit. Over an hour later, Madison grew tense as her item came up. The auctioneer read from the sheet.
“All right, ladies and gentlemen, this next one’s a winner. Dewitt Marina has kindly donated a sailing/regatta package. Lessons taught by sailing enthusiast Evan Higgins. Learn how to race on the beautiful Ohio River, just in time for our 45th Annual River Sail Regatta, and sail with Evan Higgins, winner of the regatta for two years running! Now, who’ll give me five hundred?”
Madison’s grip tightened on the handle, waiting for the auctioneer to lower the bid. Her breath caught in her lungs. Patience, girl.
“All right, a hundred, who’ll give me a hundred? A hundred-dollar bid . . .”
Casually, Madison lifted her paddle.
“A hundred-dollar bid, now a hundred fifty, who’ll give me one and a half . . . ?”
In her peripheral vision she could see her mom’s head swing toward her just as Evangeline raised her paddle—and the bid.
“A hundred fifty, who’ll give me two, now two . . .”
Madison lifted her paddle, keeping her eyes straight ahead.
“Two hundred, now who’ll give me two fifty, fifty, fifty . . . ? Got it! Now three, three hundred, who’ll give me three . . .”
Madison sighed, waited a moment before nodding.
“Three, now who’ll give me three and a half, three fifty, fifty, fifty . . . ?”
Evangeline turned toward Madison, her eyes twinkling. She raised her paddle.
Evangeline. Madison hadn’t counted on spending so much. Would serve the lady right if she dropped out. Just imagining the spry old woman on the bow of a boat, trying to manage the ropes and sails and whatnot, all four-foot-eleven of her . . . It was tempting.
Madison could, after all, just go down to the marina and buy the lessons, but then she wouldn’t be virtually assured of a win, would she? She needed Evan Higgins for that.
“Three fifty, do I hear three fifty . . . got it! Now four, who’ll give me four . . . ?”
A murmur had started in the crowd that remained, a few chuckling at Evangeline’s antics.
The woman lifted her paddle.
“And now we’re at four and a half, four and a half, who’ll give me five, five, five . . . ?”
Madison clenched her jaw. She glared at Evangeline’s silver head. It’s a good cause. It’s a good cause.
“And we have five, five, who’ll give me five fifty, five fifty, five and a half . . . ?”
The rumbling had grown louder, though half the crowd was gone now that the auction was nearly over. The remaining people were being rewarded for their patience with a good show.
“Five fifty, fifty, fifty . . . ?”
Evangeline turned, and their eyes met. Her thin lips widened into a grin, then she folded her hands on top of her paddle.
“I’ve got five, now, five fifty, five fifty . . . anyone, five fifty . . . and . . . sold at five hundred to Madison McKinley.”
Madison expelled a heavy breath. She was five hundred dollars poorer, but she had her lessons. She was going to learn to sail, and she was going to win the regatta. For Michael’s sake.
Back to Denise's Books