Dancing With Fireflies
A Chapel Springs Romance
Releasing March 2014
From Thomas Nelson
Jade’s foot eased off the gas as she passed the marina, not because the speed limit had changed but because her heart had begun beating up into her throat.
She hadn’t expected to see Chapel Springs, Indiana for a long time—it had barely been a year—a year of broken dreams. But then sometimes life took unexpected turns.
The evening sun sparkled on the Ohio River, the pink clouds brightening the water’s surface. Spring has wakened the valley, greening the hills and unfurling leaf buds on the trees.
Jade stopped at a light and put down her window, inhaling the fresh scent of a Midwestern spring: rain, river, and pine. Tourists had yet to arrive, and the parallel parking slots on Main Street were empty, the storefronts locked up for the night.
Nothing had changed. Same brick storefronts, sun-faded canopies, and ancient streetlamps. On the corner, the Rialto theater’s lights kicked on, chasing each other in an endless rectangle. The board listed two movies that had premiered in Chicago months ago.
When the light changed, she pressed the accelerator. Her car gave a reluctant start. She followed the road through town and around a corner that separated her from the river. Her mouth dried as she approached the turn toward her parents’ farm.
The fields would be plowed by now, the corn in the ground. Her mom and dad would be snuggled on the couch watching some old black-and-white movie. She suddenly regretted her decision to surprise them.
Her heart thumped heavily against her ribs. She squeezed the steering wheel, her rings cutting into her thumbs. Her foot never found the brake, and she passed the turn, continuing on the winding road.
Ahead on the left, she saw the cement drive. Lined with landscape lighting and winding up a wooded knoll, it was hard to miss.
She headed into the drive and mounted the hill, her pea-green Ford struggling with the effort. Twilight was thick under the canopies of ancient trees. The crickets and cicadas had already begun their nightly chorus.
She pressed on, following the lane down the backside of the hill, sloping toward the river. Ahead the shingled boathouse was silhouetted against the darkening sky. A lone light shone from the upstairs window through what looked like a thin sheet.
She put her car in park and turned off the ignition. She hadn’t been here for years. Daniel was always at her parents’ house or hanging around the coffeehouse with his laptop and a ready handshake.
She got out of the car and pushed the door shut, its loud squeak echoing across the water. She stepped onto the dock and followed the stairs that ran alongside the building, suddenly wondering if he’d be upset. She hadn’t exactly kept in touch.
When she reached the top, she rapped her knuckles on the pine door and waited. Below her, the water rippled against the shore and against the dock. The wind kicked up, and Daniel’s boat bumped the wood piling. She wondered if he still took it out on the river when he needed to get away.
The door opened, and there he was. He froze at the sight of her, his lips parting, his blue, blue eyes widening. If she hadn’t been so glad to see him, she would’ve laughed.
“Jade? What are you doing here?”
She walked into his arms and felt his shock ease as he enveloped her with his solid frame. She already had a big brother, but Daniel filled a spot in her heart she hadn’t known existed until Ryan brought him home when they were all still kids.
She heard a voice that belonged to neither of them and pulled away. It was coming from the phone in his hand.
He put it to his ear, stepping aside to let Jade go inside. “I have to go, Mom. I’ll call you later.” He sighed, not following through. “I guess. I know.” He grabbed a scrap of paper and jotted down a phone number. “Fine. Yes, I’ll call her. Bye, Mom.”
He pocketed the phone and turned to her. He seemed taller and broader. His hair was longer, his bangs dipping down nearly to his eyes—very un-mayorlike. It looked good on him though.
“Sorry to just drop in. It’s so good to see you.”
She watched his blue eyes go from warm to cool in the space of ten seconds. He’d always had the most mesmerizing eyes.
“You have a minute?”
He crossed his arms. “I’m kind of busy.”
She escaped his gaze, scanning the room. A lamp glowed by a leather recliner. His open laptop was perched on the end table along with a bunch of boring-looking forms.
She wiped her palms on her gypsy skirt and flipped her braid over her shoulder. “I’m sorry I didn’t call.”
“It’s been a year.”
“I know I’m not your real brother, but—”
She frowned. “Stop that.”
“—a phone call isn’t asking much. A letter, a postcard, a text—”
“You’re right.” She’d hurt him. And he probably wasn’t the only one. “I’m sorry. Things weren’t what I expected in Chicago.”
“You had big dreams.”
That was the last thing she wanted to talk about. She followed him into the living room, passing a spare room that was filled with barbells and weights. A heavy-duty treadmill stood in the corner, the panel lit with orange numbers. She caught a whiff of sweat and ambition.
Daniel picked up the remote control, and blackness swallowed the political talk show. Silence crept in, filling the room with awkwardness.
He studied her until she felt like an amoeba under a microscope.
“Are you just here for the wedding?” he asked finally.
She shook her head.
An emotion flickered in his eyes, but he turned and headed into his galley kitchen before she could decipher it.
The wedding was less than a month away. Her sister Madison and Beckett O’Reilly. Jade’s heart sank at the thought of facing her soon-to-be brother-in-law. The whole secret admirer thing had been one big embarrassment—the reason she’d left. Or the last straw anyway. Deep down she’d been yearning for a fresh start for years.
Jade had thought Beckett had sent her notes and flowers. Thought he’d wanted her. But it had been Madison he’d wanted all along. And now Jade was arriving home just in time for their wedding.
Daniel opened the fridge, pulled out a jug of tea and poured it into a glass. He added two heaping spoonfuls of sugar and brought it to her.
He gestured toward the brown leather sofa. “Have a seat.”
“Thanks.” She took down half the glass, then set it on the front section of the Chapel Springs Gazette. Her eyes wandered the room and settled on the curtains—a white sheet hanging haphazardly over a curtain rod.
“Your folks didn’t tell me you were coming.”
“They didn’t know. Still don’t. This is my first stop.”
She shrugged. “Impulse.” She was beginning to think it had been a bad one. She’d already insulted Daniel by ignoring him for a year. Now she was going to beg a favor?
She was selfish and thoughtless. She should’ve gone to her parents’ or Madison’s. She’d at least spared them a few phone calls over the past year. She took another sip of her tea, wishing it were ginger ale.
Daniel cocked his head. “What can I do for you, Jade?”
She hated that he’d guessed right. She didn’t want to dive into that yet. She remembered the phone call she’d interrupted.
“How are your parents? That was your mom on the phone?”
He gave her a look—I know what you’re doing—but settled back in the chair and went along. “They’re fine. Mom’s found my perfect match again and is determined to set me up when I go there next weekend.”
“There” was Washington, DC. Daniel’s dad was an Indiana senator. If his parents had anything to say about it, Daniel would one day move into national politics too. At present they settled for town mayor, a post his grandfather had held for sixteen years, but they probably wouldn’t be satisfied until he occupied the White House.
She gave him a weary smile. “Maybe she is your perfect match. Mom knows best and all that.”
He looked away. Closed his laptop.
“Catch me up on you,” she said.
He steepled his hands, resting his chin on his fingertips as he filled her in. Still a volunteer fireman. His job was keeping him busy. Grandma Dawson was having trouble keeping up with her social obligations and charity work.
“And you, Jade?” he asked when he was finished. “What’s going on with you?”
She cleared her throat, thinking of the stressful four weeks she’d just endured. Why did it always seem her life was spinning out of control?
She wasn’t going there tonight. “I need a job, Daniel.” It was the least of the favors, the easiest one to start with.
“Food . . . shelter . . . clothing . . .”
“That’s not what I mean.” His blue eyes were like lasers, seeing too much, too deeply.
She looked away, twisting the top ring on her middle finger. “I’m back to stay.”
She was sure her family had kept him in the loop while she’d been gone. She’d been living with her best friend, working at a café, playing her guitar at a trendy coffee shop.
And now she was home. Jobless.
“Don’t really want to get into it.”
Daniel popped to his feet and headed to the kitchen again. He emptied the carafe into a mug and took a sip, his white dress shirt stretching across his shoulders at the motion. The sleeves were rolled up at the cuff, exposing sturdy forearms.
“I thought you might have the inside scoop on who’s hiring.”
A few seconds later he turned, leaned against the counter. “You could probably get your spot back at the coffee shop. Including your guitar gig. The guy who took your place doesn’t compare.” His lips turned up before he took another sip.
His smile. That’s what had been missing. She wondered if things were as okay with him as he’d said. Or maybe he was more ticked at her than he let on.
The thought of smelling coffee all day made her stomach turn. “I need more than minimum wage. I’m hoping to crash with Madison until the wedding, but after that . . . ”
“Don’t want to horn in on the newlyweds?”
“Exactly. And I refuse to be one of those twentysomethings eating Cheetos all day in her parents’ basement.”
* * *
“So can you help me?” Jade’s eyebrows rose, disappearing under her dark bangs.
He’d forgotten the magnetic pull of her green eyes. There was something different about her face, though. He studied it, trying to solve the mystery. Same almond-shaped eyes that hitched up at the corners. Same straight, button-tipped nose. Same full lips that so rarely stretched into a smile, he felt like a hero when he made it happen.
“What about your music?” he asked.
She sat up straighter, lifting her dimpled chin. Her rings clicked together as she laced her fingers. “It’s time to grow up. I need a real job.”
Never thought he’d hear those words come from Jade’s mouth. She lived and breathed her music. It had been that way since he’d taught her some basic guitar chords her freshman year. She’d plucked away for hours a day and passed him up within a few months. She’d written songs through high school and given lessons to every friend who showed an interest. By the time she left she’d built a strong base of students.
What happened in Chicago? She’d always marched to the beat of her own drum. He remembered the first time he’d seen her, spinning in circles in the McKinleys darkened backyard, her skirt swirling around her spindly legs.
“What are you doing?” he’d asked, one part scoffing, one part fascinated.
“Dancing with the fireflies,” she’d said. “Wanna join me?”
Jade had always done her own thing. But she seemed different now. Like she’d lost her spark. She hadn’t really been the same since Aaron’s death.
He blinked the memory away. “I’ll check around. See what I can find.”
“I appreciate it.” She finished her tea and stood, her long dark braid slipping over shoulder. “I should let you get back to work.”
Daniel followed her to the door, wondering why she’d stopped at his place first. Just the job? Unlikely. There was something she wasn’t saying, but he knew enough not to press her.
“The family will be glad to have you home,” he said as they reached the door.
She turned and leaned in for a shoulder hug that he longed to make more of. Instead he patted her on the back the way he should.
“It’s good to see you again,” she said.
“You too, Squirt,” he added for good measure.
And then she was slipping out his door, down the steps, and into her car. Slipping back into his life as easily as she’d slipped into his heart.
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