The Comforts of Home
In Harmony, Texas, twenty-year-old Reagan Truman has found her place, and found her family. But with her uncle taken ill and her friend Noah lost and disheartened with his life, Reagan is afraid of ending up alone again, and she's not the only one. When a terrible storms threatens the town, the residents of Harmony are forced to think about what they really want. Because making the connections they so desperately desire means putting their hearts at risk...
Predawn on Wednesday
February 17, 2010
Tyler Wright maneuvered his new black Range Rover through the silent streets of Harmony, Texas. A light rain tapped on the windshield like a ticking clock. He knew he should still be trying to sleep, but with the dawn his life might be about to change forever, and he wanted to be ready to meet it wide awake.
He drove out of town and headed toward Amarillo’s airport, warning himself to calm down. The day held no guarantees. He’d had his hopes crushed a dozen times over the years he’d known Major Kate Cummings. Almost two years ago she’d stepped back into his life, and he had no idea why she’d returned or, for that matter, why she’d left. Maybe she wasn’t ready to start more than a casual relationship, maybe she never would be, but that didn’t stop him from hoping. He was in midlife. He was ready.
Only, last night when she’d called asking him to meet her plane, he’d heard something different in her voice. An excitement about seeing him. A longing to come home to Harmony. This was the first time she hadn’t rented a car and driven in on her own, almost as if she’d just decided to stop in town and had not come just to see him.
This time he’d pick her up and drive her to Harmony. Everyone would know she was there because of him.
Rolling down his window, Tyler smiled into the dawn. In the past two years since he and Kate had become good friends, she’d started talking about Harmony as if it were her home. It had taken him months of asking to get her to just come spend a weekend in his town. It might be 2010, but part of him knew people would talk if she stayed at his place, so Tyler always booked her a room at the Winter’s Inn Bed and Breakfast. Surprisingly, his proper Kate and the crazy innkeeper, Martha Q Patterson, got along perfectly. Each looked at the other as a curiosity.
After that first visit, every month Tyler invited her back and every month she came. Once she was in town, they’d join friends for dinners, and go to concerts in the park or movies at the little theater where their feet always stuck to the floor. They would take walks in the cemetery where he’d tell her the stories of all the people of Harmony, and then they’d stop at the magnolia tree he had planted just because she’d told him once magnolias were her favorite tree. On each visit Tyler hoped she’d take root and stay as well.
As he drove across the flat plains of the Texas panhandle, now dressed in winter browns, he thought about how wonderful his Kate was. He might be in his midforties and more than a few pounds overweight. He might not be much of a conversationalist and he knew he was probably the world’s worst dancer, but he had a perfect woman in Kate.
To the world she was Major Katherine Cummings, an arson expert with the army. To him she would always be the hazel-eyed beauty he’d met one night at Quartz Mountain Lodge during a storm, with whom he’d talked half the rainy night away. Their friendship blossomed through e-mail. Months later a fire had rolled across the open land around his town, and Major Cummings had come to help. But afterward she broke off all contact.
Then one night he’d e-mailed her of a danger the folks she had met faced and she’d responded. Their friendship seemed patched together with spiderweb thread, but with each e-mail, each visit, Tyler felt they added one more thread—one more bond.
He never asked about why she’d stopped e-mailing after the fire. He was afraid he’d hear that he wasn’t half the man she thought him to be. Over the two years since, she’d stood him up almost as often as she’d come to visit. Her answer was always simply that her work kept her away.
He set no restrictions on Kate. No rules. No promises. He knew she had an important job she couldn’t talk about and, as Harmony’s only funeral director, he had a job he didn’t want to talk about, so when they were together they talked of other things.
Tyler dreamed of what she might say if he asked her to stay with him in his apartment above the funeral home and not go to the inn tonight. She’d visited him several times. His housekeeper had even cooked them a meal one night when Kate stayed late watching a movie in his quarters. He’d felt like a teenager walking her back to the inn and saying good night on the porch.
Deep down, he knew he wouldn’t ask her to stay with him this time. They didn’t have that kind of relationship, not yet, maybe not ever.
The day had warmed by the time he reached the Amarillo airport. He pulled to the side of the road and cut the engine. He could go inside and wait by the luggage claim, but he’d be among strangers there. Here, he could watch the planes and wait alone with his thoughts. He glanced in the rearview mirror. Alex Matheson, the town’s sheriff, had mentioned yesterday that he looked like he’d lost a few pounds. Maybe Kate would notice as well.
An hour later hunger overtook him. He gave in and drove around to a little café next to the strip called English Field. He took his time ordering and eating. In his daydreams he was busy planning how to ask Kate to marry him someday. He thought, as a fourth-generation undertaker, it might be proper to say simply, “Kate, how would you like to be buried in the Wright family plot beside me?”
She might think it was funny. She might never come back to Harmony.
Maybe it would be best just to ask if she’d like to grow old with him by her side. They liked the same books, the same movies, even the same kinds of food. They never ran out of anything to say. Maybe they weren’t as romantic as two young lovers, but she’d kissed him good-bye on the lips a few times and she never seemed to mind when he took her hand.
As Tyler drove through airport security and parked in front of the luggage pickup area, he made up his mind that after two years of talking it was time for the next step.
He’d try to keep it light. “Kate, if you’re going to call my border collie your baby every time you see her, maybe we should marry and make the poor dog legit.”
No, he frowned. That was too light. She’d be here for a few days. Surely he’d think of something before she left.
He stepped from the car as people began to circle around the luggage carousel. Halfway to the door, he spotted her through the glass. His Kate. She stood all straight and still like the soldier she was, but he knew her laughter and the way she talked to Little Lady as if the dog were a baby. He knew the feel of her hand in his.
Before he could reach her, she pulled her luggage from the moving ribbon. Tyler rushed forward. “I’ll get that,” he said, covering her fingers for a moment before she let go.
He set the suitcase down and checked the name tag. When she didn’t move, he looked up into her face.
For the first time since he’d met her, Tyler saw tears in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he whispered, not wanting to draw attention.
She pressed her lips together and slowly shook her head, then said just loud enough for him to hear, “Take me home, Ty.”
Tyler knew grief. Bone-deep grief so overwhelming a person can’t express it. He’d worked with it all his life. He knew how to handle it.
Without a word, he put his arm around Kate and walked her slowly to the car. When they were away from the airport, he looked at her. She sat as still as stone. He said the only thing he needed to say. “I’m here, Kate. I’m right here.”
She reached across the seat and took his hand. They drove to Harmony in silence.
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