Romance wasn’t what Laken had in mind.
Laken Kroft left home eight years ago and never looked back. Who knew when she applied for the promotion to postmaster that she'd end up in Romance, Arkansas, and much too close to her parents, the town drunk and the local gossip maven?
Hayden Winters has his hands full raising his paraplegic nephew, Brady, and wrestling his guilt over having caused the child's injury. When the boy's father, Laken's brother, turns up and starts talking custody, Laken's influence is Hayden's only hope. But whose side is she really on?
Will their mutual bond with their seven-year-old nephew draw them closer or rip them asunder? Will Laken accept Hayden "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" or be forced to turn her back on him and "Return to Sender"?
White Doves Key Verse:
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 4:7)
The post office door opened and Laken closed her eyes, waiting to hear Mother’s accusing tone. A whoosh of June’s humidity blasted her with its hot, steamy breath. Nibbling on the inside of her lip until she tasted blood, she realized it was the employee door.
“Welcome to Love Station,” a male voice said from behind her. “Hope you like weddings. I’ve got a whole passel of invitations.”
Laken turned around. A man swung an overstuffed mail sack from his broad shoulder. Tanned calf muscles rippled beneath knee-length khaki shorts as he bent to scoop up a stray Post-it. He turned to face her. Laugh lines crinkled the corners of olive eyes.
“You must be the new postmistress.” He wore a day’s growth of beard, the kind that made a woman want to rub her cheek against it. A wind-blown coffee-colored lock dipped low over one eyebrow. He brushed away the stray wave and pressed the back of his wrist against the perspiration beading his forehead.
Until that moment, he looked like he’d stepped out of one of those cheesy soap operas, where perfect male specimens serve up a daily dish of melodrama. But romantic heroes don’t sweat—even in Romance, Arkansas’s sticky heat.
Get a grip, Laken. So he’s cute. She tried to concentrate on the paneled walls, the tan commercial tile, the mail instead of the male.
“You’re the. . .”
“Mail carrier at your service.” He made a low, sweeping bow as if she were royalty, then straightened with a cocky grin and offered his hand. “Your loyal servant, Hayden Winters.
Laken hadn’t paid much attention to what the transferring postmistress had said about the carrier, picturing a graying, potbellied Cliff Clavin, not a member of the hunk-of-the-month club. She cleared her throat. “I don’t have any servants. Just coworkers. I’m Laken Kroft.”
With a genuine smile, he grasped her hand and shook it then deposited another stuffed manila envelope on her counter. He strode to his three-sided sorter, pulled the envelopes from each slotted divider, and stuffed them into his tray.
“Do you live around here?”
“I moved from Little Rock last week.” She set a flats tray full of magazines next to him. “No packages today.”
“Since my parents retired here a few years back, I moved from North Little Rock last month so my nephew could be near them.”
She propped her hands on her hips. “I’d like to know how you got to transfer exactly where you wanted to.”
“I prayed for God to work it out and waited almost a year.”
Her mouth went dry. Well, he was almost perfect. Too bad he had to start talking about God. She went back to stamping, with more determination.
Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk reverberated in Laken’s ears. With perfect precision, she imprinted the famous postmark barely at the edge of the entwined wedding rings on the fancy postage stamp. Just like the former postmistress had shown her.
“Do you have family in these parts?” Hayden scratched his chin. “Seems like there’s a lady at my church in Rose Bud by the name of Kroft.”
Laken stifled a sigh. If only her promotion could have materialized somewhere else. Somewhere far away from Searcy and her parents and all the people who knew them.
Already this morning, three customers had figured out her family ties. An imaginary clock ticked in Laken’s left temple. Any minute, Mother would show up with a disapproving frown ready to dredge up the past.
Surely Mother had better things to do than drive forty-five minutes just to hassle Laken.
Hayden cocked an eyebrow.
She pursed her lips.
“Never mind. Just trying to make conversation.” He stuffed more mail into his case.
Keeping rhythm with the tick-tock in her head, Laken clunk-clunked the metal stamp a little harder.
The door from the lobby opened and seemed to suck the cool air from the building. Forcing a smile, Laken turned to greet her next customer. Her smile died.
Over-bright, bottle-red hair and garish watermelon-colored lipstick drew attention to the wrinkles in her mother’s face. Too many for a woman not quite fifty.
“Laken, I can’t believe you’re here.”
Something in Mother’s green eyes tugged at her. Hurt? No. No one could hurt Sylvie Kroft, even if they ran her down with a mail truck. She’d just come up slinging gossip about the driver.
“I thought certainly Mrs. Jones was wrong.” Mother propped her hands on still-slim hips. “How could you, my own daughter, not call or visit for eight years?” Her voice grew louder and more shrewish with each word. “Eight years. Then land a job as postmistress and arrive in Romance without so much as a letter?”
“No one writes letters anymore.” Despite her trembly insides, Laken willed herself not to break eye contact. “E-mail is the lament of the U.S. Postal Service.”
Laken could almost see the steam erupt from her mother’s ears.
“Young lady.” With a forefinger, Mother jabbed the air in Laken’s direction.
“Ahem.” Hayden stepped into Mother’s line of view, with a great show of clearing his throat, followed by a forced cough. “Hello, Mrs. Kroft.”
Mother flashed a trademark fake smile. “I’ve seen you at church lately. You’re. . .”
“Hayden Winters.” He shook her hand.
“You have the young boy in the wheelchair.” Mother cocked her head to the side, striving for innocence. “But I haven’t seen a wife.”
Hayden stiffened, and the light in his eyes dimmed. “Brady is my nephew. My sister died almost three years ago.”
“Oh my.” Mother clasped a hand over her mouth as if she’d intended no harm. “I’m so sorry. Was it a car accident? Is that what happened to Brady?”
Laken wished the mountain of wedding invitations would swallow her up as Hayden’s inner light snuffed completely out.
SHANNON TAYLOR VANNATTER is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife/writer. When not writing, she runs circles in the care and feeding of her husband, Grant, their eight-year-old son, and their church congregation. Home is a central Arkansas zoo with two charcoal gray cats, a chocolate lab, a dragonfish, and three dachshunds in weenie dog heaven. If given the chance to clean house or write, she’d rather write. Her goal is to hire Alice from the Brady Bunch.
Today's Question: Over a dozen U.S. cities and towns with romantic names have a re-mailing program, where romantics mail wedding invitations or Valentine cards to be re-mailed with a romantic postmark. Have you ever participated in the re-mailing program?
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