After serving six years in prison for the false charge of manslaughter in the death of his wife, Kurt Jansen must overcome a world of bitterness if he wants to start a new life. But his first priority is securing a restoration job to pay a private investigator to find the real killer and a lawyer to get his kids back.
Hiring a convicted wife-killer isn't what kind-hearted Molly Finnerty bargains for as part of the prison ministry she supports. However, she begins to believe Kurt's claim of innocence and gradually finds a great deal to like about him—perhaps more to like than she should.
Can they overcome the past and find forgiveness and love?
Kurt Jansen sat in his rusty, red pickup and stared at the Victorian house surrounded by tall pines and bare-branched hardwoods. Faded black shutters hanging cockeyed by a single hinge and peeling white paint on the clapboards testified to many years of neglect. The place didn’t look much better than the penitentiary where he’d spent the last six years, but it was better than staring at prison bars.
The structure resembled his life. A life in disrepair.
He stared at the photo in his hand. His heart twisted at the innocent faces of his two children. He vowed to put aside all the bitterness and anger from his unjust incarceration in order to get this restoration job. This was the first step to seeing his children again—the children he hadn’t seen since they were six months old. He put the photo back in his wallet.
Approaching the house, he wondered whether the inside looked as bad as the outside. Outward appearances didn’t always tell the whole story, in houses or in lives. Piles of melting, dirty snow lay alongside the lane, sidewalk, and in the shady parts of the surrounding acreage. Despite his vow, his heart felt like the snow—cold and corrupted. Resentment and despair still hovered in the dark corners, even though he’d prayed to God to take them away.
Stepping onto the wooden porch, he let the vision of an elderly lady with white hair, glasses, and sensible shoes flit through his mind. The image suited the proprietress of the future Hawthorne Valley Inn of Hawthorne, Massachusetts. Was she the answer to his prayers? Even though he prayed, he still wasn’t sure whether God answered prayers.
The floorboards creaked as Kurt stepped toward the door. He wanted to pray that the Lord would help him get this job, but he couldn’t bring himself to voice the words. Instead, he released a harsh sigh and rapped his knuckles on the weathered wood of the warped screen door. It rattled in the frame.
Moments later, the inside door opened. A tall, slender young woman, dressed in blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt spattered with several colors of paint, answered the door. She stared at him through the screen with wary, pearl-gray eyes. “May I help you?”
Her throaty voice reminded him of a female disc jockey who played love songs on the radio late at night. Curly strawberry-blonde hair framed her face and fell to her shoulders. A sprinkling of freckles across her nose made an attractive face strangely youthful, but he sensed she was older than she appeared. He figured she was only a little younger than his thirty-two years. Somehow she seemed familiar, but he didn’t know why.
“I’m Kurt Jansen. I’m here to see Molly Finnerty.”
“I’m Molly Finnerty.” She squinted as she continued to view him through the screen. “Are you the one Steve Barnett sent about the restoration work?”
“Yes.” Kurt tried to reconcile his mental image of Molly Finnerty and the woman standing before him. He had gotten it so wrong. What had Steve said to leave the impression that the woman he was meeting was someone’s grandmother rather than a beautiful young woman? This wasn’t what he’d expected or wanted. But he needed a better job. “You’re the Molly Finnerty who’s planning to make this house a bed-and-breakfast?”
“That’s me. Were you expecting someone else?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Just someone much older. That’s all.” Forcing himself to smile, he pulled an envelope from his pocket and held it out. “Steve sent this with me. Did he talk to you?”
“Yes, Steve mentioned that you’d be coming by.” She opened the screen door and stepped aside. Taking the envelope, she smiled in return. “Come in and get out of the cold. I suppose Steve’s been making me sound like an aging widow again.”
“He didn’t say you were aging, but I have to admit that his saying you’re a widow made me think I’d find you in your rocker with a cane nearby.” Kurt walked through the doorway. The smell of fresh paint permeated the room.
“I’m not in the geriatric crowd yet.” Closing the door behind them, she laughed.
The pleasant sound of her laughter echoed off the bare walls and floors of the empty rooms and drew Kurt’s thoughts away from her and toward the interior of the house. Plank hardwood flooring, in desperate need of refinishing, ran throughout all the rooms within his sight. A staircase rose along the foyer wall to a landing. A small round stained-glass window overlooked the landing where the staircase turned at a ninety-degree angle and continued to the second floor. The banister needed work as well. On his right, decorative columns separated the foyer from the living room, and a fireplace stood in the far wall.
“Well, what do you think?” Molly’s sultry voice brought his attention back to her.
He looked her directly in the eye. “I’d like the job.”
She stared back at him, her gray eyes not giving a clue as to what she was thinking. “And why should I hire you?”
He wanted to blurt out, Because I need this job. But he managed to conceal his desperation. “I’ve done several restorations of Victorian houses. I have some photos of my previous work. Would you like to see them?”
“Great. They’re out in my pickup. I’ll get them.” As he moved toward the door, he let a sliver of hope settle in his heart.
“While you’re gone, I have a phone call to make.” She pointed to the deacon’s bench sitting near the front door. “You can wait here, if I’m not done when you get back.”
“Sure. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Kurt stepped outside. What had Steve told her? Even if she didn’t already know his recent history, she would certainly find out. He headed for his pickup and hoped the quality of his work would outweigh his past.
About The Author
Merrillee Whren is an award-winning author who writes inspirational romance. She is the winner of the 2003 Golden Heart Award for best inspirational romance manuscript presented by Romance Writers of America. She has also been the recipient of the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award and the Maggie Award for Excellence. She is married to her own personal hero, her husband of thirty plus years, and has two grown daughters. She has lived in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Chicago and Florida but now makes her home in the Arizona desert. When she’s not writing or working for her husband’s recruiting firm, she spends her free time playing tennis or walking while she does the plotting for her novels.
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