Cheryl Wolverton.

Home To You





CHERYL WOLVERTON

RITA Award finalist Cheryl Wolverton has well over a dozen books to her name. Her very popular Hill Creek, Texas, series has been a finalist in many contests. Having grown up in Oklahoma, lived in Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana and now living once more in Oklahoma, Cheryl and her husband of more than twenty years and their two children, Jeremiah and Christina, always considered themselves Oklahomans transplanted to grow and flourish in the South. Readers are always welcome to contact her at P.O. Box 106, Faxon, OK 73540 or e-mail at Cheryl@cherylwolverton.com. You can also visit her Web site at www.cherylwolverton.com.

Home to You
Cheryl Wolverton


Fear not for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen you, I will help you, yea I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.

Isaiah 41:10

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To my neighbor Melinda and her wonderful husband and kids. Ill miss you.

To my family, Anita, Doug, Deb, Mom, James and Gayle. Just for being family.

To my MS support group in Baton Rouge. Thanks for all the experience. Without you, I wouldnt have been able to write this book.

And to my wonderful church family, Cornerstone Fellowship. Jackay and Dick, you are an inspiration, and I will never forget you or any of the other wonderful, wonderful friends, especially Kendal, Lane, Katie, Hope, Claire, Lyndee, Jamie, Caleb, Jamie, Brooklynkeepers of my own heart.

When I was going through the discovery of the MS and the multiple attacks, you guys at church were there to stand by me and help me through the day and laugh with me when I couldnt remember a word or help me when I couldnt walk across the floor. You are the reason I didnt end up like Meghan in the book! Such love. Gods love.

And of course, Steve, Christina and Jeremiah have to be added to the list. Being in a family means good times, bad times and scary times. And we made it through it. Im sure more good times, bad times and scary times will come, but if not for you, I wouldnt be writing. I love you guys.

And finally, thank You Heavenly Father, because You are in control at all times!



Dear Reader,

I was diagnosed with MS in 2002. Unlike Meghan, I went to the Web to research the disease and find out more about it. I was excited by what I found because when I had been in the medical field, there was nothing they could do for the disease. However, now they can slow the progression. No, theres no cure, but I believe there will be one day with the strides that have been made.

This book deals with learning the lesson that God is in control. It was something Meghan and Dakota had to learn. And anyone who gets too busy with work or comes down with a devastating medical problem needs to learn the lesson, as well.

Let go and praise God because He is in control!

I hope you enjoy the story, and if you want more information on MS, try some of the Web sites I like to visit: www.mswatch.com, www.multiplesclerosis.com or www.msaa.org or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society page. God bless!

You can also visit my Web site for more links at: www.cherylwolverton.com or e-mail if you have questions at: Cheryl@cherylwolverton.com. You can write to me at P.O. Box 106, Faxon, OK 73540.

I look forward to chatting with you!


Contents

About the Author

Acknowledgments

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Prologue

Dakota Cody Ryder sat next to the ditch, watching as his best friend, Meghan OHalleran, dug some more mud out of the slimy wet pit and slapped it into the pan she had in front of her. It didnt matter that Cody wasnt supposed to get muddy. Sitting with his best friend took precedence over that. Meghans mom had told her they were moving and so Cody was trying to cheer Meghan up by sitting with her.

Cody, will you promise me something?

Dakota was only in first grade, just like Meghan, but he knew what promises were and how important they could be. Last year the two friends had spit in each others hands and shook, agreeing to protect each other when they started school.

Had they not made that promise, Meghan would have ended up with her hair cut by Michael the bully, and Dakota would have ended up having to work with silly Sally who laughed all the time. Meghan had bailed him out of that one. Big time. Just as he had protected her.

So yes, he knew how important his word was now as Meghan solemnly asked him for another promise.

Her blond hair was pulled up into pigtails, curling tightly, and the freckles across her nose danced as she wriggled it up.

The two friends had helped each other out so many timesbut, well, sometimes girls did funny things. So, even though he wanted to promise Meghan the moon, he hesitated as he watched Meghan carefully finish her mud pie. If he promised, hed have to keep itno matter what. And if she wanted him to eat that mud pie

What do you want me to promise, Meghan? Cody rested his hands on his crossed legs and waited, trepidation growing as he watched her smooth the top of the pie.

Promise me well always be friends, no matter what.

Relief wilted him. He nodded. Sure, Meghan!

Im serious. I really mean it, Cody. I want us to always be friends.

Forever, Cody reassured her. He was so relieved that she didnt want him to eat the pie that he hurried to reassure her. If you ever need me, Ill be hereeven if you want to move in and be my sister.

To Cody that was as good of a promise as he could imagine. He had an older sister and he knew how awful it could be.

Meghans green eyes peered into his. Really? Even that? Thats great, but I wouldnt want to be your sister.

Cody had shared several stories about his sister with Meghan, and his friend had sometimes caught the wrath of Susan herself, so she knew exactly what Cody was promising.

He nodded. I promise.

Meghans lip trembled and her eyes filled with tears.

Suddenly scared, Dakota wondered what hed said to upset her, until she lunged forward and threw her arms around his neck. Thank you, Cody! Youre the bestest friend ever.

He wrinkled his own nose in disgust. Whyd girls always have to hug?

Then he felt something wet and looked down.

The mud pie was in his lap.

Meghan pulled back and cried in dismay. I wanted to share it with you before we moved!

As Cody stared at the mess in his lap and thought of the coming punishment for getting dirty, he could only think he was still getting off a lot easier than he would have if hed been forced to eat that mud pie.

Chapter One

Thirty-two-year-old Dakota Ryder quickly finished the report he was reading and scrawled his signature across the bottom. He leaned back in the dark brown leather chair, grimacing as he heard it squeak. He needed to get that oiled, he thought, but then immediately dismissed the idea as yet another thing to do later, when he had more time. He glanced at the clock over the sofa and sighed. Pushing back from his mahogany desk, he grabbed up the papers hed just finished and stood. He was running late.

He strode across the deep, thick, mauve carpet, pausing only to pull open the door before leaving his office. At Sherry Annes desk, his assistant, who was busily creating next Sundays bulletin on her computer, he hesitated. Smiling at the middle-aged blonde, he dropped the reports hed signed into her in-box on the corner of her small desk.

Can you see that these get mailed to headquarters? He twisted his wrist to look at his watch, confirming that the time was the same as the clock in his office. Im going to be late for my meeting with the contractors.

Sherry Anne picked up the papers and checked the address. Sure thing. Jacob and Marlene called about their counseling appointment. They want to change it to next week.

Fit them in. Looking again at his watch, he muttered, Im going to be out the rest of the day. Lock up when you leave.

Sure thing, Pastor. Sherry Anne turned back to her computer screen. Dont forget your 9:00 a.m. meeting tomorrow with Mr. Bennett. He wants to talk to you about the finances.

Dakota groaned. Thanks. Zachary Bennett and his wife, Georgia, were huge contributors to the churchand somehow they felt that gave them the right to tell Dakota how to spend church money.

He headed through the foyer. The dark red carpet muffled his footsteps as he passed between the two long middle rows of white pews. The padded seats matched the red of the carpet.

How many times had he looked out over the congregation who filled these pews three times each week? He mentally calculated as he hastened toward the back door and to his appointment. Seven years, nearly three services every weektoo many to count.

He continued down the aisle, hearing the air-conditioning turn on. Pausing by the thermostat, he clicked the switch to off. The band had forgotten to turn it off after practice earlier. He made a mental note to mention it to them.

Life was too short, he thought, making a list of things he needed to do. He never had enough hours in the day to get things done. The church currently had no associate pastor, so Dakota was trying to complete all of the pastoral jobs himself. Except for the youth. They did have a great youth pastorwho was still in his office working right now, as a matter of fact.

Working.

Just like Dakota was working, even though he was leaving the church. Just like hed be working late into the night on a load of reports hed stashed in his car earlier.

Heading out to his little compact sedan, Dakota tried to think of a time since returning from seminary that he hadnt been busy working on one project or another. There werent many times, lately. At least he was busy doing Gods work, he thought as he pulled out his keys to unlock the door.

But that didnt leave him time for anything else.

Glancing at his watch again, he noted he was going to be late-late-late. He pulled out his cell phone as he unlocked the car, and struggled to balance the phone against his shoulder.

Call, Chandler Contracts, he spoke into the phone.

The sun was shining brightly today, even though it wasnt hot. Summer was past and fall had finally arrived. The wind whipped at his hair as he finally managed to get the lock turned in the door. Ah, the wind. There was nary a day without it on the plains of Texas.

The phone on the other end began to ring.

He slid into the silver Honda and slipped on the gray seat belt.

He loved his hometown and all that went with it; the weather was great, he knew everyone, it was small enough to get anywhere pretty fast, but it was still big enough to have most of the stores and businesses he might needlike the contractors he was about to hire.

Chandler Contractors. How may I direct your call? The deep baritone voice came across the line clearly.

Dakota started his car. This is Dakota Ryder. I have an appointment with Harry Chandler regarding an extension to our church. Im running about ten minutes behind. I need you to let him know.

He could hear typing in the background and then, Very well. Thank you for letting us know, Pastor Ryder.

He shook his head with a slight smile, realizing the young man on the other end of the phone must know him. No problem.

Clicking the phone off, he dropped it in the empty seat next to him and then pushed the gearshift into Reverse with one hand while twisting the wheel of the car with the other.

Glancing over his shoulder as he backed out, he shook his head. Life couldnt get any more hectic.


Chase Sandoval paused as he set the porcelain figurine over the hearth of the fireplace.

Theyd been back barely a week in Shenandoah, Texas, and he had finally started unpacking things beyond the basics theyd needed to survive.

This was why.

The porcelain figure was of a woman wearing a long dress. Her long, wavy hair was pulled back with a blue bow. On her lap sat a tiny child, and the mother stared down lovingly at the child, her arms protecting it carefully.

Hed gotten the figurine for Ruthie when shed found out she was pregnant with their child.

With Sarah.

Sarah was eleven and his precious Ruthie was gone.

Chases heart contracted and his hands shook.

Cancer.

Chase and Sarah had watched Ruthie fade away before dying.

Why hadnt she gone for checkups more often? Why had she ignored the signs? More important, why hadnt she told them about her secret?

Angry at first, Chase had finally sunk into acceptance. However, as acceptance had come hed realized their house in Fort Worth was too empty without her. His job, which had kept him gone so much, now hindered his ability to raise his daughter.

If hed been around more, perhaps he would have noticed the changes in his wife before it was too late.

But he hadnt and his wife was dead and his daughter was on the road to becoming a juvenile delinquent. She didnt want to be around him or talk to him. Shed started hanging out with some of the bad kids and running the streets. Hed had to find some way to head it off, and quick.

But how?

The house was too empty, his job hours were too long, and his daughter was acting more like eighteen than eleven

How he had wished he could capture his own childhood and share it with her.

And thats when the idea had struck him.

Itd only taken a few weeks to get a reply back from the local sheriffs office about jobs and then a few more weeks to sell their house.

Then, hed come back home, to Shenandoah. This was a place where he could raise his daughter, a place to help her find good influences for her life, a place to start over and try to do things right this time. It was a place where they could heal.

Without Ruthie.

Chase hugged the figurine to his chest, and then, with a sigh, reluctantly released his grip on the tiny porcelain figure as he tried to release past pain, setting it upon the hearth just as he tried to set aside the grief and leave it in the past.

The oak hearth was beautifully crafted, the intricate designs made by loving hands. A mirror stretched above the length of the hearth, reflecting Chases own short, dark brown hair and deep brown eyes. He looked a bit haggardhe needed to step a bit closer to the razor that morning.

He turned his gaze from the mirror, glancing around the room. The floors and ceiling beams were also made of wood and shone as if freshly oiled. The walls were white and the windows were tall and narrow, covered by curtains left by the last owners, whod said they fit these windows and wouldnt go with their new house.

He appreciated their generous gift.

Still, at moments like this, Chase wondered why hed bothered with such an elaborate house. There was no one here to care for it, no wife to see that those curtains found matches in furniture or knickknacks.

But he knew.

It was because of Sarah that hed bought the house.

She needed a home in a good neighborhood with good schools.

The people who had lived here before him had built a fort out back and had a permanent swing set made of wood cemented into the ground. There was a great climbing tree with a picnic table under it. All were constructed with good craftsmanship. He should knowin his spare time he used to build things. Hed gotten some experience here in Shenandoah, working for a carpenter. He loved building and thought Sarah would love the sturdy, beautifully crafted equipment out back, as well as the large spacious room and the quiet small-town feel of Shenandoah.

It would be a place for Sarah.

Staring at the beautiful, though painful, reminder of his beloved wife, Sarahs mother, he decided hed done enough unpacking for the day. He was going into town for lunch.

He and Sarah could unpack together later. Maybe theyd order a pizza tonight and pop in a movie.

But being in this house, alone, with all of the memories

Turning away, he headed to the door, scooping up his keys on the way, and leaving the pain for later.


Carolyne Ryder sat in the old-fashioned, padded rocking chair, holding her four-month-old grandson, Joshua. Hed been fussy and unable to go to sleep, while his twin sister, Julie, was resting like a little angel in the crib across the room.

Joshua was asleep now, but Carolyne continued to rock back and forth, back and forth, patting the childs back.

Her daughter, Susan, didnt really need her here. Shed come to that conclusion about three weeks ago. She had a live-in housekeeper who doubled as a nanny and who was there to take care of the kids. Cokie did a great job.

Still, Susan and her husband, Johnny, had insisted that Carolyne stay as long as she wanted. These were her first grandchildren, Susan had only returned to work six weeks ago, and the kids needed a grandmother there for a while longer

So Carolyne had stayed.

But she was restless. Montana was getting cold, a cold Carolyne wasnt used to, and this just wasnt her home.

Looking around the peach-and-green pastel-shaded room, she smiled at how it had been decorated. Two beautifully multicolored mobiles, one hanging over each crib, danced quietly to their own simple tune, courtesy of the air vent above them that blew out a warm breeze. The cribs had pink-and-blue sheets and baby-bumper pads that were decorated with flounces and tiny teddy bears. A changing table complete with diapers sat between the two cribs.

Carolyne and her husband hadnt had enough money to have anything this fancy when they had been young and Susan had come along. Even when Dakota arrived, theyd been happy just to make ends meet.

Oh, how holding this child brought back such memories of when her own two children were smalland she was needed.

She stared down at the chubby-cheeked, dark-haired baby in her arms.

Now her children were grown. Susan lived half a continent away from Shenandoah and Carolynes life there, she and Johnny having started their own life with their own friends and their own traditions right here in Montana.

Yes, Susan had her husband and babies, and Carolyne, though she knew would always be welcomed, was no longer needed here.

Susan and Johnny needed time alone. Carolyne might have helped at first, but now she was in the way.

She felt in the way with her son, Dakota, as well. He was the pastor of a growing church that took up most of his time, and he didnt need her anymore, either.

Her husband had died ten years ago, and Carolyne found herself at loose ends. Dakota was so busy with the church that she rarely saw him. He did, however, still live at home with her. She cooked meals, but many days he was so caught up in church work that he missed the meals completely.

She loved him, but she still felt very alone.

Both of her kids were adults.

What was supposed to happen when her kids grew up? What did she have left to look forward to? A simple life, spent growing old in the same house shed lived in for the last thirty-five years? Would her obituary read that she was fond of puttering in the garden, or that her flower beds took up all of her time? Would her friends say that, yes, she was the one waiting each day for her son to eventually come home and regale her with tales of what went on in his life?

She sighed.

In the other room she heard the phone ring.

Moments later, Cokie entered the room where Carolyne sat, baby in her arms.

Cokie was of Asian descent and one of the nicest women Carolyne had met in Montana. Cokie was quiet. She didnt talk much except to the children. She stayed busy cleaning, cooking or being there for the babies when Carolyne wasnt.

You have call, Ms. Carolyne. Her softly accented voice drifted quietly to Carolyne.

Surprised, Carolyne wondered who it could be. Thank you.

She stood and carefully tiptoed over to the crib and laid her grandson down.

She lovingly tucked the small receiving blanket around him and held her breath as he screwed up his mouth. But his eyes remained closed as he adjusted. As he let out a shuddering breath, his tiny fists relaxed next to his head.

Certain he wasnt going to wake up, she left the room and treaded down the light brown carpet into the large living room.

Johnny was a lawyer and evidently did well at his job. The house was beautiful, much bigger than the one Susan had grown up in. With soft earth-toned furniture and brass tables, the living room had a very modern look.

Pity her grandchildren learning to walk in this room, she thought, looking at the many hard surfaces theyd have to crash into as they discovered their balance.

She picked up the phone. Hello?

Carolyne? Is that you?

Margaret? Why in the world would her next-door neighbor be calling her? Color drained from her face as she realized something had happened to Dakota. Dakota? Is he okay? Fear clutched her heart.

Oh, hes fine, hes fineshush, sister, Im getting to it, the woman on the line told someone in the background.





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