“I need to leave town for a few days.”

“Okay.” My biggest fear was that whatever this was, it had to do with what had happened to me. I shifted the groceries, their weight cutting into my forearms.

Automatically, Drew took the bags from me. I started walking toward my apartment. It was easier to ask when I didn’t need to look into his eyes. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Shooter, does it?” He placed his hand on my shoulder, stopping me.

“No. I just heard the news that a dear friend, a man I consider my mentor, has died.”

“Oh Drew, I am so sorry. Is this the man who you drove to Spokane to visit a few weeks back?”

He nodded and whispered, “Yes. Joe’s death was expected, but that doesn’t take away the shock of it.”

I unlocked the outside door and held it open for Drew. He set the bags down on the kitchen countertop. When he turned away, I saw tears glistening in his eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m grateful I had the chance to see Joe when I did.”

Clearly Joe was someone close and dear to Drew. It hurt me to see him in such deep emotional pain.

“Would you be willing to stay with Mark and Sarah for a few days?” he asked, making an effort to control his emotions.

“Of course.”

“Linda Kincaid would do it, but she’s done so much already for the children and me. I hate to rely solely on her.”

“Drew, I love Mark and Sarah. I’d be happy to stay with them.”

“Thank you.” The words sounded as if they were choked out.

It about killed me to see him grieving like this. Because I knew he was hurting, I didn’t question my actions and reached for him. I slipped my arms around his middle and held him against me, wanting to absorb his loss, take it away as best I could.

It took a couple seconds for him to respond. When he did, his arms circled me, crushing me against him, holding me so tightly that I found it hard to breathe. My ribs had healed, but his fierce embrace nearly caused me to gasp.

I felt the moisture from his tears against my neck and knew this show of emotion embarrassed him. That I could offer him comfort was enough. I gently rubbed his back, silently letting him know that I understood.

How long we stood with our arms around each other I couldn’t even guess. It might have been only a few moments or it could have been much longer. When he did release me, I noticed that his eyes remained red, but they were dry now.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“When do you plan to leave?” I asked, brushing imaginary lint off his shoulders just for an excuse to touch him.

“As soon as possible.”

“This afternoon?”

He nodded. “I need to make a few calls and get someone to preach for me in the morning.”

“I’ll do it,” I joked.

That produced a smile, which was what I intended.

“Thanks for the offer, but I have a few contacts I’ll ask first. If all else fails, then you’re on.”

I knew he was teasing, looking for a way to lighten the mood. “Do the kids know?”

He shook his head. “Not yet. I got the word less than ten minutes before I saw you.”

“Go make your phone calls and I’ll pack up a few things to take over to the house with me.”

“Okay.” He started for the door, paused, and then turned back. His eyes were filled with purpose and intent. When he reached me, he gently took me into his arms and lowered his mouth to mine.

All these weeks I’d been waiting for this moment. Drew’s lips were on mine, warm, tender, demanding. I opened to him and wound my arms around his neck, standing on the tips of my toes, needing to be as close to him as possible. This was good. So very good. I twined my fingers in the short hairs at the base of his neck, loving the feel of him, the taste of this man who had my heart in the palm of his hand. I’d loved before, unwisely, and for all the wrong reasons. I’d never experienced love like this, a love that touched my heart but made its way into my soul. When he broke off the kiss, he braced his forehead against mine and looked deep into my eyes.

“I’ve wanted to do that for weeks.”

I smiled, letting him know that I’d been waiting all this time. I kept my hands at the base of his neck, treasuring these moments.

“I might serve God and the church, Shay, but I’m still a man and I want you so desperately it’s eating me alive.”

I grinned and leaned my forehead back against his. “I want you, too.”

He closed his eyes as though relieved. “I’ve hoped you did.”

He kissed me again and again, as if he couldn’t get enough of the taste of me. I didn’t know how anything could ever be this good. Closing my eyes, I drank in the scent of him, the unique blend of citrus and wool and something else I couldn’t identify.

“I’ll let the kids know you’ll be staying with them,” he said, as he reluctantly released me from his embrace and stepped back.

I nodded. “It won’t take more than a few minutes to put together a few things to take to the house.”

“Sleep in my bed,” he whispered. “I want to think of you being there while I’m in Spokane.”

“Okay.”

He maintained eye contact and sighed. “I need to go.”

“I know.”

His eyes drifted shut. “You have no idea how hard it is to leave you right now.”

He was wrong. I had a very good idea of how difficult it was, seeing as I was experiencing the same reluctance.

Thirty minutes later I was at Drew’s. Sarah raced to my side as soon as I entered the house. “Dad said you’re going to live with us.”

“Just while your dad is away.”

Sarah’s face fell as she gripped hold of my hand. “Did you know my uncle Joe died? He was old, more like a grandpa than an uncle. But he loved us and we loved him.”

I wrapped my arm around Sarah, gave her a gentle squeeze, and told her I was sorry.

“Hey, Mark,” I said, addressing the teenager who was on the floor in the living room in front of the television. The TV was on, but he was involved with his iPad.

“Hey,” he returned, without looking at me.

“Anything special you’d like for lunch?” I asked them both.

He shrugged and continued with his game.

“Spaghetti,” Sarah suggested.

“I hate spaghetti,” Mark muttered.

Rather than get involved in a sibling squabble, I suggested, “Why don’t I cook a dish everyone will enjoy? What do you think of tacos?”

“I like tacos,” Sarah said eagerly. She was already in the kitchen and took out a large frying pan from the drawer next to the stove.

Mark remained silent.

“Mark,” I said, attracting his attention. I walked over to where he lay and saw that he was playing Candy Crush. “Tacos okay with you?”

He shrugged. “I guess.”

“Do you have a better idea?” I asked, hoping to draw him into a conversation.

“Not really.”

“Then tacos it is.”

Drew came out of the bedroom with an overnight bag. He hugged Sarah and patted Mark on the shoulder. “You two be good for Shay.”

“I’m always good,” Sarah insisted righteously. “Mark is the troublemaker.”

Mark tore his gaze away from his game long enough to glare at his sister. “Am not.”

“Kids,” Drew said stiffly. “Do as I say. Shay doesn’t need to put up with your fighting, understand?”

Sarah nodded and Mark did, too, but with some hesitation.

“I’ll call once I reach Spokane,” he promised as I walked him to the door.

It was hard for me to let him go. I delayed him with a question. “You found someone to preach for you Sunday morning?”

He nodded. “Kevin Forester agreed to step in.”

Knowing Kevin as I did, I suspected it would be a wonderful sermon. “Drive carefully,” I urged.

Drew stood by the door, suitcase in hand. He lowered it to the ground and hugged me. “Thank you,” he whispered softly. As he drew back, his look was tender and warm.

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