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“I didn’t know she was serious,” Dad said, standing on Judy’s front porch later that night. His hands were stuffed in his pockets, and his shoulders were rounded forward. Judy and Hank were still out when he showed up on their doorstep. The guilt that filled Dad’s eyes was so heavy.

I rubbed my temples and sighed. “That’s because you guys never take her seriously. She’s good, Dad—great, actually. If you give her a chance, she’ll prove to you that she’s beyond right to take over the church someday. Just give her the chance. Give her the opportunity to be something more than the event planner.”

He sat on the top step of the porch and rubbed his hands together. “I think today was a parenting fail overall.”

“It doesn’t have to be if you fix things with her. It’s hard for me to watch how Judy gets treated sometimes. She’s more than a pretty face, so much more than that, but it’s as if this town has painted her into that frame of little miss beautiful, and they won’t allow her to break free. She deserves more than that. She deserves a chance to have a shot—a real shot—at her dream.”

“I’ll make sure to talk to her.”

“Thank you, and I am sorry about how dinner went. I get overwhelmed by Mama sometimes.”

“I think you both get overwhelmed by each other. You’re very much alike, you know,” he told me.

I cringed. “We’re nothing alike.”

He smiled and shook his head. “That’s what your mama said when I told her, too. Buttercup, are you okay? Now, you know I’m not one to follow along with any rumors, but the fact that you are running around with Jackson Emery is a little worrying for me.”

“Why is everyone against him?” I asked. “He’s not evil.”

“No,” he agreed. “But he is damaged, which can be dangerous. I don’t want you to get hurt, especially when you’re already hurting so much. Maybe putting a little distance between the two of you wouldn’t be a bad thing, especially as you figure out what’s going on with your marriage.”

“What do you mean ‘figure out what’s going on’? Finn chose someone else, and for goodness’ sake, she’s having his child.”

“Yes, but don’t you think it’s important to be more than what Finn has been to you? To have the elegance to completely resolve one situation before moving on to another? I know you’re hurting, and your mind is jumbled, but that’s why I’m being so protective of you right now. Jackson Emery has never been one to make people’s lives easier. He makes messes, and I don’t want him to do that to your heart, not after it’s already been broken.”

“He’s not as bad as you think, Dad,” I whispered, my voice shaky.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, then placed his glasses on the top of his head. “If he’s really not that bad, then he’ll be around after you figure out the details of your marriage.”

“So…what? You want me to avoid him because the town thinks he’s a bad influence?”

“No, not at all. I just want you to take a second to breathe. It seems as though your life has been spiraling, and I don’t want you to go from one bad situation to another. Just take the time to heal before rushing into something else.” He placed a hand on my knee and squeezed it. “You’ll be all right, Grace. Just don’t rush into something that probably won’t last. Jackson Emery doesn’t have a history of many friendships, and I’m sure there’s a reason for that. I just don’t want you to find out the hard way.”

“I wish you could see what I see when I look at him,” I whispered.

“And what is it that you see?”

I swallowed hard and shrugged my shoulders. “Hope.”

Before he could reply, Hank and Judy walked up to the house. “Dad? What are you doing here?” she asked, looking perplexed.

Dad stood and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I was hoping I could hear a sermon.”

Judy’s eyes glassed over, and as the tears fell, she was quick to wipe them away. “It’s stupid, Dad. Don’t even worry about it.”

“It’s not stupid,” he replied, walking over to her. “I’m stupid. The way I responded was wrong and cold, and I apologize for hurting you. I’d love to go inside and hear your words, Judith Rae, if you’ll let me.”

She smiled and nodded.

The two walked inside, and Hank came to stand by me. “Thank you,” he whispered.

“Always and always,” I replied.



“Are you okay?” I asked when Grace showed up at my place. She hadn’t said much of anything, but I could see in her eyes that she wanted to use sex to forget that night.

“No,” she told me as she began to unbutton her shirt. Her eyes swam with emotion as I placed my hand over hers, bringing her movement to a stop.