Read A Bride at Last Online

Authors: Carolyne Aarsen

A Bride at Last

A Bride at Last
Carolyne Aarsen

CLINT FLETCHER WAS BACK…

Still handsome and headstrong.
He moved into his uncle's old house and took over the local newspaper. Yet nobody knew the true reason he'd returned—to finally claim the woman he loved….

Long ago, Clint had dated Nadine Laidlaw's older sister—but could never resist matching wits with sassy Nadine. He'd traveled the world, trying to forget her. Now he knew that this spirited, hometown woman was everything he wanted.

AND DETERMINED TO MARRY NADINE

But despite Clint's persistence—and the urging of her own heart—could she believe in his love? And find faith in the power that had at last brought them together?

Once again Nadine felt the tug of attraction, the pull of Clint’s personality.

And she knew that the feelings surfacing now were the same ones that had plagued her so long ago.

She was falling for Clint Fletcher all over again.

Was she an idiot? How could a heart work so independently of a mind?

Nadine looked heavenward.
Why, Lord? Why am I falling for this man? Please take away these feelings. Please.

She stopped, waiting for a still, small voice to guide her, to steer her heart away from Clint Fletcher.

But she heard nothing.…

Books by Carolyne Aarsen

Love Inspired

Homecoming
#24
Ever Faithful
#33
A Bride at Last
#51

CAROLYNE AARSEN

has been writing stories almost as long as she has been reading them, and has wanted to write a book for most of her life. When she could finally write “the end” on her first, she realized, to her dismay, that it wasn’t. Three rewrites later it turned into a book that was finally marketable. What she learned along the way was to write a story that was true to what she believed and the kind of books she liked to read.

Her writing stems from her life’s experiences. Living in a tiny cabin with five children in remote British Columbia, opening their home to numerous foster children, helping her husband build the house they now live in, working with their cattle on their ranch in northern Alberta—all become fodder for yet more stories to come.

What Carolyne wants to do with her writing is show that our Christian life is a growing, changing relationship with God and a constant fight with our own weakness. Thankfully, God keeps taking us back.

A Bride At Last
Carolyne Aarsen

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the
Spirit himself intercedes for us….


Romans
8:26

This one is for Jesse, Cheyanne, Fern and Amiel,
my dear children, who have had to make do
with a part-time mother when deadlines loom.
Thanks, kids, for your patience and understanding.

Chapter One

N
adine folded the letter she had just read and carefully slipped it into the envelope, as if any quick movement might jar and rearrange the disturbing words. She laid the envelope on her desk and ran her thumb along its sharp edge. As she weighed the information the letter held, her thoughts were intermingled questions and prayers.

She leaned back in her chair and drew her hands over her face.
Is this it, Lord?
she prayed.
Are we finally going to find out the truth?

Nadine, along with her mother and sisters, had speculated on the mysterious circumstances surrounding her father Jake Laidlaw’s death over six years before. It was midwinter and he had been working for Skyline Contractors as a tree faller. The only information his grieving widow and daughters had received was the official incident report the
company had released, which stated that Jake had died because of his own carelessness.

But Nadine and her family knew better than anyone Jake’s penchant for safety, the care with which he had performed his work. Although they didn’t believe the company, they had never found out more.

Until now.

The anonymous letter gave out no specific information, but hinted at knowledge of the events surrounding her father’s death.

From the day of the accident Nadine and her mother had been determined to find out the truth. Nadine’s sisters, Sabrina and Leslie, had lost interest after a few years.

This letter was the first break Nadine had had in six years. Her only regret was that she wouldn’t be able to share a breakthrough with her mother.

Six months ago after a protracted battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Brenda Laidlaw had died. Her determined nature could not help her conquer her illness any more than it could help her find out what had really happened to her husband.

Nadine picked up the envelope and slipped it into her backpack. Her workday as editor of the
Derwin Times
was over.

She caught her suede bomber jacket off the coatrack against the wall and slipped it over her bulky knit sweater. Fall clothes, she thought, flipping her shoulder-length hair out of the collar and retying it
into a ponytail. Last week she’d worn a T-shirt. And then the temperature had suddenly dropped.

She glanced with dismay at the bits of straw still clinging to her corduroy pants and picked the pieces off, dropping them in the overflowing trash can under her desk.

The afternoon had been spent out in farmers’ fields taking harvest pictures. She had never been able to stay as neat and tidy as her sisters. Growing up, she was always the one with dirt on her elbows and rips in her jeans.

“Hey, Naddy, you still hanging around here?” Donna, her friend and the office manager of the weekly newspaper, stopped in the doorway, her arms full of computer printouts. Donna blew her copper-colored bangs out of her eyes and leaned tiredly in the doorway.

“Actually I’m heading home.” Nadine smiled up at her friend. “What’s with the papers? Some light evening reading?”

“Circulation records. Clint wants to bring some of the ex-subscribers back into the fold.” Donna plopped the stack of papers on Nadine’s desk, then dropped into one of the chairs across from Nadine’s desk.

“You look tired yourself,” Nadine said, noticing the faint shadows beneath Donna’s usually bright green eyes.

“The big boss is a different kind of general manager than Dory ever was,” said Donna with a sigh. “I just have to get up to speed, that’s all.”

“Excuse me, can I come in?” The deep voice coming from the doorway made Nadine and Donna both jump. Donna threw Nadine a look of dismay, and turned to face Clint Fletcher.

“I was just coming with the printouts, Clint.”

“That’s fine, Donna. I’m in no hurry.” Clint stepped into the room, his presence suddenly dominating it. The collar of his crisp gray shirt was cinched by a burgundy tie, his thick brown hair was attractively tousled, his face, as usual, impassive. His hazel eyes were on Nadine. “I received this with my mail and mistakenly opened it. I wasn’t aware it was addressed to you personally until I started reading it. I apologize.”

Nadine took the envelope. “Thanks, Fletcher. I’m sure you were discreet,” she said, unable to keep the flippant tone out of her voice. Clint always managed to keep her on edge, and sarcasm was her favorite defense.

Clint only nodded. “I was also wondering if I could see you in my office first thing tomorrow morning?”

“Another editorial mini-summit?” Nadine laughed nervously, uncomfortable with the somber tone of his voice.

“You might say that,” he said, his tone cryptic, his expression still serious. “Just bring those papers to my office whenever it’s convenient, Donna.”

Ever since Clint had started, the usual routines at the paper had been rearranged, changed and turned end over end. Dory Strepchuk, the previous general
manager, favored a looser editorial style and had pretty much let Nadine, as editor, make a lot of her own decisions.

Clint, however, had made it quite clear that he wanted to be involved in the major editorial decisions of not only the
Derwin Times,
but also its sister papers, the
Eastbar Echo
and the
Riverview Leader.

“I wonder if our esteemed boss knows that I have a name?” Nadine said after he left. “You get called a name,” she said to Donna. “Wally has a name. He even called our ex-reporter Bradley Nichols by name. But somehow he studiously manages to avoid calling me anything.”

Donna shrugged. “Doesn’t help that you always call him Fletcher.”

“He’s been Fletcher to me for the past nine years. From the first day he went out with my older sister,” Nadine groused, “to the last.” She hefted her knapsack onto her back, still flustered by Clint’s visit and the seriousness in his voice when he had spoken of their meeting tomorrow. “And what’s with the clothes?” she huffed. “He never used to dress like that when he lived in Derwin before.”

“He’s not like you, wearing some of the same clothes he wore in grade twelve.”

“My mother made me this sweater,” protested Nadine, glancing down at the bulky cream sweater.

“And the pants?”

Nadine simply shrugged. She disliked shopping for clothes. Once in a while her sisters would come
home and drag her off to a store. They would laugh together, trying on clothes and having fun coaxing each other to buy new things. Nadine would take her new outfits home, hang them in the closet and pull on her old faithful jeans or cords. Usually, she dressed up only for church.

“It wouldn’t destroy your tough editor image to dress up once in a while yourself,” continued Donna. “Put on a skirt. Show off your legs.”

“Give it a rest, Donna. I’ll just stick with pants. Makes it easier for climbing up on tractors and fences, anyhow.”

“And fending guys off…” Donna let the sentence trail off as she straightened the stack of papers on the desk.

“Been there, done that,” Nadine replied, fishing in her pocket for her car keys.

“Four years ago, I might add. And I don’t think your heart was ever in that relationship,” Donna admonished her. “A boyfriend wouldn’t really cramp your style, you know.”

“Don’t start,” Nadine begged. “You sound just like my grandmother. I thought I had a few days’ reprieve from her matchmaking. My sister Sabrina’s not been feeling well since she had Megan. With any luck, Grandma will stay there and drive Sabrina crazy for at least a week.”

“Is Grandma
that
bad?”

“Not really. I’d just prefer to live alone, I guess.”

“I know your grandmother. She won’t leave until you have a boyfriend or until you very firmly say,
‘Danielle Laidlaw, time for you to go back to Calgary.’ And since you won’t do either, you’re stuck with her.” Donna settled in a chair across from Nadine, her legs stretched out in front of her. “So my advice to you is get a boyfriend.”

Nadine rolled her eyes. “Sure. I’ll just head down to the nearest ‘guy’ store and pick one up.”

“Well, there’s lots of eligible guys in Derwin.”

“Besides the ones Grandma keeps dragging home?”

Donna winked. “Our dreamy boss, for one.”

Nadine skewered Donna with an angry gaze. “Give me a break.”

Donna pursed her lips as she looked Nadine over. “I think you would make a good couple.”

Nadine ignored the soft sting of Donna’s words. She had grown up a dark brunette between two tall, slender blondes. She loved her sisters dearly, but while they loved going out, she preferred to stay home. But that Clint Fletcher, whom she had secretly admired from afar, had gone out with her older sister and flirted with the younger had been harder to deal with. “I’m not his type,” she grumbled.

“You never give yourself enough credit.” Donna studied her friend, her head tilted to one side.

“I like myself just fine. But I’m not his type. End of story.”

“Okay, no Clint. But what are you going to do about Grandma?”

“I should just tell her to move out,” Nadine said after a moment.

Donna laughed. “That sweet, tiny woman will just bat those blue eyes, smile at you and hand you a plate of cookies. And then she’ll tell you that she’s having yet another single, totally unsuitable man over for supper.” Donna straightened. “I think the best way to get Grandma to go home is to make up a boyfriend who conveniently doesn’t live in Derwin.”

“Like I could pull that off,” replied Nadine. “I don’t have a good enough memory to lie.”

“The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Donna grinned at her friend.

“That’s not even in the Bible.”

“So I’m an office manager, not a theologian.” Donna pushed herself to her feet, pulling the stack of papers off Nadine’s desk. “I’d better get going. I promised my family real food for supper tonight. Want to join us?”

“Thanks, but tonight I’m going to enjoy being in an empty apartment, put on some music and eat
two
bowls of cereal for supper.”

Donna pulled a face as they walked out of Nadine’s office and down the hall. “Sounds like a big night.” Donna stopped outside Clint’s office door. “See you tomorrow, wild thing.”

“That’s what they call me,” Nadine teased back as she tossed her friend a wave.

Nadine stepped outside, into the late-afternoon warmth of September. In spite of the shared laughter
with Donna, a feeling of melancholy washed over her.

It was a glorious fall day, and with a sigh she pocketed her keys. She didn’t feel like driving home. It would take just twenty minutes to walk and she had to come straight back to the office anyhow. She could leave her car parked at the office overnight and she knew it wouldn’t be harmed.

Nadine ambled down the tree-lined sidewalks of her hometown, hands in the pockets of her pants, her jacket hanging open and her knapsack slung over one shoulder. She scuffed her running shoes through the layer of leaves lying on the sidewalk.

It’s a beautiful world. Lord,
Nadine thought, squinting upward. The sharp blue Alberta sky stretched up and away, contrasting sharply with the bright orange and yellow leaves of the aspen trees lining the street. Derwin was the proverbial small prairie town. It had the requisite grain elevators solidly planted along the railroad track, streets in the older part of town sitting at right angles to it disregarding true north and south. Nadine had been born and raised in Derwin. In typical small-town-girl fashion, she had planned her getaway ever since high school started. Her plans had been to take journalism and photography courses and find a job with a city newspaper or small magazine and work her way up. She’d had two semesters of school and the city and a boyfriend. Then her mother became ill, Dory offered her a job and Nadine gave up all three.

For five years Brenda Laidlaw had fought Lou
Gehrig’s disease. When the disease was first diagnosed, the doctor had given her only three years, but he hadn’t counted on Brenda Laidlaw’s temperament or persistence. She vowed she wouldn’t rest until she found out what had happened to her husband. But she couldn’t win this losing battle. In spite of her prayers, God had other plans for her. And in spite of Nadine’s sorrow, her mother’s death had also been a relief. The saddest part of the disease was that while Brenda’s body failed her, her mind still understood all that happened around her. The death of her mother six months ago, while not unexpected, had plunged Nadine into a deep grief that could still rise up unexpectedly, the feelings still fresh and intense.

Nadine drew in a deep breath of the fall air, a heaviness of heart accompanying thoughts of her mother. Must be the season, she thought Fall always brought a pensive air.

She shook her head as she turned the corner to her apartment, willing the mood away. At least she could look forward to a quiet evening at home. Whistling softly, she approached her house, then caught sight of a small red car parked in front of the two-story, redbrick walk-up.

Grandma.

Nadine glanced upward as if to question God, shook her head and unlocked one of the double glass front doors. She walked down the hall to her suite and sent out a prayer for patience as she opened the unlocked door and stepped inside. The mouthwatering
smell of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies drifted down from the kitchen into the entrance and began an ominous growling in her stomach, reminding Nadine that she had skipped lunch.

With a groan she dropped her knapsack on the table in the side entrance, toed her runners off her feet and stepped around the corner into the kitchen.

A tiny lady, no more than five feet high, soft gray hair cropped short, was perched on a stool in the small U-shaped kitchen area, singing softly as she rolled cookies, laying them in precise rows on the baking sheet beside her.

Nadine pulled a face and cleared her throat, announcing her entrance.

The sprite whirled around, and the strains of “Nearer My God to Thee” faded away as she beamed at her granddaughter. “Naddy! You’re home.” Grandma jumped down from the stool, walked over and lifted her head for a kiss.

“Hi, Grandma.”
What are you doing back here, Grandma? How long are you staying here, Grandma?

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