Authors: Debra Clopton
To his surprise Dottie shook her head, and her eyes misted with tears.
“Only by the grace of God.” She blinked away the tears. “God's faithful. He can take the worst of times and make something good.”
Brady was in trouble. He knew it the moment she smiled at him again.
He knew the moment she lifted her eyes to the sky and winked, like she and God had a secret. It was as if she were defying the tears and the anger to grasp the joy.
Oh, yeah, Brady was in trouble all right, because although he'd only known Dottie Hart for less than thirty minutes, he knew he wanted in on her secret.
The Trouble with Lacy Brown
And Baby Makes Five
No Place Like Home
was a 2004 Golden Heart finalist in the inspirational category.
No Place Like Home
is her third novel with Love Inspired. She makes her home in Texas with her family.
Never lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
This book is dedicated to my mom and dad, Myra and Willie Patrick. I would have chosen you above all others. What a blessing you are to me.
And to my father-in-law, Walter Clopton, and his wife, Nancy, my friend. I love you both dearly.
And last but certainly not least, this book is dedicated with great respect and appreciation to all the rescue workers across the country. But especially to the Madisonville, Texas, Volunteer Fire Department and all the men and women who make up our wonderful skilled and dedicated rescue team, my sister Cathy Patrick included. You are heroes. May God bless you all!
lancing at the lone figure standing in the reflection of her side mirror, Dottie Hart stomped hard on the brake and wrangled her prehistoric motor home to a groaning halt.
What in the world is that kid thinking?
In less than a shake and a wiggle Dottie was out the door watching the girl jog toward her along the shoulder of the hectic highway. The world was full of crazed people just waiting for the opportunity to snatch up a girl like thatâ¦and here she was hitchhiking!
Well, it wasn't happening today, because Dottie's new prayer each morning was for the Lord to use her any way He chose. Looked like today He'd put this girl in her pathway.
“Hey, thanks for stopping,” the girl said, dropping her bag with a thud at Dottie's feet.
She looked to be in her late teens, maybe even twenty, older than Dottie had first thought, but still too young to be hitchhikingâ¦no one was old enough to do that!
“Don't thank me. Thank the Lord,” Dottie said. “He's the one watching your back today.”
Thank You, Father. Thank You so much for putting me in her pathway.
The teen lifted her chin defiantly, eyebrows knitted together. “Oh, brother! You aren't one of those wacko people who go around picking up hitchhikers just so you can cram that religion stuff down their throats, are you?”
Dottie shook her head. “Do I look that brave? I just thought I'd mention why I decided to give you a lift.”
The girl relaxed a bit but still looked wary. “Okay, I'll accept the lift 'cause I need it. Just don't get carried away with the God stuff. Me and the big guy aren't getting along so well right now.”
Dottie studied the teen. “That's too bad. Here, let me help you carry that thing.”
“Hey, hey!” The girl jerked her bag away when Dottie reached for it. “I carry my own bags, lady. You may have wheels but I've got backbone. And I gotta tell you, by the look of your wheels, my backbone's looking like it's the winner. How old is this thing anyway?”
“Hey! Watch what you say about my rig!” Dottie patted the side of her RV. “It's ugly, sure, but this baby's gonna get us where we need to go long before it wheezes its last breath.” Walking to the cabin door, she opened it then glanced over her shoulder. “If you're still up for a ride, chuck that bag inside and let's hit the road.”
Climbing back into her faithful RV, Dottie tried to calm the jitters threatening to set in. Tried to reassure herself that it was going to be fine.
You've really picked up a hitchhiker!
True, but calm down, she told herself. There were no hoodlums hiding in the bushes, using the girl as a front. She didn't appear to be a teenage ax murderer, so everything was going to be okay. Really.
A woman had to take a risk every once in a while, didn't she? On the other hand, if she truly believed God put people in a person's life for a reason, then this was no accidentâand she did believe that with all her heart.
God had given her a second chance at life and she'd made a promise that she was bound and determined to follow through with it. This was a test.
Not that she was an advocate for a woman traveling alone to pick up strangers off the side of the road. She'd never done anything like this before. And when her brother learned what she'd done he might skin her alive, but it felt right. And that was good enough for Dottie.
For goodness' sake, she was about to start working at a women's shelterâa home for women at risk. How could she live with herself if she passed one on the side of the road and didn't help her!
She couldn't. And that was that. Decision madeâcase closed. So relax.
Grabbing the big plastic bag of Gummi Bunnies off the dashboard, she held it out. “Want a handful?”
“Sure,” the girl said, slamming the passenger's door closed and reaching for the bag.
Watching her dig into the candy, Dottie relaxed even further. True, she was supposed to be back in California as quickly as possible, time was of the essence, but this girl had obviously needed a friend.
“There's drinks in the fridge if you need something. And real food.” Biting back any other reservations, she smiled. “I'm Dottie Hart,” she offered, meeting the girl's hazel eyes that were similar to her own.
“I'm Cassie Bates,” she said, nibbling a mouthful of the chewy little bunnies from her open palm. “I'm on my way to Mule Hollowâwhere the men grow tall and the women aren't at all.”
“Do what?” Dottie laughed, digging out a handful of candy for herself. “What's that supposed to mean?”
Cassie gaped at her. “You know,
love is in the hair and the air!
” She sang the line.
All the while Dottie stared. Okayâso maybe something
loose and it wasn't Dottie's screws.
“You really don't know what I'm talking about?”
The silent “Duh!” at the end of Cassie's question hung in the air between them.
“Not a clue.” But she was curious. Extremely curious.
Cassie dug in her back pocket and pulled out a bundle of newspaper clippings and waved them. Neatly cut and folded in a half-inch-thick bundle, the clippings were very organized.
“This is Mule Hollow, Texas. The tiny town way out
here in the middle of nowhere that advertised for women who want to get married, move there and live happily ever after.”
Oh, brother. Dottie had heard it all now. “You're saying they, this town, is advertising for women to come marry the local men.”
“Yes. Are you deaf? It's all right here in Molly Popp's column.” She waved the clippings.
“Who is Molly Popp?”
“Molly Popp?” Another duh. “She writes this really cool article every week about what's happening in Mule Hollow.
following the stories. Where have you been? The moon?”
If she only knew, Dottie thought. “Let's just say I haven't had much time for reading. Who would think up something so outlandish? Are you sure it's a real story and not some promotional gimmick made up to hook readers?”
“Oh, it's real. And I'm going there to change my life.”
was something Dottie could connect with. “And how are you going to do that?”
“I'm going to find me a husband.”
“You can't just go into a town and pick a husband out like he was a shirt waiting to be bought off the rack.”
“Says who? You should read these articles.” Another wave of newspaper clippings. “These are nice guys. Guys who know how to treat a woman and want to get married. And stay married.”
believe her ears. But obviously
Cassie was determined to do this, thisâ¦harebrained thing, so what exactly did that mean? She took a breath.
Okay, Lord, what's the plan?
She knew the answer before she asked the question. She'd committed to the task the minute she pulled onto the shoulder, actually the minute she prayed that morning for the Lord to use her today. Her granddad always said, never ask the Lord to put someone in your path unless you mean business. The good Lord would take you up on the offer every timeâ¦
But taking a detour? Going to some really weird little town out in the middle of nowhereâa town that
for wives! Now, that just wasn't a blip on her screen of possible scenarios.
However, even being alive, sitting here being allowed the opportunity to even consider such a scenario was a giftâ¦
She'd missed three months of her life lying in a hospital bed on the verge of death. Three months. She closed her eyes, willed away the panic that still sought to overpower her just thinking about the dark hours that led up to her stay in that hospital bedâas always thoughts of that time practically caused her to hyperventilate. She willed away the visible signs of her ordeal, calling on the Lord, as always, for help. This was no time to scare her passenger.
It was true, she had much to overcome. But she had more to celebrate. God had saved her! He'd performed nothing less than a miracle in keeping her alive through
the hurricane that had devastated her home and tried to destroy her life. After a person spent almost three days trapped in a dark hole crushed beneath her home, her life seeping away with every moment that passed, there was nothing less she could do than try and repay God's faithfulness.
The payment for that debt waited for her in California. She was needed there in a desperate wayâCassie Bates, with her weird agenda, hadn't been in the equation. And yet, God had crossed their paths. Cassie needed a friend. Someone to watch over her, to get her to a safe place and to make certain that she was going to be all right.
How could Dottie pass her by? God had sent a special task force of heroes to dig her from the cold, wet depths of a lonely would-be grave. He'd put her in their path and now He'd put Cassie in her path. She had to accept the call.
It might still be California or bust, but she could take a little detour. Anticipation rippled through her. God worked in mysterious waysâ¦
“So,” she said, drawing Cassie's bright gaze. “Exactly how do we get to this Mule Hollow?”
Sheriff Brady Cannon stood inside Pete's Feed and Seed looking out the window at Mule Hollow's deserted street and the late-afternoon shadows creeping across the blacktop. The bedraggled motor home that turned the corner onto Main Street almost caused him to choke on a sunflower seed.
The thing was about twenty years old, its front grille warped, giving an impression of a crooked grin as it carried its cargo. Cargo was tied down at precariously odd angles on top of the comical-looking thing. There was white wicker furniture and other stuff he couldn't quite make out bulging from the roof in wild disarray. A mental picture of a cartoon character moving cross-country sprang to mind.
Watching the funny-looking RV amble along he was a little surprised to see a vendor this early. The first annual Mule Hollow Trade Days event didn't start for four days yet. Which meant his headaches wouldn't start for four short days either, days he wasn't taking for granted. Early birds weren't exactly his idea of a good thing.
When the pitiful RV suddenly wheezed and smoke erupted from under the hood, it was as if the animation had come to life! “Oh boy, let the games begin,” he groaned.
Reacting on instinct, he tossed his handful of sunflower seeds into the garbage, grabbed Pete's fire extinguisher from beside the counter and hit the door at a run.
Black smoke billowed from beneath the hood as he concentrated on the hot latch, coughing from the fumes as they engulfed him. When the latch finally gave and he lifted the reluctant hood, he was forced to jump back to avoid the shooting flames filling the compartment. Thankfully, Pete's extinguisher was primed and ready and he had the fire out within seconds.
Not that it saved the motorâit was toast.
At the gasp, he spun around to find a thin woman with raven-black hair and pale hazel eyes. Stricken by the sight of the steaming engine she swayedâBrady dropped the extinguisher and grabbed her just as her legs buckled. He was struck by her lightness, again by her paleness as he swept her into his arms. By the way her delicate cheekbones were starkly pronounced by the thinness of her face. She didn't look exactly well. As he studied her, her eyes fluttered, she bit her lip and he could almost see sheer willpower forcing her eyelids to remain open.
“Dottie, are you okay?” a teenage girl exclaimed, concern written all over her impish face as she danced from foot to foot.
“Fine. I'm fine,” she assured the girl.
Brady disagreed completely with her assessment of the situation. “Miss, you don't look so good. I thinkâ”
“I'm fine. Really, you can put me down now.”
The strength in her words and the determination he could see in her eyes had him doing as he was instructed. “It's your call.” Carefully he set her on her feet, glad when she didn't sway again. A bit of color crept into her cheeks, but she remained fairly pale, although he could see that there was a tinge of tan overlaying her paleness.
“I'm Dottie.” She extended her delicate hand and smiled engagingly. “Dottie Hart. I'm sorry for myâ¦well, for that.” She rolled her eyes and waved her hand as if shooing the episode away.
Obviously Dottie Hart did not enjoy being fragile. She looked embarrassed by the show of weakness.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” he said. “But I hate to tell you that your motor doesn't look good.”
Her lips flattened into a straight line.
“By the way, I'm Brady Cannon.”
Her gaze shifted from the RV to him. “Sheriff Cannon,” she said, her gaze dropping to the badge pinned to his white shirt.
Her voice was smooth, with an edge of softness to it. And her eyesâ¦ “Actually, everyone calls me Brady.”
She nodded but didn't smile. Her gaze swept back to the engine. “Thank you for putting out the fire. Is there a mechanic in Mule Hollow who could get me moving again?”
She looked back at him with her question. Two vertical lines formed between her eyebrows. He could almost see her mind turning as she concentrated on her problem.
“We have a mechanic, but I hate to tell you that he's out of town at the moment. He had a family emergency that needed tending to. But he's due back next week. A mechanic might not be able to fix your engine, though.”
“Well.” She compressed her lips, glanced toward the young girl, then met his eyes straight on. “We'll see.” She took a deep breath, visibly making a decision. “I planned to stay a few days anyway.”
“That's what I thought. Looks like you're the first one here. We can go ahead and get you all set up, and then Prudy can come by and check the motor over at the site when he gets back to town on Monday. I'll get
a few of the boys to help me with your rig and we'll get it to a spotâ”