Front Porch Promises #6
November 14, 2019
A Place to Find Love
Whitney Hamilton wants to put her past behind her and make the best of her current circumstances, a high demand job and caring for her mother, who has dementia. But Whitney’s newest coworker, Jeremy Cunningham, is a constant reminder of her foolish past.
Jeremy wants to show the world he is his own man, but that may prove difficult as he steps into the job his brother, Jimmy, used to have. The biggest obstacle to his success is Whitney, his brother’s former girlfriend, a source of discord for his family.
When Whitney and Jeremy find themselves attracted to each other, there are so many reasons, old and new, to keep them from revealing their feelings for each other. Will a long-kept secret finally bring them together?
This contemporary Christian romance is the sixth book in the Front Porch Promises series.
Home is where the heart is. The amateurish cross stitch, surrounded by a dark wooden frame, stared back at Whitney Hamilton as she stood in the kitchen of her childhood home. But this home was more like a prison than a place where her heart resided. Recent events had broken, crushed, and turned her heart inside out.
Her small hometown of Pineydale, Tennessee, held little welcome, even though she’d returned over a year ago to help care for her ailing father. Now he was gone, leaving a void in her and her mother’s lives. Coming back home had been almost as traumatic as losing her father. The whole town knew her misdeeds. Despite her wish to restore her reputation, she doubted that could happen. She had more enemies than friends in this town.
While Whitney stood there still gazing at the cross stitch, her mother sashayed into the room, her slim figure and blond hair belying her age of seventy-five. “Do you remember when you made that?”
Whitney turned and tried to smile. “Yeah. I was nine and determined to make something for your birthday.”
Eileen Hamilton clasped her hands in front of her. “And I love it so much. You were such a strong-minded child.”
Whitney didn’t think she had that particular characteristic. She’d never stood up for herself against her parents. She’d knuckled under to their demands at every turn. Her life looked like that cross stitch. Graceless. Floundering. Inept.
Whitney glanced toward the front room. “Lila will be here any minute to pick you up. Are you ready?”
Eileen smoothed her multicolored knit top over her well-creased navy pants. “I just have to get my purse.”
Just at that moment the doorbell rang. “You get your purse. I’ll answer the door.”
Worry over her mother filling her thoughts, Whitney rushed to the front door. “Hi, Lila. Come on in.”
Lila’s wrinkled face crinkled in a smile. “Hello, Whitney. Is your mother ready?”
“She’s getting her purse.”
“How is she today?” A blast of hot, humid early summer air accompanied Lila as she stepped into the house.
“Okay, I guess.” Whitney shrugged, quickly closing the door. “I never know when she’ll suddenly do or say something very odd. Y’all are so nice to deal with her forgetfulness in your bridge group. And thank you so much for driving. I just don’t trust her to drive anymore.”
“I understand.” Lila nodded. “She’s our friend, and we want to help her.”
“Thank you for being such good friends.”
“Whitney, I can’t find my purse.” Eileen’s voice sounded from the kitchen.
“I’d better help her.” With a sigh, Whitney traipsed back to the kitchen, where she found her mother searching through all the cabinets.
“I just don’t know where I put it.” She turned to Whitney.
“Did you check in the refrigerator?” Whitney raised her eyebrows.
“Don’t be silly. Why would it be there?”
Whitney refrained from reminding her mother that they had found the purse there the last time she had lost it. “Well, check anyway.”
Eileen tugged on the refrigerator door. No purse. “See. I told you it wasn’t there.”
“You’re right.” Whitney spun around. “Do you remember where you had it last?”
“Here in the kitchen.”
“Where have you looked?”
Distress accentuated the wrinkles on her mother’s flushed face, suddenly making her look her age. “Everywhere.”
Whitney took a calming breath. She had to contain her frustration. Getting rattled would only further her mother’s agitation. This kind of thing was becoming a daily occurrence, so Whitney had to learn to deal with it. “It has to be here somewhere.”
“Then why can’t I find it?”
“Is your cell phone in your purse?”
“I think so.”
“Let me call your phone. Then maybe we can figure out where the purse is.” Whitney pulled her phone from the pocket of her white skimmers and tapped in her mother’s number.
Moments later, the muted sound of the generic ringtone on her mother’s phone emanated from a corner of the kitchen. Whitney followed the sound until she faced the old-fashioned wooden bread box sitting on the counter next to the refrigerator. She lifted the lid and found a gray leather purse. She plucked it from the box and held it up.
Her mother grabbed for it and removed the phone from the little side pocket and shut it off. “Silly me, I put it in the bread box. I must’ve done that when I was making my toast this morning. The bread was lying on the counter, while my purse was in the box.”
“It appears that way.” Smiling even though she didn’t feel like it, Whitney motioned toward the front room. “You’ve kept Lila waiting long enough. You’d better be on your way.”
With a nod, Eileen scurried toward the entry way as the purse dangled from her arm. “Lila, I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. I accidentally put my purse in the bread box.”
“You have a bread box?”
Eileen nodded as she followed Lila to the front door. “It was my mother’s, and I still use it.”
“How wonderful.” Lila held open the door, then turned back to Whitney with a knowing smile. “Have a good day. I’ll have her back home by three.”
“Enjoy your card game.” As the door slammed shut, Whitney sank to the couch with a heavy sigh.
Would her meeting with Mary Cunningham be a blessing or a reminder of Jimmy, Mary’s older son, the guy she’d loved since elementary school. But Whitney couldn’t let old heartaches get in the way of helping her mother. Her mother was the only family left and the only person who loved her. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no grandparents.
Alone in the world. That phrase described her.
Whitney bowed her head for a moment. She wanted to pray, but she had drifted so far from God that she wasn’t sure He wanted to hear from her. Although she’d attended church every Sunday—when not traveling—since she’d returned to Pineydale, a year’s time sitting in a pew had done nothing to bring her closer to God. She’d been going through the motions for her mother.
Whitney glanced across the room.
Be joyful always. Pray continually. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–17. Another one of her clumsy cross stitch attempts mocked her, its message going right to the heart of her troubled thoughts. The year of the cross stitch. That was Whitney’s fourth grade year. There were probably at least a couple dozen more somewhere in this house, some framed, some left in a drawer, never to see the light of day.
That year was the same year Jimmy Cunningham had captured her heart. He was the cutest nine-year-old boy in Pineydale Elementary. Not then, but years later that love had brought her pain and a major disagreement with her parents. Thinking about that lost love was futile, but she couldn’t stop the memories from sneaking into her thoughts and making her miserable.
Whitney stood, releasing a loud rush of air. She could do this. Her peace of mind depended on it. As she tried to formulate her plea to Mary, Whitney paced the room. The request was a long shot, but one she had to take. The sound of a closing car door made her stop in her tracks. The time was here—the time to make her case.
The doorbell rang, and Whitney took a calming breath as she turned the knob. The door swung open, and the woman Whitney had wished for a mother-in-law smiled. Her snow-white hair stood in sharp contrast to her smooth, wrinkle-free complexion. Her blue eyes always held a welcome, despite the messy history Whitney had with her son.
“Hello, Mrs. Cunningham. Thanks for coming to talk to me.” Whitney motioned to the interior of the house as she towered over the older woman. “Please come in and have a seat.”
“Thanks, but please call me Mary. We’ve known each other too long for you to be so formal.”
“Okay.” Whitney fixed a smile on her face. “May I get you something to drink?”
“Some sweet tea would be wonderful, if you have it.” Mary took a seat on the rolled-arm couch with the floral print fabric that had graced the living room since Whitney’s high school days.
“Sure. I’ve got sweet tea.” Whitney hurried to the kitchen, eager to get away from memories of sitting on that couch with Jimmy. Would Mary’s presence constantly remind her of him? Whitney could only hope not.
In minutes Whitney returned to the living room with a tray containing two glasses filled with sweet tea and a small plate of mini chess pies. She set them on the coffee table. “Some treats to go with your tea.”
“Oh, I wasn’t expecting food, too.” Mary reached for her tea. “Did you make the pies?”
Whitney took a sip of her tea, then set the glass on the nearby coaster. “Actually, I helped my mother make them.”
“How is Eileen doing these days? I know from experience that losing a spouse is difficult.” Mary’s eyes brimmed with sympathy.
Whitney clasped her hands in her lap. The time had come for the truth, the truth she’d been trying to deny for weeks. “That’s why I asked you to come over.”
Cocking her head, Mary eyed Whitney. “So what’s this all about?”
Whitney lowered her gaze as she shook her head, then finally looked up at Mary. “Since Daddy died, Mom’s been increasingly forgetful and confused. I’m really worried about her, especially when I go away on business trips.”
“Has she seen a doctor?” Mary knit her eyebrows.
Sighing, Whitney shook her head. “She doesn’t think there’s anything wrong. To her it’s what she calls her ‘senior moments.’ But everyone around her knows that it’s more than that. She’s at her bridge group right now, and they all recognize it. She gets confused and can’t follow directions. That’s why I had to help her make the pies.”
“So what can I do to help?” Concern emanated from Mary’s eyes.
“As you know, I have to travel frequently for my job.”
Mary nodded. “Yes, I remember how much Jimmy hated that traveling when he worked for his uncle Graham.”
The mention of Jimmy’s name made Whitney feel as though her heart had been put through a wringer. She had to get over it. He was married and had a child. He was never going to love her again. She had thrown away that chance years ago.
Whitney couldn’t bring a smile to her lips. Instead, she stared at the glass of tea in her hand. “Anyway, I’m increasingly worried when I have to go out of town that Mom may do something to put herself in danger. I was hoping you might consider being her live-in nurse.”
Mary reached over and touched Whitney’s arm. “Whitney, I understand your concern, but that just isn’t possible.”
Whitney looked up, meeting Mary’s gaze. “I’ll pay you twice what you’re getting at the hospital.”
Mary shook her head. “It’s not the money. I’m only working part time, but on the days I don’t work, I watch my grandchildren.”
Whitney’s heart sank. “I didn’t realize. What am I going to do? Graham has this big trip planned for August. I’ll be gone almost a month?”
“So you think your mom’s memory is getting that bad?”
Pressing her lips together, Whitney nodded. “I don’t trust her to be alone anymore. I’m even worried when I’m at work right here in town. I just can’t go away without someone here.”
“How long has this been going on?” Concern knit Mary’s brow.
“It’s gotten worse since Daddy died, or maybe I just didn’t notice because I was so concerned with his health and didn’t pay enough attention to my mom.” Whitney clasped her hands in front of her in a prayerful pose. “I have to find some help before that trip.”
“Is your mother on board with this?”
Whitney sighed. “I haven’t mentioned it to her. I wanted to see what you said. I know she would be comfortable with you. That’s why I asked.”
Mary patted Whitney’s arm again. “I’m sorry I can’t help you, but I think you should let your mother in on your thoughts about this.”
Whitney took a sip of her tea, knowing her mother probably wouldn’t like the idea. “I suppose.”
“In the meantime I’ll try to think of someone who could fill that role for you. We should pray about it.”
“Thanks for your time.” Whitney picked at an imaginary piece of lint on her pants. Pray. Yeah, that was what she should do, but did God want to hear from a woman who had tried to steal another woman’s husband? If only she could have a tenth of her mother’s faith or a tenth of Mary’s faith. If only she could snatch back time and have a do-over. If only she could move forward without a mountain of regret filling her mind.
Wishing for the impossible would get her nowhere. She had to face reality and deal with it.
“Whitney, would you like me to pray?”
Unable to speak past the lump in her throat, Whitney stared at this kindhearted woman and nodded.
Mary held out her hands, and Whitney took hold as if doing so would pull her out of her doubts and fears. As Mary bowed her head, Whitney followed suit as she closed her eyes.
“Dear Lord, thank You for hearing our prayer. We know You are the almighty God who can grant our requests. Today I pray that You would guide Whitney in helping her mother. Give Whitney wisdom, and please provide a caregiver. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.”
Whitney raised her head, feeling closer to God than she had in years. Mary’s simple prayer gave Whitney hope. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. Now we’ll see how God will work this out for you.” Mary squeezed one of Whitney’s hands. “I’ll keep praying, and you do the same.”
Whitney nodded. “You’ve made me feel like things aren’t hopeless.”
“They aren’t. God is there for you to lean on. In the meantime, make sure your mother sees her doctor, and make sure she signs a living will and medical power of attorney, if she hasn’t already done so.”
“I think she has those because we got them when Daddy was sick, but I’ll check to be sure. Thanks for your advice and help.”
Mary stood. “Now I’d better get going. Thanks for the refreshments.”
Whitney hugged Mary, then stood on the front porch as Mary moseyed to her car. With a wave, she slid in and drove away. Whitney didn’t know how long this hopeful feeling would last. Maybe until she broached the subject of a live-in companion to her mother.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“No. I know exactly what I’m doing?” Jeremy Cunningham stared at his brother, Jimmy, who sat on the sofa next to his wife, Kelsey, in their mother’s living room. Jeremy wondered whether he could convince his brother that this was a good opportunity. “I’m taking the job you didn’t want.”
Jimmy leaned forward, an incredulous expression on his face. “How could you think of working for Uncle Graham? He’s an unrelenting and demanding boss.”
“Just because you didn’t love the business world doesn’t mean I won’t.”
“What about the painting business?”
“Janelle’s going to handle that.”
Jimmy flashed an angry look at Janelle, the older of his sisters, before he focused his attention back on Jeremy. “You mean you two have known about this and didn’t say anything to me until today?”
Jeremy wouldn’t let Jimmy lay on the guilt. “Nothing was settled with Uncle Graham until late yesterday, and I wasn’t going to say anything to you until Janelle and I had a chance to work things out.”
“So how’s Janelle going to run the company? Does she plan to drag her kids to work?”
“Jimmy, you have no need to talk like I’m not in the room.” Janelle stood with her hands on her hips. “The kids are both in school this year, and they can go to the after school program on the days that Mom can’t watch them.”
Jimmy sat there stone faced as he glanced around the room. “Did everyone know about this except me?”
“I didn’t know.” Kelsey leaned closer and kissed his cheek.
Jimmy smiled at her. She could always make him smile. He should be thankful for Uncle Graham’s demands as a boss. Without them Jimmy would never have married Kelsey. Jeremy would like to point that out, but now probably wasn’t a good time. Jimmy’s abrupt departure from that job was off limits for discussion at the family gatherings.
“Just be happy for me.” Jeremy gave his brother a challenging look.
Jimmy shook his head. “I don’t know. I’d like to be, but that job was nothing but a headache. The guy that took my place is already gone after less than a year on the job. What does that tell you?”
“Uncle Graham just hasn’t found the right person for that position. Until now.” Jeremy’s gaze never wavered as he stared Jimmy down.
“And that’s you?”
“Got that right.” Jeremy surveyed his family all decked out in their red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. He looked each person in the eyes. “I’m going to see the world on Uncle Graham’s dime.”
“How do you figure?” Jimmy asked.
Jeremy waved a hand in the air. “I’ll get to go on all those business trips you hated. I’m ready. I’ve never been anywhere. Do you realize I’ve never been out of the state of Tennessee except over the state line into Bristol, Virginia, and when we’ve gone to Grandfather Mountain over in North Carolina for the Scottish games?”
Jimmy shook his head. “I never considered all that traveling much of a perk.”
“Well, I do. Got my passport and everything.”
Jimmy chuckled. “You don’t need a passport to go to Atlanta.”
“Who says I’m going to Atlanta. How about Europe?”
A buzz of voices filled the room as Jeremy’s family took in his statement.
“Why are you going to Europe?” Jimmy frowned.
“Uncle Graham is expanding. He plans to do business with companies in Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands.” Jeremy took in the surprised expressions.
“Wow! I’ve always wanted to go to Europe.” Jenna, his younger sister, clapped Jeremy on the shoulder. “Now my little brother gets to go. Can you fit me into your suitcase?”
Everyone laughed except Jimmy. He still didn’t look happy. “What about the marriage clause in your employee agreement?”
“Talked Uncle Graham out of that one.” Jeremy grinned. Maybe that fact would convince Jimmy that his little brother wasn’t a pushover.
“How did you manage that?”
“I think he finally realized it wasn’t effective, even though he had good intentions.” Jeremy raised his eyebrows as he looked at his brother. “Besides, Uncle Graham did you a favor with that requirement.”
“He sure did.” Kelsey scooted closer to Jimmy and leaned in for another kiss.
Laughter filtered through the room as Jeremy gave his sister-in-law a high five. “He’d still be a lonely bachelor, wishing he hadn’t let you get away, if it weren’t for Uncle Graham.”
Jimmy held his hands up in surrender. “Okay. I’ll admit you’re right. Kelsey’s the best thing that ever happened to me, along with little Jaime here.”
Jimmy reached down and rocked the baby carrier sitting at his feet. Jeremy took in the scene with a touch of envy. Jimmy was happier than he’d ever been. His life was settled with a pretty wife, a baby boy, and a thriving business. Despite the pinch of envy, Jeremy wasn’t ready to settle down. He didn’t want his brother’s life. Jeremy wanted to travel and find his own place in the world. He wouldn’t let his older brother’s worries change that.
Jeremy wanted a chance to step out from under his brother’s shadow and be his own man. While he’d been growing up, Jeremy had listened to teachers, coaches, and well-meaning people in town talk about Jimmy’s accomplishments in sports, school, and church. Even the two misspent years that had cost Jimmy his college scholarship hadn’t seemed to diminish his status in the community. Sure the debacle with Whitney had caused a stir and made him the subject of the town’s gossips, but Jeremy only saw it as making Jimmy more legendary.
“Good to see you figured that out. Uncle Graham isn’t all that bad.” Continuing to eye his brother, Jeremy crossed his arms as he leaned against the doorjamb.
Jimmy stared back. “What about riding in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge? How can you do that when you’ve just started a new job?”
Jeremy grinned. “I told Uncle Graham about that, and he understands, especially since Mitch is riding. He wants to use the team for a little marketing.”
“Great.” Jimmy frowned. “Uncle Graham’s sticking his nose into our stuff again.”
Jeremy waved a hand at Jimmy. “Be glad. He’s sponsoring the team and paying for transportation and lodging.”
“Since when? First I’ve heard of it.”
“I thought Mitch would’ve mentioned it to you.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Guess he was waiting for the right time to let us know that his dad is trying to run our lives again.”
“Just look at the good side of it.” Jeremy gave his brother an annoyed look.
“What about Whitney Hamilton?”
“What about her?”
“Won’t you have to work with her?” Jimmy asked.
“Your tumultuous history with her doesn’t affect me. I never saw her once during any of my interviews.”
“Well, don’t be surprised if she turns out to be a thorn in your side.”
“Okay, boys. I’ve let you have your say. Now it’s my turn.” Mary Cunningham stepped between her sons. “Since you’re talking about Whitney, I have something to say about her.”
Jeremy took in the surprised looks on his siblings’ faces. What could his mother possibly have to say about Whitney?
“Earlier this week, I visited with Whitney.” Mary held up a hand. “And before you say anything, I want you to hear me out. Don’t interrupt me.”
Although the silence in the room showed the respect Jeremy and his siblings had for their mother, the stunned expressions said a lot about Whitney’s bad history with the Cunninghams. A burst of laughter from his nieces and nephews, who played outside under the supervision of his mom’s distant cousin Carla, seemed loud in the quiet.
Mary glanced toward the window that looked out on the backyard. “I’ve invited Whitney and her mother to join us over at Aunt Charlotte’s to watch the Fourth of July parade this afternoon.”
Jeremy didn’t miss the frown on Jimmy’s face, but he didn’t say anything. Jeremy never had much interaction with Whitney, other than the few times she’d been his babysitter when he’d been in first or second grade. She was six years older and had dated Jimmy throughout high school. Tall, blond, and blue-eyed, she’d been voted prettiest by her classmates. She and Jimmy had been homecoming queen and king. Everyone had thought they were destined to be together, but their relationship derailed when her parents sent her away to college in Georgia.
Jeremy had been sixteen when that whole mess with Jimmy, their cousin Mitch, and Whitney went down. She left town after that and never came back until her daddy got sick. Jeremy had no idea why his mom would be having a conversation with Whitney.
Mary motioned toward the window. “You’ve met Carla, my cousin’s daughter. She has come to town to help Whitney with her mother, and we need your help to make that happen.”
Jimmy raised his hand like a school child. “Is it okay if I ask a question?”
A little smile curving her lips, Mary shook her head. “When I’m done, if you still have questions, you can ask. Whitney asked me if I could be a live-in companion for her mother. I told her I couldn’t because I’m watching my grandchildren.”
“Why does she need a companion for her mother?” Janelle asked.
Mary eyed her older daughter. “Believe me, if you just wait until I’m finished, I’m sure I’ll answer all your questions.”
Janelle looked contrite as Mary continued. “Whitney believes her mother has developed dementia and is afraid to leave Eileen home alone. Whitney travels extensively for work and worries that Eileen wouldn’t be safe by herself.”
“I bet she’ll be on one of those European trips you’re so excited about, Jeremy. I knew she’d be a thorn in your side.”
“Jimmy, we don’t need any comments from you.” Mary stared pointedly at her older son. “So I’ve been praying about this, and God provided. Carla needs work, and this is a perfect opportunity for her. Whitney’s pretty sure her mother won’t agree to this arrangement unless she thinks it’s her idea and believes she’s the one who is helping Carla, not the other way around.”
“So how are we supposed help?” Janelle asked.
Frowning, Mary shook her head. “You children are certainly impatient. I’m getting to that. I want you to be very, I mean very, welcoming to Eileen and Whitney. We’ll not only be watching the parade, but we’ll be eating supper at Charlotte’s and then going to see the fireworks at the country club.”
“And in case you didn’t know it, Uncle Graham has paid for the fireworks out of his own pocket for years.” Jeremy didn’t know why he felt the need to defend his new boss.
His mom’s chastening expression made him wish he hadn’t opened his mouth. He shrunk back into the doorway and pressed his lips together. He didn’t need to say another thing.
Mary cleared her throat. “Now that I have the floor again, I’ll continue. Please do whatever you can to bring Eileen and Carla together. We’re going to mention how her job fell through and that she can’t stay with me long term because of her pet allergies. We would like Eileen to consider taking Carla in. So whatever you can do to move the discussion in that direction will help. And the main reason I mentioned this is because I want you to be extra, extra nice to Whitney and her mother. Is everyone on the same page with this?”
Digesting his mother’s command, Jeremy watched the reaction of his siblings and their spouses and wondered whether Eileen would see through this crazy scheme. Did he dare mention his doubts? His mom was all revved up about her plan, so they’d better go along with it. He loved his mom. He wouldn’t trade her for the world. But did anyone in the family, besides him, see how Mary loved to direct lives as much as Uncle Graham?
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