Be among the first to know when I post new chapters, to new books!

Click Here
Keep up-to-date on all the announcements and website news!

Subscribe today!

My policy is to follow the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12); I hate spam too, and will never sell or give away your email address.
Chapter Thirty-three
The Search

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it..."
~ Ephesians 5:25 ~

When Terry woke the next morning, he rolled onto his back and blinked up at the couch. The pushed away blankets told him that Maddie had already left, the sad fact registering in Terry's heart with a slight twinge of disappointment.

He'd missed seeing her wake up.

Terry blinked the sleep from his eyes, pushed onto his elbow in the sleeping bag and looked about.

From the light coming through the curtains, it was late enough to warrant being awake, even though he fought the urge to sink back into that warm bag and get more sleep.

Resisting the irresistible, Terry wrestled out of bed, pushed onto his feet and groaned as he rubbed his arms in the cooler air. Maddie had done a good job of making his sleeping bag comfortable-- maybe a little too good. He needed to get up though, go looking for some coffee to get his brain working so he could get ready for the day. This was Sunday, and he knew everyone at church would be talking about him and Maddie when they got there.

Yawning, Terry moved into the kitchen and smiled when he found Maddie alone, and staring intently at the coffee maker.

"Hey, Mrs. Davis."

She looked up, gave a pretty smile, then looked back at the coffee maker as though she couldn't afford to lose her concentration. He noticed the pensive stance, the way she hugged herself and knew she had a lot on her mind. She'd changed into her jeans and his sweater, and a thought ambled through Terry that his sweater was probably now hers.

It made him smile.

He kissed her cheek, and when she leaned into him, he tried not to pull her into a tight hug.

She liked his morning beard. He hadn't been sure of it before, but now, as her face lightly scraped across his, he no longer needed to guess. He was beginning to really like those beard caresses. They made him feel strong, like he was a real man, and not just a guy who sat at computers for a living.

"I like having you sleep nearby," she whispered.

"I'm glad to hear that." He rubbed the small of her back, but when Maddie tucked into herself, he stopped, and contented himself with the weight of her against his chest. "Are you happy?" He edged to get a better look at her lowered lashes, those lips parting in a shy girlish smile.

She nodded, briefly meeting his gaze before burrowing her face into his pajama top.

He reached for her, paused, then lightly touched her shoulder. When she showed no signs of distress, he massaged her arm and relished the warmth of her breath.

"I'm making you coffee." She looked up at him with wide gray eyes that showed the depth of just how much she loved him. She hated coffee, and before she could say a word more, Terry claimed her mouth. Her kiss was eager and sweet, and it took restraint not to caress.

When the alarms in his brain went off, he pushed away, but not so much she still couldn't have the refuge of his arms if she needed them.

Maddie kissed his neck, hugged his shoulder and stayed where she was.

"We forgot to set up the coffee maker last night, so I'm trying my very first pot." Maddie spoke cuddled against him, and Terry let his hand drift to her shoulder to keep her there. "Izzy showed me how, but it's the first time I've ever done it on my own. I don't know if I'm getting it right, though." Maddie looked up at him, and he lost himself in that soft gray-eyed gaze.

She loved him. The truth of that never failed to quietly stun him.

"Thank you," he breathed.

"I'm going to take care of you, Terry. I am-- you'll see." She was so serious, so sober, like the fate of the world depended on whether or not she got the coffee right, that he gave her shoulder a slight squeeze.

"You already are. You made my bed so comfortable, I had a hard time getting out of that sleeping bag."

She smiled, just as he'd hoped she would, and when her cheeks flushed with pink, every fiber in his being vibrated with life. He could've stood there all day and took her in just as she was, but a tug on his pajama top pulled him closer to her and his senses drowned for one blissful moment in her kiss.

"I have to stop." He breathed in the scent of her, and moved away before the sweet moment got the better of him.

She nodded, looked at him before letting go, and he touched her chin to let her know how much she was loved.

If he loved her any less, they'd still be kissing.

He watched as Maddie poured his coffee, stirred in a little sweetener but didn't add any cream.

"Izzy must've told you how I take my java." He kissed Maddie's cheek as Maddie handed him the smiley mug. "Thank you for taking such good care of me."

"You haven't tasted it yet."

"I don't have to-- it's the thought that counts." Terry took a sip from the piping hot mug as he went into the living room.

"Well?" Maddie followed close behind, her toes nipping slightly at the heels of his socks.

"It's good." He put the mug down and started in on his bed.

"You're being kind."

"No, I'm not. For someone who's just learning, it's good." He gave her a smile, but she sank onto the couch with a groan. "Go easy on yourself. You don't even like coffee."

"I'm not making it for me." Maddie tugged at her blanket, then got up from the couch and began to work on her own bedding.

"It's all right, you won't have to be an expert at this." Terry set aside the rolled up sleeping bag. "Someone else will usually start it the night before, so you won't have to worry about getting this right."

"But I want to help."

"You are. More than you know."

She looked at him with a question in her eyes, and Terry gestured to his heart.

"It's beating very nicely, thanks to you."

She was smiling now, and that's all that mattered. He smiled back, put their bedding away and started down the hall to his room to get changed.

John and Izzy were late getting up, but then this was Sunday morning and the house usually slept in.

Of course... Terry hesitated as he stepped into his room. He could also see Izzy trying to hold things up a little, just so it gave him and Maddie some private time before the house woke up. This happened to be the first morning back from their trip, and Terry wouldn't put it past Izzy to do something thoughtful like that.

Ah, he had good friends.

He pushed into his room, changed into a sweater and slacks to blend with what Maddie was wearing to church, then headed to the triplets' room to wake the girls. If he made enough noise, maybe Izzy would hear and understand it was an all clear signal.

"It's Sunday morning, everybody up." Terry let in the morning light as Debbie groaned. "Time for little ones to get out of bed."

"I'm not done sleeping," Debbie said, while the girl in the next bed began to stir.

As Terry picked up some toys in the corner of the room, a pillow gently knocked into his back. Laughter spilled from a small bed, followed by a second tossed pillow; Terry ducked, only to take a hit in the shoulder.

A third pillow came hurling at him, but he had the first pillow in hand and was taking aim at a laughing munchkin, doubled over on her side at having gotten her Uncle Terry by surprise. He launched the pillow, and it softly landed on Munchkin Debbie's bottom, prompting Munchkins Lizzie and Ruthie to climb out of their beds and pummel him with the returned pillow.

Terry laughed and fell to his knees as the girls surrounded him with squeals of, "He gave up! He gave up!"

"Oh, you think I give up that easily, do you?" Terry started to tickle any munchkin within range, and of course they all darted in and out laughing, and shouting, until Maddie bravely peeked inside to see what all the noise was about. "I'm surrounded," Terry laughed, and grabbed Lizzie as she darted around his back.

Maddie ducked back into the hall, and Terry climbed to his feet to go check on his wife. He'd never really seen her look into a bedroom before-- not one with any beds in it, and wanted to make sure she was all right.

While the girls shouted who had "got Uncle Terry to give up first," Terry rounded into the hall.

He found Maddie hiding beside the door, hugging herself like someone who desperately wanted to go in and join the fun, but couldn't.

She smiled, but he tugged a hand from around her middle and she came to him as lightly as a butterfly landing on his shoulder. He breathed deep as she snuggled into him, tucked her head against his neck and filled him with an aching softness that made him profoundly grateful for his life.

"Aunt Madison," Lizzie came into the hallway, "I got him to give up before Debbie did."

"Nu-uh!" Debbie came and crossed her small arms. "I got him to give up first, didn't I, Uncle Terry?"

Before Terry could respond, the master bedroom door opened and John came out looking like a blonde-headed, half awake, groggy-eyed bear who'd just come out from winter hibernation.

"Okay, knock it off you two." John yawned, scratched his nose and nodded to the girls. "I meant you two, not Uncle Terry and Aunt Madison."

"But Daddy, I got Uncle Terry first."

John looked confused.

"Our game-- I got him before Debbie did."

"Got him?" John stretched as Izzy came and looked around her husband.

As Terry suspected, Izzy looked wide-awake.

"I hit him with the pillow before Debbie did, and that's when Uncle Terry gave up."

John slanted a look at Terry, and Terry tried for peace.

"Five minutes, and I'll have this settled."

John stepped aside, and Terry turned to the munchkins with one brow raised. The triplets looked at each other and grinned, the ripple of tension already easing.

"Okay, before you munchkins get me into anymore trouble with the Big Guy--" Terry looked about and the girls laughed at Terry's name for their daddy-- "Debbie got me first. I think. Which means she gets the honor and privilege of leading the way back to the bedroom to make your beds and direct the cleanup of the toys that the pillows knocked off the toy chest."

"But Uncle Terry, I was first."

"Lizzie, when we play, we play in love. Were you honestly first?"

Lizzie nodded that she was.

As far as Terry could remember, Debbie had been first, but he hadn't actually seen the first pillow being tossed.

"To be fair, we'll call it a tie, and please don't fight the ruling. Throwing pillows are allowed so long as we do it in love-- them's the rules-- but the Big Guy is watching." Terry gestured to John. "He's watching. Really. Do you want me to get in trouble?"

Though the girls were smiling, they shook their heads in a united, "no."

"Then for my sake, will the tied winners please lead the way and start cleaning their bedroom?"

The girls sighed a little but went into their room.

Terry waited a beat, glanced at John, then looked into the room to find the girls doing as they'd been told. "How long did that take?" Terry asked. He looked back at John and John shook his head.

"The Big Guy?"

"You're big."

"No bigger than you are, Buddy."

"You're their father-- it was a figure of speech."

"Yeah, I got that." John smiled and moved past Terry into the living room. "I'd like to thank whoever was responsible for making the coffee. I can smell it, and I want some."

"I made it," Maddie said with a bright smile, and hurried off to the kitchen to get John a cup.

"She made it?" John paused, looking a bit concerned, and Izzy nudged her husband in the side. "I wasn't going to say anything, even if it didn't turn out. I was only surprised, that's all."

"I've been teaching her how to run a kitchen," Izzy said in a hushed voice, "and I don't want to discourage her."

"I won't," John nodded, and smiled as Maddie came in with a mug brimming with java. "Thank you." John held the mug a little while, as though working up the courage to try it, and while John warmed his hands, Terry noticed Maddie nervously chewing her bottom lip.

Terry gave John a look, and John got the message. He took a sip.

"Not bad." John took another.

"What's wrong with it?" Maddie asked. "Terry won't tell me because he's so kind."

"I can be kind," John smiled.

"You can tell me-- really, you can. What's wrong with the coffee?"

"Who said anything's wrong?"

"I made it, didn't I? There has to be something wrong."

"Madison, you're selling yourself short." John went to the recliner, sat down and cradled the mug. "For someone who's just starting out, this is a decent cup of Joe."

"That's what Terry said."

"Then Terry was right."

Terry smiled, and Maddie looked at her husband with a touch more respect that he hadn't just been kind.

Kind, yes, but also telling the truth.

Picking up his own mug, Terry took a seat on the couch to enjoy his own coffee while the women went into the kitchen to make breakfast. Terry was feeling good when he noticed John staring at something on the floor beside the couch. John smiled, took a sip from his mug and said nothing, but from the expression on John's face, Terry knew John was holding back.

Terry knew that face. It meant a potential ribbing that was being held back, for John didn't look that way and keep quiet for nothing.

Curious, Terry leaned forward.

The mug.

The one with the "World's Greatest Sweetheart" on the side? That mug.

John nodded, took another drink and looked philosophical. "I wonder if Izumi would ever get me one of those?"

Terry choked on his coffee and tried not to smile while John crossed his ankles and looked perfectly serious. So much so, Terry prayed his friend would cut it out. The mug hadn't been his idea, and John knew it. Which was why he was getting that look.

John finally broke into a grin, and Terry tried not to respond with one of his own. He failed miserably, but still. He tried.

"Is it all right if we have scrambled eggs this morning, instead of cereal?" someone asked from the kitchen.

Leaning down, Terry placed the sweetheart mug and his new stapler on the end table, beneath the now aging but still beautiful roses, so no one would trip over Maddie's thoughtfulness. He'd put them on his desk later, though the sweetness of the mug would take some getting used to.


He looked up and saw Maddie staring at him from the kitchen doorway, her eyes happy and eager.

"Do you mind?" she asked.

"Mind what?"

"If I try scrambled eggs?"

"Sure. If that's what you want." He smiled as she went back into the kitchen. Maddie, it seemed, was bent on taking care of him-- come coffee, scrambled eggs, or whatever else she thought he needed.

Settling back with his java, Terry took in the unusual feeling of not being alone anymore. Not that he'd been alone all this time, for he had John and the family, but that his personal space was no longer just his. It was also Maddie's. She owned a large piece of his space now, and Terry found comfort in that knowledge.

* * * *

Sundays weren't a big deal for Connor, just another day to get work done. He sent off the cheating husband report to his client, grabbed a hot coffee, a donut, then sat down to his laptop to sift through the leads Tim had sent.

There wasn't much to go on. Not much at all. Certainly nothing new since the last time he'd touched this case.

Blowing out a breath, Connor geared himself mentally for the task ahead. Everything was against him, including the family's former matriarch-- Tim and Madison's grandma. Grandma Billingsly had passed away years ago, but her presence was still strongly felt in Tim's life. The way Connor saw it, it was because of her that Tim couldn't find his half sister. Grandma had refused to tell Tim anything she knew of Madison's adopted family, she'd destroyed any remaining documents of Madison's former identity, and had withheld all information she could to the point of madness.

Tim didn't even have Madison's date of birth.

Some grandma. By all accounts, she'd been a nightmare of a woman, right up until the miserable day she'd died.

Tim had struck out with every adoption organization he'd contacted to help locate or find out something about his sister, and frankly, Connor didn't hold out much hope that he could do any better.

Setting aside his coffee, Connor pulled up a dated scan and stared at the child with the long blonde hair and haunting gray eyes.

"Where are you?" He looked at the small girl and wished he could somehow get her to talk to him. "Do something to show me where you are. Send up fireworks, put an ad in the paper. Something. He's looking for you."

Connor scrubbed his neck. That girl's thin, pallid face, and Tim's stubborn persistence wouldn't let him go. He would try again. Since all they had to go on was a name that hadn't been used for twenty-six years, that's what he would do. Search for Madison Jones, one more time.

One thing was for certain, she wasn't listed in any phone book. No such luck. To top it all off, Tim's sister would have a run-of-the-mill name like Jones, a name that wouldn't stand out from the other one and a half million Joneses in the US without a sign in flashing neon that shouted, "It's me!"

Oh, this case.

Propping his feet on the desk, Connor bit into the jelly donut. Instead of global searches, he'd break it down state by state, try it that way instead. More time consuming, yes, but he needed a fresh approach. Pick the states with the highest crime rates, be as thorough as possible, comb his databases and see what he could find.

He wouldn't find anything, but getting paid to ram his head against the wall was sometimes part of the job description. Besides, he didn't like giving up. Not trying.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, D.C. would be high on his list, also Delaware, Louisiana. Nevada. He'd go through his proprietary databases of public and nonpublic information until every lead was exhausted and he was back where he started.

Then he'd call up Madison's still-living relatives, get in their ear until they hung up and refused to accept his calls, knock on doors, interview old neighbors, and go over already turned ground until his prematurely graying hair was that much whiter. That was always the hardest part of this case, for there weren't many family members, neighbors, people who might've remembered Madison to begin with; they passed away, got older, couldn't remember, or simply didn't wish to remember someone so long gone as Madison.

She'd been adopted, so let it rest.

But Tim couldn't let it rest, and Connor would do it all one more time.

This was a wild goose chase if there ever was one, but Connor would run it one last time.

* * * *

Madison had been to church before, but it was the first time she'd been there as Mrs. Davis. The warning from last night that people would want to congratulate her, couldn't help but make her nervous. Terry was well-known in the area, even popular, so the congratulations made sense, but as Madison watched the trees speed by the van's middle passenger window on their drive to Sunday services, everything inside her felt like one tight worry-knot.

What if they didn't think she was good enough for Terry? She wasn't, but what if they saw how obviously she wasn't? Would they feel sorry for Terry?

Clutching the new Bible in her lap, she glanced to the seat beside her to soak in some courage from her husband. Terry was talking while John drove and Izzy added her comments from the passenger seat up front-- the three of them talking and finding an easy rhythm of discussion.

They were all such good friends, it was clear they got along well. Terry laughed as John turned into the church's parking lot.

What if everyone in that building didn't think they got along well with her? What if they thought she didn't belong with the family?

Nerves made her jump when Ruthie spoke up. Madison didn't hear what was said, but John answered, and Madison began to wish she'd made something else beside scrambled eggs for breakfast. Though Terry had eaten a great big helping of her cooking, it wasn't sitting well in her own stomach. It made Madison wonder if Izzy had another of those not-feeling well bags in her purse.

If they didn't think she was the right one for Terry, would they make trouble for Terry? If they didn't think she fit well with John and Izzy, would they say so? It wasn't as if Terry could easily undo this marriage.

Or maybe he could, but it wasn't something Madison wanted to even think about.

This had to work.

As Terry opened the van's side door, exhaust from the parking lot wafted in and mixed with Madison's woozy stomach. Oh, those crazy scrambled eggs.

"You okay?" Terry looked at her and she nodded. "Relax, okay? These are friends, they won't hurt you. If you can't handle all their kindness, just smile and keep looking like you do right now. I'll handle the rest."

"How do I look right now?"

"Like you're about to lose breakfast." Terry helped her outside, squeezed her hand as John came around and started to unbuckle the girls from their boosters in the back. "I know you were abandoned in the past, so if it'll help you relax, I give my word that I won't leave here without you."

"Thanks, I know you won't." She hugged his arm and he smiled. "Could I have your phone?"

"Don't tell me the promise wasn't enough?" He took out his phone, then nodded in understanding when she turned on the notes app and started to read over their verses as AJ's truck pulled up with Ricky. "You're doing good, Maddie. Keep going."

"If she feels sick..." Izzy passed Terry a sick-bag, and Terry pushed it into Madison's purse. Just in case.

Madison grabbed Terry's hand as AJ got out of their truck. They waited for Jake to get Ricky out of his booster, then Madison teetered as they all started toward the church's entrance.

Her stomach went a little crazy as someone approached.

"Good morning, Doc." Terry exchanged smiles with the man while Madison fought to keep from staring at the carpet.

"I've been hearing things." The man looked at Madison, at their ring fingers, then shook his head with an even bigger grin. "Then it's true."

"We got married," Terry nodded.

Madison wondered if Terry had ever mentioned who this man was. She'd been to church before, but there had been so many faces, and this man was obviously a good friend. So Terry must have. Then the man extended a hand, and Madison found herself shaking it with a wobbly smile.

"I'm Dr. Gregory, and I'd like to be among the first to congratulate the bride."

"Thank you."

"God has blessed you greatly. Your husband is a good man."

"Oh, isn't he? Terry's just wonderful."

Dr. Gregory smiled, and Terry studied the floor and said nothing until the pastor came and shook Terry's hand.

As Dr. Gregory left, Pastor Bill moved closer and settled in.

"They got married," John smiled.

Pastor Bill nodded to Izzy as Izzy went off somewhere to take the munchkins to where the other kids were. "So I heard-- I can't remember who called first with the news, but it's all over Three Mile Bay. Congratulations, and God's blessings to you both!" Pastor Bill looked like he thought he should give Madison a hug, but when he didn't, Madison felt nothing but relief. "When I presided over Brian and Emily's wedding last Friday, Brian told me all about the legal necessity for you to go out of state. I'm just grateful the Lord provided a way. 'I being in the way, the Lord led me.'"

"Amen," Jake nodded, as someone moved past their family and paused to hug Terry.

Before she knew it, Madison was caught up in a two-armed, backslapping hug, congratulated, then hugged again. She didn't know the stranger, but the stranger sure knew Terry.

Terry put an arm around her shoulder, and she hoped it would be enough to keep it from easily happening again.

"What day was the wedding? Friday, right?" Pastor Bill nodded. "Do you realize that both you and Madison, and Brian and Emily were married on the same day? From now on, you'll share the same wedding anniversaries."

"I never thought of that, but you're right." Terry smiled as a couple approached them, and Madison stepped closer into Terry to get out of the hug that came her way.

Putting her hand out there so they would shake it, didn't always work. They were so fast, she often got hugs instead. It wasn't easy to cope with being handled so much, though they meant well.

When the flow of traffic had died down some, and Izzy had come back, Pastor Bill looked at the time and started to walk away.

"I don't suppose you need any furniture to set up housekeeping?" Pastor Bill paused, smiled at her and Terry. "I know you'll be living with John and Izumi, so you probably don't need anything. I only ask because one of our congregation moved away last week, and I was left in charge of finding homes for all the things she couldn't take. I still have several pieces of furniture sitting in my garage."

Clamping down on her bottom lip, Madison tugged on Terry's arm.

"Any couches?" Terry asked.

"There is-- a sofa that's seen better days, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend anyone taking it unless you plan on maybe doing some reupholstering. But I'm told the cushions were recently re-stuffed, or whatever they call it when you put in new foam." Pastor Bill smiled. "Are you really interested?"

Madison squeezed Terry's arm, and Terry nodded.

"Okay, I'll make sure no one else hauls it off." Pastor Bill checked his congregation. "I'd better go, but come by tomorrow and you and Madison can see it for yourself. If you still want it, it's yours."

"Thank you," Madison said quietly.

Maybe she should have kept silent, for Pastor Bill looked at her a moment, as if wondering why a couch should mean so much to her.

"The Lord will provide for our needs," the pastor smiled, and left Madison to breathe a sigh of relief that he didn't ask any questions about why they should have that particular need.

It probably did seem a little odd that Terry, who had a fully furnished apartment, should need another couch. But they did. In fact, the one from Pastor Bill wouldn't be enough. They would need another.

"One down," Terry whispered in Madison's ear.

She nodded, and stared at the carpet as they moved to their pew. Eyes could touch, for she could feel the polite sensation on her skin as she sat down, then crammed against Terry's side. Please, she didn't want anyone else to hug her. Her mouth felt sore from smiling so much, her nerves strained from keeping herself from bolting from the church like the crazy lunatic she didn't want to be.

She was Terry's wife now, and if she did that, it would hurt Terry in front of all his friends.

Running wasn't an option.

All through the service she imagined people staring at her, and whenever she chanced to look up, someone would catch her eye, and smile at her, and down she'd go-- staring at her Bible again. It was a good service, she enjoyed the message, if only her shyness didn't get in the way.

She silently prayed for help, and when she needed even more courage, she sought Terry's hand.

He gave her an encouraging smile, and as she was just getting the hang of breathing and looking up at the pastor, the service ended, and then it was time to brave the people again. The well-wishers who had missed them before, now had their chance, and it seemed no one wanted to be left out.

Terry had said if she couldn't handle it, to smile and look as she had in the parking lot. Problem was, she didn't have a mirror, so how could she look that way again? Was she smiling? Her face felt so numb, she couldn't be sure anymore.

Terry's arm slipped back around her shoulder, and it kindly got in the way of letting people hug her. Abby came to her other side, Izzy and John kept close, and with family on either side, Madison was able to breathe again. Jake remained close to Abby, people talked, and as the conversation flowed around them, Madison picked up their curiosity over one point in particular.

Why had they needed to go to Las Vegas, when they could have more easily married here? Yes, they knew about the church wedding, but why not just have one wedding instead of two?

Because Madison didn't have enough ID.

The answer was met with mostly kind looks, but one man asked why. His wife bumped him in the arm and the man quickly changed subjects.

By the time John had gotten the kids and everyone was filing into the parking lot, Madison felt drained of energy. She wanted to lay down on the pavement and close her eyes, never mind the exhaust from all the cars and the fact it made her stomach roll.

"You did good, Maddie." Terry helped her into the minivan. "The initial wave of surprise is over, so I'm guessing it'll get easier after this."

"Terry--" Madison watched as he and John loaded the girls into the back-- "you never told them why I didn't have enough ID."

"Unless you want them to, they don't need to know." Terry buckled in the triplets and kept talking. "I'm not ashamed of you, Maddie-- if you want me to tell them, then I will. Otherwise, they don't need to know any more than what they've already guessed."

"Pastor Bill knows about me?"

"He does." Terry waited as John stepped away from the side door, then Terry slid the door shut. "He doesn't know about the couches, but he knows of your past. I told you I talked to him, remember?"

She nodded.

"With the kind of volunteer work I've done at the crisis hotline, everyone can guess you're a survivor. That's why no one really asked more than they did. They've already guessed." Terry clicked on his seat belt as John climbed behind the wheel. "They hadn't expected Las Vegas, so it's only natural they were surprised."

"Are you sorry--"

"Don't even think it." Terry claimed her hand, pressed a kiss to her fingers and she couldn't help smiling. "I'm not sorry I married you."

"I was going to ask if you were sorry we asked Pastor Bill about the couch. He might ask why we want it."

"Then I'll tell him." Terry shrugged. "He's the soul of discretion, so I'm not concerned."

"Why do we want a couch?" a small voice asked from the back. "Are we getting rid of ours?"

Terry shook his head and smiled. "Small ears," he sighed.

"Who wants ice cream after lunch?" Izzy asked from up front, and the munchkins all shouted at the same time,


That ended the couch question.

Resting her head on Terry's shoulder, Madison felt the gentle strength of Terry's fingers, the warmth of his hand, and bit by bit, the strain of the morning began to melt away.

"One day at a time," he breathed.

She moved her head, looked up into those deep brown eyes, and he smiled.

Not trusting to kiss him in the rear view mirror where John could see, Madison buried her face in Terry's shirt and held Terry's hand.

"Dr. Gregory was right--" Madison closed her eyes, and heard Terry sigh as she caressed Terry's fingers-- "I am blessed. My husband is good, and kind, and I love him so much."

A kiss touched her forehead.

"Doc didn't say all that, but thank you."

Madison smiled. She didn't have to open her eyes to know Terry was wincing with embarrassment, or read his mind to know he wanted to steer the conversation away from himself. If she wasn't so worn out, she would tease him a bit, (maybe), but instead she squeezed his hand and enjoyed the girls' chatter in the back seat.

* * * *

No matter how Maddie might've felt she'd done at church, Terry thought it had gone over fairly well. She'd looked a little queasy-- sure-- but she hadn't stopped shaking hands and her smile hadn't slipped by much. That counted for a lot, and it had counted with the people at church.

Her courage hadn't gone unnoticed.

The minivan pulled off the main road, the familiar sound of gravel crunching beneath tires welcoming them home. Not quite as welcome was the car waiting out front. Terry's heart sank a few inches when he recognized Lauren getting out of the driver's side.

John shut off the engine. "I don't remember seeing her in church, do you?"

"No, but with our news all over Three Mile Bay, I guess it's no wonder she's turning up at our place."

"Hush, you two." Izzy looked at John, then Terry.

"We're in the van," John reasoned. "She can't hear us with the windows rolled up and the doors closed."

"The girls," Izzy whispered, and Terry groaned.

After the busy morning he and Maddie had just had, Terry wasn't in the mood for his building superintendent. Not Lauren and her nosing around into his life. Not too long ago, Lauren had infamously told Emily that Emily shouldn't worry about all the gossip about Terry, that Emily had no reason to doubt Terry's heart. Lauren had said it in the presence of everyone at church, and Terry could only guess that his marrying Madison, and Brian's marrying Emily, had probably not gone over too well with Lauren.

Getting out of her car, Lauren waved to them with a bright congratulatory smile, and Terry sucked in a breath.

"Try to stay with Izzy," he told Maddie.

When Maddie nodded that she would, Terry slid open the door. He zipped up his coat, got out and put on a smile as he went to the car to greet Lauren.

"Why didn't you call me with the news?" Lauren opened her arms wide for a hug. "I had to hear it from Lydia-- she called from church-- and then of course she couldn't stop talking because she'd heard it before I did. Really, Terry, I shouldn't forgive you." Lauren sounded severe, but when Terry stepped back from their hug, his super was smiling and pushing the hair from her eyes.

"Sorry about that. The trip was short notice, so I think we surprised just about everyone." Terry smiled. "Thanks for dropping by." He followed Lauren's gaze to the minivan as Maddie got out.

"Terry, I can see her diamond all the way from here."

"I'll let you in on a secret--" Terry lowered his voice as though he were about to divulge some great thing, and Lauren's eyes lit up with delight-- "Maddie would have settled for much less, but I was the hold out."

Lauren blew out a laugh and swatted him away. "That sounds like you."

AJ's truck pulled past them, heading toward the yellow house, and Jake and Ricky returned Lauren's wave.

"Did you take Pastor Bill's couch?" Lauren turned to Terry. "Lydia didn't hear all the conversation, but she said she thought you were going to take it. I can't imagine why though. I'd think you have enough couches, already."

Terry sighed. Lauren wasn't even in church today, and yet she still knew what went on.

"The reason I ask is because Mr. Davidson in apartment nine is trying to sell off some second-hand things, including a couch. When he came by to pay his rent, he mentioned it. If you need one, you might try him before taking Pastor Bill's free trash. Mr. Davidson's furniture is relatively new, and I dare say in better condition." Lauren folded her arms. "So are you interested?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am."

"Then I'll tell him you'll come by in a few days."

"Tomorrow," Terry nodded. "Thanks, Lauren."

"I can't believe you didn't tell me."

"I'll make it up to you by making sure our wedding here in the area, is a nice one." Terry smiled, and Lauren looked at him askance. "You and Ralph are most definitely invited."

"Who's planning it?" Lauren asked, and nodded when she heard Izzy's name. "Tell her to call me if she needs help."

"Thank you, I will."

The conversation winding down, Lauren climbed back in her car. She rolled down her window, and Terry stepped close.

"Ralph found the sealant you bought and had stored in the shed, so I had him seal the power washed bricks on your apartment. I hope you don't mind. It should be dry and ready in time for the rain forecasted for this afternoon."

"The bricks." Terry looked up at the gathering clouds. "I admit there's been a lot on my mind. I'd forgotten all about that."

"That's what I thought." Lauren laughed and started up her car.

"Please thank Ralph for me." Terry looked back at his super. "And thank you for thinking of it. That could have damaged the building."

Lauren smiled, and Terry promised to make sure she got that invitation to the wedding. As she pulled onto the main road, he thanked God for the measure of peace he had with his building superintendent. Though Lauren worked for him, he didn't want to be her enemy, and it went without saying that she was good at what she did. When she wanted to, Lauren could be thoughtful as well, as she'd just proven. As long as they were both willing, they could get along well enough.

Terry headed into the house, and smiled when he stepped into the living room only to smell lunch cooking.

From the recliner, John muted the TV and looked to Terry.

"She and Ralph sealed the power washed bricks for me." Terry took off his coat, stepped around Lizzie and took a seat on the couch. "That was nice of them, wasn't it? Did Jake call the Doyles like he said he would? Do they know about Maddie and I going to Vegas?"

"Yeah, that was nice of them, and yes. Jake called. Why do you ask?"

"Lauren was miffed I didn't call her, and I just wanted to make certain Dick and Sara had been told." Terry sighed, rubbed his face and then smiled. "Before I forget-- it looks like God is providing a second couch. Lauren told me about one of my tenants who's selling some of his furniture. She didn't say why, though I hope it's not because he's planning on moving out."

"You found a second couch?" Maddie came from the kitchen in one of Izzy's aprons. "When can we move the bed out of your room?"

"Not today." Terry held up his hands. "It's Sunday, but tomorrow, before John and I go to pick up the couches, we'll take out the bed." Terry pointed to the little girl seated on the carpet. "Please keep all this to yourself. This is a family matter, okay?"

"Lizzie," John backed up the request, "your uncle means that. Remember the talk I had with you about discretion? Well, this goes with that."

Discretion was a big word for such small munchkins, but Lizzie nodded that she understood and went back to her play. Whether she understood the word or not, Terry was pretty sure she knew she wasn't supposed to repeat what she had heard.

"When tomorrow?" Maddie pressed.

"Early enough to get a good start on the day."

"Izzy said it's going to rain this afternoon through most of next week."

"We'll manage." Terry saw Maddie wring the apron in nervous excitement. "Take it easy, it'll get done."


"Maddie, I want this too."

"This isn't for--" Maddie looked at the girl on the floor-- "for what I'm not ready for yet."

"I know that, but we can't do much K-I-S-S-I-N-G until we have our own room. I understand what's at stake. I'll have two in there tomorrow if I have to handcraft and upholster them, myself."

Maddie hugged her middle, gave him a heart-pulling smile, and went back to the kitchen.

By now, John was watching his program with the volume turned low so it wouldn't interfere with their conversation. When Maddie left, John turned it up, and the men fell into silence while Terry's heart swayed in Maddie's absence.

That woman had him in the palm of her hand, and Terry had a hunch she knew it.

Sucking in some air, Terry watched TV while hungry smells came from the kitchen. They would enjoy the rest of their Sunday and give Three Mile Bay a chance to adjust to the news of their marriage. Then tomorrow, they would work.

Their own room, a private space for just them. Terry could hardly wait.

* * * *

He wasn't surprised. Why should he be? He'd been through this before, and she'd been a no-show before, so why should now be any different?

Connor hurled a notepad across the room and got no satisfaction when it bounced off the wall.

He didn't lose his patience often, but his nerves were wearing thin and after a full Sunday's work he had nothing to show for it but heartburn and a bad case of eye strain. He'd gone over Delaware and found what he had expected-- a whole lot of nothing. Same with D.C. Knee deep in Louisiana and fast losing momentum, Connor pushed away from the desk to take some much needed time out.

He should be turning in, but he couldn't sleep. Not with six cups of coffee and a few candy bars banging away in his system.

Forget that break, he had to work.

Grabbing the cold remnants of coffee number six, Connor moved to the desk to finish Louisiana. His gut told him she wasn't there, but at five in the morning his gut would say just about anything.

He drained the mug, kept working until his eyes blurred and felt like sandpaper.

Scratch off Louisiana.


She could be there of course, but he couldn't find her in any database.

It was like chasing a ghost. A dead woman. This from his gut, and since neither of them had gotten any sleep in the past twenty-four hours, Connor got up for coffee number seven.

He checked the clock. Man, he was losing track of the time.

Seven thirty on a Monday morning and he was getting his seventh cup. There had to be some sort of significance there, or maybe it was just a sign of how much his brain had fried over all that caffeine and those long hours. He wasn't thirty anymore, he couldn't pull the all-nighters like he used to. His body felt every bit his forty years, and Connor was beginning to regret the lack of sleep.

Dumping in some cream, he passed on the sugar and went back to the desk.

On to the next no-show. Nevada. He researched the databases, then switched over to the Clark County's website to finish up in the city of Las Vegas. With all the chronic I-do's going on in Vegas, their marriage records were updated at the furious rate of instantly. His proprietary databases couldn't keep up with instant, and there was no way he could afford to ignore such an information hotspot as that. When it came to Las Vegas, he always did a special search.

He typed in her name, sat back with number seven.

And gagged on his coffee.

That couldn't be right.

He read the screen again and wondered whether sleep deprivation or plain wishful thinking were getting the better of him. Maybe his eyes weren't working.

It had to be his eyes.

That couldn't be what it said. He read it carefully, letter for letter and word for word. Then he sat there like he'd been turned to a dumb block of wood. It couldn't be her. Chances were high it wasn't. Coming to life, he shoved aside the mug and opened the file where he kept a list of the previous dead ends, the names that had come up as matches but hadn't been her.

This one was new.

Connor's heart pumped up a notch.

He studied the record from the Clark County's website, leaned close to the laptop screen and realized it had been entered that very morning. In fact, its time and date were only a few hours old. Connor brought up the record and felt his gut start to talk when he saw a marriage date of October seventh.

Seven again.

Sleep or no sleep, he had a hard time discounting his gut.

Before he called Tim with this new lead, Connor wanted to check out the groom's name and see what he could find. Las Vegas was a destination, people came there from all over the country to get married, so chances were they didn't live there. Whoever the bride might be, Connor now had a second name-- Terry Edward Davis-- to work with.

A more solid lead.

The bride might be near impossible to find, but Connor had a hunch the groom wouldn't be as difficult.

Most people left a trail.

No longer needing coffee to keep him wide-awake, Connor went to work.

* * * *

"Can I look now?" Madison was dying to look but Terry wouldn't let her.

"Not yet," came the strained reply, along with shuffled feet noises and the sounds of children as they moved about and called to Terry and John.

"Girls, stay out of the way," John ordered. "Izumi, get them out of the hall-- we're almost through the doorway."

Madison stayed in the office even though she wanted like crazy to see. The men were carrying Terry's old mattress from his room, and it was so exciting. When it was gone, she could go in there. His room. Terry's room. It would soon be hers, just as soon as the dreaded bed was gone.


"They're out of the way, John."

"This thing is only a twin, but I hafta say-- it's heavy." John grunted, and Madison resisted looking around the office door and into the hallway. "Either they're making them heavier, or I'm getting older. I hate to say which."

She could hear the men passing, and moved back as the office door bumped a little.

"Izumi, the plastic cover?"

Izzy hurried by, and Madison wished she could be useful.

She strained to listen, smiled at the girls as they came to the office door and looked in. They waited together until the back door sounded, then Ruthie ran off to see what was going on.

A moment later she came back.

"They're gone!"

Madison ventured into the hall, her heart beating so fast she had a hard time keeping it in her chest. She hadn't gotten much sleep last night for all the excitement of the move, and sitting still for breakfast had been impossible. Biting her lip, she looked to the girls, who seemed a bit confused that she should be so excited about moving out a bed.

Taking a step toward Terry's room, Madison stopped. The box springs and bedstead were still in there, but oh, how she wanted to go inside.

The hotel suite had taught her how wonderful it could be to have a small space with Terry, and she wanted another taste of that as soon as possible. If Terry had known how badly, he would've skipped breakfast.

"Coming through." Terry smiled when he saw Madison, and nodded as she backed into the office. "It's starting to rain again."

She groaned when she noticed the splat marks on his coat. "Oh, Terry."

"We'll just use plastic covers," he grinned, and shooed the munchkins out of his way. "John, the box springs won't be as hard to manage through the hall, but I'm thinking those couches are going to be tricky."

Madison ducked back into the office, and Ruthie came to hide with her.

"You're fun," Ruthie smiled up at Madison.

"I'm glad you think so."

"Izumi, where's the plastic?" John called.

It didn't take long for Izzy to come down the hall with something that rustled.

Some banging made Ruthie jump, and she looked at Madison. Though the child could go see what was going on, Madison sensed it was more exciting for Ruthie to hide and guess.

"We'll need to take the door off its hinges later on," John grunted as his voice moved into the hall. "It's going to get in the way."

Madison heard footsteps, then Ruthie peeked around the office door. The girl left after a few moments, then came back with her sister Debbie.

"They're gone again."

"I have to wait here a little longer," Madison smiled, and Ruthie returned to her spot like they were playing a game that wasn't over.

"They're coming back, and Uncle Terry's carrying a tool chest," Debbie said from the office door.

"Don't tell them we're in here," Ruthie whispered.

"They already know."

"Then why are we hiding?"

Debbie shrugged, kept her watch at the door, and when the men passed, she left the office to Ruthie and Madison.

Ruthie sighed, the hiding game having lost some of its appeal.

"You can go," Madison told the girl.

"What about you?"

"I'll leave when they're done taking the bed apart."

"Do you want me to tell you?"

"Thanks, that would be nice."

Ruthie ran from the office while Madison waited. She knew Terry would tell her when it was safe to go in the bedroom, but it was very sweet of Ruthie to offer. She longed for the day when she would be normal, or at least when she wouldn't have to be wary of triggering flashbacks because of beds and mattresses. That would happen, wouldn't it? She would one day be normal enough to look at a bed and be fine?

Madison prayed it would be true.

She listened hard, heard pounding, the clanking of metal, then footsteps as John's voice moved down the hall.

"It's gone!" Ruthie called, and Madison couldn't leave the office fast enough.

She pushed into the hall, hugged herself as she went to Terry's doorway, sucked in a deep breath and peeked inside.

Terry was kneeling on the carpet, picking up things that had been under his bed while the munchkins collected large dust bunnies. Izzy wheeled in a vacuum cleaner, saw Madison, and smiled.

"It looks bigger in here without a mattress."

"Please, can I do that? It's the least I can do to help." Madison moved to the vacuum and Izzy let her take over. "So this is Terry's bedroom?"

Terry looked up and grinned.

"You were expecting more?"

Fumbling with the vacuum cleaner cord, Madison felt a little embarrassed.

"Maddie, go ahead and talk. You were expecting something different?"

She nodded quickly. "There's nothing on the walls, and except for the dresser, the room's empty. It's almost like you're not really here."

"Well, this is the guest room, so I've tried not to move in too completely."

"Was the guest room," Izzy put in. "A long time ago. It's yours, Terry, and now it's Madison's. Move in-- please, move in." Izzy gave Terry a look, and Terry nodded in agreement. "Paint the walls, change the carpet, do whatever you want. You've been a fixture in this family for far too long, to be standing on so much ceremony."

"Thanks," Terry smiled. "I always figured I'd settled down, or at least I had in temperament, but now with Maddie in my life, I can see I was wrong. I'm cozying in for the long haul."

Madison couldn't look at Terry, but bit her lip to keep from rushing him with a kiss.

"Mommy, look-- we're building a bunny." Lizzie packed the dust with her hands to make ears, while Debbie worked on its body.

"Okay, let's go, so Aunt Madison can vacuum." Izzy coaxed her brood off the floor as John rounded into the bedroom. "John, your coat's wet through."

"That's because the rain's picking up." John shook off his wife's concern. "Until we find someone to take that bed off our hands, we've got it stored in the back of the garage where it's out of the way. Maybe we could donate it to charity. It's certainly in good enough condition."

"Please, put on something that will turn water better than that." Izzy went with her husband into the hall and their children followed. "I want you to change your coat."

"I'll change, but only if Terry does too." John laughed, and Terry called out that he would.

That was good, for Madison didn't want them to catch cold.

She turned on the vacuum, the loud sound echoing off the walls and filling the empty room so much it nearly hurt her ears. She pushed and tugged it across the carpet, very much aware that this was going to be her home now. It made her so happy to know that. It was like all the nicest feelings in the world, all rolled up into one wonderfully ordinary gift. This was just a very rainy day, and she was vacuuming a nothing special carpet, but this was her life. She was alive, she got to belong to Terry, they were a part of this family, and now she got to hide with him in this room. One blessing rolled after another, and they all came from above.

As the others moved further down the hall, Terry got up from the floor, stored some things in the closet, then went to the bedroom door. Madison saw him pause and look at her, as if asking for permission to close it. "May I?" was in his eyes, and she nodded what she hoped was an emphatic "Yes!"

She turned off the vacuum.

The moment the door clicked shut and they were alone, she went to Terry.

"Maddie--" he breathed her name, but she stopped him from speaking and kissed his mouth.

It was too much, she was going too fast.

She knew it, and somehow so did Terry, for his hands eased around her shoulders and gently pulled her away. He kissed her lips, a small nibble that stopped her tears before they even started, and she leaned into his chest and hid herself in his damp coat.

"I love you, Terry."

"I never get tired of hearing that." He rubbed her arm. "Do whatever you want with our room, but make it ours."

She looked up at him, and kissed his handsome mouth-- this time much slower and more controlled than before. It seemed worse for Terry, for he pulled away and steadied himself before looking at her.

"Too slow?" she asked, and Terry nodded.

"We'll get this right," he breathed, "but not this morning. John's probably waiting for me right now. We're going to rent a moving truck, then buy Mr. Davidson's couch."

"What if it won't fit in here? What'll we do?"

"Don't worry, I'll know beforehand if it'll fit or not. I have the measurements with me, and if it won't work, then John and I will go to a furniture store."

Content, she hugged Terry's shoulder.

"I need to put on my raincoat." He kissed her nose, and she leaned in and kissed his. Terry broke into a lopsided grin, thumped a hand over his heart and sighed. "I love you right back, Maddie. I love you right back."

It was the simplicity of his love that got to her. It wasn't fancy, just straightforward and honest, like him. This was Terry, and it made Madison love him all the more.

She watched as he went to the closet.

"Half the space in here is yours-- more than half if you need it." Terry pulled out a long coat, then went to the dresser and grabbed a sweatshirt. "Feel free to go through things, and push stuff aside to make room for yourself."

"The Dragon would never say that to me, never in a million years." Madison hugged herself as he took off his damp coat, then pulled the sweatshirt over his head. "You're so different from him, Terry."

"Thanks," Terry grinned. "That's a big compliment." He got into his raincoat, put on some rubber boots, then hung his coat in the bathroom to dry. "I'll let you know if we run into any problems. You have your phone? Call if you need me, and don't forget we have an appointment with Carol this evening."

"I won't forget." Madison hugged Terry's arm as they moved to the bedroom door. "Thank you for being you, Terry."

"If I wasn't me, who else would I be?"

"You could be someone else, and then none of this would be happening." Madison squeezed Terry's arm to be sure he understood. "I wouldn't be moving into this room with just anyone, and I wouldn't have married you if you weren't you."

"Maddie, I feel the same way about you." He gave her a kiss, then opened the door, and it only made her hold onto him harder. "If I don't leave now, I never will," he whispered.

She let him go and was rewarded with a touch on the cheek. Her hand went to his, and Terry sighed.

He had the nicest chocolate brown eyes.

"Hey, Buddy." John came down the hall in his raincoat and squeaking boots. "You ready?"

"Yeah." Terry moved away, and Madison followed after him as he and John went into the living room. Terry looked at her, gave her a smile just between them, then went out the door as John called out to Izzy that they were taking the car.

Madison moved to the nearest window to watch Terry until their car disappeared onto the road behind the trees and the rain. The girls were busy with each other and with their momma, but Madison wasn't ready to leave the window just yet.

The phone in Madison's pocket rang.

She pulled it out and her heart tumbled for joy when she saw Terry's name on the screen.


"Maddie, are you still at the window?"

"I--" She carefully stepped away. "Not anymore."

"Good. Then I can stop picturing you there, and get my mind back on the move. I'll see you later." He hung up, the smile in his voice having left a warm hug around her heart.

Her insides danced with joy as she put the phone back in her pocket. He'd made her feel special, even though she wasn't special at all.

She would do her best for Terry, she would vacuum that room so clean he would think someone had put down new carpet. Her heart full to brimming over, Madison went back to their room, turned on the vacuum and attacked those dust bunnies with a vengeance.

Terry would be so proud of her.

When she'd vacuumed the carpet so many times she was afraid of hurting it, she turned off the machine and turned her attention to the dresser. Taking Izzy's feather duster, Madison went over Terry's things, trying not to disturb anything but the fine layer of dust.

There were cuff links-- gold ones. They had his initials in fancy letters. The duster moved over a photo frame of John, Izzy, and Abby as a little girl. Smaller, Abby had more of John's face, though her eyes had always been her mother's. Another family photo, this one with everyone and the triplets, and yet another of when the triplets were tiny babies. Cute tiny girls with big smiles. A comb, a folded piece of paper-- the duster went over those, too, and Madison lingered, curious what the paper said.

Terry had told her it was all right to go through things. Would it be all right to just see what the paper was?

She looked about, saw no one, and edged up the corner.

It was a receipt, nothing more. Still, she was glad to be this close to him. Curious about the dresser, she opened the top drawer. Underthings. She slapped the drawer shut.

Maybe being this close wasn't so good.

She tried the second drawer and found socks and handkerchiefs, and here, she felt safe. Here, she could move in.

Excited, Madison rounded into the living room and collected her sweet picture frame with her and Terry. She went back to the dresser, arranged the frame among the others and was delighted when it fit. Like she belonged. Like God had made a place for her and she was in it. Like she was home.

Heart pounding, Madison limp-raced to the office bathroom. She picked out the grocery bags with her clothes, then carried them into the hall as Izzy came out of the girls' room.

"Doing all right?" Izzy asked, and Madison nodded.

Izzy smiled and went about whatever she was doing, and Madison returned to her new room and to the open dresser drawer. She pulled out her underthings, knew Terry would be as sensitive about them as she had been about the top drawer and decided his socks and handkerchiefs had to go.

They couldn't share that second drawer.

The socks went into the third drawer with his jeans and some other clothes, and the handkerchiefs she carefully stuffed into the fourth, with his sweaters.

That gave her the second for herself, and it fit all the clothes she had, with room to spare. So much room, she spread out her things a little so it filled the drawer and made it seem like she had more than she did. Just in case Terry should look and feel bad that it was so empty. She didn't mind though. She was the richest woman in the world, in her heart.

With a flourish, she set her hairbrush on the dresser. Looked it over, then scooted it beside Terry's comb.

They belonged together. Just like her and Terry.

She had clothes in the laundry from their trip, but she could hang up her coat in Terry's closet. And she could pull out some things from the drawer and put them on hangers even though it would make the drawer emptier.

Then Madison remembered her gifts-- the Terri doll, her teddy bear, the jar candle, and bath things, and hurried back to the bathroom to add them to the drawer. She put in her spiral notebook and her Jane Austen and made the second drawer her treasure drawer as well, and then it was no longer empty.

The only thing she couldn't put in were her poor roses.

She went to the closet, peeked inside as rain sounded on the roof. Shoes were tucked into a neat organizer at her feet, and off to the side sat a box with fishing things, along with a tall stack of books. They were mostly about fishing, but she saw several titles that looked like they had to do with science fiction and technology. Boxes sat on a shelf high above her head, many of them labeled "Terry's."

Along with the smell of clean laundry, she could just make out a trace of Terry's scent in that closet. She moved close to a jacket and smiled. Did love do this to you, or was this normal?

It was then she noticed that the clothes were organized by type, and that they all hung in the same direction. She ran her hand over the fabric and wished their owner were here. All this organization meant Terry liked things a certain way, and she hoped he wouldn't mind that his handkerchiefs were now in with his sweaters.

Some cloth bags hung at one end of the closet, and curious, she opened one. It was a pressed suit, and the next bag held a dark one-- maybe a tuxedo. There were at least three or four suits and a tuxedo neatly organized with "Gone Fishin'" T-shirts that made her smile and remember that even though Terry was in business, he was still approachable. He was still hers.

Getting her coat, Madison tucked it into the closet. Maybe when it came out, it would come out smelling like him. Then she could imagine it was him keeping her warm, and not the coat.

Taking what she could from her drawer and putting them on hangers, Madison daydreamed of Terry.

* * * *

Connor's head jerked back as he read the home address from his laptop. Finding the groom on the Las Vegas marriage record had meant taking the next step of going into other databases, and that had been easy. Terry Davis wasn't a ghost-- he'd been a cinch to find, but what Connor hadn't counted on was this home address.

New York State. What were the chances of finding a lead in Nevada, and then of it bringing him back here? Of all places?

Adrenaline made his heart race.

It had to be a coincidence. A random lightning strike. It couldn't be her.

She'd been adopted, her name had likely been changed twenty-six years ago, so it wasn't her.

No way was it her. No way.

Connor picked up the phone. He needed to call his client, though he knew enough of Tim to know this wouldn't help things. Connor already had trouble getting Tim to keep things in perspective, and this-- this wouldn't help.

He glanced at the time, winced, but punched Tim's number anyway. If he got voicemail, then so be it, he'd at least be on record that he'd tried to call.

In typical Tim fashion, the number answered on the first ring.

"What'd you find?"

"How do you know I found anything?"

"You're calling me at work."

"Sorry about that--"

"Forget it, what did you find?"

Connor blew out a breath and wondered if he should've stalled for more time before he made this call. Tim was so excitable. His client had wanted to be kept in the loop though...

"Tim, you'd better sit down."

A loud thud sounded, something slammed into the phone.

"Tim? Tim, are you there?" Connor heard footsteps, a voice shouted something, then the groggy moan of pain. "Hey, Tim? Are you all right?" Connor waited, wondering what in the world was going on until he heard the phone scraping against something, then someone's labored breath.

A voice in the distance said Tim's name.

"I'm okay."

"Tim?" Connor waited, realizing Tim was speaking to someone else.

"It's nothing-- no, I don't need the emergency room. It'll stop bleeding in a moment. Connor, are you still there?"

"Yes, I'm still here. What happened?"

"I-- I guess I blacked out."

Connor squeezed his eyes shut. Just what he needed. Guilt.

"What were you about to tell me? You found her, didn't you? That's why you wanted me to sit down."

"Now Tim, I want you to keep things in perspective. It's probably not her. I can't stress that enough. The chances of it being her are so low, I can't even believe I'm bothering to call you." That wasn't true, but with Tim, Connor wanted to play it safe before the guy passed out again.

"Then why are you calling me at work? You've never done that before. It's her, isn't it? Tell me what you have."

"A Las Vegas marriage record for Madison Olivia Jones."

"It said Olivia?"

"It did. That's what got my attention, too. Finding a Madison Jones is much more common than getting all three. But we've had that before. That's not all I found out--"

"I'm all right--" Tim sounded agitated and distracted, and Connor waited until they could talk again. "I don't have any concussion, thanks. Please, this is an important call." A heavy breath blew across the phone, then Tim's voice wavered back. "She was adopted."

"I know. It's probably not her, but I ran down the groom's name anyway. Tim, they live in New York State."

"Oh, man. Oh, man. Oh, man." Tim was hyperventilating, and Connor kicked himself for not better preparing Tim for that news.

"It doesn't mean it's her. I will admit though," Connor winced as he heard the words come from his own mouth, "it is interesting."

"What's his name? What's her husband's name?"

"Before I tell you-- I'd like to remind you of our plan. Remember what we agreed to the first time you hired me five years ago?"

"Six years. Yeah, I remember. You make contact first so I don't scare her. I wouldn't scare her, though. She's my sister." Frustration sounded in Tim's voice. "Tell me the husband's name."

"Are you going to call him?"

"No. I'll let you make first contact."

Connor hesitated. "The marriage record gives the groom's name as Terry Edward Davis. I ran him through my databases and he's living in Upstate New York."

"You're kidding."

"I wouldn't joke with you-- not over this." Connor sensed the tension, the coiled up, tensed up hope of his client, and tried not to let it affect his own judgment. "It's up near the Canadian border, someplace called Three Mile Bay."

"I'm not familiar with that area."

"It's a small place. I looked it up, and it happens to be an hour and a half north of where you live."

Absolute stunned silence.

"Don't go there, Tim. Let me make first contact. Let's stick with the plan and not go off half-cocked."

"I can't believe she's here."

"She might not be. It might not be her."

"It is. I can feel it."

Connor was silent.

"I need to get back to work, but please-- PLEASE, call me the second you talk to them. I want to know every word they said, especially her."

"I will."

"Will you call them today?"

"Just as soon as we get off the phone."

"Then I'm hanging up." Tim sounded wired, a nervous kind of excitement that Connor tried hard to fend off. "I'm telling Karen the good news."

Before Connor could warn Tim that the good news might turn out to be another dead end, Tim hung up. Man, Connor wished Tim would learn to calm down. At least Connor had tried to warn him.

Not wanting to put it off a moment longer for Tim's sake, Connor collected his thoughts, punched in Terry Davis' number, sat back in his chair and breathed deep.

When voicemail picked up, Connor groaned softly.

"Hi, this is Terry Davis. If you'll leave a message, I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks."

Connor smiled, knowing it would make a difference in his tone and inflection and tried to speak fast before he ran out of recording time--

"Hello, this is Ben Connor, I'm a private investigator calling on behalf of my client, Timothy O'Brien. I'm trying to locate the whereabouts of Tim's half sister, Madison Olivia Jones, daughter of Candace and Harold Jones. Tim would love to meet his sister, so if you think I might have the right Madison, please get back to me at..." Connor gave his number, then thanked them for listening before he ran out of message time.

Okay. He'd made contact, though it wasn't exactly the first contact he'd hoped for. A conversation would have been better, but at least he'd left a message.

He called Tim.

"I got voicemail," Connor explained, then related what he'd said. "There's nothing more we can do but wait and see if we get a call back."

"It was an active number? Is there another you could try?"

"Tim, let's wait and see what happens. I can always follow up on the call, but let's not panic. Let's give them time."

"Okay." Tim sounded like he was five seconds away from tears, but he was holding it together. "Do you think she'll call?"

"If she agrees to meet you, then yes, she'll have to call. If it's her."

Tim sighed longingly. "Thanks for getting back. Tell me the moment you hear from them."

"I will. Hang in there."

They punched off, and Connor pulled away from his desk with a groan. He was drained. He needed a quick catnap before the call came. If the call came. He had no idea if they had found Madison, but for the first time in a long while, hope was finding its way into Connor's mind. Not an easy place for hope to survive when reason kept saying it was impossible.


Something about this case was making Connor hope.

What if after all this time, they had actually found her?

* * * *

The plastic covered couch hefted over to one side, nearly crushing Terry's foot when his cell phone rang. He ignored the phone in his pocket, prayed it wasn't Maddie trying to reach him, and worked with John to angle the couch through Mr. Davidson's door.

Though Mr. Davidson offered to help, it was a two man job and Terry and John managed to get it up the ramp and into the back of the enclosed cargo area of the moving truck without losing their footing. It was a wet day, but Terry felt nothing but gratitude that the Lord was providing. Despite the price Mr. Davidson had wanted for the couch, it was still a very good buy.

While John talked with Terry's tenant, Terry measured the remaining space in the cargo area. To his relief, he was glad to find they hadn't been wrong about having enough room to haul a second couch. It came as welcome news, for Terry wanted to get home, get back to Maddie, and get out of this pouring rain.

Terry hurried into the truck's cab as thunder boomed across the skies.

The phone rang again, and this time, Terry's hands were free so he dug it out from under the raincoat while John climbed behind the wheel. Terry smiled when he saw Maddie's name on the screen. He answered as rain dripped off his hood and spilled onto the phone's waterproof case. The case he kept his iPhone in for days such as these.

"The rain's coming down even worse, Terry. Are you and John all right?"

"We're fine-- in fact, we're better than fine. We've got the first couch, and we're on our way to Pastor Bill's house to pick up the second. We didn't want Lauren or anyone at the apartment complex to see two couches in the moving truck."

"You have it? You have a couch?"

"We do, and it's going to fit in the bedroom. Pray the second one is the right size, as well." Terry palmed the rain from his eyes. "Did you try to call me a few minutes ago?"

"No, I didn't. Are you and John going to eat out, or do you want us to have lunch ready when you get home?"

"Have it fixed, please. We're not going to slow down for anything until we get these couches back to the house." He saw John nod in agreement. "We'll be back as soon as we can. I'll see you then."

Terry hung up, quickly checked the missed calls screen and saw an unfamiliar number from Syracuse, New York.

It wasn't odd, just an ordinary missed calls entry.

He didn't have time to listen to the voicemail, and pocketed the phone.

Rain poured from the heavens faster than the windshield wipers could carry it away, and a thought went through Terry that he wanted to return the call later, when he got home. The thought came as a still, small voice, and passed almost before he had a chance to question why.

As the moving truck pulled in front of Pastor Bill's house, there was no time for anything but to grab his tape measure and to make sure he had the numbers for their bedroom handy.

He had a couch to see about.

"It is God which worketh in you [Terry] both to will and to do of His good pleasure."
~ Philippians 2:13 ~

end of chapter