Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel


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To Love and to Promise

Sample Chapter
Copyright ©1999 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author.

Prologue

Brionney's heart was breaking. She looked at Marc, feeling the tears overflow and slip down her cheeks.

"Don't, Bri," he said. His voice was rough and full of remorse.

She loved him—there was no other way of describing the feeling in her heart. His friendship during the past summer had made Brionney understand herself and had also boosted her self-confidence. Marc hadn't cared that she had been overweight and shy, unsure of herself. He had enjoyed her company and appreciated her opinions. He had loved her.

In the end, it wasn't enough. Brionney had wanted more from their relationship, and Marc had wanted more, but they eventually discovered that the magic between them was only destined to go as far as friendship.

"I'm going to miss you," she said, speaking in French as they always did.

His eyebrows drew together tightly, and for a minute, she thought he was going to cry. "You've been the best thing in my life in a long time, Brionney. I would give anything if this could be different."

She nodded, not trusting her voice.

He leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips. The action brought no stars, no quickening of her heartbeat, just that wrenching sadness that ate away at her soul. Brionney wanted to pull his face back to her and try again, but she knew the feelings wouldn't change.

"I've tried to put her out of my mind," Marc said miserably.

But Brionney knew the older woman who had first captured Marc's heart when he was fifteen was only a part of the problem. If Marc loved Brionney as a woman, and if she loved him as a man, their relationship would have conquered his obsession with Danielle. Brionney thought his love for the unattainable, happily married woman was like a security blanket he held onto as he waited for true love.

True love. What was it really? Would she ever know?

Not with Marc.

But her heart was still breaking. She wished desperately that she could love Marc more. Her love alone might carry them through. But she had learned enough with him in the past months to know that she could never settle for anything less than a whole relationship.

Yet it hurt to let go. It hurt desperately. He was closer than a brother, but now that was ending. The knowledge hung over them like a dark shadow.

"You'll miss your plane," he said.

A little sob escaped her throat. He pulled her to him tightly, as though he wouldn't let her go. "If you ever need me, call."

Those closest to them hoped they would still get together someday, and Brionney herself entertained this thought when the pain of losing him was too much to bear. But they both knew that this moment was it. Once she returned to America and began her studies at Brigham Young University, there could be nothing more for them except letters and sporadic phone calls as they gradually grew apart on their separate continents. Their time together had come to an end.

"I love you," she whispered.

This time it was Marc's turn to nod in agreement, too close to tears to speak. He gave her a gentle shove in the direction of the entrance. She lifted a hand to wave, but he was already leaving. She watched him go. He didn't turn around and she was glad. To see his face again would hurt too much.

Resolutely, Brionney picked up her bags and turned away. Now all she had were the memories of the long, lazy days in France and the hope of the future BYU would bring. I will be happy, she vowed. I will find my true love.

* * * * *

Behind her, Marc stopped and watched her go, happy that she couldn't see the tears streaming down his face. He couldn't give her what she deserved, though he badly wanted to be the one who could. Brionney was innocent, trusting, and so beautiful. She was a woman to be loved and cared for. She was a woman who could give her whole heart. He envied the man who would receive it.

I love you, he thought. Goodbye.

* * * * *

Brionney awoke with the sound of the alarm. She was tempted to slap it into silence and return to her warm covers, but a thought of the chunky, awkward girl she had been before visiting France forced her to her feet. No way! She would not be fat again—-ever. She certainly didn't want to listen to any snide BYU co-ed jokes. No, a rigorous morning jog kept the pounds away and also kept Brionney in her new jeans. But, oh, how she hated exercising!

When she returned from the morning torture, she showered and went into the kitchen, where her mother met her at the door with a smile. The delicious aroma of cooking bacon filled Brionney's nose. She groaned silently. Even after almost six weeks of being home from France, her mother was still not used to her new eating habits.

"I have breakfast ready."

"No bacon for me, Mom. But thanks."

"Well, okay," she said uncertainly. "Do you have a date tonight?"

"No, there's a dance. I'm going with Becky and Kim." Brionney couldn't keep the excitement from her voice. How different dances were for her now that she didn't hold up the wall for the entire duration!

"How fun! Are you going to wear those new jeans? They make you look—what was the term you always use?—hot."

Brionney laughed. "Yeah, I am." She slid a piece of omelet between two slices of whole wheat bread and made her way to the door. "See you later."

On campus, Brionney watched the students pouring past her. She loved the life, the vitality, the heart of BYU. A man she didn't know smiled at her, and Brionney smiled back. Not until he passed did she realized how much he looked like Marc. Her smile faded, and the old pain returned. I still miss him.

Her sadness didn't remain long. She arrived in class and was immediately swept into the discussion. French was her favorite subject and she knew she was good at it—better even than most of the returned missionaries.

"Are you going to that dance tonight?" whispered Curt, who usually sat next to her.

Brionney nodded, anticipating his next words.

"Then save me a dance, eh?"

"Okay."

They had been out a few times, and he was good for her lonely heart, but she didn't know if the relationship would amount to anything. Maybe tonight she would find out. She had the feeling something big was going to happen.

* * * * *

"Man, I've had only one date this whole month," groaned Becky above the blare of the music.

Kim rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, if it weren't for Gunther, I'd have had no dates at all."

"That's only because you still go out with him," Becky said. "If guys knew you were free, they'd ask you."

"Well, probably." Kim was gorgeous and always had a boyfriend and a slew of admirers.

Brionney laughed. She had been on six dates in the last month, and had enjoyed herself immensely. She wasn't about to admit to these new friends that before her summer days with Marc she had never been on even one date. BYU was a whole new world, and she was making up for lost time.

"If someone would ask us to dance, we could try out that new step we learned in class," Becky said, eying the crowd around them.

Kim moaned. "Oh, Becky, maybe you'd better not." The girls shared a dance class, but Becky couldn't seem to get any of the moves right without falling or tripping her partner.

"May I have this dance?" Someone said in Brionney's ear. She looked up to see a handsome man staring down at her—not hard, since she was so short.

"Sure."

Brionney danced almost every dance, until finally she leaned against the wall for a rest. Becky joined her. "Looks like Kim has found a new friend. Between you and me, I don't think Gunther is going to last long."

"Me neither," Brionney said with a laughed.

Feeling unseen eyes, Brionney turned and saw a man watching her. He stood with a crowd of friends, talking and laughing. His piercing blue eyes and white-blond hair, the same color as Brionney's, separated him from the other strangers. He was the most handsome man she had ever seen. She tried to tear her gaze away, because surely he wouldn't be interested in her. Just then he smiled, and a chill rippled through her body. She wanted to stare at him forever, but felt a blush stain her cheeks, and dropped her gaze quickly. Thank heavens it was fairly dark in the ballroom; he shouldn't be able to see her red face. From the corner of her eye, she saw the man separate himself from his friends and approach. Her hands grew sweaty, and she wiped them on her jeans.

"Would you like to dance?"

"Sure," she said casually, trying to match his air of ease. His hand touched her arm as he led her onto the floor.

"I'm Derek Roathe," he said loudly enough to carry over the music.

Her heart was pounding so loudly she almost couldn't speak. He was so incredibly good-looking! "I'm Brionney Fields," she managed.

"So what's your major?"

"French." Since Brionney's brother had first been called to serve a mission in France, the language had fascinated her. Her relationship with Marc during the summer had only helped her talent along. "I'm a freshman." She didn't add that her French classes were already three hundred level courses. Bragging wasn't her style.

"I'm in business management," he told her. "I'm a senior."

The music changed to a slow dance, and Derek put his arms around her. Brionney's heart did crazy things inside her chest. She'd always thought that the descriptions in the occasional romance novel she had read were corny. They had always seemed to make the heroine's heart seem like it had a life of it's own. But that was exactly how her heart felt when Derek touched her. Marc had never given her that feeling.

Their conversation came easy, and flowed even more smoothly as the dances progressed. He didn't seem to want to leave her side. After a few dances, he took her over to his group of friends and introduced her.

"This is Brionney." He went around the group, putting a name to each face, and everyone nodded and smiled—except one girl with long dark hair. Brionney felt her unfriendliness like a bucket of cold water on a warm day.

While Derek was deep in a conversation with a friend, she came up to Brionney's side. "Just watch it," she said. "He only likes skinny girls. You gain an ounce and you're out."

Brionney stared at her, surprised, not knowing what to say. Derek turned to her at that moment, and the girl faded into the crowd. "Want to dance again?" he asked. Another slow song was playing and Brionney definitely did want to dance.

Her own friends, Becky and Kim, were suddenly scarce, but she caught sight of them behind a pillar, peeping out and giving her the thumbs-up signal. Much later, when it was time to go home, they were nowhere to be seen.

"Would you like a ride?" Derek asked. "My apartment's near here. We can walk there and pick up my car, if you live far."

"I live off campus," she said. Then in a lower voice she added, "With my parents." If that bothered him, he gave no indication.

The October night was clear and unusually warm, with bright stars overhead, as if signaling the beginning of something beautiful. He reached out and firmly took her hand, causing her heart to beat like thunder in her ears and making it difficult for her to breathe. Both reactions scared and thrilled her simultaneously. She couldn't believe it was happening to her! Not even the romance novels had prepared her for this!

The walk to his apartment was over too soon. His car was a sleek, dark green convertible, a sport model. "Nice car," she said, trying not to gape.

He grinned. "Thanks. It's a pre-graduation present from my father."

"Wow!" Brionney's father worked hard at his real estate office, but she didn't think he would ever be able to buy her such a gift.

"Don't let it fool you," Derek said. His voice took on an odd note. "He's trying to buy his way into my life. He and Mom recently got divorced, and I haven't seen him much. He's a good guy, but—" He shrugged and opened the door for her to slide in.

"Is it working?" she asked when he was seated beside her.

"What?" He started the engine with a single fluid movement.

"Is he getting into your life?"

Strong shoulders lifted in a shrug. "Yeah, why not?"

"Are they members, your parents?"

"Not active. They set their sights on other things. I hope they'll come back one day. I learned on my mission that anyone can change if they want to."

"Any brothers and sisters?"

"A half-sister. My father is remarried now. But I've never seen her, my sister, I mean."

"How old is she?"

"I really don't know. I go and see him sometimes, but he keeps that part of his life pretty separate from his relationship with me." He paused. "So how about you?"

"Three sisters and one brother. All older than me, and married. They have six kids between them and three more on the way. Zack, my brother, and his wife live in France. They just had a baby a while ago." She laughed and Derek smiled. "Other than the French connection, I guess we're just your average Mormon family."

When he pulled up at her house, Brionney was glad that her mother spent so much time in the yard. While they didn't live in one of the largest homes in the neighborhood, they did have an incredible landscape to set off their stylish home. A white light shone on the sculpted bushes and evergreens, making them more remarkable at night. She watched as Derek glanced around in appreciation.

"Beautiful," he said. He motioned to the house, but looked at her as he spoke. She felt a blush on her cheeks and was grateful for the darkness.

"Come on," she said quickly to hide her embarrassment. Derek laughed, as if all too aware of her feelings.

Derek won her parents over in minutes, impressing them with his politeness and confidence. Before long they talked with him as if they had known him forever. Then came the thing Brionney dreaded. "Would you like to see some family pictures?" her mother asked.

Brionney shook her head vigorously behind Derek's head. "No!" she mouthed, trying to silence her mother with her eyes. She jumped from the couch. "I'm sure Derek doesn't have time for that, Mom." Brionney got him out of the house as quickly as possible.

"I'm sorry," she apologized as the door shut behind them. "Acres and acres of baby pictures--I don't know what they were thinking! Were parents ever young?"

He laughed. "Thanks for rescuing me."

Standing by his car in the brisk air, they talked for a long time about everything and nothing. Then suddenly Derek stepped closer and put his arms about her. His face lowered and Brionney held her breath. Should she let him kiss her on this first night? She hadn't planned on it, but felt powerless as their lips met. A million fireworks went off in her head. For a moment, she felt she was drowning and didn't want to be saved.

Derek drew back after a long moment. "I'll call you," he said gruffly.

"You have my number." She took a few steps up the walk and then paused to watch him drive away.

She went inside the house, feeling as though she was walking on air. Her parents were still in the living room. "I can't believe you were going to show him my fat pictures!" she said. "I don't want him to know what I was like."

"You were still you, Brionney," her mother said with a trace of amusement.

"No, that life's gone now. I'm a new person." Brionney looked at her mother urgently. "Please don't show them to him." If he ever comes back, she added silently.

"All right. I won't."

Brionney kissed her parents and said goodnight. It wasn't until she arrived in her room and saw the picture of Marc on her dresser that she realized she hadn't thought about him all night. Even now the sadness that normally accompanied thoughts of him was absent. She took the picture and placed it under some clothes in her top drawer where she wouldn't see it every day. "I think I may have found him, Marc," she whispered. "And it was worth waiting for."

Now if he would only call!

* * * * *

Brionney waited for two days before Derek finally telephoned. He took her out to a movie and a dinner. The magic was still between them, sparkling like electricity. When he kissed her goodnight, she never wanted it to end.

After that night, Derek became a constant visitor. Brionney knew her grades were slipping, but Derek made the world so exciting. They went to movies, plays, fine restaurants, and occasionally walking in the park.

"Don't you think you should slow down a bit?" her mother asked. "I mean I know you were pretty shaken up about Marc. Maybe you should give yourself time to heal."

"Marc?" Brionney asked absently as she thumbed through her latest issue of Bride Magazine. "Marc was just a friend, Mom. That's all he ever was. But Derek, he's different. I love being with him."

"But you never go roller blading anymore. You don't go hiking or do anything that you used to love."

Brionney smiled gently. "I'm just growing up, Mom. Get used to it." She hugged her to show that she wasn't trying to be mean.

"Just be careful," her mother said in her ear. "Don't settle for anything less than a temple marriage."

"Of course not."

There was a honk outside and Brionney ran to meet Derek, who waited for her in the car.

* * * * *

Irene Fields watched her daughter slip into the green sports car and drive away. She felt her husband come in the room behind her. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"It's Brionney and that boy. I just worry. At first I really liked him, but now I've noticed that he seems so intent on having fun and spending money. And have you noticed that every time I bring up his family he changes the subject? I don't know. Maybe it's the way youth is today, but I get the feeling our daughter's heading into a dark tunnel and I am helpless to stop her."

Terrell put his arms around his wife. "I know the feeling," he said. "But I don't know if it's real or because she's our last child at home. It'll be lonely without her."

Irene sighed. "Well, there's really nothing more we can do now but be here for her . . . and pray."

* * * * *

Christmas was in the air and Brionney felt her excitement build. She hadn't been out with anyone besides Derek since the night of the dance. To her knowledge neither had he. "He is so right for you," Becky said enviously at their dance class. "You two look like a couple out of a magazine or something. Do you think he might ask you to marry him?"

Brionney hoped so. Every night she prayed that he would. She had the wedding practically planned in her mind. They would get married in the Provo Temple in early May after Derek graduated. Her brother Zack and his wife, Josette, would come from France to attend, bringing the baby no one in America had yet seen. Everything would be perfect as she and Derek promised their eternal love. Afterwards, they would live together in warm Arizona where Derek had already accepted a job, pending his graduation. They would have children and live the perfect Mormon fairytale.

"Brionney, are you listening? I want to know what you'll say if he asks you to marry him?"

"Derek makes me feel like no one ever has," she replied with a faraway smile.

"Not even that Marc guy you used to always talk about?"

"Not even him."

A few days before school let out, Brionney met Derek in the school cafeteria. After collecting their food, he led her to their usual place. "No, sit on this side," he said.

"Why—" she began. Then she saw the banner covering the entire back wall.

BRIONNEY, WILL YOU MARRY ME?

She was stunned into silence, but her tears came readily.

"Is that a yes or a no?" he asked, pulling a ring box from the inner pocket in his coat.

"Y—yes," she managed.

Derek whooped and opened the box to reveal the biggest diamond she had ever seen, surrounded by clusters of smaller diamonds. He put it on Brionney's trembling finger.

Suddenly they were swarmed by a group of Derek's friends, slapping them on the back and hollering congratulations. Someone took pictures. Brionney would rather have been alone with Derek to revel in her new status, but she had never been happier. I found him, she thought. At last.

"We are going to be so happy," Derek promised in her ear, sending chills up her spine. "We'll have every comfort life has to offer. Everything!"

Brionney believed him—then. Twenty months later everything changed.

Read the backliner and author's comments.

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