Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©2005 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
Amanda Huntington's quick footsteps echoed eerily in the nearly deserted
hallway of Grovecrest Elementary where she taught fourth grade. Though it
was barely four o'clock, the school was darker than usual, signaling that
clouds had moved in to cover the sun. The artificial lights overhead did
little to cut through the resulting gloom. Snow was definitely on the
"Did the fire alarm go off?" James Hill emerged from the other fourth-grade
classroom and hurried on his shorter legs to catch up to her. "Oh, I know.
I bet you have a hot dateeh, greeny?" He called her that
because her eyes were green and because she was the newest teacher at the
"Not hardly," she retorted. James was always teasing her about finding
someone special. He said he couldn't understand why a woman as attractive
as Amanda wasn't dating. In the few months she had taught at the school,
James, abetted by his wife, had repeatedly tried to set her up with a seemingly
endless slew of available bachelors. Amanda wasn't interested.
Her history with men wasn't good. She'd experienced one brief, misguided
engagement right after high school, and then last year, worried about growing
older, she had nearly married a man she cared for but really hadn't
lovednot totally and completely in the way she'd always
dreamed. She'd been saved from making that terrible mistake by a chance encounter
with an old high school flame, Tanner Wolfe. As they began dating, she discovered
that he was the man of her dreamseverything she could want.
She fell in love, quickly and hard, only to realize too late that he cared
for someone else. In the end she had let him go. The experience had been
painful, to say the least.
No, for the time being, she was satisfied with her single existence.
She alone decided what she wanted to do and when, what she wanted to eat
and where, and she was becoming independent. That was good. She hadn't even
joined the singles ward in the area yet, preferring a family ward because
it gave her the opportunity to get to know her neighbors. It also gave her
time to... well, heal.
There was a part of her who hoped forand even planned
fora relationship in the future. Growing up in the Church,
she had long envisioned herself as part of a growing family, surrounded by
children to love and to raise.
Well, she was surrounded by children every day. That part, at least,
had come true. Twelve long months had passed since she'd said good-bye to
Tanner, but, if she were truthful, sometimes she relived the memory as though
the events had occurred only yesterday. Oh, how her heart had broken, seeing
him walk through her apartment door and out of her life! She wondered if
she would always regret letting him go, always regret allowing him to believe
she had accepted Gerry's proposal, when the reality was that her love for
Tanner had been the determining factor in her refusal. How could she marry
Gerry when she had caught a glimpse of true love? Yet how could she make
Tanner stay when his heart was elsewhere? When Tanner had married a few months
later, she knew she had done the right thing. Part of her wished him the
best, but another part had cried into her pillow for months until there were
no tears left.
That was then. She was over himor so she reminded herself
for the millionth time.
"So how'd class go today?" James asked.
"What?" Amanda forced herself to return to the present.
"The kids. You know, the ones you teach." James's large nose and receding
brown hairline made his bright hazel eyes stand out in his thin face. "How'd
She smiled wearily. "They were all really restless. And it's only Wednesday.
We still have two more days to go before the weekend."
"It's the change in the weather. Once it snows they'll settle down soon
enough. You'll see."
Amanda hoped so. She'd taken this post at the end of August when Rilla
Thompson had become ill and opted for early retirement. Amanda knew she'd
only been offered the job because she'd worked with Rilla at the school last
year while doing her student teaching. This was Amanda's first real teaching
post, and she worried about succeeding. So far she'd made it to November.
"They're great kids," she said.
James shifted the small stack of papers he carried to his other arm
and opened the outside door for her. "Yeah. Lot of energy. Keeps me young."
He was barely in his forties, but Amanda laughed as he'd intended, though
she didn't find it funny. She'd be twenty-five next month and was just beginning
to comprehend how fast the years really did pass.
"Well, it's home to the new baby," James said, taking a step toward
his car. "My wife'll be ready for a break. I tell you, we're too old for
this again. Eight years between number five and number six. That's just
"I thought it kept you young," she quipped.
James laughed and unlocked his car door. As Amanda watched him leave,
her smile died. At least James had someone home waiting for him.
Maybe it had been a mistake, moving out of her shared apartment in Orem
and buying a house in Pleasant Grove. Yet she had wanted to move on with
her lifenot hang in limbo while she waited to meet someone
special. Truth be told, she had come to the point where she didn't even want
to meet someone special. She wanted to be whole and well. She wanted to depend
on herself. Never mind that most of her friends were married. Never mind
that her sister, barely two years older, had a perfect husband and three
perfect children to live in her perfect house. Yes, three perfect children
spaced exactly two years apartjust like their mother had
timed her four babies. In another two years, another baby would appear. It
was a good thing for Amanda that the oldest of her younger brothers hadn't
married yet. At twenty-three and two years off his mission, Mitch was finally
beginning to draw some of the heat at family gatherings.
Amanda had her hand ready to open the door to her green Audi when she
noticed a change in the sky. The mountains were edged in mist and gloom,
but right in the middle there was a break in the clouds where the sun lit
up the steep slopes. Her breath caught in her throat, and her spirits lifted.
This was why she had moved to the East Bench in Pleasant
Groveso she could view the majestic mountains from her kitchen
window every day.
After a moment the clouds closed again, and Amanda slipped inside her
car. On the drive home, her thoughts drifted toward dinner. The idea of cooking
exhausted her. Once, she had enjoyed cooking and creating something special
for a date or her roommates, but living alone had squeezed much of that pleasure
from her. She always ate too much and ended up with leftovers that went to
waste. It was more economical to throw a ready-made meal into the microwave
Then she remembered that her sister, Kerrianne, was feeling sick, and
with a new two-month-old baby, even her perfect sister might need a little
help. The thought of seeing her niece and two nephews brightened Amanda's
thoughts. Though she spent much of her day with children, her niece and nephews
were the most important children in her life.
It's my stupid biological clock, she thought. Of course,
her mother's weekly phone calls and overt questions about her personal life
never helped matters.
Amanda made a silent vow to get out more with her friends. Generally, her
life was filled with laughter and important things to do. Only in this past
month as the first anniversary of her break with Tanner loomed had she become
She whistled to herself as she went inside her small, three-bedroom
house. Facing the west and nestled on a hill above newer, much larger homes,
the house was her dream. She had the best of a good neighborhood, a low mortgage,
and when there wasn't fog, a view to die for. The only thing she regretted
was the lack of a garage. Hopefully, the coming winter wouldn't be too
In the kitchen she turned on the gas oven before walking into the attached
family room where she put in her new Josh Groban CD. The music bore little
resemblance to the new wave rock she had adored in high school, but her tastes
had refined as the years passed. A companion she'd had on her mission to
Georgia had introduced her to Groban, and now she was hooked. She especially
loved the rare songs he sang in French. They were so romantic.
Her smile faltered, but she forced the thoughts aside. So what? She
was listening to romantic music alone. That was perfectly okay.
She rummaged through her freezer, finding several small packages of
chicken. Hmm, what else did she have? In the refrigerator she found sour
cream, milk, and fresh broccoli. In the cupboard she had a large container
of rice. Perfect. She would defrost the chicken in the microwave and then
rustle up her tasty chicken rice casserole, liberally decorated with broccoli
florets and topped with cheese. Her mouth watered.
Kerrianne lived only three streets over, and the meal would still be
piping hot when she arrived. Amanda would feed the children and her
brother-in-law at the table, take Kerrianne a plate to her room, eat a bite
herself while cleaning up, and then play with the children until bedtime.
After that she'd come home, call a few friends, and arrange to go out for
lunch or dinner over the weekend. She might even go dancing. Pausing a moment
to listen to a particularly beautiful passage of music, Amanda swept up the
telephone, pressing the button that held her sister's number in memory.
"Hello, Kerrianne? Hi, it's me, Amanda.
How're you feeling?"
"Yuck and yuck and more yuck," came Kerrianne's tired voice. "My nose
is running like a faucet, and my head feels like it's going to burst."
"Well, I'm bringing dinner, so don't worry about that. I've got it all
planned. Remember that chicken broccoli casserole you love so much? Well,
if I get started right now, I can bring it over by six."
"Oh, that's so sweet of you, Manda! But Adam's bringing food home. He
called a few minutes ago before he left work to tell me he was coming early
Amanda's smile faded. "Oh, that's nice of him." Leave it to Adam to
play the role of the perfect husband.
"Oh, but I'm sure I'll still be feeling lousy tomorrow. Do you think
. . . would you mind bringing your casserole then? The children loved it
that time you brought it when the baby was born. If I remember, we ate it
for three days. I appreciated it so much!"
"Well, only if it will help." The last thing Amanda wanted was to be
an annoyance with her casserole.
"Of course it will! In fact, Adam has a late meeting at the district
office tomorrow with some of the other school administrators, and afterwards
he has to go to the church for Scouts. If you bring dinner, it will really
help out. And if you could stay a bit and help get the kids to bed when Adam's
gone, I'd be so grateful. I'll understand if you can't. Believe me, the casserole
alone is plenty. They're so picky nowadays, it's hard to find something they
love to eat. I wish I could cook as well as you do."
Kerrianne could make table scraps into a gourmet meal, but Amanda was
already feeling better at her sister's assurances. The chicken would thaw
out better in the refrigerator anywaythat way she wouldn't
accidentally cook parts of the meat before the casserole went into the oven.
"Okay, I'll bring it tomorrow. And I'll stay for a while. Be glad to."
"You're so good to me."
Amanda felt content as she hung up. Kerrianne always did that for her.
No matter how lost or unneeded Amanda was feeling, her big sister turned
things around. Humming with the Groban CD, Amanda returned the casserole
ingredients to the refrigerator and the cupboard. Hmm, what to eat now that
the oven was hot? She didn't want to waste electricity. How about pizza?
She had leftovers from Monday when her brother Mitch had picked up take 'n
bake. She hadn't eaten the leftover slices yet because she didn't like pizza
warmed in the microwave. It just wasn't the same. "It's fate," she told the
pizza, as she threw the pieces onto a round baking pan and slipped them into
the oven for an early dinner.
When she returned ten minutes later, worrying about the possibility
of having left the pizza in too long, she found smoke snaking out from the
cracks around the oven door. "Oh no!" She opened the door and the smoke billowed
into the room, momentarily blocking her view. When she could see again, flames
engulfed the pizza, growing larger now that she had opened the door and allowed
more oxygen inside.
What should I do?
She had never started a fire in her oven before, and several scenarios
presented themselves. If she closed the door, would it eventually burn itself
out? Or would it burn down the whole house? She couldn't risk that. Amanda
reached in with her oven mitts to remove the pizza, only to watch as they
too blackened and started to burn. She released the pizza immediately. At
that moment the smoke detector went off, adding its shrill scream to the
confusion. Shaking the mitts to put out the flame, she darted to the sink,
dumped the singed gloves, filled a cup with water, and threw it on the pizza
inside the oven. The water sizzled as it hit the hot metal, sending steam
into her face. To her relief, the fire around the pizza seemed to be dying.
Amanda threw in another cup of water to make sure. Finally, she dared to
take the pizza out. Underneath the edge, caught between the pan and the pizza
and hanging down over the edge, was a smoldering dishrag. She groaned. When
she'd thrown the pizza onto the pan, she must not have been paying much
"Of all the stupid things." She shook her head. Kerrianne would never
have done something so brainless. This was one secret Amanda meant to keep.
If Mitch got a sniff, he'd never stop teasing. Just thinking about that made
her giggle almost uncontrollably. She had to admit that now danger had passed,
it was kind of funny.
Only a little water had escaped outside the oven, and Amanda mopped
it up quickly. Then she looked inside, frowning. There was more water than
she remembered throwing in. Most of it should have boiled out, right? Looking
at the temperature gauge, she realized that though she hadn't turned off
the oven, it was quickly growing cold. She flipped the switch off, gave it
fifteen minutes with the door open to cool, and then sopped up the water
with paper towels. When everything was returned to order, she turned on the
oven. A few minutes were long enough to tell her something was wrong. The
stove top was fine, the flames leaping to life when she turned on the gas.
But the oven didn't begin to get warm. Had the pilot light gone out?
"Should have used the fire extinguisher," she muttered, belatedly
remembering her father had bought one for under the kitchen sink. "Great.
How much would it cost to repair? Then again, she didn't use the oven
that much. Maybe it could wait. Her eyes fell on the baking dish she had
been going to use for her sister's casserole. "Oh, no," she groaned. She
couldn't go back on her word now, not when she'd practically begged
Kerrianne to let her bring dinner. Maybe if she explained. "It was a huge
fire," she'd say. "I have no idea how it started." But that would be a
Maybe she could prepare the casserole and take it to Kerrianne's to
cook. But Kerrianne would instinctively know something was wrong, and Amanda
wouldn't have time to grade the test she was giving tomorrow if she spent
the entire evening at her sister's. What to do?
She'd only bought the house at the end of the summer, and it was her
first experience being responsible for appliances. This time there was no
owner behind the scenes to ask for help. She ran through the possibilities
in her mind. Call her dad. No good. Kerrianne would somehow find out and
tell her not to worry about dinner. Call Mitch. Yeah, right. He was worse
than she was about being independent. He had barely left home a month ago
after two years off his mission. She could call her home teachers, but what
could they do besides recommend a repairman?
"I have to get you fixed!" In frustration Amanda kicked the oven door.
All she accomplished was to hurt the big toe on her left foot.
What would Kerrianne do?
Amanda grimaced. Kerrianne would have paid attention to what she was
putting in the oven, but if there ever was a problem, she'd probably let
Adam deal with itand Amanda didn't have an Adam. I can
do this myself. She reached for the phone book and turned to the repair
listings, finding only one for Pleasant Grove. There, not even a choice.
How easy can this be? Smiling to herself, she dialed the number, glancing
at the clock on the microwave. Five minutes after five and the shop was open
until six. See? It's not that hard to be independent.
"Doug's Appliance and Repair, Blake speaking," came a man's voice, deep
and rich. It was a voice that didn't belong at a repair shop but would have
seemed more at home on the radio.
"Hi. My oven's broken. Do you make house calls?"
"Yes. We charge thirty-five dollars for a visit, plus parts and installation
if we fix anything. What's the problem exactly?"
"Well, I had a fire."
"Yes, a small one. I accidentally put a dishcloth in with my dinner."
She shut her eyes and groaned inwardly. That was supposed to be her little
A few heartbeats passed before he replied. "Can you tell me anything
else? Exactly what doesn't work?"
Amanda wondered if he thought she was crazy. "I think the pilot light
is out or something. It looks goodthere's no fire
damagebut the oven won't get hot. I think it might not light
because of the water."
"The water," he repeated with a low chuckle that sent warm shivers up
Irritated, Amanda snapped, "So are you coming or not?"
"Sure. Let's see . . . I can make it tomorrow about one. Would that
be all right?"
"You can't come tonight?" Amanda hated herself for sounding so
"You need it tonight?"
"Not exactly. It's just that I work tomorrow, and I need my oven tomorrow
night for sure."
"Oh, you need it tomorrow."
Amanda stifled a sigh at his annoying way of repeating half of what
she said. "Yes, I'm taking dinner to someone."
"What kind of stove is it?"
"A gas stove."
"I meant what brand. You already said it wouldn't light. Has to be
"Oh. Well, I don't know what brand. Does it really matter?" She walked
over to the stove.
"It could. Does the stove top still light?"
"Yes. It's fine."
"Good. A least you won't starve." He gave another of those delicious
His attempted joke did not amuse her. "It's an Amana," she said. "I just
"I have no idea. I just bought the house a few months ago. But it doesn't
"Uh-oh," he said. "Can you hold a minute?"
"Yes." She wondered what was so wrong about owning an Amana. Maybe he
wouldn't work on that brand.
"You're not supposed to be up there," came his muffled voice. "Get down
now! Watch i"
There was a loud crash of what Amanda imagined came from a box of supplies
tumbling to the ground, followed by a brief, high-pitched scream. She shook
her head. Was he ever going to come back? What kind of shop did he run
After a very long time, he returned to the phone. "Hello?"
"I'm still here."
"Sorry about that."
His apology did nothing to soothe her growing irritation. "So, can you
come any sooner?" She was calculating the possibility of running home at
lunch, or perhaps having her neighbor let him in.
"I leave here at five-thirty. I'll come by then. Would that work?"
Amanda sighed. "Yes. Thanks. I'll see you then." She started to hang
"Uh, I'll need your name and address."
Amanda bit her lip. She was a complete idiot! Of course he needed her
address. "Amanda Huntington," she said.
"Amanda with a broken Amana," he said, obviously amused.
She laughed politely while making a sour face. What a comedian!
After giving him her address, she hung up the phone before she could
embarrass herself further. Not that he would even understand her embarrassment.
He was probably a high school dropout, whose only dream in life was to study
the latest models of appliances. Amanda bet he wasn't even aware of his
incredible voice. Maybe she'd enlighten him. She would, if he was nicer to
her when he came.
During the next hour, she changed into an old pair of jeans and a worn
T-shirt that said Number One Teacher, tidied her kitchen, threw in
a load of laundry, and began correcting papers on the floor of her family
room. She was lying stomach down on the soft beige carpet, her mind engrossed
on the capitals of each state, when the doorbell rang.
She arose, tucking her shoulder-length blonde hair behind her ears.
"Yes?" she asked, opening the door. "I'm Blake Simmons from Doug's Appliance
and Repair," said the same voice she had heard earlier on the phone. "I'm
here to look at your oven."
He looked like no repairman she had ever seen or imagined. He was taller
than she was by several inches and broad-shouldered enough to make her feel
small. Long legs were clad in snug Levi's that crinkled at the bottom where
they met black work boots, topped by a blue button-down shirt boldly reading
Doug's Appliance and Repair. A small oval patch declared Blake in
red italic letters.
Her eyes wandered to his face. Drop-dead gorgeous he wasn't, but he
was more ruggedly handsome than she cared to admit. His cheeks sported a
day-old beard growth, and his brown hair was slightly mussed, giving him
an adventurous air. He reminded her vaguely of her English professor in
collegeon whom she'd once had a secret crush. Her heart
flopped inside her, something that hadn't happened for a very long time.
"My oven," she found herself saying. Her breath made white clouds in
the cold air.
"I am at the right house, aren't I?" Blake's brown eyes held hers, his
lips curved in a gentle smile as though perpetually amused.
For a long moment, neither spoke. Amanda was intensely aware of him,
of the way he steadily met her gaze. She became suddenly conscious of her
jeans and worn T-shirt. Why had she chosen that outfit? Not that he was dressed
up, but he'd look handsome in anything.
"Okay," he drawled finally. "I guess I'll get my toolbox from the
"Right." She followed him with her eyes, craning her neck to see if
he was wearing a wedding ring. She couldn't see one, but a lot of repairmen
might not wear a ring for fear of getting their hands caught in a machine.
Right? Or maybe he wasn't married. The thought was unsettling.
He had pulled a toolbox from the back of his blue pickup and was heading
back over the lawn when her eyes went beyond him to the passenger side of
the car. A small face peered out at her, framed with short blond hair.
He had a child.
That meant he was taken.
In that instant of discovery, Amanda realized that she was profoundly
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