Read Among the Tulips Online

Authors: Cheryl Wolverton

Among the Tulips

She hoped tonight she might have some time with Victor alone. Tonight she would tell him how she felt, if he didn't tell her.

A knock sounded at the door.

She carefully made her way across to the door and pulled it open.

Her mouth dropped in stunned shock.

Victor stood there, dressed in what had to be a very expensive tux, waiting to be allowed in.

“I take it you like it?” he asked, mildly amused.

“I—wow!” She blushed. He was every bit the movie star now.

He walked in and turned to her, taking her hands. “You are a fresh breath of beauty in a world too old and cynical, my dear.”

“I feel like Cinderella at the ball,” she said lightly.

Books by Cheryl Wolverton

Love Inspired

A Matter of Trust
#11

A Father's Love
#20

This Side of Paradise
#38

The Best Christmas Ever
#47

A Mother's Love
#63

*
For Love of Zach
#76

*
For Love of Hawk
#87

What the Doctor Ordered
#99

*
For Love of Mitch
#105

*
Healing Hearts
#118

*
A Husband To Hold
#136

In Search of a Hero
#166

†
A Wife for Ben
#192

†
Shelter from the Storm
#198

*
Once Upon a Chocolate Kiss
#229

Among the Tulips
#257

CHERYL WOLVERTON

RITA
®
Award finalist Cheryl Wolverton has well over a dozen books to her name. Her very popular
Hill Creek, Texas,
series has been a finalist in many contests. Having grown up in Oklahoma, lived in Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana and now home once more in Oklahoma, Cheryl and her husband of more than twenty years and their two children, Jeremiah and Christina, always considered themselves Oklahomans transplanted to grow and flourish in the South. Readers are always welcome to contact her at P.O. Box 106, Faxon, OK 73540, or e-mail at [email protected] You can also visit her Web site at www.cherylwolverton.com.

A
MONG THE
T
ULIPS
C
HERYL
W
OLVERTON

You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.

—
Revelations
3:17-18.

My family, for helping clean and do laundry while this story poured out of me!
Thanks Steve, Christina and Jeremiah.

And my online friends, who are always so supportive and helpful.

Dear Reader,

Sometimes ideas just come to you—in the middle of the night. And as any writer will tell you, when that happens you must get up right then and start writing, or else.

This was one of these books.

This has been one of the hardest years of my life, yet God has blessed me richly in my career and my spiritual walk. As I thought of the many areas in which God has blessed me, I thought of the verse in Revelations that tells us we often think we are rich when in reality we're naked.

That's the case for our hero, who has everything money can buy, yet is empty inside because he's missing the greatest gift of all—Jesus Christ.

Enjoy the read, and any mistakes in Dutch are my fault.

Prologue

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich…

Revelation 3: 17, 18

“I
t's going to be your fortieth birthday. That calls for something really special. I say go for it!”

Thirty-nine-year-old Annie Hooper glanced at blond Cynthia, one of the friends she was having her early birthday dinner with. She shook her mousy brown-haired head at her fairer friend and thought again how different the two looked. Cyn
thia looked fresh from a salon while Annie felt she looked like…a mother. “I don't even know where I'd go. Besides, the kids need me.” Annie laid down her fork and lifted her napkin to pat her lips.

“Susan and Mark?” Amy piped up, her auburn eyebrows shooting up with a bit of disbelief. “Oh, come on, Annie. Mark is thirty-three and has a great job and Susan is thirty-two and is working as a nurse. Face it. Your stepkids are grown and need to stop depending on you for everything. They certainly don't need you here providing food and shelter for them. You have to start living again. You're still young.”

Although Susan and Mark weren't officially her children, she thought of them as such, though they rarely called her Mom. No, they had their real mother, with whom they still stayed in contact. After running a hand through her hair she sighed. Unfortunately, the kids always had a way of guilting her into staying at home when she tried to plan something, like last year when she'd said she had been going to get a passport and had actually brought home some travel brochures. But her friends were right. She was young; the kids were older, so shouldn't she start living again?

Annie dropped her napkin on the table.

Her two friends sighed in unison.

They knew that wasn't all that was bothering
her. “The kids still miss their dad,” Annie said simply. She leaned back in the cushioned chair covered in lovely mauve brocade.

“It's been four years,” Cynthia replied. “They need to move on with their life.
You
need to move on with your life.” She too had finished her lunch. She nodded as the waitress took her empty plate.

It had been four years since Annie had lost her husband. They had been hard years in some ways, lonely years as well. Sometimes his death seemed as if it happened only yesterday, especially when problems were building up or the kids were pulling a number on her. At night, however, when she was alone in bed or watching something on TV, it seemed as if he'd been gone forever.

“You always said when Harry retired, you were going to go somewhere different for a real vacation,” Amy added. “I know you got your passport last year with just such an intention.” Amy took the last bite of her dessert and then handed her plate to the waitress.

Yes, Annie had gotten her passport. In a fit of frustration and desperation she'd decided she was going on a trip. Her kids, however, had been aghast that she'd forgotten their daddy so easily and was going to traipse off into the unknown.

“Your kids like knowing you're there so they
can bum more of Daddy's money off you—” Cynthia started.

“And get you to do their laundry—” Amy added.

“This isn't about their dad being gone,” Cynthia finished.

Annie lifted her water glass and took a sip, allowing the ice-cold water to wash down her throat and take away the building tension.

“I just don't know if I can travel there by myself or even if I should.” Frustration slipped in, and she silently prayed for guidance. “It's crazy. I've always had someone there making the decisions for me and now…”

“And now you're allowing your children to do that for you,” Cynthia said gently.

“Honey, you deserve to get away.” Amy picked up her iced tea and took a leisurely sip of the light golden brew. “You should go for it.”

“I don't think I could simply up and leave the family. What would the kids do?”

How would the children react if she decided to go on this trip? Though Annie knew they used her and it was wearying, she still felt a responsibility for them.

That's what it boiled down to. When she'd married Harry, she'd inherited a young boy and his younger sister as immediate family. She'd been
thrown into instant adulthood trying to raise two children.

Looking back, she realized she hadn't been ready for it. She'd been a child herself really at 17. She'd done her best, but had her best been good enough? The children's mother had never forgiven Harry for marrying Annie. And on every weekend and holiday that Michaela had had the children, she'd done her best to poison them against her.

Annie also had church responsibilities as well as friends there. Although most of her friends were gone, uncomfortable being around a widow or simply no longer having anything in common, she had one or two who she saw occasionally, including Amy and Cynthia. However, she was going to be starting a new job this fall as an art teacher at a local community center, and so this would make the perfect time to go—if she so chose.

“The kids depend too much on you,” Cynthia informed her. “They use you and you allow it.”

That hurt. Cynthia was always the blunter of her two friends. And she never spared what she thought.

“You deserve this time,” Amy added more diplomatically. “You'll never get to splurge again like this. You know that. Once you settle down into this new job, you'll be too caught up in life to consider doing something so wild.”

Doing something wild.
Was that what she was doing?

Annie shook her head. “I'm not sure I'm the wild sort—”

“Well maybe you should be,” Cynthia cut in. “It's time you had a chance to live a little. You married Harry while you were still in high school, for Pete's sake. It's time for you to go out and have fun.”

Annie thought about what her friend said. She was going to be forty next week.

Forty.

And she'd never left Louisiana.

“Where would you like to go?” Amy prodded.

Annie smiled slightly. “Holland.”

She could talk about her dreams at least. What would that hurt?

“Holland? What is in Holland?” Cynthia demanded.

Annie shrugged. “Tulips.”

All three women burst into laughter. Annie honestly didn't know what Holland had to offer. She simply thought it would be fun to visit somewhere she'd never been, somewhere off the beaten path.

“Think of the tours you could take,” Amy added, when the laughter died down.

“We'd even help you pack,” Cynthia chimed in.

“Whoa, wait a minute. I'm only dreaming here. Let's not get carried away.” Annie shook her head, trying to slow the two women down.

“Why not get carried away?” Cynthia asked.

Annie tried to think of a reason but couldn't come up with a legitimate one.

Cynthia leaned forward and took her hand. “This is your chance. Get away for the summer. Spend time doing some soul searching. We'll take care of the house and your cat. We'll make sure everything runs smoothly while you're gone. Just take this time for yourself, Annie. You need it.”

Annie couldn't believe she was wavering in this. Wasn't this the time of her life when things were supposed to slow down? She should be spending her time at home, enjoying the quiet solitude.

Of course, she'd been doing that for four years now. Four years. Where had that time gone? What had become of her during that time? Herself as a person? Had she ever been her own person? An individual with her own feelings and thoughts?

Had she ever had a life? she wondered now. One of her own? Or was she always going to be defined by her marriage and family?

If she were honest, Harry had rarely been there. She had wondered at one time if he was having an affair, but had then decided it was simply that he was a workaholic.

Annie had no idea who she was anymore. She'd come to that realization as she'd sat at home one day, wondering when her stepdaughter was going to drop by.

Maybe a vacation was exactly what she needed. Time away from all the memories and time to find herself. Time to spend with God.

“The kids will have a fit.”

Amy shrugged. “They'll handle it.”

“They'll have to,” Cynthia added and then, seeing the hesitation on Annie's face, added, “If they need you, you can always give them your number. Besides, their mom lives in town.”

Annie knew the kids would be worried without her there. She met with her daughter at least once a week and her son usually stopped by on weekends with his laundry and had lunch with her. He still didn't do his own laundry.

A month or so without laundry. Now that would be odd.

“I can tell you're considering it,” Amy said with glee in her voice. “Come on. Cynthia, can you take an extra hour or so before going home? I say we go look at brochures at the travel agency. We'll have her on that plane by next week.”

“That soon!” Annie said, worry in her voice.

Amy laughed with enthusiasm. “Sure. Why not? The sooner the better.”

“I agree. I know you, Annie. If we don't rush you out the door and onto the plane, then you'll end up staying put.”

Annie sighed. “You're right about that.”

“We have a surprise for you.” Cynthia reached into her purse, which was set next to her feet on the elegant carpeted floor.

Annie lifted her napkin and folded it neatly before releasing it. “You've already bought me lunch. What else are you planning?”

These two women really were her dear friends, but they knew how to keep her off balance.

Amy grinned. “It's our gift. We had to make sure first that you'd use it.”

Annie glanced from one to the other, her cheeks warming. “I'm too old to get gifts. Just going out to lunch was enough.”

“Oh, no, honey,” Cynthia said and then presented her with a small gold oblong box. “We wanted to make sure about our plans before we gave this to you. Open it.”

Annie smiled and obediently opened the checkbook-size box. When she pulled out the piece of paper her jaw dropped open. “This is a gift certificate from a travel agency.”

Amy chuckled. “It's enough for a ticket just about anywhere in the world, and if you choose
Holland, then it will even cover most of the hotel cost.”

“Oh, dear.” Annie stared in shock at what she held.

Cynthia smiled. “You can choose anywhere.” She hesitated and then added, “If you don't use it, you can roll it over until next summer.”

“Yeah,” Amy added and accepted the receipt from the waiter. She quickly scanned the price and pulled out some money, tossing it on the table with the check. She then stood. “Come on. Let's go to the travel agency and we'll see what we can find.”

“I'm not certain I'm going yet.” Annie gripped the unbelievable gift in her hands, staring at it, still in shock.

Talking about it was one thing—but actually leaving Louisiana and the kids?

Cynthia grinned. “That's okay. We'll just look.”

Annie knew that against the two of them she had no defenses. She didn't with her kids either. That was one of her big problems; she enjoyed going along with life and, unfortunately, that could have bad as well as good results.

In this case she wasn't sure which it would be.

But the idea of a month away…

How bad could it be?

Especially since they were only looking.

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