Anchor in the Storm(8)

By: Sarah Sundin

“Silly boy.” Lillian swatted Jim’s hand and readjusted the ribbons in her amber hair. “I’m a pharmacist. It won’t be a murder—it’ll be a drug ring.”

Arch grinned and set his new handkerchief next to his chair with his other gifts. What was it about that woman that drew him?

He repeated the reasons he shouldn’t be attracted to her. She was Jim’s sister, and if anything went wrong, the friendship could be marred. She was also crippled, and he ordinarily wouldn’t give her a second look.

Yet reason was foundering. Why would Jim stand between his best friend and his beloved sister? And how could Arch use the word crippled to describe a young lady who let nothing impede her dreams? No, he’d describe her as strong, determined . . . enchanting.

However, she didn’t seem to like him. He needed to orchestrate more time together, preferably in a romantic setting. And he needed to show her he wasn’t a snob.

Charlie, the youngest Avery, pulled eight flat boxes from under the tree. “From Arch. One for each of us. Wow.”

Arch settled back in the chair while Charlie distributed the boxes. “Jim told me your sizes. If they don’t fit, I can exchange them.”

“Oh my.” Lucy pulled out her pair of gloves in the finest russet leather, lined with cashmere. “These are beautiful.”

Mrs. Avery stroked the leather. “Goodness. You shouldn’t have spent so much on us.”

“Nonsense. I’m consuming your food, heat, and hospitality for two solid weeks. It’s the least I could do.”

She raised bewildered eyes. “But you already gave me a lovely hostess gift.”

“Not to mention you sprang for the lot of us at Okagi’s.” Jim’s smile teased Arch for spending like the Vandenberg heir.

Jim was wrong. Arch didn’t use money to get his way. Not anymore.

He gave the family a sheepish look. “Have pity. I don’t have brothers or sisters to treat. Besides, if I can’t be generous on Christmas with my best friend’s family, when can I?”

“Of course.” Mrs. Avery gave him a look full of compassion—pity even. “And they’re lovely. Thank you.”

Lillian inspected her glove-encased hand and tipped a smile to him. “Thank you.”

That smile paid him back tenfold. “You’re welcome.”

From his armchair, Mr. Avery pointed under the tree. “You missed one, Lillian.”

She peeled off the glove. “For me? Thank you, Dad.”

Arch couldn’t stop watching her, how the honey-colored waves of hair swished down her shoulder as she bent over the package, how her cheeks rounded, how unadorned lips spread in a winsome smile.

That day in her father’s workshop, when she gave an impassioned plea for Mr. Okagi while dressed like a peasant in an oversized coat and a stocking cap, he’d tipped over the edge. He’d been in free fall ever since.

“How pretty.” Lillian lifted a gold necklace. “An anchor to remind me of my nautical heritage when I get to Boston.”

Mr. Avery rested his forearms on his knees. “To remind you of something deeper. Jesus is your anchor, your hope in any storm, your sure refuge.” He stretched out the last word so it reached all the way to Arch.

Jesus was his refuge, his anchor. He knew that, but did he believe it?

Arch had grown up with an aloof stained-glass Jesus, but Jim had introduced him to the rugged carpenter in the fishing boat, genuine and straightforward. Arch’s faith had become personal in the past few years, but it must not be enough.

If it were, the shakes would be gone by now.

In thirteen days, his survivor’s leave would end. Would he be ready to return to sea, to go below decks?

A tremor built in his hands, and he laced his fingers together. He had to be ready. How could an officer in the US Navy plead anxiety while soldiers and sailors fought and died throughout the Pacific, while U-boats devastated Allied shipping in the Atlantic and Japanese subs sank ships off the California coast?

Lord, help me do this.

“I know I can do it.” Lillian clasped the golden chain behind her neck. “I’m so excited about my new job. The store, the patients, everything. I can’t wait.”

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