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The Prayer Box (Carolina Heirlooms #1)
Author:Lisa Wingate

The Prayer Box (Carolina Heirlooms #1)

Lisa Wingate



Acknowledgments


IF THIS BOOK WERE A SHIP, it would have a very diverse crew. If you’ve been on that crew, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, just in case I forget to call one of you to muster here. So many people pour themselves into the making of a book before it is a book.

First of all, to my treasured friend Ed Stevens, thank you for suggesting that the Outer Banks would be an excellent place to set a novel, and then for sending me pictures and information until I couldn’t resist doing it. Thank you also to Shannon and Wick for opening your amazing Outer Banks home to our research crew during the development phase. What an amazing gift. Everyone should have the chance to walk the shores on the Outer Banks for days on end.

Thank you to my research crew, Sharon Mannion and Teresa Loman. There’s nothing better than having just the right people to canvas the town and stroll the beach with. Over five thousand pictures and one giant box of shells tell the tale. What a trip that was! To my amazing Aunt Sandy, what can I say to fully encompass what you’ve done for this book? Without you, there would be no Sandy’s Seashell Shop. Thank you for lending your time and your talents, as well as your name. To all the local folks who helped us while we were in the Outer Banks —everyone from shop owners to members of the park service —we owe you a huge debt of gratitude and a massive hug the next time we visit. Thank you for answering all our questions and greeting us with the friendliness the Outer Banks is so famous for. I’ve never met nicer people anywhere.

My gratitude goes out, as always, to my beta reading crew. Aunt Sandy, we forgive you for clutching your heart and scaring us to death when you read the last scene of the book. You took a year off my life, but created an unforgettable moment . . . and a little inspiration for The Sea Glass Sisters novella. It’s amazing how things end up working out.

To my sweet family, you are such a blessing to me. Thank you for all the help you always provide on these literary endeavors and the encouragement you give me. Your love is the current beneath the boat. Without you, it would wander the world, lost indeed.

If family-love is the current beneath an author’s work, the members of the publishing crew are the riggers, climbing the masts and setting the sails and slathering pitch over all the leaky places. This project has been blessed with an incredibly dedicated, experienced, and hardworking crew. To everyone in the Ron Beers group who have not only taken such good care of this project, but encouraged me personally, I have no words to express what it means to have people come on board and instantly work so hard. Maggie Rowe, bless your sweet heart for opening your beautiful home for cover and video shoots. An immeasurable amount of gratitude also goes to Karen Watson, Jan Stob, Sarah Mason, Shaina Turner, and Babette Rea for believing so deeply in this project, for the hours devoted to it, and for being just plain awesome to work with. I never had a moment’s doubt that you were the right people to sail with on this voyage.

To the Tyndale design team and the sales and marketing teams, who bring books into the hands of readers, you guys rock. Thank you for guiding The Prayer Box so gently and enthusiastically to distant shores. To my agent, Claudia Cross, at Folio Literary Management, thank you for manning the deck with me and helping to steer this ship over these many years and many journeys.

Lastly, to reader friends, librarians, and bookstore buddies far and near, including the awesome ladies of the McGregor Tierra Literary Society who read the book early for a book club premiere video, I do not even have words for how much you mean to me. Your encouragement is priceless. Without those who lovingly read, recommend, and share these stories, my ships would sail to uninhabited worlds and lie fallow on the beaches. Not that lying on the beach is a bad thing, but it’s so much better when your friends are there too. Thank you for digging your toes into the sand with me for this story and many others over the years.

Beyond, beneath, and above all the other words of thanks to those who have sailed on this ship with me come a few last words that are the most important of all. Thank you to the Owner of the ocean. You are indeed a God of winds and tides. Thank you for the wind in my sails and the currents that have carried me to yet another story.





CHAPTER 1





WHEN TROUBLE BLOWS IN, my mind always reaches for a single, perfect day in Rodanthe. The memory falls over me like a blanket, a worn quilt of sand and sky, the fibers washed soft with time. I wrap it around myself, picture the house along the shore, its bones bare to the wind and the sun, the wooden shingles clinging loosely, sliding to the ground now and then, like scales from some mythical sea creature washed ashore. Overhead, a hurricane shutter dangles by one nail, rocking back and forth in the breeze, protecting an intact window on the third story. Gulls swoop in and out, landing on the salt-sprayed rafters —scavengers come to pick at the carcass left behind by the storm.

Years later, after the place was repaired, a production company filmed a movie there. A love story.

But to me, the story of that house, of Rodanthe, will always be the story of a day with my grandfather. A safe day.

When I squint long into the sun off the water, I can see him yet. He is a shadow, stooped and crooked in his overalls and the old plaid shirt with the pearl snaps. The heels of his worn work boots hang in the air as he balances on the third-floor joists, assessing the damage. Calculating everything it will take to fix the house for its owners.

He’s searching for something on his belt. In a minute, he’ll call down to me and ask for whatever he can’t find. Tandi, bring me that blue tape measure, or Tandi Jo, I need the green level, out in the truck. . . . I’ll fish objects from the toolbox and scamper upstairs, a little brown-haired girl anxious to please, hoping that while I’m up there, he’ll tell me some bit of a story. Here in this place where he was raised, he is filled with them. He wants me to know these islands of the Outer Banks, and I yearn to know them. Every inch. Every story. Every piece of the family my mother has both depended on and waged war with.

Despite the wreckage left behind by the storm, this place is heaven. Here, my father talks, my mother sings, and everything is, for once, calm. Day after day, for weeks. Here, we are all together in a decaying sixties-vintage trailer court while my father works construction jobs that my grandfather has sent his way. No one is slamming doors or walking out them. This place is magic —I know it.

We walked in Rodanthe after assessing the house on the shore that day, Pap-pap’s hand rough-hewn against mine, his knobby driftwood fingers promising that everything broken can be fixed. We passed homes under repair, piles of soggy furniture and debris, the old Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, where the Salvation Army was handing out hot lunches in the parking lot.

Outside a boarded-up shop in the village, a shirtless guitar player with long blond dreadlocks winked and smiled at me. At twelve years old, I fluttered my gaze away and blushed, then braved another glance, a peculiar new electricity shivering through my body. Strumming his guitar, he tapped one ragged tennis shoe against a surfboard, reciting words more than singing them.


Ring the bells bold and strong

Let all the broken add their song

Inside the perfect shells is dim

It’s through the cracks, the light comes in. . . .


I’d forgotten those lines from the guitar player, until now.

The memory of them, of my grandfather’s strong hand holding mine, circled me as I stood on Iola Anne Poole’s porch. It was my first indication of a knowing, an undeniable sense that something inside the house had gone very wrong.

I pushed the door inward cautiously, admitting a slice of early sun and a whiff of breeze off Pamlico Sound. The entryway was old, tall, the walls white with heavy gold-leafed trim around rectangular panels. A fresh breeze skirted the shadows on mouse feet, too slight to displace the stale, musty smell of the house. The scent of a forgotten place. Instinct told me what I would find inside. You don’t forget the feeling of stepping through a door and understanding in some unexplainable way that death has walked in before you.

I hesitated on the threshold, options running through my mind and then giving way to a racing kind of craziness. Close the door. Call the police or . . . somebody. Let someone else take care of it.