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A theme-park princess. A real-life prince.


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Can two stubborn adults let down their guard long enough to let love in again?


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A modern-day fairy tale of hope and rescue from NYT bestselling author Rachel Hauck


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A journey to the lush vineyards of Tuscany—and into the mysteries of a tragic family secret.


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Can a one-time enemy to protect them?


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When the battle is for love, the one who surrenders wins. But who will lay down arms first? And whose heart will break wide open?


Excerpt of Rhythms by Donna Hill

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St. Martin's Press
September 2002
320 pages
ISBN: 0312300697
Paperback (reprint)
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Women's Fiction

Also by Donna Hill:

Confessions in B-Flat, December 2020
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Confessions in B Flat, December 2020
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The Other Sister, July 2020
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When I'm with You, June 2018
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Surrender to Me, July 2017
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For the Love of You, July 2016
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Touch Me Now, November 2012
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Tender Loving Desire, September 2012
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Long Distant Lover, February 2012
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If I Could, February 2012
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Legacy of Love, September 2011
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Deception, September 2011
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Secret Attraction, April 2011
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Intimate Betrayal, April 2011
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More Than Words, April 2011
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Spend My Life with You, February 2011
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Through The Fire, May 2010
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What Mother Never Told Me, March 2010
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Prize Of A Lifetime, October 2009
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Temptation And Lies, February 2009
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Seduction And Lies, December 2008
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Temptation, October 2008
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Chances Are, August 2008
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Charade, May 2008
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Sex and Lies, February 2008
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On The Line, January 2008
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Guilty Pleasures, October 2007
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Wicked Ways, October 2007
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Moments Like This, September 2007
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After Dark, July 2007
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Creepin', June 2007
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If I Were Your Woman, February 2007
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Saving All My Lovin', November 2006
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Takin' Chances for the Holidays, October 2006
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Guilty Pleasures, October 2006
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Love Becomes Her, August 2006
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Long Distance Lover, June 2006
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Getting Hers, May 2006
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Courageous Hearts, February 2005
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In My Bedroom, January 2005
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Big Girls Don't Cry, January 2005
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Let's Get It On, November 2004
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Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, November 2004
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Dark Thirst, October 2004
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Winter Nights, October 2004
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Dare to Dream, September 2004
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Say Yes, August 2004
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Divas, Inc., July 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Where There's A Will, June 2004
Paperback
A Whole Lotta Love, January 2004
Paperback
Rockin' Around That Christmas Tree, November 2003
Hardcover
An Ordinary Woman, October 2003
Paperback (reprint)
Living Large, January 2003
Paperback
Rhythms, September 2002
Paperback (reprint)
Sister, Sister, October 2001
Paperback
Through the Fire, June 2001
Paperback
Going to the Chapel, June 2001
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Pieces of Dreams, May 2001
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Della's House of Style, July 2000
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Rosie's Curl and Weave, February 1999
Paperback (reprint)

Excerpt of Rhythms by Donna Hill

Chapter One

Down in the Delta, somewhere just beyond Alligator, Mississippi, rests thecolored section of Rudell, a community of less than five hundred, dividedunequally by race, wealth, and religion by the Left Hand River. It wasnamed such because from the top of the highest tree in Rudell the ripplingriver looks like a man's left hand. Yes, it sure does.

Well, today all the folks, black and white alike, moved heat-snake slowalong the dusty, unpaved roads, pressed down by the heavy hand of theJuly sun.

Towering yellow pines raised their angry fists toward the blinding whitesky demanding a long, cool drink. Mosquitoes buzzed and bit, zealous intheir hunt for sweet, moist flesh, especially the plump legs of little brownbaby boys and girls. Good chewing grass, razor thin, glistened like emeraldfire, fanning out as far as the eye could see.

Funny how nature plays its tricks. Earlier that same year, the spring of1927, the mighty Mississippi River rose higher than ever before in its history.Before its floods were over, the river had turned the Delta valley intolakes of despair. Dikes and levees crumbled, while the river swallowedwhole towns and farms with an insatiable appetite that could not bestopped by man.

The war between man and nature rode the ever- increasing tide. Still,months after the devastation, lost land and lost lives, recovery was a slowand painful process. The Father of Waters had spared no one, colored orwhite. But times being what they were, the colored who already had solittle now had even less. Yet even the oppressive, relentless heat anduntoldtragedy couldn't stop the parishioners of First Baptist Church from stompingand shouting on this Sunday morning just as on any other.

The white clapboard building, put together plank by plank by themen of Rudell, offered them little refuge as the steam ascended from themomentum of the congregation bunched together along the crowded,wooden pews.

The sun streamed in through the handblown windows casting rays ofshimmering color across the wooly heads of the congregation to explodein a ball of brilliant light that gleamed off the ten-foot cross of Christ. Thestrongest members of First Baptist, male and female, had carried that crossin through the narrow door five years ago, piece by piece, nailing it togetherin silent reverence. It stood in proud testament of all they had endured.And they were grateful.

Today, more than ever, they had much to be thankful for. They'd beenspared.

"We done seen the wrath of the Lord," Reverend Joshua Harvey ebbedand flowed, his voice an instrument of persuasion. "His mighty hand sweptthe Mississippi from Arkansas to the Gulf of Mexico. Wiped out sinnersand nonbelievers with a puff of his breath."

"Amen! Yes, Lord," shouted the pulsing throng.

"`The great flood of '27' we hear tell it called. I say it be the greatcleanser. The Lord's way of riddin' this earth of those who continya ta dous harm." He stretched out his arm and passed it over the packed room."And y'all know who I'm talkin' 'bout."

"Praise the Lord!"

"But many of our innocent sistahs and brothas have suffered, too. Theybeen left with even less than the nothin' they had."

"That's why we's here t'day, Reverend," shouted Deacon Earl, looking'round to see the nods of assent.

"Amen," again came the response.

"I knows y'all don't have much," the. Reverend continued. "You workshard to feed yo' families from sunrise till set. But it's up to us who havelittle to share with those who have less."

Government relief had come to those stricken by the devastation of theflood. But it was slow coming, if at all, to some of the colored sectionsalong the Delta.

Joshua gazed out at his congregation, the beaten, the downtrodden. Hisdark, all-seeing eyes peered into their souls; his heart heard their prayers.He witnessed the unflinching pride in the bent backs, the clawed hands,and leatherlike faces. Sorrow shadowed their eyes, but hope hung on theirlids. In each one he saw strength from a people who had seen much forany one lifetime. Still, he knew he could ask for more.

"I knows what I'm askin' is gon' be hard for the lot of ya. But I needsya to dig deeper than yo' pockets. I needs ya to dig inta yo' hearts tohelp those who cain't help themselves. We here in Rudell gotta come togetheronce again as a community and as a people." He paused to let hiswords rest a spell. "The doors ta the church gon' be open all day. Brangwhat chu kin. Deacon Earl gon' be in charge of collectin' whatever y'allkin brang."

Cora sat in the front line of the choir. The flick of her slender wristmoved the circular cardboard fan in a steady flow in front of her face. Shegazed out at the rows of black bodies, a melody of color, size, and shape.They were hypnotized by the power of her daddy. Pride puffed her chest.Papa Daddy could do anything. He could make you believe the impossible,give you strength when you had none. He made it so easy for her to lifther voice in praise, as much for him as she did for the Lord. She wantedto do them both proud.

Like so many colored communities, the heart and soul of Rudell couldbe found in the church. Reverend Joshua Harvey was the bedrock uponwhich Rudell was built. Their lightning rod. The calm during the storm. Itwas to him the white folks came when they had trouble with their coloreds,Cora thought. Daddy always found ways to make the peace. But, of course,he made them think it was their own doing. He knew white folks in a wayfew coloreds did in those parts. He spoke their language, knew the powerof their words as well as those of his flock. Daddy carried the weight forall of Rudell on his back.

While he was not seen as the equal of the whites, something in Daddy'sbearing made them tolerate his uppity ways. He was like the esteemedBooker T. Washington with the powerful white folks up north. Daddy wasjust like that. White folks feared as much as respected him and the quietpower he held over the town. His church was the visual symbol of thatpower.

"I want y'all to stand now and join our choir in song." Joshua turnedbriefly toward his daughter, a smile of pride on his thick lips. "Lift yo'voices to the Almighty in thanks."

The choir stood in unison and Cora stepped forward.

David Mackey stood out on the dusty road, his starched white, high-buttonshirt clinging to his moist back. Even his sweat tried to find a place to hidefrom the beating sun, securing sanctuary beneath his stiff shirt collar.

He whipped out a spotless white handkerchief from the pocket of hisblue serge pants and mopped his brow, then set his straw hat squarely atophis close-cropped head.

He'd fretted for hours about what to wear, wanting to make the bestimpression. His customary work pants and clean but frayed shirts were finefor visiting his sick and laid-low patients, but not today. Today was special.

David drew up a deep breath and checked his scarred, gold pocketwatch, a gift from his father.

Service would be over directly, he calculated, and then he'd see her again.As a matter-o'-fact, if he shut his eyes he could see her face plain as theday is long, as he was sure it would appear while she led the choir throughthe strains of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." Her powerful contralto voicepoured out of her tiny body, entered the soul, grabbed and shook it.

The age-old cry of the weary souls seeped through the walls of the one-roombuilding. But it was Cora Harvey's rapturous voice that soared abovethem all.

Cora Harvey. She was something else. A right pretty thing. He'd spottedher months ago, and upon discrete inquiries he'd found out who she was.That discovery compelled him to keep his distance as much as he wantedto do otherwise. Since then, they'd passed each other on several occasionswhen she made her monthly shopping trips into town. However, up untilthe other afternoon, she'd never paid him no never mind other than apassing wave or flashing that smile of hers. Then they'd run into each otherat Sam's market earlier that week, and she'd given him his first look ofencouragement. Of course her daddy wasn't looking. But he dared notapproach her, not with the good reverend close at hand.

David sighed. They came from different sides of town. Cora Harvey wasa sharecropper's daughter turned preacherman who worshipped in the BaptistChurch. He, on the other hand, was the one and only colored doctorin Rudell, the surviving son of the now prosperous Mackey family, whopaid his homage—at least some of the time—at the Episcopal Church onthe other side of the dividing line.

It shouldn't matter none, he mused, but it did. The Baptists were consideredcommon, while the Episcopals were made up of the few educatedcoloreds, those with a bit of money. As much as colored folk had enduredsince they were brought in chains from Africa and stuffed like garbage intothe bowels of death ships, one would think that now they would bandtogether. That was not to be. It wasn't enough that the white folks madeno secret of their disdain for the coloreds; the coloreds did it to themselves.

David snapped out of his woolgathering at the sound of voices surgingthrough the now opened church doors. He took a quick look at his shoes—whichstill held their shine— wiped his face one last time and walkedforward.

* * *

Cora stood on the plank wood steps of the church, flanked on either sideby her parents, Pearl and Joshua. She looked so soft and beautiful in herpale peach cotton dress, David thought, just like one of those dolls he'donce seen in the Sears Roebuck catalog. Her smooth, pecan-colored skin,with undertones of red, glowed as if lit by an inner sunbeam. Her thick,neatly plated hair was pulled back in one braid that fell to the center ofher back, protected by a sun bonnet that matched her dress. She sure didlook pretty.

She shook hands with each of the churchgoers, accepting their praisesof her singing with grace and the right amount of humility.

"Sister Cora, that voice of yours gon' take you straight to heaven, chile.Lordhammercy! Mark my words," professed Lucinda Carver, as the sweatrolled in waves down her plump face.

"Thank you, Sister Carver. I sure hope so."

"You just make sho' you hold them pearly gates open for this old sister,"Lucinda chuckled, patting Cora heartily on the arm.

"See you tomorrow, Cora," Maybelle said, giving her friend a kiss on thecheek. "I's goin' to meet Little Jake at the river," she whispered in Cora'sear, before running down the steps.

Sassy, Cora's friend since they were both in diapers, stepped up besideher. "That girl gon' get herself in a heap of trouble if her mama ever findsout." Then Sassy giggled. "Harold Jr. say he gon' come by and sit on theporch later when it cool down some. I'll see you later." Sassy, it wasn't herreal name, but that's what she was always called, skipped down the stairs.

Cora watched her two friends leave and wished she had someone waitingon her, eager to see her under the stars.

When the last of the parishioners filed out, Joshua slipped into his roleas father, husband, and protector. "Come along, ladies. We best be gettin'on outta this here heat," he instructed them.

Pearl eased up alongside her towering husband and slipped her armthrough his.

"Comin', Daddy." Cora took a step down when movement across theroad captured her attention. She felt the muscles in her heart expand andcontract, creating a moment of light-headedness. It was him, that handsome,quiet doctor who made her stomach feel funny inside.

Pearl's eyes followed the trail of her daughter's. "Oh, Joshua, here comethat nice young doctor." She gave his arm a "come on" squeeze and a quickwink to Cora.

"How nice kin he be ifn he thinks he's too good to worship in a BaptistChurch? Humph."

"Joshua," Pearl hissed in warning as David crossed the first step.

"Afternoon, Mrs. Harvey, Reverend." David tipped his hat and looked atCora. "Miss Cora."

"Dr. Mackey." Cora gave him her sweetest smile and wished her motherand father would leave her be.

Silence hung over the quartet as heavy as the heat. The poor boy lookedso nervous from the glare Joshua was hurling his way that Pearl's maternalinstincts leaped to his rescue. "What brings you to First Baptist this hotday, Doctor?" Pearl asked, finally breaking the silence.

"Well, ma'am," he paused and looked from one parent to the other,wishing that his heart would stop hammering long enough for him to takea breath, "I was hoping you'd allow me to take Miss Cora here over to Joe'sfor a soft drink, maybe some ice cream." He swallowed down the last ofhis fear and plunged on. "That's if Miss Cora is willing." He snatched aquick look at Cora. "I have my auto- mo-bile right 'cross the road. I'd haveher back in plenty of time for supper. I—"

"What 'chu know 'bout what time we has supper?" Joshua pulled hisblack, wide-brimmed hat a little farther down on his brow, with the intentionof giving his dark features an even more ominous look.

Cora's face was afire, and it had nothing to do with the heat. She wasmortified. Here she was seventeen years old—eighteen in six months—andher daddy was treating her like a knee-high. When would she ever be ableto court like the other girls she knew? Daddy was always preaching abouthow she needed to settle down. How was she ever supposed to do that ifhe wouldn't let no respectable man near her? Not that marriage was hergoal no how. It was just the whole notion of having someone interested inher, especially a doctor. All the girls would be green with envy.

She wanted to know what it felt like; wanted to know what she'd heardsome of the girls of the church whisper about. She had yet to be kissed.How could her daddy embarrass her this way? Maybe the earth wouldjust open up, like she'd read about in the picture books, and swallow herwhole.

"Joshua, for heaven's sake, let the young man speak his piece," Pearlcajoled, seeing the possibilities in the union. "That sounds right nice thathe wants to take Cora for a soft drink. Matter-o'-fact, I could use a long,cool glass of lemonade myself." She looked at Cora, who flashed her asmile of thankful relief. "You ought to take the good doctor up on his offer,Cora. Don't you think so?"

"Sounds invitin', Dr. Mackey. Is it all right, Daddy?"

Joshua heard the soft plea in his daughter's voice and saw the eagernessshining in her eyes. In that instant he remembered all too clearly what itfelt like to be young. What it felt like when he'd met his Pearl. He weren'tnothin' more than a paid slave workin' the cotton fields. When he'd draghis weary body home after a day under the Mississippi sun, Pearl wouldrun down the road from her beaverboard shack and bring him a tin ofwater and a piece of dried beef or a biscuit.

"I figured you'd be thirsty," she'd always say.

"Right kind of you," he'd answer.

She'd walk with him part way down the road till he finished his water.

"Thank you much, Miss Pearl."

She'd duck her head all shy. "Tomorrow," she'd whisper and run off.

That musta gone on for months. That and things they didn't talk aboutno more, till Joshua said the two of them would do much better as one.

"Whatchu sayin'?" Pearl had asked, taking a seat on the top of a flatrock.

Joshua squeezed his hat in his hands, trying to find the right words. Heshifted from one foot to the next. "You what I look for at the end of theday, Pearl," he finally said. "Thinkin' 'bout you out in dem fields makesme remember I's still a man, not some pack mule like Mistah Jackson makeme out to be. I kin be somethin', Pearl. Somebody. You believe that?"

"I knowed it from the first time I saw you hitchin' down that roadyonder."

"I got dreams, Pearl. I want to have my own church one day, preach theword. I—I want you to be a part of that."

"That yo' fancy way of askin' me to jump the broom wit you?"

Joshua grinned like a young boy, seeing the challenge in her eyes. "I'spose."

"Then I 'spose I will."

And she'd been by his side ever since, sunup to down. Never complaining,no matter how bad times had gotten. Pearl was his strength, his reasonfor everything. Her faith in him, her unwavering love, was his joy. AndCora was just like her.

Truth be known, he'd like nothing better than to see his strong-willedCora married off and secure. It would sho' nuff make Pearl happy. A good,solid husband may just be the thing Cora needed to tame her willful ways.But that didn't mean he had to make it easy for any man who thought hewas good enough to come a courtin' his baby girl. Especially an Episcopaldoctor—and one from the other side of Rudell at that.

"I `spose," he finally grumbled. "We have Sunday supper at four o'clocksharp."

Pearl briefly lowered her bonneted head to hide her smile. "You mightthink 'bout joining us, Doctor. I fix a fine table."

Joshua threw her a cutting glance, but kept his own counsel.

"I just might, ma'am. Thank you." He looked at Joshua, who gave animperceptible nod of approval. The day is beginning to look better everyminute, David thought.

Cora gave her mother and father each a peck on the cheek and steppeddown.

"I'll be sure to have her back in plenty of time for supper, Reverend."

"Be sho' you do," Joshua added for good measure.

Cora couldn't believe her luck as she walked side-by- side with Daviddown the church steps out onto the road. The saints must surely be withher today, she mused, tossing up a silent prayer of thanks. Her father hadnever so much as entertained the notion of her courting, even though allthe other girls her age had a steady beau. "You're not other girls," JoshuaHarvey would boom in his preacher voice. "You the daughter of the reverendof this town, and you ain't gon' be seen with just anybody."

Well, Dr. David Mackey must sure be somebody, she thought, delighted.

"I'm right happy your folks let me take you out for a spell, Miss Cora,"David said in a hushed voice as they crossed the road to his Model T.

She looked up into his dark face, eyes like polished black opals, and heryoung heart panged in her chest. "So am I, Dr. Mackey." She batted her eyesdemurely as she'd seen some of her churchgoing sisters do, and she wouldhave sworn David blushed beneath his roasted chestnut complexion.

Strong, large hands caught her waist as David helped her step up intothe seat, and Cora was no longer sure it! it was the force of the blazing sunor a fire that had been lit inside of her that caused the surge of heat to runamok through her body Settling herself against the soft, cushioned seat,she adjusted her hat while David rounded the hood and hopped up besideher.

"All set?"

Cora nodded, suddenly unsure of herself.

The Model T bucked, chugged, coughed up some smoke, and finallypulled off down the rutty road, bouncing and bumping all the way. As theydrove by the rows of makeshift shacks, half nude children playing in theriver and old wrinkled women smoking corn pipes all stopped and staredat the handsome couple in the automobile. To see colored folks drivingwas rarer than having meat for dinner once a month.

But instead of feeling like a specimen under glass, Cora felt like royalty.She smiled and waved to everyone who came out on the road, wide-eyed,to greet them. Little children ran alongside the car until they grew weary,and the old Model T chugged out of sight.

"Did you go to Sunday service today, Dr. Mackey?" Cora asked, needingto break the silence that hung between them like clothes drying on a line.

David cleared his throat. "No. Not today" He shrugged, then chuckledlightly, "Truth be told, it's awhile since I been to church."

Cora angled her head in his direction, surprise widening her sparkling,brown eyes. "Why? Don't you have anything to be thankful for?"

"Sure I do. Except I don't think you need to set up in a building to givethanks. I believe that God can hear my prayers and my thanks fromwherever I am."

Cora frowned, tossing around this new idea. What David was sayingmay well have been Greek for all the sense it made to her. It never occurredto her not to attend Sunday service. She'd been brought up and reared inthe church. All of her friends attended. They had social functions, didthings for the community, helped each other out in crises. Why just theother week, the sisters got together and took turns sitting with old MissRiley, who'd been feeling poorly for months. She didn't know what she'ddo if she didn't have her church and her church family Besides, on Sundaymornings, she could do what she loved more than anything, raise her voicein song.

"But—it's more than that," she protested, convinced that she was right."It's about belonging to something that has meaning, being a part of something."

"That may be, Miss Cora, and I don't fault no one for going. I don'twant you to get me wrong. I do set foot in from time to time, just notright regular." He turned briefly to her, hoping that his revelation hadn'tput her off, especially with her being the preacher's daughter and all. Butthe reality was, he wanted to be honest with her.

"If Christians are supposed to love all men, then what's the differencebetween your church and mine? What makes one better than the other—theamount of money you put in the collection basket, how large thecongregation, what side of town you worship on?" he asked with honestsincerity.

Cora crossed her arms beneath her small breasts. She listened to whathe said. Secretly she'd wondered the same things, but she'd never dared tovoice her concerns, ask her questions.

"You're a very interesting man, Dr. Mackey," she said, still unwilling togive in. "You done put something on my head to ponder."

"That's a start," he said, turning to her with a grin.

It was then she noticed the deep dimple in his right cheek and knew,that barring everything else, whatever differences might separate them, shewanted to see more of him, hear his strange thoughts, and maybe becomeexposed to a side of life she'd never known existed.

Shortly, they arrived in the center of town and pulled to a stop in frontof Joe's. David quickly hurried around and helped Cora from her seat. Sheimmediately felt the curious gazes from the townspeople as they went abouttheir Sunday business, the surprised look from friends of her father andmother as she took David's arm and walked toward the shop.

Voice by voice, conversation ceased as heads turned toward the opendoor. The heat stood like a man between them, separating them from thebrown, tan, and black bodies, then was buffeted about by the slow, swirlingceiling fan—the only one in town.

The interior was dim and it took Cora a moment to adjust her eyes fromthe glare of the outside.

David glanced down the narrow aisle and cleared his throat. "There's atable in the back," he said, indicating the vacancy with a stretch of his arm.

They proceeded through the gauntlet of probing eyes.

Cora's gaze faltered for a moment, then darted briefly about, a taut smiledrawing her mouth into a thin line.

"Afternoon, Miss Wheeler," Cora, said, remembering her manners as sherecognized her nosey neighbor from down the road.

"Cora Harvey," Sarah Wheeler droned, long as the quitting whistle at thecotton mill. "I didn't know the good Reverend let you keep comp'ny." Hertiny eyes skipped across David's face. "Dr. Mackey, ain't you lookin' finethis bright day."

Excerpt from Rhythms by Donna Hill
All rights reserved by publisher and author

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