Her Hometown Heart
Tom Anderson and Amie Potter are two wounded spirits who are haunted by the past. But, when Amie inherits her uncle's run down gas station--the one Tom helped manage for over a decade--their lives are irrevocably changed.
Joining forces, Tom and Amie set out to raze the old filling station and construct a brand new hotel. Maybe along the way, they'll also build a love that will last forever.
But will their shadowed pasts interfere with their future happiness? Will Tom and Amie ever truly find a match made in heaven?
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Amie Potter fidgeted with her favorite silver bracelet. Uncle Hal had given it to her years ago. She shifted in the floral-upholstered, wingback armchair. Across her parents’ living room, Uncle Hal’s attorney Jim Henderson leafed through the documents on his lap.
Uncle Hal must have mentioned her in his will. Why else would she be sitting here along with the rest of her family?
Amie eyed the attorney. The poor man had to be roasting inside that dark suit on this warm summer day, although when Dad asked, Mr. Henderson refused to remove his jacket.
He glanced her way and Amie gave him a polite smile. Mr. Henderson had been a family friend for as long as she remembered. She’d only visited his impressive Wausau, Wisconsin office once and recalled hiding beneath his wide, stately desk while Dad conducted his business.
“I, Halvor Holm, being of sound mind and spirit…”
Amie forced herself to pay attention, although Mr. Henderson made for a distracting sight with his bushy white hair and hawk-like features. He’d always reminded Amie of the second President of the United States, John Adams, with a bit of Albert Einstein mixed in. As a little girl, she had felt thoroughly intimidated around him, assuming he was a stern and intolerant man. But in all of her twenty-six years, she’d come to learn that Jim Henderson and his wife, Helen, were caring people and good friends. Even now Mr. Henderson’s compassion lined his forehead as he read Uncle Hal’s will.
Crossing her leg, Amie smiled to herself. Mr. Henderson probably, and correctly, guessed that traveling to Chicago on a Sunday afternoon and meeting here in Mom and Dad’s home was the only way he’d get the busy Potter family together for this somber event. Not all of them had schedules permitting the six-hour drive north to Wausau during the week—and Amie with the tightest timetable of everyone. Her position as a creative consultant for the Chicago firm of Maxwell Brothers’ Marketing and Development Company, gave her little to no flexibility.
But, for some reason, Mr. Henderson stressed the importance of her attendance at the disclosing of Uncle Hal’s last will and testament.
“To my sister, Lillian,” Mr. Henderson read, “and to her husband John, I leave ten thousand dollars.”
Amie sucked in a breath.
“Mercy!” Mom’s eyebrows shot up and she placed her well-manicured fingers over her heart. “Wherever did Hal get that kind of money?”
Mr. Henderson smiled patiently. “Investments. Hal liked to dabble in the stock market and it proved quite profitable for him.”
“Well, knock me over with a feather.” Mom pressed her hands against her heart. “And to think he’s lived like a pauper all these years.”
“Don’t feel sorry for Hal. He was very happy.” Mr. Henderson wore a hint of a smile just before his gaze returned to the will. “To Dottie I leave my grandmother’s jewelry.”
Amie heard her twenty-three-year-old sister gasp with pleasure. When they were girls, Mom had told them that Hal inherited their grandmother’s jewels while Mom acquired Grandma Holm's rings, brooches, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Grandma had wanted to be fair to both her children. Most likely Dottie inherited priceless pieces now.
“To Stephen, my favorite nephew—” Mr. Henderson paused to chuckle since everyone knew the youngest Potter was Hal’s only nephew. “I leave my car.” Mr. Henderson rattled off the make, model and vehicle identification number.
“Awesome!” A happy smile snaked across Stephen’s face before he jerked his head, sending strands of his golden-blond hair, the same color as Amie’s, out of his eyes. Stephen had been pleading with their father for “wheels” to drive to Northwestern University next month when the fall semester started and he’d begin his freshman year. Now he had them.
“To Amie,” Mr. Henderson stated, causing her stomach to flip in a peculiar way, “I leave my gas station and entire property in Tigerton, Wisconsin.”
Amie’s heart dropped like a brick. The room fell silent and all eyes turned on her. Dottie wore an expression of pity. Stephen’s brow furrowed with confusion. Her parents’ countenances barely masked their horror.
Amie chewed her lower lip. She couldn’t describe how she felt. Disappointed? Hurt? Both? Maybe Uncle Hal hadn’t been as fond of her as she’d thought.
Except Amie had been sure that her uncle favored her above her brother and sister. He remembered her birthdays, when he tended to forget Dottie’s and Stephen’s. At Christmastime, all three received gifts from Uncle Hal, although Amie’s were always the biggest and the best. It used to be a point of contention among the two other Potter children, much to Amie’s delight. And every year around Easter, she would get a card from Uncle Hal wishing her a happy “spiritual birthday” because it was her uncle who’d helped her understand the concept of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ when she was twelve years old.
So how had she offended Uncle Hall? He knew she attended church regularly and tried to incorporate her faith into every aspect of her life. But she’d obviously done something to anger him, although try as she might, Amie couldn’t think of what…
“There’s got to be some mistake.” Mom regarded Mr. Henderson with a frown creasing her forehead. “That run-down gas station? He left it to Amie? Why, I don’t think it’s even in working order.”
“Yes, it is, for the most part. There’s no mistake.” Mr. Henderson drummed his fingers on the documents. “Hal told me, himself, even before we’d put anything in writing, that he wanted Amie to have the service station and property.”
“What in the world is she supposed to do with it?” Dad sat forward, resting his forearms on the knees of his khaki-tan trousers. He shook his white-capped head. In his younger days, he’d been as blond as Stephen and Amie. “My daughter doesn’t know the first thing about operating a gas station—not that she’d want to. Look at her.” His hand indicated to Amie. “Sugar and spice and everything nice. Can you see her managing a filling station? I don’t even think she’s put gas in a car in her life. She usually gets Stephen to do it...or Dottie...or me.”
“Oh, Dad, I’ve filled my car’s gas tank plenty of times.” She folded her arms. Dad made her sound so inept—and she wasn’t.
He tossed a teasing grin her way, while Dottie and Stephen burst into hysterical laughter.
Amie bit down hard on her back teeth. So, she wasn’t aggressively competitive like her younger sister who wore her dark hair short and was majoring in sports medicine. So, Amie liked her hair long and softly curled. She enjoyed romance novels, feminine frippery, and she used make-up, bubble bath and fingernail polish. So, what?
“Princess,” Dad cajoled, “you’ve got to admit…it’s awfully amusing. You and a...a gas station.”
Her family laughed again and even Amie had to smile this time.
“Jim, are you certain there’s been no mistake?” Still grinning, Mom tucked one side of her silvery, chin-length hair behind her ear.
“I’m positive. Hal specifically stated that he wanted Amie to have his gas station and its surrounding acres.”
Mr. Henderson shifted his weight in the powder-blue, wing-back chair. “Now, Amie…” His eyes were round and soft with understanding. “You can sell the place or keep it and hire someone to manage it. There’s a fine young man who’s worked with Hal for the past thirteen years–ever since he was sixteen. Tom Anderson is his name. He also roomed with Hal. They lived in that two-bedroom apartment above what used to be a laundromat years and years ago. Now it’s just filled with junk.” Mr. Henderson wagged his head and smiled. “That was Hal’s other hobby – collecting junk. You name it, it’s probably stuffed into some part of those two buildings.”
He paused, obviously seeing the confusion on Amie’s face. “Let me explain. There are two buildings on Hal’s property, the service station with attached garage and a two-story building. The latter houses the laundromat area on the first floor, and Tom and Hal’s apartment on the second...well, now it’s just Tom’s place.”
Stephen didn’t hide his stupid grin. “Was there, um, a particular reason why my uncle and this guy shared an apartment?”
Mr. Henderson chuckled good-naturedly at the implication. “No. The only reason the two men were roommates is because Tom didn’t have anywhere else to go. Hal took him in and was something of a father-figure to Tom.”
Amie understood, as Uncle Hal sometimes referred to her as his “daughter in the faith.” Perhaps this Tom-person was Uncle Hal’s “son in the faith.”
Mr. Henderson cleared his throat. “In a way, Amie, you’ve inherited Tom, too.”
“Great.” She didn’t bother hiding her annoyance.
“There, there, take heart, my dear,” Mr. Henderson told her. “Tom is a nice fellow. Honest. Hard working. With his help, you might be able to figure out how to actually make Hal’s place into a profitable business.” He glanced around the room at all the Potters. “I believe you folks met Tom at the funeral a few weeks ago.”
“Oh, I know who you’re talking about.” Dottie leaned over and rapped Amie’s shoulder. “He was that geek with the dark brown, wavy hair and mismatched suit who looked as though he’d just stepped out of an old 1970’s sitcom.”
Stephen hooted, while Amie thought back on that sad day. She couldn’t recall meeting anyone of that description.
Mr. Henderson cleared his throat, appearing slightly agitated. “Look, folks, Tom’s a good man. He’s intelligent, even though he’s only got a high school education. But I know lots of guys his age with college degrees who don’t have a lick of common sense.”
“True enough, dear.” Mrs. Henderson placed her hand on her husband’s as if cooling his temper. Round and jolly-looking, the woman possessed a wide, double-chinned face and short auburn hair that was teased back off her forehead. “And you’re correct. Tom’s a smart fellow. Why, I remember Hal saying he would have been valedictorian of his senior class if it hadn’t been for—” She stopped short and swallowed the rest of her sentence after receiving a frown from her husband. “Oh, never mind,” she added, in an obvious attempt to cover her blunder. “It’s a long story anyway.”
“Tom didn’t move into the apartment with Hal until about two years ago,” Mr. Henderson offered, apparently feeling the need to somewhat explain the situation. “It was right after his youngest brother turned eighteen and went off to college. Tom sold the family property. Being the oldest in his family and with his mother dead and his father being a...well, he liked to tip the bottle, to put it politely. Tom kind of raised his siblings and Hal kind of raised Tom.” Mr. Henderson glanced at Amie from beneath his bushy brows. “Tom will be glad to help you out, whether you decide to sell Hal’s station or let him manage it.”
A sinking‒in‒quicksand sensation enveloped her.