A Test of Faith

By: Carol Cox

Chapter One

Heart pounding, Kate Hanlon bolted upright and tried to figure out what had awakened her. Her eyes probed the darkness, searching for anything out of the ordinary in the dark corners of the bedroom. Nothing seemed amiss. But something had jolted her out of a sound sleep. What was it?

A loud jangling broke the silence, and Kate realized it was the telephone. Reaching across Paul’s sleeping form, she scrambled for the receiver, hoping to still the ringing before it woke him.

She yanked the cordless phone off its cradle and jabbed at the Talk button in time to cut off the next ring. The bedside clock read 1:15 AM. Kate’s throat tightened. Calls that came in the middle of the night seldom meant good news.

“Please don’t let anything be wrong with the kids.” She breathed the prayer in a quivering whisper, then pressed the receiver against her ear. “Hello?”

“Kate? Is that you?”

The high-pitched, breathless voice on the other end of the line only heightened her concern. She shook off the last remnants of sleep and tried to keep her tone even.

“Yes, this is Kate. Who’s calling, please.”

“It’s LuAnne Matthews. I’m callin’ from the diner.”

Kate’s anxiety rose another notch. The Country Diner wasn’t an all-night establishment, so LuAnne couldn’t be waiting on tables at this hour. Nothing short of an emergency would have brought her friend down there in the middle of the night.

“What’s happening? What’s wrong?”

She heard LuAnne draw a shaky breath before she answered. “There’s a car sittin’ in the dining room.”

Kate pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead and squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn’t have heard correctly. Maybe she was having a bad dream. Too much paprika in last night’s Hungarian beef perhaps?

“Say that again. Slowly.”

“A car, Kate. It crashed through the front window, and it’s sittin’ smack dab in the middle of the dining room. It plowed right through the tables and chairs, and there’s glass everywhere. It looks like a tornado came through here.”

“Oh, good heavens!”

Paul stirred and grunted, and Kate dropped her voice to a whisper. “Is anyone hurt?”

“No, thank goodness. There weren’t any customers here, of course, and Loretta and I both went home hours ago.”

“What about the driver?”

“There isn’t any.”

“Excuse me?”

“There isn’t any driver here,” LuAnne repeated, enunciating each syllable with care. “No sign of him—or her—anywhere.”

Images played through Kate’s mind of someone wandering the streets of Copper Mill in the wee hours of the morning, injured and possibly in shock. “Whose car is it?”

“I don’t know.” LuAnne’s voice wobbled. “I don’t recognize it, and the sheriff can’t tell either. The license plate’s missin’.”

Paul pushed himself up on one elbow and rubbed his hand over his face. “What’s going on?” he murmured, his voice heavy with sleep.

“No driver and no license plate? How can that be?” Kate cupped one hand over the mouthpiece and explained the situation to Paul. “There’s been an accident down at the diner. No one’s hurt, but LuAnne’s terribly upset.”

Kate swung her legs over the edge of the bed, flipped on the bedside lamp, and stood unsteadily. Goose bumps prickled along her arms as she padded across the carpet to the closet, mentally sorting through her wardrobe for something that would protect her against the chilly February night.

“It’ll only take us a few minutes to get dressed. We’ll be right down to help you clean up. Is there anything I can—”

“Oh, I’m makin’ a mess of this,” LuAnne cut in. “That’s not why I called. There’s already a passel of people down here, and the sheriff just told us we can start straightening the place up...”

She paused so long, Kate wondered if the connection had been broken.

“It’s your wallet,” LuAnne said at last. “It was lyin’ on the passenger seat.”

Kate’s hand froze in the act of pulling a warm pair of navy slacks from their hanger. “What? That’s impossible!”

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