Rival Hearts

By: Susan Crawford
For Corban:

My youngest daughter, brainstorming partner, and the creative genius responsible for the premise of this story. Watching you grow and flourish in your God-given gifts brings me more joy than I can express. I love you, sweet girl.





Acknowledgments





I’d like to thank the following for their contribution to this story:



•    My family – Thank you for supporting my writing habit. I’d like to say that I’ll get it together and clean the house or respond to messages in a timely manner one of these days, but I don’t want to make empty promises, so… Thanks for putting up with it and loving me anyway. I love you dearly.

•    My cousin, Kim Spencer – The way you love and serve people is an inspiration to me. I based the Valentine party in this story on your annual dinner for widows and widowers because I think it’s so awesome. What a beautiful display of our calling as Jesus followers. I want to love like you do, and I’m so proud to call you family.

•    My anthology co-authors, Julie Jarnagin, Robin Patchen, and Lacy Williams – I’m absolutely thrilled to be included in this collection with you. Thank you for being so willing to help me along on this writing journey. I treasure my friendship with each of you.

•    And to Jesus – Thank you for sustaining me during the difficult season that surrounded the writing of this book. I’m ever aware and grateful that your power is made perfect in my weakness.





1





Morgan Drake didn’t belong in Ross, Oklahoma. Never had, never would.

Fine by her.

The thought streaked through her mind, but as she stepped into the meeting room at the Ross Community Center, she immediately felt awkward and out of place. Just like high school all over again.

As the State Food Bank’s community liaison, Morgan had sat through countless meetings like the one about to begin. The only difference was, those meetings hadn’t taken place in her hometown. First the reunion   committee, and now her job was forcing her to spend more time in Ross than she had since graduation. Way more time than she was comfortable with. Her home was in Oklahoma City now, and even though it was only a two-hour drive, for all the relief she felt when she crossed back into city limits, it may as well have been on another continent. And she couldn’t wait to get back there as soon as this meeting was over.

Only two others were at the table. The rest of the committee would be showing up any minute, so Morgan took a seat next to Mrs. Becker, the Community Center director. Ernie Hankins, the town’s resident grouch, sat across from Morgan. He eyed her for a moment, his gaze snagging on her tiny, silver nose ring and again on the cobalt blue streak in her hair. Disdain curled his lip as he looked away and started in on Mrs. Becker about how young people shouldn’t be able to play basketball in the gym on Thursday nights.

Morgan sank into her chair and nervously wrapped a thick blue curl around her finger. The color contrasted so greatly against the room’s dingy eggshell motif that it may as well have been a blinking neon sign pointing out her weirdness.

Be yourself. It doesn’t matter what they think.

She willed the message to sink deep into her being as she pulled everything she’d need for the meeting out of her bag. She neatly stacked folders and paperwork packets on the table, then settled in with her phone to kill time until the other committee members arrived. Anything to avoid talking to grouchy Ernie. Scrolling through her email inbox, she found three work messages—she’d respond to those later—and one from a sender she didn’t recognize.

Subject: Thanks for creating your profile!

Huh? She clicked to open the email and found confirmation that she’d successfully joined www.FarmFolks.com. The message promised she’d find her Happily Ever After with a match from the dating website for people who “loved country livin’.”

Oh, for crying out loud. Morgan Drake on a farmer dating website? She was a funky, city-loving, artist. But could she really call herself an artist if she hadn’t created any art in eight years? She shooed the pesky thought away. No matter, the notion of her dating some kind of farm boy was so ludicrous it was laughable. She might’ve thought the email was a mistake, but she had a hunch it had been delivered correctly, and she knew exactly who to blame.

Morgan had agreed to the online dating pact with the other girls on the reunion   committee, but she’d avoided following through on it. Her friends had decided her time was up, so they’d threatened to sign up for her, which was fine—one less thing for Morgan to do—but it hadn’t occurred to her that she’d needed to specify which websites were off limits.

She tapped out a text and sent it in the reunion   committee group message.

You signed me up on a website for FARMERS???

Within moments, Angela responded. That’s what you get for letting us be in charge of your love life! Lol. We thought you could find a hunky cowboy date.

Morgan shot back. Hunky cowboys don’t find dates on the Internet! I just hope I can find one that has all his teeth.

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