Daylin Sullivan has a passion for two things: books and food. Both help her escape from a past riddled by abandonment; she spent her childhood passed from one foster family to the next. Life has mirrored a game of musical chairs until one New Year’s Eve she stumbles upon a Dash for the Dream brochure in the local diner. The team is a faith-based group that runs marathons to raise funds for Cystic Fibrosis research.
Patrick Litton is raising his six-year-old daughter Aubree alone. As the leader of Dash for the Dream, the widower works tirelessly to secure funding in search of better treatment for all those afflicted with CF, including Aubree. Patrick has no time for romance—until he meets Daylin at the Dash for the Dream kick-off party.
Daylin and Patrick don't expect to fall in love, but both learn that when it comes to romance, training for a marathon is the easiest part of their journey.
A chill nipped at Daylin Sullivan’s cheeks as the diner’s door swept open, welcoming the frigid night air. She lifted her gaze from the cup of muddy brew nestled between her palms to see a young couple wedge their way through the narrow entrance, the man’s arm wrapped loosely around his girlfriend’s shoulders. They might have been freshmen or possibly sophomores in college. It was hard to tell with their bulky, snow-dusted jackets and tousled hair spilling from beneath wool toboggans. The girl’s eyes shone with a sparkle of innocence and her laughter tinkled merrily as they wound their way to a booth tucked back in the corner.
Young love; happy and carefree love. It was just the kind that made a couple forget every trouble in the world and believe their lives would never be touched with even the slightest shadow of heartache. It was the kind of love Daylin longed for and was convinced she’d never have.
Her dating scorecard—if it could even be called that—told the story. Teen years were pockmarked by a flurry of dates with guys she now realized she’d tried too hard to please. Her twenties brought another round of clumsy two-steps with men from the wrong side of the tracks. She knew she was an open and shut case for psychologists, easily dissected as someone seeking a place to belong, finding none that truly mattered, and with a history that could fill an entire series of books cover-to-cover. The product of a father she’d never known and a mother whose longest stint furloughed from the prison system amounted to eight months—not even long enough to birth a baby— Daylin had spent the better part of her childhood passed from one foster family to the next like the odd-man-out contestant in a game of musical chairs.
As thirty approached she’d sworn off men, instead choosing to cling to the books and sweet confections that had always been there for her—best friends in a sea of heartache. And then she had the misfortune of intersecting paths with Todd Barker. Over the course of several weeks, she’d fallen once again back into the habit of trusting too quickly with her friendship and then her heart.
Four months into the relationship, she’d arrived at his law office with the giddy intention of surprising him with a picnic lunch. Instead of the intimately tender picnic she’d imagined, surprise soufflé had been served up to her on a silver platter when she slipped through the office doorway to find him lip-locked with another woman.
A chill coursed through Daylin as she made quick work of unearthing the car from its film of snow before slipping into the driver’s seat to crank the engine.
Gears howled and shrieked as the engine struggled to catch. Daylin’s belly clenched with dread.
“Come on, baby, please.” She patted the ice-cold dash. “You have to start.”
Another crank of the ignition and, like a stubborn child who finally acquiesced, the engine turned over.
“Thank God.” Daylin lowered her head, sighing as frigid air swooshed into the cab. She felt like a traitor. She hadn’t spoken to God—really communed with Him—since her high school days, wasn’t even sure she believed in Him anymore. She removed her mittens to blow on numb fingertips. Shivering as the heater labored toward warm, she took the brochure from her purse and switched on the overhead light.
Dash for the Dream, read the title in bold, black letters. The small print inside mentioned an informational meeting at Dusty’s Diner in two days. An email address to confirm interest was included.
Daylin gnawed her lower lip as the car’s heater made quick work of the fogged windshield, unveiling a boulevard that shimmered crisply beneath new-fallen snow. The scenery, devoid of footprints and gloppy-gray slush, appeared so fresh and clean that it nearly stole her breath. For a moment, she felt as if she’d been captured within a snow globe to watch the world dance by while she stood on the sidelines.
A pain shot through her heart, causing her to cry out. She’d spoken to God once already tonight. Why not again? What would it hurt?
She caught her lower lip between her teeth and then ran her tongue over skin the cold had begun to chap. Her throat tightened, making it difficult to form words. “Please, God, help me find a purpose again. I’m tired of feeling so alone, so lost. I want to do this race. I want to serve others, serve You.”
The prayer of her heart, raw with painful emotion, came as a complete shock. Daylin cringed as the words reverberated inside the snow-crusted cab. If it was possible for lightning to strike in the dead of winter, surely she’d fry right there in the driver’s seat. Through all her heartache, she’d become convinced there was no God.
And, even if God did exist, why shouldn’t He turn His back on her pleas? Sobbing now, Daylin fished her cellphone from the pocket of her purse with trembling fingers. Without time to second-guess her actions, she typed a quick, shaky message to the inbox noted in the brochure and hit Send.
There…done. There was no backing out now. Daylin swiped her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket and tossed the phone back into her purse. She tightened the scarf at her neck like a noose and gritted her teeth against the desire to cave to the darkness.
No more…no more. Help me, God!
Tears dripped onto the steering wheel and splattered into Daylin’s lap as the sobs racked her body. Could God still care for her? Could he still hear her pleas?
Heat fogged the windows as a peace cocooned her. Without a doubt, she knew what she must do. She’d attend the Dash for the Dream meeting, listen to the information Patrick Litton-who-had-suffered-some-hardships presented, and decide where to go from there. She could manage that much, couldn’t she? Sorrow parted and a tiny trill of excitement buzzed through Daylin, chasing away a chill of loneliness.
She switched on the wipers, brushing away the last remnants of slush, and shifted into drive. The engine grunted as tires slogged over coated pavement. It would be good to see Patrick again. It had been so long and this chance encounter was a pleasant surprise. Would he remember her?