EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Desert Gift by Sally John (Tyndale).

Prologue

Chicago

At precisely twelve minutes and thirty-five seconds past ten o’clock in the morning, Central Standard Time, Jillian Galloway’s world ceased to exist.

She noticed the time because she was a clock watcher, a habit born of working in radio, where fractions of moments truly mattered. When her mike was on and the clock’s second hand swept up toward the twelve and listeners were staying tuned in because they wanted to hear the national news at noon, she wasn’t about to introduce a new subject.

But there stood Jackson, her husband, introducing a new subject while at the front door, buttoning his black wool overcoat. An assortment of luggage was at his feet, packed and ready to go. Outside, a cab waited at the curb. Somewhere up in the stratosphere a jet soared, making its way to O’Hare airport, where, in a very, very, very short while, they would board it.

She shifted her gaze from the large wall clock beyond his shoulder and made eye contact with him. “What did you say?”

“I said I’m not going.” He repeated the words that simply did not fit into that morning’s time frame nor anywhere in her comprehension.

“Jack, what are you talking about?”

With a sigh—the exasperated one he seldom emitted except in the kitchen when one of his gourmet concoctions failed—he lowered his shoulder bag to the floor. “I can’t keep this up. I just can’t.” A wince settled into the lines around his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Honey, you’re not making any sense. We’re on our way out the door. What on earth . . . ? What can’t you keep up?”

“Us, Jill. Us. I can’t keep us up.”

Beneath her wintry layers of blouse, sweater, silk scarf, and wool jacket, perspiration trickled down her sides. Her gloved fingers ached around the handle of her laptop bag. Her ears burned from the slap of his words, forcing her to let them inside.

Jack’s grimace tightened until his hazel eyes were all but seamed shut. “I’m sorry.” He spoke in his professional doctor tone: soft, gentle, giving an unpleasant prognosis to an unsuspecting patient. “I can’t explain it. It just is.”

She swallowed, gulping around the sudden lump in her throat. “You’re tired. You haven’t had a real vacation in forever. We both need this trip. A little downtime in the sunshine. A little rest. Then we’ll talk. We’ll decipher whatever this is all about.”

“We will talk, but not now. I need some space, some serious space.” He shook his head. “The truth is, I want a divorce.”

The clock’s pendulum ticked and tocked, back and forth, back and forth. It carried off irretrievable moments. It divided time into a before and an after.

Jill blinked. She cleared her throat. The lump remained. She blinked again. “I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I.”

“Try.”

“I have been trying since I woke up this morning.”

“Since you woke up this morning? So it’s out of the blue, this . . . this . . . this need for space. That can’t be. People don’t wake up and say they want—want . . .” He hadn’t said it, had he? Not the D word. Not really. He didn’t mean it.

“Don’t, Jill, please. Don’t analyze. Don’t stick a label on it. It just is.” His face smoothed, the creases unfolding as if the burden of the prognosis were no longer his to carry. He opened the front door and grabbed hold of her two bags. “I’ll walk you out to the cab.”