IT WAS HER worst nightmare. Her son had less than a year to live, Paige Summerville thought incredulously, then defiantly rejected the very idea.
Standing outside the train terminal, she couldn’t help the short, bitter laugh that escaped her lips—then realized she’d let her guard down when she felt Jason tug on her hand.
Paige was immediately contrite and forced a bright smile onto her face. Seeing the worry in her little boy’s blue eyes, she bent down and lovingly brushed his ash-blond hair from his forehead.
Knowing the perfect distraction, she suggested, with a cheer she didn’t feel, “How about we go to McDonald’s for lunch?”
His eyes cleared, and a grin spread across his freckled face. “Can we, Mom?”
She zipped up his jacket to shield him from the biting November wind. “We most certainly can!”
After lunch, they walked along Camden Falls’ tree-lined Main Street, pausing whenever Jason wanted to examine a brightly colored leaf or greet a passing dog. He clutched her hand tightly as they made their way home, glancing up at her periodically with eyes strikingly similar to her own. Occasionally, she’d lean toward him and whisper something in his ear or simply touch his arm, his shoulder, the top of his head.
Paige couldn’t imagine her life without her little boy, but it was a possibility she might have to face.
Jason had a malignant brain tumor.
They’d taken the train that morning to see an oncologist at the Rosenthal Cancer Center in nearby Boston. If he was correct, this could be her son’s last year. Paige had to believe they could beat the disease, but she knew the odds were stacked against them. After all, this wasn’t their first battle with the devastating disease.
The day had taken its toll on Jason. By the time they reached their small ground-floor apartment, he could barely keep his eyes open. He yawned as Paige tucked him in for a nap. She sat beside him long after he fell asleep, not wanting to leave him, needing always and forever to protect him, wishing she could smooth the furrows between his brows—a constant sign that he was never fully free from pain.
Yet Jason had an indomitable spirit. He never complained. He was a warm and loving child. Intelligent, even-tempered, so easy to please. Paige was thankful for that, since she didn’t have the means to give him much. What Jason lacked in material things, she was determined to make up for with her love.
Hearing the tap on her front door reminded Paige that she was running late. She wouldn’t have time to change into something more businesslike for work. Fortunately, she was employed at a call center for a financial collection agency. Since her interactions with people were over the phone, it didn’t matter if she wore the jeans she had on, although she preferred not to. She took another moment to tuck the blanket more snugly around her little boy and place a kiss on his brow.
Opening the door, she welcomed her silver-haired neighbor. “Hello, Mrs. Bennett. How’s Mr. Bennett’s arthritis today?”
“He’s doing well. Thank you for asking.”
Paige was immensely grateful to Mrs. Bennett for her willingness to take care of Jason while Paige was at work. She felt guilty that Mrs. Bennett wouldn’t accept any payment, but it was also a relief that she didn’t have to stretch her limited funds.
Mrs. Bennett glanced around. “Is our little man in his room reading?”
Paige shook her head and opened the hall closet. “He’s sleeping. It was a hard day for him.”
As Paige put on her coat, Mrs. Bennett placed a hand lightly on her arm. Concern infused her voice and clouded her eyes as she asked, “How did it go at the hospital this morning?”
The simple question threatened Paige’s self-control. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply before responding in a shaky voice, “Not well.”
Mrs. Bennett tightened her grip on Paige’s arm. “What did the oncologist say?”
Paige shook her head. “I have to get to work. I can’t go into it now.”
Mrs. Bennett pulled Paige into a comforting hug. “Okay, dear. Go to work. When you come home, I’ll make us a nice pot of tea and we’ll talk.”
* * * * *
WHAT WAS IT about the holidays, Daniel Kinsley wondered as he returned to his desk, that seemed to bring out the worst in people?
He was glad he had some time to spare before his next appointment. His meeting with Gloria Farnsworth had put him in a miserable mood. He dropped heavily into his chair and swung it around to stare out the window. Across the street, a billboard displaying a Norman Rockwell–style scene seemed to mock him. It showed a cheerful, ruddy-faced Santa distributing brightly wrapped gifts to an elegantly dressed and ridiculously happy family. The husband clasped his wife’s hand affectionately, and the model-perfect woman stroked the blonde curls of a little girl in a red velvet dress. Daniel snorted. Did anyone really live like that? Not in his experience.
He thought of his own parents and their respectful, polite relationship. When was the last time he’d seen his parents touch? For that matter, his mother’s obligatory cheek kisses aside, he couldn’t recall his parents ever touching him with affection. They never argued. They never fought. But he also wasn’t sure they actually loved each other. A sad statement, especially after forty-three years of marriage.
It didn’t help his mood to remember that he’d agreed to spend more than a week with them in Newport over the holidays. He knew there’d be no Christmas cheer in that. At times he questioned why his parents stayed together. Then again, maybe they had it right. No love, no pain. Not wanting to dwell on it, he allowed his thoughts to come full circle to Gloria Farnsworth.
Daniel turned away from the window and looked down at the open Farnsworth case file on his desk. He’d been tempted to tell Gloria to find another lawyer. But would that really have accomplished anything? More than half his cases disgusted him in one way or another. Okay, maybe none quite as much as the Farnsworth case, but if he wanted to extricate himself from cases that he found morally reprehensible, where exactly would he draw the line?
He picked up his pen and twirled it between his fingers.
Gloria Farnsworth was definitely at the extreme end. She’d torn a strip off him when he told her she should be satisfied with the spousal support her husband had agreed to—generous in his estimation—and accept that she was on shaky ground trying to get child support for a nineteen-year-old who wasn’t attending school and didn’t have a job. Gloria had demanded to know under what conditions she would be entitled. And fool that he was, he’d treated her like a rational person and explained some of the circumstances under which case law might entitle her to child support. He never would’ve imagined that she’d jump on one of the alternatives and willingly label her own son mentally disabled for the sake of gouging more money out of her soon-to-be-ex.
It was repugnant. Daniel knew it wouldn’t hold up in court—no expert witness would testify to it—but things probably wouldn’t come to that. Having met the husband on a couple of occasions, he sensed that the man cared about his child. Daniel was quite certain he’d settle rather than subject his son to the pain and humiliation of being questioned in court about his mental capacity.
Maybe Daniel should tell Gloria Farnsworth to take a long hike off a short— Whoa! She’d really gotten to him. In more polite terms, he would ask her to hire another lawyer. He refused to be party to what essentially amounted to fraud.
He straightened the papers, closed the file folder and tossed his pen on top.
With his parents’ loveless marriage, plus the hostile family disputes he witnessed at work, it was hardly surprising that he was still single at thirty-six.
Why couldn’t people be civil to one another? As an idealistic law student, he’d chosen family law because he wanted to help people, yet his caseload was dominated by nasty divorce and custody battles. Who was he kidding? He hadn’t helped anyone in a long time in any way other than to better their financial circumstances or inflict hardship and pain on their spouses. It was a bitter disappointment to see how people who’d supposedly once loved each other and been committed to each other ended up.
Yes, he told himself again, maybe his parents had it right, after all.
Selena, his executive assistant, interrupted his thoughts, calling to announce his next appointment—probably a good thing, as he was getting more and more depressed. Checking his schedule, he felt his mood lighten. This meeting would be a nice antithesis to his day so far.
He rose as Selena escorted a plainly dressed, middle-aged woman into his office. “Ms. Andrews, I’m Daniel Kinsley.” He extended a hand in greeting. “Would you like a coffee? Some water?”
“Call me Laura, please,” she said, shaking his hand, “and no. I’m fine, thank you.”
Daniel signaled to Selena that she could leave and offered Laura Andrews a seat.
“Thank you for meeting with me,” Laura began.
“The pleasure is mine. Your organization has a stellar reputation, and so do you as its executive director.”
“All of us at the Wish I May Foundation believe wholeheartedly in what we do, and we work very hard for our program’s children and their families. Yet we always have more families in need than we have sponsors, especially at this time of year. I can assure you that if your firm sponsors a child, you won’t regret it. All our sponsors tell us how much it means to them to make a difference in a young person’s life.”
“What’s involved in sponsorship?”
“It’s straightforward. You’d be given information on a chronically ill child and that child’s family and Christmas wish list. You’ll find that their wishes, for the most part, are very basic. Winter clothing, books, some small toys.” Laura’s smile conveyed sadness rather than pleasure. “Basic because these families often endure hardships that extend well beyond the illness of the child. We encourage sponsors to consider doing something extra for the child, if they can.” Daniel thought he saw a mischievous glint in her eye. “A trip to Walt Disney World, perhaps, or a PlayStation gaming system.”
It didn’t take Daniel long to commit his firm.
“All that’s left is to decide on the family you’ll be sponsoring.” Laura reached into her bag and pulled out a folder. Flipping through the papers, she finally drew out two sheets.
“Problem?” Daniel asked when Laura continued to scrutinize the two pages.
“Hmm? No. Not really.” She glanced up. “It’s just that I know both these families personally, and I’m having a hard time choosing between them.” She held out both sheets. “Here. Why don’t you decide?”
Daniel read the pages and examined the photographs at the top of each. Choosing between the two children and their families was impossible. Finally, coming to the only decision he could, he set the pages on his desk and looked up at Laura. Her eyes were focused on him, and a small smile played at the corners of her mouth. Her expression made him think that he’d been masterfully manipulated. In this case, he didn’t mind. “You’re very good at your job,” he acknowledged.
She gave a slight nod, and her smile remained in place. “I do my best.”
Daniel knew that when he shared the children’s stories with his partners, he’d be able to raise the needed money for each of them, including enough for some nice extras. “We’ll sponsor them both,” he said.
For the first time in months—no, years—he felt he was doing something worthwhile. And it had nothing to do with the law.
". . . absolutely brilliant . . . one of the strongest female characters I have ever read . . . you will not be able to put this book down . . . A definite must read this holiday season . . ."
". . . delightful Contemporary Holiday Romance . . . Ms. James is an extremely talented author, who draws the reader into the story and holds you in awe so these characters learn to love. With second chances, hope, healing and romance you won't be able to put "A Child's Christmas" down . . . engaging characters and a wonderful holiday romance. What an enjoyable read, very satisfying . . .
". . . careful, intricate character development and striking scene depiction, Kate creates a masterful work where the reader is transported mindfully into a unique set of family relationships and challenges . . . A great read that well balances relaxation reading with provocative thoughtfulness . . . an uplifting positive story that truly “warms the heart” . . ."
Text Copyright ©2014 by Kate James | Cover Art Copyright ©2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.