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“The Amethyst Angel”
Traditional Romance Novella
Awards & Honors:
2015 BTS Red Carpet Reader’s Choice Award nominee
RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Award winner
2006 EPIC Award winner
Love Romances Golden Rose Award winner
2005 Ecataromance Book of the Year winner
4 ½ stars and Top Pick from RT Book Reviews
5 books from Long and the Short Reviews
5 angels from Fallen Angel Reviews
5 flags from EuroReviews
5 heart review from Love Romances
4.75 stars from Once Upon a Romance Review
4 ½ hearts from Love Romances
Elena Lopez’s father has decided to play matchmaker with his long-time friend and neighbor, Marta Delgado, when Marta’s nephew comes to town. Elena has a secret though: She’s always loved Marta’s own son Pablo. An amethyst angel belonging to a dying boy reminds Elena that spending her life waiting for something to happen isn’t living and that love must be shared. Can she take the risk of telling Pablo her feelings even if he doesn’t share her love?
The Amethyst Angel Excerpt
© Karen Wiesner
Elena Lopez’s father joined her as she completed her rounds through the Children of Hope Hospital. Three generations of Lopez’s had cared for terminally-ill children, but Elena was the first woman doctor in her family.
At thirty years of age, she’d given her life to the hospital. She’d grown up
inside its walls, and she’d known since she was a young girl that she would follow in her father’s footsteps.
“Marta’s welcome party is this night. We should get ready soon,” her father reminded her, his voice sounding more melodious to Elena as the unpainted plaster walls and saltillo tile halls absorbed and hushed it to an
intimate whisper. “You are planning to attend?”
Elena glanced at him warmly. “Of course. How could I turn Marta down?”
Her father’s mouth turned up in amusement at the mere thought.
Though Marta was in a wheelchair, crippled from the car accident that had claimed Elena’s mother’s life years ago, she was a formidable woman who simply didn’t take no for an answer—certainly not from her best friend’s family, which Marta had claimed as her own since Susana’s death.
“I just want to look in on Juan before we go.”
Her father nodded, and they stopped long enough to put on gowns, masks, shoe coverings and gloves to protect Elena’s patient from infection. Then they continued down the hall to the isolated section of the ward. Her father stayed in the doorway while she went into Juan’s room.
Though Juan Habanera had had a bone marrow transplant a few weeks
earlier and hadn’t developed an infection in that time, Elena could recognize the signs of decline in the seven-year-old. Even so, the joy in
his smile was never affected by his unstable health. His optimism belied all of his suffering. He’d come to the hospital three years ago, justifiably afraid and uncertain of his future, but he’d become a new person in that time. Everyone in the ward drew strength from him.
Juan was frail, with huge dark eyes set in a pale face. He’d lost his hair long ago from treatments. In his hands, he held the small amethyst
angel statue Elena had given him when he came. As he often did, he raised it up toward the window beside him. The sun pierced through it and exploded light-filled, lavender rays all around him. Elena had told him her mother gave her the angel just before she’d died, promising her the angel’s light of love would never go out as long as life was lived and love was shared.
“How do you feel this afternoon, cariño?” Elena asked him with a smile.
“Sleepy. Happy. I hoped you would come back tonight to tuck me in.”
Elena picked up his chart, anxious about the results of the tests she’d taken earlier. His temperature was elevated, and she could see the glands in his neck were swollen even from the foot of the bed.
She moved to the side of the bed and folded his blanket down past his waist. Gently, she probed his abdomen below the ribs and confirmed an enlarged spleen.
She didn’t want him to see her unhappiness. The results of the bone marrow biopsy she’d performed that morning weren’t in yet, and she wanted all the facts before she talked to him. She set down the chart. Sitting
carefully beside him, she unlooped her stethoscope from around her neck and
warmed it in her gloved hands.
“How did you enjoy the sunshine today, Juan?”
“The sun felt nice. I was glad to be outside. Pablo came with magic up his sleeves.”
Elena laughed at the delighted smile of memory lighting the boy’s pale face. “He did, did he? Seems I missed the best part of the day.”
Though activities had to be limited, considering the isolated patients’ tendency toward infection, everyone—including the staff—enjoyed a
good magic show.
“He asked after you,” Juan told her with a teasing smile. “If you’d been there, the flowers he pulled out of his construction hat would have
Elena lowered her gaze, too aware of how her heart rate had picked up with the mention of Pablo. He’d used his lunch hour to entertain the children again. “Yes, I saw Pablo’s flowers on Liz’s nightstand. She was
very happy with them.”
Elena pressed the warmed stethoscope to his chest, listening to his heart and breathing. He sounded labored.
“Is Liz still afraid of being alone during her dialysis?” Juan asked.
“She’s getting better. She loved the picture books you suggested. That helped a lot. Thank you, Juan.”
“I’ll try to visit her tomorrow.”
“I think she’d like that.” Elena drew his blanket up around his shoulders. “Have you had any headaches?”
“Not bad. Not like they were.”
Elena nodded, sure they would be back soon, based on the symptoms she was seeing in him. “All right. I’ll have Henry start you on antibiotics
right away, then you need to sleep, cariño. I’ll come back and check in on you before I go to bed tonight. ‘Night.”
“Goodnight, ángel de amor.”
Elena hugged him before getting up to jot notes on his chart. She left the room, her father’s calming hand at her back. “Bad news?” he asked
when they were far enough down the hall to be out of Juan’s hearing.
“He’s developing pneumonia. I’m still waiting on the results of the biopsy I did this morning. The last thing he needs right now is to get an infection.”
At the receptionist desk, they removed their scrubs. Elena gave the ward nurse instructions for starting the IV, telling him to page her if Juan developed cyanosis and a higher fever over the next few hours.
Her father didn’t offer her any of the number of platitudes she already knew when they left the hospital. In silence, they followed the
stone path behind it to the simple home several generations of Lopez’s had
lived in, in order to be on call at all times. None of the children in their hospital were expected to live more than five years. Many of them wouldn’t survive to the end of the year. Her father also didn’t tell her not to get
involved. He—they—believed it was their calling in life to make sure these children were comfortable and as happy as they could possibly be in the time left to them. Loving them was a given, and it was necessary to give freely
of what they had.
“Have you met Marta’s nephew before?” Elena asked once they let themselves inside the cool shadows of their foyer.
“Arrio, no, though I have met several of her other nieces and nephews.” He placed his cane in the oversized antique Apache basket.
“Did she invite many people to the welcome celebration?”
“Merely all of Santa Fe, I believe,” her father said, his face serious. Marta had to be excited about Arrio’s arrival.
Pablo would be there. Of course he would. He was Marta’s son, and therefore Arrio’s cousin. Pablo would certainly be there. Her pulse jumped at the thought.
“A Home for Christmas” by Karen Wiesner
Inspirational Romance Novella
Awards & Honors:
2015 BTS Red Carpet Reader’s Choice Award nominee
5 stars from Ecataromance
5 stars from Classic Romance Revival
5 flags from EuroReviews
4 ½ stars from Once Upon a Romance Reviews
Craig Stevens is determined to tell Christie of his feelings for her once and for all. But how does a painfully shy man reveal his heart without voicing the words that could lead to rejection?
Christie Renata Zondervon grew up in an orphanage and then with a multitude of foster families. All she’s ever wanted is a home and a family, especially at Christmas-time. When she met Craig’s brother, she thought she’d found the man to build that family with, and she was devastated when it didn’t work out.
Craig has been there for Christie since the day they met. He’s dried her tears, held her hand, listened to her talk about her hopes and fears at any time of day or night. He believes in her even when she doesn’t believe in herself. She’s never looked at him romantically before…until he invites her to go to Olympia, Washington to spend Christmas with him and his family. For the first time, Craig begins to show her his heart, and she begins to see him in a whole new light.
Craig has given himself just a few days before Christmas to convince Christie he can be the man of her dreams. Now it’s a countdown to win her heart or bust!
A Home for Christmas Excerpt
© Karen Wiesner
You have to do this, Craig Stevens lectured himself with the phone still a grip away. Squirming in his easy chair, his hands clasped the arms in a death-grip fueled by memories and lost chances. You chickened out earlier today—who could blame you? Every day she’s more beautiful. Every day you trip over your own tongue at the first glimpse of her. But not this time. This time, get over how her voice turns you inside out. This time, it’s now or never.
He could almost hear his brother Gregg lecturing, Isn’t she worth gettin’ out of your comfort zone for?
Craig closed his eyes against an agonizing wave of desire and brokenness. He’d fallen for Christie Renata Zondervan at pretty much the instant he’d first laid eyes on her. Outside of her beauty, her sweetness inside and out, she was a woman unlike any other he’d known. His every prayer for clarity always led him back to her. She was the love of his life and didn’t even know it. At the age of thirty-seven, he was as sure as he’d ever be that she was the only woman who would ever do for him.
And she was in love with his brother.
The silence in his compact apartment sounded like a tidal wave in his ears that receded only when he heard a door open in the apartment above his. A minute later, an enthusiastic—if off-key—voice caroled along with the Christmas jingle on the suddenly blaring stereo.
What if she didn’t call? What if this one night, she decided not to call him? For the past five years, his cultivation to get her to trust him, rely on him, turn to him in every situation had backfired. In ways, he guessed he really had no life outside of waiting to see her, waiting for her to call him. He didn’t want a life outside of her.
Not once in all those years had he imagined she would fall for his brother and Craig would find himself in the position of being the shoulder she cried on.
Just as Craig had expected him to, Gregg had carelessly broken Christie’s heart, then proceeded to fall for someone else shortly afterward. It’d been months since his brother had dumped Christie unceremoniously in Craig’s lap, and he’d been telling himself, Not yet. She’s not ready. She’s still not over him. And, because Gregg had now deduced that Craig was in love with Christie himself, had been for years, he got an earful of “Why aren’t you doing something to make her yours?” advice from his brother.
Craig glanced up at his pristine ceiling, annoyed tonight by the cheerful warbler he lived below.
He shook his head. How could he compete with his brother? Maybe Gregg didn’t see it that way, but Craig had observed all through their childhoods, their teenager years, their adult years that Gregg could charm any and every woman without even trying. Craig cast himself as the exact opposite of his irresistible brother. He didn’t know the first thing to say to a woman he liked. He felt uncomfortable in nearly every social situation. The truth was, he didn’t see himself even remotely as interesting as the next guy. So what did he have that Christie might want or need?
Craig pressed index and middle fingers to his throbbing temples.
He was an ear. A shoulder. The voice of encouragement to keep Christie’s spirits and confidence up. Those were all he’d dared to offer her up until now.
But it wasn’t enough. Not for him. His own unfulfilled desires were eating him alive. Would it be enough for her if he loved her more than anything except the Lord? If there was absolutely nothing he wouldn’t do to win her? To make her happy? To give her each and every single last thing she needed for the rest of their lives, until only death separated him from her and reunited them in heaven?
He wasn’t sure, but he knew he had to take a chance and make that next step to either losing her, or winning her finally.
Leaning forward, he put his head in his hands and tried to block out the jingle bells rock and stomp above him. Show me what Christie needs, Lord. Make her see me in a new light, as more than simply a friend who’s always there for her. I can be the man she needs. I know I can. Just help me to have the opportunity to do that without tripping over my own tongue. But Your will, not mine. If this isn’t Your will, show me. Take away this torturous desire. If it is Your will, make the phone ring.
Craig lifted his head, glancing back at the phone, willing it in his hard gaze to ring. And, a moment later, it did. He sat back and grabbed it, already anticipating her soft, sweet, melodic voice, filling all the cold, dark corners inside him.
“Did you ask her yet?” Gregg demanded.
A frustrated groan filled Craig’s voice at hearing his brother’s voice. He clenched his teeth to keep it from escaping, but said, “No, but she’s supposed to call.”
“She said she would?”
“Then how do you know she will?”
She always does. Every night at 8:30, she calls. She has since you broke her heart. Your loss. My gain. Craig reluctantly reminded himself that the gain could be only temporary. If he risked everything and asked her, would he lose everything?
“You better call her.”
“How’s Stormie?” Craig asked, but his brother saw right through him.
“My wife is fine. Now call Christie. Or I may take matters into my own hands.”
Though Gregg’s tone was teasing, Craig’s ire rose immediately. “You do, and I’ll never forgive you.”
“That I’m used to, brother. I think you’d rather that than livin’ with never forgivin’ yourself if you don’t do this. Step out on a limb for her, Craig. You’ve done it for other worthy causes. You’ve got enough faith to get you through anything. Call her. Ask her. You won’t regret it.”
How could he be so sure of that? Craig’s efforts to convince himself of that never lasted beyond a few minutes or hours. Every time he thought about asking her, taking that chance, all his fears rushed back in. He’d rather be something in her life than nothing, and this risk could easily make him lose even the position he had in her life.
But he knew Gregg was right. He had to do this. He had to.
After telling Gregg he’d call Christie, Craig hung up and realized that God had answered his prayer—the phone had rang. As was frequently the norm, the Lord had just chosen to answer in a completely unexpected way that left Craig wondering if he’d misunderstood the obvious again.
He could easily imagine God being as frustrated with him as he was with himself.
“Now or never,” he lectured out loud, to the tune of “The twelve days of Christmas.” This was his countdown to making Christie his, or losing her forever. Now or never.
* * * *
Craig’s line was busy. Christie could barely get herself to believe it, but each time she dialed, she got a busy signal. After a half hour of it, she merely got his answering machine. He wasn’t there.
You’re not the center of his world, she scolded herself, grimacing as she jabbed her finger against the power switch of her stereo. Christmas music usually depressed her. Certainly, it did tonight. Craig doesn’t sit around waiting for you to call him. So he went out. He had something else to do. Maybe he had a date.
She wasn’t sure why, but the thought bothered her. It bothered her almost as much as the thought that had been whispering itself in her ear for the past few weeks.
Christmas was coming. Every year, on December 21st, Craig went home to Olympia, Washington to spend the holidays with his huge family. He called her every day even then, saying he didn’t want her to run her phone bill up, but it wasn’t the same as knowing he was only a few minutes away.
Dropping the cordless phone on the table, she walked to the picture window that dominated the front part of her duplex. Across the street, a car drove up with an absolutely huge blue spruce strapped to its comparatively tiny top. Two men and two young children jumped out. Their faces spoke volumes in the next several minutes as the older man and the presumed father of the children worked cheerfully to liberate the tree from the car and the kids urged them on with their bouncing forms.
A movement from beyond drew Christie’s gaze. At the open door of the house stood the mother and grandmother, waving and smiling. The green and red apron the mother wore was covered with white powder. Holiday baking—a family event just as the tree decorating clearly was.
Christie swallowed the lump in her throat, almost hearing Johnny Mathis singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
Home. A home for Christmas.
She let the curtain fall back with a sigh.
Nearly all of her friends left her alone during holidays—not that she blamed them. Unwilling to bring them down, she insisted she had a full schedule of volunteer activities throughout the holidays. Truthfully, she would have liked nothing better than to be surrounded with family, but she had none. She couldn’t even expect them to give her a second thought while they were away, enjoying their loved ones. Yet Craig always remembered her. For the past five years, he’d been her mentor and the very best friend she could imagine. He was always there for her. Always.
She sank down into her suede sofa, holding her fluffy cat Lucy against her. I hate feeling this lost, Father, almost as much as I hate remembering how stupid I was. How much I wanted Gregg to be the answer to every prayer I’ve ever had for love and family and intimacy. I should have realized someone like him could never love someone as needy as me, someone who’s so easy to forget or avoid. It’s so silly to feel like this, because I know You love me, and that should be all I need. I should never feel lonely again, but… I do. You know my heart. Help me to stop feeling like this, or to find someone else I can love and who can love me.
Christie glanced back at the phone, not bothering to wipe the tears running down her face. Craig was so busy with the various ministries he was involved in. Maybe he’d taken up something else—without telling her about the change in his schedule. But she’d seen him just that morning and he’d said nothing then.
Why does he have to tell you every detail of his schedule? She snatched up the phone again and pressed the number one on her speed dial. The man wasn’t put on this earth to comfort you. Never mind that he always seems to know just when you need him. Instead of a busy signal, his answering machine picked up her call. Her doorbell pealed through her home.
Frowning, she allowed Lucy to jump out of her arms, then rose. Who would visit her? She almost never had any visitors. Though she worked in various ministries herself, she’d never made friends easily. She considered many of the people she worked with sisters or brothers in the Lord, yet their lives didn’t merge after hours since they all had families to take care of. She’d assumed most of them also had their own circles of friends. Being single at her age, she didn’t really fit in with any of them. So who was here at this time of night?
Once more, she went to the window overlooking her little section of lawn, her sidewalk, and the communal driveway she shared with the other tenant in the duplex. In the light of the street lamp, she saw Craig’s dark blue car.
Her face flushed at the realization that he’d come. He’d come just when she needed him. He hadn’t been out on a date. He’d been home between 8:30 and 9 o’clock—the busy signal she’d gotten when she tried calling him told her that. And then he’d come here.
Smiling, she rushed to her front door, unlocked it, and pulled it open with her cat underfoot. Craig stood on her doorstep and relief flood his expression until he saw her wet cheeks. “Are you all right?” he demanded in a tone that sounded both harsh with worry and loaded with the tenderness she associated with him.
Christie couldn’t help laughing at her own foolishness as she stepped forward to hug him and simultaneously invite him inside.
“I tried calling…” he started.
“Was that you?”
He looked confused, and she laughed again. “I was trying to call you. I kept getting a busy signal. We must have been calling each other. Is that why you came over?”
When she eased back, sensing his reluctance to let go, his grin was sheepish. “I…I got worried,” he admitted.
Though she was no longer in his arms, his familiar, woodsy scent clung to her and surrounded her. Christie smiled at him, appreciating how, even at the end of a long day, he always looked immaculately dressed and groomed. His black trousers didn’t have a single wrinkle and they fit him like the designer had used him as the model.
“Are you all right, honey?”
She reached around him to close the front door. She should have felt completely foolish, embarrassed to confess the truth, but she didn’t. Craig knew her better than anyone else. “I’m just lonely. It’s this time of year.”
When she peeked up at him through her lashes, she saw that little frown that brought his elegantly arched eyebrows together. It was the little frown that he often wore and made her sometimes wonder if she was the center of his universe. Well, a little left of center. She knew the Lord firmly occupied the center of Craig’s life. His active, living faith buoyed her own faith, giving her encouragement and security.
“Why this time of year?”
“Come in. Sit down,” she murmured as Lucy rubbed up against his leg affectionately, and he leaned down to greet her effusively the way he always did. “Do you want some hot chocolate or something?”
He shook his head, now leading her to the sofa, where they sat side-by-side. He faced her. “Tell me.”
Christie sighed. “Everyone has family this time of year. Everyone disappears. I don’t begrudge them for it. I do envy them. It’s hard to be alone this time of year.”
“You’re not alone. You’ll never be alone.”
The intensity of his voice brought a smile to her lips. “I know. I know the Lord is always with me.”
His jaw tightened slightly, and he looked down for an instant. She’d often wished for his smooth ability to gauge the effectiveness of his words before he said them. His dark eyes met hers again. “You’re not alone,” he repeated.
For the first time, she realized how much he and Gregg looked alike, and the realization surprised her more than it should have. She’d seen pictures of the Stevens family. They all had gorgeous dark hair, dark eyes. All the brothers had that telltale strong jaw and full, sensual lips. Even their sister, though her features were much more feminine in beauty, had the Stevens similarities.
Though Christie had always seen that Craig’s looks rivaled any of theirs, she’d never noticed how perfect his face was with those intense eyes that could steal the breath right out of a girl until she could barely stand without help. The way Gregg had every single time he’d looked her way, even long before he’d noticed her for all of five minutes.
“You don’t have to be alone,” Craig murmured, and she could see he wanted to glance away the way he frequently did, and she’d never been sure why. He wasn’t a man she considered shy.
“I don’t have to be what?”
“Alone. During the holidays.”
What was he saying? She could hardly believe he’d said it. Craig loved spending the holidays with his family. He always returned from his visit like a new man, like he had more confidence in himself, in his goals. As though his family restored a part of him that waned during the rest of the year he wasn’t with them. It was a sentiment she could never understand. She’d never had a family of her own. But she’d imagined what it could be like, and Craig’s family had become an ideal for her. She wanted what they had, even knowing there was a good chance she’d never have anything like it.
“No! Oh, Craig, I didn’t mean…” She put both hands on his chest, unwilling to allow him to make that kind of sacrifice for her.. “Of course I’m not asking you to stay here this year. I know how much your family means to you. Going there during Christmas. Don’t worry about me. Just…call me when you can. I like to hear all the children giggling in the background. And the music, when your family sings Christmas songs around the piano.”
He leaned further against the saddleback sofa cushions, taking a deep breath, and then he surprised her again when he said, “Maybe I will have that hot chocolate.”
She expected him to follow her into her kitchen, and when he didn’t she was even more thrown.
Working through the routine task, she mixed up a batch of hot chocolate and brought it to a slow boil while she set out her two favorite mugs.
Why had he come here tonight? Why would getting a busy signal when he tried to call her worry him enough to send him across town in person? Had he actually intended to stay in Milwaukee over Christmas instead of going home to his family for a little longer than a week, the way he always did, if she asked him to? Would he do that for her?
Somehow she completed her task, topping the chocolate with fresh crème, but she didn’t do it with conscious thought. She thought about Craig, going off for a week. She thought about him staying with her for that week. Both thoughts made her experience a kind of devastation. She didn’t want him to go, but she didn’t want him to stay for her. How could she accept something like that? It was too much. What did she have to offer him that would make up for the loss of seeing his family?
Though she hadn’t wiped the tears from her face before she opened the door to him, she did now. She didn’t want him to see that she’d been crying again, caught between two choices that weren’t hers to make or even influence.
She carried a small tray with the hand-painted mugs and double chocolate chip cookies she’d made earlier into the living room. Craig’s gaze met hers as though he searched for reassurance from her. She wasn’t sure what he needed reassurance for, but she set the tray on the glass table, then sat beside him on the sofa again. Turning toward him, she took his hand in both of hers. “You’re a fantastic friend, Craig. I can’t even believe you’d offer it, but I can’t ask you to stay here with me when you should be with your family for the holidays. Thank you. I love you for it. But you should go.”
She turned away to pick up one of the mugs, telling herself she’d done the right thing.
“I’m not offering to stay here,” he said as she handed him the hot chocolate.
“You’re…not?” Heat filled her face. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time she’d completely jumped to the wrong conclusion.
Craig took the mug, but set it down again. At first, he took her hand in his tentatively, but an instant later, he’d completely enveloped her hand between his two large ones. Only a moment ago, she’d done the same with his hand, but this felt much more intimate. Forming words was too much for her. She opened her mouth anyway, looking at her hand in his. For the first time ever, she was uncertain of his intentions.
“Come with me.”
He might have whispered, but the soft-spoken words echoed through her mind like reverberation. Go? Go with him? To Washington?
“I know you don’t like airplanes, but I promise once we’re up you’ll forget you’re so far over land. I’ll distract you.”
She was so shocked by his suggestion, she laughed with a follow-up of, “Go with you?” as if he’d asked her in Japanese.
“My family would love to meet you. You know they would.”
She’d spoken to his parents, some of his brothers and his sister, even met a couple of them who’d visited Craig and Gregg in Milwaukee. In ways, she acknowledged that they did know her well enough to warrant this, but… She was confused. She didn’t know why she should be confused, and why it bothered her so much to be confused about this.
“They can’t possibly have room,” she heard herself say. “Not with everyone else who’ll be there.”
“You haven’t seen the house Gregg and I bought them. There’s plenty enough room. The kids camp out together on the floor in one room. It’s like a big camping trip for them. I can call Mom, but I know she’d want you there.”
Why would she? Does she know how lonely I get during the holidays? I’d hate to be there, knowing everyone knows the real reason I’m there. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me because I don’t have anybody else. Because I have no other place to go. Or is it something more?
“Craig, you’ve never told anyone else…well, anything I told you? About Gregg? Do they know Gregg and I…?”
He shook his head firmly. “No. Why would I mention that? Stormie’s the only woman he’s ever talked to them about.”
Jealousy and pain flared through Christie at the words, and she looked away to grab a cookie. Stormie Knight. Even the name irritated her. Stormie Knight, now Stormie Stevens, the woman who’d prevented any chance at all of Christie changing Gregg’s mind. She tore into the gooey cookie.
Ugh, but Christie didn’t even believe that herself anymore. Much as she wanted to believe Gregg had loved her, just a little, she knew his sentiments resembled those of a Christian brother with a sister. Her embarrassingly shameful attempts to seduce him had, praise God, been averted before any real damage had been done to more than her heart.
“I would never tell anyone the private things you’ve told me, Christie. You know that, don’t you? You’re safe with me.”
She glanced at him, blinking back tears as she nodded. Swallowing the suddenly bitter cookie, she fought the need to snuggle into his arms and lose herself in being cared for. “I don’t know, Craig. I don’t want to intrude.”
“How could you ever intrude?” he said like she was insane for even suggesting it.
“I’m not a part of your family.”
“I’ve known you for five years, honey. I think you’ve gotten to know my family in that time, too, not just Gregg. They love you, Christie.”
This time she did feel silly when fresh tears filled her eyes. No, she’d never met Craig’s and Gregg’s family, but she did feel like she knew them. She loved them, too. His mother not only sent her a card for every holiday, including her birthday, but she called every few weeks, as well. Craig’s sister, who came with her family to Milwaukee for Thanksgiving with her oldest brothers each year, called frequently. Christie had met her the year she’d done her first recording with Craig’s record company.
I love Craig’s family. I won’t be intruding on their family gathering. They’ll welcome me as one of their own. It’s the kind of people they are.
She glanced up at Craig, helpless to fight the tears slipping from her eyes. She’d never undergone more relief than when he made a soft noise of sympathy before drawing her into the haven of his embrace. It was better, definitely better, to cry in his arms than in his ear over the phone.
“I’m such a baby,” she murmured.
He made an excuse for her that made her giggle. “You’ve been through a lot lately.”
“A lot of my own making.”
“I’m sorry my brother hurt you.”
Christie shook her head without moving far from his chest. “He didn’t. I hurt myself. He never gave me any encouragement or promises. The opposite, in fact. He said he wasn’t going to be the man I deserved. But I wasn’t paying any attention. I let my heart go because it’s what I wanted. It’s not his fault. And I’m sorry I’ve been crying all over you these past few months. It can’t be fun for you.” But you’re always there for me anyway.
When she started to pull back to give him a break from the weepy mess she’d become, he refused to let her go. “Stay here. I don’t mind at all.”
Christie swallowed the lump in her throat as he tucked her deeper against him. His chest made the most comfortable pillow in the world feel like a rock. She could have fallen asleep so easily in his arms, against his chest. “You’re a good friend, Craig. The best. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Closing her eyes, she focused on his rapid heartbeat and the rhythmic way he stroked her hair. She wondered a few minutes later if he held his breath. His chest felt unyieldingly rigid. When she looked up at him, her confusion grew. The look of utter anguish on his taut face made absolutely no sense. Was she hurting him? What else could that expression mean?
“Say you’ll come home with me. I’ll take care of everything. Just say yes.”
She feared getting on a plane. Craig had known she harbored that fear before he signed her on as one of the artists on his record label, and he’d arranged for alternate methods of getting her to her concerts. But she imagined being with Craig and his family, with all their little young ones, surrounded with peace, joy and Christian love. She imagined them singing carols around the neighborhood, putting up the Christmas tree, attending Christmas services in the church his father pastored. She imagined warmth, good food, laughter instead of huddling with her cat in front of her own pathetic tree, loneliness, overeating for solace. Crying her eyes out, the way she usually did this time of year.
“You don’t have any singing gigs scheduled, do you?” Craig asked.
She hadn’t done an album of her own for over a year. Along with her volunteer work, taking back-up gigs and commercial spots had kept her busy, though the royalties she received steadily from her album were more than enough to live like a queen for years. “Nothing I can’t re-schedule.”
He cradled his hand against the side of her face. “Then there’s no reason for you to stay here.”
That much she couldn’t argue with. At the moment, she could see no reason to stay here and wallow in her misery, not when she could be happier than she’d ever been in her life for a few short days with Craig.
Karen Wiesner is an accomplished author with 116 titles published in the past 18 years, which have been nominated/won 134 awards, and has 40 more releases contracted for spanning many genres and formats. Visit her website at http://www.karenwiesner.com and sign up for her free newsletter to qualify for her monthly book giveaways. Check out her author page at Facebook, where you can like, friend and follow her: http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor.