Emily’s mouth sagged open as she weighed the viability of his explanation.

Dave could see her wondering whether to believe him, wondering whether this was another lie, like so many others.

“Why…why would you do that?” she asked in a quavering voice.

This was the most difficult part of his confession. Before he could explain, she came up with her own reasoning.

“Are you a gambler, Dave?”

Dave was beginning to get irritated. “How can you ask me something like that?” Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t keep the anguish out of his voice. “Don’t you know me at all, Em? Have I destroyed everything because I wanted you to have this house you love so much?”

In the blink of an eye, her expression went from suspicion to shock. “The…house?”

“It was a financial stretch when we signed the papers.”

“But I thought…I assumed…”

“And I let you,” Dave said, not allowing her to finish. He was the one to blame. Little did he realize at the time that he’d set them up for financial ruin. Emily had wanted the house and Dave wanted her to have it. He handled all the finances, paid the bills. Every month he gave Emily a budget and she did a masterful job of keeping their living expenses within it.

“Do you mean to say we can’t afford this house?” she asked.

His heart in his throat, Dave lowered his head, unable to meet her eyes. “The mortgage broker managed to get the payments within reach, with the understanding that they’d increase every six months.” As it was, their budget had been strained to the breaking point and then, six months out, the mortgage company had hit him with the first increase.

“You took on an extra job without talking to me…without telling me why?” Pain bled into each word.

“I didn’t want you to worry that we might lose the house,” he mumbled.

“You’d rather let me think you were with another woman?”

It hadn’t actually dawned on him that she’d make such an assumption. “I didn’t really think you’d notice. I thought you’d figure I was just working later than usual.” There were often committee meetings in the evenings, and he’d figured Emily would believe he’d skipped dinner and stayed late because of them.

“I did think that in the beginning,” she murmured softly. “But I started to notice how distracted you’d become. It wasn’t like you. Then…” She hesitated.

“Then what?” he prompted.

“It was a few weeks ago. You closed your office door, and after a while I picked up the phone and hit Redial.” She lowered her eyes. “A woman answered and asked if it was Davey.”

Dave nearly groaned. “That’s Maxine. She works as a guard, too. She needed to change schedules with me. She’d left a message on my cell and I called her back to arrange it. If you met her, you’d see that she’s sixty years old—and a grandmother. I’m not involved with her.”

“But…you were gone so often.”

Dave had to agree the extra hours had drained his energy to the point that when he arrived home, he was exhausted and out of sorts.

“We’ll sell the house,” Emily said. “You can’t continue like this.”

With that part, Dave agreed. He’d grown tired and impatient with those around him. Even Angel, his assistant, had commented. He hated the changes he saw in himself and yet seemed powerless to overcome them.

“We can’t sell.” They were trapped. This was the worst of what he had to tell her.

“Of course we can.”

“Emily, don’t you suppose I’ve thought of that?” he said. “In this market, the house is no longer worth what we paid for it. I got us into a huge financial hole.”

She sank down, sitting on her heels. “I’ll get a job,” she said, as if that would solve everything. “I’ve been volunteering at the school, and a position may be opening up there. I’ll apply….” She closed her eyes in concentration. “I can try The Quilted Giraffe, too. They all know me there.”

“We decided when we married,” Dave reminded her, “that you’d be a stay-at-home mother for our children.”

“I will be,” Emily said. “I’ll make sure it’s understood when I apply that my hours have to coincide with the boys’ schedule.”

Even then Dave didn’t really like it. “I hate the thought of you having to get a job. I should be the one to provide for our family.”

“Oh, honestly, Dave, get a grip. Join the twenty-first century. I appreciate that you’d like me to be at home and I enjoy it, but I want to make a financial contribution to our family. Besides, the boys are older now. And I need to help. In fact, I insist on it.”

It went against his pride to acknowledge his relief. “You really think the school or the fabric shop would agree to those hours?” This was a solution, although not one he would’ve asked Emily to consider.

His wife nodded enthusiastically. “The job at the school would be as a classroom aide. The principal already suggested I apply if they get permission to post it.”

“You didn’t say anything.” If she’d mentioned it earlier, he didn’t remember.

She grinned. “Well, no, because I was still thinking about it. I do have a few secrets of my own, you know.”

Dave felt almost dizzy with relief. “I should’ve said something sooner. I should’ve told you what was going on.”

“Yes, you should have.”

A huge weight had lifted from his shoulders. He was a pastor, a man of God, and yet he’d ignored a basic creed found in the Bible. The truth shall set you free. And he was free for the first time in months.

Emily moved closer to him and Dave slipped his arms around her. For a long moment all they did was hold each other. Emily had her arms around his neck. When she whispered something in his ear, he stiffened.

“The watch?” he repeated.

“You’d better explain that to me as well.”

Dave sagged onto the bed. He’d been sick with guilt over losing that watch. And yet its appearance at the judge’s house embarrassed him all the more.

“Dave,” Emily said. “Where did you get a gold watch?”

He sighed and then explained. “Before she died, Martha Evans gave it to me.”

His wife frowned as if she didn’t believe him. This was his biggest fear. “I know what you’re thinking,” he murmured. “That I should never have accepted a family heirloom, and you’re right.”

“That’s not what I was thinking…” Emily withdrew her arms and stared at him with such intensity that Dave wanted to cry out in anger and frustration.

“Do you seriously believe I’d steal Martha’s jewelry?” he asked. “What kind of man do you think I am?”


“First you accuse me of having an affair and now you suspect I’m a thief.” His wife’s low opinion of him shocked Dave. Despite what she’d assumed was evidence, Emily was the one person he’d expected to stand by his side. Now it was clear his own wife doubted him. And if Emily did, so would everyone else. Thankfully he had proof of Martha Evans’s intentions.

Emily was quick to apologize. “I know, and I’m sorry.”

“A few days before she died, Martha told me she wanted me to have her husband’s retirement watch.”


“I refused,” he broke in. “I had no interest in accepting such a gift, but Martha said she’d talked to her attorney and everything had already been settled. She left that watch to me in her will.”

Dave wasn’t entirely innocent in the matter. He should’ve asked Allan for confirmation. He was uncomfortable with the fact that the attorney hadn’t said anything about the watch. “As you might understand, when I heard that some of Martha’s jewelry had turned up missing, I was afraid suspicion would fall on me because I had the watch in my possession.”

“You didn’t wear the watch until this week?” she asked, making his behavior sound suspect, just as he’d feared.

“You’re right, I didn’t wear it. Then I decided I didn’t have anything to hide. She gave it to me, and that’s noted in the will, which the family has read. So there wasn’t any reason not to wear it. My own watch needs a new battery. What I didn’t realize was that the clasp on the gold watch was loose.”


“I’d never take anything that didn’t belong to me.” That was not only a fundamental tenet of his faith, it was a painful lesson Dave had learned in his youth. Even his wife didn’t know about his criminal record as a teenager.

Emily remained silent.

“You believe me, don’t you?”

Her hesitation was slight, but Dave noticed it nonetheless.


“I believe you,” she said and hugged him again.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I should’ve told you about our money problems, and about the watch, too.”

“I need to be more aware of our finances, Dave.”

He nodded. “You’re right.” In fact, he’d be more than happy to hand over the bill-paying to Emily so she’d appreciate the pressure he’d been under. Despite his part-time position, things hadn’t really improved.

Every time he thought they were making headway, something would come up. Last month it was new tires for Emily’s car. They couldn’t afford them, but Dave refused to ignore the safety of his wife and children. He’d cut up all but one credit card and that was just for emergencies. He was maxed out on that card and only able to make minimum payments.

Dave wished he’d sold the gold watch. It had been a foolish mistake to wear it and even more imprudent to lose it…especially at Judge Griffin’s house.


It was late afternoon. Grace Harding dozed fitfully in a chair in Olivia’s hospital room, jerking awake every once in a while. Olivia was hooked up to an IV; antibiotics flowed through it, as did a saline drip to prevent dehydration. She was connected to various pieces of monitoring equipment via other tubes, as well. The fever was down, thank God, but the medical staff continued to watch her carefully.

The room was dark now, and Grace glanced at her watch. The daylight hours were dwindling as winter solstice approached. Signs of Christmas were everywhere, but rarely had Grace felt less like celebrating. Her dearest friend was seriously ill. And soon after Olivia had recovered from this, she’d be starting her chemotherapy. There was no way of knowing yet how bad that would be.

Straightening, Grace bent forward to get the kinks out of her neck. Jack would be returning any minute, and the last thing he needed was to find her fearful and worried. He’d been at Olivia’s side constantly. Grace and Cliff had come at noon, and Grace had finally convinced him to leave for a few hours—to let Cliff drive him back to the house to shower and change clothes. Even then, Jack had been reluctant.