Jack’s gaze met hers, and it was plain that they shared the same concern. If Charlotte was going to make a batch of her chicken noodle soup, it might be a good idea if she and Ben had some, too.

A few minutes later, a nurse stepped into the waiting area.

“Olivia is now receiving guests,” the woman said cheerfully. “She’s doing well. I spoke with her physician, and Dr. Franklin thinks she should be able to go home in another day. Two at the most.”

“That’s great news!” Grace said, clasping her hands together.

“Yes, it is,” Jack agreed. “And she hasn’t even had her chicken soup yet.”

Grace smiled. If Jack’s sense of humor was back, things really were looking up.


Christie was embarrassed to admit how nervous she felt about this dinner party her sister had arranged. When they’d met the previous week, Christie had agreed to contact James on her own. It’d sounded like a good idea at the time….

And yet Christie couldn’t make herself do it. The fear of rejection was just too strong. In exasperation Teri had intervened and asked both James and Christie to dinner. Christie knew James would be attending, but apparently he’d been left in the dark. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with that—it didn’t seem fair—but Teri insisted she knew what she was doing.

The two sisters had discussed their plan several times over the course of the day.

“What are you wearing?” Teri asked an hour before Christie was due to arrive.

So far she hadn’t decided. She’d tried on almost every outfit she owned and discarded them all. “I…don’t know yet. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Nothing too fancy,” Teri cautioned. “The evening’s supposed to be relaxed, low-key. Think casual.”

Christie glanced at her reflection in the bedroom mirror and started to unfasten the sequined top. She hadn’t liked the way it fit, anyway. “How about jeans and a sweater?” she asked next. Earlier that week, Wal-Mart had offered jeans on sale. Christie knew a bargain when she saw one and with her employee discount, the store had practically given her those Levi’s.

“That’s a little too casual. Do you have any black pants?”

Christie’s gaze shot to her closet. “Yeah, I think so.” Somewhere buried deep in the back there was probably a pair. She tended to stick to jeans; they fit well and were comfortable.

“Wear those and a sweater. Listen, I’ve got to scoot if I’m going to get dinner on the table.”

Christie stopped her. “James still doesn’t know I’m coming, right?”

Her sister hesitated. “Unfortunately he does. Bobby wasn’t supposed to say anything but he forgot.”


“He’ll be here, don’t worry.”


“See you in an hour.”

That hardly seemed long enough. Christie tore into her closet again. Clothes were scattered all over the floor and across her bed. Anyone looking at her room would assume she’d been the victim of a burglary. She’d worked today, so she hadn’t bothered to make her bed, and between that and the clothes strewn everywhere, the room was a hopeless mess. Christie was pretty sure she knew what James would think if he were to see it.

Instantly the image of James naked and in her bed flashed into her mind. She couldn’t begin to imagine what kind of lover he’d be. Polite to a fault, no doubt. She shook her head to dispel the image. Her heart raced, and she couldn’t even figure out why she cared about this overpolite stuffed shirt, anyway.

But for reasons she didn’t completely understand, she did care. She wanted him to like her; she wanted to be a better person for James.

She could still see the disappointment in his eyes when she’d come out of The Pink Poodle. Yes, she’d been drinking, but she wasn’t drunk. Far from it. Besides, it wasn’t any of his business where she was or who she was with or what she was doing. But…she couldn’t forget that look in his eyes.

As Teri had said, James Wilbur was the first decent man who’d shown interest in her, and that left Christie feeling vulnerable and exposed. The man seemed to disapprove of Christie as much as he was attracted to her, which confused Christie. That confusion made her resentful, and her resentment made her…confused.

Tonight’s date was a perfect example. It wasn’t really even a date, just a “casual” dinner, and she should wear what she wanted. Yet here she was, worrying about every aspect of her appearance simply because James was going to be there.

Walking closer to the mirror, Christie studied her reflection. The woman who stared at her revealed none of the poise or elegance she’d worked so hard to create. Shaking back her hair, Christie wondered if this was just another instance of wanting what Teri had.

As a kid, Christie had followed her big sister around like a shadow. Teri had hated it and done everything she could to ditch her. In their teens and twenties, the animosity between them had nearly destroyed their relationship. If Teri had it, Christie wanted it. It included boys. And later, men. She asked herself if what Teri had this time was really so appealing. Well, yes.

First, her sister was married to a man who loved her, while Christie’s marriage, brief though it was, had been a disaster from the start. The man who’d promised to cherish her had beaten her in a drunken rage instead. At the rate the violence had escalated, Christie figured she would’ve been dead within the year.

Her sister had security, too—financial and emotional. That was something neither of them had experienced in their youth. Teri wasn’t the same person she’d been before marrying Bobby. Love had changed her. Christie envied her that.

Christie frowned at herself in the mirror. She didn’t have time to stand here analyzing her feelings for James. They were just…there. Right now, she had an outfit to throw together, makeup to put on, hair to brush.

When she finally arrived at her sister’s house, Christie was fifteen minutes late. She hadn’t located a single pair of black slacks and had worn gray stretch pants and a long red sweater. The combination was festive. She chose a necklace made of silver bells that jingled whenever she moved. Her shoes were too tight but there was nothing she could do about that.

Teri opened the door, looking pregnant and just as radiant as a pregnant woman was supposed to.

“Christie, you’re late,” Teri hissed, grabbing her arm and dragging her into the house. It’d been a while since Christie had been inside and she was astounded at the transformation that had taken place. Every nook and cranny was decorated for Christmas.

“Wow,” she said, gazing around. From where she stood in the entry she could see three Christmas trees—on the landing, in the living room and in a corner of the hall. She saw Nativity sets of different styles and sizes on various available surfaces.

“Bobby said I could decorate for Christmas however I wanted to.”

“Why all the trees?” Christie asked, forgetting about James for the moment. “How many are there, anyway?”


“Five decorated Christmas trees?”

“I love Christmas,” Teri announced.

“No kidding,” Christie muttered. She loved Christmas, too, but she could never have afforded anything like this—or had the space for it. “This must’ve cost a fortune.”

Teri smiled sheepishly. “Bobby doesn’t care, as long as I’m happy.”

Christie scowled at her. “It would be easy to hate you.”

Teri giggled. “None of this means anything without Bobby and the baby.” She rested her hand on the gentle swelling under her green velvet tunic.

Christie glanced around again, half expecting to find James standing awkwardly in the corner. He wasn’t. “Where’s James?” she asked, lowering her voice.

“He isn’t here yet.”

“James is late?” That didn’t sound like him.

“He isn’t coming,” Bobby said as he stepped into the room. “I’m sorry, Christie, I let the beans out of the bag.”

“Spilled the beans, sweetheart,” Teri corrected her husband. “Or let the cat out of the bag.”

Bobby nodded solemnly. “When I told him you’d be at dinner, too, James said he couldn’t make it.”

Christie shrugged. “Hey, it’s fine.” She removed her coat and draped it over the back of a chair, then left her purse there, too.

“Dinner’s almost ready,” Teri said as she picked up Christie’s coat and hung it in the closet. When they’d walked into the kitchen together, Teri hurried over to the oven and opened the door to peek inside. “This is one of Bobby’s favorite dishes,” she explained.

Christie peeked, too, and couldn’t see anything special about the rice casserole. Her stomach had been upset most of the day and the truth was, she didn’t have much of an appetite. It was just as well James wasn’t coming or she wouldn’t have been able to eat at all.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Teri said. “I know you were looking forward to this evening.”

Christie shrugged again. “Hey, I’ve scared off better men than James.”

Teri said something Christie didn’t catch. “I’m so upset with him I can’t even tell you,” she added.

“Don’t worry about it. You suggested I approach James and when I couldn’t, you arranged this party and now it’s backfired. From my perspective this romance simply isn’t going to happen. C’est la vie.”

Teri raised her eyebrows. “You speak French now?”

Christie slapped her sister’s arm and they both giggled.

Dinner was pleasant enough, although Christie ate very little. She didn’t want Teri or Bobby to know how depressed she was, so she kept up a steady stream of chatter. As soon as she could, she made her excuses and gathered up her coat and purse. Besides, Teri looked tired. She’d been decorating and cleaning all day. Twice during the meal, Christie caught her sister yawning.

Bobby said good-night and disappeared into his study, then Teri walked her to the door. They both glanced up at the large three-car garage with James’s living quarters above. The lights were on, so he was obviously home.

“Talk to him,” Teri urged in a whisper.

Christie shook her head. “Forget it.” He didn’t want anything to do with her and in retrospect that was probably for the best. She had enough to deal with in her life without this aggravation.

“I’ll give you a call later. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday. I’m getting my first ultrasound, and he said I could have a picture of the baby.”

“Really?” Christie couldn’t wait to see that. They hugged goodbye and she headed for her car. As she slipped inside, her gaze fastened on the light coming from James’s apartment. Coward! As far as she was concerned, James Wilbur was a full-fledged coward. Fine. But she wasn’t chasing after him.

Christie inserted her key in the ignition.