“Perfect.” He took her long wool coat from the back of her chair and helped her into it. Linnette wrapped her scarf around her neck twice, then slipped on her hat and gloves. The winters in North Dakota were frigid; she needed a heavy coat, boots and all the other cold-weather paraphernalia, even if she was only walking from Three of a Kind to the pharmacy, a distance of less than one block.

Stepping outside, Linnette accompanied Pete to his truck. This was a new model and although it was just a few months old, it already had several scratches and dents. She’d been upset when she saw the first minor dent, but Pete had said this was a working truck and a few “dings,” as he described them, were to be expected.

He touched her face briefly. “I’ll see you Saturday, then.”

“Okay.” She hunched her shoulders against the sharp wind.

“Call you later,” Pete said.

She nodded.

He seemed reluctant to leave her. “You can spend Christmas with me, you know.”

“Pete, stop it. Hassie and I will be fine. It’s not that big a deal.”

“I know.” He sighed. Looking around to be sure no one was watching, he kissed her. Not a deep or lingering kiss, but a very nice one nonetheless.

Pete didn’t normally display his affection publicly, and the gesture surprised her. She smiled up at him. Then, with a quick goodbye, she hurried down the street to the pharmacy.

Hassie was all smiles when Linnette got there. “I heard from the state. We got the funding for the clinic!”

Linnette clapped her gloved hands together. “That’s fabulous!”

“I’ve already got the word out.”

Her head was spinning. “I didn’t have any idea it would happen this fast.”

“That—” Hassie winked at her “—is because I know the right people in Bismarck.”

“You certainly do.”

An hour later, Linnette was over at the abandoned house that would become the new clinic. Men from town, including Buffalo Bob, had started to arrive, and before long an entire wall was down. The renovations had begun. When school ended for the day, a group of teenagers came by to sweep up and carry out debris. Several times, Linnette found herself in the way, more of a hindrance than a help.

As dusk fell, everyone else left. She parked the broom and dustpan in a corner, glancing around the large front room with satisfaction. An astonishing amount of progress had been made in just half a day. Her cell phone rang and she scrabbled for it in her coat pocket.


“It’s Pete.”

“Oh, Pete, guess what?” The sound of the door opening made her turn, and Pete Mason walked in. She laughed, closing her phone. “You heard?”

He nodded. “Congratulations! But that’s not the only news.”


Pete brought her close, his hands on her shoulders. “You’re going home for Christmas.”

“I’m what—I can’t possibly leave, Pete, especially now.”

“I’m driving you. Everyone’s pulling together and all the supplies can be delivered by the weekend. We should have the renovations finished within ten days if we work weekends. Then as soon as everything’s done, you and I are taking off.”

“Taking off?”

“We’ll drive straight through to Cedar Cove so you can surprise your parents.”

Emotion welled up inside her. “Oh, Pete.” She threw her arms around him and hugged him with all her might. “Thank you,” she whispered, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

His arms slid about her waist. “I’m looking forward to meeting your family,” he said.

“I want you to.”

“Gloria and Mack, as well as your parents,” he said. “I’ve heard so much about all of them. Seeing that I hope to be part of this family one day, I feel it’s time to meet them.”

Linnette’s eyes widened and she could feel the wariness in her expression.

Pete must have read her stricken look because he was quick to add, “I don’t intend to rush you. All I ask is that you let me know when you’re ready. Until then, I’m willing to wait. Like I told you before, I’m a patient man.”


Just when it seemed Dave Flemming’s life was back on an even keel, he noticed that something else was bothering his wife. Emily hadn’t been herself for a few days. At first he’d assumed it was because of her new job, but that didn’t appear to be the case. In fact, anytime she talked about the store, her face lit up.

Dave hadn’t questioned her, hoping that whatever was wrong would take care of itself. He was busy doing two jobs, preparing for all the Christmas events at the church, including the live Nativity scene, plus his other pastoral duties. He didn’t have the energy to deal with a moody wife.

Any other time of year he would have asked, but right now the demands on him were too consuming. He figured that sooner or later, Emily would approach him and they’d talk about her problem, whatever it was. If that hadn’t happened by New Year’s, he’d definitely ask her.

Thursday afternoon Emily arrived at the church just as he was about to leave.

“I need to talk to you,” she announced. Entering his office, she closed the door behind her.

“I’ve got a meeting in ten minutes with the choir director and—”

His wife cut him off. “Then you’re going to be late.” Her authoritative tone shocked him.

“All right,” he said in a resigned voice. He sat back down, hoping this wouldn’t take long.

Emily sat across from his desk, clutching her purse with both hands. Her eyes darted every which way.

Dave waited patiently for several minutes. “Em?” he finally prodded.

A sigh shuddered through her. “I went to Allan Harris’s office Tuesday morning,” she said abruptly.

All kinds of crazy thoughts flew through his head. Was she in legal trouble? Did she want—God forbid—a divorce? Did she—

“I asked to see Martha Evans’s last will and testament.”

Dave stared at her. “Whatever for?” Besides, he knew very well that it would be unethical to reveal a document like that to anyone other than family. “Emily, they can’t—”

“I know,” she said, cutting him off again. “The nice young man was kind enough to allow me a peek. He could lose his job over this, so I’m asking you not to say anything.”

“Of course not.” At the mention of Allan Harris’s assistant, Dave remembered that he needed to set up another marriage counseling session with the couple. Geoff had canceled the first one.

Tears filled his wife’s eyes. “Emily, what is it?” he asked urgently. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s nothing in the will that says Martha wanted you to have her husband’s gold watch.”

Instantly Dave was on his feet. “There has to be.”

“I’m telling you, Dave, there isn’t. I read the will and I didn’t see one single word about it.”

He felt suddenly queasy. He couldn’t believe his wife had checked up on him—or that Martha hadn’t done what she’d said. But she had; he knew that without a doubt. “It has to be there. Martha showed it to me herself.”

“The will?”

“No, the letter she wrote for Allan Harris. It said she’d voluntarily given me the watch that had belonged to her husband. Since she didn’t have sons to pass it to, it was her wish that I wear it in good health.”

“What about her sons-in-law?” Emily asked.

Dave shrugged uneasily. “The older daughter’s divorced. And I gather Martha never saw eye to eye with her younger daughter’s husband.” He shook his head. “That watch meant a lot to her, and I was really honored that she gave it to me.”

“She didn’t have grandsons?”

“No.” Dave couldn’t understand why his wife was questioning him this way. Her obvious lack of trust offended him—and wounded him.

Emily continued to study him. “Don’t you realize how bad this looks?”

The queasiness intensified. “You’re right. I’ll return the watch immediately.” He should never have taken it, only Martha had been so insistent. And as he’d told Emily, he’d appreciated the old woman’s gesture in presenting him with a gift that meant so much to her.

Dave stood up and started to pace the small office. This whole mess was a big misunderstanding. He’d call Harris and ask about the letter. He hadn’t actually seen Martha hand it over, but she’d had an appointment with Allan that very day.

Dave’s last conversation with the attorney had been awkward. Unpleasant. Allan had drilled him with questions about the day he’d found Martha’s body. He’d been irritated by the man’s tone; Harris had practically implied that Dave was responsible for the missing jewelry. Because of that, Dave had acted defensively. Otherwise, it would’ve occurred to him to have Allan check the will to make sure the matter of the watch was settled.

“I’d better talk to Allan soon,” he mumbled, eager to clear the air.

Emily remained in her chair. “There’s something else,” she said in a low voice.

“What now?” he asked with a groan.

Emily opened her purse clasp and withdrew a clear plastic bag that she held out to him.

Dave stared at the diamond earrings, then back at her, utterly perplexed. “What’s this?”

“You don’t know?” She sounded astonished.

“No.” He was beginning to feel angry. What was she up to?

“You don’t recognize these earrings?”

“Should I?” He dropped them on his desk.

Reaching inside her purse for a tissue, Emily dabbed her eyes. “I found them in your suit coat pocket.”

She might as well have hit him in the stomach with a baseball bat. Dave literally fell back in his chair. It took a moment for the information to sink in. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “When?”

“The night of our anniversary dinner. I picked up your coat and one of them fell out. I discovered the second one in the other pocket.”

“And you thought…” He couldn’t say the words.

“In the beginning I assumed you were involved with another woman. Then later, after I learned about the watch, I assumed Mrs. Evans had given you the earrings, too, and that…that you intended to give them to me for Christmas.”

“The earrings belonged to Martha?”

Tears spilling down her pale cheeks, Emily nodded.

“How do you know that?”

“I…I saw a photograph of them in the file that came with her will.”

No wonder Emily had been so moody. Dave shook his head helplessly. “Emily,” he said, holding her gaze, “I swear to you on my life that I’ve never seen those earrings until this minute.”

“How’d they get into your pocket then?” she demanded.

He didn’t have an explanation nor could he guess how it had happened. “I don’t have a clue.”