Pressing her hands to her mouth, Emily doubled over and started to weep in earnest.

Dave felt like weeping himself. The news about the watch had horrified him, but that was minor compared to what he felt now. “It can’t be,” he murmured. “It just can’t be.”

“I saw a picture with my own eyes,” she said through her tears. “Mrs. Evans had more than one pair of diamond earrings, so…so she had everything photographed.”

Dave was too stunned to speak.

Emily had managed to control her sobbing, which had dwindled down to a series of indelicate sniffles. “I think you should talk to Troy Davis,” she said, her eyes imploring him.

Had she lost all sense? “He’ll arrest me if I do.” The evidence pointed directly at him and Troy wouldn’t have any choice but to hold Dave for questioning.

“You have to,” Emily insisted. “Otherwise no one will ever believe you.”

But Dave had nothing to offer the sheriff. Nothing to justify his possession of the watch, unless that letter came to light. And certainly nothing to explain the earrings. He wouldn’t know what to say.

“Please, Dave.”

“I can’t.” He had to get through Christmas first and then he’d deal with this situation. He simply couldn’t do it now.

“Why not?” She watched him intently.

“Emily, think about it. We’re less than two weeks from Christmas. I’m responsible for organizing all our Christmas events, which includes delivering the charity baskets. And I have my hours at the bank.” His mind whirled with everything that needed to be done before and during the holidays. He had yet to write his sermon for the Christmas Eve service and frankly he’d prefer not to do it in jail.

“Dave, you can’t put this off.”

“I have no other option.” A thought suddenly struck him. “Have you told anyone else about this?”


“Thank God.” That, at least, was a relief.

“You’ve got to talk to Sheriff Davis! You can’t have this hanging over your head. If the information somehow came out, it could ruin our lives.”

“The only one who knows about it is you.”

“But if Sheriff Davis finds out…” Her eyes pleaded with him. “Don’t you remember you lost the watch at Olivia Griffin’s?”

He dismissed her concern. He’d worried about it earlier, but he doubted Olivia would place any significance on his having the watch. Dave had picked it up the next day. She’d probably forgotten the whole thing by now.

“It can wait,” he said. He didn’t think Emily fully understood the pressure he was under. “I’m innocent.”

“Of course you are.”

He noted the slight hesitation in her voice. “You don’t believe that, do you?”

Quickly she looked away. “Of course I do. But I’d feel a lot more comfortable if you went to see Sheriff Davis. We could go together and talk to him. He’s a reasonable man.”

“I agree, but if we go to him now he might detain me and that can’t happen. Not less than two weeks before Christmas. Don’t you realize how many responsibilities I’m juggling?” Dave didn’t need one more problem to complicate his already overloaded schedule. “It can wait for another two weeks.”

“Can it really, Dave?”

“Trust me, Emily.” He sounded—he felt—as though he was begging. “In all the years we’ve been married, have I ever given you cause to doubt my integrity?”

She hesitated again. “No.”

“Well, then?”

“Until recently,” she amended.

“I don’t believe this!”

“Look at it from my perspective,” Emily said. “A little while ago you admitted we’re having financial difficulties, yet you didn’t respect me enough to tell me that.”

“I’ve apologized. And I took a part-time job to make ends meet,” he blurted out. The choir director was waiting and this conversation was putting him on edge.

“You’re out of sorts most of the time,” she added, “and I don’t know why.”

“You would be, too,” he snapped, “if you worked as many hours as I do. I’ve got people vying for my attention, tugging at me from every direction. Everyone wants something from me.”

“I thought you loved being a pastor.”

“I do. This is what God intended for me and I love my job, but there are times when the stress and the demands are more than any man should have to endure. And then factor in this second job…” He raised his shoulders in a shrug. “I love you, Emily, and I’m asking you to trust me.”

She didn’t respond.

“Is that so hard?”

“I wish you’d listen to reason,” she said quietly.

“Reason?” he echoed. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re the one who’s being unreasonable.”

“You’re in denial,” she asserted.

“Oh, stop it with the pop-psych nonsense. Denial.” He snorted.

“It’s not nonsense. You think if you sit back and do nothing,” she said, rushing her words, “you think if we keep our mouths shut, everything will blow over. The culprit will be uncovered and you’ll be off the hook without ever having to explain yourself.”

“That’s not true,” Dave argued. “What I want is to do my job. I want to tend my flock and deal with this ridiculous mess after Christmas.”

“Oh, Dave.”

“Emily, please bear with me. I can’t talk to Sheriff Davis yet, but I will. I give you my word of honor.”

There was a knock at the door. Dave closed his eyes and exhaled noisily. “Yes, Angel,” he called out.

His assistant opened the door, glancing apologetically toward Dave and Emily. “I’m sorry to interrupt.”

“It’s fine,” Dave assured her. “We were just finishing up.”

Angel stepped into the office. “I thought I should tell you the truck with the animal feed is here.”

“Here?” Dave groaned. “He’s supposed to deliver it to Cliff Harding’s place.” He would be forever grateful that the Hardings had agreed to house the animals.

“I know,” she said, “but the driver says he has to talk to you because the paperwork specifically states delivery’s to be made to this address.”

“Okay, I’ll be there in a moment.”

“And Mrs. Stevenson’s in the sanctuary.”

The choir director prided herself on her punctuality and disliked being kept waiting. “Please tell her I’ll be with her in a moment,” Dave said.

Angel nodded and shut the door.

Dave turned to his wife. “We can discuss this later if you want.”

“What’s the point? You’ve already decided.” Emily snatched up the diamond earrings and dropped them back in her purse. Coming to her feet, she dashed to the door, but not before Dave saw the tears glistening in her eyes.

The problem was that Emily didn’t understand what she was asking of him. It broke his heart to fight with his wife and to flout her advice. There had to be a way to give her the peace of mind she needed—and stay out of jail at the same time.

Dave didn’t have a chance to talk to Emily again until much later that night. It was almost ten-thirty when he finally got home. After sorting out the confusion with the feed delivery and meeting with Mrs. S., he’d had to forgo supper to get to the bank on time. Following his shift, he’d grabbed a muffin at Mocha Mama’s. He walked silently into the house, first checking on his sons, who were both asleep. Emily didn’t look up when he stepped inside her workroom.

He was weary in body and exhausted in spirit, but Dave knew he had to make this right with his wife.

“Emily.” He spoke her name softly.

She sat at her sewing machine working on a quilt. The radio played Christmas music, but he doubted she was listening.

“Let’s talk,” he said, sitting on a chair next to her sewing desk. He reached out and stroked her knee.

“Have you changed your mind?” she asked. She slid aside to avoid his touch. “Are you willing to tell the sheriff what I found?”

“No.” He couldn’t cope with the consequences of such an action.

“Then we have nothing else to talk about.”

“Please listen to me, Em,” Dave pleaded. “I’ve been thinking over everything you said, and you have a valid point. If someone came across this information, it could be a problem.”

She gave a humorless laugh. “That’s putting it mildly.”

“I agree with you—I should tell someone.”

For the first time since he’d entered her room, she turned to look at him. “Who?”

“I thought I’d make an appointment with Roy McAfee.”

“You’d be willing to do that?”

“Yes.” Dave rubbed his tired eyes. “I trust Roy, and while he isn’t an attorney, he knows the law. He can tell me my rights.”

Emily nodded, accepting his suggestion.

“Then, after Christmas,” he continued, “the two of us can go and talk to the sheriff together.”

“Okay,” she whispered, appeased. “Thank you.”

It wasn’t the perfect solution, but a workable one. As soon as Christmas was over, he’d settle this somehow, once and for all.


“Come on, Dad, don’t be such a stick in the mud!” Megan stood, hands on her hips, in the driveway next to her car. “You’ve got to come with us.”

Troy wasn’t in the mood to go shopping for a Christmas tree. The last few years, he’d brought Sandy on this expedition, and the four of them had driven to a nearby tree farm. Once Sandy had gone into the care facility, Troy hadn’t bothered with Christmas decorations, so Megan and Craig’s tree became theirs, too.

He wanted to forget about the holidays this year; his Christmas spirit was nonexistent. He had better things to do on a Friday evening than tag along with his daughter and her husband. Better things like…watching reruns of CSI, for instance. He’d tried his best to get out of the excursion, but Megan wouldn’t hear of it.

“Artificial trees are much safer,” he pointed out. “And they don’t lose their needles.”

“Dad,” Megan moaned, “it’ll be fun. We do this every year, remember? It’s tradition.”

And who was he to fight tradition? “Oh, all right,” he said with ill grace.

“Come on!” she cried again and clapped her hands. “Show a little holiday spirit. We’re going to pick out our tree and drink hot cocoa and get a free candy cane. Doesn’t that make you happy?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m happy,” he muttered, but he wasn’t. The week had seemed interminable. Yesterday Martha Evans’s two daughters had stopped by his office and made a big fuss. They wanted to know what he’d done to find the culprit who’d walked off with their mother’s jewelry, and more importantly, their inheritance. Never mind that he considered them grasping and unpleasant, they were entitled to answers, although he had none to give. He had his suspicions but nothing concrete. He was waiting and watching, but so far the person he suspected hadn’t slipped up. Not yet, anyway. And reliable as a cop’s hunch might be, at least in the mystery novels Sandy used to read, it wasn’t enough to justify an arrest.