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Humming to Reba McEntire, she stirred the pork and beans warming on the stove. They were canned, but she’d added liquid smoke to give them the flavor of having been cooked on a campfire.

The games were more involved, since she wanted to stick to the western theme, and she planned to talk over her ideas with Andrew when he got home from school. Everything else was settled, including the menu.

Bethanne liked Elise’s idea of making a schedule of standard party ideas, so she wouldn’t need to start from scratch with every child. Who would’ve believed her creativity would get her this far? Her one drawback was the lack of start-up cash. It was hard to balance all her expenses and still make the house payments, but she was learning the importance of following a budget. Money was tight, but both her son and daughter understood that this was important. They all had to sacrifice if the business was going to survive.

The telephone rang, and Bethanne reached for it. Tucking the portable phone against her shoulder, she continued stirring. Pork and beans was the least expensive grocery item on her list, but she didn’t want to risk scorching them.

“This is Bethanne,” she said. When she could afford it, she intended to get a separate line for the party business.

“Ms. Hamlin, this is Gary Schroeder from Puget Sound Security.”


“We talked briefly a few weeks ago about a loan application you’d submitted,” he said. “I hope I haven’t caught you at an inconvenient moment.”

Bethanne tried to remember this particular loan officer, but drew a blank. She’d been ushered in and out of each financial institution in record time, so it was little wonder she didn’t recall meeting him.

“This is fine.” The timer on the oven told her the birthday cake was finished.

“Perhaps it would be better if you stopped by our loan department at your earliest convenience,” he suggested.

“Ah.” Bethanne rationed her gas usage and preferred not to take unnecessary trips. “If you could tell me what this is about, I might be able to manage that,” she said. With the phone still pressed against her shoulder, she opened the oven door, slid out the top rack and tested the cake by inserting a toothpick into the center.

“There’s a check waiting for you, Ms. Hamlin,” the loan officer replied warmly.

“A check? The bank reconsidered?”

“We can discuss that when you arrive.”

“I’ll be there in thirty minutes,” she said, her heart pounding hard. This was incredible! She couldn’t imagine what had convinced the bank to finally approve her loan. Whatever it was, she was ready to throw her arms around this man she couldn’t even remember meeting.

With the cake cooling on the counter and the beans in the fridge, Bethanne drove to the bank and parked in their nearby lot.

She found the desk with Gary Schroeder’s name and approached him, thrusting out her hand. “I’m Bethanne Hamlin,” she announced, then realized she still had her apron on. “Oops,” she said, untying it. “As you can see, I left in kind of a hurry.”

He gestured toward the chair. “Please, have a seat.”

Bethanne sat, perched on the edge of the chair.

“Thank you for coming so promptly,” he said.

“No problem. I did understand you correctly, didn’t I?” She gazed at him earnestly. “You did approve my loan?”

His mouth thinned. “Actually, no.”

“No,” she gasped. “Then why did you drag me all the way down here? I’m a busy woman, Mr. Schroeder. I have a business to run and—” The disappointment was so overwhelming she couldn’t finish. Not only had she wasted her time, but the gauge on her gas tank was hovering at empty. Raising her hopes like this was unfair! She stood up, ready to walk away, but Mr. Schroeder stopped her.

“You don’t have an account with our bank,” he began. “And—”

“Trust me,” she broke in. “I have no intention of opening one now if this is the kind of trick you pull on your customers.”

“Ms. Hamlin,” he said, lifting one hand in a conciliatory gesture. “I apologize for upsetting you, but this is a rather…unusual situation. Please, sit down.”

Bethanne reclaimed her chair and tried to swallow the lump forming in her throat.

“Early this morning, I received a call from a man who asked if you’d applied for a business loan with our institution. I can assure you it isn’t our policy to give out such information.”

“I should hope not.”

“The man, who requested not to be identified, said he’d like five thousand dollars deposited into your account.”

“But—as you said—I don’t have an account here.”

“Which I explained. He then asked if it would be possible to get you the loan amount you’d requested.”

“I’m afraid I’m confused,” Bethanne said.

“I don’t blame you. I was confused myself.”

“So, what does this mean?”

“It means that this person, who again asked that his identity not be revealed, wants to give you the money.”

“Give me the money,” she repeated.

“That’s right.”

Bethanne leaned forward in her chair. “Let me see if I understand this. Someone I don’t know wants to hand over five thousand dollars cash—to me. What’s the catch?”

“There is no catch.”

She still wasn’t sure she could believe this. “You’re positive about that?”

He nodded. “With the proviso that if the opportunity arises, you will do the same for someone else.”

“I see—well, I think I do. Sort of.”

“In other words,” he continued, opening a file. “I have a cashier’s check for you in the amount of five thousand dollars.”

Her jaw sagged open as the reality set in. She stared at Gary Schroeder, unable to comprehend who would do such a thing. Then it came to her. She knew of only one possible person who’d want to help her like this, and while she couldn’t be sure, she felt she had to ask.

“I have a friend…. The money doesn’t happen to come from a man by the name of Paul Ormond, does it?”

Mr. Schroeder shook his head. “As I explained earlier, your benefactor has requested anonymity.”

“But it isn’t Paul?”

He smiled kindly. “No.”

Bethanne tried to think who else her benefactor might be. It didn’t seem at all likely that Grant would do this. She realized he had regrets about the divorce, but if he’d found it in his heart to give her this money, he’d certainly want her to know what he’d done.

“Grant Hamlin?” she asked, just in case.

Again the loan officer shook his head. “I can’t tell you any more, but I will let you know this. The man who contacted us is not related to you in any way. I suggest you put your questions about his name out of your mind for now. Invest these funds wisely and validate this person’s faith in you.”

With the check clutched in her hand, Bethanne nodded and got slowly to her feet. “I will,” she promised. “I most certainly will.”

She couldn’t guess who had such faith in her ability, but she would take this gift and use it wisely, as the loan officer had advised. And, in keeping with her benefactor’s proviso, she’d pass on his generosity when she had the chance.



“Grandma, I don’t understand,” Courtney said, staring at the express mail envelope. It was addressed to her with no indication of the sender’s identity. As soon as she’d seen the contents, she’d forgotten that Grandma had become Grams months ago.

“What is it?” her grandmother asked, standing next to her in the foyer. The letter had been waiting for Courtney on the stair railing.

Courtney handed it to her grandmother as she slid her backpack from her shoulders and let it drop to the floor.

“It’s a cashier’s check,” Vera Pulanski murmured, sounding as shocked as Courtney.

“You didn’t do this?” Courtney asked, unable to think of anyone else who might be responsible.

“Me?” her grandmother exclaimed. “My goodness, child, if I had that kind of money, let me tell you I wouldn’t be spending it on a dress. Let’s see the card again.”

Courtney reached for the envelope and pulled out the type-written note. It read: BUY A DRESS AS BEAUTIFUL AS YOU ARE AND HAVE A WONDERFUL TIME AT HOMECOMING. It was signed YOUR FAIRY GODFATHER.

Vera shook her head hopelessly. “I have no idea. It’s got to be someone who knows you…Could it be your dad?”

“No, it was sent locally. Dated yesterday—Wednesday. And why would Dad do something like this anonymously?”

Vera merely shrugged.

“I’ve got to tell Andrew,” Courtney sank down on the bottom step and picked up the phone. She was so excited she couldn’t dial the number fast enough. Grams, of course, had that old-fashioned rotary phone, black and cumbersome. Annie was the one who answered.

“Annie!” she cried. “You won’t believe what just happened!”


“Someone sent me money for Homecoming. It’s a huge sum of money. Huge.”

“How huge?”

“Five hundred dollars.”

Annie released a low whistle. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“I’m not. Is Andrew home?” She wasn’t sure why it seemed so important to tell him about this. She supposed it was so he’d know she planned to do him proud. Since he’d asked her to the Homecoming dance, they’d talked several times a day. Just last night, they’d spent almost two hours on the phone.

Once word got out at school that Andrew Hamlin had asked her to be his date, she’d attracted a lot of attention. Some of the most popular kids were talking to her now—the very ones who hadn’t seen fit to even acknowledge her a couple of weeks ago. She wasn’t taken in by their interest, which struck her as false and opportunistic. While she was friendly and polite, these were not people she wanted as friends.

“Sorry,” Annie said, sounding as disappointed as Courtney. “Andrew isn’t back from football practice, but I’ll tell him to phone you the minute he walks in the door.”

Courtney should’ve realized Andrew would still be at school. “I’m so excited.” She had a dress, but it was a hand-me-down from her sister, who’d mailed it as soon as Courtney told her about the date. Rather frilly, it was a pretty pale-blue, much better suited to Julianna than her.

“It’s so cool that you’re dating my brother.”

“We aren’t dating,” Courtney reminded her friend. “We haven’t even gone out on a single date, and there’s nothing to say we will after tomorrow night.”

“You will,” Annie insisted. “Andrew and I talk, you know.”

Courtney bit her tongue to keep from questioning her about anything Andrew might’ve said. She knew that wouldn’t be right, despite her curiosity. Maybe she’d have a clearer sense of her future with Andrew after the dance.