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“It is for me,” Maverick said.

With that she acquiesced. However, she did feel it was only fair to remind him that she came with encumbrances. “Maverick,” she began, “don’t forget I’m in the middle of that lawsuit and—”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“It’s a legal and financial mess.”

“It’ll work itself out. Just promise me you won’t worry about it.” He studied her intently.

Elise walked farther into the apartment and collapsed onto the edge of a brown leather sofa. “How can I not worry? You have no idea how much money I’ve lost. I can’t just forget about it.”

“No, but you can’t worry yourself sick over it, either. What will be will be. Nothing you do now is going to change anything. It’s in the hands of the courts—isn’t that what you told me?”

She nodded.

“From now on, I’ll take care of your financial concerns.”

At her automatic protest, he said, “Elise, I want to help you. I’m a rich man.”

She blinked twice. Rich? Maverick?

“Don’t look so shocked.”

“You’re a gambler, Maverick. No one makes money gambling.”

He sighed deeply. “I wasted too much of my life seeking that pot of gold, I’ll admit that now. There were plenty of other occupations I could’ve been successful at—but nothing interested me in the same way.” He gave an amused little shrug. “I was born with card sense.”

Elise remembered that he’d made every single child-support payment on time. She’d often wondered how he’d been able to manage it. She’d been willing to acknowledge that he must’ve had moderate success—but rich?

“You lost that poker tournament in the Caribbean,” she murmured.

“True. But the money for the second-place prize was eight hundred thousand dollars.”

Elise gasped.

“No matter what you say, those socks you knit brought me luck.”

If she hadn’t already been sitting, Elise’s knees would’ve gone out from under her. “Eight hundred thousand dollars?” she repeated in a voice that resembled a squeak. “You’ve got to be kidding.” She had no idea there was that kind of money in gambling.

“Apparently you aren’t aware of the recent popularity of poker.”

Dumbfounded, she shook her head.

“I’ve placed the majority in a trust fund for Aurora, David and the boys. Plus, I did a bit of what my mother called planting seeds of faith.”

Her head snapped up and she looked at him with wide eyes. “It was you,” she whispered. “You’re the one who gave Bethanne the money she needed.”

“If you say so.” His voice was nonchalant but his lips were curved in the slightest of smiles.

“I do. It had to be you.” Everything fell into place. Maverick had waited for her during each knitting class and on the way home she’d given him an update on each of her friends.

“You flew Courtney’s sister out here for the Homecoming dance. How did you ever find her?”

A twinkle flashed in his eyes. “Pulanski isn’t a name you hear every day, now, is it?”

“And Margaret’s husband?”

“He got that job on his own merits,” Maverick insisted, but the smile was growing as he continued. “Taking advantage of an old connection. A word dropped in the right ear. Although the signing bonus is another story.”

Elise knew nothing about any of that. “You do this sort of thing often?”

“On occasion. I like to practice what people refer to as random acts of kindness.”

“Only these weren’t so random, were they?”

“Perhaps not, but I figure whatever I give to others comes back tenfold. Not necessarily to me but to people who need it. People Bethanne or Matt or Courtney meet, maybe tomorrow, maybe ten years from now. Kindness is something that should always be passed on.”

Elise regarded him with open admiration. “Have you always been this wonderful and I just never noticed? Or is it a new development?”

He chuckled. “You don’t expect me to answer that honestly, do you?”

She brought her palm to his face and let her love shine through her eyes. “Oh, Maverick, I love you. Rich or poor, I love you. We’re going to have a very good life together—for however long God gives us.”

“The way I feel right now,” he whispered, “that’ll be a very long time.”

Elise hoped he was right.



The Next Year

Courtney hurried from her last class to her dorm room, hoping there was a card in the mail from Andrew. They e-mailed at least once a day and sometimes more. In their last communication, he’d suggested she check her mailbox in the near future. That was a sure sign he’d dropped something off for her at the post office. He was attending Washington State University on a football scholarship and Courtney was a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

To Courtney’s amazement, her senior year had proved to be the best part of her high-school experience. She’d arrived in Seattle overweight, lonely and miserable, certain she was destined to have a wretched year.

Over the next thirteen months, Courtney had developed a close relationship with her grandmother. She’d learned a lot during the time her father had spent in South America. Grams had shared bits and pieces of family history that no one else knew. At first Courtney had thought Grams’s house was full of old things, and it was, but some of those things were family treasures. They weren’t antiques that would sell for big cash on eBay or interest the appraisers on The Antiques Road Show. But each object had the power of family history behind it. Every now and then, Grams would dig out something to show her, like the cute outfit she’d knit for her father as a baby or his high-school graduation announcement.

Grams had introduced Courtney to her friends, and it was like having ten grandmothers. To this day, whenever she was in a women’s change room, she never took the middle shower, in honor of Leta. She still swam two days a week.

Perhaps the most significant change her grandmother had brought to Courtney’s life was signing her up for that knitting class. Courtney had been feeling abandoned and alone, and within weeks, she’d made three friends. Three good friends. The other members of the class were older, but the bonds they’d built were strong even now, more than a year later. She had an extended family of knitting friends, too, with Jacqueline, Carol and Alix, as well as Margaret. They’d all been supportive and encouraging at the time she’d needed it most.

Courtney walked across the lawn and hurried up the steps to the dorm. She stopped long enough to collect her mail and quickly sorted through the envelopes. Sure enough, there was a card with Andrew’s distinctive handwriting and the WSU return address. She was proud of him, proud he’d been awarded a major scholarship. She didn’t really expect their long-distance romance to last. They were both young, as her grandmother often reminded her—too young to be serious. Grams was right about that. Andrew, however, was her connection to that wonderful year. First and foremost, they were friends, and she wanted to maintain that closeness. Forever, she hoped, even if their romantic interest waned. Andrew said he felt the same way.

Inside her room, Courtney tore open the envelope and discovered a humorous card with a cat sleeping in the sun on a bed of roses. The cat resembled Lydia’s Whiskers, who often slept in the shop window. Opening it, she read: Wake up and smell the roses. Below that, he’d scribbled a few lines of encouragement about an upcoming test.

This was one of the reasons she liked Andrew so much. He was so thoughtful, and unlike other star athletes she knew, he wasn’t stuck on himself. He regularly did little things to let her know he was thinking of her.

Courtney stayed in touch with Annie, too. It was just Annie and her mom at home this year, and the changes in the family dynamic had required an adjustment, according to Annie. Courtney missed her a lot. When they’d first met, Annie had been angry and bitter. The brunt of that anger was directed toward the woman whose name Annie refused to mention—her father’s second wife. Annie had blamed this woman for everything. Oh, she’d been plenty pissed at her dad, too, but they seemed to be working that out. At least she saw him every week for lunch or dinner, which Courtney was glad to hear. Annie’s father had made a big mistake, as far as Annie was concerned, and now he had to live with it. Annie claimed he and “that woman” deserved each other—but she still loved her dad.

Sitting on her bed, Courtney read Andrew’s note a second time, then logged on to her computer to leave him a message. She discovered an e-mail from her father waiting for her. He’d rented out the house in Chicago for a second year, and Courtney felt fine about that. She’d kept some things of her mother’s but she no longer thought of the place as home. He was still in Brazil, working on another bridge project, and seemed to be enjoying the adventure. The money didn’t hurt either. She answered him, and then e-mailed Lydia about the progress her friends had made knitting.

Once the girls on her floor discovered that Courtney could knit, they’d wanted her to teach them. Soon every girl in the dorm had a pair of knitting needles in her hands. Actually, two circular needles, since the most popular pattern so far had been socks. Courtney had knit a dozen pairs in the last year. Her father loved his and wore them constantly. Even her older brother bragged about his socks, and Andrew had three or four pairs now. Annie was knitting, too; Bethanne had taught her.

A knock sounded at her door. “Court, do you have a minute?” Heather, one of the other girls on her floor, peeked inside.

“Sure,” she said and stood up from her computer, leaving the e-mail to Lydia unfinished.

Heather stepped into the room with a ball of fingering weight yarn tucked under her arm and her knitting in her hands. “I hate to bother you,” she said guiltily.

“It’s no bother.” They sat on the edge of the bed while Courtney examined the other girl’s project.

“I think I dropped a stitch,” Heather murmured.

Courtney could see that she had. “Don’t worry. I’ve got a crochet hook in my desk. They work wonders.” After retrieving the hook, she sat down with the half-completed sock.

“I can’t look,” Heather said, turning her head to stare in the opposite direction.

Courtney smiled. “I did the same thing to Lydia the first time I dropped a stitch. She told me we all lose a stitch now and then. Just like life, don’t you think?”

“It is,” Heather agreed. “We get so busy that it’s easy to let some things slide. We can either pick them up again, or let them stay lost…. I never thought about knitting like that, though.”

“I didn’t either,” Courtney confessed, “until I took Lydia’s knitting class.”

“You’re right.”

Courtney caught the loose stitch and carefully brought it up through the rows until she could slip it back on the thin needle. When she’d finished, she returned the sock to Heather.