Jody had needed consolation herself the night before when Gloria had first phoned and there’d been a strong pair of arms to hold her. It had helped tremendously.

“How’s Timmy?” her mother-in-law asked in an apparent effort to change the subject. “I bet he’s getting excited for Christmas.”

“Timmy’s great.” Jody couldn’t talk about her rambunctious son and not smile. “We chopped down a Christmas tree this weekend.”

“All by yourselves?”

Jody hesitated, unsure if she should mention Glen or not. This didn’t seem to be the appropriate time to drop the news that she was dating again, although heaven knew it was well past the time she should.

“A friend went along and helped,” she answered, being as diplomatic as she could.

“A friend,” Gloria repeated slowly, thoughtfully. “Male or female?”

“Male.” She couldn’t leave it at that. She’d need to explain now. “Glen’s an attorney who works at the same law firm I do.”

“I see.” Funny how much was visible in those two brief words. “Just how long have you been dating this . . . other man?”

“Mom, it isn’t like that. We’ve only been out a couple of times, but it isn’t anything . . .” She stopped herself in time from saying “serious.” Glen was serious. He’d said as much from the first. He wanted a wife and family. Timmy wanted and needed a father figure. She needed a husband. One who would laugh with her, one who would hold her when she needed to be held. One who would fill the empty spaces of her heart.

“Everything’s becoming clear to me now,” Gloria said stiffly. “No wonder you don’t want to hear about Jeff. You’re involved with another man.”

“Mother, that’s not true.” This was an impossible conversation, and growing more so every minute. The immediate sense of guilt she experienced was nearly crippling.

“The man who called from Germany knew that you’d divorced my son.”

“Mother, we’ve been through this a thousand times or more. I didn’t divorce Jeff because I didn’t love him any longer. It was for financial reasons.”

“I was never satisfied with that excuse and you know it. Both your parents and I were more than willing to support you.”

“Mom, please—”

“The man who called asked me about you and Timmy.”

“Mom, don’t, please,” Jody whispered, her small voice trembling. “It was a dream. It never happened.”

“He did call.” Gloria’s high voice rattled from the telephone receiver. “Jeff’s alive.”

“I realize it’s difficult for you to accept that I’m dating again, but it’s time I got on with my life. Don’t you think I’ve grieved long enough? Don’t you think it’s time?” Despite her resolve not to break down, she was crying. It happened like this nearly every time they spoke.

“I imagine you plan to marry this other man?” Gloria continued, her voice filled with disdain.

“I never said that.”

“You can remarry, you know, there’s nothing I can do to stop you.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Jody said, bewildered and miserable, looking for a means of ending the conversation.

“That would make for a fine thing for my son to come home to, his wife married to another man.”

“Mom, please don’t say that.”

“You know what I think?” Gloria said accusingly, knowing she had the upper hand. “You don’t want Jeff to be alive. You’ve made such a fine life for yourself that it would be inconvenient for you if he did turn up alive.”

“You know that’s not true,” Jody sobbed.

“Do I, now? You have your new boyfriend, you don’t need Jeff anymore.”

“Glen is a friend,” she insisted.

“That isn’t what you said earlier.”

“I think it’s time we ended this,” Jody said, struggling for what little composure remained.

“That’s just fine with me. But I think you should know, I’m going to tell Jeff myself just what kind of wife you turned out to be. He’s going to call me soon, and then I’ll tell him. Then he’ll know the truth about you.”

Chapter 14

Leah walked into her house and was greeted with the fresh, pungent scent of evergreen. The decorator had arrived and set up the Christmas tree, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.

The flocked tree looked as if it belonged in the foyer of a classy hotel. Glossy gold bows were strung in one continuous ribbon from top to bottom. Bright red porcelain poinsettia flowers were symmetrically placed. And then there were the angels. Leah counted twelve. In gold gowns with massive white wings, each one playing a musical instrument. A guitar, a harp, a saxophone, a tuba, and flute. A horn and trombone. It became a game to find each one hidden among the heavy white limbs.

“You’re home,” Andrew said, ambling into the living room from the kitchen. “Well,” he said, his gaze following hers toward the Christmas tree, “what do you think?”

“It’s beautiful.”

“I thought so too.”

She hung her coat in the closet.

“Debbi outdid herself this year,” Andrew said, bending over and turning on the tree lights. Ten strings of miniature red globes glowed, casting warm shadows about the room.

The decorator was a friend of Andrew’s mother. As part of her Christmas gift to Andrew and Leah, Shirley Lundberg had their Christmas tree decorated.

“I love the angels,” Leah said, slipping her arm around her husband’s waist and pressing her head to his shoulder.

“How’d your day go?”

There was far more to the question than what he was asking. What Andrew wanted to know was if she was feeling the same queasy sensation she had the last few days both in the mornings and late in the afternoons. He was asking if her period had started. In sum he wanted to know if she was pregnant.

“My day was great, how about yours?” she asked, smiling up at him.

His gaze skirted past hers. “Let’s sit down,” he suggested. With a flip of the switch, the gas fireplace roared to life and tongues of fire licked at the imitation logs.

Together they sank into the soft comfort of the leather sofa. Andrew’s arm was tucked around her shoulders and he rested his chin on the crown of her head. “I’ve been thinking,” he began.

“This sounds ominous.”

He chuckled, but she noticed his laughter contained a dash of concern. “I’d feel a whole lot more comfortable if we got one of those pregnancy test kits,” he continued.

“Why does it matter?” she asked, laughing off his request. “We’ll know sooner or later, won’t we?”

“You’ve been on this emotional high all week and I’m afraid if it continues much longer—”

“But I am pregnant,” she said with supreme confidence. “I know it’s finally happening for us. There’s never been any physical reason why we can’t have children. Dr. Benoit assured us of that countless times. How many times has he claimed all we need do is relax and that it’ll happen when we least expect it? I don’t know about you, Andrew, but I’m floored by this.”

“Leah, please, listen to reason.”

“Our time of waiting has passed,” she insisted, unwilling to listen to his arguments.

“If you’re so certain, then it won’t matter if you take the test now or later, will it?” Andrew pressed.

“I’m not going to buy another one of those awful test kits. I hate them.” She eased herself away from him and stiffly folded her arms. They’d been through this routine countless times and the result had always been devastatingly the same.

Negative.

No matter how long she studied the results she couldn’t make them read what she yearned for so desperately. No, she wouldn’t subject herself to that again.

“Leah, please. I just don’t want you to get yourself worked up over this. You’re a few days late and already—”

“I don’t know that I’m late. You don’t either. To my way of thinking, you’re making more of this than necessary. As you said before, if I’m pregnant, great, if not, well, then I’m not pregnant.”

He was uncharacteristically silent, but Leah knew her husband well enough to recognize how deceptive this calm could be.

“Let me do this my way,” she asked, reaching for his hand and kissing his knuckles.

He didn’t respond immediately. “I can’t stand by and watch you do this to yourself. How many times have you gone through this?” he demanded. “It’s always the same and each time your hopes go a little higher and you fall a little harder. Each time it takes you longer to recover.”

Leah knew what he was saying was true, but this was different. This time she’d throw back her head and shout for joy. This time her heart and her soul would be left intact. How she wished there was some way to reassure Andrew.

“I don’t want you to worry about me,” she said.

“I am worried.”

She leaned against him. “Don’t, please.”

“Does this mean you won’t take the home pregnancy test?” The fire crackled in the distance adding punctuation to his request.

She hated to refuse him anything, but it was necessary. Those tests dredged up far too many unpleasant memories. That was all in the past, and her future, their future, was spilling over with promise.

“No, Andrew, I won’t. Not this time.” She threw her arms into the air and fell backward so that she was sprawled across his lap, smiling up into his face. “Now kiss me, you fool.”

He closed his eyes as though to blot her out. “Leah, for the love of—”

She didn’t allow him to finish, but gripped hold of his neck and levered herself upward until her mouth met his. As familiar as she was with her husband’s body, Leah knew exactly what she needed to do to evoke a strong and positive response.

“Leah.” Her name became a helpless plea.

“I have this incredible urge to ravish you,” she whispered, opening the buttons of his neatly pressed dress shirt. He groaned when her hands met his warm skin.

“Dinner,” he managed, between slow, deep kisses.

“What about it?” she asked, rotating her hands around to his back. His heart was pounding hard and fast, but then so was her own.

“Can wait,” he told her brokenly.

Leah smiled softly to herself. “That’s what I thought.”

It wasn’t until she was dressing for work the following morning that Leah found the pregnancy test kit. How long it had been sitting on the bathroom counter she could only speculate. Probably from the night before.

The night before. A small, satisfied smile lit up her eyes. They might be an old married couple, but the lovemaking couldn’t get more incredible or more romantic than beneath a glowing Christmas tree in front of a flickering fire.

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