“It’s settled, then,” Glen said, “your mother and I are officially engaged. You know what this means now, don’t you, Timmy? Another set of grandparents and aunts and uncles that you’ll need to meet.” He placed his arm around Jody’s shoulder and squeezed gently.

The phone pealed just then and Jody knew in her heart that it was her mother-in-law. Bracing herself, she stood and reached for the phone.

Her guess was accurate.

“I want to apologize for our conversation the other night,” Gloria said, sounding calm and collected. It was almost as if the fog in her mind had cleared.

“We both said things we regret,” Jody assured her. “This is a difficult time for us.”

“Oh, no,” Gloria corrected, “you’re wrong, my dear. Life couldn’t be more beautiful. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, and more so now than ever before.”

“Mine too. Remember the year you joined Timmy and me. We wish your health was better so you could travel more.”

“Jeff always enjoyed the holidays,” she said.

Discussing her dead husband just then, minutes after she’d announced her engagement to another man, was more than Jody could bear.

“Mom, there’s something you should know,” she said quickly. “Something wonderful has happened and other than Timmy you’re the first one to hear.” She didn’t mean to announce her engagement like this, but she couldn’t think of any other way to divert Gloria from speaking about Jeff.

“You do sound excited and rightly so.”

“I told you earlier I’d met another man.”

Jody waited for some acknowledgment but none came. “We decided we want to be married,” Jody said, “and have set the date for January.”

“Married!” Gloria shrieked. “But you can’t, you can’t! What about Jeff?”

“If Jeff were alive why wouldn’t he contact me or Timmy?” she asked reasonably.

“He’s been very sick and weak. I haven’t talked to him myself yet, but the German official told me he’s recovering and asking about you and Timmy.”

“Mom, give me the phone number of the person you’re talking to and I’ll contact him myself.”

“I’m sorry, dear, I don’t have it. But everything he’s said is true, I swear it’s true, Jeff’s alive. You’ve got to believe me. You’ve got to break your engagement before Jeff learns you’re involved with another man.”

“Mom, this is a cruel hoax. We buried Jeff, remember?” Jody gently reminded her.

It was as if Gloria hadn’t heard her. “What am I supposed to tell my son when he phones? I demand that you tell this other man you’ve changed your mind. No, no, I’ll tell him for you. He’ll listen to me.”

“Mom, please,” Jody pleaded, her voice low and trembling.

Glen was standing next to her then, his arm around his shoulder. Gently he took the receiver from her hand, and explained that he was the man Jody was marrying. Naturally she couldn’t hear her former mother-in-law’s response.

Jody turned into his arm and buried her face in his shoulder.

“Grandma thinks my dad’s alive?” Timmy asked, when Glen had hung up the receiver.

Jody was trembling too hard to respond. Glen continued to hold her, patting her back. “Your grandmother wants it to be true so badly that she’s convinced herself your father is still alive,” Glen explained, when it was apparent Jody was in no condition to do so.

Somehow they made it through dinner, although the three of them took turns attempting to make a festive occasion of it. Glen tried the hardest. Timmy made an effort as well, and Jody too, however feeble. She was grateful when Glen claimed he was working on the brief for an important case and left shortly after they’d finished clearing the table.

Jody walked him to the door. “I’m sorry about Gloria.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, pressing his forehead to hers. “We’ll get through this.” He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her gently.

Jody let him out the door and watched until Glen’s car was out of sight. He was a good man, a decent man, but she didn’t feel any great passion for him. She smiled sadly and realized she’d been lucky enough to know about love from Jeff. Love wasn’t the reason she and Glen had decided to marry. They cared deeply for each other, shared the same goals, and were comfortable with one another. A lot of marriages had far less.

“I’m done with my homework,” Timmy said some time later. Jody had finished the dishes and was busy writing out Christmas cards. She was later than usual this year.

“Are you telling everyone about Glen?” Timmy surprised her by asking. He reached for the top card and read her brief note.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I thought we’d send out announcements later. I’ve already mailed out half my cards and it doesn’t seem fair that half my friends know and half don’t.”

Timmy nodded as if her reasoning made perfect sense to him. He plopped his elbows on the table and tucked his chin in his hands as he watched her work.

“You know what I wish?”

“What?” she asked absently, thinking he was about to add another item to his detailed Christmas list.

“I wish what Grandma Potter said was true. I wish my dad was alive.”

Jody’s hand stilled as her fingers tightened around the pen. “I do too, sweetheart.”

“Well, what do you think?” Shirley said, looking anxiously to Goodness. “Gabriel insists the winds of trouble are brewing, but I can’t see it. Jody’s engaged and from everything I can see Glen Richardson is a perfect match for her and Timmy.”

Goodness, who was poised atop the Christmas tree, slowly shook her head. “You don’t know very much about humans and love, do you?”

“Not really.”

“After tracking Monica and Chet I could write a book.”

“What’s wrong with Jody and Glen?” Shirley asked impatiently. “They’re great friends.”

“I noticed, and that’s a great place to start a relationship.”

“If you’re going to tell me Jody’s still in love with Jeff, I’ll agree with you. Good grief, I never dreamed this assignment would be so difficult. I do everything Gabriel wants and then he sends me hightailing it back to earth, claiming trouble’s afoot. But he won’t tell me where.”

“It’s obvious,” Goodness said. “Glen doesn’t love her either.”

“Now, I sincerely doubt that. Glen’s crazy about Jody.”

“It’s the little boy,” Goodness said gently. “Glen’s impatient for a family, and Jody has one ready-made for him.”

“I disagree.” Shirley might have been new at this business, but she didn’t doubt Glen’s honorable intentions for an instant.

“Why don’t we check him out and see for ourselves,” Goodness suggested. “I’ll help you and then maybe you can help me. I’m having troubles of my own.”

They left Timmy’s house and had no problem locating Glen’s. “He told her he was working on a brief,” Shirley explained.

Glen was sitting at his desk, a pen poised in his hands, but he seemed to be having trouble. They watched for several moments while he did nothing more than stare into space.

“What’s he doing?” Goodness whispered.

“I don’t know. He seems to be thinking.”

“Doesn’t he know that will only get him into trouble?”

Shirley smiled. “I guess not. Look, he’s opening a drawer.”

Glen’s shoulders heaved with a deep sigh as he removed a photograph from the bottom drawer. Goodness and Shirley looked over his shoulder. The photograph was that of a beautiful young woman with long black hair that cascaded over her shoulders.

“There’s your trouble,” Goodness whispered. “Glen’s in love with another woman.”

Chapter 17

This wasn’t going to be easy. Monica had carefully steeled herself for the coming confrontation with Chet. She stood outside his office door, her heart pounding hard and fast.

Fervently she prayed she was doing the right thing. All she knew was that she couldn’t leave matters between them the way they were.

She could hear movement and knew Chet was there. She drew in a deep breath, knocked, turned the door handle, and stepped inside.

Chet was standing in front of his file cabinet, tossing one file after the other into a large cardboard container. Boxes were piled high on every bit of available space. His desk was clear, and the infamous calendar was down.

He was moving. Leaving Seattle. Leaving her.

“I won’t be taking on any new—” He stopped abruptly when he saw it was Monica. For one all-too-brief moment tenderness flashed in his eyes, but that was quickly replaced with practiced hardness. His gaze became sharp and dangerous like that of a cornered animal that was prepared to lash out in order to protect itself.

“What are you doing here?” he said.

“My father wanted me to apologize,” she began haltingly. “He never intended to offend you.”

“You’ve apologized, now go.”

What gave her to courage to stay, Monica would never know. “Why are you moving?”

He didn’t answer, but continued working at a furious pace, lifting several thick folders at a time, carelessly tossing them into the box.

“Where are you going?” she asked, trying a different vein.

“Away. Monica,” her name was little more than a frustrated sigh, “please, just go. Don’t make this any more difficult than it already is.”

“All right,” she agreed and he visibly relaxed at her words. “If you answer one question.”

“It’s over,” he said with sharp impatience. “Leave it at that.”

“I can’t.” Monica had honestly tried to accept that he wanted her out of his life. But no matter how hard she struggled to find acceptance none would come.

“I’m not going to debate the issue with you.”

“Just tell me why you don’t want my love,” she said forcefully. “Tell me what it is about me—”

“It has nothing to do with you. The problem is mine.”

“Then tell me. I need to know.” Despite her efforts to the contrary, her voice cracked with the strain of emotion.

Chet moved as if he were in pain, slowly and with difficulty. His back was to her as he stared out the window. Monica stayed where she was by the door, trembling and hating herself for subjecting them to this torment a second time.

The room seemed to spark with tension.

“I know you love me,” she whispered. “You can’t make me believe you don’t. There has to be something more.”

“I’m not good enough for you,” he shouted. “Now for the love of God get out of here.”

“No,” she said softly. “Not until you tell me why you aren’t good enough.”

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