“Greg’s vineyard is one of the worst hit,” Phil explained in the same grave voice.

“I wondered about Bennett Wines….”

“Me, too.” He did his best to sound sympathetic.

Sandy studied him, her eyes narrowed, and Phil struggled to hide his true sentiments. This virus, or something like it, was exactly what he’d been waiting for. Justice. Retribution. Revenge. Call it what you will. Phil had suspected that sometime or other, Greg would come crawling to him, asking for help. He’d anticipated that day, longed for it.

“Are you going to be able to get him the loan?”

“I…I don’t know,” Phil hedged. He could hardly admit that he’d wear thong underwear in public before he’d sign off on the money Greg needed.

“But you’ll do what you can?” Sandy gave him a hard look, and it was all he could do to meet her eyes.

“Of course,” he said, sounding as sincere as he could.

She sighed, then walked over to him and kissed him on the cheek. “Good. I’ve always hoped you two would put aside your differences.”

Phil hugged her rather than look her in the face. “I know.”

“You’re all Greg has in the way of close family.”

True, but that hadn’t made any difference to his brother, and Phil didn’t see why it should to him. Greg would come to him when he needed help and only because he needed help. So, any apology, any effort toward reconciliation, was tainted as far as Phil was concerned. Not that he intended to forgive his brother or had any interest in reconciling with him. It was too late for that. A just God would surely understand that some things were unforgivable. Wouldn’t He?

“Poor Greg,” Sandy whispered.

Oh, yes, and Greg wouldn’t know how truly poor he was until Phil had finished with him.

“No wonder you weren’t listening earlier,” Sandy said, freeing herself from his embrace. “You had other things on your mind.”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“You are going to help him, right?” Sandy was obviously seeking reassurance.

He nodded, still without looking at her.

“Fine. You’ll be busy with that, so let’s skip the practice. I’ll tell Evelyn we can’t do it.”

Evelyn was the choir director. “Can’t do what?”

“Go caroling Christmas Eve.”

“Just a minute,” Phil said. “Why not? We don’t have anything on the schedule, do we? None of the girls can come until Christmas morning.”

“You’re sure you still want to?” Sandy asked, sounding pleased.

“Very sure.”

“You’re just hoping to see that blonde again, aren’t you?” she teased.

The blonde he’d spoken with earlier in the week hadn’t shown up for practice the last two times, and Phil was growing discouraged. She hadn’t been a figment of his imagination, despite what Sandy claimed.

“Maybe I did just imagine her,” he said to appease Sandy. “I have to keep you on your toes, don’t I?”

“We’re going to be singing at the hospital Christmas Eve. San Francisco General.” Sandy eyed him as though expecting Phil to change his mind.

“That’s all right.” Not exactly his favorite place, but he could live with it.

Besides, singing carols for the sick was what Christmas was all about. This was the season of love and goodwill, and he had an abundant supply. Not for his brother, but that was Greg’s own fault. “As a man sows, so shall he reap.” That was somewhere in the Bible, and if anyone questioned his actions, Phil would happily quote it.

Oh, yes, his brother was getting exactly what he deserved.

Eight

Matthias stepped off the plane and walked through the long jetway to the terminal at San Francisco International Airport. He’d come to spend Christmas with his grandson, fearing it would be the boy’s last.

He spotted his daughter in the crowd and rushed toward her. “Gloria,” he whispered, hugging her close. She’d lost weight and looked pale and fragile. This was destroying her—to watch her son dying, one day at a time. Matthias remembered how emotionally drained he’d become when Mary had been so terribly ill. Gloria had suffered then, too—and now she had to go through all this grief and pain again…. How could she bear it?

“Oh, Daddy, I have wonderful news!” his daughter exclaimed. “A donor’s been found.”

The unexpected relief, the gratitude Matthias suddenly felt made him go weak. “Where?” he asked hoarsely. “Who is it?”

“I don’t know his name. He’s a stranger, someone who responded to the article in last week’s newspaper about the need for volunteers. Dr. Thorpe says he’s making the phone call this afternoon and the whole process should start before Christmas. Isn’t that wonderful? Oh, Daddy, I can’t tell you how happy I am!”

“It’s the best Christmas gift anyone could have given me.”

“Me, too.” Gloria’s eyes shone with unshed tears. “Dr. Thorpe says the match is an especially good one. He sounded really hopeful, Dad. He didn’t come right out and tell me this was going to save Tanner’s life, but it is, I know it is. My heart tells me everything’s going to be all right now.” No longer did she struggle to hold back the tears. They fell unrestrained down her cheeks.

“When can I see this grandson of mine?” Matthias asked, eager now to reach the hospital.

They chatted nonstop on the drive into the city. When they got to the hospital, they hurried to the eighth floor. Weak as he was, ten-year-old Tanner was sitting up in bed waiting for Matthias.

“Merry Christmas, Grandpa.” His pale face was wreathed in an extra-wide grin, although his eyes were sunken and shadowed.

“Merry Christmas, Tanner.” Matthias hugged his grandson, careful not to hurt the fragile little body. Seeing him like this was hard. So hard.

“Grandpa, are you crying?”

“It’s only because I’m happy.” Matthias glanced up and smiled apologetically at his daughter and the young nurse who stood beside her.

“Everything’s going to be all right now,” Gloria assured him again, and Matthias believed her. Everything was going to be better.

“Hello,” Greg snapped into the small cellular phone. He’d never enjoyed talking on the telephone and was particularly annoyed by these new-fangled cell things.

“Is this Greg Bennett?”

“Yes.” Again his voice was as sharp and short-tempered as he could make it. He was walking between the rows of dead and dying grapevines, recognizing with final certainty that nothing was salvageable. No one could save what had taken fifty years to build.

“This is Dr. Edward Thorpe from San Francisco General.”

Greg was so shocked he nearly dropped the phone. “Yes…Dr. Thorpe.”

“I was wondering if you’d be willing to come back to the hospital later this afternoon?” His voice was pleasant, smooth, and if Greg wasn’t mistaken, there was a hint of relief, too.

“I’ll be there,” Greg told him immediately.

“I realize it’s short notice and this is the Christmas season, but—”

“I’ll be there,” Greg interrupted. “What time?”

“Is three o’clock convenient?”

“Sure.” Then he couldn’t resist asking, “Can you tell me what this is about?”

“I’d prefer we discuss it once you get here.” He ended the conversation by giving Greg detailed instructions on where and how to reach him at the hospital.

“I’ll see you at three,” Greg said, then slipped the phone back into his shirt pocket. He drew in a deep breath, releasing it slowly.

Somehow, some way, Edward had discovered the truth about their relationship. Apparently his son had experienced a change of heart and decided to meet his biological father, after all.

Although Greg could offer no excuse for what he’d done to Catherine, he was grateful for Edward’s decision. He did want Edward to know that he was proud to have fathered him, proud of the man he’d become. Greg could claim no credit; Edward owed him nothing. He only hoped that one day his son would be able to forgive him. He’d like a relationship with him, but wouldn’t ask. That, like everything else, was up to Edward.

The drive into the city was becoming almost routine by now. Greg found he was nervous and at the same time excited. He parked where Edward had suggested and followed the directions he’d been given. Not until he was in the elevator did he realize the hospital’s antiseptic smell hadn’t overpowered him. That, he decided, was a good sign.

Edward was waiting when he arrived and personally escorted him into his office. Greg noted with some satisfaction that Edward was as tidy and organized as he was himself. The physician’s desktop held a pen-and-pencil set, a clock and a computer monitor. On the credenza behind him was a small collection of framed photographs. He recognized Catherine in one, beside a tall gray-haired man, obviously her husband.

“Your wife?” Greg asked, looking past him to the gold-framed photograph of a younger woman.

Edward nodded.

“I’ve been married three times,” Greg blurted out, then wanted to kick himself.

His son had the good grace to ignore that comment. “I suppose you’ve guessed why I asked you to stop by the hospital.”

Greg liked the fact that Edward was forthright enough to get to the point immediately. “I have an idea.”

“Good,” he said, and seemed to relax. “That being the case, I’d like to introduce you to someone very special.”

Greg hesitated. “Now?” To his mind, there were several things they should discuss before he met anyone important in Edward’s life, but he was willing to let his son chart their course.

“If you don’t mind, that is?”

“All right.” Greg was simply grateful for this unexpected opportunity. His miserable attempt to see Edward earlier in the week had failed and humiliated him. Thankfully, Edward hadn’t seen fit to remind him of what had happened at their last meeting.

Edward led him to the elevators and together they rode silently up several floors. They stopped at what appeared to be a children’s ward. Greg frowned. Without asking any questions, he followed Edward to a room at the end of the corridor.

“This is Tanner Westley,” Edward whispered, nodding toward the sleeping youngster.

From the tubes and other medical equipment linked to the emaciated body, Greg could tell the boy was gravely ill.

“Should I know him?” Greg asked, also in a whisper.

Edward shook his head. “Let’s return to my office and I’ll explain the procedure.”

Procedure? Greg wasn’t sure he understood, but he accompanied Edward back to his office.

When they entered the room and resumed their seats, Edward said, “I can’t tell you how delighted I was that you proved to be a match for Tanner.”

“Match?”

“Bone-marrow match,” he said, eyeing Greg closely. “I assumed you understood the reason for my call.”

***

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