“Nothing.” The car engine roared to life and he drove out of the church parking lot, eager to put the entire episode behind him.

“Telling Evelyn to shut up was probably the rudest thing you’ve ever done.”

“I wasn’t talking to Evelyn.”

“If not Evelyn, then who?”

Phil exhaled sharply. “The blonde.”

Sandy was quiet for a long moment—unfortunately not long enough to suit Phil. “What blonde?”

“The one standing in front of me. Actually, there were two blondes. No, three, only I didn’t see the third, only heard her.”

Once more his wife grew quiet. “Phil, there wasn’t any blonde standing in front of you,” she finally said. “No blonde singing first soprano.”

“Yes, there was.” He didn’t know how Sandy could be so blind. Did she honestly think he’d make up something like this? “Greg sent them.”

“Greg? Your brother?”

“Who else would do anything so underhanded?”

Silence again. Sandy didn’t seem to believe him, which irritated Phil even more. Of course Greg was behind this. He’d put those women up to mocking him in front of his wife and all these other people—and then disappearing. This was exactly the type of stunt his brother would pull, but Phil wasn’t going to stand for it. Oh, no. If Greg was planning to make trouble for him, he’d be ready.

“What does Greg have to do with any of this?” Sandy asked.

“He’s paid them to spy on me.”

“Oh, Phil, that’s crazy.”

“They had to be spies to know the things they did. Only someone who’s been watching me would know I have Greg’s loan application on my desk. Furthermore these women seemed to know how much I’m looking forward to turning him down.” He hadn’t meant to say all of that, but it was too late now.

“You’re rejecting Greg’s loan application.” The accusation in his wife’s voice stung.

“He’s a bad credit risk.”

“Phil, this is your brother.”

“My selfish arrogant brother.” Apparently his wife needed to be reminded of that. “Even at the end of her life, Mom was making excuses for him. Don’t you start.”

“You’re jealous, aren’t you? Both your parents are long dead, and you still think they loved your brother more than you.”

“They did.” It was a fact he’d lived with his entire life.

“Greg has come to you looking for help. It couldn’t have been easy for him.”

“It’s not going to get any easier, either,” Phil snapped.

“You sound…happy about it.”

Phil entered the ramp leading to the freeway with a burst of speed, pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor.

Sandy waited until they were moving smoothly along with the traffic. “Greg’s your brother,” she said again. “And you have the power to help him.”

Phil tightened his hands on the steering wheel. “You’re beginning to sound just like those blondes, singing their solos, humiliating me in front of everyone.”

“The blondes sang?” Sandy sounded worried.

“You mean to say you didn’t hear them, either?”

“No,” Sandy said. “Should I have?”

“Yes…no.” Maybe it wasn’t as bad as he’d first thought. “You’re not just saying that, are you?”

“Saying what?”

“That you didn’t hear them.”

“I didn’t,” Sandy assured him. “But I still want to know what they said.”

He sighed. “According to them, I like to think of myself as the good son and I wear a cloak of decency while plotting against my brother. Something like that.” Phil checked the speedometer and realized he was speeding. As he slowed the car, he glanced at his wife, only to discover that she was staring intently at him. “Don’t tell me my own wife agrees with them!”

Sandy didn’t answer, but her silence said it all.

“Go ahead and be angry,” he said, and noted he was speeding again. He seemed in an all-fired hurry to get home and he wasn’t sure why. If anything, this argument was bound to escalate once they got there.

“I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Greg to come to Pacific Union,” Sandy said not for the first time. “Especially when he knew that you’d be the one who’d ultimately accept or reject his loan application.”

Phil refused to dignify her comments with a response.

“Greg is coming to you for help.”

Despite himself, Phil snorted with laughter.

“Oh, Phil, how could you?”

“Easy.”

Right after Christmas he intended to call Greg into the bank. He’d leave him to wait and wonder during the holidays. When his brother arrived at the bank, Phil would have him escorted into his office. It would be the first time they’d been face-to-face since their mother’s funeral.

Then he was going to personally deliver the news.

Ten

Christmas Eve Matthias stopped at the hospital following his grandson’s bone-marrow procedure. Gloria had spent the day with Tanner and called to tell Matthias that the transplant had gone well. Tanner was in an aseptic room Matthias couldn’t enter. Only Tanner’s mother was allowed to visit, and even then the boy was kept behind a protective plastic barrier. Despite that, Matthias couldn’t think of anyplace in the world he’d rather celebrate Christmas.

Because of the unknown bone-marrow donor, they actually had something to celebrate. The change in Gloria since the donor had been located was dramatic. The edge of fear was gone from her voice, and color had returned to her cheeks.

“Dad!” Gloria waved to attract his attention when he walked into the hospital lobby.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart.” He kissed her cheek.

“Dad, Tanner’s donor is still here. Everything went as expected, but when he stood up to leave, he blacked out and fell against the hospital bed. He’s got quite a gash on his head.”

The donor had asked to remain anonymous and had given up today—Christmas Eve—for Tanner’s sake. “I’m sorry to hear that. Is he okay?”

“He’s fine. Said he felt foolish for causing all this fuss. He’s in the emergency room, waiting for his wife to pick him up now.”

“I’d like to thank him personally,” Matthias said. “Do you think he’d mind?” This stranger, who’d responded to a newspaper article, had given his grandson a second chance at life. The only reward he’d received for his effort had been a cut on the head—and the grateful appreciation of Tanner’s family. The least Matthias could do was sit with him until his wife got there.

“Well, I’ll go and talk to him.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll go up to Tanner again.”

“Good idea,” Matthias said. He followed the sign that pointed to the emergency room; it led him to a large waiting area. Groups of people were scattered about. A lone man sat in a shadowy corner, his forehead bandaged. That had to be him.

He walked over. “Hello, I’m Matthias Jamison, Tanner Westley’s grandfather, and I—” Matthias didn’t finish. He couldn’t finish. All he could do was gape at the man he’d hated for fifteen years.

“Matthias, is that you?”

“Greg?”

In shock, they stared at each other for the better part of a minute.

“You’re Tanner’s grandfather?” Greg finally asked.

Matthias nodded.

Apparently Greg hadn’t known of the connection between him and Tanner. The anger and hatred Matthias had lived with all these years flared back to life, racing through his blood like a shot of adrenaline. But to his surprise, it died a quick and sudden death.

Matthias claimed the chair across from Greg, astonished that he couldn’t think of a single word to say.

“That explains it,” Greg said, slowly shaking his head.

Matthias had no idea what he was talking about.

“Now I understand why I was a match for Tanner. It’s because you and I are second cousins.”

“You mean you really didn’t know? That Tanner’s my grandson?” Matthias had to ask.

Greg smiled wryly. “Not a clue. You’re telling me that was Gloria I talked to a few minutes ago? Your Gloria…and Mary’s?” As soon as he spoke, he seemed to regret bringing up Mary’s name. “She’s certainly changed from the little girl who used to race up and down the vineyard rows.”

“It’s been a long time.”

Greg nodded. He splayed his fingers through his hair and winced when he touched the bandaged gash. His hair was almost completely gray now, but it looked good on him. “She isn’t the only one who’s changed.”

“We’ve both changed,” Matthias murmured, and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees.

“About Mary,” Greg whispered. “I…I was wrong. I’ve thought of Mary, of you, so often…” He seemed unable to continue.

Emotion blocked Matthias’s throat. It’d been so long since he’d cried that when the tears filled his eyes, they burned and stung like acid. Embarrassed, he blinked hard and looked away. “She died fifteen years ago and I still miss her. Doesn’t seem right not having Mary.”

“Can you forgive me?” Greg’s voice was raw with pain.

“The Lord takes away, but He also gives. Mary’s gone, but because of you, young Tanner’s got a real chance at beating the same cancer that killed his grandmother.”

“Mr. Bennett.” Tanner’s doctor joined them. Judging by the way he was dressed, he was about to leave. Not that Matthias begrudged him that, seeing as it was Christmas Eve. Edward, like everyone else, wanted to be with his family. “I just heard about your accident and I came to tell you how sorry I am.”

Matthias, for one, was grateful for the distraction. It gave him a moment to compose himself.

“Not to worry,” Greg said, as if the stitches in his head were of little significance. “It’ll be healed in no time. Besides, I should’ve known better than to stand up without the nurse there.”

“I did warn you not to be in too much of a hurry.” The doctor smiled, then glanced at Matthias. “I see you two have met.”

“We’re old friends.”

“Cousins, actually,” Greg added, and because they needed an excuse to laugh they both did.

“I see…” the doctor said. “You have a ride coming for you?” he asked Greg next.

“Yes. My wife will be here any minute.”

“If there’s anything else I can do for you, don’t hesitate to let me know.”

“I won’t,” Greg promised.

Dr. Thorpe nodded. “I probably won’t be seeing you again, Mr. Bennett, but I want you to know that I think you did a brave thing. A selfless thing. Thank you.” With that he held out his hand. Greg stood and clasped it firmly.

***

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