"The library committee met this afternoon,” Catherine went on to say. She sat on the leather wing-backed chair, where she could easily see the front door.

"Were you able to hammer out a budget?” Joy asked, claiming the chair next to her.

"Yes, but it’s difficult when there are so many books we’d like to buy. Several of the members think we should order the new audio tapes. It’s getting hard for some of us to read these days, even with the books in larger print. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough funds to purchase everything we’d like.”

"It’s hard, I know,” Joy agreed. "Perhaps you should think of holding a fund-raiser. With only a few weeks to Christmas, you could make it a festive occasion and serve cookies and tea.”

"Naturally we’d invite everyone to participate.” Already Catherine could see the wisdom of such a plan. "We won’t charge anything to attend our tea, but we could ask for donations.”

"I’m sure the library committee would do an excellent job.”

"I know they would,” Catherine agreed. "What a great suggestion. Thank you, Joy. I’ll speak with the committee members first thing tomorrow morning.”

Ted appeared just then, holding open one side of the double glass doors. "Here’s my grandson now,” Catherine said.

"You haven’t got a thing to worry about,” Joy assured her softly, then stood and discreetly disappeared.

Catherine’s eyes didn’t waver from the front door. How eager she was to meet this woman who’d captured her grandson’s attention! The woman who preceded him into the retirement center was sophisticated and professional looking. Catherine discovered she was holding her breath. Ted’s lady friend was exceptionally lovely.

Catherine stood as her grandson approached. Ted’s eyes met hers and were bright with laughter. He was tall and handsome and the joy of Catherine’s life. How very proud she was of her grandson, of his accomplishments, of the distinguished young man he’d grown up to be. Seeing Ted was like looking at the very best of herself and Earl.

"Grandmother,” Ted said, placing his arm around her thin shoulders, "it gives me a good deal of pleasure to introduce you to Blythe Holmes.”

"Blythe,” Catherine said, taking the other woman’s hand between her own. "I couldn’t be more honored.”

Only a hint of warmth entered the younger woman’s blue eyes. "The pleasure’s all mine,” Blythe said.

"I’ve arranged for us to have tea in my room,” Catherine said nervously.

It seemed Blythe hadn’t heard her. She looked around the room, studying the artwork on the walls. Catherine watched as the younger woman’s gaze landed on Catherine’s friends and then bounced away dismissively. Blythe frowned when she saw Charles, a retired army officer. Charles sometimes forgot who and where he was.

Catherine felt Blythe’s aversion to Charles, although he was doing nothing more than staring sightlessly into the distance and mumbling nonsense to himself. She found herself wanting to defend the retiree, explain what a gentle, kind man he was, and tell Ted’s friend that he’d once been a war hero. Of course, she could do none of that.

"This is very…nice,” Blythe said with a lack of sincerity. It was as if she had to say something, and "nice” was the only word she could think to utter. Until that moment Catherine had never noticed how weak the word nice could be.

"Would you like a tour of Wilshire Grove?” Catherine asked, proud of her home and wanting to show it off.

"No,” Blythe said, but thanked her for the invitation with a smile.

Catherine led the way to the elevator, chatting nervously as she escorted her guests inside. She watched as Ted reached for Blythe’s hand and felt her heart warm.

"We each have our own apartment,” Catherine explained for Blythe’s benefit when they reached hers. "I have a small kitchen, although I rarely cook these days. However, I did manage to bake a batch of Ted’s favorite cookies this morning.”

"Chocolate chip?” Ted asked, his eyes as round and eager as a five-year-old’s.

"Chocolate chip,” Catherine said, and laughed softly. She motioned toward the overstuffed sofa. "You two make yourselves comfortable while I put on the water for tea.”

"Let me help,” Ted insisted, following Catherine into the kitchen. The moment they were out of earshot he snatched a cookie off the silver platter and leaned his hip against the counter. "Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked, looking at Blythe as if he’d located buried treasure the day he’d met her.

"She’s as lovely as a fashion model,” Catherine agreed, delighted to see his dark eyes sparkle. Her grandson was in love. Catherine had been waiting years for this moment. Ted was thirty, and it was time he started thinking seriously about settling down.

Catherine looked across her compact living room to Blythe. She had crossed her long legs and leaned back against the sofa, but there was a restlessness about her. Of course she might be wrong, but Catherine sensed a sadness there.

With a shake of her head, Catherine pulled her gaze and her thoughts away from her female guest. It was too soon for her to make such sweeping judgments, she chided herself, wondering why she would think such thoughts about a woman she barely knew.

Ted carried the tray into the living room for her.

Sitting on the edge of her cushion, Catherine served them each a cup of tea. Ted helped himself to a second cookie.

"Should you really be eating that?” Blythe asked Ted.

"Eating what?” he asked innocently, and winked at Catherine.

"I thought you said you were watching your fat intake.”

"I am.” He reached for another and handed it to her. "No one makes chocolate-chip cookies the way my grandmother does. When I was a kid I used to wonder how she could make them taste so good. I still don’t know her secret. Perhaps she’ll give you the recipe.”

"I’d be happy to, Blythe,” Catherine volunteered.

"I can’t possibly eat that,” Blythe said about the cookie.

"Ted,” Catherine chastised, "leave the poor girl alone.”

"I want her to try just one cookie. Then she’ll know what I mean. Come on, Blythe, just one bite.”

"No,” she said sharply, and when Ted frowned she laughed. "Oh, all right, if you insist, but I really shouldn’t.”

"It’s only a cookie,” Ted reminded her.

Catherine agreed. She was health conscious herself and would never bake anything for her family she seriously believed would harm them. As it was, she generally baked the cookies for Ted only on his birthday.

Blythe nibbled on the cookie as if she suspected it were laced with arsenic, then placed it on the delicate china plate.

Originally Catherine had thought to send the rest of the small batch home with Ted. Now she decided against that, not wanting to cause a problem between her grandson and his lady friend. The literary tea would need cookies, she mused, and she’d save the leftovers for then.

"So tell me how you two met,” Catherine asked, and sipped her tea.

"At work,” Blythe said matter-of-factly.

"Are you an engineer as well?”

Blythe nodded. "With nuclear certification.”

"Congratulations.” Blythe sounded proud and pleased, and Catherine wanted her to know she was happy for her accomplishments.

"I’m hoping Ted will see fit to do what’s necessary to acquire his certification as well.”

Ted stiffened slightly. "Let’s not talk about this now.”

"You’re right,” Blythe said sweetly. Looking to Catherine, she continued, "It’s just that there are so few engineers with nuclear certification that they’re in demand all across the country. Ted could work anywhere he chose.”

Personally, Catherine was hoping he’d stay in Los Angeles for the time being, but she didn’t want to seem proprietorial. Ted, after all, was his own person. Catherine wouldn’t dream of holding him back because of her own selfish wishes.

Blythe made a point of looking at her watch. "What time did you say the dinner reservation was for, Ted?”

Ted glanced at his own watch. "We have plenty of time.”

"I was hoping to change out of these heels,” Blythe said.

"Go on, you two,” Catherine said hurriedly. "The evening’s young yet. Enjoy yourselves.”

Ted hesitated. "You’re sure? We’ve barely spent any time with you.”

"I’m positive,” Catherine assured him, gathering up the china cups.

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Goodwin.”

"Please, you must call me Catherine.”

Blythe smiled and stood, eager, it seemed, to be on her way. "All right, then, I will. Thank you for having Ted and me over.”

"The pleasure was all mine.” Catherine stood with Ted and walked the couple to her door. After a few short words of farewell, they were gone.

A bit dazed, Catherine returned to her favorite chair and sank onto it. This visit hadn’t gone anything like she’d wanted. It was clear Ted was enthralled with Blythe. It also seemed clear, at least to Catherine, that her grandson’s relationship with Blythe was becoming serious.

It wasn’t like Catherine to make judgments about others, especially people she barely knew. But in her heart she couldn’t picture her grandson married to Blythe Holmes. The two simply didn’t seem right for each other.

She was an old woman, Catherine reminded herself, and knew little of romantic relationships these days. She could very well be wrong. One thing was certain: she refused to interfere in her grandson’s life.

Her thoughts restless, Catherine stood. Whenever she needed to think over something important, she generally slipped into the chapel. Tucked in a back corner of the building, the chapel had been built many years earlier in memory of a valiant World War II chaplain who’d died on the beaches of Normandy.

Not wanting to meet anyone and be sidetracked, Catherine took the stairs and silently entered the empty room.

She sat in the back pew for several moments, gathering her thoughts. When she’d composed herself inwardly, she bowed her head.

The prayer came directly from her heart. She remembered the day her grandson had been born and what a special gift he was to her. That he should enter the service and become an Airborne Ranger seemed almost fitting in light of the grandfather who’d served as a Ranger before him.

"Father,” she whispered, "my prayer is a simple one. All I ask is that Ted marry the right woman.”

There was much more that she wished to add. Instructions. Advice. But she left those words unsaid. After a few moments, she stood and quietly returned to her room.

"That’s Catherine,” Gabriel said, staring down upon the earthly scene below.

Mercy was intrigued. The archangel had claimed she’d like Catherine, and Mercy had, immediately. "What a dear, sweet woman she is.”

Gabriel nodded. "Catherine Goodwin has a heart after God’s own.”

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