This was the first Christmas season since the divorce that she’d felt like celebrating. It wasn’t an effort; nothing felt forced, least of all her happiness. She thanked the angel for that. The one who’d appeared to her. Everything had changed for the better that day. Her heart felt lighter, less burdened, and life suddenly seemed good and right again.

After all these years, her prayer request had apparently been heard. Even now, Anne couldn’t get over the glorious, wonderful sound of her son’s laughter. Such a minor joy had felt forever lost to both of them. Even more wonderful, a woman—the first one her son had mentioned in five years—had caused this spark of excitement.

“How does that look, Jason?” Anne asked the security guard. The young man certainly took his duties seriously. The entire time she’d been painting, Jason had watched her. He must’ve been told that no one was to bother her, and he made sure no one did.

Jason didn’t answer and Anne turned around to see him studying the parking lot.

“Trouble?” Anne asked.

“Perhaps it’d be best if you left the area, ma’am.”

Anne peered outside; the only person she could see was a young woman wearing what appeared to be a soccer uniform. She was walking toward the building. “Who’s that?” Anne asked.

“Julie Wilcoff,” Jason answered in a low voice. He moved from behind the desk and stood directly in front of the glass doors, his posture a warning in itself.

Anne watched as the woman paused outside the door and smiled at the security guard. “Jason, I’m here to talk to my father.”

“I’m not falling for that a second time,” he said. “Your father told me to keep you out of this building and he hasn’t told me anything different, so I’m keeping you out.”

The woman glanced impatiently at Anne and then back at the security guard. “Jason, please.”

“If you’ve got a problem with that,” the guard said matter-of-factly, “then I suggest you take it up with your father.”

Ms. Wilcoff promptly pulled a cell phone out of her pocket, punched a few numbers and held it to her ear.

Jason stood exactly where he was.

“Is this the girl who gave my son such a talking-to the other day?” Anne asked. If so, Anne was eager to meet her.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Her father banned her from the building?”

“I believe Mr. Fletcher gave his approval, ma’am.”

Anne’s spirits did an abrupt dive. “I’m sure he’s had a change of heart,” she said, praying she was right.

“Then he’ll need to tell me that himself, ma’am.” The guard wasn’t budging, not an inch. That much was obvious.

Julie Wilcoff seemed to have difficulty reaching her father. With an air of frustration, she clicked off the cell phone. “My father isn’t answering,” she called from the other side of the door.

“That isn’t my concern.”

“He asked to see me,” she insisted.

For a moment it seemed Jason might waver, but he held his ground. “He didn’t say anything to me about that. I don’t have any alternative but to do as I’ve been instructed. You aren’t allowed in this building. I’m sorry, Ms. Wilcoff, but I have my orders.”

Julie nodded. “I understand. Will you tell my father I was by?”

“If I see him,” Jason said.

Julie nodded again and turned around. She started back toward the parking lot.

Anne refused to let this woman leave.

Jason moved from his post and Anne rushed to the door. “Ms. Wilcoff?” she called. “Julie?”

Julie glanced over her shoulder.

Anne stood in the doorway and gave her a quick wave. “I’m Anne Fletcher, Roy’s mother.”

“Oh, hi,” she said. Turning again, she halted in her progress toward the visitors’ parking lot. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I guess you heard about your son’s and my disagreement.” The wind whipped the hair about her face, and Julie swept it away with a stroke of her hand. “I actually came to see Roy, but I needed to talk to my dad first. I can see that’s impossible.”

“No, it isn’t.” Anne raised her index finger. “Wait just a minute.” She closed the door and discovered Jason frowning at her. “I can’t let her in here, Mrs. Fletcher,” he said, “so don’t go asking me to make allowances.”

“I had no intention of doing that.” She planned to take another approach altogether. “The best thing would be to contact my son and get this settled once and for all.”

Jason said nothing.

“Can I use the phone on your desk?” She didn’t have a cell phone; it was an expense she couldn’t afford.

“Go ahead.” He kept his gaze pinned to the door as if he half feared Julie might try to dash in while he wasn’t looking.

Anne walked over to the desk and called Ms. Johnson, her son’s assistant. “Hello, Eleanor,” she said. “Could I speak to my son?”

The woman hesitated. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Fletcher, he’s in a meeting.”

“A meeting,” Anne repeated. She’d long suspected that was the excuse Roy used when he wasn’t in the mood to deal with her. “Did he ask you to say that?” she whispered.

“Not this time,” his assistant admitted, confirming Anne’s suspicions. “He actually is in a meeting.”

“Oh, dear,” Anne said, breathing a sigh.

“Is there anything I can do?”

Anne chewed her lip. “Do you happen to know Julie Wilcoff?”

“I do.” Eleanor’s voice grew warm and excited.

“She’s here.”

“In the building?”

“No, the security guard won’t let her inside. Apparently there’s some edict her father gave and she’s forbidden to come in. Is that true?”

“I’m afraid it must be, but we all like Ms. Wilcoff.”

Unfortunately, Jason hadn’t gotten that memo. “Any idea on how we can get her inside to see my son?”

After another second’s hesitation, Roy’s assistant said, “I’ll be down directly.”

“Oh, thank you.” Anne looked up and saw Jason frowning at her. Julie hadn’t moved from her position outside the doors.

“What did he say?”

“I didn’t speak to my son, but Ms. Johnson is on her way down.”

Jason frowned even more fiercely and shook his head. “That isn’t good enough. It’s got to be Mr. Wilcoff or Mr. Fletcher himself. No one else. As I explained earlier, I have my orders.”

Anne ignored him and went back to the glass entrance doors. She opened one and said, “I phoned Roy, but he’s in a meeting. His assistant is coming down to see what she can do.”

“It’s all right, Mrs. Fletcher. I’ll just do this another time.”

Anne shoved one arm out the door. “No! Stay where you are. I’ll be right back.” She turned away and then immediately turned around. “Promise me you won’t leave!” If she was going to make a fool of herself, she wanted to be sure it was worth her while.

Julie grinned. “I won’t.”

“Thank you.”

Anne addressed Jason next. “When Ms. Johnson arrives, tell her I’ve gone to get my son.” She refused to let this opportunity—or this woman—disappear from Roy’s life. With a determination that astonished even her, Anne marched over to the elevators and pushed the button. When a car didn’t come fast enough to suit her, she pushed it again.

A high-tech buzzing finally announced an elevator. To her relief, it was empty, and she shot to the top floor in what felt like seconds. Stepping off, she hurried into the foyer, glancing around. Ms. Johnson, as Anne knew, wasn’t at her desk. Anne thought she heard voices at the end of the hallway and headed in that direction.

Sure enough, there was a meeting taking place in the conference room. Anne remembered seeing it when Roy had given her a tour shortly after moving into the building.

She hated to barge in, but there was nothing else she could do. Knocking politely at the door, Anne walked inside, her smock smeared with paint and her hair a mess. The room, which had been lively with conversation, went silent. Twenty or so men and women, all important-looking, sat around a long, rectangular table. Every one of them turned to stare at her. Anne smiled weakly and noticed that Roy was standing at the front of the room.

“Mother?”

“Could I speak to you a moment?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Now?”

Anne held her breath. “Please.”

Roy gestured apologetically at his associates. “If you’ll excuse me?”

They all nodded and Roy walked to the back of the room. “What is it, Mother?”

From the way his eyes flared and the even, unemotional tone of his voice, Anne could tell he wasn’t pleased. He guided her, none too gently, into the hallway.

“I’m so sorry to interrupt you,” she said, clasping her hands tightly.

“If this has to do with the Christmas scene on the windows, then—”

“Oh, no,” she insisted, “it’s not about that.” Her throat felt dry and it was difficult to concentrate. “This has to do with Jason…”

“And who is Jason?”

“The security guard downstairs. He tells me Julie Wilcoff has been banned from the building. I know it was her father’s doing, but Jason seems to believe you supported that decision. Did you?”

His demeanor changed, and his mouth and eyes softened. “I might have. Why?”

“She’s here.”

“Now?”

Anne nodded. “Jason won’t let her in to speak to you.”

“She came to see me, did she?” He folded his arms and seemed to consider this information with some amusement. Then the humor left his eyes. “Did she give you any indication why she wanted to speak to me?”

Anne shook her head. “Not really.”

His mouth twitched. Was that a smile trying to emerge? “Ms. Johnson did her best to talk Jason into letting her in, but he won’t budge.”

“I’ll call him myself,” Roy promised. “Go ahead and have Ms. Johnson bring Julie up to my office. Tell her I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” He glanced at his watch. “Make that twenty.”

“I hope I did the right thing,” Anne said.

“You did exactly the right thing,” he said, and to her complete shock, he took her by the shoulders and kissed her cheek.

Anne hurried downstairs. Jason was on the phone when she got off the elevator. He muttered something that sounded like “yessir,” replaced the receiver and walked over to the glass door, holding it open for Julie.

“You can come in now,” he told the young woman, who stood outside.

Julie walked into the building slowly, as if she expected alarms to ring the instant she stepped over the threshold.

“Thank you,” she said to Anne.

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