Oliver slipped his arm around her shoulders. “I told you they’d be happy,” he murmured.
“You’d think this was their first grandchild,” Emma said, overwhelmed by the family’s reaction to their news. She’d never known families could be like this.
By the end of a memorable Christmas Day, Emma was tired and ready to go home. After a series of hugs and promises to meet again soon, Oliver steered her to the car parked out front, his arm protectively around her. The dogs followed obediently in their wake.
“It’s a bit overpowering, isn’t it?” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“My family, when we’re all together.”
“They’re wonderful, each and every one.” Oliver’s sisters were among her closest friends. Her circle of family, friends and acquaintances had increased from the day she’d met him.
“They love you, too.” He opened the car door for her and helped her inside. Oscar and Boots piled into the back.
As they neared their newly constructed home, Oliver glanced at her. Emma’s eyes were closed, her head back against the leather seat. “You’ve really taken to Christmas,” he said. “Hard to believe that just over a year ago you didn’t want anything to do with it. Now look at you.”
Emma opened her eyes and smiled. Their home was decorated with not one, but two, Christmas trees. The second, a smaller one, was for the dogs. She’d written a series of articles about Christmas customs around the world. And she’d started baking right after Thanksgiving. As Oliver had said last year, the transformation had been complete.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” she said with a laugh, “except to repeat what my mother told me.”
“And what would that be?” he asked, a smile in his voice.
“There’s something special about Christmas.”
HERE COMES TROUBLE
“Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, Mom!” nine-year-old Courtney Adams said.
“Mom, you have my list for Santa, don’t you?” seven-year-old Bailey asked anxiously. She knelt on her bed, her large brown eyes beseeching.
This, Maryanne Adams recognized, was a blatant attempt to postpone bedtime. Both girls were supposed to turn out their lights ten minutes ago but, as usual, they were looking for any excuse to delay the inevitable. The one thing Maryanne hoped to avoid was yet another discussion about the top item on both their Christmas lists—a puppy.
“What about my list?” Courtney asked from her bed. She, at least, had crawled between the covers, but remained in a sitting position.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure Santa has both your lists by now,” Maryanne reassured her daughters. She stood in the doorway, her hand poised over the light switch. Both her daughters slept in canopy beds their Simpson grandparents had insisted on purchasing for them. It was their prerogative to spoil the grandkids, her father had told her so she didn’t argue too much. The grandchildren were the delight of their grandparents’ lives and could do no wrong.
“Did you read the list before you gave it to Santa?” Courtney asked.
At nine, Courtney was well aware that Santa was actually her mom and dad, but she was generous enough not to spoil the fantasy for her younger sister.
“You said your prayers?” Maryanne asked, wanting to turn the subject away from a dog.
Bailey nodded. “I prayed for a puppy.”
“I did, too.” Courtney echoed.
They were certainly persistent. “We’ll see what happens,” Maryanne said.
Bailey glanced at her older sister. “Is ‘we’ll see’ good news?”
Courtney looked uncertain. “I don’t know.” She turned pleading eyes to her mother. “Mom, we have to know.”
“Mom, please, I beg of you,” Bailey cried dramatically. “We’ve just got to have a dog. We’ve got to.”
Maryanne sighed. “I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for our family to get a puppy now.”
“Why not?” Courtney demanded, her sweet face filling with disappointment.
Instinctively, Maryanne pressed her hand to her stomach. It was time to tell the girls that there’d be a new family member in six months—past time, really, for them to know. She’d wanted to share the news earlier, but this baby was a complete surprise; she and Nolan had needed time to adjust to the idea first.
Stepping all the way into the room, Maryanne sat on the edge of Courtney’s bed. She’d prefer to tell the girls with Nolan at her side, but her husband was on deadline and had barricaded himself in his home office, coming out once or twice a day. The last fifty pages of a book were always the most difficult for him to write, winding down the plot and tying up all the loose ends. It was never easy, according to Nolan, to part with the characters he’d lived with for the past number of months. They were as real to him as his own flesh and blood, and because she was a writer, too, she understood that.
“We’ll discuss this later.” Checking her watch, she frowned. “It’s past your bedtime as it is.”
“Aw, Mom,” Bailey moaned.
“Mom, please,” Courtney chimed in. “I won’t be able to sleep if you don’t tell me now.”
“Tell them what?” Nolan asked from the doorway.
At the sight of their father both girls squealed with delight. Bailey was out of bed first, flying across the room at breakneck speed. Anyone would think it’d been weeks since she’d last seen their father, when in fact he’d had breakfast with the girls that morning.
“Daddy!” Courtney leaped off the bed, as well.
Bailey was in Nolan’s arms, fiercely hugging his neck, and Courtney clasped her skinny arms around his waist.
“Are you finished the book?” Maryanne asked, her gaze connecting with his. She remained seated on the bed, tired out from a long day of Christmas preparations.