Family and togetherness go hand in hand in Arlene James's heartwarming stories.
A Love So Strong
As a pastor, Marcus Wheeler knows it's his duty to help Nicole Archer and her little brother. Yet the more he comes to know the siblings, the more duty gives way to care. And before long, care just might turn into love.
When Love Comes Home
The return of her long-missing son is all Paige Ellis could want?until she runs into the problems that come with him. It seems that making Paige's dreams come true will take help. Attorney Grady Jones brought her son home?can he bring this family a happy ending?
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Author of more than 75 books, including the Chatam House series, from Love Inspired, with listing at www.arlenejames.com and www.chatamhouseseries.com. Can be reached at POB 5582, Bella Vista, AR 72714 or email@example.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"Happy birthday! Happy birthday, Marcus!"
Marcus Wheeler lifted his hands and addressed the two dozen or so assembled guests.
"You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble. The church already gave me a nice monetary gift. A man blessed with that and a family such as this can't ask for more." He grinned, then added, "But I'm mighty appreciative, all the same."
"Good grief, man. We have six sisters between us," Vince, husband of Marcus's sister Jolie and scion of the boisterous Cutler clan, stated ruefully. "Did you really think your two sisters and my four would let your birthday slip by without a family celebration?"
Everyone laughed, and the rippling sound warmed Marcus to the very center of his soul. Not so long ago he'd been struggling to hold on to some semblance of his fractured family, and now, thanks to his two younger sisters—especially Jolie, the eldest of them—he had more family than he could keep track of.
"So far as I can tell," drawled Kendal Oakes, husband of
Marcus's youngest sister, Connie, "the Cutlers don't let any excuse to celebrate get past them."
This elicited more laughter and a general chorus of "Amen, brother!"
An only child himself, Kendal confessed to Marcus that he still didn't seem to know what to make of the loving horde who were the Cutlers, but after almost a year as a member of the clan, he was more at ease. Even his daughter, Larissa, who would be three in a couple months and was often overwhelmed by too much stimulation, had relaxed into the midst of what had proven to be a loving, sheltering family.
It was also a growing family, with Jolie and Vince expecting their first child in late June. Marcus knew that Jolie would be as wonderful a mother to her own child as she had been to her nephew, Russell, Connie's thirty-month-old son, in his first year when Connie couldn't take care of him.
"Can't have too much celebration," Connie murmured, smoothing Russell's bright red hair as he leaned against her leg, eagerly awaiting his piece of the birthday cake.
Marcus couldn't have agreed with her more. So much had changed in the past two years.
Connie had gotten out of prison and had since been exonerated of having taken any knowing part in the armed robbery and subsequent murder perpetrated by Russell's biological father. The split that had occurred in the family when Connie had reclaimed Russell from Jolie's care had been mended, thanks to Vince Cutler, who had married Jolie last Valentine's Day, almost a year ago now. Most amazing of all, Connie and Kendal had found each other, and what had begun as a marriage of convenience had joined two broken homes into one strong, Christ-centered family.
Marcus thanked God daily for the masterful way in which He had mended the bonds shattered by death and separation, and the spotty care of the foster child system in which he and his sisters had grown up. Truly, what else could a man of God possibly ask for?
Looking around the room at no fewer than seven happy couples, Marcus had to admit to himself that it was proving to be surprisingly difficult to be the only unmarried adult member of the family. Here he sat, a single minister in want of a wife, and suddenly thirty felt positively ancient. It seemed ungrateful, even selfish, to keep asking God where his mate was, but he couldn't help wondering. Marcus closed his eyes and sent a swift, silent prayer heavenward.
Lord, I thank You for all with which You've blessed me. I thank You for every person in this room. I even thank You for the room itself! You've given Jolie and Vince a lovely home. Connie and Kendal, too, for that matter. And I thank You for my church, Lord. Help me be satisfied with what I already have. That's my birthday prayer. Amen.
Jolie shoved another box onto his lap.
"Ya'll, this is just too much," he insisted, mentally cataloging the stack of dress shirts, ties, bookmarks and religious CDs already littering the floor around his chair.
"Hush up and rip in," Jolie counseled, dropping a kiss on his forehead as she moved back to her husband's side on the sofa that occupied one wall of the living room, to which the party had relocated after indulging the children's demand for cake. "That's the last one anyway."
Relieved to hear it, Marcus eagerly tore away the wrapping paper and pried apart the white pasteboard box beneath to reveal a large photo album tastefully bound in brown leather. A cross and the word "Wheeler" had been embossed on the front in gold.
Somewhat warily, Marcus cracked the cover. The front page contained grainy black-and-white photographs of their great-grandparents Edna and Bledsoe Wheeler.
"I remember these!" Marcus exclaimed happily. "But I thought they were lost."
"Jo had them," Connie apprised him, obviously pleased.
He turned another page and found a color eight-by-ten of his mother, Velma, as a high school senior. The youngest of two daughters born almost twenty years apart, Velma had been the late child of elderly parents and too quickly left alone in the world. After Marcus's father died she'd tried to fill the void with one man after another, eventually abandoning her own children in search of a love she'd never truly understood, only to die in an auto accident.
As difficult as it had been to be separated at ten from his younger sisters, Marcus thanked God that he'd landed with a family who had taught him to love the Lord and saved him from repeating his mother's fate. His sisters hadn't been blessed in that fashion. But now wasn't the time for bad memories. Today was his birthday, a time to celebrate. He and his sisters were back together again. That was all that mattered.
He turned the page and saw a small photo of their father, Carl, who had died of heart failure in his thirties, brought on by extensive alcohol and drug abuse. Marcus barely remembered him. Mostly he remembered the loud arguments that had preceded his departure from the household when Connie had still been a baby.
He'd been a nice-looking man, with Connie's bright, golden blond hair. What a pity that he'd allowed himself to be controlled by his addictions. Still, it was nice to have this reminder of him.
Pictures of Marcus and his sisters as children followed. Most included various members of the foster families with whom they'd resided. Next came a picture of Jolie's wedding. Marcus smiled at that and then at the photo of Connie and Kendal's second wedding, which followed. Now that was an interesting story.
Their first ceremony had been a somber affair performed in Kendal's home. They married because Russell needed a father, and Larissa needed a mother. Only some months later did the two realize that God had brought them together for more than the sake of their children and made their sham marriage a real one with a ceremony in church. It had been Marcus's distinct privilege to perform all three of his sisters' ceremonies.
He chuckled at photos of his nephew, Russell, and niece, Larissa. The two had taken to each other like bark on a tree. Soon the cross adoption of each child by the other's natural parent would be finalized.
The last picture was a puzzle. It looked like an ink blot at first, and then Marcus realized that it more closely resembled a printed negative of an X-ray. He turned the album sideways, trying to get a better look, prompting Vince to lean forward and announce, "That's your other nephew."
Jolie patted her slightly rounded belly with a self-satisfied smile. "We made you a print of the sonogram."
Ovida Cutler, Vince's mother, launched to her feet. All rounded curves and beaming smile, with fading red hair curling about her face, she was the quintessential grandmother.
"It's a boy!" she exclaimed, as if she didn't already have four grandsons.
"And this one will have the Cutler name," one of Vince's sisters pointed out.
"Actually," Jolie said, glowing at Marcus, "we're thinking that Aaron Lawrence Cutler is a fine name for a son, if you don't mind us appropriating your middle name, Marcus."
Marcus glanced at Larry Cutler, Ovida's husband, who was beaming ear to ear, obviously having no compunction about his given name coming in second to Marcus's middle one.
"I'd be honored, sis," he told her in a thick voice.
Fortunately the doorbell rang just then, preventing the whole room from erupting into happy tears.
While Vince hurried out to answer the door, Marcus quickly flipped through the remainder of the pages in the photo album to be certain that they were empty, then yielded to the clamor to pass it around. Within seconds the women were all "oohing" over the sonogram. Marcus himself hadn't seen anything that actually looked like a baby in the print, but that didn't lessen his delight in having it. Aaron Lawrence Cutler. Wow.
He wondered if he would ever have a son whom he might want to name after himself.
Vince returned with a girl in tow. Striking, with long hair the color of black coffee falling past her slender shoulders, she wore a somewhat outlandish costume of lime-green leggings, a long, straight denim skirt, a black turtleneck and muffler, a sky-blue fringed poncho and red leather flats. The shoes matched her gloves, which left only her wrists, ankles and heart-shaped face bare to the February chill.
A lime-green headband held back her sleek, dark hair, revealing an intriguing widow's peak that emphasized her wide, prominent cheekbones and slightly pointed chin. It was an exotic face, with large, round, tip-tilted eyes that gave a feline grace to a small nose and a wide, full, strawberry mouth. What galvanized Marcus, however, were the shiny tracks of tears that marked her pale cheeks.
Without even thinking about it, he was out of his chair a heartbeat after Jolie's mothe...
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