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A Family for Christmas
Twenty-three-year-old widow Mia Granger is shocked to learn her late husband fathered a child out of wedlock. Now the handsome lawyer representing the young orphan's adoption agency is pressing Mia to meet the girl. She's touched by how deeply Caleb Grant cares about the five-year-old, especially given his own harrowing past. But with all the betrayals in her life, Mia is scared to open her heart to anyone. When she learns she owns a lovely ranch she never knew existed, Mia wonders if it's a home meant for a family of three—just in time for Christmas.
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With more than fifty books and millions of copies in print worldwide, Lois Richer continues to write of characters struggling to find God amid their troubled world. Whether from her small prairie town, while crossing oceans or in the midst of the desert, Lois strives to impart hope as well as encourage readers' hunger to know more about the God of whom she writes.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"This can't be the place."
Lawyer Caleb Grant matched the address on the paper in his hand with the crooked numbers on a small bungalow that had seen better days in this Canadian neighborhood of Calgary, Alberta, and grimaced.
"Are you sure you gave me the correct address?" he asked into his phone. Having confirmed his location, he opened the rickety gate.
The serious disrepair of the house contrasted with the garden in front, which bloomed in a riot of color. Mia Granger must be a dab hand with plants. How could a woman with this tender gift for gardening ignore his plea to help a bereaved child?
Before Caleb could reach the end of the cobbled path, the weathered front door opened. A slim woman with masses of strawberry blonde hair tumbling around her shoulders stepped outside and reached for the mailbox. Her hand stilled when she saw him.
"C-can I help you?" she asked in a voice so quiet he barely heard it.
"I'm looking for Mia Granger. Does she live here?" Caleb watched her ivory skin pale.
"I'm Mia. Are you another bill collector?" she said in a breathless voice. "I'm sorry but—"
"I'm a lawyer with Family Ties. It's an adoption agency in Buffalo Gap." He saw no recognition on her face. "Someone called you about me."
"No one called," she murmured in a scared voice, golden-red hair shivering in the wash of sunlight sneaking through a few dappled leaves left on a towering poplar tree.
"They should have." Caleb frowned. Mayor Marsha had talked him into coming here. She'd also promised she'd notify widow Granger of his arrival. When a flicker of worry widened Mia's emerald eyes, he decided he could deal with Marsha later. "I'm here about Lily."
"Who?" As hard as Caleb searched her puzzled face, he saw no sign that she was prevaricating. "I think you must have the wrong—"
"She's the five-year-old daughter of your husband, Harlan Granger, and his mistress, Reba Jones." Though Caleb hated to be so blunt, there was no easy way to do this. "Lily lost both her parents in the car accident that took your husband two weeks ago."
"How dare you?" Mia Granger gasped. One hand grabbed onto the shaky wrought iron railing.
"Are you all right?" Troubled by her ashen face, Caleb reached out to steady her, but the woman backed away.
"You've got everything wrong," she insisted in a tearful voice. "Reba was Harlan's secretary. They certainly didn't have a child together. Please leave." She turned away.
"I'm so sorry to trouble you." Caleb's instincts told him he couldn't leave now. He had to reach this woman's heart, for Lily's sake.
"Then, don't." Her pale, pinched face implored him to leave her alone. But Caleb couldn't do that.
"I've checked the birth records," he said softly. "Lily is their child."
Mia paled even more. She shook her head.
"It's true. Please, may I please come inside and talk to you?"
Her distrust of him showed in the gold sparks that changed her emerald eyes to hazel. Given the deceitful husband she'd married, Caleb didn't blame her for that. But he was also curious. Torn between trying to believe she was truly bewildered but feeling suspicious that she was trying to avoid him as she had his phone calls, Caleb pressed harder.
"I truly do not want to add to your pain." He employed the calming tone he often used with a skittery witness on the stand. "I only want to help this little girl." He pulled a picture from his chest pocket and held it out. "Lily Jones."
Mia looked at the photo. When her eyes widened and her trembling lips parted in a gasp, Caleb knew he was making up lost ground. But then he saw something puzzling in her gaze—yearning?
"She's a beautiful child, isn't she?" Caleb hated causing this gentle woman more grief, but he was determined she understand that Lily's future was at stake.
"The eyes—they're quite startling." Mia's gaze remained riveted on the picture.
"The same color as Harlan Granger's."
"Many people have dark blue eyes." Mia finally handed him the photo with a sigh. "I suppose you'd better come in," she said in obvious resignation. She allowed him through and then closed the door. "This way."
Caleb followed, noting that the interior of the house had probably once been magnificent. Though it hadn't aged gracefully, it was spotless. The Victorian-style sofa Mia indicated with the wave of one hand was as desperately uncomfortable as it looked, but Caleb sat on it anyway, keeping his face impassive.
Mia Granger stood in front of the massive bay window in a puddle of bright October sunshine. She wore a pair of shabby jeans that looked too big and a faded teal sweater that drooped from her lean curves. Her beautiful hair flowed over her shoulders like a pale copper cape. When she caught Caleb staring, she crossed her thin arms across her chest defensively.
Caleb couldn't stop staring. Backlit by the sun, the shape of Mia's face brought memories of his mother, the mother he'd loved so dearly and lost to his murderous father.
"What was your name?" she prodded.
"Caleb Grant. As I said, I represent an adoption agency called Family Ties." Caleb shook off his memories and concentrated on the delicate woman in front of him. Do your job, his brain ordered.
"Lily is one of their children waiting to be adopted?" Mia sank onto an armchair that could have sat three of her and nestled against the folds of a colorful quilt draped across the back of it.
"Not exactly. I wanted to explain when I called, but your phone is always busy or no one answers." He studied her face, surprised by the flush of red in her cheeks.
"Sometimes I take it off the hook. Or I don't answer. I can't take any more calls from those to whom we owe money." Mia stared at her hands.
Owe money? Caleb hadn't expected that. It threw him off, made him wonder if she was trying to con him. He decided to turn the conversation back to Lily because Mia had made a connection with her picture.
"Lily may eventually be adopted. First we have to sort out her custody and what she's owed from her father's estate." Caleb decided that while Mia might look innocent, she wasn't stupid. She immediately straightened.
"Mr. Grant," she began in a regal tone.
"Caleb," he interrupted.
"Caleb," she agreed softly. "You think my late husband is this child's father. I assure you you're wrong." She continued, her voice growing steadily stronger. "I don't have any money to give Lily. If I did, I would certainly help the poor child." She paused for a moment, then murmured, "I never knew Reba had a daughter, but then I didn't know Harlan's staff well."
"Lily was his child, too," Caleb insisted. A new stain of red flushed her cheeks, bringing his sympathy. If he'd known Mia was unaware of her husband's affair, he'd have handled this differently.
"I sympathize with Lily because as a child I lost my mother suddenly, too," she said, ignoring his remark. "But I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do for her. I owe money myself." The receding blush returned and deepened. She lowered her gaze.
"But, Mia, your husband's estate must be considerable." Caleb couldn't believe her temerity. He knew from his research that Granger was loaded. He'd dealt with many prevaricators in his career and was oddly disappointed to realize sweet-looking Mia was one of them. But that sweetness wouldn't stop him from seeking Lily's rightful inheritance.
"Why do you assume that?" Mia's gaze made him feel guilty for poking into her private world. "My husband was a lawyer, but we're certainly not wealthy. You can see how we live." She glared at him. "Harlan had to take whatever cases he was offered. In fact, he often had to go out of town to find work."
The certainty in Mia Granger's voice bothered Caleb. She looked and sounded as though she genuinely believed what she was saying. But if they were so hard up, why hadn't her husband moved his office from its expensive downtown location to a less pricey area?
"What about the ranch? There's a lot of land attached to that, valuable land." He studied her intently, surprised when her forehead furrowed.
"What ranch? Harlan and I were married for six years. We never owned a ranch." Caleb figured she saw something in his face, because the last of her words faltered before she whispered, "Have we?"
"What has your lawyer told you?" Caleb figured his best hope was to untie this mess without further alienating her.
"You mean Trent Vilang? Harlan's partner," she explained, as if Caleb didn't already know that. "I've been feeling unwell since Harlan's death, so Trent's only told me the bare bones about the estate."
"And that is?" For Lily's sake, Caleb pressed, ignoring her frown at his inquisitiveness.
"Trent said there was barely enough money to pay off the firm's bills and Harlan's cre—" Mia gulped. The sheen of tears washed her eyes, but she lifted her chin and finished with quiet dignity, "His cremation."
"I see." As Caleb's uncertainty mushroomed he glanced around, searching for a clue to his next step. His glance stalled on the oil painting over the fireplace. "Lovely painting. Who is it?" he asked, as if he didn't know.
"Your mother was Pia Standish?" He was speaking to the daughter of the woman he'd admired most of his life? Now nothing made sense.
"Did you know her?" Mia's curiosity was evident.
"I did." Caleb declined to discuss his childhood interaction with the legendary legal genius, but he couldn't suppress a smile remembering Pia's potent courtroom condemnation of his father. "I was her client once. I never forgot her."
"I never saw her at work, but I've heard she was a good lawyer." There was something wistful in Mia's voice. "Pia was beyond merely good," Caleb told her. "Her firm, Standish Law, was the biggest in the province. I remember seeing well-known people in her office."
"I used to think we were well off," Mia mused reflectively. "At first I thought that's why Harlan agreed to marry me."
"Excuse me?" Caleb stared at her. Who would need to be coerced to marry this lovely woman?
"I was seventeen and in boarding school when I was summoned home. My mother told me she'd been diagnosed with brain cancer. She told me that for my own protection I was to marry this lawyer who worked for her, Harlan Granger." Mia's voice faltered. "She said he'd take care of me."
"He was much older. Why would he agree?" Caleb asked.
"Money, I suppose. Harlan received my mother's law firm as a kind of dowry." Her green eyes grew troubled. "Mother had a nice house."
"I was there once." Caleb remembered his awe at visiting the huge mansion.
"Harlan sold it after she died," Mia said, staring at something Caleb couldn't see. "I thought it should have brought us plenty of money, but Harlan said Mother had run up large debts trying to find a cure. He sold the house to pay off what she owed." Her lips pinched together. "I was sorry to lose some of our things," she added in a small, hurt voice.
Mia's defenselessness, her sadness touched Caleb. He gave her time to regroup while he shot off a text message to his paralegal. Find out everything about Mia Standish Granger. Stat.
"That's why your claim is so incredible." Mia rose. "I've lived here since I married Harlan. We've had to be very frugal while he revived her firm. We— I'm not rich, Mr.
"Your mother didn't leave you any money of your own?" He searched her face, no longer certain she was lying.
"I'm afraid not. Everything goes to pay the bills." A tiny smile flitted across her incredibly beautiful face. "Would you like some tea?"
"I would. Thank you." Caleb hated tea, especially herbal tea, but he'd learned the fine art of pretending to drink it when his best friend Lara was alive, because she'd loved tea and he'd wanted to love her. It still rankled that he'd never felt the strong emotion for her that Lara claimed to feel for him, to realize that he couldn't love anyone because of what his father had done.
Caleb shoved those uncomfortable thoughts away and concentrated on Mia. She had to be pretending her marriage was solid, but he was determined she'd admit the truth before he left here, and if that required tea drinking, that was what he'd do.
"Let's go to the kitchen. It's warmer there." Mia waited for his nod, then led the way. "Have a seat," she invited as she pulled out a mismatched chair from the big oak table. "Do you have a particularly favorite tea? I have a good variety."
Caleb blinked when she opened a cupboard door to reveal neatly organized rows of small packages of tea. "Do you ever!"
"My stomach's been upset since Harlan—died." Mia regained her composure. "Trent's been a dear friend. He consulted an herbalist for me and brings home teas for me to try. They haven't helped yet, but... " She shrugged and smiled. "Take your time deciding which you'd like."
"Any kind is fine." A previous investigation on Trent Vilang had left Caleb with tons of questions. "Dear Trent" had befriended widows before and some of those ladies had become very ill. Caleb kept his reservations about the man to himself as Mia moved around her broken-down kitchen.
Anything that could sparkle in this room did, but the house and especially this kitchen needed to be gutted, and no amount of soap or elbow grease could fix that. Then suddenly, beyond the kitchen, he spied bright sunshine.
"Would you rather sit in the sunroom?" Mia asked, noting his interest. "It's quite warm today because the sun's out. That's when I love working there the most."
"What is your work?" Caleb's curiosity built. Her job was one detail he hadn't yet discovered. Mia looked too delicate for any kind of physical work. Cellist. Or maybe pianist, he guessed.
"Oh, it's nothing," she demurred.
Caleb thought that sounded like someone else's assessment. But he said nothing as she rinsed out a small brown china teapot.
"I dream up designs for quilt fabrics," Mia finally said almost apologetically.
"Oh." That fit, Caleb decided, then realized that though he'd just met Mia, he'd instinctively known that employment suited her. Getting too involved. Maintain your distance, his brain scolded. That was difficult to do with this intriguing woman.
"When my designs are incorporated into fabric, the company sends me a bolt of each. I then make up several quilts to feature various aspects of the fabric and how to use it. It's nothing like the law," she apologized. "Nothing at all like the important work Harlan did."
"Why should it be like his?" Caleb wished he'd met the man who'd made his wife feel that her work was trivial. "It's just as important to have beautiful things in the world as it is to have the law." She had the tray ready. "Can I carry something?"
"The tea?" Mia smiled her thanks and led the way into a sunroom that took his breath away. Vibrantly painted canvases lay sprawled around the room, flowers in riotous color, a seaside scene, the cool white on white of deepest winter. "I'm sorry it's so crowded. Harlan was always after me to stack these ...
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Book Description Love Inspired, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. New item. May have light shelf wear. Seller Inventory # 170410466
Book Description Love Inspired, 2015. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M037371923X