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Authors: Irene Hannon

03_The Unexpected Gift

BOOK: 03_The Unexpected Gift
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“Have you always lived here?”
 

Grant shrugged. “Maine is home. I always knew it was where I belonged.”

“But didn’t you ever aspire to more?” Morgan asked.

“I have my faith, my family and work I love. What more is there?”

Morgan didn’t know how to respond to that. Grant seemed like a man who had found his place in the world and was content with it. There was no restlessness, no grasping, no struggle to meet some definition of worldly success. He was a man at peace with himself. She envied him that.

Morgan suddenly shivered, and she knew it was time to go. But she didn’t want to. Here, in this man’s presence, she felt a sense of calm, of caring, that was a balm to her soul. And she didn’t want the moment to end.

Books by Irene Hannon
 

Love Inspired

 

*
Home for the Holidays
#6

*
A Groom of Her Own
#16

*
A Family To Call Her Own
#25

It Had To Be You
#58

One Special Christmas
#77

The Way Home
#112

Never Say Goodbye
#175

Crossroads
#224


The Best Gift
#292


Gift from the Heart
#307


The Unexpected Gift
#319

IRENE HANNON
 

is an award-winning author who has been a writer for as long as she can remember. She “officially” launched her career at the age of ten, when she was one of the winners in a “complete-the-story” contest conducted by a national children’s magazine. More recently, Irene won the coveted RITA
®
Award for her 2002 Love Inspired book
Never Say Goodbye.
Irene, who spent many years in an executive corporate communications position with a Fortune 500 company, now devotes herself full-time to her writing career. In her “spare” time, she enjoys performing in community musical theater productions, singing in the church choir, gardening, cooking and spending time with family and friends. She and her husband, Tom—whom she describes as “my own romantic hero”—make their home in Missouri.

 
IRENE HANNON
 
THE UNEXPECTED GIFT
 

 

Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you.


Isaiah
54:10

To the many special friends who have supported my writing career through the years—especially Caroline, Janice, Jo Ann and Lori—and to all of the readers who have taken the time to write me such wonderful, heartwarming letters. I read them all.
Thank you!

 
Prologue
 

M
organ Williams frowned as she read the e-mail message on her Blackberry. Great. Just great. Her newest client at the agency was requesting a meeting first thing tomorrow to discuss ideas for the next ad campaign. Unfortunately, Morgan didn’t have any. She’d been too busy with Aunt Jo’s funeral to give the campaign more than a passing thought. Which wasn’t good. And would not be looked upon kindly by her superiors. In her world, work came first. Period. To paraphrase the postal service motto, nothing—neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet…nor a funeral—should keep her from her appointed task. Not when she had her eye on a top spot in the firm.

Her frown deepened, and she typed in a reply, asking if the meeting could be delayed a day. Even then, she’d be scrambling for ideas. But she’d come through. She always did. That’s why she was on the fast track.

Morgan finished the e-mail and hit Send. As she leaned against the plush back of the settee in the attorney’s elegant waiting room, she glanced impatiently at her watch. “I wish he’d hurry. I have a plane to catch.”

A.J. turned from the window, which framed a row of flame-red maples against a brilliant St. Louis late-October sky. “Chill out, Morgan,” she advised. “The advertising world can live without you for a few more hours.”

Shooting her younger sister an annoyed look, Morgan rummaged in her purse for her cell phone. “Trust me, A.J. The business arena is nothing like your non-profit world. Hours do matter to us. So do minutes.”

“More’s the pity,” A.J. responded in a mild tone, turning back to admire the view again. “Life is too short to be so stressed about things as fleeting as ad campaigns.”

Morgan opened her mouth to respond, but Clare beat her to it. “Don’t you think we should put our philosophical differences aside today, in respect for Aunt Jo?” she interjected in a gentle, non-judgmental tone.

Morgan and A.J. turned in unison toward their older sister, and A.J. grinned.

“Ever the peacemaker, Clare,” she said, her voice tinged with affection.

“Somebody had to keep the two of you from doing each other bodily harm when we were growing up,” Clare said with a smile. “And since I was the only one who didn’t inherit mom’s McCauley-red hair—and the temper that went with it—I suppose the job had to fall to me.”

A.J. joined Morgan on the couch. “Okay. In honor of Aunt Jo, I declare a truce. How about it, Morgan?”

Hesitating only a second, Morgan ditched her cell phone in her purse. “Truce,” she agreed with a grin. “Besides, much as I hate to admit that my kid sister is sometimes right, I am occasionally guilty of taking my job too seriously.”

“Occasionally?” A.J. rolled her eyes.

“Enough, you two,” Clare admonished with a smile.

“Okay, okay,” A.J. said with a laugh. “I bet you whip those kids into shape whenever you substitute-teach. In a nice way, of course. Their regular teacher is probably astounded at their good behavior when she gets back.”

Her smile fading, Clare looked down to fiddle with the strap on her purse. “I do my best. But I still have a lot to learn. It’s been so many years since I taught…it’s harder some days than others.”

A.J. and Morgan exchanged a look. “Hang in there, Clare,” Morgan said. “We’re here for you.”

“It does get easier. Not overnight. But bit by bit. Trust me,” A.J. added, her own voice a bit uneven.

As Clare reached over to squeeze A.J.’s hand, Morgan looked from one sister to the other. Both had known their share of trauma. More than their share, in fact. Yet they’d carried on, with courage and strength. She admired them for that, more than words could say. And she was also glad they were family. Because even though they had their differences, one thing remained steady. They always stood together, like the Three Musketeers—one for all and all for one. It gave Morgan a sense of comfort to know that her sisters loved her just as she was, and that she could count on them if she ever needed their support or help.

But she hadn’t done much in recent years to earn their love, she acknowledged. She kept in touch, but her contact with them was sporadic at best. A call here or there, a card on special occasions. Which wasn’t enough. Family was important, after all. And with Mom and Dad gone they were all she had now. On occasions like this when they were all together, Morgan was reminded that she should make more of an effort to keep their bond strong. And each time, she left with good intentions of staying in closer contact. But the demands of her career always undermined her resolution.

The door to the inner office opened, interrupting her thoughts, and the sisters turned their heads in unison toward Seth Mitchell.

For a long moment the distinguished, gray-haired attorney standing in the doorway studied Jo Warren’s three great-nieces with a look Morgan recognized at once. She’d seen it often enough in the business world. He was sizing them up. And Seth Mitchell was good at it. He didn’t reveal a single emotion as he took in A.J.’s long, unruly strawberry-blond hair, eclectic attire and interested expression. When he looked at her, Morgan was sure he noticed the sleek, shoulder-length style of her copper-colored hair, her chic business attire and her impatient expression. As for Clare—no doubt she fared the best, Morgan concluded. Her honey-gold hair, which was swept back into an elegant chignon, complemented her designer suit and Gucci purse. But did he also notice the deep, lingering sadness in her older sister’s eyes?

She didn’t have time to wonder, because he moved toward them. “Good morning, ladies. I’m Seth Mitchell. I recognize you from Jo’s description—A.J., Morgan, Clare,” he said, identifying the sisters in turn as he extended his hand to each. “Please accept my condolences on the loss of your aunt. She was a great lady.”

They murmured polite responses, and he motioned toward his office. “If you’re ready, we can proceed with the reading of the will.”

He didn’t speak again until they were all seated, at which point he picked up a hefty document. “I’ll give each of you a copy of your great-aunt’s will to take with you, so I don’t think there’s any reason to go through this whole document now. A lot of it is legalese, and there are some charitable bequests that you can review at your leisure. I thought we could restrict the formal reading to the section that affects each of you directly, if that’s agreeable.”

“Absolutely,” Morgan replied. “My plane for Boston leaves in less than three hours. I know Clare needs to get back to Kansas City, and A.J. has a long drive to Chicago.”

Seth looked at the other two sisters. When they nodded their assent, he flipped through the document to a marked page and began to read.

“‘Insofar as I have no living relatives other than my three great-nieces—the daughters of my sole nephew, Jonathan Williams, now deceased—I bequeath the bulk of my estate to them, in the following manner and with the following stipulations and conditions.

“‘To Abigail Jeanette Williams, I bequeath half ownership of my bookstore in St. Louis, Turning Leaves, with the stipulation that she retain ownership for a minimum of six months and work full-time in the store during this period. The remaining half ownership I bequeath to the present manager, Blake Sullivan, with the same stipulation.

“To Morgan Williams, I bequeath half ownership of Serenity Point, my cottage in Seaside, Maine, providing that she retains her ownership for a six-month period following my death and that she spends a total of four weeks in residence at the cottage. During this time she is also to provide advertising and promotional assistance for Good Shepherd Camp and attend board meetings as an advisory member. The remaining half ownership of the cottage I bequeath to Grant Kincaid of Seaside, Maine.

“To Clare Randall, I bequeath my remaining financial assets, except for those designated to be given to the charities specified in this document, with the stipulation that she serve as nanny for Nicole Wright, daughter of Dr. Adam Wright of Hope Creek, North Carolina, for a period of six months, at no charge to Dr. Wright.

“Should the stipulations and conditions for the aforementioned bequests not be fulfilled, the specified assets will be disposed of according to directions given to my attorney, Seth Mitchell. He will also designate the date on which the clock will begin ticking on the six-month period specified in my will.’” Seth lowered the document to his desk. “There you have it, ladies. I can provide more details on your bequests to each of you individually, but are there any general questions that I can answer?”

“Well, I might as well write mine off right now,” Morgan said in disgust. “There’s no way I can be away from the office for four days, let alone four weeks. And what is Good Shepherd Camp?”

“Who is this Dr. Wright?” Clare asked. “And what makes Aunt Jo think he would want me as a nanny?”

“When can I start?” A.J. asked.

“Let me take your questions and comments one at a time,” Seth said. “Morgan, you have the right to turn down the bequest, of course. But I would advise you to get some legal and financial counsel first. Jo bought that property years ago, when Seaside was just a quiet, backwater village. The area is now a bustling tourist mecca. So her property has increased significantly in value. As for how to meet your aunt’s residence stipulation—I’m afraid I can’t advise you on that. Good Shepherd is a summer camp in Maine for children from troubled homes. Your aunt has been involved with the organization for many years.”

He went on to answer Clare’s and A.J.’s questions, but Morgan tuned him out. This was so like Aunt Jo, she fumed. In life, she hadn’t approved of Morgan’s single-minded pursuit of success. In death, she’d done her best to derail it. In all honesty, Morgan hadn’t even expected to be remembered in her great-aunt’s will. Until Seth Mitchell had called to tell her she was a beneficiary, she’d expected nothing more than a cursory remembrance of some sort, if that. Instead, it sounded as if she’d been left a windfall. With strings. Strings that would require her to juggle the demands of her career with Aunt Jo’s stipulations.

It was not a task she relished.

Seth paused, and she tuned him back in when he began speaking again. “Let’s officially start the clock for the six-month period on December 1. That will give you about a month to make plans. Now, are there any more general questions?”

The three women looked at him, looked at each other, then shook their heads

“Very well.” He handed them each a manila envelope. “But do feel free to call if any come up as you review the will more thoroughly.” He rose, signaling the end of the meeting, and extended his hand to each sister in turn. “Again, my condolences on the death of your great-aunt. Jo had a positive impact on countless lives and will be missed by many people. I know she loved each of you very much, and that she wanted you to succeed in claiming your bequests.

“Good luck, ladies.”

As Morgan followed her sisters from the office, Seth Mitchell’s final words echoed in her mind. Luck would help, of course.

But she knew it was going to take a whole lot more than that for her to find a way to claim her inheritance.

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