Authors: Loree Lough
Lily smiled at the young boy. “She’s absolutely right, Nate.”
“I’ve been asking God for a mom
. And when you found that dog? I talked to Him about that, too. No mom, no dog. ’Nuff said.”
“God doesn’t always answer with a ‘yes,’ Nate, but He always answers,” she explained. “Maybe he’s saying ‘Wait.’ When the time’s right, if it’s His will…”
“His will? What’s that?”
“Well, will is…it’s like a plan. Long before you were born, God knew you, knew what was best for you, too. And for as long as you live, He’ll do everything in His power to see that you have what you need.”
“What I need is a mom.” And under his breath, “Dog would be nice, too.”
Oh, if only
could fill that role! He was adorable, big-hearted, smarter than any four-year-old she’d ever met. And he was part of his father. No wonder she was crazy about him!
Steeple Hill Love Inspired
His Healing Touch
Out of the Shadows
An Accidental Hero
An Accidental Mom
A full-time writer for many years, Loree Lough has produced more than two thousand articles, dozens of short stories and novels for the young (and young at heart), and all have been published here and abroad. The award-winning author of more than thirty-five romances, Loree also writes as Cara McCormack and Aleesha Carter.
A comedic teacher and conference speaker, Loree loves sharing in classrooms what she’s learned the hard way. The mother of two grown daughters, she lives in Maryland with her husband and an old-as-dirt cat named Mouser (who, until she caught and killed her first mouse, had no idea what a rodent was).
I will sing the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth I will make known thy faithfulness to all generations.
To Larry, without whose patience and understanding my writing wouldn’t be possible;
to Elice and Valerie, my daughters and best friends.
Some of my all-time favorite poems and stories were composed by Henry van Dyke (1852–1933). The words of this gentle Pennsylvania-born man, who spent his life pastoring in New York and teaching English literature at Princeton, have been touching readers’ hearts since his first works were published.
I wish Max Sheridan, my hero in
An Accidental Mom,
had discovered van Dyke’s writings earlier; maybe then he wouldn’t have slipped so far from his Father’s guiding hand….
For the poet’s guileless words remind us how simple it is to invite God into our lives, how very eager He is to accept our invitation. Perhaps a word, a phrase from the quiet, thought-provoking verses would have spared Max years of cold, lonely searching.
If you, like Max, find yourself a little lost, a little too far from the restful solace of the Almighty’s embrace, do yourself a favor and read as many of Henry van Dyke’s poems and stories as you can get your hands on. I promise, you won’t regret it!
If you enjoyed
An Accidental Mom,
drop me a note c/o Steeple Hill Books, 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279. I love hearing from my readers, and try to answer every letter personally.
All my best,
he four-year-old wrapped an arm around his father’s leg. “Daddy,” he said, tugging at the pocket of his father’s sports coat, “why do people come to the simmy-terry?”
The day was as gray as Max Sheridan’s mood, and Nate’s questions did nothing to improve it. He looked into the innocent, brown eyes and smiled despite himself. Oh, but he loved this kid! “To visit loved ones, Nate. To pay our respects to people who have died.”
Nate knelt in the damp grass. One by one, he placed the white roses he’d chosen at the flower mart at the feet of the marble angel guarding his mother’s grave. “Mommy isn’t in there.” He spoke with conviction. “Only her bones. Her soul is in heaven with God.”
He stood and pressed close to his father. “Right, Dad?”
Max inhaled deeply. “Yes, Nate.” He’d told bedtime stories to soothe the boy to sleep; how different
white lie? He’d tried believing in God, in miracles. Well, if God truly existed and He could perform miracles, he and Nate wouldn’t be here at Melissa’s grave, now would they?
For a long time, Nate merely stared at the tombstone. “She isn’t cold, you know….”
Nate had been too young when Melissa died to have any real memory of her. He seemed to have no recollection of those bleak days in the funeral parlor, when friends and relatives speculated about why a beautiful woman with so much to live for would take her own life. If there had been a God to thank for that, Max would have prayed himself hoarse. Max had only brought Nate to Peaceful Gardens twice, and each visit inspired new curiosities—and childlike observations about death, dying and the afterlife—in his son.
“…because the tempa-chure in heaven is always a pleasant seventy-five degrees.” Nate’s beaming face told Max how proud he was to have remembered that tidbit of information.
Max chuckled. He was something else, this kid of his. “Where’d you hear that?”
“Gramma Georgia tol’ me so, on the phone yesterday when I tol’ her we were coming here to say goodbye to Mommy. She said Mommy will always be warm and happy, ’cause everything is
up in heaven.”
If God didn’t exist, then neither did heaven. But Max smiled. He saw no point in tarnishing the boy’s image of…things.
Even Max didn’t understand why, when in all other
areas he’d been a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is parent. Fairy tales were stories, nothing more. Santa and the Easter Bunny were invented to put money into the pockets of the greeting card manufacturers. The tooth fairy? The lazy parents’ way of coaxing their kids to brush and floss. Far better to extinguish his son’s belief in fantasies like that than to let him grow up and find out how painful and unrelenting the real world could be.
Strangely, though, he was less rigid when it came to matters of religion, spirituality and faith. If Nate wanted to attend Sunday school with his school chums, fine. If he wanted to tag along when the neighbors attended services, so be it. Nate got so much out of the whole “church thing” that Max couldn’t bring himself to put an end to it. Something, though, told him that the longer he waited to teach the boy the truth as he saw it, the more difficult it would be.
“Is Gramma full of beans?”
Laughing, Max took Nate’s hand. Where did the kid come up with this stuff? “’Course not, son.”
Nate’s face crinkled with confusion. “But, Dad, you said so yourself, just last night, ’member?”
Yes, he remembered, only too well. He’d been on the phone with his mother, discussing the trip to Amarillo, when she started with her usual “bless this” and “pray for that” nonsense. Max’s day had been bad enough to that point; being forced to listen to her spiritual malarkey was the proverbial straw on the camel’s already overloaded back. “If your precious Lord is so merciful,” he’d demanded, “why’d He allow Melissa to take her own life? Why’d He let
you—a woman who devoted her whole life to Him—break your leg?”
“I didn’t raise you to talk like that!” Georgia had scolded. And when she started praying for his salvation, he’d put a hand over the phone and closed his eyes. “Mom,” he’d muttered, “you’re full of beans.”
And that’s when he’d noticed Nate, standing in the doorway.
“I was only teasing,” Max had whispered past the phone’s mouthpiece. “Besides, Gramma didn’t hear me.”
But Nate’s doubting expression said he believed otherwise.
Now, Nate stood and brushed freshly mowed grass clippings from the knees of his jeans. “You gonna say goodbye to Mommy, Dad?”
Closing his eyes, Max held his breath and summoned the strength to go through the motions…for Nate. He’d tried to say goodbye to Melissa, for even as the EMTs struggled to save her, they’d known she was dying. Instead, he’d struggled to keep a lid on his temper. Max couldn’t remember being more angry with her. He hadn’t understood why she left Nate then, and he didn’t understand it now…nearly three years later.
The very people who, when he was a boy, taught him that suicide was one of the most grievous sins a human could commit, also believed that God in His heaven had total control over things on earth, that He loved every last person. If that was true, why did some of His “children” die of starvation, while others became victims of genocide and war? Why did
good people get cancer, while bad people robbed and raped and pillaged?
Despite all that, their simple faith seemed to bring them such joy, such solace. Nate—more than any of them, Max believed—deserved to grow up feeling that way. At least until life stepped in and taught him otherwise in its usual fist-to-jaw way.
“You gonna say a prayer for Mommy?”
Prayer. Of all the— Groaning inwardly, Max shaded his eyes. “Tell you what,” he said from behind his hand, “why don’t
say the prayer this time.”
“Me?” Nate’s brown eyes widened. “Thanks, Dad! I’ll do a good job. I promise.” He got down on his knees and bowed his head, then he closed his eyes and pressed both palms together, fingers pointing skyward. “God? It’s me, Nathan Maxwell Sheridan. Um, me an’ my dad won’t be comin’ to visit my mom here at the simmy-terry for a while, on accounta my gramma busted her leg an’—”
“Broke her leg,” Max corrected gently. He didn’t see much sense in correcting the “for a while” part.
“…on accounta Gramma broke her leg, an’ we’re going to Texas to take care of her ’til she can walk again. So, God? Could You do me a favor? I know my mom’s soul is up there in heaven with You, so maybe You could tell her not to worry ’bout her bones an’ her wedding ring an’ stuff while we’re gone, ’cause the men who work here take real good care of the place. Thanks.” Nate started to get up, then changed his mind. Eyes squinted tight-shut again, he added, “And, God? Please send another
wife for my dad…and a mom for me. We really,
need one. Amen.”
On his feet again, Nate put his hand into Max’s. “How was that, Dad? Did I do good?”
Max swallowed the hard lump that always formed in his throat when Nate prayed for a new mom. It was only natural, he supposed, that even though Nate didn’t remember Melissa, he’d yearn for a mother’s love. But he was doing okay by the boy, wasn’t he? Hadn’t he learned to cook—a little? Hadn’t he taught himself to do laundry—sort of? He’d figured out every gizmo on that fancy vacuum cleaner of Melissa’s—hadn’t he? And tough as it had been to go it alone, he hadn’t missed a single Parents’ Night at Nate’s school. What did they need a woman for!
Max hoisted his son, held him close. “You did great with that prayer, kiddo, just great. Now what-say you and I head over to the burger joint. We have enough time for chicken fingers and curly fries before we head out.”
Nate kissed Max’s cheek. “You’re the best, Dad. Almost as good as havin’ a mom
Almost as good,
but not quite.
Sad fact was, Nate would never have it “as good”—at least, not in the mom department, because Max had made a promise to himself when Melissa died.
And he aimed to keep it.
“Well, as I live and breathe,” Georgia said, slapping the arm of her wheelchair. “If it isn’t Lily London!”
“Oh, my!” Lily said, pointing at the woman’s cast. “What have you done to yourself?”
The redhead smiled. “One leg too few in a three-legged race?”
“Don’t let her pull
leg, Lily,” the fry cook called over the counter. “Genius Georgia was changing lightbulbs…on a stool with wheels.” He raised floured hands and shook his head. “Again!”
Georgia waved his comment away. “Oh, put a lid on it, Andy.” As an aside to Lily, she added in a loud whisper, “That man doesn’t know what he’s talkin’ about.”
“I know what I saw,” Andy argued.
Lily scooted a chrome and vinyl-padded chair nearer to Georgia’s wheelchair. “Is that cast as uncomfortable as it looks?”
“Nah. Hardest part about wearin’ this thing,” she said, knocking on the toes-to-thigh plaster, “is not being able to get around like I’d like to.”
“How long ’til you’re back on your feet?”
“Ten weeks. Eight, if I’m very, very good.” Georgia tucked a red curl behind her ear. “One good thing came of it, though.”
“In other words,” Andy tossed in, “ten weeks. Probably more!”
Georgia feigned a frown. “Funny man. Maybe we oughta get you a gig at the local comedy club.”
Lily helped herself to a cup of coffee. “Can I get you some?”
“Had my quota for the day, thanks.”
“So, what’s the ‘good thing’ to come of your broken leg?”
“Max is coming home,” Georgia said, beaming. “And he’s bringing little Nate with him!”
Lily felt as though her heart had plummeted into her stomach. Max? Coming back to Amarillo? She put her coffee on the counter, afraid her trembling might cause her to spill it. “When…um…when will Max be here?”
Georgia glanced at her wristwatch. “They called from the road not half an hour ago, so they should roll in here any—”
The door burst open and a small boy with curly brown hair exploded into Georgia’s diner. He was the spitting image of Max, right down to the adorable dimples bracketing his wide grin.
“Gramma!” he squealed, arms outstretched as he ran toward Georgia. “Gramma, we’re finally here!”
Georgia hugged him tight, then held his rosy-cheeked face in her hands. “Lemme have a look at my favorite grandson,” she said, pressing a noisy kiss to his chin.
Giggling, Nate said, “How can I be your favorite grandson when I’m your
grandson?” He swiped at the spot his grandmother had kissed. “And second, how can you have a look at me while you’re
His grandmother hugged him again. “Four-year-old genius,” she told Lily, “just like his daddy. Yes’m. That’s my boy!”
She glanced toward the door. “Speaking of which, where
“Parking the car.” Nate’s eyes widened. “You
should see all the squished bugs on the front bumper. Must be a million of ’em!”
As Georgia laughed, Lily smiled self-consciously. She had to get out of here, fast, because it would be only a matter of seconds before the genius’s father followed him into the diner. And she had no desire to see Max Sheridan again, not after—
“Actually,” Nate added, “it isn’t ’zactly a car. It’s an Ess Yoo Vee. It’s big and red, like a fire truck. He bought it right before you busted your leg.”
my leg,” Georgia corrected. “I still think you and your dad should have flown into town, saved all those hours on the road. Especially considering there’s a perfectly good car in the garage that he could’ve—”
“I’m a pencil pusher, not Mr. America,” interrupted a teasing baritone. “What makes you think I could steer that boat of yours?”
It was Max, looking more gorgeous than Lily remembered. Tall and broad-shouldered, he seemed more at ease with himself than when she’d last seen him, more manly and mature. Marriage had done that to him, she supposed. Marriage and fatherhood.
Lily swallowed the lump of jealousy that formed in her throat and asked God to forgive her pettiness, because much as she’d wanted to be the one at his side when those things happened, he’d chosen someone else.
“Max!” Georgia waved him over. “C’mere and give your old fat mama a great big hug!”
He crossed the room in three long strides and bent
to wrap his mother in a warm embrace. “First…you’re not fat.”
“I hope you’re gonna say ‘Second…you’re not old.’” She gave him a playful poke in the ribs.
“Do you see ‘Fool’ tattooed to my forehead?” He assumed a serious stance and a pious expression.
They enjoyed a laugh, then Georgia said, “You know my motto.”
“‘God and Nature have decreed that I will age,’” Max quoted, “‘…but I refuse to get
He crouched beside the footrest of her chair. “So, let’s have a look at this leg of yours.”
While Max inspected his mother’s cast, Lily did her best to sneak out of the diner unnoticed.
“Stop right there!” Georgia hollered.
Lily froze in her tracks, only too aware that all eyes were now on her. Caught in the act!
“Where d’you think you’re going, young lady? You can’t leave ’til you put your John Hancock on my leg!”
Feeling the heat of a blush creep into her cheeks, Lily moved woodenly toward the wheelchair. “Sorry,” she said, accepting Georgia’s felt-tipped pen. “Where would you like me to—”
“Daddy,” interrupted Nate’s hoarse whisper. He tugged at his father’s hand. “She’s
Lily chanced a quick glance in Max’s direction. Now he was blushing. Her heartbeat doubled when he met her eyes and smiled that oh-so-tantalizing half grin that had captivated her years ago. She’d changed a lot since he left for Chicago; she hoped he wouldn’t recognize her.
He got to his feet. “Lily? Lily London?”
she thought bitterly,
it’s me. The silly little twit who used to tag along behind you like a well-trained puppy, hoping for a pat on the head.
She plastered what she hoped was a sophisticated smile on her face and tried to sound composed.