Authors: Carol Henry
Tags: #Romance, #single mother, #spicy, #Contemporary, #christmas
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Nothing Short of a Miracle
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Carol Henry
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Champagne Rose Edition, 2013
Digital ISBN 978-1-62830-108-3
Published in the United States of America
Nothing Short of a Miracle is dedicated to
my very own Hero—my husband, Gary.
To a fantastic editor, Ally Robertson:
thanks for your continued support and friendship.
The local high school chorus’ catchy old-fashioned Christmas Carols filled the food court as Gabriella wheeled baby Nina in the small stroller past the grandstand. A backdrop of dark red Poinsettias stacked in layers formed a twelve-foot tall tree-like display behind the singing group. Greenery, gold and red ribbons, and large round shiny ornaments were strung everywhere. Scents of cinnamon drifted from the corner bakery. The chorus burst into a new refrain, while a pianist accompanied the cheerful group.
Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a halfpenny will do, if you haven’t got a halfpenny, God bless you.
Great. She didn’t have a single penny to spare to put in anyone’s hat, let alone one of the many Salvation Army’s red pots stationed at the entrances of the mall and dotting Ithaca’s business-lined city streets.
She wheeled Nina out of the mall into the cold winter weather, winding their way in between shoppers coming and going in the packed parking lot. Horns blared. Disgruntled drivers yelled as they waited for parking spots. Shopping carts blocked the way of others trying to fit in around empty spaces. Gabriella dodged Nina’s stroller laden with her purchases through the slush around two teenaged girls giggling and texting on their cell phones.
Oh, to be so young and carefree again. Gabriella sighed. Single motherhood hadn’t figured into her well thought-out career plans.
Gabriella tucked Nina in the back car seat, then opened the Saturn’s trunk and transferred the formula, disposable diapers, and a new pink baby sleeper she’d found on sale. She folded the stroller and stashed it in the trunk. Her fingers were half frozen by the time she finished and got inside her vehicle.
Although they’d only been inside the mall a short time, it was long enough for the car to have cooled down. She inserted the key in the ignition, hoping to get the heater going right away. The engine coughed, sputtered, and quit.
She tried again. This time the motor kicked in and the car purred with a slight hiccup. Gabriella tilted her head heavenward and sent up a silent prayer of thanks.
She looked over her shoulder at her niece, now snoozing away as peaceful as you please. “Not your fault, sweetheart. We’ll make it somehow, Nina, just bear with me. I’ll do the best I can. I promise.”
Gabriella took her time backing out of the parking space, wound the car through the mêlée of holiday shoppers, and left the mall behind. Already store windows were crammed full of holiday decorations and gifts—evergreens, ribbons, bows in varying shades of red, maroon, green, gold, and silver. Gold bells dangled everywhere. Gabriella turned down Hanshaw Road where large old homes were bedecked for the season. She made an effort to soak in some of the Christmas spirit surrounding all of Ithaca in order to get her mind off her dilemma. But no matter how hard she tried, it only served to remind her that her sister and brother-in-law had perished in a fatal car crash. Nina, thankfully, had been at the babysitter’s. With no other relatives to care for her, Gabriella didn’t hesitate to insist she was the best choice to raise her niece. Dealing with the grief of her sister’s death was overwhelming enough, but to have an unanticipated baby to care for made things more difficult. And if she didn’t get a grip on her situation soon, there would be no sugarplums dancing in hers or Nina’s heads this Christmas.
Tears sprang to her eyes, blurring her vision. Gabriella took a deep breath and wiped them aside. She had Nina’s welfare to think of now. As a mature graduate student working on her master’s degree, funds were low. She had to deal with the legalities, as well as the care and financial support of caring for her precious niece.
And, she had to face Charles. They had been a couple for almost a year, both of them falling into the relationship first as friends, then romantically. Charles Denton was levelheaded—a stickler for details, and determined to prove to himself and his family that he had what it took to be the best business CEO at his family’s firm. To help keep him centered on his business degree, his family had purchased an old Victorian home for him to live in while he concentrated on his studies instead of wasting money on rent. Gabriella was impressed with Charles’ drive, and the fact that he found time to spend with her, take her to concerts, plays, and escort her to seminars they both found interesting. Certainly he would be able to help her with a small loan until all the financial ramifications of her sister’s estate and the adoption papers for Nina could be worked out and finalized.
Gabriella parked in the circular drive in front of Charles house and stepped from the car. She lifted the carry seat and the sleeping baby from the back, adjusted the seat into a carrier, squared her shoulders, and climbed the few steps to the front door. The old Victorian home was in the Heights and the only one on the block not decorated for the holiday season. Not that she expected a man living alone to decorate, but a welcoming wreath on the front door would have been a nice touch.
A chill ran down her neck and shoulders, which had nothing to do with the cold winter weather. She wasn’t looking forward to having this conversation with Charles. Still, she had no one else to turn to. She had no reason to believe he would be anything other than understanding and supportive. After all, it was only a small loan. They were a couple—couples helped each other in times of need. She needed a loan.
Heart heavy, she rang the bell and griped the handle on Nina’s car seat. She waited a minute longer before ringing the bell again. Charles answered the door on the second ring. Gabriella took heart at his smiling face, his sparkling eyes.
A good sign. A very good sign.
“Hi, Charles, I’m glad I caught you home. Do you have a minute?”
He leaned in to kiss her, caught himself, and jerked back as if he’d received an electrical shock.
“I see you brought your new charge with you.”
His monotone startled her. His smile disappeared—his compressed lips looked painful. Definitely not the welcome she’d expected.
“Well, you might just as well bring her in out of the cold,” he said. “I don’t want to be accused of causing her to catch a cold.”
Her spirits plummeted at his sour tone. He stepped aside and held the door open. Gabriella didn’t know if she should enter, but she had to get Nina in out of the weather.
“Is this a bad time? Should I come back later?”
Charles had seemed preoccupied the last couple of months, not really giving her the cold shoulder, but near enough that she was beginning to wonder if she’d said or done something wrong to make him act so distant.
“No, no. You’re here. Come on in.” His entire body stiff as a post, he headed through the well-lit foyer down a spacious hallway assuming she’d followed. Charles all but scuffed his feet as he made his way across the plush carpet toward the sitting room. Gabriella slipped out of her ankle-high, fur-lined rubber boots, and padded behind him down the hall in bright red and green holiday socks. If she wasn’t in such dire-straights, she’d turn around and leave.
A fire blazed in the marble fireplace on the far wall—warm, cozy. However, not a stocking hung anywhere—not even a single piece of greenery in sight. Had Charles’ home always held this cold and uncaring aura? Just like Charles now? Without unbundling Nina, Gabriella settled the carry seat on the floor next to a chair. Nina slept on, unaware of the tension surrounding them.
Charles stared down his long, straight turned-up nose at Nina as if she had a messy diaper. But Nina was lotioned, powdered, and wrapped in clean, scented blankets. Gabriella’s heart smiled just thinking about the cute infant who now belonged to her since her sister and brother-in-law’s fatal car accident. Or soon would be legally hers once she found the funds to pay for the legal documents to finalize Nina’s adoption papers. The warm fuzzy feelings inside gave her the courage she needed to face Charles and his odd behavior. From the way he carried on, however, she wasn’t sure there was ever going to be a good time to approach him.
Charles, hands in his perfectly creased black slacks’ pockets, strode across the room to the fireplace, where he stopped and stared into the flickering flames. Again, she had the strongest urge to grab Nina and flee. Her feet refused to listen, however, and she stood rooted to the floor. Was she reading too much into Charles’ behavior? Perhaps he was just having a bad day? Too much on his mind, preparing for the semester’s finals.
Silence filled the room. The wood in the fireplace crackled and flames spit against the screen. Gabriella jumped at the popping sound as it echoed around the enclosed room. She waited for Charles to say something—anything. But he remained silent. She grew tired of being ignored. She sighed. It was past time to leave.
“I’m sorry I bothered you, Charles. I can see something has upset you. I’ll come back another time.”
“Don’t be absurd. Of course you’re not bothering me.” He faced her. “Why would you assume I wasn’t happy to see you?”
Why indeed? Did he not have a clue as to how preoccupied he’d been lately? Today? How cold and uncaring?
“You don’t appear very happy to see me. Did I catch you in the middle of something?”
“No. I apologize.” He waved his hands in the air toward the couch. “Where are my manners? Here, let me take your coat. Come sit down. Would you like something to drink?”
His invitation stung of formality. Was he always this formal and she hadn’t noticed? Her heart sank. She needed his help. It was now or never. She had to swallow her pride—stand her ground.
“I need a favor, Charles. A small loan. Five-hundred dollars. I’ll pay you back as soon as I get things squared away…”
“Money?” he hissed before she could finish. “You want me to loan you money?”
Gabriella flinched at his frigid tone. She couldn’t be more shocked if he’d slapped her.
Oh. My. God. Where had this stranger come from?
He’d never raised his voice at her before. Never. And he’d never shown any signs of having such a horrible temper.
Nina whimpered. Gabriella ran to her side, kneeled down to make sure she was okay. She longed to pick her up, soothe her. Nina’s lips made a cute sucking noise, emitted a deep breath and settled contentedly without a whimper. Gabriella couldn’t help but smile. She took a few seconds to clear her confused brain before slowly rising and facing Charles again. She looked into cold, dark emotionless eyes glaring back at her as if she had two heads and had just presented him with a ransom note for a million bucks instead of asking for a measly five-hundred dollar loan.
“I’m not asking you to
it to me, Charles, just
it to me. I…”
“I suppose it has something to do with you becoming the mother of a three-month old?” He cut her off, pointing at Nina.
Whoa. Who was this man who stood in front of her with his hands on his hips, his stance defensive?
His jaw jutted forward?