CALEB’S CHRISTMAS WISH – West Coast Happily-Ever-After, Book III
How far would you go for the sake of a child?
Black Friday. Black ice. Lives changed in a blink.
The lines in Miami financier Jake Westin’s world are crisp and easy to delineate: black and red, profit and loss. On paper. Until the day after Thanksgiving when Allison Jeffries—a woman he’s heard about for four and a half years but never met—calls to tell him the world they’ve shared from opposite sides of the country will never be the same. Pam and Kenny Rydell—Jake’s best friend and only link to the “bad ol’ days” of his youth—died in a car accident on the way to a Sierra ski resort, leaving their son, Caleb, with his grandmother, who upon hearing the news of her only daughter’s death went into cardiac arrest. In an instant, Caleb’s godparents—two grieving strangers who never imagined the worst-case scenario becoming a reality—must decide how to best care for the little boy they both love.
Jake is determined to do the right thing for Caleb—even if that means facing demons from his own loss-filled childhood and dealing with the woman Kenny called “a sweetheart but wound too tight for her own good.” Allison suffers no illusion that she’d make a good mother. After all, hasn’t she let her computer business fill the gap left by a failed marriage and aborted pregnancy? But she’ll do anything in her power to give her godson the life Pam intended for her son—even if that means sharing a house with the charismatic stranger Pam teasingly called “Jake the Rake–a broken heart waiting to happen.”
FIRST KISS Excerpt © Debra Salonen:
“I’m home. And I have pizza.”
Allison’s cheerful greeting made Jake want to crawl under the table. She’d been working in Fresno all day while he and Caleb had delivered canned goods, done a little Christmas shopping and taken a nap. Now, instead of giving his partner some much-needed down time, he was leaving her alone to care for a rowdy little rascal who refused to bathe.
“Ummm, pizza,” Caleb cheered, racing past Jake to meet her at the back door. “I want pizza. I want pizza.”
Jake hurried after him. Even though he felt guilty about leaving, Jake rationalized that this outing wasn’t entirely his fault. He’d been coerced by Richard, who wanted to introduce Jake to the volunteer firemen. The group planned to honor Kenny at a memorial next month and needed Jake’s input.
“Let me help,” Jake said, hurrying to relieve Allison of a plastic bag obviously filled with a six-pack of cans.
“Thanks,” she said. “The handle was cutting off circulation to my fingers.” She shook her hand then walked to the kitchen counter where she placed a large cardboard box and a paper sack.
“So how did we do today?” she asked, stealing a piece of pepperoni off the pie. “Cans galore?”
“We topped last year’s total by how much, Caleb?”
“Six million,” the little boy said, taking the paper plates and napkins out of the sack.
“Six hundred,” Jake corrected, trying not to laugh.
“Wow,” Allison exclaimed. She hung up her coat and washed her hands. “That’s impressive. How ’bout money-wise?”
“Eight trillion dollars,” Caleb said his eyes aglitter.
Jake loved to see his godson joke. This was the child he remembered from summer. Jake extended his arms in an impression of Frankenstein and ambled toward the little boy. “How much?” he roared.
“Eight thousand,” Caleb squealed, dodging left when Jake lurched right. Napkins flew into the air. Allison tried to catch them and wound up tripping over Jake’s foot. His only recourse to prevent her from falling was to snatch her into his outstretched arms, which curled backwards without conscious thought.
“Oh,” Allison said, with a small exhale. Her face was close to Jake’s. Her breath carried the tangy scent of pepperoni.
“Eiou,” Caleb cried, ducking behind the paper plates he still held. “Kissing. Just like Mommy and Daddy.”
Allison righted herself almost immediately and stepped back. “Sorry.”
“No apology needed. It was my fault.”
Caleb yanked on Jake’s pocket. “You didn’t kiss her.”
“Well, no…I…um.” Jake felt his face heat up. He was rarely speechless, but this was definitely one of those times.
“Shall we eat?” Allison asked, her voice wobbly. “I’m starved.”
Caleb tugged again and motioned Jake to bend down for a private chat. In a loud whisper, the child said, “You have to kiss her. Girls like kisses. We can’t lose another mom, Jake.”
Jake’s breath left him. He put his hand to his face and squeezed the bridge of his nose to keep his tears at bay.
Suddenly, he sensed Allison’s presence. She picked up Caleb and put her free arm around Jake’s back to pull him into a hug. “Everybody likes kisses,” she said softly. She pressed her lips to his cheek, and then did the same to Caleb.
The child hugged her fiercely then wiggled free. “Can I have chocolate milk with my pizza?”
Allison smiled. “Sure. There’s a carton in the door of the fridge.”
Her arm was still touching him. Her warmth enveloped him. Her scent made his mouth water. Girls weren’t the only ones who liked kisses. He lowered his head and touched his lips to hers. She gave a startled peep but didn’t move away. He kissed her again, his tongue teasing her lips that parted hesitantly.
The whooshing sound of the refrigerator door closing made her jump back. Her expression was unreadable, but her blush told him she was embarrassed and regretted the kiss. Jake wished he did, but in all honesty, he wanted more.
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