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"If I had that window in my office, I wouldn't get any work done."
Trista Van Zandt glanced up from her homemade turkey and cheddar sandwich to smile at her tall blond sister-in-law who'd entered her office.
Kelly Van Zandt, beautiful in a rust-colored maternity dress that made the November leaves outside look drab in comparison, sat in one of the straight-backed chairs facing Trista's desk.
"It is lovely," Trista agreed. "Much better than the view of the parking lot I had in Richmond."
As a litigator for the law firm of Benson and Benson Trista's office on the fourth floor was small but had a nice view of the James River.
"One more good thing about you and Aidan moving here." Kelly smiled. "How is my nephew?"
Tenderness welled up in Trista's chest at the thought of her seven-month-old son, Aidan, who at the moment was safely at Chestnut Grove Child Care Center. "Adjusting well to day care. But anxious to see his new cousin."
Kelly rubbed her burgeoning belly. "Just a month to go."
Trista was glad that her brother's wife would have a calm and peaceful last month before giving birth, so unlike the final month of her own pregnancy. "Is everything okay?" she asked.
Kelly brushed back her thick blond hair and smiled. "Yes. I was out shopping for the baby the other day. I bought the cutest coming-home outfit in a neutral cream with bunnies, since I don't know if I'm bring home little Carissa or little Cameron. I'm so tempted to find out now what we're having."
"Don't. Believe me, the wait is worth it."
"So, how are you doing?" Kelly asked. Trista had been expecting the question. Ever since she'd arrived in town, her brother, Ross and his wife, Kelly, had made it their job to take care of her and Aidan. As if they had the time, what with running Tiny Blessings adoption agency, Ross's private investigation firm and their own baby's imminent arrival. Trista shrugged. "Same old, same old."
"That's what I was afraid of," Kelly grumbled.
Concern darkened Kelly's brown eyes. "I'm worried about you. You've done nothing but work and take care of Aidan. Why don't you let us babysit him this weekend while you go have some harmless fun?"
Trista mentally scoffed. Harmless fun wasn't something she had much experience with. Growing up in Brooklyn with alcoholic parents, she'd spent too much time running wild and getting in trouble. She always relied on her big brother to bail her out.
Once she'd realized the only way to find the security she'd lacked growing up was through her own determination and work, she'd applied herself to her studies.
She had an aptitude for litigation, and becoming a lawyer had seemed the best way to provide a stable life for herself. She'd be in control of her circumstances and have a decent salary. What more could she ask for?
But then she'd met Kevin Hughes at the end of her second year of law school and that blew having a stable life to pieces. She'd fallen hard for his charm and charisma and married him against Ross's advice.
Well, she'd learned her lesson.
Love and happily-ever-after, she decided, were unrealistic aspirations for her. Only a very few, like Ross and Kelly, ever obtained true happiness.
Now her life's goal was to provide a stable and secure home for her son. No matter what.
"You and Ross are the ones who should be going out now while you have the time," she stated. "Once the baby arrives, you'll understand why I choose to stay home at night with Aidan rather than doing anything else."
Kelly nodded in understanding. "Okay, then. How about joining Naomi's project?"
"Who is Naomi and what is her project?" Sitting forward with an eager expression, Kelly explained. "Reverend Fraser's wife, Naomi, created a Christian friends Web site called The Kingdom Room for singles so people all over the state can connect via the Internet. That would be a perfect way for you to get to know someone without having to go on dates."
Shaking her head, Trista stated, "I'm not looking for a relationship. Been there, done that and not doing it again."
"Oh, honey, don't let what happened with Kevin sour you on love. I know God has someone in mind for you."
Trista refrained from commenting on the ludicrous notion that God cared about her at all. If God thought anything about her it was that she wasn't worth His time.
Putting away the remnants of her lunch, Trista came around the square glass-topped desk. "Don't worry about me. I have Aidan and you and Ross. That's all I need."
Kelly sighed as she pushed up from the chair. "At least say you'll come to dinner on Saturday."
"Of course." Trista gave Kelly a quick hug. "But I'll cook for you."
Kelly grinned. "Your lasagna?"
Trista grinned back, liking the sense of being valued coursing through her. "If that's what you want."
Kelly nodded eagerly. At the door, she paused. "Just think about The Kingdom Room. You might actually enjoy it."
"I'll think about it," Trista said to appease her sister-in-law.
As soon as Kelly left, Trista returned to her desk and opened a file folder on a pending civil case, but her thoughts returned to Kelly's words. God has someone in mind for you.
She ran a hand through her dark hair, which she'd worn loose today, and tried to concentrate on the papers in front of her. She hated to admit it, but deep down inside she wished what Kelly had stated about God was true.
But it wasn't. Not for her.
She'd only leave herself open to hurt if she let such thoughts crowd her brain. Her gaze shifted away from the unread file and came to rest on her computer.
An online singles group? An interesting idea. But please! Some lonely hearts club was the last thing she needed in her life.
The first week of November was a busy time for assistant pastor Scott Crosby. Organizing a toy drive with the youth of Chestnut Grove Community Church took a great deal of patience and perseverance. Two things Scott struggled with.
Not that he minded pinch hitting for the Youth Minister, Caleb Williams. After all, serving the Lord was Scott's priority in life. And Scott didn't begrudge Caleb taking his family on vacation until after Thanksgiving.
The Youth Center buzzed with activity. Normally, the center resembled the inside of aYMCA, complete with an exercise room, a television room sporting comfy secondhand couches and beanbag chairs, an arts-and-crafts room with tons of supplies for the many art projects offered and a small cafeteria.
Today, however, the center looked more like Santa's workshop. The place was bursting with toys, wrapping paper, kids and what was Naomi's little dog doing?
Scott made a grab for the long-bodied, short-legged animal as it ran past him with a curly-haired doll hanging from its jaws. "Whoa, Buddy." He scooped up the dachshund. "That's not for you."
Fourteen-year-old Tiffany skidded to a halt beside him. Her freckled nose wrinkled up in exasperation. "He's such a rascal," she exclaimed and took the squirming dog from Scott.
As she held the animal in her plump arms, Scott pried the doll out of Buddy's mouth. Inspecting the doll, he shrugged. "Doesn't look too bad. His teeth didn't puncture the plastic."
"Hey, Pastor Scott, should we put together the tricycle?" Jeremy, the star athlete of the local high school, called from across the room.
Leaving Buddy to Tiffany's care, Scott waded through the mounds of toys and kids to where Jeremy and Billy stood beside an unopened box with the picture of a child's red trike on the front. Both boys wore what seemed to be the fad of the day, long basketball shorts and hooded sweatshirts.
"Hmm. Good question. Let me ask Naomi if she has a specific child in mind for this and get back to you. In the meantime, I think the tire store downtown still has a box for us to pick up. Take some bags with you so you can leave the box there. That way people can continue to donate."
Jeremy nodded and nudged Billy. "We'll take my truck."
Scott watched the boys leave. Pride filled his chest for the way the senior boy, Jeremy, was providing such a good role model for the younger, troubled Billy.
He glanced around and spotted the Reverend's wife. Skirting the mayhem in the middle of the TV room, Scott headed toward where she sat on the floor putting the finishing touches on a wrapped gift. Naomi's short-cropped red hair sported a paisley bandana that tied at the top, the ends of which poked straight up like dog ears. A few gray strands of hair reflected the overhead light.
Scott smiled with affection at the woman he considered to be a second mother rather than his superior's wife. "How are we doing over here?"
His gaze took in the stacks of pretty wrapped gifts surrounding Naomi and the two young girls sitting in a semicircle on the floor.
Naomi looked up, her vivid blue eyes twinkling. "Did you ever imagine we'd have this many gifts after only three days?"
Scott chuckled. "No. The generosity of this town is a blessing."
They'd only distributed the donation boxes to the many willing businesses around the community of Chestnut Grove the previous Friday night. Now on Monday afternoon, the outpouring of donations surprised them all.
This was a community of friends and family who pulled together to take care of each other. Scott felt blessed to be serving the Lord in Chestnut Grove. Here, at least, he was accepted, flaws and all.