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As a teenager, Annie had given up her baby, hoping he would have a better life. Now she had a second chance to be his mother. But when Annie's past was revealed, Jared's own experience with ...
As a teenager, Annie had given up her baby, hoping he would have a better life. Now she had a second chance to be his mother. But when Annie's past was revealed, Jared's own experience with abandonment made it hard for him to accept what Annie had done. Could his wounded heart find healing within his new family?
Annie Dawson sat alone in the crowded restaurant Today could very well change her whole life and bring her back into her little boy's life. Toby a child she'd thought she had given up forever.
What was he doing today? She looked out one of the large windows at the glorious sunlight, and blue sky in the distance. Was he outside right now playing with his brother and sister?
There wasn't anything more pretty, more filled with possibility, than the lazy days of an Australian spring.
Startled from her thoughts, she looked up at the sound of her name. Deep blue eyes, narrowed and questioning, surveyed her.
"It's been a long time." She shook the hand he held out to her. He pulled out a chair and sat down.
Jared Campbell hadn't changed a lot over the years.
His face still wore that serious look. Even as a boy he had seemed far too somber.
The dark suit was perfectly tailored. The shirt seemed even whiter against the bronze of his skin and the dark green tie was a conservative splash of color. From the top of his dark head to the tips of his shined shoes — about six foot four if she didn't miss her guess — he exuded the confidence of a man in total control of his world.
Clean-shaven, yet there was just a hint of five-o'clock shadow on his lightly tanned face. His hair, a deep brown with gold flecks scattered through it, was cut short on his neck.
She felt helplessly casual in her knee-length khaki skirt and plain white cotton blouse that buttoned down the front.
"I apologize for being late. There was an accident on the motorway and traffic was stopped for miles."
He filled her water glass and then his own from the crystal carafe on the table. He picked up his menu. "Would you like to order now?"
Annie nodded, ravenous despite the apprehension that twisted and tightened her stomach. In a few min-utes their waiter arrived, scribbling down their order before hurrying off.
"I'll admit right now I'm a little nervous," she said.
"There isn't anything to be nervous about," he replied calmly. "Just tell me about yourself."
She bit her bottom lip, wondering how it was that he didn't already know everything there was to know about her.
"You've lived in Guthrie all your life, Jared. I know how well the local grapevine works. You probably know all there is to know."
Being reminded of the life she had tried so hard to leave behind made her sad and angry. The sadness was a natural emotion. The anger was something altogether different. She struggled with it many times, calling on the Lord to help her let it go.
"Do you have any contact with your mother?"
"I haven't seen her in almost a year."
He frowned. "She doesn't visit you?"
"My mother spent years trying to forget I existed. Why would she be interested in me now that she isn't legally required to be?"
"She still drinks?"
"She did the last time I saw her," she said truthfully.
"It has ruled her life for as long as I can remember." Alcohol was the only friend and companion she could ever recall her mother wanting.
"I'd like to know why you agreed to do this. I'm not offering money and I know for certain what I'm getting out of the deal. But Lewis wouldn't reveal anything about your reasons for agreeing to marry me."
Annie smiled at the mention of their mutual friend, the lawyer who knew more about her than anyone alive.
"You know what my childhood was like. Just about everybody in the town knew. Do you remember all those times you'd come home from football practice and I'd be at your house?"
He nodded. "You were so quiet, you barely said two words."
"When your sister joined the Big Sisters' mentor program at school, she changed my life. I could look in her eyes and not see the pity I saw from others."
"Sara always had a big heart."
"She made me feel like I mattered. She was the sister I never had. Now I have a chance to do something for her."
He seemed to contemplate her answer for a few mo-ments. "I know from what Lewis told me that you attend church. Faith has always been important in my life. I attend church regularly. Sara and James made sure it was a part of the children's lives, too."
Annie liked the easy way he spoke about his faith. It was refreshing. Lately, professing it had become very out of fashion for a lot of people.
"Sometimes faith is all you have and then you realize it's the one thing that is always there that and hope."
He nodded. "So you feel at peace with your decision to marry someone you're not in love with?"
Annie had thought long and hard about that very thing. She had prayed to find the peace and resolve she now carried in her heart about it.
"Marriage is a partnership, as the ceremony says, not to be entered into lightly not to be falsified."
"There are some people who would agree that was what we were planning to do if they knew."
Annie clasped her hands together on her lap. "I believe our reasons for getting married are valid. We are trying to keep three children together in the only family environment they have ever known."
Annie wanted to do this she was meant to do this and not just because it would give her back the one person it had torn her heart out to be parted from.
"If we get married for the sake of the children, Jared, we're not mocking the sanctity of marriage. We aren't in love with each other, but we share a commitment to family and I'm sure we can be friends."
"Why do you feel so strongly about the kids?"
"Because of the childhood I had. I'm in a position to help them have a life that I wished for every day, and I want a family to care for," she said honestly.
"You sound very certain."
He looked at her as if seeing her in a new light.
"You're very young. Just twenty-one?"
Excerpted from Second Chance Mom by Mary Holder Copyright © 2005 by Mary Holder. Excerpted by permission.
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