The lines in Miami financier Jake Westin's world are crisp and easy to delineate: black and red, profit and loss, single and planning to stay that way. 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.
Kenny Rydell—Jake's best friend and only link to the "bad ol' days" of his youth—and wife Pam died in a car accident on the way to a Sierra ski resort, leaving their son, Caleb, with his grandmother, who suffered a heart attack upon hearing the news.
Lives changed in a blink.
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. The confirmed "rake" and the computer "geek" call a truce to survive the holidays, but no one expects them to fall in love --except, possibly Caleb.
How far would you go for the sake of a child?
CALEB'S CHRISTMAS WISH is Book 3 in the WEST COAST HAPPILY-EVER-AFTER series. If you're a fan of true-to-life romance with believable characters in settings you'll want to add to your bucket list, you'll love this action-packed series from Debra Salonen—past winner of Romantic Times Reviewer's Career Achievement "Series Storyteller of the Year" award.
"Debra Salonen captures reader attention with multifaceted characters, layered conflict and fast pacing." —Pamela Cohen, Romantic Times
Read an Excerpt
Caleb's Christmas Wish
By Debra Salonen
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"HELLO? Is this Allison Jeffries?"
"Yes, this is Allison," she answered, still looking at the Gordian knot of printer, speaker, keyboard and mouse cords she'd been attempting to make sense of.
"What can I do for you?"
"Ma'am, this is Officer Deese with the Madera County Sheriff's department. I'm at the home of Kenneth and Pamela Rydell in Coarsegold. Mrs. Rydell's mother asked me to give you a call. Would it be possible for you to come here right away?"
A jangle of apprehension rushed through her. She swallowed. "Why? What's happened?"
"There was a traffic accident this morning about five miles east of Shaver Lake."
"Kenny and Pam were hurt?"
"I'm sorry. They didn't make it. Black ice. A three-car pileup. The victims' car was in the middle."
Pam and Kenny?
She wanted to argue with him. To tell him he was wrong. She'd just spent yesterday - Thanksgiving - with her two closest friends. They couldn't be ...
She closed her eyes and swallowed twice to keep the contents of her stomach in her stomach. She tried to speak, but the only word that came out was, "No!"
"Allison? You're white as a sheet. What is it?"
Allison lifted her gaze from the swirling print on the carpet of MaryZirandervon's home office and blinked to focus on the woman facing her. Her client. A job that ten seconds earlier had seemed the most important thing in her world. Making money. Meeting payroll. Worrying about the loan she owed her parents. That was Allison's life. Her narrow little life that was brightened immeasurably by her best friend and former college roommate Pam Rydell.
She shook her head to chase away what the officer had said. Pam wasn't dead. She was alive. Laughing. Teasing. Skiing. She was up on the slope at Sierra Summit right this instant. Someone else had been in that middle car. Pam was generous to a fault. Maybe she'd lent her car to someone who'd needed it.
"It's a mistake," she said, partly to Mary, partly to the man on the phone.
"The accident took place around seven," the deputy said. "It took us awhile to identify all the victims."
Holding fast to her sliver of hope, she asked, "Are you sure it was the Rydells? Kenny owns a car dealership. He sometimes drives different cars. And Pam might have lent ..."
The officer didn't let her finish. His voice sounded weary. "Ma'am, the Jeep was registered to the driver. And the passenger lived long enough to give the rescuers her name."
Allison's knees buckled. She'd have dropped to the floor in a heap if Mary hadn't rushed forward and helped her onto the desk chair.
Tears swamped her vision. Her throat closed and for a minute she couldn't draw a breath. She shook her head back and forth, struggling to ward off the bad news that still rang in her ears. "No," she said again. Too loud. The word echoed in the elegantly appointed room, bouncing off the windows that were shrouded by gray fog. Up in the mountains where Pam and Kenny had been headed, the sun would be shining. The air, crisp and clean. The snow brilliant. The black ice deadly.
Mary took the phone from Allison's numb fingers and spoke in a low, urgent tone that added to Allison's turmoil. She needed to do something. Feel something. Act. But all she could do was sit in the plush leather chair and moan.
At least, she assumed the low mewling sound was coming from her. But how was that possible? She wasn't the kind of woman who fell apart in an emergency. Just ask Pam.
"You're my rock," Pam often said. "Aren't you the one who held my hand through my Cesarean after Kenny passed out?"
Allison's lips twitched at the memory. She and Pam had bonded the first day of college. Roommates as different as the worlds they'd come from - Allison, a farm girl from Minnesota, Pam a beauty queen from Detroit. But at the core, they were sisters. Allison was godmother to Pam and Kenny's son, Caleb.
"Oh, my God," Allison cried, shooting to her feet.
She snatched the phone away from Mary and shouted into the receiver, "Tell me their son wasn't in the car with them." Under her breath, she prayed, "Please, God, please, God, please, God." Last night, Pam had still been undecided about whether to take the four-and-a-half year-old.
"He loves the snow," Pam had said right before Allison left. "But Kenny and I need some time together. You know how hectic the holidays get. My canned-food drive at Rydell Motors kicks off next week, and Caleb's program at preschool is coming up."
Full, fat and happy from turkey and all the trimmings, Allison hadn't paid very close attention to the final verdict. Blissfully content from a day of feasting, hiking and playing games with her best friends, Allison hadn't felt the slightest premonition that it might be the last time she'd see her friend alive.
She held her breath - frozen in agony - until the man said, "If you're referring to a cute little towhead with a big truck in his hand, he's right here with his grandmother. Mrs. Wells is ... um, naturally this came as a huge shock. She should have someone with her. When I asked who to call, she gave me your number."
Caleb was okay. Relief shot Allison to a momentary crest. Thank God. Thank you, thank you, thank you. She tried to say the words aloud, but was too overcome to speak. A fresh rush of tears blinded her to everything but the phone she grasped. All she could do was nod in response to Mary's silent query.
"Praise the Lord," Mary said, hugging Allison. A second later, the woman dashed from the room, returning almost immediately with a fistful of tissues.
"Here," she said, forcing a wad into Allison's immobile fingers.
Allison leaned her hip against the desk to stay upright and mopped her face the best she could. "Thank you," she finally managed to choke out.
"Yes, ma'am, we can be thankful for small blessings. Now, will you be coming right away? Mrs. ... um Wells seems to be having a little trouble breathing. And her color isn't too good. Do you know if she has any medical condition we should be aware of?"
The question required Allison to think. To focus. Something she was said to be good at. Except when her world fell apart.
"High blood pressure maybe? Yes, I think that's right. Pam was always getting after her mother for not watching her salt intake. And I think she's borderline diabetic, too," Allison said, trying to shake off the surreal feeling of speaking about everyday things when any fool knew life would never be normal again.
"She could be in shock," the deputy said, "but I think I'd better call in the paramedics, just to be safe. How long will it take you to get here?"
Excerpted from Caleb's Christmas Wish by Debra Salonen Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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