With her career as an artist finally taking off and her social life in full swing, Collette Jenkins is happier than ever—until just weeks before the holidays when a letter that's been lost in the mail arrives. Still reeling from the stunning news that the only family she ever knew is not her family at all, Collette heads for the Miami home where she was raised, and comes face-to-face with another specter of her childhood—her first love, Dexter Harris. Vowing to uncover the secrets of her past, Collette turns to the one man who offers friendship and support—and makes her heart race with hope for the future.
Now divorced and a college basketball coach, Dexter can't help but remember that he gave up Collette once before—and he won't stand idly by when she's determined to find her true family. Convincing her that celebrating Kwanzaa might give her newfound courage will be tough. But Dexter will do whatever it takes—especially when he realizes the season's message of love is the best gift he can give.
|Product dimensions:||4.22(w) x 6.61(h) x 0.68(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Collette Jenkins sat on her living room sofa, dropping the pile of mail she'd retrieved onto her lap.
"Bill, bill, Christmas card," she said aloud as she sifted through the mail. She always checked out every piece before opening any. "Bill." Her hand paused as she came upon the next envelope. It was odd-looking and definitely stood out from the rest. She lifted it for closer inspection.
The envelope was tattered, as if it had taken a beating on the way here. Collette noticed the handwriting. And felt a chill sweep over her. She studied it carefully; it was her grandmother's. But how could that be? Her grandmother had died over four months ago.
Collette's eyes darted to the postmark; August third, three days before her grandmother's death.
Today was December twentieth.
Was this some kind of joke? And if so, who could be responsible for it? As she ran her fingers over the tattered envelope and made sure the postmark wasn't forged, she realized without a doubt that this was no joke. The letter was indeed from her grandmother. It must have been lost in the mail. That was the only possibility that made sense.
Anxious to see what the envelope held, Collette turned it over and ran a nail under the flap. She withdrew the single sheet of paper and unfolded it.
My dear sweet Collette.
How it hurts me to send you this letter. The last time we spoke, I'd hoped to have the courage to tell you the truth, but I didn't, and I'm sorry.
The chill Collette had felt turned colder as she wondered what on earth her grandmother meant. She and Grandma Kathryn had been so close that she couldn't imagine her keeping anything from her. So what could she be referring to?
By now, as you are reading this, I will be gone from this life. I don't want to take this burden to the grave with me. It's not right. Collette, I'm not your true grandmother. Oh, I loved you as if you were my flesh and blood, but the truth is, you're not. You were adopted.
Collette's head started to spin. She reread the last couple of sentences over and over, thinking that there had to be some mistake. Of course Grandma Kathryn was her flesh and blood. Why was she saying these things?
Knowing you, you won't want to believe it. But it's true. I only wish I had the courage to tell you face-to-face. But I didn't want to die remembering your disappointment, only your love. Please forgive me for telling you this way. I'm sure you'll have questions, and if I knew the answers I'd tell you. But I have no idea who your real parents are. I only know that you were born in Miami.With me leaving you, maybe it's time you find your real parents. I don't want to think of you alone in this world.
I will love you always.
Tiny prickles spread over Collette's skin. She was so stunned she could hardly breathe.
"No," she said, jumping to her feet, refusing to believe what she'd read. But why would her grandmother tell her this if it wasn't true?
Collette checked the exterior of the envelope. It had been mailed from Miami, Florida, where her grandmother had died.
She sank into the softness of her plush sofa once more, burying her face in both hands. As much as she wanted this to all be a lie, in her heart she knew it was true. She looked nothing like her parents, and they were significantly older than her—her mother forty-four when she'd been born, her father forty-six. On more than one occasion, Collette had wondered if she'd been adopted. She'd always dismissed the thought as crazy—just because she was an only child of parents whom she didn't resemble didn't make her adopted.
Yet on some level, she'd never felt truly connected to them.
And now, she had just learned that her innermost suspicions were true. Judy and Victor Jenkins were not her parents.
But Grandma? Kathryn Jenkins had always felt like family. Her grandmother had practically raised her, ever since the day her parents had tragically died when their small plane crashed as they were returning to Miami from the Bahamas. That was fourteen years ago, when Collette had been only thirteen years old. Her grandmother had been seventy-seven at the time, but still strong, and she'd raised her. They'd been the only family either of them had had left, and because of that, they'd become very close. Collette hadn't wanted to leave for school in New York, but Grandma Kathryn had convinced her to go. If she was truly going to succeed as an artist, she had to go to New York, her grandmother had told her.
And she had—because her grandmother had believed in and encouraged her.
But how could she have kept something like this from her?
This being her first Christmas without her grandmother, Collette had planned to spend a quiet holiday in New York. Spencer had asked her to join him and his family for Christmas dinner, but she hadn't given him an answer. He seemed ready for a serious relationship. She wasn't. Going to Christmas dinner might be leading him on, and she didn't want to do that.
So, Collette had figured she'd work on a couple of her paintings over the holidays. But now, she wouldn't be doing that.
Rising, she walked to the wall phone in the kitchen and lifted the receiver. She called information, then punched in the number she'd been given.
"Yes, I'm wondering how soon I can get a flight to Miami. No, one way. I'm not sure how long I'll be staying."
"I'm sorry, Spencer."
"So am I. I'd hoped to introduce you to my family."
"Are we still on for New Year's Eve?"
"I don't think so. I'm not sure how long I'll be gone."
"Oh." He sounded disappointed.
"You know how family business can be." Her eyes scanned the framed paintings in her living room, stopping on the one picture that now held so much significance. The background of the painting was a vivid royal blue, and in the center was the figure of a black woman clutching a small black baby to her chest. The painting was so real it brought Collette to a place she hadn't been in a long time—a place where she had once felt safe. Had she ever felt her real mother's arms around her like that?
She'd painted that picture at a moment when she'd felt a void in her life, and she now realized that she hadn't painted it because she missed the mother who'd raised her, but because she missed the mother she'd never known.
How strange that in her subconscious she had known the truth all along.
"Hmm? What did you say?"
"I said that if you want, I can see about getting some time off to meet you in Miami."
"No, that's okay." Spencer was a manager at a hotel in Times Square. He had a good job, and he loved her. Right now, she wished she could love him back. Maybe if she could, she wouldn't feel so empty inside. "Spencer, I know we've talked about our relationship before, but I want to say again—"
"I know. You haven't made any promises. I understand that."
He was such a sweet man. It would be so much easier if she could just return his feelings. "I guess I'm trying to tell you to...have a good time over the holidays. Keep your options open, okay?"
"I hear you. All right, I'll let you go. Call me from Miami if you can."
"And, Collette, I hope that whatever you have to do works out okay."
For the past four days, Collette had been on standby at LaGuardia airport. She'd hoped to get a flight out as soon as she'd learned the truth about her life, but with it being the holidays, flights had been booked solid. There were also weather delays due to an ice storm in the Midwest, which meant she had to wait even longer. She'd almost given up when she was able to confirm a flight on Christmas day.
Christmas evening, actually. The only flight available was a red-eye, but at least it was a direct flight. She was relieved to finally be on a plane heading to Miami. Not just because she'd spent four anxious days in limbo, but because all the time she'd spent at the airport had driven home just how alone in the world she was. She'd watched as others had embraced each other, leaned on each other, been there for each other. Families. Blood relatives.
And she'd felt the hole in her heart grow larger.
If she had a real mother and father out in the world somewhere, she had to find them. Christmas was over; but God willing, she'd be with her real family for the next holiday season.
But what if they didn't want her? she wondered. What if they didn't want to be found? After all, her mother had abandoned her. Would she embrace her after all this time, or reject her again?
All her thoughts about the possibilities of what lay ahead gave her a headache; so as her flight began its ascent, she tried to get some sleep.
Three hours later, when the plane landed at Miami International Airport, she was exhausted. And by the time the taxi pulled up to the house she had once called home in southwest Miami-Dade Country, as much as she wanted to immediately search the house for answers, she knew she had to get some rest.
Tomorrow, bright and early, she would start the search for her family.