Her heart ought to be on the naughty list. Amy has hardly shown her son around the family horse farm or brushed a thoroughbred before she’s fraternizing with the enemy. It’s been awhile since her husband died, since her heart felt this way.
But after real estate developer Dan Wentworth has been so cozy with her sisters about selling their newly inherited property, Amy can’t be sure if he’s warming up to her. Or merely warming her up to the idea of letting the family homestead be bulldozed for a housing development.
She doesn’t want to hurt her sisters, but the money from Dan’s proposal could go a long way in making single-motherhood merry and bright.
About the Author
Lenora Worth writes romance and romantic suspense for Love Inspired and also writes for Tule and Gilead. Three of her books finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards and several of her books have been RT Reviewer’s Choice finalists. Logan’s Child won the 1998 Best Love Inspired for RT. Her books have also made The New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. With over seventy books published and millions of books in print, she goes on adventures with her retired husband, Don. They have two grown children. Lenora enjoys reading, baking and shopping … especially shoe shopping.
Read an Excerpt
Amy Tucker Brosseau folded the wrinkled piece of paper and put it back in the pocket of the old sweater she usually wore while working the early morning shift at the Garden District Dish Café. She'd read the letter from her now-deceased daddy several times over in the last few weeks, but the shock of seeing his words there on the stark white paper always left her feeling cold and empty.
"Hey, I need more coffee."
Grabbing the French toast and bacon from the pass-through window, Amy hurried by the man holding up his coffee cup. "Be right back, Mr. Purdue."
Amy set the order down on the old oak table that shined with an aged patina. "Okay, anything else for you folks?"
The newlyweds didn't even bother answering. Instead, they both started cutting into the shared plate of thick brioche French toast while gazing into each other's eyes with a sweetness that rivaled the powdered sugar on the golden bread. Amy envied their happiness ... and their honeymoon.
New Orleans was beautiful during the Christmas season.
And the Garden Dish, as the locals liked to call the café, was always busy from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.
Amy's feet hurt just thinking about the next couple of weeks of holiday frenzy. But she needed this job since Timothy had a long list ready for Santa. Amy's focus had to be on her seven-year-old son, no matter how many times her sister Jo-Jo called to convince her that she was needed at the rundown, failing Kentucky horse farm their wayward daddy, Tuck, had left them after he died from cancer.
All three of her younger sisters were back in Bluegrass Crossing now. Joanna, Bella, and Sophie had all returned after they'd received letters from Tuck following his death. Over the last month, they'd come home one by one to decide what to do with the once-thriving horse farm. At first, they'd all agreed to sell it and be done. But in a twist that could only happen in the Tucker family, each of her sisters had found true love right there in good old Kentucky. Now they were all leaning toward keeping the ranch and making it grand again with the help of the men in their lives. She was the last holdout. No man, no urge to go back, and no energy to save the Tucker ranch.
Amy knew she should feel something for the daddy she called Tuck, but each time she thought of the ranch back in Kentucky, she also thought of her mama. And then she got angry all over again. She missed Mama with all her heart. But she couldn't conjure up any sympathetic emotions for her father. Except maybe a side of regret to go with that simmering anger.
Robert J. Tucker had lived and breathed the Marine Corps and had served way beyond the call of duty while his wife and four girls tried to keep up the horse farm that had been in the Tucker family for generations. Even now, the ranch hobbled along as a rehab center for retired racehorses, a place where an aging star could be retrained to become a family horse or be trained as a therapy horse. People brought their children there to learn how to ride or to experience being around those truly magnificent animals.
But Amy left all of that behind after her mother died. She headed to Nashville with her high school sweetheart, Tim. After they were married, she worked part-time and took a couple of college courses before they moved to New Orleans. Tim was electrocuted two years back in a freak accident down at one of the shipyards. Now her daddy was gone, too. The Marine Corps father who'd been absent from their lives for the most part had left his four grown daughters strapped with a money pit.
You won't have to work three different jobs if you pack up and go home to live on the farm.
Home to Kentucky.
Home to the ranch, a place she'd left with the solid plan of never going back. Ever.
You need to learn forgiveness, her other sisterSophie had suggested. Amy bristled at the thought.
She finished her shift, smiling at tourists and ignoring early morning rudeness with a practiced disconnect that came from being too tired to care and headed home. Her cell rang just before she pulled into the driveway of Tim's sister's house a block from Magazine Street where Amy and Timothy lived over the garage in a tiny pied-à-terre that Amanda and Ricky usually rented out to strangers. When they'd offered it to her, Amy had insisted on paying rent, but her sister-in-law had given her the lowest possible rate. Thankful, she had pushed the memory of Tim's death and the grief that followed out of her mind. She had to stay strong for Timothy and provide for him. He missed his daddy so much.
Amy pressed the call button and answered. "Hello," she said, silently wishing Sophie and her two other sisters wouldn't keep badgering her about coming to Kentucky for Christmas.
"Listen, I know you don't want to hear any of this, but we really need to talk."
Amy climbed out of her rattletrap car and slammed the groaning door. "Make it quick. I have thirty minutes before I have to head out on my bus route. Middle-schoolers don't like to wait to get home."
Sophie sighed and Amy pictured her sister pushing at her thick auburn hair, her steely-blue eyes flashing an unseen message over the phone lines. "We have someone very interested in buying the ranch, remember?"
Amy stopped halfway up the stairs, a rush of so many emotions spilling over inside her brain that she had to grab the hand railing. Her sister had mentioned a large real estate company wanting to buy them out, but Sophie hadn't been too thrilled about it. Amy hadn't pushed the matter, but she was so ready to be done with the place.
"He's from Lexington but has an office in Bluegrass Crossing — Dan Wentworth with Wentworth Properties. He wants to develop our land into some sort of fancy subdivision. At first, I was against it, but now I'm not sure. Jo-Jo and Bella are sure they don't want to sell. We want to make a final decision, but we need your input."
"How much is he offering?"
Sophie named a hefty price. "We don't want to move on this until —"
"Move," Amy said, wondering after hearing the number why Sophie would hesitate. "Convince Jo-Jo and Bella to change their minds. We could all use that money. I'd finally be able to finish my business degree and maybe buy a house for Timothy and me." Amy felt a glimmer of hope thinking about her share of the money.
Amy pulled out of her daydreams. "What?"
"Jo-Jo and Jed are set in stone, and Bella has fallen in love with David all over again. They both seem pretty sure they're going to stay here. And ... Matt and I ... we've grown very close."
Amy closed her eyes and touched two fingers to her pounding head. "Define very close."
"He's asked me to marry him. And I accepted."
"Can't get any closer than that. I thought you said he wanted to reenlist in the Marines."
"He's decided to stay here with me. As an RN now, he can find work anywhere."
Amy wanted to scream, "Traitor!" But she couldn't call her sister that, no matter her own pain. She'd found love once and lost it. Why should she deny any of her sisters the same?
"Sounds like I'm outnumbered."
"No, don't look at it that way," Sophie said. "But you need to come home and ... at least see the place before we make a decision. We've done a lot of work, but we still need to do more. We won't feel right going any further on this without you. And we don't want to do anything until after Christmas anyway."
Amy stopped on the tiny landing where she'd placed a lacy wrought-iron bistro set so she could enjoy morning coffee amid the tall palms and the ancient banana tree fronds shooting up in Amanda's courtyard. She and Timothy had decorated it with white sparkling lights for the holidays. "I have to work, Soph."
"You won't be driving that bus during the Christmas break, right?"
"No, but I still have the café to consider, and I have pastry orders to fill."
Her third job involved baking and selling her own luscious desserts. The diner had been showcasing her work, so she had a pretty steady following and a lot of Christmas orders.
"Think about it, Sis," Sophie said. "One last Christmas at the ranch for old time's sake. For Mama's sake."
Her sister was using the Mom card?
Amy made it inside and collapsed against the old marble-topped table that also served as the kitchen counter, the phone still pressed to her ear.
"For old time's sake," she mumbled, her mind in turmoil, her stomach in knots. Swallowing, she stared at her car keys. "Mama always did love Christmas."
"Yes, she did," Sophie replied. "Look, this isn't easy for any of us, but things are changing around here. You should be a part of that. Call me back when we can talk more."
Amy ended the call, wishing her sister hadn't been so insistent. But if going home would help get the place sold, she'd gladly head back to Kentucky. She didn't want to remember that old horse farm. But for some strange reason, her stomach churned when she thought about selling.
"So not fair," she shouted to the empty little apartment. None of them could afford the upkeep. It involved a lot of land and a big operation that accrued heavy expenses.
She wasn't sure what to do.
Seeing the worn Bible her mother had given Amy on her sixteenth birthday, she grabbed it and sank down on a barstool.
She'd turn to the Scriptures. Mama had always done that, even on her darkest days.
But all of her mother's fervent prayers hadn't saved her own marriage. When Amy was twenty-five, Marlena Tucker had been killed on the interstate by a drunk driver. She'd left her four daughters to struggle with the horse farm while their unyielding father was off serving his country in a war zone. Amy didn't want to return to the place where she had so many bad memories.
No way. She did not plan to go through that kind of pain ever again. So she rested a hand on the unopened Bible and closed her eyes.
"I need help, Lord. I need to find a way to get over all of this and let go of the past ... and the farm."
Then she hurried out the door to her second job.CHAPTER 2
Mommy, why do we live over the garage?"
Amy turned from the tiny two-burner stove and stared at her seven-year-old son. He had his daddy's blue eyes and dark blonde hair, but he had her curious nature and fiery temper.
"Well, because Aunt Amanda and Uncle Ricky asked us to move in here. They needed a renter, and we were looking for a new place to live."
She turned back to the beef-and-vegetable soup she was heating, images of their former Garden District cottage moving through her mind. A lovely little house in a sought-after area, but a home she could no longer afford. She'd sold it with a heavy heart and used what little equity she'd received to pay off some bills.
"Cause Daddy went to heaven," Timothy said on a solemn note.
Bracing herself, Amy turned with a soft smile and faced her son. He sat at the counter doing his homework, his eyes centered on her. He wanted to talk about his daddy, something she'd never felt the need to do regarding her own father. Maybe that's why she had a hard time talking about Tim after he died. Her husband had been a great father.
"Yes, Daddy went to heaven, but we are blessed because we get to see Aunt Amanda and Uncle Ricky every day. You visit with them when I'm working late shifts or when I'm busy filling orders so you won't be so lonely. They love having you around."
"And you, too, cause you're a good baker."
"Well, thank you for that," she said, glad she'd distracted him. "Are you ready for your soup and grilled cheese?"
Timothy bobbed his head. "I love your homemade soup."
"And my grilled-cheese sandwiches?"
Another head bob. And then, "Where did you meet Daddy?"
So it was gonna be one of those nights. She plugged in the colored lights strung across the tiny blue spruce they'd picked out together at a local nursery. The tree came to life with blinking brilliance that showed off the homemade ornaments she treasured.
Amy wished she could shine so brightly.
"Well, we met in high school, but we got married in Nashville, Tennessee," she said, knowing her son had heard the story countless times. "I was working as a waitress while I went to college and your daddy was trying to become a famous country music star." She went on, willing herself not to tear up. "One night after he'd sung at the restaurant, we ordered coffee and pie and ... then he asked me to marry him."
"Coconut pie." Timothy made a face. "It was love."
A little shiver moved down her backbone. "Yes, it sure was."
"He liked to play his guitar."
"Yes, he did," she said, bringing Timothy a bowl of soup and his sandwich. Tim had sold his first guitar in order to buy a baby bed for their son. Once they were doing better, she'd bought him another guitar — used, but still a nice replacement. "But ... he heard about the job at the shipyard, and since his sister lived here in New Orleans, we came here, and then you were born."
"And we were happy for a while," Timothy finished, his voice going soft.
Things had been normal, good, steady. Tim had still played the guitar now and then at a local café, but for the sake of his family he'd given up on his big dreams.
"We were, indeed." Blinking, Amy sat beside him and stared at her own bowl of soup. "You and I are still happy, right?"
He shrugged and nibbled a carrot. "Sometimes. But sometimes, I get sad."
"Me, too," she admitted, her heart breaking. "What would make you feel better?" Other than having your daddy here.
Timothy got up and went to the old cabinet where she kept a few books and photo albums. Pulling out a beat-up, fabric-covered album she'd had since high school, he opened it and pointed to a picture she'd forgotten. Or maybe, tried not to remember.
"I want to go there," he said, his chubby little finger pointing to the house. "I know you used to live there, and Daddy told me about it some." He gave her that blue-eyed puppy dog look Tim used to give her. "Aunt Joanna says I should see where you grew up."
"Really, and when did Aunt Joanna tell you that?" "That night she called, and you didn't hear your phone ringing 'cause you were in the shower. Remember? I talked to her before you and then you argued and told her bye."
"Oh, yeah, that night," Amy replied. So her sneaky sister was trying to influence her son. She'd probably set Jed up to calling, too, since he'd tried to talk Amy into coming home. Now Jo-Jo had enlisted Bella, Sophie, and Amy's own son to convince her.
"It sure looks cool," Timothy said. "And pretty."
Shocked, Amy stared at the wrinkled black-andwhite photo. It was a full-on shot of the Kentucky farmhouse, with horses roaming in the pasture beyond the sprawling, wraparound porch and a mountain vista in the background.
She didn't speak. Instead, she glanced to the other side of the counter where she'd placed her Bible earlier that day.
Amazed at the things that flowed through her son's brain, Amy nodded. "Let's eat our supper and get you ready for bed, and then I'll call Aunt Sophie."
Timothy's blue eyes lit up in a way she hadn't seen in a while ... in a way that she'd missed. "Are we going?"
"How would you like to go there for Christmas?" she said, unable to form more words.
Timothy hugged her close. "That'd be so cool, Mommy."
"Yeah, wouldn't it though."
Amy held her son tightly and willed the tears away. She couldn't keep making excuses. It was time to face the past and meet it head-on. For old time's sake, for her mother's sake, and now for her son's sake.
Forgive, Amy. Forgive and forget.
* * *
Two weeks later, Amy loaded up her old car and turned to wave to Amanda and Ricky. "Thank you for helping me finish up my Christmas orders," she said to Amanda.
Amanda laughed, her brown eyes the shade of fresh pecans. "Are you kidding? Ricky was so thrilled to be head sampler, I don't think he'll ever be the same."
Ricky, a brawny heavy-machinery operator, nodded and rubbed his stomach. "I think I gained ten pounds, but it was worth it."
Amanda motioned to Timothy. He ran to her and hugged her close. "You take care of your mama," she said, her gaze meeting Amy's. "And come back soon."
After they said their good-byes, Amy buckled Timothy into the back amid overnight bags and a trip bag full of books to read and coloring books and an electronic game to occupy him during the elevenhour drive.
"You're coming. Really?"
Sophie's words came back to Amy as she headed toward the on-ramp to Interstate 10. Her sister sounded both relieved and choked up.
"Yes, really. You can thank Timothy. Apparently, he has a hankering to see the old homestead. He found a picture in one of my photo albums after JoJo sweet-talked him."
"You used to love taking pictures," Sophie remarked, laughing. "I'm sure you have a lot of them."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Please Come Home for Christmas"
Copyright © 2017 Lenora Worth.
Excerpted by permission of Gilead Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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