About the Book
When Serena Cole came to Chicago for a fresh start, she never imagined she’d save a little girl from getting hit by a car, or that her new boss would turn out to be the little girl’s father. Now, Serena must decide if she can work for the man she’s quickly falling in love with. Her heart has plenty of room for Mark and his daughter, but she wants more than he’s willing to give, and that could very well be a dealbreaker for her.
Mark Harper never wanted a second chance at love—until Serena came into his life. He’s certain she’s the one, but when she asks for the one thing he can’t give her, he’s not so certain of their future. Can he let go of his fear and give Serena the one thing she wants above all else, or will his inability to budge drive her away forever?
READ CHAPTER ONE:
On Christmas morning, Serena Cole sat on the sofa in the home where she’d spent the last two nights. When she’d woken up in the hospital three days ago, she hadn’t remembered where she was, or her own name. She’d been told that she’d run out in front of a car to push a little girl to safety, ending up with a broken collarbone and amnesia. When she was released from the hospital the next morning, Mark, the child’s widowed father, had brought her here to his home that he shared with his former mother-in-law.
Fortunately, the amnesia had been temporary. Last night, on Christmas Eve, Serena had remembered her name and the circumstances that had brought her from North Carolina to Chicago. She’d come to start a new job, escaping her sorrowful past and starting over fresh. They were all surprised to find out that Mark was the lawyer she’d been hired to work for. At one time, she would have thought meeting Mark and his family was a coincidence. Now, she believed God had brought her here.
She stole a glimpse at Mark, who was looking back at her. The tenderness in his smile caused a flutter in her heart that she hadn’t experienced since becoming a widow three years earlier. She glanced back toward the little girl she’d saved. Angelica had broken her arm, but that was her only injury. Angelica was playing with her new doll. Watching Angelica open her gifts this morning had brought back memories of Serena’s daughter, Maggie. She’d bought Maggie a farm set for her beloved horses. Maggie had squealed with delight, much as Angelica had this morning when she opened her doll. Serena hadn’t known that would be the last Christmas she’d have with her daughter.
She sighed and felt a warm hand wrap around hers. “Are you feeling okay?” Mark asked. “You look sad.”
“I was remembering my daughter. Angelica reminds me so much of her.”
“Tell us about her,” Mark said.
Mark’s former mother-in-law, Geneva, sat across the room from them. The relationship between them was unique. When Mark’s wife had passed away, he’d remained in the home that they’d shared with her mother. Geneva was helping him raise Angelica, and she’d welcomed Serena into their home.
“Go ahead, dear,” Geneva said. “We’d like to hear about her.”
“I wish I had a picture to show you, but it was in my wallet.” Her purse had been stolen at the accident scene and hadn’t been recovered.
She had some photo albums in her suitcase at the hotel where she’d been staying. Thankfully, she’d reserved the hotel room for two weeks. Her room would still be held for her, even though she hadn’t been back there since the accident. Later today, she would ask Mark to take her back there. “Maggie had dark hair like mine. It was curly, and I could wrap it around my finger and make ringlets. Usually I put it in braids because it kept it from getting tangled.”
Angelica got up from the floor and walked over to the sofa. Mark pulled her onto his lap.
“Like you did mine,” Angelica said.
Serena touched the braid she’d put in Angelica’s hair last night. That had triggered her memories of Maggie, and she’d recalled her name and who she was.
“Yes, like yours. Her favorite thing was horses. We lived in a rural area, and there was a horse farm in our county. They gave riding lessons. Maggie was taking lessons when—”
A lump formed in her throat, and she stopped speaking. Mark drew her into a hug, and Angelica wrapped her arms around her, too. The warmth of their love washed over her, and she stayed in their embrace until the wave of grief subsided.
“I’m so glad you’re here with us,” Angelica said in an exaggerated tone.
Serena straightened and sat back, trying not to laugh. Maggie had been on the shy side, but Angelica was outgoing and loved drama. She tweaked Angelica’s nose. “I’m glad I’m here, too. Thank you for letting me spend Christmas with you.”
“Of course you should be here today. You’re my Christmas angel.”
Angelica had been calling her that since they’d met, even though she knew Serena wasn’t really an angel.
Angelica returned to her toys. Serena rested her head against Mark’s shoulder. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “You’re my angel, too,” he whispered.
Geneva rose from her recliner. “I need to get my pies in the oven. You’ll join us for dinner, won’t you, Serena?”
“We’re having dinner at Uncle Brandon’s house,” Angelica said.
Serena hadn’t met Brandon, but she knew he was the brother of Mark’s late wife. “I couldn’t possibly go with you.”
“Sure you can,” Angelica insisted.
Mark’s grin was coaxing. “I’d like you to come with us.”
“But it’s Lily’s family, and she’s—” The idea of spending time with Mark’s late wife’s family felt really awkward in light of Serena’s budding romance with Mark.
“They’re my family, too. They accepted me as a brother when I married Lily. I’m closer to Brandon and Darryl than I am my own brother.”
“That doesn’t mean they will want you to show up with—” Lily’s replacement? Serena wasn’t sure what to call herself. “With me.”
Geneva stood in the doorway to the kitchen. “They’ll be happy to meet you, Serena. We are all so thankful for what you did for Angelica. I know they’d like to thank you in person.”
“I’m not sure—”
“Say you’ll come, Serena,” Angelica pleaded. “I want to show them my Christmas angel!”
Serena peeked up at Mark again. He nodded. “They would be happy to meet you.”
She shouldn’t interfere with their plans, but sharing dinner with Mark’s family sounded better than eating a granola bar and yogurt by herself in her hotel room. She didn’t want to spend Christmas Day alone.
“I can see I’m outnumbered. I’ll go with you, but I’d like to go to my hotel and change first.”
“Do you think you will still have a room reserved?” Mark asked.
“When I made the reservations, I did so for two weeks. I thought that might give me time enough to find an apartment to rent. So everything should still be in my room.”
“That’s a good thing,” Geneva said. “It’s hard to find a hotel in Chicago this time of year.”
“You can get your luggage and stay with us until you find a place,” Mark said.
Since Mark was her new boss, and she was currently using his bed, it was important to Serena that she go to her hotel to stay now that she’d gotten her memories back. She was supposed to start work tomorrow, the day after Christmas, and she didn’t want things to be awkward between them.
“How much time do I have to get ready?”
“About an hour,” Geneva said. “I like to take the pies piping hot out of the oven, so they’re still warm when it’s time for dessert.”
“I’d like to change my clothes.” Serena tugged on the forest green sweater that Geneva had purchased for her. “I love this sweater, Geneva, but I think I want something dressier since I am meeting your family for the first time.”
Geneva tsked. “Don’t dress up too much. We aren’t that formal.”
Mark stood and reached for Serena’s hand. She placed hers in his and allowed him to pull her into a standing position beside him.
“I’ll take you to your hotel now. Then we’ll come back and pick you up, Geneva.”
Angelica jumped up and came running to Mark. “Can I go with you?”
He hesitated. “There won’t be anything to do there.”
“I don’t care. Please, Daddy?”
Serena brushed back the strands of Angelica’s hair that had escaped the braid she’d put in there last night. “Sweetie, your daddy will have to sit in the hotel lobby and wait for me to shower and get dressed. With my shoulder hurt, it will take me a long time to get ready. It’s best if you stay here and play with your new toys.”
Angelica pouted. Mark set her down. “We’ll be back in a little while, Angelica. Behave for Nana.”
“It will be closer for you to go to Brandon’s house from the hotel, instead of drive all the way out here for us,” Geneva said. “I’ll have Darryl and Keira stop by and pick us up.”
“Yay, I get to ride with Shawna! I can show her my new doll.” Angelica raced back to her toys, her desire to go to the hotel forgotten.
“Shawna is her cousin, who is just a year older than she is. They will enjoy riding together,” Geneva said.
“You’re right,” Mark said. “That would be more practical. I’ll go shower and get dressed, then I’ll take Serena to her hotel.
About the Author
Carol Underhill lives in rural Michigan a few miles from where she grew up. She is mom to three adult children and a spoiled Lab. Her household also includes several rescued cats. She likes finding new authors on Kindle and binge-reading all their books. Carol promotes Christian fiction by featuring other authors’ books on her blog. She rewards herself for meeting her writing goals with a cup of Mackinac Island fudge-flavored coffee. She enjoys listening to music while she writes and has a playlist for every mood.
About the Book
April is desperate to eliminate her dad’s cancer bills so her family can enjoy the holidays. But, on her way to get legal assistance, she ends up at the wrong house. There, she finds a warm and caring soul… but a boyfriend won’t solve her family’s financial issues.
Jake is surprised to find a beautiful woman on his doorstep asking for help. It’s a case of mistaken identity, but after spending just a little time with April, he knows they are perfect for each other—even if she does have bad taste in football teams. Except April is facing an uphill battle, and he believes he has nothing of real value to offer. Or does he?
One wrong turn might just end up turning a Christmas crisis into a Christmas miracle.
READ CHAPTER ONE:
“The destination is on your right.”
Already? That was a short drive. April Goodman tapped her brakes and parked on the side of the road. Shielding her eyes from the glow of the street lamp, she peered at the blue bungalow, then checked her friend’s text to confirm the address. Yep, this was it—1808 E. Springfield Road.
With a deep breath, she unbuckled her seat belt. Why was she so nervous? Mel would be there to smooth over any awkward introductions, and then she could cut right to the chase. Helping her family was worth the minor inconvenience of meeting her friend’s random cousin. If his legal expertise could help fight the ridiculous medical bill her parents faced, she would endure just about anything. Dad was doing his part with treatment and Mom with caregiving. Doing this legwork on their behalf was the best way she knew to help the cause.
She climbed out of her car, half expecting a rush of cold air to greet her. But this December had been mild for Wisconsin. She almost didn’t need the jacket she’d thrown on before heading out, but grabbing a winter coat was habit.
Glancing around the neighborhood, she saw no sign of Mel’s car. April frowned. Had she beat her friend to the cousin’s house? That was just what she needed—to make small talk with some hot shot lawyer she’d never met before. April and small talk typically didn’t go together.
But if Mel wasn’t even here yet, would April seem rude if she jumped straight to business? Then again, a lawyer doing a favor for his cousin might appreciate if she got right to the point.
Rather than wait for Mel, April found the nerve to approach the front door, which was decorated with a simple Christmas wreath and a few lights. Pausing, she shot off a quick text to let Mel know she’d arrived and noted the time—7:00 p.m. on the dot. Her friend would probably roll in five minutes late, but she wanted to show the guy that she respected his time.
Putting her phone back in her purse, she finally rang the bell. Several seconds later, an obnoxious creak sounded as the door opened, and a young man with short, wavy brown hair and a five o’clock shadow appeared. His face showed no recognition. Exactly what April had dreaded.
“Uh, hi. Can I help you?” The man propped a hand on the edge of the door.
She forced a smile. “Hi. I’m April Goodman. Mel’s friend?”
His mouth morphed into a small smile in return. “Oh. Hi there. Is she expecting you?”
April suppressed an eye roll. Typical Mel, not even giving her cousin the heads up. Or… wait a minute. Was this man a random roommate and not Mel’s cousin? Maybe multiple people lived here. “Sorry, yes. She said she’d meet me here to talk to Jacob. Is… is that you?”
The man nodded and tugged at the strings of his white hoodie. Hmm, a little casual for a lawyer, but it certainly made him more approachable, which helped to settle her nerves a bit.
“You can call me Jake. Sorry, I’m just a little caught off guard. Not sure what this is about, but if Mel invited you, by all means—come on in.”
He opened the door wider, and April stepped inside, grateful to no longer be standing awkwardly on the doorstep. She’d been upgraded to standing awkwardly in the entryway instead. Hurry up, Mel. Maybe she should have waited in the car after all.
“Here, let me take your coat.”
She shimmied out of her jacket before handing it to him and put her purse on the floor of the entryway, shoving it against the wall.
After hanging her coat in the front closet, Jake turned to face her while rubbing the stubble on his chin. He must have had a long day and was probably looking forward to a casual evening at home. Hopefully, she wasn’t ruining any plans. She’d have to ream Mel out later for not warning the poor guy.
He gestured for her to take a seat in the living room. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
She swallowed, noticing for the first time how dry her throat was. “Water would be great.”
While he was in the kitchen, she sat on the overstuffed brown couch and scanned the room. A meager Christmas tree stood in the far corner with two gifts beneath it. On the opposite wall, a muted TV displayed football stats for the upcoming game. A jigsaw puzzle was spread out on the dining room table. And a few pictures were propped up on a bookshelf showing Jake with some people she didn’t recognize, mostly in outdoor settings—fishing, hiking. For some reason, he didn’t seem the lawyer type. His unshaven face paired with his faded jeans and hoodie were in stark contrast to the clean-cut, suit-and-tie façade she’d expected.
“Here you go.” Jake’s voice jolted her back to the moment.
“Thank you.” She grabbed one of the two glasses of water he held and took a sip, then set it down on the glass coffee table. Now what?
He sat on the other end of the long couch, putting his own glass down while turning to face her. “So, how do you know Mel?”
She wiped her sweaty palms on her black leggings. Thank goodness Jake knew how to carry the conversation. “I met her at work.”
“The veterinary clinic?”
The what? Since when did Mel work there? Must have been before they met. “No, at The Copy Corner a couple years back.”
Tucking one leg under him, he rested his arm on the back of the couch. “Really? I don’t recall Mel working there.”
April giggled. “Well, she didn’t last long, what with all the high-tech gadgets and all. But we hit it off right away, so we started hanging out even though she’d moved on to bigger and better things.”
“I see.” Jake reached for his glass and took a sip of water. “And do you still work there?”
“No, that was a part-time college gig. I’m a teacher now.”
He smiled, and a dimple appeared on his cheek. “What do you teach?”
Man, Mel’s cousin sure was good at chitchat. Or else he was just genuinely interested in getting to know her. She half wondered if she should tell him the real reason she had stopped by, but he was so nice. To cut him off and confess that she was only here to see how he could help her family seemed selfish. Might as well stick to the current topic for now. “Middle school math.”
He cringed. “Really? Of all the subjects and all the age groups.”
April chuckled and picked at a loose thread on her sweater. Jake almost made this small-talk thing feel natural. “It’s not so bad. The trick is to take away their phones so they have no distractions and to get them to think math is fun. I’ve even written a few raps that put some of the more complex math concepts to the tune of popular songs. Extra credit if they memorize and perform for the class.”
His eyes grew wide. “You’re messing with me, right?”
She held up her hand in a scout-like gesture. “I swear. The shy kids don’t get into it, but they’re not the ones I struggle with. It’s the outgoing, popular kids that give me a hard time, so if I can direct some of that energy into a constructive thing like memorizing a math song while entertaining the entire class, then it’s a win-win.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “That’s genius, April. Sounds like Miss Goodman has some skills. I’m impressed.”
“Thanks.” She tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear, suddenly self-conscious about where she was. The fact that hearing Jake say her name caused a slight adrenaline spike threw her off guard. Since when was she one to get swoony over some guy’s attention? Goodness gracious, Mel. You better get here soon. She peered over at her purse several feet away, wondering if she should check her phone for an answering text.
Jake glanced at his watch. “Do you want me to text Mel? See how long she’ll be?”
Oops. Had her expression given him the impression she was uncomfortable? Hopefully not. Even though she was out of her comfort zone, Jake was a gracious host. Especially seeing that he hadn’t been expecting any visitors. “Um… if you want to. Or we can just jump right into it if you want. I don’t want to waste your time.”
He waved a dismissive hand in the air as he pulled his phone from his back pocket with his free hand. His thumbs moved on the screen as he spoke. “No worries. I didn’t have any plans tonight anyway. Other than watching Thursday night football, even though our team isn’t playing. Are you a fan?”
She lifted an eyebrow. Fan was an understatement. Though she didn’t root for the home team. She was a Chicago girl at heart. “I love football. But my team’s not playing tonight either.”
He tossed his phone next to the remote on the coffee table and glanced up. “Your team? You mean, you don’t back the green and gold?”
She gave her head a slow shake, trying to suppress the smile pulling at her lips.
He opened his mouth in shock. “Then who?”
She swallowed. “Don’t be mad.”
He tilted his head. “Don’t say it.”
Knowing how Wisconsinites reacted to football rivalries, she pressed her eyes shut and bit her lower lip, anticipating his response. “Chicago.”
“No!!!! I told you not to say it.”
April opened her eyes and shrugged. “But there are no rivalries tonight, so I’ll root for whoever you want between Pittsburgh and Dallas.”
Jake let out a hearty laugh, then grabbed the remote. “Deal.” He unmuted the television and set the remote on the table. “Let me grab some chips. Want a soda?”
“Sure, whatever you’re having is fine.”
When he left, she walked to the entryway to grab her phone from her purse, then sat back on the couch to check for messages. Five minutes wasn’t all that late considering Mel’s normal lack of punctuality, but she’d at least expected a text by now. A few notifications illuminated her screen but nothing from Mel. And her phone battery was about to die. Great. At least Jake had reached out to her as well. Hopefully everything was all right.
She tossed her dying phone on the coffee table and reclined against the couch waiting for Jake to bring the snacks. A smile threatened to surface. What was happening here? She’d come over for legal advice, and now she was watching a football game with a guy she’d just met. Oh Mel, you’re never going to believe this. Where was that woman, anyway?
About the Author
Katy Eeten lives in southeast Wisconsin with her husband, Jason, and their two sons. She works full-time crunching numbers and analyzing data, but her true passion is writing. In addition to Wrong Turn Christmas, she has published four other contemporary Christian romances. When she’s not working or writing, she enjoys taking walks or bike rides, baking goodies, and spending time with her family. Learn more about Katy at her website — https://katyeeten.wordpress.com/