Successful marketing director and single mother Christina King knows how to put out fires. But when a critical deadline collides with her rambunctious twins’ Christmas break, Christina calls 911. Little does she know things are about to get even hotter.
With Christmas just around the corner, former firefighter Rudy Gallagher considers his temporary position as lifestyle manager a steppingstone toward entrepreneurship. He doesn’t count on his new client being a woman who once ditched him, leaving him with unanswered questions. He needs the job. Can he keep it “strictly business”?
Christina guards her heart and tries to avoid explanations, but when she encounters a ghost of Christmas past at a homeless shelter, secrets begin to unfold. As their worldviews clash, Rudy is hot under the collar, and Christina struggles to embrace the true meaning of Christmas.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled. ~ Matthew 5:6
“Breaking news. Tulsa police have now released a composite drawing of the elusive Santa Stalker, whose last victim was—”
Christina King hit the mute button on her steering wheel. No need to frighten the twins. What did people expect this time of year, with men masquerading in Santa suits? She steered her SUV under the portico of Riverside Private Academy and shifted into park. Then she licked her thumb and wiped toothpaste from 7-year-old Alex’s chin.
“Gross!” Alex pushed her hand away. “No kissing, either, Mom. OK?” He bounced from the running board and waved to a group of boys wearing matching shirts.
“Love you, too.” Christina raised her brows. When had her son become so brazen? At least she had Olivia. Brushing bangs from her daughter’s eyes, she planted a kiss on her forehead before shooing her away. “Hurry, baby. Give it all you’ve got today. Love you.”
Christina sighed. Her live in house keeper had been called away on a family emergency, leaving Christina to referee squabbles, clean up messes, and then fall exhausted into bed at night, all with a minimum of tears—mostly her own. How did other women manage this every day?
Coaxing the twins out of bed each morning was more difficult than pushing a chain. Not only was the house a wreck, but she’d found it impossible to concentrate on work while two young children bounced in and out of her office.
Now, the twins’ Christmas break and her project deadline approached like on coming trains. Christina needed help.
She turned up the radio, and pulled away. A popular singer lamented having a blue Christmas while Christina dodged a wave of navy blue uniforms. Could she make it home for her eight a.m. conference call?
By nine fifteen, Christina sat behind her desk, having regained a semblance of control. An hour later, the doorbell chimed. She smiled. The temporary housekeeper was early. Good. She’d have time for a thorough interrogation of the new hire. Stress Busters Temp Agency boasted an impeccable reputation. Still, she couldn’t be too careful.
Opening her heavy front door, Christina’s smile took a plunge. The man standing on her porch towered at least six inches above her. Taking a step back, she tried not to stare at the scar on the side of his face.
“May I help you?” She scanned his pressed slacks and crisp button down shirt. The logo on his shirt pocket identified him as an employee of Stress Busters Temp Agency.
“Mrs. King?” He peeled off his sunglasses while extending his other hand to her. “The agency sent me. My name is Rudy Gallagher.”
His deep voice hit Christina like a smooth flat stone. It skimmed across her memories and then splashed into the cool deep waters of the place she’d last heard it. Lake Tenkiller. Summer camp. She’d been seventeen. Memories rushed in, displacing the air in her lungs.
Rudy was taller now, with broader shoulders. His dark cropped curls sat higher on his forehead. Same eyes, though. Soulful, penetrating, and as green as the forest under which they’d roamed in their youth.
“Rudy Gallagher?” she forced the name.
“Mrs. King?” His brow creased. “Something wrong, ma’am?”
Despite her pounding chest, Christina forced herself to breathe. Obviously, Rudy hadn’t recognized her yet. But then, why would he? Fifteen years had passed since that hot August day when they’d last seen each other. At seventeen, she’d worn her auburn curls in a ponytail. Her name hadn’t been King then, and he’d never called her Christina. She sucked in her gut, suddenly conscience of the ten extra pounds she’d kept after the twins’ birth. “You’re the housekeeper?”
Color rose all the way to the top of his ears. He shifted his weight and thrust his hands into the pockets of his khakis. “Actually, ma’am, the title is Lifestyle Manager.”
Ma’am? Did she look that old? Christina opened her mouth to protest, but then changed her mind. She should tell him, of course, but tell him what? That she was a thirty something workaholic widow unable to manage her own household while the nanny was away? She flinched. The truth hurt. Hadn’t the truth of her private life always hurt? Isn’t that why she’d protected him from it when they were younger?
And what about Rudy? Employed by a temporary housekeeping agency? If that didn’t smack of desperation, then what did?
She swallowed hard. Why stir up trouble? Let him walk away. No one will ever know. After all, she’d always been good at keeping secrets.
“I take it you were expecting a female applicant.” He crossed his arms. “I assumed the agency had told you about me.”
She stroked her arms, dragging her memory. Had she been told? Christina couldn’t remember. The agency could have promised anyone, male or female, and she wouldn’t have cared. She just needed help. Desperately.
“To be honest, I’m rather shocked to see you.”
“I understand. My apologies, ma’am. I’ll have them contact you.”
She smiled. He was still a gentleman. “Perhaps that would be best for everyone. Thank you.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be on my way, then.” Rudy returned her smiled. He was too young for laugh lines, but they were there anyway, adding mystery and character to those eyes that had haunted her dreams so long ago. Sunshine cast a halo around his coal back curls. He turned and sauntered down her walkway.
She took a deep breath and squeezed the doorknob. Was she really willing to let him walk away? Again?
“Rudy, wait! Don’t go.” Christina cringed. She’d cast the words and now it was late to reel them back in. “Please.”
Rudy turned, locking his gaze on her.
Time raced backwards.
She held her breath, expecting to hear the nickname he’d given her as a kid.
He stopped in front of her, his eyes narrowed. The force of unspoken words hung between them. “How’ve you been, C.J.?”
Her heart raced. Christina’s hands dropped to her side and she forced herself to hold his gaze. “Hello, Rudy. It’s been a long time.”
“I’ll have the agency send another candidate over for you to interview as soon as possible. Trust me, I understand.”
Christina swallowed hard. The charade was over. She didn’t blame him for not wanting to work for her, but at least he could acknowledge her. Planting her hands on her hips, she lifted her chin. “Am I to assume you don’t want the job?”
“Of course I want the job. I wouldn’t be standing here right now in this ridic—” He exhaled loudly. “I’m sorry. When I took the job I never imagined I’d be working for…you.” He crossed his arms and closed the distance between them.
His stare bore through her, hot as steel, burning her chest, her neck, her cheeks. She should say good-bye, turn around, and walk back into her house. Into the world she’d worked hard to create. A world that she’d managed, so far, to keep safe from her past.
Presently, however, chaos reigned and she needed help. If she didn’t meet the Horatio deadline, her neck could be on the chopping block next. It hadn’t been easy finding help. Besides, she’d never left the twins care to anyone but Gertie, who lived in the guest house at the back of her property and was now more like a grandmother than a housekeeper.
Christina bit her lip.
Rudy loved kids. He’d always been great with them at camp. Who else could she trust with her twins?
She sighed. “I know this is awkward, Rudy, but if you still want the job, it’s yours. I’m in a real bind until my housekeeper returns.” She swallowed hard and extended her hand. “I need your help. Strictly business?”
Rudy heaved a sigh, and stroked his jaw before accepting her hand. “All right, Mrs. King. Strictly business.”
Question 1: Was Christina’s decision to hire Rudy based on selfish motivation? Yet it was all part of God’s bigger plan. God does not want us to be selfish, but He knows that we sometimes are. Is there a time in your life God seems to have used your selfishness to bring about His bigger blessing?
Answer 1: Romans 8:28
Question 2: Rudy had never stopped loving Christina. Yet he was a loving faithful husband to Jasmine while she was alive. Do you believe it’s possible for a person to love two people, while choosing to be faithful and dedicated to one? Which demonstrates a greater love?
Answer 2: Proverbs 5:15-18
Question 3: Christina worked hard to rise above the poverty in which she’d been raised. Thus, her lack ofsympathy toward those who chose to pan handle rather than work. As a Christian, how do you feel when you pass people on the street asking for money while smoking cigarettes? As Christians, should we put conditions on our giving?
Answer 3: Ephesians 4:28
Question 4: Rudy assumed that Christina’s indifference to the street people was the result of her being born with a silver spoon in her mouth. He judged her as harshly as she had judged others. Are there prejudices against wealthy people in our society today?
Answer 4: John 7:24
Question 5: A surprising number of schoolchildren come from families who have no permanent residence. Regardless of circumstances, children are not to blame. How can the Church reach out to these children and help them receive the kind of education, worth ethic, and hope necessary to break the cycle of poverty?
Answer 5: Isaiah 58:10
Question 6: Gertie had never lied about her friendship with Christina’s father, but she didn’t tell Christina the whole truth either. Is this a sin of omission? Or was she being prudent and wise?
Answer 6: Proverbs 4:24-26
Question 7: Even though she had set it as a career goal, Christina realized that walking in her boss’ shoes was not as covetous as she’d once believed. Have you ever set goals, only to realize they were not as desirable as you’d once believed?
Answer 7: Matthew 6:33
Question 8: Christina needed to protect her children from the pain and heartache of her own childhood, but by over compensating, she’d isolated and indulged them. Has your own fear ever prevented you from embracing opportunities to teach your children about God’s love, mercy, and justice outside the church walls?
Answer 8: Micah 6:8
Question 9: Rudy had a servant’s heart. He wasn’t perfect and his life had not been without pain and heartache. Yet he allowed God to use him in many ways, and many places. Have you ever missed an opportunity to serve because you weren’t a “perfect” Christian yet?
Answer 9 Exodus 6:10-13
Question 10: Christina reconciled with her father right before he passed, and felt she’d done it too late. Rudy said she was right on time. Is it ever too late to forgive someone, and if so when? Is there someone you need to forgive today?
Answer 10: Colossians 3:13