When attorney Riley Harper comes home to Maple Ridge following the death of his grandfather, the last thing he expects to find is Kaylee McKenna living in his grandparents' guesthouse. Though he and Kaylee were once best friends, Riley cannot find it in his heart to forgive her for the death of his mother. His heart, full of bitterness and resentment, has room for little else.
Kaylee has no time to dwell on events of the past, especially where Riley's concerned; she's too busy raising her six-year-old niece, Rosie, and working as an ER nurse. With Christmas quickly approaching, her days are spent helping with charity events and filling the wishes on Rosie's Christmas list.
But when Rosie's father makes an unexpected visit, Kaylee must call on Riley's legal expertise to ensure Rosie of a safe and secure future. Will Rosie's special Christmas wish heal Riley's damaged heart and bind the trio together as a forever-family?
Gravel chomped and spat beneath the wheels of Riley Harper’s Escalade as he swung into the long, winding drive off Cardwell Lane. Majestic white oaks, their leafless branches like gnarled fingers, formed a canopy, blocking a sky ripe with angry gray snow clouds. A gust of wind howled as it whipped dried leaves into a frenzied dance along a blanket of brown grass stunted with frost. Thankful he’d beaten the storm, Riley drew close to Gran’s stately white-frame house that sat like a sentinel on a gentle knoll at the top of the drive. Its massive porch invited guests to linger and, even now, a quartet of rocking chairs swayed in a slow, even cadence against the wind as if ghosts from the past communed together sharing a late-afternoon story while the storm prowled over the mountains.
Riley rounded a curve and pulled alongside the detached garage that had, back in the day, doubled as Gramps’s workshop. He killed the SUV’s engine and leaned back in the seat, and sighed. He’d made it…he was back in Maple Ridge for the first time in nearly a year. This time, he planned to stay for more than a few nights. How much longer, though, he wasn’t sure. He stretched his legs and the knots of tension from his spine, as the wind whispered and tree limbs sang a mournful melody, mirroring the state of his heart.
Gramps was gone for good. It was hard to believe, nearly impossible to grasp. Riley still pictured him, strong and tanned, with a subtle blend of gray through his jet-black hair, ambling toward the woods with a fishing pole in one hand and the lunch Gran had packed in his other. Where had the days, the months…the years gone?
Riley sighed once more, deep and full, and then grabbed his duffel bag and slipped from the car. The sweet scent of pine caressed as the first snowflake of what promised to be a monster of a storm splatted the bridge of his nose. He brushed it away and pulled the collar of his wool jacket tight against the bite of a frigid gust. He wound his way over frozen earth toward the wide front stairs, flanked on each side by pillars thick as century-old oaks, and paused at the welcome mat to brush dirt from his shoes. Music drifted through the door, mingling with laughter and a child’s high-pitched giggles. Gran must have the TV on; it was the only explanation for laughter so close on the heels of Gramps’s death. Gran, who’d filled her days with caring for Gramps during his extended and heart-wrenching battle with Alzheimer’s, must miss him terribly.
Riley sucked a single deep breath, tamping back a stab of regret that he’d missed the funeral nearly a month ago, and had only now been able to break away from his responsibilities as a prosecution attorney in Jacksonville to pay his condolences to Gran. He raised his fist to knock on the weathered wooden door, but stopped just short of contact. No need to ask for permission to enter. This was his home.
Home…the single word hit Riley like a sucker punch. Even now, nearly a decade after he’d left, he thought of this old place and the acres of sprawling meadow that surrounded it as home.
He grabbed the knob, gave it a quick turn before pushing the door open. A gust of wind followed him into the living room, rustling the pages of a newspaper splayed across the coffee table beside one of Gran’s dog-eared word search magazines. She devoured puzzles, so he sent her a subscription to the large-print edition every year for her birthday.
The scent of cinnamon drifted from the kitchen’s doorway, making his belly yowl in protest to the fact that he’d filled it with nothing but tepid gas-station coffee since the pre-dawn hours of that morning. He’d worked late the night before, tying up the loose ends of a case, and today’s drive had been brutal, with gusts of wind tossing even the powerful Escalade while he motored down the interstate as a cold-front swept in. He shrugged from his jacket, tossed it across the arm of the couch. The TV screen stood dark, the living room a sprawling menagerie of colorfully embroidered throw pillows, hand-sewn quilts draped along the back of the couch, and collages of black and white snapshots. Warmth embraced as flames flickered from a fireplace framed in a sweep of river rock while light spilled from a bay window that covered the wall overlooking a ridge of woods beyond the meadow. How many afternoons had he spent exploring the grounds beyond, playing straight through lunch and sometimes, much to the chagrin of his mother and grandparents, even dinner and on into the twilight? An array of framed photographs nestled together along the fireplace mantel stood as a testament to his childhood years here.
Riley dropped his duffel bag and stepped over to the hearth to toss a log on the fire and stoke the flames. The tinderbox was full, and he wondered how Gran managed to stock it on her own, with her ever-increasing flare-ups of arthritis. Guilt tugged again that he’d stayed so absent, for so long, as he wound his way toward the kitchen, where laughter mingled with Christmas music and that little girl’s chatter once again. His curiosity piqued, he wondered who Gran had for company. Most likely someone from church. As he neared the doorway, Moose sauntered out, blocking his path. The mild-tempered golden Saint Bernard had always been a better lug nut than a guard dog…so much for home security.
“Hey, buddy.” Riley dropped to his knees, wrapping his arms around the loveable mutt. His muzzle was sprinkled with a touch of salt-white, marking his advancing age, and he moved just a bit slower than Riley remembered. “How’ve you been?”
Moose nestled against him as if it had been decades instead of months—now closing in on a year—since the last time they’d seen each other, pushing his meaty jowls into Riley’s chest. The burly mutt wore a generous red velvet ribbon, tied into a large bow at the top, around his neck. It was adorned with an oversized jingle bell that chimed as Riley gave him a good rub.
“Yeah, it’s great to see you, too. Have you been taking good care of Gran?” Riley smoothed a hand down Moose’s massive back, burying his fingers in the bristly fur. “You look ready for Christmas. It smells like Christmas around here, too. What’s Gran got baking in the kitchen?”
Moose turned back toward the doorway, his tail thumping against the floor as his head cocked to the side as if to say, “Follow me.”
“I’m on it.” Riley stood to flank him as the dog lumbered forward. “Smells like something good to eat. Maybe Gran made enough for all of us. Let’s go see what’s up.”
Question 1: Christmas Wishes...Special Delivery is based on Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, which are a powerful pair of verses about helping one another. How do these verses apply to your everyday life?
Question 2: Hpw does the impending storm in the opening scene set the tone for the story?
Question 3: Describe Kaylee. How does her concern for the animals at the shelter parallel her attitude in everyday life?
Question 4: Describe the conflict Riley feels concerning both his job abd his relationship with Kaylee. How does this move the story forward?
Question 5: Both Kaylee and Riley carry some measure of guilt. How does this affect the manner in which they relate to one another? How do they overcome their negative feelings about the past?
Question 6: Describe Rosie's role in the story. How does she affect the hearts of both Kaylee and Riley?
Question 7: What do you think the future holds for Kaylee, Riley and Rosie? Why?