Annabelle Archer has been crushing on Rick Stockton for years. And now, when he notices her, it’s only because her brothers and sisters make it impossible for him to miss her. Annabelle still hasn’t decided if God’s will means she spends her life taking care of her six siblings, or if He has more in mind for her.
Rick Stockton doesn’t mind that church activities and Annabelle’s brothers and sisters keep throwing Annabelle and Rick together. He just isn’t sure what it means. But as the kids keep trying to turn Rick into a snow angel—with sugar, baby powder, and more—he’ll work on figuring it out. Spending time with Annabelle’s family gives Rick a longing for one of his own…and an idea to make it happen.
This Christmas, Annabelle may just find there’s a special angel in her corner, one that will stick around for a lifetime.
Sometimes, Annabelle Archer thought she'd have done well in an old-fashioned novel, a bit like the one she was reading aloud to her youngest sister and two of her brothers. It would be written in an early 1900’s style, about the spinster older sister who sacrificed her dreams of career or marriage to help raise her orphaned siblings. Of course, no one would write it, because who wanted to read a story in which nothing ever changes?
Gasping—because she hadn't indulged in self-pity for months—Annabelle stifled the mangy, creepy-crawly feelings and turned the page of the storybook. She shifted so everyone could see the line drawing. Then, in her best voice, she continued to read. “‘The children lay on their backs in the cold, fresh snow. They each flapped arms and legs until Ned called, ‘Time;’ then each sprang to his or her feet to survey their new snow angels.
“‘Bitsy's was the smallest, of course, and a wreath of fallen pine cones formed a tiny halo just a few inches above her snow angel's head.’”
Brody tugged on Annabelle’s sweater. “What's a snow angel?”
“Duh.” Matt poked Brody's ribs. “It’s an angel you make out of snow.”
“Like a ice sculpture?” Brody asked.
“An ice sculpture,” Annabelle corrected. “No. It’s something people make in the snow.”
Victoria clapped her hands. “Like a th’nowman.”
“Not quite.” Annabelle turned the book so the three youngest could see the picture again. “See? You lie on the snow and flap your arms to make the wings.”
Faith, pretending to read her own book, but obviously listening, said, “So it's really a no-snow angel.”
Matt pushed against Annabelle’s arm. “You ever made one, A'belle?”
“No. I've never been in the snow.”
“Then how do you know ’bout them?”
“Because I read.” A lot. Too much, probably. She ought to pay more attention to her brothers and sisters.
The two oldest boys stormed down the stairs, their shoes drumming like a herd of fifty horses on a boardwalk.
Annabelle winced. “Guys, quiet. Grandma’s asleep.”
Their grandmother would not be pleased.
“We know.” Liam tiptoed the last three steps. “That's why we asked coach to come pick us up. So you wouldn't have to load all the little kids in the car.”
Instead of the usual protests of being called “little” (Faith or Brody) or pleas to go for a ride (Matt and Victoria), all four of the said “little ones” looked at the front door.
“Where is he?” Victoria asked.
“Not here yet.'' Joe jerked his head at Liam. “Let's get snacks and water. And Annabelle, you'd better get the door. None of the little kids know the coach.”
“I don’t know him. Not that well.” Although she'd seen him plenty of times, at church.
“But you're a grownup,” Faith pointed out. “It's OK if you talk to strangers.” She closed her book and got to her feet, stretching her lithe fourteen-year-old frame.
Mattie tugged Annabelle’s sweater again. Most of Annabelle’s clothes were a bit stretched out of shape because of his habit. “Can you ask him if he's made a snow angel?”
Ask the handsomest man in town—the one who had no idea Annabelle Archer existed—anything? “No.”
“Then can you introduce me, so I can ask him?”
“No, Mattie. He'll be in a hurry.”
The bell rang, and Annabelle looked around. No Liam, no Joe, and no Faith, and three wide open pairs of eyes waiting for her to protect them from strangers.
Usually she'd have to tie up any one of them to keep them from answering the door. They never made such a fuss over a simple act.
Sighing, Annabelle stomped across the hall to jerk open the door.
Rick Stockton was just as good looking as he'd been the last time she'd stared at him during a church service. Longish dark hair and a short goatee, and blue eyes that managed to twinkle even from across the sanctuary. They were much closer now. Too close.
Annabelle stepped back, one hand going to her cheek to make sure her hair covered her eye and eyebrow.
“Hi. I'm Rick.” He held out a hand. “Joe and Liam’s coach.”
“Right. Liam said you were picking them up.” She engineered a half-second shake before she backed away again. “Come in for a minute. The boys are getting food.”
He nodded and shut the door behind him.
Matt bumped Annabelle from behind and got right under Rick's feet, staring upward, his eyes wide and awed. He didn't run into many men, not up close like this, although Joe, at sixteen, was galloping up on six feet, Liam not far behind. But this guy had quite a few inches and plenty of pounds on them.
“Do you know how to make a snow angel?”
“Oh, Mattie, he's not interested in—”
But Rick held out his hand. “Yeah, actually, I do. I used to live near Chicago. My cousins taught me.”
“Could you show us?”
His lips twitched. “Do you have any snow?”
Matt shook his head and went on staring.
Rick looked at Annabelle, his eyebrows quirked in a question.
“I was just reading them a story, so they were wondering,” she said.
“You should take them up in the mountains one day and show them how to make one.” Rick smiled at all three of the kids gazing up at him.
“She doesn't know how.” Brody’s voice dripped scorn. “You'd have to teach her first. Unless you take us. Then Annabelle could stay home. Annabelle always wants to stay home.”
And sometimes, she wanted to strangle a younger brother or two.
Before Rick could answer, Liam and Joe pounded out of the kitchen, as noisy as ever. Annabelle shushed them and shooed them out with one motion.
“How come I never see your parents?” she heard Rick ask.
The bald answer from Liam sent shudders through Annabelle, and she risked another look outside.
“Our Grandma lives here, too,” Joe said.
Before Annabelle shut the door, she saw the look on Rick's face. Pity. She wouldn’t tolerate her own pity, why would she accept someone else’s?