About the Author
New York Times and USA Today Bestseller, Linda Goodnight is the winner of the RITA and other highly acclaimed awards for her emotional fiction. Active in orphan ministry, this former nurse and teacher enjoys writing fiction that carries a message of hope and light in a sometimes dark world. A country girl, she lives in Oklahoma. Readers may contact her through her website: www.lindagoodnight.com
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
He hurriedly tossed his tools into the back of the work truck, eager to be gone. Man, he loved this time of year! Cool, crisp and clear weather, and Christmas practically dripped from the trees.
He clicked the locks on his royal blue F-350, waited for Dawg, his faithful mutt to leap into the seat and was about to climb inside himself when his father, owner of Buchanon Built Construction Company and, by all rights, Brady's boss, stepped out into the late November day.
"Brady, hold up."
Not fast enough. Brady blew out a resigned breath. He leaned a hand on the truck top and waited, though not at all patiently.
"Been meaning to talk to you about something."
"Sure. What's up?"
"This makeover thing you do every Christmas, better cancel this year."
The request sailed right over Brady's head. "Too late. I already have the recipient lined up."
Dan Buchanon, his salt-and-pepper hair hidden under a Buchanon Built ball cap, scratched at the side of his neck. "You've made the announcement?"
"On my way there now. Dad, you should see this house. It's bad, but Buchanon Built can make it shine." Donating a home makeover for one needy family each Christmas was Brady's favorite event of the year, and the publicity was great for business, an important consideration to his father.
"I appreciate the sentiment, son, and in years past didn't mind the lost time and expense but not this year. We need all hands on deck."
"I can work it out. Don't worry. Buchanon projects won't suffer. The guys who volunteer can work on the makeover on their downtime or when things are slow."
But Dan was shaking his head. "With all the work on the schedule and the slowdowns we've encountered, you don't have time for charity. We don't have time for charity. Jaylee just told me you still don't have a plumber lined up for the Edwards project."
"I'm working on it."
Irritation flashed on Dan's face. "And you want to pull off six paying jobs for a freebie? Forget it, Brady. Forget it. And fix the plumber problem today. No more delays. No more excuses."
Brady's blood heated. He held his temper in check better these days, but no one worked him up like his dad. And vice versa. "I'm doing my best."
His father's thick jaw clenched. "I don't want your best. I want the problem solved."
"It's not as if I haven't tried." Leaving the truck door open and the dog in the seat, Brady pushed away from the vehicle to face his father. He spread his hands in a plea. "Be reasonable, Dad." Like that was going to happen in this lifetime. "Jack Taylor had a heart attack. The man can't work." And the plumbing problem had nothing to do with Brady's home makeover.
"Then get someone else."
Brady didn't believe in kicking a man when he was down. "Jack's business needs the work. And he's the best plumber around."
"And we need to bring this project in on time or lose a boatload of money. The vandals have thrown us behind on everything and now subcontractors decide not to show up. Buchanon Construction was built on dependability and speed. If Jack can't work, find someone who can. Spend your time on business, not on some feel-good Christmas project."
Brady stifled an angry retort. He had places to go and much more enjoyable things to do tonight than get into another fight with his father. A plumber who'd had a heart attack didn't "decide" not to work. The choice was out of the man's hands.
"I'll talk to Jack's wife first thing in the morning." Mary Taylor was busting tail trying to keep the small plumbing business going while taking care of her ailing husband. Good plumbing temps were hard to come by. He should know. He'd called plenty, though telling that to his father was a waste of good clean Texas air.
"Tomorrow isn't good enough." Dan stacked his hands on his hips for emphasis. "I want plumbers on the job site by six in the morning to fix the problem." He jabbed a finger toward Brady. "See her now. Tonight. And don't take no for an answer. Understood?"
Brady took a step back, fuming, his back teeth tight enough to crack.
"Right. Sure. The job will get done." Brady always did the job, but his father seldom noticed progress. He only noticed the problems.
As if his demands were lawwhich they sort of were Dan spun away and slammed the office door behind him. The sound reverberated in the formerly pleasant evening.
Adrenaline jacked to ninety, Brady dragged a frustrated hand down his face. Another minute and he would have been gone. Another minute and he could have gone through an entire work shift without letting his father get under his skin.
He was six inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than Dan Buchanon and had been the foreman at Buchanon Built since graduating Texas Tech eight years ago, but his father still managed to make him feel as insignificant as sawdust.
Brady turned back to the truck, where Dawg sat behind the wheel as if he was about to drive away. The comical picture erased some of Brady's frustration. "You driving?"
"Can't. He doesn't have a license."
Brady pivoted toward the voice. Dawson, one of Brady's three brothers and the dimpled twin to Sawyer, ambled around the end of the warehouse, tool belt bouncing against his hip like a gunslinger.
"Don't let Dad ruin your day. He's been in a meeting with Marilyn Tenbears for the last hour and a half."
"That explains it."
Marilyn Tenbears owned a strip of woods along Gratitude Creek that Dad was determined to purchase. Marilyn was just as determined to either get rich from the sale or keep the land.
"He thinks I should shelve the makeover."
Dawson unhooked his tool belt. "I heard. But weren't you planning to tell the recipient tonight that her home had been chosen for the remodel?"
"Still am. In fact, I'm heading over there now. Want to come along?"
"You're still going to do it?"
"That's the plan."
Dawson cast a concerned glance toward the office door. "What about Dad? How will you get this past him?"
"I'll think of something. He'll come around."
"He doesn't like his orders to be ignored."
"Dad never likes anything I do, but I get the work done."
"That's because Buchanon Built has flourished with you as foreman in a way it never could with Dad in the role. He was too harsh with subcontractors."
Brady huffed. "No kidding? Dad? Harsh?"
The brothers exchanged a chuckle.
"Hop in, Dawson, my man." Brady popped a palm against the roof of his truck and slid into the driver's seat. "Santa Claus is about to do his thing."
"What about the plumber?"
"I'll worry about him later."
With an amused shake of his head, Dawson shucked his tool belt and climbed into the big Ford with his brother, relegated Dawg to the backseat, and slammed the door. "No wonder you and Dad butt heads. Who is this year's beneficiary of a Buchanon Built makeover?"
"Abby Webster. You know who she is. She works at the Buttered Biscuit."
"Yeah." Dawson turned an interested face toward Brady. "I know who you mean. Good waitress, all business and not too smiley or talkative but remembers exactly how I like my eggs and coffee." He put the edge of his hand at nose level. "Up to here, pretty tall with long brown hair she wears in a ponytail over her shoulder. Right?"
Brady glanced from the road to his brother. "Tall? She's not tall."
"Compared to you she's not tall. Compared to other women she is."
Brady conceded a truth he had to live with and really didn't mind all that much. He was some kind of genetic throwback to his giant Celtic ancestors, both in looks and size. Even his rust-brown hair, which he clipped short, was out of sync with the rest of the family. Dawson, on the other hand, was so black-hair-and-blue-eyed pretty, he belonged on the cover of a magazine. Not that Brady would tell his manly little brother he thought he was pretty.
"Did you know she has a little girl with some kind of handicap?"
"Like I said, Abby Webster's not much of a talker. Brings my food and skitters away." From the backseat, the dog poked a cold nose in Dawson's neck. Dawson gave him a gentle shove. "Stay in the back, fella."
"Wait until you see this place, Dawson." The enthusiasm Brady had for the Christmas project bubbled up inside him. "Abby and her little girl need this makeover badly. The house is run-down, shingles missing, windows cracked, no handicap accessibility. She's going to be thrilled."
"How do you find out this stuff?"
"I ask. I look." Truth was, he drove all over town looking at houses. "People tell me."
"That's because they know you're a soft touch like Mom."
"To whom much is given, much is required."
"That's Mom's favorite verse."
"Yeah, well, she's right. Giving back is the right thing to do, and it feels pretty good, too, especially at Christmas." And nothing made him feel as worthwhile and as necessary to the planet, especially after a run-in with his critical father. "I'm not backing out no matter what Dad thinks."
"What if he pulls the powerful Buchanon rug out from under the project? You need the company to make this happen."
Brady hadn't had time to think that far, but he couldn't deny the possibility. When Dad was crossed, he could be a tough customer.
But Brady had made up his mind. One way or the other, Abby Webster was getting a home makeover. And he couldn't wait to see how happy she was when she heard the news.
* * *
Gabriel's Crossing, Texas, was the kind of place where few people crossed the railroad tracks into "that" part of town unless they lived there.
Abby Webster and her daughter lived there.
Legs aching from the twelve-hour shift at the Buttered Biscuit and delighted to be heading home, Abby encouraged her exhausted old CR-V to travel the distance from the Huckleberry Play School to the sagging house on Cedar Corner. Anyone could find her house without the numbersomething that had been missing far longer than Abby had lived there. Hers was the house with duct tape over a crack in the front window and the cheery crayon drawings of blue and red angels hanging next to the crack. Her four-year-old had a thing for colorful angels.
Abby parked in the driveway, a strip of blacktop with dead grass poking through the cracks. "Out you go, jelly fingers."
Her daughter, the joy of her life, giggled from her car seat. "I'm hungry."
"Imagine that, Lila Webster is hungry." Abby hopped out of the car and went around to the other side. She opened the door and unbuckled her daughter's seat belt. "How about a peanut butter and broccoli sandwich?"
Smiling into her child's chocolate-colored eyes, Abby lifted the four-year-old into her arms, thankful Lila was still small. Hopefully, by the time Lila was too big to carry, they could afford a house with the space for her special equipment. Or just maybe Lila would be walking on her own without a walker or wheelchair. Such possibilities existed and Abby would never give up hope that the mild function in her child's spinal cord would continue to develop.
"Okay, then, maybe macaroni and raisins?"
Lila cocked her head, a tiny frown between dark eyebrows as she considered the combination. Then, her face lit with enthusiasm, she said, "Okay!"
Marveling at the precious gift of her child, Abby juggled Lila and her keys to unlock the front door and bump it open with her hip. Raising a child with special needs wasn't easy, but Lila's undaunted spirit and joy in living made everything worthwhile. What other child would react with such pleasure to a meal of macaroni and raisins?
"Were you a good girl at school today?"
"Did Gerry say mean things to you?"
"He was nice."
Abby breathed a sigh of relief. Some kids didn't understand why Lila was different. While most didn't seem to mind that Lila wore braces and didn't walk normally, some were downright cruel at times.
Dropping her keys on the table, Abby set her daughter on the love seat with the ever-present crayons and paper and went to the kitchen to create another macaroni masterpiece.
The pasta was on to boil when Lila called, "Somebody's here, Mom. In a big, big car."
Abby heard the rumble of an engine and identified the big, big car as most likely a truck. Hmm. She hadn't ordered anything through UPS.
"Not expecting guests." She went to the side window and peeked out at the graying evening. A bright blue pickup had pulled into the driveway behind her Honda.
"Who in the world is that?"
Lila, busy with another of her art projects, didn't look up. "I don't know. Maybe Santa Claus."
Abby smiled, though the statement squeezed her chest. This year was the first time Lila was old enough to really get into the idea of Santa Claus, but Lila's medical expenses kept their small budget strained to the breaking point. Lila wouldn't notice the small size of the Christmas gifts under the tree, but her mother would.
"Too early for Santa, so I don't know who " Her voice dwindled away as two gorgeous males exited the gleaming blue truck and sauntered up her drive. They looked familiar and they had to be brothers. Though one was half a foot taller than the other, their strides matched and they swung their arms with identical confidence as though the world was their oyster. With looks like those, it probably was.
"Oh, my." As they came closer, she recognized them. Buchanons, two of the four sear-your-eyeballs-gorgeous brothers.
Abby opened the front door as the men stepped upon her wooden porch. A weak board groaned and she held her breath, hoping they wouldn't fall through.
"I don't have home owners' insurance," she blurted.
The taller one with swimming-pool eyes tilted his head. She wished she could remember his name. "Ma'am?"
"The porch," she managed, feeling stupider by the minute as her brain refused to work but her mouth kept going. "Some of the boards are weak. You're big. Don't fall through."
Both men dipped their heads to stare at the porch and then exchanged glances. "Needs work."
"Don't I know it," Abby said.
She stood in the doorway, blocking the entrance and wishing they'd state their business. Buchanons didn't exactly hang out on this side of town and they were letting out expensive heat.
"That's what we want to talk to you about."
"My porch?" Abby poked a finger into her breastbone and then flung out her hand. "Sorry, I can't afford to hire anyone right now."
"Oh, no, that's not why we're here," said Mr. SwimmingPool Eyes. "I'm Brady Buchanon and this is my brother. Dawson. Buchanon Built Construction."
Brady and Dawson. She could never remember one brother from the other, only that all four were heartthrobs. She did, however, remember their routine orders at the diner.
Two gorgeous men on her doorstep was not the norm and she was pedaling fast to figure out why they were here. She pointed to Dawson. "Eggs over easy. And you" Her finger went to Brady. "French toast and large milk but occasionally the house special."