Christmas Blessings (#18 in Cape Light Novel Series)
:Revel in the spirit of Christmas, and let your heart be an open book with a heartwarming novel set in Thomas Kinkade's charming town of Cape Light... Shortly before the start of the holidays, successful renovation business owner...
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:Revel in the spirit of Christmas, and let your heart be an open book with a heartwarming novel set in Thomas Kinkade's charming town of Cape Light...
Shortly before the start of the holidays, successful renovation business owner Sam Morgan has an accident on site that leaves him housebound. The timing could not be worse, as his wife, Jessica, just left her job to run an animal rescue shelter on their property. Now, not only are they without two regular incomes, but Sam has to recoup in the middle of a small zoo. His oldest son, Darrell, a senior in college, assures Sam that he can step in and run the business. But Sam is opposed to Darrell leaving college and doubts his son can fill his work boots.
Meanwhile, Jean Whitman has returned to her childhood home, Cape Light, to care for her ill mother. The relationship between Jean and her mother has never been easy; Jean has never been able to please Cynthia. To build common ground, Jean reopens Cynthia's old bookstore café. But what Jean doesn't know is that one of the first customers to walk through the door will change her life forever.
KATHERINE SPENCER has written many books for children and adults, including eight books in the bestselling Cape Light series. She lives on Long Island, New York.
That meal was delicious. Now I know how a stuffed turkey feels." Jessica's stepfather, Ezra, patted his stomach while the rest of Jessica and Sam Morgan's guests smiled and laughed.
There were only ten around the table this year, but enough food for twenty, Jessica decided, surveying the leftovers. Family holidays were often at her house, and there were often many more guests. But their Thanksgiving dinner had been quiet and relaxed this year with just her mother and stepfather; her sister, Emily, and her husband, Dan, and their younger daughter, Jane. Emily's older daughter, Sara, who lived in Boston, was spending Thanksgiving with her husband's family this year. Sara and Luke would come to Cape Light for Christmas. Of course, there was also Jessica's husband, Sam, and their three children-Darrell, Tyler, and Lily.
"No room in that turkey for dessert?" Emily's tone was teasing. She emerged from the kitchen with an apple pie in one hand and a pumpkin pie in the other. Her daughter, Jane, followed with a bowl of rice pudding and a carrot-nut loaf.
Ezra smiled, taking in the bounty of sweets. "I might need a taste of each. And a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side?"
Jessica laughed at his hopeful look. She cut a generous slice of each pie and served him first. "Don't worry, I didn't forget the ice cream."
"I'll get it." Lily, Jessica's youngest, headed back to the kitchen, eager to help.
"I hope you didn't forget the stomach antacids either." Jessica's mother, Lillian, turned to her husband. "Will I be kept awake all night by your moans and groans?"
Ezra smiled in his good-natured way. "If the need arises, I shall take my moans and groans into the guest room. While I concede your point, I must ask, what would Thanksgiving be without a little overindulgence? I've heard the first Thanksgiving revelers carried on for days."
"Three days." Lily returned from the kitchen and placed a carton of vanilla ice cream and a chrome scoop on the table next to Ezra. "Mrs. Gibson read us a book about it."
"Thank you, Mrs. Gibson." Ezra ladled a generous lump of ice cream on his apple pie and picked up his spoon. "Let us honor our brave Pilgrim forefathers."
Just as Lillian seemed poised to for another volley, Sam lifted his glass. "And let us honor the cook. We may not keep everyone here for  three days, but I bet we've had the best Thanksgiving feast in town."
"Hear, hear. To the cook," Dan echoed.
Jessica blushed. "Correction-the many cooks. Thanks to Emily and Jane, for their side dishes and the pudding. And Tyler," she added, smiling at her middle child. "He made the sweet potatoes and the pumpkin pie entirely on his own."
Tyler glowed with pride. It was becoming apparent that he had both interest and talent in the kitchen, and was even considering a career in that direction.
"Nice job, Ty." Darrell, Jessica's eldest, home from college for the long weekend, reached over and ruffled Tyler's hair. "We should call you Iron Chef."
Lillian raised her glass then leaned toward her husband. "What does that mean? Iron Chef?"
"A cooking show, dear. On TV," Ezra explained.
"I thought so. All these people cooking on television. I don't get the point," Lillian murmured. "In my day, you ate what was set in front of you. No fuss or fanfare."
"Thankfully, that day has passed," Sam said. "Before I forget, there's another part to my toast. Only about Jessica."
Jessica knew what was coming. She stared at her plate and took a breath. She and Sam had debated all morning whether or not to share her news today. Sam had been eager to tell the rest of the family, but she had felt unsure. He had promised he would leave it to her. It was her news to tell. Or not tell, if she chose.
She also knew Sam could never keep a secret. It was one of the things she loved about him-he was always so forthright and honest. But it was not an endearing trait at this particular moment. "Jessica has some news," Sam announced. "Right, honey?"
Finally, he looked at her.
Jessica tried to telegraph her displeasure to the far end of the table where he sat. But all eyes were on her. There was no avoiding it.
"Don't tell me. You're pregnant." Her mother practically groaned the words.
Jessica almost laughed. "Three is enough for me, Mother. And I'm a bit past that stage."
"Who knows these days? Movie stars seem to be having babies well into their senior years," Lillian observed.
"That might be true. But not me."
Emily had poured herself more coffee but didn't touch the cup. "What is it, Jess? Please tell us. I can hardly stand the suspense."
Jessica smiled and took a deep breath. But before she could speak, Lily interrupted. "Mommy started an animal shelter. We're going to take care of animals that are homeless."
"What a nice idea. You have plenty of property here, and you've always loved animals. Especially the strays." Emily smiled softly. "Remember that stray cat you found when we moved to the house on Providence Street?"
Jessica did remember. But she was surprised that Emily did.
"Don't remind me," Lillian said. "The minute your sister showed that mangy creature attention, it set up shop under the porch and had a boatload of kittens." Leave it to her mother to blame a poor stray cat for seeking shelter for her offspring. "It took us all summer to give those kittens away. Are you really eager to go through all that again . . . and again? That's quite a time-consuming hobby."
Jessica twisted her hands in her lap under the table, a nervous habit, perfected during endless and often stressful meetings at the bank. Sam gave her look. If she didn't tell all of her news, he would.
"It's not going to be a hobby, Mother. I mean, not any longer. I'm leaving the bank. I'm going to rescue animals full-time."
Jessica paused, her gaze sweeping over the surprised expressions around the table. Her relatives looked something just short of stunned.
Her niece Jane recovered the fastest. "I think that's great, Aunt Jess. You have so many pets already. I don't think it will be much different around here at all."
Jessica smiled, grateful for the vote of confidence. "I don't think so either, Janie. Though we do have plans to build some stalls in the barn and fence off different sections of the property."
"You'd be surprised. A lot of animals don't get along. Goats and sheep, for instance," Sam offered.
Her mother stared at him, her lips a tight line. "Is that all you have to say?" She turned to Jessica, her gaze withering. "You quit your job at the bank, manager of the loan department. In a few more years, bank manager, to be sure. You tossed all that in the . . . dung heap, let us say, to fuss over a pack of stray animals?"
"I don't expect you to understand, Mother. Please don't try to change my mind," Jessica said. "It's all settled. I've turned in my notice and started taking in more animals."
Lillian pressed her hand to her chest and took a deep breath. Ezra leaned toward his wife, looking concerned.
"Now, Lily . . . don't get yourself into a state. Jessica's old enough to know her own mind."
"Sounds like she's lost her mind to me," Lillian retorted. "And what do you think of this?" she asked Sam. "You don't care if your wife ruins a perfectly good career for some midlife, wildlife crisis?"
Jessica watched Sam rub the back of his neck, a gesture he used to buy time and gather his patience. "I'm totally in favor of the career change, Lillian," he said. "Jessica has wanted to take this step for a long time. She's certainly paid her dues at that bank. She's just not happy working there anymore. At this stage of her life, I think she should work at a career that's fulfilling and makes her happy."
"Fine words," Lillian replied. "What about her paycheck? I assume it takes two salaries to run this house and take care of your children. Jessica certainly won't make the same income running an animal shelter-if she makes anything at all from the endeavor."
"Mother, really. That's none of your business," Emily cut in.
"I'm just curious. Since I happen to be the person most likely to be asked for a loan, if the need should arise," Lillian added.
Jessica thought Sam's temper was going to flare at the dig. But to Jessica's great relief, he sat back and shrugged.
"It's nice to know you're ready to lend a helping hand, Lillian," Sam said, intentionally misinterpreting his mother-in-law's words. "But there won't be any need. My business is doing well, thank goodness. And we have plenty of savings. We know it will take time for the shelter to turn a profit. We've already planned for that."
"Not worried about making ends meet?" Lillian sounded as if she didn't believe him. "Well, time will tell. That's all I have to say."
"Yes, it will," Sam agreed.
Jessica smiled at her husband, meeting his dark eyes with a look of thanks. And love. All her annoyance about the way he had given up her secret faded. She was immensely grateful for Sam's understanding and the way he had encouraged her to follow through on this "someday" plan-to open and run her own shelter. Not just dabble with the work on the weekends.
Emily cut a slice of pumpkin pie and passed it to her husband. "Life is short. We must follow our bliss, whether it leads to Thanksgiving pie . . . or caring for God's creatures, great and small. Congratulations, Jessica. I think we should toast to your new career and great success."
"Yes, Aunt Jessica. That's very exciting news," Jane said.
Everyone raised their glasses again. Everyone but her mother, Jessica noticed. "Go ahead. Clink away. I won't toast to this harebrained idea. No pun intended," Lillian added.
"Oh, Lily, don't be a spoilsport," Ezra muttered.
Her mother ignored him. "I'll give it a month. Maybe two. By the new year, you'll regret this impetuous decision, Jessica. But by then it will be too late."
Was her mother right? Jessica hoped not. She shook off the doubts her mother had just planted and reminded herself that she couldn't let her mother's dire predictions get under her skin.
"Think what you like, Mother," Jessica replied calmly. "By the new year, I'm sure I'll be thanking my lucky stars I had the courage to take this leap . . . and thanking my husband for encouraging me every step of the way."
"Aww, Jess. That's so sweet." Sam smiled at her from the far end of the table.
"Hear, hear . . . to supportive husbands, everywhere," Dan said, toasting again. Just as Jessica clinked glasses with her brother-in-law, she heard her mother shriek and saw her tilt back in her chair, her arms raised in alarm.
"Good gravy-what's going on?" Ezra turned to his wife.
"Something is crawling up the tablecloth." Her mother stared down at her lap and Jessica saw a soft, gray head emerge. One of the kittens she was keeping had escaped the enclosure in the family room.
While everyone laughed, it scampered in confusion and fright, straight through her mother's dessert dish, leaving pumpkin-colored footprints on the tablecloth.
"For heaven's sake. Don't just sit there. Someone catch it," Lillian snapped.
Several swipes were made but the kitten eluded capture. Finally, it settled on the table, cowering in a small ball. Lily gently lifted the cat, cooing softly as she removed it from the table, then cradled it to her chest.
"She must have wiggled through the enclosure. Lily will put her back," Jessica explained, wondering if there were any other escapees on the loose.
Jessica expected her mother to reply with some tart comment, but Lillian just pushed her dessert plate aside. "I'd like another slice of pie, please. On a fresh dish. This one has cat footprints."
"Coming right up," Jessica replied, barely able to keep a straight face.
She knew it wasn't going to be easy, this new path she had chosen. A path "less traveled by," as the poet Robert Frost had written. But she was so eager to set off and put her whole heart into it. Nothing could dim her high hopes.
ÒEverythingÕs ready. Finally. I didnÕt expect the turkey to take so long,Ó Jean Whitman admitted to her mother. ÒItÕs only a turkey breast. I thought that would be enough for just the two of us.Ó
"More than enough. It seems a waste to do all this cooking for just two people. Though I will miss the dark meat."
Jean had forgotten her mother's preference. Should have bought some drumsticks. Oh well, next time.
Cynthia had refused any help walking from her bedroom to the dining room, though Jean felt anxious, watching every step as her mother maneuvered her walker. When her mother reached the table, Jean pulled out a chair and waited to help her mother sit.
"My place is on the other side, don't you remember?"
"Yes, of course. I'll move your place setting."
Jean had remembered, but the other side of the table was so much harder to reach with the walker. But she patiently took the dish and silverware to the spot her mother preferred, then waited as her mother made her way around.
Jean had set the table with good china and silver flatware. The dishes, rescued from the china closet, had been full of dust, and the silver had needed polish. She had also bought a centerpiece of autumn-colored flowers and found candles for the silver holders.
She thought her mother would appreciate the special touches. Cynthia was an artist-or had been. Jean also thought the extra fuss might lift her spirits a bit. But her mother didn't seem to notice anything special about the table. She opened her napkin and took a sip of water from a crystal glass with no change of expression. She could have been eating off a tray in her bedroom, Jean thought.
Jean returned to the kitchen and carried out the many dishes she had prepared. It did seem like a lot for two, but they would definitely use the leftovers. Jean's mother had not been a very good cook. She was more interested in her painting and would toss together a hasty supper after hours in her studio-often sandwiches and soup from a can or pasta with bottled sauce.
But Jean loved to cook. She was always taking classes and gleaning tips from TV shows and the Internet. She had already found some interesting recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers and would try a few this week. She wasn't just visiting Cape Light for the holiday but had moved down from Portland, Maine, to take care of her mother indefinitely, taking over the cooking and housekeeping from the aides who stopped in daily.