Can a magical Christmas under glass…bring them back together for good?
Widowed dad Adam Masterson still doesn’t understand why Joy Boston left Indian Lake and broke his heart all those years ago. Now she’s returned to sell her grandfather’s beloved poinsettia greenhouse — and Joy and Adam’s connection is as strong as ever. But Joy has a life in New York. And Adam has only until Christmas to convince Joy that she belongs in Indian Lake — with him.
JOY STOOD AT her large office window, watching the Christmas decorating below. A fire truck raced down the street with a Christmas wreath attached to the front grille. She couldn’t help smiling. Joy always happily anticipated Thanksgiving preparations. It was the one time of year her grandfather left her hometown of Indian Lake, coming to New York to be with her. The fire truck blasted its siren and Joy smiled, remembering her grandfather always hanging a wreath on the front of his old truck and then driving her around Indian Lake with a thermos of hot cocoa, singing Christmas songs together as they looked at the lights reflected in the frozen lake waters. She’d thought then even the aurora borealis couldn’t compare to the beauty and sparkle of Indian Lake at Christmas.
Her view of Manhattan had blurred, and she wiped away her tears. She hugged herself, wondering why her thoughts kept wandering back to her grandfather so much this year. Perhaps it was because this year they wouldn’t be spending Thanksgiving together. Her grandfather owned the largest poinsettia wholesale nursery in northwestern Indiana. Though Joy’s year-end at Newly and Associates CPA firm was grueling, Frank Boston’s Christmas rush was brutal. This year he told her he simply could not break away.
“He’s so busy…bless his heart,” Joy mumbled.
The rap on the doorjamb was familiar. “Hey, girl,” Glory said. “Got a minute?”
Joy turned and smiled. Glory Washington was not only her best friend, but her roommate. They’d met the first week Joy had come to work at Newly and Associates. Glory was a month older than Joy to the day and never let her forget that she had seniority. When Glory wanted something her way, she usually got it. Glory was also the most trusting, generous and brassy person Joy had ever met, and Joy loved her to pieces.
“For you? Always. What’s up?”
Glory’s smile flashed impishly as she sashayed into the office in high-heeled suede boots, which she’d no doubt bought at one of her favorite resale shops. She wore a faux fur deep burgundy coat, black wool skirt, black cowl-neck sweater and an enormous rhinestone snowflake clip in her blond-black-and-cherry-bark dreads. The woman could wear a potato sack and look stunning.
“I saw you with the old man. You think he’s going to make you partner after the wedding?”
Glory was referring to Joy’s seven-day-old engagement to Chuck Newly, handsome, successful, ambitious and heir of the two-centuries-old New York Newly family.
She couldn’t wait to tell her grandfather, and she was doubly sad that he wouldn’t be in New York for Thanksgiving. He hadn’t returned her call from a few days ago, and she’d been too swamped at work to call him again. She was giddy with excitement about the announcement, though. She’d call him tonight for certain.
“Glory. Honestly,” Joy snorted, “you have a talent for shooting for the moon without any fuel or even the rocket. I’m not marrying Chuck to get ahead in my career.”
“Yeah? Why, then?”
“Because he’s sweet to me, uh, when we’re finally alone. Not always easy. He’s smart…and…and good to the employees and he’s clearly devoted to his father. His attitude toward family is important to me, you know? His mother must have been wonderful.”
Glory folded her arms over her chest, her faux Louis Vuitton purse banging against her side.
Joy frowned. She didn’t like that probing, accusatory stare Glory was piercing her with. “And…they’ve planned an incredible Thanksgiving for us. We’ll watch the parade at some friends’ penthouse. Then dinner at Le Bernadin.”
“Wow. Impressive,” Glory groaned and rolled her eyes.
“Liar. You’re not impressed.”
“Neither should you be.”
“You already bought a turkey. We were going to have the whole gang over for dinner. Remember?”
“Did you forget?”
“No. Not really. But when Mr. Newly…Dad, I mean, told us of his plans, what could I say?”
“Oh, no. I get that. Alexander Newly is the most overbearing person I’ve ever met.”
Joy smiled. “And that’s saying a lot… coming from you.”
“Okay. Fine. I admit to being somewhat obtrusive on occasion, but it’s for everybody’s own good. I like being the mother hen.”
“This, of course, is because you’re older than I am.”
“You’re the best roommate in the world. And we still have Christmas.”
“Look, I don’t mind missing the holidays, if I thought you were happy.”
“Don’t start. I’ve told you. I’m happy! What’s not to be happy about? I’m engaged to a handsome, up-and-coming guy who—”
Glory cut in. “Whose father appears to love you more than he does.”
“That’s not true,” Joy countered as she fingered a sheaf of papers on her desk. Anytime the truth pinched the edges of her heart, she immediately rebuffed the feeling by moving on to something new. Immersing herself in yet another client’s financial fiasco or potential bankruptcy was her forte. She liked saving her clients, bailing them out of hot water, taking meetings with the IRS and pulling their hands off panic buttons. She was good at her job. Very good.
Glory stared at her. “Not true, huh?” She jerked her head toward the open door.
Chuck, dressed impeccably in a new black wool suit, brilliant white shirt and gray-and-black designer tie, breezed into the office, his Bluetooth activated as he spoke with a client. Going up to Joy, he kissed her cheek and smiled, not missing a beat of his conversation.
“Fine. Later,” he said and clicked off. “Joy, you gotta learn to take my calls—especially after hours.”
She frowned. “Not when I’m working on Nathan Withers’s account for you. And not when the only thing you have to talk about is the client.”
“Ouch.” He grinned, glancing at Glory. “My bad. But you know how I get around the holidays. Forgive me?”
He kissed her lightly on the mouth.
Joy barely had time to pucker her lips before he whirled around, took an incoming call on the Bluetooth and was gone.
Glory glared at her. “I didn’t say a word.”
Joy opened her mouth to protest and closed it. She didn’t like how much truth was in what Glory said. Too many times Joy had wondered why there weren’t romantic moments between her and Chuck. He was always like this at the end of the year. Of course, that didn’t explain the lack of romance during the summer. There hadn’t been a weekend where they took the Staten Island Ferry and just “escaped” the city. No trips to an island beach or even the Jersey beach. Even dinner date conversations revolved around their clients. Still, she and Chuck had planned a future together. Solid. Secure. Clearly devoted to family as she was to her grandfather. And one day, they’d get around to romance. Wouldn’t they?
Glory’s smile was too smug. “That guy makes my case for me.”
“Forget it. I’m marrying Chuck and that’s it. I’ve got work to do. So do you,” Joy finally said.
“I do,” Glory replied. “Want a coffee? I need a pot of caffeine myself.”
“Is that because you didn’t get in till after one last night?”
Joy’s cell rang. She looked at the caller ID. “Gish. Another Indiana scammer.”
Glory cranked her head around. “How many of those have you gotten in the last few days? Maybe it’s not a scammer.”
“Right.” Joy accepted the call. “This is Joy.”
“Joy, thank heavens I got you!”
“Mrs. Beabots? Is that you?”
“You recognize my voice?”
“Yours I would never forget. So, what’s up?”
“Oh, Joy, dear. I have the most awful news.”
Joy felt her scalp crawl, and her knees weakened. She placed one hand on the desk and lowered herself into her chair. “It’s Grandpa.”
Glory stiffened, her eyes instantly alert. Quickly, she crossed to Joy. She put her hands on Joy’s shoulders.
Joy felt her support and covered one of Glory’s hands with her own.
“I’m afraid so.”
“Is he sick?”
“He passed away. Last night, dear. Massive heart attack.”
“But…” Joy tried to make sense of what she was hearing. Frank could not be dead. He was her touchstone. “He was fine last year at Thanksgiving. I mean, I know he took a couple naps. And when I last talked to him, he said he had to cut the call short because his poinsettia supplier was on the other line.” Joy’s eyes were full of tears, but she didn’t feel them. Her face had turned cold. Her hands shook.
“Frank’s attorney tried to call you last night. He said he left a message…”
“My phone was off. Then this morning, my fia—my boss called right when I woke up. He’s relentless and he talked to me on the entire subway ride and up until I walked into my office.”
“I understand, dear. Now, you have to come back here immediately and tend to the funeral details. The attorney wants to go over the will with you. His name is Kyle Evans. I’ll text you his number. Joy, I’ll do all I can to help you with anything you need.”
“That’s sweet of you. Thank you.”
“We all loved Frank, dear. This is a shock to all your friends back home. Call me when you arrive.”
“I will.” Joy hung up.
Friends? What friends did she have in Indian Lake? None that she knew. There was only her grandpa, and now he was gone and she was alone. She put her phone down and dropped her head into her hands. “I feel sick.”
Glory rubbed Joy’s shoulders. “I’m so, so sorry, Joy. What can I do?” Glory asked.
“Nothing. There’s nothing anyone can do. My grandpa is gone. My only family. I…I have no one.”
“Not true. You have me. And—and Chuck…” Glory’s voice trailed off.
Joy looked down at the incoming text from Mrs. Beabots with Kyle’s phone number. “I have to go back to Indian Lake. ASAP.”
“Sure you do, sweetie. But…” Glory glanced out the door.
“That’ll make your new father-in-law-to-be not so overjoyed.”
“The firm can live without me. Chuck is very capable. Even though he puts a lot on my shoulders, he’ll be fine,” Joy replied firmly. “Grandpa was all I had. Plus, I need to take care of the funeral arrangements.”
“How long will all this take?”
“A week, tops. Besides, I have over a month of accrued vacation. Honestly, I can video chat with our clients, and with text and email, no one will know I’m gone.”
“Tell me what I can do,” Glory said.
“Would you mind going to the apartment and packing a bag for me? Casual stuff. And a dress for the funeral? I’ll book my flight now.”
“Done.” Glory rushed to the door and stopped. “Joy. You know I love you, girl.”
“Love you, too. And thanks.”
As Glory whisked out the door, Joy dialed the attorney’s number.
The call was picked up on the second ring. “Evans and Evans Law. How may I help you?”
“Hello. This is Joy Boston. I need to speak with Kyle Evans. I just received his message that…my grandfather, Frank Boston…” Joy’s voice was chopped off by the biting burn of sorrow in her throat. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she dropped her forehead to her palm. “…died…”
THE AUDITORIUM SEATS at Saint Mark’s Elementary School were filled to capacity with parents, grandparents and students who applauded as the final curtain fell on the traditional Thanksgiving pageant. Adam Masterson bolted to his feet and proudly yelled “Bravo!” as his son, Titus, took another bow.
Adam felt his heart swell and his sight blur watching Titus’s smile radiate across the expanse. Titus. The light of his life, the motivation that forced him to get out of bed in the morning despite the shroud of grief he wore since his wife, Amie, had died three years ago. “Well done!” Adam shouted, smiling at Titus, who stood next to Timmy Bosworth, dressed in a Pilgrim costume.
Timmy took Titus’s hand in his and raised it over their heads. “Thank you and happy Thanksgiving!” Timmy announced to the crowd.
The audience erupted in more applause as the curtain fell for the last time.
“Adam,” Sarah Bosworth said, as she hoisted three-year-old Charlotte into her arms, “Titus was wonderful. He recited his lines like a professional actor. I felt like I was right there on Plymouth Plantation with those kids.”
Adam couldn’t help the rush of pride that shot straight up his spine. “He was good, wasn’t he?”
“He was. Timmy told me that he and Titus only practiced three times.”
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Adam said, bending closer, his hair falling over his forehead. “I think Titus has an eidetic memory. The first time I took him through his lines, he’d memorized everything.”
“No kidding?” Sarah’s eyes widened. “Wish I had that ability.”
Adam glanced toward the stage and saw some of the kids running down the aisle. “He’s been reading since he was three. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at anything he does.”
“Trust me,” Sarah said. “Gifted children aren’t easy. I know. Both Timmy and Annie are exceptional, and just last week, I caught Charlotte here sitting at the piano playing with Annie.”
Adam chucked Charlotte under the chin. “A prodigy, huh?”
Charlotte tossed her blond curls and laid her head on Sarah’s shoulder. “I like piano.” Charlotte smiled up at Adam.
“Dad! Dad!” Titus shouted exuberantly, as he worked his way through the throng of parents leaving their seats. Titus’s rented Pilgrim costume was faded but fit well. He did struggle with the black hat, which tended to interfere with his ever-present sport band that held his thick glasses in place. Titus’s mom had been myopic, too. But unlike Amie, Titus tended to be quite clumsy, always impatient to race to the next room, the next day and the next adventure.
“Dad! Did you see me?” Titus hurried up to Adam and flung his arms around his waist.
Adam smoothed Titus’s thick black hair away from his forehead and looked down into his eager crystal-blue eyes. His son looked exactly like Adam had when he was “nearly six”—minus the glasses. “I did! And you were the best. You did great.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Titus hugged him again.
Timmy Bosworth rushed up to Sarah, along with his eleven-year-old sister, Annie.
“Mom,” Annie said. “Can I take Charlotte backstage to see Mrs. Cook?”
Sarah narrowed her eyes. “Why does Mrs. Cook want to see your baby sister?”
Annie glanced sheepishly at Titus, who had a conspiratorial expression. “Um. I told her Charlotte could play piano.”
Charlotte squirmed out of Sarah’s arms. “I can play!”
Annie reached for Charlotte’s hand. “Mom?”
“Oh, fine. Go.” Sarah acquiesced.
Adam watched as Annie and Charlotte bounded up the stage steps. Titus said, “Charlotte should think about her future career. Like me.”
Adam jerked his head back. This was news to him. “And that would be…what?”
Titus looked at Timmy, who elbowed him for encouragement. Timmy and Titus were close, now that Titus was in kindergarten. Timmy had taken Titus under his wing, and when Adam had been immersed in a geothermal energy construction project, or if he’d had to drive to Chicago to meet with a prospective client, Sarah generously watched Titus at her house. Adam didn’t know how Sarah juggled three children, a creatively demanding career as a busy commercial design consultant, the summer fund-raising festival for Saint Mark’s and volunteer work for the new Indian Lake Community Center.
Too often, Adam was caught spending late-night hours at his computer rather than doing the laundry, making costumes for Titus or thinking about things like Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The only thing that broke his focus on work was caring for Titus. His son was his joy.
“I’ve had a revelation, Dad,” Titus said seriously.
Adam crossed his arms over his chest and glanced at Sarah, who smiled at Titus. “Go on.”
“I liked working on this pageant and I think I want to go into the theater business.”
Adam coughed and held his fist to his mouth. This was not what he’d thought his brilliant son would say. He’d imagined that Titus would want to follow in his footsteps. Become an engineer or a physicist. Titus was smart and quick and liked working alongside him on his local projects. Just last week Titus had gone with him to Frank Boston’s greenhouse, where Adam had been installing a new geothermal heating unit.
“Theater? You mean you want to be an actor?”
“No, Dad. Timmy’s gonna be an actor. I want to write plays. Like I did for Mrs. Cook.”
Adam’s eyes snapped to Sarah, who shook her head. “What did you write, son?”
“My speech. I did the research, which was interesting. And enlightening.”
Adam mouthed “enlightening.” He was continually surprised at Titus’s vocabulary. He’d bought Titus a dictionary and thesaurus six months ago. He wondered if Titus had read them both cover to cover. “Well, we’ll have to talk about it.”
Titus’s smile vanished. “You always say that and we never do.”
Sarah’s eyebrow arched. She put her hand on Timmy’s shoulder. “Let’s go find your sisters.”
She gave Adam a quick hug. “I’m guessing I’ll see you at Frank’s funeral?”
Adam had known Sarah and her group of friends since high school. Adam had been the nerdy guy in high school, wading through CAD programs, tinkering with machines and engines.
Adam had never known his parents, who gave him up for adoption to a church-affiliated foster home only weeks after his birth. They’d left him in a car seat at Pastor Flutie’s front door with a note giving his birth date and name, which Adam always believed was fictitious. Years ago, Adam had tried to track down information about his birth parents, but the time and money he’d spent were wasted.
Pastor Flutie and his wife, Martha, were good people and raised him, along with over thirty other children who didn’t have parents and had come their way.
Though they’d clothed and fed him, given him attention, Adam had always kept to himself. He didn’t voice opinions often, and when he did, he made certain he had all his facts.
Adam had always wanted a family. He’d envied the close-knit Barzonni family and Sarah’s loving mother, Ann-Marie, and he’d been there for Sarah when both her parents died.
Sarah had been a good friend to him ever since he’d come back to town, after Amie died of leukemia. Sarah and Luke had included Titus, and their friendship meant a great deal to him. But he was also careful not to ask too much of them.
Sarah touched Adam’s sleeve. “Look, I know how close you were to Frank…”
Adam felt the emotion in his throat grow hot. He choked it back. “He was like my own grandfather.”
“I know. He loved you, Adam. You did so much for him these past years.”
“I should have done more.”
“Come on. You were with him when he died. If you hadn’t been there… Calling the ambulance. Staying with him at the hospital until…” Sarah’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s so hard.”
Sarah had been through a great deal of grief herself. He touched her hand. It was ice-cold. “I’m sorry, Sarah. All this must remind you of your parents. They were good people.”
“The best. They liked you a lot, Adam.”
“You don’t have to say that. I was such a…dork.”
“Stop. Okay?” She looked down at Titus, who watched them both with serious, probing eyes. “I gotta go. Let me know about the funeral. I’m guessing the family will take care of everything.”
Adam shoved his hands in his jeans’ pockets. “That would be Joy.”
“Oh…my…gosh. Adam. I forgot. I’m sorry. Mrs. Beabots called her and broke the news. Have you talked to Joy?”
“Not since she left for college.” Ten years ago, Joy had been his girlfriend. Adam had given her a promise ring the day before they’d started their senior year in high school. That same day he’d received a letter from Purdue University that he’d won a full-ride scholarship for engineering. Adam had believed that he and Joy would spend the rest of their lives together. She’d promised to love him.
For a foster kid with no love in his life, Joy had been all he’d ever wanted. He was the one who dreamed of a cottage by Indian Lake with a rose-covered fence. He’d envisioned kids and a dog and a life of happiness.
All that year after school, Adam had gone to the Boston greenhouses to work until supper alongside Joy and her Frank. Frank had been the kind of grandfather Adam thought came along only in fairy tales. He gave Adam a few extra dollars to take Joy to a movie or out for a pizza. He loaned Adam his truck to drive them all out to the beach in the summer. Frank had been father, grandfather, mentor and adviser. Where Pastor Flutie had lacked in practical and business guidance, Frank filled in the blanks.
“He was family to me,” Adam whispered, trying desperately not to show the emotion he felt so sharply.
Sarah leaned closer. “I didn’t mean to open that wound.”
“It’s okay. Joy left. She wanted Columbia, her accounting degree and life in New York.” He shrugged his shoulders. “And she got it.”
“She did.” Sarah paused. “When I talked to Mrs. Beabots this morning, she said Joy’s coming back here to arrange the funeral.”
“Of course. Mrs. Beabots talked to Joy…”
“I know, right? Mrs. Beabots keeps up with the whereabouts of all of us. I suppose Frank had told her where Joy worked.”
“Newly and Associates,” Adam said.
“Yeah.” Sarah eyed him, but continued. “She’s flying out of New York today.”
“Today,” he repeated. His heart shook. Joy, who had told him she didn’t want the same things out of life that he did. She wanted to leave Indian Lake and never come back. She wanted a life in New York with hustle and noise and excitement.
She didn’t want him.
She’d given him back his promise ring and told him she was going to Columbia University. She never answered a phone call or an email after she moved.
By the end of Adam’s freshman year, Frank told him that Joy had made it clear that Frank could visit her in New York, where she’d arranged for internships in the summers, but she never wanted to see Indian Lake, her parents’ graves or any of the people of the town, whom she blamed for the car accident that killed them both.
The cut that had hurt Adam the most was the fact that Joy never gave him the chance to comfort her. She never turned to him. The pain of those days was still with him.
Adam had met physicist Amie his senior year at Purdue. She was pretty and bright and they shared common interests. She’d got pregnant on their honeymoon in Chicago. They’d had little money back then, which had bothered Adam. In two years, his midnight “tinkerings” had resulted in patents for his geothermal plans and then sales of the units themselves. Two years after Titus was born, Amie was diagnosed with leukemia. The progression was fast.
“It worked out in the end. I have Titus.”
“We all adored Amie. And Titus is a true blessing. I love every minute he’s around.” She looked at Titus. “I really have, honey.”
“Thanks, Miss Sarah,” Titus said, slipping his hand into Adam’s.
“Speaking of which,” Sarah went on. “Why not let Titus come home with Timmy and the girls and me? Miss Milse is making pies for Thanksgiving. The kids can play video games while you get your errands done.”
“Are you sure? I mean, I don’t want to impose.”
“Dad.” Titus yanked on his hand. “Please? Can I go?”
Adam had to smile. “It’s not much fun hauling cement and nails around, is it, Titus?”
“Not really and the building supply place is so dreary.”
“Dreary.” Adam grinned. Another new word. He wondered if he shouldn’t buy a second thesaurus for himself, to keep up with his brilliant son. No wonder the kid wanted to write plays.
“So? Can I?”
“Sure.” He ruffled Titus’s hair and dislodged the Pilgrim hat. Titus righted it, smiling at his dad. “Thanks for this, Sarah. I really have a lot to do at the greenhouses. For Frank.”
“I know.” She held out her hand to Titus. “C’mon, honey.”
“Titus,” Adam said. “Get your coat and zip it up this time. Don’t forget your knit cap. It’s getting cold outside.”
“Dad. I know.” Titus pouted.
“And you mind Miss Milse. Don’t poke your finger in the pies, and stay away from her Cuisinart.”
“I know, Dad. Sharp knives. Mixers. All off-limits.”
Sarah laughed. “He’ll be okay.”
“I know. I know. It’s just…”
“Hard to be mom and dad?” she asked.
“Something like that.”
“Okay. Let’s go find the girls.” She started to walk away. She looked over her shoulder. “Just text me when you’re on your way to pick him up.”
“I will. Thanks again.”
“No worries.” Titus and Timmy raced ahead of her, both boys yelling for Annie and Charlotte.
Adam chuckled to himself, leaned down and grabbed his sheepskin jacket and slipped it on. Most of the parents and children had left by the front doors to the auditorium. Adam found a couple folded playbills that Mrs. Cook had printed up. He’d come in late, a bad workaholic habit, so he hadn’t grabbed a playbill earlier.
As he started up the aisle, he noticed Titus’s name in bold print. Above his name was that of Mrs. Mary-Catherine Cook.
Above that was the title: PLAYWRIGHT.
Adam halted. “Titus’s teacher gave him writing credit for his little speech.” He was both awed and humbled.
His son was growing up far too quickly. And he wasn’t ready for it.
He put the playbill in his inner jacket breast pocket and walked out into the November cold.
He wasn’t ready for a lot of things. Titus growing up. Frank dying. And he especially wasn’t ready to see Joy again.