From his father’s stories, Sam Watson knew more about Abby Ten Eyck than she probably wanted. Intense, driven. Abby had inherited much from her conservative, workaholic father. Sam knew all about being driven. Though his ulcers had healed, he remembered the consequences of his former life. Other than her brief marriage against her father’s wishes, she’d toed the straight and narrow, running her gift shop as if it were a Fortune 500 company—the same approach she applied to cooking Christmas dinner. The woman rarely laughed. He’d hoped a quick kiss under the mistletoe would help her ease up, maybe even make her laugh. Instead, he’d made things worse.
“Do you feel your mother is betraying your father by loving mine?”
She started beneath his hands. He’d kept them on her shoulders when he wanted to wrap them around her. He’d never fallen so hard for a woman. Especially a woman he’d formally met yesterday. Or maybe learning about her from his dad and her mother over the past two months had drawn him in. Meeting her in person, wearing a sleepshirt over faded jeans and her bare feet stuffed into flannel-lined clogs, had clinched it. Or maybe it had been her wildly-tousled brown hair. Not the usual tightly-bound bun or French twist she wore at the store. Even today, she’d scraped back her hair into a clasp at the base of her neck.
“Not really. Father has been gone for over five years.” She turned beneath his hands to look up at him, surprise and sadness in her deep blue eyes that reminded him of Lake Michigan on a summer’s day. “Everything has happened too fast. She never told me she was dating. I guess she wasn’t playing bingo all those nights.” She ended with a bitter laugh.
Sam had to chuckle. “Nope. Unless ‘playing bingo’ is a euphemism for the horizontal mambo.”
“Oh, please.” She shivered. “That’s an image I could do without. Thanks for the coat. We should go in. You must be freezing, and I need to check on Christmas dinner or we’re all be going to Denny’s or the Chinese Buffet.”
“Hang on a minute.” He stopped her from opening the back door. “My father loves your mother very much. I’m glad he found someone who makes him happy. Mom’s Alzheimer’s took a lot out of him. Out of both of us.”
She reached up and touched his cheek. “I am so sorry. I didn’t know.”
Sam captured her hand. “How would you? We hardly know each other. I’d like to remedy that.” He searched her gorgeous blue eyes.
When she jerked her hand away and averted his eyes, disappointment raced through him. He had a long way to go before she stopped being so skittish. Before she trusted him. Damn that ex-husband.
Warmth and cooking aromas greeted them as they went inside. At the stove, George turned from stirring something and raised his eyebrow at Sam. “Everything okay?”
“Abby needed some fresh air,” Sam said before she spoke. “She’s been working in the kitchen too long, while we were all goofing off.”
“Oh, Mom.” Bethany hugged her. “I’m sorry I didn’t come out and help you.”
When Flo chimed in, Abby snorted. “You all offered, but you know me. I like being in charge.”
And that was the crux of her problems. Sam knew exactly how that felt.
“Now, where are we?” Abby lifted lids on pots and gave the turkey—at least a twenty-five pounder—sitting on the counter next to the stove a long look. “I take it Tom is done?”
“Yep,” Bethany said. “The little thingee popped up right before the timer rang. Before you ask, ten minutes ago. I scooped out the stuffing, and Grandma started the potatoes. After Mr. Watson took out the turkey, he said it has to rest.”
“George, dear. You can call me George.”
The five of them in a one-butt kitchen kept running into each other. Still, they managed to bring all the food—enough for three times as many people—out to the formal dining room. A cheery red tablecloth covered with white lace held five place settings of Spode Christmas Tree dishes. Sam swallowed hard. His mother had the same set. He wondered if his dad had the same feeling of loss. Even though, physically Mom had been gone for four years, she’d mentally left them two years before that—the reason Alzheimer’s was called the long good-by.
As he set the large turkey-laden platter in the middle of the table, he glanced up at his dad. Unshed tears swam in his eyes. He remembered.
Sam had taken a step toward his dad, when Flo bustled out with a crystal cut-glass bowl of cranberry salad in one hand and a pale green fluffy one in her other. “George, please take this before I drop it.” She held out the glass bowl of green fluff. “Wait until you taste my Watergate Salad. It is so refreshing.”
“Watergate? As in Nixon’s Watergate?” George exclaimed, to which Flo replied, “Yes, silly. It’s a salad they serve there.”
“Coming through. Hot gravy. C’mon, Mom,” Bethany called over her shoulder. “We only need the rolls.”
Abby followed with a holiday towel-covered red basket. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”
“Oh, my goodness.” George shook his head. “What a feast.”
A feast was right. So different from the last four Christmases when he and Dad grazed an assortment of appetizers all day rather than make a traditional meal. The holidays always hit them hard. Sam was surprised that Dad had accepted Flo’s invitation to dinner. He’d never accepted Aunt Grace’s invitations.
As soon as everyone sat, Flo insisted they hold hands for the blessing. Sam clasped Abby’s while she held George’s. Sam liked that she sat between them, as if she belonged in their family. If his dad had his way, she would. Soon.
“Heavenly Father, bless my loved ones gathered together at this table.” Flo gave George a big smile, before sharing it with the rest of them. “Two families about to become one. Bless this food and the hands that prepared it. Amen.”
Everyone echoed the “Amen.” For several moments, as the food was passed, nobody spoke. Then, Abby said, “Mother, what did you mean about two families becoming one?”
“Last night, George asked me to marry him.”
Please return tomorrow for Part Three.