His daughter's birth made him a father. Becoming a daddy would take a bit longer....
Connecticut mogul Grant Braeburn never thought he was father material, even though his nearly four-year-old daughter should have convinced him otherwise. But then his ex-wife's death made him Haley's permanent parent. Her only parent. He needed help, in a hurry.
It came in the form of Mia Vaccaro, the lively, lovely party planner who had been his ex-wife's best friend. Mia was the only one who could touch Haley's broken heart. And, Grant was becoming increasingly aware, his as well....
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October 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Dear Santa by Karen Templeton
"Mr. Braeburn? Are you still there?"
"Yes, yes..." Grant released a long, strained breath, pressing his fingers into his eyelids. "I'm here." He blinked at the rain-drenched vista on the other side of his home office window, watching distractedly as sixty-foot pines cowered and shuddered under the leaden sky's relentless onslaught.
"How--" He carefully cleared his throat. "How did you know to call me?"
"Mrs. Braeburn had emergency contact information in her purse. And the glove compartment." The doctor--middle-aged, still not comfortable with making these sorts of calls, Grant guessed-- paused. "And her briefcase."
A humorless chuckle released the vise constricting Grant's lungs. Catching himself, he sank into a leather club chair facing the window. "I'm sorry--"
"Shock often produces seemingly inappropriate emotions," the doctor said kindly. "It's a coping mechanism. So the pain doesn't overwhelm us."
"It's not..." Outside, rivers slammed against the paned windows. Grant shook his head to clear it.
"Justine and I were divorced more than a year ago."
"Ah. Yes. Of course." A pause. "I understand you have a daughter?"
Grant shut his eyes, willing his brain to assimilate...anything. "Yes. She's here. It's my weekend."
"Then...you'll tell her?"
"Of course," Grant said, even as he thought, How the hell do you tell a three-year-old her mother's dead? He sucked in an acid-tinged breath, then asked, "Justine...she was alone? In the car?"
Another pause, then a measured, "She apparently took a curve too quickly, hit a patch of wet leaves and lost control. She may have been on her cell phone."
Typical, he thought bitterly. Justine would practically have a panic attack if she lost contact with the outside world for more than five minutes. With each breath, Grant's lungs eased. Slightly. "I suppose I'll need to make arrangements?"
"There's no other family, then?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Mr. Braeburn, I could...give you some names if you, or the little girl, would like to talk to someone?"
"Thank you. But I have my own contacts. Should the need arise."
"Of course. If there's nothing else...?"
"No. No, wait..."
A second's wrestling preceded, "Her face?" The doctor hesitated, then said, "She'd been a beautiful woman, I take it?"
For some time after the call, Grant stood staring into the late day dreariness outside, the phone still clamped in his chilled hand. An odd, tight smile pulled at his mouth. He could just imagine Justine's soul--if she had one--floating over her lifeless body, wailing over losing her looks. Especially considering the megabucks she'd invested in them--
"Mr. B.? Everything all right?"
Grant turned; his housekeeper's puglike face was more deeply creased than usual, worry peering out from light brown eyes framed in drooping crow's feet. Etta Bruschetti didn't exactly fit the mold of who one generally found keeping lives and houses intact in this part of the world. But the smart-mouthed brunette kept him honest, on his toes and from believing his own press. It also didn't hurt that she cooked as though she'd been personally instructed by God.
He returned his gaze outside and said quietly, "Haley's mother was killed in a car crash a few hours ago."
"What? Ohmigod, you're not serious!" Etta pressed a broad hand to her generous chest. "God, that's awful. That poor woman!"
One side of Grant's mouth twitched. "Oh, come on, Etta...I know how you felt about Justine."
"Okay, so maybe I wasn't exactly all broken up when the two of you split. But I wouldn't wish somethin' like that on anybody, you know what I mean?"
Even though the question was rhetorical, Grant nodded anyway. Etta stuffed her hands in the pockets of the white utilitarian apron she wore over her sweatshirt and jeans, the closest she came to a uniform unless Grant entertained. Which he hadn't since the divorce. "Guess that means the baby's gonna be living here full-time now, huh?"
His thought processes hadn't gotten that far. But of course, he realized with a slug to his midsection--Justine's death made him a single father.
One who had thus far bungled this fatherhood thing like nobody's business.
"Yeah," he finally said on a stream of air. "It does." A few minutes later, he climbed the stairs to his daughter's bedroom, where Haley would spend hours at a time playing with her extensive stuffed toy and doll collection. At first, Grant had assumed Haley simply hadn't inherited her mother's sociability gene. Eventually, however, he'd realized the child simply preferred the company of her "friends" to him.
His heart racing, he stood outside his daughter's partially open door, steeling himself as he listened to her nonstop chatter. Just like her mother, who'd never been at a loss for words, either. A good trait in a lawyer, Grant supposed. Swallowing sawdust, he knocked softly, then pushed the door open.