The Surprise Holiday Dad(6)

By: Jacqueline Diamond

Now the kid was turning six. At that age, Wade had still had his mother, along with a dad who wore a uniform and carried a badge. Although Wade had sensed undercurrents of tension, he’d trusted his parents to take care of him.

What about Reggie? The kid must have been stunned and overwhelmed when his mom died. Wade was sixteen when he’d lost his own mother in a small-plane crash three years after she and his father divorced. Although she’d moved away and they rarely saw each other, he’d been devastated.

If only he’d known about Vicki’s death, he’d have rushed down here. Well, he’d do his best to compensate for that now.

After a couple wrong turns, he found the cul-de-sac. Picking the right house proved harder than expected. There were several two-story Craftsman structures with wide front porches, none of which matched his memory of fading beige paint and a patchy lawn edged by boxy hedges.

It had to be the one on the left, almost to the end. Wade recognized that row of sash windows on the second floor with a tiny attic window above. The house had been repainted cream with blue trim and the hedges replaced by blooming bird-of-paradise plants interspersed with hibiscus bushes, fronted by a mixture of miniature roses and colorful annual flowers. The doctor took good care of her property.

From the porch roof hung a bunting banner, each one of its green triangles displaying a picture of a teddy bear. A cluster of green and white balloons fluttered from one of the supports.

As he parked, he saw a bouncy little girl and her parents stroll toward the front door. There was something familiar about the mother, who had short stick-straight hair and the low-hipped stride of a cop accustomed to wearing a duty belt. When she glanced toward him, Wade recognized her as Patty Hartman, one of his fellow rookie officers from his stint at the local P.D. She carried a wrapped present.

After making startled eye contact with Wade, Patty waved. He returned the gesture.

Several more children scampered up the walkway with parents in their wake. They, too, brought gifts.

Reggie’s birthday might not be until Tuesday, but the aunt had obviously scheduled his party for today. And Wade wasn’t invited.

Well, he’d just invited himself.

Chapter Two

With Anne Murray singing “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” from a boom box on the patio, Adrienne hurried along the outdoor tables, distributing containers of Play-Doh along with teddy-bear molds.

“I should have done this earlier,” she fretted to Harper Anthony, whose seven-year-old daughter, Mia, was romping with Reggie in the large backyard. “I’m usually better organized.”

“I’d say you’re remarkably well organized.” That was a high compliment coming from Harper’s fiancé, Peter Gladstone, a gifted teacher and sports coach. He indicated the refreshment table with a tray of cut-up vegetables, the teddy bear–themed yo-yos awaiting the guests and the decorated party hats, plates and gift bags. “This is impressive.”

“That’s due as much to my friends as to me,” Adrienne protested. Through the kitchen window, she could hear newlyweds Stacy and Cole Rattigan bustling about fixing sandwiches.

Harper and Stacy had been close friends with Adrienne’s younger sister since junior high. Both nurses, they’d done their best to steer Vicki into treatment for her bipolar disorder and her drinking, and since her death had pitched in to babysit Reggie when his regular sitter wasn’t available. They’d also become Adrienne’s allies and mutual support system.

Harper, who’d volunteered to take pictures today, snapped the two children as they chased a butterfly. “You seem on edge. Is everything okay?”

“I’ve noticed that, too,” said Stacy, bringing a bowl of teddy-bear graham crackers from the kitchen. “What’s going on?”

With guests due to arrive any minute, Adrienne hesitated to spill the news she’d kept to herself all week. But it had to come out sometime. “It’s about the adoption. Reggie’s birth father is contesting it.”

“What?” Harper stared at her in dismay. “That lowlife?”

Stacy smacked the bowl onto the table. “Where does he get the nerve?”

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