GABRIEL'S GIFT: A Lost Hearts Christmas Story

BOOK: GABRIEL'S GIFT: A Lost Hearts Christmas Story
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Gabriel's Gift

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Copyright 2014 by Christina Dodd


All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any fashion without the express written consent of the copyright holder.


Gabriel's Gift is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictitious and are not based on any real persons living or dead.










Lost Hearts
Christmas Story



Christina Dodd










From Christina Dodd: I introduced Gabriel Prescott in the Lost Hearts series, then continued his story throughout the Fortune Hunters series and DANGER IN A RED DRESS. Now he has his own business, a wife he adores, and he has found both his families. In this epilogue to Lost Hearts and the Fortune Hunters, he faces another crisis…


Gabriel Prescott drove up the long, winding, gravel driveway to the house, set in the middle of his very own cattle ranch, and if it was possible for him to swagger in his seat, he was swaggering.

He, Gabriel Prescott, former poor kid, former foster kid — he owned this place, and maybe most of the time he didn't take care of the horses or run the cattle himself, but when he felt the need to get into the saddle and make like a big tough cowboy, the crew boss welcomed him on the trail. And when he developed saddle sores and limped away, none of the real cowboys laughed … to his face. Because he was the guy who made sure no financial crisis stopped operations, daily meals were provided, and that the cowboys had a snug, warm bunkhouse.

When he came here, he could look in any direction and it was his land he was seeing. Then he knew his life was perfect.

Just about perfect. Almost perfect.

As he got close to the house, the gravel turned to asphalt, then to concrete, and he stopped on the curved drive in front of the front door. He popped the trunk and got out one of the coolers, his suitcase, and a flower arrangement that looked a little worse for wear — maybe he shouldn't have stowed it in the trunk — and carried them up the stairs to the front porch. He unlocked the double front door, stepped inside, and listened to the blessed silence.

It was Christmas Eve, and he had come early in the day to get ready for the family.

He loved Christmas with the family. He really did. When he was a kid, he hadn't had Christmas, and now … to be one of the Prescott family, to have a wife, to own a couple of homes, to have a successful business, to have located his four half-brothers and solved the mystery of his own heritage … those things made his life complete.

He was a lucky man. He needed to remember that. A lucky man.

He got all the coolers inside, then unloaded them into the refrigerator. He got the wrapped gifts into the living room and settled into a pile. He turned up the heat and headed back out to the car for the second round of suitcases. He took a moment, just a moment, to appreciate the south Texas scenery.

Some people declared this wasn't scenery, but desolation.

Some people weren't from Texas.

The flat land was bare of vegetation except for brown clumps of grass, rolling tumbleweeds and the occasional live oak, bent and twisted by the winds. Here and there the earth poked bony ocher elbows of rock out of the thin soil; the constantly shifting sunshine and shadow created an artist's palette of color. The sky was blue, thin blue along the horizon, deeper blue above. Sometimes he wondered if that sky was why they called it a blue norther. This blast of winter was riding south on the jet stream, predicted to get here tonight, but as fast as the temperatures were dropping, he'd have to say the forecasters got it wrong.

In Texas, they did that a lot.

His phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket, looked at it, and wanted to laugh. Hannah had figured his ETA down to the minute.

He stepped inside and shut the door behind him to block out the whistle of the wind. "Hey, sweetheart, I'm here!"

Her voice was low and warm, and always sent a shiver down his spine. "How's the house?" she asked.

Before he was married, he had bought this cattle ranch outside of Hobart, Texas, because Hobart was the scene of his fondest childhood memories, and he wanted a place for his family to gather. He had updated the house, paying special attention to the massive front room. He had replaced the flooring with warm Spanish tile, added long leather sofas and a glass-topped coffee table with iron legs that looked like rusty barbed wire. He'd paid some guy a small fortune to come in and dab paint on the walls so that they looked like brown leather, and he used Native American designs in the rugs and throws.

He had thought it looked great.

Apparently, Hannah hadn't agreed. She never actually said anything to
, but over the first couple of years of their marriage, the place had evolved. She kept the Spanish tile and the leather sofas, but the walls were repainted white with the occasional bold and serene turquoise accent, the massive throw rugs had become lush statements of subdued color, and his beloved coffee table had disappeared. He overheard his sister Pepper congratulate Hannah on taking away the "little boy who wants to be a cowboy" decorations.

Man, that hurt. But he did have to admit, the place looked good; warm and inviting.

More anxiously, Hannah asked, "That alarm day before yesterday — the security people said it must have been a fluke. Is there something wrong?"

"Everything looks fine to me." He listened to the wind pick up." I'll get everything set up before the family arrives later today." In a lower tone, he added, "And you arrive tomorrow."

"I should have come with you."

"You're on call."

"I know, but … I hate that you have to do this all on your own."

"I'm good."

"I know."

"I'm good." He had to say it twice. Hannah was worried about him. Although he'd said nothing, the woman knew he was conflicted about … stuff.

How did she intuit his feelings?

"When does the Christmas tree arrive?"

"This afternoon. How's the kid in ER?"

"Maria. Her name's Maria. She hit her head pretty hard. She's still unconscious. We're waiting to see whether we have to do surgery."

He sighed. Kids should never hurt themselves, but when it happened during the holidays, it was extra difficult on the worried families and the concerned hospital staff. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."

"We'll know within the next twelve hours. I'll be there in time for Christmas."

"If you're not, we'll hold the holiday."

"No! Don't do that to the children. That's just mean."

She was right. "We'll hold

"It's a deal." He heard the smile in her voice. One thing about Hannah — she'd lived through rough times, and no matter what happened, she never sulked. She understood the meaning of real problems.

He hoped the worst of the searing-cold winds held off until the family arrived in Austin and San Antonio from California, Idaho, Boston, South Carolina, New Orleans, and Chicago. He prayed the projected clouds and possible snow would hold off until tomorrow when Hannah was safely in his arms at the ranch house. No matter what she said, he would wait for her to celebrate Christmas. But he didn't want to think of her traveling alone on that special day.

"Did you remember the turkey?" Hannah hadn't recovered — would never recover —from the first year they'd been married when they had forgotten the turkey and Kate had forgotten the ham, and they'd had to eat a vegetarian Christmas dinner to the eternal joking delight of every guy in the family.

"It's huge, it's here, and I'll put it in the refrigerator," he assured her.

"Okay. Great. It'll be thawed by the time I get there tomorrow."

"When I get up in the morning, I'll run it under cold water if I think it's too hard."

"The turkey?"

"You are a wicked, wicked woman." He loved her like this, all smug and laughing. "If you were here with me, I wouldn't have to run it under cold water."

She chuckled warmly. "The turkey?"

"Of course the turkey. What else would I be talking about?" The background noise didn't sound like the hospital he was used to hearing: too muted, with a single voice murmuring softly. "Where are you?" he asked.

"I'm in the chapel. Sometimes when I get a break, I come in here and sit, and light a couple of candles. Today, I lit one for Maria, and said a special Christmas prayer for her."

"That's nice," he said.

"And I lit one for us and our baby, and said a special, Christmas prayer that we might find each other."

"Good." He nodded. "That's good." It seemed as if divine intervention might be needed before they would be able to resolve this crisis. Lighting a candle might be the only solution.

In the house, he heard a scraping noise above. "Hey, I've got to go. I think we've got critters upstairs." Another scrape. "In the playroom."


"Bigger than that."

"Oh, no." She sighed in distress. "Possums."

"Probably. Or raccoons." In the matter of droppings, neither of the animals had manners.

"Now I'm glad I didn't come."

He laughed. "I'll check it out and call the exterminator. And I'll give you a call later. I love you."

"I love you, too."

He hung up, girded his loins and headed upstairs to the playroom. On his way, he glanced in the bathroom and boys' dormitory, but saw no signs of animal life. He entered the playroom and flipped on the light, expecting to see some wild animal scurry out of sight.

No movement. No signs of opossum or raccoon: no scratches on the woodwork, no animal pellets along the walls. He almost turned away and headed toward the girls' dorm, when he remembered the storage room. The size of a large walk-in closet, it included toys and games for every age; the Prescott family was constantly growing and changing, and it seemed every year brought a new baby, a new adolescent, a new graduate and a new marriage. And then another new baby.

He moved toward the storage closet. If the family kept growing, he was going to have to expand the ranch house just for Christmas.

He popped open the door.

Because … whoa.

His critter wasn't a critter. Not unless it carried its belongings in a Disney princesses backpack and slept in a faded Little Mermaid sleeping bag. A bowl with the congealed remains of chicken noodle soup had been pushed hastily aside. A black coat with pink lining hung on the hook that also held the baby bouncy chair.

There was no sign of the little girl these scattered possessions belonged to; she had fled in a hurry. But he knelt beside a photo stuck in a frame, of a girl and mother, both dressed as raggedy Anne dolls, both smiling. The mother looked young and pretty … and the little girl was missing her two front teeth.

Wow. He had a housebreaker. A really, really young housebreaker. A squatter, really.

But where was she?

He glanced around. Heard a noise above. Glanced up.

Ah. There, in the ceiling. The attic access had not been shut properly. The kid had looked for a way to escape if cornered, and concocted a pretty good plan. He had arrived; she had scooted up the ladder and hid in among the insulation and ductwork.

Loudly, he said, "What a mess. When the kids get here for our Christmas celebration, I'll have to speak to them about cleaning up after themselves."

Up above, nothing stirred. Maybe she hadn't heard him.

But maybe she had.

He used his cell phone to take a picture of the framed photo, then he headed downstairs to make lunch.

BOOK: GABRIEL'S GIFT: A Lost Hearts Christmas Story
11.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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