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Authors: Laurien Berenson

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BOOK: The Bark Before Christmas
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The girl's whole world was falling apart, and the two adults who mattered most to her were only concerned with their vengeful negotiations over a pile of money. The McEvoy parents weren't arguing about Poppy's custody. Neither one of them had rallied to her side. It was as if Sondra and Jim's only child was nothing more than an afterthought, a remnant left behind in the scattered rubble of their unraveling marriage.
That had to be about the saddest thing I'd ever heard.
Chapter 26
ith Christmas only a week away and Bob and Claire's wedding following shortly thereafter, I found myself spending the rest of December pondering the true nature of family. I reflected upon the significance of those innate bonds that hold us together—both the people we're born related to and those whom we choose to add later.
My own family's history is filled with its share of disruptions, deviations, and contentious behavior. Still there was something deeply troubling to me about Sondra and Jim McEvoy's careless disregard for their only child's feelings. Like Jim Platt, Poppy had gotten caught up in her parents' marital warfare and ended up as collateral damage. In my mind, that was unforgiveable.
And if that wasn't bad enough, I found out several days later that Poppy wouldn't be returning to Howard Academy after Christmas break. Mr. Hanover called me at home to tell me that the McEvoys had enrolled their daughter at a fancy boarding school a hundred miles away. She'd be starting there when the new semester began.
“Her parents wanted Poppy removed from the current disturbance,” the headmaster told me. That man is ever handy with a euphemism. “They felt that sending her away was best for everyone involved.”
“Best for them, you mean.” I made no attempt to hide my displeasure. “Sondra and Jim barely paid any attention to her when she was right in front of them. Now they won't have to think about her at all.”
I heard the headmaster sigh. “The decision is out of our hands.”
“I know that,” I retorted. “But it's still wrong.”
“Ms. Travis,” Mr. Hanover said gently, “I applaud your energy, your empathy, and your conviction. They are all wonderful qualities to bring to your job. But much as you might wish to, you can't save the whole world. None of us can.”
I knew that. But I still felt utterly defeated. More than anything I wished that I'd given Poppy more hugs when I'd had the chance.
As for Jim McEvoy, he hired himself a terrific lawyer, the best that money could buy. He and Sondra have cleaned up their act—at least in public. They're still maintaining that all-important united front for the police, the media, and the judicial system. My cynical side is betting that Sondra is being compensated quite handsomely for her cooperation.
With Jim's legal team playing all the angles, it's beginning to look as though there won't be a trial, much less a jail sentence, for the man who caused Jerry Platt's death. While I'm relieved about that for Poppy's sake, the outcome does leave me wishing that the rules for acceptable behavior weren't different for the uber-rich than they are for everyone else.
Kiltie is back home with Sondra now. But since Jim has also moved back into his former house for the time being, I'm guessing that means that the Westie has been banished once more to the kennel. I've heard that Sondra now refers to that week-long period when Kiltie was missing and she was half-panicked about his disappearance as “a silly misunderstanding.” According to Aunt Peg, Todd Greenleaf still expects the Westie to be headlining his roster of dogs after the new year.
As might be expected in a household with two young boys, our Christmas was a joyous, disorderly, and rowdy affair. Kev started the proceedings just after dawn when he came racing into Sam's and my bedroom, threw himself onto the bed between us, and shrieked, “Santa came! Santa came!”
Even Davey couldn't sleep through that. Within minutes, he too had joined us on the bed, bringing Augie with him. The rest of the Poodles could be forgiven for taking that as a tacit invitation. At that point there was nothing else for Sam and me to do but rub the sleep from our eyes and troop downstairs to see what kind of bounty Santa Claus had left behind.
Amid the pile of toys and games, Davey found a new tablet that he'd been craving since summer. Kevin was mesmerized by the large tabletop aquarium, filled with angel and rainbow fish, that Santa Claus had left for him on the sideboard.
“Santa brought me
.” Kev stared at the tank and exhaled an enraptured breath. “How did he

“The same way he knows what a good boy you've been all year,” I said, ruffling my fingers through my son's blond locks. “He cares about you very much.”
“I love Santa Claus,” Kevin announced.
Sam cast his eyes my way. “Me, too,” he said.
Bob and Claire's wedding, which followed a week later, was utterly enchanting. Snow drifted downward through the crisp evening air. The church's tall white steeple, lit from below, pointed upward like a beacon toward the stars. Organ music stirred the soul and echoed out into the dark, winter night.
The sight of Davey, standing tall beside his father in front of the altar, made my heart swell with maternal pride. Bob's expression, as he awaited his bride, was wondrous with happiness. I hoped he and Claire enjoyed a long and happy marriage and I thanked the twists and turns of fate that had brought me to this place where I was able to wish only good things for my first son's father.
Thanks to some last-minute scrambling and a timely intervention by Sam, Kevin was still wearing his dark suit and bow tie when he preceded Claire down the aisle. Having aced the rehearsal, the toddler now decided to ad-lib the actual performance. He made it halfway to the altar at a decorous pace before taking off and running the rest of the way. Kev stopped just short of the communion rail, flung the satin ring pillow at Davey, and wrapped his arms firmly around his brother's legs.
Even though I was seated up front next to Claire's sister, Anabelle, and her nephew, Alexander, I could still hear the sound of Claire's delighted laughter coming from the back of the church. After a few seconds, Bob joined in. It seemed like a wonderful way to begin a marriage.
The ceremony was brief, but moving. I never cry at weddings but after the emotional whirlwind of the last two weeks, all my senses felt raw. I'd accomplished what I'd set out to do, but nothing had turned out the way I'd hoped. In the end, I'd still been left with the feeling that I hadn't managed to help nearly enough.
Sam quietly passed me his handkerchief and pressed his body a little closer to mine as we sat side by side in the pew. I appreciate the silent support. Sam got it. He always does.
Aunt Peg had arranged for the reception to be held at a nearby country club. She never would have done such a thing on Bob's behalf; the gesture was a sure sign of her fondness for Claire. My ex-husband realized that and I saw him thank her privately later. Aunt Peg brushed off his expression of gratitude but I knew she was pleased. Maybe there's hope for their relationship yet.
The mood at the reception was festive. I snagged a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and went to greet the happy couple. Claire and Bob were surrounded by well-wishers. A few minutes passed before my turn came.
“Welcome to the family,” I said, holding my drink aloft in tribute to her intrepid act. “And hold on to your hat.”
Claire didn't appear fazed at all. Instead she just grinned.
“I don't know about that,” she said lightly. “Since you and Bob are divorced, we're not really related, are we?”
“Sure we are.” Bertie came to join us. “Even if it's only in a step-something kind of way, it still counts. We're not going to let you get away from us that easily.”
“Look what happened to Bob,” I said. “He's still here. It must be our magnetic attraction.”
“It's more like flypaper,” Bob told his new wife in a loud stage whisper.
Unexpectedly I found myself sniffling again. “I got my first sister by marriage,” I said, glancing Bertie's way. “And now I have a second. I couldn't have done better if I had chosen you both myself.”
Sam came over, carrying Kevin in his arms. Davey was trailing along behind.
“This is the best Christmas
” Kev announced happily.
I couldn't argue with that. I was surrounded by my family, the most precious people in my world. I wanted them to know how much they meant to me. I wanted to treat them with exquisite care. And I had no intention of taking even a single minute with any of them for granted.
Drawing Davey closer, I wrapped my arms around Sam and my two sons and held on tight. No member of my family was ever going to feel like they didn't get enough hugs. I would make sure of that.
“Mom, enough,” Davey complained after a minute. “It's embarrassing.”
“I know,” I said, but I didn't let go.
It felt great.
KENSINGTON BOOKS are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Copyright © 2015 by Laurien Berenson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
Kensington and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015937828
ISBN-13: 978-0-7582-8458-7
ISBN-10: 0-7582-8458-6
First Kensington Hardcover Edition: October 2015
ISBN: 978-0-7582-8458-7
First Kensington Electronic Edition: October 2015
BOOK: The Bark Before Christmas
9.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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