The Greatest Gift: A Mother's Day Collection includes:
Mother by Donna Alward
Unexpected Gifts by Tanya Michaels
A Mother's Day Match by Katherine Garbera
Her First Mother's Day by Kathleen O'Brien
The Greatest Gift
A Mother's Day Collection from Harlequin featuring
May 2011 Digital Anthology ASIN: B007JJSOHG
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A tiny voice interrupted and there was the sound of a sniffle at the top of the stairs. Ben was off the sofa in a heartbeat, his face cleared of the agony that had been etched on it only moments ago. "Susie. What are you doing up?"
"I had a bad dream." Her tiny angel-face crumpled as she clung to a brown teddy bear. Cami felt the air go out of her lungs as her mind replayed the word Daddy. It had sounded so unsure. Like asking him to confirm that the title really belonged to him.
He picked Susie up and she put her arm around his neck. Cami's throat constricted as Susie pressed her cheek into the curve of his shoulder. Already so trusting. They came back and sat on the sofa, Susie curled into his lap. Ben, for his part, looked both parental and petrified. It was clear to Cami that he wanted to do the right thing, if he could just figure out what that was.
Help, he mouthed over top of Susie's curls.
Cami shrugged. How should she know what to do? She hadn't been around small kids in her life. Not ever. It had seemed wrong somehow after...
She looked at Ben. What would he say if he knew she'd had a child once? That she'd given birth to a daughter and then given her away? At least Mandy had fought to keep her daughter.ghter.
"Susie, this is my friend Cami. We sort of work together."
Susie burrowed deeper into Ben's embrace. Not that Cami blamed the kid. She'd probably had her share of strangers over the last several days, and Ben was the only one she had to trust. Cami smiled gently and decided to simply go with her instincts, such as they were. "Hi, Susie."
Susie buried a thumb in her mouth. "I mith my mama," she said around the digit.
The words sent a searing pain through Cami. It wasn't fair. Ben's ex had clearly loved her daughter and her daughter had loved her, no matter what the situation between her and Ben. It was utterly cruel that mother and daughter had been separated. And then there was Cami, who had made so many bad decisions, and where were her consequences? She had a good life and a good job. She had everything she wanted, right? ight?
She'd told herself countless times that if she hadn't given her baby away, she wouldn't have been able to go to college, get her degree, help people.eople.
Logical, yes. But it changed nothing. It still hurt. She still questioned whether or not it had been the right thing. She'd had the opportunity to be a mom and she'd blown it. She'd accepted that she'd probably never have children. She was thirty-four and worked insanely long hours. Instead of a family, she'd dedicated her life to fighting for the underdog. There was a nagging voice that insisted she didn't deserve a second chance at motherhood.
And here was a gorgeous little girl who deserved her mama, and that mama had been taken away. Fate was a cruel mistress.
"I know you miss her," Ben soothed, and Cami could see the concern in his eyes as he tried to say the right thing. This was why he hadn't been sleeping, then. How often did Susie wake up in the night? How much did she trust the new person in her life to comfort her?
"Do you want to sit up with us for a little while?" Cami asked. Maybe Susie was simply hungry for company in an unfamiliar place. It had to be lonely, upstairs in a strange room.
Cami smiled and gave her attention to Susie. "How do you like your new bedroom?"
Susie perked up a little. "I have bears and flowers on my wall. Daddy stuck them on. It matches my blanket."
"That sounds nice."
"It's bigger than my room at home."
Cami didn't correct her that this was home now. Instead she just suggested, "It probably seems a little strange."
"You'll get used to it, though. I always find it hard to sleep in a new place for a few days, and then poof! It doesn't matter anymore and I sleep like a baby."
She looked up at Ben. His gaze had warmed and his lips wore a half smile. She shrugged. New room, new place, new everything. It was bound to be frightening.
Susie crawled out of Ben's lap and to Cami's surprise, curled up on the sofa next to her. "You have very long hair," Susie observed. "Like Pocahontas."
Cami's heart melted. "Do you like it?"
Susie nodded. "It's pretty." Her face clouded over a bit. "My mama had yellow hair, like me."
"Then your mama was very beautiful," Cami answered softly, her throat tightening.
But Susie smiled and crawled into Cami's lap. "I like you."
Cami met Ben's eyes as the child settled into her arms, warm and trusting. He was watching them with a tenderness she hadn't expected. She shrugged and tried to smile, tried to ignore the emotions warring within her. Susie felt so good in her lap, so natural and right. At the same time, Cami felt the weight of her secret bearing down on her. She didn't deserve the girl's trust, nor Ben's, either.
Susie's lids were blinking slower and slower so Cami kept Ben softly talking, hoping the toddler would fall asleep. She filled him in on what had gone on the last few weeks; they chatted lightly about hockey playoffs and who was in the finals as the season wound up. After several minutes, she looked at Ben and nodded. Susie was sound asleep, relaxed in her arms. There was a damp spot on her shirt where Susie had been breathing. Quietly, carefully, Ben stood up and came over, his hands brushing against Cami's sweatshirt as he gently lifted Susie from her arms and carried her back to bed.
Shaken, Cami watched him walk away and up the stairs. This wouldn't do at all. It was bad enough she was feeling attached to Ben. She couldn't let herself get attached to his daughter, too.
From Second-Chance Mother by Donna Alward
Copyright 2012 by Donna Alward
This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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