A Family of Their Own - By Gail Gaymer Martin

Chapter One

Kelsey Rhodes scanned her friend’s living room, her focus drawn to the lovely Christmas tree, its clear miniature lights radiated the same glow in Lexie’s eyes. On the mantel a row of white candles flickered in the dusky light. Romantic, for sure. Kelsey’s chest expanded, anticipating her friend’s wedding ceremony in the cozy setting.

The parents of the bride and groom buzzed with their own excitement, and her chest constricted, seeing Lexie’s son, Cooper, dressed in a dark suit, sitting near the window. He looked so cute. When he’d been released from the hospital a few weeks ago, allowing him to be home for Christmas and the January wedding, Kelsey had been relieved for Lexie. Her friend’s plight aroused thoughts of her own daughter’s illness, in remission for nearly a year. She prayed that Cooper’s struggle with leukemia would take the same turn as Lucy’s.

The succulent aroma of roast pork drifted into the room. But as delicious the scent was, Kelsey’s stomach knotted. The idea of meeting Ross Salburg, Ethan’s best man, had set her on edge, and nothing seemed to knock it out of her mind. If he recognized her name or who she was, she would be uncomfortable. Maybe she hadn’t tried hard enough to get Ross into the Mothers of Special Kids organization. She’d tried to explain that the group was only for mothers, but he didn’t care. Ethan mentioned that Ross had been disappointed. Facing him for the first time today put a damper on the celebration for her.

The doorbell rang, and Kelsey’s pulse soared. She worked a pleasant expression onto her face, knowing the bell offered three options—the groom, the pastor or Ross.

Swallowing her anxiety, she pinned her gaze to the door as Lexie opened it. Nippy air swished into the room along with a man she’d never seen before. His good looks stole her breath. She had no doubt about the stranger’s identity, and her stomach churned, facing their introduction.

Lexie steered him around the room, introducing him to the two sets of parents first. Ross leaned over to give Cooper a warm greeting, then faced her. She managed a smile.

“Kelsey, this is our best man, Ross.” Lexie grinned. “And this is my matron of honor, Kelsey Rhodes.”

Lexie’s knowing look set Kelsey on edge. He’d already been told who she was.

Ross extended his hand, an unreadable expression on his face, but Kelsey sat unmoving, captured by his brown eyes, like bittersweet chocolate, that seemed to penetrate her soul. Heat rolled up her chest until she lowered her gaze to his hand. “Nice to meet you, Ross.”

“Same here.” He gestured toward the empty seat beside her on the sofa. “Do you mind?”

She forced her mind around her response. “Not at all.” Her voice sounded pleasant. So far so good. But when he sank onto the cushion, the scent of a mountain woods wrapped around her, losing her in the image.

He looked around the room. “Ethan’s late, I assume.” He chuckled.

Ross’s voice jerked her from the mountain stream to the glow of the Christmas lights. Her out-of-control feelings confused her, as did Ross’s avoidance of the topic she dreaded.

“Are you all hungry? Mom prepared a great dinner.” Lexie’s voice penetrated Kelsey’s fog of preoccupation. “We’ll get started once our two key people arrive.”

Ross leaned forward. “Are you sure Ethan hasn’t left you standing at the altar?”

Lexie grinned. “He’ll be here. He loves pork roast.”

Everyone chuckled while Kelsey sank deeper into the cushion. At the moment, she felt uneasy, captured beside the best man. Relief would come once the ceremony began.

Ross’s arm brushed against hers, and her senses sharpened. She gazed around the room, hoping to cast off her giddy feeling. Using every ounce of concentration, she tuned into the mothers’ conversation about life in Florida until she sensed Ross’s eyes on her. Her stomach went into a downward spiral.

She turned to him, like a hound picking up the fox’s scent. Here it comes, she deduced from the look on his face.

“Are you aware that I’m the Ross you all voted not to include in your support group?”

Kelsey considered telling a lie, but that wasn’t her way, nor was it God’s way. “I realized who you were when I heard your name.” She sounded pathetic, and his pure innocent look made her feel even worse. “I’m sorry it turned out that way.”

He didn’t speak, though his eyes searched hers.

Feeling defensive, she wanted to explain. “I know I’m the moderator of the support group, but it went to a vote.

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