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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

A Heartfelt Christmas Promise

A Novel

Nancy Naigle

St. Martin's Griffin



Vanessa slid her hand along the slick wooden banister as she climbed the stairs. The warmth of the wood softened the appearance of the decorative black wrought-iron balusters—a real statement of strength and beauty.

As a young girl, she’d dreamed of living in an elegant house like this, and this one wasn’t that far from her office in downtown Chicago, either.

Walking through the guest rooms, she could picture one of them decorated with a colorful handmade quilt atop inviting crisp white sheets. Fluffy feather pillows, soft and firm ones, piled like a cloud for a heavenly night’s rest. A small upholstered chair would be perfect by the window overlooking the mature trees in the backyard. Except for the evergreens, almost everything was already winter-bare.

It would be so beautiful blanketed in snow. She could fill brightly colored bird feeders for the red cardinals that just flitted from the bushes at the fence edge to a limb right in front of the window. The only birds outside my windows at my condo are pigeons and all they do is leave a mess on the windowsill. This was definitely a step up, and so quiet compared to the city.

Vanessa walked back downstairs knowing this was the home she’d been searching for. “I love this house.” She joined her Realtor, Sally, in the living room. “My friends kept telling me when I found the right one, I’d know it. Now I understand what they meant.” Excitement swirled in her stomach like blowing snow in a frosty blizzard.

This is it. Home.

“I can’t believe it.” Vanessa pulled her hands close to her heart. “Finally. Did you keep count of how many houses we’ve looked at?”

“I could do the math, but you don’t really want to know.”

“It’s been nearly a year of house hunting.”

“Your travel schedule didn’t help.”

“True,” Vanessa said. “I was beginning to think I’d have to give up the idea of a house with a yard close to work altogether.”

“I told you I’d find you the perfect house, and Sally Fields always delivers.”

Every time Sally talked about herself it was with first and last name, and usually followed by “no relation to the actress.” Not that anyone would think so. The actress didn’t have an “s” at the end of her name, for one. Plus, Sally the Realtor was a good foot taller than the talented actress with the infectious smile.

Sally strutted through the house like a peacock. “At least you knew what you wanted from day one.”

“I usually do.” Vanessa walked over to the windows that overlooked the deck. “That’s not always a good thing, though.” As a little girl, she’d loved the rope swing at her cousin Anna’s house. Anna was Mom’s cousin. Anna and Mom had been inseparable until the day Mom died. Swallowing back the sorrow, she concentrated on the trees on this property. The biggest, a huge oak she’d never be able to wrap her arms around, could easily hold a swing.

Vanessa had spent many hours with Anna while Dad worked. They’d swing for hours in the backyard. Vanessa remembered lifting her toes toward the tallest branches, soaring high and hoping to reach heaven, and catch a glimpse of Mom with angel wings. Mom seemed so close on those days.

Maybe I’ll have two so Anna and I can swing at the same time. People never outgrow swinging, do they?

Sally rattled on. “… and the closets are wonderful. So much storage. You just don’t find this kind of house every day. It’s a kitchen a chef would kill for, commercial equipment and everything, but it’s done so nicely that it’s still homey.” She stepped beside Vanessa.

Vanessa tipped her chin up. Sally towered over her at every bit of six feet tall in the too-high heels that were her trademark. “It’s very pretty, but you know I don’t cook.” But Anna does. She’d probably really love it.

“Right. Yes, but the in-law suite is nicely set apart with a den. Just like you wanted.” Sally curled the listing sheet in her hand as if she were going to pop a fly on the noggin with it. Or maybe it was more likely that Sally would hit her if she didn’t quickly jump on this deal.

Hesitation and second thoughts consumed her. Now that she’d found what she wanted, was it stupid to buy a house this big when technically it could be just her? She’d tried to talk Anna into moving in with her before with no luck. But now that Anna had retired, how could she turn her down? There was plenty of room here for long visits, if she couldn’t convince her to move in at first. Vanessa hugged her arms around herself. That’s what she truly wanted.

“Wasn’t easy to find everything on your list.” Sally looked quite proud of herself. “This one even has the fence for the dog you don’t have yet.”

“But you did find it. Thank you.” She opened her arms wide, taking in the fresh spa colors of the great room. “This was totally worth the wait.”

Sally lifted a finger in the air. “Well, there is one teensy hitch.”

The glow in Vanessa’s heart faded. “Don’t tell me this is over my budget.” She tried to maintain her cool, but with her teeth clenched and her fists now too, she was probably far from looking calm. She’d never had a good poker face. “I told you not to show me anything over the budget. I hate it when Realtors pull that, and I left work to meet you today with no notice. Let it be anything but that.”

Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Naigle