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A Family of Their Own (Love Inspired)

By Gail Gaymer Martin

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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’d been released from the hospital in time for Christmas and the January wedding, she’d been relieved for Lexie. Her friend’s plight aroused thoughts of her own daughter’s illness now in remission. She prayed Cooper’s struggle with leukemia would take the same turn as Lucy’s.

The succulent aroma of roast pork drifted into the room. Though a delicious scent, her stomach knotted. The idea of meeting Ross Salburg, Ethan’s best man, had set her on edge, and it hadn’t left 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 Mother’s of Special Kids organization. She’d tried to explain the group was for mothers, but he didn’t care. Ethan mentioned 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 escalated. 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 gazed 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 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 be welcomed 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.

Concentrating, she tuned into the mothers’ conversation about life in Florida until she sensed Ross’s gaze on her. Her stomach plummeted. She turned to him, like a hound picking up the fox’s scent. Here it comes, she deducted from the look on his face.

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

Kelsey wanted to lie, but she couldn’t. “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. It’s always been a women’s organization—you know, Mothers Of Special Kids—and I’d hoped you could find another resource out of the ones that I suggested.”

Ross touched her arm. “Please. I wasn’t trying to embarrass you. I knew it was a long shot.” He lowered his eyes. “Ethan gave me the other support groups’ phone numbers , but--”

“We’d never thought of men joining our group.” Heat soared to her cheeks. “When we discussed it. . .” She captured his gaze. “And we did, all of the women thought that men didn’t really like talking about their feelings.”

He flinched.

“We thought men preferred to get things done not talk about them.”

“But when a man has a seriously ill child there’s little he can do.”

The comment twisted in her chest as Lucy’s brain tumor operations filled her mind. “I understand. I always felt so lonely before MOSK.”

He lowered his head. “It’s hard to open up, but I think hearing about others struggling with similar problems would be helpful. I’m sure I would benefit from everyone’s experiences.”

“Ross, I’m really sorry.” She dragged in a breath. “Now that I’ve heard what you have to say, I could try again in a while.”

His gaze drifted to hers. “Thanks.” He wove his fingers together and dropped his clenched hands into his lap. “I did call the other agencies, but either the meeting times didn’t work for me or some of them had dropped their groups.” He lifted his chin. “I’m Peyton’s only parent, and. . .”

“I understand.” Apologizing again offered little compensation for the rejection the group had dropped on him.

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