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A Secret Wish

A Secret Wish

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Three women, three birthdays and one unforgettable night that will change their lives forever.

One night in San Francisco, three women make a birthday wish believing it can’t possibly come true. Liz is turning thirty. A successful nurse, she has a good career, but no man to share her life. All her friends are married, and she’s alone, still trying to outrun a tragedy from her past. Then she meets a handsome stranger.

Angela, a member of a large, loving Italian family, is facing thirty-five with no baby in the nursery. Eight years of infertility treatments have put a strain on her marriage. Will she have to choose between her husband and having a child? When she is mugged by an unexpected assailant, her life takes a new turn.

Carole, a corporate wife, is staring down forty candles. Having grown up poor, she worked hard to get ahead, but when her kids bail on her birthday, and she discovers her husband with another woman, she realizes that she may have nothing at all. She goes back to where it all began, the mother she left behind, and the man whose heart she once broke.

NOTE: A Secret Wish is a 40,000 word short novel. The other two books are full-length novels.

What the readers are saying...

"This book was an amazing read and was very heart warming, I didn't want to put it down. Once again Barbara Freethy has excelled in her writing skills, she knows how to make you feel like the characters are people who you know and care for." Spencer - Goodreads

"A really emotional, lovely journey of three women. This took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting it to be so relatable. I really enjoyed it." Jen – Goodreads

"Beautiful story about finding yourself and happiness again, enjoyed this one very much." Booklover – Goodreads

"I thought this was very touching, emotional with insight that really touched me." Cynthia – Goodreads

Chapter One

Liz Kelly stepped up to the waist-high ledge that ran around the tenth-floor roof of St. John’s Hospital. Although the roof was a popular retreat for doctors and nurses on break, it was quiet on this Friday night. Just past seven o’clock, anyone not on duty had already left the building, trying to get one last warm and sunny weekend in before fall turned into winter. She loved the view from the roof, especially as night settled over the city. From her vantage point, she could see the cable cars chugging up and down the steep hills of San Francisco, the colorful sails on the boats in the Marina, and the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge blazing through a bank of fog hovering over the ocean.

The view always inspired her. Up here she felt like she could be anyone and do anything. Unfortunately, she couldn’t seem to turn the inspiration into action. As soon as she went back inside, she returned to her old ways, to her safe, risk-free existence that was getting her nowhere. She liked being a nurse, but the rest of her life was in shambles. She’d lived with a half dozen roommates in the last decade, changed apartments three times, and had just been dumped by her boyfriend of three years.

What annoyed her most was that Kyle had broken up with her. She should have been the one to break up with him. He’d fallen far short of her expectations, but she’d never been able to pull the trigger on their relationship. She’d always been afraid of being thirty and alone. Well, that’s exactly what had happened. But tonight was the start of a new decade. She needed to get it together, take a risk, and stop being paralyzed by fear of making the wrong decision. She had to take charge of her life and stop letting her future be defined by her past. She needed to do something...

What that something was, she wasn’t quite sure, but she intended to find out.

Mental pep talk over, she opened a small bakery box from Faith’s Fancies and slid out a miniature gourmet cupcake dotted with pink icing and chocolate stars. Chocolate was her passion, especially rich, dark chocolate. Taking a pink candle out of her purse, she stuck it in the icing, and raised the cake to the starlit sky. “Happy birthday to me.”

Her muttered words seemed to mock her newfound resolve, so she raised her voice and shouted, “Did you hear that, San Francisco? Today, Elizabeth Karen Kelly is thirty years old and ready to take on the world.”

She smiled, feeling silly but also energized. She pulled out a pack of matches from her bag and lit the candle, holding her hand around the flame so the wind wouldn’t blow it out while she was thinking of a wish.

As much as she wanted love, she was also scared of being vulnerable. She’d loved her father and he’d turned out to be a horrible person. She’d loved her mother and had been left behind. She’d picked Kyle because he was solid and stable and seemed like the anchor she needed in her life. But Kyle hadn’t just held her down; he’d held her back.

If Prince Charming couldn’t find her, perhaps she needed to find him. Drawing in a deep breath, she made a secret wish. Someone for me to love.

A gust of wind came up, blowing out the flame before she could do so. Probably a sign that her wish had not been heard. She felt an unexpected surge of disappointment.

That was the problem with hope…it made the fall back to reality even worse. She should know better. She pulled out the candle and licked the icing from it.

“Is that it?” a man asked.

She jumped at the unexpected voice, the cupcake flying out of her hand and over the side of the building. She stared in bemusement at the man who’d appeared out of nowhere. He was tall, with sandy blond hair, and was dressed in jeans, a white T-shirt with Stanford emblazoned across the front, and a brown leather jacket.

“You scared me,” she said, her heart beating way too fast.

“Sorry.” He gave her a smile. “So was that the extent of your celebration?”

“Uh.” She glanced over the ledge, realizing her cupcake was long gone. “I guess so, since you made me drop my cake. What are you doing out here? Didn’t you see the sign that said Employees Only?”

“I don’t pay much attention to signs.”

“So you're a rule breaker.”

“When necessary. I needed some air. Sorry about the cupcake,” he added.

“It was going to be really good, too,” she said with a wistful sigh.

“How old are you today?”

“I’m thirty—the big three-O. I don’t know why they call it that. It’s not as if O stands for orgasm.” Good grief. Had she said that out loud? For some reason, good-looking men made her jump into nervous conversation.

He gave her an odd look, probably wondering who would want to give her three orgasms.

She put up a hand. “Don’t worry. I wasn’t asking for volunteers.”

“That wasn’t what I was thinking.”

“Yeah, right. You looked like a deer caught in the headlights.”

His smile widened.  “Not true. So why are you out here by yourself on your birthday? You’re too pretty not to have friends.”

Her cheeks warmed as his gaze swept across her face and figure. She couldn’t help wishing that she’d retouched her makeup, taken her brown hair out of its practical ponytail, and changed out of her loose, ill-fitting scrubs. Not that it mattered. She’d probably never see him again.

“Good line,” she said. “You’re a charmer.”

“You don’t like compliments.”

“I don’t like men who psychoanalyze me in the first five minutes of meeting me,” she countered.

His grin broadened. “Got it. But you still haven’t answered my question. Why the solo celebration?”

She didn’t know why she felt the need to explain her pathetic party—maybe so it wouldn’t look so pathetic. “My best friend just had a baby. Another one is on her honeymoon, and a third is home sick with the flu. I do have friends. They’re just not available right now.” Actually, her friends were rarely available these days. They’d moved on with their lives—getting married, having children—while she’d been treading water or trying to make things happen with Kyle. “And birthdays are not that big a deal,” she added.

“I like birthdays. They’re a good time to make a resolution.”

“Isn’t that what New Year’s Eve is for?”

“Who says you can only make a resolution once a year?”

“No one, but I don’t have much luck with the resolutions I do make. They usually involve losing twenty pounds, and so far I haven’t managed to make that happen. I have a terrible chocolate addiction. If only they made a patch for that, I’d be set.” Great! Now she’d just pointed out that she needed to lose twenty pounds. No wonder she had trouble getting a man.

“A resolution doesn’t have to be about a diet,” he said. “Last year I ran a marathon. The year before that I parachuted out of an airplane.”

“Well, aren’t you quite the hero.” She wasn’t sure if he was spinning her a line, but he certainly looked fit enough to run a marathon and young enough to taunt death by jumping out of an airplane. “What are you going to do this year?”

“Sail under the Golden Gate Bridge.”

“That sounds like fun. When’s the big day?”

“Tomorrow. But I’m much younger than you—I’m only turning twenty-nine.”

“Ah, twenty-nine—I remember it well.”

He laughed. “It was only what, twelve hours ago?”

“About that. Do you know how to sail?”

“No. Will that be a problem?”

She couldn’t help but smile back at him. His candor was refreshing, and she started to relax. “It might be. But something tells me you’re pretty good at getting what you want.”

“I used to be,” he said, his tone turning somber. “I was the guy who had everything. Charmed.”

“And charming.”

He tipped his head. “I try.”

“So what happened to that guy?”

“Life.” A small sigh followed his words. Before she could ask what it meant, he added, “Are you a nurse here?”

“No, I just love to wear these baggy blue shirts and pants.”

“Right. Stupid question.” He paused. “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Watch people die.”

The change in subject surprised her. “Not everyone dies. Most people live.”

“My father died here. It was long. Painful. Horrible. I’ll never forget it.”

She met his gaze head on. “I’m sorry.”

“I bet you say that a lot.”

“I still mean it.” She knew what it was like to lose a parent. And it didn’t matter how old you were.

“I was with my father when he passed. He fought for months to recover, but he couldn't beat the cancer. Even though I knew the end was coming, and I was relieved that there would be an end to his pain and suffering, it was still shocking when it happened. One minute he was there, then he was gone…” He cleared his throat. “Hell of a birthday conversation. I apologize again.”

“That’s all right. Now I understand why you needed some air.”

“The hospital smell sticks to my clothes. How do you take it?”

“You get used to it.”

“Are you off duty?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t I buy you a drink to toast your birthday?”

“Uh…” She didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t as if she had other plans, but he was a stranger.

“I promise, no more depressing conversation. We’ll have a drink in honor of your new decade. I might even buy you another cake.”

“I don’t know you.”

“That makes it better, doesn’t it?” he said with a challenging smile. “You can let your hair down. Be whoever you want to be.”

She had no idea who that person would be, but the idea was definitely appealing. Still, old habits died hard. “I should say no.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not smart to go out with a perfect stranger. You could be an axe murderer or a serial killer or a life insurance salesman.”

His deep, infectious laugh lit up the night, and his sparkling eyes made her feel like she’d been kicked in the stomach—or swept off her feet.

“I’m not any of those things.”

“And you’d tell me if you were?”

“Good point, but isn’t thirty about facing your fears? It’s just a drink in a public place. Unless you’re scared of a pina colada?”

“Why would you ever think I would order a pina colada?”

“Because you’re too funny and honest to be the martini type.”

“Which is what?”

“Sophisticated, brittle, phony laugh, dyed blonde hair, icy blue eyes, doesn’t really give a damn about anyone but herself.”

“That certainly rolled right off your tongue,” she said, giving him a thoughtful look. “Why do I get the feeling you’re describing someone in particular?”

“Guilty.” He paused. “Get a drink with me and prove me wrong.”

She hesitated. “I don’t have anything to prove.”

His gaze met hers and for some reason she had the feeling he could read her mind. “Don’t you?”

His challenge hung in the air for a long minute. Of course she had something to prove. She was going to change her life. And what better way to start than to do something she wouldn’t normally do?

Besides that, she was intrigued by and attracted to this man, this stranger, who’d appeared out of nowhere. The idea crossed her mind that maybe he’d been sent to fulfill her birthday wish, but that was a foolish thought. He’d just lost his dad after a terrible illness. He’d come up to the roof to catch his breath. He hadn’t come for her. It was purely coincidence.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

She drew in a deep breath, feeling like she was about to cross over a line she couldn’t cross back. But if she was ever going to take a chance, it might as well be now.

“Liz,” she said. “My name is Liz. And I’d like that drink.”


* * *


“Surprise! Happy birthday!”

Angela Payne stopped just inside the front door of her three-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Smiling faces appeared from behind every piece of furniture, each one looking more sheepish than the next. She inwardly sighed. They should feel guilty. She’d told everyone that she didn’t want a party to celebrate thirty-five. Time was not her friend, but her large Italian family turned every holiday or occasion into a party. The dining room table was laden with food, and music played loudly over the speakers. Judging by her Uncle Rico’s red face, the wine was already flowing.

“I’m sorry. I tried to stop them,” her husband Colin whispered as he kissed her on the cheek. “But your mother is a force of nature.”

Looking at her five-foot-three-inch mother, Mary Margaret Razzini, no one would believe she was a force of anything, but her personality was much bigger than her stature. Angela had never yet won a battle where her mother was concerned, and she’d had far more practice than Colin.

Her mother lifted her chin, planted her hands on her waist, and said firmly, “It’s your birthday, Angela. Of course you must have a party.” She waved her hands in the air as she always did when she spoke. “I made three kinds of lasagna. You’ll eat, you’ll laugh, and you’ll have fun. Mama knows best.” Her mother turned her head sharply as one of the grandchildren tugged on her skirt. “Yes, yes, Jimmy. I will get you some lemonade.” She headed off to the kitchen, as if she owned the place.

“I’ll help her,” Colin said quickly, disappearing before she could remind him that the only request she’d made for her birthday was to have a private dinner with him. She had things she wanted to discuss, but not in front of her family.

“Try the shrimp cheese puffs,” Lisa said, holding up a silver tray. “I made them myself.”

She stared down at her petite, dark-haired sister and gave her a glare. “I told you I didn’t want a party.”

“It makes Mama happy to take care of you. She’s been so lost since Daddy died.”

“Daddy died nine years ago. When are you going to stop offering that excuse for everything Mama does that we don’t like?”

“She still misses him,” Lisa said with a shrug. “Try one of my puffs.”

Angela popped a shrimp cheese puff into her mouth. It was hot, tangy, and delicious. “Not bad.”

“Not bad?” Lisa echoed in annoyance. “They’re spectacular. And who are you to criticize, anyway? You can’t even make good spaghetti sauce. You’re lucky Colin can cook, or you’d starve to death.”

She smiled at her younger sister’s predictable reaction. Pushing Lisa’s insecurity button was an old habit and probably one she should have outgrown by now. “I was just kidding. The puff is fabulous.” It was true that she couldn’t cook like her two sisters and her mother. But then, she’d always been the odd one out, a tall, blue-eyed blonde in a sea of dark-eyed brunettes, some latent gene from her grandmother.  She preferred painting to cooking. She was the artist in the family, the one who lost track of time while sketching a picture, the one who had no domestic talents. Fortunately, her husband didn’t mind cooking or eating take-out.

“I also made the cannelloni,” Lisa added, waving her hand toward the dining room table where most of the party was gathered. “It’s better than Gina’s, but don’t tell her I told you that.”

“Believe me, I won’t.” Gina and Lisa had competed with each other for as long as she could remember, and she’d always been caught in the middle, each one wanting her to take their side. “David must count his lucky stars every day that he married you,” she said, popping another puff into her mouth. She waved to David, who was sitting on the couch with one of his two children on his lap. His belly hung over his belt, a definite sign that he’d been sampling more than a few of Lisa’s puffs.

“David is driving me crazy,” her sister confided. “He wants me to have another baby, as if we don’t have our hands full with the ones that we–” She bit off the end of her sentence, her brown eyes darkening. “Sorry, Angie.”

“It’s fine,” she said quickly, not wanting to get into that subject.

“It’s not fine, and I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“What’s going on?” Gina asked, interrupting their conversation. She handed Angela a glass of wine. “What’s the look on your face about? You can’t possibly be that mad about the party.”

She really didn’t want to talk to Gina tonight. Whereas Lisa was insecure about her choices, her older sister Gina was always right. She had a strong personality and never had any trouble expressing her opinions, which made her a very good lawyer but not the nicest person to be around.

“Would it matter if I was?” she asked.

“Mama is the one who gave birth to you. If she wants to celebrate your birthday, you should smile and say thank you,” Gina told her. “She went through eighteen hours of labor to bring you into the world. That was no picnic.”

Her gut tightened. No matter what conversation she seemed to be in, it always came down to babies. “I have to wash my hands,” she muttered.

As she walked away, she could hear Lisa telling Gina how stupid she was to bring up the subject of their mother giving birth, and Gina replying, “For God’s sake, doesn’t Angela ever think about anyone but herself?”

This was exactly why she hadn’t wanted a party. She loved her family, but lately she couldn’t stand being around them. Her sisters and cousins were all married. They had children. Some even had teenagers. She was so far behind the curve it was ridiculous. She was jealous. She knew it. They knew it, too.

In the bathroom, she closed the door and stared at her face in the mirror. She’d never imagined she’d be thirty-five and without a baby. But three attempts at in-vitro fertilization had left her with an empty womb and a bankrupt savings account. Time was running out. She might have only one more chance. Colin had recently received a big bonus at work, and she knew just how she wanted to spend the money. She had hoped to talk to him about it tonight, but that would have to wait until they were alone. She certainly didn’t want any input from her mother or her sisters.

She washed her hands, splashed water on her face, and reapplied her lipstick. She was too thin, too pale. She’d always had a tendency to wear her stress on her face and today it was all there. She forced a smile. She just had to get through the next few hours. Her family had gone to a lot of trouble for her. She had to at least pretend to be happy. As Gina said, it wasn’t always about her.

Leaving the bathroom, she walked down the hall and into the dining room. Colin was filling a plate at the buffet table. At forty, her husband could still make her heart skip a beat. He was a very attractive man, tall and lean, with light brown hair and golden brown eyes. He’d taken off his suit jacket, loosened his tie, and rolled the sleeves of his white dress shirt up to his elbows. His hair was mussed. He had a habit of running his fingers through it whenever he was tired or worried. She could always tell what kind of day he’d had by the way his hair looked. Tonight it was a mess, probably because her mother had railroaded him into throwing her a surprise birthday party.

Turning, he caught her watching him and gave her an apologetic smile. “I made this for you, Angie.”

She walked over and took the plate out of his hands. “Thanks.”

He handed her a fork. “No knife for you. I’m afraid you’ll use it on me.”

“Good thinking.”

“Your family loves you so much. They wanted to make you happy. I got swept up in their enthusiasm. By the time your mother finished talking to me, I was convinced that throwing you a surprise party was the best idea in the world, until you walked through the door a few minutes ago.”

“It’s okay. Your intentions were good.” She looked around the crowded apartment, knowing she was lucky and blessed. “Everyone wants me to be happy, including you, and I have an idea about that.”

“So do I. Come with me.” Colin led her into the kitchen, which was surprisingly empty. He took an envelope out of the drawer and handed it to her. “This is your real birthday surprise.”

Her pulse leapt with expectation. “What’s this?”

“Your present. I’ve been thinking about what to do with that bonus I got from work, and I came up with the perfect idea.”

“Me, too,” she said, meeting his gaze. “I wanted to talk to you about it tonight. It seems like fate that your bonus is exactly the amount we need to…” She opened the envelope, expecting to see a letter with an appointment time at the fertility clinic, like so many they’d received in the past. Instead, she saw tickets—tickets to some sort of cruise.

“The Caribbean,” Colin said with excitement in his voice. “Ten days cruising the high seas, just you and me. Miles of ocean, music, casino action, and all the food you can eat. It will be a second honeymoon, a new start. We can talk about what we want to do with the rest of our lives.”

“You spent your bonus on a cruise?” she asked in shock.

“Yes. Why?” His smiled dimmed. “What’s wrong, Angie?”

She looked into his eyes, wondering how he could possibly be confused about her reaction. “I thought we would use the money to try IVF one more time. It’s the exact amount we need.”

The blood drained out of his face. His jaw tightened. “We agreed that we were done after the last time.”

“We didn’t agree. We just ran out of money. But now we have the money.”

He shook his head. “It’s not about the money. It’s about you and me. I can’t watch you go through it again. I can’t see the hope in your eyes and then the despair. I’m afraid one of these days you’ll break, and I won’t be able to put you back together. Some things are not meant to be. We have to accept it.”

“The doctor still thinks it could happen for us. I’m only thirty-five. There’s still time—but not a lot of time. Each year the odds go down.”

“You hear what you want to hear. The doctor told you it might never happen, Angie.”

“He also said it might,” she argued. “How can you give up?”

He put his hands on her shoulders, gazing into her eyes. “We’re happy, aren’t we? We love each other. We have good friends, family, nieces and nephews to spoil. You have your gallery, your painting. Why can’t that be enough for you?”

“Because it can’t.” She stepped away from him, unable to bear his touch. He was trying to take away her dreams.

“You have to be realistic–”

“No, I need to have a baby. And I don’t want to look back in five years and say, What if I had just tried one more time? Don’t you think we owe it to ourselves to take one last chance?”

He stared at her for a long moment. She wanted to see him weaken, watch the reassuring smile come into his eyes and spread across his face. She wanted him to say, “Yes, that’s what I want, too.”

“I can’t.”

His words didn’t register for a moment, but slowly they sank in. His expression was definite, unyielding. God! He wasn't going to change his mind. A feeling of desperation swept over her. Was this it? Was this really the end?

If Colin wouldn’t agree to the insemination, they were done. It was over. She would never have a baby. She would never feel that tiny life inside her. She pressed her hand to her empty womb, an ache spreading down deep in her soul.

She’d touched her sisters’ pregnant stomachs many times, feeling the kicks and flutters of their babies, and she’d wanted that incredible and special feeling inside her own body. She’d always thought she’d have that moment. The idea that she wouldn’t was too much to handle. She felt like she couldn’t breathe, as though the walls were closing in on her.

“It will get easier,” Colin told her, a hint of desperation in his voice. “We’ll fill up our days. We’ll make ourselves happy. It will be all right.”

Before she could say anything else, the kitchen door flew open and her mother walked in, holding a cake lit up with candles. Her sisters, their husbands, their children, and the rest of the party crowded into the small kitchen.

She stared down at the cake, the blaze of thirty-five candles surrounding the words Happy Birthday Angela.

“Make a wish,” her mother said, setting the cake down on the table in front of her.

She had tried wishing. It didn’t work. But everyone was waiting. They were calling out suggestions for wishes… A new car… A trip around the world. They were suffocating her with their desire to have her move on, give up her dream and wish for something that wouldn’t take a miracle. Then they could go on, too. They wouldn’t have to watch what they said or worry about her.

She had to give them what they wanted. It was what she always did.

But when she closed her eyes to make her secret wish there was only one thought in her mind.

Please, God, give me a baby.

She blew out the candles to applause and laughter and an off-key version of Happy Birthday. Her mother suggested they take the cake back out to the dining room to cut it, and Angela was grateful when the group moved out of the kitchen, leaving her and Colin alone again.

He gave her a pleading look, silently begging her to stop arguing, to accept what was done. “Let’s get some cake,” he said. “It’s your favorite.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Her Uncle Rico popped back into the room. “We need more wine, Colin. Time for the secret stash every good Italian keeps down in the cellar.”

“I don’t have a secret stash or a cellar,” Colin said. “But the liquor store down the street has plenty of wine.”

“I’ll go.” Angela grabbed the excuse like a lifeline. She had to get out of this room, out of this party, out of this life.

“You can’t leave—it’s your party. I’ll go,” Colin said.

“No, I need some air.”

He frowned, obviously unhappy with her decision. “What do you want me to tell your mother?”

“Tell her I’ve had all the surprises I can take for one night.”

“Angela.”

“What?”

“Don’t take too long.”

“I’m just going to get wine,” she said. “How long could that take?”

The Wish Series includes a novella and two full-length contemporary romances that stand completely alone but are loosely connected by the theme of wishes!

Get the entire series

  • A Secret Wish #1
  • Just A Wish Away #2
  • When Wishes Collide #3
  • Wish Series Box Set includes all three books

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