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Daniel's Gift

Daniel's Gift

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"A warm, moving story of the power of love." NYT Bestselling Author Debbie Macomber

In her impetuous summer of love, Jenny St. Claire found Luke Sheridan—her dashing knight in intern's scrubs. But a fast-track future and rigid, ambitious parents drove passion out of Luke's life. And the summer ended, leaving Jenny with a broken heart...and a beautiful son, Danny, to help mend it.

Years later it is tragedy that reunites them—the father whom a son longs to know, and the mother who has tried desperately to forget. And as Luke and Jenny struggle to ignore the pain and desire reborn in a look and a touch, only the remarkable courage of a young boy—and the help of a rather unorthodox guardian angel—can offer them the most precious gift of all: a second chance at the love of a lifetime.

Don't miss this emotionally heart-wrenching love story from #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy. 


Wonderful story, wonderful cast—this is a do-not-miss reading experience." Rendezvous Magazine

"Barbara Freethy brings a tender poignancy to mainstream romantic fiction." Romantic Times

The depth is incredible, the minds of the characters (and there are quite a few) delightful. Clearly a hit!" Heartland Critiques

"Exceptional. I couldn't put it down!" The Time Machine Newsletter


"I want to meet my Dad." Twelve-year-old Danny stood in the doorway to the kitchen, his blond hair tousled from sleep, his eyes drowsy but determined.

The glass of orange juice slipped from Jenny's fingers and crashed to the floor. "Your father?"

"I want to talk to him, Mom."


"I want to ask him if he ever played shortstop. I want to know how tall he was when he was my age. I want to know when he started to shave." A curl fell down over Danny's right eye, and he flipped it back off his face in disgust. "I want to know if his hair is straight now."

"Danny, please." Jenny shook her head in despair. "We've talked about this before. I know it's difficult for you to understand that a man might not want to have a child. Maybe when you're older..."

"I'm old enough. I'm his kid. He should know me."

Danny stuck out his chin in a show of stubbornness that was exactly like his father—if he only knew it. A sudden pain cut across Jenny's heart.

She walked over to the counter, giving herself time to think. The toaster popped up two slices of wheat bread. She buttered them, set them on a plate, and returned to the table with a pleading smile. "Eat your breakfast. We'll talk about this after school."

"You won't have time after school. You'll be at work. You're always at work."

"I'm sorry, but I do the best I can, Danny. I think you could be a little more understanding."

"Rob's mother stays home all day. And his dad is taking him camping this weekend," Danny said, throwing out a challenge that was impossible to beat.

"Are you deliberately trying to make me feel guilty? I'm doing my best. What do you want me to say?"

"Nothing. Forget it." Danny slid out of his chair.

"Aren't you going to eat?"

"I'm not hungry."

Jenny sighed as Danny left the room. She hated to disappoint him, but lately that's all she seemed to do. Working eight hours a day at McDougal's Market, trying to build a jewelry-making business on the side, then keeping up with the house, the cooking, and the cleaning didn't leave much time for play.

Picking up a sponge, she cleaned up the mess on the floor and packed Danny's lunch. When she went into the living room, Danny was stuffing his homework into his backpack with an expression so woebegone he looked more like six than twelve.

His drooping mouth caught at Jenny's heart. It reminded her of simpler times, when Danny hadn't thought beyond his next cookie. He was growing up fast, too fast, asking questions she didn't want to answer, wanting things he couldn't have—like his father.

She was losing her child, her baby, and she couldn't bear the thought.

"Runner on first," Jenny said.

Danny looked up. "Huh?"

"Runner on first. Two outs. Two strikes, one ball. What's the pitch?"

A reluctant smile spread across Danny's face. "The heater."

"No curve?"

He shook his head. "Blow some smoke, Mom."

Jenny drew back her arm, Danny's sack lunch clutched in her hand. "The runner steals. The pitcher turns. She throws." Jenny hurled the bag across the room.

Danny caught it and dropped to the floor, tagging an imaginary runner. "You're out."

"Nice play."

"Nice throw—for a girl."

Jenny walked over and pushed the cowlick down at the corner of Danny's head.

He brushed her hand away. "Aw, Mom."

"Hug me good-bye?" she asked hopefully.

Danny rolled his eyes, but did allow her one quick squeeze. It wasn't enough. She was lucky to get that much.

Danny paused at the front door. "Can we go to the mall this weekend? I want to buy a gift for your birthday."

Jenny looked at her son for a long moment, not sure if she should be touched by his thoughtfulness or impressed by his ability to manipulate her. The quirk at the corner of his mouth gave him away. "Nice try, kiddo. Is Sportsworld having a sale?"

"Come to think of it..."

"We'll see."

"That means no."

"That means, we'll see. Maybe Alan can go with us."

Danny made a face at the mention of Jenny's boyfriend. "Forget it."

"Come on, Danny; give Alan a chance. He's trying."

"Yeah, right." Danny hiked up his too-big blue jeans under his too-big sweatshirt and placed his San Francisco Giants baseball cap on backward.

Jenny sent him an affectionate look. Even though his clothes were atrocious, his attitude worse, he was still her kid, and underneath all that adolescent armor beat a tender and loving heart. She just had to remember that.

"You do understand about your father, don't you?" she asked.

Danny looked her in the eye. "No, I don't understand. I have a right to know my father. Kids are supposed to have two parents."

"I wish it could have been different."

"Don't you want to know what happened to him, Mom? Don't you care about him at all?" Danny didn't wait for an answer. He ran down the steps, across the grass, and disappeared from view.

* * *

Jenny walked out to the sidewalk to pick up her morning paper. The street was quiet and peaceful, just a block from the Pacific Ocean. It was a working-class neighborhood with small one-story homes, neatly kept yards, and plenty of bikes, skateboards, and soccer balls to keep the kids happy. There wasn't a lot of money in this part of town, but there was a lot of pride and a lot of love.

As she turned to go back to the house, Jenny saw her elderly neighbor, Grace Patterson, digging in her garden.

Grace was wearing a wide-brim straw hat to protect her aging skin from the sun and a pair of strong, dirty gloves over her thin hands. Despite her advanced age, somewhere in her seventies, Grace still worked in her garden, baked cookies for the neighborhood kids, and kept an eye out for Jenny and Danny. She was one of the reasons Jenny liked living in Half Moon Bay, a small coastal community just south of San Francisco. People cared about each other here. They weren't just neighbors, but friends.

"Morning, Grace," Jenny called.

Grace looked up and waved. "Good morning. How are you today?"


"Same as always." She tipped her head toward the street. "Danny ran by in an awful hurry. Everything okay?"

"He's almost a teenager."

"Don't say another word." Grace laughed as she got to her feet and walked over to the chain-link fence that separated their two yards. "Anything I can do to help?"

"Not this time, but thanks for the offer."

"Just remember that all children do grow up."

"I'll hang on to that thought. Have a good day."

"You, too."

Jenny returned to her house and got ready for work, hoping that Grace was right, that the problem of Danny's father, Luke Sheridan, would simply disappear, given enough time.

Tonight she would come home early from work and surprise Danny. They'd go for pizza, a movie. He'd forget all about his father—and so would she.

* * *

It was past five that night when Jenny returned home. She called Danny's name as she set her purse down on the kitchen counter. There was no reply. When she turned, she saw the note.

The paper was clamped to the refrigerator door with an orange pumpkin magnet left over from Halloween. It was next to the two-dollar-off coupon for pepperoni pizza and the PTA newsletter. The word scrawled across the front in red crayon read simply, "Mom."

There was nothing threatening about the piece of paper, but as soon as Jenny saw it, she knew something was wrong.

If there was such a thing as mother's intuition, she had it now. Every nerve ending in her body tingled. Goose bumps ran down her bare arms, producing a shiver that racked her thin body. In the distance she could hear the sound of sirens growing closer, louder, reinforcing her sense of disaster.

Danny never went out after school, not without asking first. Forcing her feet to move, Jenny walked over to the refrigerator and peeled off the note. Slowly, she unfolded the paper.


I've gone to find Dad.

I know he didn't want me when I was born, but maybe now he will. I'm a pretty good ballplayer. Don't be mad. Christopher's sister is giving us a ride. I'll take the bus back.


His father? Going to see his father? How could that be? Danny didn't know where Luke lived. Unless— 

Jenny dashed out of the kitchen and down the hall to her bedroom. She threw open the closet door and stood on tiptoe so she could reach the shoebox in the back. Her hands touched nothing but air. The shelf was empty.

In desperation, she ran to Danny's room. On the middle of his unmade bed, next to a pile of baseball cards and a half-eaten chocolate donut, was her box of memories.

It had been stupid to keep any reminder of Luke, but she had found it impossible to throw away the past. She had pictures from their days at the beach, love letters, and her diary, the pages on which she had poured out the joy of her love, the panic of her pregnancy, and the sorrow of her breakup.

Danny had found it all, including the newspaper clipping she had cut out last month, announcing Luke's return to the Bay Area. It wouldn't take Danny long to get the exact address. Her child was as smart as he was determined.

Damn! She should have known this was coming. During the past month, Danny had asked endless questions about his father, begging her to call Luke. She had refused, hoping Danny's interest would wane, until he was more mature, less vulnerable—until she could handle meeting Luke again.

Danny had taken the decision out of her hands.

Jenny sank down on Danny's bed and hugged his pillow tightly to her chest. It smelled like her son, like Oreo cookies, sweaty socks, and old baseballs. No matter how grown up Danny thought he was, he was just a child.

What if Luke rejected Danny? Would Danny cry, or pretend to be a big kid who didn't care?

Jenny stared at the ceiling and listened to the quiet.

It was an eerie, spooky silence. Danny wouldn't like it. He hated being alone in the house, and he was often alone, because he'd been a latch-key kid the past two years.

Guilt, anger, and fear raced through Jenny, each emotion twisting her stomach into a tight knot. Danny was the most important thing in her life. She couldn't lose him—not even to his father. He was hers, and hers alone. She just had to find Danny and convince him that he didn't need anyone but her, certainly not Luke Sheridan.

* * *

"The Bay Area welcomes home Dr. Luke Sheridan, most recently the head of Research and Development for McAuley Perkins. Sheridan will take over the reins of Sheri-Tech, the biotech company founded by his father, Dr. Charles Sheridan. Sheri-Tech is expected to introduce a new drug this year that will rebuild damaged skin tissue in burn patients."

Malcolm Davis tossed the newspaper down on the desk with a flourish. His round face beamed with excitement at his success in placing such a delicious tidbit in the San Francisco Review.

"Nice job, Malcolm." Luke raised his bottle of Perrier in a silent toast.

"What can I say? The press loves your long list of degrees and your success at McAuley. The tie-in with your brilliant father makes this story impossible to resist."

Luke leaned back in the oversized leather chair behind the desk. The chair had been his father's, like everything else in Luke's office and home. It was too big, too stiff, too unforgiving in texture. He made a silent vow to get rid of it come Monday.

Luke changed positions as he looked at Malcolm. "How long have you worked for my father?" he asked.

"Almost eight years. Why?"

"Do you think you're going to like working for me?"

Malcolm sent him a funny look. "I certainly hope so."

"I'm not my father."

"I never thought you were."

"Really? You're probably the only one."

Malcolm gathered his papers together, and Luke swiveled his chair around so he could look out the window. The Sheri-Tech building complex sat on the edge of the San Francisco Bay at Oyster Point, a few minutes south of San Francisco. From his vantage point he could see the Bay Bridge in the distance and the lights coming on in Oakland across the bay, reminding him that it was time to go home and celebrate his wedding anniversary.

Still, he hesitated. In the past few years, he'd begun to feel more comfortable at work than at home. It was easier to focus on concrete business problems than deal with the inescapable feeling of restlessness that pervaded his family life.

Happiness was found in the black figures on the profit and loss statement, not in his wife's arms, not in the huge house that his parents had passed on to him. Something was missing. Something important, vital. Damned if he knew what it was. Everything he had planned for was now his. He should be ecstatic. Instead, he felt—lonely.

Malcolm walked around in front of him and leaned against the wall. He was a short, balding man, filled with energy. Even now he tapped his fingers against the wall in a restless beat as he studied Luke through sharp, perceptive eyes.

"Okay, what's wrong?" Malcolm asked.

"Nothing." Luke shrugged.

"Try again."

"All my life I've been cursed with the desire to want more than I have. I want to be content."

"Content? That sounds like old socks and game shows on television. You're living the good life, Luke. You're running the game. The world is at your feet."

"Right." Luke pulled at the tie around his neck.

"I'm bringing Stan Polleck from Genesys to your party tonight. He's very interested in selling his company to us. I hope Denise doesn't mind mixing business with pleasure."

"Not at all. She's more ambitious than I am. In fact, Denise would like to see Sheri-Tech acquire Genesys. It would certainly make us a major player in the area of gene research. Of course, she'd also like the company to go public." Luke smiled cynically. "She thinks a public offering would enhance our bank account."

"It would certainly do that. But you'd lose some control."


The phone on the credenza buzzed. Malcolm picked it up. He held out the receiver to Luke. "Scott Danielson."

Luke took the phone. "Scott. How are you?"

"Fine. I got worried when Denise missed her appointment today. I hope she's not feeling any side effects."

The muscles in Luke's body tightened as he tried to decipher the words he was hearing from Denise's gynecologist. "I didn't know Denise had an appointment with you today."

"Follow-up appointment for tubal ligation is standard procedure, old buddy, or have you been out of the practice of medicine so long you've forgotten?"

Tubal ligation? Follow-up? Denise had had a tubal ligation? That was impossible. When?

At the back of his mind, Luke remembered Denise's unexpected trip to her mother's house a month earlier. She'd been gone four days.

No. Denise would have told him. They would have discussed it. He would have said absolutely not. He wanted children, of course he did. In fact, just the other day he had decided it was time to add a baby to their lives.

"Luke, are you there?"

"Yes. I'll tell Denise to phone your office."

"As long as she's okay."

"She's fine." Luke hung up the phone.

Malcolm sent him a concerned look. "Everything all right?"

"I have to go home."

"An hour early? Did someone die?"

"Not yet." Luke picked up his briefcase and walked out the door.