Wanted A Real Family

By: Karen Rose Smith

Chapter One

Sara Stevens took her eyes from the long driveway nestled between rows and rows of grape trellises, colorful rose gardens and mountains in the distance. Glancing over her shoulder into the back where her four-year-old daughter sat in her car seat, she noticed Amy was staring out the window. Amy was as shaken as she was. She could tell when her little girl was quiet any length of time. She’d been quiet since Sara had awakened her a few nights ago in a house filled with smoke and carried her to safety.

Had that only been a few nights ago?

They’d lost everything they’d possessed, except their car. The loss weighed heavily on Sara. But right now, what weighed on her most was the decision she’d have to make regarding their living arrangements. Going through the channels of The Mommy Club, an organization in Fawn Grove, California, that helped parents in need, Jase Cramer had invited her and Amy to stay in the guesthouse at the nearby Raintree Winery.

But she and Jase had a history. She was just coming to look at the guesthouse today. Maybe she could find another place to stay.

Or maybe not.

As she drove up to the gravel parking area at the guest cottage, she spotted Jase standing by the door in the mid-May sun. His wavy black hair was shaggy, his gray eyes still intense. Craggy lines had etched his face, no doubt from the sights he’d witnessed in his former career. His physical therapy had ended two years ago. What had happened to him since?

She was about to find out.

He was so tall and muscular, now tanned from his work on the vineyard rather than his former profession as a photographer and journalist who told the rest of the world about children in refugee camps.

She shouldn’t be so unsettled about this meeting. She was a widow now, after all. But seeing him again took her back two years to a time when her life had been different, to a time when she’d thought she’d been happy, to a time before her marriage had been rocked and her world as she’d known it had blown up.

She opened her car door, and he offered her his hand. “Sara. It’s good to see you again. I’m just sorry it’s under these circumstances.”

His voice was still that deep warm baritone that seemed to vibrate through her. “How did you know about the fire?”

“I saw your interview on the news.”

Sara nodded. “Right after the fire. That reporter wouldn’t stop asking questions.”

“You were the news. You saved your daughter from a burning house. That’s heroic.”

“Not heroic. I couldn’t have left her. She’s my heart.”

After studying her for several long moments, Jase peered into the backseat. “How is she doing?”

“She doesn’t understand what happened. Kaitlyn Foster has made us feel at home in her guest room, but Amy is confused by it all.”

“Why don’t we take a look at the guesthouse? Maybe she’ll like the cottage and the vineyard.”

A few minutes later, Sara held Amy’s hand as they stepped over the threshold of Raintree Winery’s guesthouse.

“What do you think?” Jase asked, motioning to the exposed beams, the empty living room with a native stone fireplace and kitchen and dining area beyond. The golden polished flooring, the rough plastered walls and the birch cabinets she could glimpse in the kitchen added lightness to the space already glowing with sunlight from the windows.

Amy burrowed into her mother’s side and Sara crouched down, hanging her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “Isn’t this pretty?”

Amy just poked her finger into her mouth and looked down at her sneakers.

Jase crouched down with Sara. “You can have your own bedroom here. There are two, one for your mom and one for you. And, if you’re lucky, you might even catch sight of a deer outside your window. Or a hummingbird. Have you ever seen a hummingbird? They’re tiny and flap their wings really fast.”

Sara could see Jase had caught Amy’s attention now, and her daughter actually gazed over at him.

“They like to flit around the columbine.”

“Can I catch a hummingbird?” Amy asked.

“Probably not. But if we hang a feeder on the porch, you might see them more often.”

Sara rose to her feet, the idea of catching a glimpse of a hummingbird entrancing her, too.

After another smile for Amy, Jase also rose. “Kaitlyn told me furniture won’t be a problem. Apparently The Mommy Club has storage sheds full of stuff for emergencies like this, as well as people donating.”

With a sigh, Sara closed her eyes.

Jase stepped a little closer. “What’s wrong?”

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