Title: The Toy Maker’s Secret
Author: Laura Strickland
Genre: Contemporary Holiday Romance
Meghan Martin fears it’s going to be a lean Christmas. Since her husband, Dustin, abandoned her and their six-year-old daughter, Angie, she’s been forced to give up their cozy house in the suburbs and move to a small apartment in the city. Though she loves the multicultural flavor of the new neighborhood and how people help each other, she fears she won’t be able to make all Angie’s Christmas wishes come true, especially when Angie falls in love with an expensive, hand-made doll in the toy maker’s shop downstairs.
Now mysterious things are going on at the community center where Meghan works. Instead of too few packages beneath the giving tree, there are too many, and nobody can tell how they’re arriving. Could it be a touch of Christmas magic?
Jonas Kristensen has been making toys for children a long time, but when he sees Angie’s longing for the doll he’s made, it touches his heart, just like Meghan’s beauty and determination. Used to giving to others, he’s nearly stopped hoping for his own happiness. It’s been ages since he shared the secret of his magic with anyone. Will this be the year the toy maker receives a gift of his own?
Angie, only six years old and the indisputable center of Meghan’s life, stood with her little face pressed against the glass window of the toy shop located beneath their apartment. Inside the window a display of toys had been set up, things unusual and marvelous including several dolls of varying descriptions. Meghan could plainly see the toys were beautiful and probably all handmade. The dolls wore detailed costumes like characters in a fairy tale and had uncannily realistic faces.
Usually, whenever Meghan came or went through the door leading to the steep flight of stairs to their apartment, a crowd of children stood where Angie was now; at the moment, on a Sunday morning threatening rain and sleet, Angie had the spot all to herself.
And she took full advantage, her nose flattened on the glass and her small body, clad in boots a bit too small for her and a jacket a size too big—one Meghan had bought at the thrift shop down the street—fairly quivered.
“See, Mommy?” she asked again, turning her huge, dark eyes on Meghan. “She looks just like me, doesn’t she?”
Meghan took a reluctant step closer to the window. Angie had showed her the doll before. An exquisite, little elfin creature, the toy had hair the same color and length as Angie’s, wide brown eyes and a face that might, indeed, have been her daughter’s own. She wore a red plaid frock under a white, fuzzy cloak with a hood, and held a matching, white muff in her tiny hands.
Meghan went forward and put her arm around her daughter. “Yes, sweetheart, she does look a lot like you.”
“When I get her on Christmas, she’s going to be my best friend.”
Meghan’s heart gave a twist of agony that put its former plummet to shame. She hunkered down beside Angie, ignoring the slush on the sidewalk. “Now, sweetie, I’ve told you, you might not get that doll for Christmas.” Most certainly would not get that doll. If Meghan scrimped, she’d just manage to stretch the money she’d squirreled away to buy the new pajamas Angie needed so desperately and a picture book or two. Toys of this kind lay as far beyond her reach as the stars.
With the supreme confidence of a six-year-old who believed wholeheartedly, Angie declared, “Yes I will get her. I’ve asked Santa.”
“Oh, honey.” Desperation washed over Meghan in a wave of heat. She wanted to make her daughter’s Christmas wishes come true and knew she couldn’t. “Santa doesn’t always bring everything we ask for.”
“Why not? I’ve been good. So good.”
“Yes, you have.” Meghan drew Angie into a hug. Angie had been a champ all through her father’s departure, the move and the adjustment to a new neighborhood and a new school. “But, Angie, sometimes even though we’re good, Santa can’t bring the things we want.” Unfortunate, but true.
“Why not?” Angie asked again. “The elves can make me one. They’re magic. Or Santa could go inside the shop and get her.” Angie shot a look at the door of the shop. Olde WorldToys, the place was called. Meghan had seen the proprietor in passing, a tall, dignified and surprisingly youthful man who rarely spoke.
“Or maybe,” Angie proposed stubbornly, “Daddy will come back and buy her for me.”
Meghan’s poor, mistreated heart promptly broke in two. Dustin had been absent in one way or another for most of Angie’s life. A musician, he came and went, and usually did return bearing gifts. Two years ago, he’d decided he no longer wanted the responsibility of a wife and child. He’d left town, but not before informing Meghan it was for good.
Since then, it felt as though she and Angie had lost everything—the cute little house they’d shared in a suburban neighborhood, Meghan’s job which had been tied to the music scene and even many of their friends who, it turned out, had actually been Dustin’s.
How, Meghan asked herself, not for the first time, did a man just turn his back on the little girl who adored him? Who still asked for him on a regular basis, even after so long?
And how did Meghan tell Angie that Dustin wasn’t coming back?
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