Angels at Christmas - By Debbie Macomber

Chapter One
In memory of Sandy Canfield,

talented writer and dear friend.

And to Charles Canfield with affection and thanks

for the 38 years of love and support

he gave Sandy.


Anne Fletcher pulled the last box of Christmas decorations from the closet in the spare bedroom. She loved Christmas - always had and always would, regardless of her circumstances. It was a bit early yet, a few days before Thanksgiving, but some Christmas cheer was exactly what she needed to get her mind off her problems. The grief that had been hounding her since the divorce five years ago...The financial uncertainty she now faced...The betrayal she still felt...

"No," she said aloud, refusing to allow herself to step closer to that swamp of regrets. It often happened like this. She'd start thinking about everything she'd lost, and before she knew it, she'd collapse emotionally, drowning in pain.

Carrying the plastic container down the hallway, she glanced inside her art room and let her gaze drift over to her easel and her latest project. The bold colors of the setting sun against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean pleased her. Yes, she was divorced, but there'd been compensations, too. Her art had fulfilled her in ways she hadn't even realized were possible.

How different her life was at fifty-nine than she would've imagined even five years ago - before the divorce. What Burton had done was unforgivable. He'd hurt her, and he'd cheated her out of funds that were rightfully hers.

Once again she stopped herself, not wanting to indulge those bitter memories and regrets. She'd done plenty of that in the beginning, when she'd first learned he'd found someone else and wanted out of their thirty-year marriage. It was a fling, or so she'd managed to convince herself. A midlife crisis. Lots of men had them. Any day Burton would come to his senses and see what he was doing to her and to Roy, their son.

Only he hadn't, and Anne walked out of divorce court numb with shock and disbelief. Not until the judge's gavel echoed through the room had she fully believed her husband was capable of such treachery. She should've known, should've been prepared. Burton was a top-notch divorce attorney, a persuasive man who knew all the ploys. But despite everything, she'd trusted him....

Her friends had been stunned, too - less by Burton's deception than by Anne's apparent acceptance of what he'd done to her. It wasn't in her to fight, to drag her marriage and her life through the courts. Burton had recommended an attorney, whom she'd obediently retained, never suspecting that the man who'd represented her in court would apply to Burton's law firm as soon as the divorce was final. Of course, he'd been hired....

Burton had promised to treat her fairly. Because she was convinced that he'd soon recognize what a terrible mistake he was making, she'd blindly followed his lead. Without a quibble and on her attorney's advice, she'd accepted the settlement offer - one that had turned out to be grossly unfair. Although she hadn't been aware of it at the time, Anne was cheated out of at least two hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of assets.

Burton's ploy in this particular case had been simple: he'd strung her along. Twice he'd come to her in tears, begging her forgiveness, talking about reconciliation, and all the while he'd been shifting their assets to offshore accounts. All the while, he'd been lying, stealing and cheating. She'd loved him and she'd believed him, and so had taken her husband at his word. Never had she dreamed he could betray her like this. After thirty years, she'd walked away with only a pittance. And, needless to say, no alimony.

Yes, Anne could fight him, could take him back to court and expose him for the thief he was, but to what end? It was best, she'd decided long ago, to preserve her dignity. She'd always felt that life had a symmetry to it, a way of righting wrongs, and that somehow, eventually, God would restore to her the things she'd lost. It was this belief that had gotten her past the bitterness and indignation.

Admittedly she couldn't help lapsing sometimes, but Anne tried not to feel bitter. At this point, she couldn't see how anger, even righteous anger, could possibly benefit her. She'd adjusted. Taking the little she'd managed to salvage from her marriage, she'd purchased a small cottage on St. Gabriel, a tiny San Juan island in Puget Sound. In college all those