Twenty Wishes


Chapter 1

It was six o'clock on Valentine's Day, an hour that should have marked the beginning of a celebration - the way it had when she and Robert were married. When Robert was alive. But tonight, on the most romantic day of the year, thirty-eight-year-old Anne Marie Roche was alone. Turning over the closed sign on the door of Blossom Street Books, she glanced at the Valentine's display with its cutout hearts and pink balloons and the collection of romance novels she didn't read anymore. Then she looked outside. Streetlights flickered on as evening settled over the Seattle neighborhood.

The truth was, Anne Marie hated her life. Well, okay, hate was putting it too strongly. After all, she was healthy, reasonably young and reasonably attractive, financially solvent, and she owned the most popular bookstore in the area. But she didn't have anyone to love, anyone who loved her. She was no longer part of something larger than herself. Every morning when she woke, she found the other side of the bed empty and she didn't think she'd ever get accustomed to that desolate feeling.

Her husband had died nine months ago. So, technically, she was a widow, although she and Robert had been separated. But they saw each other regularly and were working on a reconciliation.

Then, suddenly, it was all over, all hope gone. Just when they were on the verge of reuniting, her husband had a massive heart attack. He'd collapsed at the office and died even before the paramedics could arrive.

Anne Marie's mother had warned her about the risks of marrying an older man, but fifteen years wasn't that much older. Robert, charismatic and handsome, had been in his mid-forties when they met. They'd been happy together, well matched in every way but one.

Anne Marie wanted a baby.

Robert hadn't.

He'd had a family - two children - with his first wife, Pamela, and wasn't interested in starting a second one. When she'd married him, Anne Marie had agreed to his stipulation. At the time it hadn't seemed important. She was madly in love with Robert - and then two years ago it hit her. This longing, this need for a baby, grew more and more intense, and Robert's refusal became more adamant. His solution had been to buy her a dog she'd named Baxter. Much as she loved her Yorkie, her feelings hadn't changed. She'd still wanted a baby.

The situation wasn't helped by Melissa, Robert's twenty-four-year-old daughter, who disliked Anne Marie and always had. Over the years Anne Marie had made many attempts to ease the tension between them, all of which failed. Fortunately she had a good relationship with Brandon, Robert's son, who was five years older than his sister.

When problems arose in Anne Marie and Robert's marriage, Melissa hadn't been able to disguise her glee. Her stepdaughter seemed absolutely delighted when Robert moved out the autumn before last, seven months before his death.

Anne Marie didn't know what she'd done to warrant such passionate loathing, other than to fall in love with Melissa's father. She supposed the girl's ardent hope that her parents would one day remarry was responsible for her bitterness. Every child wanted his or her family intact. And Melissa was a young teen when Anne Marie married Robert - a hard age made harder by the family's circumstances. Anne Marie didn't blame Robert's daughter, but his marriage to Pamela had been dead long before she entered the picture. Still, try as she might, Anne Marie had never been able to find common ground with Melissa. In fact, she hadn't heard from her since the funeral.

Anne Marie opened the shop door as Elise Beaumont approached. Elise's husband, Maverick, had recently passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. In her mid-sixties, she was a retired librarian who'd reconnected with her husband after nearly thirty years apart, only to lose him again after less than three. She was a slight, gray-haired woman who'd become almost gaunt, but the sternness of her features was softened by the sadness in her eyes. A frequent patron of the bookstore, she and Anne Marie had become friends during the months of Maverick's decline. In many ways his death was a release, yet Anne Marie understood how difficult it was to let go of someone you loved.

"I was hoping you'd come," Anne Marie told her with a quick hug. She'd closed the store two hours early, giving Steve Handley, her usual Thursday-night assistant, a free evening for his own Valentine celebration.

Elise slipped off her