Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.
Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.
But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.
But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.
In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.
“Malcolm, they still warn you when I’m coming, eh? What is everyone so afraid of? I’m an old man who no longer runs the company. I’m a pussycat without claws.”
“I think you’re more bobcat than house cat.”
His grandfather grinned. “A bobcat? I like that.”
Even though they’d seen each other at breakfast that morning, they hugged. Alberto was a toucher. Thank goodness he’d retired before the new standards for sexual harassment had come into law, Malcolm thought. Not that his straight-as-an-arrow grandfather would ever make a pass at anyone, but he would hug and occasionally clasp hands with whomever he was talking to—regardless of gender. While most of the employees understood that was just his way, a few were less accommodating.
“I saw the new catalog,” Alberto said as they walked toward Malcolm’s office.
Malcolm held in a groan. Catalog releases were always stressful. Would the customers respond favorably? Would the new products be successful? Would his grandfather want to know why they were offering a line of gluten-free pasta?
“Very nice,” his grandfather continued. “I don’t agree with the macarons but I understand they’re very popular and have an excellent profit margin. You have to keep up with the times.”
They walked into Malcolm’s office. The huge space had been Alberto’s, before the old man had retired. Malcolm had replaced the old-fashioned wood paneling and the carpeting but otherwise had kept the room much the same. The desk and credenza, monstrosities from the 1970s, were a reminder of the heritage inherent in the company and Malcolm liked that.
They passed by the desk and made their way to the seating area at the far end of his office. Malcolm preferred to use a conference room when he had a meeting, but he kept the sofas for the same reason he kept the desk—because they belonged.
Malcolm’s assistant walked in with a tray. She smiled at them both, set the tray on the coffee table and left. His grandfather picked up one of the two mugs of steaming black coffee, along with a piece of biscotti. After dipping the latter in his mug, he said, “I found her.”
Resignation, irritation and inevitability battled for dominance. Malcolm realized it didn’t much matter which won—it wasn’t as if he was going to change his grandfather’s mind about any of it. To Alberto, family was everything. A trait to be admired, even if it occasionally made everyone’s life more complicated.
About the time Alberto had decided to cut out the middleman and sell his food directly to the public, through a mail-order catalog, he’d met, fallen in love with and married the pretty Irish girl who lived next door and they’d had one son—Jerry.
Alberto’s Alfresco had been successful, with steady but modest growth. Jerry had little interest in managing the company, a disappointment to both his parents. Instead he’d taken over corporate sales, traveling all over the country. He’d never married, but he had managed to father a few children. Three, to be precise, all by different mothers.
When Malcolm had been twelve, his mother had brought him from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle and had demanded to speak with Alberto. She’d presented Malcolm as Jerry’s son. Alberto had taken one look at Malcolm and had smiled, even as tears had filled his eyes. Malcolm was, he declared, the exact image of his late wife.
Jerry had been more reticent, insisting on a DNA test, which had proved positive. Within the week, both Malcolm and his mother were living in Alberto’s huge house.
Malcolm remembered how confused he’d been at the time. He’d been ripped from the only home he’d ever known and moved to Seattle. His grandfather had been adoring, his father indifferent, and Malcolm had taken a long time to accept that the large house by the lake was his home. Back then he’d been unable to figure out why his mother had suddenly decided to change everything and for the longest time she wouldn’t say. When she finally confessed she was sick and dying, he’d been forced to accept there was no going back. It would never be just him and his mom ever again.
When she’d died, Alberto had stepped in to take care of him. Jerry had remained indifferent—something Malcolm had come to terms with eventually.
Then two years ago, Jerry had died leaving—everyone had presumed—only one child. A few months ago, Alberto had finally brought himself to go through his son’s belongings. There he’d found proof of two additional children—daughters. Keira, a twelve-year-old living in foster care in Los Angeles, had been easily located and moved into the house six weeks before, but an older daughter, Callie, had been more difficult to find. Until now, apparently.
Malcolm gave in to the inevitable and asked, “Where is she?”
“Texas. Houston. She’s twenty-six.”
Eight years younger than him and fourteen years older than Keira.
“She’s living off the grid, as you young people like to say,” Alberto told him. “That’s why it took so long. The private detective had to trace her from Oklahoma. The lawyer will speak to her and confirm everything using DNA.”
“Do you want me to go meet her and bring her home?”
Because like Keira, Callie would be invited to come live with her paternal grandfather. While the twelve-year-old hadn’t had much choice—Alberto and Malcolm were her only living family—Callie was an adult. She could tell her grandfather to go pound sand. Malcolm honestly had no idea what she would do. But the promise of inheriting a piece of Alberto’s Alfresco would be difficult to resist.
“I’m sending a lawyer,” Alberto said. “That makes it more official.”
Malcolm wondered if that was the only reason.
He wasn’t sure how he felt about the sudden influx of siblings. Keira confused him—he knew nothing about twelve-year-old girls. After enrolling her in a quality private school that was conveniently across the street from the office building, he’d asked Carmen, their housekeeper, to keep tabs on her. Every now and then he suffered guilt, wondering if he should be more involved in her life, but how? Take her shopping and listen to teen music? He held in a shudder.
“I’m hoping she’ll move here,” Alberto told him. “We’ll be a family.”
Before Malcolm could respond, his grandfather shifted in his seat. The late morning light caught the side of his face, illuminating the deep wrinkles. Alberto wasn’t a young man. Yes, he was in good health, but at his age, anything could happen. Malcolm didn’t want to think about what it would mean to lose him and he sure didn’t want his last years to be unhappy.
“I hope she does, too,” he said, wondering if he was lying, then telling himself it didn’t much matter. When it came to his grandfather, he would do what Alberto wanted. He owed him that for everything that had happened… and everything he’d done.