One wish can change everything.

There is nothing Jessica wants more than to be like everyone else, but between her Down Syndrome and her colorful family, “average” isn’t part of her vocabulary. This year when she blows out eleven candles on her homemade vegan cake she makes the same wish she’s made for as many birthdays as she can remember: she wants a mother. 

Jessica’s father Phil has worked his entire life to create a more stable childhood for his daughter than he had. But a supportive mother, a recently returned father, rainbow pancakes, and princesses can’t heal the dark void left in Phil’s heart which he won’t even admit is there. 

When Mallory’s mother’s life unexpectedly turns upside down, Mallory realizes her dreams come second to her heart, and she leaves her dream job in a big city to return home set on helping her fiercely independent mother recover. After forming a unique bond with Jessica—and a friendship with Jessica’s hot father—Mallory finds that in coming back to Stonehill she might just have found a way to make all of her dreams come true. 

But as their families start pushing Phil and Mallory together, old insecurities and Phil’s worst fears threaten to break up the happy trio and catch Jessica in the emotional crossfire.

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Prologue

Jessica closed her eyes. The candles on her birthday cake flickered just a few inches away. Eleven of them. Eleven candles meant her wish would be even stronger than last year. She took a breath and thought of the one thing she’d wanted for her birthday for as long as she could remember—I wish I had a mom.

Opening her eyes, she blew out the candles with one big breath. Everyone cheered like she’d done some great thing.
She wasn’t sure if it was because she was the only kid in the family—the only biological kid anyway, there were plenty of what her dad called Grandma’s strays—or if it was because she had Down syndrome, but everyone always seemed to overreact to what she did.

Blowing out her birthday candles didn’t really call for applause. She rolled her eyes and sat back in her chair but couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face.

Her grandma, with the latest non-related baby she’d taken in stuck to her chest by a long cloth wrap, reached for the plates and her grandpa scooped the homemade ice cream. While her dad cut the cake, Jessica looked out the window, wondering if this would be the year her wish came true.

 

Chapter One

Phil glared accusingly at his mother as she burped Mira. Kara had raised Phil on her own—his father hadn’t come into the picture until Phil was an adult. Instead of having a “normal” life, Kara and Phil had spent the better part of his youth in communes for single mothers. She now felt it was her duty to support every broken family she stumbled upon—including taking in babies like Mira when the need arose.

Phil applauded her misguided efforts to pay it forward, but he wished Kara would see that this latest young mother was taking advantage of her kindness. The girl missed scheduled appointments that Kara, as a non-custodial adult, couldn’t take the baby to. She wouldn’t come to get the baby for days on end. And when she did, Kara was hesitant to hand little Mira over. Kara worried about the infant from the moment she left her arms until she was dropped on their doorstep again. Which didn’t take long. The baby was fussier than most, almost as if she could sense that being raised by two unrelated adults wasn’t what her life should be, and her birthmother didn’t seem to have much tolerance for her.

Phil’s parents were in their late forties. Mira wasn’t even six months old yet. No matter how much passion his mother had, and how well intentioned his father was, Phil’s parents looked exhausted. He was frustrated for them because they didn’t seem to be frustrated enough for themselves. He understood their need to help, but why couldn’t they see they were more like parents to this child than her own mother?

He was also irritated that the fussy baby was distracting him from his real goal—confronting his mother. She had a way of worming her way into areas of his life where she had no business being.

“Jessica is at it again,” he said, using his tone to let his mom know he blamed her.

Kara’s eyes bulged. “What?”

“She’s been talking about when I start dating her teacher, Mom. As though it’s going to happen.”

“Why are you looking at me like that’s my fault?”

“You’ve been giving me a really hard time about being single.”

“I have not.”

“Yes, you have.”

“Your mom is just worried about you,” Phil’s dad said, walking into the living room with a baby bottle.

Harry was always making excuses for Kara. She just loved Phil so much. She just hated seeing Phil lonely. She just wanted Jessica to have a mother-figure in her life. As far as Phil was concerned, none of those were good enough excuses for planting the seed in Jessica’s head that her dad needed a girlfriend…especially if she had implied that Jessica’s teacher should be that girlfriend.

“Jess thinks I was flirting with her teacher.”

“Were you?” Harry asked.

“No.”

He grinned at his son. “I wouldn’t blame you. That is one good-looking elementary school teacher.”

Phil gawked at his mother as she situated the baby to take the bottle. “Did you hear that?”

Kara casually lifted her shoulder and let it drop. “Well, she is.”

“Oh, my God, Mother.” Phil closed his eyes as his parents laughed. “Look, the last thing I need is my daughter telling people I was flirting with her teacher. Good grief, what if she told her classmates that? Eleven-year-old girls aren’t exactly known for their ability to keep secrets. Shit,” he said thoughtfully. “Maybe that’s why Ms. Jackson acted so nervous at our last conference.”

His parents laughed again, and he glared at them. “Mom. Please, no more. I’ll date when I’m ready.”

Kara rocked front to back as the baby suckled her meal. “No more what? What exactly do you think I’ve been doing?”

“You tried to set me up on no less than three dates last month. And in front of Jess.”

“All I asked was if you were interested in going out with my friend’s daughter.”

“Three times. In front of Jessica.”

Kara tilted her head. “Are you gay?”

“What?”

“Because there is nothing wrong with being gay, Phil. Your father and I love you no matter what.”

He widened his eyes at her. “Mother.”

“I don’t think that’s the issue,” Harry said.

“Thank you,” Phil said to his father.

Harry grinned mischievously. “I saw him checking out Jessica’s teacher at the school carnival.”

As his parents laughed together, Phil realized he’d unwittingly become the butt of their joke.
“You two are impossible.”

“Listen,” Kara said more gently. “Jessica has really been focused on the fact that she doesn’t have a mother. I think she needs to have someone in her life to fill that role, even if it isn’t someone you are involved with. She’s practically a pre-teen. The last person she wants to talk to about pre-teen girl things is her dad. I’ve been there, Phil. I know how hard it is to be a single parent, especially to a child of the opposite sex. You can’t fully understand what Jess is going through as she grows up. She needs someone to talk to.”

“She has you.”

“And I will always be here for her. But having a grandma isn’t the same as having a mother figure. She’s getting to be old enough to realize that.”

“So I should just go grab the first woman I find and ask her to marry me and raise my kid?”

“That’s not what she’s saying,” Harry said.

“I’m not going to lie. It’s been hard watching you spend your entire life focused only on raising Jess,” Kara said. “You need more than that in your life. Trust me, sweetheart. I did the exact same thing you’re doing, but you’re doing it without any of the fun stuff. At least I took you on adventures, taught you things you couldn’t learn in school. We saw things, Phil. We went places.”

“Yeah, Mom. I remember.” His biggest resentment toward his mother was growing up a vagabond. They’d never stayed in one place long enough to grow roots. “What’s wrong with being close to family? It’s actually nice, don’t you think? To have a real home.”

Kara frowned, and Phil realized he’d sounded more than a little bitter.

“Yes, Phil. It is nice. But there is more to life than just stability. Jess deserves to have fun. So do you. I want you to be happy.”

“I am happy.”

Kara cast a disbelieving glance toward Harry.

“I am happy,” Phil said again. “I’m finally settled in a job I love. A place I love. I own a house. I have my dad. Jessica has friends and a school she loves. What more could I possibly need, Mom?”

“I’m not saying find a random girl to marry,” Kara insisted. “I just think that if you had a friend, someone Jessica felt connected to, it would be easier for her to not have a mother. And…maybe this friend could…become more for you when you’re ready.”

Phil inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. His mother had always had a way of trying his patience. “Changing the subject. Are you sure you don’t want to come to lunch with Jess and me?”

“Not a chance,” Harry said. “That little one will be taking a nap soon, and I’m making damn sure your mother and I follow suit.”

“She was up all night again,” Kara said. “Your father is exhausted.”

Harry eyed her. “So are you.”

Phil frowned at the droopy-eyed baby. “When are you going to realize you’ve gotten suckered into raising this child?”

“I already have,” Kara said. “But what would you have me do? Turn her out? Her mother can come and go to her heart’s content, so long as I know this one is safe.” She patted the baby’s back and got a muted coo in return.

When Kara smiled a contented grin, Phil sighed and pushed himself up. “It’s going to break your heart when she takes this baby and leaves. And you know she’ll leave sometime, Mom.”

Kara kissed the baby’s head. “But until then, Mira is going to know what it means to be cared for.”

The scene reminded Phil that one of the broken families his mother had cared for was his. His wife had left when Jessica was six months old. As soon as they’d found out the baby she was carrying had Down syndrome, she’d stopped wanting to have their daughter. Phil had convinced her not to abort, but the medical conditions they’d faced after Jessica was born were too much for Katrina to handle. As soon as they were told Jess had to have life-saving heart surgery, Katrina walked out the door and never looked back. That’s when Phil’s mother had stepped in.

She’d held Jessica the same way she was holding little Mira, rocking gently, patting slowly, brushing her cheek over the baby’s head. He’d harbored a lot of anger at his mother over the years, blaming her for his not having a father, but he could never be angry at her for caring about Jessica’s needs. She’d always put Jess above everyone else, and even if she were butting into his personal life, he knew the root of it was the same as it had been since the day Jessica was born—her desire to do what she perceived to be the best for her granddaughter.

“Look, Mom, I know Jess needs someone in her life, but I’m not going to just let anyone in. She gets attached to people. I don’t want her to get hurt if that someone doesn’t feel the same about her.”

“I know.” Kara looked up at him. “I’m just pointing out what I see, Phil. There’s a void in that child’s life. The same void you felt growing up. Sorry, Harry.” She glanced at her husband, who dismissed her apology with a wave of his hand. “But you know how it feels to not have someone in your life to connect with on that level. Jessica will always have me, but it isn’t the same. You know that.”

“Yes, Mom. I know.” Leaning down, Phil kissed her head. “The baby’s out.”

“Hallelujah.” Harry pushed himself up just as Jessica came bouncing into the room.

“Daddy, I’m starving! Let’s go!”

At Jess’s loud, happy voice, Mira let out a wail. Phil smirked as Harry sank back into his seat with a miserable-sounding groan.

 

Jessica’s Wish is available at these retailers: