Adele Woodmore steadied herself with the hand-carved Black Forest cane she had bought in Germany and hurried across the living room and into the coat closet. She left the door cracked and dabbed the perspiration on her cheeks and nose with her monogrammed handkerchief.
“O-kaaay,” she sang out. “Come and find me.”
“Where are you, Addie?” the little voice replied.
“I’m over heeeere.” Adele smiled, wondering how she had survived all those years without knowing the joy of loving a child.
She heard the sound of little feet racing straight for the closet. The door slowly opened, and Grace Broussard, looking like a Hummel figurine with her rosy cheeks and blond pigtails, peered inside.
“Peek-a-boo. I find you!” The two-year-old squealed and clapped her hands with delight.
“Goodness! You found me again.” Adele came out of the closet and straightened Grace’s pink-and-white sundress. “Addie needs to cool off. This July humidity gets to me. Why don’t we sit down and have our ginger cookies and milk?”
“I want this many cookies.”
Adele met the child’s pleading gaze and kissed the three fingers she held up. “Why don’t we start with two and see if you’re still hungry? We don’t want to spoil your lunch.”
“I wuv cookies!”
Adele chuckled. “Me, too. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we were related.”
She held Grace’s tiny hand and walked out to the kitchen and pushed the button on the intercom.
“Yes, Mrs. Woodmore?” Isabel Morand’s voice filled the room.
“We’re ready for that snack now, hon.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be right there.”
Grace’s topaz eyes grew wide and animated. “Where Izzybell?”
“She’s in the laundry room, darlin’. When I talk into that silver gadget on the wall, Isabel can hear me, and I can hear her. It saves Addie from having to shout or go looking for her.”
Grace cocked her head, a smile dimpling her cheeks.
“Clear as mud, eh?” Adele brushed the little wisps of curls that framed the child's face. “After we have our cookies, I’ll show you how it works.”
Isabel breezed through the door, her thick, dark hair falling over her shoulders and down to the middle of her back. “Ready to try those gingersnaps we made?”
Grace gave a nod. “I wuv cookies.”
“Let me get you some milk to go with it.”
Adele got Grace situated in her booster chair while Isabel set the plate of cookies, a glass of milk, and a sippy cup on the table.
The doorbell rang.
“Gee”—Isabel winked at Grace—“I wonder who that could be on a Monday morning?”
“It’s probably Murray,” Adele said. “Would you let him in, hon? I asked him to come paint that back bedroom a nice shade of pale blue. I’m not fond of lilac.… Why are you smiling?”
“I was just wondering what you’re going to do when you run out of things for Murray to fix, paint, or remodel.”
Adele felt her face warm. “He needs the work. And I always have something that needs attention. He’s the most reasonable handyman in Les Barbes.” Adele smiled in spite of herself. “Are you going to let him in or not?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m on my way.”
Isabel left to answer the door.
Half a minute later Murray Hamelin came into the kitchen, holding his gold New Orleans Saints cap in his hands, his carrot red hair showing a line where the hat had been. “Hello, Mrs. Woodmore. Little Miss Grace. I hope it’s okay that I brought Flynn Gillis from Haven House to help me move furniture so I can paint.”
“Of course it's okay.” Adele held up the plate of cookies. “Better take a handful of these gingersnaps with you. Take some for Flynn.”
“I wuv cookies!” Grace set her sippy cup down, using the back of her hand to wipe away a drop of milk that had escaped her smile.
“I knew that.” Murray took a generous handful of cookies off the plate, his boyish grin and red hair reminding Adele of Richie on Happy Days.
“Were you able to get the paint I picked out?” Adele asked.
“Sure was. Should be enough to do the job and leave a little for touch-ups later on.”
Touch-ups. Adele smiled to herself. That back bedroom would likely never be used. “Will you finish today?”
“I should. But I’ll need to let it dry. I’d like to bring Flynn back tomorrow to help move the furniture back—if that’s okay with you.”
“It is. I’ll be here.”
“We’ll go get started. Thanks for the cookies.”
“You’re welcome, hon. Come and go as you need to.”
“Murray is nice.” Grace’s words were muffled by a mouth full of gingersnap.
“He is nice.” Adele glanced up at Isabel. “And he’s a fine handyman. It’s always good to have someone I can trust.”
“Murray seems nice enough,” Isabel said. “But you really don’t know anything about him. Just because Father Vince discovered that Murray’s good with his hands is no guarantee that he’s honest.”
“I’m a pretty good judge of character, Isabel.”
“Ma’am, with all due respect, a few months ago he was homeless. Don’t you wonder why? How do you even know that he’s who he says he is? Or that you can trust that Flynn fella he brought with him? I saw him standing out in the driveway. His hair is longer than mine, and he looks tough as nails. He could be casing the place.”
Adele took a bite of cookie. “You let me worry about the people I hire. Murray’s been nothing but polite and efficient. If he needs Flynn to help move furniture, who am I to second-guess him? He deserves a chance to get back on his feet.”
“Maybe so. Just be cautious. You’re so trusting and accepting of everyone.”
Adele fingered the gold cross around her neck. “I don’t necessarily trust everyone, hon. But I trust God. He brings people into my life for a reason.” She smiled at Grace. “I take them as they come.”
“Well, they’re coming in the front door.” Isabel arched her eyebrows. “Take a look at this Flynn character, and see if you’re still comfortable letting him in your house.”
Adele heard the front door open and close again. A second later the two men stood at the kitchen door.
“Mrs. Woodmore, this is Flynn Gillis.” Murray nodded toward a man who reminded her of a young Willie Nelson.
“Nice to meet you,” Adele said.
Flynn gave a nod and mumbled something, never making eye contact.
“We’re going to get started now.” Murray tipped the bill of his cap.
“Good. I’ll be eager to see what a difference the pale blue makes.”
Murray and Flynn turned and walked down the hall.
“Well?” Isabel whispered.
“I’m not in the habit of judging a man by the length of his hair, hon. If Murray asked him over here, he trusts him. And I trust Murray.”
Isabel didn’t reply.
Adele mused. Of course she trusted Murray. Hadn’t he proven himself time and again? Yet something about Flynn was off-putting. Was it his long hair? His lack of manners? She couldn’t put her finger on it, but it was a moot point. He was already here.