Excerpt From 'Softly & Tenderly' by Sara Evans

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"Why would God decide you aren't . . ." June dipped her head to see into Jade's downcast eyes. "Oh, I see." Her spoon tapped out a beat against the ceramic mug as she stirred her tea. "You think God would choose you out of all the women in this world who've had abortions to say, 'No baby for her; she blew it'"?

"Feels like it sometimes." Jade sipped her tea to hide her emotion. She ignored the yearning most of the time. But it had been stirred today, by the pregnant women, by the doe with her fawns. If she could finally carry a baby to term, not miscarry again, she'd feel like her past was truly forgiven and God was smiling.

"You're young, Jade. It'll happen." June's words brought little comfort.

"Sure, I know." Jade sipped her tea.

"I've got just the thing for you." June motioned for Jade to pick up her tea and follow.

Jade carried her tea up the stairs behind June, whose narrow hips swung from side to side. She'd spent her entire marriage, the past two and a half years, trying to convince herself that children didn't matter. Max completed her. God, as she was beginning to know Him, completed her. But a child . . . one of her own. Jade could imagine the joy. She'd lost their honeymoon baby after ten weeks. It was a long eighteen months before she got pregnant again, only to lose the baby last summer, two weeks before Mama came down for a short visit.

But her August visit never ended. Mama's leukemia symptoms had intensified since Jade had seen her the Christmas before, so she refused to let her return to Iowa to live in the old farmhouse, alone.

Between managing the shops, the Blue Umbrella in Whisper Hollow and the Blue Two in downtown Chattanooga, Jade cared for Mama, driving her to doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

Into the crisp, golden fall and blustery holiday season, the busyness of the shop and town celebrations kept Jade's yearning for babies at bay. When she discovered she was pregnant at Thanksgiving, she laid awake that night in bed, pools in her eyes, crunching her fingers around Max's fisted, sleeping hand. The God of mercy bestowed favor on her.

"So, June, where are we going?" Then she had her third miscarriage in January. "What's this thing you have for me? Stuffing envelopes for the club's Spring Life Auction and Dance? Or licking stamps?"

"Jade, really, no one licks stamps anymore."

At the top of the stairs, June stopped short. Jade nearly sloshed her with tea.

"What's wrong?" Jade peered around her mother-in-law's shoulder. The pink hue of her suit brightened the dim light of the landing. The media room door was ajar with an eerie blue tint emanating from the flat-panel TV screen. "Is someone here?"

"Constance?" June thudded toward the door, a matronly authority in her stride. "You best not be napping. I warned you --"

"June." Jade hurried behind her, hoping to cushion the clash between Constance and her mistress. "So what if she fell asleep? It's not like she ignored her chores. The house is immaculate."

"I don't pay her to sleep." June raised her voice as if giving Constance one last chance to wake up and feign dusting before June crashed through the door and flipped on the light. "Constance Filmore--"

Jade hung back. Constance didn't need an audience when June reamed her out. Be awake, Constance...

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