EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones (Tyndale).

Chapter 1

Ten days earlier

The heat of the stone bathroom floor warmed Mackenzie London’s entire body as she took her first steps of the day. Beauty surrounded her. Every fixture, fabric, element in this home had been redone to perfection by the previous occupant. The day she moved in, she had determined that she would appreciate every moment she spent in this exquisite place—because she knew those moments were numbered.

There might not be much certain in this world. But in Mackenzie’s world this much was certain: she would not live here forever. She had known that when she moved in. And her Italian-Irish heritage pushed her to embrace every facet of life passionately, wildly, and completely. She was determined not to waste one moment of this opportunity she had been given.

Today, however, the mansion was the last thing on her mind.

“My, my, that’s a good-looking man standing in front of that mirror.” She leaned against her side of the brown marble countertop and gave her husband a sad smile.

Gray London leaned over his sink, electric razor in one hand. The other hand tugged at the base of his neck, where salt-and-pepper stubble clung. His blue eyes met hers, and she saw their delight in her arrival. “How’s my girl?”

“Heartbroken.” She scooted up behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her hands against the top of the towel tied around his hips. She laid her head against his bare back and listened as the buzz of the razor evaporated. Her heart felt heavy inside her chest.

He laid the razor down and placed his hands on top of hers. “It’s a new stage of life, huh?”

She moved her cheek up and down against his back.

He laughed and turned so he could face her. His six-foot frame towered over her five-foot-four. He wrapped one arm around her, lifted her chin, and wiped at a tear that had left its wet trail down the side of her cheek.

“I know it’s silly.” She dabbed a tissue at her nose. She had one in virtually every pocket she owned. “It’s just kindergarten. But maybe we should have waited until she was six.

You know, five is still really young.”

“She’s an old five, Mack.”

She leaned her head against his chest. “She was an old two.”

He laughed. “Yeah, she was. But we talked about this, and she wants to go. I know it’s going to be hard. It will be for me too, but it doesn’t happen until tomorrow. So let’s enjoy today and deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.”

She raised her head and batted her eyes. The tears fell freely. She knew he was right, but it didn’t change the way she felt. Natural childbirth had been less painful.

He leaned down and pressed his lips against her face, then moved his mouth to her ear as one hand grazed her stomach. “Plus, who knows? You might have another baby here in about nine months.”

“I pray so.”

He leaned back. “So you want me to give you your shot before you get in the shower?”

She moved her hands up to the soft curve in her hips, a smile fighting with the tears.

“You just want to look at my bootie.”

“Prettiest one I’ve ever seen.”

The smile won. She reached for another tissue and swiped at her eyes, then walked back over to her side of the bathroom. The Pregnyl stayed in prominent sight in her top drawer.