She eagerly grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the sweet shop. "Can I buy a lollipop?"
He opened the door and the overhead bell sounded. "Of course, honey." He purchased a few goodies for his staff and bought Sally a handful of her favorite flavored lollipops. Kent opened up his wallet and handed the owner a wad of bills. Clutching the brown paper bag of purchases, they went to the nearest Italian diner. Sitting in a corner booth, he listened to his daughter chatter happily about the upcoming holidays. "Eat your spaghetti," he urged.
Sally twirled a long strand around her fork and slurped it up.
"Honey, what would you like for Christmas this year?"
Her eyes enlarged. She wiped her chin with a napkin and shrugged her shoulders. "There is only one thing I want for Christmas."
Sally reached for a dinner roll and bit into it. She chewed thoughtfully. "I can't tell you."
Kent leaned forward with interest. "Why can't you tell me?"
"If I tell you, my wish might not come true ."
"I see…" He glanced out the window and noticed large snowflakes fall. His eyes took in a slender form as it walked by. A woman dressed in a long overcoat stood outside the restaurant and gazed up at the neon sign. He saw her hesitate, glance down the street, then enter the building. He half-listened to his daughter prattle on happily. He strained to hear the woman speak.
She brushed the snow from her long, black hair and nervously cleared her throat. The words she spoke to the manager were barely above a whisper. "Are you hiring?"
The burly man scrutinized her appearance. He shook his head, disgusted. "You don't look like a proper waitress," he said.
"I'm a real hard worker," she replied. "Please…I have experience." She handed the man a ratty piece of paper.
The owner glanced briefly at her credentials. "Are you going to eat here? If not, get out." He pointed a finger at the doorway.
Kent excused himself from his daughter and approached the woman. "I couldn't help overhearing…" He gazed into her brown eyes and was speechless for a moment. "I'm…I was wondering if you would like to join us for lunch." He motioned to his daughter sitting in the corner booth.
"No thank you. I don't eat with strangers."
"My name is Kent Peterson, and you are?"
The woman looked down at her scruffy shoes. "I'm Christine Monroe."
He held out a hand to shake. "It's nice to meet your acquaintance. If you don't mind, I would like it if you took a seat."
She shook her head and moved toward the door. "I really should go."
Kent knew he wouldn't convince her. He left her side for a moment and rushed over to his table. Grabbing a couple of warm rolls, he handed them to her. "I want you to take these."
Christine eyed the rolls. She reached out and took the food. Meeting his gaze one last time, she thanked him and exited the restaurant.
Kent approached his table and sat down.
"Who was that, Daddy?"
"I don't know."
"She is pretty," Sally said.
"She sure is," he agreed. He glanced out the window and watched Christine walk across the street. He was enthralled by her beauty. Not taking his gaze off her slender form, he saw her bite into a warm roll. She closed her eyes to savor the taste.
Suddenly, a group of men came out of the alley. The street thugs had her blocked off. One guy punched her arm.
"What are they doing, Daddy?" Sally inquired.
Kent sat rooted to the spot, his eyes enlarged with fear. A couple of guys attempted to grab the bread from Christine. When she refused to give up her meal, a man slugged her hard in the face. She crumpled to the ground. The bread was confiscated by the thugs. The five guys took off down the back alley and disappeared from sight.