Tuesday’s Teaser with Donna Schlachter

Double Jeopardy

 

Today I have Donna Schlachter talking about her new book, Double Jeopardy Welcome, Donna.

How would you describe your main character(s)?

Becky is naïve about a lot of things, but she loves her daddy. Despite her mother’s warnings, she heads off to Colorado certain she’s going to find what she’s looking for.

Zeke lives, eats, and breathes cattle ranching. He won’t fail his parents, and he won’t lose his legacy. And nobody better get in his way. Not even that pretty girl from New York City.

What is the problem your character(s) face in your book?

Becky wants to keep her father’s dream alive, but she doesn’t have a clue how to go about doing that. She also vows to find her father’s killer, something else she’s ill-equipped for.

Zeke wants to save his ranch, but for that, he needs money. He’s not afraid of hard work, but falling for his friend’s daughter—well, that’s something else. And to make matters worse, she’d make a poor rancher’s wife.

What would you like your readers to know about your character(s)?

They are just like us, full of dreams and ideas about how life should be. And when the truth hits them square in the face, they don’t know where to turn. But God doesn’t let them wallow in their despair. He is ever present, leading them to a good outcome in Him.


Read a free chapter excerpt from Double Jeopardy.

Dead. Dead as her dreams and her hopes.

Dead as a doornail, as her mother would say.

Just thinking about the woman drove a steel rod through Becky Campbell’s slumping back.

Perched on a chair in the sheriff’s office, she drew a deep breath, lifted her shoulders, and raised her chin a notch. She would not be like the woman who birthed her. Pretty and pampered. A silly socialite finding nothing better to do with her days than tea with the mayor’s spinster daughter or bridge with the banker’s wife.

No, she’d much rather be like her father. Adventuresome. Charismatic. Always on the lookout for the next big thing.

Now her breath came in a shudder, and down went her shoulders again. She tied her fingers into knots before looking up at the grizzled lawman across the desk from her. “There’s no chance there’s been a mistake in identification, is there?”

He slid open the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a pocket watch, a lapel pin, and a fountain pen, which he pushed across the desk to her. “He was pretty well-known around here. I’m really sorry, miss.”

Becky picked up the timepiece and flicked open the cover. Inside was a photograph of her family, taken about ten years earlier when she was a mere child of eight and Father stayed around long enough to sit still for the portrait. Her mother, petite and somber, and she, all ringlets and ribbons. She rubbed a finger across the engraving. To R. Love M. Always.

Yes, this was his.

And the lapel pin, a tiny silver basket designed to hold a sprig of baby’s breath or a miniature rosebud—a wedding gift from her mother twenty years before.

She looked up at the sheriff, tears blurring her vision. “And his ring?”

The lawman shook his head. “No ring. Not on his body or in his shack.”

“But he always wore it. Never took it off.”

He shrugged. “Maybe he lost it. Or sold it.”

“I doubt he’d do either. My mother gave it to him when I was born.”

She peered at him. Had he stolen her father’s ring?

Or maybe Sheriff Freemont was correct. Maybe something as important as her birth hadn’t meant much to her father. Maybe she didn’t either. Was that why he left?


Get your copy here:

https://shoplpc.com/double-jeopardy/

https://www.amazon.com/Double-Jeopardy-Donna-Schlachter/dp/1645260836

Friday’s Feature with Penny Musco

Penny Musco

Today I have Penny Musco talking about her book The Christmas Child.Welcome, Penny.

Tell us about your favorite character in the book.

Well, I’d have to say the main female protagonist, Hannah, because she’s…me! That is, me set in 1890s New York. I’ve struggled with infertility and adoption, wrestling with them in the context of my faith.

Do you read the reviews and comments of your readers?

I read them, because that’s how I know whether I’ve provided an enjoyable book. An editor’s opinion is one thing, but to me, readers’ thoughts are the bottom line.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

A lot! Everything in a writer’s life is grist for the mill, as the saying goes, so what happens to me usually ends up somewhere in my writing. I suppose it’s a kind of therapy, working through issues through my characters. Also, I love using details of places I’ve been. I’m familiar with New York City, and I like to put my characters in the areas I know. I also enjoy history, so I incorporate historical happenings and events it into my books. In The Christmas Child, I reference Jacob Riis’ 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives, which exposed the awful conditions in Lower Manhattan’s tenements. And because a few characters are Italian, like my husband’s family, I find it fun to name characters after his relatives (I’m working on another romance in which I use my family names!)

Some people believe that being a published author is glamorous. Is that true?

You know, my husband’s job is in technical theatre and people think that’s glamorous, too. Years ago, someone was talking to us about our professions, and kept telling us we were “living the dream” (I think that was because he disliked his job and longed to go into an artist field). My husband finally replied, exasperated, “It’s a job, just like anyone else’s!” I feel the same. I write articles as well as books, and it’s really not very glamorous to sit in front of a computer by yourself, and to have to keep querying editors looking for work. Being at home while I’m doing this provides lots of distractions. I constantly fight procrastination, because I have nobody breathing down my neck telling me to get to work.

I cut out a cartoon several years ago that neatly summarizes what it sometimes feels like to be a freelancer. It shows a couple at a restaurant table, and the man says to the woman, “I totally hate my job. The boss is a lazy jerk who never gets off his deadbeat butt and is dragging the company down with him. I sure wish I could quit.” The caption: The Problem With Being Self-Employed.

Who are some of your favorite authors? Have you met any of them and found yourself having a fan-girl moment?

As I mentioned before, I’m interested in history, reading both non-fiction and historical fiction. In the latter category, I enjoy the mother-and-son writing team who work under the name of Charles Todd, authoring the Bess Crawford mystery series set during World War I. Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is a fun, lighthearted read that makes me want to visit Botswana. I interviewed him several years ago, and he is as delightful as his books!


Penny has been gracious to share a chapter of her book. Read a chapter 3 excerpt of The Christmas Child available from Pelican Book Group.

The Christmas Child excerpt (Chapter 3)

The afternoon sun brightened the parlor as Hannah settled into a plush chair. The worries and cares that Robert had kissed away last night weighed heavily on her once more. She had lain awake long after he dropped off to sleep, eventually falling into an uneasy slumber.

Apparently Robert had decided to let her rest when he got up for work and instructed Rosa not to rouse her either, because she hadn’t opened her eyes until almost ten o’clock. As a result, her morning routine was entirely off. It wasn’t until now, after lunch, that she took the time for her devotions.

She picked up her Bible from a cloth covered side table. She found it hard to imagine that only last year this Book had meant practically nothing to her. She thought back to the circumstances that had changed her life, and half smiled. Carolina had a part in that, too…

Last fall, her friend had taken it into her head that she wanted to attend a suffragist gathering at a church uptown, and invited Hannah to accompany her.

“I can’t possibly! What would I tell Robert? He doesn’t like them at all!”

“Oh, he’ll never know.” Carolina dismissed her concerns with a wave of a dainty hand. “All you have to tell him is that you’re going to a ladies’ meeting.”

Hannah couldn’t help but laugh. “You never fail to amaze me with the wealth of tricks you have up your sleeve. If I remember correctly, you were always the one who got us into trouble when we were children. But, tell me, how is it that this church is letting these ‘rabble rousers’ use their building?”

“The speaker’s daddy is a very influential, very wealthy member of the congregation, and anything his darling wants, he gets for her, and anything he wants, the church gets for him. Now what do you say? I think it will be very entertaining.”

Carolina finally persuaded her. The growing anxiety over not producing a child had begun to gnaw at her, and Hannah decided that maybe this was just the kind of diversion she needed.

“All right, but you have to pick me up, then bring me back before nine, otherwise Robert will be suspicious.”

As it turned out, she needn’t have worried, because on the day of the meeting, Robert told her he was dining with Mr. Duff at the Union Club, and wouldn’t be home until late. Then, in the early afternoon, Carolina sent word that she was sick with a bad cold, but she was sending her own carriage for her anyway so she could attend and “report back.” Hannah was just about to return a note saying she wouldn’t go either, when she realized she’d been looking forward to it.

And so that evening found her waiting for her ride in her tiny vestibule, frowning at the downpour outside. When the carriage pulled up, she selected a large umbrella from the stand and hurried to the door the driver held open.

“You know where to go?” she asked him as she climbed in.

“Yes, ma’am.”

The showers poured down on a nearly deserted Fifth Avenue. She began to wonder whatever had possessed her to venture out in such terrible weather when the carriage stopped.

The driver helped her down and promised to return before nine. Hannah flew up the steps to the church, and once inside, paused to shake the rain from her umbrella and cape. She heard an unfamiliar tune being heartily sung inside, and was startled when a man suddenly appeared next to her. She had expected to see only women.

“May I escort you to a seat, madam?” He courteously offered his arm.

Flustered, Hannah nodded. She was even more surprised to see several males in the audience. Up front, a corpulent man advanced to the pulpit, his serious face framed with a white beard and sideburns, and crowned with a full head of snowy hair.

She turned to the older gentleman. “But…is this the…I mean, where are all the women?”

He gave her a puzzled look and gestured with his hand. “There are a quite a few women here, and I assure you you have nothing to fear.”

“No, you don’t understand.” Hannah gathered up her courage. “Isn’t this the suffragist meeting?”

This seemed to amuse the usher. “Mercy, no! This is Mr. Moody’s evangelistic crusade!”

Hannah looked around in panic. “I must not be in the right church!”

The usher cleared his throat. “From what I understand, that gathering is a few blocks north of here.”

She rushed to the door and peered out into the deluge. In the distance, the carriage that had brought her turned the corner, and she knew it would be useless to try to call it back. She could always walk, but in this weather, the prospect didn’t appeal to her.

“Madam.” The gentleman had followed her. “I don’t presume to know the state of your soul, but perhaps God has a reason for this mix up tonight. Won’t you stay?”

Hannah hesitated. There seemed to be little she could do and, she had to admit, she was a bit intrigued. No one had ever seriously questioned her religious beliefs before. At her church, one paid a premium for a pew, attended every week and considered his obligation to God fulfilled. Naturally, she had heard of Dwight L. Moody and his campaigns in Chicago and abroad, and she vaguely remembered his New York meetings at the Great Roman Hippodrome in 1876 when she was ten. But never once had she considered that his message had anything to do with her. Yet here she was, stuck in the wrong place with really no choice but to listen to him.

She sighed in resignation. “Yes, I’ll go in.”

The well-known evangelist, introduced as just arrived from a tour of the Pacific coast, began to speak as Hannah slipped into the back pew.

“Some years ago a gentleman came to me and asked which I thought was the most precious promise of all those that Christ left. I took some time to look them over, but I gave it up. I found that I could not answer the question. It is like a man with a large family of children, he cannot tell which he likes best; he loves them all. But if not the best, this is one of the sweetest promises of all: ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’”

Hannah wondered if her minister had ever read this verse out loud in church. It didn’t seem familiar at all, but its profound simplicity struck her. In spite of herself, she listened intently.

“If I wanted to find a person who had rest I would not go among the very wealthy. The man that we read of in the twelfth chapter of Luke, thought he was going to get rest by multiplying his goods, but he was disappointed. ’Soul, take thine ease.’ I venture to say that there is not a person in this wide world who has tried to find rest in that way and found it.

“Money cannot buy it. Many a millionaire would gladly give millions if he could purchase it as he does his stocks and shares. God has made the soul a little too large for this world. Roll the who world in, and still there is room. There is care in getting wealth, and more care in keeping it.

“Nor would I go among the pleasure seekers. They have a few hours’ enjoyment, but the next day there is enough sorrow to counterbalance. They may drink a cup of pleasure today, but the cup of pain comes on tomorrow.

“To find rest I would never go among the politicians, or among the so-called great. Congress is the last place on earth that I would go. In the Lower House they want to go to the Senate; in the Senate they want to go to the Cabinet; and then they want to go to the White House; and rest has never been found there.” The crowd chuckled knowingly.

“Nor would I go among the halls of learning. ‘Much study is a weariness to the flesh.’ I would not go among the upper ten, the ‘bon ton,’ for they are constantly chasing after fashion. Have you not noticed their troubled faces on our streets? And the face is index to the soul. They have no hopeful look. Their worship of pleasure is slavery. Solomon tried pleasure and found bitter disappointment, and down the ages has come the bitter cry, ‘All is vanity.’”

Hannah’s mind whirled. She’d never before heard anyone speak with such forthrightness and conviction. Mr. Moody’s words stirred something deep inside her, and she felt as if he were talking right at her.

“Now for something positive. I would go successfully to someone who has heard the sweet voice of Jesus and has laid his burden down at the cross. There is rest, sweet rest. Thousands could certify to this blessed fact. “

“Among all his writings, St. Augustine has nothing sweeter than this: ‘Thou has made us for Thyself, O God, and our heart is restless till it rests in Thee.’”

“I like to have a text like this because it takes us all in. ‘Come unto me all ye that labor.’ That doesn’t mean a select few—refined ladies and cultured men. It doesn’t mean good people only. It applies to saint and sinner. Hospitals are for the sick, not for healthy people. Do you think that Christ would shut the door in anyone’s face and say, ‘I did not mean all; I only meant certain ones?’

“Now, there are a good many believers who think this text applies only to sinners. It is just the thing for them too. What do we see today? The Church, Christian people, all loaded down with cares and troubles. ‘Come unto me all ye that labor.’ All! I believe that includes the Christian whose heart is burdened with some great sorrow.

“If you cannot come to Christ as a saint, come as a sinner. But if you are a saint with some trouble or care, bring it to Him. Saint and sinner, come!”

With Mr. Moody’s invitation ringing in the air, the organ began to play softly. The great preacher sat down, and a gentleman with big mutton chop whiskers took his place at the pulpit.

“I found this hymn in a small paper published in London,” the man told the assembly. “It was said to be a favorite song of the fishermen on the north coast of England, and they were often heard singing it as they approached their harbors in the time of storm.” The music swelled, and he began to sing in a powerful voice:

The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide,

A shelter in the time of storm;

Secure whatever ill betide,

A shelter in the time of storm.

Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,

A weary land,

A weary land,

Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,

A shelter in the time of storm.

Hannah watched a line of people form in the aisle, with men and women streaming down from the balcony as well. The singer, whom she guessed to be the famous Ira Sankey, continued:

A shade by day, defense by night,

A shelter in the time of storm…

The usher who had escorted her in suddenly appeared at her side. “And you, Madam, what will you do with Jesus? Will you come, as Mr. Moody invited, whether you are a saint or sinner?”

“I…I don’t know. I’ve been deeply affected by what he’s said, and I’d like to know more.”

“Walk with me then, won’t you, and talk to my wife.” He led her into a crowded room off the sanctuary, where a smiling older woman indicated a seat next to her.

“How can I help you tonight, my dear?” she asked.

Hannah leaned forward. “Is Mr. Moody saying I need to do something more to please God? Isn’t attending church, being a good person, and trying to follow His rules enough?”

The counselor, introduced by her husband as Elvira Murray, opened her Bible. “The book of Romans declares: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.’ So you see, none of us is ‘good,’ none of us follows God’s rules completely all the time. We are all seeking quite the opposite, our own pleasures and comfort, as Mr. Moody so eloquently preached tonight. And the Lord calls that sin.”

Hannah nodded. She thought of her devotion to her house, clothes, and other worldly things, and Robert’s burning desire to get ahead at the bank.

“The good news is that God loves us and has taken care of our sin,” Mrs. Murray continued. “Further on in Romans, it says that His free gift is eternal life through His Son, Jesus. It is by Him taking the punishment for our sin by dying on the cross that we’re ‘saved,’ that is, spared from eternal damnation. And, of course, He helps us in this life, too.”

“What you say makes so much sense,” Hannah said, “but why haven’t I heard it before?”

Mrs. Murray sighed sadly. “Bits and pieces of the gospel are scattered here and there in most churches today, but no great effort is made to tie it all together or explain that one must consciously choose to follow the Lord. Now that you know, though, will you come to Jesus, trusting Him as your Savior and Lord? You won’t have all the answers tonight, but you know enough to make a decision.”

Her head was full of contradictory thoughts. On one hand, she knew the restlessness of which the evangelist spoke, and recognized her selfish seeking after her own desires and pleasures. But was it really so easy to have that assurance and forgiveness? All she had to do was say yes?

As if reading her mind, Mrs. Murray said, “When I first decided to follow the Lord, I wondered why everyone didn’t! The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is blessedly simple. Praise the Lord He made it so! I found out that most people haven’t been given the opportunity. In another part of Romans, the apostle Paul writes, ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?’ It is my fondest hope that tonight, now that you’ve heard, you will call on the Lord.”

And so she had. She knew now that she had been brought to the wrong church not by a driver’s mistake, but by her heavenly Father’s divine plan, so that she would hear what she never had before.

The consequences of her commitment were profound. The tiny seed of faith planted that night had taken root and grown over these past five months. And while she realized she still had much to learn, she knew she could never turn back to her old way of life.

Robert didn’t fully understand what had happened to her and resisted any discussion of spiritual matters, although he agreed to attend the new church with her. Carolina first had been amused at the story and then aghast at the changes in her, and also refused to talk about it. These strains in her most important relationships were what she prayed about most.

But the sudden hunger for God’s Word comforted her. Before that November evening, having a Bible for picking up and reading had never seemed necessary, because the minister at her former church narrated the applicable portions in the weekly service. But she had been seized with a desire to find out for herself what the Scriptures said. Of course, the Jessups had a family Bible, whose size made it impractical for everyday use, so she had purchased the soft, leather-bound one she now held in her hand.

She flipped through the pages. On Sunday, the pastor had mentioned the name of Hannah in passing, while talking about the prophet Samuel, and she was eager to learn the story of her Biblical namesake. She found what she was looking for in chapter one of First Samuel.

Hannah scanned the text with growing amazement. Here was a woman with the same problem as hers!

Her eyes locked in on one verse. “The Lord had shut up her womb.” A sudden chill ran down her spine. Was it because of something both of us Hannahs had done—or not done?

She read further. “And she vowed a vow, and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life…”

She had prayed for a child! The Hannah of old, like her, had wept, grieved, and even lost her appetite over her childlessness, and dared to ask the Lord to give her a son!

She struggled to remember what the pastor had said about Samuel. He had been the last judge, and anointed both Saul and David as kings. He was obviously a very important Biblical figure to have two books named after him. And his life had begun with the desperate prayer of a childless woman!

The priest Eli had assured the biblical Hannah that the Lord would grant her request, and “she went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.” The chapter closed out with the birth of her son: “’For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord.’”

God hadn’t chastised Samuel’s mother for asking Him for a child, but instead had answered her prayer! The passage didn’t seem to indicate that she had done anything wrong. Did that mean she too, a modern-day Hannah, could ask God to do the same for her? Could she really bring this weighty sorrow to the Lord?

Well, why not, she chided herself. Wasn’t the pastor always saying Christians could pray about anything?

Hannah slipped from her seat and knelt, heedless of her fawn-colored silk shirtwaist with its fine edging, her arms resting on the chair’s buttoned upholstery. “Lord, you know how much I want children, and like my namesake of so long ago, I’m deeply grieved because I don’t have any. I confess, also like her, sometimes I’m bitter, too.” She took a deep breath. “But…if it’s Your will, I ask You now for a child. I don’t care whether it’s a son or daughter, but I too will dedicate him or her to You forever.”

She didn’t know how long she remained there lost in prayer, but the shadows in the parlor had lengthened considerably when she heard the front door open.

“Hannah?”

At the sound of Robert’s voice she rose, her face no longer sad, and her soul at peace now that she had committed her deepest heartache to the Lord.


About Penny

 Penny is a freelance writer with clips from a variety of publications, including AARP, Costco Connection and several AAA magazines, among others. She’s also the author of two books.  Life Lessons from the National Parks: Meeting God in America’s Most Glorious Places (Sonfire Media), which won an Excellence in Editing award from the Christian Editor Connection in 2017. Here, Penny discusses her ebook, The Christmas Child, published in December, 2018 by Pelican Publishing Group.

Tuesday’s Teaser with LoRee Peery

Hiding from Christmas

After her grandparents as forced to live apart through assisted living, and then die within nine days of each other, intrepid entrepreneur Calissa Ladd is devastated. She’s always wanted to experience the same lifelong love modeled by her grandparents, but her heart isn’t where it needs to be as she clings to the past for answers and then starts having vivid dreams of a long-ago time period.

Deferential banker Monte McQueen has loved Calissa since they were children, but he procrastinates making a commitment to her. He stands by as Calissa gets stuck in the past.

Calissa clings to the decrepit homestead that belonged to her family, searching and seeing visions into the past. Will she overcome her skewed beliefs and reclaim her relationship with the Lord as Monte pushes his love of Christmas on her? Or will she forfeit her happily-ever-after?


Read an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Hiding from Christmas

Chapter 3

The girls blew into Calissa’s apartment from the patio entrance, where they toed off their boots.

Hadley tossed a beige envelope on the table in front of Calissa. “Card for you, auntie. Stuck in the front door.”

She’d gone through the garage yesterday upon her return from the homestead, without a glance at the front entrance. Otherwise, she might have seen the envelope herself.

“Something about love, I’ll bet.” Brittany giggled and shrugged out of her hoodie.

Calissa slid off her thimble and accepted it. The paper was damp and cold to the touch. Flimsy. But she made out Monte’s handwriting. “I’ll set it next to the floor vent so it dries off. Then, I’ll open it.”

The girls looked at one another and burst out in song. “Monte and Calissa sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

“Kids in your generation still say that?” She waited for their giggles to die down. “I need a good three hours’ production from you two today so let’s get crackin’.”

Brittany tossed their coats on the sofa. “Something on the floor, Aunt Calissa. Looks like another card.”

“Oh, it must have slipped out of my purse. It’s also from Monte. Set it on the coffee table, please.”

“Two cards from your man?” Brittany fanned her face with the envelope. “Why don’t you set them out?”

“Because I’m working.”

Hadley took her seat at the long work table Calissa had set up in the dining area, and selected a variety of blue beads with matching thread. “I’m glad you’re getting cards. Hope they’re Christmas. Mom said you need the holiday spirit in your life.”

Calissa scowled. Was Monte pushing Christmas on her by giving cards? She jolted at Hadley’s loud voice.

“Brit, get your butt over here.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re not the boss of me, little sis.”

“Any boss we had wouldn’t treat us the way our aunt does. She gives us something new and sparkly every month to embellish our clothes.”

Calissa smiled at their banter and bent her head over her needle.

Three crystal beads secured.

The girls spoke at once.

“How come Monte sent you two cards?”

“Why aren’t you together now? Even if he is old, he always looks good.”

Out of the mouths of babes. “Girls. We’ve been through this. I can’t tell you why Monte has given me two cards, or why we aren’t engaged. We’ve been friends forever. We’re comfortable together. The romantic side of the guy appears infrequently. He’s a good man. Respected with an admirable job.”

“But you love each other,” Hadley whined. “You’re supposed to get all gooey-eyed and blush when you talk about him.”

They shared a laugh.

“You don’t have to remind us that adult relationships can be complicated.” Brittany grinned at Calissa. “I’ll bet that second card is dry now.”

To settle the subject, Calissa stuck her needle in the denim pocket and retrieved the envelope. She drew out another old-fashioned card. The cover showed a hunched youth laden with gaily-wrapped packages wishing the recipient a Christmas filled with joy. She held it toward the girls then flipped it open.

I want to shower you with Christmas wishes. Just say the word, and I’ll come over to decorate. Love, Monte

“I don’t need help to decorate.” She went to the open galley kitchen and took the cups off the mug tree. Paused. What was wrong with her that kept him from proposing? Should she come right out and ask him if they had a future together? Could the problem be on both their sides? Calissa grabbed a paper punch and strung a narrow ribbon through the hole in the card. She extracted the first one from the envelope Monte gave her at the homestead, and did the same. Now the metal branches of the mug tree were adorned with two cards…they looked lopsided and bare, but too bad. A glance at the girls made her giggle. She shrugged and sat. “I have work to do. Close your mouth, Hadley. A bug could fly in.”

Brittany sputtered and bowed her head over her emerging peacock in varied greens. Her cheeks puffed out. “You may not want to say, but I have to know. Tell us why you don’t like Christmas.”

Calissa poked her needle from the bottom up through the denim fabric before answering. “It’s not that I don’t care for it, exactly. I don’t see a reason to take time for all the hoopla.” And I hate to relive the devastating disappointment of my teen years over and over.

“Tell us about Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa and where Grandma grew up.” Brittany made her statement with her needle poised in the air.

Both girls loved hearing the stories about their grandparents. Hadley had mentioned more than once that Calissa’s stories made the pictures of various people in old family photo albums more real to them.

Calissa chose a black bead to accent the purple peacock. “Yes, my mom, your grandmother, was the youngest of a large family. Due to the wide span of ages between the siblings, the oldest was married and living in the house with his wife, when your grandmother came along. Your great-grandfather built the house and added on a couple times to accommodate everyone.”

“All of them in the same house.” Hadley tossed her hair over her shoulder. “I hope they each had their own room. I wouldn’t want to share a room with Brittany.”

“And I’d never share a room with you,” Brittany said with mock sarcasm. “Ewwww.”

“Well, Grandpa farmed, so I’ll bet the only time you’d be in your rooms would be to sleep. Everyone helped back then. Kids worked on the farm, just as adults did. There were hard years and snowed-in times, but there was always love. And enough to eat, because they grew their own food, including meat. They canned everything themselves, vegetables and fruits too.”

“Sounds like hard work all the time to me.” Hadley grimaced. “And that house is nothing special. Mom’s driven by there a couple times.”

“Mom says you love the place.” Brittany stood to reach a spool of turquoise thread.

“Yes.” Calissa exhaled. “Somehow the building and the land settle me. Knowing who lived there once breathes a sense of belonging to my soul. Our ancestors thrived between the crumbling walls of that place. They fused their lives together as they shared warmth from the fireplace and whispered dreams beneath piled-on quilts in the beds above the parlor.” Calissa’s fancy imaginings had taken her right out of her own apartment.

“It sounds like something I could write about in my journal.” Brittany grinned. “There’s always a teacher who wants to know if we discovered new adventures or did anything exciting over Christmas break.”

“Would you drive us out there, auntie?” Hadley raised her head. “Maybe we could get our Christmas essays done early.”

“I’d be glad to drive you out. The place isn’t pretty. Don’t make fun of me, though. I look through the knot holes of the aged wood and glassless windows and feel love. I don’t see the rot. I see roots.”

*

Those roots called to her, even in her dreams, a longing that wouldn’t let Calissa go. Today, she drove the boxes of filled orders to the post office, and then headed over the familiar country roads. Cold weather allowed only glimpses of green grass now. Naked tree branches beckoned her nearer the abandoned house.

Calissa bypassed the front room window. She approached the original entrance, and propped open the door with a rock. She scanned the rectangular room, noting doorways and faint remnants of torn, floral wallpaper. The stone fireplace against the far wall drew her closer, and she walked into the house farther than she’d ever dared.

No glowing embers came to life. No fire sparked burning logs to glow. The vision of Grandma and Grandpa didn’t repeat itself the same as on her last visit.

Carissa blinked. A chill ran up her spine. Not a dangerous, scary kind, but one of intense yearning. She glanced over her shoulder. And froze.

In the corner before a raggedy branched cedar tree decorated in gold balls and dripping icicle trim, her grandparents appeared. They laughed with open smiles. Grandma’s eyes were squinted shut, and her hands were on Grandpa’s shoulders. Even seated in the chair, he seemed tall.

Happy. Their happiness rang from the rafters.

The deep desire for lasting love and a sense of belonging created an ache within, strong enough to stun Calissa. She swiped a gloved hand over her eyes, positive time travel was an incorrect assumption. They obviously couldn’t see her. The cedar scent of the Christmas tree filled the December air. The great love between the handsome man and joyful woman washed through Calissa’s heart. Her senses were more alive than they’d ever been.

The fairy-tale scene faded.

Monte would never believe her. Why did she think of him? Deep down, she wanted to be happy with him the same way she remembered the love of her grandparents. Did he balk at commitment due to his parents?

Calissa pivoted. Her toe struck a loose hearth stone. She bent to fix it back in place but it wouldn’t resettle. Hefting it for a better angle, she eyed a rusty tin rather than finely ground mortar. Trembling with anticipation, she shook the box to loosen the dirt, and withdrew it.

The lid was rusted shut.

*

Back in her apartment, Calissa ignored the cards from Monte. She cleared a collection of glass bottles from an antique gate leg table near the patio door and spread newspapers. Over it, and then positioned the tin on the pages. Using a hammer and screwdriver to loosen rust along the edges, she pried off the lid.

Christmas came at her from all sides. She put away her tools, brushed the powdered rust debris and dirt into the trash, and lifted out a vintage card. More lay beneath. Though holiday themed, the whimsical pictures and clever words drew a smile. Predominantly red and green on tan or white backgrounds, a Santa on one card, and a pretty girl with golden curls adorned the other. The models smiled their greetings of love and joy and goodwill. Why had the cards been stored under a loose hearth stone at the homestead?

As much as she longed to explore them one by one, orders awaited. She headed for the work table, but Monte’s cards caught her eye. She reached for her phone to text a thank-you.

The phone rang.

“Hi, Monte. I’ll put you on speaker and pick up my needle.”

“That’s fine. I’m looking at the empty lobby. How are you this sunny December day?”

“I hope you aren’t upset about this, but I’ve been back to the homestead twice since our picnic.”

“You’re too smart to go inside, I hope. That house isn’t safe, Calissa.”

“I was careful. And as weird as this sounds, I’ve had some sort of visions or something unexplainable.” She relayed both to him.

Monte went silent. She wanted to see his face.

“I know that it’s a little girl’s dream to imagine them dying together.” She drew in a quivery breath. “True love is so hard to find these days.”

“Marriages don’t last. If they do, one tolerates the other. Love becomes a figment of the other’s imagination.”

She hated the bitterness that colored Monte’s tone. “I’m sorry you have such a jaded attitude toward marriage.”

“We’ve talked about it enough over the years.”

Calissa pictured Monte running his hand down his tie.

“I’ve seen my share of financial messes between divorced couples,” he ground out.

“I get that. Let’s talk about this later. We both have work to do. And I want to show you what I found at the house.” If she didn’t have a needle in her hand, she’d slap her forehead. “Thanks for calling. And thanks for the cards.”

“Will the girls be there to work tonight, or can I bring food so we can talk?”

“They have a church youth gathering tonight so supper sounds good. If you make that a Reuben sandwich, we can dig into my discovery together.”

“I hope you’re about done going out there. It isn’t healthy for you, or safe, at the homestead, especially after dark. And it certainly doesn’t do you any good to continually dwell on your grandparents as much as you do. High school was over ten years ago.”

“It’s not unhealthy to search for the meaning of love.”

“You’ll find it if you renew your relationship with God and change your attitude toward Christmas.”

He repeated that topic as much as she talked about Grandma and Grandpa.


About Loree

Christian romance author LoRee Peery writes to feel alive, as a way of contributing, and to pass forward the hope of rescue from sin. She writes of redeeming grace with a sense of place. LoRee clings to 1 John 5:4 and prays her family sees that faith. She has authored the Frivolities Series and other e-books. Her desire for readers, the same as for her characters, is to discover where they fit in this life journey to best work out the Lord’s life plan. She is who she is by the grace of God: Christian, country girl, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and author. She’s been a reader since before kindergarten. Connect with LoRee through these links:

www.loreepeery.com

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Find her publications at Pelican Book Group And Amazon