(c) Michelynn Christy/Blessed Publishing

All Rights Reserved. Excerpt reprinted by permission.

ONE

“Well, Jed. Are you ready to meet your new wife tomorrow?” James set his drumstick down, wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve, and smiled at his brother.

Jedidiah shook his head. “I still don’t know about this.”

“We’re all nervous when we marry. Remember, you need to think about little Abilene.” His sister-in-law nodded to his daughter.

“I know, Brenda.” He glanced down at the toddler on his lap and gently kissed her soft flaxen hair. If only her mother were still alive. “She’s the only reason I agreed to this.”

“She looked perty enough in her photograph,” his brother mused.

“It ain’t that. I just miss Catherine so much. I don’t know if I’ll make a good husband for any other woman.”

“Well, according to Parson John, she comes from a good Christian family. I’m sure you can learn to love her.” Brenda began to clear the dishes from the table.

“No. Not like my Cathy,” Jedidiah insisted.

“Well, you just leave that part to the Good Lord, brother.” James patted his brother’s back.

Jedidiah frowned. “You know how I feel about that subject.”

“It wasn’t the Lord’s fault ya lost Cathy, Jed.” His brother’s gaze sobered.

“I disagree.” Jedidiah’s chair screeched as he pushed back from the table. “I better get home. Little Abbie needs her bed.” He held his daughter close to his chest.

“You ain’t got time for dessert?” His sister-in-law’s disappointed look didn’t escape his notice. “I made apple pie.”

“Can I take a piece home with me?” The last thing Jedidiah wanted to do was miss out on Brenda’s delicious apple pie. He lifted his hat from the wall hook and set it on his head.

“Sure. I’ll put a slice in for Abbie too.” His sister-in-law smiled.

Jed knew she was aware that he would be the one to eat both slices. “Thanks, Brenda.” He took the pie pan and deposited it in the back of his rig.

“See ya tomorrow, Jed.” James waved to him as he drove off in his buckboard.

(c) Michelynn Christy/Blessed Publishing

All Rights Reserved. Excerpt reprinted by permission.

Chapter 1

  I can’t believe I’m doing this! Samantha frantically ran the brush through her hair. There were a bazillion things she needed to pack before heading out to Mom’s. Clothing, toiletries, camera, and the gifts. The gifts - the ones she hadn’t even purchased yet!

  Of course, why would she have needed to purchase gifts if she hadn’t planned on returning home for Christmas? No, this was not the plan. The plan was to spend an exciting Christmas weekend with Tammy and Jill. And that had been the plan until yesterday. Why couldn’t her roommates have informed her sooner that they were going home for Christmas? But the brink of Christmas Eve? Well, that was just fine and dandy! It was a wonderful plan for them – they were sisters. They had each other. What would she do now? Spend Christmas all alone? Not gonna happen.

  A quick phone call to Mom and a new plan had been forged. Of course, now she’d have to pay triple for the airfare. And purchase gifts. There goes my spring break. Oh well, it was Christmas. And she was determined to make it a memorable one.

~

  “Ma’am, would you like a blanket or pillow?”

Samantha glanced up at the flight attendant. “Both would be great. Thanks.”

  She gladly took the items from the flight attendant’s hands and immediately wrapped the blanket around her. Maybe a nap would relieve some of her anxiety.

  This would be her first time home since she’d left for college nearly a year and a half ago. Leaving home had been rough. And if she were honest with herself, deep inside she really didn’t even want to go away to college. But she had to. She had to get away from him.

  Travis.

  He’d first asked her out for a date in high school. They’d met at a football game. He was rooting for the opposing team, so she assumed he attended their rival school. She’d been correct. He was a couple of years older and way out of her league, she’d thought.

  Dating Travis would be a dream come true – and it was. They went out nearly every weekend and spent most of their free time together. Anyone could clearly see that she and Travis were in love. Many nights they’d talked about a future together. She often dreamt of the day she’d become his wife. He was all she’d ever wanted – handsome, thoughtful, caring, or so she’d thought.

I don’t understand what went wrong. Even now, she fought back tears. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t given herself away to him. She’d always planned on waiting till marriage, of finding that perfect one. She was so sure they’d be married someday. He’d said he loved her.

  He’d lied. And she’d been naïve enough to believe his words.

Everything was wonderful until a couple of months after graduation. That’s when she got the dreaded text message. He wanted to break up. He thought it would be a good idea if they dated other people. Why would she want to date anyone else when she’d already found her perfect match?

  Stinkin’ liar. How could someone just throw away a two-year relationship? The coward could have at least broken up with her in person. But then he’d have to look her in the eye. He’d have to see the hurt on her face and the pain he’d caused.

  She quickly brushed away the tear that slid down her cheek unbidden. Why was this still so difficult? It wasn’t because he was good-looking, or because he had plenty of money. No, she was certain it was because she’d loved him with all her heart. She’d believed he was her soul mate – the one person in this world she was to cherish all her days. She’d given him everything, believing he was reciprocating her affections. But instead of her anticipated marriage proposal, Travis had dumped her like yesterday’s garbage.

  An ostentatious chortle brought her attention to a young man just beyond the empty seat beside her. His face was bright as he stared at the airline catalog in his hands. He glanced her way and noticed she’d been watching. How couldn’t she? Chances are, all the passengers heard his jovial outburst.

  “You’ve got to see this!” He handed the catalog to Samantha.

  She glanced down at the advertisement and smiled. The front of the t-shirt for sale read ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ other than ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’; the back read ‘Punctuation saves lives’. She recalled seeing something like that on Facebook before, but apparently this was the first time this man had seen it.

  Samantha nodded. “It’s funny.” She handed the catalog back to him.

  “Sorry, if I bothered you.” His forehead creased.

  “Oh no, it’s fine.” A change of thought was welcoming.

  The young man held out his hand. “My name’s William.”

  She reluctantly shook his hand. She’d never been too keen on meeting strangers. “Samantha.”

  “Where’re you going?” he asked.

  Should she share her plans with a complete stranger? She eyed him covertly. By his jeans, raglan shirt, and baseball cap, she figured he was just a friendly all-American guy. She guessed him to be about twenty-five. “Fresno,” she divulged. It wasn’t exactly her destination, but that’s the airport she’d be arriving at.

  “Really? Me too. Do you have family there?”

  “Yes. Well, not in Fresno. My parents live in a small town, not too far from there. How about you?”

  “All my family’s back East. I really hated to leave them right before the holidays, but my new employer called and requested that I come early. I guess they had an emergency and wanted me to help out.”

  “Where will you be working?”

  “At a church. I’m their new youth pastor.”

  “Oh.”

  “Not your typical job, I know. But serving the youth is my passion. It’s such a dynamic age – just between childhood and adulthood. It’s a difficult time for many of them and I want to show them God’s love and help them make wise decisions that can have a positive impact on the rest of their lives.”

  Yep, he was certainly excited about his new career.

  A voice called over the intercom. “Please return to your seats and fasten your safety belts. We will be arriving in Fresno in approximately thirty minutes.”

  Samantha noticed a few passengers heading back to their seats.

  “Do you attend church anywhere?” He grinned.

  Samantha shook her head. “No.”

  “Well, if you’re looking for a place to attend, you’ll already know the youth pastor.” He chuckled. “I don’t know if you’d consider that a positive or a negative.”

  She smiled. This guy didn’t seem anything like how she’d envisioned a pastor.

  “Ooh, no response. That’s never a good sign.”

  “No, it’s just that…you’re not anything like what I’d imagined a pastor to be.”

  He winced. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

  “Good, I think.”

  He wrote down an address and phone number on the back of a little booklet and handed it to her. “We’ll be having a candlelight service at a quarter to midnight on Christmas Eve. You’re welcome to join us.”

  She received the invitation from his hand and slipped it into her purse. “Thank you.”

  “So, do you have big plans for Christmas?”

  “I’ve got dinner at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve. The following morning, my extended relatives will come over for breakfast and we’ll exchange gifts.” In spite of the unpleasant memories of Travis, she was glad to be home. Truthfully, there was no place she’d rather be. “How about you?”

  “Not quite sure. I’m staying with the pastor and his wife. He’s an older gentleman, so I don’t think they have any children at home. I don’t know how they usually celebrate the holidays. I have a feeling that they won’t be doing too much, though. Part of the reason I’m starting my job early is because Pastor Marshall sprained his ankle. He has to wear a cast on his entire leg for at least six weeks.”

  “Oh no, that’s terrible. Does that mean you’ll be preaching?”

  He chuckled. “I hope not. The congregation might just get up and leave, if I did.”

  “But I thought–”

  “I’m just the youth pastor. I don’t mind being in front of a group of young folks, but looking out at adults scares me to death. We had to preach before a congregation several times in Bible College. That’s when I determined I’m more comfortable with young people.” He smiled. “I have to keep reminding myself of the verse ‘For God hath not given us a spirit of fear…’”

  “What will you be doing at the church then?”

  “I imagine I’ll be driving Pastor Marshall around to make his usual visits. And I’ll help out wherever I’m needed.” He shrugged.

  “Even if it means preaching?” She raised a brow.

  “If they ask me to, I will. But I’m hoping they won’t ask. They have an assistant pastor and I’m guessing he fills in when needed.”

  “I hate public speaking too.”

  This time, the pilot’s voice spoke. “Flight crew, prepare for landing.”

  “It looks like we’re about to arrive. Well, Samantha, it was a pleasure meeting you.” He smiled. “Hopefully, we’ll see each other again sometime.”

  “It was nice meeting you too.” Was it really time to go? A part of her wished she could have more time to get to know William. He was so friendly and easy to talk to.

(c) Michelynn Christy/Brandi Gabriel/Blessed Publishing

All Rights Reserved. Excerpt reprinted by permission.

Prologue

It happened many years ago, in 1968, to be exact. I’d just turned eighteen and Bobby and I were so in love. Or, so I’d thought.

I was the good girl. The one who always followed the rules and obeyed Momma and Daddy. My sister, on the other hand, was a different story. While she certainly wasn’t the worst sinner on the block, she did manage to find her share of trouble – many times dragging me into it. But, of course, Daddy always knew I was the innocent one...

 

 

 

ONE

 

Preacher Benjamin Peterson briefly locked eyes with his wayward daughter Pamela and then glanced at some of the other young men and women in the congregation. “Listen closely to the following passage, brothers and sisters, and heed the warning.” He glanced down at his Bible on the pulpit – likely the same pulpit his father and grandfather had preached from in decades past.

“First Corinthians chapter six, verses nine and ten read, Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. The message is clear, brothers and sisters, if we want the blessings of God, we must live a life that is pleasing to Him.”

A bead of perspiration formed at his hairline, then rolled down Preacher Peterson’s forehead. Why did the air conditioner have to give out on one of the hottest days of the year? He silently complained to God. He’d need to have one of the deacons take a look at it this week.

He finished up his sermon, which he’d purposely shortened, and gladly sat back down. A nice meal sounded great right about now. What would the girls prepare for lunch today? His girls…

Pamela had been out all hours of the night. He’d known it as soon as he heard her boyfriend’s vehicle drive away. He would have gotten up to reprimand her if he hadn’t been so dog tired. He’d tossed and turned all night with nary a merciful wink.

When would his daughter ever learn any sense? Didn’t she realize that staying out late with young men was not a good idea? Why couldn’t she just be like Donna? If only her older sister could rub off on her. He feared she’d get herself into trouble – trouble that would shame the whole family and ruin his ministerial authority. Who would respect a minister who couldn’t even keep his own house in order? Nobody, that’s who. If only Margaret were still here. What advice would she have offered concerning their daughters?

He’d have to have a talk with Pamela. The sooner the better for all their sakes.

~

“Pammy, wait for me!” Donna called out as her sister headed down the street on foot.

Pamela turned and sighed. “Let me guess. Daddy asked you to keep an eye on me, right?”

Donna couldn’t lie so she remained silent.

“That’s what I thought.” Pamela shook her head. “You know I wouldn’t do anything to get myself in trouble.”

Donna’s brow shot up. “You don’t think staying out late with Danny is asking for trouble?”

“No way. Danny’s a goody-two-shoes like you. He’d never do anything to get me in trouble.”

“I don’t know about that. Getting home after eleven? Doesn’t he know your curfew is at ten?”

Pamela chewed her bottom lip and quirked a sly grin. “No, he doesn’t, actually. I told him it was midnight, so he actually thinks he brought me home early. I told you, he’s a goody-goody.”

Donna gasped. “Why would you tell him that?”

“I don’t want him to think I’m a baby. A ten o’clock curfew?” Pamela shook her head. “Who has a curfew of ten o’clock?”

“We do.”

“Just because Daddy’s the minister doesn’t mean we have to miss out on all the fun.”

“There’s fun to be had before ten,” Donna insisted.

Pamela rolled her eyes. “The stars are barely out at ten. You can’t walk along the beach and look up at the stars if there are none out. If Momma were still here, I bet she’d let me stay out longer.”

“You don’t know that. Besides, she’s not here. Daddy’s all we got.” The thought made Donna yearn for her mother even more. Momma’s sudden death had left such a gaping hole in their family, but she was grateful to still have Daddy. She’d thought many times, that she was certain she and Pamela had the best parents in the world.

© 2017 Michelynn Christy and Blessed Publishing

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