With Christmas in His Heartñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
He made her laugh.
Earlier she’d tried to cover her amusement with sarcasm, but lately Will had a cute way of getting back at her. She felt like a kid again, rather than the dignified woman she’d considered herself to be.
“You’re on,” she said. “If I love it here, I owe you something big. A seven-course dinner or…” She faltered, realizing she was having a good time.
“I’ll make that decision when I collect,” he said with a wink over his shoulder.
Above the roar of the engine, he hollered back his usual witty comments, his youthful spirit so evident as they soared across the snow. Youthful, yet he had depth, too, Christine had noticed. She watched the tenderness he had for her grandmother, and Christine couldn’t help but notice how he studied her. She didn’t think he’d figured her out yet, but he would.
GAIL GAYMER MARTIN
lives in Michigan with her husband, Bob, her dearest friend and greatest supporter. She feels blessed to be writing stories that touch people’s hearts and share God’s mercy and forgiveness. Friends often tease her that they’re afraid to share life experiences with her. They have asked, “Will this be in your next novel?” Sometimes it is.
Gail is multipublished in nonfiction and over thirty works of fiction. Her novels have received numerous awards: a Booksellers Best in 2005, a Holt Medallion in 2001 and 2003, the Texas Winter Rose 2003, the American Christian Romance Writers 2002 Book of the Year Award and the Romantic Times BOOKclub Reviewers Choice as best Love Inspired novel of 2002. At present, over one million copies of her books are in print.
When not behind her computer, Gail enjoys a busy life—traveling, presenting writers’ workshops, speaking at churches, business groups, libraries and civic centers. She is a soloist and member of her church’s choir, as well as a ringer in their handbell and hand-chime choirs. She also sings with the Detroit Lutheran Singers.
She enjoys hearing from her readers. Write to her at P.O. Box 7600063, Lathrup Village, MI 48076 or at email@example.com. Visit her Web site at www.gailmartin.com.
With Christmas in His Heart
Gail Gaymer Martin
In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps.
A huge thank-you to Kay Hoppenrath, a year-round resident of Mackinac Island, who kindly provided me with so much wonderful information about the island life, especially in winter, so that my story could be real. Though I tried to be accurate, I occasionally took a novelist’s prerogative. Mackinac Island has given me and all visitors wonderful memories. It is a special place that takes me back in time to a world we don’t know anymore.
What a blessing. Also, thanks to bookseller Tamara Tomac, who found Kay as a willing ear for my questions.
To Shelly Gaponik, my niece, who helped me with my snowmobile lingo. Hopefully I got it right.
Thanks to physician Mel Hodde and writer friends Marta Perry and Carol Steward, who provided me with accurate stroke information.
As always to my husband, Bob, who is my right arm and my dearest friend and who provided me with stained-glass information.
Letter to Reader
Questions for Discussion
Christine Powers clung to the railing of the ferry, chilled to the bone yet hot under the collar, a clich? her father often used.
Her father. Her parents. How could she begrudge them an anniversary cruise? Yet while they swayed in the tropic breezes, she had been trapped into this freezing trip to Mackinac Island to care for her grandmother.
Important projects were piled on her desk back in Southfield. Her clients’ deadlines had been pushed back as much as they could be so she could make the trip that had rankled her from the moment her father had asked.
She loved her grandmother. She loved her parents. But she also loved her career, and putting it in jeopardy hadn’t sat well with her.
The ferry bumped against the pier, giving her a jolt, and Christine watched a crew member toss a line to a dockhand. Her gaze moved up the long wooden pier to the island town. Through the swirling snowflakes she could see Fort Mackinac sitting proudly on a hill, its white concrete walls providing a barricade when, hundreds of years earlier, many nations entered the Michigan waters to take over the island.
In the summer, Christine loved Mackinac Island. She loved its history and landscape and the uniqueness that captured tourists from all over. But she didn’t love it now—not when she felt mired in the midst of too many projects that needed completion. She had advertising copy to edit, two ad campaigns to finalize and a new client to impress. The Dorset account would make her shine in the eyes of her firm.
A ragged sigh escaped, leaving a billow of white breath hanging on the air. She lifted her shoulders and grasped her carry-on bag, determined to get through the next few days.
When she heard the clang of the gangway, she maneuvered through the expansive benches toward the front of the boat to disembark. As she neared, she surveyed the prow, where she hoped to see her other bag, but the area stood bare.
A crewman flagged her forward, and she stepped onto the slippery ramp, clutching the railing until her feet hit the pier.
“Careful,” a crewman called.
She muttered a thank-you and had taken two steps forward when her foot slipped on the icy planking. She skidded, her arms flailing while her carry-on bag landed on the pier. A hand grasped her arm to steady her, and the crew member who’d warned her gave her a knowing grin.
She managed a smile—better than screaming—and retrieved her bag. She took guarded steps toward the ferry exit, where she eyed a workman unloading the luggage. She looked through the feathery flakes, praying hers was there and not left back in Mackinaw City.
If she weren’t so stressed, the snowfall would be appealing. The soft flakes drifted past her, twirling on the frigid breeze that streamed off the straits. Why would anyone want to live on an island so isolated in the winter? By the beginning of January their only escape would be by air until the ice bridge was ready.
A shiver ran through her as she stepped beneath the enclosure and reached the ferry’s cargo. Her worry eased when she spotted her suitcase. She set down her small bag and tugged at her luggage beneath the other baggage.
“Let me help.”
Her focus shifted to the stranger who’d stepped beside her. She jumped at his closeness, then was thrown off guard by his wide grin.
“Thanks. I have it.” She gave another determined tug and settled the suitcase beside her, pulled up the handle and tried to connect the carry-on bag to the larger piece.
The man didn’t move from the spot. He shook his head as he watched, then gave a chuckle when her carry-on slipped to the ground.
If she hadn’t been so irked, she would have enjoyed his smile, but his laughter rubbed her the wrong way. “That wasn’t funny. My laptop’s in there.”
“Sorry,” he said, looking less than sorry with his boyish grin and snapping dark eyes. “I assume you’re Christine Powers. I’ve been waiting for you.”
She stopped short. “I’m Christine, but who are you, if I might ask?”
He drew back and looked surprised. “I thought you knew I was coming for you. I’m Will. Will Lambert. I board with your grandmother.”
“You board with my grandmother? Since when?”
“For the past year.”
She controlled her jaw from sagging a foot. “No one told me.”
He shrugged. “I guess you’ll have to trust me. I’m trusting you’re actually Christine Powers.”
That made her laugh despite the cold penetrating her leather gloves. “I wasn’t expecting anyone to meet me,” she said, anxious to get away from the bitter wind. “I’d planned to take a taxi.”
“Then you have your dream come true.”
She squinted at him, wondering if he were loony or being humorous. He gestured toward the street. “The taxi’s waiting. I offered to meet you because your grandmother thought you’d have a ton of luggage.”
He grasped the handle of her large case and reached for the smaller one, but she clutched it as if it held her life’s treasures. “I’ll carry this myself.”
“Okay,” he said, shrugging. “The carriage is this way.” He took a step forward and looked back to make sure she was following.
Carriage? The question was fleeting. What else? The unique island had no motorized conveyances except for a couple of emergency vehicles and snowmobiles when there was enough snowfall. Horse and carriage was a common mode of transportation.
Her limbs tensed as she checked the ground for icy patches. Christine eyed the man ahead of her. He had broad shoulders and an easy gait, as if he knew who he was and liked himself. She would enjoy having that feeling, but at times, she wasn’t sure she knew who she was. The boarder had a casual manner, sort of a rough gallantry like a young John Wayne. She could almost picture him in a tilted Stetson.
When Will stepped from under the covering onto the sidewalk, Christine stopped beneath the enclosure and looked at snow that quickly dissipated to slush beneath the feet of the horses.
Will turned toward her as if wondering why she’d been dawdling, but she didn’t hurry. Let him wait. She studied him, watching his breath puff in a white mist. He wore a dark leather jacket and a dark blue scarf around his neck. He had a youthful look yet a face that appeared seasoned by life.
Christine had learned to study people first and form an opinion before she let down her guard. She’d learned to analyze her clients at the firm. Sadly, she hadn’t always been as astute at judging people as she was today.
Stepping from beneath the shelter, she turned her attention to Main Street, where buggies lined the road—hotel shuttles, private conveyances and taxis, like the one that would take her to her grandmother’s. The town had already captured the feeling of Christmas. Large wreaths with bright red ribbons hung from the old-fashioned streetlights, and the dusting of snow created a Christmas-card setting.
The scent of winter sharpened the air and softened the scent of horse muck that steamed from the cold ground. She recoiled again, amazed she’d agreed to do this “little favor” for her parents.
As the driver loaded her case behind the seat, the horse’s flank quivered, and it stomped its foot as if ready to be on its way. Will reached for her smaller case, and this time she relinquished it. He handed it to the driver, who put it behind the seat with her other bag. He told the driver where they were headed, then offered to assist her.
She placed her hand in his, feeling his warm palm and long fingers clasping hers to give her a lift into the buggy.
The cab tipped as Will joined her and pulled a lap robe over her legs. “This will keep you warmer.”
The driver looked over his shoulder through the front window. “Ready?” he asked.
“We’re all set,” Will called. When he settled against the seat, his eyes sought hers, and she must have grimaced, because his look softened. “You’ll get used to this. It takes a while. Modern conveniences are a habit, not a necessity.”
He said it with a self-assured tone that seemed patronizing. Christine liked conveniences. In fact, she liked luxuries, and she wasn’t planning to apologize for her taste.
The horse jerked forward and moved down Huron Street, its clip-clop rhythm rocking the floorboards. Her shoulder hit Will’s, and he shifted. A cool spot filled the space, and she almost wished he would have stayed closer.
The driver snapped the reins again and the horse picked up its pace. She studied the scene, noting many shops appeared closed as they trotted past, their interiors dark and the displays gone from the windows. A wreath on the door gave sign that the restaurant was open, and more Christmas decor brightened the pharmacy and grocery store.
Will was quiet, and she wondered what he had on his mind.
He glanced at her, as if realizing she’d been looking at him. “Life here is different from the big city. Can you imagine not having to lock your doors?”
“Not really,” she said, turning toward the scenery.
But her quiet didn’t stop him. He talked about the community while she viewed the passing landscape. She didn’t want to get caught up in his lighthearted prattle. She’d been miserable about coming here, and she planned to stay that way. Her attitude jolted her. She was being childish, but right now she didn’t care.
Ahead, Huron Street veered right past the visitor’s center. Christine viewed the wide lawn of the fort now hidden beneath a fine blanket of snow. The jingle of the horse’s bells set her in a holiday mood, despite her opposition to being here.
The driver pulled the reins, and they turned up Fort Road. As they climbed Fort Hill, the wind nipped at their backs and sent a chill down Christine’s spine.
“Cold?” Will asked, tucking the blanket more securely around her legs. “If you move closer to me, I’ll block the wind.”
She noted his masculine frame and, though feeling odd nestled beside a perfect stranger, she shifted toward him, grateful for the offer. When she moved, he slid his arm around her shoulders.
For a fleeting moment she drew away, but the wind lunged across her again. Reconsidering, she settled beside him. Pride and independence held no value if she froze to death.
Steam billowed from the horse’s nostrils as it trotted along, its hooves clopping on the asphalt road and breaking the deep silence.
“How long will you be here?”
“Only a week or so.” Her breath ballooned like a white cloud.
“That’s right. Your parents went on a cruise.”
She eyed him, wondering what else he knew about her family. “A Caribbean cruise.”
“Warm weather in the Caribbean. Sounds nice, although I like winter,” he said. As a second thought, he added, “Nice you’re filling in for them.”
Nice probably wasn’t the word. She’d resented it, but she’d come. “They’re celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary.”
Will drew her tighter against his shoulder. “Forty. That’s great. Your parents are nice Christian people.”
“They are,” she said, feeling on edge again. Her Christian upbringing had taught her to honor her parents and show compassion, but while her parents followed those rules, she wasn’t always very good at it.
The road veered to the right, past the governor’s summer residence, then at the fork, the driver turned onto Cupid’s Pathway. When she saw the house ahead of her, she pulled away from Will’s protection, hoping to regain her composure.
“Here we are,” he said, as the driver reined in the horse beside the lovely Victorian home. The house tugged at her memories—summer memories, she reminded herself.
Will jumped off the rig and extended his hand. She took it, thinking he was not just irritatingly charming but a gentleman. When her foot touched the ground, Christine felt off balance. She steadied herself, not wanting to let Will know how addled she felt.
He released her and scooted around to the back of the carriage while the driver unloaded her luggage. When the large bag hit the road, Will pulled out the extension handle, grasped her carry-on and paid the driver.
Will led the way, and by the time she’d climbed the porch steps, he’d given a rap on the door, opened it and beamed his toying smile. “I live here.”
Christine gave a nod, thinking he might live in the house, but her grandmother wasn’t his. She hoped he remembered that. Hearing her grandmother’s welcoming voice, she surged past him.
“Grandma,” she said, sweeping into the cozy living room. She set her case on the carpet and opened her arms to her grandmother, noticing the droopiness on the right side of her face. Seeing her made the stroke seem so much more real. “You look good, Grandma Summers. As beautiful as ever.”
Her grandmother shook her head, her hair now white, her body thinned by age and illness. “That’s a wee bit of stretching the truth, Christine, but thank you. The truth is, you’re as lovely as ever.” Though her words were understandable, Christine noted a faint slur in her diction.
Christine ached seeing her grandmother’s motionless left side. Her mind flew back to the first time she was old enough to remember a visit from her grandmother. Ella Summers had appeared to her as a tall, well-dressed woman with neat brown hair the color of wet sand and a loving smile. Today she still had a warm, but lopsided smile.
Choked by the comparison, Christine leaned down to embrace her. When she straightened, she glanced behind her, wondering what had happened to Will.
“I’m happy you’re here,” her grandmother said, “but I’m sorry it’s because of my health. I feel so—”
“Just get better, Grandma. Don’t worry about feeling guilty.” Let me do that, Christine thought, as her grandmother’s words heightened her feeling of negligence.
She slipped off her coat, but before she could dispose of it, a sound behind her caused Christine to turn.
Will stood with his shoulder braced against the living room doorjamb. He had removed his jacket, and she noticed his chestnut-colored sweater, nearly the color of his eyes. She pulled her attention away and focused on her grandmother.
“Now that I’m out of the hospital’s rehab and you’re here, I’ll get better sooner,” Ella said, trying to reach for her hand without success.
The picture cut through her. “Mom and Dad told me what happened, but I’d like to hear it from you.” She draped her coat on the sofa, then sat in a chair closer to Grandma Summers.
Her grandmother’s face pulled to a frown. “You know, Christine, my memory fails me when it comes to those first days. I can remember details of my childhood, but all I remember about my stroke is Will found me and called nine-one-one. I’m not even sure if I remember that or if he told me about it.”
“I can tell you what happened,” Will said, stepping more deeply into the room.
Christine ignored his offer. She’d heard secondhand details. She wanted it from her grandmother. “I see the stroke affected your arm,” Christine said, watching her grandmother’s frustration grow when she’d tried to gesture.
“My left arm and leg. My leg doesn’t cooperate, and I’m a little off balance.” Discouragement sounded in her voice. “But I’ve made progress.”
Christine patted her hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“Where do you want her bags, Grandma Ella?”
Christine froze. Grandma Ella? At least, he could call her Grandma Summers. Even better, Mrs. Summers. She opened her mouth to comment.
“The room at the top of the stairs,” her grandmother said.
Will winked and tipped an imaginary hat—cowboy hat in Christine’s mind—before he headed up the staircase with her luggage.
“How long has he been here?” Christine asked, fighting the unexpected interest she had in him.
“Will’s such a nice young man.” Ella turned her gaze from the staircase to Christine. “He moved in at the beginning of the season last year in May. I decided I’d like to have someone around, and he’s been a blessing. He’s like a grandson.”
A grandson? Christine weighed her grandmother’s words, confounded by the unknown relationship. “Mom and Dad approved?”
“Certainly. They met him on visits before my stroke, but they became much better acquainted when they were here recently. You should come here more often, dear. You’re out of the loop.”
Christine could have chuckled at her grandmother’s modern lingo, but guilt won out. An occasional trip to the island wouldn’t hurt her.
“Will’s been through so much with me. He’s the one who called nine-one-one when he realized something was wrong. He saved my life.”
She realized her grandmother had already told her that, but it was a point she couldn’t forget. How could she dislike someone who had saved her grandmother’s life?
Will’s footsteps bounding down the stairs drew Christine’s attention to the hallway. He whipped around the corner like a man who owned the place.
“How about some cocoa?” he asked. He gave her grandmother a questioning look.
“That would be nice,” Ella said. “And you can bring in some of the cookies Mrs. Fields baked.”
“It’s really Mrs. Fields, the neighbor. Not the franchise,” Will said.
Christine watched him head into the next room, tired of his knowing everything. Right now, she really did feel out of the loop.
“Linda Fields has been helping me in the morning since your mother left. Dressing myself is difficult. She does other things for me when Will’s at work. She’s been so kind.”
Christine felt herself sinking lower in the chair. “You can’t dress yourself?”
“I had therapy.” She rubbed her temple with her right hand. “Occupational therapy, I think is what they call it. They showed me how to get dressed, but sometimes it’s so frustrating. The therapist guarantees me I’ll be as good as new again.”
The vision of a neighbor helping her grandmother dress wavered in Christine’s mind. She’d never dressed anyone, and the indignity for her grandmother seemed unbearable. “How long?”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî