As the most joyous of seasons comes to the Amish community of Wells Landing, Oklahoma, one young woman gets a chance to start again—and rediscover the gift of true love . . .
Families rejoicing together, caroling parties full of cheer, and church get-togethers brimming with delicious cooking and warm fellowship. Ivy Weaver would give anything to be a part of Christmas in Wells Landing. But one reckless mistake made her an outsider, and it's all she can do now to tend to her ailing grandfather and make a living. She sure doesn't need Zeb Brenneman returning to help after he abandoned her for no reason. He's working hard to make amends, but Ivy isn't sure there's enough faith—or still-sparking love between them—to stir her forgiveness . . .
Zeb knows leaving Ivy was the biggest mistake he's ever made. Even though she won't hear him out, he's determined to prove he's become the trustworthy, steadfast man she truly deserves. But bright new chances and surprising revelations will give him and Ivy choices they never imagined. And finding their way back to each other will be the most challenging—and precious—Christmas gift of all . . .
About the Author
Amy Lillard is an award-winning author of over forty novels and novellas ranging from Amish romance and mysteries to contemporary and historical romance. Since receiving a Carol Award for her debut novel, Saving Gideon (2012), she has become known for writing sweet stories filled with family values, honest characters, a hometown feel and close-knit communities. She is a member of RWA, ACFW, NINC, and the Author’s Guild. Born and bred in Mississippi, she now lives with her husband and son in Oklahoma. Please visit her online at www.AmyWritesRomance.com.
Read an Excerpt
"Irene Jane, you cooked too much food. Way too much." Her grandfather's gaze chastised her over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses. Those eyes were sharp and blue. They seemed to have lost none of their brilliance, but the brain behind them ...
"Ivy, Dawdi," she corrected gently. "I'm Ivy." She didn't bother to remind him that Irene was her mother and had left months ago to live with her new husband in Indiana. Her grandfather would remember it or he wouldn't. Either way, she didn't want to start an argument. Not today. "It's Thanksgiving," she said with a bright smile.
"I know that. Bah." He scrubbed his hand over his head the way he did when he hadn't remembered, but didn't want to say it out loud. The action made the strands of his cottony, white hair stand out from his head like they had been shot through with static electricity.
Ivy allowed herself a small smile. She loved this man dearly, but as time went on, he seemed to be more and more forgetful. She was certain the day would come when he wouldn't remember who she was at all. When that happened, she wasn't sure what she would do.
"Don't just stand there," her grandfather chastised. "Sit down and let's eat before it goes to waste. Too much food to let it rot on the plate."
"Jah, Dawdi." She slid into the seat opposite him and bowed her head for their prayer. Thanksgiving. It should have been a happy day. So why was she in such misery?
Because after Thanksgiving came Christmas, and this one would be even worse than last year. Last year, it hadn't been that long since Zeb had left. Last year she was still pretending that nothing mattered, that she didn't care, that she wasn't heartbroken. This year the charade had grown weary, or maybe it was her. But she couldn't let everyone know that she did care, she had always cared. What good would that do now?
Her grandfather stirred in his chair and Ivy lifted her head, her prayer, such as it was, complete.
"Everything looks good, Irene." He reached for the platter of turkey, forking a large helping from the top before passing it across to her.
Ivy bit back a sigh. "Ivy," she gently corrected.
He nodded as if that were what he had said from the start. "I know that."
She had lost count of all the times he had called her by her mother's name. It was a recent development. But it worried her all the same. She supposed she looked enough like her mother. They had the same heart-shaped face, sky-blue eyes, and slim build, but whereas Mamm had smooth, brown hair and even smoother white skin, Ivy's hair was the color of flames, her skin marked with so many freckles she almost looked tanned. Almost.
"You shouldn't have done so much for just the two of us." Dawdi nodded toward the laden table. She had cooked more than usual, but tomorrow was promising to be a busy day at work; the whole weekend was, as a matter of fact. The turkey would keep them both in sandwiches until next week and her grandfather wouldn't have to turn on the stove or the oven in order to feed himself while she was gone. That in itself was a stress reliever. Not that she wanted him to know that.
"I love leftover turkey. Don't you?"
He swallowed the bite in his mouth and nodded. "Almost more than first-day turkey."
Ivy laughed. There was her dawdi. The man she had loved her entire life. The man who was now worrying her more than she liked.
At first she had chalked up his slipping memory to the fact that he had more to do around the farm since her mother and father had moved away. Stepfather. Alan Byler had come down from Indiana to look at some horses over at Andrew Fitch's and hadn't gone home. Her mother claimed it was love at first sight. Ivy could only smile and agree. After all, her mother deserved happiness. Ivy's father had died a few years back from pneumonia. It was a sad and lingering death. Her mother had done everything possible to nurse Ivy's father back to health, but the illness just proved to be too much.
Ivy wanted her mother to be happy. She wanted it more than anything, but ... she wasn't sure Alan Byler was the answer to her mother's lonely life. But it wouldn't do to voice her opinion. Her mother wasn't the kind to listen to the advice of others. Was it any wonder Ivy had taken the road she had?
"I'll clean up the dishes," Dawdi said. "That way you can get on over to the wedding."
Ivy stirred her potatoes around on her plate, her appetite suddenly gone. "I don't have a wedding today."
Her grandfather took a bite of his buttered roll and thoughtfully chewed. "When I was in the post office I heard Maddie Kauffman talking to Esther Fitch about Rachel Detweiler's wedding. I thought you two were good friends."
They had been, once upon a time. Before Zeb left, before she decided to hide her broken heart in a wild rumspringa filled with jeans, cars, and Englisch friends. The Amish were forgiving people, but Ivy hadn't asked for forgiveness. She stubbornly refused. She hadn't done anything all that wrong, and yet she was treated like a leper. Well, the joke was on them. She wasn't contagious. She couldn't make Amish boys forget their raising or turn Amish girls from pious to jezebel. And she hadn't been invited to Rachel Detweiler's wedding.
Ivy gave a careless shrug. "I guess we just lost touch." That was one way of putting it.
Her dawdi nodded. "I guess that happens."
All Ivy could do was nod. It had happened all right. And now that it had, there was nothing she could do to change it.
* * *
Ivy scrubbed the cotton swab between the buttons on her cash register and sighed. So much for today being busy. She hadn't counted on all the "Black Friday" sales and people gearing up for Christmas. She'd simply been thinking about everyone being tired of leftovers already and coming in to get something different to cook. She supposed everyone was tired of cooking as well. She peeked out the front window of the Super Cost Saver grocery store to the fast-food restaurant across the street. The line for the drive-through wrapped around the parking lot and spilled out into the street. Yet the store was so quiet she was certain she could hear the fruit going bad. She wasn't sure what Black Friday meant, but it certainly spelled out no customers for the Super Saver.
"Ivy, you have a call on line two. Ivy, line two."
She started at the sound of her name, the voice coming through the store speakers, tinny and hard to recognize. She had a phone call? From who? And how was she supposed to answer it, since she was stationed behind register one?
Bill, the store's assistant manager, had sent everyone home but a couple of stock boys, her, and Sue Ann, who answered the phones and kept the books. She had to be the one summoning her. It could be no one else.
"You can take it in here," Sue Ann said, suddenly appearing at the door of the business office. She motioned for Ivy to step away from the register. "I'll watch it for you," she added when Ivy made no move. "It's not that busy, and this sounds important."
Ivy nodded and made her way to the office. She must have been distracted by the mere fact that she had a call. It took that long for her to realize that she didn't know anyone with a phone — and what reason would a stranger have to call her?
Sue Ann eased toward the registers as Ivy stepped into the office. She picked up the receiver and pushed the flashing button with the 2 above it. "Hello?"
"Ivy? It's Daryl Hicks."
Her closest Englisch neighbor. Okay, so she knew one person with a phone. But it still didn't answer the second question.
"Your grandfather is in the field across the road from my place."
It seemed to take a full minute before his words hit home. "What?"
"Your grandfather —"
She shook her head, though she knew Daryl couldn't see her. "Why is he in your field?"
"I'm not sure I know the answer to that. He's just there."
"I would appreciate it if you could take him home." And lock the doors behind him.
"Ivy, I don't have any problem taking him home, but he's talking crazy. About not getting involved in wars and the like."
Not exactly a proper afternoon conversation, but not a problem either. Right? But somehow she knew it was more than that. "Spit it out, Daryl." Her voice came out sharper than she intended, but his stalling tactics were getting her riled up, nervous, anxious.
"He's talking about Vietnam."
She chewed her bottom lip. He had done this once before — forgotten what year it was. It had happened three times, if she counted the one when he forgot what day of the week it was and missed an auction. But that could happen to anyone, right?
It was different than calling her by her mother's name and forgetting to put on socks. He didn't know when he was, and it confused him. The more confused he got, the more he seemed to slip into whatever time he had chosen.
"You need to come home," Daryl said.
He didn't need to tell her that. She knew it. Just as she knew that she couldn't leave work.
"I'll be there as soon as I can." She hung up the phone and glanced out the office door. Sue Ann hovered around register one, looking toward the office every so often. When she saw Ivy was off the phone, she headed toward her.
"Is everything all right?"
Ivy shook her head and swallowed hard. "I need to leave. It's an emergency."
Sue Ann blinked once, but made no other move. "Bill's not going to like this."
She knew that, as clearly as she knew there was nothing she could do to help her grandfather short of going to Daryl's, coaxing Dawdi out of the field, and taking him home. "I'm sorry," she said. "It can't be helped."
Sue Ann nodded as if she understood, but the slant of her mouth was anything but understanding. She nodded toward Bill who was approaching from aisle six "Clear it with the boss."
* * *
Ivy pulled her tractor to a stop in Daryl's driveway. The day had turned out bright and sunny for late November, but the cheery sunshine only mocked her inner turmoil.
She had explained the situation as best she could to Bill, who had pursed his lips and given a single, stern nod. When she clocked in for work tomorrow, she would most likely have her hours cut if they couldn't find a way to fire her outright.
She bit back a sigh as she swung down. Her grandfather was barely visible in the slightly overgrown field. He was lying on his stomach, his head barely lifted off the ground. Did he think he was in some battle? She had heard about military men who returned from one war or another and never left it behind. Had her dawdi ever fought? She couldn't imagine. They were Amish: conscientious objectors. They didn't fight battles or go to war. But there he was sprawled out as if hiding from some unseen enemy.
"Dawdi," she called as she strode across to the field.
He raised up just enough to see who had called him, then lowered his head with a loud shush. "You keep hollering that way and you'll scare off all the deer."
Ivy glanced around the field. It was the perfect place for deer to come and munch on the stalks of crops harvested months ago, but there were none out now, in the middle of the afternoon. Deer fed at dusk and just before dawn. She didn't know a lot, but that much she knew for certain. But the thing that concerned her most was the idea of him toting a gun out here. What if he thought something was a deer and it wasn't?
"Dawdi," she started again, slower, more gently. "There aren't any deer."
He pushed to his feet. "Of course not." He snorted in disgust. "Not after you came over here hollering like a banshee."
"I'm sorry," she murmured as he brushed the dried grass from his clothing. Sorry for what? That she was yelling when he was trying to "hunt"? Or because there never were deer to begin with?
He dusted himself clear to his ankles, then straightened. The knees of his pants and the front of his blue shirt were stained with water, as were his elbows.
"Where's your coat?" The sun might be shining, but it was still winter. The wind was cold, and in Oklahoma, it never stopped. The recent rains had left the ground soggy. Wet and cold were not a good combination.
"It's the middle of June," he said. "Don't need no coat out here."
"Dawdi, it's November. Remember? Yesterday was Thanksgiving. And you can't hunt deer in June."
He stopped, mulling over her words as one studies a foreign language they are trying to learn. "Bah!" he said. He took his hat from his head and scrubbed his hand across his already frowsy hair.
"Come on," she said, running one arm through his. "Let's go back to the house and get you some dry clothes."
He looked down at himself then, as if just realizing that he was wet and he wasn't sure how he got that way. "Jah. Dry clothes," he said, though his confusion was tangible.
What was she supposed to do? She couldn't let him go on believing things were the way he imagined, and she didn't want to frustrate him by telling him the truth.
But the worst thought of all was the possibility of coming up on him on a day like today and not being able to convince him of the real time and place. What would she do then?
She thanked the neighbor and apologized to him once again, then she hopped back onto the tractor and pointed it toward home. Daryl lived less than a quarter of a mile from her and Dawdi, but when she thought about her grandfather walking it alone, thinking heaven knew what, alone, and without a proper coat ... So many things could have happened.
Thank the Lord none of them had.
They rode home in silence. Ivy would have given almost anything to know what her grandfather was thinking, but she knew if she asked him he wouldn't give a straight answer.
She parked the tractor and hopped down, her grandfather already striding toward the house. She knew he was embarrassed. Maybe that wasn't the word. He was frustrated, confused, and uncertain. As uncertain as she was herself.
"Dawdi," she called to his retreating back.
"Bah." He waved a hand behind himself, dismissing her questions without giving her a chance to ask even one.
* * *
He should have called, maybe written a letter. He should have told them he was coming.
And what difference would that have made?
They could have braced themselves for his return ...?
Did they need bracing? Heaven knew he did. Zebadiah Brenneman had never planned on returning to Wells Landing. In fact, he wasn't entirely sure what led him to come home now. Christmas, he supposed. But that was still over three weeks away. He had missed Thanksgiving by a couple of days. Not that it was a big holiday at their house. Four bachelor men living together, they were lucky to get a hot meal, much less a planned feast.
Three bachelors, he corrected himself. His brother Obie had married Clara Rose Yutzy earlier in the year. Zeb could have come home then, but he hadn't. Should have for certain, but he didn't. Because returning home would mean facing all the mistakes he had made. Mistakes that only one other person knew about. Ivy Weaver.
So why am I here now? he asked himself as he hitched the strap of his duffel bag onto his shoulder. It wasn't the kind of bag an Amish man took on trips, but it was handy and sturdy. Zeb figured if it was good enough for the Army, it was good enough for him. Or maybe some of that old rebellion was raising its head again. Who in Wells Landing carried a government-issue duffel bag? No one but him, he was certain.
He looked around him at the run-down bus stop. It looked the same as it had almost two years ago when he'd boarded the bus to Florida. He needed it to be changed. He wasn't the same person as when he left. He had moved on. Having everything the same suggested that maybe he hadn't. If everything was the same, then leaving and coming back were just small hiccups in his life. Like that book he'd heard about where a man went back in time and lived for years only to return to the present and find out that he had only been gone for two minutes.
He didn't stand out. No one would call him different. Here, in Wells Landing, he was the same old Zeb, brother to Benjie and Adam, twin of Obie, and son of Paul.
It wasn't that he wanted to be different. Somehow, he simply knew that he was. Like he had been given a message before he was born. You will be ... something. Something more? Something else? Something unrelated? He wasn't certain. That was why he went searching. That was why he traveled to Pinecraft, Florida, and lived in a tiny beach house with three other Amish boys, all from different parts of the country. Pinecraft was as far as he could get without dropping off into the ocean. So he'd traveled there and stayed.
Yet why was he here now?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Wells Landing Christmas"
Copyright © 2018 Amy Lillard.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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