Not only has Eliza's fiance', Weston Elliot, run away with someone else, but that someone else had been her best friend. Now living in New York City, Eliza is building a new life. One without men or social gatherings. But that is before she meets two young orphans who quickly steal her heart, before Weston Elliot makes a disturbing reappearance, and before Eliza finds herself fighting an attraction to another woman's fiance'. Will Eliza discover a path of service that can keep her heart safe from the dangers of love, or will she find the courage to accept a surprising gift from God hidden between four pairs of little shoes and a bunch of mistletoe?
About the Author
Sally Laity has written both contemporary and historical novels, many of which have appeared on ECPA bestseller lists. She is a Romance Writers of America RITA finalist, a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and has placed in the Inspirational Readers’ Choice contest. Along with numerous romances and novellas for Barbour Publishing, she also coauthored with Dianna Crawford a three-book historical series for Barbour and a six-book series on the Revolutionary War for Tyndale House. She considers it a joy that the Lord can touch hearts through her stories. Her favorite pastimes include oil painting, quilting for her church’s Prayer Quilt Ministry, and scrapbooking. She makes her home in beautiful central California with her husband of over fifty years, and loves that their four married children have made her a grandma and a great-grandma. Sally can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also write to Sally at P.O. Box 1855, Tehachapi, CA 93581.
Read an Excerpt
Little Shoes and Mistletoe
By Sally Laity
Truly YoursCopyright © 1999 Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.
New York, 1898
New-fallen snow transformed Manhattan into a magical fairyland, hushed and glorious and glistening in the November sunshine like millions of diamonds scattered by an unseen hand. Every object in view sported a coating of frothy whiteness. Even the bottommost branches of the twin hemlocks out front drooped beneath the heavy blanket. Admiring the charming Currier & Ives scene from the parlor window of Harper House, Eliza Criswell almost forgot her melancholy.
"Quite peaceful, considering the way the wind howled around us half the night," her aunt Phoebe Harper said as she swept into the room, the hem of her russet morning gown swishing softly over the emerald and gold carpet.
Dragging her gaze from winter's unexpected but breathtaking spectacle, Eliza released the lace undercurtain and turned to her widowed aunt with a thin smile, the best she could muster. "Oh. You've brought breakfast. You should have let me carry that tray for you, Auntie."
"Nonsense." The birdlike woman shrugged beneath the crocheted shawl draping her shoulders. "This old body of mine might have a few aches and pains now and again, but I'm not completely infirm yet." Resting the edge of the silver tray on one of two lace-covered tables gracing the bright front room, she removed the coffee carafe and other accouterments that gleamed in the warm glow from the crackling fire.
Eliza helped set out embossed napkins, utensils, and china plates bearing warm, cranberry-raisin scones, then flicked a glance around her aunt's combination tea parlor and gift shop. An assortment of cabinets and shelves fairly overflowed with tasteful, handcrafted items of particular interest to women. "What if customers come while we're eating?"
Aunt Phoebe remained nonplused. "It takes awhile for folks to clear their walks after a sudden snow. One of my greatest blessings is having young Peter Bradley living next door. That boy has taken it upon himself to look after me since my beloved Captain Harper went down at sea. I think the world of him; I surely do. If I'd had a son of my own. . ." A slight sigh punctuated the unfinished thought.
Eliza recalled the shoveling sounds that had drifted to her second-floor bedroom while she dressed. "How thoughtful. I've often wondered how you managed after Uncle Amos passed on. Even though New York and Pennsylvania share a common border, Manhattan might as well be in Europe, the way Father's business affairs prevented our family from traveling. I'd have loved being able to visit you more often."
"Yes, well, the good Lord never forgets His own." She gestured for Eliza to be seated, then took the needlepoint-cushioned chair opposite her. "And the people at church take His instructions to heart, too. They see that the widows of the flock are cared for."
"Sounds like a splendid congregation. I shall look forward to attending services with you."
The older woman nodded and reached out to take Eliza's hand for grace.
The feeling of the frail, gnarled fingers caught at Eliza's heart. Upon her arrival yesterday, she'd been shocked to see how much her aunt had aged in the last ten years. Though Aunt Phoebe remained spry for the ripe old age of sixty-four, even the most casual observer could detect her occasional halting step, the slower movements which quickly sapped her energy. Eliza well understood the reason she had re-ceived the recent invitation to come live with her aunt.
It couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time, either, Eliza conceded bitterly, slamming mental doors shut against an assault of painful memories. When the realization dawned that her aunt had finished praying, she smoothed the napkin over the lap of her sapphire gown and met the faded blue eyes across the table. "How long have you been running a gift shop, Aunt Phoebe?"
The older woman sipped her coffee and set down the fragile cup. "Oh, about two years now. It seemed an excellent way of supplying niceties for special occasions. Not that I need the extra income, you understand. The Captain left me quite comfortable, even with the expenses it takes to keep up Harper House. But I like to be able to give regularly to the needy. Orphans in the city, to be more precise."
Such selflessness touched Eliza. "But where do you get all the beautiful stock? Everywhere I look I see something exquisite—porcelain dolls, intricately scrolled stationery, crocheted furniture scarves, handmade lace. Wherever do you find such a lovely selection?"
"I make it."
Eliza stopped chewing and touched her napkin to the corners of her lips. "All of this?"
"That's right, dear. When a body spends so much time alone, there are scores of empty hours to fill. From the time I was a young wife, coping with solitude when the Captain was off at sea, I would pull my rocking chair close to the hearth and work on whatever new project happened to catch my fancy at the time. Some of my handiwork I gave to friends on birthdays and what have you, but over the years I accumulated far too much for personal use. Then the thought came to me to open a little shop." She paused. "Of course, my stock always dwindles rapidly as Christmas nears. I'm hoping now that you've come, you might learn a few skills, help me keep up with the demand."
"I'd be delighted." The possibility of becoming accomplished at those arts appealed to Eliza's own creative nature. Her gaze drifted once more to the decorative objects.
Aunt Phoebe nodded and took another sip of coffee. "Did you sleep well with that storm carrying on outside?"
"Oh, yes. I must have been more tired than I realized after the train trip. And the feather bed in your front bedroom is simply delightful."
"Well, I'm just glad to have you here. I've been rattling around this big place by myself much too long." She finished the last bite of her scone, her shrewd eyes peering kindly at Eliza through rimless eyeglasses. "I know it was not the happiest of occasions that made you willing to leave Harrisburg, my dear."
Eliza felt a stinging in the back of her eyes and averted her attention to the cup she held.
"But if it brought you to me," her aunt went on, "it must have been part of God's mysterious workings. Perhaps when you're up to talking about things, you'll feel free to confide in your old auntie. These bony shoulders may not look like much, but they'll do for a good cry now and again."
Giving a perfunctory nod, Eliza managed to swallow the remainder of her scone.
The front door opened just then, emitting a blast of icy air, and the silver bell suspended above the entrance trilled the arrival of a customer.
Glancing toward the visitor as her aunt rose, Eliza did a double take, almost choking on a sip of hot coffee. For a second the man had looked exactly like—she swallowed more calmly—Weston. A wave of nausea raged through her at the feasibility that Weston Elliot might have had the gall to follow her. She sloughed off the foolish pounding of her heart and stood to begin clearing the table.
"Good morning, my dear Mrs. Harper," came the newcomer's cheery voice.
"And good day to you, Micah. Right on time, as always."
"Just trying to match your faithfulness," he said smoothly. "And it's on my way, actually, to my first call."
"I'll just get this week's money from the drawer. How have things been going?"
"Surprisingly well, until I find myself suddenly frustrated and rebuffed at every turn. But we can't afford to give up, not when there's so much dire need."
From time to time during the exchange, Eliza sensed his gaze move to her. And linger. Still shaken by the mistaken notion of his identity, she almost lost hold of the cut-glass sugar bowl she was about to set on the tray. Taking a firmer grip on the handle, she put it in place, then reached for the matching cream pitcher.
"Oh, Micah," Eliza heard her aunt say. "You haven't met my new housemate. She just arrived yesterday from Harris-burg and will be living with me now."
"Is that right?" he asked politely.
"Eliza, come here, dear," the older woman said. "There's someone I'd like to introduce to you."
Chagrined that she hadn't quite made her escape to the kitchen, Eliza cringed. Nevertheless, setting her burden back down, she acted the dutiful young niece and approached the two with an aloof smile.
"Micah," Aunt Phoebe said, gesturing with one arm, "I'd like to present my favorite niece, Miss Eliza Grace Criswell. Eliza, this is Micah Richmond from my church. He works with Child Placement Services, a true servant of the Lord."
"Miss Criswell." He took Eliza's hand and bowed over it gallantly. "It's a pleasure to meet a relative of this wonderful lady. She's been extremely unselfish in support of my work, and I'm not alone in the great admiration I feel for her."
Finally raising her lashes, Eliza met the young man's eyes. The identical light brown she'd dreaded stared back at her, and they were even framed in a squarish face. Quite startling, even unnerving, the similarity between this man and that wretched Weston. Realizing she was gawking at him in a most unladylike fashion, Eliza reclaimed her fingers and moistened her lips. "Pleased to meet you."
"And I you. I hope you enjoy New York City. A touch larger than Pennsylvania's fine capital, but it has its friendly side, as I'm sure you'll discover."
"Y–yes, I'm sure," she stammered while a few more pertinent details registered. Hair that same shade of sandy brown, corresponding height and bearing ...
"Eliza." Aunt Phoebe's voice broke into her reverie. "Is there more coffee left in the carafe? I'm sure Micah would like to warm up before going back outside into the cold."
"Oh, no, no." He raised his hand. "Thank you for the offer, ladies, but I'm afraid I'll be late for my appointment if I tarry a minute more. Next time, perhaps?" Pocketing the contribution the older woman had given him, he tipped his head respectfully. "Mrs. Harper. As always, I'm grateful for your boundless generosity." He then smiled at Eliza. "A pleasure meeting you, Miss Criswell. No doubt we'll see one another at Sunday services, to say nothing of my future visits here."
"No doubt," she parroted with a slight nod. "Mr. Richmond."
Plunking his felt bowler atop his thick light brown hair, he turned toward the door and took his leave, setting the little bell to tinkling again. His descending footfalls echoed from the wooden porch steps, fading into the distance.
"A fine, fine young man, that one," Aunt Phoebe remarked. "He has a deep burden for the immigrant children in the tenements and works night and day trying to find homes for little ones who've been orphaned by the rampant diseases."
"You don't say. Aren't there orphan asylums in the city?" Hoping that conversation would help her to gather herself, Eliza returned to the table for the breakfast tray.
"Several. And every one of them bulging at the seams with forlorn and destitute youngsters. It's a fair shame, that's what it is, but we do what we can to help." She heaved a thoughtful sigh, then gave Eliza a thin smile. "Well, if you don't mind washing up those dishes, I'll dust the shop and see which of my handicrafts seem in the shortest supply. We'll start that lesson first."
"Fine, Auntie. I won't be long."
Once in the solitude of the roomy kitchen, Eliza carried the breakfast things to the sideboard, grateful for an opportunity to calm nerves frazzled by the visitor's uncanny resemblance to her former fianc?. At her first glimpse of the man, a wave of nausea had surged through her. Thankfully that had subsided as quickly as it had come.
She sank to the seat of the nearest spindle-backed chair, her gaze idly reacquainting herself with the massive coal stove, the polished wood floor, and the ruffled chintz curtains gracing the double window. Everything appeared tidy and charming as she'd remembered, and oddly comforting in her distress.
Coming when it had, Eliza had latched desperately onto the invitation to relocate to New York. How she loved this glorious pale yellow cottage with its rounded turrets and abundance of gingerbread trim. It was one of a limited number of dwellings constructed of something other than brick or the varieties of stone so liberally used throughout the city. Inside and out, her aunt's loving touches lent rich beauty and homey grace wherever one's eye might fall. And here, far from Harrisburg, Eliza intended to put the past to rest and make a new start for herself.
Here she vowed to forget Weston Elliot and all his smooth words, the smiling lips that could bring all her dreams to life even as his cold heart could bring them dashing back to Earth again. She'd been a fool, so trusting, so naïve. But she wouldn't make that mistake in the future, not with a man—and definitely not with someone she considered a friend. Better to live and die friendless and a spinster than suffer such humiliation a second time.
Bitter anger at Melanie Brown had successfully repelled that young woman's intrusion into Eliza's thoughts since she'd fled Harrisburg. But how would she ever banish her former betrothed from her mind when she'd be crossing paths with someone whose very appearance would be a constant reminder of the man who had stolen her untried heart and thoughtlessly smashed it into a million pieces?CHAPTER 2
Guiding his buggy away from Harper House, Micah gave his scarf an extra wrap about his neck. The storm had ended hours ago, and the last remnants of the clouds had long since moved out over the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. The temperature, however, remained nippy even in the bright sunlight—especially with the breeze blowing across the ice-fringed Hudson River off to one side. Manhattan's close proximity to the sea both moderated and lessened the length of winter's cold snaps, so doubtless this one would dissipate soon enough.
Thinking of the funds provided by Mrs. Harper, he smiled to himself. The goodly sum would purchase a number of coats and mittens for the ragged orphans, plus some staple foods. The widow's giving spirit humbled Micah. For someone living alone for nigh unto a dozen years, she never once complained about her circumstances. She merely kept abreast of the needs of those less fortunate and did whatever she could to help out.
But his keen eye perceived that her health had been on the decline for some time now. How providential for God to send her a companion. Perhaps with extra hands and a caring person to look after her, the dear soul would gain new strength and find restored health. The world needed more folks as kindhearted as she.
Micah's recollections then drifted to her niece, whose delicate beauty seemed as appealing and fresh as Mrs. Harper's was creased with age. The young woman wore her sable hair parted in the middle with the back fashionably confined in a hair net, but tiny curls framing her face added a tangible softness. And despite the age difference between the two, Micah thought he'd ascertained a family resemblance in both features and carriage.
But there appeared no subtlety about Miss Eliza Criswell's reserve, he admitted. Her veiled eyes scarcely met his gaze long enough for him to identify their particular shade of blue. And in one unguarded moment he'd caught a glimpse of something that could only be termed anguish.
Well, no doubt she'd make some new friends once she began attending church services, and then perhaps her burdens would lighten. He would suggest to his fianc?e, Anabelle, that she befriend Miss Criswell.
With that plan in mind, he snapped the reins sharply against the horse's back to pick up the pace.
* * *
Eliza looked forward all week to the arrival of Sunday. Her spirit was in dire need of bolstering. Other times in her life when she'd faced disappointments and heartaches, she'd withdrawn from the Lord, becoming lax in her personal prayer and Bible reading. But that only led to more misery, more emptiness and hopelessness.
This time—perhaps from the utter shock of having been betrayed by two people she loved dearly—she turned to God for comfort and sanity, finding His grace sufficient, as the Bible promised. And here, far away from the pitying eyes of people who had known her all her life, she'd have the freedom to enter fully into the worship service.
To the casual observer, Faith Community Church definitely lacked the grandeur of the city's older and larger cathedrals. The steepled, red-brick building sported a new coat of pristine white paint around the windows, and the dormant shrubbery and trees flanking it were taller than Eliza remembered. Inside, however, its dark plank floor and walnut pews appeared much the same as they'd been years ago.
Relaxing beside Aunt Phoebe in the older woman's customary fourth row, she allowed her gaze to wander over the hushed sanctuary. There seemed to be very few people her own age, except for a slim, golden-haired organist playing a reverent prelude on the pump organ. Eliza focused on the young woman, noting the smoothness of her touch on the keys, the contrast between her fair complexion and the rich burgundy of her gown. With her every graceful move, muted colors from arched, stained-glass windows fell in a kaleidoscope of pastels over the wine velvet, accenting her lissome figure.
Excerpted from Little Shoes and Mistletoe by Sally Laity. Copyright © 1999 Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Truly Yours.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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