Alexis Blake has one chance to land her own show on the Home Project Network and nothing-not an uncooperative client, a job site without indoor plumbing, or a challenging videographer-is going to stand in her way. Elsie, at seventy-plus, is far from the ideal client, but she knows exactly what she wants her fieldstone house to look like, and no designer can tell her otherwise. Gabe Langley, the man with the camera, is caught in the middle and it is his wisdom and warmth that just may be the bridge that will bring these two women together. Can they restore more than just a house and bring about special, almost lost forever Christmas memories?
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope. She’s the award-winning author of more than fifteen books and a frequent speaker for women’s ministry events. She serves as the Professional Relations Liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers, where she helps retailers, libraries, and book clubs connect with the authors and books they love. She lives with her husband in Central Wisconsin. Visit her online at CynthiaRuchti.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Cynthia Ruchti
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 Cynthia Ruchti
All rights reserved.
Roasted chestnut latte? How can that be a bad thing?
Alexis Blake shuffled forward in line as two of the three customers ahead of her finished paying for their beverages. The only person left now in the chasm between her and coffee stepped up to place his order. A defensive linebacker–sized guy with espresso-colored hair curling over his collar. Alexis caught sight of the chalkboard boasting the Caffé Tlazo breakfast special of the day. Wild mushroom and crispy shallot quiche. Not her typical organic yogurt and blueberry quick-fix breakfast. And not what she expected from an unpretentious café in an unpretentious town along the western shore of Lake Michigan.
Algoma. She rehearsed it in her head for the sake of any sensitive locals: Al (as in Pal) GO-muh. The town might have shared Lake Michigan with Chicago more than two hundred miles to the south, but it had little else in common with the metropolis. Alexis hadn't seen much more of shore-hugging Algoma than what edged the road that brought her to town. The highway wove through farmland and orchards, slowing her down with interspersed villages clustered around a cheese factory, winery, or connection to the "Old Country."
She'd sat at the stop sign in Algoma too long where Highway 54 decided it was done, the highway creators as startled by the view as she was, apparently. The road teed with a wide-sweeping vista of Lake Michigan and the curious, skinny, red lighthouse at the tip of the breakwater. Turning south at the tee would have taken her toward Kewaunee by way of Alaska. The town, not the state. North led to the heart of her destination, home to the most important client she'd never met. Would soon meet. Right after Alexis signed the contract with the videographer.
After a flood of email exchanges, she was about to meet the local videographer who could either propel her career forward or ruin it.
While she waited for the linebacker to finish gabbing with the barista, she checked the clock on her phone. Fifteen minutes. She had fifteen minutes to place her order and get settled before George Langley arrived. Not much breathing space, but the drive from Green Bay, across the stubby base of Wisconsin's thumb, took longer than expected. As had picking out an outfit that said "confident but approachable." She unbuttoned her wool coat. Late October. Too warm for wool. Too cold for a lighter jacket.
Alexis scanned the customers already seated. As eclectic a mix as the artsy décor. Nobody matched the description of the George Langley she'd seen on the website, a man with silver hair, distinctive bushy eyebrows, and sparkling deep-water eyes.
The chatty guy in front of her turned after slipping a dollar into the tip jar and headed toward the small, mismatched tables scattered throughout the compact café. A room that looked as if it had lived an earlier life as a screened-in porch held additional tables and chairs — slate-topped wrought iron, patio-style.
No. No, no, no. The ex-football player chose the one table he couldn't have, the one by the windows in the southeast corner. The spot where she and George were destined to plot out the next eight weeks of her life, and maybe longer. Maybe the next eight, ten, twenty years, if the audition video went well. No. This guy could not have that table.
She corrected the details of her fumbled order — her fault — focused on the task at hand, added more to the tip jar, and launched herself toward the corner table.
"Excuse me, sir. Would you mind moving to another spot? I'm meeting someone here." She tapped the slate tabletop with her index finger. "Here."
"No can do."
Nice smile. Nice try. "I'd really appreciate it. I've never met the man before and ..."
"Blind date, huh? Breakfast blind date?" He nodded as if contemplating. "Uncommon, but not unwise."
A waitress set a blue-green and chocolate brown pottery mug in front of the irritant. The foamed milk on top sported a design that looked like a cross between a heart and a fern leaf. Classy touch.
"It's a business meeting," Alexis said, pulling her laptop case off her shoulder as if that would convince him.
"Me, too. Here. Right" — he tapped with his index finger — "here."
"Couldn't you just —" She surveyed the room. "There's an empty table in the other corner."
"Yes. I'm sure you'll be completely comfortable there for your 'business meeting.'"
Was it so hard to believe she was a professional? Well, on her way to becoming a professional? She removed her coat and slipped it over the back of the chair she wanted. The chair she intended to occupy. That ought to convince him. Her "confident yet approachable" black suit jacket and sweater paired with her favorite copper statement necklace ought to let him know she was there for serious discussion, not romance.
The linebacker leaned forward. "You connected with him on the Internet, didn't you?"
"Technically, yes. But not in the way you're thinking. He's —"
The man shrugged. "Sometimes it works out."
Was he trying to cheerlead for her dating life? Or volunteer to be her life coach?
"And sometimes," he said, leaning back, "you wind up with a man totally different from what you expected." He sipped his coffee drink and dabbed at the resulting foam mustache with the cloth napkin. It was still wrapped around his eating utensils.
Alexis sighed and glanced at the entrance. No one matching the face, age, or graying hair of the videographer had arrived yet. She still had time to —
"Why don't you wait here?" He pulled out the chair draped with her coat. "I don't have to move. You can still connect with what's-his-name. Win-win."
She stood her ground, weighing the idea.
The barista approached with her roasted chestnut latte. "Where do you want me to put this?"
"Miss Blake is joining me here." Moustache Man tapped the table. "Right here."
That smile. That "is he serious?" smile — wait. He knew her name? Oh. The tag on her laptop case. "Fine. Yes. I'm sitting."
She took a third chair rather than the one offered and wrapped her hands around her mug, seafoam green with a drizzle of coppery glaze near the lip. Handcrafted mugs. Interesting. If the coffee was as good as it smelled, she might find this a frequent stop during her term in Algoma. But first —
"You're not George Langley." Definitely not. But those eyes. She'd seen them before.
"He's my dad."
"That's who I'm meeting. I'm Alexis Blake. I'm hiring him to do a project for me." The dot-to-dot connecting lines swerved between points. "I don't have to tell you that, do I?" Not the smooth introduction she'd planned. "He's coming, isn't he?" So much hinges on this. Please tell me he'll be here any minute.
"No." He took another sip of his coffee and made room for the server to set down his meal order, and a duplicate of the plate in front of Alexis.
Quiche. The man eats quiche.
"My dad is unavoidably detained."
"For the next three or four weeks. Maybe six."
"What? What are you saying?" The production schedule couldn't afford a three-day delay, much less three weeks.
He sat with his head bowed a moment, then said, "Blew out a disc in his back last night loading camera equipment into the van. We didn't know how bad it was until he called from the medical center an hour ago." He spread what looked like blackberry jam on the rustic toast that came with their quiche. "They're still deciding whether to do surgery or not. But in any case, he's unavailable for a while. I'm Gabe, by the way."
"I'm devastated. Pleased to meet you." As good as it smelled, breakfast would not sit well in her stomach. Ever again. Yes, Aunt Sarah, I came by the title Drama Queen honestly. I earned it.
"Well, Devastated, I hope you don't mind choosing a new nickname. I'm here to fill in for my dad."
"I know you meant that to sound comforting, but —" She got as far as picking up her fork. No further. Her mind raced ahead to the disastrous possibilities. George Langley came with credentials and videography awards. Gabe Langley came with ... jam on his shirt. "You have a little something right" — she pointed to the spot — "there."
"Now, see? If I'd worn my flannel lumberjack shirt, it would have blended right in." He swiped at the dark blob with his napkin.
"Miss Blake ..."
That irritatingly bright smile stole across his face again. "Let me assure you I've had more than a little experience behind a video camera. Hey, Kevin!"
From across the room, a young man with tasteful highlights and an unnatural tan waved back. "Gabe."
"Did I or did I not do a magnificent job filming your wedding this summer?"
"Magnificent. As of today, Melissa and I are still married."
"And there you go," Gabe said, as if that settled it. "Try the quiche. It's great."
The conversation had gone on too long. "Gabe, I appreciate your willingness to fill in for your dad. But I'm not sure you understand what's at stake."
"I think I have an idea. You're restoring an old house in the area and you need someone to film the process."
"Yes, but it's not just for my own use."
"I know that. I read the contract."
"Which your father was supposed to sign today."
The too-bright face darkened. "Miss Blake, I do know how to sign my name."
The sweater was a bad decision. Heat radiated underneath it and crept through the neck opening to her fevered cheeks. "Please don't think I'm dismissing your" — she glanced toward the happily married Kevin — "obvious talent. But I need a professional for this project. If it goes well, I have an opportunity to lock in a spot on next year's Restoring Christmas special on the Heart-and-Home Channel. Can you imagine what that could do for a designer's career? It could lead to my potentially having my own show. Me."
"And if it doesn't go well?"
Sure. Call me out on the risk I'm taking. That'll win points. "Then the costs incurred for the construction, decorating, filming, everything are my responsibility. And I'm back to being one of Chicago's least-known, least-experienced, no-name wannabes designing sunrooms and the occasional bathroom makeover. 'Would you like polished chrome or nickel faucets on your soaker tub?'"
"Oil-rubbed bronze. But that's just me." He opened the flap on a leather pouch leaning against the table leg between them. "Does this put your mind at ease?"
His business card? Anyone could print a decent-looking business card.
"Read the fine print," he said, then looked away, as if embarrassed that he'd asked it of her.
"You won a Telly Award?"
"Two. I didn't want to brag, so I ... just said 'Telly Award winner.' Besides, 'two-time Telly Award winner' would make the card look ... crowded. Don't you think? From a design perspective?"
What option did she have? The man with jam-stain on his long-sleeved T-shirt or give up the dream. She'd be hard-pressed to find a replacement willing to devote eight weeks of long days working for half the normal fee but the "potential" promise of industry recognition if Alexis's project won the slot on Restoring Christmas.
It was Gabe, offspring of the man she wanted to hire, or nothing.
"Your name wasn't on the company website."
"My dad's the genius," he said, pushing the last bite of crust to the side of his plate. "I'm merely the undergenius."
"You'll have to work on your self-esteem issues, Mr. Langley." She teased her food with the tip of her fork.
"It's a tax liability issue. And I'm okay with that. Until my dad retires and the business is turned over to me — if I keep my nose clean, so to speak — I work for him. Humbling, but good. I couldn't ask for a better boss."
They ate in silence, reserving their comments to the food.
How would Gabe Langley feel having her for a boss? One way to find out. "When you're done, let's go meet the home owner, then."
"That wasn't too painful, was it?"
"Yet to be determined." Alexis pushed away from the table and snagged her coat from the back of the chair.
"Do you want a to-go box for that?" As he stood, he pointed to her uneaten breakfast.
"No. I haven't checked in yet, so I don't know if my room has a fridge and microwave."
He helped her into her coat. "Where are you staying?"
"Shoreview? Bayview? Lakeview. Something like that."
"You just listed the names of most of the motels within a hundred miles of here." His laughter sounded like a comedian's favorite audience member. Loud. Strong. Genuine.
"What projects won you a Telly?"
He held the door for her and waited while she pulled on her gloves. "A couple of commercials I did for cable TV."
"What were they about?"
"You don't want to know."
"I think I do."
"Which direction is your car?" he asked.
"I parked on the street."
He hesitated. "I'm around back."
A muscle at the base of her neck tightened. "Gabe, what were your Telly Award–winning commercials?"
"Pat's Pond Scum Protection."
What could she read in the tilt of his eyebrows? Was he joking again? "No. Really." Any miniscule calm she'd retrieved scooted out of reach.
He punched a button on his key fob. A faint beep signaled he'd successfully unlocked his vehicle. "Really. Pond Scum Protection."
"Well, then ..."
Eight weeks until the final scene at Christmas. Eight weeks that had seemed so short earlier that morning now stretched light-years into her shaky future.CHAPTER 2
"That's it?" Gabe slammed the door of his van and joined her on the gravel at the gap in the low-slung fieldstone fence at the front edge of the property.
"Don't say it like that."
"I think it's charming." Alexis took a picture of the scene with her cell phone. Then another.
Gabe lifted his video camera to his right shoulder. "Didn't say it wasn't. You might want to" — he reached with his left hand to smooth her hair.
"You're filming already?"
"Initial reaction footage. Act natural. And don't look at me. I'm invisible."
If only. "Gabe, we haven't talked about the video style I'm looking for, the kind of footage that will be useful, the parameters the Heart-and-Home executives laid down for this project ..."
"Take a few steps up the driveway."
"Wasting good light here."
Something told her she would be a well-practiced sigh-er before this was all over.
"Keep walking, Alexis. That's good. It looks like you're a prodigal daughter returning home."
She glared at him over her shoulder.
"Try that again, but without the attitude."
Eight weeks. Eight long weeks. Some counted the days until Christmas with sweet little advent calendars. Alexis would count them by numbers of fried nerve endings.
She turned to face the house again, a long driveway and a meandering creek between her and her architectural and design challenge. The photos she'd seen hadn't been able to capture the way the house seemed both lonely and inviting at the same time. Two-story fieldstone that showed age and strength in one package. Low porch roof indicated lower ceilings inside than most modern construction. An opening in the stone foundation led, no doubt, to a stone-cold cellar. And an off-center front door mimicked the front elevation on the second floor. Three windows, unevenly spaced, rather than the symmetry expected from mid-American farmhouses. One window was missing a shutter. Already on her task list for the construction team.
"Do you think that bridge will hold more than a horse-drawn carriage?" Gabe stood at her side, his camera lens sweeping the landscape.
"I imagine it can," Alexis said, "since that's probably how the owner got her SUV across the creek." She tapped him on the shoulder and pointed toward the vehicle hiding all but its backside behind the house. "Not exactly what I expected a woman in her seventies would drive."
"As opposed," Gabe said, "to the woman in her — late twenties ...?" He focused the lens on her face.
"Close enough." Both his estimate and his nearness.
"... who drives that sweet ride." He panned behind them to her pumpkin spice sedan.
"My Aunt Sarah's. She claims she ordered the metallic copper."
Gabe's head emerged from behind the camera. "Yeah, that's not copper. Or metallic."
"We know. My BMW is in for repairs. What? You doubt I drive a BMW?"
Excerpted from Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti. Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Ruchti. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.