This month, I've been busy with two book releases. Seven Brides for Seven Texans from Barbour and A Family Arrangement from Love Inspired Historical.
A Family Arrangement is the first in the Little Falls Legacy series and it's inspired by the real people and events that formed my hometown on the banks of the Upper Mississippi River in central Minnesota. The story is set during the years 1854-1855 and follows the founding family as they pioneer a wild frontier. This scene is their first Christmas together. Abram is a widower with three young boys and Charlotte is his sister-in-law who has come to care for them until he fulfills all her requirements for a real town (doctor, teacher, preacher). She plans to leave in September, 1855, and if he doesn't have those requirements in place, he's given her permission to take his three sons back to Iowa. In this scene, their mutual friend Ben, a circuit preacher, has unexpectedly joined them for their Christmas celebration...
~ ~ ~ ~
She returned to the main room and they enjoyed their dessert, the men safely ensconced in a conversation about territory politics.
After supper was finished, Charlotte set a cloth over the table so they wouldn’t have to look at the dirty dishes as they all sat around the fireplace. The candles had been lit on the tree, offering a warm glow, presents had been pulled out of hiding places and the boys waited with shining eyes.
Abram handed the boys each a gift.
They unwrapped the brown paper with eager hands and exclaimed over their handmade wooden toys. For Robert there was a boat, for Martin, a little wagon, and for George, a set of blocks.
“Did you make those?” Charlotte asked, looking up at Abram from her rocker near the fireplace.
Abram nodded. “They’re not much.”
“They are gorgeous,” Charlotte said. George sat in her lap and she ran her fingers over the smooth wooden blocks. “Well done.”
“Could you hand out my gifts?” She suddenly felt embarrassed, knowing her gifts would pale in comparison to Abram’s.
Each of the boys opened their packages and found a scarf and hat to match their mittens. There was a set for Abram, as well.
“I know it’s practical but—”
“But perfect,” Abram said, wrapping his scarf around his neck. “I only wish there were more people around to see me.”
Charlotte laughed at the silliness and shook her head.
Ben sat off to the side in a wooden chair.
Thankfully, she had made Abram an extra pair of mittens with her abundance of yarn, and had not given them to him yet. Instead, she stood and pulled them out of her knitting basket and offered them to Ben. “Merry Christmas, Ben.”
His brown eyes lit with delight. “You didn’t need to bother.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
Ben slipped them on and held them up. “I’ll think of you every time I wear them. I wish I had a gift for you.”
“Your company is a priceless gift,” Abram said quickly. He stood and went to a chest in the corner where he kept several documents. “I hid Charlotte’s gift in here.”
“My gift?” Charlotte had not received a Christmas gift since Susanne and Abram had eloped six years ago.
“Of course.” Abram removed a brown-paper package from the chest and handed it to Charlotte while taking George into his arms.
Charlotte took a seat and held the package for a moment. It didn’t weigh much, but felt a bit bulky under the wrapping.
Nerves bubbled up in Charlotte’s stomach as she felt all eyes upon her—especially Abram’s. She untied the white string and slowly turned back a corner of the paper to reveal an ivory-handled brush, hand mirror, comb, shoe horn and nail file.
“It’s a dresser set,” Abram said a bit awkwardly, shifting George in his arms and sitting on the rocker next to her. “I picked it up in St. Anthony.”
“When I first came?”
Abram shrugged, appearing nonchalant, but she could tell he was watching her closely to see if she really liked the gift. “I thought of you when I saw it.”
“Abram has always been a generous soul,” Ben added. “Thinking of others before himself.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Abram said, though Charlotte had witnessed it several times. Even if he didn’t have much, he still offered what he had.
“Thank you,” Charlotte said, holding up the mirror. She turned it around and allowed Robert to see his reflection. The boy took the mirror and Charlotte ran her right hand over the top of her left hand. “Gentle.”
“You’re welcome,” Abram said as well as signed. “I hope you like it.”
“It’s the first gift I’ve received since Susanne gave me a hair comb the year before you were married.” She paused, but found it didn’t hurt as much to talk about her sister. “I like it very much.”
Abram was silent for a moment and she looked up at him. Sadness weighed down his brows. “I’m sorry you had to be alone all those years.”
Something heavy and melancholy wanted to press in on Charlotte’s good mood, so she quickly stood. “I’ll go make some coffee. Does anyone want more pie?”
She left the room before anyone could answer and entered the dimly lit kitchen, afraid of the emotions swirling inside her head and heart. It was so much safer holding Abram at a distance—but when he spoke with such compassion, she wanted to pull him close and allow him to heal her wounded soul.
“Charlotte?” Abram entered the kitchen, worry edged between his brows. “Is everything all right?”
She quickly turned toward the stove and pulled the coffeepot to the front. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” His voice was close—too close.
She moved away and turned, forcing a smile on her face. “I’m just missing Susanne a bit more than usual this evening. I’ll be fine.”
He took a step closer to her. “I’m sorry about what I said. I didn’t mean to dredge up bad memories.”
She held up her hand. “It’s fine, Abram. Truly.”
He studied her for a moment and then reached out and took her hand.
The gesture captured her by surprise and she took a step back, her legs pressing against the table.
“Thank you, for everything. I know it hasn’t been easy, but I don’t know what we would do without you. I mean that.”
Pleasure coiled inside her stomach and it took all her willpower not to melt into his arms.
“Merry Christmas, Charlotte.”
She gently extracted her hand and put it behind her back, wrapping her fingers into a tight ball, trying to hold on to the feeling of his touch. “Merry Christmas, Abram.”
He smiled and then left the kitchen, closing the door softly behind him.
Charlotte sank to the chair, her legs weak and her heart beating an unsteady rhythm. She put her face in her hands and took several deep breaths.
No matter what the cost, she must deny her growing feelings for Abram.
It was the only way she would survive until September.
~ ~ ~ ~
Abram Cooper has ten months to turn rough Minnesota country into a vibrant town, or his sister-in-law will take his three sons back to Iowa with his blessing. Until then, Charlotte Lee has agreed to keep house and help raise his children as part of their bargain. But can the single father fulfill Charlotte's requirements in time to make sure that she and his boys don't leave—and take his heart with them?
Charlotte is convinced that the wilderness is no place to raise her nephews. But as she watches the community slowly develop, she sees that Abram just might be able to make it blossom. With three little matchmakers bringing her and Abram together, Little Falls could become not just a flourishing town, but the perfect home for their patchwork family.
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