Yuletide Blessing, A
A Yuletide Blessing is a story of long lost love that was always meant to be.
The tumultuous love affair between Pastor Daniel McLelland and Livia Ross began innocently in 1976 when they met at a coffee shop where Livia was buying coffee for herself and gingerbread cookies for her young daycare charges, Pastor McLelland recognized her from his church and asked impulsively if he might join Livia and the children at the playground.
There was something in the way Daniel helped the children on with their mittens and gently but firmly shepherded the crooked line down the street that touched Livia. It had been six months since her husband, Sam Ross, a war veteran plagued by flashbacks and bitterness left her to sort things out, and Liv was surprised at the tears Pastor McLelland’s unexpected kindness brought to her eyes.
They arranged to meet again—to walk and to talk—but when they stopped and she brushed a loose strand of hair out of her face, the gesture seemed to Daniel, strangely sensual. In the split second before their lips touch, Liv looked at him with eyes deep as pools and their lips met before either of them recognized their desperate need. A shudder slammed through Daniel as he held her, and he suddenly remembered what it was to feel like a man.
Word Count: 21,299
Genre: Inspirational Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
Fishkill, New York January1976
The old Dutch reformed cemetery dated to the mid 1600s. On a warm day, it might have interested the children but that day the sky was gray and overcast, the whole world rushing to get inside. The wind tugged at the children’s scarves and hoods and whipped their pale cheeks scarlet. They followed like ducklings, their heads down against the howling gusts. “We’re almost there,” twenty-six year-old Livia Ross said, breathing in the painfully cold air and squinting through the chill. “I want to stop at the bakery get a cup of coffee to say warm. We’ll walk to the park as soon as we’re finished.”
The smell of buttery pastries and freshly brewed coffee in the cove’s bakeshop replaced the wintry flurries and cold air. Livia lifted three-year-old Jeremy and four-year-old Shannon onto plastic chairs while her own children—twins, Sean and Jenny, aged six—pressed their noses to the glass cabinet and peered at a dozen varieties of cookies. “I want a gingerbread man, Mommy,” they yelled simultaneously. Liv bought four cookies and, grateful for the steaming cup of hot coffee in her hands, found a seat at a small round table with the children. She was handing out gingerbread men to the children when she heard a voice behind her. “Mrs. Ross?”
“Oh, Pastor McClelland, hello!” They shook hands, laughing at a static charge that shocked them both. “How are you?” Liv flushed. She hadn’t been back to church since Christmas. So much had happened since then; it had taken everything she had just to find the energy to get up each morning and take care of the children.
“Nice to see you. Please call me Daniel. These little ones can’t all be yours, can they?”
Liv noticed that his eyes crinkled when he laughed as warmly as they had on Christmas Eve. Overdressed for the bakery’s warmth, a trickle of sweat dripped between her breasts and she felt herself flushing. “Two are mine and these little ones are my neighbors. I watch my neighbor’s children while she works.” A hint of gossip about a young, handsome minister coming to Fishkill alone flashed through her mind but she couldn’t remember what it was. Probably just idle talk from the church’s gossipmongers. “We’re on our way to the park, and I needed something to warm me up while they play. And please, call me Liv.”
Okay, Liv. And what’s your name?” he asked Sean.
“I’m Sean and I’m six. That’s Jenny and she’s six, too. But I’m a minute older.”
Pastor McClelland laughed and held out his hand to the red-cheeked little boy. “Pleased to meet you.”
Liv wiped Jeremy’s face and said, “You’re new here, aren’t you?”
“It’s my first church. Can you tell?” Again, his eyes crinkled as he smiled.
“No, not at all.” The empty chair at the table seemed to require an invitation but before she could say anything, the children began to squirm. “Well, it was nice to see you. I guess I’d better go. They’re getting restless and this good behavior won’t last much longer,” she said with a sigh.
“I’m free this morning. Do you mind if I tag along? It’s too beautiful a day to be inside writing a sermon.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. Despite his smile, she couldn’t help but notice, as she helped the curly-haired Jeremy on with his mittens, that there was a hint of sadness in his eyes that, most likely, mirrored her own. “Thanks. I’d love the company and the help.”
“It’s a deal. I push a mean swing. Can I help?” he asked gesturing to four-year-old Shannon, struggling to zip her coat.
Liv was surprised at how the simplest gesture could still bring tears to her eyes. Yet, when Daniel looked at her, there was something more than kindness there. His eyes bored into hers causing a deep-rooted tingling she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
“Thanks. You can’t imagine what a production it is to get four children dressed to go outside.”
Snow fell as the children, with their tiny, mitten covered hands on each other’s shoulders, shuffled along Church Street. There was something in the way Daniel gently but firmly shepherded the crooked line down the street that touched her physically and emotionally.
It had been six months since Sam had left. It had almost been a relief after months of walking on eggshells when they had finally separated. Sam had been drafted into the Viet Nam war in the 1970 draft lottery. They had married quickly and during their weekend honeymoon in New York City, Livia had become pregnant with the twins. He’d gone into basic Army training at Ft. Bliss, Texas and shipped into infantry training where he learned the art of mortal combat and weapons training. Afterwards, he was promoted to Private First Class and making three hundred and fifteen dollars a month. He had a two-week leave to say good-bye and they’d both been frightened to death. Neither had even known where Viet Nam was. Liv had found it on the globe they’d bought and traced the outline of the country with her finger each night after he left, hoping and praying he was safe. Watching the news became a nightmare. For each casualty she knew there were a mother and father and a wife and children somewhere.
The young happy-go-lucky boy from Fishkill did not return, rather, in his place, eighteen months later, came an angry, shattered man. When Sam returned from Da Nang, he was a twenty-one year-old father of two toddlers and a wife he barely knew. There were no parades, no accolades. She’d tried to hold him through the nightmares and the flashbacks of mutilated bodies lined up in rows but he had pushed her away as if she were the enemy. He’d said there was no one he could talk to, no one who would understand what he’d done for his country and how he felt once he came home and saw the anti-war protests.
Livia tried—they had both tried—but it was obvious the uninterrupted nightmare had shattered their lives. They had once found comfort in each other’s arms but this too became tinged with resentment. After five years of angry distance between them, Sam finally packed his bags and moved to a small apartment on the outskirts of town. He paid the bills and Liv remained in the house with the children, taking on the daycare to help make ends meet. She tried to put aside the memories, focusing instead on the children who whooped when they spied the playground behind the elementary school.
Dozens of pairs of miniature-sized boots had tramped down a path to the popular spot for winter play. The easy camaraderie of Daniel’s company and the sight of the children chasing one another around the teeter-totter suddenly made the day seem impossibly rich. It felt heartbreakingly familiar to what her life with Sam had been prior to his moods wings and the tension that had developed between them. A cloud passed overhead and, looking at Daniel, Liv wondered suddenly if old Pastor Dooley had told him that she’d gone to see him, seeking counsel about her marriage but Daniel gave no sign of knowing.
The children threw snowballs and hooted with laughter as they made snow angels. “Mommy, come help us make a snowman!” her son cried.
Liv noticed Daniel’s gaze on her and her heart beat a little faster. She shifted in the bracing chill. Daniel laughed at the children’s antics and it was like the twinkling of the stars, so quick that she might miss it if she closed her eyes for a moment. “I’ll go,” he said, his breath creating a foggy mist as he spoke. “It looks like they could use some help and it’s been years since I’ve built a snowman.”
He rolled a small snowball into one large enough for the base of their snowman and the children shrieked with joy. For some reason, their exuberance suddenly caused a twinge of loneliness in her even though the afternoon was bathed in a curious happiness. She wondered what this meant and why he evoked such warmth in her as she tucked her scarf into her coat, rubbed her hands to stay warm, and closed her eyes.
When he returned, she fought against the impulse to reach for him and busied herself watching the children complete the snowman. The vague nervous tension she felt was broken as she and Daniel dissolved into laughed at the lopsided creation with the stick nose and woolen hat. “Would you like to take a walk one day?” he asked with a hesitant grin.
A red plow thundered down the road, its sound causing Liv to wonder if she’d heard him correctly. The plow rumbled past and she looked at him curiously. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“I asked if you’d like to take a walk one day,” he said as the children’s laughter sliced the air.
The words seemed to hold a momentous weight. With the wind blowing and the snow flying, Liv suddenly had the feeling she was inside the snow globe Sean and Jenny loved to shake. It had been so long since a man had wanted to do something as simple as take a walk with her; she didn’t know how to respond. The small things she had once taken for granted— taking walks, holding hands, talking and laughing in bed until late into the night, then sleeping late, and having breakfast in bed on a Saturday morning—were just a memory now.
Surprised and dismayed at the flutter of attraction she felt in her belly for Pastor McClelland, she felt herself blush. “It’s getting late. I guess I’ll have to think about it.”