A small town has held on to their traditions and celebrates Christmas as if it were 100 years ago…which reporter Jake Logan finds surprisingly charming, but wonders if it’s too good to be true.
Jake has traveled the world but never really felt at home, until he spends time in a town that has its own unique way of celebrating the holidays. The longer he stays, the more he comes to like the town, the people, and one charming B&B owner in particular.
Lorna Sullivan has never met anyone like Jake, but she knows tourists don’t stay once the holidays are over. The more time she spends with Jake, the easier it is to wonder if this could be different…but there are secrets in every small town and this one could destroy their chance at happiness.
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“At Christmas, all roads lead home.” ~Marjorie Holmes
Two Native-American boys raced through the forest as the snow fell silently around them. The older one glanced over his shoulder at the tracks they left behind. Even though they knew the men would find them, running was their only option.
The three men riding horses followed the prints in the snow. The one in front was angry, kicking his horse to make it go faster. It would soon be dusk, and he didn’t want to lose the trail.
“Come on,” he yelled to the others. “They can’t be far ahead of us.”
The boys ran as fast as they could until they reached the water. It was too cold to run down the creek to lose the men, so they splashed across it instead. As the older boy, almost twelve, reached back to help his brother up the hill, the men on horses caught up with them.
“What are you two doing out here?” demanded one of the men.
“I’ll ask the questions,” the angry one said. “You know that was my deer, don’t you?”
The boys said nothing, which only made the man more upset.
“Answer me!” he said, bringing his horse up even with the boys. He leaned down to grab the smaller one, who looked about ten. Trying to protect his brother, the older boy slapped the horse’s rump.
The horse reared, catching the man off guard. The reins slipped out of his hand, and he fell, face first into the snow. As his horse ran off, the other men laughed. The boys glanced at each other, then started running again.
“Help me find my horse,” the angry man demanded, sitting up and wiping the snow off his face. “Then, I’m going to teach those boys a lesson.”
Silver Birch Valley is a peaceful town, set in the mountains just south of the Canadian border. The founder of the town had come from Scotland and stopped in the valley to rest his horses. He and his wife had fallen in love with the landscape and decided to stay and build their home. The town quickly grew around them as more people stopped to take in the view or rest their horses. In a land of beautiful vistas, this one took their breath away.
Silver birch edged the creek, which started as a waterfall coming down from the mountains. As it made its way into the valley, the creek ran between hills covered with evergreens until it reached the flat. There, the water wound its way quietly between the clumps of silver birch. Grass pasture stretched on either side until it met the hills. Beyond, there were mountains all around except for the two narrow passes, leading in and out of the valley.
When the boys reached the top of the hill, they saw the town below. The older one grabbed his brother’s hand as they hurried down the other side. Twice, they almost slipped but managed to stay upright. The streetlamps of the town could be seen through the snow as they ran across the valley. It was almost dark when they finally reached the livery stable.
The men on horses followed the tracks to the livery and dismounted. Open up!” the angry man yelled, banging on the closed barn doors. One slowly slid open and a man walked out.
“Can I help you?” he asked, looking around at the other men.
“I want to talk to those boys,” demanded the angry one.
“What boys?” asked the owner of the livery stable.
“You know who I’m talking about!” the man exclaimed. “Bring them out here or…”
“Or what?” asked the sheriff, walking up behind them. It was 1913, but he still carried his rifle when strangers rode into town.
“Or there’s going to be trouble,” the angry man replied. “Maybe not today,” he added, glancing at the rifle, “but soon. You can’t protect those people forever.”
“What people are those?” asked the sheriff, taking another step towards him.
The man glared, then looked over at his friends. “Things are changing around here. There’s more moving in, who think the way we do. It’s just a matter of time before we’re the ones making the rules, then all those Native people will be out of this valley and these mountains.”
“Maybe,” the sheriff replied, “but today is not that day. Get on your horses and ride out of town.”
As the three men rode past the Christmas tree, the angry one yelled, “You boys can’t hide here forever. I will find you.”
Lorna Sullivan walked by the town’s Christmas tree, carefully carrying her basket over one arm. Her auburn curls were neatly pinned up to keep them out of the way, but also because it was expected. She looked up at the Victorian house across the street, which was her business and her home. It had been a rooming house many years ago, but now she and her friend, Millie Andrews, ran it as a Bed and Breakfast.
She smiled as she glanced down at the basket. The tourists enjoyed these little details, like using a basket rather than a tote. These were the things that made Silver Birch Valley unique. Well, at least one of the things. The Edwardian outfits, the hairstyles, even the horse-drawn carriages and vintage automobiles spoke of a simpler time and their visitors loved it.
Lorna stopped for a moment and looked back at the Christmas tree, which barely fit in the park’s large, octagonal bandstand. The tree was covered with old-fashioned decorations but no lights. Not yet. The tree lighting ceremony would take place tomorrow night and the entire town would be there. Silver Birch Valley had celebrated this ceremony for over a hundred years. Ever since those two young boys had been chased into their town and asked for help. It was a way to bring light and peace into a sometimes, dark world.
She took a step back and saw the little angel ornament hanging on one of the lower branches. It was a new addition and she guessed one of the children had placed it there this afternoon. They often made ornaments to hang on the tree and hoped people would vote for them at the ceremony. The whole town would gather to watch the lighting, sing Christmas carols, visit with each other, then enjoy desserts and warm beverages. And of course, vote for their favorite ornament.
Lorna loved living in a small town because it wasn’t like a big city. Whether people grew up in Silver Birch Valley or moved here as an adult, like herself, everyone soon became a part of the community.
“There you are,” Millie said, hurrying over to Lorna. “I was about to send a rescue party.” Millie had dark brown hair and big blue eyes, which were sparkling at the moment.
“Very funny,” Lorna replied. “You know I had to chat with Katie and Mary about the Christmas party. And they reminded me that their store will be hosting the tree lighting ceremony this year.”
“That’s all very interesting…but did you get them?” Millie asked, looking in the basket.
“I did,” Lorna replied, smiling. Moving the napkin aside, they saw the two little kittens fast asleep in the basket. “Mary said they’re finally old enough to leave their mother and when they get a little bigger, you won’t have to complain about mice in the attic any longer.”
Millie took Lorna’s other arm. “Let’s hurry back and get them settled. I haven’t had a cat of my own in such a long time. I’ve missed it.”
Lorna nodded. “These two are going to get into everything, but it will be worth it. And I think the guests will enjoy having them around, too.”
“Do they have names yet?” Millie asked as they walked up the steps to the front porch.
“Not really,” Lorna replied. “Katie said she called them Little Boy and Little Girl. She knew if she gave them real names, it would be harder to let them go.”
“Well, we’ll give them some cute Christmas names,” Millie decided as she opened the front door. “I have a fire going in the kitchen and we can have coffee while they explore their new home.”
Lorna and Millie hung their coats on the hooks in the foyer and took the basket past the parlor and into the kitchen. They walked by the stove and the big table with wooden chairs all around it. On the far end of the room, there was a fireplace with two cozy, upholstered chairs and an ottoman.
As Lorna set the basket down on the floor, four little ears poked up past the napkin, followed by two cute faces.
“They’re adorable,” Millie said, bending over and picking one up. “This is the little boy,” she added, handing the kitten to Lorna. Then, she leaned back down and scooped up the little girl.
“Did you say there was coffee?” Lorna asked, trying to keep the little kitten from grabbing onto her blouse. “I think this one needs to go back on the floor. He’s full of energy.”
They watched as the little kitten ran around the basket, jumped in and attacked the napkin, then hopped back out and began chasing his tail. The little girl had curled up in Millie’s lap as soon as she sat down and was already asleep.
“I’ll get the coffee,” Lorna offered. “You keep an eye on that little jackrabbit.” She shook her head as the kitten hopped back into the basket.
“Jackrabbit,” Millie replied, giggling. “How about Jack Frost? He’s definitely going to be a little troublemaker even if he is a cute one.”
Lorna poured two mugs of coffee. As she came back, she set one next to Millie. “All right, Jack it is. What do you want to call the little girl?”
“How about Holly?” Millie took a sip of coffee. “I love those little red berries and it’s such a cheerful plant.”
Just as Lorna sat down, there was a tapping on the kitchen door. “I’ll get it,” Millie said, handing her the kitten. She walked over and opened the door, happy to see it was Grace Carrington, owner of the Silver Birch Café. “Come in,” Millie said, taking her coat.
“Oh, you got the kittens!” Grace exclaimed. She walked over and smiled at Jack. “Is it all right if I pick him up?”
“Help yourself,” Lorna replied, “but he’s a handful.”
Grace sat down in the other chair and Jack immediately started purring and fell asleep in her arms. Millie and Lorna both laughed. “He’s quite the charmer,” Millie said as Lorna handed her the other kitten.
“Why don’t you two stay here by the fire, and I’ll get the stew started,” Lorna offered. “Would you like some coffee, Grace?”
“Yes, thank you.” Grace smiled. “It’s nice to have someone offer me coffee for a change.”
“How are things at the café?” Millie asked.
“We’re almost ready for tomorrow night,” Grace replied. “We expect most of the town to be at the tree lighting ceremony.”
“They usually are,” Lorna agreed, handing Grace a mug of coffee. “Cream, no sugar, right?”
“You know me so well,” Grace replied, tucking a lock of dark blonde hair back into place. “I’ve only got about half an hour, but I wanted to see if you had the kittens and ask about the pies and cookies for the party.”
“We’ll be baking all day tomorrow,” Millie said. “I’ve got some lovely apples left for pie, and Lorna is making her gingerbread cookies.”
“Oh, those both sound wonderful!” Grace took a sip of her coffee, then added, “I’ll be making sugar cookies this year.”
Lorna walked back over and glanced at Millie. “Sugar cookies? Hmm…don’t we know someone, who loves sugar cookies?”
“I believe they’re a favorite of our local sheriff.” Millie looked at Grace and smiled. “How is Mr. MacKenzie?”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” Grace replied, blushing slightly.
“At least you have someone who likes your baking.” Millie put the kitten down, then stood up. “I’d do almost anything to have that…again.”
Lorna and Grace exchanged a quick glance. “Why don’t we forget about the stew and go have dinner at the café?” Lorna asked.
“That’s a fine idea,” agreed Grace. “Where do you want to put these little ones while you’re gone?”
“I have a space all set up for them in the scullery,” Millie said. At Lorna’s surprised look, she added, “I had a feeling they’d be ready to come home with you today.”
The café was already crowded when they walked in. “There’s a table over by the fire,” Grace said. “It looks like we’re in for a busy night.”
There were several tables, but most of them were filled with people talking and eating. The lighting cast a warm glow around the room as did the fireplace, which took up a good portion of one wall. Fir branches decorated the mantle and stockings hung from antique brass hooks.
Lorna and Millie sat down as Grace disappeared into the kitchen. “Such a crowd,” Millie observed, looking around. “Everyone seems to have had the same idea.”
“You mean going out to dinner tonight, since they’ll be baking all day tomorrow?” Lorna asked with a smile.
“I’d say at least half of them are going to be making pies, cakes, cookies and candies,” Millie replied, surveying the room. She cleared her throat. “Sorry for bringing up the past, but it’s difficult seeing so many couples together. Knowing they have someone to cozy up with in all this cold weather.”
Lorna tried not to smile. “I’m sure you’ll find someone to cozy up with at some point. I hope we both do.”
Millie nodded. “Let’s just hope he shows up soon. It’s going to be a cold Christmas.”
They both looked towards the door as more people entered the café. From what they could see, it looked like it was snowing again. A man with a little girl walked in behind the others, and as soon as she saw them, the girl ran over to their table. “Miss Lorna, Miss Millie, did you know next week is my birthday?”
“It is?” Lorna asked, glancing at Millie.
“Daddy says I can have one present on Christmas and one the day after because that’s my birthday.” Emily smiled.
Grace came back out of the kitchen, and Emily ran over and hugged her. “It’s my birthday…” she began.
“That’s enough, young lady,” the man said, walking up to Grace. He brushed a few snowflakes off his reddish-brown hair. “Sorry about that. She’s very excited about the party tomorrow.”
“That’s quite all right, Mr. MacKenzie,” Grace replied, blushing slightly. “All the children are looking forward to the party.”
“Miss Carrington, would you mind watching Emily tomorrow afternoon?” he asked. “It would only be for a few hours, but if it’s too much trouble…”
“Oh, Emily is never any trouble,” Grace replied.
Millie and Lorna glanced at each other. Everyone in town knew Shawn MacKenzie and Grace were perfect for each other. Everyone, it seemed, but them.
“Thank you.” Shawn smiled, then looked at his daughter. “Let’s sit down and eat,” he said, guiding her towards a table that had just opened up. “If you’re very good, I might even let you split a dessert with me.”
“Oh, I’ll be good!” Emily promised, clapping her hands together.
Millie and Lorna decided to order the special, Grace’s Chicken and Dumplings. She had a secret ingredient she added to the broth, which none of them could seem to replicate…making it a very popular dish on cold, winter nights.
Just as they were finishing, an African-American couple entered the café with three children, two boys and a little girl. Grace walked over and welcomed them, showing them to a table by the front window.
“Do you have any place you can recommend where we could stay this evening?” the man asked. “The snow is really coming down, and we don’t want to travel any further in the dark.”
Grace glanced over at Lorna, who nodded. “Actually, I can recommend a very nice Bed & Breakfast, which I believe has an opening.” She motioned for Lorna and Millie to join them. “This is Miss Sullivan and Miss Andrews, who are the owners, and I’m sure they’d be happy to help you.” She smiled. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the kitchen.”
“We have a few rooms available,” Lorna said. “If you’d like to come over after your dinner, we’re just on the other side of the square. The big Victorian house with the wraparound porch.”
“That sounds perfect,” the woman replied. “I’m Monica Carter and this is my husband, Scott. And these three are Derrick, Chad and Tina.”
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Millie replied. “Take your time, and we’ll see you when you’re finished with dinner.” She smiled, adding, “I’d recommend the special.”
She and Lorna stopped to say goodbye to Grace, then went home to get the rooms ready. It always worked out this way. Someone showed up whenever they had a vacancy. It just seemed to be the way things happened in Silver Birch Valley.
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