This romantic suspense set in the mountains of Colorado came to me a couple of years ago when I was struggling to develop an idea for a novella. At that point, I’d never written a novella and only read a few of them, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I wanted to write about a place I love—the mountains—and a horse stable I’d visited in Estes Park, Colorado.
The characters came to me one day when I was in a WalMart parking lot. I saw gulls soaring overhead and landing to eat a discarded hamburger when the idea came to me that those gulls—which I called seagulls because I’m an East Coast girl—must have been blown really far off course to end up in Colorado. I mean, any coast is more than 1500 miles away from here.
So I went home and did some research, and I found out they aren’t seagulls—they’re just plain gulls. And despite my wanting to connect them with the ocean, they’ve never been there and likely never will.
Intrigued, I thought about gulls and mountains and horse stables, and came up with this story.
I love these characters because they reflect me at different times in my life. As a teen, I was certain I knew exactly what I would be when I grew up—a veterinarian. Well, that didn’t happen, so I left college and worked for almost 20 years before deciding I could get ahead faster with a degree, so I did business and accounting since I was already working in that field. Then I decided to leave that career and go into veterinarian assistant, but God had other ideas. Instead, I moved to Colorado to wed a man I met online. But that’s a story for another day.
Grace and Luke also mirror my faith walk. Just like Grace, I’ve been angry at God over the years. I blamed Him for not answering my prayers to heal my mother, at a time in my life when I wasn’t even following Him. And I’ve also experienced a loving, growing relationship just like Luke does, and I’ve been through the mountains and valleys of everything in between.
The good news is that just like with Grace and Luke, God isn’t done with any one of us yet. We just need to hang in there, get around the next corner, and then be able to see what He has in store.
Here’s a sneak peek at In Search of Christmas Past:
At the sound of tires crunching on the snow, Luke Fisher looked up from the stake he was using to anchor an errant sapling into an upright position. A shiny red sports car eased through the gate and into the single cleared space in the parking lot. The farm didn’t open for five days, and he hadn’t gotten around to plowing since the storm on Saturday.
Luke focused on the task. Nobody wanted to buy a crooked Christmas tree. The driver was probably just lost and using the lot to turn around. He pulled the cord taut and checked the rubber collar around the trunk of the baby tree. Satisfied, he stood. The driver exited the car and pulled her coat collar around her ears. Her brown hair escaped her knit cap, and the ends danced around her face.
Luke walked toward her, feeling underdressed, like a poor country cousin, compared to his visitor. Her leather jacket hugged her form as though made especially for her. He glanced at his flannel garment hanging open over a t-shirt and jeans, and groaned inwardly. This was no way to make an impression on a customer. Or a woman as lovely as she.
He peeled off his gloves and extended his right hand. “Welcome to Valley View Nursery. We don’t open for a few days.”
She returned the gesture in a solid handshake. Not too strong, no shrinking violet. He liked that in a woman.
She glanced at the trees around them. “I’m looking for something.”
“Anything in particular?”
“Like I said, we aren’t open yet, but I guess I could sell you a tree if you find the one you want.” He eyed the car. “Planning to carry it back on that?”
She studied the acres of trees covering the hillside. “I don’t want to buy a tree. I’m looking for something on a bough.”
Luke offered a smile. “As you can see, we have lots to choose from. And if you don’t see the one you want, we have about a thousand acres more.”
She stared at him, one eyebrow lifted.
Luke shoved his hands in his pockets. Great, she thought he was a babbling idiot. Best to keep his mouth shut.
She sauntered down the first row toward a tree all dolled up in Christmas ornaments, and Luke followed close behind. The frozen ground crunched beneath their feet and the breeze carried their breath off in clouds.
She pointed to the Colorado spruce. “Maybe this one.”
Luke waited near her as she scanned the branches. After a minute or so, she turned. “Any other decorations?”
“Sure.” Hitching his head to one side, he walked away in the opposite direction. He paused at a clearing between the spruces and the scotch pines. “There.”
He loved the effect this section of the farm had on people, and he wasn’t disappointed by her response. In typical fashion, her eyes grew large and her mouth formed an “o” as she stared at the eight trees, bedecked in hundreds of ornaments and lights. She stepped closer to the first tree and craned her neck to survey the twelve-foot pine from top to bottom.
At his laugh, she glared at him. “What’s so funny?”
He sobered. “I love it when folks see these trees for the first time. Doesn’t matter how old or young they are, same look on their faces.”
“How nice.” She turned on her heel and resumed her study.
Or maybe that wasn’t the right word. Not so much study as search.
“Are you looking for a particular ornament?”
She kept her eyes on the tree. “Something to do with the seas.”
Luke followed her gaze. “Seas?”
She pulled a piece of paper from her pocket. “Right, and something about being lost.”
She returned the note to her pocket. “Is there an echo here?” Tilting her head to one side, she smiled in his direction. “Nope. No echo.”
Was she flirting with him? Or taunting him? “Think I’ll sit in my trailer and get something hot to drink.”
She touched his forearm. “I’m sorry. I-I need your help.”
He paused and looked off at the mountains in the distance as if considering her words. Which he wasn’t. The jolt of electricity at her touch warmed him all the way to his heart, and he never wanted her to remove her hand. Years had gone by since a woman said she needed his help. Not since his mother—and never Melanie. No, she showed him what she needed. Hundred percent diva, that woman. She didn’t need him. She needed money to support her in the lifestyle to which she wanted to become accustomed.
And that wasn’t him.
Surprising himself, he nodded. “I’ll help. Tell me again what you’re looking for.”
When she spoke, the wind carried the vapor toward the nearest tree like a wraith. “Seas. Lost. That’s all I know.”
He pursed his lips, and a crazy thought burst unbidden into his mind: kissable lips. Heat rushed to his cheeks at the audacious thought. He didn’t even know this woman’s name and was already thinking of kissing her? Well, he could correct that oversight right now. “By the way, my name is Luke Fisher.”
She nodded. “Grace Bellows.”
“Seas and lost. Lost at sea? Like a shipwreck, maybe?”
“I don’t know.”
They walked around the first tree, tossing out thoughts like breadcrumbs at the duck pond.
Luke pointed. “Maybe a ship’s anchor?”
“Don’t usually lose those, do you?”
He dropped his hand at his side. “Right.” At the next tree, he bent low. “What about a starfish?”
“Don’t think so. Something that’s lost at sea, or something from the sea that gets lost.”
At the third tree, they stood side by side and eyed the ornaments.
Luke pointed to the rows of trees on either side. “My mother used to decorate these trees.”
“She died a couple of years ago. So now I put all these up.” He stared at his feet. Heat burned his cheeks once again, and he was certain the cold was not to blame. “Don’t have the same heart for the process she did. More a chore than a joy.”
“I know what you mean. After my parents died, my grandparents tried to fill the void. That first Christmas without my mom and dad was the hardest. We reproduced everything just as they would have done. What a disaster. So we came back to Colorado for Christmas every year, but it was never the same. When my grandfather died, we had no reason to come here. And once I started college, it seemed like we never had the time.”
Listening to her, frost in the corners of his heart melted. He stared at the mountains in the distance, forcing the emotions back down where they belonged, unable to speak past the lump in his throat. After a long moment, he cleared his throat. “Why are you looking for something that’s lost?”
She opened the poem again. “The poem says this thing that’s related to the seas isn’t lost. Says it just seems to be lost.”
He smiled and snapped his fingers. “Got it.”
They hurried to the second-to-last tree, and he reached high and pulled down an ornament, holding the ceramic object in his hand.
She peered into the cradle created by his fingers. “A seagull?”
“Not a seagull. Seagulls only live on the oceans. This is a gull. A lot of people think they’re seagulls that got blown in on a storm.” He laughed. “That would have to be some storm to blow a bird more than a thousand miles from the ocean.”
He held the ornament by its string, the wings outstretched as if soaring on the wind. “No, these gulls are inland birds. They stick around the metro area, although if the winter is harsh, they migrate a few hundred miles to southern New Mexico.”
“You sound like an expert on gulls.”
He set the ornament into her waiting hands. “Just the son of a birdwatcher. My mother always said God had a creative mind.” He shrugged. “I don’t know about that.”
Her smile slipped away. “I’ll be going now. Thanks for your help.”
He didn’t want her to leave. Not yet. Maybe not ever. “Do you think this is what you’re looking for?”
She shook her head as she peered at the underside of the ornament. “I’m not sure. I’ve got to find the next clue.”
“This is part of a scavenger hunt my grandmother sent me on.” Grace dangled the bird in front of her. “Before she died, she set all this up. I just received the first clue in a poem. And now I’m going to spend my Christmas break trying to figure out a crazy old woman’s sense of humor.” She looked up at the sky. “If there really is a heaven, she’s probably up there laughing at me right now.”
He shuffled his feet. “Well, I know most of the area, so if you have any questions, maybe I can help.”
She turned a cold eye on him, studying him from head to toe like an insect under a microscope. What was he thinking? She had everything she needed. She was smart, in college no less, had a cool car, and money.
So beautiful she probably had guys chasing her all the time.
She represented everything he wanted and didn’t have.
About In Search of Christmas Past
Grace Bellows, a senior in college, receives a Christmas card one month after her grandmother’s death, where her beloved Grammie challenges her to an old-fashioned scavenger hunt. Raised by her grandmother after her parents’ death in a car accident when she was eight, Grace has lived a jetsetter lifestyle with her wealthy grandmother. Now all she wants is to settle down and have a normal life.
Luke Fisher manages his family’s Christmas tree farm out of a sense of loyalty to his deceased mother because she gave up her dreams of being an attorney. He doesn’t want to live with any regrets, and longs to escape the confines of loyalty to live a life of adventure in the real world.
Can Grace and Luke solve the clues and uncover the truth about their real feelings, or will the tension and their differences in goals and faith drive them apart?
Leeann Betts writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. She has released six titles in her cozy mystery series, By the Numbers, with Petty Cash releasing in December. In addition, Leeann has written a devotional for accountants, bookkeepers, and financial folk, Counting the Days, and with her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, has published a book on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold, a compilation of essays, articles, and exercises on the craft. She publishes a free quarterly newsletter that includes a book review and articles on writing and books of interest to readers and writers. You can subscribe at www.LeeannBetts.com or follow Leeann at www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com All books are available on Amazon.com in digital and print, and at Smashwords.com in digital format.
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