Love at Christmas by Kelsey MacBride
In the charming town of Abingdon, Virginia, Lily Parker and pastor Samuel Thompson unravel their intertwined destinies filled with faith, love, and hidden pasts, against the backdrop of the festive Blue Ridge Café at Christmas.
Lily Parker returns to this sanctuary with hope and a mission: to breathe life into her family's legacy.
This contemporary Christian romance novel unfolds her journey of rediscovery amidst challenges and dreams.
Then, Samuel Thompson enters. A pastor with a heart as vast as his faith.
Their pasts are mysteriously interlinked.
Their destinies intertwine as snow blankets Abingdon and Christmas carols float in the air.
Navigating through whispers of the past and hoping for a rewarding romance, they confront the tug-of-war between love's allure and their responsibilities.
In the glow of the café's lights, they explore the depth of their feelings, testing the strength of their faith.
Can they find love in a town where prayers shape destinies and every heart holds a secret?
Dive into a Christian romance novel where faith isn't just a belief but the foundation of true love.
Step into the world of Abingdon.Amazon
Excerpt from Love at Christmas © Copyright 2023 Kelsey MacBride
The quaint town of Abingdon lay blanketed under a serene layer of powdery snow. Ice-coated cobblestone streets wound between sloped-roof shops and historic buildings. The peaceful scene exuded an old-world charm, as if frozen in time.
Nestled amidst the picturesque storefronts was the Blue Ridge Café, a cherished establishment left behind by Lily’s late parents. Now, after years of navigating impersonal corporate jobs in bustling cities, Lily stood outside the nostalgic café once more, staring up at the snow-laden roof.
Frigid air pierced her fair skin through her stylish coat as memories flooded over her. She inhaled the mingled scents of roasted coffee beans and cinnamon wafting on the icy breeze. The aroma transported her back to fond memories made within these walls as a child.
She pictured her parents’ smiling faces illuminated by the glow of fairy lights as they hosted lively holiday celebrations. Patrons crowded inside, chatting amiably while frost gathered on the windowpanes. A younger Lily peeked out from the kitchen, proudly helping her mother ice sugar cookies.
With a bittersweet pang, Lily realized how much she had missed this place. It represented the warmth and community she had always taken for granted until years adrift in sprawling cities left her spirit hollow.
Stepping inside, Lily drew a sharp breath as the past enveloped her. The interior remained untouched, still suspended in time. Pale winter light filtering through frosted windows glinted off polished mahogany tables and antique chandeliers.
Lily pictured ghosts of patrons lingering at the counter, her father serving them cheerfully. Her mother bustled around nearby, exchanging friendly chatter. The mental images constricted her heart with nostalgia.
Lily’s slender fingers trembled as she traced the well-worn countertop, picturing her father going through the same motions countless times. She could almost see his smiling reflection on the polished surface. Her vision blurred with hot tears.
The jingle of bells announced Samuel’s entry, jolting Lily from her reminiscing. She discreetly dabbed at her eyes before facing this new arrival from her past.
Lily’s pulse quickened at the sight of Samuel’s athletic build, his muscular arms on display even through the wool coat that shielded him from the icy chill outside. His close-trimmed beard only partially obscured the innate wisdom and compassion radiating from his kind eyes.
Those striking blue eyes had once brimmed with playful spirit during their childhood escapades around this very café, Lily recalled. Now, they held the gravity and responsibility of shepherding their small community as pastors.
Yet as Samuel met her gaze, a glimmer of that familiar boyish warmth surfaced again when he said gently, “It’s good to see you back, Lily.” Unspoken emotion roughened his voice.
“You too, Samuel,” Lily managed faintly, the words scraping her tight throat. She hoped he couldn’t discern the tears she had hurriedly blinked away moments before.
How many complex feelings simmered beneath those simple greetings after so much time apart, so much left unresolved? The air hung heavy with the weight of words still unspoken between them.
An awkward silence swelled. Lily fidgeted with a stray thread on her scarf, unsure how to bridge the distance forged over the years away, chasing separate dreams. Her heart thrummed with a tempest of emotions.
Finally, Samuel gestured to a table with an air of ceremoniousness as if they were two dignitaries attempting to negotiate a treaty.
“Shall we sit and catch up?” he asked with a tentative yet warm smile. Relief flooded Lily at the polite offer of reconciliation.
“Please,” she replied gratefully. Lily loosened her scarf and shed her wool coat before settling onto the creaky wooden chair across from Samuel. She eyed him discreetly as he removed his own outerwear.
Even with time’s inevitable changes etched onto his features, Lily found him just as handsome as the mischievous boy who had occupied many of her adolescent daydreams. The realization sent her pulse skittering oddly.
She couldn’t help admiring the way Samuel’s beard accentuated his sturdy jawline and kind eyes. Her fingers twitched with the startling urge to reach out and stroke along his bearded cheek. Lily quickly tucked her hands in her lap, flustered.
Mercifully, Samuel broke the tense silence first. “I can hardly believe you’re back after so long. But I’m glad,” he mused. “We’ve all missed you here.”
His earnest words coaxed a fragile smile from Lily. “It feels a little strange being back after so long away,” she admitted. “Kind of like stepping into a memory. But also comforting, like coming home.”
Samuel regarded her pensively across the table that separated them. “And how have you been holding up since everything happened with your parents?” he asked delicately after a reflective pause. “I was so very sorry to hear about the accident.”
Lily tensed, staring down at her clenched hands. She focused on steadying her uneven breathing before responding quietly.
“Honestly? Some days are still a real struggle without them,” she confessed with difficulty, her vision blurring with tears. “The grief comes in waves. I just wish so much they could be here now.”
When a single tear escaped Lily’s cheek, Samuel immediately covered her tightly clasped hands with one of his broad, calloused ones. The simple gesture of comfort nearly undid her, but Lily clung fiercely to her composure.
She focused on the soothing warmth of Samuel’s skin against her own, where their hands touched. His sturdy presence radiated calmness and compassion, just as it had throughout their childhood escapades.
“I can’t imagine how difficult that has been for you,” Samuel said gently after giving her a moment to collect herself. “But I know your parents would be so very proud of you for having the courage and strength to come back here. This place always was their pride and joy, but even more so were you, Lily.”
Lily inhaled shakily and offered him a watery but sincere smile, incredibly touched by his kindness. She had nearly forgotten this innate compassion and insight that had marked Samuel as a proper spiritual guide from a young age.
Already, she could feel her battered spirit healing just from being near him again after so many years spent adrift and alone. He had always been her safe harbor in any storm, even when they were just children.
After taking another moment to fully compose herself, Lily turned the conversation to Samuel’s life and time away. She was eager to shift the focus of her own raw grief for a bit.
“So, tell me, what have you been up to all these years since we went our separate ways?” she asked brightly, hoping the lingering redness of her eyes didn’t reveal the inner turmoil still churning within.
Samuel leaned back in his chair and stroked his bearded chin, gathering his thoughts. Lily stared at the distracting motion.
“Well, attending seminary school was definitely a big change of pace,” Samuel began contemplatively. “The quiet campus in the countryside felt so removed from everything familiar. It definitely took some adjusting after our small-town upbringing.”
Lily snapped her focus back to the conversation, genuinely intrigued to learn more about this phase of Samuel’s life she knew so little about.
“That must have been an intensive program of study,” she remarked, hoping her interest sounded natural rather than prying.
“Absolutely, the curriculum was quite rigorous,” Samuel chuckled good-naturedly, either not noticing her scrutiny or politely ignoring it.
“But those long days of studying and mentoring prepared me for returning home and taking on this pastoral role,” he said.
Samuel’s kind eyes took on a look of sincere meaning. It has been gratifying to be trusted with spiritually guiding this community. My congregation makes all those hours of academic work and examinations worthwhile.”
Lily’s expression softened into an affectionate smile at the passion so clear in Samuel’s voice when speaking about supporting the church members who depended on him. She could relate to that sense of purpose he had clearly found.
“It sounds like you truly have found your calling,” Lily remarked warmly. “I’m sure you must be touching so many lives here as pastor.”
Pink tinged Samuel’s bearded cheeks at her praise, and Lily found herself charmed by this evidence that traces of his youthful shyness remained.
“I just try my best to emulate the grace, compassion, and wisdom Reverend Mills always exhibited during our childhood,” Samuel replied modestly. “Though, of course, I still have much more to learn from those wiser than myself.”
Lily’s smile widened, feeling endeared. Even as adults, some things hadn’t changed. Samuel still saw the good in everyone, rarely giving himself enough credit. And the way his face had lit up discussing mentoring local youth told her what a natural caretaker he was.
“The joy you clearly get from guiding the younger generation says enough about your spiritual gifts,” Lily said affectionately. “Your congregation is truly blessed to have you, Samuel.”
The flush on Samuel’s bearded cheeks deepened at her heartfelt words. He took a quick sip of coffee before gesturing for her to share her journey since they had parted ways.
Lily sobered slightly, realizing her experiences contained far less fulfillment or passion than Samuel’s sense of divine purpose. Suddenly self-conscious, she traced the rim of her coffee mug as she attempted to summarize years wasted in unfulfilling corporate jobs in the sprawling city.
Lily confessed, feeling increasingly lonely in such impersonal environments yet lacking the courage or direction to seek something more meaningful.
“It was like I just got stuck on autopilot, passively allowing life to happen around me rather than intentionally living,” Lily admitted with a heavy sigh. She kept her eyes downcast, afraid to see disappointment or judgment in Samuel’s piercing blue gaze.
But when she risked a glance upward, she only found compassion radiating back at her. Samuel had propped his bearded chin on one broad hand and was listening intently, his focus unwavering.
“That must have been an incredibly isolating experience,” he said when she had finished her recap. “I admire you for trusting your instincts enough to seek a better path by coming back here.”
Lily bit her bottom lip as she mulled over his insightful words. “I suppose I finally realized I couldn’t keep ignoring that inner voice urging me to take a chance again,” she mused.
“I only hope I can live up to that leap of faith now I’m back,” Lily confessed, meeting Samuel’s gaze. “Everything still feels so uncertain. But maybe you’re right that the answers will come if I just give it time.”
Samuel nodded slowly, holding her gaze with certainty. “You’ll find your direction again,” he said. “Just listen to your heart and have patience with the process. I have faith in you, Lily.”
His calm conviction flowed over her like a soothing balm, temporarily easing her turbulent doubts. Lily clung to it like a life preserver, keeping her afloat. Samuel knew how to steady her spirit with a look or a word. She had missed that more than she realized.
By now, dusk’s hazy light had faded to night outside the frosted windows. The inky darkness and twinkling stars seemed encroaching, hinting that their time together was drawing to a close.
Lily tamped down the irrational urge to reach across the table separating them and grasping Samuel’s sturdy hand. She longed to extend this connection a little more.
Seeking an excuse to linger with him, Lily leaned forward and placed her hand lightly atop Samuel’s weathered knuckles. His skin radiated a comforting warmth that she tried not to focus on.
“Do you remember many of our childhood adventures here?” Lily asked with an attempt at a casual smile, hoping Samuel wouldn’t notice the way her pulse had quickened.
Fortunately, Samuel appeared distracted by his own memories. With a faraway look in his eyes, he turned his palm upward to meet hers in a loose grip, causing Lily’s heart to flutter.
“Of course,” he said wistfully. “This place holds so many fond memories for me, too.”
Samuel’s tone was low with emotion. Lily shivered when he stroked his thumb across her knuckles, clearly lost in their shared past.
Desperate to ground herself, Lily prompted, “Remember the giant snow fort we built out back one winter?” She giggled girlishly, the sound embarrassingly high-pitched to her own ears.
Samuel’s eyes lit up with joy at the nostalgic reminder, making Lily smile. The tension slowly dissipated.
Remember when we thought putting milkshakes in there to keep them cold was such a great idea?” Samuel chuckled, reluctant to relinquish the comforting grip of their hands.
“I’d nearly forgotten about that,” he mused with a shake. “My mother was so confused when I stumbled inside covered in sticky chocolate syrup.”
Lily’s laugh became more breathless at the physical reminder of Samuel’s touch gliding along her sensitive skin. Flustered by her body's instinctive response, she gently withdrew her hand from Samuel's loose hold, pretending to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear.
“We did some crazy stuff back then,” Lily replied, hoping to sound affectionate and not shaky. She tried to steer the discussion to safer, more neutral territory.
“Remember when we staged that little play in my parents’ cafe after hours, and my mother nearly had a heart attack when she caught us?”
Samuel winced with exaggeration. “Oh goodness, I think I’ve blocked that one out,” he said, playing along at the memory. “We really were the troublemaking pair, weren’t we?”
His eyes reflected the faraway glint that did funny things to Lily’s insides. It reminded her of the tender looks they exchanged as curious adolescents before life’s paths diverged.
“We certainly had our share of misadventures,” Lily acknowledged, her playful nostalgia softening into something more tender. “But we were very close back then. I’ve really missed that…”
She faltered, throat clenching up unexpectedly on the admission. Lily realized suddenly just how very much she had missed Samuel’s steadfast presence and understanding over the lonely years.
Samuel's teasing expression softened into something more serious, as if he could sense the shift in her mood. “I’ve missed it too, Lily,” he confessed quietly. “Very much so.”
The air between them changed, growing heavy with unspoken longing. Lily shyly met Samuel’s tender gaze, pulse-quickening as if she were a smitten teenager all over again. She worried he could surely hear her frantic heart.
Uncertain what to say or do next, Lily felt relief when Samuel cleared his throat gruffly and withdrew his hand to bring their loaded moment to an end.
“I should let you get some rest,” he announced, glancing outside at the night sky as he moved to stand and gather his belongings.
Disappointment set in, but Lily smiled politely as she walked Samuel to the door, shoving down the confusing emotions his presence had ignited. She hesitated, hand on the frame, watching as he buttoned his wool coat.
Overwhelmed by the desire to prolong their connection, Lily reached out to grasp Samuel’s sturdy forearm.
“Thank you again for today, for everything,” she said earnestly, hoping he would sense her sincerity. “Having your support here during this transition means the world.”
Samuel’s eyes creased with shared emotion as he covered her tiny hand with his larger one. “You’ve always had my support, Lil. And you always will.”
The casual nickname sent shivers skating down Lily’s spine. She reluctantly dropped her hand back to her side when Samuel gave a final parting wave and headed into the moonlit darkness.
Lily watched until his broad silhouette disappeared entirely from sight. Only then did she close the cafe door and lean against it weakly, ignoring how her legs had gone unsteady.
Being with Samuel again after so long had felt so easy, so familiar, like coming home. However, their dynamic now appeared more delicate and hesitant, pulsating with an undercurrent of attraction that hadn't been there during their youth.
With a weary but lighter heart, Lily retreated up the creaky stairs to her small apartment. The coming days held so much uncertainty. But Samuel’s compassion had rekindled hopes she thought long extinguished.
Maybe with him there, she could find her purpose again. Lily clung to this delicate hope as she drifted off, feeling a sense of peace washing over her.
Despite the uncertainty of the path ahead, she found comfort in knowing she had someone by her side this time. Samuel's presence gave her a sense of stability, making her believe she could accomplish anything. The future seemed to glow with newfound promise.
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