The Magic Of Christmas: A Christmas Child\The Christmas Dove\A Baby Blue Christmas

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9780373295159: The Magic Of Christmas: A Christmas Child\The Christmas Dove\A Baby Blue Christmas

A Christmas Child by Carolyn Davidson

Marianne Winters has no one in the world but her baby brother and, with Christmas approaching, she needs somewhere warm to stay. Will she find her home, and a loving heart, with the lonely pastor, David McDermott?

The Christmas Dove by Victoria Bylin

Maddie Cutler once snubbed bad boy Dylan McCall, but with nowhere else to turn she has come back to town—with a babe in arms. Dylan is a reformed man, and on seeing Maddie again he longs to heal her hurt—and claim her once and for all!

A Baby Blue Christmas by Cheryl St.John

Turner Price hasn't been the same since he lost his wife and child. But when he finds a young woman and newborn twin babies in his stable, he realizes this may be his second chance to be a loving husband and father, just in time for Christmas!

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The horse she'd borrowed from her neighbor was less than perfect, but sometime in the past her mother had dutifully told her something about beggars not being choosy about what they got, and Marianne smiled at the memory. The old mare was swaybacked, had but one gait beyond walking, and that jolting trot was less than comfortable to the young woman's sore bottom. She'd been riding for long hours, appreciative of the loan of the horse, but weary to her soul as she considered the future lying before her.

Mrs. Baker had written out instructions to her sister's home in the small town of Walnut Grove, Missouri, and sent Marianne on her way, the baby, Joshua, wrapped tightly in flannel blankets and with a small supply of diapers and wrappers for the child. Enough to last until Marianne could find work and a place to live. Her sister was Sarah, a woman with four children, but surely with enough goodness of heart to help a young girl on her own, Mrs. Baker had said.

December seemed to be an unforgiving sort of month, with snow on the ground and more in the air, causing dark clouds to hang heavily over the land, hiding the sun. Marianne had ridden for a day and most of a night already, stopping only to rest in an empty barn in the middle of a field. The house was gone, only stones and burned upright boards remaining to mark where once a family had lived. The barn had been warm—at least warmer than the windswept fields—and, huddled in a stack of moldy hay, Marianne had kept herself and her baby brother warm.

The prospect of meeting Mrs. Baker's sister, perhaps even today, kept her going, even as she ate the last of the biscuits and bits of cheese Mrs. Baker had sent along. The baby had drunk from his bottle, the milk not warmed but nourishing, and yet even that was coming to an end, for the bottle now held the last of the supply she'd carried with her.

Ahead of her lay a small town, the main street lined with shops and buildings on both sides, houses lined up neatly as she approached, a sign beside the road designating it as Walnut Grove. Children ran to and fro, not caring that the snow threatened, calling out to each other, playing in the road. They all had homes to go to, Marianne suspected, warm coats to wear and mothers to tend to their needs.

For the first time in a week, her loss seemed overwhelming. The planning and working to accomplish this trek had taken her mind from the perils she would face—a woman alone, a newborn child to care for and but enough cash to buy a meal or two.

The map in her pocket was clear. If she would but turn her horse to a side street, down this alley and then turn right, she would arrive at the home of Sarah Nelson, Mrs. Baker's sister. A kindly lady, she'd been told. And yet as she rode the mare close to the front porch, she heard a thundering roar from a man who erupted from the front door, fast on the heels of a young boy. Snatching up the child, the man delivered several hard swats of his palm against the boy's backside and tossed him back into the house, then turned and looked at Marianne.

"You lookin' for somebody, lady? Or just enjoying the scenery?"

Marianne froze atop the mare and shivered. "I was told that Sarah Nelson lives here," she said quietly, to which the man snorted, then opened the door and shouted words that echoed back from the hallway.

"Sarah. Somebody here wants to see you."

A small, skinny soul who bore but a slight resemblance to the sturdy form of Mrs. Baker came to the door, and a tentative smile lit her face. There was a resemblance after all, Marianne decided, there in that fleeting smile.

"I'm—or rather I was—a neighbor of your sister's, ma'am," Marianne began. "She told me I might find you here."

"I'm here, all right" was the harsh reply. "What do you want?"

"A place to get my little brother changed and warm and some milk to give him in his bottle."

The woman's face softened a bit and then she looked up at the man who towered over her. "Ain't got no room for anybody else in this house, girl. I'll give you a cup of milk for the baby, but that's the best I can do."

Marianne's heart sank. Mrs. Baker had been so sure…so certain that her sister would welcome the travelers. She watched as the skinny woman closed the door and waited until her return, just minutes later. Carrying a cup in her hand, she approached the horse, peering up at Marianne with a look of sorrow.

"Sorry I can't be more hospitable, but my man don't hold with givin' away the food he buys. I couldn't give you this, but I'm the one milks the cow and makes the butter and I told him it was mine to keep or give and I chose to give it to the babe."

"I thank you," Marianne said, well aware that there was no welcome here for her, hoping that Mrs. Baker would never find out how desperate her sister's situation was.

"Head on into town. You might be able to get some help at the general store."

Without awaiting a goodbye, the woman went back into the house, the door closing with a solid thud behind her. Marianne turned the mare and rode back down the drive and onto the road. The lights of several storefronts were still ablaze and she halted before the general store, sliding from the mare's back in a quick motion, holding her small brother to her breast.

The store was warm, redolent with the scents of leather and pickles and smoke from the potbellied stove that reigned in one corner. Behind the counter a woman watched her approach and bent a smile in her direction. "Hello there, young lady. You just arrive in town?"

"Yes," Marianne said quietly, shifting the burden of her brother to rest him against her shoulder.

"You got you a young'un there. Looks pretty much like a newborn, don't he?"

"He's three weeks old now. My brother, Joshua." Marianne pulled back the blanket and displayed the dark-haired child she held, his flawless skin pink and healthy looking.

"Sure is a good-lookin' young'un," the storekeeper said. "Where you heading, honey?"

"Nowhere, just looking for a place to stay for a bit. I had instructions to find a friend's sister, but she apparently doesn't have room for me, so I rode on."

"Who did you say you saw in town?"

"Sarah Nelson is the sister of my old neighbor. She sent me here, but Mr. Nelson didn't seem too hospitable."

"Hospitable! Hah, that's one word you couldn't apply to Henry Nelson. He's a mean one, gives poor Sarah a hard time of it. Treats those young'uns like slaves."

"Well, anyway, I won't be staying there, and I was wondering if you knew of anybody who needed help, maybe in the house or with their children. I'm a good hand with cooking and cleaning and such."

"Not around here, girl. Things are pretty tight in town, and with Christmas here, everybody's pretty well taken up with their own business. Them with kids is doing their best to make it a good holiday, baking and cooking and knitting up mittens and such. It's a poor town, sure enough, and barely enough to go around. I don't know of anybody who'd be needing help. At least, not help they'd be willing to pay for."

Marianne's heart sank. She'd expected no more, but her hope had been that she would find a place to rest her body and keep the baby warm. Even that seemed to be a dream, for there was no help to be found here.

"Tell you what, girl," the storekeeper said quickly. "I'll let you sleep in the storeroom for the night if you like. There's a kettle on the stove and tea in a tin out there and I can scrape up a loaf of bread and some milk for the baby if you like."

"I'd be ever so grateful," Marianne said, her heart beating rapidly as she recognized that she had a place for the night, and something warm to put into her stomach. "My name's Marianne. Can I do anything to pay for the room? Sweep your floors or something?"

"You just get yourself into that back room and lie down on the cot and we' ll find some fresh milk for that baby, and you can sleep a bit." The woman was kindly, Marianne thought, bustling back and forth through the store, locking up the front door and leading the way to a warm, dusty room where a small potbellied stove held the cold at bay, and offered a warm place to sleep.

A kettle atop the stove indeed held hot water, and a cup appeared with tea in the bottom of it, the leaves floating on the hot water that splashed into its depths. The water turned color as Marianne watched, and the scent of tea arose to tempt her nostrils.

"I haven't had a cup of tea since my mama died," she said, fighting back the tears that begged to be shed.

"Well, this one oughta make you feel some better, then. There's milk and sugar to put in it if you like, and a piece of fresh bread and some cheese to eat with it. I'll just wash out that baby's bottle and fill it up with milk for him."

The woman hummed beneath her breath as she pumped water and rinsed the bottle, then refilled it with milk and snapped the nipple in place. "That oughta be enough for him to last till morning."

"He doesn't drink a whole lot yet, about half a bottle at a time," Marianne said. "This is just fine. He'll have enough for his breakfast."

"I'll be back in the morning," the woman told her. "My name's Janet. Me and the mister live next door and we open up right early. Tomorrow's gonna be busy, being the day before Christmas, so I'll be back at dawn."

By the light of a candle and the glow from the stove, Marianne watched the woman leave from the back door, heard the click of the lock as she was safely left inside and settled down to feed Joshua and drink her tea. The bread was good— fresh and still soft. The cheese was nourishing and the milk seemed to agree with Joshua, for he drank his fill and then burped, loud and long, before he snuggled against Marianne's bosom and closed his eyes.

She lay down on the narrow cot, thankful for the warmth surrounding her. Her heart rose as she considered the generous spirit of the woman she'd just met, thankful she'd been given a bed to sleep in and food to eat. With no questions asked.

Joshua slept the whole night through and when the back door opened in the dim light of morning, Marianne sat up and rubbed her eyes, peering at the man ...

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