Past relationships and close quarters stir up old emotions, making Christmas the perfect time for a magical connection in this heartwarming second chance Amish romance. Elsie Miller has witnessed -- and experienced -- Levi Wyse's forgetfulness too many times to count. But even after they broke things off, Elsie never forgot the handsome Amish toymaker or her love for him. So when Levi's sister asks her to help keep him organized for the busy Christmas season, Elsie agrees. But she didn't expect working alongside Levi to reignite those old feelings. Secretly, Levi's heart will always belong to Elsie. But she deserves a better man, one who isn't so absentminded . . . or responsible for a terrible tragedy. Now, she's at his workshop every day and as Christmas draws near, his reasons for staying away become harder and harder to remember. Will the spirit of Christmas heal past hurts and give Elsie and Levi the greatest gift of all: a future together?
Release date: October 27, 2020
Print pages: 320
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The Amish Christmas Gift
Laura V. Hilton
There he stood. Levi. The man of her longtime dreams. The man she once believed she would marry. The one she’d still marry in a heartbeat if…
She shooed the thought away. No point going there. Water under the bridge and all that.
He leaned over the counter saying something to the Englisch man on the other side. The Englisch man laughed as a sudden burst of wind caught a paper on the counter. The paper blew off. Neither man appeared to notice, but she gave chase, stalling its progress with her foot.
It was the size and shape of a folded check. Definitely important. Levi would be looking for it, upset that he lost it.
She’d been a victim of his skill at losing things too many times to count. Like the time he misplaced her during a date.
Elsie Miller still hadn’t figured out how that was possible, but she carried the receipt for the bus ticket home in her wallet as a tangible reminder.
Levi Wyse was nothing but trouble. Too bad he was so handsome. And too bad her heart had major problems remembering that he was trouble. Which was why she resorted to spying to avoid getting her feelings hurt when he would inevitably reject her and walk away…But she just couldn’t help but stare, long, wish, dream, and regret the way things had ended.
She peeked around the edge of the endcap at the handsome man now scrabbling for something on the floor in front of the register. Why was Levi in town on a Monday anyway? He hadn’t made a purchase, not that she knew of anyway, but had carried in a huge cardboard box full of something that rattled and had the Englisch clerk oohing and aahing and gushing nonsense about how “this year Santa Claus will be bringing lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Then, all in a dither, the clerk had called for the store owner, who came out of his office, talked quietly for a bit, then handed Levi a piece of paper. The one that he’d already lost. Though to be fair, it had been caught by a gust of wind that blew in with a customer, so it wasn’t entirely his fault.
Elsie knew exactly where it was, too. Under her foot. And she desperately wanted to know what the paper was. But finding out would involve leaving her hiding place, approaching Levi, and exchanging enough pleasantries to find out what the box held and what the owner had given him in exchange. And since he would rather run than talk to her, that was an open invitation for heartbreak. This was as close as she’d be able to get to Levi. The heartbreak was ever present.
Of course, she could unfold and look at the paper, before returning it to the clerk, while pretending Elsie didn’t know who Levi was. The same clerk who refused to give her a job application, stating very firmly that they weren’t hiring. A lie, because she’d given an application to another girl.
Elsie would rather give the paper to Levi. Just for the opportunity to share oxygen with him one last time before she left the Amish for good.
And that was assuming he would even speak to her, since the last time they’d had words—eighteen months ago—he’d accused her of lashing out irrationally. Her! Irrational! He was the one who’d lost her.
But since then, whenever he saw her coming, he turned and walked in the other direction.
As if she were the one in the wrong.
“Elsie Miller, as I live and breathe,” a voice boomed from behind her.
Elsie wanted to shush the man, but it was too late for that. Besides, George Beiler knew only one volume. Loud.
Levi shot to his feet so fast he whammed his head on the edge of the counter. He said something in a low rumble to the Englisch clerk and strode for the door.
Elsie gave him points for not running. But even so, he was getting away.
She bent and grabbed the edge of the folded paper. It flapped open enough to reveal that it was a check with a row of numbers that factored into a huge amount of money. Now curiosity really burned. She murmured her excuses to George, who was telling her—and everyone else in the store—about the ant farm he was buying for the school. As if anyone cared.
He cupped his ear and leaned near. “Speak up, missy,” he shouted.
Elsie smiled brightly, waved the check at George, and dashed after Levi. Well, sort of dashed, because a tourist bus chose that inopportune moment to grind to a stop, and the passengers making a mass exodus into the gift store blocked Elsie’s exit.
He continued his fast trot toward the hitching post. If he heard her, he ignored her.
A tall man wearing a black Stetson passing on the sidewalk stopped, turned, and gave a loud, piercing whistle. “Yo, Levi!”
Levi stopped. Turned. And with unfailing accuracy, his gaze connected with hers.
Her heart stuttered.
* * *
Levi’s foot tapped impatiently as he tried not to watch Elsie Miller maneuver her way through the crowd outside the touristy gift shop. One of several on the strip: gift shops, antiques shops and a thrift store, plus a small ice cream and sandwich shop. He’d been headed to the corner crosswalk so he wouldn’t get in trouble with the local police for jaywalking. Even now an officer sat in his cruiser, keeping an eye on traffic. Besides, Daed always used to scold him for that. Lesson learned when he was almost hit by a bus as a boy.
His gaze kept returning to Elsie like the homing pigeons his daed used to raise back before…well, before.
Before his life turned into tattered shreds, not even vaguely resembling its former glory.
Elsie’s strawberry-blond hair shone like rose-tinted gold in the early December sunshine, and the green dress she wore accented her pale-green eyes. A shade of mint today. She always wore some shade of green, at least ever since he’d mentioned how it brought her eyes to life and made them sparkle like homemade limeade Popsicles when the sun hit the ice crystals just right.
He should’ve commented on how cranberry-colored dresses would highlight the natural shades of juicy strawberry pink in her hair.
Actually, he should’ve kept his mouth shut and not said anything at all. It seemed as if she wore green to torment him and remind him of everything he’d had and somehow lost. Which included…everything.
And jah, it made him more than a little envious when he noticed her with another man, but since he quit attending singings and youth frolics eighteen months ago, that was at a minimum.
His gaze shifted to the Englisch wannabe cowboy now trotting beside Elsie, with the black Stetson, skinny jeans, and a loud Hawaiian-print button-down shirt, not tucked in. Worn cowboy boots completed the picture. The man looked like a thrift store full of discarded castoffs exploded on fill-your-bag-for-fifty-cents day.
He shouldn’t judge, but it was hard not to when the wannabe cowboy swaggered nearer to Elsie and shouted, “When you get tired of the pilgrim, babe, look me up.”
Elsie graced Wannabe Cowboy with a tight smile that still somehow brightened the world and continued toward Levi. Cowboy froze in position and watched. Levi tried not to smirk, because he was really in the same position. Elsie was the forbidden fruit—and oh, he craved her like cold water on a hot day.
Really, he had better things to do than watch temptation herself stroll through the burgeoning crowd toward him, though what they were escaped his memory. He forced himself to look away and pulled out his cell phone to check the time.
The bank closed in fifteen minutes and he needed to hurry—oh shoot. That’s right. He’d lost the check inside the store before he’d even gotten a good look at it. He’d counted on the money to pay toward his sister’s medical bills and to buy a few groceries so they could eat.
The phone buzzed in his hands with an incoming message from Luke Zook the furniture maker, a man he worked for occasionally. Not a job Levi preferred, but he couldn’t afford to be choosy. He turned away and opened the message.
Orders backed up. Need help winterizing house and getting wood in.
The furniture maker had kind of adopted Levi since he lost his only child in a tornado a year ago, and Levi had lost pretty much everything, but since the man already had one full-time employee, it seemed he thought Levi should work for pennies on the dollar. But still. He owed Luke.
On my way.
Traffic opened up and Levi dashed across the road to where his horse, Trouble, and buggy waited. The small town of Hidden Springs didn’t generally have that much traffic, but there was some sort of festival going on and tourists were bused in from who knows where.
Trouble nickered as Levi unhitched her, and he rubbed her nose. “I’ll give you a carrot stick when we get home.” If they had any carrots, which was doubtful. He needed a personal grocery shopper. And the money to pay for one.
He really needed the check he’d lost. At least the store owner had promised to send it when he found it. Or issue a new check.
Levi climbed into the buggy, signaled, and merged into traffic. And then he noticed Elsie standing beside the road, waving something and her mouth moving. She shouted something. Not that he heard her, since someone laid on the horn.
Oh. Shoot. She’d wanted to talk to him.
The horn blared again. Not to mention he had a job waiting.
Since he wasn’t sure what else to do, he waved back and drove on.
* * *
After Elsie finished her errands—aka an unfruitful job hunt—in town, she drove out to the small house where Levi and his sister, Abigail, lived. She had to drive past their place on her way home anyway so it was no trouble, except for the heart-wrenching possibility of seeing Levi. She still couldn’t believe the man just walked off and left her in town, and after she made a spectacle of herself in front of a busload of tourists and the man who made a point of following her around town, calling her “babe” and not so politely reminding her that the “Quaker dude” didn’t want her.
She was smart enough to figure that out on her own. She certainly didn’t need his help. But Levi needed his check, even if it meant she faced another rejection. Still, maybe she could sneak in and out without actually running into him. Or his sister.
Levi’s buggy wasn’t parked in its spot when she drove in, so maybe he’d had other errands. Relief warred with disappointment, but really she wouldn’t be brave enough to stop if he were obviously home. Most Amish in Hidden Springs left their doors unlocked, so even if no one was home, she’d be able to leave the check on the table and hopefully he could get it deposited before he lost it again. Elsie could leave a note to explain that was why she’d been trying to talk to him in town. The only reason.
She parked several feet away from the back porch wheelchair ramp and was halfway up when the door opened.
“Elsie?” Abigail peered out from her perch in the wheelchair. “What brings you by?”
Elsie smiled at her seventeen-year-old sister Mandy’s former best friend, and her friend, too, since all the girls used to hang out together. “Levi lost his check.” She pulled it from her pocket and held it out. “I brought it by. Can you give it to him?”
Ugh, that sounded rather formal. And stilted, but really, this was awkward. She hadn’t stopped at this house in…well, ever. The former one, a rambling farmhouse, had been blown away in a gas explosion close to two years ago, killing everyone inside except Abigail, who survived but might never walk again. Levi hadn’t been at home. Maybe. She wasn’t sure where else he would’ve been. Details were sketchy, and he’d refused to talk about it, though they’d continued to court for a time. And then they’d broken up soon after he lost her on a date.
Broken up, when she’d been expecting a proposal.
But he was the one who’d misplaced her on a date to an out-of-state wedding.
He was the one who’d accused her of lashing out irrationally when she’d confronted him about it.
Irrationally! When he’d offered no explanation about why he’d left her, lost her, or forgotten her. Okay, maybe she’d been a bit harsh, especially since he’d had a lot on his mind at the time, but still—
“Do you want to come in?” Abigail pushed the wood door open wider and opened the screen door.
“Um.” Elsie glanced toward the road. Was that a horse and buggy stirring up dust in the distance? “No, I have groc—”
“Please.” Abigail sounded close to tears. “I can’t lift the iron skillet down from the high shelf and Levi isn’t home yet. I was praying for help.”
Oh. She’d never been the answer to anyone’s prayers before. Usually they begged the Almighty for her departure, not her arrival. Hence her unfruitful job hunt today. She just wanted to be useful somewhere and to contribute money to her family’s needs instead of being a burden before she left forever…especially since her marriage prospects were as slim as her job search.
Organizational skills were her gift—but they no longer paid the bills. Not since the tornado blew the dentist office she’d worked for far away.
She shook her head. She wouldn’t think about that. She’d focus on the positive. “How can I help?”
Abigail wheeled back and shut the door as Elsie entered the kitchen. She laid Levi’s check on the table, set the almost empty sugar bowl on top. For a moment, she was tempted to cross to the woodstove and hold out her hands. It hadn’t been all that cold when she left home, but a cold front had arrived as her daadi’s aches and pains predicted, and she was caught totally unprepared. She should learn to listen to him and his pain-level forecasts.
“The skillet is up there.” Abigail pointed to an upper cabinet. “Levi was doing cleanup the other night and he just puts things wherever, which is so not helpful.”
Elsie opened the cabinet door and lifted the heavy iron skillet down. “What’s for supper?” She asked to be polite and because she didn’t know what else to say. Should she put the skillet on the table or the stove?
“Cabbage and sausage. It’s the last of the food except a little oatmeal for breakfast. I hope Levi got paid and remembered to buy food.” Abigail still sounded close to tears.
Elsie sat the skillet down on the stove and swung around. Her gaze went from the check on the table to the buggy parked outside the window where her family’s groceries waited. Her thoughts wandered to the full pantry shelves from all the canning they had done this past summer. Her family wouldn’t go without if she left the food she purchased here and shopped again tomorrow. Except, she’d only bought things they didn’t raise themselves, so the contents of her bags were probably worthless to Abigail. Flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa—well, she could make a chocolate cake. If she had the other ingredients.
It would be the nice thing to do. It also might help make up for the fact that Levi thought she was irrational. And maybe Gott would take notice and give her a job.
“I’ll be right back.” Elsie dashed for the door and went outside. A gust of wind blew her dress up around her knees and she hugged herself. The temperature must’ve dropped ten degrees while she was inside.
She grabbed the bags of food, hurried back into the house, and deposited them on the table.
“What’s that?” Abigail paused in chopping cabbage.
“Just a few things I picked up at the store.” Should she offer to bring more tomorrow? Probably she should talk to her family first.
“For us?” Abigail’s eyes widened.
No…not really, but maybe. Elsie pulled in a deep breath. “Jah.”
Abigail set down the knife as Elsie unloaded the bags. She reached for the cocoa powder as if it were a rare and valuable treasure. “Oh, I’ve been praying for chocolate. Gott is so good.”
That was almost enough to make Elsie cry. “If you have butter, eggs, and milk, we could make a cake.” We. Implying she’d stay. She cringed. “I should’ve said you.”
“No butter, about a cup of milk, and exactly one egg.”
Barely enough milk for a cup of hot cocoa. But Levi would surely milk the cow when he got home.
“He sold the cow.” As if Abigail read her mind. She glanced out the window at the barn.
Elsie followed her gaze. The barn door was open now. She needed to hurry and get out of here before Levi walked in.
Oh, this poor family. Why hadn’t the community been made aware of the need? Or had Levi simply failed to mention it because he worked from sunup to sundown and…
Speaking of which, where was all that money going? Daed had mentioned last church Sunday that Levi must have a padded bank account.
Abigail adjusted the position of her wheelchair.
Right. Funeral expenses. Medical bills. And Abigail’s ongoing therapy.
Elsie’s gaze went to the table, to the check waiting. There were multiple numbers. Then she glanced at Abigail, still cradling the cocoa powder, a bright smile on her face.
Was the community not helping with the medical bills or were they unaware of that need, too?
Elsie pulled in a quick breath. “Do you need help with anything else before I go?” She needed to be gone before Levi arrived.
Abigail returned the cocoa to the table and picked up the knife to finish slicing the cabbage. “No. Danki so much for what you did. And danki for stopping by.”
Elsie nodded, biting her tongue to keep from promising more food tomorrow, though she was certain her parents would agree. “I’ll try to come back sometime and help you organize the kitchen better. Don’t forget to mention the check to Levi.”
She sucked in a breath to try to prepare for the frigid cold and opened the door.
The screen door blew out of her grasp, almost slamming into Levi, who was standing there out of the wind, cell phone to his ear.
His gray eyes widened and he held up a finger, telling her to wait, but she dashed past with an exaggerated shiver.
They had nothing to say to each other anyway.
Levi half listened as the employer he’d meet Tuesday morning—tomorrow—detailed what exactly he was contracting Levi to build, but mostly he watched the sway of Elsie’s body as she speed walked to the buggy. Her skirts whipped around her legs, giving tantalizing glimpses of skin. He wanted to put down the phone and race after her to discover what she’d wanted in town, and why she’d stopped by to deliver the message personally.
Well, personally to Abigail, anyway.
It probably was about some women’s frolic Abigail wouldn’t be able to attend, because she couldn’t get into a buggy without being lifted in and out, and he couldn’t afford a driver all that often.
Whatever it was, it didn’t concern him, because she hadn’t even bothered to give him a simple greeting. He was the one who’d avoided her in town, though, until that wannabe cowboy so rudely caught Levi’s attention. And then he stood there tapping his feet while waiting for Elsie to catch up. But then he’d gotten sidetracked and raced off to a job instead of remembering that Elsie had called out to him. He was the one who was willing to forgo the check he’d dropped for an undisclosed amount just to avoid seeing her…and breaking his heart. Again.
Sins had consequences. And he was the worst of sinners.
Mostly, he wanted to gaze into her beautiful green eyes and dream about what might’ve been. Back when she loved him. Liked him. Well, at least tolerated him. He didn’t want the cold, sharp shards of green glass he’d looked into after his sister fell during her extended stay at the hospital. After he accidentally forgot he’d taken Elsie to an out-of-state wedding and had rushed back to Illinois to be with his sister. Of course, she might’ve understood if he’d explained, but she lashed out and broke up with him before he could and after that the reason was unimportant. She no longer needed to know.
Elsie scampered into the buggy and drove away as the man on the other end of the phone started repeating himself. Levi might be only half listening, but he was sure of that. Obviously, the Englischer sat in a warm place and wasn’t standing outside in the cold wind. Abigail probably wouldn’t tell, though, if he broke the district’s no-phone-calls-in-the-house rule, due to the circumstances.
He watched Elsie make the turn onto the d. . .
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