KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH: Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench where readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!
A MOMMY BY CHRISTMAS
A Christmas Ridge Romance Book 2
BY DONNA SCHLACHTER
Tasmyn Wright, consigned to remain single if that’s what God wants, is lonely. Maybe she needs a fur-pet. On a whim, she visits the local animal shelter. A delightful man about her own age helps her choose her new housemate, a long-haired calico she promptly names Belle because the creature is so beautiful. And as captivated as she is with her choice, the kind man at the shelter takes up far too much of her thoughts. But with a new member of her household, her work-at-home job as a print broker, and her volunteer work at the community care center, she has no time for romance.
Wim Sutton, the widowed father of seven-year-old Noah, loves his job as veterinarian at the shelter. Not only does he get to fix up sick or injured animals, he thrills at matching adoptees with their forever families. Take Tasmyn Wright, for example. Clearly Belle was in kitty heaven-on-earth. Still, he senses the cat will have its work cut out if it’s going to bring Tasmyn out of her shell. Although she occupies a good deal of his thoughts, he needs to focus on his son and his job. Since his wife’s passing suddenly from cancer the year before, Noah has struggled in school and in church. No, he needs to focus on his own family before he even thinks about expanding it.
Friday, November 4th
Christmas Ridge, Colorado
Tasmyn Wright lifted her shoulders to release tension in her neck and back, delighting at the three or four distinct pops signaling vertebrae slipping back into the proper place. She clicked send on the online ordering form on her screen, then made a notation on the cover of her client’s file and added it to the to be filed pile. Which she fully intended to get to—tomorrow.
She loved her work as a print broker. Enjoyed interacting with clients—most of the time. Had a good relationship with several print suppliers. And relished the creative aspect of designing logos and brand marketing. Not to mention the bonus of operating almost entirely from home. She joked about her situation—that she worked from home before it was cool to do that.
But as fulfilling and profitable as her occupation was, it wasn’t her vocation. That, she would have to say, was helping people. Sure, providing a useful and critical service to clients was helpful, but not in the same way her volunteering at the community care center—food bank didn’t even come close to describing her vision for this service—filled a need within the community. And within herself, too.
Despite all the great ideas, and the flyers, and that her ministry—dare she even call it that?—offered multiple food and personal care options, attendance hadn’t grown as she’d hoped. Not that she wanted folks to need help—but in an imperfect world, until Jesus returned, that was bound to be the case.
She opened the community care center spreadsheet and scanned the numbers of attendees over the past three months. Few to none. Her heart sank to her toes. Difficult to justify all the hours she invested at the community center that hosted her care ministry. And unless the numbers increased, her suppliers weren’t likely to want to do more, either. Not to even mention near to impossible to recruit volunteers. Nobody wanted to stand around and twiddle their fingers when they could be more active and involved elsewhere. Like the church daycare. Or the Lions Club Christmas Stocking program. Seemed everywhere she turned at this time of year, another charitable group had something special planned.
Still, if she could help just one family…
But how? In the past, she’d hoped signs in businesses and word of mouth about the food available would convince folks to come out. One evening a week, that’s all. After most had finished work for the day.
Tasmyn sat back in her chair and chewed on the end of her pen before tossing it on to the desk. What did she hope to achieve with the community care center? To provide nutritious meals for folks struggling with buying groceries.
Her phone rang. “Hello?”
“Yes. Is this the food bank lady?”
Tasmyn winced. Community care center. More than just food for the body. She pasted on a smile, hoping the woman on the other end could feel it. “Yes, it is.”
“I was wondering if you pay utility bills?”
She held back a groan. At least three times a week, calls came in looking for money to pay the cable bill, rent, car repairs. Food, she had. Money, she did not. “No, I’m sorry. We provide fresh and non-perishable food and personal care items right now. Come see us, save your grocery money, and pay your bills with that instead.”
“Okay, thanks. I spent my money on groceries already. But maybe I’ll come see you next week.”
“Have you tried your church? They sometimes have a benevolence fund.”
“Don’t go to church.”
“Well, if you’re looking for—”
The line went dead, and Tasmyn disconnected. The same story, over and over. Either they didn’t fellowship, or they’d worn out their church with their needs. Still, at least this woman called. So many wouldn’t. They’d struggle along until the phone company disconnected their service, the bank repossessed their car, or the power company shut off their electricity. Next, they’d lose their housing. Maybe even their kids if Social Services found out. There had to be a better way.
How to convince folks there was no shame in accepting help?
If she could empower them to make better choices, such as accept free food and use that money to pay bills, that’s how. Show them how to take control of their finances, instead of playing catch-up all the time. Or hide-and-seek from their creditors. Demonstrate how to prioritize their expenses so they didn’t stay in this cycle of running out of money before they ran out of month.
She smiled. This was why she’d started the community care center. Yes, meeting the immediate need was important, but as the adage went, teach a man to fish…
While she often felt like a fish out of water in dealing with the clients at the community care center, petitioning suppliers for donations was much like brokering print deals for clients. Ask for more than she knew they would give, counter their offer, and thank them as if it were their idea. Send a thank-you card. One to them, one to their direct supervisor. Tasmyn understood the business world—folks simply trying to get ahead.
She opened her favorite design software and set about choosing colors and designs for a flyer. In keeping with the season and the theme—Let food pay your bills—she selected orange tones, yellows, and greens. A brief description about the community care center, times, location, and what was on offer. Images of groceries. Oh, a paid bill image. Perfect.
She printed a sample, adjusted the font size and position of an image, then printed another. Satisfied, she set the printer to churning out twenty flyers.
While she waited, she scanned the calendar on her cell. She needed a deadline.
A second glance at the still-open attendance report reminded her of the dismal numbers. Five was the highest. Okay. She drew a deep breath, held it, then exhaled.
“If I don’t have at least twenty-five clients attending each week by Thanksgiving, I’ll call it quits.”
She retrieved the flyers from the printer and tapped them into a neat bundle, ready for delivery tomorrow.
Like Gideon in the Bible, she’d lay out that fleece. If the prayed-for clients didn’t materialize, God must want to use her elsewhere.
Where would the Almighty choose to use a forty-two-year-old spinster?
Too bad she wasn’t Catholic. Then she could join a convent.
A drop of perspiration slid down Wim’s nose, threatening to contaminate the sterile surgical field that contained a now-three-legged Brittany Spaniel, surgical robing, and his instruments.
He turned his head to one side, then wrenched his neck another notch to dislodge the offender. The liquid dropped to the floor.
Wim closed his eyes a moment, pressing his shoulders down to relieve the ache between his shoulder blades. Thank you, God.
The last thing he needed was to have to sterilize the area again. After six surgeries—two emergencies, including this one—and a full day here at the Christmas Ridge Animal Shelter, he didn’t need any more delays.
Three more stitches, a dab with a gauze ball to check for leakage—all looked good. He called out to his veterinary assistant/receptionist. “Harmony. I’m done here. Will you do the final cleanup? I’ll help you move him to a kennel for recovery.”
“Sure, Doc Wim. Let me scrub up first.”
Wim appreciated his assistant’s go-to attitude. Whatever he asked of her, from assisting with a difficult patient, to cleaning up vomit—or worse—in an examination room, to surgical nurse duties—always a smile. A kind word. A gentle touch.
She’d make a fine wife to some young man someday.
He eased down on the anesthesia to prepare for concluding the surgery and moving the dog. The unfortunate creature, found injured on the highway, would awaken minus one front leg. But the amputation went well. The beast was healthy and young, and Wim expected a full and speedy recovery. Only after that would he hopefully find the dog a new forever home.
And speaking of recovery, he had several patients that needed checking before he could even think about picking up his second grader, Noah, from after-school care. Harmony entered, living up to her name, as usual, bringing an air of calm and peace with her.
He nodded and backed away from the table, pausing outside the door to strip off his cotton surgical scrubs and hat, tossing his latex gloves in the trash, then pushing through the swinging doors into the recovery area.
He peered into the kennel containing the most critical patient currently—a green parrot with a prolapsed cloaca, rushed in earlier in the day by a most concerned owner, who thought its insides were coming out. Well, they were. Not the intestines, thankfully. Prolapses were common in the larger birds, as he explained to Mrs. Sawyer, and usually surgery was successful if dealt with immediately. The parrot lay on its side, eyes open, beak moving. Good signs. He checked that food and water were available, watched the respirations for a minute to ensure the animal wasn’t in stress, then moved on to his other patients.
Three cats he’d spayed this morning snoozed in their crates. A dog who’d undergone the removal of his dew claws lifted a sleepy head. All looked well-recovered from their ordeals, and all would likely go home tomorrow. Even the parrot, if he held his own through the night.
The bell over the front door rang, and Wim straightened and checked the clock. Thirty minutes until closing. Always seemed like a few last-minute folks would drop in—hopefully no emergencies.
He stepped into the combination retail area/waiting room. “Mrs. Grant. How are you?”
The woman pulled a piece of paper from her purse. About eighty, dressed in a coat and hat that were at least forty years old, she looked the image of the Queen Mother. She held up the paper with trembling fingers. “I need more of that prescription food. Mollie only likes this kind.” She leaned closer. “She’s fussy. Like me.”
As always, Wim smiled at her. “Not fussy. Particular because she—and you—like the best.”
And, as always, the older lady’s cheek went pink. “You’re so kind. Ten cans, if you please.”
Knowing Mollie’s preference, Wim kept a twelve-pack on hand with the woman’s name on it. And, as usual, he gave her the full case for the cost of ten. It was their secret. “There you go. I’ll just carry that out to your car.”
Amidst protests that he was busy, and she could make several trips—also part of their personal drama—he did as he said, smiling at the man, woman, and young girl who waited their turn. “I’ll be right back.”
Sure enough, he returned within a minute or so. “How can I help you?”
The woman laid her hands on the counter. “Are we too late to look at puppies?”
“Well, you’re too late to take one home today, but sometimes that’s better because you have time to meet them and think about them overnight.” He squatted down to the little girl’s level. “What kind of puppy do you want?”
“A brown one.” Large blue eyes stared back at him from a face so pale he could see the veins under her skin. And the dark circles ringing her eyes. “I’m going to call him Brownie.”
He straightened and included the parents. “I think we have some brown ones.” He led the way to a doorway to another part of the building. “This is the dog side of the shelter. You’ll find a volunteer who can show you the puppies.” He waited until the mother and daughter exited the area, then leaned close to the father. “But maybe she’d do better with an older dog. They are less active, particularly in her situation, perhaps?”
The father nodded. “I’d thought the same thing.” He swallowed hard. “Her mother wants a dog that will grow up with her, but I don’t know…”
Wim laid a hand on the man’s arm. “I understand this is a difficult time for you right now. Perhaps adding a dog to the family isn’t the best idea.”
“I can’t disappoint her now that we’re here. But thank you for telling us we can’t take one home tonight. That surely takes the pressure off her mother and me.”
“Do you believe in prayer?”
“We do. The doctors have given her less than three months. They’ve done all they can, but we’re not giving up.”
Wim moved his hand to the man’s shoulder and petitioned the throne of grace for God to intercede on behalf of the little girl and her family.
A tear trickled down the father’s cheek, which he swiped away. “Thank you for taking the time.”
“Whether or not you get a dog, come back anytime.”
“Thank you.” He held out a hand. “John Thomas. My wife Elsie and our daughter Victoria.”
“Her name means victory. Or victor. She’s a tough little one.” Wim shook his hand. “Wim Sutton. Wish we could have met under better circumstances.”
John nodded and followed his family through the doorway.
When the door closed, Wim checked the parking lot, locked the front door, then turned the sign to show they weren’t open. He chuckled at the wording for business hours. The Doc is in. Sit! Stay! And the version that communicated they weren’t: The Doc is out. Way out.
A glance at the clock behind the counter confirmed what his weary bones told him: Close enough to six—two minutes to go. He emptied the trash can behind the counter, picked up a candy wrapper dropped behind a chair in the waiting area, and wiped down the counter and chairs with antiseptic wipes. Harmony would vacuum then mop before she left.
Laughter filtered under the door leading to the dog area, and, for a moment, he pictured the little girl sitting in the midst of the half dozen puppies, the little creatures climbing all over her. Licking her pale skin. Bringing a smile to the face that had seen so much in her brief life.
He didn’t know how her parents could keep up such a brave face. He hadn’t with Lora. No matter how much she’d tried to distract him from the inevitable, he failed to see anything good in the experience. Not even God.
But then…in Lora’s final days, when he stayed with her around the clock as she lay there, unresponsive most of the time…except for those seconds when she’d open her eyes, stare at him, grip his hand. And ask him if he could see it.
It changed each time. The white light. The gates of heaven opening for her. The face of Jesus. Her parents. His.
By the time she passed, he wished he was going, too. She made it sound so peaceful and calm. So loving.
Her visions were exactly what he needed to let her go. Not to a cold grave and uncertainty, but to a heavenly realm made for her in mind. Just as Jesus had said. He went to build a mansion.
Lora gave him the strength to carry on for their son after her passing. Perhaps that’s what little Victoria was doing for her parents. While the dog might outlive their daughter—which they well knew—maybe its presence would remind them of happier times until they met again one day, long down the road.
Thinking about the little girl with a triumphant name reminded him of his own child. Noah. He sure lived up to his moniker: quiet repose. Rarely sharing his thoughts. Wim never knew what his son would come up with next. Not that he didn’t have good vocabulary skills. He was top of his second grade for reading aloud, comprehension, writing stories. It was simply that the boy never opened to share his feelings. Had his mother’s passing the previous year scarred him emotionally? Maybe he needed to ask at school about family counseling…
He sighed and headed out the back door toward his car. Something else to add to his list. Already, being a full-time dad, full-time veterinarian, and full-time child of God took more hours than he had. Not to mention also being a full-time mom, cook and housekeeper—was he doing well at anything?
A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing
Links to Donna’s website, blog, books, etc.
Available for preorder now:
Print releases November 8th!
Check out Donna’s books on Amazon:
Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!
Question: Do you think you’d like living in a small town like Christmas Ridge? Why or why not?
Thanks, Donna, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!