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Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray

A Christmas Bride in Pinecraft

BOOK: A Christmas Bride in Pinecraft
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Dedication

To Tom, Arthur, and Lesley

Epigraph

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

For the Mighty One has done great things for me.

Holy is His Name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

Remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever,

Even as he said to our fathers.”

M
ARY'S
S
ONG,
L
UKE 1:46–55 (
KJV
)

Sometimes the dreams that come true

are the dreams you never knew you had.

A
MISH PROVERB

Contents
Chapter 1
December 2

B
everly Overholt froze in shock the moment she turned the corner onto her street and spotted a group of flashing red and blue lights in front of her inn. She blinked, sure that her eyes were deceiving her. Surely she was simply imagining that the lights were located right in front of the Orange Blossom Inn! Perhaps they were merely the reflection of one of her neighbors' Christmas lights? Some neighbors had strung lights over every tree and shrub in their front yard.

Then reality set in. The lights weren't Christmas decorations. They were coming from the three police cars parked at the curb.

Immediately, instinctually, Beverly started praying.

The prayers continued as she started forward on the sidewalk, asking the Lord to give her the strength to handle whatever had
just happened to the lovely three-story Victorian house that was not only her place of business, but her home, too. And although those prayers were undoubtedly giving her some strength, one thing was becoming very apparent: Even the Lord's help wasn't going to make Beverly calm, cool, or collected.

No. She was on the verge of becoming a nervous wreck. Panic set in as a dozen scenarios clouded her mind. Had someone gotten hurt? Was the inn on fire? A line of sweat trickled down her back, the perspiration having nothing to do with the heat and everything to do with the fears taking hold of her.

Unable to tear her gaze from the large crowd gathered in front of the inn, she picked up her pace, racing past her neighbors' houses without a scant look at their merry decorations. She was quickly winded as the canvas bag on her shoulder began to feel like it weighed a hundred pounds. All the Christmas gifts she'd bought that morning now felt like heavy burdens. To make matters worse, the tote kept thumping painfully against her hip with each step. And when it wasn't, it felt as if it might pull her arm from her shoulder. She was tempted to drop it on the ground and simply pick it up later.

Just as she was about to divest herself of that bag, her best friend appeared out of the crowd and snatched it from her hands. “I've got this, Beverly,” Sadie said in that forthright way of hers.


Danke
,” she murmured, reverting to the Pennsylvania Dutch of her childhood, as was her way when she was anxious. “Do you know what's happened?”


Nee
. I just noticed the police lights a moment ago. You go on ahead. I'll hold on to your tote and bring it by later.” She reached out and grabbed Beverly's arm as she started forward. “Oh, and
do try not to panic, dear. Just because a couple of police cars are parked in front of the inn, it don't necessarily mean that there's something wrong.”

If her heart hadn't felt like it was permanently lodged in her windpipe, Beverly would have stopped and given her best friend a look of pure disbelief. Of course something was wrong! She felt it as surely as if there were loudspeakers lining the street, proclaiming to one and all that very thing.

In the three years that she'd lived in Pinecraft, Beverly had never seen such a police presence. This was a safe community. Peaceful.

Well, until now.

Though puzzling, her friend's well-meaning words enabled her to refocus. Falling apart now wouldn't help anything and would only serve to make things worse. She had to be strong. Picking up her stride, she walked into the gathered crowd, then stopped abruptly when the inn finally came into full view.

What a sight it was!

One of the parlor windows was broken, the front door hung wide open, and uniformed officers stood scattered around the lot as yellow police tape kept the onlookers at bay.

As she looked from one officer to another, panic set in again. She couldn't determine who to approach.

So she scanned the crowd for familiar faces, for anyone who might be able to give her some indication about what had happened. But most folks, unfortunately, simply looked shocked.

Then she spied Zack Kaufmann. She'd gotten to know him and his family well a couple of months ago when he'd been courting one of her guests.

“Zack?” she called out as she made her way over to him.

He stepped forward, waving a tan arm above his straw hat. “There you are!” he exclaimed as he looked her over. His usually bright blue eyes were shadowed with worry. “The police have been waiting for you.”

She pressed her lips together to keep them from trembling and drew in a shaky breath. “Zack, what happened? Do you know anything?”

“As far as I can tell, it looks like you've had a break-in.”

“A break-in?” It didn't even make sense. She'd never heard of any sort of crime happening in Pinecraft. Why, some people even left their doors and windows unlocked! Not her, though. This inn meant everything to her.

Zack looked as if he was attempting to figure out a way to reassure her when his eyes lit up on someone approaching her from behind. “Oh,
gut
,” he murmured. “Officer Roberts, this here is Beverly Overholt. She owns the inn.”

“Runs,” Beverly corrected absently. Until earlier this year, she'd believed she'd owned the inn, having inherited it after her aunt's passing. Now she knew that Eric Wagler was the actual owner. Her aunt had merely been renting the property and now Beverly just managed it for him.

Immediately, a new dread coursed through her. Oh, how was she going to tell Eric what had happened? And when she did, what was he going to say? Would he blame her for this mess? Though she had no guests this week, she certainly hoped no one had been nearby and gotten hurt. Staring at the building, she bit her lip so hard she drew blood. What had actually happened?

“Miss Overholt, are you all right?” Officer Roberts asked. His light brown eyes filled with concern. “You're looking a bit pale.”

With a shake of her head, Beverly made herself focus on the scene in front of her. Pulling her shoulders back, she strengthened her resolve. “I'm all right, Officer.
Danke
.” But her voice sounded faint and distracted, even to her ears.

“Sure?” He held out one hand, as if he feared that she might collapse at his feet.

She didn't blame him. She felt foggy and out of sorts. “Positive. However, I will admit to feeling mighty confused. What in the world has happened?”

“You had a break-in, ma'am.”

“I see.” She'd been hoping Zack was wrong, but now that the officer had confirmed it, she began to feel slightly ill as visions of what that meant flooded her brain. Someone uninvited had entered her home. Most likely stolen from her. And if the window was any indication, they had obviously damaged the place.

Zack grabbed her arm when she began to sway on her feet. “Easy now, Miss Beverly.”

“Yes. Let's go sit down,” Officer Roberts said. Snapping his fingers, he called out, “Hey, Morris? Is the front room clear?”

“Yep, we're good,” another policeman replied.

Officer Roberts rested a hand on her shoulder lightly. “Come with me, Miss Overholt. We'll go sit inside and I'll fill you in on what we know.”

When she hesitated, Zack said, “Are you going to be all right?”

“Would you mind coming in with me?” She was nervous about sitting alone with a police officer.

Zack nodded. “I'll be happy to. Give me a minute and I'll bring over my wife as well.”

Beverly sighed with gratitude as Zack trotted off. She didn't particularly want to sit with the policeman by herself. And though Zack and Leona were only in their early twenties, almost ten years younger than herself, she considered them to be her good friends.

Zack paused. “Bev, want me to bring Miss Sadie in, too?”

Beverly saw Sadie chatting with others in the crowd. Though she loved her best friend, Sadie could be quite the gossip. The last thing she needed was for Sadie to relay her private conversation with the police to the rest of Pinecraft.

With all that in mind, Beverly shook her head. “
Nee
. She has my tote bag, but I, um, would rather it just be the four of us for now.”

“Gotcha. I'll grab the bag from Sadie, then Leona and I will be right there.”


Danke
, Zack.”

Beverly followed Officer Roberts up the front stairs of the inn and for the first time in her memory, she wasn't looking at the pretty flower beds she'd spent hours tending or the colorful welcome mat. She wasn't feeling proud of the neat and attractive way she kept the inn. Instead, she was noticing the broken glass littering the porch and the scratches surrounding the front door.

But then, as she crossed the threshold, Beverly couldn't help but gasp. The main gathering room was in complete disarray: Furniture had been knocked over; her pretty framed prints were off the walls and lying in pieces on the floor; and one of her prized hurricane lamps had been shattered.

“Ack, but this is terrible.” Tears pricked her eyes. “Who would do such a thing?”

Officer Roberts looked dismayed as they walked carefully through the pieces of broken glass. “I'm sorry, Miss Overholt, but I have no idea.”

“It's Beverly, Officer. Please call me Beverly.”

“Oh, my goodness,” Zack's wife, Leona, whispered as she entered the room. Her brown eyes widened and she looked as shocked as Beverly felt. It was only after Zack whispered in her ear that she began to walk forward hesitantly. Once by Beverly's side, she reached for her hand. “I'm so sorry, Beverly.”

“I am, too.”

Leona straightened a couch cushion and said, “Let's sit down.”

Beverly did as Leona suggested and squeezed her friend's hand as Officer Roberts perched on the edge of the chair across from her and fidgeted uncomfortably.

“Beverly, two hours ago, we got a call from a neighbor who noticed that one of your front windows was broken and things didn't look right. We drove by and saw the front door was cracked open. We checked things out, but whoever did this was long gone. I'm sorry to tell you that the majority of the main floor looks a lot like this room. The intruder caused extensive damage.”

“In the guest rooms, too?” She was almost afraid to ask.

“No, luckily, it doesn't seem as if the culprit was interested in the guest rooms.”

“I suppose that's something,” she murmured, though she wasn't sure the knowledge really helped her all that much. As she looked around, she shook her head at the wreckage. The destruction all seemed so unnecessary.

“Do you have any current guests?”


Nee
. I don't have any guests right now.”

At Eric's urging, she'd given herself a week's vacation. She'd wanted a little time to sleep late, shop, and relax before the next round of guests arrived for Christmas. Taking a week off had sounded like a wonderful idea, especially since she knew how full the inn would be the rest of the month. But now she wondered why it had ever sounded good at all.

Why had she ever thought she needed a break in the first place? If she'd had guests, no one would have dared to come inside. Her mind continued to race. Or had someone been watching the inn? Had they known it was empty? It was such a disconcerting thought that she couldn't bear to dwell on it.

“Good to know.” Officer Roberts punched something into his phone. “We'll do our best to find those responsible, ma'am. But in the meantime, when you're ready, we'll need you to walk through the inn and tell us what's missing.”

He continued on about fingerprints and motives, police reports and pawnshops, but none of what he said made much sense to her. Not that it mattered. Beverly was done listening. She really couldn't take anymore. Someone had ruined her livelihood. She felt as betrayed as she had when she'd discovered her fiancé had fallen in love with her best friend all those years ago.

Taking a deep breath, she tried to push those thoughts away. This wasn't the time to revisit those painful wounds.

“Are you going to be all right?” Zack asked. “Do you want me to get you a glass of water or something?”

“I'm fine,” she said at last and tried to mean it.

Because she had no choice.

“Your insurance should cover the damage,” Zack said quickly, as though not having to worry about the financial repercussions would ease her mind. It didn't. Insurance money could not replace the most valuable thing stolen from her today: her sense of security.

But Beverly nodded anyway. “
Jah
. I imagine it will.”

“Do you want me to call Eric for ya?” Leona offered. “I don't mind.”

She looked at Leona and shook her head. “
Nee
. I'll do it.”

“Who's Eric?” the officer asked.

Beverly said, “He's the owner of the inn.” But in truth, he was more than that. During the last few months, he'd also somehow become the best friend she'd ever had.

She only hoped when he heard her news that that would still be the case.

BOOK: A Christmas Bride in Pinecraft
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