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Authors: Cynthia Keller

An Amish Christmas

BOOK: An Amish Christmas
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An Amish Christmas
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2010 by Cynthia Steckel

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

B
ALLANTINE
and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Frontispiece art: © 2010 iStockphoto

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Keller, Cynthia.
An Amish Christmas : a novel / Cynthia Keller.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-345-52380-8
1. Amish—Fiction. 2. Christmas stories. I. Title.
PS3572.I263A83 2010
813′.54—dc22    2010015471

www.ballantinebooks.com

v3.1

To Mark, Jenna,
and Carly

for whom I am grateful each and every day

And
for Jean Katz

we battle the darkness of sorrow
with the brilliant light of loving memory

Acknowledgments

It is a lucky writer who has the good fortune to have colleagues who are also friends. I have known and collaborated on many projects with my agent, Victoria Skurnick, for over two decades. She is supremely generous in deed and spirit, fantastically smart, and the most kindhearted person I know. She can also make me laugh until I cry, one of my favorite qualities in a person. In good times, she is the first to applaud me, and in bad, the first to extend a helping hand. It is a true privilege to call her my friend.

A special thank-you goes to Sharon Fantera, who is the godmother of this book and without whom it would not exist.

My editor, Linda Marrow, has been fantastic in every way, from her early support to her encouragement and wise suggestions. She is all you could want in an editor—plus, we had fun. I am thrilled and grateful that I had this opportunity to work with her.

I hope my husband and children know how touched I have been by their tireless cheerleading and their desire to help in whatever way I asked. Sharing this experience with you three has made it that much more meaningful. I love you with all my heart.

Contents
Chapter 1

“You’re looking a little pathetic there, Mom.”

As her daughter, Lizzie, entered the kitchen, the words startled Meg from her reverie. Leaning on both elbows at the kitchen’s butcher-block island, she’d been staring, unseeing, at the large tray of untouched cookies before her. She reached up to remove the tall witch’s hat she’d been wearing for the past two hours, and set it down beside the tray.

“They’re such cute cookies, aren’t they?” Meg asked her daughter in a wistful voice. “Not one trick-or-treater this year. I can’t believe it.”

Lizzie, her laptop computer tucked under one arm, paused to stare at her mother’s handiwork. “
Dude
, how long did it take you to make all these? They’re insane.”

“Don’t call me ‘dude,’ ” Meg responded automatically. “I thought it would be fun to try something different. It wasn’t a big deal.”

She had no intention of confessing to her fifteen-year-old how long the process had taken. After finally locating the correct chocolate cookies—the ones with the hollow centers—she had used icing to “glue” chocolate Kisses, points up, into the middles, then she’d painstakingly drawn hatbands and bows with a tiny tube of red icing. The result was rows and rows of miniature witch hats. Adorable. They would end up being tossed into the bottomless pits that were the stomachs of her thirteen-year-old son, Will, and his friends.

“Honestly, why do you bother?” Lizzie’s muffled voice came from inside their walk-in pantry closet. Meg knew her daughter was grabbing her favorite evening snack, two Pop-Tarts that she would eat right out of the foil package. “No one cares. It’s stupid.”

Meg quietly sighed. Maybe it
was
stupid to hang the tissue ghosts from the trees in their front yard. To carve the jack-o’-lantern that was the centerpiece of the arrangement on the front steps, with hay, gourds, stuffed scarecrow, and all. Okay, so Lizzie and Will were too old for the giant figures of witches and goblins that she’d taped on the windows. Lizzie was at some in-between stage, too cool to trick-or-treat but probably looking forward to next year, when some of the kids would have driver’s licenses. Meg anticipated there would be parties at different houses, no doubt with alcohol involved; she wasn’t looking forward to that phase. Will had also declined going from house to house this year, preferring to goof around with his buddies on someone’s driveway basketball court. But she’d thought Sam, her nine-year-old, might still have gotten a kick out of her decorations. Wrong. He never appeared to notice
them, and he’d barely made it through a half hour of ringing doorbells before declaring he’d had enough of this holiday. What on earth had happened to Halloween being so much crazy fun, the way it was when she was a child? Didn’t kids know how to enjoy a holiday anymore? Besides, she
was
cutting back on the fuss; in the past, she would have spent hours baking cookies for trick-or-treaters. This year she had simply combined premade ingredients.

Lizzie, armed with her snack, left the room as the jarring noise of the garage door opening announced that Meg’s husband was home. She watched James enter and set down his briefcase in the mudroom before coming toward her. He looked exhausted. As the top in-house legal counsel to a large software corporation, he more than earned his salary. Somehow he managed to withstand endless pressure, maintain constant accessibility, and coolly handle one crisis after another. And those were only a few of his job requirements, it seemed to her.

Pulling off his suit jacket, he gave Meg a perfunctory kiss on the cheek.

“Happy Halloween,” Meg said brightly.

“Ummm.” His attention was already on the day’s mail, which he retrieved from its customary spot on one of the counters. He was frowning as he flipped through the envelopes.

“Something wrong?”

“Too many bills, Meg.” He sounded angry. “Too many bills. It’s got to stop.”

She didn’t reply. In eighteen years of marriage, James had rarely complained about their bills. Sure, he wasn’t thrilled with paying private school tuition for three children, but it was
something he and Meg both wanted to do. Beyond that, it was understood between them and even among their friends that his wife was the saver and he was the spender.

Meg had always understood that
things
were important to her husband. It was he who purchased the designer suits, their fancy watches, her expensive jewelry. It was he who booked the first-class vacations. He was the one, in fact, who chose this enormous house. Even with three children, Meg had no idea why they needed five thousand square feet in one of the most expensive sections of Charlotte.

It was clear that growing up with very little had left a psychological scar on James that he tried to cover up with material trappings. She didn’t like it, but she understood. That was what he needed to feel comfortable. He didn’t brag or rub his success in anyone’s face. Still, it was as if he had to have more of everything just to feel he was level with everyone else.

Recently, though, he seemed to have undergone a change in thinking. He had started complaining regularly about everything she and the children spent.

“Are you hungry?” Meg moved to open the refrigerator door.

He slapped the mail back down on the counter. “I mean it! The spending has to stop. We need to batten down the hatches.”

She turned back to him. “You’re right,” she said soothingly. “We will—the hatches, I mean, and the battening. Now, can I get you something to eat?”

“I don’t want anything,” he snapped. “I’ll be in my study.”

Meg stared after him. Aside from his sudden financial prudence, he had been uncharacteristically irritable for a while
now. And it had been getting worse, she realized, not better. She heard the door to his study slam shut. James was typically calm, even in a crisis. Especially in a crisis, she amended. That was one of the things she loved about him.

They met as sophomores at the University of Illinois in a nineteenth-century American history class. Meg happened to sit next to him one day early in the semester. When he began to juggle a pen, an assignment pad, and an empty soda can, it made her laugh. She grew more interested in him when he was the only one in class who was able to discuss all the major battles of the Civil War before the reading had even been assigned.

BOOK: An Amish Christmas
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