Authors: Irene Brand
“Wonderfully written, both
The Gift of Family
Child in a Manger
can open up the reader's eyes and heart to just what Christmas and God's love really mean. Two tales that will warm your heart this holiday seasonâ¦. Make it a must-get on your present list.”
âRomance Reviews Today
“Irene Brand pens a heartwarming romance with a strong message.”
“Ms. Brand writes stories that touch the soul and bring the reader closer to God with their tellingâ¦.”
Romance Reviews Today
On THE CHRISTMAS CHILDREN:
“â¦a delightful and heartwarming reminder of the meaning of Christmas.”
PRAISE FOR DANA CORBIT:
On AN HONEST LIFE:
“An enjoyable readâ¦.”
“With a delicate touch, Dana Corbit weaves Scripture, spiritual teachings and romance into an entrancing tale. If you are looking for something inspirational to read over the holidays, don't miss
An Honest Life.
âRomance Reviews Today
On A NEW LIFE:
“Dana Corbit's moving account of two people seeking love will enchant readers.”
You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.
thick sheet of snow and ice blanketed the interstate. Seated in the front passenger's seat of the church van, Livia Kessler's back stiffened, and she grabbed for the handle over the door every time a gust of wind swayed the vehicle sideways. Livia prayed silently for the driver, Eric Stover, who gripped the steering wheel with both hands in his attempt to control the van. She glanced over her shoulder. The other members of their church's vocal quintet slept soundly, oblivious to the dangerous weather conditions.
The singers had made their last presentation earlier in the day at a morning worship service in a large church in Detroit. They'd eaten a light lunch and started south on Interstate 75 anticipating an easy five-or six-hour drive to their destination in Columbus, Ohio.
A mixture of sleet and rain had been falling when they left Detroit, but they'd soon left the moisture be
hind. When they crossed Michigan's state line into Ohio, they drove a few miles without any precipitation. As they'd bypassed the city of Toledo, however, they encountered a wind-driven, wet snow that accumulated quickly on the highway.
The flip-flap-flop of the wipers as they moved rhythmically back and forth on the windshield mesmerized Livia. She started yawning. Knowing she had to stay awake to encourage Eric, she opened the window a gap to bring fresh air into the van. The air was fresh, all right. In fact, it was frigid. She hurriedly closed the window.
“If this keeps up we won't make it back to Columbus tonight,” she said quietly.
Taking a deep breath, Eric said, “I know. If the snow is heading northeast, we'll soon move past it. If not, we'd better look for a motel.”
Tomorrow would be Christmas Eve, and all of them wanted to get home before then. “But Sean's plane leaves for California at ten o'clock,” Livia said, knowing that the tenor member of their singing group wanted to be home for Christmas.
Nodding his head, Eric said, “I know, but I'm more concerned about our safety than his plane trip. When a strong wind gust sideswipes the van, I don't have much control over it. Can you turn on the radio? It may wake the others, but I'd like to hear a weather report.”
Livia scanned the radio options until she picked up a strong FM station. They'd just missed the news apparently, because the DJ said, “Folks, sit back and listen to your favorite Christmas songs.”
The gentle sounds of “I'll Be Home for Christmas” increased Livia's disappointment. Sean wasn't the only one who wanted to go home. Livia was a student at Ohio State University, and she intended to leave for her home in southern Ohio as soon as they returned from the singing engagement. In her twenty years, she had never missed a Christmas on Heritage Farm. If they had to lay over at a motel until this storm was over, she wouldn't make it home to observe Christmas with her parents, siblings and her little nephew. She couldn't miss Derek's first Christmas!
Eric slowed when they reached the city limits of Bowling Green. The change of pace awakened the passengers. Tall, thin Sean King unfolded his muscular legs, rubbed his eyes and leaned forward as a meteorologist announced, “We interrupt our musical program for a severe weather warning. A blizzard, with wind gusts in excess of forty miles per hour, is sweeping across northwestern Ohio. In some areas, a foot of snow already covers the ground, with a predicted accumulation of another foot or more in the next twenty-four hours. Stay off the highways unless it's an emergency.”
“You should have gotten me up,” Sean said. “Do you want me to drive for a while, Eric?”
“Yes, I'd appreciate some help,” Eric said. “Visibility is poor, and I've been fighting this side wind for so long, my muscles are tied in knots. As soon as I find a place to pull over, you can drive.”
Marie, Eric's wife, sat up and rubbed her husband's
tense shoulders. “Oh, I didn't realize it was snowing like this. I should have stayed awake.”
“You couldn't have done anything, honey, and you were sleeping so soundly that I don't want to wake you,” Eric explained.
“Will we make it home tonight?” Marie asked, voicing the major concern of all of them.
“I doubt it, unless we run out of the storm soon,” Eric said. “I hope you don't miss your plane, Sean.”
“Hey, man, don't worry about that,” Sean said. “Depending on the direction of the storm, the Columbus airport may be closed anyway. Don't take any risks for my sake. How long before we come to another town?”
Livia took a map out of the glove compartment, and turned on the interior light. In the small ray of light, she scanned the map. “It's several miles to Findlay. We should find a motel there, but there's no town of any size before then. And if you remember from our drive on this road a few days ago, after we leave Findlay, it's mostly rural area until we approach Columbus. So that means no motels. We can't go farther than Findlay.”
Livia relaxed when a highway marker indicated the next exit was two miles away. “Maybe we can find a motel at this exit,” she said.
“Well, even if we don't, I'm getting off the interstate, so we can change drivers,” Eric said.
But through the haze of snow, in the distance, Livia saw lights flashing. “Oh, no!” she said. “Looks like a police cruiser. There's probably been a wreck.”
Eric slowed to a crawl, but the car still skidded
sideways when he applied the brakes and missed hitting the patrol car by inches. An officer, bracing himself against the strong wind, held on to his hat as he approached the van.
“A pileup of vehicles has blocked the interstate between here and the next exit,” the officer said. “You'll have to get off and take a secondary road south. You can access the interstate again in twelve miles. Be carefulâit's a narrow road.”
“Any chance we can find a motel, Officer?” Livia said.
“Not till you get to Findlay.”
Another car approached behind them, and the patrolman waved them on.
“I'll keep driving, Sean. With all this snow, I can't tell where to pull off the highway.” Eric wiggled back and forth in the seat and flexed his fingers before he moved forward. “Hindsight is better than foresight, I've always heard,” he said. “We should have stayed overnight in Bowling Green.”
Livia had been checking the outdoor thermometer on the dashboard, which registered steadily falling temperatures. Now, rather than being distressed about not getting home for Christmas, she prayed that they could find a safe shelter for the night. She'd learned the seriousness of blizzards a few years ago when a heavy snow, accompanied by an ice storm, immobilized their farm in southern Ohio. That had been Christmas week, tooâthe time her brother, Evan, had brought his fiancÃ©e home to spend the holidays with the family.
The headlights of the van were little help in the blinding snow, and Eric dodged twice to keep from hitting approaching vehicles on the narrow road. A large panel truck crept along the road in front of them, and Eric stayed close behind it.
“I have no sense of direction right now, but I figure that guy knows where he's going,” he explained. “I'll keep him in sight.”
The truck slowed to a crawl at a crossroad. The snow had covered the highway direction signs, but when the truck continued straight ahead, Eric followed. This section of road was even more narrow than the one they'd taken when they left the interstate. Fence posts and bushes covered with snow had turned the road into a narrow tunnel, and Livia couldn't see any houses or farm buildings at all. The van's bumper pushed a wall of snow ahead of it as they moved steadily forward.
Darkness had almost fallen when, with sinking heart, Livia saw the truck swerve to one side and slide into a ditch. When the driver attempted to pull out of the slide, the truck jackknifed across the road.
Livia's plummeting heart echoed Sean's words when he predicted, “It will take a wrecker to right that truck.”
Gingerly applying the brakes of the van, Eric said, “Let's find out if the driver is injured.”
Before Eric brought the van to a sliding halt, the truck driver climbed out of the cab, seemingly none the worse for his accident.
Knowing that they couldn't go forward, Livia rolled down her window and looked behind them to see if they
could turn and retrace their route. A pickup truck and a car were following them. The driver of the pickup braked to avoid hitting the van. The old sedan behind the pickup swerved quickly to the side of the road to avoid rear-ending the pickup. The car slid sideways and stalled in a large drift, blocking the road.
“We can't go either way now,” Livia said, desperation in her voice. A chilly silence enveloped the van.
Livia snatched her cell phone from her bag. A tight knot filled her throat when she saw that no service was available in this area.
“We can't use our phones, either,” she said, a tremor in her voice.
Roxanne Fisher, Marie's mother, peered out the window and said, “So we're stranded.”
Eric rolled down the window, stuck his head out and called to the other three travelers, who were circling their own vehicles, sizing up the situation.
“Hey, guys! Looks like we're all stuck. Get in our van, and we'll discuss our options.”
Sean moved to the rear seat, sat beside Roxanne and made space for the newcomers. The three men were covered with snow when they stepped into the van. Livia gasped when the ceiling light illuminated the face of one of the men.
Quinn Damron! She turned away so he couldn't see her face. The situation was already difficult enough without encountering
man. Especially a man whose rejection three years ago had left her heart empty and injuredâa heart that had never found room for another.
Livia stared out the side window as she listened to the conversation, hoping no one had noticed her reaction and would ask her about it later.
“Any of you familiar with this area?” Eric asked. “Is there any chance of finding shelter for the night?”
One of the men, a senior citizen, said, “Yes, sir. I've lived around here nigh on to eighty years. There ain't a house in five miles of where we are.”
“Any chance of getting plowed out?” the truck driver asked.
“Not until it stops snowing. I'd judge it'll be two to three days before we get any help. The snowplows will clear the interstates and major highways before they get to us. How'd you end up here anyway? This road ain't hardly ever used.”
“I apparently took a wrong turn,” the truck driver admitted. “I haven't made deliveries on this road before. The regular driver is on vacation. The snow had covered the road signs, and after we took several turns on that little road from the interstate, I lost my sense of direction. So I took a chance on which way to go and my luck didn't hold.”
“I'm not familiar with this country, either,” Eric said. “I decided this was the detour route when the truck came this way.”
“Sorry I led you astray, buddy,” the trucker said.
“You're no more to blame than we are,” Eric assured him.
“We probably shouldn't leave the cars to find shelter,” Quinn said. Livia's pulse raced at the mellow, deep
voice that she still vividly recalled, erasing any doubt that he was the unforgettable man she'd met three years ago.
“And it's going to be miserable sleeping in them,” Sean said.
“Especially since the temperature is supposed to drop below zero tomorrow,” Quinn agreed. “I'm only twenty-five miles from home, but it might as well be a hundred miles for all the good it will do me.”
“Livia,” Eric said, “lower the window and try your cell phone again.”
Did she hear a quick intake of breath from Quinn's direction? He'd known her as “Olivia,” and there was certainly other women named Olivia out there, so it was probably her imagination. Without answering, she lowered the window, and held her phone out. But the screen still showed that she had no service. They were probably too far away for her to get a signal, and the storm certainly wasn't helping any. She shook her head at Eric, not wanting to speak, fearing that Quinn would recognize her voice. But knowing the little interest that he'd had in her, she thought bitterly, he probably hadn't given her a second thought since the last time they'd seen each other.
The elderly gentleman said, “My name's Les Holden. Since I've been around a few years longer than the rest of you, I feel free to offer some suggestions. I've lived through blizzards in this area before, and if the snow drifts, these cars could be covered. Besides, even if you wrap up, you're gonna get cold in the van.”
“I think all of us know that,” Sean said impatiently, “but what else can we do?”
Favoring Sean with an amused glance from under his shaggy white eyebrows, Les said, “Hold your horses, sonny, I'm coming to that.” He waved his hand in the direction of the panel truck. “I almost forget. There's an abandoned church down the road a short ways, and I think we oughta move down there before it gets any darker.”
“But if it's abandoned, it won't be any warmer than the cars,” Sean argued. “If we stay here, we can start the motor once in a while and run the heater.”
“Not if the snow gets so deep it covers our exhaust pipes,” Quinn said quietly.
“There ain't been regular services in this church for years,” Les continued, as if the other two hadn't spoken, “but the building is still in good shape. We use it every once in a while for funerals, so there's coal and wood on hand to build fires. We can keep a fire going. We're apt to be stranded for a day or two, so we'll be more comfortable and safer in the church than in our vehicles.”
“I agree with you,” Quinn said. “What do the rest of you think?”
“Wonder if there's any food in the church?” Sean said. “I'm hungry now, and fasting for a few days doesn't sound good to me.”