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Authors: Susan May Warren

Tags: #FICTION / Christian / Romance, #FICTION / Romance / Contemporary

Evergreen

BOOK: Evergreen
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Praise for the Christiansen Family Series

It Had to Be You


It Had to Be You
is a sigh-worthy, coming-into-her-own romance highlighting the importance of family, the necessity of faith, and how losing yourself for the right reasons can open your heart to something beautiful.”

SERENA CHASE
,
USA Today

“This character-driven tale with a beautiful love story . . . gives excellent spiritual insight and a gorgeously written look at what it means to surrender and let go.”

ROMANTIC TIMES

“Susan May Warren delivers another beautiful, hope-filled story of faith that makes the reader fall further in love with this captivating and intriguing family. . . . Powerful storytelling gripped me from beginning to end . . . [and] lovable characters ensure that the reader becomes invested in their lives.”

RADIANT LIT

“This is one author who is only getting better with each book, and I cannot wait to find out which character we are next invited to meet in this Christiansen family.”

FICTION ADDICT

“A gem of a story, threaded with truth and hope, laughter and romance. Susan May Warren brings the Christiansen family to life, as if they might be my family or yours, with her smooth writing and engaging storytelling.”

RACHEL HAUCK,
bestselling author of
The Wedding Dress

Take a Chance on Me

“Warren’s new series launch has it all: romance, suspense, and intrigue. It is sure to please her many fans and win her new readers, especially those who enjoy Terri Blackstock.”

LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Warren . . . has crafted an engaging tale of romance, rivalry, and the power of forgiveness.”

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Warren once again creates a compelling community full of vivid individuals whose anguish and dreams are so real and relatable, readers will long for every character to attain the freedom their hearts desire.”

BOOKLIST


Take a Chance on Me
is the first of six books in this new series from prolific author Susan May Warren
 
—and I couldn’t be more excited! I’ve already fallen in love with the Christiansen family . . . and I can’t wait to see how Warren brings true and lasting love into the lives of Darek’s two brothers and three sisters.”

SERENA CHASE
,
USA Today

“A compelling story of forgiveness and redemption,
Take a Chance on Me
will have readers taking a chance on each beloved character!”

CBA RETAILERS
+
RESOURCES

“Warren’s latest is a touching tale of love discovered and the meaning of family.”

ROMANTIC TIMES

Visit Tyndale online at
www.tyndale.com
.

Visit Susan May Warren’s website at
www.susanmaywarren.com
.

TYNDALE
and Tyndale’s quill logo are registered trademarks of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Evergreen

Copyright © 2014 by Susan May Warren. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph of couple copyright © by Jason Stang/Corbis. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph of hat copyright © by OZaiachin/Shutterstock. All rights reserved.

Designed by Jennifer Phelps

Edited by Sarah Mason

Published in association with the literary agency of The Steve Laube Agency, 5025 N. Central Ave., #635, Phoenix, AZ 85012.

Evergreen
is a work of fiction. Where real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales appear, they are used fictitiously. All other elements of the novel are drawn from the author’s imagination.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Warren, Susan May, date.

  Evergreen / Susan May Warren.

    pages cm.
 
—  (Christiansen family)

  ISBN 978-1-4143-9401-5 (hc)

1. Clergy
 
—Fiction. 2. Empty nesters
 
—Fiction. 3. Older couples
 
—Fiction.

4. Minnesota
 
—Fiction. 5. Domestic fiction. I. Title.

  PS3623.A865E935 2014

  813'.6
 
—dc23 2014014099

ISBN 978-1-4964-0010-9 (ePub); ISBN 978-1-4143-9402-2 (Kindle); ISBN 978-1-4964-0011-6 (Apple)

Build: 2014-07-10 11:11:46

For Your glory, Lord

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

W
ITH EVERY BOOK
I
WRITE,
I’m aware of my need to have a supportive team to pull the story together. I’m so grateful for the brilliance and inspiration from the following people:

Rachel Hauck, who knows exactly the right questions to ask as she walks through every chapter with me.

Ellen Tarver, my first reader, who understands story and knows how to fix the broken ones.

Karen Watson, my editor, along with Stephanie Broene. Thank you for partnering with me to create the magic of the Christiansens.

Sarah Mason, who adds shine and polish.

Special thanks also go to Joyce and Eric Warren for letting us borrow their amazing son, Seth, for a year. What a blessing to be a part of his life journey!

And Seth, of course, my favorite nephew. I fully expect you to go and be awesome.

My Noah, who came up with the fire and many other Romeo moments. You are one of my favorites.

Sarah and Neil, a reminder of the joy of the beginning. I am so excited about your tomorrows.

And Pete, my independent one, Christmas tree enthusiast, the keeper of traditions. The party doesn’t truly start until you arrive.

My David, story crafter extraordinaire. Seriously. Wow.

My Andrew, who keeps our marriage evergreen. Hey, look
 
—they’re gone! When are we going to Prague?

Dear family and friends,

A warm Christmas greeting from the Christiansen family in snowy northern Minnesota.

We’ve had a year of joy as each of the family has found new adventures. Darek and Ivy tied the knot last Memorial Day, and Eden and Jace Jacobsen followed with a celebration in August. Casper has moved to Roatán to work on a sunken galleon in pursuit of his archaeology degree . . .

Dear family and friends,

A warm Christmas greeting from the Christiansen family in snowy northern Minnesota.

The Christiansen family has seen much change this year. We’ve worked hard on the resort, and it is nearly rebuilt after last year’s devastating forest fire. Grace is finally pursuing her love of cooking, working as a chef in Minneapolis and looking forward to marrying NHL hockey player Maxwell Sharpe. Meanwhile, Owen has been out west, fighting fires
with a hotshot team. We were all delighted when he showed up for Eden’s wedding . . .

Dear family and friends,

A warm Christmas greeting from the Christiansen family in snowy northern Minnesota.

It’s a year of new beginnings for us as our children start new chapters in their lives. We are thrilled to have sent Amelia off to Prague for her first year of college . . .

Dear family and friends,

A warm Christmas greeting from the Christiansen family in snowy northern Minnesota!

O
F ALL THE DAYS
for the pastor to expound past the allotted time for his sermon, he had to pick potluck day. The day of the quarterly business meeting.

The day of the Minnesota Vikings home opener
 
—against the Green Bay Packers, no less.

John Christiansen stood in the buffet line of the fellowship hall and glanced at the clock hanging over the pass-through to the church kitchen. He did a quick calculation. If he skipped the dessert line and another cup of coffee, and if he planted himself next to his best friend, Nathan Decker
 
—who could run interference between John and the entanglements of mindless conversation about the unusual Minnesotan warm snap this late into September
 
—he just might make it home before the end of the first quarter.

He’d give Nate his voting proxy for any sudden decisions at the meeting. Yes, he’d agree to be a Salvation Army bell ringer at the grocery store this Christmas. No, he didn’t think the church needed to hire a snowplowing service
 
—he’d be glad to come down with his truck again this year. Or to send his oldest son, Darek, over. It seemed about time Darek inherited that duty too.

John guessed he had about seventeen minutes to effect his escape before Pastor Dan rose and trapped him in a two-hour meeting that he’d gladly trade for having his fingernails plucked out with a pair of snub-nosed pliers.

But it all hinged on catching his wife with the hairy eyeball of desperation.

Sadly, Ingrid had planted herself with her back to him, holding a plate of food, talking to Ellie, Pastor Dan’s wife.

He tried not to accuse his wife of being diabolical.

“Oh, good, there are meatballs left.” Nate reached over from the opposite side of the buffet table. “I love Ingrid’s barbecue meatballs.”

“It’s her hockey-mom potluck specialty,” John said, scooping into the garlic mashed potatoes.

“I’m glad she decided to share it with the church,” Nathan said. “Can’t let all those fabulous potluck recipes go to waste, even if the high school hockey years are over.”
He added mashed potatoes to his own plate. “So how are your honeymooners doing?”

John glanced at Ingrid, seeing her move on from her small talk with Ellie. She looked pretty today in a pink sweater and floral skirt, her blonde hair pulled back with a headband. Sometimes she looked as fresh and young as when he’d first noticed her, thirty-some years ago.

Yeah, she still possessed the power to unravel him, steal his thoughts, turn his mouth dry.

He nearly called across the room for her to save him a seat, but that felt too desperate. She didn’t look at him, stopping to chat with Edith Draper, head of the hospitality committee.

Danger! Danger! He nearly abandoned his meatballs right there and made a dash for his wife.

But after nearly thirty years of marriage, she knew not to volunteer him for any committees or projects, right?

Somehow he managed to keep a cool head and answer Nate, updating him on the status of his adult children.

“Eden and Jace are looking at houses in Minneapolis. Hitting the parade of homes. Grace’s fiancé, Max, survived hockey camp. They have a preseason game coming up in a few weeks. And Grace is working on her catering business.”

“They set a date yet?”

Oh, good, Ingrid had laughed, shaken her head, and walked away from Edith, looking for an open space to sit in the crowded fellowship hall.

The claws in John’s chest loosened.

“Nope. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had their wedding in Hawaii.”

“That sounds expensive.” Nathan handed John a roll of silverware. John took it, balancing it under his plate filled with potatoes, green beans, meatballs, corn salad, and a few items he didn’t quite know how to name.

“Maybe. But Max has money. After all, he does play for the NHL.” He noticed Ingrid had taken a chair next to Helen Harrison, Nathan’s mother. No danger there. Helen headed up the Christmas decorating committee, but even if Ingrid did suddenly decide he’d be perfect to cut and put up the church’s tree, it still wouldn’t interfere with any of John’s plans.

He set his plate on a table, slid out a folding chair. Nate sat next to him.

“Have you heard from Casper?” Nate asked without looking at him, unrolling his napkin.

Only a handful of people knew about the Christiansen family debacle the morning of Eden and Jace’s wedding
 
—the fistfight between his two younger sons, Owen and Casper.

“He’s living on some Caribbean island and loving his new gig working on an archaeology team for the winter.” Or at least that’s what he made it sound like. But John had the sense that he hadn’t gotten the full story from Casper in years.

“Fun. I remember when we used to dream of traveling. Nice to know your kids are actually doing it, huh?”

Actually doing it . . .
Well, maybe Nate could keep a secret. John kept his voice low. “I’m booking a trip for Ingrid and me to Europe over Christmas.”

There, he’d said it out loud. Made it real. Actually put words to the idea that had been simmering inside him since they’d said good-bye to Amelia, their youngest child, two weeks ago at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport.

Nate looked away, then back to John as if trying to comprehend his words. “Seriously?”

Okay, so he’d known the idea could be risky, but . . . “Listen, Ingrid is always saying she’d like to travel, and I thought with Amelia over in Prague this semester, and with all the other kids busy . . . it’s perfect. We’ll be back in time to get ready for the resort grand opening over Valentine’s weekend, and I’ve been tucking money away for years. It feels like it’s now or never.”

Nate smiled. “It’s fantastic, man. I’d love to escape with Annalise for the holidays, but she’d kill me. Too many traditions.”

“We have traditions too, but this year the kids have plans, with the exception of Darek and Ivy
 
—and they’re celebrating their first Christmas as a family
 
—so it seems like we’ll be largely on our own. Ingrid’s been acting sort of . . . down, ever since the wedding.”

“And you think tickets to Europe are going to fix everything?”

“Of course. Why not?” He finished off his last meatball. His wife could cook with the best of them
 
—probably where Grace got her culinary skills. “I thought it could be a sort of second honeymoon.” He looked at his plate. “I’m planning to take her to the top of the Eiffel Tower and renew our vows.”

Nate shook his head. “Who knew? John Christiansen is a romantic.”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.” But maybe, down deep, he could be. Sweep his wife off her feet, just like he had once upon a time. “I figure, we raised our kids, and now it’s time for us, right?”

Nate grinned, lifted his glass. “You’re the man.”

Yeah. That’s right. “I’m buying the tickets tomorrow
 
—”

“Grandpa!”

John turned as Tiger ran up to him. The six-year-old flung his arms around his neck. “Am I comin’ over to watch the game?”

“Absolutely
 
—”

“Sorry, buddy.” This from Ivy, John’s daughter-in-law. She wore a pretty lime green–and–brown dress and had tied her red hair back in a green scarf. She came up behind Tiger, holding a jacket, so easily moving into the role of stepmom that it seemed she’d been handpicked by God to fill the void left by Tiger’s mother’s death. “Grandpa has to stay for a church meeting.”

Shoot. How obvious would it be now for him to sneak out? He glanced at Ingrid again and tried not to harbor the belief that she was intentionally ignoring him.

By now, the Vikings had probably surrendered at least one touchdown.

He spied movement from Pastor Dan, making his way to the front.

Beside him, Nate laughed. “I just hope you taped the game, pal.”

John grimaced and reached for the coffee carafe.

Dan led them in prayer. John visited the dessert table during the reading of the minutes, tried to get the score
on his phone, and nodded a few times at the discussion of a men’s community Bible study.

He signed his name on the pass-along sheet for Salvation Army volunteers and then on a whim added Ingrid’s name, just in case she tried to sign up separately. If he worked it out right, they could be at the airport by the evening of December 23.

He’d already planned the surprise in his mind
 
—he’d spring the gift on her at Thanksgiving. He didn’t know what the head count might be for that weekend, and she just might be feeling glum. The thought of her elation made the details of the hospitality report bearable.

“On to new business,” Edith said. “Our church is hosting the annual community live Nativity this year.”

Oh no. He made a face at Nathan, who mimicked it. John cut his voice low. “Another tradition I’ll be glad to miss.”

Nathan nodded. “Last year I think we did a drive-by, saw maybe a handful of families out there. Remember the year we replaced the baby Jesus with a ham?”

John laughed, earning a death glare from Ingrid. The live Nativity display might hold a fascination for a dwindling handful, but he’d spent too many hours, from his childhood and beyond, standing in the cold,
bulwarking a tradition the town should have let crumble long ago.

And then it happened.

Edith turned to Ingrid, and in his beautiful wife’s face John saw an expression that ignited a dark, twining horror. He barely bit back the impulse to leap up, take a run at old Edith the troublemaker, and tackle her and her clipboard before she could utter another word.

But convention rooted him to his chair, cold fingers digging into his chest as Edith smiled at Ingrid and said, “I have in our records that John and Ingrid are signed up to coordinate it.”

No! The fingers clamped down, choking off his words, when he saw Ingrid nod. “Of course. We’ll be happy to.”

She didn’t even look at him.

Do something.
The voice careened through his head as Edith moved on to other items, something about the Christmas tea
 

“Wait!” The word emerged faintly high, sounding woefully unlike his own voice.

Even Nate turned, his expression so vivid, John could hear him behind the chaos of his panic, warning him off. If only he were a good listener. “Do we have to actually
be
there for the live Nativity, or can we just organize it?”

A hush vised the room, and John’s heartbeat pulsed in his ears.

Edith frowned. “I . . . well, I suppose not. As long as all the roles are filled.”

“Thank you, Edith. We’ll make sure the parts are filled and everything is perfect.”

“Oh.” She pressed a hand to her chest as if to pat her heart back into place. “Okay, then.”

He refused to surrender. He did, however, glance at Ingrid.

Her lips froze in a forced smile, her jaw drawn so tight he thought she might be grinding molars.

“Way to do an end run,” Nate said quietly. He made a fist and held it out for a congratulatory bump.

John met it. Yeah, that’s right. Nothing
 
—not even Ingrid
 
—would stop him from giving his wife the best Christmas of her life.

If John wanted any hope of seeing his stupid football game, he’d better stop hanging around the church kitchen, looking at his watch.

And his phone.

And the clock.

As if the Vikings might be waiting for him to show up and save the day with a fourth-quarter eighty-yard run.

From his armchair.

Ingrid sprayed more water on her baking pan and attacked the barbecue residue with renewed vigor. Around her, other ladies on the hospitality committee finished unloading the commercial dishwasher, packing up leftovers, and cleaning out the coffeepots.

“You know who would make a good couple for the Nativity display is Ivy and Darek,” Annalise Decker was saying as she emptied the load of clean silverware into a drawer. “Although maybe we should wait a year for them
 
—by then they might have a live baby to lay in the manger.”

Ingrid glanced at her and found a smile. “Maybe.” Another grandbaby. The thought really should seed some warmth in her heart, but . . .

BOOK: Evergreen
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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