Christmas with the ColburnsChristmas with the Colburns: An Uncharted Novella

It’s Christmastime in Good Springs, and Lydia Bradshaw is eager for the light at the end of her year—the Colburn family’s big holiday gathering. When she discovers none of her siblings are coming back to the village this year, she believes Christmas will be ruined. As Lydia faces a gloomy holiday in the Colburn house, an unexpected discovery brightens her favorite season. Will it be enough to rekindle the light of Christmas?

Spend Christmas with the Colburns in this inspirational holiday novella. Holiday recipe included!

Christmas with the Colburns is available now in paperback, ebook, and audiobook

Paperback: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository (free international ship), or get an autographed copy.

Audiobook: Audible, Amazon, iTunes

eBook: Kindle (U.S.), Kindle (U.K.)

CHAPTER ONE

Lydia Bradshaw refused to allow the Colburn house to go undecorated at Christmastime. Weaving among the bartering villagers at the open-air market, she anchored baby Andrew on her hip and scanned the traders’ booths for tinsel, ribbon, garland—anything that might make her family’s home look like it did when her mother was alive. Surely one of the traders or artisans had something left, even this late in December.

“I should have started making decorations weeks ago,” she muttered to the baby, as if an eleven-month-old cared, “but with a medical practice, a house to manage, and a great-aunt to care for, it seems my favorite holiday has sneaked up on me like a cat on a mouse.” She smiled down at Andrew as he sucked on his fingers. “Come to think of it, if our barn cats did their job and killed mice, my box of decorations from last Christmas wouldn’t have been turned into a reeking, chewed-up nest.”

Determined to make her and Connor’s first Christmas with the baby a celebration to remember, Lydia dodged the carpet trader, avoided the hat-maker’s boy, who was trying to demonstrate hairpins on unsuspecting customers—someone really should stop him—and turned before the gossipy wool spinner noticed her. As she passed the produce booth, tin cylinders with colorful labels caught her eye. Her skirt swirled as she turned on her boot heel. “Are these canned cherries already pitted?” she asked the young man working at the back of the booth.

He didn’t respond and continued sprinkling sugar on a tray of freshly roasted nuts. That’s where the luscious smell was coming from. Lydia cleared her throat and tried again. “Excuse me?”

The veteran produce trader stepped out from behind his wagon where he was unloading a crate of lemons. He yelled at his new worker, “It’s your job to help the customers.”

The young man snapped his attention to Lydia and hurried to the front of the booth. “Sorry. Yes, ma’am, canned pitted cherries from Riverside.” He straightened his straw hat and grinned, revealing a broken bicuspid and swollen gums. “How many cans would you like?”

“Two please. No wait…” She mentally calculated the number of family members who would be coming for Christmas dinner this year. Fifteen… seventeen if Everett Foster and his mother, Roseanna, accepted her invitation. It would be the biggest crowd yet. She would have to double her mother’s cherry salad recipe. “Four cans, please.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He removed the cans from his display. “What would you like to trade?”

“She’s the village physician,” the veteran trader interrupted, scowling at the young man. “This is Dr. Lydia Bradshaw, formerly Dr. Lydia Colburn. You don’t charge a doctor for cherries.”

“It’s quite all right.” She looked at the young man. “How about four cans of cherries and I’ll take care of that infected tooth for you?”

His cheeks reddened and he covered his mouth with his dirty fingers. “That sounds painful.”

“I have medicine that will remove the pain, and once the tooth is out, you will feel much better.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I accept your trade.” He picked up the cans. “I’ll just carry these to your wagon.”

“I walked here.” She shifted the baby to the other hip. “When the market closes this afternoon, come by my office. I live at the Colburn house—the two-story brick home near the south entrance of the village. The medical cottage is next door. Try the cottage first and if there’s no answer, go to the back door of the house. And bring the cherries with you.”

He nodded and spoke through barely parted lips, trying not to reveal his broken tooth again. “Thank you, Doctor. I’ll be much obliged for your help.”

As she resumed her search for decorating materials, Lydia spotted her father, John Colburn, the village overseer, on the chapel steps. The morning light made his trimmed beard appear grayer than usual. Though in his element, leaning against the iron railing, reciprocating greetings with happy couples as they passed, he also seemed lonely. Even after thirteen years, Lydia still missed her mother every day. Her father must miss her even more. He never spoke of his sorrow, but when no one else was looking—especially at Christmastime—Lydia saw the sadness in his eyes.

A cool breeze blew in from the nearby ocean and kept the air moving through the crowded village market. Someone stopped behind Lydia and rubbed Andrew’s head. The baby let out a half-giggle half-squeal. Lydia smiled as she turned to Mandy. “He only makes that noise when he sees you.”

“That’s because I’m his favorite aunt.” Mandy batted her eyelashes at the baby as she flipped her blanket of auburn curls over her shoulder and reached for him. She settled Andrew on the side of her pregnant belly. “And how is my little nephew this fine morning?”

Andrew responded with a slobbery giggle and rubbed a wet hand across her baby bump. Mandy laughed. “That’s right! Your cousin is in there. You will get to meet him soon.”

“Or her,” Lydia interjected.

“Don’t let Levi hear you say that,” Mandy chortled. The noise sounded cute coming from her, but Lydia would sound like a horse if she did it. “He insists his firstborn will be a boy.”

“Don’t worry about Levi. My brother will be a proud father no matter what. To think, by next Christmas you will have your own little one crawling around the house.” Lydia glanced across the market and remembered her purpose. “Have you seen Christmas decorations at any of the booths today? My decorations from last year are ruined. This is Andrew’s first Christmas and it might be Aunt Isabella’s last, so I want to make it special for everyone.”

“No, I haven’t.” Mandy lowered her perfect chin. “Actually, I need to talk to you about that.”

“About what?”

“Levi and I are going to celebrate Christmas at my mother’s this year.”

The news kicked Lydia in the gut, but she did her best not to show it. “Oh.”

“It’s just that this is our first year without Father, and I think it will help Mother if Levi and I spend the day with her and Everett.”

“I invited your mother and Everett to our house too.”

“Yes, I know, and it was kind of you, but Levi is eager to start our own traditions, and we think it will be best for our family if we go to Mother’s. She is thrilled with the idea. And Everett and Bethany will probably be married soon, and then Bethany will live out there too, so it really makes sense that we start that tradition now.”

“Bethany is spending Christmas with Everett at your mother’s also?”

“Well, she will be a Foster soon.”

Lydia wanted her baby back. She held out her hands to Andrew. “I understand,” she said, though she didn’t understand at all. The Colburns always spent Christmas at the Colburn house. Her brother had married Mandy Foster, making her a Colburn, and Bethany wasn’t married to Everett Foster yet, so she was still a Colburn. It would make more sense if Roseanna Foster and Everett came to them, not the other way around.

Mandy’s empty hands covered her belly. Seven months pregnant and the tiny woman still wore the same dresses she had worn last year. She gave Lydia a sympathetic grin. “I’m sorry to disappoint you. It’s better for us this way, and maybe it will be easier on you, less work and all that. And you have Connor and the baby with you at your father’s house, so you will be with people you love. Isn’t that what makes Christmas special?”

“Yes, I suppose.”

Mandy glanced down at her belly. “We’re all starting families, so this is the perfect time to start our own holiday traditions.”

“I’m sure you’re right.” Lydia looked away. Wheels squeaked loudly as a man pushed a cart across the cobblestone street. Villagers shouted cheerful greetings to one another. The crowded market started to irritate her. She couldn’t find decorations anyway. “I’m going home. Have you seen Connor?”

“He’s at the messenger’s booth.” Mandy frowned. “You are upset, aren’t you?”

“No.” Lydia pressed her lips together. “I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“All right, I am, but I’ll get over it. I have my own family to focus on this Christmas. Besides, Adeline and Maggie and their families always come to Good Springs for the day, so the Colburn house will still feel full,” she said as she cuddled Andrew close and started for the messenger’s booth. “I have to go.”

Mandy blew a kiss to the baby. “Merry Christmas.”

“You too,” Lydia called over her shoulder as she hurried away. She squeezed through the bartering villagers toward her husband.

Despite the flurry of activity around him, Connor stood near the messenger’s booth like an immoveable pillar in the midst of whitewater rapids. He laughed at whatever joke the messenger told and easily focused on their conversation until his eyes met Lydia’s. He held a finger up to the messenger and parted the crowd for Lydia.

Ignoring the hubbub, Connor grinned at her. “That never gets old.”

“What doesn’t?”

“Seeing you walk toward me.” He bent down and kissed her as if he had just come home from war. The baby squeezed a drool-covered hand between their faces. When Connor released her, his expression bespoke a mixture of affection and arrogance. On him, it was charming.

He passed a hand over the baby’s head, still gazing at Lydia. “Did you find what you needed to make your decorations?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.”

Connor’s brow furrowed and his brown eyes filled with compassion. “Of course it does. You were really looking forward to this Christmas. What happened?”

She couldn’t hide anything from him. “Five of the people I was counting on won’t be there.” She wanted to add that the news had crushed her spirit and might have ruined Christmas, possibly forever. She swallowed the complaint to keep it from passing between her lips, just like her mother had always instructed. “Roseanna is making Christmas dinner for Levi and Mandy and Everett and Bethany.”

Connor put his hand on her shoulder. “Your younger siblings have the right to make their own plans. That’s what happens when people grow up. Hey, you still have Andrew and me, your dad, and Isabella, plus your two elder sisters are coming with their families.” He caressed her arm. When she didn’t muster a smile, he continued trying to cheer her up. “What if I go into the forest and find a bunch of pine twigs and wind them together to make you some garland?”

He was kind to offer, but she had seen his attempts at crafts. The image made her chuckle. “No, that’s not necessary.” She readjusted the baby and pointed to Connor’s fistful of letters. “Did the messenger have anything for me?”

He flipped through the envelopes and drew one out. “You got a letter from one of your sisters in Woodland.”

“Splendid! Is it from Adeline or Maggie?”

Connor shrugged. “I can’t tell their writing apart.”

Lydia took the envelope and read it. An extra flourish adorned the L in Lydia. “It’s from Adeline. She’s probably letting me know what time they plan to arrive on Christmas.” Her excitement grew as she unfolded the letter. “Maybe they’ll come a day early and stay the night on Christmas Eve. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

“Uh huh,” Connor hummed his answer as he opened one of his letters.

Lydia read Adeline’s letter twice. It was only three sentences, so it didn’t take long. Her cheeks grew hot and pressure built behind her eyes. She would not cry over this, and certainly not in public. She drew a long steadying breath and looked up at Connor. “They aren’t coming.”

* * *

Christmas with the Colburns is available now in paperback, ebook, and audiobook