Love Under a Yuletide Sky (Preview)


Laura Van Camp swept back her long, blond hair, looking down at the letter she’d received from the mayor’s office. He was sending someone—a man—to help with the maintenance of the orphanage. That was a good thing. It was needed.

She glanced up from the letter at the group of children playing on the front lawn. Some were chasing others, a few of the girls had brought out a blanket and their rag dolls and were making the playthings dance, while still more were throwing a ball to each other. The children made up fun games and had a good time doing it.

It was a bit cold for the outdoor fun, but with the approaching Christmas holiday, the kids were loving it.

Laura was the sole teacher at the Falling Leaf Orphanage, where she grew up. She liked the fact that she was still with her family of sorts, although all of the children she’d known as a child were grown and gone now. She was the only one who’d stayed.

She read through the letter once more, running her tongue over her teeth. She used bits of hay held together with a string tied around it to clean her teeth every morning. She just didn’t see how other people could stand for their teeth to have bits of food stuck in them. She encouraged the children in her care to brush their teeth with the hay brushes every morning, too. Sometimes they resisted, but she told them they would regret it when their big teeth fell out like their baby teeth did. That usually did the trick.

The mistress of the orphanage, the one who truly ran things—and efficiently, too—was Julia Cranwell, a tall, matronly woman of fifty-five whose face looked haggard but whose eyes reflected the soul of a child. She was regularly laughing, changing her features from stern to joyous in an instant. Her smile was radiant.

Laura’s eyes moved across the group of children, looking for each specific child. She knew this land like the back of her hand and little Georgie Hancock was always exploring a little farther than the others. She liked to keep a special eye on him.

When she didn’t see him anywhere, she stood up and went to the edge of the porch, leaving the hand mirror on the small, white iron table by the chair she’d been sitting in.

“Georgie?” she called out, sweeping her eyes over the trees in the distance. Just as she’d suspected, she saw a dot of yellow and black heading for the stone bridge that would take the child into Blue Forest, so named because of the vibrant blue flowers that grew all throughout the woods. The mountain was covered with those same flowers, thus the name Blue Mountain. “Georgie!”

She hopped down the steps as fast as she could, holding her skirt up with one hand, the other hand outstretched as if she could reach out a half-mile to grab the boy. She didn’t know if he could hear her, but the rest of the children did. They all looked at her with curious eyes before turning their collective gaze to where she was frantically running.


The boy’s name rang out in the air, called by many different voices now. Georgie heard it that time and turned to look back at them. The children joined Laura in waving their arms above their heads and running toward their friend.

Laura caught up with him first, having outrun the children to reach him. She scooped him up and held him on her hip, squeezing him in a hug.

“How many times have I told you not to go exploring without at least one other kid with you? You’re supposed to ask Daniel to go with you, aren’t you?”

Georgie pulled away from her slightly, pushing one finger in his mouth. He was the picture of innocence, but Laura knew better. Though he was a little ball of mischief, she couldn’t help thinking how adorable he was.

“Yes, Miss Lauwa,” the boy said, nodding. He was looking right at her, which was a good sign that he respected her and was sorry for what he’d done. That was how she interpreted the look on his face. She put him down and patted him on the head.

“You go take Daniel’s hand and you stay with him the rest of the day, you hear? You don’t go far from him.”

“Do I have to hold his hand all day?” Daniel, Georgie’s older brother, whined while still putting his hand out for Georgie to take.

“No,” Laura replied. “Just take him back to where everyone else is and keep an eye on him. Let him play with you if you’re all playing a game together. He just has a curious mind. It needs to be filled with something. Give him a task or a part in your game that’s easy and will occupy him. There must be some way for you to include him in your playtime.”

Daniel nodded, grasping his brother’s hand and looking down at him. “Now you stay right around me, Georgie, you hear? Don’t you go running off again. How come you didn’t ask me if I would take you to the stone bridge?”

“You would say no,” Georgie replied smartly, his eyes darting to Laura.

She had to turn away so he wouldn’t see her struggling not to smile.

“I might have said yes,” Daniel replied, sounding twenty rather than seven. “So next time, you just ask me. Miss Laura knows what she’s talking about, don’t you, Miss Laura? You’ve been here all your life.”

“That’s right, Daniel. I grew up here. So I know Blue Forest can be a dangerous place for little kids. So it’s best to stay with your big brother and not go off on your own. Don’t do that anymore, okay?”

Georgie looked sheepish. “Okay,” he said.

“You promise?”

He nodded. “I promise.”

Chapter One

“I believe you will enjoy working at the Falling Leaf Orphanage,” Mayor Clint Harbor stated, standing in front of the window with one hand grasping the lapel of his suit jacket as if he were being painted for a grand portrait. He took the pipe from his mouth before he spoke, and his next words were said through gritted teeth when he stuck it back in again. “I’ve sunk a lot of money into that place, but it seems to be falling into a terrible state.”

He coughed, removing the pipe again and stabbing through the air at Jonah with it. “You will like it there,” he repeated himself.

“Why is it falling into a bad state?” Jonah asked, thinking how much that pipe stunk. His grandfather had smoked a pipe, but the tobacco he’d used must have been different because Jonah had always enjoyed the way his grandfather smelled and never minded the smoke that came from him. He was doing the best he could right now not to wrinkle up his nose.

The mayor was a sensitive man, easily angered or irritated, and both emotions lent to the same reaction. He could be mean and vengeful. That was not a side Jonah wanted to experience, and he planned not to give the mayor any opportunity to seek vengeance against him.

“Because I haven’t put a man there in about five years. There’s been no repairs in that amount of time, nothing more than what the ladies there can accomplish. And by God, I’m telling you, that Laura. She can really do a lot, but she can’t do enough. Not strong enough.”

“Laura,” Jonah repeated the name. “She’s the one running the place? I’ll be working for her?”

“She’s not running the orphanage but she’s the regular schoolteacher there. I have Julia Cranwell in place as the mistress of the house, and she takes good care of them kids. They eat good, got clothes on their backs, and they do their chores like they’re supposed to. I’d get them to do the repairs,” he laughed, grabbing his rotund belly as he did so, “but they’re no stronger than Laura or Julia. The ladies are good workers; I’m not gonna fault them for not bein’ able to do the stuff you’ll be there doin’.”

Jonah nodded. He was used to being sent on construction jobs for the mayor. He was stronger than most, built like a brick house, and had a fast mind for solving problems. He didn’t mind working for the mayor, even though he was pretty sure the man wasn’t as honest as he portrayed himself to be.

He ran a hand through his brown hair. “We’re talking about regular maintenance work. Driving the kids into town. Fixing the broken steps. Making sure there’s water coming through the pipes. The orphanage does have a plumbing system, doesn’t it?”

The mayor nodded, raising his eyebrows. “Yes, it’s up to date. As I said, I have spent a great deal of money to make sure the orphanage is running well.”

“May I ask, Mayor Harbor, what piqued your interest in the Falling Leaf Orphanage?” Jonah was curious. It seemed strange to him that the mayor, who was not known for much charitable work, would be so generous to two ladies and a bunch of orphans. Jonah didn’t have anything against orphans or ladies. He just didn’t think the mayor was that generous of a man under normal circumstances.

Truth be told, he didn’t know how the man kept getting elected.

Mayor Harbor narrowed his eyes at Jonah, moving to his large chair and dropping his weight into it. It creaked but bore the man’s weight like it was supposed to.

“You think I don’t care about orphans? Is that what you’re thinking?”

“I… I…” Jonah stammered, feeling his face turning red.

“You’d be right!” The mayor slammed his hand down on the table, making a tremendous sound, while laughing out his words.

Jonah felt a little sick to his stomach.

“I don’t care about them little kids, Jonah. Make no mistake, I enjoy the praise I get for going as far as I have but there’s another reason that orphanage is so special. It’s because there’s someone who is very special there, and I want to make sure she’s comfortable.”

Again, Jonah felt a surge of confusion mixed with disgust. There couldn’t possibly be a child special enough to the mayor that he would be so kind to them all. A tingle ran over Jonah that he tried to hide. Did the mayor have a child there, a secret kid in the Falling Leaf Orphanage?

“She?” Jonah asked. “Surely you ain’t gonna leave me wonderin’ what you’re talkin’ about, boss.”

Mayor Harbor swung from side to side in his chair. “I ain’t gonna leave you wonderin’…” He trailed off, shaking his head at Jonah’s grammar. “Good Lord, man, didn’t you attend school?”

Jonah fought off the urge to frown. He hadn’t come there to be insulted. “I take it you won’t tell me then?”

The mayor laughed. Jonah didn’t care much for that laugh. It sounded wicked when the mayor likely didn’t even intend it to. But when a person wasn’t very nice in their core, it came out in every way possible, even in laughter.

“’Course I’m gonna tell you! Because I want you to keep an eye on her. It’s that Laura Van Camp, the schoolteacher. She’s…”

Jonah watched as the mayor suddenly transformed from a sturdy businessman into a relaxed pile of lard. He was waiting for him to slide out of the chair onto the floor into a pool of skin without bones. It was quite a disgusting image.

“She’s the most wonderful woman in the world. I’ve always thought so.”

“How long have you known of her?” Jonah asked. “Has she been working there long? You haven’t told her how you feel?”

He wondered if Laura Van Camp would want to be with the mayor on any intimate level. She might be able to tolerate him if she was a little blind and couldn’t smell anything.

“She grew up in the orphanage from the age of seven,” the mayor replied.

Jonah was once again sick to his stomach. The girl had been a child when the mayor first saw her? He couldn’t take his eyes from the man, and Mayor Harbor gave him a rebuking look.

“I wasn’t attracted to her when she was a child, you fool. Stop looking at me like that! She has grown into a veritable goddess of a woman, and I want to make sure she’s happy. So go there and fix everything and make sure she’s living properly like a lady should. Can you do that?”

Jonah nodded right away. “Of course I can, boss. You’re payin’ me well to do just what you want. I ain’t got a problem keepin’ an eye on the ladies and kids for ya. You can count on me.”

The mayor smiled at him. “Thank you, Jonah. You leave first thing in the morning.”

Chapter Two

The dew on the ground still sparkled when Jonah reached the orphanage the next morning. He’d set out when it was still dark so he could get there when he expected them to have breakfast.

The orphanage was a forty-minute ride in a buggy or wagon from the town of Garden Grove, Texas. The town had a population of nearly a thousand, making it one of the bigger ones in the southeast region.

Jonah liked the look of the land around the orphanage. There were farmhouses, ranches, and homesteads dotting the county around it, but it sat in the middle of two acres. Blue Forest and Blue Mountain were included in the acres belonging to the mayor, connected to the orphanage.

He looked up at the sign above the double doors, wondering who had carved it. It looked ancient but couldn’t be that old. The orphanage had been established in 1870, nearly twenty years ago.

Jonah could see his breath as he stepped down from the buggy and headed for the steps of the orphanage. Mayor Harbor told him he’d notified the ladies Jonah was coming so he hoped his arrival this early wouldn’t be too much of a surprise for them.

He shook off a chill when he removed his hat and knocked loudly on the door.

It was opened almost immediately, and he found himself staring into the blue eyes of a very attractive young woman. This couldn’t be Julia Cranwell, the matron of the place. The mayor had described Julia as much less attractive than the younger Laura Van Camp.

He held out his hand, smiling at her. “I’m Jonah. Jonah Maxwell. I believe the mayor told you I was coming this morning?”

Laura smiled back at him, stepping back so he could come into the foyer. “Yes, yes, please come in. I’m ex… that is, we are all excited that you’ve come to stay with us and help us out. We have a lot of things that could use some repair, don’t we, children?”

It seemed a good many of the kids in the orphanage had come to stand and wait for the new arrival. Jonah felt like he was on display. He grinned at them all, delighted to see so many of them smile back. A couple of the girls blushed and looked at each other, giggling. Jonah knew what that meant and he winked at the girls, who gasped and giggled even harder.

“Do you know how to put a wheel back on a wagon?” one of the little boys spoke up. The child couldn’t have been more than eight or nine.

Jonah tilted his head to the side. “Why, yes, I can do that. Do you have one that needs mending?”

“Yes, I do,” the boy replied in a serious tone.

“I would be glad to repair it for you if you tell me where it is.” He was thinking the boy must mean the wagon belonging to the orphanage for transportation needs.

“It’s upstairs.”

Jonah grinned. “Oh, you have a toy wagon you need the wheel put back on.”

He had to hold back laughter when the boy said with a serious look on his face, “Of course it’s a toy. I’m just a kid.”

Jonah cleared his throat and nodded, holding out his hand to shake the boy’s. “All right. I’ll be staying here, so whenever you have that wagon ready, you just bring it to me and I’ll put the wheel back on, okay?”

“Okay, thank you. What’s your name?”

He stood up straight and looked around the room at the children who’d gathered around him. They were staring up at him as if he was something special. They must not have seen a man in the orphanage for some time, if ever.

“My name is Jonah Maxwell. You can all just call me Jonah. I’ll be helping out around here. You kids need anything done, you just let me know, you hear? I’m gonna do my job and do it the best I can. So nobody gets hurt on any nails sticking out anymore, right, Miss Laura?”

Laura smiled at him. He could tell she was pleased with how he was behaving with the children. Now that he was standing in her presence, Jonah could tell why the mayor was so interested in her. Physically, on the outside, the woman was beautiful. Slender, tall, with long, wavy blond hair and flashing, intelligent blue eyes. The man had good taste.

But there was one thing the mayor hadn’t told him about as far as Laura was concerned. When he thought back on their conversation, he couldn’t remember the mayor saying very much about Laura’s personality. He said she was beautiful—which she was. He said she was intelligent. Jonah had yet to find out about that.

But he hadn’t said anything about what kind of woman she was. Was she kind? Did she truly care about the children? If she did, she would be sorely disappointed to know the mayor did not. If he had any real thoughts of being with a woman like Laura, wouldn’t he need to care about children at least a little bit? That wasn’t really something that could be faked. At least, not in Jonah’s opinion.

“Julia, you can all go into breakfast. We’ll be in there in a little while. I want to show Jonah around a little bit.”

“That sounds fine.” Julia pressed one hand against Laura’s arm, giving her a look Jonah didn’t understand. “Make sure you take him out back.”

Laura smiled. She obviously knew something Jonah did not. Maybe there was something that needed looking at and it was important to Julia.

As soon as the woman gathered the children and left the foyer, Jonah looked curiously at Laura.

“Is there a problem out back?”

Laura nodded. She held out one hand to indicate he should walk with her down the hallway to the back of the house. “There are a lot of things that need to be repaired here, Jonah. I hope you’re ready for steady work because you’re going to have it for a time.”

Jonah nodded. “I’m ready. I don’t mind hard work, especially when it’s to benefit women and children. Plus, the mayor is paying me handsomely.”

Laura gave him a nod in return. “I can attest to that as well. He is generous with money.”

Jonah knew the reason behind the mayor’s generosity but wasn’t about to tell Laura. That seemed to him like it would be a betrayal of the trust the mayor had in him. If he saw the mayor doing anything that would hurt Laura or the orphans in any way, he would intervene. Until then, he would let sleeping dogs lie.

She didn’t need to be informed that the mayor was probably corrupt. There was a good chance she already knew, anyway.

Chapter Three

Laura got a good feeling from Jonah the minute he came in the door. He was interacting with the children in the best way possible so soon after arriving. They obviously took to him as well. Mayor Harbor had made a good choice this time. In the past, she’d questioned his some of choices, such as putting plumbing actually in the building. She was grateful for it now but still worried about having water flowing through pipes in her home. Every now and then, she had the thought that something would burst in the walls and they would be inundated with a flood of water.

So far, since the plumbing had been put in, there had been no problems. A few times, the water stopped and she was told there was a plug-up somewhere. They’d had to dig and search for it and when it was released, the water flowed freely again.

She was grateful for how much easier it made doing dishes and other chores. But it still scared her just a little when she thought about water running through the walls like blood in veins.

Jonah was a handsome man, too. She’d been in Garden Grove on many occasions and had seen some handsome men there. But Jonah topped them all. He had broad shoulders and a large, muscular chest. He was clean-shaven with wavy brown hair down to his shoulders. His eyes were naturally narrow and he had a quick smile that looked almost boyish.

He seemed like he’d be a lot of fun, especially when it came to playing with the children. They needed a man around. She was glad the mayor had chosen Jonah. She could already tell they would be friends just from the way he looked at her.

“Now, you just show me what this is that Julia is so worried about,” he said, plopping his hat back on his head when they went out on the back porch.

“Just follow me.”

Laura took him down the steps and around the corner to the right. They came up on a set of double doors leading down into the cellar. Both doors were broken and there were rocks and flat wood pieces and anything else they could find to cover it up.

“We couldn’t fix these doors,” Laura said, staring at the mess she and the children had made. “So we piled stuff on it and tried to block it off so the little ones won’t get curious and fall down the steps into the cellar. The floor at the bottom is very hard and they might hurt themselves very badly.”

Jonah was nodding, a serious look on his face. He cupped one hand under his chin and studied the project.

“I can fix this in about two hours. But I think I’ll need some help clearing all this junk away. Do you know any little hands that could help me with that?”

Laura grinned, delighted that he wanted to include the children in the work. Idle hands were the devil’s playthings, her old matron had told her constantly as she grew up. Laura had done a lot of chores at the Falling Leaf Orphanage and believed firmly that the work she’d done contributed to the woman she grew to be and was continuing to grow into.

“I will certainly find you enough hands to help out,” she said. “And I can add two pairs of adult hands, too, if you like.”

“That’s always nice,” Jonah replied, “but I think your talents would be best served by being a supervisor. You don’t need to get those hands dirty. I’m sure you have enough opportunity for that.”

Laura nodded vigorously. “Oh yes,” she agreed. “I wash my hands in the sink very often. More so since the mayor had plumbing put in.”

She mentioned it because she wanted to see his reaction. He seemed used to the idea because he just nodded, his eyes still on the broken doors to the cellar.

“Doesn’t… doesn’t the thought of water running through the walls in the house make you feel… a little strange?” she couldn’t help asking. He looked to be so smart. She wanted to know his opinion.

He glanced at her and did a double-take, apparently realizing she was serious.

He turned to her, reaching out to put one hand on her shoulder. She felt small next to him. He was probably about six inches taller than her so he didn’t really tower over her, but his girth made him seem almost like a giant.

“You aren’t worried about the plumbing in the house, are you? Have you had problems with it?”

Laura had to gather her thoughts again. His touch had distracted her. He removed his hand and held it out so she’d know they could go back inside.

“Show me where you’ve had problems.”

Laura went forward, heading to the steps again, but she was shaking her head and responded to him over her shoulder. “We haven’t had any real problems with the plumbing.” She got to the top step and stayed there, waiting for him to come up and stand next to her. When he did, she met his eyes and was taken aback by the kindness and concern she saw there. “I… I just think it’s strange that water is running through the walls. Like… like blood through our veins.”

Jonah blinked rapidly at her, taken aback by what she was saying. “I… I’m sorry, I’ve never heard anything like that before. I’ll tell you what. We’ll sit down and I’ll explain to you how all that works so you won’t need to be afraid anymore, all right? I’ll even show you the pump and the well and how the water is transported if I can. I’ll draw you a picture if you like.” He grinned, setting one hand on her shoulder. “I’ll settle your fear, Laura. You can count on me.”

Laura had never heard such confidence before. It was almost enough to eliminate any fear she still had in her. But when she thought about the pipe system crawling through the house, she knew the fear was still there.

“Show me some more things that need to be repaired,” he said, maybe to distract her from her thoughts.

“First, let’s eat breakfast. You must be starving after your journey.”

Jonah rubbed his stomach, grinning wide. “I could use a bite to eat. If you have something for me right now, such as a biscuit, I’m ready to swallow it whole.”

“Don’t do that, you might choke.” Laura used her “talking to a five-year-old” voice, hoping to make him laugh.

He did, and she joined him as they went down the hallway to the dining room. Laura had a feeling this maintenance man was going to fit in perfectly at Falling Leaf Orphanage.

Chapter Four

“Thank you for giving me a ride to town this morning, Jonah,” Laura said, giving him a big smile that made him feel warm inside on the crisp December morning. “I realize you were up already, but I should have asked you yesterday instead of springing it on you like I did.”

Jonah didn’t mind and told her so. He’d been up early doing an assessment of what needed to be done around the house and land, which also translated into a steaming hot cup of coffee while he walked around enjoying the silence and peace. He’d noticed the day before it wasn’t like that during the day. Too many kids running around. Even when they were doing their chores and lessons, there was always some commotion going on.

He liked the way Laura and Julia handled all the chaos, or what was actually controlled chaos under the watchful eyes of the ladies running the place. He made a mental note never to disrupt the system they had in place. What could he do to change things, anyway? And why would he want to?

Jonah nodded at Laura in response to her gratitude and apology. “No need to apologize, Miss Laura. This is what I was hired to do. You don’t have to make an appointment with me.”

“I don’t want to be a bother to you when you’re trying to work.”

Jonah pushed out his lips while shaking his head. “Not gonna happen. You need something I can help with, you just ask. Just like you did this morning. That’s my job. I’m here for you.”

“Did you see everything that needs to be fixed while you were walking around earlier?”

He swept his eyes over the landscape, thinking how pretty the flat land would be when the ground was covered in snow. He wasn’t particularly fond of the wintertime weather, since it made it nearly impossible to get things done, and the threat of a blizzard or other tragic weather pattern could pose great danger to him and anyone else living in Garden Grove.

There likely wouldn’t be much snow and Texas wasn’t known for heavy blizzards. But the weather couldn’t be predicted. Jonah liked to stay on guard when the winter months rolled in. Just in case there was a freak storm and people needed help.

“I don’t think I saw everything,” he replied, “but I’m gonna make a list and see what all I can get to as soon as possible. Gotta make sure the priority repairs are done first, you know?”

Laura nodded. “What constitutes a priority repair for you?”

Jonah thought about it. “Mostly it’s something that poses a threat or danger to the kids. Like nails sticking out of boards, broken steps, things like that. Anything that might cause a child to get hurt will be fixed first.”

“Have you been doing this all your life?”

Jonah glanced at her, hoping he was returning the friendly look she was giving him. He’d been told he had a rugged-looking face in the past, his true nature hidden behind his facial hair. So he struggled to maintain at least a bit of a smile so that when someone just happened to look at him, they wouldn’t see a grumpiness that he wasn’t feeling.

“Love Under a Yuletide Sky” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Laura Van Camp’s journey unfolds within the nurturing confines of the Falling Leaf Orphanage in Garden Grove, Texas. There, she evolves from an orphan to the orphanage’s heart and soul. As a dedicated teacher and caretaker, Laura’s life is interwoven with caring for the children and preserving the orphanage’s heritage. Her life, filled with her charges’ innocence, is firmly rooted in the reality of her duties. However, the festive season brings an unexpected twist, setting the stage for a love story like no other…

Will Laura’s unwavering heart be tempted to venture into new territories?

Jonah Maxwell is a man of dual purpose, with a wrench in one hand and a covert mission in the other. Commissioned by the influential Mayor, Jonah’s role extends beyond mere maintenance tasks at the orphanage. The mayor, enamored with Laura, employs Jonah to subtly advance his romantic interests. But as Jonah collaborates closely with Laura, he becomes drawn to her compassion and strength.

Can he stay true to his own heart while fulfilling the mayor’s expectations?

Amidst the holiday season’s crescendo, Laura and Jonah’s bond deepens. The Falling Leaf Orphanage becomes the backdrop for a love story that challenges the boundaries of duty and desire. Will the holiday spirit enable them to surmount their challenges? Can their love prevail in a world where ambition often eclipses simple, pure-hearted desires?

“Love Under a Yuletide Sky” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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