The Teacher Who Saved Christmas (Preview)

Chapter One

There was a chill in the air as Delia climbed out of her bed. She shivered, tempted to wrap a blanket around her shoulders. But with her dress sitting on the chair within reach, she knew turning back to her bed would only make her want to stay put.

Sunlight peeked through her curtains as she forced herself up. The house was perfectly pleasant in summer with all its windows, one of the main aspects of her home that made her adore it.

Her home was more of a large cottage than anything else. It was old and had practically been given to her. She never spent much time here, which meant little of the work she planned to do had ever been done.

But she adored it all the same.

The place was entirely open except for the bedroom that was hidden from the front of the house by a single wall. There was a sense of openness that she enjoyed. On a few occasions, she had considered adding onto the place. It could use more walls inside or could even have space added to the large porch in the back. There was so much potential that she hadn’t taken advantage of.

She just kept telling herself one day it would happen, one day soon.

Perhaps it would be later now. But she didn’t mind. She preferred to enjoy her days in the company of Henriette and the children. It gave her something to focus her energy on.

While summers were pleasant in her house, winters were another story. Hambleton, Colorado, had a way of growing icy cold in the later months of the year.

“I really should get more logs,” she mumbled through chattering teeth. Once dressed, she pulled on her shawl and wool cap before moving to her kitchen. She had access to enough wood, but she had a tendency of leaving something that useful with her good friend, Henriette. It always seemed like a good idea to Delia until she woke up in the morning and couldn’t stop shivering.

She shook her head to convince herself otherwise. “It just means that I should leave sooner rather than later. The children will be rising soon, of course.”

Life for Delia was a tender gift, one that she preferred to share with others. As Hambleton had the only orphanage in the Colorado territory, the same place where she had grown up, she preferred to be there with Henriette and the children rather than anywhere else. They were the ones who needed the wood and the warmest blankets more than she ever would.

With this in mind, Delia dressed and gathered her basket. She had set the items she needed in there the night before after finishing up her school lessons. There were three books, a jar of chalk, and a few other items that she knew the orphanage needed.

Delia only had to walk down the lane to reach the large house.

It had belonged to a baroness once, so everyone said, who had come to America to live a quiet and secluded life. The two-floor house had a large wraparound porch that creaked but was sturdy as ever. On the inside, there was a large kitchen with an attached dining room along with two fireplaces to keep it properly warm in wintery weather. The top floor was filled with bedrooms shared among the twelve children who lived with Henriette.

Walking into the hall, Delia could feel the warmth of the flames reaching around the corners. She paused to take off her cap and gloves, sniffing the air.

“Is that cinnamon I smell?” she called hopefully.

A little head peeked out from the kitchen doorway. As usual, Grover was already a mess. The eight-year-old presented a cheeky grin with a few brown splotches on his cheeks. His dark hair stood up all over the place even though she knew he had gotten a bath just the night before.

“Delia! Did you know that Christmas will be here soon?” he asked her eagerly.

She walked forward, seeing him clinging to the doorway along with a broken telescope in hand. He’d had that ever since he was brought to the orphanage seven years ago, the only thing he had left of his past. There was brown powder around his shoulders that she brushed off.

“I did,” Delia answered as she did this. “It is less than two months away. Now, what on earth have you been up?”

The grin grew sheepish. He shrugged and gestured to Henriette, who was further in the kitchen, stirring the large pot. “Cinnamon tastes good inside of food. But not outside. I spat it out and almost died!”

Delia glanced at Henriette for input.

The woman was twice her age at forty-two, old enough to be her mother, but neither of them had cared about numbers. Henriette had been running this place for nearly twenty years. She had raised Delia and so many others. Up until ten years ago, she had done this with the help of her husband, Gregory Alvin, before he passed from scoliosis.

Now, it was just the two of them.

Many children left when they were old enough. Some married and stayed in town, while others took to the wagon trails, and some stayed in the surrounding territories. By the time any of them reached nineteen, the children were gone. All of them except for Delia, who couldn’t bring herself to leave.

“He’s just fine,” Henriette said simply before throwing Grover a stern look. “And he has certainly learned his lesson, hasn’t he?”

The boy started to roll his eyes but then seemed to think better of that before giving a jerky nod. “Yes, Mrs. Alvin. I won’t try to eat cinnamon plain again. It belongs in my oatmeal. And desserts!” Laughing to himself, he hurried out of the room and could be heard noisily climbing the stairs.

Delia chuckled. She came forward to set her basket on the table. Though she opened her mouth to speak to her friend, she paused to yawn.

The older woman tutted. Straightening up, she pulled the pot out from under the flames. Her stern expression now turned toward Delia. “You should have stayed in bed, Delia. I think you keep forgetting that you don’t work here. You’re a teacher, and you don’t even teach here at the orphanage anymore. Honestly, dear, you look a little dead on your feet. It’s allowed for you to have time to yourself, you know. Lately, you don’t even rest on the day of rest.”

“Because there is work to be done,” Delia responded easily, for this was a discussion they covered at least once a week. It was more routine than bothersome now. “I want to be here for you and for the children. I really don’t mind.”

“Fine, but if you start blabbering nonsense during teaching, then there’s nothing I can do to help.”

She giggled again. “Do you think the children would really believe me if I told them that four plus two equals twelve?”

Henriette glanced back at her, a light in her gaze even with that motherly brow furrowed. “I think they would believe the answer was purple if you told them such a thing. They adore you, remember?”

“And you,” Delia added as she came over to help finish getting everything set up. With the table half-set, she brought out the cloth napkins and cups. “Even if they are a little scared as well.”

“Fear is healthy,” Henriette noted. It was still clear she was stifling a giggle. However, that made Delia elbow her when she passed to bring out the milk. “Ow. Are your elbows getting bonier? You’re eating an extra serving of sausage today, Delia. I’ll even have the children hold you down to make you eat it if that’s what it takes.”

The two of them bantered as they readied breakfast. Within a few minutes, the food was laid out on the table.

Once that was done, Henriette went to ring the bell in the hallway. Thunder from above as twelve pairs of feet immediately came racing down the stairs. It was music to Delia’s ears. She was grinning ear to ear by the time they made it down. With bossy little Bessie in the lead, they hugged Henriette and then Delia before eagerly sitting down on the benches around the table.

“I’m so hungry!” Harvey wailed when he hugged her. His club foot slowed him down but not the four-year-old’s dramatic spirit. “I want to eat a whole cow, Delia!”

“A cow?” She laughed, helping him to an open spot on the bench. “Even the hooves? The ears?”

He nodded fervently. She ruffled his hair, making sure the children had their hands down at their sides. Grace was said when everyone was seated. Then they dug in, noisy chatter echoing off the walls. She listened to the dreams they’d had and everything else they had done that morning.

The two-year-old twins, Flora and Oliver, had bumped heads, so they were teary-eyed. Katherine, the oldest at fourteen, had tripped over Harvey when he was under one of the beds trying to scare Grover. Mary had dreamed about getting lost on a frozen lake, and it made her nervous. William, who had lost his parents just a few months ago, dreamed that his older sister Mabel had left him on his own, so he had tear stains on his cheeks. Samuel was telling some story about his teeth that didn’t make much sense and kept elbowing Fred, who was rolling his eyes. And then there was Ernest on her right, with his oversized spectacles and clumsy nature that knocked over nearly everything within reach.

Breakfast was always an event. Delia nodded along and tried to help everyone as best she could until it was time to clean up.

When she attempted to do this, Henriette steered her toward the door.

“You have twenty minutes until classes begin, so I suggest you make your way over to the schoolhouse at once. Save some chores for the children, remember? It’s good for them. Healthy, even,” she added with a wink.

Although Delia felt guilty leaving them with so much to clean up, she allowed herself to be guided to the door. She slipped her jacket back on and grabbed her basket.

The cold wind met her on the porch. Shivering, she pulled her jacket close and found some small relief that the sun was shining. She tried not to slip as she walked through the crunchy snow on her way to the schoolhouse. It stood between the orphanage and her own home. Once their old church building, it now housed the children during the day for their studies. They had since built a larger church building further into town with a white steeple and large, beautiful windows.

The schoolhouse was dark and wooden, with narrow windows on opposite sides. There was a pot-bellied stove in the corner that she quickly heated up, not taking her jacket or gloves off until it was warmer. One wall was covered in artwork done over the last couple of years, and they had a blackboard on another. She moved around the long tables and mismatched chairs, setting everything up.

By the time everyone started shuffling in, she had the first spelling assignment set up on their chalkboard. Delia smiled and welcomed them all. She had over twenty children that came most days now, nearly half of them from town. Hambleton was growing slowly, and she enjoyed being able to help teach them so many important skills.

“Pick up your personal chalkboards. We’re going to be practicing our three- and four-syllable words this morning,” she announced after going through their morning routine of pleasantries. “Please begin by writing them five times on your boards.”

They nodded and got to work. Chatter went on in low voices. This gave her time to go around and check on the children one by one. Everyone from the orphanage was there except the two-year-old twins. The youngest child at the school was four, and the eldest was Katherine. Some of them were better at writing, and others struggled, but it didn’t matter.

Delia was ready to help each and every one of them. Her heart had accepted every child on sight, loving them like her own. They all deserved a community that cared for them.

“I can do it better,” she heard one of the boys say. “That makes me better than you.”

“Nuh-uh,” someone said. Their voice squeaked.

Looking over her shoulder, Delia frowned. They didn’t sound like kind words. She hoped there wouldn’t be trouble. Maybe she could get everyone to move on before anything happened.

She straightened up and gazed around the room before she heard their voices pick up from whatever argument had begun. It only took her a minute to find Leslie, one of the larger boys from town, who was around eight years old, snapping at little William.

“I am better!” Leslie was saying. “I have a family. I have a mother and a father! What do you have? Nothing. You have nothing, and you’re dumb.”

Tears flooded down William’s face. His parents had died in an accident on their farm, nothing that could have prepared him and his sister for the sudden, lonely future ahead of them. They, and no one else, deserved to be talked to like this.

Delia moved quickly.

She hurried over there just as the other children were coming together, climbing out of their seats to see what was going on with the raised voices. It wouldn’t be the first time nor the last this sort of fight went on. She herself had dealt with such hurtful attitudes before. They only touched on the pain that would never go away. She swallowed hard, and it felt like her tongue had grown too big to use.

Still, she had to say something.

“Everyone, stop at once. I need calm,” Delia demanded. She used her sternest voice, something she had learned from Henriette. “Quiet, everyone. First row, go get wood for the stove. Second row, clear the chalkboard. Fourth, back to your boards. And you three, do the same. Leslie? William? You know we don’t allow arguing or shouting here in class. Who shouted?”

William looked up at her with his wobbly chin.

Huffing, Leslie crossed his arms. “So, what if I did shout?”

She turned to him. “You know the rules, young man. Take the chair in the corner. And your chalkboard, please. I need you to remember that we are all given different blessings from one another. Your words were unkind and quite cruel. I don’t allow that behavior here. When you’re ready to share a true apology, please raise your hand.” Then she turned to William, drawing him into her arms. “He didn’t mean it, William. He didn’t mean to be so cruel. He doesn’t know your pain. Deep breaths, my boy. Dry your tears and take a deep breath.”

“I miss my mother,” he said through a hiccup.

“I know your parents are no longer here, but they are in your heart and in heaven. I’m sure of it,” she added. “Besides, you still have a family. You have Mabel. Me, too. Perhaps we are not blood, but we are still family. You can choose your own family when you desire it, William.” Seeing that other children were watching her, she said this again. “We are all a family here.”

Mabel came over and offered to pick up her brother. Delia offered him up, kissing his brow. “I mean it,” Delia said. Even as the children all gathered again in the room. “I’m here for all of you. No matter your parents or siblings, I’m always here.”

“That’s a whole lot of family,” Grover piped up loudly. “Should we be calling you Family Delia now?”

While it wasn’t the best joke, it did make the smallest children start giggling. And that inspired the older children to chuckle as well. Soon, everyone was laughing. Even William had a smile on his face.

It only took her another minute to put her classroom back to rights. She had been teaching for nearly three years now. There were difficult moments like this, but she always found the calm once more. They moved on from spelling to their numbers after that. While the children worked through the problems, she sat at her desk and considered her students.

Most of the time, they didn’t have trouble between those from town and those in the orphanage. They just had different living situations but often played together and waved to each other at church.

But she knew it could be hard to go around town from the orphanage to see families together when they didn’t have their own mother and father. She understood that pain all too well.

Although she’d had a chance to leave to further her education, Delia had decided to stay. She couldn’t leave these children. She wanted them to know they were loved and always cared for. Just because she hadn’t known that much love growing up didn’t mean that the children should be in the same situation. She had always desired love in her life.

And now, she could give all of them the love in her heart.

There was nothing more, Delia had convinced herself, that she wished for in her life.

Chapter Two

Pausing to scratch an itch on his neck, Coop glanced around the alley.

His full name was Virgil Cooper, but the nickname had stuck some fifteen years ago and lingered still. The only people disappointed in this would probably have been his parents. They were both gone, however, and Coop didn’t mind it. Few knew otherwise, and fewer cared one way or another.

Life had taken a few turns to lead him to Newsberry in Colorado territory. It was a popular stop along the northern wagon trails, which meant they could grow quite busy in the spring and summer seasons. The harvest kept folks concentrated on their land, and winters tended to be so cold that folks were just trying to get by one day at a time.

This October was warmer than most, he supposed, but still a cold one.

Coop stood in an alleyway beside the general store and the blacksmith’s forge where the wind couldn’t reach him. He heard the whistling every now and again while he worked.

The alley was a mess of old boxes and crates that needed to be broken down; nails would be handed over to the blacksmith, and the wood would remain with their owner, the shopkeeper at the general store.

It wasn’t the typical work for a sheriff, Coop knew, but he didn’t mind. He wasn’t always handling shootouts or chasing outlaws. Lighter work like this allowed him to put himself to better use and help the townsfolk. Right now, he was helping Lawrence Dear, the shopkeeper, who had broken his foot a few weeks ago.

He sorted all the containers to one side of the alley before clearing out some rubbish that had found its way there. By the entrance to the street, he set the bottles and paper there to handle later. Then he picked up his hammer and carefully began extracting the nails from the boxes. A few would be used once again, but most of them weren’t reusable.

In a matter of minutes, his hands were stiff and cold.

Coop shook his head and sighed. He remembered his earlier promises to himself that he was going to go somewhere warm after this. Nothing kept him in town except for this job. It was a good job, but he hadn’t cared much about where he had gone before. An old friend of his had been the marshal in the area and asked for his help.

A lot of what he did was helping people, he supposed.

That made him pause. He hadn’t considered it like that before. Folks needed something to be done, and he was typically capable of getting that done. Sometimes that meant cleaning up an alley, taking on an odd job, or even finishing up an old fight.

He flexed his hands. Those days were over ever since he had left Boston some years ago.

A man of his size was expected to be violent. Not only was he taller than most men at a few inches over six feet, but he had broad shoulders that made it tricky to get through some doors no matter what town or city he visited. Even when he hunched himself to try and appear smaller, people always had some sort of expectations for him.

Fixing the hat on his head, he told himself that it didn’t matter. He could do the work, so he would get it done. He liked being able to help. A task like this one, especially, was simple enough.

His brown buffalo skin gloves were warm still. He paused, considering what a good purchase they had been when he first arrived. When had that been? Coop had to think as he realized it must have been at least three or four years since he reached Newsberry.

Coop picked the hammer back up to get back to work. He could think while he moved his hands so he wouldn’t have to stay out here all day.

Just as he did, however, he caught voices at the end of the alley.

“I wouldn’t want to be there in St. Louis anymore, that’s for certain,” a man’s voice said with a grunt.

Two men stepped between the two buildings to get out of the cold. Because Coop stood in the shadows, they didn’t notice him. Folks didn’t tend to hide out or even work in alleys out here in the West. Although he thought about letting them know he was there, he decided to listen instead.

A man could learn a lot from listening.

Learning to sit back and wait a situation out had kept him alive countless times in the past. He had wound up in tough places, preferring to talk his way out if he could manage it. This worked best if he knew what was going on and who everyone was.

It was especially important if he was going to try and protect the town. He was their sheriff, and he took his work seriously. There were still the occasional drunks and barfights along with horse thieves and worse, but he always tried to find a way to be proactive about preventing crime from happening instead of merely fixing everything after the fact.

He held the hammer in both hands and listened curiously.

“It would be fine so long as you don’t cause a ruckus,” the other man was telling his friend. Neither of them looked familiar to Coop. He wondered if they were citizens of Newsberry who didn’t visit town often or were passing through. “One always has to be careful about going back to their local haunts. It would be no different. Maybe you could even attend the cards on the south side of town.”

“Ha. I won’t go back so long as Sharp Clint is there. I’ll be skipping St. Louis and the surrounding towns for some time. Maybe I don’t have any debts or loans owed to the man, but one bad look is enough to put someone in his books.”

“Your cards were good that night, weren’t they? You didn’t cheat.”

“Aye, I didn’t. But he doesn’t know that, and neither did anyone else. I told you, Grimes, a perfect hand is just as cursed as a useless hand.”

The other man nodded slowly and then shook his head with a slight huff of annoyance. “I suppose we’ll keep going west at this point. We can go in the spring. I’d say north, but I’m not ready for anything colder than this. We can join the wagons when they pass through. Folks are saying there is plenty of gold out at the coast, so we could see about that. Our gambling days are over, I’m afraid.”

His friend snorted. “They are twice over. But so long as we keep away from the likes of Sharp Clint, we should be fine. We wouldn’t be the first to head out to avoid the man. While we haven’t done anything wrong that could be proven by him or a court of law, there are others who have warranted this type of trouble.”

“You’re not talking about Morrison, are you? I told you. There’s not a chance that he made it out of St. Louis alive. The man stole thousands from the loan shark. Everyone says he escaped, but I don’t believe a word of it.”

“I don’t know…There were quite a few witnesses to him taking his horse out of town.”

“That was eight years ago! Maybe he did make it out, but he didn’t make it far. Sharp Clint doesn’t let anyone get away. We both know that. I think we made it because he knows we didn’t do anything but couldn’t let them know. I bet that’s it.”

The two men’s voices dissolved into lower whispers as they grumbled about the cold in Colorado. The gist of their conversation was done, and it was clear they had made their decisions about staying in town for a while longer to wait out the winter where it was safe. A few minutes later, they started out of the alley and back on their walk.

Neither of them was any wiser about having had a listener at their shoulders.

Coop leaned out of the alley to watch them go. He wanted to prove his assumption right that they would end up at the boarding house at the end of the lane. Biting wind climbed across his face and pushed his hair around. He fixed the hat on his head and watched until the men indeed disappeared into the boarding house.

So, they weren’t locals but visitors waiting out the weather. He took note of that and stored the information away. They were gamblers; that wasn’t a crime in itself, but that type of men had a way of getting into or causing a lot of trouble, which he didn’t like. He would need to keep an eye on them and ensure they left in the springtime.

Returning to tearing apart the crates, Coop continued to review the conversation he had eavesdropped on. Sharp Clint must have been a loan shark in the city that caused a lot of trouble. From his experience, men like that survived because they paid off folks in the law. He had never liked that in people.

Nor did he like thieves. What had they said about that other name? Morrison?

It wasn’t much of a name to go on. The name was popular and could have been changed. There was a Morrison family on the edge of town, an older couple in their sixties without children. He’d known at least two others who had crossed through the wagon trails in the last couple of years.

Although Coop supposed he could look out for anyone else by that name, it seemed a waste of his time. The man hadn’t been seen for eight years and was, as those men had noted, most likely deceased. Besides, whoever it was would most likely have changed his name and disappeared even if he was alive.

He shook his head to get such thoughts out of his mind. There was work that needed to be done. Focusing on the crates and containers, Coop yanked out the nails from every piece of wood, one at a time.

Once the work was done, he delivered the nails to the blacksmith, Henry Gooding. The two of them spoke often since Coop liked to work in the forge every now and again. His father had been a blacksmith during his childhood in Boston, and the ways of working with iron and fire stayed with him. They talked for a while in the warmth before Coop bundled up the wood to deliver to the shopkeeper.

“Thank you,” Lawrence told him with a pained smile. “That’ll keep me and my family warm for at least a month. I appreciate your help, Sheriff. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Coop shook his head. The logs were set beside the counter. When he straightened up, he paused to grab a jar of honey. It would be nice to have something sweet in the cold weather. “You can just ring me up for this, Mr. Dear.”

“It’s Lawrence. And please, that’s my gift to you for your help. Take it.”

Such generosity made Coop hesitate. He opened his mouth to refuse, but then he looked at the older man’s graying features and then nodded. The man needed some pride left to his name with all the help he required to get around.

The door opened, and the bell rang. They both looked over to see the shopkeeper’s three children. School must be out.

“Papa!” The youngest one shouted and ran over, only to stop and stare when he saw Coop. His siblings, a brother and sister, followed close behind. All of them stared.

He supposed that meant it was time to go. “Thank you, Mr. Dear,” Coop said as he picked up his items. He gave the children an awkward nod and then went on his way. The moment he was past the shelves, those three kids started speaking up about their exciting day at school.

At the door, Coop paused and placed two dimes in the corner of the window. It was dirty, so the only one who would notice them was the shopkeeper. He hoped that would be enough to pay for the items. Then he started back outside into the snow.

The honey was put in his coat pocket as he grabbed his horse’s reins. Since no one in town needed him for the day, he decided he would go visit the house on the hill.

Birdie Lloyd, a sixty-year-old heiress, lived there in seclusion with her sickly daughter. No one from town really knew them or tried to get to know them over the years, but he had and greatly enjoyed their company. Birdie was currently teaching him how to knit so he could do that for himself.

“Is that you, Coop?”

Turning, he found the mayor headed his way. Mayor Philip J. Morris was a few years older than him at thirty-five, a distinguished man who had grown up in New Orleans and arrived in town six years ago. He was a little shorter and a little thicker with oiled black hair and a small nose.

“Hello, Mayor. How are you doing?” Coop offered politely. While he wouldn’t call them friends, he supposed, they worked together frequently and could make decent small talk in any situation.

The man tipped his hat before letting out a loud breath. “Cold! Every winter just gets colder, wouldn’t you say? Makes traveling a nasty thing.”

Surprised, Coop raised his eyebrows. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Afraid so. Mrs. Lloyd funds the Hambleton Orphanage, you see, and she wants me to check in on her investment. Said she was worried about the children or something of the like. I thought I would go see to them as she asked and talk over such matters with that town’s mayor. I must say, it’s hard to believe they’re all without parents. We might have some digging to do. About the children, not Hambleton. I’ve been before, but something is always going wrong. You have to watch out for the children. They’re always sick or getting into trouble. However, I agreed to get this done and leave in the morning. Say, I could use some company,” the mayor added suddenly.

Coop shifted. “I don’t have business in Hambleton.”

“No, but it would be a change of scenery. You could meet with their sheriff. Breadwork, I believe his name is,” Morris added.

The mayor had a way with words that Coop did not, and soon he found himself awkwardly agreeing to the trip. He left the mayor to go pack his things, reasoning that it would only be for a short while.

Two days, and then he would be back home as though nothing had happened.

“The Teacher Who Saved Christmas” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Despite having grown up in an orphanage without a family of her own, Delia Page leads a cheerful and fulfilling life. Her desire to give the children the same love she once received as an orphan shines through her work as a teacher. In an instant though, her life turns upside down when a seemingly simple school trip turns into a harrowing ordeal on Christmas Day. The moment one of the children disappears, she is forced to rely on the sheriff for help as her desperate search begins…

If only she knew this encounter would also make her heart flutter for the first time…

Virgil Cooper is excited about the prospect of retiring from his role as sheriff, eager to put a life of violence and hardship behind him. Even though love has never been on the cards for him, he doesn’t want to be alone any longer. Yet when the mayor asks him to go on one last mission in search of a lost child, he finds it impossible to refuse. Little does he know he is about to cross paths with the most beautiful and kind woman he has ever known…

When the chance comes, will Coop be brave enough to follow his heart and voice his feelings?

A perfect Christmas seems to be falling apart, but Delia and Coop are determined to untangle the mystery together. The puzzle pieces will slowly start to fall into place, revealing the truth about the child and maybe even about themselves. Will they be able to find the missing boy? At the end of the day, could they also find true love along the way?

“The Teacher Who Saved Christmas” 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!

5 thoughts on “The Teacher Who Saved Christmas (Preview)”

  1. I have got to read the rest of this story. My attention and imagination are both peaked to the moon and back. Wonderful start.

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