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Authors: Richard Paul Evans

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BOOK: The Mistletoe Inn
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CHAPTER
Twenty-three

The problem with the past is that too often yesterday's lessons were meant for yesterday's problems.

Kimberly Rossi's Diary

I tried to read but instead I mostly just lay on the bed and cried for the next half hour until my phone rang. I crawled over and answered it.

“Hello.”

“All right,” Zeke said softly. “Let's talk.”

I wiped back my tears. “Okay. Where?”

“I'll meet you in the lobby in five minutes. Bring your coat.”

I stood waiting in the lobby for what seemed a long time, wondering if he'd changed his mind. Then he came out of the elevator. He walked up to me, looking solemn but not angry. “Come,” he said. He took my hand and led me toward the front doors. “Let's go for a walk.”

We walked away from the inn down the long, rutted drive, lit by the sparkling yellow-white lights of wrapped evergreens. The stars were bright above us and the night air was freezing and moist. We had walked maybe fifty yards when I said, “I'm really sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” he asked.

I didn't know if he was really asking or if he was making me own up to my bad behavior. “I was mean to you. You were only trying to help.”

He nodded. “I was trying to help.”

“The agents said the exact same thing you did. Only you were kinder.” I looked at him. “How did you know what they'd say?”

“It's always easier to critique from the outside,” he said. “You would have seen it if it wasn't your own book.” His voice seemed lighter. Forgiving.

“I feel so embarrassed.”

“No one wants to hear criticism. I don't.”

I swallowed. “I don't think I was really angry about the book.”

“I know.”

I looked at him quizzically. “How did you know?”

“Because every book is about its author. You felt attacked by me, even though I wasn't attacking you. You were fighting shadows.”

I looked into his eyes. “What does my book say about me?”

“You're writing about a fake romance, one in which the characters draw up a contract to define the relationship.” He looked into my eyes. “You've been hurt and you want a guarantee that you won't be hurt again.”

I just nodded.

“It's understandable,” he continued. “You're afraid to put your hand back on the stove. That's not weakness, that's intelligence. But wisdom is knowing that we need love and knowing when it's safe and whom to trust.”

“It seems like it's never safe,” I said.

“I know,” he said softly. “But it's an illusion. The thing is,
we use past relationships like maps to navigate new ones. But it doesn't work that way, because every human, every relationship is different. It's like trying to use a map of Las Vegas to get around Vermont. It won't work. That's why so many people get lost.” He looked at me. “I don't know everything that's happened to you in your life, but I think there's more to your hurts than your divorce and failed engagements. I think there's something deeper you're afraid of.”

I stopped walking and looked at him. “What's that?”

He looked deeply into my eyes, then said, “I think you doubt that you're worthy of love.”

For a while I couldn't speak. I was afraid to look at him. When I finally did he was looking at me lovingly. “Let me tell you something I want you to never forget.” He leaned forward until our faces were inches apart, then I closed my eyes as he pulled me into him and kissed me. When we finally parted I was breathless. He said to me, “No matter what anyone says or does, you are worthy of love. You always have been. You always will be. And I'm safe for you. You can trust me.”

Then he pulled me back into him. As we kissed, tears rolled down my cheeks. I had never felt so loved.

CHAPTER
Twenty-four

My life has been filled with surprises. Far too few of them were welcome.

Kimberly Rossi's Diary

The next morning Zeke knocked on my door around nine. I opened it wearing an oversized T-shirt and my sexiest pink sweatpants.

“Good morning,” I said, the smile from the night before still lingering.

He leaned forward and we kissed. “What are you doing today?” he asked.

“More of this, I hope.”

He smiled. “I meant the conference. Is there anything you can't miss?”

“That depends on the offer.”

“I thought we'd spend the day together. I want to take you somewhere.”

“Somewhere?”

He nodded. “Somewhere.”

“I have to get dressed.”

“Okay. But hurry.”

“Why do I need to hurry?”

“Because we have a very tight schedule to keep.”

“Can I have a half hour?”

“I can give you twenty minutes,” he said. “I'll be in the lobby. And dress warm.”

“I'll hurry,” I said.

Fifteen minutes later I walked out into the lobby. Zeke was standing next to the front doors checking his phone messages. He looked up at me and smiled. “That was fast.”

“Where are you taking me?” I asked, offering him my hand.

“Someplace Christmasy,” he said.

“I don't like Christmas.”

“I know.”

“Is
Christmasy
even a word?”

“If you understood it, it's a word.”

“Really, where are we going?”

“Remember what I said last night about trust?”

“Yes.”

“This is where you show that you trust me.”

“Okay,” I said. “I'm all yours.”

Outside, a pristine, crystalline blanket of snow lay snugly across the grounds of the resort, shimmering beneath the morning sun. Zeke's car was waiting for us just a few yards from the front doors. He retrieved the key from the valet, opened my door for me, then we sped away.

A half hour into our drive I asked, “Are we going back to Burlington?”

“Sort of.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we're going to Burlington so we can leave Burlington.”

“Now I'm more confused.”

“We're flying out.”

“Really?”

“You'll enjoy this,” he said.

“I should have called Samantha,” I said. “She thinks we're having lunch.”

He smiled.

We parked the car in the airport's covered parking lot, then hurried through the terminal. As we approached the check-in counter, I said, “May I ask where we're going besides someplace ‘Christmasy'?”

“Bethlehem.”

“Israel?”

“Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Christmas City, USA.”

A half hour later we boarded the first-class section of the plane. We flew from Burlington into Newark, then took a smaller plane into ABE, the Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In all, our flights were less than three hours and we arrived at our destination around four in the afternoon.

“Let me tell you about Bethlehem,” Zeke said. “It was named Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1741 before America was even a country. They have one of the most famous Christmas markets in America called the Christkindlmarkt.
There's music and shops, artisans, and really great food. I think you're going to love it.”

We took a cab from Allentown and it was already starting to get dark as we pulled into the Christmas village in the center of the Bethlehem Historic District. The streets were beautifully lit for the season and crowded with tourists. In the center of the town we passed a massive Christmas tree.

As I got out of the taxi, my senses were assaulted by the sweet-smelling wares of the outdoor vendors—candied nuts, kettle corn, caramel-dipped fruits and chocolate—all sharing the crisp air with the sounds of school and church choirs and street musicians.

We stopped on one corner to listen to an elderly man dressed in army fatigues and a thick army jacket play “Winter Wonderland” on a saxophone. Zeke tipped him a twenty-dollar bill and the man was so pleased that he asked Zeke if he could play a request for his “lovely lady.” I asked him to play “Silver Bells,” which he did beautifully. Zeke gave him another twenty.

For dinner we stopped at a little German shop and had a meal of bratwurst with sauerkraut and cheese-beer soup, and to drink we had Glühwein, a delicious hot red wine seasoned with mulling spices and raisins.

I don't know if it was more the wine or my heart, but I was intoxicated. The mood around the city matched the music inside of me and I felt jovial and festive and free. I hadn't had that much fun for as long as I could remember. Especially not at Christmas.

For several hours we wandered among the booths of artisans, admiring their creations. We spent time watching a glassblower and Zeke bought me a glass ornament to commemorate the evening.

As the night waned it occurred to me that we wouldn't be going back to Vermont. “Where are we staying tonight?”

“The Waldorf Astoria.”

“There's a Waldorf Astoria in Bethlehem?”

“No. It's in New York.”

“We're spending the night in New York?”

“Have you ever been there?”

“No. I've always wanted to. When are we going back to the conference?”

“Tomorrow night,” he said. He smiled. “Don't worry, you'll be back in time to hear your beloved author and get your book signed.”

“You didn't tell me we were spending the night. I don't have anything to change into.”

“I think you might be able to find something to wear in New York,” he said. “I'll take you to Saks Fifth Avenue as soon as they open.”

I looked at him. “Why are we going to New York?”

“It's Christmasy,” he replied.

“Christmasy,” I repeated.

“You wrote about New York in your book. I thought you ought to at least go there and take some notes. It's always better to see what you're writing about. Otherwise you miss the details that really make a book. Like where we are now. Smell the air. What do you smell?”

I took in a deep breath. “Cinnamon and sugar, from the man over there making candied almonds. And I smell wassail.”

He smiled. “Details, details. Books are like life. It's all in the details.”

BOOK: The Mistletoe Inn
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