Widowed Pastor Jacob Thompson had vowed to never remarry, but that was before he met Veterinarian Molly Kincaid. Could this unlikely duo be a match made in heaven?
“I’ll do it. I’ll direct the living nativity program.” The second the words left Molly Kincaid’s mouth, she wanted to take them back. One look at the relief on Pastor Jacob Thompson’s handsome face, and she knew she couldn’t.
“Are you sure?” He leaned against the side of the desk while she waited for the farmer to pay for the medicine she’d prescribed for his son’s potbellied pig. His fingers scratched the fur between the Westie puppy’s ears. “Doreen is a seasoned program director, and last year during the living nativity she threatened to quit. She actually told me the best part of caring for her daughter would be skipping the program this year.” He set the Westie puppy on the floor in the gated off play area. Then straddled the guest chair in front of her battered desk and ran a hand through his close-cropped ash blond hair. “Orchestrating a nativity program with live animals and a dozen or more children and adults can be overwhelming. And there are multiple performances.”
Molly took the check from Frank Simpson’s outstretched hand. “Tell Wesley I said no lotion for Rudy. It clogs his pores.”
“Doc, I’ll do better than that. He puts lotion on Rudy again and he’s paying your bill.” He walked to the door and opened it. “Boy’s as tightfisted as ole Scrooge.” The black and white pig sashayed through the opening, followed by Frank.
Molly grinned and scooted forward in her chair. The action brought her closer to the widowed pastor. Jacob Thompson loved the Lord more than life and worked harder than any man she knew. Molly vowed to do whatever she could to make his job a little easier, to ease the lines of stress from his brow. Even facing down old man Henderson’s stubborn mule or casting eight-year-old Wesley Simpson as an angel. Heaven help her.
“You sound like you’re trying to talk me out of volunteering.”
“Then I’m absolutely certain I want to volunteer.” She plastered a confident smile on her face, hiding the terror beneath. Maybe she could claim this as a lesson in faith. If not, she’d just lied to her pastor.
He smiled as he cocked his head and his midnight blue eyes shone. “Can you meet me at the church in an hour? We can look through Doreen’s office and find her notes. Thankfully she keeps a file on everything.”
“I can do better than that.” She rolled her chair back and stood to her feet. “Let me put Crosby in his kennel and we can go.” She walked around her desk to the doggie play area and picked the terrier up. The wiggly little Westie licked her chin and Molly giggled as she opened the wire door and slipped him inside. “Emma’s going to love this little boy. She’ll be the happiest five-year-old in Berryhill, maybe all of Oklahoma, on Christmas morning.”
“She’s been hounding me nonstop for a puppy. Not just any puppy, but a Westie named Crosby.”
“As in White Christmas Bing Crosby?” She double-checked the lock on the kennel, walked across the room, flipped the sign to closed and headed toward the door.
“Yeah, her grandmother is a big Bing Crosby fan. Emma has seen that movie every Christmas of her life.”
Jacob reached around her and pulled the door open. The scent of his tangy aftershave filled the air and she pulled in a deep breath. Ten minutes later they reached the church. She followed him down the hall to Doreen’s office. Molly waited as he pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. Stacks of folders and papers rested on every available surface. She didn’t have a clue where to begin looking, and she had a sneaking suspicion Doreen wouldn’t welcome her rummaging through her desk. Jacob opened the drawer to the file cabinet, and it let out a loud squeak.
He winced. “Whoa, that’s awful. Look through here while I get some WD-40 from the storage closet.”
Molly rifled through the drawers in the ancient file cabinet until she found the folder marked in faded red Sharpie, Living Nativity. She pulled it out and confirmed that it contained the information from last year’s program and a smattering of ideas for this year. She hummed as she read over the notes.
By the time she reached the end of the file, her happy little Christmas tune had turned into a funeral dirge. The program hadn’t changed in fifteen years. Even the players had remained the same. Sweet Brandi Smith played Mary, and that grumpy Mrs. Horton masqueraded as an angel every Christmas. If the kids hadn’t grown, they, no doubt, wouldn’t have changed either. She looked again and, sure enough, the animals were only replaced when they passed on and went to that big barnyard in the sky.
Molly warred with the thoughts running through her mind. Should she just stick with the status quo, or should she change things up? Make this a living nativity program Berryhill, Oklahoma would never forget?
She grabbed the file, marched over to Doreen’s desk and flipped the computer on. Within seconds she was surfing the net for inspiration. She snagged a notebook from the corner of the desk and jotted down ideas. One website showed links to multiple living nativities in another state. By the time she went through each page of the website she had a couple of pages chock full of ideas. Renewed confidence buoyed her spirit. She might actually pull this off. A glance at her watch revealed she had spent an hour doing research. Where had Jacob gone to find that WD-40?
A tug on her ponytail jarred her out of her musings.
She turned and saw him standing behind her. “I didn't mean to abandon you. Jessie wanted to discuss what the choir would be singing this Sunday. I see you found the file.” Jacob smiled, and her heart flip-flopped. “I’m on my way to the fellowship hall, but I wanted to remind you that if you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask. And you can count on me to build the stable. Basically it’s already done. We save it from year to year. It just needs to be assembled.”
His words caused her pulse to race, but this time for an entirely different reason. The thought of spending more time with Jacob would make this entire process worthwhile.
In three strides his long legs had carried him to the door. “Uh, I forgot to mention one thing. Doreen donated all our old costumes to the mission in Tulsa. She planned to make new costumes for everyone this year. There should be notes in the file.”
Make new ones? Make? Molly’s new sense of confidence disappeared faster than snow in the Oklahoma sunshine. What had she gotten herself into? The first performance was four weeks away. A few sheep, a donkey, and a cow she could handle. She was a vet not a seamstress, making even one costume would take her twice that long, not to mention trying to create angel wings and halos. By the time this program was over, her black hair would be white. Now might not be the best time to confess that she’d flunked Home Economics in junior high. Instead, she plastered a smile on her face and propped her worn cowboy boots up on the corner of the desk. “No problem.” The smile she’d plastered on her face flipped to a frown the minute he left the room.
Molly rummaged through the file until she found pictures of the old costumes. They looked so detailed. She’d never be able to pull this off. A note on the paper for this year’s program snagged her attention. Doreen had intended to copy the old costumes. Molly scrunched her brow as she looked over the pictures. Why in the world would you get rid of perfectly good costumes if you were going to turn around and copy them? Maybe the mission would loan her the costumes. No, that would never work. No doubt they intended to use them for their own Christmas program.
She had to find help, and fast. She bowed her head and uttered a silent prayer. As she reached for one of the photos, a slip of paper fell out of the folder and fluttered to her lap. Molly leaned forward to retrieve it. Yes! Charlotte Ainsley and Summer Jenkins had volunteered to sew costumes. She and Charlotte were fast friends, it would be great. But Summer aka little Miss Perfect? Oh well, she wouldn’t turn down a volunteer and no doubt Summer sewed as flawlessly as she did everything else.
A quick glance at the calendar confirmed there was no time to waste. Her boots hit the floor with a thud. A dried up cow patty landed on the floor. Molly prayed it didn’t foreshadow things to come.
Jacob felt like a fifty pound weight had been lifted off his chest. Molly Kincaid was a gift from heaven. He reached for the door knob and started to turn it when he heard voices filtering through. The Women’s Hospitality Committee meeting was in full swing. A glance over his shoulder revealed the hallway was deserted. Nobody would witness his retreat. He was backing away when the door opened.
Busted. He turned, and Virginia Coyle, president of the Women’s Hospitality Committee, waved him toward the fellowship hall. She reminded him of one of the fairy godmothers in that sleeping princess movie his daughter loved so much. She nearly stood on tip-toes in her excitement to gain his attention. “Come join us.” Her hand fluttered to her heart. “We have the most wonderful news to share with you.”
Dread settled like a lump of coal in his stomach. The last time the Women’s Hospitality Committee had wonderful news to share with him, they’d decided to paint his daughter Emma’s bedroom pink. Something they never would have done if Bailey, his wife, had still been alive. His five-year-old tomboy hadn’t appreciated the gesture one bit. He feared he was going to feel the same way about this announcement, whatever it was. He remembered the stern lecture he’d given his daughter about being thankful. Seemed he owed Emma an apology, because he wasn’t feeling so thankful right now.
He walked into the fellowship hall to find the group had corralled Summer Jenkins into a chair in their midst. She was all but hog-tied.
“What can I do for you ladies?”
Virginia pulled out a chair and pushed him into it while another of the ladies plopped a mug of coffee and a homemade slice of apple pie in front of him. The warm scent of apple mixed with cinnamon set his mouth to watering. Okay, maybe he could stay for a minute. He took a bite, and his taste buds danced in joy. No wonder these women were so formidable—they knew how to find a man’s weak spot.
“Does the pie taste all right?” Virginia asked.
He forked another bite into his mouth. “Fantastic.” He washed the bite down with a swig of java.
“Have some more.” The older woman cast a glance in his direction. “Summer made it.”
He nearly spewed his coffee. Now he knew their game. The same one they’d been playing for the last year. A game neither he nor Summer wanted any part of. Or at least he hoped she didn’t want any part of it. Sure, Summer was beautiful and the right age for him, but he wasn’t looking for another wife. After Bailey’s death, he’d vowed to never marry again. If he did, Emma would forget all about her mother and that would dishonor Bailey’s memory. She’d loved their daughter more than life. Besides, even if he were in the market for a wife, Summer wasn’t his type. She was far too serious. An image of Molly’s laughter-filled green eyes popped into his mind and he pushed it away.
“Ah, no. I’m full.” He placed his hands on the table and started to push back.
“Wait, Pastor.” Virginia placed her hand on his shoulder. “We’ve come up with the most brilliant idea.”
Where were those antacid pills? He felt as trapped as Balaam’s donkey stuck in that narrow passage, the armed angel before him. Today, Virginia wielded the sword.
“We know Doreen had no choice but to run to her daughter’s side, what with the baby coming early and all. Still, she left you in the lurch, you poor man.” Virginia patted his back before continuing. “Naturally, the members of the Women’s Hospitality Committee want to make your burden lighter. So, we convinced Summer to step in and take over the living nativity.”
Jacob shot a look at Summer. Her skin was an unfortunate shade of green—and not the festive kind. Evidently he wasn’t her type, either. He gave her a gentle smile. “That’s so kind of Summer...and all of you.” He pushed back from the table and stood. “But Molly Kincaid has already volunteered.”
A look of relief washed over Summer’s face, and he had to stifle his chuckle. He felt better knowing she was as much of a pawn in this game as he was.
“But...but, Pastor,” Virginia said, “that just won’t do.”
“And why not?”
“The girl doesn’t have a clue how to orchestrate a program of this magnitude.”
“I beg to differ.” Jacob stared down at Virginia.
“You mark my words.” Virginia pointed a finger at him. “Molly Kincaid will make a mockery of the program. She left Berryhill without a backwards glance nine years ago. My poor grandson was heartbroken. Then earlier this year she waltzed back into town and practically stole Doc Henderson’s veterinary clinic from him. She has no sense of history, of tradition. Why, she’s nothing like Summer. In fact, Summer played the role of Mary when she was a teenager. I always thought she was a natural. Such a godly young woman. ”
Summer looked as if she’d like the ground to open up and swallow her whole.
“Maybe it’s time for some fresh ideas.” Jacob rubbed the back of his neck and felt the muscles ease loose. He hated arguing with his parishioners, but he was right. “What would be the harm in that?” The minute the words left his mouth, he realized he should have left well enough alone.
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that.” Virginia reared back with a ramrod posture that would make a general proud. “The Virgin Mary never wore cowboy boots.”