Read an excerpt from Debbie Macomber’s latest romantic getaway

chapter one

1977

“Hey man, sorry I’m late,” said Hank, sliding into the red upholstered booth at Mom’s Place opposite his best friend. He jogged for less than five hours of sleep, and his day was just beginning. “Did I make you wait too long?”

“No, I’m late myself.” Pete was always the immediate one. Hank was surprised to learn that his friend the priest might be late for anything.

The waitress came with a pot of coffee, and both men handed beige mugs to fill. Pete smiled at her as she handed them the menus and quickly left. Hank noticed how Pete’s gaze remained on the waitress as she returned to the table and refilled another customer’s cup.

“I tell you, these long hours are killing me,” Hank said, rubbing his hand across his face. His eyes burned, and he didn’t remember the last time he ate a decent meal. Despite their differences, they continued a friendship after Pete graduated from theological school and returned to Bridgeport. Pete looked like the pastor with his elegant looks, while Hank was often mistaken for a hippie, with his long hair and casual manner of dress. Skinny jeans and a T-shirt were his uniform, while he suspected that his friend had not worn blue jeans since his college days.

Hank was the owner, manager, waiter and head of the bottle wash at The Last Call Pub. Mom’s Place, where they routinely met for lunch every month or so, was halfway between their two towns, Pete in Bridgeport and Hank in Kettle Springs. “I didn’t get away from the bar until after two in the morning. I swear some days I sleep less than three or four hours a night. This job is a killer.”

Pete took a peek from the menu. “I thought you liked the pub.”

“I do. I always knew I would replace my dad someday. I was looking forward to it. Regulars are great and they keep me in the black, but I don’t have a life. I haven’t been on a date in six months.”

“I think you’ll meet women left and right,” said Pete, before sipping his coffee.

“I do. Lots of great women. I thought I’d get married and have two kids when I’m 30.”

“Why aren’t you?” Pete asked.

Hank’s lifelong friend apparently had no understanding of what running a pub involved. “There is a big difference between meeting a lot of women and spending time on actual dating. I work fourteen hours a day and sometimes even longer.”

Abs Pete. “Hire someone.”

sniff hank Pete made it look easy. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find good help these days? I tried being a part-time bartender, drinking all my earnings. It’s a small enough profit margin as it is. At the rate he was drinking, I was about to go out of business. The thing is, If I need to be there to monitor the staff, I might as well.”

After a short hesitation, Pete acknowledged Hank’s dilemma: “gotcha.”

“Having my own business takes up every minute of my emptiness. If I’m not at the bar serving drinks, I’m in the office doing the paperwork. Keeping up with orders or dealing with taxes. I swear it’s one headache after another. Do you have any idea how much effort there is on the accounting side of being business owner? “

“yes . . . “

“Oh come on.” Hank gave a short laugh. “You are a priest. The church does not pay taxes and does not struggle with money troubles.”

Pete almost spit coffee out of his mouth. “You have no idea! Taking care of a church is no walk in the park.”

“are you kidding?” Hank was about to say more when the waitress interrupted them. He swallowed his argument and turned his attention back to deciding what he wanted for lunch.

The young woman asked, “What can I bring you, gentlemen?”

“I’ll take the soup and the sandwich special. On the wheat, grab the tomatoes,” Hank said, without looking from the plastic-covered menu.

The waitress wrote it down and handed her the menu. Then, I looked at Pete.

“I’d like the Chef’s Salad, with Thousand Island Dressing,” he said.

“I’ll take it right away,” she said, turning toward the kitchen.

“It’s cute,” said Pete, as he watched the young woman in the pink outfit with the white apron.

Hank frowned, still his thoughts about everything he had lost in life. He caught his friend’s interest in the young waitress, though, and played with him. “Who is cute?”

“Waitress. No wonder you’re not dating. You don’t pay attention. That woman is beautiful, and I noticed there was no ring on her finger either.”

Pete was attentive. However, Hank let the comment pass. Pete must be the one who’s married now. He lived the good life and didn’t have any of the worries that haunt Hank from day to day. Hank envies him this way.

“You should know that my life is nothing like you suppose,” Pete said before Hank encouraged him to ask the waitress for a date.

“Are you kidding me? Come on Pete. You work your own hours . . . ”

“This is not entirely true.”

Hank rejected his objection with a wave of his hand. “You get a fixed salary every month.”

“Yes but. . . “

Hank wasn’t listening. “Plus the church gives you your own home. No mortgage payments, you don’t worry about making ends meet. And on top of that, you only show up once a week. You live the life, man.”

Pete simply shook his head. It looked like he was about to argue when the waitress came back with their lunch.

Once again, Hank noticed the way his friend saw the young woman. It left him wondering aloud, “Why did you never get married?”

“I?” asked Pete, mixing salad and dressing together.

“Yes you are. Seeing how you made such a big deal about how easy it is to meet women, how about you?”

Pete looked like a deer in the headlights and then like a fish out of water, his mouth opening and closing several times.

“It’s not easy to find the right person, is it?” Well understood, Hank said. “The church shall be filled with upright celibate Christian women. You may choose any one of them.”

“I suppose,” Pete reluctantly agreed. “The truth is, I don’t know why I’m still single. I’ve had a lot of opportunities so far, but I haven’t found that special someone.”

“I bet Gracie has something to say about that,” Hank commented. Hank’s sister and Pete have been at odds for years, always rubbing each other the wrong way. May God protect him from the belief of women. It was a fire spirit, that’s for sure. Honestly, Hank couldn’t imagine how Pete worked with Gracie as a church secretary. She didn’t have the right personality for that, as far as he could imagine.

“Gracy is Gracie,” Pete said. “She is more righteous than ever. Stubborn as a mule and loyal as a dog.”

That sounds right,” Hank grunted. He smiled just thinking of her. Her nose was in the air and a much more hospitable stance than you. It was no surprise that she was not married either. Pete was not like his sister. His character was perfect for his life’s work. He was a kind and thoughtful man. wise. full of faith. Not that Hank lacks faith. He was in balance with God. But being a Christian did not require him to come to church every Sunday.

“You should know my job isn’t all great, Hank. I have my own set of problems,” Pete said.

“You sure do,” he said lightly. He didn’t mean to sound condescending, but Pete had no idea the demands regarding Hank’s time and finances.

“It’s Christmas in less than a week,” Pete continued. “I run rough because everything is in order. You on the other hand . . . .”

“What about me?”

“You party every night–“

“It’s not a party,” Hank interrupted. “I work hard to create fun but trust me it’s not always a party.”

“So you say. You can work many hours, and I do not deduct from it, but you can sleep every morning.”

“I’m dreaming,” Hank said, rolling his eyes.

“And while you claim you don’t have any time yet, which I find hard to believe, you do have a chance every night to meet women.”

“You have no idea what it means to be a bar owner!”

“And you have no idea what a priest’s life is like.”

Hank laughed. “You can’t do my job for a week.”

Pete laughed. “You can’t do my job for a week.”

“Give me a break. You live the easy life.”

Pete put down his fork and leaned forward, his eyes hard. “Are you ready to find out?”

“What you mean?”

“Well, since you think it’s so easy, let’s trade places. I’ll work the tavern and you’ll fill the church for me.”

Hank did not hesitate. This was like taking candy from a kid. “I was on.” He pushed his hand across the table. Pete extended his hand and the two shivered.

“When did you start?” Hank asked.

Pete’s smile was wide. “There is no time like the present.”

Hank thought, Oh, that would be fine. Monday night. He was just about to put his feet up and watch monday night football, And for the first time in longer than he can remember. Even better, he would be able to pay attention to what was happening on the pitch.

Life had never been sweeter, and his friend was about to learn the biggest lesson of his life.

Adapted from Christmas spirit. Copyright © 2022 by Debbie Macomber. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without written permission from the publisher.

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