Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from the #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, Karen Kingsbury, America’s favorite inspirational storyteller. THE BRIDGE is a heartwarming Christmas story about a hundred-year flood, lost love, and the beauty of enduring friendships.

She should have said something.

Even now, seven years later, with Thanksgiving dishes put away and another lonely December rushing up at her, Molly Allen knew the truth. Her year, her life, her Christmas . . . all of it might be different if only she’d said something.

The possibilities plagued her that Black Friday. They walked with her through the front door of her Portland, Oregon, private foundation office, hovered beside her over lunch at P.F. Changs, and distracted her every time she stopped in to see the cats and dogs at her animal rescue shelter.

This was Video Day. Molly’s day after Thanksgiving.

Everyone else in the greater Portland area spent the day hunting bargains and stopping in at her shelter to see if the gift they wanted might be in a cage instead of a Walmart. But now, as the day wound down, while shoppers unpacked their bags and counted their savings, Molly would snuggle beneath a blanket by herself and watch the video.

The way she did every year on this day.

She tucked a strand of long blond hair behind her ear and stooped down to the oversize cage on the bottom row. The room echoed with a dozen different barks and whimpers and cries for attention. A chorus of unrest and slight concern from the animals rescued this month to her shelter, one arm of the Allen Foundation’s efforts.

“Okay, Buster.” She unlatched the cage and welcomed a curly-haired gray terra-poo into her arms. “It’s your lucky day. Yes, it is.” She snapped a leash to Buster’s collar. The dog was a two-year-old, stuck at the shelter for three weeks. Longer than usual, considering this was Christmastime, and the cute dogs usually went first. She scratched the dog just above his ear. “Let’s get you to your family.”

For good measure, she made a general announcement to the others. “It’s still seven days till December, gang. Your turn will come!”

Buster wagged his tail furiously as Molly led him to the lobby. She liked Buster’s new family. Of course, she liked most families. Anyone willing to rescue a pet was a friend of hers, no question. But this family with their twin seven-year-old boys seemed special. Their eyes lit up as Molly rounded the corner with Buster.

“Daddy, that’s him! Our Buster dog!” One of the boys ran up and dropped to his knees, hugging Buster around his neck.

The other boy was quieter and hung back by their parents. His grin brightened the room all the same. The family had already signed the necessary paperwork, so this was the last step. Both parents shook her hand as they left. “What you’re doing here, it’s making a difference.” The dad’s eyes were warm. “I have a feeling you could be doing many more things with your time.” He nodded at her.

“Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you.” Molly hesitated. “Happy holidays.”

The family turned their attention to Buster and the excitement of getting him out the door in the pouring rain and into their van parked just outside. As the family drove off, Molly checked the time. Six minutes till closing. She walked to the door and flipped the sign. The cages were clean, and the animals all exercised by ten volunteer high school kids who had worked until an hour ago. She would check the water bowls and head home.

He called the video project “The Bridge.”

Somewhere in the opening credits, he wrote this descriptor: How a small-town boy from Carthage, Missis- sippi, and a highbrow girl from Pacific Heights, California, found common ground on a daily commute down Franklin Road outside Music City to The Bridge—the best little bookstore in the world.

Too wordy, too many locations, Molly had told him. The two of them would laugh about how he ever could’ve gotten an A on the assignment with such a horrific descriptor.

Molly set her drenched things down just inside the door of her walk-up apartment, turned on the lights, and took off her dripping raincoat. She lived well below her means, in a new two-bedroom unit on the famous NW Twenty-third Street. Trees along Twenty-third sparkled with twinkling lights even in July, and the street boasted local coffee shops, cafés, and boutiques with only-in-Portland art and fashion. The pace and people took the edge off.

Her father would have hated it.

Dinner simmered in the Crock-Pot, vegetable potato soup with fresh-diced leeks and garlic and parsley. The soup he taught her to make. Her Black Friday soup. A whiny meow came from the laundry room, and her cat, Sam, strolled up, rubbing against her ankles. He was a funny cat. More dog than feline. “Hi, Sam.”

He flopped down on the kitchen floor and put his head between his paws.

“Exhausted, are you?” She bent down and scratched beneath his chin. “Good boy, Sam. Don’t overdo it.”

She ladled out a small bowlful of soup, grabbed her blanket and the remote control and settled into one half of her leather love seat. The top button on the remote dimmed the lights, and the next would start the movie, which had been in the player since early that morning.

 

Molly caught her hair in her hands and pulled it to one side.

His name was Ryan Kelly.

Now he was married to the sweet Southern belle he’d dated back in high school, no doubt teaching music at Carthage High in Nowhere, Mississippi. But for two years while they attended Belmont University, Ryan had been hers. She’d dreamed of never going home again and playing violin for the philharmonic, and he’d talked about touring with a country band, making music on his guitar for a living. In the end, he had Kristen, his Southern girl back home, and Molly had her dad’s empire to run in San Francisco.

But for those four sweet semesters at the Franklin bookstore, nothing came between them.

The ending was the hardest, the final touch, the turning away, her trembling hands. Every gut-wrenching heartbeat remained etched in her soul forever. Their good-bye had happened so fast, she still wasn’t sure she understood why. How they could’ve parted ways so quickly and finally.

Molly hit the play button, and as the music began, the familiar ache built inside her. She didn’t often allow herself this trip back to then. But the day after Thanksgiving belonged to him, to the way things once were, and to the unavoidable, inescapable truth.

Like Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, she should’ve said something.