Curl up with a cowboy this Christmas with these three heartwarming tales
A FAMILY FOR THE RANCHER by Jenna Kernan
Two years ago, Dillen Roach fell for wealthy debutante Alice Truett. Now she's at his door with his orphaned nephews in tow! Could Alice be the perfect Christmas gift for this solitary rancher?
DANCE WITH A COWBOY by Kathryn Albright
Kathleen Seridan is determined to leave the tragedy of her past behind her—including brooding cowboy Garrett. But with Christmas magic in the air, can she resist the warmth of his touch?
CHRISTMAS IN SMOKE RIVER by Lynna Banning
Gale McBurney is an utter mystery to rich "city girl" Lilah Cornwell. But to make Smoke River her home by Christmas, she'll have to let this rugged cattleman take the reins….
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4 Stars, Hot
"A triple play of heartwarming holiday stories from authors who know all about the reality of the Wild West as well as the beauty, strength, love and pure joy of the holiday season. These lovely stories will have readers sighing with contentment."
Kathe Robin, Romantic Times Book Reviews
Blue River Junction, Colorado, 1880
Dillen Roach held a letter from Alice Truett in one hand and a half-empty bottle of whiskey in the other. The woman had a gift. Every time he had contact with her, she threw his world off-kilter. This time her correspondence marked a death. The whiskey buoyed him as the grief pressed down hard on his shoulders, chest and heart. According to Alice, his little sister Sylvia was gone. Dead and buried shortly after her husband, Ben Asher, who had come down with spinal fever. Sylvia had tried to nurse him and had caught the same damned thing. His end had been quick and Sylvia’s had been slow or “exceedingly difficult” to use Alice’s exact words.
But she’d had time to make out a will and leave her boys to him. Sylvia’s brain fever was the only explanation for such a bad choice. But perhaps she had made it because he was her only choice. Dillen barely managed to keep himself alive and was in no position to take on two youngsters.
The December wind whipped down the street, threatening to tear his battered tan Stetson from his head. Dillen pressed down on the crown, keeping hold of his hat but releasing the front of his unfastened sheepskin coat. The wind sent the sides flapping like the wings of an agitated rooster. The bite of icy cold sobered him enough so that he thought he might reach his destination without falling again but then he missed the first step to the telegraph office and folded over the sturdy banister. A gentleman, with a trim white beard and a charcoal-gray overcoat which was distinctly devoid of grime or snow, gave Dillen a wide berth and a sour look as he trotted down the stairs agile as a mink. Dillen leaned against the wall before the door to catch his breath. He had business to attend. Then he could finish the bottle. He was a big man but the liquor was strong and his endurance for such indulgences limited.
Dillen pressed the bottle under one armpit, clamping down tight to keep from losing the contents as he opened the door and staggered into the telegraph office. Good thing he had written out his responses before he’d hit that bottle because he could no longer see straight.
The clerk spun around when Dillen got tangled up in the chair beside the writing desk provided for customers. He ended up kicking the chair harder than he’d intended, sending it sliding on its casters like a block of fresh-cut ice on a frozen lake.
“Now see here,” said the clerk, lifting the latched portion of the counter to step from the safety of his recessed sanctuary. Then taking a good look at Dillen, he dropped the section back in place. Dillen had that effect on folks even when he wasn’t drinking. His size accounted for some of it, he supposed, his pistol for the rest. Though he wasn’t an outlaw or a lawman. Just a cowboy turned showman, trick rider and marksman. That and three years of his life had gotten him absolutely nowhere. In fact he was further behind now than when he started. Glaring at the clerk, Dillen patted down his various pockets in search of the scraps of brown paper he’d salvaged from a package from the dry goods store.
“I gotta send two telegrams,” said Dillen, rocking forward against the counter and nearly sprawling across the polished walnut surface.
The clerk looked so young he barely had whiskers. But his blue eyes were clear and his movements steady as he pointed to the desk, now lacking a chair. “Just copy them down on the form you see there.”
Dillen glanced over his shoulder at the twin desks, one now floating slightly higher and to the left of the first. He returned his gaze to the clerk. “How’s about you copy them into your little form? Just take them down as I wrote them.”
“That is very irregular,” said the representative of the United Telegraph office.
Dillen slapped a silver dollar on the counter. “Make it worth your while.”
The coin vanished and the clerk lifted his pen expectantly. Dillen found the two ragged pieces of paper in his front left pants pocket and ironed them flat on the counter with the side of his broad hand. Then he examined them and set them side by side.
The clerk took down his name and filled in the necessary boxes. He needed Dillen to read the one he wrote to Alice because at the time Dillen had composed that particular missive he’d already been blind drunk.
“Says, ‘Situation unstable. Unable to take them now.’” Dillen wiped his nose feeling the guilt chewing on his guts again. He was their only living blood kin. “I’ll take them, by God, but not now.”
The clerk scribbled.
“Don’t write that last part. Just what I said. ‘Situation unstable. Will wire after the first of the year. Regards. Dillen Roach.’ That’s it. Read it back.”
The clerk complied.
Dillen dictated the other message to the horse trainer in Cripple Creek. His boss wanted those three-year-olds as a Christmas gift for his ten-year-old twin boys. Dillen had seen the twin foals himself and given his report, promising to have them ready for riding by the thaw. He couldn’t see to the ranch, break two horses and take custody of his nephews, Cody and Colin. He’d take them, but first he needed a different situation. How old were his sister's children now?
His brain was too fuzzy to do the math.
“You done scribbling?” asked Dillen. He was thinking about his sister Sylvie again. He retrieved the whiskey and set it on the counter, squeezing the neck of the bottle as his eyes burned. “Read it back.”
“‘Interested in taking the pair. Immediate delivery. Will pay for transport for both plus handler. Wire arrival date and time.’”
“Fine,” said Dillen.
The bell above the door jangled merrily. Dillen turned to glare at the bell and then the young dandy who took one look at Dillen and decided he had pressing business elsewhere.
“I need the delivery information,” said the clerk.
Dillen wondered what Alice would think of his reply. Disappointed, he decided and she had every right to be. He had been nothing to his former sweetheart but one giant disappointment. Still he’d been straight with Alice. He couldn’t say the same for her.
“The recipient?” asked the clerk, tapping his fountain pen now.
He recited the address from memory. “Miss Alice Pinter Truett, 1606 South 32nd Avenue, Hanscom Park, Omaha, Nebraska.”
“And this one?”
“Mr. Todd Jackson, Horse Creek Crossing Ranch, Cripple Creek, Colorado.”
“Send them right out.”
Dillen paid the man and waited, dozing as the metallic tap of the telegraph set in motion the first in a string of dominoes that would lead directly back to his door.
His mission accomplished, Dillen staggered out into the blowing snow toward the lights of the Nugget Saloon.
Miss Alice Lorraine Pinter Truett stood on the icy platform of the Blue River Junction train station with her two charges, Cody and Colin Asher, braced against her dark skirts like flying buttresses. She had a horror that the departing train might suck the boys under those steel wheels and so gripped tight with her gloved hand to the narrow shoulders of each child.
Alice had never been outside Omaha, Nebraska—much less away from the safety of her family who were less than supportive of her decision to escort her friend’s offspring to their uncle.
The whistle shrieked and Alice startled as Colin began to wail. Cody jumped and clutched at her skirts, fumbling to find any purchase that was not taffeta or velvet, and failed. Alice squatted and scooped Colin into her arms and pulled Cody close. The little lambs had lost their mother and father and she felt a poor substitute.
There the boys huddled like two blackbirds flanking one black crow. She’d bought the traveling clothing for the children, thinking it appropriate for them to wear black to mark the passing of their parents.
Steam blasted across the platform with a loud hiss as the train crept forward. Cody lifted his head to watch the monstrous metal marvel as it picked up speed. The grinding of the wheels on the track was positively deafening and Alice clamped one hand to Colin’s ear and pulled his other against her breast.
Alice hoped that Dillen had received her reply. He did instruct that she bring the children as soon as possible so she had wired him their arrival details. She was not certain what bothered her more, being called the children’s “handler” or his admission that he was interested in taking the pair, as if she would even entertain separating these two orphans. In her heart she feared that perhaps he did not want Colin. Men were funny about young children, feeling they required a woman’s hand and so forth, all of which might be true but…
She allowed herself a moment’s fantasy in which Dillen would now need her help. The instant she realized what she was doing she cast off the ridiculous notion. Dillen Roach had once told her that he would not accept her help and that he did not expect her to wait for him. He could not have been blunter if he had told her that he saw no future for them. She still wondered how she could have misread him so completely. He had offered small hope, that he still held her in highest regard. But then he never came back. His actions spoke much louder than words.
Yet here she was, still turning down perfectly suitable gentlemen of her own class to chase the one man for whom the money did not eclipse her shortcomings. But she wasn’t here for him, at least not directly. She was here for the children. Wasn’t she?
Blast, where was the man?