Harlequin Historical #799
Out of print. Available as e-book.
2007 Rita Finalist
Love and family-the recipe for a perfect Christmas!
Three heartwarming stories full of holiday sparkle and romance!
Christmas Day Family by Cheryl St. John
Marvel Henley thought she was content until the new handsome doctor Seth Paxton and his adorable kids crashed into her life! Suddenly she began to yearn for things she had long stopped wishing for…
Fallen Angel by Jenna Kernan
When Abby March is accidentally shot she and her young boy are taken into a rugged stranger’s care. Dark and mysterious, Ford Statler hides a softer side and offers much more than just a Christmas to remember…
One Magic Eve by Pam Crooks
Chet Lattimer is attracted to Sonja Kaplan despite local Gossip, and he finds himself asking Sonja for help with his motherless little boy. With Christmas on the horizon and magic in the air, their lives just changed…forever!
BUY THE BOOK
“Jenna Kernan tells a great Western historical.”
Romance Reviews Today
"A beautiful and bittersweet read. The hope and love in this story rings true and the characters are people in whom readers will want to believe. Those who enjoy Westerns or tales of lovers reunited will not want to miss this book. It has found a place on my keeper shelf and I know I will be reading it again."
Lynn Spencer, All About Romance
“Kernan writes an emotionally charged, heartwarming tale of love lost and found.”
Durango, Colorado, 1887
A Christmas tree did not seem too much to ask. Getting the mule to cooperate in this endeavor turned out to be another matter entirely.
Abby March paused on the hillside, just east of Durango, to wipe the sweat from her brow. Her breath came in small vaporous puffs in the crisp December air.
Her eight-year-old son, Daniel, had done without many things of late and if he wanted a tree, she was bound and determined to get one, even if that meant slogging through snow on the hillside above the main road. She would do anything for her son. The borrowed mule, however, was not like-minded on the topic and turned out to be as stubborn as, well, a mule. He regarded her with big brown eyes from his sitting position as she wondered how to overcome their impasse. She, at least, wished to be home before nightfall.
“Here’s one, Mama!” called Daniel, the excitement ringing in his voice.
Abby tugged hopefully on the bridle. The mule only blinked at her, so she tied him to a tree and waded into the drift that topped her shins. She found Daniel with his hand proprietarily on a small spruce that topped his height by more than two feet. It was a very pretty tree, with wide green branches and a symmetrical shape. Daniel had even managed to place one of his red mittens on top of the tree, where the star should be.
As she drew near, she realized two things simultaneously; first, that Daniel was dangerously near the edge of the cliff and second, that they were not alone.
A man huddled in the cover of a wide juniper on the steep rise behind her son. The rifle he shouldered appeared to be pointing directly at Daniel.
Her heart clenched in horror as she dashed through the snowdrift. In those seconds, of her waking nightmare, she feared she would lose her son as well. The undisturbed snow slowed her progress as the man cocked the trigger and closed one eye.
Finding her voice, she shouted, “Daniel, get down!”
Her son’s gaze flashed from his mother to the stranger. But instead of doing as she bid, he swiveled to look over the cliff on which he stood.
He cupped his bare hands to his mouth and shouted. “Look out, mister!”
The stranger, before her, rose up as Abby dove, her fingers clasping around cold steel as the shot cracked, vibrating through the barrel and scorching her fingers. A second shot sounded from below her and a pain, hot as a branding iron, seared across her left shoulder. The shooter shook her off and she fell into the snow. He stepped over her and raising his gun again, pressing his cheek to the stock. She did not see him fire, as she turned to find her son. Daniel stood slack-jawed beside his little tree then took a step backward. His arms waved as he tottered and then tumbled over the cliff.
“No!” she shrieked, reaching out for him, but found only one arm responded to her command.
Again, the crack of the rifle came from the road. Beside her, the stranger staggered, dropping his Winchester, before toppling face down into the snow.
He lay unmoving, but she did not pause to tend him. Instead, she crawled on hand and knees toward the little tree. Her vision swam and her shoulder burned with each breath, but she forced herself onward. She knew she had been shot, but it would not stop her from reaching her son. Abby made it to the place where Daniel had stood moments before, proudly claiming his little tree. Beside the packed snow she found the other red mitten.
She cried out, bringing the damp wool to her mouth and then forging on to the precipice.
Abby held her breath as she peered over the edge. Daniel sat in the snow a mere three feet down, safe on the little shelf that kept him from a fall of more than thirty feet. Relief washed over her as she realized he was unharmed.
On the trail below, someone shouted, but she needed all her concentration to reach her son.
“Mama?” He stared at the blood that flowed from beneath the cuff of her worn coat, painting her hand crimson. “You’re shot.”
“Come now,” she motioned, startled at the breathy quality of her voice.
She reached with her good hand and Daniel stood to clasp it. He was small for his age and for once she was glad. Had he weighed even one more pound, she doubted she would have had the strength to drag him to safety. In a moment, he was in her arms.
She tried to hold him, but he wriggled free.
“Hey mister, hey, up here! My mother’s shot!”
She wanted to ask him who he saw, but she could not seem to form the words. Blood warmed her side and she glanced down, quite glad that her threadbare, brown coat was thick enough to hide the sight from her son. She must stay awake to help him. She would not die here on the mountain. That much was certain.
Daniel had altogether too many people abandon him in his short life and she would not be added to the list. They needed to cut down that tree and bring it back to town before nightfall. She needed…
Abby slumped to her side and realized she lay beneath Danny’s little spruce. His red mitten still topped the tree, shining bright against the gray sky.
“Mama!” Daniel sunk to his knees beside her.
She smiled up at him. “It will make a fine Christmas tree, Danny-boy.”
Abby meant only to blink, but when she closed her eyes, she found she could not open them again. The last thing she heard was her son’s frantic voice.
“Mama? Mama! Mister come quick, I think she’s dying!”
Ford Statler had just stepped into a nightmare. Images and sights blurred together as he left his horse to scale the cliff-face. Above him the boy shouted for help. His muscles strained and his boots slipped as he scrambled up the icy hillside. What in the name of heaven had he done?
He recalled the boy’s warning cry and then the man drawing a bead on him. He never would have had his rifle out in time, if not for that boy.
What was a child doing up on the cliff?
The first shot had sparked off the rock to his left. So he had returned fire. Anyone would. He had aimed at the center of the man’s brown coat, but as he had squeezed the trigger the image shifted into a man and a woman fighting over the gun.
He had seen her fall and the horror of that moment had paralyzed him until the shooter lifted the rifle again. Ford aimed higher this time, for a head shot and he had not missed.
He grasped an outcropping of rock and heaved himself up to the small ledge near the top.
The panic in the boy’s voice urged him on as he leapt the final feet to reach the pair.
The boy’s pinched face glistened with tears as he cradled his mother’s head in his lap. A cascade of dark brown hair spilled out over his narrow legs and onto the snow.
“Mister, she’s bleeding bad.”
Ford glanced at the motionless shooter still clutching his rifle. He kicked it away and then knelt down beside the woman, staring at her upturned face. Her pallor and beauty combined to give her the countenance of some other-worldly being. She reminded him of an angel fallen to earth.
“My God,” he gasped.
“Mister, you gotta do something. You gotta save her.”
The boy’s words snapped him into action. A cold stabbing panic ripped through him as he noted her shallow breathing. His gaze traveled south, taking in the torn wool coat where his bullet had rent the fabric. Her blood dripped relentlessly from her motionless fingers, melting the white snow beneath them.
Ford unfastened the buttons of her coat and lifted the flap, pausing too late. The boy had seen the blood. His pallid skin made his wide blue eyes seem huge in his small face. He wore no hat or gloves and his light brown hair stood up in all directions, reminding him suddenly of a street urchin.
“Is she dead?”
“No, son. She’s breathing.” Ford lowered the flap. “That man over there, you know him?”
“Go fetch his rifle and gun belt.”
The boy hesitated, though whether from fear of the corpse or the unwillingness to leave his mother, Ford could not tell.
“What if he isn’t dead?”
"He is.” Ford spoke with a confidence born from seeing his shot hit home.
The instant the boy was on his feet Ford lifted the coat. Blood soaked her bodice as far as her waist. He had to stop the bleeding. He lifted her to him, surprised by how slight she was. It was why he hadn’t seen her immediately. Her height, brown hair and her draping coat had made her nearly invisible against the larger man.
He glanced at her face once more, wondering why a woman of such beauty wasn’t dressed in bright colors. If she were his, he’d dress her in red velvet. What had gotten into him? She wasn’t his, nor did he want a full-time woman. No, surely he did not want that ever again.
But she sure was his responsibility.
He ground his teeth as he stripped back the woman’s coat.
He glanced at the boy, finding him holding the rifle and staring at the corpse. If he could think of another way to distract the child, he would have taken it. Perhaps a stranger’s blood was easier on the eye than the blood of a loved one. He’d always found it so.
Quickly, Ford tore the woman’s blouse, baring her shoulder. What he found relieved him somewhat. The bullet had cut away a strip of flesh and some muscle at her of her left upper arm, but was not deep. The amount of blood surprised him. It seemed too much for such a shallow wound. He studied the gash. The wound was as long as his index finger. He probed the area, but found no shattered bone. A mercy, he thought.
A flesh wound. But to have damaged such perfect flesh made him physically sick. He drew out his handkerchief, fresh and clean from a laundress in town. The scent of bleach and soap greeted him as he pressed it to her shoulder.
She groaned softly, but did not rouse.
Guilt flooded him. “I’ll take care of you, Angel. And I’ll try to make it up to you, I swear.”
The boy stood beside his mother looking wary and uncertain. He’d retrieved his hat and held the rifle in one hand and the gun belt in the other.
“Wound’s not deep, son, but long. That’s why she’s bleeding so. We need to bandage it. Drop those and hold the bandage.”
The child dropped to his knees and pressed the cloth into place, while Ford tied it with his yellow neckerchief.
“Why you up here?” asked Ford.
“We were getting a tree.”
Ford’s brow wrinkled. “A tree?”
He’d nearly forgotten, or hoped to. It was mid-December.
Ford propped the woman up and waited a few moments, relieved to see that the blood did not soak through the cloth.
“You know that feller?” The boy motioned at the body.
“Why’d he try and shoot you?”
“Keep me from shooting him, I expect.”
“You a marshal?”
“Bounty hunter. Name’s Ford Statler. What’s yours, son?”
“Daniel, Daniel March, sir.” The boy removed his hat and extended his hand. It appeared his angel was raising a gentleman.
He took the boy’s small, cold hand in his and felt a fresh pang of guilt. He released him as quickly as possible.
“Well, Daniel March, I want to thank you for saving my life.”
The boy flushed with pride and then seemed to remember his ma.
“Is she going to be all right?”
“I imagine she’ll feel poorly for a while. Where’s your pa at?”
The boy studied the snow before his feet and Ford braced for bad news. “He ran off when I was four. Ma doesn’t like to talk about him on account of her parent’s turning her out for marrying beneath her, but he was taller than her by several inches, I swear.” He met Ford’s gaze with a face that shone with truth and innocence. Ford nearly had to look away.
“Anyway, that’s what I heard my Aunt Barbara tell Ma. But then she stopped coming round, too.”
He glanced at the woman taking in the worn coat and shabby black boots. Abandoned first by her family, and then by her husband.
She had taken a hard fall, indeed.