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Christmas with a Cowboy
Includes a bonus novella
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- ebook $6.99 $8.99 CAD
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Mama told me that I came from Irish ancestors and that my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Miz Martha Cummins, came over to the United States from Ireland. Mama kept Grandma Martha's wedding ring in her little cedar jewelry box, and it's been passed down to me. It's nothing fancy, just a little band that her groom made for her out of a nickel, but in our family we tie it into the girls' wedding bouquets for their "something old."
According to my DNA test, Mama was right, so it was a real treat to get to know Bridget, since she comes from County Cork, Ireland. Of course, Maverick has Irish ancestors too, so that made it doubly fun to write. I fell in love with Maverick in Cowboy Rebel, and throwing him into a situation with Bridget was so much fun. Hopefully all of you will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it—there's always a little magic in the air when I'm writing a Christmas book.
Like always it takes a team to pull a book together from one of my ideas, and I've got an amazing one at Grand Central. I couldn't ask for a better editor than Leah Hultenschmidt. She's walked through muddy waters with me on several books, helping me get the tone and emotions just right from the time we go brainstorming to finished product. I owe her big Texas-size hugs for that right along with the rest of my team: Estelle and Monisha in marketing, Elizabeth for my gorgeous covers, Raylan and Bob and Gina in sales, Melanie and Luria in production, and Cristina to help keep everything on the rails. Y'all are all fantabulous (I know that's a word because spell check didn't try to turn it into something else), and I appreciate each and every one of you!
Thank you to my agent, Erin Niumata, and my agency, Folio Management, for everything they do for me. My undying gratitude to my husband, Mr. B, who is simply the best. And huge thanks to all my readers for all the times they've told a neighbor or a friend about one of my books, written a review, or sent me a note of encouragement. I love you all!
You'll be reading this book in the fall and winter, so grab a cup of hot chocolate and one of Granny's quilts. Snuggle up and enjoy the story!
Until next time,
The minute Maverick Callahan pushed through the door of the pub in Ireland he zeroed in on a tall blonde playing darts. He threw a little extra swagger in his step as he walked past her and settled onto a barstool. When he caught her eye, he tipped his hat toward her and then removed it, laid it on the bar's polished wooden surface, and raked his fingers through his dark hair. When she finished her game, he'd ask her to dance.
"Jameson or Guinness?"
His focus shifted from the blond woman to the bartender, a redhead with a voice like honey. "I was thinking more of a shot of Jack Daniel's."
"You're in an Irish pub, not a honky-tonk, cowboy," she said with a sparkle in her green eyes.
Oh man, he'd always had a weakness for redheads. "Well, then I guess you'd better give me a pint of what you suggested since y'all ain't got good Tennessee whiskey."
"Ooooh, now those are fightin' words." She did a cute little head shake, and the dim light above the bar caught the sparkles of Christmas tree earrings. "And speaking of fightin' words, Denise McKay's husband will have a few if he sees you eyein' his wife like that." She nodded toward the tall blonde playing darts.
"Why are you telling me this?" He almost reached out to touch the tiny shamrock topping the tree on her earrings.
"Just trying to help you keep out of trouble," she answered. "Something tells me you have a way of findin' it pretty fast."
With a toss of her hair, she went to the other end of the bar to draw the beer up in a tall mug. He glanced around the place. Some of it was the same as the Rusty Spur honky-tonk in his home state of Texas—stools in front of a long bar, mirror behind the bar with shelves of liquor, beer mugs and shot glasses at the ready. But where the places in Texas had signed pictures of bull and bronc riders on the walls, along with old beer signs, the Shamrock Pub had dartboards and pictures of the rolling hills of Ireland hanging on the walls.
The cute little bartender set a pint of foaming Guinness on the bar in front of him. "Where'd you come from, cowboy?"
"Texas, darlin'," he said. "What's your name?"
"Bridget." She smiled.
"Just Bridget, cowboy," she said. "What's your name?"
"Maverick," he answered.
"Just Maverick." He gave her a dose of her own medicine.
"Well, then, just Maverick, welcome to Ireland. What brings you to our little town of Skibbereen?" She tucked a strand of red hair into her ponytail.
"My grandmother wanted to visit an old friend, and I didn't want her to travel alone. Plus, it gave me a chance to visit some distant cousins I've always heard about but never met," he answered. "It's been such a great trip, I'll be sad to leave tomorrow." What Maverick didn't tell her was that nothing he'd seen yet compared to the sight of her. Whether she was laughing with another customer, pulling a pint, or wiping down the bar—he was hyperaware of her every move, inexplicably drawn to her smile and sparkling eyes.
And she didn't exactly seem immune to his charm. Every time she caught a break, she was down at his end of the bar, chatting about anything and everything until he suddenly realized it was closing time.
As Maverick shrugged into his coat, he gave one last longing look at Bridget on the other side of the bar. Had he been home, he would've asked her out in a heartbeat. But he could tell Bridget wasn't exactly a one-night-stand kind of woman. And he'd be leaving in the morning. Reluctantly, he turned and strode out the door to make the cold, lonely walk back to his hotel.
The whole scene was surreal that night. Holiday decorations threw multicolored lights everywhere he looked. He stopped to stare at a huge Christmas tree that had been set up in the middle of the main street. It reminded him of those earrings Bridget was wearing and that his grandmother would be fussing at him and his brother, Paxton, to help her get her tree up as soon as they got home. A few snowflakes drifted from the skies and frosted the pine branches. He looked up, and sure enough right there on the top of the tree was a shamrock ornament.
"Skibbereen goes all out for Christmas." He knew her voice within a split second. He whipped around, and there was Bridget. Her red hair was now covered with a dark green cap, and she was bundled up in a black coat. She barely came up to his shoulder, and her hands were shoved down into her pockets.
"I feel like I'm in a Hallmark movie," he joked. "But it's so beautiful and peaceful."
"I just love Christmas," Bridget said. "We hardly ever get snow, though. So it's a special night indeed." Her eyes were shining as she tilted her head to look up to him. "There are some moments you just never forget."
It took all the willpower he possessed not to cup her face and kiss her right there in the softly falling snow. "Can I see you home safely?" he asked.
"Oh, that's all right. I'm just across the street here." She gestured down the road.
"Well, what a coincidence. That's my hotel there." He nodded toward where she'd pointed. "They usually have tea or coffee twenty-four hours a day if you want to join me for a cup in the lobby."
"I usually do have a cuppa to wind down before bed," she said. "Sure, I'd be happy to join you."
Maverick held out his arm to her, relishing the feeling of her sliding close to his body as they crossed the street together and entered the hotel.
With their steaming beverages, they sat down on either end of the worn sofa in the lobby and talked until the sun peeked through the windows, its rays making the snow coating the trees and grass shine like diamonds.
"I've got scones, jam, and a coffeepot in my flat next door. Would you be hungry?" she asked.
"Starving." He smiled.
* * *
Bridget might not have known Maverick long, but she felt like she already knew him well. He loved his family, especially his grandmother. He loved the land and described Texas with such great detail, it seemed like she'd taken a trip there herself. He took his coffee black and his bacon almost burned. In her heart, she knew he could be trusted, and sweet Jesus, he was a sexy cowboy. What would it hurt to spend a little more time with him? He'd said he would be leaving that afternoon to catch a plane back to Texas with his grandmother. Besides, she liked to listen to his deep southern drawl.
She led the way up the stairs of her building to the second floor and went to room 212. She tried not to fumble with her key as she unlocked the door. It's just breakfast, she reminded herself.
As soon as they entered her flat, it felt like Maverick's big frame took up the whole kitchen. She immediately busied herself with starting a pot of coffee and tried not to think about how close they were to her bedroom. Thank goodness she'd picked up her laundry and made the bed before her shift at the bar!
As she got out a container of scones she'd made the day before, Maverick plucked two mugs from her little shelf. They didn't even need words—they just moved around each other effortlessly, like they'd been doing the dance their whole lives.
When he reached for the first scone their hands got tangled up together. And after that everything moved in slow motion. Somehow things went from his big hand over her small one, to a kiss, and then more kisses. Then she realized where the make-out session could be headed, and she took two steps back.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I should be going."
"No, please stay." She could feel the blush heating her cheeks. "It's just…I'm not…"
"I know, sweetheart." His eyes were so kind, so understanding. "I get it. I just wish we could have met sooner."
"Me too." Bridget sighed. "Truly, though, please sit and have a scone with me. I'd hate to send you away hungry."
"I'd like that too." Maverick pulled out a chair and sank into it, stretching his longs legs out right as she turned to get more coffee. Next thing she knew, she had tripped over his feet and landed in his lap. His arms instinctively drew her close to steady her. When she got her bearings and looked up into his dark green eyes, she didn't even fight the pesky voice in her head telling her another kiss was a bad idea. She just put a hand on each side of his face and drew his lips down to hers.
Several hours later, Bridget awoke to find Maverick propped up on an elbow beside her, smiling into her eyes. She was glad that the sheet covered her because she was more than a little embarrassed. She'd never had a one-night stand—or, in this case a one-morning stand—in her life. What happened now?
Maverick reached out to twirl a bit of her long hair in his fingers. "So soft. Like silk."
Bridget knew she could fall in love with that voice. That she could fall in love with everything he'd made her feel in their short time together. She also knew falling in love with him would be a disaster.
"I have to be going," she said abruptly. "The first bus leaves in fifteen minutes, and Nana will be expecting me for church this morning. God only knows that I'll be needing to send up extra prayers this week."
"Just, Bridget, I will never forget this night." Maverick rolled over to the other side of the bed. "You're so beautiful there with the sunlight coming through the window to light up your red hair." He snatched up his phone and snapped a quick photo. "You don't mind, do you?" he asked.
"No," she said softly. "I'll never forget you either. But it's best if we just part ways now." She scooted off the edge of the bed and frantically started pulling on any clothes she could find. Why, oh why, hadn't fate given them more time? "We never did get around to scones and jam. I'll just leave them for you. Safe travels back to your Texas."
"Can I get your number?" he asked. "Or email or something?"
"I don't think that's a good idea," she said as she waved goodbye and slipped out the door.
The bus pulled up just as she made it to the stop. She glanced up at her kitchen window, hoping for one last glance of Maverick, but there was no cowboy looking down at the street. While other passengers boarded, Bridget stared at the big Christmas tree. This was the season of magic and miracles. She'd just spent a magical night, and she decided that she wasn't going to let guilt cloud her memory. She thought about Maverick all the way to her nana's house. But as soon as she walked in the door, there was no more time for daydreaming. Nana immediately started fussing that they'd be late if she didn't hurry.
"My friend Iris just left. I was so hoping you'd be home in time to meet her," Nana said.
"Sorry," Bridget said. "The bus was a little late." As her grandmother finished gathering her things for church, Bridget took a deep breath. She swore she could still smell Maverick's shaving lotion in her hair. She wondered how long it might take to fade. And she wondered how long it would take the memories of their very special night together to fade too.
One Year Later
Maverick sang a whole string of Christmas songs along with the radio's country music station as he drove past the exit to Tulia, Texas, and kept driving north, past Happy and Amarillo, until he hit the exit to Daisy. For the first time in six months, he was going home.
He was singing "Jingle Bells" as he drove down Main Street and waved at the folks he knew. The fire trucks were putting up decorations on all the light poles down Main Street, and the store windows were decorated. Just when he thought things couldn't get any better, it started to snow. Now that was setting the scene right for him to be home for the holidays.
The next song was "Christmas Cookies." Maverick wiggled his shoulders and kept time with his thumbs on the steering wheel as he headed east toward his grandmother's ranch. The lyrics talked about eating Christmas cookies all year long because it took fifteen minutes for them to cook, and that left time for kissin' and huggin'. Maverick loved the Christmas holiday, almost as much as he liked the kissin' and huggin' business.
"Well, maybe it's a toss-up." He remembered where he'd been last year at this time. Anytime he saw a red-haired woman who came up to just his shoulder, he thought of Bridget and wondered where they might be if fate had put them together earlier. "Don't get all melancholy wantin' for something that you weren't meant to have," he told himself and turned up the radio when Blake Shelton started singing "I'll be Home for Christmas."
He swayed from side to side as he made a turn into the lane leading up to Granny's house, and picked up where Blake left off as he parked the truck in the yard and hurried inside the house.
"Is that you, Mav?" his grandmother yelled from the living room.
"It's me, Mam," he called back. "I mean Granny." When he and Paxton had been little kids they'd called her Mam, because when she got bossy with Grandpa, he'd say, "Yes, ma'am." She'd insisted that they call her Granny, but Mam still came out occasionally.
He kept singing and two-stepped with an imaginary partner from the foyer to the living room. "Merry Christmas!" He tossed his cowboy hat up on the steer horns hanging above the fireplace mantel and crossed the room to hug her.
Iris giggled. "Silly boy, it's not Christmas yet. I don't even have my tree up."
"You would have had it up a couple of weeks ago if you hadn't played fast and loose with a pear tree," he said as he removed his coat and tossed it on a recliner. "And now you're laid up with a busted hip."
"No, I'm not," Granny declared. "It's a brand-new hip. My body just has to get used to the damn thing." She pointed a finger at him. "So don't you be givin' me no sass about it. I didn't call on you to come help me for a month or two to listen to you bitch at me."
"Yes, ma'am." He sat down on the other end of the sofa from her. "Now tell me what's going on. When you called yesterday, you just said that Buster had to leave and you needed help. You do know that me or Paxton or even both of us could have come and stayed with you in the hospital."
"I didn't need a babysitter then, and I don't"—she paused—"want one now. But the doctor said if I don't have help in the house, then he'd make me go to a nursing home until I got on my feet again."
"Whatever you need, Granny," Maverick said. "I'm here for you. All you have to do is tell me. Like I was singing, 'I'll be home for Christmas.'"
"Yes, you are," Granny told him. "You've got your old room, but I put my new housekeeper and cook in the guest room. You remember my friend Virgie, who I went to visit last Christmas? You met her that first day before you went off to visit other parts of Ireland."
"Yep." Maverick remembered a short, round lady who'd insisted that he have a snack before he caught a bus up to Skibbereen. She'd had a thick Irish accent, and two long gray braids wrapped around her head.
"Well, she died a couple of weeks ago. When I heard her granddaughter didn't have a home and would be alone for the holidays, I invited her to come here and help me until after the first of the year. I'd hate for Virgie's only living relative to spend Christmas all by herself, without any family. She arrived three days ago, just when the doctor released me from the hospital," Granny explained. "She's off at the grocery store right now, but she'll be home by the time you get settled in and get the evening chores done."
"I'll bring in my stuff and get right out to the barn. You want or need anything before I go? Coffee, a glass of tea, or a beer, or maybe a little two-steppin' around the livin' room to loosen that new hip up?" Maverick stood and stretched the kinks from a five-hour drive from his neck.
"You just give me time to get off this damned medicine, and I'll drink you under the table, and wear you out on the dance floor." Granny laughed out loud. "Now, get on out of here and get the cows fed."
"Your new housekeeper know anything about cookin'?" He sniffed the air. "Is that a pot roast I smell?"
"She knows enough to keep your body and soul together." Granny picked up her cane and shook it at him. "If you ain't out of this house in ten minutes, I'll use this to get out to my truck and do the chores myself."
"I'm on my way." He grinned and hummed "Jingle Bells" on his way out of the room, singing all the way out to the barn and to the cows as he tossed hay out to them. Being home for Christmas, even under these circumstances, was great. He couldn't wait to see all his old drinking, two-stepping buddies at his favorite honky-tonk next Saturday night.
* * *
Bridget kept glancing at the pictures on the dining room wall of the two cowboys riding bulls as she slid some rolls into the oven. Had she known that Maverick Callahan was Iris's grandson, she would have thought twice before accepting the invitation to come to Texas for the holidays. Thank God Iris told her he was all the way on the other side of the state helping friends get a newer ranch up and running. She wouldn't even have to see him while she was there. She wasn't sure her heart would recover if she had to say goodbye again.
She was on her way to the living room to check on Iris when the back door opened and brought a gust of cold wind across the kitchen. A voice that she thought she'd never hear again, and one that she couldn't forget, was singing something about rockin' around a Christmas tree. She froze right there in the middle of the kitchen floor—he wasn't supposed to be there. Her heart fluttered and then raced ahead with a full head of steam. Maverick was there—right there in front of her—and all the memories of that night flooded back to her mind.
Maverick stopped in the doorway, blinked several times.
"Bridget?" he said.
"Maverick." She breathed. "I had no idea you were going to be here."
His long strides had him across the room in a heartbeat. But as much as she longed to sink in his open arms, Bridget extended her palm in a "stop" gesture. His chest hit her hand and she almost groaned aloud at the solid muscle she could feel even through his coat.
"What are you doing here? It's so good to—" he started.
"We can't do this," she cut in. "Things have changed."
"Are you"—he grabbed her hand and held it—"Granny's helper? Was it your grandmother she was staying with in Ireland?"
She jerked her hand free. "Small world after all, isn't it? But things aren't the same as they were a year ago."
His expression changed as he processed what she was saying. "Are you engaged or…" He shook his head. "No, Granny said that you were all alone?"
"Not really alone," she hedged.
Lord have mercy! She glanced down at her hand, hot from the heat that fired it up when she touched his chest. She wanted to hug him and tell him how often she'd thought about that night, but he couldn't be burdened with her life—not now, not the way things had turned out. Iris told her that both her grandsons were on the wild side. They liked to work hard all week and party on the weekends. Bridget had different priorities now. She couldn't start something with Maverick that had no future.
* * *
Maverick was totally confused. If Bridget was alone in the world, why was she so standoffish, and what had changed so much in only a year? He certainly hadn't turned into a different person.
A noise across the foyer and down the hallway caught his attention. Was that a baby crying out?
"Laela is awake," Bridget muttered and brushed past him on her way out of the kitchen.
Maverick trailed along behind her. When he got to the room, he was stunned to see a baby girl sitting up in a crib. She had dark hair and big green eyes exactly like his, and she was staring right into his face. She cocked her head to one side and then the other and then stuck out her lower lip and began to whimper.
"It's all right, lassie," Bridget crooned as she took her out of the crib. "I'd like you to meet Maverick. He'd be Miz Iris's grandson. He'll be here for a while, and you'll be gettin' to know him better in a few days."
Maverick looked from Bridget to the baby and back again. He felt like his veins were filled with ice water. Was that his baby? It couldn't be, or could it? Even though they'd used protection, it wasn't always foolproof. If this little girl was a Callahan, he'd do right by the child for sure, but so many questions swirled through his mind that he couldn't catch one of them to find answers to. "Why didn't you find a way to tell me about her?"
- On Sale
- Sep 24, 2019
- Page Count
- 448 pages