To claim his slice of the family ranch, Texas Ranger Noah is forced back to Tucker’s Crossing. All he expects to find is a tractor load of painful memories—until a holiday storm, a power outage—and perhaps the magic of Christmas—deliver him to rescue an intriguing woman named Faith. But just who’s rescuing whom?
*Previously appeared in the anthology Christmas Kisses with My Cowboy
“A perfect mix of heart and heat, Adair keeps the pages turning.”
—New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis
“Marina Adair is a breath of fresh air.”
—New York Times bestselling author Darynda Jones
“Perfect for fans of finding love, cowboys and Christmas.”
—Shelf Awareness on Christmas with My Cowboy
“Warm, funny, wonderful stories about loveable characterS in genuine situations. I can’t wait for every new release!”
—New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne
Release date: October 26, 2021
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 100
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Blame It on the Mistletoe
Because this year, Christmas was definitely female and sporting a pair of legs that—even though they were encased in green-and-white striped tights—made him wonder if holiday miracles really did exist.
Home for the holidays was something Noah and his brothers avoided at all costs, which was why he’d waited until the cold had finally scared everyone indoors before taking a stroll through his hometown. But Santa’s Helper—late twenties, five-three, whisky brown eyes, and long blond tinsel-tangled hair—didn’t scare all that easily.
Nope, she was perched on a ladder, with enough twinkle lights to decorate every house from Sweet Plains to the North Pole, trying to place a snow angel atop the tree on the sheriff’s station lawn. Her elf-inspired ensemble wasn’t doing her any favors. Neither was the fact that she was a petite thing trying to decorate a monster of a tree all by her lonesome.
She’d donned a short, green velvet getup with a matching pointy hat and shoes, all trimmed in fur. It was like sexy collided with Christmas, making her the sexiest Elf on the Shelf he’d ever encountered.
“Son of a sleigh bell,” she mumbled as another shower of tinsel drifted to the ground, causing momentary whiteout conditions.
Back in Austin, Noah would have simply checked to ensure she was okay, then gone about his own business. But he wasn’t in Austin. He was in Sweet Plains, Texas, and for the next three weeks his business involved returning to the family ranch, Tucker’s Crossing—a place he’d spent a lifetime trying to escape—to help his brother, Cody, sort through the mess their vengeful old man had left behind.
Imagining what was to come, Noah decided to take a few additional moments of silence for himself before entering the storm.
He looked up and shielded his eyes from falling pine needles. “You need some help, Elf on the Shelf?”
“Holy Christmas!” she squeaked, nearly tumbling right off the ladder—her snow angel not faring so well in the kerfuffle.
Either, like him, she didn’t take kindly to being caught off guard or she didn’t like to admit when she needed help, because after she found her balance and righted her hat, she shot him a look angry enough to roast his chestnuts.
“Are you trying to kill me?” she accused in a hushed whisper.
“No, ma’am,” he drawled, rocking back on his heels. “Just being neighborly is all.”
“Well”—again with the hushed tone—“go be neighborly someplace else.” And, after a nervous glance around, she shooed him off with a mittened hand.
A cold chill blew off the distant rolling hills as Noah took in the twinkle-lined streets and garlanded storefronts of downtown. With not a single Who strolling through Whoville, Santa and his hooved brethren could make an emergency landing on Main Street, and no one would be the wiser. Then there was Miss Elf, the one soul brave enough to face the elements, back to stringing lights and ignoring him.
Most people would take one look at those wide doe eyes and velvet getup and assume the elf was simply spreading holiday cheer.
Noah wasn’t most people.
He was a Texas Ranger, trained to be suspicious. And it didn’t get more suspect than someone decorating the tree in front of the sheriff’s department after sundown, when the skies were threatening to rain down some serious trouble on Sweet County.
Whistling a Christmas tune, he strolled over to pick up the tree topper and shook fallen leaves from its hair. “What about your snow angel? Seems he’s lost a wing.”
“Must have been the result of testosterone-induced rage. It’s a growing problem in these parts.”
“Is that how you lost your wings, angel?”
“You should see the other guy.” That smart mouth of hers curled up into a wicked grin. “Now shoo.”
“Just as soon as you tell me if Logan’s aware that you’re out here spreading holiday spirit all over his sheriff’s station,” Noah said, referring to his old friend and the recently re-elected sheriff.
“Why is that any of your business?”
Noah couldn’t help but grin. It wasn’t that Miss Elf didn’t scare easily. She didn’t scare at all.
“Santa’s helper or not, you’re trespassing.”
Noah had been known to make even the most dangerous of criminals wet their pants with a single look. However, this woman was looking at him as if he were as harmless as a snowman in a Stetson. So he casually opened his jacket, sure to uncover his glimmering badge. “Says the great state of Texas.”
He could tell she wanted to argue, but his badge accomplished what he hadn’t been able to on his own—silence her. Only for a moment though.
With a huff, she scrambled down the ladder, her eyes two pissed-off slits as she stomped over. “You know what they say about men who go waving their pistols around?”
He hadn’t intended to reveal his harnessed weapon, but now he knew why she’d suddenly gone quiet. “That you should approach with caution?”
“That their pistol is far more impressive than their”—her eyes briefly dropped below his belt buckle—“stocking stuffer.”
“Well, now, angel, if you were curious about my stocking stuffer all you had to do was ask. But don’t you worry, I can fire fifteen rounds before reloading.”
She did her best to stare him down, a hard task since she barely reached his shoulder. Hands on hips, that red-tipped nose so high in the air he was surprised she wasn’t experiencing altitude sickness, she said, “I prefer my stocking stuffers to get it right on round one. So why don’t you go show your pistol to someone who cares, so I can get back to decorating my tree?”
She shimmied her cute little backside up the ladder, and he walked over to stand behind her. “And risk getting a lump of coal for not helping an elf lady in need? Imagine what the town would say? I can see the headlines now. OFFICER OF THE LAW NEGLECTS TO REPORT SUSPICIOUS SUSPECT CAMPED OUT IN SHERIFF STATION’S TREE.”
She looked down at him. “I imagine it will read more like OFFICER OF THE LAW WAVES HIS PISTOL AT UNSUSPECTING BRINGER OF CHRISTMAS CHEER—SHE WAS UNIMPRESSED.”
“Either way, I need a good reason not to tell Logan that you’re vandalizing his tree.”
She eyed him suspiciously, as if calling his bluff. When he didn’t move, she gave a sigh big enough to deflate her whole body.
“Okay, but you can’t tell anyone.” The words were spoken so softly, he barely heard her over the rustling tree branches.
“And why’s that?”
“Because it’s a surprise.” Mumbling offensive things about his sex, she made her way back down. “Look, I’ve done this every year since the new tree went in. And every year the town erupts with excitement, trying to guess who’s behind it.” She looked up at him again, but this time her eyes were a warm brown. “If people know it’s me, then it ruins the magic.”
Noah almost told her magic didn’t exist but, somehow, sensed it would be as distressing as telling his little nephew Santa was a big fat lie. Plus, starting as far back as his senior year of high school, there’d been rumors about Sweet’s Secret Samaritan. An anonymous friend of the town who did little favors for people in need. Flower gardens would appear overnight, the elderly would awake to a seasonal pie on their doorstep, widows received flowers on their wedding anniversary.
He didn’t think this Samaritan was old enough to be Sweet’s Secret Samaritan, just as he didn’t think she was telling him the entire truth about why she’d chosen that tree. But he’d done enough interrogations to know that, if he wanted the truth, he needed to soften his approach. Otherwise, she’d dig in, and they’d likely stand there all night, even though she was shivering from the dropping temperature.
He looked at his watch. “Shift change happens in about twenty minutes, so unless you want to out yourself as Sweet’s Secret Samaritan to half the deputies in the county, why don’t you let me help?”
“I’m not Sweet’s Secret Samaritan,” she said coolly. She was a pretty little liar—he’d give her that. But his BS meter was more accurate than most lie detectors. “I just like Christmas.”
That was a truth. In fact, he’d go so far as to say she loved Christmas. Something about the way her eyes sparkled with childlike excitement at the admission was as adorable as it was endearing. Noah didn’t normally go for adorable, but on her it worked.
“Then how about you let me help you help Santa?” he joked and, look at that, she laughed. A good sign he’d made the first crack in those glaciers she hid behind.
“Fine, but only because I have to be home in time for dinner and you’re like ten feet tall. Plus, my ornaments are so big they’re drooping.”
As far as he was concerned, her ornaments were near perfect—in size and shape—but his mama taught him better than to argue with a lady. Plus, the sky was turning darker by the minute and their breath was starting to crystalize in the cold air.
Even though her costume was long sleeved, it wasn’t nearly thick enough to stand up to the dropping temperatures. And he didn’t even want to talk about her skirt and tights, which were more fashion than function.
“You’re one strong breeze from turning into a Popsicle.” Noah slid off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders—ignoring how good she looked in his clothes.
To his surprise, she didn’t argue but immediately burrowed into it, practically disappearing beneath the shearling. She even made a sexy little sigh as she snuggled deeper.
Noah moved to zip it and she took a step back, as if startled that he’d touch her. She tried to pretend it hadn’t happened by keeping her eyes on him, her shoulders ramrod straight, and that tough-girl attitude firmly in place. But it was clear that he’d startled her—and that startled him. Made him uncertain how to proceed, because there was also something similiar to fear flickering in her eyes. Something raw and habitual in her reaction that bothered him.
Deciding the best route was pretending he hadn’t noticed the way she’d jumped, he casually picked up a strand of lights and went about stringing them on the higher branches that even he—at ten feet tall—could barely reach.
She didn’t slow down long enough to defrost her fingers before hanging large plastic balls from the lower branches. But when she stepped beside him, handing over a decoration, he knew he’d made the right call.
And that’s how Noah found himself during the first storm of the season, standing side by side with Sweet’s Secret Samaritan, decorating a tree in complete silence. Every so often, he’d hear her humming a Christm. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...