TIS THE SEASON FOR SECOND CHANCES . . . There's nothing like a Christmas wedding to warm a girl's heart-or to distract everyone else from the fact that one particular bridesmaid intends to quickly skip town. Julia Noble's accident was years ago, and she's tired of being overprotected. She needs to be on her own. But before she flees Aspen, Colorado, Julia wants to make sure her brother has the perfect wedding and all her ducks are in a row. Yet duty soon turns to pleasure when three days before the big day Julia runs into the only man she ever dreamed of marrying. Fresh out of the navy, Isaac Nash just wants to feel normal again. But starting his new life means winning back the girl who captured his heart years ago. Isaac didn't know the truth behind the tragedy that changed Julia's life forever, and he can't stop blaming himself for not being there for her. After all this time, he knows that Julia is what he wants, this and every Christmas. Now Isaac just has to convince her that she's earned a miracle, too . . .
Release date: November 3, 2015
Publisher: Forever Yours
Print pages: 135
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One Christmas Wish
Nothing says Merry Christmas like your mother pimping you out at your brother’s engagement party.
Julia Noble tapped her fingers against the arm of her wheelchair and gazed up to get a look-see at eligible bachelor number seven. Turned out she didn’t have to look up at all. Lucky Number Seven stood about the same height as her. And she was sitting in her wheelchair.
“It is an honor to see you again, Julia,” Lucky Seven articulated with the precision of an orator. “You look simply exquisite.”
Aw, hell. He’d been practicing. Probably in the mirror, the poor bastard. He obviously spent a good portion of his life in front of the mirror, slicking back that black hair, plucking his eyebrows, most likely, which were shaped better than hers. And how long had it taken him to perfect that stance? Strutting his chest, as though that would somehow make up for what he lacked in vertical prowess. So tragic. Another victim of short man’s syndrome.
“You remember Theodore Mosley, darling, don’t you?” Mother nudged her shoulder with a measured desperation. They’d been through this same song and dance six times tonight and so far Julia had managed to send every one of the eligible bachelors her mother had paraded in front of her running for cover.
A sigh billowed. On a normal evening, she loved coming to the Walker Mountain Ranch for dinners and parties. The owners, Bryce and Avery Walker, always hosted the best events and made everyone who attended feel like part of their family. Bryce and her brother, Ben, had been best friends since college, and when she’d moved in with Ben and Paige a couple of months ago, she felt like she’d become a sister to all of them. Their lodge was a place people built happy memories.
She looked around. Case in point, most everyone was now both tipsy and uninhibited enough to start dancing over by the massive river rock fireplace that centered the great room. A gigantic antler chandelier dangled above, giving the room an ambient glow, while a fire crackled from behind fragmented glass. Next to the fireplace, a 25-foot Christmas tree towered over them, twinkling with holiday charm. Garlands draped along the wooden beams overhead, accented with pinecones and holly. Outside of the enormous windows, fat snowflakes fell, soft and fluffy, making it look like the ranch’s great room stood in the center of a magical snow globe.
Laughter erupted near the fireplace, snagging Julia’s attention away from Theo. Ben and his fiancé, Paige, were doing some horrible version of a two-step. Not far away, Bryce and Avery Walker danced like they were competing in a professional competition, spinning and dipping. Most of the other guests had formed a circle around the four of them, clapping their hands, whooping and hollering like it was a bull riding competition. Julia would be over there right now, too, maneuvering the wheels of her chair in dizzying circles, if Mother wasn’t blocking her way, trying to force her into an arranged marriage.
“Julia…” Theo—Lucky Seven—took her hand. His skin was irritatingly smooth and soft for a man’s. She wasn’t one to judge, but a man with no calluses? Creepy.
“I would be honored to take you out to dinner. The day after the wedding, perhaps? Er…uh…if that will work with your schedule.” A nervous sheen of sweat glazed the pale skin on his forehead. “Anywhere you would like to go. Price is no object.”
How many times had he used that line, she couldn’t help but wonder. Apparently it’d never worked for him, seeing as how he seemed the slightest bit desperate. It wouldn’t work tonight, either. Because she wouldn’t be here the day after the wedding. She’d be free and clear, headed straight for a new life all by herself. If those dog trainers would ever call her back, that was.
That was the last thing she needed to make this new life possible. A trained guide dog that would help her with the tasks she couldn’t always do by herself—the most important one being digging through her closet to find just the right pair of kick-ass shoes. Unlike most women her age, she wasn’t confined to anything sensible or comfortable in the shoe department. Because hell, she didn’t actually have to walk in them. She could wear four-inch stilettos all day and never wince once. When life gives you lemons…buy really awesome shoes. Or something like that.
“I am also available on Sunday evening,” Lucky Seven went on. “If that would work better for you.”
Her gaze drifted back to the dance floor where Ben and Paige stared into each other’s eyes like they’d been encased in some fairy-tale world, just the two of them, oblivious to the hundred and fifty others who stood mere feet away. She sighed the same way she always did watching her favorite rom-coms. Three days until their lavish Christmas wedding. Three days until they would say their vows, words that she had no doubt both of them would keep forever.
They were a beautiful couple, the love between them so deep that it pulled others in. The love she’d once dreamed about sharing with…
Ach. Stop it. A flash of embarrassment sizzled across her face. She’d given up on that dream a long time ago. Or at least she thought she had.
But all of this wedding hoopla made it too easy to remember. Yet another reason she had to get out of here.
She was thrilled for Ben and Paige. So thrilled that she hadn’t wanted to ruin their special week of wedding activities to tell them her secret. After months of planning and applying for jobs and researching, she’d finally decided to take her life into her own hands and move away from her hovering brother and meddling mother for the first time. Last week, the NBC-affiliate station in Dallas had offered her a job as a reporter and, without even a hesitation, she’d accepted. Which meant…she eyed Theo again…she wouldn’t be going on a date with Lucky Number Seven on Sunday. She’d be on an airplane.
“Julia? Darling?” Mother tapped her shoulder. “Theodore has graciously asked you to dinner.” Her slick red lips stretched into a thin, pleading smile that accented her lovely hawklike eyes. “Isn’t that wonderful?”
The man’s soft brown eyes widened with an endearing expression of hope.
And while her mother’s whole scheme was pathetic, Julia did have some compassion. So she mentally wired her jaw shut against the words she really wanted to say.
She hadn’t thought twice about informing the uber-charming Grayson Wells that his fly was down when Mother had brought him over an hour ago. Like, all the way down. Then she’d casually mentioned that she wasn’t much of a whitey-tidies girl. Really, who would be these days? Especially when those clever underwear designers had introduced boxer briefs? Talk about sexy. But poor Grayson Wells must’ve missed that memo.
When Mother had paraded Miles Underwood over to her not a half hour later, Julia hadn’t batted an eyelash as she reached for his hand and told him she couldn’t wait to have kids, hopefully at least eight of them, which shouldn’t be a problem, considering she didn’t believe in birth control.
She didn’t know a man could run that fast in a pair of shiny loafers.
“Any evening. I will make anything work.” Poor Theo. The words rasped with panic now, like he was standing in the middle of a quickly flooding drainage ditch.
He’d seemed to get the hint that this wasn’t gonna happen.
“I’ll be in town for the entire week…”
She wouldn’t. Because for the first time in her life, she’d be alone. Truly on her own, and she couldn’t wait. Being in an accident at age fifteen had meant that Mother and Ben had made it their life’s mission to take care of her, to drag her wherever they wanted to go, to build a guest house for her wherever they wanted to live. For the first time ever, she’d gotten to decide. She was about to push her wheelchair full throttle and charge into her own future, and she didn’t need a man’s help with that, thank you very much.
Letting her head tilt to the side, she adopted what she hoped as an appropriately empathetic expression, given the circumstances. “Thank you for asking, Theodore. But I’m afraid I can’t go to dinner with you.”
It seemed he was trying to be brave, but his mouth tightened and his eyes narrowed.
“I appreciate the offer,” she went on before the man started to cry. “If I was looking for a date, you’d be the first one I’d call. Really. I’m just happy being single right now.” She wasn’t foolish enough to think she’d ever find what Ben and Paige had. Not with her limitations. And she wouldn’t settle for anything less. A wheelchair made life significantly more complicated, and she didn’t intend to burden anyone else with it. Besides that, she could never love anyone the way she’d loved Isaac.
Damn it all. There he was again. This wedding crap was making her sappy. Or maybe it was the fact she knew he’d be arriving tomorrow. To be a groomsman. In her brother’s wedding…
“I understand.” Theo jutted his chest again, at the same time straightening his suit coat. “If you will excuse me, ladies, I could use a drink.” Before he’d finished the sentence, he’d already turned to trudge toward the bar.
“Honestly, Julia.” Mother collapsed into a chair next to her. “You’re running out of options. Do you know that? Now is not the time to be picky.”
“I’m not being picky. I’m just not interested in a relationship.” She was happy. Alone, yes. But she’d made her peace with it. So why couldn’t Mother? Unless…
A grin threatened. Maybe she could help good ol’ Gracie come to terms with it real fast. “Actually, Mother, I think it’s time we had a talk.”
An icy glare hollowed her mother’s cheeks.
“It’s high time I told you, after all.” Wrestling back a smile, Julia looked off into the distance, attempting to keep a straight face. “I’m a lesbian.”
“And I’m Nancy Reagan,” Mother huffed.
Correction: she wished she was Nancy Reagan.
“Hey, sis.” Ben swooped in between her and Gracie. For the first time in what felt like hours, Julia actually smiled. God, look at him. She’d never seen her brother so happy. Tears bit at the corners of her eyes. If only Dad were around. Those two had always been so close. Two peas in a pod, everyone called them. Ben looked so much like their father, with that light sandy hair and those hazel eyes. But she’d swear ever since he’d met Paige a light had come on in his eyes and made them shine even more.
“Everything all good here?” Ben asked, looking back and forth between her and their mother. He always seemed to sense when she needed a break from Gracie. “You look like you could use a drink.” Without waiting for an answer, he dutifully positioned himself behind her chair, even though he knew it would’ve been nothing for her to haul herself over to the bar.
Another positive about being in a chair—she had some guns on her. She’d never struggled with jiggly triceps syndrome.
“Is it okay for me to have a drink, Mother?” she asked sweetly. “Or do you have another potential suitor you’d like to throw at me?”
“I’m trying to help you,” Gracie implored in her dramatic way. “You are a beautiful girl, darling, and you deserve a wonderful man.”
“She deserves a gin and tonic, if yo. . .
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