A Cowboy's Christmas Wish When bullfighter Tucker McGrath's mom suffers a minor heart attack just before Christmas, he decides it's time to redeem himself from the Ghost of Christmas Failures Past. Knowing how much his mom loves the town's annual Christmas pageant, he agrees to take her place as director even though he has zero experience wrangling kids. That's not the only complication with taking on the pageant, either. There's also the tempting but off limits local music teacher Kenna Hart. A year after her husband's scandalous betrayal and their divorce, Kenna is doing her best to move forward and give her two boys a magical Christmas. When she volunteers to help with the pageant, she doesn't expect to reconnect with her old high school heartthrob. Tucker McGrath has always been Mr. No-Strings-Attached, so he's definitely not one to fall for...or is he? The more time she spends with him, the more Kenna realizes Tucker has changed. And now he might just be the cowboy who can make all of her Christmas wishes come true.
Release date: December 18, 2018
Publisher: Forever Yours
Print pages: 115
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Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas
Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an—”
“I’m not sure that’s the best song to sing right before we get ready to tell the Christmas story.” Kenna Hart pulled up in front of the old Episcopal church that now served as the town hall and winked at her boys in the rearview mirror. “We need to be on our best behavior for the rehearsal.”
“Okay.” Benny and Jake looked at each other with a shrug before breaking out into song again. “Grandma got ran over by a reindeer…”
Shaking her head, Kenna took her time parallel parking the Jeep along the snowy curb.
Outside the car’s frosted windows, the sights and sounds of Christmas gave the town that magical snow-globe ambiance. Farther down Main Street, garlands were strung above the road, anchored to wrought-iron lampposts adorned with red velvet bows. Since it was nearly dusk, the lights displayed on the storefront windows were just starting to come on, with some twinkling in different colors while others gave off a more traditional white-light welcome.
She tried to take a minute to appreciate it—to let that cheer all around her soak in and lift her spirits, but the decorations weren’t enough to nudge the burdens of the last year off her shoulders.
“Come on, Mom!” Her oldest son Jake released his seat belt. “We’ve gotta get our costumes on and get in there!”
“Yeah!” four-year-old Benny added. “What if they start without us?”
Her son’s enthusiasm warmed her heart. He’d been looking forward to being part of this pageant for over a month now. Her youngest had always been so shy, but with everything that had gone on over the last several months, he had grown even more timid, almost like he didn’t want to connect with anyone because he feared they wouldn’t stick around. But now it finally seemed he was starting to come out of his shell, and she had to do everything she could to fuel his excitement about getting up on that stage.
“They can’t start without us.” Not when she was volunteering to help with the music. Birdie McGrath had run the pageant for decades, and as the local music teacher, Kenna had always loved helping out. But that was before.
Before her husband had committed eight counts of felony insurance fraud, cheating people in town out of their hard-earned money. Before his conviction. Before the divorce. Before the financial troubles that had plagued her since. Before her life had fallen apart, Kenna had lived for the holidays—for the family time and the festivities and the charming small-town celebration that seemed to give Christmas even more meaning. But this year, all she wanted to do was hide from the pitying looks and the whispers and those overly empathetic expressions people gave her when they asked if she was doing “okay.”
She didn’t even know what okay meant anymore.
“Moooommmm.” Jake squeezed through the space between the two front seats and tumbled into the passenger’s seat. “Can we please, please, please hurry?” Instead of puppy-dog eyes, his were more like a fawn’s—big and bright and always overly emphatic. “I’ve been waiting my whole life to be a wise guy.”
“You were born a wise guy,” she teased, ruffling his blond hair. Which had turned out to be a blessing. Somehow, through the darkness that had descended over the last year, her boys’ humor and laughter had lit her way. They had been resilient and patient and strong, and even if she wasn’t feeling Christmas, she still had to make this the greatest one they’d ever had because they deserved her best. So she got out of the car. “All right, you two.” She helped them climb down onto the icy sidewalk and then located the bag that held their costumes. They were both simple—a white robe and halo for Benny, who would be part of the angel choir, and a shimmery satin cape and crown for her little wise guy.
“There.” She finished tying the knot on Benny’s robe and stood back to admire her children. “It’s really not fair to the other actors,” she said, frowning.
Jake’s eyes looked worried. “What’s not fair?” As the oldest, he was the fair police.
“How cute you two are,” she fussed, even wrinkling her nose as she lightly pinched his cheek. The inevitable groans came at her.
“Mom, I’m seven,” Jake grumbled. “You can’t call me cute anymore. Especially not in front of anyone else.”
“Yeah,” Benny agreed, crossing his arms over his chest in a harrumph, but his smile still beamed.
Before she could snap a picture, both boys bounded straight for the doors, right across the knee-deep snow that covered the hall’s front lawn. “You’re not wearing your boots,” she reminded them, but even the snow couldn’t slow them down. Within seconds, they had disappeared into the building.
Kenna, however, took her time navigating the icy walkway. As she approached the door, it flew open and Carly Lammers marched out. Just her luck. Kenna had had Carly’s daughter Violet in music class last year and the woman was seemingly perfect in every way—from her sleek black always perfectly styled hair to her $500 thigh-length Frye boots. Her husband happened to be a pediatrician in Vail, and she was always showing off the new necklace or bracelet or earrings he’d brought her from one of the high-end shops that catered to tourists in the famous ski town.
“Kenna!” No matter what was going on, Carly always greeted Kenna with a worried expression, like she feared Kenna might break down in tears any second. “How are you?” The woman rested a hand on her shoulder, her silvery manicured nails shimmering from the light of the streetlamp a few feet away. She didn’t wait for an answer. “It’s so good to see you here. I know this has to be such a difficult time of year for you.”
She didn’t know. How could she know? Carly would spend Christmas with her husband and kids. She wasn’t struggling to buy the presents her kids had been writing letters to Santa about for the better part of three months. “Well, actually—”
“It must be so hard being a single mom over the holidays,” Carly went on. “I can’t imagine! With all the events and parties and errands. How awful to have to go to everything alone.”
Kenna didn’t bother telling her she didn’t plan to go to any of the events and parties this year. Not because she’d be alone but because of conversations exactly like this one. She’d been doing the poor Kenna song and dance routine far too long and she was tired of it.
The woman reached out and squeezed Kenna’s hand. “You be sure to let me know if there’s anything I can do for you, okay? Anything at all. I’m happy to help.”
“Thank you.” She put on a worn-out smile. “We’re okay right now, but I’ll definitely let you know if I need anything.” She wouldn’t. Carly wasn’t exactly a good friend.
“You do that!” Carly swept past her, wiggling her fingers in a wave. “Toodles!”
Still holding her smile intact, Kenna gave her a silent wave and let go of her misplaced anger. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate people’s concern. After the shock of Mike’s deception, people in town had done their best to be supportive. But instead of dwelling on all of the horrible things that happened—instead of making her dwell on it—she wished everyone would start giving her high fives rather than looking at her and talking to her like she was a wounded puppy.
She tried to picture Carly giving her a high five and telling her what she needed to hear instead of what she didn’t want to remember. That last year really must’ve sucked, but you made it through! You owned that difficult time—way to go! Look how strong you are! After getting through that, you can get through anything!
A real smile broke out as she let herself into the town hall. At least she’d know what to do next time one of her friends went through hell.
Warmth engulfed her the second she stepped into the foyer. Kids crowded the cramped entryway, giggling and screeching and basically bouncing off the walls the same way they had at school lately. Benny and Jake were right in there with the rest of them, competing for the loudest voice award.
“Kenna!” Birdie McGrath ambled over. From her dangling jingle bell earrings to her tinsel-accented sweater to the shiny red tennis shoes on her feet, the woman had enough spirit to fill the entire room with Christmas cheer. She could’ve easily passed for Mrs. Claus, too, with her comfortably round build, pink cheeks, and nest of white hair.
“Hi, Birdie.” Kenna returned the woman’s hug, hoping her shortage of passion didn’t show. With her own mother so far away, she lingered an extra second in the embrace, somehow feeling a bit stronger.
The woman pulled back and looked her over. “You’re looking positively lovely today. Have you done something different with your hair?”
“I have, actually. I had it cut and highlighted last week.” Originally, she’d hoped to cut off some of the lingering sadness along with her hair, but it hadn’t quite worked out that way. Still, it felt good to embrace a new style, to focus on the future instead of the past.
“Well I love it.” The woman fluffed the ends of Kenna’s hair, completely ignoring the chaos around them as though Birdie knew how important it was to take a few minutes to connect with her. “That gorgeous color really brings out your eyes. I’m telling you what, you’d best watch out. Next thing you know, you’re going to be fending off all the eligible bachelors in town.”
While she appreciated the sentiment, Kenna didn’t think she’d have to worry about that. Not one eligible bachelor had looked in her direction in a very long time. She didn’t blame them. . .
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