The Cowboy's Christmas Miracle by Jillian Hart
Wrongly imprisoned, Caleb McGraw is finally free--but the bitterness he holds still makes him feel trapped. Until he sees the beautiful Caroline holding a little boy with eyes just like his own. Discovering his long-lost son is just the start of Caleb's Christmas miracles!
Christmas at Cahill Crossing by Carol Finch
One Christmas night, outcast Lucas Burnett finds a silver-haired angel buried in the snow. But Rosalie Greer is no pale spirit--she's a fiery, independent woman, as wild as the mustangs Lucas breeds. Can she be the one to finally thaw Lucas's frozen heart?
A Magical Gift at Christmas by Cheryl St.John
Meredith has always dreamed of a grand life but, stranded on a train in heavy snowfall with two young stowaways, she unexpectedly finds she has everything she needs with just one strong man to protect her....
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October 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Snowflakes and Stetsons by Jillian Hart
Montana Territory, December 16, 1883
Cold rain fell from a steel-gray sky as Caleb McGraw swept off his battered, wide-brimmed hat. A symphony of raindrops pattered on decaying leaves and plopped on fallow grasses, his only company as he approached the simple wooden cross at the head of the grave. Someone had etched the name Alma Kent into the wood. His knees buckled but he kept on walking until his boots reached the faint line that marked where the ground had once been disturbed. Sadness chilled him like the gust of the icy wind.
Hard to believe she was gone. Truth was, he'd forgotten what she looked like. The detail of the woman's face he'd once loved had faded, leaving only a dim memory of a woman with apple cheeks and brown curls. Alma had recently died but he'd been dead to her the moment a territorial marshal had dragged him off to prison. Rage still burned in his chest at the old injustice but he'd learned the hard way fury did a man no good. Life was full of unfairness and betrayal and loss. Especially loss. He bowed his head, wishing he had flowers to put on her grave.
"Alma don't get visitors." A grizzled, rough voice rang above the rhythmic raindrops and the whir of the December wind. "As far as I know, you'd be the first."
"How long exactly has she been gone?" He rose from his knees with solemn resignation. Best to brace himself for whatever attitude or judgment would be coming his way. He'd gotten used to it the past ten days since he'd been released from prison. He never should have come home.
But he didn't know the old man who limped over. Gnarled by arthritis, the cemetery caretaker swiped rain off his brow with his patched coat sleeve. "It's been nigh on four months, maybe more."
No one had written him. No one had told him. His only cousin had disowned him, slamming the door in his face when he'd knocked. Old friends had turned from him on the street, so they hadn't been inclined to give him the latest news. But Alma's grandmother could have told him. When he'd walked into her parlor, the woman could have said more than the simple fact her granddaughter had passed away. The lash of the grandmother's anger still stung like a whip mark.
It's your fault, Caleb McGraw, you lowlife. Your fault and none other's. You sentenced my girl to shame.
He didn't know what that meant. Perhaps Alma had felt humiliated for having once accepted a convict's marriage proposal.
"Such a pity. She was young. Barely twenty-four years old." The man limped closer, eager to talk. "How did you know the young lady?"
"We grew up together. I'm back home visiting." That was true enough. His hopes of finding remnants of his old life had died one by one. He couldn't stay in Blue Grass. He would be moving on before nightfall. He had no notion where.
"Then you musta jest heard the news of her passing. I'm awful sorry." The old man's mouth and unkempt white beard wobbled as if with sorrow. "It's a shame what happened to her. I hear some fella proposed to her but got her into trouble afore the wedding rolled around."
"Into trouble?" He clamped his back molars down hard. That wasn't right, that wasn't the way events had unfolded. He had been arrested, not Alma.
"The fella got hisself thrown in jail, the lowlife. Left her in a family way." The man shook his head as if it were the worst shame he'd heard of.
A family way? The air whooshed out of his lungs and his heart stalled in his chest. Ice spilled into his veins as he took in those words. A family way. She'd been pregnant? Just one time and she'd conceived their child?
"Cute little young'un, too." Sadness softened the judgment in the old man's words. "Jest a true shame."
He died a little as he glanced at the neighboring graves. "Did the child pass away of diphtheria, too?"
The rain drummed harder, driven by a merciless wind. He saw a cross, a miniature version of the one bearing Alma's name. He broke inside, wondering if that was their child. Why hadn't Alma written to tell him? It would have taken one letter, one sentence, just a few words to let him know. The shock brought him to his knees. He hit the ground hard enough to rattle his bones.
"Was a near thing, but the little one made it." The caretaker squinted with an expression that was half worry, half dread. "You ain't havin' some sort of spell, are you, young man? I kin fetch the doc."
"No, I just didn't know." A little one. A child who still lived. He felt hollowed out, empty. Whatever softness lived within him had died years ago. His heart, his soul, that essence that had made him who he was had been stripped away during seven long years of hard labor and harder treatment. "Where is the child now?"
"He's off with some friend of the family."
"The wife might know. She's a gossipy sort." The old man smiled and grabbed hold of Caleb's elbow. "My cottage is over yonder. A shot of whiskey ought to put the starch back in yer knees."
It would take an entire bottle but Caleb bit his lip, climbed to his feet and took one last look at Alma's grave. Had she been too ashamed of him to tell him about their baby? Or too angry? He would never know.
You ruined your life for good, Caleb. Worse, he'd tarnished Alma's. Her grandmother's words made sense. She would have been unmarriageable and in a small town like this, she would have been all but shunned. He felt sick and broken to the core. Nothing he could ever do would erase the harm caused by one impulsive act. As cold inside as the winter rain, he followed the caretaker around graves and crumbling crosses. He thought of the harm he'd done, intentionally or not.
The heartless beat of the rain intensified, striking the earth with a vengeance, striking him. He had a child. A son. Caleb digested that, swallowing hard past the painful lump bunching in his throat. A child, come hell or high water, he intended to see.