Read Christmas Male Online

Authors: Jillian Hart

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Western, #Historical Romance, #Holidays, #Westerns

Christmas Male

BOOK: Christmas Male
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Christmas Male

By Jillian Hart

Copyright 2013 by Jill Strickler

 

Cover Design by Kim Killion, Hot Damn Designs

 

E-book Formatted by Jessica Lewis, Authors’ Life Saver

Editing by Jena O’Connor, Practical Proofing

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to your online retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

Table of Contents
Prologue

 

Montana Territory, December 21, 1886

 

This was it! The day she was going to start her great adventure. Maggie Carpenter shivered with anticipation and gave her knit scarf a tug, tightening it more snugly around her neck.

Sure, it might be freezing out, but she didn't care that she couldn't feel her nose or her toes—well, even her fingertips for that matter. And why? Because she was about to hop aboard the waiting train, the one blowing steam into the crystal blue sky, and meet a man who was actually excited to marry
her
, a spinster who all her neighbors said was past her prime.

Well, twenty-two was not too old to marry, clearly, as she was doing it. She'd found a man who didn't care that she was past her prime (as the two bachelors in their little town had told her). And she was really, really looking forward to all the
exciting
things that marriage would mean (especially the sex). She mentally waggled her brows. She'd heard plenty of things about the marriage bed from Callie, her sister who'd gotten married three months ago. And to be truthful, it had made Maggie really, really interested in wedded bliss. A girl should have that kind of toe-curling excitement in her life all the time. That was one thing Maggie wouldn't mind, not one bit.

"This is a mistake." Emma, her oldest sister, stalked up to her on the platform, her steps brusque and her lovely face pressed into prune-like disapproval. "If you must get married— and there's no good reason for that, by the way—why can't you find a nice farmer around here? Someone you could meet and let him court you instead of choosing a perfect stranger."

"Look how well it worked out for Callie." Maggie knelt down to rescue her satchel from the icy boards at her feet. Her dress gave a little swirl around her.

She'd made it especially for her trip, so that when she stepped off the train in Pine Haven, her husband-to-be's first view of her would be of this gorgeous red calico, princess-style dress with satin trim and lace. The shade really made the reddish highlights in her golden hair shine. All her sisters, even Emma, said it was a flattering shade. Maggie wanted to impress Chester the way he'd impressed her in his thoughtful and ardent letters.

"If you remember correctly, Callie didn't marry the man she corresponded with," Emma reminded her tersely. "He turned out to have exaggerated his desirability. I would hate for that to happen to you."

"There's no chance of that." Maggie shook her head, scattering her blond locks, not troubled by her oldest sister's practicality. Oh no, she was very used to Emma's taciturn ways and dire predictions. Besides, she had faith in Chester's goodness and sincerity. Her heart warmed, thinking of his sweet written confessions. "There isn't a more wonderful man in all of Montana Territory. He's sweet and sensitive and open with his feelings. He's been nothing but honest with me."

"As far as you know." Emma clamped her lips together until they disappeared entirely and didn't say another thing. Probably because their two other sisters were running across the platform, their breaths rising in great white clouds in the winter air as they skidded to a stop on the platform.

"We almost forgot to give you this." Abby held out a sheet of folded parchment. Abby, dressed in blue from her knit cap down to her dress ruffle, gave a little excited hop. A blond curl slipped down and bounced against her cheek. "Don't read it until you're on the train."

"Yeah," Dee seconded, the youngest of the bunch, her blue eyes shining with excitement. "This way you take a little bit of us with you."

"I already am." Maggie slipped the parchment into her reticule and laid a hand over her heart. "You all are right here."

"Which means we're not really parting at all." A momentary sadness slipped across Abby's oval face. "It's just physical distance. That's all. Nothing can ever separate us at heart."

"That's right. I'm going to miss you, Maggie." Dee rushed in to wrap her in a hug. "I'm so excited for you, but it's sad that things are changing."

"Remember, they are changing for the better." Maggie gave Dee, her adorable little sister, an extra squeeze and stepped back, feeling teary too. "First Callie went away to get married, and now it's my turn. Maybe you or Abby will be next."

"It'll be Abby." Dee blew out a sigh, blond and as cute as a button. Only nineteen, but she'd turned down every farmer who'd come courting. "I'm looking for someone spectacular."

"Aren't we all?" Abby joked with a wink. "I have to say, after seeing the handsome man our sister wound up with, I am seriously considering the mail-order bride route. If I could wind up with someone as amazing and, well, as physically
gratifying..."

"Enough!" Emma rolled her eyes to the sky as if she couldn't take any more talk of the marriage bed. They'd traveled to attend Callie's wedding and had learned all kinds of very interesting and tantalizing tidbits of information about what really happened between a man and a woman in bed.

Yes, Maggie thought, her heart giving an extra thump. Very tantalizing. After all, a girl had needs for love and comfort and companionship—and physical intimacy. Why not find a man who could fulfill all of her needs quite, uh, completely?

"All aboard!" the conductor bellowed, his breath rising in great puffs as the wind gusted hard. A few tiny snowflakes danced in the air, warning of the storm to come.

"Well, this is it." Maggie took one last look at her sisters—slender and spare Emma, bubbly Abby, sweet Dee. It was a lot to leave behind, but the hope for love—real love, the kind she remembered their dear, late parents had shared—that's what drove her. "Promise to write me. We have to stay in touch. I want to know everything that happens while I'm gone."

"Yeah," Abby laughed, waggling her brows. "So do we."

"Honestly." Emma looked scandalized. "Must we discuss this in public where anyone can hear? Have a safe trip, Maggie. I hope this Chester fellow is as honest as he's led you to believe. If not, write and I'll send you money for a ticket home."

"You worry too much, I'll be fine." She hugged Emma first, then Abby, then Dee. "I'll be happy."

"That's what we want for you." Abby swiped a tear from her eye as Maggie tripped away, where the conductor frowned at her as if women and their goodbyes went on far too long—and he didn't tolerate anything that messed with his train schedule.

"Have fun!" Dee called out, blushing slightly. "Lots of
fun."

"Dee!" Emma had clamped her lips together again until, they were a straight, disapproving line.

Poor Emma, Maggie thought as she scampered up to the train.

"Dear! Oh, dear, dear Maggie!" Miss Shutes called out, shrill and echoing above all the other conversations on the small platform. Maggie turned around to see the rail-thin, middle-aged woman dashing toward her, her face fashioned into a look of prideful sympathy.

"It was nice of you to come and say goodbye." Maggie turned, stepping out of the way of the steps as the conductor gave a dismissive frown of disapproval. "Thank you, Blanche."

"Oh, it was the least I could do." Her former employer rushed up to wrap her in a bony, abrupt hug. "It's a desperate thing to marry a man just because you're afraid of being too old. Look at me. I'm a spinster, happy with my life. I don't need no man to tell me what to do."

"No, ma'am, you certainly don't, but the things I truly want can come only from a man's love." She glanced across the platform where a grandmother disembarked from the train, and a little family scampered up to meet her. Two little children, maybe two and three years of age wrapped their arms around her knees, holding on, so happy to see Grammy. Maggie's heart tugged with longing. "You see, I must leave. I have a loving man waiting for me."

"Huh, loving and men are two words that don't usually go together, but I wish you well." Miss Shutes backed off, her tone saying that she doubted anything good would come of this. "Goodbye."

The conductor cleared his throat, so Maggie scampered up the steps and into the passenger car. She felt watched and glanced over her shoulder, smiling at her sisters clustered on the platform. Abby waved back, Dee gave a little happy hop of excitement, but Emma merely frowned, dark with disapproval.

It was hard not to feel sorry for her oldest sister, Maggie thought as she hurried into the car. Once Emma was old enough to leave the orphanage, she'd worked two jobs. It was her sweat, blood and tenacity that had gotten them out of the orphanage one by one. That strain and responsibility had shaped Emma, maybe robbed her of her joy and her softness. Well, maybe there would be a man who would come along and help her find those things again. Maybe there would be a happy-ending for them.

That hope sustained her, made it easier to force her feet down the aisle, because part of her wanted to rush straight out of the car and back into her sisters' arms. Partings were never easy, but thinking of what waited for her on the other side of Montana Territory strengthened her. She found an empty seat, dropped her satchel on the cushion beside her and peered out the window.

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