Authors: Lorraine Beatty
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Christian, #Religious, #Faith, #Inspirational, #Spirituality, #Love Inspired, #Christmas, #Holiday Season, #Holiday Time, #Christmas Wishes, #Bachelor, #Small Town, #Mississippi, #Dover, #Christmas Celebrations, #Single Mother, #Event Planning Business, #Family Business, #Traditions, #Storm Threat, #Join Forces, #Searching, #Family Life
A Small-Town Christmas
Gemma Butler has a grand vision to transform Dover, Mississippi’s fledgling Christmas celebrations and bring visitors to the town. It’s also the single mom’s last chance to provide for her son and revive her event planning business. But Gemma’s not the only one with something to prove. Linc Montgomery has the weight of the family business on his shoulders. And he’ll go down swinging before he’ll let anyone disrupt the traditions he holds dear. Yet when a storm threatens to destroy the holiday, he’ll join forces with the beautiful planner and discover she just might be the love he’s been searching for.
“I’ve never shown anyone this place before.”
The vulnerability she saw in Linc’s expression tugged at her heart. “I’m honored. It’s a beautiful location. It would be a lovely family estate.”
“I’ve had plenty of offers to buy it. But I’ll never sell.”
“I can’t blame you. Living here would be wonderful.” Gemma slipped her hand into his, and he squeezed it gently, her breath catching with his gaze. There was a softness, a longing, as if he’d pulled back a curtain and allowed her to see something deeply personal.
“I wanted you to understand.”
“Why?” Did he want her to care?
What if she made another mistake? What if Linc wasn’t all he appeared to be?
No. She’d better douse this attraction with a bucket of common sense and keep her focus on the only things that really mattered. Evan and the Christmas events.
Then Linc smiled. Common sense vanished like morning mist in sunlight.
She was in big trouble. Big, big trouble.
was raised in Columbus, Ohio, but now calls Mississippi home. She and her husband, Joe, have two sons and five grandchildren. Lorraine started writing in junior high and is a member of RWA and ACFW and a charter member and past president of Magnolia State Romance Writers. In her spare time she likes to work in her garden, travel and spend time with her family.
Books by Lorraine Beatty
Home to Dover
Her Christmas Hero
Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
To the best brothers anyone could ask for.
John, Steve, David and my sweet Ken.
Love you guys so much. You have blessed my life.
inc Montgomery stepped out onto the front porch of his family home, inhaling the cool October air deep into his lungs. His gaze drifted over the green lawn that sloped to the tree line and beyond. The view never failed to siphon the tension from his body and soothe his soul. And he needed both right now. Leaning one shoulder against a fluted porch post, he prayed for strength to get through the day. The death of his father a month ago had shaken him to the core, and the grief at times was overwhelming.
He growled and exhaled a heavy sigh at the sound of an approaching car. He couldn’t handle another well-wisher dropping off food that probably wouldn’t get eaten. He appreciated their kindness and concern, but he didn’t have it in him today to make nice. A nondescript domestic silver sedan appeared between the old oaks that lined the long winding driveway. He didn’t recognize it. In a town the size of Dover, Mississippi, it was easy to identify a person by the car they drove.
Linc straightened and shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, struggling to dig up a smile and a grateful attitude. The car drove past the main house and pulled to a stop a hundred yards away in front of the cottage that stood under the oak grove. The cottage had been his grandmother’s home in her later years, and was used infrequently as a guesthouse now. No one was supposed to be there.
Jogging down the front steps, he strode across the lawn, watching as a woman and a young boy emerged from the sedan. She walked confidently onto the porch and unlocked the front door. He had no idea what was going on, but he wasn’t about to let it continue.
The woman let the boy enter the cottage but didn’t respond to his call. He quickened his steps. “Hey. What are you doing?” He reached the steps before she could disappear inside. “This is private property.”
She turned to face him and he felt a stunned moment of awareness. Her emerald-green eyes were bright and inquisitive. Her strawberry blonde hair was held back on the sides with barrettes, allowing the wavy strands to tumble down behind her shoulders. He yanked his thoughts back into place. “You have no right to be here. So I suggest you hand me the key and leave.” The green eyes darkened and she raised her chin, a slight smile touching her lips.
“Hello, Mr. Linc. As a matter of fact, I do have a right to be here. I’m your new tenant. My son and I will be staying in the cottage for the next few months.”
Linc narrowed his eyes, sorting through the information. Only employees of his family’s electrical contracting business called him Mr. Linc. It saved confusion between all the Montgomerys who worked there. His dad, Dale, himself and his two brothers, Seth and Gil. But he didn’t recognize this woman, and she wasn’t the type he’d forget.
“I don’t know anything about that. No one told me. Do you have a lease you can show me? Because if you don’t, you’ll need to leave. And if you refuse I’ll have the sheriff out here to escort you off the property.”
The boy he’d seen earlier rejoined the woman, whom Linc assumed was his mother. Standing close to her side and eyeing him with a hint of fear in his hazel eyes.
“It’s all right, Evan. This is Mr. Linc. His family owns the cottage. We’re just discussing some of the details. You go back inside. I’ll be there in a moment.”
The boy nodded, then smiled up at his mother. “Mom, there’s a river behind the house and tons of good climbing trees.”
Linc spoke without thinking. “It’s a creek. The Sandy Fork Creek.”
The woman and boy stared at him with puzzled expressions. He was just trying to be correct.
The woman nudged the boy back inside, then came toward him, stopping at the edge of the top step and waiting. She raised her eyebrows. “If you’ll allow me, I’ll get the lease from my car and put your mind at ease.”
For a reason he wasn’t sure of, he refused to move. He wanted to challenge her. She was up to something, and he wasn’t about to make it easy for her. He’d mastered the icy glare, the one that would send workers scattering back to their jobs, and difficult builders to bend to his will. He crossed his arms over his chest. “You do that.”
She smiled as if dealing with a naughty child, then stepped deftly around him along the edge of the steps, brushing up against his arm and releasing a flowery scent that reminded him of the Confederate jasmine that grew along the side of the main house. He held his ground. Waiting. He kept his back to her, intending to show her who was in charge.
“Here you are. All signed and notarized.”
She spoke from behind him, forcing him to turn and face her. He felt a flicker of admiration for her gutsy determination. Slowly he pivoted. She held out the paper and he took it with a quick swipe. He scanned the document twice to make sure he understood what he was reading. His mom had rented the cottage to this woman—a Gemma Butler—for free. Why? The lease was in order. His mother was the local real estate broker and she knew her stuff.
The woman held her hands clasped in front of her, her expression calm and a bit superior, elevating his blood pressure. He didn’t like being made to look foolish. “Why is my mother letting you stay here free of charge?”
The woman lifted the lease from his hand with thumb and forefinger, then folded it and slipped it into her shoulder bag. “Perhaps you should ask her.” She moved past him and up onto the porch. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my son settled. I have to start work in the morning. Have a nice day, Mr. Linc.”
Linc watched the woman disappear inside the house and shut the door with a quiet snap. He dragged his fingers across his jaw. Great. This was the perfect ending to a lousy week. He’d been in Biloxi the past six days overseeing a mishandled construction project. When he’d returned home he’d found his mother gone to Little Rock to visit her sister. Now she’d taken on a tenant and had told him nothing about it.
He understood his mother was hurting and confused. Losing their father so suddenly to an aneurism had rocked their world. But she should have stayed here at home where she could be taken care of.
With his father gone, Linc was not only the head of the family now, but the head of Montgomery Electrical Contractors, as well. The job should have been shared with his brother Gil, but he had left shortly after the funeral for Mobile to oversee a project there and to deal with an urgent personal matter. The responsibility of the company weighed heavily on Linc. He’d never realized how much he’d relied on his dad for advice and direction.
Jogging up the steps at the main house, Linc pushed through the front door and headed to the office at the far side of the large home. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket he dialed his mother, pacing the room as he waited. He was worried about her. It wasn’t like her to run off to visit relatives without telling anyone, and it certainly wasn’t like her to rent the cottage to someone outside the family. He’d lived in it himself for a while before getting his own place.
He barely let his mother say hello before he launched his barrage of questions. “You want to tell me about this woman in the cottage? Who is she and what’s going on?”
“Hello, dear. Oh, she’s there already. Good. Did you help her get settled in?”
Linc pressed his lips together to keep from saying something disrespectful. “No, ma’am, because I had no idea that we had a tenant. It would have been nice to have some warning, Mom.”
“I’m sorry, dear. I meant to tell you, but I was in a hurry to get up here to see Mary and I guess I forgot.”
“Who is she?”
“I saw that on the lease. Who
“From our accounting office. She needed to be closer to Dover when she starts work so I offered her the cottage.”
Linc sank into the chair behind the desk, frustration tightening his chest. “Mom. You’re not making any sense. What work?” Silence. “Mom?”
“Well, honey. I should have told you, but I was—”
“In a hurry to get away. I got that.” Why was she so anxious to leave the home she’d shared with his father? She should be here, working through her grief, not running off to her sisters.
“I resigned from the Christmas Event Committee. I just can’t face it this year. So I recommended Gemma, and the Chamber of Commerce hired her. She’s going to be wonderful.”
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desktop. Trying to grasp the changes. “Mom, you’ve always done the Christmas events.”
“I know, but not this year. Surely you understand. With your father gone...”
“I know.” Nothing was the same with Dad gone. The world had tilted and they were all just trying to keep their balance. “When are you coming home?”
“I don’t know. Next weekend, maybe. Have you talked to Gil?”
“No. Have you?”
“Yes. His attorney is still digging through legal tangles, but he’s hopeful. The court should rule in his favor since he’s the legal parent.”
“Let’s hope so. We both know the court system can often make poor decisions. I’m praying they won’t this time.”
Linc heard his mom hum her agreement, then encouraged her once more to come home before ending the call and tossing the cell onto the desk. His gaze landed on the family photo sitting on one corner. A short while ago they were all together. Now they were missing their most important member. Losing his dad had made him realize how much he valued his family, how important it was to stay close and keep the ties strong.
Unfortunately, the opposite was happening. His siblings seemed to be drifting away and he didn’t know how to stop it. His sister Bethany had already left the fold years ago to pursue her dancing career in New York. Gil had moved to Mobile temporarily. Now his mother had quit her job and fled to her sisters. Seth was still here and so was his youngest sister, Victoria, but they’d been grieving, too, and he had no idea how to help them. He had no idea how to help himself. But his dad would have.
Pushing back from the desk, he stood and went to the window. He had a perfect view of the cottage, but saw no sign of the woman or boy. He searched his mind for a memory of her, but he couldn’t recall ever seeing her in the office. He’d look her up on the employee files—better safe than sorry.
Turning from the window, he thought about her gutsy behavior. She’d stood up to him. Most women smiled and flirted. There was something different about Mrs. Butler. She looked all soft and feminine in her white lacy top and simple tan slacks. But underneath she was strong. Which was surprising since she wasn’t very tall. Five-four tops. He stood an even six feet and she’d barely reached his shoulder.
He huffed out a breath and rubbed his forehead. He didn’t need any more surprises. He had enough to deal with his father’s passing and fighting to stay on top of things. He went to the window again, irritated to realize he was wondering where the woman was.
* * *
Gemma peeked out the master bedroom window of the small two-bedroom cottage at the stately mansion across the lawn. Linc Montgomery had disappeared inside several minutes ago, but her heart was only now settling into a normal rhythm. She’d watched him march across the grass, all broad shoulders and strong legs, unable to take her eyes off him. The man was positively imposing. Not to mention overbearing and arrogant. But she had to admit that despite his cold and egotistical demeanor, the Lord had blessed him with a physique that was hard not to admire.
He’d been blessed in the good-looks department, too. With his dark chocolate hair, deep blue eyes framed by thick lashes and a sharply defined jaw—he was definitely easy on the eyes. Too bad he was so obnoxious.
She’d only worked as an accountant for Montgomery Electrical for five months. She didn’t necessarily enjoy her work, but the atmosphere had made up for it. The owner, Dale Montgomery, had made everyone feel valued and important. He knew each person’s name, knew their children and spouses and never failed to offer prayer for those in need. She’d admired and respected him a great deal. His passing had left all the employees bereft.
When Mr. Linc and Mr. Gil had taken over, things had changed. She understood they were grieving, but she couldn’t see herself working for Mr. Linc. Ever. He strode through the offices as if he was always on his way to someplace more important, only granting a nod to those he passed. He never smiled or offered a word of conversation. She’d been a bit surprised Linc hadn’t recognized her, but she probably shouldn’t be. She doubted he noticed anyone but himself.
It would have been nicer if Mr. Gil had been here when she arrived. He would have at least given her a pleasant welcome. Mr. Seth, too, would have been nice. He worked with the electricians and rarely came into the office, but the few times he had he’d been warm and friendly like his father. She knew nothing of the two sisters other than the tidbits she’d picked up from coworkers.
Francie was the one she truly adored. The matriarch of the Montgomery family was sweet, kind and generous. People were drawn to her warm personality and her caring heart. She owed the woman for freeing her from the accounting job and giving her a fresh start, and Gemma was determined to do a good job. She only wished Francie was here to talk to. She needed a little encouragement to meet with the president of the Dover Chamber of Commerce tomorrow.
Taking over as director of Christmas events was a big job and the Chamber was expecting her to create holiday attractions that would draw visitors and increase revenue. She clasped her hands beneath her chin and smiled. This was her second chance to make good.
Losing her event-planning business in Charlotte, North Carolina, last year had been devastating. Made more painful by the knowledge that her trusted friend and business partner, Darren Scofield, had betrayed her by stealing away her clients, then opening his own event business and leaving her with a worthless company. The fallout had been brutal. She’d been forced to return to her parents’ home while she regrouped. A decision she deeply regretted. Her son had paid a high price for her mistake.
Evan peeked into her room. “Mom, can I go look at the river...I mean, the creek?”