Authors: Carolyne Aarsen
Love Inspired brings you three new titles for one great price, available now! Enjoy these uplifting contemporary romances of faith, forgiveness and hope. This Love Inspired bundle includes
Her Montana Twins
by Carolyne Aarsen,
by Renee Andrews and
Stranded with the Rancher
by Tina Radcliffe.
Look for 6 new inspirational stories every month from Love Inspired!
A Forever Family
Raising twins on her own hasn't been easy for widowed mom Hannah Douglas. But she's determined to see her familyâand the picnic basket auction she's organizing for the town's centennial celebrationâsucceed. Still, there are times she wishes for someone to lean on. To her surprise, Brody Harcourt's strong shoulders are at the ready. Seems like Jasper Gulch's favorite firefighter and rancher is always there when she needs him. But Hannah's not sure she's willing to take another chance on love, especially with someone whose job puts him in harm's way. Is the risk of loving Brody worth the reward to make her family complete?
Big Sky Centennial: A small town rich in historyâ¦and love.
Ladies and Gentlemen, start your bidding!
The Jasper Gulch
The Jasper Gulch Fall
and Picnic Basket Auction
Who needs speed dating and online
matchmaking? Jasper Gulch believes in doing things the old-fashioned
way. And what could be sweeter than an old-time picnic basket auction? As
the town's potential suitors line up to place their bids, no one is more
excited than auction coordinator Hannah Douglas. Of course, the young widow
has no interest in finding a dateâor so she says.
But this centennial celebrating is having a
strange effect on
and nothing is as it seems. The time capsule is still missing,
there have been unexplained events and someone has even convinced the town
pastor to make a basket! With all the unusual goings-on in town, anything is
possible. Even a sweet single mom finding love
a second time
* * *
Big Sky Centennial:
A small town rich
in historyâ¦and love.
Her Montana Cowboy
His Montana Sweetheart
Her Montana Twins
His Montana Bride
His Montana Homecoming
Her Montana Christmas
Books by Carolyne Aarsen
A Bride at Last
A Mother at Heart
A Family at Last
A Hero for Kelsey
Love Is Patient
Brought Together by Baby
A Silence in the Heart
Any Man of
Finally a Family
A Family for Luke
Close to Home
The Rancher's Return
The Cowboy's Lady
Healing the Doctor's Heart
Catching Her Heart
A Father's Promise
Father in the Making
Her Montana Twins
â Home to
â¡Hearts of Hartley Creek
and her husband, Richard, live on a small ranch in northern
Alberta, where they have raised four children and numerous foster children, and
are still raising cattle. Carolyne crafts her stories in an office with a large
west-facing window, through which she can watch the changing seasons while
struggling to make her words obey.
HER MONTANA TWINS
God is our refuge and strength. An ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
To my agent, Karen Solemâthanks for your work, for your support and encouragement through
all the ups and downs of this crazy writing life.
tell you it was rigged.” Lilibeth Shoemaker tucked her cell phone in the back pocket of her snug blue jeans and rested her elbows on the waist-high wooden counter separating Hannah's desk from the large open waiting area of the town hall. Light from the mullioned window above the large double doors created a halo out of Lilibeth's blond hair. However, the effect was negated by narrowed blue eyes enhanced by dark eyeliner and pouting red lips. “There is no way Alanna Freeson should have won that and not me.” This last word was emphasized with a slap of the hand on the divider.
Hannah Douglas gave Lilibeth what she called her Customer Care smile while she typed a quick note on the application for a booth for the county fair Hannah was helping to organize. This year the fair was to be the biggest ever in honor of Jasper Gulch's hundredth anniversary and Hannah was already behind. All morning she'd been fighting a headache, juggling her attention between her increasing workload and her concerns over her mother, who was babysitting Hannah's twins. This morning her mother had shown up looking drawn and pale but, as usual, insisting everything was fine.
Lilibeth tapped a long zebra-striped fingernail on the counter as if to get Hannah's attention. “I was told I had to talk to you about it.”
Hannah hit Enter, then turned her chair to devote her entire attention to Lilibeth. The young girl had flounced into the town hall a few minutes ago exuding an air of long suffering that Hannah knew masked a simmering frustration with losing the Miss Jasper Gulch contest. Though the winner had been crowned at the Fourth of July picnic, launching the town's centennial festivities two months ago now, Lilibeth had complained loudly since then to anyone who would listen that she had been robbed. She was determined to get to the bottom of whatever conspiracy she seemed to think had been hatched.
“There's nothing I can do,” Hannah said. “The contest is over and the winner has been determined.”
As she reasoned with Lilibeth, the heavy doors of the town hall office opened and a tall figure stepped inside the foyer. Though the entrance of the converted bank building boasted ten-foot-high ceilings, Brody Harcourt easily dominated the space and Hannah's attention.
He stood in the doorway now, his eyes skimming the interior as he swept his cowboy hat off his dark hair. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up over muscular forearms and his ramrod-straight stance bespoke his firefighter training, but the sprinkle of straw on his brown cowboy hat probably came from working on the ranch he and his father owned. He glanced at the empty chairs lining one wall, interspersed with potted plants, but stayed standing.
“But you take minutes at the town council meetings, dontcha? Couldn't you find out stuff for me?” Lilibeth's question was underlined with a nervous tap, tap of her fingernail. As Hannah's attention was drawn back to the young girl, she fought a yawn.
Chrissy, her thirteen-month-old daughter, was cutting teeth and she'd been up most of the night crying and feverish. Thankfully, her twin brother, Corey, had slept through all of the fussing. Unfortunately, Hannah had not. She'd spent most of the evening rocking Chrissy and walking the floor with her hoping her cries wouldn't wake Miss Abigail Rose, who lived in the apartment beside Hannah's above the hardware store. Miss Rose had been reluctant to continue subletting the adjoining apartment to Hannah precisely because of the twins. She had given in when Hannah's mother had shamed Miss Rose by saying this was no way to treat the widow of a soldier who'd died for his country. Hannah knew she was only staying at the apartment on sufferance, widow or not, and as a result was hyperconscious of any noise the babies made.
“I'm taking care of organizing the fair this year and the picnic basket auction,” Hannah said. “I can help you if you want to donate a basket or if you want a booth at the fair. Unfortunately, I can't do anything about the Miss Jasper Gulch contest and neither can Mayor Shaw.”
Lilibeth pursed her lips, winding a strand of hair around her finger as she contemplated this information. “So you can't get hold of the minutes of the meetings or stuff and let me see them? I need to find out if this was a setup or not.”
Why was she so intent on digging so deeply into this?
A movement from Brody distracted Hannah from Lilibeth's questions. He was glancing at his watch, as if checking the time. Then he looked over at her, angled her a quick smile and raised his eyebrows toward Lilibeth, as if he was sympathizing with Hannah having to deal with the young lady's self-indulgent antics.
“The contest was run separately from town business.” Hannah kept her smile intact as she turned her attention back to Lilibeth. “And even if the council was involved, I wouldn't be at liberty to give you the minutes of the meetings.”
As Hannah spoke, Robin Frazier entered the foyer from the office she and Olivia Franklin worked in. She clutched a sheaf of papers and had a pencil behind one ear holding her blond hair back from her face. Probably seeking more information for the genealogy study she had come to Jasper Gulch for. She and Olivia had been working together on the history of the town as part of her studies.
“Are you going to donate a basket for the auction?” Hannah asked Lilibeth, trying to distract the girl and hurry her on.
Lilibeth gave Hannah a confused look as if not certain of this sudden switch in the conversation. “I'm not sure I could organize a basket. What would I put in it?”
“Food. Snacks. Treats. Sandwiches. Be creative,” Hannah said, handing her a paper. “Here's a submission form to fill out. We're doing something different this year. Instead of just food baskets, we are asking for some people to consider making a themed basket instead.”
“Yes. You could make a basket of books. A basket of bath products. Snack foods. Baby stuff. The form will give you some ideas. You can choose which one you prefer.” While the young woman puzzled over the paper, Hannah turned her attention to Brody.
“Can I help you, Mr. Harcourt?”
Brody Harcourt gave her an affronted look as he came to the counter. “Whoa, what's with the mister? I'm twenty-nine. That's only four years older than you.”
In a town the size of Jasper Gulch, anyone who was four years older than you in high school seemed to stay in that exalted position until you got to know them. And Brody moved in different circles than she did, so she never got to know him well.
“Sorry. Just trying to be respectful of the age difference.” Hannah didn't know where that little quip came from, but the twinkle in Brody's eye and the way his mouth curved upward in a half smile created a curious uptick in her heartbeat. He really was quite attractive.
And still single, which surprised her. She thought someone like Brody would have been snatched up years ago.
“Glad to know I get some respect around here,” he said, setting his hat on the wide counter between them.
Lilibeth looked up from the form she still held. The frown puckering her forehead shifted in an instant, and her smile made a blazing reappearance.
“Hey, there, Brody,” she almost purred. “How are things at the Harcourt ranch?”
“Fall's coming, so it's busy,” Brody said, giving the young girl a grin.
“You going to enter in the demolition derby going on in Bozeman this year?”
“Don't have a vehicle to enter and I don't have time.”
“You did real well the last time you entered,” Lilibeth continued, laying her hand lightly on his arm in a distinctly flirtatious gesture. “Couldn't believe how you smashed up the competition. Fearless. Living up to your nickname, Book-it Brody.”
Hannah knew Brody's high school nickname had less to do with academics than it had with his penchant for driving fast trucks and outrunning the sheriff of the day. Though that was in his past, he still held a reputation for being a risk-taker, not the kind of person Hannah could allow herself, a widowed mother of two, to be attracted to. The admiration in Lilibeth's voice at Brody's apparent recklessness only underlined Hannah's previous assessment of Brody Harcourt.
In spite of that, when he turned back to her and his smile deepened, she was unable to look away from his dark gaze.
Again Hannah pushed down her foolish reaction, not sure what was wrong with her these days. It seemed that she'd had romance on her mind lately. She wanted to blame it on her friend Julie's recent engagement or the plans for the Old Tyme wedding coming up next month, but the truth was, she'd been feeling lonely the past few months. The first year after David's death, she had been on autopilot, trying to absorb the reality that her husband of only a couple of months was killed so soon after shipping out to Afghanistan. She had often felt that their brief marriage was an illusion, even though the twins that came of that marriage certainly weren't.
“I understand you're the person I need to talk to about reserving a booth at the fair?” Brody said, resting his elbows on the counter and leaning closer. “It's for the firefighters.”
“I'll get the form you need,” she said as the door of the hall opened again and Rusty Zidek came in. He pulled off his worn, brown, cowboy hat, smoothed down his gray hair and brushed his impressive cookie duster of a mustache. In spite of being ninety-six years old, Rusty managed to keep his finger on the pulse of what happened in Jasper Gulch. He and his Mule were often seen putt-putting down Main Street as Rusty sought out people to talk to and things to find out. Hannah wondered what he wanted from her today.
Rusty settled himself slowly into a chair beside Robin. She turned to him, asking him questions about Jasper Gulch. From the way Robin scribbled notes as he talked, Hannah assumed they would be busy awhile.
The phone rang just then and with an apologetic look toward Brody, Hannah answered it and set the application form for the booth on top of the counter, next to Brody's hand.
As she did, she noticed Lilibeth had captured his attention again by batting long, thick eyelashes that Hannah suspected were glued on rather than natural. Lilibeth had her head cocked to one side, her finger resting on her cheek, her eyelashes fluttering, her smile showing off perfectly spaced teeth.
And for a moment, Hannah was surprised herself that Lilibeth hadn't won the Miss Jasper Gulch contest. But what surprised Hannah even more was the faint uptick of jealousy Lilibeth's flirtation created in her.
“So I hope I filled this out right,” Brody said, looking back at Hannah when she was done with her phone call. As he handed her the paper, their fingers brushed. A spark of awareness tingled down her arm and then his eyes locked with hers. His smile seemed to soften and deepen and her heart did a goofy little dance in her chest.
Then reality hit. She couldn't help comparing herself, a harried mother of two toddlers who barely had time to run a brush through her hair, let alone apply makeup, to fresh-faced Lilibeth, who looked put together enough to be in a fashion magazine. Though she doubted Brody would be attracted to a nineteen-year-old, the comparison still made her feel old and worn-out.
“Looks good, Mr. Harcourt,” Hannah said, pushing down the futile emotions. “I look forward to seeing what the firefighters come up with.”
“And if I have any questions?”
“Just come to me.” Hannah hoped she sounded businesslike and not like a breathless schoolgirl in the presence of her crush. “Have a good day.” Then she looked past him as Robin got up to walk toward the counter.
“Can I help you, Robin?” Hannah asked, effectively dismissing both Brody and Lilibeth.
Brody paused a moment as if he did, indeed, have a question. But then Robin stepped up to the counter and he turned and stepped aside, smiling at a joke Lilibeth was telling him.
“Nice-looking couple,” Robin said as she set her folder of papers on the divider.
They're not a couple,
Hannah wanted to say, but she stopped herself. What did it matter to her that Robin thought Brody and Lilibeth were together?
“I returned those papers you lent me,” Robin continued, handing an envelope back to Hannah. “Though the documents were interesting, I was hoping to find out more about some of the occupations of the extended Shaw family. Olivia said to talk to you.”
Hannah bit her lip, thinking. “I'll see what I can find. Mayor Shaw might have that information, as well.”
“I don't want to bother him,” Robin murmured.
“Don't worry. I'll take care of it,” Hannah assured her, then had to apologize as she answered the phone again. Her day didn't look as if it would be slowing down anytime soon.
Or her life. She gave another quick glance at Brody, holding open the door for Lilibeth, then turned her attention back to her work. She had no space in her life for a man like him.
* * *
Well, that didn't go as well as he had hoped.
Brody Harcourt dropped his hat on his head and heaved out a sigh as he held the door of the town hall open for Lilibeth Shoemaker. He had been the one to pitch the idea of setting up a booth for the firefighters at the fair precisely because he had hoped he could spend some time with Hannah Douglas.
Brody had been a senior in high school when he and his parents first moved to their new ranch in Jasper Gulch, and already then Hannah Douglas, with her gentle smile and perky demeanor, had caught his attention. But other than one summer when he was graduated and she and David had briefly split up, she had always been David Douglas's girl.
Now she was David Douglas's widow and the mother of his twins and, from the way she had just treated him, still not interested in him.
“If I make a basket, you'll have to make sure to bid on it,” Lilibeth was saying to him. “I'll let you know what it looks like.”
“Isn't that against the rules?” he said as he tugged his cell phone out of his pocket.