Authors: Melissa McClone
Tags: #romance, #western, #christmas, #american romance, #cowboys, #montana, #wedding
“I like candy canes.” Brooklyn looked at Ty. “What do you want from Santa?”
“That’s easy,” he said. “A new pair of boots and a fly rod. I like to fish, but I don’t get much of a chance these days.”
“How about you, Mommy?”
This was easy for her, too. “My new job was my Christmas gift. I love it.”
Brooklyn made a face. “That’s not a gift.”
“Gotta agree with your daughter,” Ty said. “There has to be something you want.”
Meg thought for a minute. She didn’t need anything, but two things would be nice to have. “Well, I’d like a photo album that I could use for all our pictures taken here in Montana. I’d also like a new pair of gloves, the kind that don’t twist when you put them on. Red ones.”
“Your favorite color,” Brooklyn said.
Meg nodded. “There’s a long line today, so Santa is only visiting with kids. Ty and I will send him our list, okay?”
“Sounds good to me.” Brooklyn peered around the family in front of them. Her eyes widened. “I’m next.”
A few minutes later, a teenager led them up to an elaborate leather chair. Santa wore a red velvet suit. The wide black leather belt’s shiny gold buckle looked freshly polished. Gold wire-rimmed glasses sat halfway down his nose. His blue eyes twinkled as if filled with a million stars. His cheeks were pink.
“Ho, ho, ho.” Santa patted his knee, and Brooklyn climbed up. “What would you like for Christmas?”
She took a deep breath. “I want my daddy to visit me on Christmas.”
Meg held her breath. She felt Ty’s hands on her shoulders and appreciated his support.
“That’s a tall order,” Santa said.
Brooklyn shrugged. “You’re Santa Claus.”
“True, but what you want isn’t something I make in my workshop. It’s difficult for Santa to get people places. Not enough room on the sleigh, and I only have one night.”
This guy was good. His beard looked real.
“I never thought about that,” Brooklyn admitted.
“I’ll write your request in my book, but I won’t make any promises. Deal?”
“Deal.” Brooklyn extended her hand to shake on it. “I’d also like a horse, a real one, but that probably wouldn’t fit on your sleigh, either. So I’ll take twin dolls. A boy and a girl with a stroller. Those should fit in your sleigh.”
Santa looked at Meg, and she gave a quick nod.
“I think they might. Smile.” A light flashed as the photographer took their picture. He handed Brooklyn a candy cane. “Now, be a good girl. Santa knows when you’ve been naughty or nice.”
Brooklyn hopped down. “Thank you, Santa.”
“Satisfied?” Meg asked, while they waited for the picture to print.
Her daughter nodded. “Yes, but I still think my daddy is going to show up.”
Meg shook her head. She didn’t know how to deal with this. Six years old was too young to find out her father never wanted her.
Too bad, she couldn’t find Brooklyn a new dad who would make her forget about the old one. She glanced at Ty, who smiled sympathetically. He would be a good choice, except for the fact he was done being a dad. Not that she wanted to be in a relationship. At least she hadn’t, but now . . .
Never say never.
n Wednesday, Ty walked along the path leading to Meg’s cabin with Dusty at his side. Hands in jacket pockets, his breath hung on the cold air. The temperature drop earlier in the week had sent him and the wranglers into ice mode to make sure the livestock had water to drink. Extra work, for sure, and he was glad the weather was warming up. But that hadn’t stopped him from thinking about Meg for the last four days, ever since the wonderful time at Christmas Stroll.
What was up with that?
They were friends.
Except the way she drifted in and out of his thoughts hadn’t happened with his other female friends. Not Charlie, a former wrangler, who had called him on being distracted when she was at the Bar V5 for a meeting about Caitlin’s and Noah’s wedding. Not Rachel, except when she’d lived so far away and was going through a rough time, and he’d felt guilty being unable to help her.
Seeing Meg with guests, touring the horse barn with a reporter from the
, and bringing Brooklyn to the pasture when they worked with horses, should have been enough. No reason to have Meg on his mind.
Maybe he was getting caught up in Christmas. Having kids around made the holidays more fun. The wranglers had adopted Brooklyn as a pint-sized cowgirl. They played games with her, built an igloo and let her ride on the back of the ranch’s gentlest horse.
Except, Brooklyn had nothing to do with Meg. Sure, they were a package deal, one Ty wouldn’t pick up from the shelf to see what was included, but the little girl wasn’t the reason he couldn’t get her mother off his mind. So what was it?
A crush or infatuation?
Maybe. But he hadn’t had one of those in years.
More likely. Friendship couldn’t stop that. Though at times, they’d seemed like more than friends. Shared glances, saying the same thing at the same time and accidental touches.
Lonely and in need of companionship and kisses?
Probably. He hadn’t been out with a woman in . . . had it been two months? Losing Charlie and training a new wrangler had increased his workload. A trip to Grey’s and drinks with a pretty woman, could be all he needed to make things right.
The boys would be up for heading to town. Though tonight was a weeknight. Not exactly prime party time. But having a beer and playing a game of pool wouldn’t hurt.
First, he had a special treat for Brooklyn that would give Meg a break this afternoon on her day off.
Dusty ran ahead. Barked. Something must have caught the dog’s attention.
Brooklyn squealed and yelled the dog’s name. Ty turned the corner to find the little girl, dressed in pink from head to toe, and Meg playing in the snow.
“Hi.” Meg packed more snow onto a snowman. She wore the ranch’s insulated pants and matching jacket, only she’d added a neon striped fleece hat, matching scarf and black gloves. A picture of her dressed like that would look good on the Bar V5’s website. “What brings you this way? Figured you be making the most of balmy temperature today.”
“I see you are.”
Meg’s nose was pink. She sniffled and kept working on the snowman. “Brooklyn doesn’t have Nativity play practice today so she got off the school bus wanting to make a snowman. Here we are.”
“Nice looking snowman,” Ty said.
Brooklyn smoothed the snow. “His name is Olaf.”
“Olaf.” Ty repeated the name. “I’ve never heard a snowman called that name.”
Brooklyn laughed. “You’re funny, Boss Man.”
“Olaf is the snowman in
,” Meg explained.
He shrugged. “I haven’t seen the movie.”
Brooklyn shook her head. “You don’t know what you’re missing, Boss Man.”
“Olaf is a big deal. I know this because I’ve seen the movie eight hundred twenty-three times,” Meg joked.
He remembered those days until Rachel moved from princess movies to boy bands. “Do you have plans for this afternoon?”
“Nothing beyond finishing Olaf,” Meg said.
Brooklyn studied the snowman. “He looks done to me, Mommy.”
“Rachel is getting ready to bake,” Ty explained. “She wanted to see if Brooklyn could join her. That’s why I came down here.”
The little girl’s eyes widened. She brushed the snow from her hands. “Yes. Let’s go.”
“Not so fast. You’re wet. I’m sure Rachel doesn’t want you dripping water over her gorgeous kitchen.” Meg looked at Ty. “Are you sure Rachel is up for this?”
He nodded. “She’s taught cooking classes and done birthday parties for kids at the bakery. She’s totally up for it, and you’ll get a break.”
Meg grinned. “Free time. Can’t turn that down. Even if I don’t know what I’ll do with myself.”
Her smiled pleased him. “I’m sure you’ll think of something, but if you don’t, I have an idea.”
wo hours later, Meg collapsed against a fence rail by the upper pasture. Forget about the cold temperature. She was burning up. Sweat dripped down her back and between her breasts. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into cross country skiing.”
Ty’s cheeks were flushed from a mix of exercise and the cold. “You had your choice between cross country skiing or snowshoeing.”
“Can I have a do-over?” She wiped her face with the back of her jacket. “This is hard work. I’m going to need a soak in the hot tub, then see if I can get a massage from Siena.”
“Sounds like a great way to top off your free time.”
“If I survive that long. I’m so out of shape it’s embarrassing.” She blew her nose then tucked the tissue into a jacket pocket. “Hard to believe I used to climb mountains and never complain, no matter how long the approach was. Now I’m wimping out after an hour on the trails.”
“You’re a climber?”
“Was.” She stared at the mountains in the distance, ignoring their pull once again. “It’s come in handy with guests and potential ones asking about ice-climbing opportunities. Hyalite Canyon is closer to Bozeman, but some won’t mind the drive, given the climbing.”
“Why’d you stop climbing?”
“Brooklyn. I climbed the first couple months of the pregnancy, but after my ex left, I stopped.” Meg had made the right choice. She had no regrets. “Her dad’s a climber, too. We met competing at the Bozeman Ice Fest. We were the poster children for living the dirt-bag-climber life. Great when you’re in your early twenties, have no responsibilities and just want to climb, but not so much if you’re going to have a family.”
“Do you miss climbing?”
Leaning back against the rail, she let the cold air fill her lungs.
“Hard to answer?” he continued.
“Yes, it is.” Her gaze drifted back to the mountains. “Climbing used to be my entire life, even my marriage was built around the sport. Now my daughter is number one. I’m all she has. I do miss climbing sometimes. I see a peak and my heart might bump. Or glimpse a slab of rock and want a closer look. Where I am right now, though, it’s not worth the risks. You can be a safe climber, but some things are out of your control. I know I’ve made the right decision not climbing.”
He didn’t say anything.
“Sorry for such a long answer,” she added. “More than you wanted to know.”
“No, it’s exactly what I wanted to know.” He stared at her, his gaze full of acceptance and understanding. “Thanks for telling me. This summer we’ll go on some hikes. Much tamer than you’re used to, but you can stand on the top of a mountain and get a great view.”
Her throat tightened. Once again, she had the sense of coming home.
“Sounds great.” She looked at the position of the sun. “We should probably start heading back.”
Meg straightened. “My heart’s not going to explode like I thought it might a few minutes ago, so I’m good.”
Her left ski slid out in front, causing her to fall forward. She tried to balance herself, but couldn’t. She was going down, face first.
Ty’s arms wrapped around her. “I’ve got you.”
Yes, he did.
She smiled up at him. “Thanks.”
“That’s what friends are for. Let’s get you standing upright on both skis.”
He helped her stand right. “Better?”
“Much.” She adjusted her poles, slipped and fell into him, taking them both down.
“Oh.” She landed on top of him with a thud. “Are you okay?”
He laughed. “I’m fine, though I may have bruises that could be interesting to explain. Next time we’re snowshoeing.”
Meg grabbed a handful of snow and dumped the white stuff on his face.
His eyes darkened to the color of a stormy sea. “Oh, it’s on.”
The two threw snow and wrestled like kids, amid a tangle of skis, poles, limbs and laughter. She couldn’t stop laughing.
“Time out,” she shouted. “I need to catch my breath.”
He stopped. “Good idea.”
Ty’s face was so close to hers. She hadn’t realized how close until now. His warm breath caressed her cheek.
Something passed between them. A look. A connection.
Meg didn’t know what was happening. She leaned forward slightly.
He met her the rest of the way and touched his mouth against hers. Soft, almost tentative, as if testing the water.