Authors: Melissa McClone
Tags: #romance, #western, #christmas, #american romance, #cowboys, #montana, #wedding
Dustin raised his hands as if surrendering. “Just wondering. You’ve been sayin’ no to a wife and kid for as long as I’ve known you, yet the last few weeks you’ve become Mr. Family Man.”
“I . . . ” Ty was about to disagree, until he realized Dustin was correct. “I guess I sort of have.”
“Not sort of.” Dustin pointed to Ty’s pocket. “You’re using a key chain a six year old made for you out of rubber bands and videotaping other people’s kids wearing halos, bathrobes and towels. You’ve gone all in, man. Big time.”
Damn. Ty scratched his head. He had, even if he had no clue what cards he was holding. Not a winning hand. Except getting wrapped up in the family unit scenario with Meg and Brooklyn had been easy to do and fun.
“You didn’t know?” Dustin sounded surprised.
“Nope.” Ty didn’t regret spending time with them. Doing so hadn’t required much thought. What had Meg said? Never say never. He didn’t know if he was ready to go that far. “Just sort of happened.”
“Have you told Meg how you feel about having a family?”
“Yes. A while back.”
“Dude . . . ”
“She knows.” Ty had told her he didn’t want to have a family, and she understood. “She’s not interested in getting serious.”
Dustin’s forehead wrinkled. “Sure about that?”
Yes. No. Maybe? Ty rubbed the back of his neck.
He hoped he wasn’t sending the wrong message. Nah, Meg wasn’t naïve. She’d admitted she had baggage from her failed marriage and she wasn’t looking for a relationship. They had gotten closer, especially over the past week. Kissing her was great, so was spending time together. That didn’t mean they had to get serious. Being friends, as they’d been doing, was fine, wasn’t it?
Maybe he should find out.
nticipation swelled inside Meg. She couldn’t wait to see her little girl in the church’s Nativity play, part of tonight’s Christmas Eve service. Meg had enjoyed everything about the holidays. The barn decorating would go better next year. She was also excited to see how tonight and tomorrow turned out. As lovely as the wedding last weekend? She hoped so.
Holding Brooklyn’s hand, Meg crossed the street to reach the church. “Are you ready?”
“I can’t wait to put on my wings.”
Meg squeezed her daughter’s hand. Her little girl was growing up so fast. She’d grown taller since they’d arrived in Montana. Spending time with Ty and the horses seemed to have made Brooklyn more independent, too. “You’ll be a beautiful angel.”
“All angels are beautiful, Mommy. So are you.”
“Thanks, honey. That means a lot.” Meg kicked up her foot to show off her red ankle boots. “What do you think?”
Brooklyn gasped. “They’re like my pink ones.”
“That’s why I bought them.” The days of Brooklyn wanting to match Meg wouldn’t last forever. She hoped Ty liked them and her dress she found at a local thrift store. “I thought the red looks Christmassy.”
“It does. It does.”
Brooklyn’s enthusiasm was contagious. “Excited?”
Her daughter nodded, then pointed at the church’s life-sized Nativity set. “Look, Mommy. The angel has wings and a halo like I’m going to wear. But our baby Jesus is cuter than that one.”
“It’s hard to carve a baby out of wood.”
Brooklyn tilted her head and studied the baby in the manger. “They should have used a doll like us.”
A walkway leading to the steps had been shoveled for churchgoers attending services tonight. Two gorgeous wreaths with holly, pinecones and bows hung on the church’s double red doors.
Meg loved how Caitlin and Noah’s wedding had turned out, romantic with a warm, down-home feel. Perfect for the couple and little Mistletoe. But a church like this, traditional gray stone, red doors and a bell steeple, was where Meg wanted to get married. She imagined walking up the steps in a white dress holding a bouquet of white roses and
and finding Ty waiting at the altar for her.
Her heart lodged in her throat. She struggled to breathe.
What was she thinking?
Getting married again was not on her To Do list. Not now, or in the near future. The long term was out, too. She shook the image from her head.
Brooklyn tugged on her arm. “Come on, Mommy. I don’t want to be late.”
Meg walked her daughter up the stairs and into the church. Inside her head, she heard Bach, a lovely tune for bridesmaids to walk down the aisle.
What was wrong with her?
On the left-hand side of the vestibule was a check-in table. A gray-haired woman sat on the opposite side and smiled. “If it isn’t one of our angels. Five minutes early even.”
“I’m Brooklyn.” She beamed. “I’m angel number three.”
The woman checked Brooklyn’s name off the list, then looked at Meg. “The children will come sit with you after the Nativity portion of the service finishes.”
“Thanks. I’ll look for her.” Meg hugged her daughter. “Break a leg.”
“I don’t want to be on crutches or have a cast on Christmas.”
“It’s an expression that means ‘go out there and do your best.’”
“Oh, okay. Bye, Mommy.” With that, Brooklyn went around the side of the table where a teenaged volunteer waited.
“The choir will start singing carols in thirty minutes,” the woman behind the table said. “Plenty of time to grab a coffee or a snack if you’d like.”
“Thanks.” Meg peered into the church. Zack and Dustin sat in the second row. She walked up the aisle, telling herself not to feel like a bride. “You guys know how to save seats.”
“We’ve had practice.” Dustin took a mock bow. The guy was sweet and acknowledged Dusty had come before him, so he had to go by his full name, not his nickname on the rodeo circuit. He’d said sharing his name with such an amazing dog was humbling. “You’ll be able to videotape to your heart’s delight.”
She wiggled her toes. “Thank you. There’s a little angel who will want to see herself on TV.”
“Things don’t start for awhile,” Zack said. “We don’t plan on going anywhere. You have time to do some last minute shopping or grab a coffee.”
“Or get us a salted caramel from Sage’s store,” Dustin added.
Zack wet his lips. “Oh, man, one of those sounds good.”
The two cowboys were nothing but a couple of overgrown kids. Still they had a point.
“Sure,” she said. “Be right back.”
Dustin winked. “You’re the best.”
She smiled. “Keep that up and you may get an extra piece.”
“We can sweet talk with the best of them,” Zack said.
“Used to be the case, but you save all your words for Charlie,” Dustin countered. “Now me . . . ”
Meg shook her head. “I’ll leave that for you to decide while I head over to Copper Mountain Chocolates.”
Outside, the sky was clear and blue. The temperature seemed to have dropped since they arrived in town. Tonight would be colder if no clouds moved in.
“Look at those fancy red boots.”
Smiling, she turned toward the sound of Ty’s voice and struck a pose. “Like them?”
“Very much. The dress, too.”
She’d thought of him when she purchased it, hoping he would like the style. She adjusted the hem of her jacket, then smoothed the skirt.
“You’re going to get cold without a heavier coat,” he added.
Typical Ty. Looking out for everyone whether they needed watching or not. “Thank you. I’m wearing tights and a couple layers. I’m fine.”
“You look better than fine.”
The approval in his voice made her straighten. “So do you.”
Ty looked handsome in the blue plaid shirt he wore underneath a leather jacket, tan corduroy pants and brown boots.
“I’m off to get your wranglers salted caramels. Want to come?”
“I could be bribed.”
Just like his crew. “Chocolate?”
“That’s a start.”
Interesting. “What else do you want?”
“Oh, I could think of a few things.”
So could Meg, starting with a kiss. If he was thinking the same thing as her . . . Excitement flashed through her. “Give me a hint.”
“Having you guess might be more fun.”
“Possibly, or that might get me into trouble.”
He flashed her a lopsided smile. “Going to take the safe route?”
Uh-oh. What was she saying? Her answer should be every time. She had taken the safe route since getting pregnant with Brooklyn. Nothing had changed, had it?
“I need to get to Sage’s,” she said, feeling off-kilter around him.
“I’ll go with you.”
“Great.” She walked in the direction of the chocolate shop, and he fell in step with her. “Your piece is on me.”
Wicked laughter lit his eyes. “If you mean literally . . . ”
“Ha. Ha.” Except the playful, sexy images filling her mind were no joking matter. She wet her lips, then realized where her thoughts were leading her. First daydreaming about a wedding, now fantasizing about the honeymoon.
She glanced at Ty.
Her heart thudded. Sighed.
No. No. No.
She stared at the sidewalk, but her gaze kept straying back to the man walking next to her.
And she knew with pulse-pounding certainty.
All the rationalizations of why romantic feelings didn’t matter and why she was better off alone than in a relationship disappeared like a snowflake being caught on a tongue. They mattered, and she wanted those things badly.
She hadn’t meant to fall for him, but she had. Hard.
A shiver raced down her spine. The realization was unexpected, scary.
He shot her a sideways glance, which she knew because she couldn’t drag her attention off him. “You, okay?”
“Just thinking.” Of course, he would sense something was up. That was part of his appeal. He got her. The way he understood her daughter, too. If there was one man out there who was what she needed and Brooklyn needed, that was Ty Murphy.
Feelings and desires long buried rose to the surface. She was ready to stop saying she didn’t want more, want him.
“Know what you want?” he asked.
Meg swallowed around the lump in her throat. “Excuse me.”
“What chocolates you’re going to get?”
She sighed with relief. She thought he’d read her mind. “Salted caramels for the guys. I’ll have to see what Sage has in the display case before I decide what I want.”
“You can have more than one,” Ty said.
“I might want only one.”
“It’s Christmas. Don’t be so cautious. Live it up.”
If only she knew where he stood . . . Dare she ask?
“Maybe I will,” she said.
Hope danced with fear, both trying to lead and stepping on each others’ toes. He seemed interested. A man wouldn’t spend so much time with her if he wasn’t enjoying himself, would he?
She could have read his signals—his interest—wrong. She’d married her second boyfriend when she’d been nineteen. Divorced him at twenty-three. She’d avoided relationships and flings and everything in between because of her daughter. Meg didn’t know how dating worked these days or any relationship rules.
Ty said he didn’t want to be a dad again—Rachel had warned Meg about that—but the way he acted told another story. He’d embraced both her and Brooklyn, spending time and going out of his way for them. Actions spoke louder than words, right? Especially for men. At least she remembered hearing or reading that.
What if she were wrong?
Maybe being cautious was prudent in this situation. Sure, her heart would recover. She’d survived Trace leaving and having a baby on her own. She could survive anything for her daughter’s sake. Meg had no other choice. But she couldn’t be rash or stupid.
If she was wrong and things at the ranch got awkward, that might jeopardize her job. She couldn’t put her job that came with a place to live at risk. Or do something that would affect Brooklyn.
No, Meg needed more signs from Ty, before she said or did anything.
Maybe Santa would put a sign in her stocking and another one under the tree so she’d know for certain and could start working to make all her dreams come true. Maybe by this time next year, they will have.
he Christmas Eve service opened with a procession of children singing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” Ty filmed with his smartphone, so that Meg could enjoy the show without trying to capture each moment on video.