Authors: C. J. Carmichael
Tags: #romance, #christmas
A Carrigan of Circle C Story
Snowbound in Montana
Copyright © 2014 CJ Carmichael
The Tule Publishing Group, LLC
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Thank you to the Tule Publishing team: Kelly Hunter, Lilian Darcy, Lee Hyat, Jane Porter, Meghan Farrell and Tandy Tillinghast-Voit. You are all such a pleasure to work with!
Promise Me, Cowboy (novella)
Good Together (novel)
Close To Her Heart (novel)
Snowbound in Montana (novella)
A Cowgirl’s Christmas (novel)
dorned in Christmas
finery, the Bramble House Bed and Breakfast had never looked better, while Eliza Bramble, manager and great-niece of the owner, had never felt worse. If she had guessed that her blog post on decorating for the holidays would go viral, she would never have hit the “Publish” button.
But she had. And since she couldn’t turn back time for a do-over, she was going to have to come up with a Plan B for the holidays. A plan that would get her out of Marietta, Montana until Christmas was over.
She had one figured out, already. The tricky part would be explaining her departure to her Great Aunt Mable. Mable was not the sort to embrace change at the best of times. And Christmas, for their family, was never the best of times.
They were seated in the breakfast room of Bramble House, at the large, linen-covered table that could accommodate twelve with comfort. When it was just the two of them, like today, Mable took the chair at the head of the table overlooking the east-facing windows, while Eliza sat to her right.
On the table was a pot of English Breakfast tea, the matching china creamer and sugar bowl, and a ramekin of strawberry preserves. At each place setting were two slices of crispy toast, a small dish of fruit salad, and a tea cup. Cutlery was laid out on linen napkins that had been in the Bramble family for over fifty years—purchased along with many other linens, two china sets, and the silver, by Mable’s parents on their wedding trip abroad to France and England in 1925. It was not the china they set out when they had paying guests. For that they used second-hand pieces Eliza had painstakingly located and purchased on e-Bay.
Aunt Mable had a disconcerting resemblance to the Dowager Countess on her favorite TV series, Downton Abbey: swept-up gray hair, prissy mouth, and laser-sharp blue eyes. Eyes that were currently focused on Eliza with distressing sharpness.
“What do you mean you want to go away for Christmas?” Mable’s gaze shifted briefly to the Christmas tree in the far corner of the room. This year Eliza had decorated trees for all the downstairs main rooms, each with a theme drawn from the Bramble family’s past. The tree in the breakfast room had ornaments made of copper, with gold and silver accents, representing their mining history.
“My reasons are personal, Aunt Mable. I’m afraid I can’t say more.”
“But we’re fully booked for the holidays, aren’t we?”
“Yes. I’ve asked my sister and her husband to stand in for me. They’ll prepare the breakfasts and afternoon teas.” Other meals were not included, guests were expected to make reservations in one of the many restaurants and cafes Marietta had to offer.
“Caroline and Frank?”
“Yes.” It had taken a lot to convince them. They’d been planning to go to Maui for the holidays—their usual method of escaping the holiday madness. Eliza’s two brothers likewise had booked tropical destinations for Christmas, as had her parents. They were not the sort of family who went for the traditional turkey, tree and gift exchange sort of thing.
“But you made such an effort this year. All your baking and decorating—” Mable waved a hand to indicate not only the tree in the corner, but the cedar boughs on the fireplace mantle, the cranberry candles at the center of the table, and the fairy lights sparkling like stars on the mullioned windows.
“I had to do something to attract bookings. We almost broke even this year. I’m hoping we’ll finally get the accounts in the black this December.”
“Yes. I understand all that. What puzzles me is why, after all your hard work, and knowing how important the next week will be for our bottom line, as you like to call it, you would just want to take off and go on a holiday. It doesn’t make sense.”
Eliza smeared a spoonful of preserves on her toast. “Do you remember when I first moved into Bramble House?”
It had been two years ago. She’d shown up on her aunt’s door with two suitcases and her purse, asking her aunt if she could turn the ancestral home into a bed and breakfast. She’d heard, through the family e-mail loop that Mable was thinking of selling—she could no longer afford the upkeep and property taxes on the big, old house.
But Mable had really wanted to leave her home and she’d leapt at Eliza’s offer.
“If you hadn’t shown up that day, I’d probably be living in one of those awful condos for seniors by now.”
“But do you remember what I looked like? The shape I was in?”
“You were dreadfully skinny, with that awful fake brown hair. And sad. Sometimes, at night I would hear you crying in your room.”
This was the first Eliza had heard of that, and the news made her smile ruefully. Some aunts might have tapped on her door and offered help—a pot of tea and a wee chat, perhaps?
But Mable was not that sort of aunt.
“Someone hurt me, badly. And I think he might be about to do it again. That’s why I have to go. I’m really sorry if you feel like I’m abandoning you and Bramble House for the holidays. But I simply don’t have any choice.”
Eliza climbed up
the stairs to the store front of the Montana Wilds Adventure Company. A huge window display depicting a cozy scene right out of a ski chalet. Two mannequins, dressed in Norwegian sweaters and ski pants, lounged before a cast iron stove. Artfully arranged around them were sets of skis, poles, boots and all the accessories that went with them. In the background was a Scotch pine, decorated for Christmas with sporty wooden ornaments including tiny wooden sleds and miniature ice skates.
When she pulled open the heavy door, the aroma of hot apple and cinnamon cider and the familiar refrain from the Little Drummer Boy, completed the Christmas presentation. Last minute shoppers were everywhere, purchasing mittens, hats and other stocking stuffers, she supposed. A small queue waited at the cash register, where a young woman with her hair in braids seemed to be dealing with them with cheerful competence.
Eliza scanned the busy room, looking for someone to help her. A man who looked to be in his late forties, with a thin face and wearing a plaid flannel shirt gave her a nod and was soon beside her.
“Can I help you find something?”
“I want to sign up for the Nordic Holiday Package. The one for five days, December twenty-second to the twenty-sixth. I saw it on your website, but when I tried to register I got a message,
page not found
“That’s because it’s full-up. Sorry, I’ve asked my wife, Gracie to fix that—she updates our website, but I guess she’s fallen behind. Marshall!” He called out to a tall man who’d just emerged from the back, cell phone pressed to one ear. “That’s Marshall McKenzie,” he explained to Eliza. “He’s the one leading the group.” Raising his voice again, he called out, “The Nordic Holiday Package is full, right?”
The man named Marshall held up his hand for them to wait while he finished his call. He made a note in an open binder on a back counter, then walked toward them.
He was in his thirties like her, tall, with a lean, athletic build and a plain, but pleasant face.
“It’s been full for weeks, Ryan.” Marshall’s gaze shifted from the bearded man to Eliza. He had warm brown eyes and an open smile. “Are you the one inquiring?”
“Yes. I’m Eliza Bramble. My plans for Christmas changed unexpectedly and I was really hoping to get away for a few days.”
“You do realize the trip leaves tomorrow? It’s been sold out for over a month.”
The man with the thin face left to assist another customer and now it was just the two of them, standing in front of a rack of the Norwegian sweaters on display in the front window.
“I know this is last minute. But I love cross country skiing. And I really don’t want to be in town for the holidays this year.” She smiled and shrugged, sensing Marshall might be convinced to help her, if he possibly could. He had the air of someone who liked helping people. The kind of nice, young man that women ought to fall in love with…but so rarely did.