The Best Christmas Ever [NOOK Book]

Overview


Christmas Bells, Wedding Bells

When Nick Gallagher returned to his hometown for his brother's Christmas wedding, the confirmed bachelor and military man had to exchange his usual army fatigues for something more suitable—the tux of a best man. Nick had never thought about settling down, but soon he found ...

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The Best Christmas Ever

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Overview


Christmas Bells, Wedding Bells

When Nick Gallagher returned to his hometown for his brother's Christmas wedding, the confirmed bachelor and military man had to exchange his usual army fatigues for something more suitable—the tux of a best man. Nick had never thought about settling down, but soon he found his attention straying…mostly to the very pretty neighbor next door.

Allison Lee didn't trust men—especially ones as charming

and handsome as Nick. She knew firsthand that men usually ran off at the mention of the word "commitment." And she couldn't risk having her heart broken again. But even as Allison withdrew, Nick seemed to draw closer…


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781460300138
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 12/1/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Sales rank: 293,437
  • File size: 200 KB

Meet the Author


The author of over seventy-five titles for Harlequin, Stella Bagwell writes about familes, the West, strong, silent men of honor and the women who love them. She credits her loyal readers and hopes her stories have brightened their lives in some small way. A cowgirl through and through, she recently learned how to rope a steer. Her days begin and end helping her husband on their south Texas ranch. In between she works on her next tale of love. Contact her at stellabagwell@gmail.com


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Read an Excerpt




Nicholas Gallagher slowed his sports car as the blacktop gave way to dirt and the road took another sharp bend. To his right was the wide Arkansas River. Yet before he could catch a glimpse of the barges and towboats traveling the waterway, the road began to veer sharply away from the river and into wide, open fields. At the moment the land lay fallow. But Nick knew exactly how rich and fertile it would look come spring. He was on Gallagher land now—his family's farm.

Ahead of him, a county road grader was moving slowly, its slanted blade rolling the damp earth to one side of the road. Since the turn to the farm was only a half mile away, Nick downshifted and hung impatiently behind the vehicle.

Bright sunshine glinted off the red hood of his car, making it seem more like an early spring day instead of late December. Yesterday, when he'd left Fort Sill in western Oklahoma, the weather had been cold and wet. But the drive east had left the clouds and rain behind him.

It was a beautiful day, and he was almost home. Home for Christmas. It was a tradition for the Gallagher family to spend the holiday together. To eat, laugh, reminisce and generally make merry. Nick had always made it a point to return home and join in the celebration. But this year coming home for Christmas had taken on new meaning. His brother Sam was getting married and Nick was going to be the best man. He'd had a month to get used to the idea, but Nick still found it difficult to imagine his quiet, hardworking brother in love and about to get married.

While the grader continued to creep along in front of him, Nick looked things over. It was easy to see that Sam had been busy this past harvesting season. Even the land around the old Lee house showed signs of being worked. Nick remembered that particular section of land used to be farmed in watermelon and cantaloupe, but for the past few years it had lain dormant—mainly because Old Lady Lee had been in ill health and his father hadn't wanted to disturb her with the loud sound of tractors and the boiling dust plowing created.

Maybe the old woman had passed away, Nick thought. Although he couldn't remember his mother mentioning it in her letters.

Nick studied the square, wood-framed house sitting a hundred feet or so south of the road. The old Lee place was still unpainted and the tin roof was just as rusty as it had been when he'd come home last Easter. Still, it looked as though someone lived there. Curtains hung in the windows and wood was stacked neatly on the east end of the front porch.

However, Old Lady Lee swiftly left his mind as the cattle guard leading to the Gallagher farmhouse appeared on the right. With the road grader finally out of his path, Nick crossed the slatted entrance, then stepped hard on the accelerator. The sports car shot forward like a little red arrow. Dust roiled behind him and Nick chuckled as he pictured his mother's expression when she spotted him coming down the road. She'd scold him for driving recklessly, then scold him again for not letting the family know that he was coming home today.

At the back of the house, Nick jammed on the brakes, making gravel spray from the tires as the car skidded to a stop just short of the yard fence.

Inside the kitchen Ella glanced out the window, then darted an incredulous look at Kathleen. "My God, it's Nick! I'm going to thrash him! Did you see that? I'll bet that car isn't more than five inches from the fence!"

Before Kathleen could utter a word in defense of her brother, Ella dashed out the door to greet her son.

"Nicholas Gallagher! If I had your daddy's razor strop with me right now, I'd use it on you," she shouted as she ran down the steps.

Nick threw back his head and roared with laughter as he held his arms out to his mother. She ran straight into them and clutched her youngest child to her breast.

"Hello, Mom. Glad to see me?" he asked, bending his head to kiss her cheek.

Ella thrust him from her, then wagged her finger in his grinning face. "I'm glad to see you in one piece. Is that the way you drove coming home? Lord help us, it's a wonder you're alive! And what are you doing home today? It's two days before Christmas Eve!"

Laughing again, Nick threw his arm around his mother's shoulder and held her close. "Well, if I'm too early I can always leave and come back later."

"Not on your life!" Ella cried. "Sam's probably going to chain you to the bedpost as it is! He's tried to get through to you on the telephone all week."

"So," Nick said with a wicked grin, "I've had my brother a little worried that I wouldn't show up for the big event?"

"Nicholas!" Ella scolded. "Be serious! You know how much your brother is looking forward to you standing up with him."

The door on the porch slammed, and Nick turned his head in time to see Kathleen scurrying down the steps toward him.

"Nick!" she squealed happily.

With his free arm, he reached out and pulled his sister against him. "Hi, sis! Don't tell me you knew I was coming?"

"Of course I didn't know! None of us did. Why didn't you call and tell us?" she asked, pinching his lean waist. "Sam's been out of his mind thinking you'd been shipped off to parts unknown."

"We've been out in the field for over a week on training maneuvers," Nick explained. "I couldn't get to a phone."

"And there's not one phone between here and Lawton? You could have at least called and warned us you were coming," Kathleen told him.

Nick's look told Kathleen just what he thought of her suggestion. "Are you crazy? And ruin my surprise?"

With a good-natured groan she said, "You haven't changed a bit."

"Would you really want me to, sis?" he asked, giving her an impish grin.

Kathleen moaned and rolled her eyes. "Mom, how are we ever going to put up with him and get ready for a wedding at the same time?"

"Well, we won't do it standing around here. Let's go in," Ella said, urging her son and daughter up the steps and into the house.

Inside the kitchen, Kathleen stood back with her hands on her hips and gave her brother a thorough looking over. "I guess you'll do," she said, her eyes full of love and laughter.

Ella wasn't nearly as kind. She poked a finger into his midsection. "You look thin. What has the army been feeding you—K rations three times a day?"

Laughing, Nick shook his head. "Mom, you're looking at a man in prime physical condition."

"If you say so, Sergeant Gallagher," Kathleen said teasingly. "How many push-ups can you do?"

"I won't tell. Sam might kill himself trying to outdo me." He glanced from his sister to look around the room. "Speaking of Brother Samuel, where is he? And where's my future sister-in-law? I'm dying to see if she's still as pretty as she used to be."

Ella waved her hand dismissively. "Actually, Olivia has been running her legs off getting ready for the wedding. But this afternoon she and Sam took time out to round up food and toys for the mission where she's been doing a little volunteer work."

Nick's brows arched in wonder. "Sam is out gathering food and toys? Instead of farming? Olivia must have really transformed the boy."

Ella gave her son an impatient look. "Your brother can do other things, you know. Besides, you might as well hear it right now. Olivia had a hard time of it over in Africa. Sam's trying to help her ease back into relief work. So don't be pestering her with a lot of questions about Ethiopia. You hear me?"

Nick stared at his mother. "You mean we have to handle her with kid gloves?"

"No, Nicholas. She isn't that fragile. I'm just telling you to be kind and…sensitive."

A beguiling grin suddenly spread across his face. "Now, Mother, you know that I know all about dealing with—"

"Yes. We know. Dealing with women," she interrupted, shaking her head.

Laughing, Kathleen crooked her arm through Nick's and tugged him over to the kitchen table. "Just wait until you see them together, Nick. I never thought I'd ever see Sam so happy. And Olivia is positively glowing."

Nick eased his six-foot frame into one of the wooden chairs at the table, then leaned back and crossed his legs at the ankles.

"So where's Dad?" he asked.

"He's down at the hog pen trying to build some sort of watering system that won't freeze. I guess he didn't hear you drive up," Kathleen said.

Nick told himself not to feel let down because his father wasn't around to greet him.

"He'll be in shortly," Ella told her son. "It's close to two o'clock and he can't go much longer than that without his afternoon coffee. He's going to be so surprised to see you."

"He must be getting soft in his older years," Nick said fondly. "I can remember when he'd have a fit if Sam and I quit for a soda."

Kathleen made a tsking noise with her tongue. "Don't you really mean a dip in the river that would end up lasting half of the afternoon?"

Nick made a face at his sister and she leaned over and mussed his dark auburn hair. "I'll bet you never tell those poor privates beneath you what a terror you used to be."

He grinned. "I'm not totally crazy, sis."

"Kathleen, come here and make coffee. You can talk to your brother from across the room. I've got to finish coloring this rice so it can be drying," Ella said as she wiped her hands on the edge of her apron. "Nick, do you want to bring in your bags now?"

"I have a whole trunkful of things out there. I'll get them later."

"You did bring your Class A's, didn't you? I know Sam will want you to wear them for the wedding," Kathleen said, referring to his dress military uniform.

Nick grinned, more to himself than at his sister. She was finally on the mend. Some of her old spark was back in her eyes and she was smiling and laughing again. It was wonderful to see.

"As a matter of fact, my Class A's were one of the very first things I packed, sis. Along with your Christmas present, of course."

Kathleen instantly forgot the coffee. She came up behind her brother and, looping her arms around his neck, pressed her cheek against his. "You are going to tell me what it is, aren't you?"

Nick chuckled wickedly. "Not even a hint."

"Nick—" Kathleen began to plead, only to have Ella interrupt them.

"Kathleen, the coffee," she reminded her. "I'm sure Nick could use a cup after his long drive." The older woman wearily brushed back a wisp of hair. "I never realized getting ready for a wedding would be such a job. And with Christmas, too, I don't know if we're going to make it."

"Of course we'll make it. Nick's here to help now," Kathleen said happily.

Nick merely looked at the two women and laughed. "Me, help? I don't know anything about weddings. I'd rather march five miles in sleet and snow than go to a wedding."

"Scared all that love and commitment stuff might rub off, eh?" Kathleen teased.

His sister was so close to the truth it made Nick shift uncomfortably in his chair. "There's not a man alive that can truly say he likes weddings," Nick said defensively.

"The groom does, Nick. Isn't there someone back in Lawton expecting a marriage proposal from you?

You could make it a double wedding with Sam, you know, and save Mom a lot of extra work."

Nick looked pointedly at his sister. "I'm doing just fine, sis. Thanks anyway."

"I was only hoping," Kathleen said with a laugh.

Tired of sitting from the long drive across Oklahoma, Nick got to his feet and joined his mother and sister at the work island in the middle of the kitchen.

"Is Old Lady Lee still living?" he asked thoughtfully. "I see Sam planted the fields around her house this year."

"I'm sad to say she's in a nursing home now," Ella told him. "The poor dear could no longer see to take care of herself. And Allison, well, she has all she can do as it is. Still, the little thing feels so guilty about her grandmother."

Nick turned to his sister in confusion. "Who is this Allison she's talking about? The only person I ever remember living in that house was Old Lady Lee."

"Nick!" his mother scolded. "Quit calling her that. You know her name is Martha. My word, she fed you licorice every day of your young life."

"Yeah, and I hate licorice. But I kept going to see her thinking she'd give me something different," Nick confessed.

"Oh, my, you were awful," Kathleen said with a groan.

Nick gave her a wicked smile. "Awful good, sis," he teased, then asked, "So, who's living in Old Lady Lee's house now? There was wood on the porch."

His mother gave him an impatient look. "Why, Allison, of course! Martha's granddaughter."

"She'll be here tonight for supper," Kathleen explained, then with an impish smile, she reached up and grabbed his chin. "She's coming over to help us with some of the wedding preparations." Still holding on to his face, she glanced at Ella. "Look at him, Mother. Isn't he the most handsome thing? Who do you think is more handsome, him or Sam?"

Nick made a face at his sister and playfully swatted her hand away.

Ella's eyes were suddenly misty as she raised on tiptoe to kiss her son's cheek. "It's so good to have you home, Nick. Christmas wouldn't be right if you weren't here."

"Of course it wouldn't," Nick said with a waggle of his eyebrows. "If I weren't here, Santa would skip right over the Gallagher house."

Kathleen quickly switched on the coffeemaker and grabbed him by the arm. "Come on while the coffee perks, Nick, and look at the Christmas tree. We trimmed it just last night and it's absolutely beautiful."

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