A Family for Christmas
Raised on the run, free-spirited Breezy Hernandez has never stayed in one place too long. But now that she has joint custody of her late brother's twin daughters, she's determined to give them a stable home. Even if it means cooperating with the twins' bossy uncle. Texas rancher Jake Martin learned the hard way that women can't be trusted. But as he and Breezy care for the orphaned girls, Jake begins to open his heart. Is Breezy ready to put down roots in Martin's Crossing, or will she run from the one thing she's always wanted: a family?
Martin's Crossing: In this small Texas town, every heart finds a home
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Breezy Hernandez stood in front of the massive wood door on the front porch of her brother's Texas Hill Country home. When she'd met Lawton Brooks two months ago, he had filled in the missing pieces of her life.
Now he was gone. In one tragic accident Lawton, his wife and his mother had been taken. The lawyer in Austin had given her this address. He'd told her in Martin's Crossing she would find Jake Martin, executor of the estate.
She knocked on the door and then looked out at the windblown fields dotted with small trees, waiting for someone to answer. No one did. There was no muffled call for her to come in, or footsteps hurrying to answer the door. She leaned her forehead against the rough wood, her hand dropping to her side. Her heart ached.
After a few minutes she wiped away the dampness on her cheeks and reached for the handle. It wasn't locked. She pushed the door open, hesitating briefly before stepping inside. Why should she hesitate? Nothing would change the reality that Lawton and his wife had been killed in a plane crash two weeks ago. She'd missed the opportunity to see him again. She'd missed the funeral and the chance to say goodbye.
But she could be there for his girls.
As she stepped inside she flipped a switch, flooding the stone-tiled foyer in soft amber light. The entryway led to a massive living room with stone flooring, textured walls in earthy tan and a stone fireplace flanked by brown leather furniture.
Enveloped by silence and the cool, unheated air, she stood in the center of the room. There were signs of life, as if the people who had lived here had just stepped out. There were magazines on the coffee table, a pair of slippers next to a chair. Toys spilled from a basket pushed against the wall. Her throat tightened, aching deep down the way grief does.
"It isn't fair," she said out loud, the words sounding hollow in the empty space.
She should have come to Texas sooner but she'd needed time to come to terms with what Lawton had told her. His father, Senator Howard Brooks, had an affair with her mother, Anna, a drug addict from Oklahoma City. Breezy was the result of that brief relationship. She'd known for years that she wasn't the true granddaughter of Maria Hernandez, the woman who had taken her in years ago. Maria had given her that information shortly before she passed away.
Now she knew who she was. But what good did that do her?
She left the living room and walked to the kitchen. The room was large and open, with white cabinets and black granite countertops. She moved from that room, with sippy cups in a drainer next to the sink, to the dining room.
A table with four chairs and two high chairs dominated the room. On the opposite wall were family portraits. She stopped at the picture of an older man in a suit, a flag of Texas behind him. Her father, Senator Howard Brooks.
In the next picture his wife of over forty years stood next to him. They looked happy. Evelyn Brooks hadn't known about her husband's brief affair or his daughter. He'd confessed the secret on his deathbed one year ago.
Breezy drew in a breath and fought the sting of tears. She'd never been one to cry over spilled milk. Not even if that meant she might have had a real family.
This was different, though. This was a family lost. Her family. She had a habit of losing family. It had started more than twenty years ago, after her mother's death, when she and her siblings were all separated. Mia was adopted by the Coopers and Juan went to his father's family. Breezy had been taken in the night by Maria because she had worried they would eventually learn the truth, that Maria's son wasn't really Breezy's father.
Out of fear, Maria had kept them moving from town to town, living in cars, shelters and sometimes pay-by-the-month hotels.
Breezy brushed off the memory. It was old news.
A wedding photo hung on the wall. She studied the image of her brother and his pretty bride, both wearing identical looks of joy. At the last picture her heart stilled. Lawton, his wife, their two baby girls.
Just then, a sound edged in, a door closing. Footsteps, heavy and booted, echoed in the empty house. She held her breath, waiting.
"Who are you?" The deep male voice sent a shiver of apprehension up her spine.
Breezy turned, not quite trembling in her shoes, but nearly. The man filled the doorway. His tall, lean frame in jeans and a dark blue shirt held her attention, and then her eyes connected with pale blue eyes in a suntanned face. His dark hair was short but messy, like he'd just taken off a hat. She let her gaze drop, almost expecting a holster, Old West style, slung low on his hips. Of course there wasn't one.
"I'm Breezy. Breezy Hernandez." Chin up, she swallowed a lump of what might have been fear.
His eyes narrowed and he frowned. "The missing sister."
She wanted to argue she hadn't been missing. She hadn't known she was lost. She'd needed time to process that she had this brother. She'd needed time alone to figure out what it meant to find out who her father was. The ache in her heart erupted again. She'd been on the run for most of her life; it had become second nature to take off when things got a little dicey. Maria Hernandez had taught her that.
"So we know who I am. Who are you?" She managed to not shake as she asked the question, meeting his somewhat intimidating gaze.
"Of Martin's Crossing." The town in the middle of nowhere that she'd driven through to get here. "Yes, Martin's Crossing."
"The girls?" She glanced back over her shoulder and saw that he was moving toward her.
"They're safe." He stepped close, smelling of the outdoors, fresh country air and soap. "I got a call from Brock, the attorney in Austin. He said he told you to come here and talk to me."
"Yes, he told me about Lawton and asked me to find you." She shook her head. "I missed the funeral, I'm sorry."
She didn't give him explanations.
She guessed the Goliath standing in front of her wouldn't want to hear explanations. He wouldn't want to know how much it hurt to know that all these years she'd had another brother. And now he was gone.
"Right." He looked away, but not before she saw the sorrow flash across his face, settling in his eyes. She started to reach out but knew she shouldn't. Her hand remained at her side.
Maybe they were feeling the same sense of loss but he didn't seem to be a man who wanted comfort from a stranger. From her.
"So, you came for your inheritance?" He dropped the words, sharp and insulting.
"Is that why you think I'm here?"
"It would make sense."
She shook her head. "No, it doesn't. It's insulting."
He shrugged one powerful shoulder. "Your brother was my best friend. His daughters are my nieces. I have every right to keep them safe."
"I'm not here for any reason other than to see them." She turned and walked back to the kitchen.
"Running?" He followed her, light on his feet for a man so large.
"Not at all. I need a minute to cool off so I don't hit you with something."
At that, the smooth planes of his face shifted and he smiled. She was slammed with a myriad of other emotions that seemed more dangerous than her rage. At the sink she filled a glass with water and took a sip. He scooted a chair out from the island in the middle of the big room and bent his large form to fit the seat.
She ignored the lethal way he sat, like a wild cat about to attack. She ignored that he had beautiful features, strong but beautiful. She could draw him, or chisel his likeness in stone.
Or grab a chunk of granite and
His eyebrows lifted, as if he guessed where her thoughts had gone.
"I'm not here to take what I can and leave." She remained standing on the opposite side of the island, not wanting to be anywhere near him. She needed that force of wood and stone between them.
"Really." His voice was smooth but deep, and full of skepticism.
"Yes, really. I had a father and a brother that I never got to meet. I wanted to come here because this is where Lawton lived. I thought I might somehow " She shook her head. "Never mind. He's gone. I want to meet his daughters. Please, just let me meet them."
Jake stood, rethinking what he'd come to tell her. Rethinking her. She stood on the other side of the counter, as if the granite could protect her. As he eased out of the chair, she moved a little to the right, her back against the counter. Brown eyes the unfortunate color of caramel watched him.
Unfortunate because her eyes were strangely compelling. And more, there were emotions that flickered in their depthssadness, anger, loss. He hadn't expected to feel anything for her other than distrust.
"I'm going to get a glass of water, nothing else," he said.
He opened the cabinet and found a glass, filling it with cold water from the fridge. He took a drink and studied the sister of his best friend, looking for similarities. She had long straight dark blond hair that framed a face that he'd call beautiful but strong. She was tall and slim but not thin. The peasant skirt and blouse gave her a bohemian look. She would stand out in Martin's Crossing. If she stayed. He doubted she would. She had city written all over her.
Yes, she looked enough like Lawton for him to believe she was his sister. Lawton had obviously believed it. Even before the DNA test.
"Well?" she asked.
"You remind me of your brother."
"I hope that's a compliment."
"It's an observation." He watched her, still unsure. He'd been unsure from the beginning when Lawton first told him about her. "I need to head back to my place. You can meet me over there."
Jake poured out the remaining water and put the glass in the dishwasher. She had moved away from him again. He didn't comment, just walked past her and headed for the front door, grabbing his hat off the hook on his way out. She followed.
He had more on his mind than a sister who suddenly showed up when it looked as if the gravy train might have derailed in her front yard. Back at his place he had a mare about to foal. He'd lost a good cow that morning and now had a calf to tend to. He had fifty head of cattle heading to the sale tomorrow and a brother who couldn't get his act together.
They both stopped on the porch. The temperature, typical of late November, had dropped fifteen degrees while they'd been inside. Clouds were rolling, gray and full of rain.
"How far?" She looked past him to the open land and seemed unsure. Then she focused her attention on the horse he'd tied to the post.
"Not far." He untied his horse, tightening the girth strap and watching her over the top of the saddle. "Since I'm riding, you'll need to go back down the drive, turn left and in a mile take a left at the entrance to the Circle M."
"How long before you get there?"
"It'll take me a little longer but I'm cutting through the field, so not much." They stood there staring at each other and he noticed the softness in her brown eyes. The last thing he wanted was to give in to the softness. Lawton had immediately trusted her. That wasn't Jake's way. He had to be the one to draw lines and make sure no one got hurt. But he wasn't an ogre. "I'm sorry."
She gave a quick nod her eyes registering surprise. "Thank you."
"He was a good man." More words of kindness. His brother Duke would have been proud. He'd told Jake to be nice to their new sister. He'd almost laughed at that. She was not their new sister.
Jake didn't need one more person to watch out for. His plate was full of siblings that couldn't seem to stay out of trouble.
With a goodbye nod, he put a foot in the stirrup and swung himself into the saddle. She shot him a wary look and headed for her car.
He watched her go, holding the gray gelding steady as the horse tossed his head, eager to be on his way. The car was down the drive when he turned the horse and headed for home. The rain had blown over but the air was damp and cool. It felt good, to let Bud loose. The horse was itching to run. So was Jake. But he knew he couldn't outrun the problem that was driving to his place in a compact car with Oklahoma tags.
Fifteen minutes later, with his horse unsaddled and back in the pasture, he headed for the house. Breezy was standing on the front porch of the stone-and-log home he'd been living in alone for more years than he cared to count. He'd be thirty-four soon. He guessed that made him a crusty bachelor.
"Pretty place," Breezy said when he reached the front porch of the house.
He nodded toward the door. Time to get it over with. He figured she'd be here another ten minutes, and then she'd be gone and he wouldn't have to worry about her. He'd hand her a check and they'd go their separate ways.
Today he'd said a few prayers on the matter and maybe it was wrong, but he'd prayed she'd take the out. Of course he knew God didn't exactly answer prayers based on Jake Martin's wants. But he'd sure be grateful if the good Lord made this easy on him.
"Let's go inside." He led her across the porch with the bentwood furniture. Ceiling fans hung from the porch ceiling and in the summer they made evenings almost bearable. Not that he spent a lot of time sitting out there.
"Do you live here alone?" she asked, turning a bright shade of pink. "I mean, do you have family here? In Martin's Crossing?"
"This is my home and I do have family in Martin's Crossing." He didn't plan on giving her the family history.
What would he tell her? That he and his twin sister had helped raise their younger siblings after their mom had left town, left their dad and them? This ranch had been in their family for over one hundred years and keeping it going had put his dad in an early grave. Now he'd lost his sister, and he was determined to find a way to keep the family together, keep them strong, without her.
But no, he wasn't alone. He had his brothers, Duke and Brody. They had their little sister, Sam. Short for Samantha.
Duke lived in the old family homestead just down the road.
Their little brother, Brody, only came around when he needed a place to heal up after a bad ride on the back of a bull. The rest of the time he stayed with friends in a rented trailer in Stephenville.
Sam had been in boarding school and was now in college. Out of state. That was his idea, after she couldn't seem to keep her mind off a certain ranch hand. Their dad, Gabe Martin, hadn't seemed to connect with the thought that his family was falling apart. It had all been on Jake.
The house was dark and cool. He led Breezy through the living room and down the hall to his office.
He flipped the switch, bathing the room in light, and motioned for her to take a seat. He positioned himself behind the massive oak fixture and pulled out a drawer to retrieve papers.
Breezy took the seat on the other side of the desk. With a hand that trembled, she pushed long blond hair back from her face. Lawton had mentioned she sang and played guitar. Something about being a street performer in California. Jake had taken it upon himself to learn more.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“A Rancher for Christmas” by Brenda Minton is the first book in her 'Martin's Crossing' series. This is a book that take us from Oklahoma and the Cooper family to Martin's Crossing in Texas to the Martin family. There is a cross over character of Breezy Hernandez who we met in “The Cowboy Lawman”. If anyone is picking up Ms. Minton's book for the first time, no worries for though there is the cross over character this is a book that covers anything that is important and gives us a greater understanding of Breezy and the life she lived. Here is a story that takes place over a short period of time but frankly I have gotten use to that when it comes to Christmas stories. I have apparently read this book when it came out but never wrote a review which is a shame. I think I read it during a time when things were so crazy, but I am writing a wrong now by writing the review. I enjoyed this story this time around as much as I did during the first reading. I thought I remembered some things as I read the story and figured I knew how certain things were going to turn out but apparently I remembered wrong which made me really glad to have read the book again before I picked up “The Rancher Takes a Bride”. Here is a story of two un-trusting souls who are now forced to work together for the sake of two little orphaned children. It is that story that makes this whole story interesting for though both Breezy and Jake come from different backgrounds and have different trust issues, it is strange to see how similar they really are. Sure they most certainly have different backgrounds for one was constantly on the move while the other lived in the same home for as long as they could remember. Both have lost loved ones while children that affected them in very different ways, yet with the same result which is fear of others staying put. One fears that other is just going to go away while the other fears that everything is going to be yanked from them. To see what has caused these trust issues is really interesting and more interesting to watch the resolution of those trust issues. There is an interesting little mystery that is going on. Part of the mystery is solved and I thought honestly that there was a whole lot more of the mystery that was solved in “A Rancher for Christmas” so I am left scratching my head wondering what is going on. I think I know what is going to happen but frankly now I am not so sure for I must be thinking of another book and story line. I am so curious as to see how this going to progress and what some of the minor characters are going to do in future books. There is one character that seemed strange to have such a part of the story unless there is more to come and I look forward to it if it works. The happy ending is a given after all it is a romance book and it wouldn't be a romance book without that happy ending. The way the happy ending comes into completion is what really makes the story so interesting and wonderful. There is a something going on besides trying to figure out how to become a family. There is enough romance, action and just a tad mystery to keep a reader really interested in the story. I hated putting this book down each time I had to take care of laundry. I hope all who reads this book enjoys it as much as I did.
4 stars This is a charming story that has both sad and happy times. It has you thinking what does Christmas mean to you? What makes a family? Has drama, a little mystery or two. A small town that I would like to get to know the characters of it. Lots of relationships with other characters. It also talks about prayer, church & nativity in a way that is just part of the characters lives. I liked that Breezy was able to protect herself. That she was also willing to reach out to others. Breezy really had no one to take care of her the right way. She was always on the move as a child. Now she just found out she had a brother and he died before she could come visit him. He left her co-guardian of her twin nieces. Jake Martin and his twin sister helped at age 12 to take care of his younger brothers and sister. Now his twin and his best friend have died and left him to take care of the twins. Jake has trouble trusting that women won't leave him. He wants what is best for Rose & violet. Rose & violet just lost their parents two weeks ago. They are toddlers who don't understand. They also lost their grandparents this past year. They are cute and a handful. Martin's Crossing, Texas is a small town that is the new series Brenda Minton is spinning off her Cooper's series. I want to come visit Martin's Crossing and see what happens next. I was given this ebook to read by Netgalley and Harlequin. In return I agreed to give honest review of A Rancher for Christmas.