CHRISTMAS IS FOR REAL
Moving to Horseshoe, Texas, to become guardian of her half sister has been rewarding for Lacey Carroll. But raising a six-year-oldespecially one who has stopped believing in Santa Claushas its challenges. Lacey's goal is to bring holiday wonder back into the child's life, which isn't going to be easy with a grinch like Gabe Garrison next door. The man is mean, rude and hurting.
After losing his son, Gabe shut out the world. But his privacy is invaded by the quirky, dynamic blonde and her kid sister, who are single-handedly filling his solitary life with love. When Lacey enlists him in a holiday campaign for Emma's sake, he can't resist. Will Lacey's unique brand of healing magic make this a season of second chancesfor all of them?
About the Author
Linda Warren loves happy endings. The Rita® nominated author has written 26 books in the last ten years. Drawing upon her years of growing up on a ranch in Texas, she writes about sexy heroes, feisty heroines and broken families with an emotional punch. She lives in central Texas with her husband, and spends her days doing what she loves—creating unforgettable love stories—with happy endings.
Read an Excerpt
Christmas was the happiest time of the year for many people, but for Lacey Carroll it would be the saddest. Too much had happened to
The front door slammed with the strength of a gale-force wind. She paused in spooning macaroni and cheese onto a plate. Not another bad day. This would make four in a row. She placed the pot on the stove, wiped her hands on a Frosty the Snowman dish towel and made her way into the living room.
Her six-year-old half sister, Emma, sat in the middle of the sofa with her arms clutched across her chest, her face scrunched into a dipped-in-vinegar frown. One of her pigtails had come undone and stuck out in a snarl on the left side of her head. Grass and bits of leaves were tangled in her blond hair. Smears of dirt marred her face, her red T-shirt and her jeans. Her sneakers were filthy, the shoelaces undone. She'd been fighting. Again!
Before their father, Jack, had passed away five months ago, he'd asked Lacey to care for Emma, so Lacey was now Emma's legal guardian. She couldn't refuse her father's dying wish, even though she had a good job in Austin and her own life. At twenty-eight, she'd made a life-changing decision because she loved her sister.
Days like this, though, tried her patience and reminded her how ill equipped she was to raise a child.
She'd bought child-rearing books and kept a mental one filled with common sense in her head. On most days she needed both.
"What happened?" Lacey asked in her best authoritative voice.
"Don't talk to me. I'm mad," Emma shot back.
"Lose the attitude. What happened?"
Emma glared at her through narrowed eyes. "I told you don't talk to me."
"And I told you to lose the attitude. Now!"
Emma turned her face away in anger.
Lacey sat beside her. "What happened?" she asked again, this time in a more soothing tone.
Emma whipped her head around. "I wanted to hit him in his big fat nose."
Oh, good heavens. Lacey took a deep breath. "Who did you want to hit in the nose? You know hitting is against our rules. Daddy's rules."
"Brad Wilson. Daddy would've hit him, too."
"I don't think so. Daddy didn't believe in violence."
Emma's face crumpled. "He said said there's no Santa Claus, and Jimmy and I.were big babies for believing in him."
Oh, no! Lacey flipped through pages of the mental book in her head. She knew what Emma's next question was going to be and she had to have an answer. A good one.
"Is it true, Lacey? Is there no Santa? Did Daddy put my gifts under the tree?" Big green eyes, just like Lac-ey's, begged for an answer.
As Lacey saw it, she had three options. Lie like she'd never lied before. Tell Emma Brad was teasing her. Or offer the truth. How could she tell a six-year-old there was no Santa Claus?
Her father had told Lacey he wanted her always to be honest with Emma just as he'd been honest with Lacey. Still
She searched for the right thing to say. Lie, lie, lie, her inner voice kept chanting. If she did, Emma would find out soon enough. But she'd still have time to believe like a little girl should.
Lacey scooted closer and wrapped an arm around Emma. "You know there's more to Christmas than Santa Claus and receiving gifts."
"No, there isn't. Christmas is about getting gifts from Santa Claus."
Lacey prayed for patience and wisdom. "Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, and we celebrate his life by giving gifts. Sometimes giving is better than receiving."
"No, it isn't. Without Santa Claus there is no Christmas." Emma's eyes widened in realization. "There is no Santa Claus. No!" She fell sideways on the sofa and howled as if the world had come to an end.
Lacey gave her a minute and frantically breezed through the book in her head, but the pages were blank. Maybe mothers who had given birth had all the parenting answers. Lacey didn't have a clue how to soothe a little girl's broken heart, except to love her. She gathered a wailing Emma into her arms. Hitting Brad in the nose didn't seem like a bad idea at the moment.
"Shh." Lacey stroked Emma's hair, picking out bits of grass and leaves. "We'll still have Christmas. When you wake up Christmas morning, all your gifts will be under the tree and we'll have hot chocolate and cookies like always. Nothing has changed."
"It has, too." Emma sniffled into Lacey's chest. "I don't want any gifts if they don't come from Santa Claus."
"Not even that red bicycle you've been wanting?"
Emma thought for a second. "No. I don't want nothin'."
Lacey cradled her sister close. "Sweetie, Christmas is a feeling that you have in here." She placed her hand on Emma's chest. "It makes you feel good to believe in an imaginary figure who will grant your every wish. It's every child's dream. But in reality it's those people around us who love us and give us that feeling and make us feel joy and love." She poked Emma in the chest again. "All you have to do is believe in Santa, and he's right there, just like Jesus Christ. You learned that in church. As long as you believe, no one can take that feeling from you. It's warm and comforting and brings unimaginable joy. You'll feel it's Christmas because I love you and I will make Christmas as special as I can."
"But you're not Santa."
"I am Santa." She tickled Emma's rib cage. "Don't you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?"
Emma giggled. "You're weird, Lacey."
"But you love me."
Emma snuggled closer. "Uh-huh."
Lacey sagged with relief. Maybe they could get through this.
The doorbell rang and Emma rose. "I'll get it."
"No. You go brush the trash out of your hair and I'll get the door."
Lacey pointed toward the hall. "Go." Emma dragged her feet toward her bedroom and Lacey went to answer the door. Sharon Wilson and her two sons stood there.
Emma came racing back, her fist raised in the air. "I'm gonna hit him in his big fat nose."
Lacey caught her before she could accomplish her goal. "Stop it."
Sharon and her boys took a step backward. "She is a little aggressive, Lacey."
Lacey bristled. "Your son just ruined her Christmas, so I'd be careful what you say."
"I'm sorry, Lacey. My husband will handle this when he comes home."
"I'm not sure what your husband can do. The damage is already done, and I'm not happy about it. Your son was very cruel to ruin their Christmas."
"They're stupid kids, and."
Sharon popped Brad on the back of the head with her hand. "Shut up. Your father will deal with you when he gets home. Go to the house and wait for me." Brad ran away, but Jimmy waved shyly at Emma before following.
"Could we talk for a minute?" Sharon asked.
Lacey nudged Emma toward the hall. "Go brush your hair." Surprisingly, she went.
Sharon twisted her hands. "I know Emma's been through a rough time and I understand that, but I feel it's best if our kids don't play together anymore."
You hussy almost erupted from Lacey's mouth. The woman had nerve. Lacey quickly calmed her rising temper. Jimmy was Emma's only playmate, and her sister needed a friend. Since their father's death, Emma had alienated everyone around her. Lacey was working to change that, but days like this didn't help.
Lacey swallowed her pride. "Emma and Jimmy play well together. It's your older son who's causing all the problems."
"I know. Since he turned ten, I can't handle him anymore. I leave that up to my husband. I'm really sorry, Lacey. Jimmy likes Emma."
"Can Jimmy come here to play with Emma, because I really don't want Emma around Brad?"
"Well, I guess that would be okay." Sharon looked toward her house down the street. "I better go before the boys get into another fight. Again, I'm sorry."
Lacey closed the door and made her way to the kitchen. Emma bounded in with her hair all around her face and climbed onto a bar stool.
"Did you wash your hands?"
"We'll have to wash your hair tonight." Emma brushed it from her face. "Why?"
"Because it's dirty."
"Lacey, you always make me do things I don't want to."
"That's life, snuggle bunny." Lacey placed a plate in front of Emma and sat beside her on the other bar stool.
Emma stared at the food. "What's this?"
"Supper. Your favorite mac and cheese out of a box. Green beans, turkey and cranberry sauce left over from Thanksgiving."
"But you burned it."
"I cut the burned part off and the turkey is still good. Eat it."
"You're gonna kill us, Lacey. You're not supposed to eat burned food."
"Eat and stop complaining."
Emma ate the mac and cheese, most of the turkey and picked at the green beans. Lacey had to admit she was a lousy cook. Her mother was, too. Her dad had been in charge in the kitchen. It shouldn't be that hard, but she seemed to burn everything she made. In Austin, she ate out mostly because she was so busy. But a child needed a healthy diet.
"These beans are yucky. You're supposed to put butter on them or something. Daddy did."
Butter. Why hadn't she thought of that? She had to buy a cookbook or something. Eating at the local diner was getting old. She'd attempted Thanksgiving dinner because she wanted it to be special for Emma, but she wasn't fooling anyone. It had been a disaster. And kind of lonely with just the two of them.
She carried her plate to the sink. "If you're finished, go take your bath and I'll do the dishes. I'll be in to help with your hair."
Emma climbed off the stool and dashed down the hall. After putting the dishes in the dishwasher, Lacey wiped the counter. A banging sounded from next door. Their neighbor, Gabe Garrison, was working on something. He always was.
Lacey had never actually had a conversation with the man. Her father had introduced them months earlier and Gabe had said hello and walked away. Her dad had explained that the man's son had been killed in an ATV accidentan ATV that Gabe had bought the child for his birthday.
According to her father, Gabe had been a lawyer in Austin. After the accident, he'd tried to continue working, but hadn't been able to. He and his wife had divorced and he'd moved back to Horseshoe, where he'd been raised, to grieve alone. He wanted privacy and Lacey understood that, but that was hard to explain to a six-year-old.
Gabe's son's dog, Pepper, was in the backyard and a big temptation for Emma. Lacey lost track of the number of times she'd told Emma not to go into Gabe's yard.
Emma never listened. If she heard the dog, she went over, and then Lacey would get a short lecture from Gabe on respecting a man's privacy.
Leaning against the counter, Lacey wondered what her friends in Austin were doing. Probably getting ready to go out for the night to a club to party. That had been Lacey's old life, and she missed it in ways that were hard to explain. Maybe because that life had been carefree with very little responsibility. Now responsibility weighed on her like an anvil around her neck. Some days it was hard to stand upright for the weight. She didn't regret her decision to raise Emma. She just regretted she wasn't more experienced at being responsible.
Her parents had divorced after nineteen years of marriage, and Lacey's young life had been thrown into turmoil. Her college dream had been forgotten because there was no money to send her, so she worked at Macy's in the makeup department. Her mother worked there, too. It hadn't been ideal, but it had been a job.
A short three months later, her mother had remarried and Lacey had moved out of the house and been on her own. She'd gotten a job with a party-planning company. She'd loved it, and she'd been away from the influence of her mother and her mother's new husband.
Her dad had moved back to Horseshoe, where he had grown up. A year later he'd married Mona and they'd had Emma. Her father had been happier than Lacey had ever seen him. She'd continued to visit, much to her mother's displeasure, and had enjoyed spending time with them. Never in a million years had she imagined her dad's and Mona's lives would be cut so short.
She tucked the memories away and hurried to help her sister. Bathed and in her jammies, Emma carried her soft blanket, her Pooh bear and a pillow to watch TV.
"I'll see if I can find a Christmas show." Lacey flipped through the channels.
"I don't want to watch a Christmas show. There is no Christmas."
Lacey let that pass, hoping Emma's attitude would change. At six, it changed often. Sometimes faster than Lacey could keep up. "Shrek the Halls is on. You like Shrek."
Emma curled up with the blanket on the sofa and watched without complaining. Score one for Lacey. "I have to get clothes out of the dryer, but I'll be right back to watch it with you."
Lacey folded the laundry and put it away. She thought of taking a shower, but decided to wait until Emma had gone to bed. Her sister needed all of Lacey's attention. She stopped short in the living room doorway. The blanket, Pooh Bear and pillow were on the sofa, but Emma was not.
"No! No! No!" Lacey ran for the back door. The only place Emma would go was to see Pepper, and Lacey did not want another confrontation with Gabe the Grouch.
Her father had installed a privacy fence around their backyard. A gate opened into Gabe's yard. Lacey rushed through it and stopped suddenly. Gabe stood there with a scowl as big as Texas on his face.
The man was tall, six foot or more. He wore jeans and a dark flannel shirt. He looked foreboding. A chill slid through her that had nothing to do with the temperature. His hair was long and his face unshaven, as if he didn't care, which Lacey knew he didn't. His jeans and shirt seemed to hang on his thin body. He probably ate very little, but he still was a very handsome man in roguish sort of way.
"Would you please keep your sister out of my yard?" The words were cold and sharp, just as he'd intended, she was sure.
She stepped around his dark presence and went to Emma, who was kneeling by Pepper. The black lab was lying in a dog bed and Emma was stroking her.
She reached for Emma's arm. "Let's go. You're not supposed to be here."
Emma looked at her with beseeching eyes. "But Pepper wants me here."
The dog whimpered as if it were in pain. Was the dog sick? It was none of her business, she had to remind herself. She tugged on Emma's arm and half dragged her back toward the gate.
It was a chilly winter night and Emma just had on her PJs. "Run to the house. I'll be right there."
Emma glanced at Gabe and then raced for the back door.
Lacey faced the dark knight, not sure what to say, but she knew she had to say something.
Gabe didn't give her time to voice her feelings. "If she comes into my yard one more time, I'm nailing the gate shut."
Lacey looked into his eyes. If she had never known or felt pain, she would know what it was by that one glance. The crevices around his eyes were permanently etched in place as if forged by fire. His eyes were hollow, dark pits, and the only emotion he showed was the anger that flared from their depths. Normally, when she saw all the angst on his face, her retorts died on her lips. The man had been hurt enough. But today she didn't back down.
"That gate is half mine, and if you nail it shut, I will un-nail it." She was ready for battle, but then he did his usual thing. He turned and walked away.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Texas Holiday Miracle is a beautiful book with a dark beginning building towards a hopeful ending. People tend to think of Christmas as the happiest time of the year but for many it is the hardest and for most there is some sadness related to the holidays. So it is for Lacey, Emma and their neighbor Gabe. Not only are Lacey and her 6 year old half-sister Emma facing their first Christmas without their father, but a neighborhood boy has taken Santa away for Emma too. Next door Gave is refusing to face life because that means facing the loss of his son and now the boy's dog needs to be put to sleep. Lacey feels lost in guiding her sister through the tough times but she has that something special that reaches not only Emma but Gabe as well. I am not sure that I would have chosen this book for Christmas reading but the sadness that the main characters face is familiar on some level to too many of us. Definitely keep tissues handing but know that things get easier. Hope sparkles even though the beginning and shines by the end. We know sorrow does not magically disappear but how we deal with can make a world of difference and that is what Lacey helps Emma and Gabe do. Please note that other than the element of hope that one would expect from a Harlequin American Romance, the information I shared is provided near the beginning of the book so should not spoil the book for anyone. If you read the book and feel that I have provided spoilers, please l let me know. I won this book from the author at an online celebration. Thank you Linda Warren, it was awesome in spite of the tears.
4 STARS Need tissue handy! Linda in front of her book warns that it deals with some sadness and hang in their for the happy ending. Well I cried a lot the first 40% of the book. I personally identified a lot with the characters, I mourned with them and was rooting for them. Lots of drama, trials & tears. Lots of love and miracles that leave you feeling good but wiped out. Their is one love scene that I skipped over. Lacey Carroll is raising her six year old sister by herself in a new town for her. She gives up her friends, job to take care of her after her father looses the battle to cancer. Her mother does not want Lacey to take her half sister in. Emma is six. She lost her mom when she was a baby. Now her father lost the battle to cancer. She is scared that she will lose Lacey too. Someone told her Santa is not real. Now she has lost that too. Gabe Garrison is dealing with the lost of his son. All he does is take care of his son's dog pepper. He gets angry when Emma keeps coming over to his yard and playing with Pepper. Pepper is really sick with cancer. Lacey is trying her best to be everything for Emma. She is so scared. Lacey wants Emma to get over her anger and have the joy again in her life. Lacey gets angry at Gabe and gets him to look at what he is doing with his life. She is also willing to help him with Pepper. If you can handle the sadness this book does bring out the joy, helping them to deal with their problems and reach out to others. I liked watching them heal. I would read more books from Linda Warren in the future I just hope they are not so sad. I know I was too close to this book. I lost my husband when my girls were 2 1/2 and 11 months and the anniversary is tomorrow. My dog is 15 years old and I would be surprised if she made it too 16. We all have loved ones that we mourn especially around the holidays. May we help others to heal too. I was given this ebook to read from Net Galley and Harlequin. I agreed in return to give honest review of A Texas Holiday Miracle.