The whole town's in on this Christmas secret!
Maeve Buchanan isn't the jealous type. But with another Valley Ridge wedding approaching, she's feeling a twinge of envy. Everyone seems to be finding "it"except her. Not that romance is high on her priority list! Inspired by the arrival of a homeless family one snowy night, MaeveValley Ridge's own George Baileyis determined to give them a permanent home by Christmas.
To make this surprise happen, fiercely independent Maeve is going to need a lot of help. Particularly from the irritating newcomer Aaron Holder, who thinks Maeve is just too good to be true and suspects her motives. Working together won't be easy. But it'll be worth it in so many ways!
About the Author
Holly Jacobs' books have made Walden’s Bestseller List and won numerous awards such as the National Readers' Choice Award, the Holt Medallion Award and the Bookseller’s Best. In 2004 Holly won Romantic Times’s prestigious Career Achievement Award for Series Love and Laughter. Holly is currently writing for Harlequin Superromance. Find more infor at www.HollyJacobs.com
Read an Excerpt
Maeve Buchanan woke up at precisely 5:00 a.m. She didn't need to look at a clock to know it was five. Maeve had an internal alarm that went off on its own every morning. Some people might find that annoying, but she liked mornings, so she didn't mind. She enjoyed being able to catch a breath before jumping into her dayher normally very busy day.
As she snuggled under the covers she realized how cold her exposed face was. It was colder than a typical November morning in Valley Ridge, New York. She glanced out the window and rather than being greeted by the big oak tree, all she saw was snow. The blizzard that the weatherman forecasted had obviously arrived.
She eased down the cover and realized that it wasn't simply cold it was freezing.
She glanced at the alarm clock she never set, but no bright numbers lit up the room.
Darn. That meant the power was out. And no power meant the furnace wasn't working, so she not only had no light, she had no heat.
Like ripping off a bandage, some things were easier if you did them fast, so Maeve pushed back the covers and yipped as the frigid air assaulted her. She quickly put on her robe and slippers and when that didn't seem like enough, she pulled the throw from the bottom of the bed over her shoulders. She hurried down the narrow, steep steps into the kitchen and checked the window. Her view was reduced to almost nothing.
She kicked off her slippers and put on her UGGs, her barn coat and a hat. She looked down and couldn't help but smile. Her red-and-black checkered pajama pants looked absurd sandwiched between her burgundy barn coat, the edge of her robe and her tan boots, but there was no one around to notice as she nipped out the side door and marched along the house to the small shed at the end of the driveway where she stored her wood.
She piled as many logs as she could manage into her arms and hurried back inside. God bless Mrs. Anderson's sense of thriftiness and nostalgia. The former town librarian had done so much for her, and taught her a lot, as well. The woodstove still sat in the corner of the kitchen. Maeve dumped her load of wood in the wood box and opened the stove's door. She didn't use it often, but given the fact that she lost power at least once a winter, she'd had enough practice to make short work of starting a small fire inside it. She left a few of the logs for backup and took the rest to the basement where another wood burning stove was hooked up to the house's heating system. Her house was small enough that between the two stoves she'd stay warm.
It took two tries to get the basement stove's fire going, but she finally managed it. She went back upstairs and put the old percolator on the top of the stove in the kitchen, then went back outside to bring in more wood.
She'd made two more trips when the wind died down enough to allow her a bit of a view. Normally she looked out at some old oak trees that marked the edge of her property and, beyond them, a small stone wall, then the library parking lot and the library itself. Today, a ratty-looking RV blocked her view of the library.
The parking lot was a smart place to pull over. She listened and couldn't hear anything. She wondered if someone had abandoned the RV, or if the occupants were still inside. If they were inside, they might not have heat. She wasn't sure how the heating system on an RV worked. Even if they did have heat, how insulated could an ancient RV be? She'd barely asked herself the question before she made her decision.
She put her load of wood in the house, then went back outside and trudged across the parking lot.
She knew that Dylan, who was a friendor at least friendlyand a cop, would give her a stern lecture about knocking on a stranger's door, but there was no way she was going to let someone freeze to death steps away from her house. The snow was even higher in the parking lot. It fell into her boots as she broke a path. Later, she'd clear the lot and her driveway, but for now, she continued on.
She knocked on the RV's door and a small boy dressed in a snowsuit toddled into view. A tall man with blond, thinning hair, wearing a coat came after him. He eyed her a moment, and then opened the door.
"Hi. You look like you could use some hot coffee and a warm place for your family." He didn't respond, so she smiled and said, "I'm Maeve Buchanan. I live in the house next door." He still made no response, so she added, "I have a woodstove going and the coffee's hot."
The man glanced over his shoulder and an equally bundled woman with a thick brown braid trailing under her hat came into view. "Excuse my husband. He doesn't function before seven, and even after that, manners aren't his strong suit. I'm Josie, he's Boyd and that little one is Carl, and we'd be very appreciative of someplace warm. The propane ran out about a half hour ago and it's starting to feel like an ice chest in here."
Maeve smiled. "Well, grab what you need and follow my path across the parking lot. I'll make some oatmeal." Maeve smiled one more time at them before turning and following her track back across the lot.
She could hear Josie telling her husband that she was going to see to it that Carl had more manners than his father.
Maeve didn't envy Boyd, because she doubted that the scolding had stopped, even when she couldn't hear it any longer. She hurried back inside, took off her coat and boots, and slipped on her fuzzy slippers.
She rarely greeted guests in her flannel pajama bottoms and robe, but she doubted the upstairs had warmed enough to make changing comfortable. She decided that given the circumstances, she wasn't changing yet.
Moments later, her guests arrived. Boyd had Carl in one arm and his free hand on Josie's elbow. Maeve hurried over and let them in. "Welcome. You can hang your coats out here. The kitchen's warming up nicely."
As Josie took off her coat, Maeve couldn't miss what the bulky winter coat had disguised. Not only was her guest pregnant, she was very pregnant. "Oh, my, you come right in and sit down."
She hurried into the living room and pulled Mrs.
Anderson's rocker into the kitchen next to the stove. "Here you go. You sit here and warm up."
"Thank you for the invitation," Boyd said formally.
Maeve wanted to laugh because she was pretty sure that Josie had fed those words to her husband. But she simply smiled and said, "You're welcome. It's the least I can do."
"It's a lot more than most would," Josie said. "We were so thankful to find your town and the parking lot last night. It was the worst weather I've ever been out in. The little man" she mussed her son's hair as he climbed up on her lap "slept through the whole thing."
"We'll be out of your hair as soon as I can get out and buy more propane," Boyd hurried up and added.
"Really, it's fine. It's not as if I planned on doing anything but hibernate inside today," she said. "So, where are you all heading?"
The four of them sat down at the table, and Josie told their story over a breakfast of oatmeal and toast.
From that one question Maeve learned that the small family was heading to North Dakota, which was supposed to be experiencing a job boom. She learned that Boyd could do anything if he set his mind to it. He'd worked construction, and then worked at a plastic plant where he'd been a manager.
Maeve learned that Josie and Boyd had started dating in high school and married right after they'd graduated. Boyd had gone to work and Josie had gone to the state university campus in Plattsburgh. Josie had almost finished her degree when she had problems with her first pregnancy and had taken time off. She'd been heading back to school to finish her final term when she'd gotten pregnant with the new baby and, given her problems with Carl's pregnancy, she decided to wait until after the baby was born to go back to school and get her degree. "But I'm going to finish," she announced with such conviction that Maeve was sure she would.
The snow had eased up a bit, but the wind continued to blow fiercely. Maeve stood. "I'd better put some more wood in the stove in the basement."
"May I bring in more wood for you?" Boyd asked.
"That would be a huge help," Maeve said. "It's in the small shed at the back of the driveway."
He nodded, put on his coat and boots and headed out.
"Thank you for giving him something to do," Josie said as Boyd shut the door. "He hates feeling as if he's taking a handout."
"I'm pretty sure sharing a woodstove and some oatmeal doesn't constitute a handout. It's merely the neighborly thing to do. It's nothing."
"Not to you, but it means a lot to us. I was so worried about Carl. It was freezing in the RV. Let Boyd help. He'll feel better about taking advantage of you."
Maeve snorted. "Well, there was no advantage taken, but if I can get out of carrying in wood, I'm glad to oblige."
Josie laughed. "He's generally much friendlier. But between losing his job, then the house, and worrying about me, the new baby and Carl it's taken a toll."
That explained why they were heading to North Dakota at the start of winter. The Lake Erie region was known for its harsh winters, but North Dakota was colder by far.
Maeve sensed that Boyd wouldn't have appreciated his wife sharing that part of things. "Well, when we're in the midst of a storm like this, the more the merrier is what I say."
After the stoves were both loaded, she left the family to themselves while she ran upstairs to dress. When she came back down, Boyd was bouncing Carl on his knee and smiling. But when he spotted her, the smile disappeared and his expression turned serious again.
Maeve handed a small pile of books to Josie. "I thought Carl might enjoy a story. I'm going to head out and start the snowblower."
"Let me," Boyd said.
Normally Maeve would bristle and inform him that she was more than capable of clearing her own driveway, but remembering Josie's words, she smiled instead. "I'm pretty sure there's enough snow out there for the both of us. And when we're done, if you move your RV to my side of the parking lot, you're welcome to hook up to my utilities. We'll have to give the plows a chance to clear the roads, but then we can head to the store and get you some propane. My truck's got four-wheel drive."
Boyd didn't say anything. For a moment, Maeve thought that he was going to refuse the hook up and the ride, but he looked past her at Josie, then said, "I'll pay you for the cost of the utilities and the gas."
"The drive is a couple blocks. Normally I'd walk, but I'm sure the sidewalks aren't cleared and I don't think we want to carry a propane container. As for the electricity, we'll work it out."
He nodded, bundled up and headed outside.
"Thank you," said Josie.
Maeve nodded as she put on her outdoor gear again. "Really, it's my pleasure."
She started for the door, but Josie stopped her. "You sort of live by your motto, don't you?" She pointed at Mrs. Anderson's cross-stitch. I can't save the world, but I can try.
"That was a friend's. She saved me in so many ways. This doesn't even begin to compare."
"It does to me, and despite his bearishness, it does to Boyd, too."
Maeve nodded. "I'm glad to help. You stay near the stove, but watch Carl. It gets hot and I wouldn't want him to be burned."
Maeve followed Boyd out into the snow, thankful to get away from Josie's studying gaze. The small woman had a look about her that said she saw more than Maeve wanted to share.
Maeve had never shared easily. She was a private person.
But sometimes, especially over the past year, as she watched Sophie, Lily and Mattie bond over the loss of a friend and then grow closer and become friends in their own right, she wished she had someone she could confide in like that. Oh, the three women were her friends. She went to their showers and weddings, but they only knew her on the surface. And Josie, a practical stranger, already looked at her as if she knew more than the surface bits Maeve felt comfortable sharing.
It was disturbing and tantalizing at the same time.
Maeve guessed she could afford to be a bit more relaxed around Josie. After all, when the weather cleared, she'd be heading to North Dakota with her family.
So for today, and maybe even tomorrow, Maeve would let Josie be the friend she'd always hoped for.
Aaron Holder bundled into a pair of Carhartt overalls and a coat. The thick layers of cloth were constrictive and stiff. He felt like Ralphie's little brother in A Christmas Story. If he fell onto his back, he suspected he'd give a very turtlelike impression as he tried to right himself.
He'd been in Valley Ridge less than a week and already wished he was back in Florida. If he was, he'd take his coffee onto his back porcha lanai in local parlancefire up his laptop and work there in shorts.
He stuffed his feet into a pair of boots. In his Florida fantasy, he was barefoot.
Sure, Orlando got some colder weather, but not in November. And when an occasional cold day hit, he might need to wear jeans and a sweatshirt, but he'd never woken up to snow that was measured in feet. Many feet.
He loved his uncle Jerry, but he wished he'd said no when he'd asked Aaron to spend a few months in Valley Ridge in order to mind the store. His uncle had pointed out that Aaron could do his work anywhere, and that the employees at Valley Ridge Farm and House Supplies took care of most of what needed to be done at the store. All Aaron would have to do was keep an eye on things. Uncle Jerry wanted someone from the family at the business's helm because, as he said, "I have the best employees, but family is family, and blood is thicker than water."
And because Aaron had grown up with the Holder family motto, Family is Family, he found it impossible to say no. His family's near obsessive drive to support each other was why he was bundled up and heading out to plow the Valley Ridge Farm and House Supplies' lot on a post-blizzard November morning. The store would open, albeit late. But from the looks of the quiet main street of Valley Ridge, all the businesses in the area would be opening late todayif they opened at all.
He hoped his uncle's arthritis was benefiting from the warm dry heat of Arizona.