Christmas in Whispering Pines352
Christmas in Whispering Pines352
Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)
On the heels of her blowout European tour, opera star Emma Langtry has returned home to Whispering Pines to spend time with her family. But she isn’t alone: a smitten French prince has followed her, determined to win her love. While Emma enjoys his company, marriage isn’t on her agenda. Then she meets the mysterious Clay Hunt . . .
Clay is the new pastor in Whispering Pines. Years ago, after a shattering loss, he left everything behind—including his faith—to seek revenge. Tormented by his actions, he’s now resolved to earn redemption, and has devoted himself to his parishioners. He believes he has nothing to give any woman, not even one as enticing and headstrong as Emma Langtry.
But when the Langtry sisters’ outlaw brother turns up, bringing danger in his wake, fate will bring Emma and Clay together—and once that happens, nothing will be able to tear them apart . . .
Praise for Christmas at Dove Creek
“This uplifting novel will keep readers warm all winter.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
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|Series:||The Langtry Sisters Series , #3|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.
Luke 6:37 (KJV)
Denver, Colorado December 1876
"Miss Langtry! Miss Langtry!"
Emma was signing her name to the hotel register when she heard someone zealously shouting her name. She turned to look over the throng of people who had trailed her inside the hotel in hopes of getting a glimpse at the famous opera singer. The crowd was held at bay by a thick red velvet rope separating the registering guests from the curious onlookers. Being five feet nine inches tall, Emma had no difficulty spotting the bespectacled young man pushing his way toward her. She acknowledged him with a barely perceptible nod of her head.
The young man smiled wide as he approached, and held out an envelope in her direction. Emma's dog, however, was not as welcoming. He moved his oversized muscled body between Emma and the stranger, and growled low, his warning to the young man that he was treading in dangerous territory if he took one more step toward his mistress.
Wearily eyeing the big beast, the young fellow waved the envelope like a banner of truce, all the while wishing he had a soup bone. "Miss Langtry, this came for you a few days ago. We've been holding it until you arrived. From the looks of the seal, we thought it was important."
Emma patted the dog on the head and murmured, "It's okay, Sweetie." The dog immediately stopped growling, sat on his haunches, and leaned into her leg.
"That was very kind of you to hold this for me." She pulled some coins from her reticule and dropped them in his open palm. "Thank you."
The young man passed her the envelope, and then pulled a notepad and pencil from his pocket. He cast a quick glance at the massive canine again and thought it best not to make a sudden move. "Would you sign this, Miss Langtry?"
"My name is Jim."
Emma thought he was asking her to sign for the letter, but when she glanced down at the blank piece of paper, she realized he was requesting her autograph. Even though people of all ages had been requesting her autograph for over a year, she was still uncomfortable signing her name to a scrap a paper. After all, it wasn't as if she was president, or someone of major import to the world. She sang songs, something she'd done her entire life without expecting accolades or applause. But after her successful European tour, she was suddenly thrust into the limelight, and thanks to the posters plastered in every city, she was easily recognized. She'd entertained kings and queens in several countries with rave reviews, and when she returned home, she was surprised that her triumphant tour had preceded her.
As soon as she'd stepped off the ship, she'd been overwhelmed with requests for interviews from nearly every newspaper in the country. Unfortunately her notoriety also brought a total lack of privacy. In every town, people would be waiting for her stagecoach to arrive, just like today. The stagecoach was four hours late arriving in Denver, and much to the dismay of her fans, she didn't have time to sign autographs for the people who had waited all day. She wouldn't even have time to practice for tonight's performance with Carlo Palladino, the Italian tenor who accompanied her, and Andre Hoffman, their pianist.
"I'm a big fan. I'm coming to see your performance," Jim said, staring in awe at the tall, striking woman with clear blue eyes.
Emma smiled, thankful the young man provided her with something to write on the piece of paper beside her signature. Jim, I hope you enjoy the performance. Emma Langtry. "Here you go."
"Emma!" A voice every bit as deep as Carlo's called out to her. She turned to see Morgan LeMasters, her new brother-in-law, walking down the staircase.
Emma waved to him to let him know she saw him over the multitude of people swarming her. Without a glance at the telegram, she shoved it in her reticule.
Morgan had no problem parting the crowd as he walked through. His size, combined with his air of authority, made people automatically give him a wide berth. When he reached Emma, he spared a brief glance at the dog by her side, and said, "The women are in our room getting dressed. They were worried you wouldn't arrive on time."
"I was worried as well." She introduced Carlo and Andre to Morgan before she made plans to meet them at the Grand Crystal Hall in one hour. "I want to spend a few minutes with my family."
"I trust this gentleman will look out for you," Carlo said.
Eyeing the large, barrel-chested man, Morgan was about to give him a piece of his mind if he was questioning his ability to protect his sister-in- law.
Emma saw the look on Morgan's face, and patted his arm. "Don't get your dander up. Carlo is the one who handles any ruffians we may encounter if he thinks Sweetie can't handle them."
Emma's words did little to appease Morgan, and he fixed Carlo with a hard stare. "Have no concern over her welfare."
Carlo inclined his head, indicating his approval of Emma's brother-in-law. "We'll see you at the hall."
Somewhat placated, Morgan turned back to Emma. "Who's Sweetie?"
Emma stroked her dog's head. "He's Sweetie."
Morgan arched his brow at the large dog, and as if on cue, the dog nudged his way between Emma and Morgan.
"Let's go upstairs." Morgan led the way to the staircase where Clay Hunt and Jack Roper were waiting to be introduced. "You remember Sheriff Jack Roper, don't you?" Morgan asked.
Emma smiled at Jack. "Certainly. Granny's last letter said you are also now my brother-in-law."
"Yes, ma'am," Jack said.
"It's good to know there are two men in Whispering Pines smart enough to know good women when they see them," Emma quipped.
Morgan laughed at her outspoken thoughts. He clasped Clay's shoulder and said, "This is Clay Hunt, our new pastor in Whispering Pines."
Emma's first thought was Granny's description in her letters of the pastor was right on target; he was handsome. She'd also mentioned he wasn't married. "Granny mentioned you in her letters. She has been very impressed with your sermons."
"Knowing your grandmother as I do now, I'm certain she was being generous in her praise." Clay was impressed by Emma's self-assured manner in the midst of the crowd pushing and shoving their way to her. She didn't appear to be the least bit ruffled by the commotion surrounding her. Granny had told him her eldest granddaughter was a lovely woman, but she'd failed to mention how tall she was. With her hair piled high in an elaborate fashion, she was almost as tall as he was, and he was two inches over six feet. She didn't look a thing like her sisters either. The only trait all three sisters shared was their bright blue eyes. He directed his attention to the dog at her side. The creature was the tallest, mangiest-looking dog he'd ever seen. His gray wiry coat was standing on end as if it had no particular pattern. He'd watched the dog when the young man handed the telegram to Emma, thinking the boy would be lucky if the mongrel allowed him to walk away with his arm still attached.
"It sounds as though you know Granny quite well." Granny's last letter said Pastor Hunt could deliver sermons that were both educational and inspirational. In her experience, that was a gift not common to all preachers. Emma was looking forward to hearing his sermons, and she thought it was a bonus that he was easy on the eyes. He was tall and lean, with golden honey eyes that she imagined melted some female hearts around town.
Clay's gaze shifted back to the dog whose head reached Emma's waist. "What's his name?"
"Sweetie." Emma stroked her dog's head again to let him know they were among friends and he had no reason to be on guard.
Clay tried not to laugh. "Sweetie? He didn't look so sweet when that young man approached you."
Emma smiled. "His name is really Rufus, but he only responds to Sweetie. He is quite protective of me."
"Good to know," Clay said, holding his hand out to the dog for him to sniff. This was definitely an animal he'd want as a friend and not as a foe.
Sweetie sniffed for a long time, and once he decided Clay was no threat, he sat down on his foot.
Clay noticed the dog smelled better than he looked. "He smells good."
"He loves to bathe in my toilet water." Emma eyed her dog leaning into Clay's leg. That was his way of letting her know he liked Clay.
"Make way," a burly man called out, carrying a huge trunk on his shoulder, followed by three men carrying similar trunks. "What room number, ma'am?"
Instead of revealing her room number to everyone in the lobby, Emma said, "Please follow us." When they reached the rooms, she turned to Morgan. "Where is your room?"
"Right across from yours. We are all on this floor."
"Perfect. I'll be over in a moment."
Once the men placed her luggage near the wardrobe and left the room, Emma quickly washed her face and brushed her hair. She wanted to say hello to her family before she bathed and dressed for tonight's performance.
She hurried from her room with Sweetie on her heels, and knocked on the door across the hall. Granny opened the door and burst into tears as soon as she saw her granddaughter.
Emma wrapped the tiny woman in her arms. "Don't cry, Granny. I will start blubbering like a foolish woman."
Granny pulled away a few inches and looked her up and down. "You look just beautiful."
Rose and Addie hurried to the pair of crying women, and wrapped their arms around them.
"Let's close the door before we let all of the heat out of the room," Rose said, ushering them inside to sit in front of the fireplace. Noticing the dog staying close to Emma's heels, she said, "Who is this?"
Emma introduced Sweetie as Rose poured some water in a bowl for the dog. When Rose placed the bowl on the floor, Sweetie nudged her hand in appreciation before he started lapping at the water.
As he drank, Granny stroked his bristly coat. "He looks like a great protector."
"The best." Emma knew there was no need worry about Sweetie being aggressive with Granny and her sisters; he had a sixth sense about the people she cared about. Not only that, but he was a big softie when it came to women.
"Did he go to Europe with you?" Granny asked.
"Actually, I brought him home from Europe. I guess you could say he adopted me."
To make Emma's point, Sweetie finished drinking his water and positioned his large body as close to Emma as he could get without crawling into her lap.
Rose handed Emma a cup of tea. "What do you mean he adopted you?"
"I saw him wandering alone on the streets in Paris, filthy and starving. I took him to my hotel, bathed him, fed him a big juicy steak, and we became best friends. When it was time to come home, he came with me. I swear he grew a foot on the voyage home." Emma hadn't realized how large he was going to be, but it wouldn't have made a difference. Sweetie had stolen her heart from the start, and he was hers after that first night. He'd turned out to be the best companion she could imagine.
"Well, he certainly smells luscious," Addie said.
"I bathed him in toilet water that first night at the hotel, and now he demands it. If I don't pour some in the water, he gets cranky, and no one wants to see Sweetie cranky," Emma said.
Envisioning that big dog in a tub of perfumed water made the women laugh.
"I'm so happy you are here. We've missed you so much. We were so worried when the stagecoach was late," Granny said.
"It was nothing serious, just a delay at a way station." Emma glanced at her sisters. "You both look wonderful."
"We are well," Addie said.
Granny pulled her handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her eyes. "I can't tell you how it does my heart good to see all of my girls at home."
"I wish you never had to leave, Emma," Rose said.
Emma laughed. "I just got here, so let's not talk about me leaving. I only have a few minutes before I need to get dressed, so quickly tell me all of your news. When is your baby due, Rose?"
"I have a few months yet. I hope you are home then."
"I have a performance in San Francisco after the first of the year, but I'm here now for the whole month," Emma said. "I will ask Andre if we have time to come home after our San Francisco performance before we go back East."
"I do hope so. It will be a joy to have you home as long as possible," Granny said.
Emma reached out and squeezed Granny's hand. "Yes, it would be wonderful." Emma had missed being home over the years, but it wasn't until she saw Granny that she'd realized she missed her family much more than she wanted to admit. Before she became maudlin, she turned to Addie. "Where are your children? I can't wait to meet them. I think it's wonderful that you and Jack adopted them."
"The children are excited to meet you. They are at the ranch with Joseph Longbow and Morgan's foreman, Hank Murphy. You remember them, don't you?"
"Of course, I do. Joseph was always patient and kind to us as children. And if my memory serves me correctly, we all thought Hank Murphy was almost as handsome as Rose's husband."
"He still is," Rose said. "I'm amazed he's still single."
"He has some competition with our new pastor, Clay Hunt," Addie said. "Wait until you see him, Emma."
"I met him downstairs." Emma didn't mention that for the first time in her life she actually felt shy in the presence of the tall dark-haired pastor. "Why did the men leave?"
"They said they'd give us some time together. They probably went to see Marshal Holt and Sheriff Trent. They are coming to the performance too."
"You didn't say if you found the pastor attractive." Addie's gaze slid to Granny to see if she was listening.
Emma noticed everyone grinning. "What's going on?"
"We were just curious if you think Clay is handsome," Rose replied.
Emma's gaze swept over each woman. "You three are up to something. What are you not saying?"
"Granny thought you and Clay would make a good match," Addie admitted.
Emma's mouth dropped open. "Granny, surely you didn't say that to him." Knowing Granny as she did, she wouldn't put it past her to tell the pastor exactly what she thought.
Granny took a sip of tea. "I may have mentioned it to him."
Addie and Rose started laughing.
Emma rolled her eyes at Granny. "No wonder he kept staring at me as though I had two heads."
"Nonsense. He was staring at you because you are a beautiful woman," Granny replied.
"I haven't changed in five years, Granny. I don't have Rose's beauty, nor Addie's curves. Most men find me too tall, too skinny, and too direct."
"Only insecure men would be intimidated by you. That's why I think Clay and you would get along well."
"Are you saying he's that kind of man?" Emma asked.
"Well, some of the congregation at church voiced their concerns about him ..." Granny was interrupted by a knock on the door.
The door cracked open, and Morgan said, "Are you ladies decent?"
"Of course. Come in," Rose replied.
Morgan, Clay, and Jack entered the room with U.S. Marshal Holt and Sheriff Trent behind them.
After Morgan introduced Emma to the two men, he said, "Marshal Holt stayed at the farm while he was recuperating."
"It's nice to meet you both." She looked at the marshal, and said, "Addie told me all about your ordeal in her last letter. I'm happy to see that you recovered nicely."
"Your grandmother is an excellent doctor," Marshal Holt said.
"Marshal Holt stayed in Denver just to hear your performance tonight," Granny said.
Emma smiled at him. "That's very kind of you. I do hope you will not be disappointed." Emma noticed Sweetie got up and walked to Clay, and the pastor rubbed his ears in the specific way Sweetie preferred.
"I saw one of your performances back East. It was a real pleasure," Marshal Holt said.
"The whole town has been looking forward to this night," Sheriff Trent said. "Since your posters went up, you've been the talk of the town. I'm amazed Morgan was able to get rooms in the hotel."
"I sent a telegram to the hotel as soon as we found out the date Emma would arrive," Morgan said.
"But how did you get the rooms directly across from mine?" Emma asked.
"When we arrived, the clerk said he couldn't give us the room across from yours, so I threatened to shoot him," Morgan quipped.
Rose's eyes widened in surprise. "You didn't!"
Morgan winked at her. "No, I didn't need to. Jack threatened to put him in jail."
Addie gaped at her husband. "Did you?"
Jack grinned. He didn't bother to deny the truth.
Granny laughed at the two men she considered her sons. "You two are a pair of knaves."
Clay stood back, watching the men tease their wives. It warmed his heart to see the love they had for the women. It reminded him of a time in his life when he'd been that happy. He glanced at Emma, and at the very same time, her eyes met his, but she quickly looked away.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Christmas in Whispering Pines"
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Scarlett Dunn.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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