Alone and suffering from heartbreak and holiday blues, Buck Grissom has holed up at home. The last thing this manly Georgia cop could comprehend is that a Christmas miracle is about to arrive at his door. Heavenly, beautiful nineteen-year‑old Scarlet O’Hara Scraggs and her younger sister Farrie have come from nowhere but arrived with a secret. Scarlett and Farrie’s story is heartwarming, but is it enough to defrost Buck? Will these three get what they really want for Christmas? Moonlight and Mistletoe should be enough to make anyone’s yuletide dreams come true and see their passion brought in from the cold.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Turn down those christmas carols," Sheriff Buck Grissom shouted. "Confound it, this is supposed to be a jail!"
As the recorded strains of "Deck the Halls" faded away under the invisible hand of a deputy in the jail's office, he turned back to the county social worker. "Am I glad to see you, Susan," he said fervently. "I need some help."
Susan Huddleston looked at Sheriff Grissom's six-feet-four-inch, Marine-trained body in its crisp black and tan uniform, thinking she'd hardly ever heard the sheriff admit he needed anyone's help. In their now-past relationship this had been one of their great problems: Buck was as stiff-necked as they came, even as a lover.
Behind the sheriff hung the brass-framed, life-sized portrait of Buck's father, Sheriff William Rutherford Grissom, Sr. The elder Grissom had been big and handsome, too. That is, if you liked steely blue eyes, mahogany-red hair, and a jaw that looked as if it were carved from native north Georgia granite.
"It must be something big," Susan said, choosing her words carefully. "I've never seen you this -- ah, concerned."
"Concerned?" He gave her a distracted look as he opened the door to the women's part of the jail. "The way I feel I could cancel this damned Christmas altogether. I wish I had taken up my deputies' offer of that expense-paid fishing trip to Florida, to go with that rod and reel they gave me on my birthday."
Susan fought down a sudden desire to smile. The Jackson County sheriff's department wanted Buck to have his long-delayed vacation. Christmas in the mountains was usually a crime-free, quiet time -- perfect, the department thought, for a Florida deep-seafishing trip.
It wasn't that Buck's staff didn't love him, they just needed him out of their hair for a while. Anyone who had to live with the late William Grissom, Sr.'s, hard-driving, sometimes unbearably perfectionist son needed some time off occasionally. But Buck had turned down what his deputies had considered a foolproof offer. His staff was getting a little desperate.
Now he held the door to the cell block open. "Nothing's going right," he growled in Susan's ear. "For one thing, I've got that court injunction prohibiting the living manger scene from being shown in front of the courthouse, just served today. That manger scene's an institution, Susan, it's been displayed since nineteen fifty-two. People around here just don't understand what's happened."
Susan looked around the cell block, never crowded at any time but now, at the Christmas holidays, virtually deserted. "Buck, the issue is separation of church and state," she reminded him. "And the courthouse lawn is government property."
He turned to glower at her. "Dammit, Susan -- Christmas has nothing to do with civil rights!"
She didn't blink. "This time it does."
"Now you sound like those parasite lawyers." He led the way through the men's part of the jail, empty except for one lone form sleeping in the drunk tank. "Christmas," Sheriff Buck said firmly, "is a time to bring folks together, not split them apart, and everybody's fighting over this thing. I've had the whole of Jackson County all over me -- telephoning, dogging me at home, wanting to know why I can't do something about getting Mary and Joseph and Sally Holborn's youngest that was voted Best Child to Play the Infant Jesus back in front of the courthouse in time for Christmas shopping."
Buck, hearing earsplitting screams, stopped so quickly Susan nearly ran into him. Just beyond the open door they saw a county deputy, Moses Holt, dragging a violently resisting female over the plastic tile floor. They couldn't see her face as she half slithered, half bounced along since it was hidden by a gypsylike mop of black hair. But a hiked-up skirt revealed two long, shapely if dirty bare legs, and a bottom covered with gray-pink underwear panties. The air was blue with language that Jackson County, still a stronghold of old-fashioned values, seldom heard from female lips.
"Whew," Susan murmured.
"Mose, we can't have this going on." The sheriff had to raise his voice to be heard over a colorful description of what Deputy Holt could do with his future existence. "Where's Mrs. Graham?" The matron handled the prisoners on the women's side of the jail.
Deputy Holt didn't have time to answer. "Don't just stand there, Sheriff, come help me," he panted as the prisoner's free arm snaked out and wrapped around a bar. "She grabbed hold of the desk while I was trying to fingerprint her, and it took me near forever to get her loose."
The girl suddenly swung her head close to the deputy's ankle. Moses Holt jerked his leg away just in time.
"That's our problem right there," Sheriff Buck said, frowning. "She might be a juvenile, Susan, but I can't say one way or the other. She hasn't stopped long enough for me to get a good look."
Carefully, Susan stepped back for a better view. If the girl was a juvenile she had no business in the county jail. Not that she wanted to get involved with this, Susan told herself; in the year since she and Buck had called off their engagement one could say they worked reasonably hard at a friendly, if not yet totally objective relationship.
"What are you holding her on?" she asked. Deputy Holt was now kneeling on the girl's thrashing, shapely bottom to keep it immobile while he fumbled for a handkerchief for his bitten hand.
It was Mose Holt who answered. "Miss Susan, there was two of them Scraggses. I brought them in for vagrancy and maybe assault the way the old lady was yelling, but the youngest Scraggs girl did a bolt and run just as I was getting them into the patrol car. The last time I saw her -- the one they call Farrah Fawcett Scraggs -- she was running fit to bust."
" Scraggs?" Susan turned to the sheriff. "Buck, you can't mean --"
He nodded curtly. "Devil Anse's granddaughters. And there's a lot of things I'd rather find under my Christmas tree than any of that tribe."
"I can't believe it," the caseworker murmured.
She turned back to the scantily clad hoyden who was now attempting to bite the deputy's wrist. The outlaw Scraggs clan, the curse of the Jackson County law-enforcement and social-welfare services, seldom ventured very far from their hideouts in the "hollers" of the Blue Ridge. The family patriarch -- if you could call him that -- old "Devil Anse" Scraggs, had been north Georgia's biggest bootlegger until he took up armed robbery, car theft, and other more sophisticated operations. At any rate his operational base was so deep in the mountains that even Buck's father, the first Sheriff Grissom, hadn't been able to rout him out.
Four months ago Sheriff Buck had managed to personally apprehend and send the oldest boy, Elvis Presley Scraggs, to state prison for car theft and attempted homicide, all accomplished one night when two of the older Scraggs boys had come to town for a little hell-raising.
Now Buck looked down at their struggling prisoner with an expression of bleak disapproval. "You'd think the old reprobate would spend money on clothes for his girl children. Especially one as -- uh, well developed as this one. Go get a blanket, Mose," he told his deputy. "She's so cold she's blue around the edges."
"Well developed" was one way to describe it, Susan observed. She didn't like to give an official opinion, but it was obvious the girl was no juvenile. Not with those legs -- and that body. Although, she had to admit, it was hard to tell: the Scraggs children attended school so irregularly one could never be certain of their ages.
"I wonder," she said, "if this is the one that somehow got as far as high school. Almost graduated, I think, before the grandfather found out and wouldn't let her finish. She was an interesting child, poor thing. Now, what was her name?"
"Better let her up," Buck ordered the deputy. "Now that Miss Susan is here we've got to be careful about inflicting physical pain, or -- uh, mental anguish."
Susan shot him a sharp look. Since they'd broken off their engagement Buck couldn't resist a barb or two.
Moses Holt pried the girl off his chest. She sprang up from the floor in a fighting crouch. The deputy stepped back in time to miss a kick aimed at his crotch, when Buck suddenly made his move. Before the Scraggs girl knew what was happening he had seized her, levered her against the wall, then shoved her into the nearest cell. They heard it close and lock automatically.
"Dirty po-lice pigs!" The Scraggs granddaughter grabbed the bars of the cell with both hands, her pointed young breasts heaving. "Lowlife mudsuckers! You can't hold me in here, I ain't done nothing! When I get out of this place I'm going to make you sorry you ever did this to me!"
Deputy Holt brushed off the front of his uniform with shaking hands. "I was clean before I got near that lowdown female," he complained. "Ifn I was you, Sheriff, I'd get the matron to give that hellcat a bath with lye soap and a stiff brush!"
Susan Huddleston stepped forward. Clearly the girl didn't belong in jail, but neither could one discount the dangerous Scraggs factor, either. "Buck, I'd be very careful with all aspects of this," she warned.
Sheriff Buck only grunted. When he was still a young county deputy, before he'd taken over his father's job, he'd been called to the Nancyville middle school one day on a complaint of disorderly conduct and fighting. He'd gotten a faceful of scratches before the alleged culprit had taken off across the field in back of the school, never to be seen again. But before she'd hightailed it Buck had had a glimpse of a long-legged, scrawny vixen with the blackest eyes he'd ever seen.
Now, studying this female in the lockup, he couldn't swear she wasn't the same one. Although he tried not to look below her grimy neck where the old sweater and skimpy cotton dress left little to the imagination.
Susan said, "I don't suppose there's any doubt she's a Scraggs?"
The deputy promptly responded, "No doubt at all, Miss Susan. They call this one Scarlett O'Hara Scraggs. Her mamma gave them all fancy names. The sheriff here put one of her no-good relatives, Elvis Presley --"
"Yes, I know," Susan said quickly. It wasn't wise at that particular moment to bring up the sentence the oldest boy was doing in the state pen. And who had put him there. "I don't think you can charge her with a felony, Buck. Loitering's only a misdemeanor."
At her words the figure behind the bars stiffened.
"You can't keep me here!" the girl shrilled. Her black eyes flashed. "Yore fat old deputy whopped Demon for no reason at all and laid its head open, and my little sister ran off!"
"You did something to the little sister?" Buck turned to his deputy, frowning. "Who's this you whopped?"
Deputy Holt sucked on his bitten finger. "Buck, will you let me say something? These two Scraggs -- females -- was down by the post office this morning, sitting on the curb, making a nuisance, and their big monster dog done jumped Mrs. Stevens's cat and half tore it to death. "
"Did not," the prisoner yelled. "That's a lie!"
"Mrs. Stevens called for police assistance," Mose went on doggedly. "When I got there these two were attempting forced entry on Mrs. Stevens's front door --"
"That old cow hit Farrah Fawcett," the prisoner shouted, "when we wasn't doing anything!"
"-- threatening to assault Mrs. Stevens, and throwing rocks at her house. This one told Mrs. Stevens she was going to -- ah --" -- Deputy Holt's face grew even redder -- "snatch off certain parts of Mrs. Stevens's -- ah, body."
"Tits!" the prisoner behind the bars screeched. "I told her I'd pull off her old flappy tits if she ever hit Farrah Fawcett again!"
Deputy Holt reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his face. "Buck, I never heard no young woman talk like that. I swear, there's just no telling the words that are going to come out of that mouth!"
"Where's my sister?" Scarlett O'Hara gripped the bars with both hands. "My little sister Farrie's run off in the cold, and she's lost and it's your fault, you old --"
Buck stepped toward her. "That's enough of that." The steely authority that had made his late father famous and which he had passed on to Buck in a considerable degree made the girl suddenly close her mouth. "Now let's hold it down," he ordered.
Scowling, the Scraggs girl tilted her head back to get a good look. The fluorescent light of the cell block illuminated Buck's square-jawed face and stern, unfriendly expression.
Buck was thinking Miss Scarlett O'Hara Scraggs looked wild and unmanageable. On the other hand, from her nearly bare feet to the top of her gypsy-black curls she projected so much -- Buck's mind stumbled over the thought -- well, sexual attraction that the effect on the public at large was worrisome.
"How old is the little sister?" he asked.
"Ten, eleven, somewheres around there," the deputy answered.
"And this one?"
Mose Holt shrugged. "She won't say."
Buck studied her. If the other Scraggs girl wasn't more than eleven years of age, then half the case was out of his jurisdiction. The younger half.
"Susan," he said, "I'd be obliged if you'd rout old Ancil Scraggs out of the hills and get him to come down and claim his relatives."
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than they were subjected to a truly anguished screech.
"Don't do that! Oh, please don't get my grandpa!" the figure behind the bars yelled. "Please, mister, I'll get that old witch another mangy cat in place of the one Demon tore up -- me'n my little sister'll do anything! But don't let Devil Anse come for us!"
Scarlett O'Hara Scraggs clutched at the bars of the cell with an expression that was genuinely heartrending.
"Please, mister," she pleaded, "I'm nineteen years old, I'm full grown, I can do what I want, can't I? My little sister and I didn't do any harm sittin' on the curb waiting for the Greyhound bus that goes to Atlanta until that ole cat jumped on Demon. You gotta let me go, so I can go find Farrie!"
Buck turned to Susan. Who was staring at the prisoner, appalled.
"You gotta," the voice in the cell yelled belligerently. "We didn't break the law, me'n Farrah Fawcett! We were just running away! "
Copyright © 1993 by Maggie Daniels