Welcome to Heywood, Oregon where three lost women find healing, hope and love under the bright light of the town's old Star Inn this Christmas season.
Jed Taylor knows how to cowboy up on the range, and on the sales’ floor of his family’s rapidly growing western and ranch store in Central Washington, which is exactly where he would normally be a week before Christmas… but when he heard Mia O’Loughlin was planning a trip north, pregnant and alone, Jed’s promise to her late husband kicked in. More Grinch than grace, he boarded a plane and headed to the coast, determined that his best friend’s widow wouldn’t make the long trek alone.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, widowed, pregnant and all alone on the West Coast.
E.R. nurse and Red Cross emergency responder Mia O’Loughlin had always taken life in full stride, but losing her deployed husband the week before she realized they were expecting their first child knocked her off-kilter. With Christmas and her due date approaching, all she can see is getting back home to Kittitas County for the birth of her child… their child… and seeing her failing Grandpa Joe one last time. Determined to do it on her own, she reluctantly allows Jed to accompany her, mostly because the gruff cowboy showed up and won’t take no for an answer.
But when a blizzard grinds their progress to a stop in Northern Oregon, the light from an old inn beckons them into a town hunkered down to ride out the unexpected storm. With the help of the inn’s wise and wonderful “angel,” Mia realizes the old white church has been turned into a shelter. She insists on leaving the inn to help those forced out of their homes and off the highway. As she and Jed improvise to provide comfort to others, they begin to see that facing this once-dreaded Christmas together could be the very best way of all.
About the Author
Multi-published, best-selling author Ruth Logan Herne likes nothing better than writing stories that warm the heart and ease the troubled soul. The author of more than fifteen Love Inspired contemporary novels, the “Double S Ranch” trilogy with PRH/Waterbrook. Equally at home writing about small town folks or delving into the heart of big city neighborhoods, Ruthy lives on a farm in upstate New York, one of the snow-belt capitals of the world with her family, farm animals and pets.
Read an Excerpt
Silent Night, Star-Lit Night
By Ruth Logan Herne
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Ruth Logan Herne
All rights reserved.
December 18, San Diego, California
Suitcase. Laptop. Purse. Emergency supply bag. Lack of chocolate noted. Remedy situation ASAP.
E.R. nurse Mia O'Loughlin threw a couple of extra candy bars into the small cooler bag, just in case. She picked up her keys and slung her purse over her shoulder as a crisp, quick knock sounded at the front door of her suburban San Diego apartment.
Her heart froze, despite the California warmth of the December morning.
The knock came again, more insistent.
No one ever came to her door. No one had knocked on her door since the morning when two uniformed officers arrived to tell her Daniel had been killed in action three days after arriving in Afghanistan.
She stared at the door, wished for a peephole, then scolded herself and moved forward. "Yes?"
She sucked in a deep breath, bit her lip, and had to stop herself from rolling her eyes.
She knew that voice. Knew it well, and there was no reason for the person with that voice to be standing outside her door. She pulled the door open and came face-to-face with Jed Michael Taylor, Daniel's longtime best friend from central Washington. He'd stood with Daniel at their wedding. He'd been a pallbearer at Daniel's funeral. And now he was here, facing her through the screen door, one brow thrust up. "May I come in?"
He frowned instantly. "No? Why?"
She wanted to growl. And maybe throw things. But she'd been wanting to do that for a while, now.
Not Jed's fault, her conscience scolded.
It wasn't his fault, but that didn't keep her from longing to pummel something in the hopes of making things right again. A part of her was scared to death that would never happen. The other part wanted to throttle the fearful side. She'd become her own conundrum by default.
She pushed the door open, then gripped her bag. "I'm actually just leaving to head north for Christmas. What are you doing here, Jed? Are you on a buying trip?" It was a rhetorical question, because no one running a retail enterprise depending on fourth-quarter sales would be making a buying trip the week before Christmas.
"No, ma'am." He stepped in and of course his gaze went straight to her rounded belly. His eyebrows hiked and he clapped a hand to the back of his head as if he'd never seen a pregnant woman before. "Whoa."
Blame third-trimester discomfort and/or hormones, but his reaction nearly got him killed. "Listen, you." She used her free hand to grab hold of his button-down shirt just below his thick, rugged, about-to-be-strangled neck. "That is not how you react when you see someone within weeks of giving birth. Got it?"
He feigned fear until she released the shirt. "Got it. And no, I'm not here to buy things for the store. I'm here to escort you home."
He did not just say that, did he? "You're what?"
He tipped a finger to the brim of his oatmeal-toned cowboy hat, about as out of place in Southern California as you could get. "Jed Taylor, at your service."
"How did you get here?"
"Flew." He glanced around the stark apartment, and if he noted its austerity, he kept it quiet. "Commissioned by my mother and your aunt Pauline. You might have been gone awhile, but you know that no one in Roslyn, Washington, argues with Auntie P."
"You let two women boss you around?"
"Sure did." He flashed her a lazy grin and reached for her other bag. "And it appears I'm just in time. Is this all that's going?"
"Jed, listen —"
He stepped back, sent her a look of incredulity, and shook his head. "No argument allowed. When my mother and Auntie P. are on the warpath this close to Christmas, I do whatever I'm asked to do. In this case it was to hop on a plane, come down here, and drive back home with you. The other option would have been for Auntie P. to ride shotgun with you, which made it a non-option. I think you actually owe me a debt of gratitude."
Auntie P. was a dear soul, one of those women everyone loved, but her nonstop chatter could wear a person down really quick. If Mia was given the choice of a two-day excursion trapped in the front seat of a car with Auntie or Jed, the tall, muscled cowboy took the prize.
"It's Christmas week, though." Mia stared up at him while she clutched the bag's handle. "The store has to be crazy busy." Jed's family owned and ran Taylor's Farm, Ranch, and Home Supply, a thriving business near Roslyn and Cle Elum, a short jog north of I-90. He also ran a noteworthy cattle and horse operation, Taylor-Made Farms, just west of town. The Taylors were the people every other family longed to be. Cohesive, industrious, smart, and nice, and almost every Sunday she'd seen them troop into the rose-bricked church just up the road from the apartment she shared with her pot-smoking, beer-drinking dad. The Taylors were a family united. She envied that back then, but she envied a lot of stuff back then. Maturity had smartened her up some.
"Store and ranch, both," he admitted. "Although I'm hoping my absence will sharpen Uncle Pete's appreciation for my regular contributions at the store. We've gotten heavy December snow, and that means hay feeds and blizzard watch. They're predicting early storms, then early warming from El Niño come spring, but in the meantime, we've got four hundred head of cattle that can flounder in that wet snow if it piles up. So if you're all set?" He swept the packed bags a quick glance. "Let's roll."
This couldn't be happening.
No one set her timelines for her. Not now. Not ever. Mia Folsom O'Loughlin had taken care of herself as a kid because she had to. She could certainly do whatever proved necessary to take care of herself now. "Jed —"
"Save your breath, Mia." He didn't look unkind, but he did look firm, and she knew that when Jed Taylor set a goal, he met it head-on. He always had. "I'm coming."
Twelve hundred miles of interstate and country roads with Jed.
All that time to reckon with a past she wanted to leave behind and a future so uncertain that she'd sit right down and cry thinking of it; therefore, she refused to think of it. "No talking."
He hoisted the laptop bag, took the handle of the mid-sized roller from her hand and strode by, wearing an easy air of self-confidence and great-fitting Wranglers. "Odds are ten to one you'll break that rule by mile five, if for no other reason than it will drive you crazy to have me behind the wheel."
"You're not driving."
He met her gaze, eyed the swell of her middle, then paused. "It's not a power play, Mia. I just figured you and the baby would be more comfortable and less cramped if you're not crammed between a steering wheel and a seat back for two days. The passenger seat gives you more room. But if you want to drive, I'm fine with it."
She hated that he was right. Sitting in cramped spaces brought on more Braxton-Hicks contractions, making the position decidedly uncomfortable.
"It's up to you, of course." When she looked up at him she realized that all traces of the rash, spontaneous ranch kid she'd grown up with had disappeared. A man's gaze met hers. She read empathy in his gentle expression. "I'm here to help. And earn points with Santa Claus." He winked. "Six more days, Mia, and I'm going to do my best to get something besides a lump of old-fashioned Washington coal in my stocking."
The Hallmark-style image of filled stockings, decorated Christmas trees, and a bountiful table teased her.
Christmas at the Taylors' would most likely reflect heart-stirring television commercials.
She'd never known holidays like that. Her father wasn't welcome most places, which meant she wasn't invited by default, a harsh way to grow up. Half the family and several friends blamed Ray Folsom for the one-car crash that took her mother's life.
Was Mia's father to blame?
The local D.A. didn't press charges, but that didn't mean Ray was off the hook with his wife's family. Auntie P. had done her best to make things nice, and Grandpa Joe had been Mia's gentle reprieve in a hot mix of dysfunctional crazy.
"How's Grandpa doing, Jed?" She pulled the door shut behind her, and tested the lock before she moved ahead. "He won't tell me straight, so I'd like it if you would."
"It's bad." He followed her down the concrete walk. Her landlady had edged the summer-like yard with candy-cane-colored pinwheels. They looked odd against the green grass and flower beds. But then blooming flowers in December seemed out of place to a woman brought up in the northern latitudes. "It's good you're coming home, Mia."
She heard the timeline in his voice and knew she'd made the right decision. When Auntie P. had texted her the words "stage four," Mia started planning the trip despite her looming due date.
She didn't want to lose Grandpa Joe. He was a stubborn old coot, but he was her stubborn old coot. She wanted him around to see his great-grandchild, to tell this baby stories about wide-open range and campfire coffee brewed beneath star-soaked skies.
She wanted her grandfather to live.
She didn't need more stress, darkness, or loss in her life. She'd had her share this year, thank you very much.
Maybe more than your share because of choices you made. Maybe you jump in, both feet, needing to fix things that will never be fixed. It might be time to move forward.
She moved to her car, clicked the fob, and shoved the internal caution aside.
She was a skilled trauma nurse, a calm, efficient disaster responder, and soon she'd be a mother.
She'd juggled before. She would juggle again. She'd been doing that balancing act for a very long time and Mia O'Loughlin was pretty sure she'd perfected the maneuvers.CHAPTER 2
Jed dealt with combustible situations on a regular basis. Equipment gone bad, three sisters, irate bulls, and one grumpy old man telling his partners how to do everything better.
But Mia wasn't just combustible. She was downright explosive and trying to hide the emotions, like she'd always done, growing up.
She'd thought Jed was reckless back in the day.
He might have been, a little. But not enough to fret over, and Mia liked to fret.
He did a mental fist pump as she climbed into the passenger seat. Score one for the sensible cowboy and cramped seating conditions.
She pulled out an upscale phone and hit a GPS app. Within seconds the phone had downloaded directions taking them up the coast, across Oregon, and into the Kittitas Valley of Central Washington.
Taking them home.
"Have you got everything you need?"
She set the phone on the small console between them and nodded. "Yes. Why?"
He swept her baby bump a quick glance. "You've got everything you might need for you and the baby in that one small bag?"
She scrunched her nose slightly, a move she'd made for as long as he could remember. "I didn't bring anything for the baby."
"Nothing?" It didn't make sense to him with the baby so close and Mia being a nurse and all. He had cows drop babies a week early on a regular basis, and he was pretty sure it was the same kind of statistic with humans.
"She's not due for thirteen days."
He waited, hoping the obvious would occur to Mia without him saying anything, that by the time she'd celebrated Christmas with her convoluted family it would only be a handful of days. When she stayed silent, he jutted his chin toward the Spartan apartment. "Wouldn't it be smart to bring stuff just in case? Diapers, clothes, blankets."
She didn't look at him.
She didn't look back at the apartment.
She looked down at the curve of her belly and said, "Nothing we can't buy as the need arises, right?"
It was an odd thing to say, even if she was doing all right with money. She was an experienced nurse, with a military survivor benefit. He didn't think money should be an issue, but what did he know?
He hesitated, then decided to pick his battles carefully. He'd never been in her situation, so if she wanted to tempt fate, baby things would be as close as the nearest Walmart or pharmacy, but he didn't discount the thought of grabbing a pack of diapers at their first rest stop.
Just in case.
He put the car in gear, and within ten minutes he realized that driving north through California wasn't anything like driving in the Pacific Northwest states. As he threaded his way through too much traffic, Mia broke the silence. "I'm still not used to this."
They hadn't gone close to his five-miles-of-silence challenge, but he wisely bit his tongue. "The traffic?"
"The sun. The warmth. The crush of people and the traffic."
"It's a huge state." He kept the tone and topic easy on purpose.
She slid nice sunglasses down and angled a tough-girl look his way. "You're treating me with kid gloves, like when you break one of your young horses to saddle. Stop it."
"Feelin' my way as we go, little lady." He flashed a grin her way. "You've already threatened my extinction and ordered me to silence. I'm just trying to get a feel for current conditions."
He saw her quirk a small smile from his peripheral vision. "I am a touch testy."
"Recognizing it is the first step, they say."
The smile flipped to a quick scowl that he hoped was pretend. "My sense of humor ranks non-existent, bucko, so watch your step."
"Duly noted. Did you think to do a weather check before we took off?"
"It's Southern Cal. Warm and sunny."
She said it like it was almost a bad thing. "Do me a favor, see what we've got ahead of us. Ten hours north is going to make a difference."
She pulled up a weather app and opened it. "The northern coast looks chilly and rainy, but they're predicting some snow in Central Oregon up through Central Washington."
"Define 'some.'" He changed lanes again, trying to find a driving rhythm, but the frequent slowdowns and traffic volume rebuffed him.
"Significant accumulations in the higher elevations. Which is why towns in the higher elevations have big snowplows, right?" She aimed a look his way again.
"That's a wide range of possibilities when it comes to snowfall." He tapped the wheel as he drove north. "Where are we staying tonight?"
"I figured on driving straight through."
Eighteen hours under less than perfect conditions? Nope. He shook his head mentally. That wasn't about to happen. It wasn't that he couldn't manage it; he'd done extended driving in the past.
But that wasn't the point. He'd promised to take care of her, to look after her and get her back to Roslyn safely. And pretending the human body didn't need sleep was a foolish thing to do while operating a vehicle in the snow. "It gets dark early up north. Unfamiliar roads, snow, fatigue." He shook his head openly this time. "We'll need a place to stay. Can you check it out on your phone? Maybe about ten to twelve hours in? That way if we get back on the road first thing in the morning, we're home by mid-day."
"I have to answer to my mother. You know my mother." He didn't have to look her way to know she smiled. "When Mother Taylor gives an order, all the little Taylors fall in and do as they're told. At least during the holidays. And even in their thirties."
"Your sister used to call it 'Christmas season conformation.' Best behavior to avoid the coal. Did anyone really get coal? And if they did, I'd expect it would be you."
"They did not, but every one of us was certain she meant what she said. So we behaved. Mostly." Mia had slid her seat back slightly and tipped the back to a slight angle, so she and the baby didn't look quite so scrunched. "Is that comfortable, Mia? Do you need a cushion for your back or your head or anything?"
She stayed quiet, and when he finally pulled up to a light with a sign pointing toward the eventual interstate he glanced right.
One single tear threaded its way down her left cheek. His chest clenched, seeing it. "Mia."
She dipped her head and said nothing.
"Hey. Mia." He reached over and put his hand on her arm while the light was red. "Are you okay? Want me to pull over? There's a shopping center right there."
She shook her head, fumbled for a tissue in her bag, then blew her nose. "I'm fine."
The light changed. He eased forward, trying to assess the situation. "I see that."
She almost laughed. "No, I mean it, I'm really fine. It's just ..." She sighed and waved a hand at the air, the baby, the car ... him. "Hormones. They do a number on you during pregnancy, and the littlest things that never would have bothered me before make me either laugh, cry, or spitting mad. And I can't tell which it's going to be from one minute to the next. Last month I got mad because my ankles started to swell. This month I can't see them, so it's no longer a big deal."
"I actually noticed your ankles looked great when you were walking to the car. Not that I was checking them out or anything. So why the tears, out of the blue?"
She leaned back against the seat. "You're being nice to me."
Her words swelled his country-boy heart.
She got choked up because he was being nice to her. Because he was concerned for her comfort. Because Dan wasn't here to do that. No one had been around to do that throughout this pregnancy.
Excerpted from Silent Night, Star-Lit Night by Ruth Logan Herne. Copyright © 2016 Ruth Logan Herne. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another sweet glimpse into the Star Inn and Christmastime. Once again, plans go wrong and a very pregnant Mia finds herself stranded at the Star Inn with her friend, Jed. The set up for this was cute, but a bit cliche. With Mia's husband having died, Jed seems to swoop in to rescue her from all of the things. Yes, all of them. It was a bit much. But Mia does her own fair share of saving while stranded in the little town. When a blizzard keeping the electricity out, her Red Cross training comes in handy in a very unusual way - and two little kids will never forget this Christmas. I enjoyed the story, but it justs didn't stick to me. It wasn't as memorable or sigh-inducing as I had hoped it would be. *This book was received in exchange for an honest review*