A HEARTFUL OF WISHES
Deidre Kenney made a deathbed promise to her father—shot in cold blood by two gunmen looking for land deeds he was hired to deliver to Paradise, Montana. Deidre and her cousin Maura vow to finish the dangerous job, each woman taking a different route west. What Deidre didn’t count on was a bodyguard—but that’s what she gets in Patrick Callahan. With his broad shoulders, steady gun, and a crooked grin that’s stirring secret desires—and one very special Christmas wish—Deidre knows the real danger ahead lies in the uncharted territory of her own heart.
A HANDFUL OF HEAVEN
Maura Kenney hopes her cousin is having better luck making her way to Paradise. The tiny blue- eyed spitfire is too busy fending off drunken oafs and serious gunmen to have a lot of faith in her own success. But luck is on her side: his name is Mitch Callahan and he takes one look at lovely Maura and knows Christmas has come early. But convincing a prim-and-proper miss that a tough, tender-hearted rancher is the only man for her promises to be about as hard as keeping them both alive to share this very special Christmas together . . .
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.90(d)|
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A Stockingful of Joy
By HANNAH HOWELL
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2011 Hannah Howell
All rights reserved.
As she stood quietly waiting for the stage driver to set down her bag, Deidre looked around the town. She was so tired she needed a moment to recall where she was. When she did remember, her spirits were not improved by much. Only half the way there and November was already half gone.
"The hotel's just over there, ma'am," the burly driver said as he set her bag down by her side.
She glanced at the building he pointed to and inwardly sighed. There was one problem with traveling along a meandering trail to Montana, using stages and passing through small towns not considered important enough for trains: accommodations could be rough. Deidre consoled herself with the fact that they were also cheap. She picked up her bag and walked toward the large, plain building with the crudely painted hotel sign swinging precariously over the wide porch steps. At the moment, if the place had a clean bed and could produce a hot bath, she would consider it close to heaven.
Once in her room, Deidre breathed a sigh of relief. Not only was it clean, but it had a private bathroom. The owner clearly had hopes that the town would expand. Perhaps the railroad would indeed be arriving soon, she mused as she secured the door and the window. Clean or not, she was getting tired of hotels and would be glad to go home. It was also going to be nice to finish the job and be safe again, not to have to keep looking over her shoulder, and not to wonder if every stranger was an enemy. Deidre prayed that Maura was safe, that her brilliant idea to divide up did not turn out to be a deadly failure for them both.
"Watch your back, Maura," she whispered as she turned the dull iron taps on and began to fill the tub with water. "If you don't walk into Paradise safe and whole, I'll break your neck."
She laughed softly at her nonsense, but the brief flare of humor did not banish her concern over her cousin. Deidre prayed she had not asked more of Maura than the young woman could accomplish. Maura was not stupid, but she was sweet, trusting, and just a little prim, a little too susceptible to being shocked. A babe in the woods, Deidre thought with a grimace as she undressed for her bath, but that could prove to be protection of a sort. No one would suspect sweet Maura of doing anything daring. Maura could, at times, be so proper, so polite and unassuming, she could disappear in a crowd, pushed from view by the brighter and gayer. Deidre prayed that Maura was doing just that right now, that her cousin was at her most unobtrusive.
After her bath and once her hair was dry, Deidre dressed in a plain dark-gray gown and went down to the dining room. It took all of her willpower to step into the large and, to her dismay, nearly full room. A skinny young man, with a tuft of fair hair on his chin she supposed was a beard, hurried over to her and escorted her to a table. Deidre fought to hide her unease as she found herself seated in the far corner of the large room, a little too close to a large dark man who held the only other small table in the shadows. Even though they were not actually sharing a table, they were seated so near to each other they might as well have been.
While she told the boy what she wanted, she covertly studied her companion in the shadows. He looked big, dark, and dangerous. From his thick, nearly too long black hair to his finely hand-tooled boots, he was a long, leanly muscular and intensely alert man. Pure trouble, she mused as she let her gaze skim over his vaguely hawkish features, his long, patrician nose framed dramatically by high, wide cheekbones. The only softness on his harsh face was from the long, thick lashes on his eyes and the slight, sensual fullness of his mouth. Deidre suspected that could disappear in an instant if he became angry. She could almost see his straight, dark brows veeing harshly over his nose and his mouth tightening to a thin line. She inwardly shook her head at her own fancies as she forced her attention to the rest of the people in the room.
It was not easy to keep her attention fixed upon the others, however, as she waited for her food. She was irritated to find herself constantly glancing at the man, at the way his long fingers held the silverware, the way his black coat hugged his broad shoulders, even at the way his long, muscular legs straddled the stand of the small round table. He made her uneasy, yet she did not fear him, sensed no threat. It was a puzzle and she decided she was simply too travel weary to figure it out. Deidre was grateful when her food was served and she was able to turn all of her attention to eating.
"You Deidre Kenney?" asked a rough voice.
Hesitating only briefly in finishing the bite of tart apple pie she had just taken, Deidre looked at the two men who crowded up to her table. Big and ugly was her first clear thought after she pushed aside a blinding flash of fear. She was astounded at how bold her pursuers had become. Approaching her in a crowded room was bold indeed, and did not bode well for the rest of her journey. Deidre hoped this sudden audacity was not because the men felt safe to do just as they pleased. People had always told her that there was no true civilization and no law in the West, but she had always assumed such talk was no more than rumor or descriptions of a time long past. After all, Saint Louis was considered the West by many east of the Mississippi River and it was extremely civilized. Keeping her expression as sweetly blank as possible, she covertly slipped her hand into a pocket in her skirts, calming a little when she felt the cool metal of the gun she carried. It was only a derringer, but, at this distance, even that could kill a man. She smiled sweetly and plumbed her brain for any scrap of the French she had learned from Mr. Johnson.
"I do not speak English, " she said in French, and took a steadying sip of her coffee, wondering if they would fall for the ruse.
The hairier of the two men scratched his gray-speckled beard and scowled at her. "They didn't say you was a foreigner. Deidre Kenney?" he said very slowly as if that would help her understand him better.
Deidre shook her head. "Open the window."
"Damnation, Pete," he grumbled to the soft-bellied man at his side. "They said she was from Saint Louis. They talk English in Saint Louis, don't they?"
"Yup, and her pa spoke it real clear, Jim. Hell, I can still hear him cursing us. Real clever with a cuss, he was."
A trickle of panic chilled Deidre's spine. These men had spoken to her father? It sounded as if the meeting had not been a friendly one. She suddenly realized that these were probably the men who had shot her father. Just the thought of it brought anger and grief rushing to the fore and she struggled to push those emotions aside before they showed on her face.
"Perhaps I may be of assistance?" said the tall, dark man seated at the next table.
Deidre looked at the man in horror, then quickly schooled her features. She had no time to let him know that these men could be a threat to her. There was still the chance that her fellow diner could also be a threat to her or, if some reward was offered for her, could soon become one. Worse, she only knew about a dozen French phrases, and many of those were risque. She tried to calm herself by recalling that she had already replied to the rough men before her with pure nonsense and, if the man at her side truly understood French, he had to know that. Deidre prayed that he was simply trying to lend her a helping hand.
Tyrone Callahan could not believe his luck. Instinct told him that this was indeed Deidre Kenney, Patrick Kenney's daughter. She had the look of the man. He was not sure why she was here, but she could certainly be of some help. Her badly pronounced French told him that she was no foreigner and that she was trying to hide who she was from these men. Even if she was not Patrick's daughter, she clearly did not want anything to do with these men and that was reason enough to lend a hand.
He smiled to himself. Tyrone suspected that her beauty also prompted him to heedlessly jump into the midst of her troubles. She was tiny, with a small but shapely bosom and a very slender waist. Not the more fulsome figure he had always sought out before, but he had not been able to stop covertly watching her as she ate. Her flame-red hair was done up in a soft chignon so fat it looked ready to burst free of its pins at any moment. Huge light-green eyes, encircled by long, thick, brown lashes and set beneath delicately arched brows dominated her small face. Her delicate facial bones, from the high cheekbones to the hint of a point on her small chin, and a small, straight nose made for an enchantingly beautiful face, one that would probably stand the test of time. Her full, faintly pouty mouth gave that cool, elegant beauty a touch of sensuality Tyrone wondered just how grateful she might be if he helped her.
"You know what she's saying?" asked the man named Jim.
"Yes, some," Tyrone replied, pulling his gaze from the small, long-fingered hand she had tightened around her cup of coffee. "She has told you that she doesn't speak any English."
"What's so hard about replying to a name?" Pete glared at Deidre. "Are you Deidre Kenney?"
"Your mother was a barge whore." Deidre forced herself not to blush.
"What did she say?" demanded Jim.
"That she doesn't understand you," replied Tyrone, biting back a smile.
Jim continued to idly scratch his beard as he watched Deidre with narrowed eyes. "I don't know. The bitch we're looking for is supposed to be traveling through here, this girl looks just right, and yet you're saying she doesn't understand us. Think she's playing some game?"
"Seeing as you just called her a bitch and she didn't flick an eyelash, I would say no," drawled Tyrone.
"Still, how many ladies look like her? Ain't that much chance you'd find two of them between here and Saint Louis." Jim suddenly pulled his gun and aimed it at Deidre's head. "Are you Deidre Kenney?"
As she stared down the barrel of the gun, held so close that she could smell the oil that had been used to clean it, Deidre decided it would not be suspicious if she revealed her fear. Any sane person would be terrified to suddenly have a gun aimed at her face. She clutched at the arms of her chair, went cross-eyed staring down the barrel of the pistol, and pressed herself back against the chair.
"Why don't you stick that gun up your backside and blow your brains out?" She was not surprised to hear the tremor in her voice. She was so terrified she could not even blush over the taunt she had uttered.
Tyrone slowly closed his hand around the butt of his gun. He cursed himself as a blind fool for not having guessed what Jim or his rough partner might do next. Tyrone had to admire the little woman. She not only had guts, but the wits to know when it was safer to stick to her story.
"I do not believe there is any need to horrify the woman," Tyrone said carefully.
"A good dose of fear's sometimes all it takes to get folk to spit out the truth," drawled Jim, but his stance eased a little. "Don't seem to have worked with this little bitch."
"Then, perhaps, one should assume she is already telling you the truth. She simply has the misfortune to look like the woman you are seeking. You might also consider how most people will view your threat to harm a woman," Tyrone said, glancing around the silent, tense crowd watching them, then signaling with a jerk of his hand for Jim and his friend to do the same. "Not only are you not getting the answers you want, but you're making yourselves damned unpopular." Tyrone nodded when Jim looked around, then slowly reholstered his gun.
"Seeing as the little bitch even squeaked her fright in that foreign gibberish, I reckon she ain't the one we're looking for," Jim said and Pete nodded. "Good day, ma'am," he said, tipping his hat faintly before leaving.
Deidre just watched them leave, too taut and witless to do anything else. It took her what felt like hours, but was undoubtedly only a moment, to start to ease her grip on her chair. Taking slow, deep breaths, she unclenched her hands, finger by finger, and struggled to loosen terror's rigid grip on her body and her mind.
Then anger began to break through the fear, gaining strength and heating her fear-chilled blood. The man had pointed a gun at her, then politely wished her good day and left? Deidre wished she had the chance and the strength to chase after the man. She desperately wanted to hurt him.
"Are you all right, miss?"
Slowly turning her head, she looked at the man who had tried to help her. Another complication. Although she was deeply grateful for his intervention, she was not in a position to make that clear. Anything other than a terse thank-you would require conversation, perhaps even proper introductions. Deidre could not afford even that fleet and understandable intimacy. She could not allow anyone to know who she was or where she was going and why. She thought Dame Fate especially cruel to present her with such a handsome man at exactly the time when she could not afford to do anything about it. This would forever have to remain only a brief, chance meeting.
"I will be fine," she murmured, absently patting her hair with a still-unsteady hand. "The upset already passes."
"Upset?" Tyrone grinned. "You call some hairy fool sticking a pistol in your face an upset?"
"Since I have never had anyone do such a thing to me before, I fear I lack the appropriate word for his extraordinary conduct," she muttered, a little annoyed at being the object of his amusement and yet finding herself made slightly breathless by the beauty of his honest smile.
"Perhaps you can find one in your vast French vocabulary, Miss Kenney."
"How droll, and I have not said that I am Miss Kenney. That fool was mistaken. He needs spectacles."
"Oh, I don't think so. He was right. You do have the look of your father."
"And you feel sure you know who my father is, do you?" Deidre idly wondered just how well traveled her father had been and just how this lean, much younger man might have met him. Unless, she mused, he was just another from the pack of jackals nipping at her heels and was simply far more clever in his approach. Deidre found that thought distressing and wondered why.
"I met Patrick Kenney a few times." Tyrone noticed that she did not reveal any recognition of her father's name. "Not enough to call him friend, but enough to know that you look a lot like him. What I don't understand is why Patrick Kenney has let you travel all alone."
"If Mister Kenney was my father, it would not mean that my business here is any of your concern."
"Oh, but I think it is. Allow me to introduce myself."
Staring at the big, long-fingered hand he held out to her as if it was a multiheaded hydra, Deidre shook her head. "There is no need."
"But there is. I am Tyrone Callahan of Paradise, Montana."CHAPTER 2
"Are you ready to talk now?"
That deep, drawling voice finally pulled Deidre free of her shock. Her eyes widened when she saw that they were both seated by the window in her hotel room and she held a brandy. Mr. Callahan, if that was really who he was, had taken quick and efficient advantage of her surprise. Deidre could not clearly recall leaving the dining room.
"It is not proper for you to be in my room," she said coolly and took a sip of brandy.
Tyrone almost laughed. She had sounded like the primmest of schoolmistresses. Until now she had looked lost, scared, and stunned. Deidre Kenney clearly had the ability to regain her footing quickly.
"You invited me in," he said, sprawling more comfortably in the chair facing her.
Since she could not recall whether she had or not, she did not argue. "Well, I believe I have adequately thanked you for your kind assistance earlier, so perhaps you might leave before my meager reputation is completely shredded."
"Sorry. Too late. After facing down two thugs and then being carried to your room by a handsome, gallant gentleman — namely myself — I fear you have little reputation left in this town." He smiled gently when she paled slightly. "I should not fret. It'll never get back to Saint Louis, especially since you signed the register with a false name."
Deidre tried to recall everything that had happened since he had introduced himself, but it was impossible. The last thing she remembered with any clarity was a roaring in her ears after he said his name. It was possible that she had fainted, and she inwardly cursed. It was a weak thing to do, something she had never done before. It also meant that she had been completely insensible throughout her first experience of being held in a man's arms. Dame Fate was definitely playing a May game with her. She steadied herself, for none of that was really important now. She had to concentrate on getting this man away from her so that he did not draw any more attention to her or, worse, himself. He had helped her once. Deidre was determined not to tangle him up in her troubles again.
"Why should you think the name I signed was a false one?" she asked.
"There is no need to continue this game, Miss Kenney. I am Tyrone Callahan."
Excerpted from A Stockingful of Joy by HANNAH HOWELL. Copyright © 2011 Hannah Howell. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsA STOLEN KISS,
Books by Hannah Howell,
A christmas in Paradise,
Maura's Christmas Secret,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Two cousins are on a mission to complete Deidre's father’s dying wish after he is murdered. They decide to split up to confuse their pursuers. This book contains the story of each woman as they go on their own adventure to complete their mission during the holiday season. This was a quick read that was nice for the holiday season. I definitely liked Deidre’s story more than Maura’s, but it was more because of Mitchell as I didn’t really like him that much. **I voluntarily read and reviewed this book
Enjoy Christmas in the Wild West. Deidre made a death bed promise to her father to deliver some documents to Paradise, Montana, with the help of her cousins, she plans to do just that. Deidre and Maura each plan on taking a different route but both find plenty of adventure and so much more. This was an entertaining read with loads of drama and suspense. I loved the characters and the chemistry is steamy. A fun read!
A Hannah Howell novel is a quest into the unknown. It took me a little while, but I finally understand the magic that resides within her tales. Ms. Howell gives the fantasy long forgotten and the fairy tale not easily found. Like a fine wine or a flavorful food, her stories are meant to be savored. That is the only way to feel the full impact of her talent. Imagination and heart are her most powerful weapons as she sets out to stake a lasting claim on the romantic at heart. A Stockingful of Joy is a different kind of holiday read. Two strong women set about keeping a promise, as they risk their lives and hearts along the way. Get ready for an adventure of breathless proportions.
Would love for you to wright Jason Booker's story
Very loveable characters and a good plot...hope Stephen gets his story and Booker also from "Three Angels Ranch".
I thought the characters were very intertaining, interesting and believable. I just wish the stories could have been a little longer. A nice touch would have been to see if children were the result of the couples coming together a little Christmas present to go with them reaching Pardise.