On the eve before Christmas a blizzard arrived, transforming a small Texas town into a night to remember. Four ladies desperately in need of saving, four hard-ridin' cowboys who aim to please. . . When a lone farmer strides to a pretty store owner's rescue, their deepest wishes just might come true. . . A brave heiress can't believe a rugged angel is riding out of the night to save her and her fellow train passengers--until she gets him under the mistletoe. . . A quiet loner wants to help a stranded widow have a holiday to remember. . . And a female saloon owner tired of being scorned by respectable folk gets some very naughty help from a handsome greenhorn. . .
"Readers couldn't ask for a finer quartet of heroes. . ." --Romantic Times on Give Me a Texas Ranger
"Will warm your heart and bring a smile to your lips." --Love Western Romances on Give me a Cowboy
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About the Author
Linda Broday's first love has always been historical romances, especially tales of Texas. There's something about Stetsons, boots, and rugged men that gets her fired up.
A native Texan, Phyliss Miranda still believes in the code of the Old West. She enjoys sharing her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the magnificent sunsets of the Texas Panhandle with her readers.
DeWanna Pace is a multi-published author of western historical romances. She loves teaching children about books and being married to her own Texas hero.
Read an Excerpt
A Texas Christmas
By Jodi Thomas Linda Broday Phyliss Miranda DeWanna Pace
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Kensington Publishing Corporation
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDecember 1887 Kasota Springs, Texas
Sam Thompson stood in the blackened corner of the alley silently watching the mercantile across the street. Wind blew against his back as if trying to force him to move from the shadows. He needed to be heading home, but the woman inside the store kept him rooted in place.
She moved now and then past the windows, sometimes looking out as though hoping to see someone coming to shop. Her slender form drew him now just as her green eyes had the first day they met.
Sam shoved his hands farther into the pockets of his worn coat and prayed no one walked through her doors tonight. Margaret Allison had no idea of the danger she was in, and he had the feeling if he walked across the street to tell her, she wouldn't believe him.
He was a Thompson, and in this town that usually meant he was one step above the wolves who came down from the north on cold nights like this to hunt. Thompsons lived out along the southern breaks near the Palo Duro Canyon, not here in town among the civilized folks. Thompsons kept to themselves and minded their own business.
If Sam walked into the mercantile, Maggie Allison would be more likely to think he'd come to rob her than help her. He didn't much care about whether she lost money or not. Everyone knew that her parents always had money. After all, they sent her to a big school back East to grow up. They must have left it all to their only daughter. She could weather a robbery, but he didn't like to think about what the drunken gang of outlaws, now building courage by the mug, would do to her when they found her alone.
She had no one to protect her, but Sam was a man who didn't have the time to be her hero. If she'd just lock the door and go up to bed, he could get home before it started snowing.
He stomped his feet to keep them from freezing and tried to talk himself into leaving. MaggieAllison hadn't said more than a few words to him in twenty years. He didn't even think she remembered meeting him when they'd been six. It wasn't his job to worry about her. The town had a sheriff and plenty of upstanding men. She didn't need him.
So why didn't he get on home to his responsibilities and leave her to her fate?
The memory of Maggie in pigtails crossed his mind. Even at six she'd been prim and proper in her starched dresses covered with a white apron, her red hair always in place, her manners perfect, her green eyes wide open as if she was afraid she'd miss one moment of life if she wasn't alert. "I'll never tell you a lie, Sam Thompson," she'd said the day they'd met. "And I promise never to be mean to you, if you promise never to be mean to me."
He'd been six, but he swore she'd won his heart that first day of school.
When the teacher told her to sit next to him, she didn't hesitate. However, she did spend the morning telling him he smelled bad and his fingernails were dirty and he needed new shoes and she didn't like the color orange.
Sam smiled remembering how she'd split her sandwich in half and shared with him that first day. Maggie Allison was different from anyone he'd ever met, and she fascinated him. She did everything right, learned everything first, said exactly what the teacher expected her to say. The only thing he had in common with the proper little red-haired girl was that no one liked her either. She didn't seem to mind. She read or stayed in with the teacher while other kids played, but Sam tried to join in and he'd been given more than one black eye to show for it.
It had taken him three years of walking four miles to school to figure out what his grandfather had told him all along: he didn't belong in town. Only, unlike his relatives, Sam had learned to read, and he'd impressed the teacher enough that she always packaged a few books for him and left them by the schoolhouse door. He'd walk to town on the first of every month and drop off the last books before he picked up the next set. Then, in the midnight hours, he'd sit by the fire and read. Over the years he sometimes thought of Maggie sitting beside him that first year encouraging him as she pointed out the words with her thin little finger.
In the shadow's cold, Sam saw her step near the window once more. Proper as ever, with her hair now pulled back in a knot behind her head. Her parents had sent her away to school after that first year. Folks said it was because she was too bright to stay here. Most said she'd probably never come back to a small town in the middle of nowhere, but she had. She came back to bury her parents last year, and to Sam's surprise, she took over the mercantile.
He studied her now, knowing he needed to go home, but not being able to stomach the thought of her being hurt or killed. The drunks he'd overheard talked of what they'd do to her, how they'd make her scream even after they'd taken all her valuables. They'd joked about how she was probably a virgin, and virgins don't tell what happens, so they could probably use her the next time they passed through town.
Sam forgot about the cold. He'd wait until she locked the door.
Chapter TwoMargaret Allison paced the worn floors of her store. She'd told everyone she was staying open late every night this week before Christmas so folks could do any late shopping, but so far not one customer had come in.
She knew every respectable person in town was either at Wednesday-night prayer meeting or at one of the parties to celebrate Christmas. The Wilsons were having a huge dinner for fifty, the school was putting on the Christmas story tonight, and she'd heard even the saloon got in the mood and was running a special on beer. Everyone in town, even her two part-time helpers, had somewhere else to be tonight.
Everyone except her.
Sitting down behind the counter, she opened her journal. Over the years she'd kept several journals from time to time. Some about school, some about her thoughts, and one of poems she'd tried to write. But this one was different. This journal was just for wishes. It had pages of Christmas wishes; many she couldn't remember if she'd gotten or not. There were a few pages of shopping lists or packing lists when she'd gone away to school or traveled with her aunt. From the time she'd been thirteen, she'd kept a wish list on the back page of the requirements needed for the man she'd marry.
At first the list had been long and flowery, all about what he needed to look like and act like and have. Later the list became more practical. What profession he'd practice. How educated he'd be. How much money he'd make. What kind of house and hobbies he'd have.
Then a few years ago the list grew shorter and shorter until now she only had one thing on her list. One wish. She thought of making her one wish for a man to be breathing, but she couldn't be so pathetic. She knew she was twenty-six and one of those women who would remain forever unmarried, but something in her heart had to leave one requirement on her list. Any man she ever accepted would have to be loving.
One man who'd called on her because he was attracted to her money walked out saying simply that it wasn't worth it. He claimed she criticized everything about him from his dress to his breathing.
Maggie frowned, remembering. She'd thought the man simply overreacted. All she'd been trying to do was make him aware of his shortcomings. You'd think he'd want to know.
"If just one loving man could care about me for one day, I think I could survive on that little for the rest of my life," she said as she wrote me beside loving on her list.
She heard the door open and looked up as three rather shabbily dressed men entered. They spread out and began looking at the neat stacks of supplies and talking back and forth to one another about how late it was and how they were surprised to find the store still open. The heaviest of the three left mud on her clean floor with each step, while another lifted several garments and didn't bother to put them back like he found them. The third and youngest headed toward her with a long, lanky walk that reminded her of a rooster's strut. He stopped a few feet before he reached the counter she sat behind. He didn't look at her, didn't even seem to notice her. He lifted one of the cans of peaches stacked on the shelf. When he dropped it, his friends laughed.
She forced herself not to look to see if he dented it. Almost without care, he put it back on the shelf. The stranger turned her direction and glared at her with eyes dead of all expression.
Maggie looked away as she closed her journal and prepared to wait on her only customers of the night. His two friends were collecting a few things as they moved to join the rooster man. They laughed and talked with slurred speech, but the man before her seemed far more interested in watching her than in shopping.
She saw the door open slightly again and a tall man with a beard entered. She recognized him as a farmer who came in once a month, always near closing time. He usually seemed in a hurry, but tonight, he simply moved to the back and began looking at the tools.
She turned her attention to the three men who all seemed to be moving slowly toward her. She felt like a door was closing in front of her, shutting out the air in the room. They smelled of trail dust and sweat. One corner of the rooster man's lip went up as if he knew a secret he was about to share.
The heavy man set his things on the counter and leaned closer to look at her. "She's got nice hair, don't she, Boss."
"Yeah," the thin man answered as if she wasn't standing right there in front of them.
None appeared to notice the farmer near the back. The closest nodded his head toward her and said, "Evening, miss."
She could smell the liquor on his breath from three feet away. The man reminded her of a snake about to strike. She straightened as she always did when nervous, as if the action would make her taller than everyone else.
"Is there something I can help you with?" she asked, doubting any of the three had a wife or sweetheart, but surely they had mothers, and it was Christmastime. "I could assist you in picking out a gift."
All three were now standing before her. One more step and they'd be within reach of her. Maggie had never been so glad to have the counter between her and customers.
"You might could help us." The stout one grinned. "We'd like you to empty that money box you keep beneath the counter and hand it over."
Maggie stared. "You're robbing me?"
The first man struck, covering her hand with his as he leaned close. He glared at her as he issued orders. "Lock the door, Barney, and blow out those lights in the front while the lady puts all her money in a bag, then we'll move to that office behind her where she probably keeps the real money." The dead-eyed man before her might be young, but he appeared to be the leader. His grip over her hand turned painful. "We're here to do a little business with you, lady, and we don't want no trouble."
Maggie fought down a scream as she nodded.
She watched as the shortest of the three rushed to the door. He pulled down the CLOSED sign as he locked up and began blowing out lights while he moved back toward her. She didn't dare look in the far corner to see if the farmer was still there. His only chance at staying alive might be to remain silent. These three might have been too drunk to notice him come in, but if they found him now, all they'd see was a witness.
The leader lifted his hand off hers and grabbed the front of her blouse. He jerked her hard toward him and whispered, "We can do this easy, miss, or hard. It's up to you. All we want is your money."
The third man laughed. "And a little fun, remember, Adler. Don't forget that. You said we could all have a little fun. I say we gag her first. She looks like a screamer. I don't mind a screamer, but I don't want any company coming in on me while I'm having my turn with her."
The leader looked like a hungry coyote when he smiled at her. "You'll be quiet, won't you, miss. This ain't nothing personal, you understand. Louis ain't had a woman in a long time and I promised him."
She began to shake.
He let go of her blouse and spread the cotton out as if he were erasing his prints. "First business. Then, if you cooperate, I won't let the boys hurt you much."
Louis pulled his gun. "He's right. We get the money first."
The one named Barney made it back. All the lights in the store were out except for the small lamp just behind the counter. No one passing would be able to see her from the windows. Maggie felt trapped by the wall of robbers. All air had left her world.
She forced her mind to clear. She couldn't let fright cripple her. She stared at them and waited for a chance.
"Look at her, Boss." Barney smiled. "She ain't even going to scream. I heard she was a smart one. She knows it wouldn't do her no good." He leaned on the counter and bragged, "Boss told me I could slap you around if you start to put up a fight."
"We're wasting time. Get all the money in a bag and be quick about it." The boss seemed far more interested in the money.
Maggie nodded and reached her hand beneath the counter. Beside the money box was an old Walker Colt her father had carried years ago in the war. Just as she gripped the barrel, a long ax handle flew out of the shadows.
She watched as if everything were happening in one long, stretched-out second. The ax handle hit Barney hard in the back of the head, sending him halfway across the counter and tumbling like a rag doll.
Louis swung his gun around and fired blindly into the darkened store as another swing slapped against his jaw so hard she heard bone break. The one called Adler backed up, drawing his gun just as the farmer stepped from the shadows swinging.
Maggie lifted the Colt and fired toward Boss Adler more to save the farmer than trying to hurt the robber.
Two blasts rang as one. The farmer spun and tumbled as Boss ran for the door.
She rushed around the counter with the gun in her hand and fired again. Just as Boss barreled through the door, she heard him scream and grab his leg, then limp away.
Maggie dropped the gun and ran to the farmer. He'd risked his life to help her. If he'd just stayed in the darkness, he wouldn't have been hurt. Somehow this was all her fault.
It was too dark near the floor to see clearly. "Are you all right?" she yelled, brushing her hand over warm blood spilling across his shoulder. "I need to get you a doctor."
To her surprise, he sat up, pushing her hand away. "I'm fine," he said almost calmly. "And I'm not deaf, Maggie. Stop yelling at me."
She took a long breath. Before she could thank the farmer, the sheriff and several other men came running through the broken door. Sheriff Raines, his gun drawn, moved straight toward her as the others spread out, lighting lamps and looking around.
"Are you all right, Miss Allison?"
"Yes," she said. "This man stopped the others from robbing me."
The sheriff looked at the man next to her. "You sure he wasn't one of the robbers? He's a Thompson."
"I'm sure. Mr. Thompson saved my life, Sheriff. Those two," she pointed at Barney draped across her counter, still out cold, and Louis wailing as he held his bloody face, "were trying to not only take my money, but they were ..." She couldn't say the words. She wouldn't.
Thompson filled in the blank. "They were planning to molest her and probably leave her dead. I heard them talking at the livery when I rode in to pick up one of my horses." He stood slowly but remained close to her. "The one called Boss mentioned to Louis that they didn't plan to leave a witness."
Maggie began to shake again and felt Thompson's arm go round her waist as if bracing her. He continued talking to the sheriff. "I saw the leader once a few years ago. He's Boss Adler, I think."
Sheriff Raines shook his head. "He's a bad one, but I've never been close enough to get a good look at him." Raising an eyebrow, he added, "Never known a Thompson to get involved with anything going on in town either. You folks don't seem to like kin, much less other people."
Excerpted from A Texas Christmas by Jodi Thomas Linda Broday Phyliss Miranda DeWanna Pace Copyright © 2011 by Kensington Publishing Corporation. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. 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
ContentsOne Wish: A Christmas Story Jodi Thomas....................1
Naughty or Nice DeWanna Pace....................91
The Christmas Bell Linda Broday....................187
Away in the Manger Phyliss Miranda....................281