A Baby for Christmas

By: Linda Ford

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

—Isaiah 9:6

To Christine, my day-after-Christmas baby.

You have brought much joy into our lives

and continue to do so.

Chapter One

December 1882

Twenty-year-old Louise Porter cupped her hands to her rounded belly. How was she to protect this baby, as well as herself and her eighteen-year-old sister-in-law? Where could she go? Where could she find help?

No answer came to mind, but she must get away from that vile man who grew bolder and bolder with his threats and advances.

She turned the corner. Without thought, she’d walked toward the church. Head down, watching her footing carefully on the rough ground, she made her way toward the spot where they’d buried her husband six months ago.

Not until she was almost there did she look up and nearly fell backward. Nate Hawkins stood at Gordie’s graveside. She’d gotten a fleeting glimpse of him last year on his annual visit to his mother, but still she stared at him, taking in his rumpled dark blond hair and his blue eyes that always made her feel as if he pinned her to the spot where she stood. He’d filled out in the three years since he left, but he was still tall and slim. His muscular body spoke of hard work and strength.

“Nate, I never expected to see you.” Too late she thought to pull her shawl closed to hide her belly.

Nate held his hat in his hand. “I had to come say goodbye to Gordie.” His gaze skittered to her stomach and away. “You married again?”

“Hardly. This is Gordie’s baby.”

“Oh.” He shifted from foot to foot. “Don’t know if I should say sorry or congratulations.”

“Don’t say anything.” She wouldn’t tell him that she struggled with similar feelings. A baby to bring up on her own presented challenges. Some she dreaded, but that didn’t mean she didn’t look forward to welcoming the little one. “I’ll leave you to say your goodbye.” She turned back the way she’d come.

“Wait. Don’t let me chase you away.”

“I can come back anytime.” She continued on her way, not slowing until she knew she was out of his sight. Then she paused to catch her breath. It was getting harder and harder to move about with her growing size. She patted her tummy as the baby kicked up a storm. “Not much longer, little one,” she murmured. She expected the baby would be born Christmas Day. A Christmas baby. Her heart swelled with anticipated joy.

Her gaze turned over her shoulder, though she wouldn’t be able to see Nate. He’d been Gordie’s best friend. Hers, too.

In the past, both she and Nate had found a warm welcome in the Porter home along with the Porter children—Gordie and Missy. Nate and Louise had had their own homes, but in her case it had been unwelcoming and Nate had been mostly alone in his, so they’d spent all their free time with the Porters.

Louise’s mother had left when she was little and her father had raised her on his own, usually in mining camps. When she turned thirteen and he noticed how the men began to stare at her, he had sent her to live with Aunt Bea here in Rocky Creek, Montana. Aunt Bea was...well, she didn’t care to make any effort on Louise’s behalf and was openly grateful that Louise spent so much time at the Porters’.

At first, Louise resented her father for sending her away, then, after she’d fallen in with Nate and the Porter family, she secretly thanked him. It was the best thing that could have happened to her. The Porters were a loving, supportive family, and Nate...well, she was more than half in love with him from the first glimpse. Puppy love only, of course.

Her idyllic life had crashed to a halt four years ago when the Porter parents were killed in a senseless accident. Their team of horses had spooked and before Mr. Porter could get the animals under control, the wagon flipped, killing them both.

Gordie was not yet eighteen and suddenly had to be the man of the house and look after Missy, his sister, only thirteen years old at the time. He resented the responsibility and the endless work. A man who hovered at the outskirts of the town’s polite populace, Vic Hector, ten years older and worldly wise, had offered Gordie easier ways to make money than carrying freight and goods around for people. Most of the ways bordered on illegal. Slowly Vic and Gordie had grown more and more uncaring about staying within the bounds of the law.

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