A Western Christmas

By: Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge

Table of Contents


YULETIDE REunion     by Louise M. Gouge

Yuletide Lawman

Renee Ryan

Chapter One

December 1, 1879

Thunder Ridge, Wyoming

Ellie Wainwright pulled her cloak tightly around her and hurried across the wide street that curved through the center of town. Cold air swirled, nipping at her cheeks. She quickened her steps, careful to avoid hidden patches of ice.

Winter had blown into Thunder Ridge, Wyoming, with enough snow to guarantee a white Christmas this year.

Ellie paused a moment to take in the pristine winter wonderland of her beloved hometown. A smile tugged at her lips, the first since she’d come home two weeks ago, mortified, humiliated and more than a little disillusioned.

Wreaths decorated most of the doorways along Main Street. Gold ribbon and red bows draped hitching rails and horse troughs. Garland hung from the rooftops of homes and businesses, while the occasional redbrick chimney boldly punched into the crisp, blue sky.

The festive decorations helped soothe Ellie’s melancholy.

She was home. She was safe. She was among people who knew the details of her family’s disgrace and accepted her anyway. Besides, she told herself firmly, a failed courtship wasn’t the worst calamity to befall a young woman of twenty-two.

Next time, she would be wiser. She would fall for a man who could look past her family’s shame and love her anyway. In the meantime, she would find another teaching position and give her attention to her students and—

A movement off to her right caught her attention. Her gaze landed on a lone rider and his bay-colored horse approaching from the west. With his hat slung low over his face and his collar pulled up against the wind, there was no easy way to identify the rider. Oh, but Ellie knew that silhouette.

She knew that man. Caleb Voss.

The widowed town sheriff had once been her brother’s closest friend and the center of Ellie’s secret girlhood admiration.

As if sensing her watching him, Caleb reined in his horse and turned his head in Ellie’s direction. She could make out only a portion of his face and the patch of light brown hair burnished copper from the sun beneath his wide-brimmed hat.

“Hello, Ellie.”

The low, husky voice sent a spattering of nerves tripping down her spine and nearly knocked her backward. “Hello, Caleb.”

With two fingers, he shoved his hat off his forehead, the gesture giving her a better view of his magnificent face. Unable to move, to speak, to think, she simply stared up at him.

He stared back, brows arched, eyes soft.

That look. It made her think of girlhood dreams from long, long ago. Ellie stopped breathing altogether. She simply stopped breathing. Worse, she couldn’t seem to tear her gaze away from that strong, square jaw, those moss-green eyes and the arresting features that had transformed from boyishly appealing to ruggedly handsome.

Caleb’s eyes crinkled around the edges, the precursor to a smile. “Cold out this morning.”

He wanted to talk about the weather? For some reason that made her even more uneasy.

“It’s...why, yes.” She forced her lungs to work one breath at a time. In, out, in, out. “It is rather chilly today.”

“Better get inside. Wouldn’t want you catching cold.” His voice was low and gravelly, with a touch of concern that sounded entirely too brotherly for Ellie’s way of thinking.

Holding back a sigh, she reached for the doorknob behind her. “I’m heading in now.”

A tug on the brim of his hat, a slight movement of stirrups, and that was the end of their very odd, all-too-brief conversation.

Heart pounding wildly against her ribs, she twisted the doorknob and stumbled inside her friend’s dress shop, Kate’s Closet, named for the owner.

“Well, well, well,” came the sly, knowing voice of the woman she’d come to meet. “That was certainly interesting.”

Releasing another sigh, Ellie frowned at her friend. Katherine Riley—Kate to everyone who knew her—was a petite brunette with pretty, waiflike features that included a pert nose and sparkling brown eyes, eyes that were full of amusement at Ellie’s expense.

She attempted a nonchalant tone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Also By Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge

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