A Western Christmas(10)

By: Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge

Impatience surged. Whatever Ellie had to say couldn’t be more important than taking care of Brody’s willful disobedience.

“Please,” she pleaded in the soft, sweet voice that did strange things to his gut. “It’ll take only a moment.”

Frowning, he dropped his eyes to Ellie’s hand still curled around his arm, then raised a questioning eyebrow. “I’m in the middle of something pretty important here.”

“As am I.” She dropped her hand and favored Brody with a stern, no-nonsense glance.

“Sheriff Voss will meet you outside in a moment. I suggest you spend the time alone thinking about what you’ve done and, of course, taking care of that.” She looked pointedly at the mouse.

“Yes, Miss Ellie.” Mouse tail clamped between his thumb and forefinger, Brody headed for the door.

Caleb stopped him. “Stop right there. Don’t you have something to say to Miss Ellie?”

The boy sighed, his shoulders now drooping along with his head. “I’m sorry for disrupting play practice.”

“You’re forgiven,” she said, her tone full of the graciousness inherent in her character. “But don’t ever pull a stunt like that again. Are we clear?”

“No, ma’am. I mean...yes, ma’am.” Sighing heavily, Brody lifted a frustrated shoulder. “I mean, no, I won’t.”

She patted him fondly on the arm. “That’s all I ask.”

Brody smiled at her.

She smiled back. “Go on outside, now.”

“Yes, Miss Ellie.” The boy’s eyes were full of remorse as he exited the building.

Caleb had always known Ellie was a steady sort. Now he also knew she had a large store of patience. He attempted to follow her lead, though it called for great effort on his part. “I’m listening. What’s on your mind?”

“I appreciate your assistance with Brody, but you must understand. I had the situation under control.”

No argument there. “Yes, you did.”

When he’d walked into the church he’d watched her retrieve the mouse from the floor. I believe this belongs to you, she’d said without a hint of inflection in her voice, or fear in her eyes. Caleb nearly smiled at the memory. Despite Ellie’s diminutive stature, she was no delicate, fragile woman.

He liked that about her. “Your handling of the situation was quite impressive.”

A frown formed between her eyes. “Then why did you step in?”

“For Brody’s sake.”

Her frown deepened. “I don’t understand.”

“His mother is sick, Ellie. Dying actually. She may not make it to Christmas. He’s not been coping well with the prospect of losing her. This isn’t the first time he’s disrupted a gathering.”

“Oh, Caleb. I didn’t know, didn’t realize.” Ellie drew in a tight breath, her gaze filling with understanding. “That certainly explains his behavior this afternoon.”

In a word. “Yes.”

“Under the circumstances, you’re the best person to talk to him.”

He nodded, forever grateful Ellie knew his past. He didn’t have to go into detail about how his own mother had died around this same time of year when he’d been nearly Brody’s exact age. Caleb only wished Ellie wouldn’t look at him with sad memories in her eyes. He didn’t want her sympathy for himself, but for Brody. He turned to go.

“Don’t be too hard on the boy,” she called after him.

“Only what the situation requires.” He found Brody waiting for him on the front steps of the church, his foot digging into a pile of freshly fallen snow mixed with mud.

“What were you thinking?” he asked the boy in a stern tone. “You know better than to bring a dead mouse into the church.”

The boy looked him straight in the eyes. Tears shimmered in his gaze, but he heroically swallowed them. “I’m sorry.”

Caleb didn’t doubt Brody’s sincerity, but he suspected the sorrow in the boy’s eyes had little to do with the mouse incident. “How’s your mother feeling?”

“Not good. She’s so weak and can hardly get out of bed anymore. I hate seeing her suffer.”

Also By Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge

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