A Western Christmas(2)

By: Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge

But, of course, she did. She’d been riveted by the sight of Caleb riding tall in the saddle of his beautiful horse, even more so when he’d stopped to speak with her.

“Ellen Marie Wainwright, I’m ashamed of you. As the daughter of our town’s most revered preacher, you should know better than to fib to your closest, dearest friend.” With a teasing twinkle in her eyes, Kate shook a scolding finger at her. “You and Sheriff Voss just had a...moment.”

“We did not have a moment. Caleb and I are old friends, nothing more. He’s practically like a brother.”

It was the simple truth. After his mother died, and his father turned to alcohol to drown away his grief, Caleb had become an honorary member of the Wainwright family.

Even if Ellie had secretly longed for him to see her as more than his friend’s little sister, Caleb had never looked at her that way. He’d been too smitten with Lizzie Covington, who he’d made his wife not long after becoming town sheriff.

Tragically, Lizzie had died in a freak wagon accident ten months ago, leaving Caleb to raise his five-year-old twins by himself. Hannah and Grace were such sweet children. Having lost her own mother, Ellie felt a strong connection to the little girls, nearly as powerful as the one she’d felt for Monroe Tipton’s daughters.

She shook away the thought.

Kate’s voice came at her again, a speculative note in the words. “I wonder if Mrs. Jenson will have success finding our good sheriff a woman to marry.”

Ellie’s shoulders tensed. “I’m confident she will.”

It was no secret Caleb wanted to marry again, for his children’s sake. Understandable, yet something inside Ellie rebelled at the notion of him seeking a mail-order bride. She couldn’t imagine him taking vows with a woman he didn’t know, or love. But perhaps that was the point.

Perhaps Caleb couldn’t bear the idea of anyone replacing Lizzie in his heart and thus wasn’t averse to marrying for his children’s sake at the sacrifice of his own.

Depressing thought.

Despite her recent heartbreak, Ellie still believed in love and marriage. Her parents had modeled the joy that came from a godly union    . The memory of their genuine affection for one another would always be with her, and was what drove Ellie’s desire to marry for love, only love. Her disastrous experience with Monroe had only managed to solidify her view.

Fortunately, her father had found love a second time around and would soon marry again. Betsy Anderson was yet another connection Ellie had with Caleb. The woman her father would marry on New Year’s Eve was currently serving as Caleb’s housekeeper. Betsy was a kind woman and good to Ellie’s father. She truly made him happy and that made Ellie happy.

The thought of her father reminded her of the one task he’d charged her with this morning. She’d been so caught off guard by Caleb’s attempt at conversation that she’d inadvertently avoided her duty.

She slipped a quick glance out the window. Her gaze landed on the handsome sheriff climbing off his horse and she felt a jolt of...something in the center of her heart. Ellie was going to have to seek him out and speak to him again today.

If not now, when?

“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She left Kate gaping after her.

* * *

Shaking his head over the inexplicable compulsion to stop and speak with Ellie Wainwright—about the weather, no less—Caleb swung Gideon’s reins over the hitching rail outside the jailhouse. He reached inside his jacket pocket for the carrot he’d brought with him. As he fed the horse his morning treat, Caleb stroked a hand down the animal’s majestic neck and took a quick inventory of the activity around him.

People hurried about their business, their breaths pluming in frozen puffs around their heads. Horses whinnied, dogs barked, children laughed, a door slammed in the distance.

Drawing in a long pull of air, he breathed in the scent of freshly fallen snow and pine. Instead of calming him, the aroma sparked a renewed surge of urgency. Today was the first day of December and he still hadn’t found himself a wife.

Time was running out if he wanted to provide the twins with a stable home by Christmas. They’d only known upheaval and heartache in their short lives and would face another one in a month when Caleb’s housekeeper, Betsy, married Reverend Wainwright.

Also By Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge

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