A Western Christmas(6)

By: Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge


Keep telling yourself that, cowboy.

“You can’t meet Ellie.”

“Why not?”

Caleb ground his teeth together so hard his jaw ached. “She’s a churchgoing woman with a strong set of Christian values and impeccable integrity.”

Prescott’s eyes narrowed to tiny slits. “You implying I’m not good enough for her?”

That about covered it. “No one’s good enough for Ellie.”

Now Prescott smiled, a big toothy grin that set Caleb’s teeth on edge. Clearly he wasn’t getting through to the hardheaded deputy.

He changed tactics. “She’s too young for you.”

Which, to be fair, sounded as irrational in his head as it did out loud, especially since Ellie and Prescott were the same age, give or take a few months.

“Ah, I get it.” The other man let out a low, amused whistle. “You got your eye on the preacher’s daughter.”

“I don’t have my eye on Ellie.” That would be wrong on so many levels.

Although...

Now that Caleb worked the idea around in his head...

Ellie was sweet and warm, caring, and excellent with children. She was the kind of woman a man made promises to, the kind of woman a man cherished and—

He cut off the rest of his thoughts.

Even if Ellie wasn’t Everett’s little sister, she deserved far more than Caleb had to offer a woman.

Yes, he needed a wife. And, yes, Ellie was available, or so he assumed, but approaching her with the idea of marriage seemed inappropriate because of his history with her family.

Best to look elsewhere for his future bride, or at least wait a little longer for Mrs. Jenson to find her for him.

As if to contradict his decision, an image of his daughters crystallized in his mind. They deserved a good, loving mother, a sweet and warm, caring woman who would provide them with a calm, stable home life.

With few available women left in town that he hadn’t already approached, and less than a month before Christmas, Caleb was getting desperate to find the twins a mother. So desperate, in fact, that he’d even agreed to let Mrs. Jenson contact potential mail-order brides from other parts of the country.

Now, he wondered if he’d been too hasty with his acquiescence on the matter. Perhaps his future wife was closer to home. Perhaps she was already in Thunder Ridge.

Perhaps she was right across the street.

* * *

Ellie reentered Kate’s shop with a pounding heart and an annoying case of trepidation. Considering her rapid exit, and her subsequent conversation with Caleb out in plain sight, her friend would surely want to know what they’d said to each other. And why she’d approached him this morning, instead of waiting until after her meeting with Kate.

How was Ellie supposed to explain something she didn’t fully understand herself?

Her discussion with Caleb had been brief, not much more than a question asked and an answer given. Yet, because of the long looks and inexplicable tension between them, Ellie wasn’t sure what to think.

What came next?

Mulling over the question, she stood just inside the store’s threshold, unable to move deeper into the room because she needed every scrap of energy to process the past few minutes she’d spent in Caleb’s company.

Kate’s eyebrows lifted in silent question, clearly waiting for an explanation.

Ellie pretended not to notice.

“Fine.” Kate held up in her hands in a show of mock surrender. “I won’t ask. Never let it be said that Kate Riley doesn’t know how to mind her own business.”

Ellie felt her mouth drop open. “Since when?”

“Ha-ha.” Her friend sniffed in feminine outrage. “I’ll have you know, you’re looking at the new and improved version of me. I no longer stick my nose where it doesn’t belong.”

“Uh-huh,” Ellie hummed in response.

“Now that you’re back inside,” Kate continued as if she hadn’t responded, “shall we get started?”

“Absolutely.” Taking several steps forward, Ellie dug inside the medium-sized reticule hanging from her wrist and pulled out the script for the Christmas play her father had insisted she direct this year.

She figured he’d assigned her the task with the express purpose of giving her something to do with her days, and to keep her mind off her troubles. As he was so often fond of saying, “Nothing helps redirect our gloomy thoughts better than focusing on others.”

Also By Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge

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