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A Mistletoe Christmas: Santa's Mistletoe Mistake / A Merry Little Wedding / Mistletoe Magic

Автор:
Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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She and Libby stepped back outside into the bracing December air, and she tried to put out of her mind the handsome face of Jake Hanson, who she now knew had lost at love just as she had.

* * *

JAKE HAD NO idea what he was doing, but when he saw the dark-haired woman in the bright red coat with the little girl by her side, he knew he’d come to town specifically for the possibility of running into Melody again.

He’d been chased out of the house by the silence that for a long time had felt comforting, but in the past few months had grown more and more oppressive.

As he’d driven by Melody’s house, he hadn’t seen her car parked outside, but he hoped to run into her in town. He had enjoyed his dinner with her and discovered a hunger to see her again.

It had surprised him, the desire to spend more time with her. He’d sworn when he lost Stacy that no woman would ever hold any place in his life again. But wanting to spend a little time with somebody and inviting them fully into his life were two very different things, he reminded himself as he hurried to catch up to Melody and her daughter.

“Hey,” he said as he touched her on the shoulder.

Both Melody and her daughter turned, Melody’s face lighting with a smile and her daughter’s face holding distinct suspicion as she eyed him from the tip of his hat to the toes of his boots. “Who are you?” she asked.

“Libby, this is Mr. Hanson. He lives next door to us,” Melody said. “Surely you’ve seen him on his horse in the pasture next to our house before.”

“I don’t like him. Come on, Mom, let’s go.” She grabbed Melody’s hand and attempted to drag her away.

Melody looked at her daughter in obvious shock. “Libby, you’re being very rude. Now, you apologize to Mr. Hanson.”

“Sorry,” Libby said, but the mutinous pout of her lower lip indicated otherwise.

“Apology accepted, and you can call me Jake, although I have to say that I’ve never had anyone not like me before they got to know me.” He glanced back at Melody. “So where are you two headed?”

“We are doing a little window-shopping,” Melody replied.

He gestured to the shopping bags in her hand. “Looks as if the window got the best of you.”

She laughed, and for a moment, in the sound of her laughter, he didn’t feel the cold wintry air nor notice the other people who passed them on the sidewalk. He was filled with a warmth he hadn’t felt in a very long time—the warmth of pleasure in the simple sound of a woman’s laughter.

“Where are you headed now?” he asked.

“I’d like to check out the store in the old Victorian house at the end of Main Street,” she replied.

“Mistletoe Magic. It’s a new age kind of store, but I happen to know that the owner, Finley McCarthy, is selling a magic potion this year just for kids.”

“A magic potion?” Suspicion darkened Libby’s blue eyes as she looked up at him.

“You sprinkle it on your pillow on Christmas Eve and it’s supposed to bring you dreams of all the toys and things you want for Christmas.” He’d actually visited the shop the week before when the silence of his life had driven him out of the house.

“Mom, we need to get some of that potion,” Libby said.

“It definitely sounds like a must-have for Christmas,” Melody agreed.

“Do you mind if I walk with you?” he asked. There he was again, insinuating himself where he probably didn’t belong.

“That would be nice,” Melody agreed. Libby huffed in obvious disapproval and walked three steps ahead of them as they continued down the sidewalk. “I apologize for Libby’s behavior. I’ve never seen her act out this way.”

“Maybe she just doesn’t want to share her mother for a little while,” he replied easily.

Melody frowned thoughtfully, her gaze remaining on the little girl just ahead of them. “Maybe. In the past couple of years she hasn’t had to share my time or attention with anyone other than my dance students, and she knows my time with them is important.”

“She’s a cute one,” he said.

Melody gazed up at him, her blue eyes shining brightly. “She’s much cuter when her lower lip isn’t stuck out in a pout.”

“She’s fine,” he replied easily as they moved toward the front door of the three-story Victorian home with its shop on the lower level. “Maybe I can find a little magic potion in here that will make little girls like me just a bit.”

He opened the door and the three of them entered the shop, which held herbs and crystals and incense and oils. Finley McCarthy greeted them, her long blond hair held back with a beaded headband and half a dozen bracelets jangling on her wrists.

As she took Libby and Melody to show them all the wares she had to offer, he trailed behind them, admiring the shiny length of Melody’s hair. It fell in loose waves below her shoulders, making him wonder what those strands might feel like wrapped around his fingers.

The thought nearly caused him to stumble, and at the same time Libby turned around to give him another wary glance. He had a feeling if he intended to spend any time with Melody he would somehow have to find a way to win over the petite miniature next to her.

He frowned again, trying to recall exactly when he had decided he wanted to spend more time with his lovely neighbor. He watched as she and Libby smelled some of the oils and laughed as both of them turned up their noses at one particular scent.

They left the store with the magic potion for Libby. “It’s almost noon. Do you ladies have plans for lunch?” he asked.

“Mom and I are going home for lunch,” Libby said firmly. “We’re going to eat stuff that cowboys don’t like.”

“Well, then, I guess that leaves me out,” he said smoothly before Melody could reprimand Libby again for bad manners. “I have heard that tonight there’s going to be some caroling going on at the gazebo. I was thinking it might be fun to hitch a couple of horses to my wagon and fill it full of hay and take a ride back into town for the evening fun.”

Libby’s eyes widened with more than a hint of interest. “But I doubt you two would be interested in joining me,” he added.

“We could be interested,” Libby said. “We like horses and hayrides, don’t we, Mom? And maybe we could stop and pick up Megan.” She looked up at Jake. “She lives on Mistletoe Lane and she’s my best friend in the whole wide world.”

Jake rocked back on his heels. “It wouldn’t seem right to have a hayride without a best friend included.”

Libby’s eyes narrowed. “Just because I’d like to go ride in your wagon and go on a hayride doesn’t mean I like you, Cowboy Jake.”

“Libby!” Melody’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment to match the color of her coat.

Jake grinned. “That’s okay. I think maybe we can have some fun even if you don’t like me. Why don’t I plan on picking up the two of you about seven?”

“I can’t imagine why you would want to be so nice to a little girl who shows such bad behavior,” Melody replied. “But I have to admit the idea of a wagon ride into town to listen to people caroling sounds like fun. We’ll be ready, and maybe as we eat our girl-food lunch, we’ll talk about a little attitude adjustment.” She released a sigh that Jake found charming.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you two at seven, and I’m sure we’re going to have a fine time.”

“We’ll be ready,” Melody replied.

As he walked away from the two females, his heart beat faster than it had in a very long time.

Something about Melody stirred a spark of life inside him that he hadn’t even known still existed before sitting down across from her at the café the day before.

He couldn’t let his heart be vulnerable ever again, but surely there was no harm in just enjoying some time with Melody and her daughter.

If nothing else, maybe their company would help him get through this holiday, which for the past five years had meant nothing more to him than loss and heartache.

He thought about all the things he needed to take care of in order to get the old wagon out and appropriately bedecked for the night’s festivities and hurried toward his truck, a foreign excitement flooding his veins as he thought of the night to come.

CHAPTER THREE (#ulink_b9543893-a1f5-5fec-9b15-52e40e6353e0)

A DOZEN TIMES throughout the afternoon, Jake thought about calling Melody to cancel the wagon ride. The first thought came when he viewed the wagon, which had been stored in a shed for the past five years.

It had been Stacy’s idea to buy the wagon with the bench seat and slatted sides specifically to chauffeur friends and neighbors into town for the Christmas festivities. He hadn’t realized that the sight of it again would bring a pang as he remembered his late wife.

He hitched up two of his strongest horses and pulled the wagon from the shed, and then spent the next two hours cleaning away the dust and cobwebs that clung to it.

He unhooked the horses to let them graze on some hay, as it was far too early to have them ready for the evening ride, then he grabbed a machete and headed for a large stand of evergreens that stood on his property.

Instantly he was surrounded by the sweet scent of pine. It took him two trips to get enough boughs to tie along the sides of the wagon.

Again, he thought of calling Melody and canceling the whole night when he pulled down from the shed a box of huge bright red bows that Stacy had made specifically to decorate the wagon.

He’d loved going to all this work for her, and now he was doing it for a woman he hardly knew and a little girl who had taken an instant dislike to him. Still, he tied the bows onto the wagon and didn’t make a call to cancel.

In the box with the bows, he found several brand-new packages of battery-operated red-and-white lights, and he knew that Stacy had bought them for the wagon just before her death.
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