I’m happy to announce my latest release, Christmas Wishes. This is my third short Christmas story and features U.S. Marshall Chance McBride and Tabitha Weston. Tabitha is Royce Weston’s daughter. Royce was my first hero in Luck of the Draw, and Tabitha is every bit as feisty as her pa. Below is an excerpt from Chapter One:
Coyote, CO December 1880
Chance McBride cracked open one eye. Then the other. With the exception of the moon’s pale light filtering through the trees, darkness surrounded him. His teeth chattering disturbed the stillness hanging on the air, and awakened his other senses. His legs and bottom were wet and numb, his fingers stiff, and his side burned.
What the? His gaze collided with the snow he sat in. Droplets of blood marring the tufts beside him loosened his memory. Damn, Smarty. The bastard had left him for dead this morning.
Pushing aside an image of himself tightening a noose around Smarty’s neck, Chance stifled a groan and peered around the Cottonwood he slumped against. Not more than twenty paces from where he shivered a dim light shone behind a curtained window. He’d happened upon the schoolhouse when the sun had dipped toward the west― staggered toward it had been more like it. Hunkering down between snow-laden limbs and overgrown shrubs, he’d watched boys fling open the front door and hurl snowballs at one another as they raced along a trampled path to town. Girls clad in woolen scarves and mittens had followed at a slower pace. But a teacher had never appeared.
Chance grimaced and grabbed a handful of snow. He reached beneath his coat and pressed it against his side, shifted his gaze north to the structure he remembered seeing in the daylight. The headmaster has to exit sometime. If for anything to use the privy.
Sneering, he returned his attention to the school and studied the large addition that had been built onto the back. Earlier he’d noted a festive wreath nailed to the side door; the silver ribbons a grim reminder he wouldn’t celebrate Christmas with his brother. Shoving the thought aside, he inhaled the aroma of wood burning and something else―food cooking.
His stomach grumbled at the prospect of a hot meal. It’d been four days since he’d tasted something more rewarding than stale biscuits and jerky. Not that he complained. He was alive and hoped the same held true for his mare. She’d taken offense to bullets pelting her hooves, had reared up on her hind legs and unseated him before bolting toward the hills. Truth be told he couldn’t blame her. Being ambushed didn’t sit well with him, especially when a bullet from Steve ‘Smarty’ Jones’ Colt found its way into his side. The best he could hope was his mare galloped to safety, even though it meant he was horseless―again.
“Shoulda never bought her,” he lamented. “Green as she is.” But his trained Appaloosa and loyal companion of five years had come up lame on a late November day. Unless he’d wanted to lose Smarty’s trail, he’d had no choice but to purchase the young mustang.
The side door opened. A ray of light brightened the threshold and the figure stepping outside.
Shit! His gut spasmed. The teacher wasn’t what he’d imagined. Instead of trousers and a hat, Chance saw a slim body in long skirts. Bile filled his mouth. Overpowering a female wasn’t to his liking, but he didn’t have a choice. He’d been out in the elements too long and his aching side demanded relief. He had to get indoors and patch himself up―with or without her permission.
The woman stepped away from the door and moved toward a woodpile at the rear of the building. Chance awkwardly pulled himself to his full height of six feet two inches and stifled a groan. The flow of blood returning to his legs brought on the feel of a thousand needles pricking his skin. Ignoring the sensation, he stumbled forward on quiet feet, closing the distance between him and the woman. As she lifted a log from the top of the pile, he clamped his left hand over her mouth and his right arm around her waist.
“Mmmmmmmmm…” she screeched behind his hand, dropping the wood and trying to twist free from his clutches.
“Easy,” he barked out a whisper, pulling her flush against him. A sharp stab of pain speared his side and he sucked in a deep breath, felt himself sway on his feet. “I don’t aim to hurt you, ma’am.”
“Mmmmmmmmmm…” she screeched again and tried to kick him. He avoided the blow to his shin.
“I’m Chance McBride,” he panted. “U.S. Marshall.”
Heated, garbled words sounded in her throat.
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” he quipped dryly before turning them toward the door. His gut threatened upheaval and he paused to tamp down the queasiness. They cleared the threshold and Chance welcomed the blast of warm air pelting his face. He kicked the door shut and released her, only to have the air swoosh out of his lungs when she whirled around and faced him.
Thick, lustrous honey-colored hair cascaded over her shoulders to curl around her waist. Smooth, ivory skin, a pert nose and a tiny dimple set in her chin lent way to a decidedly feminine body. But it wasn’t her soft curves or the sight of his blood staining her calico dress that robbed him of breath. Eyes the shade of a deep blue sky glared up at him. And stirred something within.
“Do you make it a habit of manhandling women?” Her gaze raked him with contempt.
“No,” he rasped. “I didn’t have a choice.”
“Hmph! A Marshall―if you’re truly a lawman, and I have my doubts. I don’t see a badge―always has a choice.”
“Not this time.” He shoved a hand into his pocket and withdrew a piece of tin, held it up for her to see. “Does this make you think better of me?”
She studied the star then wrinkled her nose. “No.”
Christmas Wishes is available in Kindle format and can be found here: