June Faver loves Texas, from the Gulf coast to the panhandle, from the Mexican border to the Piney Woods. Her novels embrace the heart and soul of the state and the larger-than-life Texans who romp across her pages. A former teacher and healthcare professional, she lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country.
Blue Sky Cowboy Christmas by Joanne Kennedy
There’s no place like home…
Weary from a long deployment, Griff Bailey has been dreaming of a quiet Christmas on his father’s ranch. But all his hopes of peace are upended when he finds his one-time fling, Riley James, has moved in.
Riley swore off dark, dangerous men a long time ago, but Griff’s emotional scars pull at her heartstrings, and she desperately wants to help him heal despite their complicated past.
It’ll take a miracle for these two stubborn former lovers to open themselves up again, but isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
The snow globe on the dashboard rocked and sloshed as Griff Bailey’s Jeep dropped off the pavement onto the dirt road that led to his father’s ranch. The music-box base tinkled out a few hesitant notes, but they were lost in the racket of icy flakes clattering on the windshield.
Griff had picked up the globe at an airport gift shop, remembering how his sister loved Christmas kitsch. He’d set it on the dashboard in an effort to inspire his own Christmas spirit, but it was just making him sad. There was Santa, the most senior of senior citizens, frozen forever with one foot in a chimney and a heavy pack slung over one shoulder while phony snowflakes swirled around him. It was obvious the bag wasn’t going to fit down the chute, and the jaunty, tinkling rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” was just plain rude. This Santa wasn’t going anywhere.
Neither was Griff, in the long run. Like Santa, he’d flown halfway around the world only to find his life shaken and stirred by unseen forces.
As the wipers thwacked out their restless rhythm, he saw a light burning in the distance.
He was surprised to find his heart lifting at the thought. His sole ambition from boyhood had been to escape the everyday sameness of ranch life, with its early mornings, late nights, and chores that were never done well enough, soon enough, or fast enough.
So why was he coming home?
Simple. The last place he wanted to go was now the only place that would have him.
At least, he thought they would. As far as his family knew, he was still deployed. His dad and stepmom were on an RV trip in the Southwest, while his sister was honeymooning in California. He wasn’t sure how long they’d be gone, but he was hoping for a couple weeks of solitude so he could shake off the dark memories that had smudged his bright military future. Bit by bit, day by day, he would become the man he’d been before.
Ghosts of the past rattled their chains in the back of his brain, threatening to rise and walk, but he knocked his head with the heel of his hand and sent them skittering back to their caves. He’d deal with them later. Right now, he needed to concentrate on the road.
As he nudged the Jeep around an icy curve, he laid eyes on his father’s house for the first time in four years—and slammed on the brakes, sliding sideways, feeling the tug of a snowdrift hauling him into the ditch. White-knuckling the wheel, he spun right, then left, and lurched to a sudden stop that slammed his chest against the shoulder harness.
Breathing hard, he stared at his childhood home. He’d expected to feel reluctance, nostalgia, even a surge of relief at the sight of it—but all he felt was shock.
The entire front wall of the house was demolished, with beams and boards scattered like matchsticks in the snow. He might not be a fan of ranch life, but the Diamond Jack was the one safe, unchanging place in his world. And it had exploded.
Unbuckling, he opened the door and fell to his knees. A low buzzing began inside him, blind bees bumbling for a way out. They were with him every day, simmering beneath any emotion he dared to feel, pushing for release in a roar of rage, a howl of fear, a savage strike at something, anything. But releasing them would make the outside world match the darkness inside him, so he held them in.
The docs ought to give him some credit for that. They ought to let him go back. They would if he could control it, so he followed their advice.
As he drank in the cold air, the buzzing faded and died.
Surprised, oddly empty, he rose to his feet and trudged toward the house through snow up to his thighs. It was slow going, but that gave him time to assess the situation.
There were lights on in the upstairs bathroom, his sister’s bedroom, and the kitchen. That was all wrong. Nobody was supposed to be home. And what was that weird shape in the wreckage? Had it moved?
Holy crap. What is that?
It looked like an animal—one with beaming yellow eyes that reflected the Jeep’s headlights. Had he started hallucinating now?
Apparently not. The creature proved itself disturbingly real by launching itself from the wreckage and loping toward him with an awkward, lolloping gait. Feet like paddles flung snow all around, and its drooling jowls flapped as it ran, revealing long, white teeth that gleamed in the starlight. Those teeth were the last thing he saw before it leapt up and knocked him to the ground.
Pressing Griff’s shoulders into the snow with paws the size of dinner plates, the beast dripped a cold string of drool onto his cheek as its amber eyes burned into his with a passion for...
For pats, probably. Because it was just a dog. A big, weird-looking dog, but a friendly one. As a goofy grin spread across its slobbery face, Griff heaved it off his chest.
“Who the heck are you?"
The dog sat back and presented its paw as if introducing itself. Confused, Griff shook it, glancing around, and noticed a pickup in front of the barn.
“Shoot,” he mumbled. “I didn’t think there’d be anybody here."
The dog shimmied close and leaned hard against him, tossing its head back and almost clonking Griff in the nose. It gazed adoringly into his face, and he suddenly felt better than he had in a year.
It might be nice to have a dog around. Trouble was, dogs generally came with people, and he wasn’t ready for people.
Joanne Kennedy is the RITA-nominated author of ten contemporary Western romance novels. The first book in her Decker Ranch trilogy, How to Handle a Cowboy, was named one of Booklist’s “Best Romances of the Decade.” She lives with her retired fighter pilot husband in a secret mountain hideout on the Wyoming border.
Joy to the Wolves by Terry Spear
Meet the shifters of the Red Wolf pack…
Close quarters make for a cozy Christmas…
As Christmas approaches, red wolf shifter Brooke Cerise unexpectedly inherits an antique shop in Portland, Oregon. But when a missing reindeer calf turns up on her property, she becomes embroiled in a kidnapping case and the primary suspect of far-too-intriguing shifter Detective Josh Wilding.
Josh doesn’t intend to fall for the mysterious new woman in town, but Brooke gets under his skin from the moment they meet, and he can’t help his instinct to protect her. These red wolves are both on the hunt for love, but there’s a mystery to solve before they can enjoy their holiday happy-ever-after.
USA Today bestselling author Terry Spear has written over forty paranormal romances. Heart of the Wolf was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and Billionaire in Wolf’s Clothing was a Romantic Times Top Pick. A retired officer of the U.S. Army Reserves, Terry also creates award-winning teddy bears. She lives in Spring, Texas.
Smokin’ Hot Cowboy Christmas by Kim Redford
Have yourself a Smokin’ Hot Cowboy Christmas
It’s been one fiasco after another for newcomer Belle Tarleton since she began trying to turn her ranch into an arts center. Local workers seem determined to ruin her Christmas party plans, and she hopes bringing in down-on-his-luck Rowdy Holloway to help with renovations will get things back on track.
Rowdy is the unluckiest cowboy in the whole of Wildcat Bluff County, Texas, and things are not improving this holiday season. Sure, he’s the object of many local women’s drool-worthy fantasies, but the town has decided he’s the man who should stop Belle’s renovation plans.
It started as a simple mission, but now Rowdy’s so twisted up he doesn’t know whose side he’s on. With only days until Christmas, Rowdy and Belle need to tap into their fiery personalities and off-the-charts chemistry if they’re ever going to find a way to thaw the ice on this reluctant town’s heart.
Life had taken on the magical quality of Christmas that Rowdy enjoyed every year. As he drove down Wildcat Road, he thought about the fact that the county was only two days out from the annual festivities centered in Old Town, Sure-Shot, and Wildcat Hall Park. Out-of-towners were starting to arrive and fill up Twin Oaks B&B, Wildcat Bluff Hotel, Cowboy Cabins, and every other available space for rent. It was fun and exciting, but everybody was running to get last-minute details completed so everything rolled out smoothly for those who came to relax and enjoy the holidays.
Well, not quite everybody was involved in supporting the festivities. At Lulabelle & You Ranch, Belle had created her own little island of holiday happiness. She wasn’t involved in the county’s affairs, so she was focused on her clothing line, the horses and cattle on the ranch, and the pigeons in her barn. He smiled at another thought. She also put a little focus on him because he spent evenings at her house.
He turned off the road, rattled across the cattle guard of Belle’s ranch, and drove up to her house. He parked in front on the circle drive. He shook his head in disgust at the shingle stacks. They were a glaring reminder of what he—and nobody else—hadn’t done for her, but at least most of them were there. If she had a leak on her roof, there’d have been no question about reroofing her house, but upgrading could wait until they were past the holidays…at least he hoped she saw it that way.
He’d make up for the shingles today because he was arriving with gifts in the back of his one-ton pickup, sort of like Santa Claus with gifts in the back of his sleigh. Horsepower and reindeer-power got the job done.
She knew he was coming, so she opened the front door, raced across the lawn, and threw herself into his arms just as he stepped out of his vehicle. She felt good like she always did…and so right with him.
“Did you bring my gifts like you said?” She grinned at him, excited like a little kid on Christmas morning.
“Look in the back of the truck."
She started to run back there but stopped and looked at him. “You could have waited until Christmas."
“I want you to enjoy my gifts now. Besides, aren’t you going to your family’s ranch for Christmas dinner?"
“I always do, but this year…"
“Family is important. Tradition is important."
“But we’re important, too."
He pressed a soft kiss to the tip of her nose. “Let’s table that for today. I want you to have what I made."
“Made?” She opened her hazel eyes wide in excitement.
He tugged her to the back of his truck.
“Oh my! You made furniture for my new patio?"
“Remember, I told you I did a little woodworking as a hobby. I hope you like cedar. It’s perfect for outdoors."
He was pleased with the two chairs, love seat, and table he’d created for her. He lowered the tailgate and hopped up into the bed of his truck. He set each piece on the ground and then picked up a big sack and handed it to her. He leaped back down and closed the tailgate.
“What’s in here?” She hugged the sack to her chest. “It feels soft."
“You need cushions for your furniture, don’t you?"
“Wonderful! You thought of everything."
“I wanted you to have it all for Christmas."
She peeked into the open sack. “I can hardly believe it. You matched the color of the new trim on my house."
“If I’m going to do something, I do it right."
She gave him a little self-satisfied smile. “Yeah. I can give testimony to that fact."
“Come on. I’ll carry your new furniture around back and set it up."
He picked up the love seat and headed for the backyard. She kept right up with him, lugging the sack of cushions. When they got there, he set down his piece of furniture near the metal set. The old patio set looked insubstantial, almost whimsical, in comparison.
“Where do you want me to position your new furniture?"
“I’m not sure.” She set the big sack on top of the old table.
He checked the flagstone patio under his feet, looking for any problems that might have occurred since he’d finished installing it. No issues so far, but he didn’t expect any because he did meticulous work. He liked the big size of the patio. It stretched the length of the house just outside the long bank of windows, so the patio served as an extension of that room, melding outdoors with indoors.
He was as proud of building the patio as he was of making the furniture. He’d worked hard to bring her vision to life…and he’d succeeded. He realized now that when something was made for someone out of love, it turned out not just beautiful but special as well. He could easily spend a lifetime creating wonderful things for her just to see her face fill with happiness as it was at this moment. He’d learned that was part of what love was all about.
“I want to center the set just outside the windows so when I’m inside I can see how beautiful it looks outside,” she said.
He tugged her close, feeling his heart swell with happiness. “Perfect. Now let’s get the rest of your new furniture back here."
Soon they had the cedar pieces arranged on the patio with the cushions in place. It looked good, even better than he’d imagined when he was making it.
“Rowdy, I love it.” She set the crimson-silk-flower holiday arrangement he’d included in the sack on the center of the table and then plopped down in a chair and stroked long fingers across the smooth, varnished tabletop.
“Merry Christmas.” He sat down beside her, feeling as if he’d come home for the holidays.
Kim Redford is a bestselling author of contemporary Western romance novels. She grew up in Texas with cowboys, cowgirls, horses, cattle, and rodeos. She’s a rescue cat wrangler and horseback rider—when she takes a break from her keyboard. Kim Redford currently divides her time between homes in Oklahoma and Richardson, Texas.
Mistletoe & Mr. Right by Sarah Morgenthaler
How the moose (almost) stole Christmas.
Lana Montgomery is everything the quirky small town of Moose Springs, Alaska can’t stand: a rich socialite with dreams of changing things for the better. But Lana’s determined to prove that she belongs…even if it means trading her stilettos for snow boots and tracking one of the town’s hairiest Christmas mysteries: the Santa Moose, an antlered Grinch hell-bent on destroying every bit of holiday cheer (and tinsel) it can sink its teeth into.
And really…how hard could it be?
The last few years have been tough on Rick Harding, and it’s not getting any easier now that his dream girl’s back in town. When Lana accidentally tranquilizes him instead of the Santa Moose, it’s clear she needs help, fast…and this could be his chance to finally catch her eye. It’s an all-out Christmas war, but if they can nab that darn moose before it destroys the town, Rick and Lana might finally find a place where they both belong…together.
Geologist and lifelong science nerd, SARAH MORGENTHALER is a passionate supporter of chocolate chip cookies, geeking out over rocks, and playing with her rescue pit bull, Sammy. When not writing romantic comedy and contemporary romance set in far-off places, Sarah can be found traveling with her husband, hiking national parks, and enjoying her own happily ever after. Sarah is a two-time Golden Heart Finalist and winner of the NOLA STARS Suzannah award.
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