A Cowboy Christmas
A mom on the run. A special child and her “imaginary” friend. A cowboy. And God. Heart’s Haven is at it again…
Layne Mabrey is on the run.
Her ex-husband wants to have six-year-old Chloe institutionalized, but Layne will go to any lengths to keep her Down's Syndrome child.
Dex Beckett falls immediately in love with both Layne and Chloe, but Layne can't afford to get close to anyone—not even the shy, gentle cowboy next door. She and Chloe have to be ready to run…again.
Concerned that Chloe's sudden creation of an imaginary friend could be used to substantiate her father’s claims, Layne is shocked when Dex offers an unbelievable opinion about the child’s invisible visitor. But there's more to Heart's Haven than meets the eye. Is it possible a Christmas miracle awaits Layne and Chloe on the Heart's Haven Angel Tree?
#6 - 2013 Preditors & Editors Readers' Poll
They waited, their breath forming little cloudy bursts in the chilly air.
From inside, the unmistakable sounds of celebration gave her pause, and Layne gasped, horrified, when she remembered the date. February fourteenth. Why hadn’t she stopped to consider that Andrew Hart might be entertaining on Valentine’s Day? It was, after all, a special, much-anticipated holiday for most people. Not for her though, and she hadn’t given the possibility a single thought.
She grabbed Chloe’s hand. With any luck, her half timid knock hadn’t been heard in the midst of all the frivolity, and she could sneak away with no one the wiser. But, as usual, her luck wasn’t that good. The door opened to reveal an older man with deep grooves around his mouth and crow’s feet crinkling his eyes. Andrew Hart, of course. The man who owned the complex of rental cottages, one of which Layne hoped would soon be home to her and her little girl.
The somber fellow looked a little stiff and uncomfortable in impeccable dress-up clothing. In a moment of crystal clarity, Layne knew he donned this type of attire only on rare occasions, and with great reluctance. Every white hair lay slicked into place, but a slight groove in the severely tamed strands told its own tale. Layne bit her lip, amused to find herself seeing the man in a battered old fishing hat, or possibly a baseball cap, and maybe worn overalls. Somehow she thought he’d be right at home in that kind of casual get-up.
“Yes?” The gravelly voice drew her up short, and she realized she’d been staring. Even Chloe, her little brow furrowed, gazed up into Layne’s face, clearly confused by her failure to extend a quick greeting.
“I’m so sorry to intrude…I can see you’re entertaining.”
“That’s not a problem.” His vivid blue gaze dropped to Chloe, and he winked. “Well, hello there! Why don’t you two ladies come on inside where it’s warm?”
“Oh, no, we can’t.” Layne shook her head. “In fact, please go back to your guests. We’ll come again tomorrow. I only wanted to inquire about your cottages, and it can wait until then.”
Even as she spoke, a man stepped from behind her and onto the porch. He was tall—so tall that he seemed to loom over them. Chloe stepped close and hid her face in her mother’s coat as she always did when she was frightened. The stranger wore a plaid shirt, cowboy boots and hat, jeans, and chaps complete with fringe dangling on the sides.
Taken aback by his cowboy garb, it took Layne a moment to realize he, too, had asked about one of the available units. Mr. Hart handed them both applications and made appointments for the next day, then bid all three visitors a polite good night. The tall stranger gave Layne a shy smile then walked away, his spurs jangling.
Chloe peeked out from behind her. “I want jingle shoes, Mommy.”
The cowboy paused then turned around and headed back with a stride that could only be called intimidating. Chloe wrapped her arms around Layne’s leg in a grip that would have choked her if it’d been around her throat.
Layne reached down to reassure her and stiffened.
With Chloe’s face no longer hidden, the man would get a good look at her little girl. She braced herself for the reaction that always came when people saw her daughter’s round face and slightly upturned eyes. Usually they became speechless because they didn’t know how to treat a child with Down Syndrome, or they forgot their manners and stared. Layne’s instincts switched into full mama-lion mode, prepared for either response from the long-legged stranger.
Instead, he dropped to a crouch and tipped his large cowboy hat back, giving Chloe a clear view of his face. He waited silently until she peeked at him again. Then he turned one boot to the side so she could see the spur.
“Look here, little one.” His voice had a pleasant timbre, deep and smooth. “It’s not my shoes makin’ that jingle bell sound. It’s this silver thing.” He smiled, and Layne caught her breath at its sweetness. “See? It’s called a spur. You wear ‘em when you ride horses. But I never let mine hurt the animals.” He tilted his head and drew his brows together. “Do you like horses?”
Chloe’s beautiful, blonde, corkscrew ponytail swung rapidly back and forth as she shook her head.
“No?” The man kept his voice low and comforting. “That’s too bad. ‘Cause I happen to know horses love little girls like you.”
Layne’s hackles rose, and she started to ask exactly what he meant by “little girls like her,” but Chloe spoke first, with her slight lisp. “How do you know they like little girls?”
Once again, Layne was shocked into silence. Her daughter never talked to strangers, especially men.
The cowboy’s brilliant white smile stood out on his tanned face. “Why, ‘cause they told me so.”
At twenty-one, Lea Dale is well-adjusted and happy, despite the facial scars she's carried since infancy. She has friends in high places (with a connection to angels); possesses colorful vision (since for some reason she can see auras around folks); and her family and friends adore her.
Corrective surgery is a possibility, but not one Lea has felt the need to consider…until wealthy investor Laren Meadows walks into her life and turns it upside down. Suddenly, Lea is painfully conscious of her lack of perfection, given Laren's flawless looks and ultra-charming personality. What a blessing that he's attracted to her despite her scars—and even her special angel seems to approve of the match.
Then a secret from Laren's past threatens to destroy any hope of a future for the two of them. Now there's only one way for Lea to know if Laren's love is true, but taking that action could mark the end of their relationship.
Can love survive such a tangled mess of physical and emotional scars?
I woke up this morning the same Lea Dale I’ve been all my life...a scarred but completely happy girl who talks to angels and tries to find some good in everybody. My besties, Eva Kate and Savannah, say I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, but that’s okay. I like being who I am.
Or at least, I did until now.
Probably should have known things were going to get sticky when my old friend Solomon showed up just as I finished getting ready for the day and headed for my bedroom door. I was already running a little late, and had a feeling Auntie Shay—that’s my mom’s beautiful sister, who once was a famous actress—would be wondering where I was.
I spun away from the bathroom mirror after doing what I could to make myself presentable, and rounded the corner into my bedroom, rushing to grab my tote before heading off to work. For me, that means walking down a little hill just east of my parent’s house and showing up at Looking Glass Ranch, my family’s therapeutic campground for scarred and disfigured teens. It’s been going strong since I was a kid, and I never questioned whether I’d be a part of its operation as an adult—I always knew it was what I wanted to do. But, family-operated or not, I’m expected to be there every day, and on time, just like everyone else. Most of the time, I am, but I’d been up really late the night before, getting my Christmas list together. I’m a real stickler for lists and plans and schedules. Orderliness is important to me.
So I’d overslept a little and the crystal clock on a wall shelf in my bathroom said I should’ve been down the hill five minutes ago. I jammed around the corner at full blast and nearly barreled smack into Solomon, who reached out to steady me without saying a word.
“Solomon!” I shrieked and rushed over for a hug. It’d been at least a year since his last visit, and it was nice to see that he still looked exactly the same. He wore a long white robe, sashed at the waist with a shiny belt that gleamed like real gold. Maybe it is gold, I don’t know. His sandals match the belt, but then, so do his eyes, and his hair, which hangs past his shoulders and flows freely around his face.
He’s beautiful. Oh…did I mention that Solomon’s an angel? He’s the first of God’s winged messengers I ever met, and the only one who seems to be a permanent fixture in my life. It’s not like he’s an everyday part of things, but he shows up now and then, when there’s a reason. I love him with a very special, holy kind of love. He’s never said it, but I’m pretty sure Solomon loves me, too.
“Lea.” Solomon’s smile is rare, but it always fills me with an amazing joy, and makes me want to do something to make someone else feel that same way. “I am happy to see you, young friend.”
“Me, too!” I bounced up and down on my tiptoes like a child, so excited to see him. Why hadn’t I realized how long it had been, and how much I missed my friend? Then I remembered that Solomon never shows up “just because.” Maybe I should dampen the enthusiasm until I had the skinny on his reason for being there. “Um…is something wrong?”
He shook his head, and the gentle movement of silky hair made me never want to look away. It’s beauty can be mesmerizing. “No, child. I bring good news.”
“Really?” I grinned. This was turning out to be the best kind of visit. “So tell me already.”
“I will.” He reached out with one long finger and touched my cheek. The left one, with all the scars. “You’ve seen a lot in your lifetime, Lea Dale. Much pain, but a great deal of joy, as well. You’ve been happy when others received special blessings of love and happiness, prosperity, and success.”
I shrugged. “I’d be a pretty awful person otherwise, wouldn’t I?”
Solomon shook his head. “Few people on this earth are able to truly be happy when good things happen to others. Most humans harbor at least some small measure of envy. But not you, Lea. Your selflessness is pleasing to the Master.”
“Well, I’m glad. I want to please the Lord.”
“You do. And now, Lea, it’s your turn.”
Sometimes Solomon spoke in circles, or just slightly above my head. “My turn?” I had no clue what he meant. “What do you mean?”
He smiled again, and my heart jumped with pure joy, which I deliberately put a lid on for the moment. I wanted to understand Solomon’s message. His being here meant something big was in the air.
“It’s your turn to be blessed, Lea. Your life is about to change, starting today.”
Now my heart jumped with something other than joy. Change has never been my favorite thing, and a little ball of uneasiness bounced around in my tummy like a kitten on catnip. “Ch- change? How?”
“Do not fear. The Father wants only the best for you. But you must accept His gift with your whole heart and be willing to risk the comfort of the familiar to find your way to something new and better.”
“New and better.” I murmured the repetition of his words, while my heart hammered like crazy. Why new and better? The status quo was working just fine for me.
About the Authors:
|Delia Latham (left) and Tanya Stowe (right)|
TANYA STOWE is an author of Christian Fiction with an unexpected edge. She fills her stories with the unusual...gifts of the spirit and miracles, mysteries and exotic travel, even an angel or two. No matter where Tanya takes you...on a journey through time from the Old West to contemporary adventures in foreign lands...be prepared for the extraordinary.
Writing Heaven's touch into earthly tales, DELIA LATHAM puts her characters through the fire of earthly trials to bring them out victorious by the hand of God, His heavenly messengers, and good, old-fashioned love. You'll always find a touch of the divine in this author's sweet tales of romance.
Delia Latham (a word crafter) and Tanya Stowe (a storyteller) combine their special gifts to create heartwarming Christian romance chock-full of inspiration, emotional challenges,thought-provoking dilemmas, happy-ever-after romance--and the brush of angels' wings.