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Big Sky Christmas (Harlequin American Romance\Coffee Creek, Montana) Mass Market Paperback – October 1, 2013

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About the Author

CJ Carmichael gave up the glamour of income tax forms and double-entry bookkeeping when she sold her first book in 1998. She has now written over 30 novels for Harlequin, been twice nominated for RWA’s RITA award, as well as Romantic Time’s Career Achievement award. CJ lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her partner, Mike, and the family cat, Penny. 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Winnie Hays looked up at the white church and hesitated. She couldn't believe she was here, back in Coffee Creek, Montana. This was her last chance to back out. Everyone would understand if she did.

Since when is wimping out your style? Is that the kind of woman Bobby needs as his mother?

Since the death of her fiance, that was how she had found the strength to go on. By thinking of their son. And putting his needs before hers.

Still, it was impossible not to recall the last time she'd been here. Wearing a long white gown. Expecting to leave a married woman.

Eighteen months had passed since then, a relatively short period of time marked by the most major events of Winnie's life: the death of her fiance and the birth of their son seven months later.

She checked her cell phone, making sure it was set to vibrate so she'd know if Bobby's babysitter called. Not that she was worried. Eugenia Fox had raised a son of her own, and had worked for Winnie at the Cinnamon Stick Cafe since it had opened several years ago.

No, Eugenia and Bobby were going to be fine.

It was herself she was worried about.

If she hadn't been so late, she wouldn't be forced to enter the church alone. Her best friend, Laurel, and her new husband, Corb Lambert—the brother of Winnie's late fiance—had planned to be by her side for moral support. But they must have given up on her. Decided she'd chickened out.

And she still could. There was no one around to see if she just about-faced and scurried home to the sweet toddler who was the center of her universe.

She sighed.

It was precisely because of Bobby that she needed to attend this wedding. This was his father's family. Her son's family. And it was time she faced them.

Still, she paused one last time before entering the church, glancing over her shoulder at the small town of Coffee Creek.

The November day was sunny, crisp and cold. A dusting of snow had decorated the day nicely for the wedding party, the silvery-white crystals contrasting vividly with the blue Montana sky. Olive Lambert, control freak that she was, would be pleased.

Be nice, Winnie. No catty comments about Bobby's grandmother, please.

She grasped the handle, took a deep breath then pulled open the door.

The sound of the organ music almost did her in.

At least it was a different song than the one that had played a year and a half ago. Beethoven was a genius, but she never wanted to hear "Ode to Joy" again.

She peeled off her gloves and tucked them into the pocket of her red wool coat. An usher appeared then, a young man in a cheap suit that didn't fit him well. Winnie remembered him as a cousin on the Lambert side.

"Hi, Adam. Sorry I'm late."

His eyes went wide as he realized who she was. "No problem." He hung her coat for her, then offered his arm. "Come on, I'll show you to your seat."

Winnie schooled herself to look only straight ahead as she walked the length of the aisle. Oh, why had she arrived so late? Now everyone was watching her and there were so many people. Of course there were. The Lamberts owned the largest ranch in the county. They mattered. And her son was one of them. So she couldn't break down and cry, she just couldn't. Not even one little tear.

Adam stopped and gestured for her to take a seat in a pew that already seemed to be full. But room was made and she slid onto the wooden bench, not taking note of the person beside her until after she was in position, purse tucked at her feet, tissue palmed discreetly…just in case.

Only then did she notice the masculine thigh pressed next to hers. Looking up, she met Jackson Stone's dark blue eyes. Jackson had lived with the Lamberts since he was thirteen, so he'd been like a brother to Brock, Corb, B.J. and Cassidy. If she'd married Brock, he would have been a de facto brother-in-law to her.

But that didn't mean she knew him well.

Compared to his foster siblings, Jackson was quiet and reserved. Brock had speculated that hardships from Jackson's childhood and early teens had left scars that time might never heal.

And that may well be the case. But at least the man was handsome, with thick dark hair and bone structure good enough to be a model. Weathered skin and the rough look of his hands made it plain, though, that he was a working man.

According to Laurel, Jackson blamed himself for the accident, since he'd been driving, with Brock in the front seat next to him and Corb in the rear. One of the missions Winnie had set for herself on returning to Coffee Creek was to help Jackson see that there was no rational reason for him to feel guilty, and that she, certainly, bore him no malice.

But this wasn't the place for that conversation.

"Hi, Jackson." She smiled and gave him a one-armed hug, which he awkwardly returned.


He'd never been a big talker. "Big day, isn't it? Double wedding and all."


"Can hardly contain your excitement, huh?" Jackson's lips curved up a little. "Weddings aren't my thing."

Not hers, either. At least, not anymore. She scanned the line of attractive men standing at the front of the church. There was the local vet, Dan Farley, a solid, muscular guy with sharp cheekbones and dark, almost black eyes. Farley was marrying Cassidy Lambert today.

Cassidy's brother B.J. stood next to Farley. Taller, thinner, he was the only Lambert who didn't share the blond hair and green eyes that Brock had had.

B.J. was marrying Bitterroot County's sheriff, Savannah Moody. Dark haired, sultry-eyed Savannah had been the one who had come to the church to let them know about the accident.

She'd been on duty then. Though she'd been B.J.'s high school sweetheart, she hadn't been invited to the wedding, due to a longstanding rift between them.

But with the solving of an old case involving arson, theft and murder, they'd resolved their differences. And now they were getting married.

It was an amazing story, and one Winnie had heard secondhand from her friend Laurel as Winnie had still been living in Highwood with her parents at that time.

Moving back to Coffee Creek had been a recent development. So much was the same. And yet so much had changed…

Winnie squeezed the tissue, suddenly wishing she'd brought more. She didn't know how she was going to handle watching Savannah walk down the aisle today. But she had to.

"This must be difficult," Jackson whispered.

Had he noticed her nerves? She nodded.

"Imagine you're at the rodeo." She could feel his breath on her hair as he leaned in to whisper, "Everyone's in regular clothes. The guys are in the chutes, waiting for their ride."

"And the organ music?"

"That's just the fans cheering."

He was being silly. But it was working. She could feel her muscles relaxing. She closed her eyes, picturing the scene that Jackson was laying out for her. She'd been to countless rodeos over the years; in fact, that was how she'd met—


Her eyes flashed open. Her heart began to race and her body went rigid. If he hadn't died in that crash on his way to the church, he would be sitting beside her right now. They'd be man and wife and—

The music changed then, became a march. Everyone shifted in their seats, and after a second, so did Winnie.

"Rodeo princesses are making their entrance," Jackson said softly as the crowd gasped. He placed a steady hand on her shoulder.

Her nerves calmed at his words, his touch.

"Imagine they're on horses," he added.

Not hard to do, since the first bride was Cassidy, and she was never happier than when she was riding. The golden-haired woman with her sunshine smile had a degree from the University of Montana but she worked at Monahan's Equestrian Center now, doing what she'd been born and raised to do—train horses.

The normally taciturn Farley beamed as his bride—no, rodeo princess—gave him her hand. The look they shared was so sweet that Winnie's heart tumbled a little, but she set it right again by turning to look at the second bride.

Fortunately, Savannah didn't look anything like a sheriff today in her fitted white dress and delicate shoes, her long dark hair falling in gentle waves down her shoulders. The crowd gave her a second appreciative gasp, but she didn't seem to notice. Her smile and gaze were just for B.J.

As the congregation settled down, Winnie focused on her hands clasped in her lap.

"Family and friends," intoned the minister, "We are gathered today to celebrate the marriages of two very special couples—"

A tear dropped onto her hand. She hadn't even realized that she'd started to cry. She blinked, and a second one followed.

Suddenly a large hand covered both of hers. She felt the rough calluses first. The warmth second.

She glanced up and saw such a tender look in Jackson's eyes that she almost started crying again. Thank goodness she'd been smart enough to forgo eye makeup. She had to get a grip here. Listening to the minister had been a mistake. She had to take Jackson's lead and pretend she was somewhere else.

In her mind Winnie started going over all of Bobby's milestones. The first time he rolled over. His first smile. His first tooth. Gradually she could feel her muscles relaxing, and Jackson must have felt the same, because he gave her hands a pat, then returned his hand to his own thigh.

The fact that he was being so kind to her made her feel even worse about the suffering she knew he'd been going through this past year and a half. She should have called him sooner. Maybe they could have helped one another through their grief, rather than dealing with the sadness and loss on their own.

Once the ceremony was over, they would talk. She'd invite him for coffee. Make things right.

Jackson Stone was in agony. Of all the people in this church, why had that damn kid sat Winnie Hays next to him?

If only they weren't squished in so tightly that he could feel her warm thigh up against his. The contact was the sweetest form of torture he could imagine. There were at least a dozen reasons why he shouldn't find her so attractive, but he did.

And he had from the first time Brock had brought her home to meet the family.

He'd never met a woman before with such sparkle in her eyes, such sass in her smile. He'd watched her shake hands with Olive, Cassidy, Corb and B.J. and when it came time for his turn, he'd half expected sparks to ignite when her palm met his.

And they had.

But only for him.

That was when he knew that he had to keep as much distance between himself and Brock's girlfriend as possible.

And he'd done it.

But it hadn't made his life easy. And it had become a true nightmare on the day of their wedding.

Jackson still had terrible dreams about the crash. He hadn't seen the moose in time to avoid a collision. There had been a curve in the road, then the stand of aspen and willows.

And suddenly the huge body of a bull moose coming up from the right.

No. He couldn't let himself go there. Not now. If this was hard for him, it had to be four times more difficult for Winnie. Last night at the rehearsal dinner Laurel had confided to him that she expected her friend to bail out of the ceremony.

"She'll come to the reception," Corb's redheaded wife had said. "But not to the church."

"Yeah. That's probably the best thing," he'd said.

He'd wished he could skip the ceremony, too. But he'd lived with the Lamberts since he was thirteen, and B.J. and Cassidy were like his own siblings. He didn't want to miss their special day because of his own weakness. And he did see it as a weakness—that he couldn't seem to get past that day.

Diversions helped. Things like work, Maddie Turner's illness and the financial challenge of turning around the fortunes of the Silver Creek Ranch.

But occasionally a guy had to stop and just be.

And that was when the bad memories would sneak in. Sometimes he envied Corb, who'd sustained serious brain trauma in the accident and remembered nothing.

He wished he could have been unconscious, too. Then he wouldn't have the pictures of the awful aftermath in his head.

The split second when he'd seen the moose. Then the crash and the screams. Followed by silence.

The moose had taken out the roof of the truck and sunshine had beamed directly on his head. He'd been pinned to his seat by the airbag at first. Stunned.

The first thing he noticed was the sunshine, warm on his head. Birds were singing. He said a prayer before turning his head.

But the prayer hadn't been answered. Because all he'd seen was blood. And when he'd called out to the others, to Brock and to Corb—no one had responded.

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Product Details

  • Series: Harlequin American Romance\Coffee Creek, Montana (Book 1470)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin (October 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0373754744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373754748
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.6 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,613,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By KeFeuerstein on October 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As I read the books preceding this I worried about this silent man Jackson. When in the first story Winnie's intended died in the way to church and she left town broken. My heart broke for her. In this book finally Winnie comes back to town and
if ever I have wanted to slap anyone in a story it was Olive. Finally all the threads are woven together and a beautiful story emerges written with sensitivity and grace. I love this author's books and especially this series. Christmas should be a time of forgiveness and a time to open ones heart to love and joy. I know you will love this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Harlequin Junkie Blog on November 5, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In Big Sky Christmas by C.J. Carmichael, Jackson Stone has always been grateful to the Lamberts for taking him in and giving him a family when he most needed it. But after the death of Brock, for which he still blames himself, he can’t be near them for the guilt kills him. Not only the guilt that he was driving in the accident that killed him, but also that he always coveted his fiancé, Winnie Hayes, even if he never acted on it. Which I why he left Coffee Creek to go help and works with Olive Lambert’s sister Maddie.

Now after a year and a half, Winnie return to town with her and Brock’s son Bobby. But things won’t be easy for her. Olive never wanted her as a daughter-in-law and made it well known, but since Winnie kept away with Bobby for so long, it just added to the reason why Olive dislikes her. To make matters worst, she arrives for a Lambert family wedding. Which only brings back memories of her own wedding day and being informed of Brock’s death in the chapel.

Thankfully she is sat next to Jackson, who seems to sense her discomfort and helps her to relax during the ceremony. But her peace will not last, for during the reception Olive will corner and start attacking her. So when in her periphery vision she sees Jackson coming close, she finds an exit to the current problem by telling him that they should dance now before she leaves. Only as the dance, she realizes that Jackson is a handsome man and he is awaking an attraction she never had to him before.

But Jackson doesn’t want to act on his feelings. He believes that he does not deserve to take Brock’s place after taking away his life. So when helping Winnie lead to a kiss, he backs away from her and keeps more distance than he did before.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kathey on October 2, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book I finished it in one day it keeps you interested all the way through ejoyed
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
**This book was received in a Goodreads Giveaway**

I have to say, this fourth and final book in the Coffee Creek Montana series certainly improved upon the third book. The characters were written better and the plot moved along better. And because it is the fourth book, it's one of those series that would be helpful to read in order. Especially because this one relies a lot on the history from the other books.

Winnie has finally returned to Coffee Creek. In Book One, we saw her on her wedding day, about to get married to Brock Lambert, when a terrible accident killed him on his way to the church. Now, almost two years later, she returns with her son (she was pregnant with Brock's child)and finds herself trying to fit in with the Lambert family despite an overbearing almost-mother-in-law. And to make things even more complicated, she has feelings for Brock's foster brother, Jackson, who feels so much guilt over the accident that he's just not prepared to have any kind of interest in Winnie.

I was glad we got to see more of Winnie in this book. She kind of just disappears in the first book and then we only have phone conversations between characters with her in the next two. And it did seem unfair that she lost her fiance and never had another chance for love within those books. Jackson is also a well written character. But I can't say I like him. But that's probably because he just isn't my type. Regardless, he has fully developed emotions in this book and is believable. The only character I didn't really like was Olive, the matriarch of the Lambert family. She's hard to get along with anyway, but she has some unexpected changes of heart in this book that are just never fully explained.

This wasn't an exciting plot.
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By rhonda on October 1, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Coffee Creek, Montana series book 4

This was the last book in the Coffee Creek series. I thought it ended on a good note. Somehow I missed reading book 3. I have given the three I have read all 4 stars.

Big Sky Christmas is a feel good story. Some tender moments, some funny moments and just joy of a mother enjoying her son. I have been waiting to see Winnie Hays back in Coffee Creek.

Winnie in book 1 of the series it was her wedding day but her groom Brock never made it to the chapel. He was killed on the way in an accident. His older brother almost died too. His foster brother Jackson was driving.

Winnie had stayed with her parents and almost lost the baby she was carrying. Winnie tried to tell her almost mother-in-law that her son was going to be a father. Olive refused her calls. After Bobby was born she was too stubborn to let her know she was a grandma. Olive did not think Winnie was good enough for her son.

Jackson Stone never knew his father. His mom got sent to prison when he was a teenager. He came to the Coffee Creek Ranch as a foster son. Bob treated him like his own. His wife Olive never really warmed up to him.

Brock became his best friend Corb also accepted him. In fact all 4 Lambert children welcomed him into their lives and treated him like another brother. He feels so guilty for not seeing the moose come out and hit his truck. He also feels guilty because when Brock first brought Winnie to the ranch he fell in love with her. He tried to stay away from her.

Jackson has left the Coffee Creek Ranch and is now working for Olive's sister Maddie that she has not spoken to for 40 years. Olive made her family have nothing to do with Maddie.
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Big Sky Christmas (Harlequin American Romance\Coffee Creek, Montana)
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