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White Christmas in Dry Creek (Love Inspired\Return to Dry Creek) Mass Market Paperback – September 17, 2013

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About the Author

Janet Tronstad grew up on her family’s farm in central Montana and now lives in Pasadena, California where she is always at work on her next book. She has written over thirty books, many of them set in the fictitious town of Dry Creek, Montana where the men spend the winters gathered around the potbellied stove in the hardware store and the women make jelly in the fall.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

A blizzard swept across the empty fields outside of Dry Creek, Montana, freezing the night air and throwing snowflakes against the two-story house that stood in the middle of the sprawling Elkton cattle ranch. Inside the home, Renee Gray knelt on the hardwood floor, one hand gripping a phone and the other frantically searching for a pulse in the neck of the unconscious stranger lying in front of her. She was still in shock at finding him slumped over the porch railing a few seconds ago, a saddled horse close to him and what looked like a wolf barely visible some yards behind him in the falling snow.

The wolf hadn't looked menacing, but the man did.

After the scary times she and her five-year-old daughter, Tessie, had endured with her ex-husband, Renee had been careful not to let any man who looked like this one—virile, strong and maybe dangerous—into their lives. And yet, here he was right on the floor in front of her and in desperate need of help.

With relief, she found his heartbeat. It was weak but steady. She'd already called 911 and the operator was off-line connecting with the ambulance company, so Renee relaxed enough to glance over at Tessie. It was past the girl's bedtime, but she didn't show any sign of fatigue as she leaned over the strange man protectively, her frail frame trembling with excitement.

"Is he a prince?" Tessie whispered in awe as she peered down at him. She wore cardboard angel wings on her shoulders and one of them tipped precariously. That didn't stop Tessie from reaching out to the black hair that curled against the man's forehead. Equally dark stubble covered his face. His skin was so white from cold that it almost matched the color of her wings. "Did Santa bring him for Christmas?"

Renee blinked. "No, sweetheart. He's not a present."

The two of them had been in the living room putting the last of the tinsel on their Christmas tree when the girl insisted she heard a thump outside. They both went to the door and Renee managed to use a rug to drag the man inside while keeping a watch on the darkness to be sure the wolf was gone.

"Don't touch him," Renee added as she covered the phone with her hand.

Tessie pulled back and nodded, but she kept looking at the man—particularly at the brown mole high on his left cheek.

Her daughter had longed to meet a prince since the night of her first bedtime fairy tale. Renee had tried to tell her that those kinds of princes did not exist, and if they did, they didn't go calling on bunkhouse cooks and their little girls. But Tessie never quite believed her. Renee had a sinking feeling that she knew what Tessie had whispered in Santa's ear at the school program last week.

Renee couldn't help but stare at the man. Snow was melting in his hair. Except for the dark circles under his eyes and a faded scar on one cheek, she had to admit he did bear a striking resemblance to the drawings of the aristocratic hero in her daughter's beloved Sleeping Beauty story—especially because the prince in the book also had a mole high on his left cheek.

The temperature gauge on the porch read below zero, so Renee hadn't really had a choice about bringing the man inside, especially with that wolf following him. But she fervently hoped he would be taken away soon. She had enough trouble with Tessie's imagination without this kind of a coincidence.

Right then, the snap of chewing gum sounded in Renee's ear, indicating that Betty Longe, the 911 operator, had finished contacting the emergency crew and was back on the line.

"Is he still breathing?" the woman asked.

Renee nodded.

Then she realized the operator could not see the action. "Yes, his pulse and breathing are much better. I think it helps that he's out of the cold. The bleeding seems to have stopped, too, now that he's not moving around."

"We can ease up a bit, then. The sheriff should be there in a few minutes."

"The man needs an ambulance more than the sheriff!" Renee could hear the tension in her voice. Even though the man was doing better, she didn't have much beyond iodine and bandages to use if his wound decided to bleed some more.

Betty grunted. "Anytime a strange man stumbles onto your porch in the middle of the night with a bullet in his shoulder, I'm going to send out the sheriff along with an ambulance. Sheriff Wall is just closer than the others right now."

"Actually, we're not at my place." Renee realized that in the rush of things she hadn't mentioned that pertinent fact to the operator. She'd barely had enough wits about her to make the call. "I'm housesitting. The Elktons are spending Christmas in Washington, D.C., with their son and they asked me to stay in the main house while they're gone."

Everyone knew the bunkhouse cook at the ranch had her own quarters, and the EMTs would lose precious time if they went there first.

"Worried about possible rustlers, are they?" Betty asked, her words slow and chatty, as if she had all the time in the world.

"Yes." Renee recognized that the operator was trying to help her calm down. She took a deep breath. "Have there been more cattle reported missing?"

Betty was silent for a moment, likely passing along the additional information about where to go and then coming back to speak.

"Not that I know of. It's still seventy-three reported gone."

Renee listened for the sheriff's siren but didn't hear anything but the slight scraping sound of Tessie's slippers as she fidgeted.

"Well, be careful," Betty finally said. "Women tend to think an unconscious man is harmless, but you never know."

"I don't think he's harmless," Renee protested. She looked down at the man. He was still breathing okay. She didn't easily trust the men she knew, let alone someone she'd never met. "I wonder what he was doing out there all alone in the middle of the night. Riding a horse and being trailed by a wolf. I can't believe he was up to any good."

"We don't have wolves around here," Betty said sharply and then paused. "Well, not many."

"It only takes one to do damage."

Renee looked up and suddenly noticed the room had grown silent. Her daughter was standing stiffly next to the man. It was as if Tessie had never danced in delight at finding the stranger. Instead, her little face was scrunched up in resignation. And the angel wings that their friend Karyn McNab had lent her to wear in the church nativity pageant seemed to weigh down her shoulders.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?" Renee asked as she covered the phone again.

"You think he's a bad man," Tessie muttered. "You don't believe Santa sent him."

"Oh, dear," Renee said to her daughter. "I know you want him to be a prince, but we talked about this. Princes don't exist. Not the fairy-tale kind, anyway. We need to accept that. And Santa is just for fun."

Tessie got a stubborn look on her face. Her lower lip protruded and her lips pressed together in a straight line. Renee would have said more, but she saw tears start to form in Tessie's eyes.

"I know who he is," the girl finally whispered. "If Santa didn't send him, then Daddy did. The prince has a Christmas message for me. He just needs to wake up so he can tell me what it is."

"Oh, sweetie," Renee said, not caring that her hand had slipped off the phone.

Before she could say anything more, Betty spoke. "Well, if you ask me, no one needs a prince like that to deliver a message. Not when we have the good old U.S. Postal Service with their white trucks and pretty stamps."

"Did you hear that, Tessie?" Renee held the phone out so her daughter could listen. She was surprised at the support she was getting from Betty, but she was grateful anyway. Maybe her daughter would pay more attention to another adult. "Betty doesn't think you need a prince, either. If your daddy wanted to write you a letter, he'd just send it in the regular mail."

Renee supposed adding some reality to her daughter's fantasies was an improvement even if the odds of Tessie's father sending her a letter were no greater than her meeting a storybook prince out here in the middle of the Montana plains.

"You listen to your mother, Tessie," Betty said, the words coming through loud enough to be heard by both Renee and her daughter. "A letter is easy enough to send."

Tessie stepped closer to the phone and asked the operator, "But what if he is a prince?" Then she turned her back, no doubt hoping Renee couldn't hear, and whispered, "Mommy doesn't know what a prince even looks like."

"That's not true—" Renee began and then stopped. She wasn't going to get into a ridiculous argument like this. Renee intended to keep her daughter safe from strange men even if Tessie was angry about it. Her daughter could afford to fall in love with fairy-tale princes, but Renee could not.

They were all silent for a moment.

"Maybe your mommy just hasn't met the right prince yet," Betty finally said softly, obviously changing sides before the battle had even begun.

Renee put the phone back to her own ear and whispered into it, "You're not helping."

"Well, you must admit you don't even look at single men anymore," Betty replied. "You're twenty-four years old—too young to give up on men because of one bad experience. It wouldn't hurt you to think there was a prince somewhere who was meant for you."

Without thinking, Renee let her eyes stray to the man's left hand and noticed he wasn't wearing a wedding ring. Of course, her ex-husband had seldom worn one, either, so that didn't prove much.

"I agree you don't want another man like that husband you used to have." Betty's voice had gentled again and her gum chewing had stopped. "Why, he almost took you to prison with him. And the armed robberies he committed weren't the worst of it. Everyone knows he was abusive to you and Tessie."

"I—" Renee wished she hadn't brought up her marriage. She cupped the phone to her ear so her daughter wouldn't hear. Tessie had turned around and was looking at her.

"But you can't judge all men by him." The operator continued as though Renee hadn't even tried to speak. "There are dozens of men around here who would be happy to be a little girl's prince. And yours, too, if you'd let them. Maybe the new man who is delivering the mail in Dry Creek these days would do. He's single and has a steady job."

"Barry Grover?" Renee asked, momentarily stunned. She'd met him. He was balding and had a paunch. She looked up to see if there was a red patrol light reflecting in the window. Barry was missing a tooth, too, if she remembered right. Sheriff Wall should be here by now. Please, Lord, bring the lawman soon, she prayed. If she stayed on the phone with Betty much longer, all the people in Dry Creek would be out looking for a husband for her, and she was afraid of what kind of man they'd find.

It was bad enough that young Karyn, a high school student who worked weekends for her as a relief cook, had started dropping hints that marriage was good at any age. Of course, that was likely for her own benefit, since Karyn was infatuated with that boy she was seeing. Neither one of them was of an age to be thinking about a wedding, in Renee's opinion.

"Barry might be a little older than you," Betty acknowledged. "But twenty years' difference isn't so much in a marriage. And he has that nice new Jeep. It has heated seats, I hear. And four-wheel drive. He's taking some treatment for his hair loss, too, so he'll look younger before you know it. And he'll have a good retirement if he stays with the postal service. You'll be well set in your golden years. And Tessie might get that puppy she wants."

"That's okay. No one needs to match me with anyone. And I'm working on the puppy."

Renee looked back at the man on the floor. His skin color was returning to normal. He might look better than Barry Grover, but he would be more difficult. She didn't know how she knew, but she was sure of that. He just seemed like the kind of man who could turn someone's life upside down without even trying.

"We have to do it for Tessie," Betty said then, her voice thick with emotion. "Why, even before she said what she did when she was on Santa's knee, she's always been going on about—ah—" the operator hesitated and lowered her voice "—family things."

Mercifully, she stopped at that.

"I am thinking of Tessie," Renee whispered. The knot of misery in her stomach tightened. She supposed the whole town of Dry Creek knew about her daughter's stories by now.

Against all odds, Tessie still loved her father and told anyone who would listen how wonderful he was. Instead of his being an inmate in the state prison in Deer Lodge, she had convinced herself that her father had been sent on a secret mission to rule some faraway kingdom, living in a majestic castle with guards at the gate and princes at the ready. It was straight out of one of her fairy-tale books. Tessie would describe the man's crown and robes and the presents he was going to send to her. She even mentioned the wolfhounds that guarded the bridge over the moat by name.

Renee renewed her commitment to finding a suitable puppy for Tessie.

"I'm sorry. I don't mean to pry," Betty finally said, sounding as discouraged as Renee felt. "It's just with her father the way he is—"

"I know you mean well." In a small town, no one carried his or her burdens alone. Sometimes that was good, sometimes bad. But Renee knew the concerns were as much for Tessie as they were for her, and she couldn't fault the town for caring.

She had been taking her daughter to a therapist in Billings and the woman said that Tessie would outgrow these fantasies when she finally felt completely safe. The girl's love for her father warred against her fear of him. She yearned to see him and, at the same time, was scared he might come back with some wolfhounds to hurt her. Her fairy-tale pretense of a father as a faraway king helped her feel secure until she could finally admit it wasn't the animals but her father who made her afraid.


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Product Details

  • Series: Love Inspired\Return to Dry Creek
  • Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Love Inspired (September 17, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0373878427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373878420
  • Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 0.6 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,656,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

USA TODAY and PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY Bestselling Author, Janet Tronstad, currently lives in Pasadena, California. If you like Janet's books, check out LOVEBIRDS OF THE HEARTBREAK CAFE on sale 99 cents for a limited time only.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bunnyhop on September 28, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Anytime I can go to Dry Creek, Montana, I go! Janet writes so well about this town that you feel it's a real town and want to go there! This time we meet Renee and Rusty, who have both been through very hard times in their lives when it comes to people in their lives who should have been good to them. When Renee finds Rusty bleeding & unconscious on her doorstep in the middle of a blizzard, she is compassionate...up to a point....but leery! She doesn't want another man involved in some legal trouble since she is recently divorced from a bank robber! She has a darling young daughter to think about, who happens to think this bleeding stranger is a prince! Rusty is just home from the army, trying to check on his younger brother when he is shot by someone and manages to get to a farm in the blinding blizzard before he passes out. The sheriff doesn't know what to think! Renee and Rusty have to work through forgiveness, trust and past issues with loved ones before they can think about any kind of relationship but Tessie, Renee's little daughter, helps them find the true spirit of Christmas and of course all the wonderful people in Dry Creek that teach them these fantastic qualities too, all while putting on the annual Christmas pagent in the famous barn!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. Peacock on September 15, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I love Janet Tronstad's Return to Dry Creek series, and this one is certainly no exception! Renee and Rusty have been through horrible things in their past, and their reactions to new situations jibe with what I would expect individuals with their backgrounds to do and think. The little girl, Tessie, is delightful, and adds a certain whimsical touch at times with her fantasies. Dry Creek is a delightful town, and watching how people change both before and after they return to their roots in this special place is fun to experience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rosemary Pennington on January 26, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Renee, (our leading lady) is a divorced single mother working as a cook for the ranch hands in Dry Creek. Her ex-husband is currently in prison for robbery. She has trust issues with men in general because of previous abuse.

Rusty, (our leading man) is a prodigal son recently home from Afghanistan where it is obvious he has been severely and recently injured. He has a younger brother that he is now the sole provider for, but, has not seen him in 8 years. His (now deceased) father was abusive, and his mother left the family (for parts unknown) when he was still a child.

Tessie (The real star of the story) is the 5 year old daughter of Renee. She is an isolated and shy little girl simply waiting for her prince to come.

When Rusty is found by Renee and Tessie on the front porch after being shot, Tessie believes he has been shot for a good reason, and Tessie has finally found her prince. Renee wants him to disappear NOW and Tessie wants to keep him.

The mystery of who, how and why Rusty was shot is revealed through the course of the story.

Besides the obvious: "Lets overcome our differences", this is a typical Love Inspired romance.... with a light hand on the "inspired".

I felt that the author did not elaborate enough on the relationship with Rusty and his brother Eric. This could have been a strong foundation for Rusty's newly acquired faith. Instead, the author focuses on Rusty's mother and his seemingly lackluster forgiveness of her. I found little in the way of leaning on faith with this book, and felt it may have been better suiting for another classification with Harlequin instead of the Love Inspired category.

For me, there was no actual chemistry between Renee and Rusty.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 14, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have enjoyed all the books in the "Return to Dry Creek" series, ( this is the 5th book in the series ). When Rusty returns to Dry Creek, he has been injured and he collapses on Renee's porch. At first Renee dosent know who he is, but as she gets to know him, she realizes that he is a very caring and patient man. Renee's daughter, Tessie thinks he is a Prince, but Renee is very careful not to mislead her. Renee's ex-husband is serving time in jail, and she is very careful with her emotions and protective with her Daughter also.
I like the way that Rusty volunteers for the Christmas Pageant, and helps out in the Community and at the Ranch were Renee works as a Cook for the ranch hands. Within this story there is a mystery of cattle rustling, ( and Rusty's brother's part in it ), and there is also a small town feel to the story and how everyone pulls together to help each other in times of need.
This is a wonderful series, and I didnt want this book to end!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marianne on October 13, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
White Christmas in Dry Creek..a place in Montana where Prince Charming lives. Janet weaves another magical story with charming characters. Add a child, a single mother and a gunshot wounded rancher and you have the makings of a perfect Christmas? Only in Dry Creek with small town connections where everyone knows each other and you can truly go home again. I love Dry Creek, and though they say it is fiction, I know I could find it if I traveled the backroads of this great state. Renee became my friend when I first met her, and her insecurites became mine as I journeyed beside her and her daughter Tessie. A great book, Janet. Thanks for letting me review it for you!
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