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A Cold Creek Christmas Story (Harlequin Special Edition) Mass Market Paperback – November 17, 2015

4.6 out of 5 stars 302 ratings
Book 14 of 16: The Cowboys of Cold Creek

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About the Author

New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

If she didn't have thirty children showing up in the next half hour, Celeste Nichols would have been tempted to climb into her little SUV, pull out of the Pine Gulch library parking lot and just keep on driving.

She shifted the blasted endlessly ringing cell phone to the crook of her shoulder while she sorted through the books scattered across her cubicle in the offices of the library to find what she would be reading for story hour.

"I told you earlier in the week, I'm not ready to make a decision about this yet."

Joan Manning, her and Hope's long-suffering literary agent, gave a low, frustrated sound of disapproval. "We can't hold them off much longer. We've already stalled for two weeks. They want to start production right after the holidays, and they can't do that without signatures from you and Hope."

Celeste gazed down at a copy of Dr. Seuss's perennial holiday favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. She had a feeling she was the one being the Grinch here. Hope was completely on board with the extraordinary offer one of the leading animation companies had made for movie rights to their book, Sparkle and the Magic Snowball.

Celeste was the one who couldn't quite be comfortable with the idea of someone else taking control of her words, her creation, and turning Sparkle into an animated movie, complete with the attendant merchandising and sublicensing. A fast-food chain was already talking about making a toy for its kids' meals, for crying out loud.

The whole journey of the past twelve months seemed like a bizarre, surreal, completely unbelievable dream.

A year ago she had known exactly who she was—an unassuming children's librarian in the small town of Pine Gulch, Idaho, in the western shadow of the Teton Mountain Range.

Now, to her immense shock, she was a celebrated author about to see the release of her second children's book with several more scheduled in the next few years. Along with that had come things she had never imagined when she'd been writing little stories for her niece and nephew—she had a website, a publicist, a literary agent.

Her quiet, safe world seemed to be spinning out of her control, and this movie deal was the prime example.

"A few more days, Celeste," Joan pushed. "You can't keep stalling. You have to make a decision. Hollywood has a short attention span and an even shorter supply of patience. Do you want your story made into a movie or not?"

She liked Joan very much, as brash and abrupt as the woman could be, but everything with her was an emergency and had to be decided right now. Pressure pains stabbed with little forks behind her eyes and her shoulders felt as if someone had jammed them in a vice and was cranking down hard.

"I know. I just need to be sure this is the right choice for Sparkle."

"Sparkle is a fictional character. You need to be sure it's the right choice for you and for your sister. We've been going over this for weeks. I don't know what else I can say to convince you this is the best deal you're going to get."

"I know that. You've done a great job with the negotiations. I just need…a little more time."

"A few days," Joan said, her voice clipped with frustration. "That's all, then I have to give them some kind of an answer."

"I know. Thank you. I'll get back with you tomorrow or the day after."

"Just remember, most people would see this as a dream come true."

Apparently, she wasn't most people. After they said their goodbyes, Celeste set her cell phone back on the desk, again fighting the urge to climb into her SUV and keep on driving.

That was her sister Hope's way, to wander from place to place as they had done in their itinerant childhood. Celeste was different. She liked security, consistency.

Normalcy.

In the past twelve months her life had been anything but normal. She had gone from writing only for herself and her niece and nephew to writing for a vast audience she never could have imagined.

It had all started when her sister Hope had come home the previous Christmas for what was supposed to be a brief stay between overseas teaching jobs. Hope had overheard her reading one of her stories to Louisa and Barrett and had put her considerable artistic skills to work illustrating the story to sell in the gift store of their family's holiday-themed attraction, The Christmas Ranch.

The result had been a sweet, charming Christmas story about a brave little reindeer named Sparkle. Neither Hope nor Celeste had ever imagined the book would be touted by a presenter on one of the national morning news program—or that the resulting sales would explode internationally and end up saving the floundering Christmas Ranch and the family's cattle operation, the Star N Ranch.

She was beyond gratified that so many people liked her writing and the story—and especially Hope's delightful illustrations—but some part of her wanted to go back to that peaceful time when her biggest decisions revolved around what to read for her weekly story hour at the Pine Gulch Public Library.

With a sigh, she turned back to the job at hand. She was still sorting through the final choices when the head librarian poked her head into the cubicle.

"Looks as if we're going to have a nice crowd." Frankie Vittori, the head librarian, looked positively gleeful. "I hope we have room for everybody."

"Oh, that's terrific!" she exclaimed, mentally shelving her worries about the movie deal for now.

She meant the words. She loved nothing more than introducing children to the wonder and magic to be found inside the pages of a good book.

Books had saved her. During the chaos of her childhood, they had offered solace and safety and hope amid fear. She had no idea how she would have survived without friends such as Anne of Green Gables, Bilbo Baggins, Matilda, Harry Potter and Hermione and Ron Weasley.

"I only hope we've got enough of our craft project to go around. It seems as if the crowd increases every month."

Frankie grinned. "That's because everybody in town wants to come hear our local celebrity author read in hopes of catching a sneak peek at the new Sparkle story coming down the pike."

She managed to conceal her instinctive wince. She really didn't like being a celebrity.

On one level, it was immensely gratifying. Who would have ever dreamed that she—quiet, awkward, introverted Celeste Nichols—would be in this position, having people actually care what she had to say?

On another, it was terrifying. At some point the naked emperor was always exposed. She feared the day when somebody would finally ask why all the fuss about her simple little tales.

For now, Frankie was simply thrilled to have a crowd at the library for any kind of reason. Celeste's boss and friend vibrated with energy, as she always did, her toe tapping to unheard music and her fingers fidgeting on the edge of the desk. Frankie was as skinny as a flagpole, probably because she never stopped moving.

Her husband, Lou, on the other hand, was the exact opposite—a deep reservoir of calm serenity.

They made the perfect pair and had two adorable kids who fell somewhere in the middle.

"I know it's more work for you," Frankie went on. "But I have to say, it's a brilliant idea to have two story times, one for the younger kids in the morning and one for early and middle readers after school."

Celeste smiled. "If you do say so yourself?"

Frankie beamed. "What can I say? I'm brilliant sometimes."

"That you are." Since Frankie had come to the library from upstate New York two years earlier, patron usage was way up and support had never been higher.

Frankie was bold and impassioned about the need for libraries, especially in the digital age. Celeste was more than a little envious of her overwhelming confidence, which helped the director fight for every penny of funding from the city council and the community in general.

Celeste would never be as outgoing and vivacious as Frankie, even though she was every bit as passionate about her job as the children's librarian. She liked being behind the scenes—except for the weekly story times, her favorite part of the job.

She checked her watch and quickly stood up. "I guess I'd better get out there."

She picked up the box of craft supplies they would use for the activity she had planned and headed for the large meeting room they had found worked best for story times.

"Oh, I almost forgot," Frankie said with a sly grin. "Make sure you check out the major hottie dad out there at ten o'clock."

Despite her amazing husband, Frankie was always locating hot guys, whether at their weekly lunches at one of the restaurants in town or on the few trips they'd taken into Jackson Hole or Idaho Falls. She always said she was only scouting possible dates for Celeste, which made Celeste roll her eyes. Her last date had been months ago.

"Is he anybody I know?"

"I've never seen him before. He's either new in town or a tourist. You can't miss him. He's wearing a Patek Philippe watch and a brown leather jacket that probably costs as much as our annual nonfiction budget. He's definitely not your average Cold Creek cowboy with horse pucky on his boots."

Okay, intriguing. She hadn't heard of anybody new moving into the small town, especially not someone who could afford the kind of attire Frankie was talking about. Sometimes well-to-do people bought second or third homes in the area, looking for a mountain getaway. They built beautiful homes in lovely alpine settings and then proceeded to visit them once or twice a year.

"I'll be sure to check him out while I'm trying to keep the kids entertained."

Frankie was right about one thing—the place was packed. Probably thirty children ranging in age from about six to eleven sat on the floor while roughly that same number of parents sat in chairs around the room.

For just an instant she felt a burst of stage fright at the idea of all those people staring at her. She quickly pushed it down. Normally she didn't like being in front of a crowd, but this was her job and she loved it. How could she be nervous about reading stories to children? She would just pretend their parents weren't there, like she usually did.

When she walked in, she was heartened by the spontaneous round of applause and the anticipation humming in the air.

She spotted a few people she recognized, friends and neighbors. Joey Santiago, nephew to her brother-in-law Rafe, sat beside his father, waving wildly at her.

She grinned and waved back at him. She would have thought Rafe was the hot dad—all that former navy SEAL mojo he had going on—but Frankie knew him well and he wasn't wearing a leather jacket or an expensive watch anyway.

She loved Rafe dearly, for many reasons—most important because he adored her sister Hope—but also because she wasn't sure she would be standing here, ready to entertain a group of thirty children with the magic of literature if not for his role in their lives so many years ago.

She saw a few other hot dads in the crowd—Justin Hartford, who used to be a well-known movie star but who seemed to fit in better now that he had been a rancher in Cold Creek Canyon for years. Ben Caldwell, the local veterinarian, was definitely hot. Then there was the fire chief, Taft Bowman, and his stepchildren. Taft always looked as though he could be the December cover model on a calendar of yummy firefighters.

All of them were locals of long-standing, though, and Frankie knew them well. They couldn't be the man she was talking about.

Ah, well. She would try to figure out the mystery later, maybe while the children were making the snowman ornaments she had planned for them.

"Thank you so much for coming, everybody. We're going to start off with one of my favorite Christmas stories."

"Is it Sparkle and the Magic Snowball?" Alex Bowman, Taft's stepson, asked hopefully.

She blushed a little as everyone laughed. "Not today. Today we're focusing on stories about Christmas, snow and snowmen."

Ben's son raised his hand. "Is Sparkle going to be here today, Ms. Nichols?"

Was that why so many people had turned out? Were they all hoping she'd brought along the actual Sparkle, who was the celebrity in residence at The Christmas Ranch?

Last year, Hope had talked her into having their family's beloved reindeer—and the inspiration for her eponymously named series of stories—make a quick appearance in the parking lot of the library.

"I'm afraid not. He's pretty busy at The Christmas Ranch right now."

She tried to ignore the small sounds of disappointment from the children and a few of their parents. "I've got tons of other things in store for you, though. To start out, here's one of everyone's favorite holiday stories, How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

She started reading and, as usual, it only took a few pages before a hush fell over the room. The children were completely enthralled—not by her, she was only the vehicle, but by the power of story.

She became lost, too, savoring every word. When she neared the climax, she looked up for dramatic effect and found the children all watching her with eager expressions, ready for more. Her gaze lifted to the parents and she spotted someone she hadn't seen before, a man sitting on the back row of parents with a young girl beside him.

He had brown hair shot through with lighter streaks, a firm jaw and deep blue eyes.

This had to be the hot dad Frankie had meant.

Her heart began to pound fiercely, so loud in her ears she wondered if the children could hear it over the microphone clipped to her collar.

She knew this man, though she hadn't seen him for years.

Flynn Delaney.

She would recognize him anywhere. After all, he had been the subject of her daydreams all through her adolescence.

She hadn't heard he was back in Pine Gulch. Why was he here? Was he staying at his grandmother's house just down the road from the Star N? It made sense. His grandmother, Charlotte, had died several months earlier and her house had been empty ever since.

She suddenly remembered everything else that had happened to this man in the past few months and her gaze shifted to the young girl beside him, blonde and ethereal like a Christmas angel herself.

Celeste's heart seemed to melt.

This must be her. His daughter. Oh, the poor, poor dear.

The girl was gazing back at Celeste with her eyes wide and her hands clasped together at her chest as if she couldn't wait another instant to hear the rest of the story.

Everyone was gazing at her with expectation, and Celeste realized she had stopped in the middle of the story to stare at Flynn and his daughter.

Appalled at herself, she felt heat soak her cheeks. She cleared her throat and forced her attention back to the story, reading the last few pages with rather more heartiness than she had started with.

This was her job, she reminded herself as she closed the book, helping children discover all the delights to be found in good stories.

She wasn't here to ogle Flynn Delaney, for heaven's sake, even when there was plenty about him any woman would consider ogle-worthy.

Product details

  • Item Weight : 4 ounces
  • Mass Market Paperback : 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0373659253
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0373659258
  • Dimensions : 4.23 x 0.66 x 6.55 inches
  • Publisher : Harlequin Special Edition; Original edition (November 17, 2015)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 302 ratings

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