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The Lawman's Christmas Proposal (The Hitching Post Hotel) Mass Market Paperback – December 1, 2015
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About the Author
Barbara White Daille lives with her husband in the wild Southwest, where they deal with lizards in the yard and scorpions in the bathroom.
A writer since before she knew how to spell, Barbara loves creating home and family stories--with cowboys!--for Harlequin American Romance. When not writing, she can be found near books and chocolate. Please visit her at: www.BarbaraWhiteDaille.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
With the finesse of a well-trained pickpocket, Mitch Weston snagged a carrot from the vegetable tray his mother was preparing. Of course, a skilled pickpocket wouldn't have been dumb enough to flash the stolen goodsat least, not until he put them up for sale on some street corner.
Mitch, on the other hand, chomped down on the carrot in full view of his mom.
"You don't eat enough," Nancy said.
"I do," he countered. "But I'm betting while I'm here, you're going to do your best to fatten me up."
In the two days he'd been home again, this was the first chance they'd had to talk alone, and he instinctively knew the direction she would take any private conversation between them.
With a long oak table large enough to fit the family, the kitchen didn't offer much room to hide. With his four younger brothers and sisters living at home, there wasn't much privacy in the entire house. And with the way he had been feeling lately, he'd rather have solitary confinement.
"Your father mentioned he'll try to be home early tonight for a change," Nancy said. "But you know how hard it is to get him away from the office. About as difficult as it is to get you back here for a visit."
His mom hadn't intended it, he knew, but her gentle nudging only reminded him he shouldn't be here now. It wasn't that he didn't love his family. He just didn't enjoy coming back to his hometown. And this time, he didn't want to think about the circumstances that had brought about his return. The disaster that had left him lying on a cold concrete floor next to his partner's body.
"I hope you won't have to rush off too soon."
He had missed Thanksgiving by just a few days, and already both she and his dad had hinted they hoped he'd stick around for Christmas. He hadn't had the heart to disillusion them. Hell, he didn't have a reason. Yet.
This enforced time away from the job could end in an instant. Before the holidays, he had appointments scheduled with both the surgeon who had patched up his knee and the department shrink who thought his mind needed some patching, too. Good reports from them would put him right back where he belonged.
Bending down, he kissed her temple. "Let's not get into my visits again right now, Mom, okay?"
"Your lack of visits, you mean." She shot him a glance from eyes the same shade of blue he'd inherited from her. Since he'd gotten his height from his dad, she had to reach up to rest her hand on his shoulder. "I'm worried about you, sweetheart. We're all worried about you."
"Don't be." Unable to handle seeing her tears, he turned to grab a stalk of celery he had no taste for. "I'll be fine in no time, just as soon as the last of the stitches dissolve."
Yeah, he'd be all fixed up and ready to get back to work.
Nancy returned to chopping vegetables. "You had a call while you were out to SugarPie's for coffee."
He tensed. "From the department?"
She shook her head. "No, from Jed Garland. He heard you were back in town and wants you to get in touch."
He nodded. As with most of the guys from his high school, he had once worked as a wrangler on Garland Ranch. He hadn't seen his old boss for a while the same length of time he'd been away from his family. The look in Nancy's eyes said she'd just had a similar thought. That, and knowing why he'd returned now, added fresh layers of guilt.
"I'm surprised it took him this long to find out I'm back in town," he said. "He's usually right on top of everything that happens in Cowboy Creek. A regular old gossip, that's Jed."
To his relief, his mother laughed. "Gossip and more. He's in the matchmaking business now."
"They've restored the Hitching Post's banquet hall and reopened the honeymoon cabins. Tina and Cole were married from the chapel in June. They're planning to hold the first guest wedding there around Christmas."
"Jed, a matchmaker," he said with a laugh. "Who'd have believed it? Then again, he's always had a knack with people." His former boss had always been there for him, too, especially in those days right out of school when Mitch felt he couldn't talk to his dad. "I should stop by and check in with him."
"You certainly should. He's eager to see you." She set the vegetable platter in the refrigerator. "And when I saw Paz at the L-G Store yesterday, I promised her some of the surplus I'd canned from my garden last fall. Just give me a few minutes to box up a few jars, and you can take them along with you."
Fighting yet more guilt about his need for space from his family, he nodded. He knew how much they all loved him, but he had to have a break from seeing them tiptoeing through the house and talking in hushed voices, as if they were attending a wake.
Yet why wouldn't they act that way in his company?
Thanks to him, a damned good cop was dead.
Later that afternoon, a warm one even for the tail end of November in New Mexico, Mitch parked near the barn on Garland Ranch. He found Jed Garland standing in the sunshine near the corral. As he loped across the yard toward his former boss, Jed smiled.
Since he'd last seen him, the other man's face had developed a few more wrinkles, and his hair had turned completely white. But he still had the same piercing blue eyes and the firmest handshake around.
"Good to see you again, boy." Jed's fingers kept his trapped for another long beat before he let go.
Mitch nodded. "You're looking good yourself. So is the Hitching Post. I see you've made some changes around here."
"Yep. Got the signpost redone and the whole place painted."
"Yeah, my mom said you're in the wedding business again."
"That we are." Jed's guileless expression put Mitch on alert. "We'll be all set whenever you're ready for our services."
"For a wedding?" Laughing, he shook his head. "Thanks, but I'm not the type to settle down."
"That's not what you once said about staying in Cowboy Creek, though, is it? You'd always planned to follow in your dad and granddad's footsteps and join the sheriff's departmentyet you went and became a bigcity policeman."
"Yeah. I'm a big-time LA cop." Mitch said the words with a hint of bitterness backed by the knowledge of how drastically his plans had changed.
Jed nodded as if he'd read his mind, something he'd always been good at. Mitch found the trait much more disconcerting right this minute than he ever had years ago.
Probably because now he had things to hide.
"With your family's connection to the sheriff's department, I reckon it was a given you'd get involved in law enforcement even after you left town."
He nodded. "Upholding the family tradition." As he'd always known he would.
"Yep. Much as you liked horses and ranching, you never had a doubt about what you wanted to do."
"No." He still hadn't, but his decision now had repercussions he couldn't bring himself to confess to his parents or Jed. His long-held certainty, his downright arrogance that he could handle anything, had let him down when he'd needed it most. Clamping his jaws together, he hooked his biker boot on the lowest fence rung and stared across the corral.
"Let me say, son, I'm sorry about your troubles." Jed's clap on his shoulder hadn't lost any of its strength, either. "I can understand if you're finding your recuperation painful in more ways than one."
His vocal cords seized up, overpowered by the lump in his throat. Looked as though his former boss was still here for him.
Jed Garland was one mighty smart man, but he couldn't know about all his doubts. No one could.
Jed rested his forearms on the fence and linked his fingers together. "I'm sure you realize a man doesn't reach success without some failure along the way."
"Yeah," he said harshly, "but my failure resulted in someone dying."
"And in your line of work, you think that makes you stand out from the crowd?"
He shot a glance toward the other man. "You've been talking to my dad."
"'Course I have." Jed sighed. "I'm not saying what happened wasn't a tragedy. I'm not saying it's something you can ever shake off. But you're too good a coptoo good a mannot to get past this."
Looking away again, Mitch gripped the rail and squinted into the lowering sun. The bright light made his eyes water.
"Meanwhile," Jed said, "it's good you've come home."
"Temporarily." He hoped he sounded convincing. He lived and breathed law enforcement, had done ever since he was a kid watching his dad and grandpa pinning their badges to their uniforms. There was nothing else he wanted to do with his life. Nothing else he could do.
"You'll have to hang around till Pete and Cole get in from the northern pastures. And Paz will have my hide if I don't get you to stop in to see her. While you're here, you can say hello to the girls."
"The girls?" He gripped the rail even harder.
"Yeah. Tina started off handling the contractors for the upgrades to the Hitching Post, but Jane's been helping out since she moved in a few months ago. And now we've got a wedding booked, Andi's here to pitch in, too."
Jed's three granddaughters.
Tina had grown up on the ranch and become the bookkeeper for the hotel. Jane was a well-respected photo-journalist, originally based in New York. And Andi
Andi was the reason he'd left Cowboy Creek.
"If I have to look at one more fabric swatch today, I may scream."
At her cousin's pronouncement, Andi Price forced a laugh.
The hotel and its dude ranch activities had always been a big draw for the guests, but their grandfather had recently decided to reopen the banquet hall with a focus on catering wedding receptions.
So far, the one wedding they had scheduled a few months earlier had been canceled, and the business was getting off to a slow start.
"What have you got to scream about?" she said to Jane, only half teasing. "I'm the one dealing with the bride-to-be."
"Otherwise known as Bridezilla. Sorry, cuz."
"Don't be." She sighed. "It's the truth. I should have known better than to agree to cater a wedding for the friend of a woman I barely know."
"Yeah. Especially one who wants everything wrapped up in a bowwithin a month."
"I thought I was helping Grandpa and you and Tina."
"You are. In Grandpa's words, he's tickled we've got another wedding booked."
"I know." And she couldn't let him down.
The wedding receptions had always been their late grandmother's passion. They all knew Jed was determined to see that part of the business flourish again. As Jane had once said, it only made sense to capitalize on a hotel called the Hitching Post.
"Good thing Tina's around to help," Andi said. "But what would we both do without you?" Jane's career as a photojournalist gave her a good eye for envisioning just about anything. "You know you're the one with the talent for color and line."
"You're not doing badly with those yourself. And the designs you've come up with for the banquet hall are pure genius."
"Thanks. I've attended a lot of receptions and formal dinners since I got married." Thoughts of all the events she had attended once she'd become part of the affluent Price family now blended with other memories she tried not to dwell on. "Knowledge of fancy napkin folds comes with the territory," she attempted to say lightly.
"You're doing a lot more than arranging napkins." Jane tossed a sample book onto the pile with all the others. "But, though I hate to say this, there's an area where you're not doing such a great job."
"Really?" She frowned and looked at everything they had spread out on the tabletop. "What's that?"
"I wish I knew." Jane shook her head. "You've changed since you were here at the end of the summer. There's something bothering you. Don't ask me what, because I have no idea, but I think you ought to let me in on it. We didn't spend all those vacations and holidays together here for nothing, you know."
While their grandfather and cousin had always lived in Cowboy Creek, Jane and Andi had met up at the family ranch only on school breaks. Neither of them had ever stayed at Garland Ranch longer than a summer vacationuntil now. Jane had returned only a few months ago to live here permanently.
Andi had come back to help get the new venture off the ground with this Christmas weddingand for other reasons she tried to shove aside with her bittersweet memories. "Nothing's wrong. I just felt the kids and I needed a change of scenery. When Grandpa asked me to handle this wedding while you and Tina focused on the business end of things, it seemed like the perfect time for a visit."
Jane's gray eyes narrowed. "Sorry, but I'm not buying that. It might be hard to handle the heat in Fountain Hills, Arizona, but the scenery there is even better than it is here."
"I don't live in Fountain Hills anymore," she said quietly.
"Oh. When you'd told me the other day you and the kids had moved to an apartment, you didn't mention it was in another town." Jane touched her wrist. "Andi, if there's anything I can do, any way I can give you a hand with something, just say the word. I've got some savings built up. I know Grandpa and my dad would help you out in a heartbeat. You know that, too. And wouldn't your mother-in-law be willing to pitch in?"
"It's not money."
Truthfully, it was money that worried hernot enough money and not enough life insurance to pay the mortgage. Grant had insisted they could afford the too-big house in their upscale area not far from his mother. With his salary included, they had gotten by. Without it, she had been forced to sell the home where both her children had lived since they'd been born. But she couldn't tell her mother-in-law Grant hadn't provided for his family.
Just as she couldn't reveal to anyone what Grant's real job had been. How did you explain to a man's family that he worked undercover for the CIA?
But now she could tell Jane the truth. Or part of it. "It's not money so much as the need to get some space from Grant's family."
"Things have gotten that bad between you?"
"No." Andi's eyes misted. "They're great." They just didn't know he had told them the same cover story she had told her family, that he worked for a computer company with customers and suppliers all over the world. "Ginnie's always been a fabulous mother-in-law, and everyone else in his family is wonderful. Except he's been gone for over a year, and they all act as if he's just away on business and will walk in the door again any day now."
Top customer reviews
Mitch left Cowboy Creek years ago to become a cop in Los Angeles. At the time, he was also escaping a broken heart. Now he's back, recovering from an injury received in the line of duty and trying to deal with his guilty feelings over the death of his partner. Seeing the woman who broke his heart all those years ago is the last thing he needs.
Mitch was still harboring a lot of anger from their parting as teenagers, and he was ready to let it loose when he saw Andi for the first time. That anger swiftly dissipated when he finally got the explanation of what happened, though honestly I didn't understand her reasons at all. Be that as it may, both of them had moved on with their lives, though tragedy has brought them back together. It quickly becomes obvious to them both that the attraction is still there, but neither wants to do anything about it.
Enter Andi's grandfather, Jed. He's been very successful getting his other two granddaughters matched up, and now he's decided to help Andi along. Simply on his memories of them as teenagers, he has decided that Mitch and Andi are a perfect match. Even before seeing them together as adults, he has made his plans. Not only does he find multiple creative ways to throw them together, he has enlisted help in doing it. One of those helpers came as a surprise to me.
The development of their relationship was not an easy one. Mitch is a great guy, wonderful with her kids, and happy to help with the things he's asked to do. He is definitely still attracted to Andi, but is avoiding any idea of a relationship with her. He no longer trusts his instincts thanks to what happened on the job. He has also buried his feelings about what happened and refuses to talk about it with anyone. Andi senses that something is wrong, but he dodges every time she tries to get him to open up to her.
He does trust one instinct and that's the one that tells him that something is eating at Andi. Though he doesn't want to talk about his feelings, he has no trouble pestering her about hers. Andi's issues are complex, but all stem from her husband's death. One of the biggest of those issues is her refusal to get involved with anyone who has a dangerous job, as she doesn't want to suffer that kind of loss again.
Both are dismayed by Jed's matchmaking attempts, but rather than stand up to him, they decide to pretend to give in. They stage a fake engagement that is supposed to give them the space to escape his machinations. Instead, they find themselves wishing it could be real. Unfortunately, their fears keep them from seeing the possibilities. Both of them have to find a way to overcome those fears if they want to have a future together. I have to say that Mitch's solution was not a surprise, given his background. I liked his realization that just talking to Andi had helped him sort through his feelings, though it took a visit back to LA to see it. I loved seeing who helped Andi with hers. The ending was really sweet.
I know when I open a book by Barbara White Daille, I’m in for a great read. This book was no different. It’s a sweet read with wonderful characters and an engaging storyline. I’m glad I got to read it.
Mitch certainly has his work cut out for him. Not only is he in law enforcement, but the woman he has his eye on isn’t wild about his job. But this guy isn’t a pushover. That’s what I liked about him. He wasn’t one to back down, especially when he knew what he wanted. It was sexy and understated.
Then there’s Andi. Oh, boy. She’s got baggage and fears–which made her very relatable–and a little… irksome. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. Have you ever had a friend who you wanted to help, but no matter what you said, she doesn’t always get the message? That’s how I felt about Andi. I could see what she wanted, what her kids needed and what would make her whole. I rooted for her because I could see a lot of my friends and myself in her.
Yes, this book has a Christmas undertone to it, but you don’t have to wait until the holidays to read it. The story carries itself well and the romance will warm up any chilly afternoon.
I’m glad I got to read this book. Recommended.
originally posted at long and short reviews
Andi and her two kids have been through a traumatic loss. When Andi's husband was killed she has had to pick up her life and try to put the pieces back together. Her Grandfather Jed has Andi come home and help out with the new wedding business at The Hitching Post Hotel. Jed has more on his mind then just helping Andi get through the holidays though. He's known for his match making and he has a perfect match lined up for Andi.
Mitch Weston has returned home to recover from an injury he suffered in the line of duty as a police officer. When he runs into his high school sweetheart, Andi, the attraction and feelings are still there. Mitch loves his job as a lawman.
Jed comes up with some really interesting ways to get Mitch and Andi in the same places. There is plenty of family meddling going on in this story. I love when the families are involved.
Barbara White Daille has created a wonderful story that is set at the perfect time of year. I really enjoyed reading Andi and Mitch's story. They have so many different obstacles that are set to keep them apart but a loving family that is doing everything in their power to pull them together.
This is the third book in The Hitching Post Hotel series. I didn't have any problem reading it as a stand alone. I would love to read more of the series and I'm anxious to read more books by Barbara White Daille. She has a lovely writing style that had me completely absorbed in the story quickly. The characters full of charisma with compelling histories that made for a great read.
I was given the opportunity to read this great book so that I may share my thoughts with you. As always it has been my pleasure to share my thoughts with you on The Lawman's Christmas Proposal.