Authors: Maggie McGinnis
A Cowboy's Christmas Promise
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright Â© 2014 by Maggie McGinnis
by Patricia Rosemoor copyright Â© 2014 by Patricia Rosemoor
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
by Patricia Rosemoor.This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover design: Carolyn Teagle
Cover image: Â© Jake Olsen/Trevillion Images
“You have to go again, don't you?” Gracie's little eyes filled with tears even as Daniel heard her try to summon up her big-girl voice.
He put down his phone and scooped her up, hugging her close, swearing silently. “I wish I didn't have to, peanut.”
Her eyes filled again. “But what if you never come back?”
Daniel squeezed her gently, the words stabbing at his ribs. Dammit. For two years now, she'd asked the same question every time he'd left, and it killed him. Her therapist had urged him not to make promises he couldn't guarantee to keep, but how could he look at her shining blue eyes and not reassure her?
How could he not do everything in his power to make his little girl believe that the one parent she had left in the world wouldn't leave her, too?
“I'll be back. I promise.”
“Sundays are supposed to be Daddy-Gracie-Bryn time, not Daddy-horse time.”
He laughed. “I know, but even the smartest horses don't know they're not supposed to get sick on Sundays.” He tweaked her nose. “I just need to go over to Whisper Creek and check on Sky Dancer. I'll be home before you know it.”
In all honesty, his gut and her therapist were having a hard time coming to terms with each other, but he was trying to give the woman a chance. She was the one with the degree, after all. He might be great with animals, but two grieving seven-year-olds were another whole ball game. It'd been two years since Katie had lost her fight with cancer, and he was still a long way from figuring out how to go it alone with this parenting business.
“Please don't go.” Gracie's voice was buried in his neck.
“I have to, sweetheart. It's my job. You and Bryn will stay with Gramma while I'm gone.”
” Her voice escalated into a whine as he set her back down on the couch.
“Gracie, I'm the only horse vet in this part of Montana. I have to go when the animals need me.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I could come with you.”
“Not this time.”
“I don't like staying with Gramma. I like staying with
” Her big blue eyes welled up even more. “I wish Mommy was here.”
He turned away so she couldn't see whatever grief passed over his own eyes as her words stabbed at him. “I know. We
wish Mommy was here.”
“I have an idea!” Gracie's eyes brightened as she grabbed his hand. “I can be your assistant! Like last time! I'll be really quiet. You won't even know I'm there. Bryn, too. We'll both be quiet. Promise.”
Daniel looked down into her eyes. Katie's eyes. And just like Katie's always had, their sparkling blue depths rendered him powerless. Aw, damn. He couldn't leave her, not when he'd already had to do so twice this week. And especially not on a Sunday, when by all rights he
be making pancakes and playing games and riding bikes with his daughters, not trying to keep up with way too many sick animals in way too big an area.
He sighed in defeat, tweaking her nose. “You are one persistent little monkey.”
He laughed, shaking his head. “All right. Go get Bryn.”
“Can we bring our vet kits?”
“Okay.” He grabbed his phone and keys from the coffee table. “Make it quick, though.”
Gracie practically flew up the stairs of their Cape Cod-style log cabin, calling to her twin sister, and Daniel shook his head as he dialed his mother's number.
“You're not coming, are you?” She said, before he had a chance to speak.
“Gracie's having a tough day. I think I'd better keep the girls this time.”
“So you're bringing them to the barn?”
“If I call it my office, does that sound better?”
Mom laughed softly, but he could sense her disappointment. “Your
is full of hay and smells like horse manure.”
“Doesn't get any better than that.”
“I can't believe you have to go out again on a Sunday. When are you going to get a partner?”
Daniel sighed. Again. This was an old refrain. “I don't know, Mom. Most vet school grads are after suburban practices with puppies and kittens and an occasional guinea pig. They work nine to five and have weekend coverage from the other three vets in town. When you compare that to living up here, where winter lasts eight months and you spend half your time with your arm up to the elbow inâ”
“I'm just saying. It's not a glamorous job. Not an easy sell.”
Daniel looked up when he heard two sets of feet come tromping down the stairs, and felt a big smile take over his face as he spotted his girls. They had on their barn boots and sweatshirts, and had helped each other make ponytails with their long blond hair. Each of them carried a toy medical kit and a doll, and they blew kisses his way as they traipsed to the pantry closet.
“Listen, I have to go, but I'll call you later in the week, Mom.” Daniel pressed the end button and set the phone on the counter, then peered around the open pantry door, where the girls were giggling quietly. “What's going on in here?”
Bryn and Gracie looked up at him, pictures of innocence, as they both tried to hide the fruit snacks they'd plucked from a box on the shelf.
Bryn spoke first. “Nothing, Daddy. We're packing a snack.”
Gracie giggled. “Fruit!”
“I see.” He reached for the backpack he'd started keeping stocked with granola bars and juice boxes and crackers, hanging it on the doorknob. “I'm going to leave this here for a second while I bring stuff outside. Nothing unhealthy will land in it while I'm not looking, right?”
“Right!” Both girls chorused, and their giggles flew by him as they grabbed the backpack and ran to clamber into his truck. As they settled into their booster seats and buckled themselves in, Daniel paused for a moment, watching them. God, they'd grown so much in the past two years. Here they were doing their own buckles, packing their own snacks, and most days, picking out their own clothesâat least three times a day.
Yep. He was probably the only one in his graduating class who did a load of darks, a load of whites, and three loads of pink every weekend, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
Well, not true.
He would most definitely have it another way.
“Allergic to Chanel? Impossible!” Mrs. Overmeyer reached out and pulled her Himalayan cat off Hayley's metal exam table, holding her close and blocking the cat's ears like Hayley had just dared to take Coco Chanel's name in vain. “This sweater was custom-made for her! There's no way she can be allergic to it.”
Hayley sighed as she looked at the clock. If her butt wasn't passing through security at Logan by ten o'clock, she was going to miss her best friend Kyla's Montana wedding. However, with the Marblehead Cat Show less than twenty-four hours away, her Boston veterinarian's office had been a veritable puffball parade for days. She'd opened for emergencies only this morning, but show cat owners defined the word
much more loosely than the general public.
“I'm really sorry, but cats and sweaters and August just aren't a good combination.” Hayley did an internal eye roll. “If it's any consolation, Coco would be reacting to Prada as well.”
Mrs. Overmeyer's eyes narrowed. “We'll have to drop out of the show. She'll lose her sponsorship!”
Hayley stopped writing on her prescription pad.
A sponsorship? Seriously?
has a sponsorship?”
“Of course! But I had to insure her eyes before they'd give us the contract. Look at these eyes. Million-dollar eyes, aren't they, sweet thing?” Mrs. Overmeyer tickled Coco under the chin, kissing her little smushed nose.
Hayley bit her tongue while she handed over a squeeze bottle. She'd been handling show cats for two years now, which had greatly enhanced her sense of the ridiculous, but
? Some insurance agent had laughed all the way to the bank on that one.
“Two weeks of this lotion, and no more sweaters, all right? Call me if you have any questions.”
As she closed the door on Coco and headed back to her tiny office, she sighed. Two summers ago, she'd felt incredibly lucky when her uncle had turned his Back Bay practice over to her and retired to the Capeâ¦but that was before she'd realized ninety percent of the animals
the practice were no bigger than a football. She couldn't wait to escape to Montana for two weeks and live where animals were the size of normal.
“You okay?” Dixie, the assistant who had come with the office, came around the corner and halted, sculpted eyebrows hiked. She was five foot three in heels, sixty years old, and rocked the line dancing circuit on weekends. She'd left Texas behind thirty-two years ago, but nobody'd told her hair yet.
“Please tell me there are no more cats named after designers on the schedule.”
“Can't tell for sure.”
Hayley cringed. “How about cats
“No guarantees on that one, either, sugar.”
“Is there a Doberman out there, just to mix it up a little?” Dixie shook her head. “A Lab mix? Tiger cat from the shelter?”
“Sorryâfresh out of mutts. We're show cat central today.”
Hayley felt her nose wrinkle. “We're show cat central
day. Why didn't my uncle ever take care of
“Just get through these last five appointments, and we'll be off to the airport. You won't have to think about teeny-tiny beasts for two whole weeks.”
“And show season will be over by the time I get back, right?”
“Show season never ends, honey. You know that.”
“Speaking of never-ending seasons”âHayley pointed at her desk, which was strewn with Christmas decorationsâ”Is there a reason my office looks like Walmart on December 26th?”
“I'm going camping, remember? It's Christmas in July at the Friendly Woodchuck.”
Hayley shook her head. “Who
“As long as they've got lawn chairs by the pool and margaritas on tap, they can call it anything they want.”
“I hate to poke holes in your camping fantasy, but I don't think they're going to have margarâ”
“Shh. It's Christmas in July. I agreed to go camping, and in exchange, Sonny agreed to keep me in enough margaritas that I don't
Hayley cleared a space so she could sit down. “All righty, then. Knock yourself out. I'll try not to be jealous as I head out to the land of big skies, endless mountains, and cowboys.”
“Are you all packed?”
Hayley nodded. “Checked off everything on your list, and I still only needed two suitcases.”
“Then you didn't pack everything on my list. Do you have your bridesmaid dress?”
“Check.” Hayley grimaced as she pointed to the dress bag hanging on the back of her door. “I've got the dress, all of its poofy under-dress things,
“You'll be adorable.” Dixie patted the dress bag, sighing. “You have to send pictures.”
“I can't believe you get to be in a
Sound of Music
-themed wedding. I could just start singing!”
“Do itâand I find a new assistant.”
“Oh, sugar. You say that every day.” Dixie smirked as she consulted the two charts in her hand. “Do you want the hives next? Or the infected toenail?”
“Neither.” Hayley lifted ornaments and tinsel out of the way so she could find the packing list Dixie'd sent her home with last night. “Did I happen to mention how
the animals are in Montana?”
“You did. You also mentioned how hot the cowboys are, in case that's your next question.”
Hayley rolled her exhausted shoulders. “Maybe what I need is a little ranch-style fling. Two weeks, no strings.”
Dixie coughed delicately. “That'd be taking the date-'em-and-dump-'em thing to a new extreme, even for you, don't you think?”
“Did I mention I need a newâ”
“Yes.” Dixie handed her a chart. “And just for that, I give you the hives.”
After Dixie left her office, Hayley pulled out the list and scanned the items she'd checked off. Way at the bottom were two things she'd added herself last night, just to be sure she wouldn't leave without them. She opened the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a tiny stuffed unicorn and a miniature doll, both well worn.
She held them in her hands for a long moment before she zipped them carefully into her carry-on. Then she picked up an old frame from her desk, kissed her fingers, and softly tapped the two little girls in the picture. Maybeâ¦maybe they were in Montana.
“Miss you, sweeties.”
Hayley took a deep breath and set the frame back in its place, blinking her eyes so the tears wouldn't escape.