Christmas At Copper Mountain (A Copper Mountain Christmas)

BOOK: Christmas At Copper Mountain (A Copper Mountain Christmas)
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Christmas At Copper Mountain

©
Copyright 2013 Jane Porter

 

The Tule Publishing Group, LLC

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

ISBN 978-1-940296-07-4

 

 

Dedication

 

For my incredible readers and the wonderful women on the Jane Porter and Montana Born Street Teams. You all make writing a joy. This story is for you!

 

 

Contents

 

Title page

Copyright

Dedication

 

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Excerpt: Take Me, Cowboy

About the Author

Available Now

Coming Soon

 

 

Chapter
ONE

 

 

Harley
Diekerhoff looked up from peeling potatoes to glance out the kitchen window.

It was still snowing... even harder than it had been this morning.

So much white, it dazzled.

Hands still, breath catching, she watched the thick, white flakes blow past the ranch house at a dizzying pace, enthralled by the flurry of the lacy snowflakes.

So beautiful. Magical A mysterious silent ballet in all white, the snow swirling, twirling just like it did in her favorite scene from the Nutcracker—the one with the Snow Queen and her breathtaking corps in their white tutus with their precision and speed—and then that dazzling snow at the end, the delicate flakes powdering the stage.

Harley’s chest ached.
She gripped the peeler more tightly, and focused on her breathing.

She didn’t want to remember.

She wasn’t going to remember.

Wasn’t going to go there, not now, not today.
Not when she had six hungry men to feed in a little over two hours. She picked up a potato, started peeling.

She’d come to Montana to work.
She’d taken the temporary job at Copper Mountain Ranch to get some distance from her family this Christmas, and working on the Paradise Valley cattle ranch would give her new memories.

Like the snow piling up outside the window.

She’d never lived in a place that snowed like this. Where she came from in Central California, they didn’t have snow, they had fog. Thick soupy Tule fog that blanketed the entire valley, socking in airports, making driving nearly impossible. And on the nights when the fog lifted and temperatures dropped beneath the cold clear sky, the citrus growers rushed to light smudge pots to protect their valuable, vulnerable orange crops.

Her family didn’t grow oranges.
Her family were Dutch dairy people. Harley had been raised on a big dairy farm in Visalia, and she’d marry a dairyman in college, and they’d had their own dairy, too.

But that’s the part she needed to forget.

That’s why she’d come to Montana, with its jagged mountains and rugged river valleys and long cold winters.

She’d arrived here the
Sunday following Thanksgiving and would work through mid-January, when Brock Sheenan’s housekeeper returned from a personal leave of absence.

In January, Harley would either return to California or look for another job in Crawford County.
Harley was tempted to stay, as the Bozeman employment agency assured her they’d have no problem finding her a permanent position if she wanted one. So far she liked everything about her job on the isolated ranch, from the icy, biting wind that howled beyond the ranch’s thick log cabin walls, to the cooking, cleaning, and laundry required.

The physicality of the work was exactly what her mind and body needed.
It was good to lift, bend, carry, mop, sweep, dust, fold. The harder she worked, the better she felt, and today, for the first time in years, she actually felt almost....

Happy.

Harley paused, brows knitting in surprise.

Almost happy.

Wow.

That was huge.
Almost happy was significant. Almost happy gave her hope that one day she would feel more again, and be more again, and life wouldn’t be so bleak and cold.

Because it had been bleak.

It’d been....

She shook her head, brushed off the little peel clinging to her thumb and grabbed the last potato, swiftly peeling it, clearing her mind of everything but the task at hand, concentrating on the texture of the wet potato, the cool water in the sink, the quick motion of the peeler, the dazzling white flurries at the window, and the crackle of the fire behind her.

She liked being here. It was good being here. This wasn’t her house and yet in just one week it felt like home.

She enjoyed this kitchen with its golden, hand-planed pine cabinets, wide-planked hardwood floor, and the corner fireplace rimmed in local rock from the Yellowstone River.
She loved how the rustic exterior of the sprawling two-story cabin hid the large, comfortable, efficient kitchen and the adjacent over-sized laundry room with its two sets of washers and dryers… to handle feeding and looking after, not just Brock Sheenan, owner of Copper Mountain Ranch, but the hired hands who worked for Brock and lived in the bunk house behind the barn.

In winter the ranch hands didn’t leave the property much during the week.
The work was too grueling, the nights fell early, and driving at night could be treacherous on the windy, icy mountain road, so Monday through Friday Brock provided dinners for his five men, and clean, dry clothes, too. Come weekend, they were on their own, but Harley wouldn’t have minded cooking for extra mouths seven days a week.

The isolation of Copper Mountain Ranch, tucked back in the
Absarokas, higher than the typical Paradise Valley ranch, might have scared off other job applicants, but not her. She didn’t mind the severe weather or Brock Sheenan’s brusqueness—and she’d been warned about that in advance—but she was okay with a silent, gruff boss. She didn’t come to Marietta, Montana looking for friendship. Like Brock himself, she didn’t need conversation and company. She was here to work, and she preferred being left alone.

The employment agency liked her attitude.
They said she was perfect for the temp job and filled her in on the Sheenans, one of the bigger, more prominent families that had settled in Paradise Valley around the turn of the century. She’d be working for Brock Sheenan, the oldest of the five Sheenan sons. Brock had bought Copper Mountain Ranch to get away from his dad, which had caused some bad blood within the family, but he’d wanted his own place, and had designed the two-story log cabin himself, helping build it as a wedding present for his bride.

But tragedy struck a year and a half into their marriage, when Brock’s wife Amy was killed in a horrific car crash on one of the twisting mountain roads.
Devastated, Brock disappeared into his ranch, becoming almost reclusive after that.

The employment agency had shared the details with her, asking for her confidence.
But they thought it was important she understand that Brock Sheenan had a... reputation... for being eccentric. He didn’t need people the way others did, and he’d been quite specific in his desire for a tidy, professional, and disciplined housekeeper. He wouldn’t tolerate lazy and he couldn’t abide chatty. He needed a quiet, orderly house, and he liked things done his way.

Harley didn’t have a problem with that.
She was quiet too, and this year she’d been determined to avoid the holidays, and had deliberately chosen to go away for December, needing to escape her big California family that celebrated Christmas with endless activity, festivities, and fuss.

She loved all her nieces and nephews but this Christmas she didn’t want to be around kids.
Because this year she wasn’t celebrating Christmas. This year there wasn’t going to be a tree or trimmings, no stockings, or brightly wrapped toys.

Eyes hot, chest burning, she scooped up the mountain of wet potato scraps, when a deep, rough male voice startled her.

“You okay, Miss Diekerhoff?”

Turning quickly, potato skins still dripping, Harley blinked back tears as she
spotted Brock Sheenan standing by the fireplace, warming his hands.

Brock was a big man.
He was tall—six one or two—with broad shoulders, a wide muscular chest, and shaggy black hair.

Harley’s late husband, David, was Portuguese and darkly handsome, but David was always groomed and polished while the Montana rancher seemed disinclined to comb his hair, or bother with a morning shave.

The truth was, Brock Sheenan looked like a pirate, and never more so than now, with tiny snowflakes clinging to his wild hair and shadowed jaw.

“I’m fine,” she said breathlessly, embarrassed.
“I didn’t hear you come in.”

“The faucet was on.” He rubbed his hands together, the skin red and raw.
“You’re not... crying... are you?”

She heard the uncomfortable note in his voice and cringed a little.
“No,” she said quickly, straightening and squaring her shoulders as she dumped the potato peels into the garbage. “Everything’s wonderful.”

“So you’re not crying?”

“No,” she repeated crisply, drying her hands. “Just peeling potatoes for dinner.”

Her gaze swept his big frame, seeing the powdered snow still clinging to the hem of his Wrangler jeans that peeked beneath leather chaps and white glitter dusting his black brows.
His supple leather chaps weren’t for show. It was frigid outside and he’d spent the week in the saddle, driving the last herds of cattle from the back country to the valley below so they could take shelter beneath trees. “Can I get you something?”

“You don’t happen to have any coffee left from this morning that you could heat up?”

“I can make a fresh pot,” she said, grabbing the glass carafe to fill it with water. “Want regular or decaf?”

He glanced at the clock mounted on the wall above the door and then out the window where the snow flurries were thickening, making it almost impossible to see the tall pine trees marking one corner of the yard. “Leaded,” he said.
“Make it strong, too. It’s going to be a late night for me.”

She added the coffee grounds, and then hit the brew button.
“You’re heading back out?”

“I’m going to ride back up as soon as I get something warm in me.
Thought I’d take some of the breakfast coffee cake with me. If there was anything left.”

“There is.”
She’d already wrapped the remaining slices in foil. He wasn’t one to linger over meals, and he didn’t like asking for snacks between meals, either. If he wanted something now, it meant he wouldn’t be back anytime soon. But it was already after four. It’d be dark within the hour. “It’s snowing hard.”

“I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I don’t do a last check. The boys said we’ve got them all but I keep thinking we’re missing one or two of the young ones.
Have to be sure before I call it a night.”

Harley reached into a cupboard for one of the thermoses she sent with Brock on his early mornings.
“What time will you want dinner?”

“Don’t know when I’ll be back.
Could be fairly late, so just leave a plate in the oven for me. No need for you to stay up.” He bundled his big arms across his even bigger chest, a lock of thick black hair falling down over his forehead to shadow an equally dark eye.

BOOK: Christmas At Copper Mountain (A Copper Mountain Christmas)
13.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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