A Moment at Christmas
A Whistle Stop Romance, book 5
by Jennifer Faye
Needed: A nanny in time for Christmas!
Cowboy Christian Danser keeps his home at the Broken Arrow Ranch just as his late wife left it: cozy and orderly. With an early winter settling in and the ranch shorthanded, he needs a nanny ASAP.
Waitress Noelle Forrester finds herself unexpectedly unemployed. With Christmas approaching, she and her young son are facing eviction. An ad for a live-in nanny appears to be the answer to her problems. Until she comes face-to-face with Christian—the sexy yet irritating cowboy who cost Noelle her previous job!
Christian resists hiring the beautiful woman. She’s too young, too busy, and far too tempting. Nonetheless, when his daughter takes a shine to Noelle, he reconsiders. But when Noelle’s holiday cheer conflicts with Christian’s avoidance of the holiday, sparks fly. Somehow, Noelle has to open Christian’s heart to the spirit of Christmas…or she and her son will be homeless by the New Year.
Note: This book contains closed door love scenes.
Whistle Stop Romance series:
Book 1 – A Moment to Love
Book 2 – A Moment to Dance
Book 3 – A Moment on the Lips
Book 4 – A Moment to Cherish
Book 5 – A Moment at Christmas
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He was late.
Christian Danser pressed harder on the accelerator of his pickup. He hated being late for anything. He’d had every intention of leaving on time, but then his daughter, Molly, had begged him not to go. She’d wanted to play one more video game. How do you say no to a six-year-old when she’s looking at you with a pleading stare on her adorable face?
It wasn’t like he had a wife to pick up the slack—not any longer. The piercing thought sent a familiar pain arrowing through his tattered heart. He couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain Molly had been enduring knowing her mother was never coming home again. And so he’d stayed and played another game.
In the distance, the bright neon lights of CJ Hotties lit up the night sky. Settled between the small towns of Lomas and Whistle Stop, this rowdy night spot was far too close to Christian’s ranch for his comfort. But neither municipality wanted it within its city limits, so here it sat in the middle of nowhere.
It was his destination. Inside was to be a bachelor party for his ranch foreman. Christian didn’t plan to stick around long. It wasn’t like anyone would miss him. Right?
Christian wheeled his pickup into the busy parking lot and slipped his truck in the first empty spot he found. He hopped out and settled his cowboy hat on his head. He lowered his chin, shielding himself from the bone-chilling late-November wind, and pulled up the collar of his Sherpa-lined jean jacket. If he wasn’t mistaken, the air held the promise of snow. The forecasters had predicted an early winter. Maybe for once they’d gotten it right.
He glanced up at the cinder-block building that had been spruced up with a string of Christmas lights anchored along the edge of the metal roof. A neon sign flashing the name of the bar was propped up on the roof. The building wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but based on the large, overflowing parking lot, this place lived up to its reputation for being the newest hot spot in New Mexico.
With his hands stuffed in his jacket pockets, he strode through the parking lot. He couldn’t believe his own ranch hands had banded together and threatened to go on strike if he didn’t put in an appearance at his foreman’s bachelor party. At first, Christian had thought they were joking, but it didn’t take long for him to realize just how serious they were about him taking part in the festivities. It wasn’t that he didn’t wish Chuck the best, but Christian was a widower—a single father. Those titles still felt so strange to him. And it just didn’t feel right to go out partying when he had so many responsibilities waiting for him at home.
Since his wife tragically died almost two years ago, he’d led a quiet life. Thankfully his mother had stepped up and helped him through the dark days. She’d kept the house going while he kept busy in the barn. But this week his mother had decided to elope—leaving him and his daughter on their own. Each day he struggled to maintain the routines his wife, Becky, had established—routines that gave their life a semblance of normalcy.
He stepped up to the entrance and gripped the cold door handle. The thump of a bass drum vibrated the heavy metal doors. He hesitated. His thoughts turned to the quiet solitude of his barn. The thought of a horseback ride along the perimeter of the ranch before the snow set in was quite tempting—
“Hey, buddy, you goin’ in or what?” complained a young guy behind him. “It’s cold out here.”
“Yeah, move,” someone else yelled.
Christian opened the door. The blare of country music interspersed with bursts of laughter and people yelling echoed in his ears. He approached the bouncer, who appeared to be the size of the entire Denver Broncos offensive line. Christian held out his ID, but the man waved him past without even bothering to look at the card, making Christian feel much older than his thirty years.
Not surprisingly, the building wasn’t much nicer on the inside. The concrete-block walls were painted a bland gray with beer and alcohol banners strung across them. Whoever owned the place certainly didn’t have a lot of imagination when it came to decorating, unlike Becky. She’d made sure their home had been warm and welcoming, from the frilly kitchen curtains to the photos of their daughter adorning the upstairs hallway. Becky’s touches were still all over the house, just as she’d left it. And that was how the house would remain.
She’d been a homebody through and through, happy to tend to the needs of her family, lend a hand in the community, and spend her spare time quilting. She’d worked hard to make herself the perfect rancher’s wife. Sometimes he wondered if she’d tried too hard.
Christian drew his thoughts up short, realizing that if he kept thinking of Becky and all he’d lost that he’d never get through this evening. People had assured him that, with enough time, he’d be able to get on with his life—but how did they know this? And how was he supposed to do that when he was so filled with regrets and if-only’s?
Christian negotiated his way through the boisterous partiers. He scanned the area of tables to his left. Numerous large-screen televisions were mounted on every wall, each broadcasting a different sporting event. In between the flat-screens, strings of colored Christmas lights draped the walls. He exhaled an unsteady sigh. He’d been hoping that, with this being a trendy bar, he could escape the jolliest time of the year—Becky’s absolute favorite holiday.
After all, this was still November—Black Friday, to be exact. And yet the place was nothing but wall-to-wall people. Weren’t all of these people supposed to be out hunting down the best deal of the year on Christmas presents? Just then Brooks & Dunn’s Boot Scootin’ Boogie ended and the festive chords of Feliz Navidad crooned from the overhead speakers. Christian’s jaw tightened.
Someone bumped into him, but Christian stood his ground. He glanced over to find the retreating back of the guy who’d slammed into him. It was then that his gaze strayed to a young couple sharing a heated kiss. They appeared lost in their passion and oblivious to the people around them. He quickly turned away.
If only things had been different, Becky would be at home right now waiting for him. She’d be putting their children to bed—Molly and a little brother or sister. It’s the way things were supposed to have worked out. Maybe they hadn’t had the most harmonious marriage, but they hadn’t given up. Day after day, they kept working to keep things together. But then the accident had stolen away everything including their plans.
And now with his mother off on her honeymoon, he had no choice but to look into hiring a live-in nanny/housekeeper. So far the responses to his classified ad had been less than stellar. Living in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains was akin to living in the middle of nowhere, and not many people wanted to travel almost a half hour from Whistle Stop every day for work, much less move onto a sprawling ranch.
The nannies he’d previously hired hadn’t worked out. Some had said he expected too much from them and quit on the spot. Others he’d let go because they just hadn’t been up to the task. Why was it so hard to find the right woman—someone like Becky?
It wasn’t like he was asking for the moon and the stars. He just needed a qualified woman to handle the house and keep an eye on his spirited daughter. Then his life would go back to normal—or as close to it as possible. He longed for those quiet, humdrum days.
Christian finally reached the edge of the seating area. He was scanning the crowd for his friends when a woman caught his eye. A curvaceous waitress. He paused, taking in her skimpy uniform of tight green shorts and a snug low-cut white T-shirt, complete with sparkly red suspenders and a felt hat boasting a large gold jingle bell at the tip.
Two guys in ball caps were smiling and laughing as she served their drinks. Before the woman could walk away, the bigger of the men clamped his hands around her wrists. Unable to hear the exchange, Christian observed the vehement shake of the woman’s head and the curve of her backside as she tried to back away from the man.
The guy holding her arms gave a big yank. She lost her balance and tumbled onto the man’s lap. The waitress turned on the man’s lap and, with her hands now free, slapped him. A smile tugged at Christian’s lips. Good for her. The jerk deserved what he got. But before the elf regained her footing, the man once again grabbed her wrists.
Christian’s hands balled into fists. Where was the bouncer? He glanced over his shoulder. A scuffle between two young guys at the front door kept the bouncer occupied.
With no immediate help available from the management, Christian strode to the table. The leering man continued to hold the woman’s wrists captive while his other meaty paw wrapped around her waist as he relentlessly attempted to kiss this very unwilling elf.
The woman’s hat had slipped down over her eyes during the struggle. All Christian could make out were her glossy red lips and her stubborn chin jutting out from beneath the green material as she wriggled, trying to break free from the giant.
“Let her go,” Christian called out over the noise of the bar.
The man, built like an armored tank, paused in his pursuit to plant a wet one on the elf’s lips. His tree-trunk-like neck craned in Christian’s direction. He flicked the brim of his black ball cap farther up on his forehead.
“Says who?” His deep voice rumbled from his barrel chest.
Christian stared back, refusing to blink. “That’s no way to treat a lady!” He had to yell to be heard over the music. “Now I’m telling you politely to release her.”