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One Cowboy, One Christmas

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One Cowboy, One Christmas
Kathleen Eagle

His very own Christmas Angel… Stranded in a snowstorm, Zach reached out for help at the nearest house he could find. And the girl who answered the door was a vision. Zach thanked his lucky stars for the kindness of strangers. But to Ann, this man was no stranger. Zach didn’t seem to remember their shared night of passion all those years ago – but how could Ann forget?Seeing Zach on her doorstep was as shocking as seeing the ghost of Christmas past. And, though she tried to keep her distance, she had to wonder – was a second chance with this cowboy in her Christmas future?


She lifted her mug for show, but he put his hand over hers and guided her drink to his mouth. “It’s hot,” she whispered.

“Mmm.” He pressed his lips together. “I’ll pass.” “Would you like something else?” she offered, and he shook his head. “You’re welcome to stay through the holidays. A week was your bet, not mine.”

“Maybe I was hopin’ you’d raise me.” She gave him a quizzical look. “Try it,” he challenged, his eyes mesmerizing her. “Aren’t you curious?”

“What would happen?”

“That’s not the way the game is played. You gotta say, I’ll see your week—” he lifted his hand slowly toward her hair, moved a barely visible strand with a barely moving finger “—and raise you all the way into the next.”

“I can’t afford you…” She couldn’t move. His cool finger touched her cheek, trailed tingles to her chin. “…that…long.” His kiss was impossibly tender. A touch of warm breath, a taste of spice.

An all-knowing smile. “Yeah, you can.”

One Cowboy, One Christmas


Kathleen Eagle

www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk)

Dear Reader,

I’m back, just as I promised in my letter to you in In Care of Sam Beaudry. This time it’s the special holiday delivery of a special cowboy—Sam’s brother, Zach Beaudry.

Oh, I do love me some cowboys. One in the flesh and numerous on paper. I married the former, and the rest is history. (Not to mention her story.) I met Clyde Eagle on June 8 in the year…well, in the past century. But I remember it as though it happened last week. He was dressed in a red Western-style shirt, scuffed boots, a straw cowboy hat…and let’s just say he wore his Wranglers as only a cowboy can. And—icing on the cake—he was gentling a young buckskin horse. This prim Eastern college girl made a photographic memory that day that would make its mark on every romantic tale she’s written from that century to this.

Zach Beaudry is one of those paper cowboys, but with my creativity and your imagination, we’re about to bring him to life. Zach’s a professional bull rider who’s almost forgotten what home means. He’s tired, broke and half-frozen when he lands on the doorstep of the Double D Ranch, and he’s risked every part of his body except his heart. But Ann Drexler is about to remedy that little oversight.

Welcome to the Double D Wild Horse Sanctuary. One Cowboy, One Christmas is only the beginning.

Happy holidays!

Kathleen Eagle

About the Author

KATHLEEN EAGLE published her first book, a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award winner, with Mills & Boon in 1984. Since then she has published more than forty books, including historical and contemporary, series and single-title, earning her nearly every award in the industry. Her books have consistently appeared on regional and national bestseller lists, including the USA TODAY list and the New York Times extended bestseller list. Kathleen lives in Minnesota with her husband, who is Lakota Sioux. They have three grown children and three lively grandchildren.

For Mary Bracho extraordinary teacher, cherished friend

Chapter One

“Don’t die on me, Zel.”

I’ve been dying, Zachary. I’ve been trying to tell you that.

“Come on, Zel. You know how much I love you, girl. You’re all I’ve got. Don’t do this to me here. Not now.”

But it had to be here because it would be now. His beloved pickup truck, Zelda, had quit on him, and Zach Beaudry had no one to blame but himself. He’d taken his sweet time hitting the road, and then miscalculated a shortcut. For all he knew he was a hundred miles from gas. But even if they were sitting next to a pump, the three dollars he had in his pocket wouldn’t get him out of South Dakota, which was not where he wanted to be right now. Not even reliable old Zelda could get him much of anywhere on fumes. He was sitting out in the cold in the middle of nowhere. And getting colder. Zach made no apologies to anyone for being a fair-weather lover.

Cowboy. Fair-weather cowboy. As a lover, he was the all-weather model.

He shifted the pickup into Neutral and pulled hard on the steering wheel, using the downhill slope to get her off the blacktop and into the roadside grass, where she shuddered to a standstill. He stroked the padded dash. “You’ll be safe here.”

But Zach would not. It was getting dark, and it was already too damn cold for his cowboy ass. Was it December yet? November in this part of the country was hard enough on beat-up bones and worn-out joints. Zach’s battered body was a barometer, and he was feeling South Dakota, big-time. He’d have given his right arm to be climbing into a hotel hot tub instead of a brutal blast of north wind. The right was his free arm anyway. Damn thing had lost altitude, touched some part of the bull and caused him a scoreless ride last time out. Whole lotta pain for an ugly little goose egg.

It wasn’t scoring him a ride this night, either. A carload of teenagers whizzed by, topping off the insult by laying on the horn as they passed him. It was at least twenty minutes before another vehicle came along. He stepped out and waved both arms this time, damn near getting himself killed. Whatever happened to do unto others? In places like this, decent people didn’t leave each other stranded in the cold.

His face was feeling stiff, and he figured he’d better start walking before his toes went numb. He struck out for a distant yard light, which was the only sign of human habitation in sight. He couldn’t tell how distant, but he knew he’d be hurting by the time he got there, and he was counting on some kindly old man to be answering the door. No shame among the lame.

It wasn’t like Zach was fresh off the operating table—it had been a few months since his last round of repairs—but he hadn’t given himself enough time. He’d lopped a couple of weeks off the near end of the doc’s estimated recovery time, rigged up a brace, done some heavy-duty taping and climbed onto another bull. Hung in there for five seconds—four seconds past feeling the pop in his hip and three seconds short of the buzzer.

He could still feel the pain shooting down his leg with every step. Only this time he had to pick the damn thing up, swing it forward and drop it down again on his own. Couldn’t even wangle a ride off his own kind.

Pride be damned, he just hoped somebody would be answering the door at the end of the road. The light in the front window was a good sign.

The four steps to the covered porch might as well have been four hundred, and he was looking to climb them with a lead weight chained to his left leg. His eyes were just as screwed up as his hip. Big black spots danced around with tiny red flashers, and he couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. He stumbled over some shrubbery, steadied himself on the porch railing and peered between vertical slats.

There in the front window stood a spruce tree with a silver star affixed to the top. Zach was pretty sure the red sparks were all in his head, but the white lights twinkling by the hundreds throughout the huge tree, those were real. He wasn’t too sure about the woman hanging the shiny balls. Most of her hair was caught up on her head and fastened in a curly clump, but the light captured by the escaped bits crowned her with a golden halo. Her face was a soft shadow, her body a willowy silhouette beneath a long white gown. If this was where the mind ran off to when cold started shutting down the rest of the body, then Zach’s final worldly thought was, This ain’t such a bad way to go.

He wanted to tell her, touch her, thank her. If she would just turn to the window, he could die looking into the eyes of a Christmas angel. She would find him, know him, forgive and love him, all in a look, and he would go to his Maker feeling good inside. Fighting to free his leg from a dried-out bush, he stumbled over a stone face with the bulging eyes, fangs and flaring nostrils of a hideous watchdog sitting on the porch beside the steps. It took all the strength he had left to throw the hellhound off him. Down the steps he went.

But he went down fighting.


Something—someone—had fallen. The glass ornament that had just slipped from Ann’s fingers crunched under her slippered foot.

“Sally, what happened?”

No answer. No movement in the foyer. She would have heard the door if her sister had tried to sneak outside. Ann flipped the porch light on and peered through the narrow window flanking the front door. One of her gargoyles lay in pieces at the edge of the porch. Ann’s heartbeat tripped into overdrive as she opened the door, expecting the worst. “Sally?”

“What’s going on?” Sally called out from down the hall.

She was safe inside, thank God. If Ann knew her older sister, Sally had had her fingers crossed when she’d promised not to leave the house anymore without telling somebody where she was going. Sally hated being treated like an invalid, and Ann tried not to do it. They seldom talked about Sally’s condition, especially when the symptoms were in remission. They knew the pain of multiple sclerosis, each in her own way. It had become a third sister. The cruel and unpredictable one.

“I don’t know,” Ann said. “Probably just the wind.”

Or the fourteen-year-old she’d presented with an ultimatum at school earlier in the week. If we can’t depend on you to show up when you’re supposed to, Kevin, we’ll have to reassess the terms of our agreement.

“It sounded like a battering ram. Where’s that dog when you need him?”
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