Hello, blog readers. Our Bull Rider Series snippet today is fitting for the holidays. This series follows the story of one couple through happy times, sad times, horrific times, steamy times, and everything in between. My hero and heroine have been together for seven years now. Join Velia Armano, her bull rider Caulder McCutchen, their families–including Caulder’s cousin *Jase and Aunt Judy from the Double Dutch Ranch series. A bull riding friend, Reece “Foley” Wilson is also in attendance as they sit down to Christmas dinner at Love House—their log home in the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania.
Christmas at Love House:
A Bittersweet Interlude, Book #3.
ALERT: I decided not to avoid some SPOILERS in this heartwarming excerpt. However, I did make a couple changes to keep some surprises for those planning to read the series.
Caulder came through the doorway and sauntered to the refrigerator for the ale. He set the bottles on a wooden tray waiting on the island counter and wrapped his arms around Velia. “How you doing, babe? Everything smells delicious. You’ve outdone yourself again.”
She took a minute away from perfecting the ham presentation, to turn into his embrace. The familiar smell of his cologne lingering with a bit of sweat, was one she’d never tire of. “I had so much help. We’ll be ready as soon as I carry in the ham. Will you gather everyone?”
“Most are already at the table. These smells are hard to resist, as are you.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead. Caulder lifted the tray with ale and waited at the door for her to walk in together. She set the platter in front of his place at the head of the table. He opened the bottles and handed one to who wanted ale then pulled her chair out, but she held up a finger.
“I need my camera. I’ll be right back.” She rushed into the office and came back with it. Caulder waited at her chair to the right of him, but she pulled it away from the table. “Come here.” She pressed her hand against his shoulder to stand on the chair. “Okay, take a seat, sweetheart.” Velia peered at their entire family around the large rectangular table that needed two dining leaves added.
“Mommy, why are you standing on the chair?”
“Taking a picture. Smile, sweetie. Let’s see that McCutchen charm, Granny Garnet.”
“Thank you for another beautiful holiday, you sweet girl.” Granny’s glowing smile could’ve warmed the whole room. Velia had grown to love this dear lady.
Kase cocked his head and gave her one of the biggest, toothiest grins.
“Up here, everyone.” Perfect. Click. Focus. Click again. “Thank you. I’ll send one to all of you.”
“But you aren’t in it. Set the timer, so you’ll be in it, too.” Caulder lifted her off the chair.
Velia set the camera on a shelf, peeked around to the viewfinder to be sure everyone was in the picture, set the timer, and rushed back. At the table, Caulder yanked her onto his lap and splayed his hand over her abdomen. “Say giggles everyone!”
After the shot, Caulder stood and lifted his glass, first to Velia then slowly peering over the crowd of people at their table. He winked at his grandmother. “Merry Christmas. As Velia would say, buon appetito!”
Glasses remained high as everyone around the table, repeated, “Buon appetito! Salute.”
They tapped their glasses together. Even Kase lifted his glass of milk and tapped it against anyone who reciprocated. His outgoing personality caused chills to spread from Velia’s head to her toes. She smiled at Caulder, met him halfway, and their lips touched in a heartfelt kiss.
Laughter, chatter, giggles, and Christmas carols in the background all mingled and filled the room. Velia observed Foley lean over to give Natale a kiss. The smiles they had for each other echoed love. The same look in Foley’s eyes was what she saw in Caulder’s eyes when he looked at her. Real love had been ignited at Love House during this holiday interlude.
Velia smiled warmly as she glanced across the table. Granny’s gold tablecloth with silver thread intermingled, captured the reflection of candlelight.
All of their family together brought an overwhelming peacefulness to her soul, but when she peered at her own son, tears welled. His messy, dark hair went all over the place–in his eyes, inside his collar, and poking out from behind his ears–like his dads. Caulder cut a piece of ham for himself but picked it up, holding it in front of Kase’s mouth. Instead of giving it to their boy, he teased by popping it into his own.
Kase giggled at his dad, then muttered, “That was mine, papa.”
Velia picked up her glass of sparkling juice, stood, and gave Caulder a squeeze. With a cheery smile, she surveyed those around the table. “I love each and every one of you so much. I’ll reiterate Caulder’s greetings. Merry, merry Christmas.” Her dad nodded and gave her a wink.
Pride beamed from his face. “Velia, dear, this seems like a good time to tell you something.” He held his glass of wine toward those at the table. “Your mamma and I have decided to look for a part-time place around here. Maybe a time-share.”
“We’d love to have you here,” said Aiden, Caulder’s dad. “I’ll put you in touch with a good friend of ours from way back. Tell us when you’re ready.”
“It won’t be for a while,” Lidia said. “Maybe by the time Caulder retires from bull riding. We’ve talked about this for some time. We’ll go to Italy every couple of years, and of course, visit with our boys and sweet nieces and nephew in California.”
Velia remained standing, trembling now due to the joy bubbling over inside. What would they do when Dante had children, or even Bobby if he found the right woman who wanted to settle at the winery? Her parents might have to get a couple time-shares. Sitting again, she stroked her throat. “Now, let’s finish dinner. The girls made tiramisu for dessert, and I can tell you it tastes fantastic!” She glimpsed Foley. “I have to agree with something Foley had said last night. ‘This is the best Christmas.’” She caught her breath before continuing. “I’ll miss you all so much when you’re gone.”
“Don’t worry, darlin’. I’ll keep you busy on the road for the next half a year at least before you have to come back to this lonely house.”
“Honey,” Velia said as she lovingly caressed his arm. “I want everyone here as much as possible, and I have a feeling it will never be lonely at Love House. A Merry Christmas night it is indeed!”
*NOTE: For those unfamiliar, Caulder is a cousin to the Carlson cowboys. However, these series are not connected, but, on occasion, the cousins will crossover or are mentioned in each other’s books. Christmas at Love House is one of the books.
Thank you for reading! Merry Christmas.
Wishing you tons of peaceful joy and happiness during the holiday in whichever way you celebrate–Kwanzaa Hanukkah, Christmas and more…
La vita è bella. Ciao!