Happy week before Christmas! I know, I know, it isn’t Short Snippet Saturday, but since Christmas is almost here, I wanted to share a snippet from my feel-good and heartwarming holiday story–a 90-minute to two-hour read. Secret Santa’s Rundown Sleigh: A Holiday Romance Novella. It won’t be long before the holiday is over and not everyone wants to read Christmas stories, so here we go. I have a snippet ready for a different book on Saturday too because, well, why not?
We don’t need much of a set up for this snippet other than to say… Terra is upset because she’s falling for Jude, but she doesn’t want to fall for anyone. And, it’s Christmas Eve and the guy who owns the rundown sleigh has a problem… Enjoy!
The girls remained quiet, but the tarp made crinkly sounds as they moved around beneath it. He pulled another blanket from under the seat he and Terra sat on and handed it to her. “I don’t mean to alarm you, but a support for a runner cracked. Let me check the toolbox to see what I have to fix it.”
“You’re a blacksmith. I’m sure you have something.”
She made blacksmithing sound like a bad thing. “Lady, do you think my job’s a joke? You should be glad I am.” He trudged to the back of the sleigh to rummage through the toolbox. A couple clamps would work for a little while. Terra came around to his side but remained silent. She shivered and he nudged her. “Get snuggled under the blanket. This might take a while. Or not,” he said dryly.
“You’re not too optimistic.” She got the blanket out of the wagon and draped it over his back.
Her act of kindness warmed his heart and increased the rate of his pulse. He moved in closer with the urge to warm her chattering lips with his own numb lips. He leaned in… Gulping, he spoke low. “I want to know you, Terra. Everything there is to know. If you leave, it can’t happen.” It hadn’t been easy for him to get that out, but she had to know.
Her eyelashes fluttered. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but then closed it.
Was he going to let her get away when she’d done something to him that hadn’t been done in five years? Why had she continued staring into his eyes with a longing? Couldn’t she lean in to let him know it’d be okay to kiss her? He removed a snowy glove and placed his hand behind her neck, subtly tilted his head, waiting for a sign…
She lowered her gaze.
Jude dropped his hand and straightened his back. Getting stranded together was a good way to get to know a person, if a person wanted to. He did. Sighing, he wasn’t sure how to tell her they wouldn’t make it home. Maisy’s giggles soothed his soul, but this would go south in seconds. Jude braced himself for what would come. “The sleigh isn’t getting us home tonight.”
“What?” Terra folded her arms. “You’re joking, right? Your way of keeping me here?”
He whipped the blanket off his shoulders and shoved it at her, grabbed a couple clamps, wood, and tools, and crawled under the sleigh. Jude stretched his arm out to grab the glove he’d dropped. “Why would I?” he growled. “Ah, can you get back in the sleigh to keep hold of the reins so the horse doesn’t run off?”
Now, he seethed. He rose from the ground on her side when she got settled. “Hey, Terra? If you believe I’d pull a stunt like this to keep you here, then I’ll be more than happy to get you to the hotel, or even back to your car to wait it out at the garage in town. You think I’d do this to my daughter, and yours, on a night like tonight? Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”
Maisy leaned over the side. “Daddy, you called Kylee’s mom sweetheart. That means you like her. Can we get out to build a snowman?”
He hadn’t meant sweetheart in a good way. “No. You don’t need to be wetter than you are. Stay in the sleigh and bundle up. Keep the plastic tarp over you.”
“Okay. It’s snowing hard! Look, Daddy. Look, Kylee. Daddy, are you really Santa?”
“Yeah, Mr. Overton, are you?” Kylee asked, then giggled. “It’s fun with you guys, Maisy.”
Jude scoffed. “Get bundled up. I mean it. Now, please. You do the same thing, Terra.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Hold the reins.” And don’t think I have a stupid job. Anger raged inside of him. The clamp and wood setup would not hold for long, and he had nothing to fix it good enough to last the next few miles. Not in this snow and terrain. Jude hated to admit it to himself, but after cleaning out his toolbox, he’d forgotten to put the most obvious tools back inside. What he needed was at his shop. Before next Christmas Eve, he’d renovate the sleigh like he’d planned on for years.
Working on supports to secure it the best he could, he crawled out from under the sleigh and removed his gloves, slammed the toolbox, and climbed up beside her. He blew on his hands then put on his gloves before taking the reins. “You can get in the back with the girls. The three of you will keep each other warm. We aren’t getting far on my half-ass repair. My hunting and fishing cabin is through the woods and over the ridge here to the left of us. We’ll make it close enough to walk in if we break down.”
He moved his horse along at a slow pace. “You know, tonight could’ve been fun. You don’t know me well enough to judge who I am, but you’re wrong in how you have judged me and my job. Yeah, and after you asked me not to judge you.”
“I wasn’t judging either you or the work you do. Your job is unique. I understand the skill it must take. You asked me to stay, and I refused. Now this. What I said sounded all wrong. I’m sorry. Kylee, are you and Maisy doing okay? Stay covered. The wind is blowing hard.”
“We’re okay, Mama.” Kylee said in a muffled reply.
She turned back, and he got a whiff of shampoo as ends of her brunette hair blew in his face. Confusion riddled his mind—his emotions entangled. “It sure as hell sounded like a judgement.”
Terra put her hand over his as he held the reins. “It wasn’t. Forgive me?”
Jude glimpsed her troubled face in the gray night brightened by snow. He let go of the reins with one hand and entwined their fingers. It was important to get to know her, to give his heart a chance to figure this out, and he couldn’t if she left. “Is it so wrong if I wanted you to stay another night? I wouldn’t sabotage this journey to make it happen.”
Terra squeezed his gloved hand. “I know. I’d like to get to know you too. It looks like I’m staying. Is there a chance of getting a cell signal at the cabin you mentioned? I’ll cancel my reservation. It’s so late, I’ll have to pay for the room now unless they find Christmas spirit in their heart. I don’t care. You said this could’ve been fun. Is it too late?”
Thank you for reading another long snippet.
My cousin took the snowy river picture near the real setting in Northern Lower Michigan where this book takes place. This river could run behind Jude’s cabin. 🙂 The snowy background in the graphic above is more like what Jude and Terra’s Christmas Eve looks like.
What is this novella about?
A feel-good holiday romance novella. The heat level in this little tale is toned down and not even close to steamy like my other books and exactly what I wanted for this story. However, it does contain kissing, mild cursing, and alcoholic beverages. I say this so it isn’t confused with the “sweet” genre although the story is very sweet.
Why does a stroke of bad luck happen now while on her way to Mackinaw City, Michigan on a blustery weekend? Two days before Christmas, Terra Westbrook and her young daughter have nowhere to stay. How can she convince her child that Santa will find her while sleeping in their car in a gas station parking lot—if they don’t die from hypothermia first? For her child’s sake, she accepts an invitation of a warm home from a resident in the village, but Terra soon learns, the kind person had no right to offer. However, she never expects the homeowner to be a lonely widower who hides tenderness and a big secret under his hard-hearted exterior.
Jude Overton isn’t interested in a relationship let alone a wife. He tried marriage once. Sometimes his heart still aches. Now, if only his sister would get the message to stop matchmaking him with single women. His life is complete raising his daughter. He’s doing the best he can to make her happy. Jude accepts this as enough until he gazes into a stranger’s melancholy eyes that hold an unspoken yearning. As the big day rolls around, he expects it’ll be just another day like the past five Christmases as a single dad, but maybe this year, it’s a good thing his sister chooses to ignore his wishes.