Silhouette Special Edition
2001 National Readers Choice Finalist!
The only way Beth Lannigen can get through the holidays is by staying too busy to cry. So she adds her new surly neighbor to her long to-do list. For Christmas, she’ll make Logan Ward smile.
But Logan Ward is punishing himself. Guilt ridden over the loss of his young daughter, the ex-cop wants the cold isolation of his new dilapidated house. Hard work and sweat will see him through Christmas.
Until the brightest woman he’s ever seen shows up at his door, her small son and an abandoned dog in tow.
Around mother and child, Logan discovers the hero he’d once been hailed. But Beth is wrong: life can’t simply go on after losing a dear one.
Beth isn’t prepared for Logan to become more than a project. She’d loved her husband with her whole heart. There’s no room for another man.
Then disaster strikes, giving Beth a chance to expand her heart and Logan a few short hours to honor his daughter’s memory by convincing Beth’s small son that Santa hasn’t forgotten him.
Logan Ward stumbled to the window, yanked up the blinds and flinched at the unexpected morning brightness. A few more blinks brought alien scenery into focus. Snow. A carpet of crystals covered the world–the canted yard, the forgotten brick-red wooden barn, the bowed fence posts meandering toward a stand of pines beyond.
When he’d arrived in Rockville yesterday, he’d expected the cold. He’d known about the snow. He’d even counted on the short, dreary winter days to help make him forget. What he hadn’t foreseen was how that same snow would smile in the low-angled light of the sun, and dazzle.
The joyful squeal that had jerked him out of his nightmare skirled through the glass once more.
On his property.
He couldn’t allow that.
He shoved away from the window and dragged on clothes. Where had the kid come from, anyway? Didn’t he have parents to watch over his welfare? How could they let a child wander without supervision? He plucked his discarded ski jacket from the newel post at the bottom of the stairs, jammed his feet into boots, then yanked open the front door.
The cheer of Christmas carols pulled him to a stop and sawed at his nerves. He hated Christmas, hated the whole damned holiday season.
The narrow country lane separating his property from his neighbor’s should have meant peace and solitude. Obviously, he’d been mistaken.
With her fuschia coat and teal-colored pants, the woman across the street appeared as bright as the decorations she hung.
He hated bright.
And her singing came to him as a free-tripping sound.
He hated bubbly.
As he watched her string lights along the edge of the roof, a sour taste filled his mouth. In his home away from town, he’d hoped to avoid all the festivities, the lights, the wreaths, the whole Santa scene.
As he stood there rooted, disliking the woman he’d never met, a blast of wind cascaded a shower of snow from his roof into the collar of his shirt, reminding him of his mission: the kid trespassing on his property.
“Welcome to New England,” he mumbled, wriggling his shoulders to hasten the melting. He turned up the collar of his ski jacket and stepped into the drift of snow covering the stone walkway.
At least the stupid mutt who’d disturbed him last night wasn’t still hanging around. Dogs had such needy personalities. And the last thing he wanted was to be needed by anybody–even a dog.
Last year he’d put up with all the Christmas fuss, but pretending had almost killed him. He couldn’t bear to face the bustle this year. From now on he’d use the back door and wouldn’t wander to the front of the house. And Rockville was definitely out of bounds. Thank God for the Internet and home delivery.
By the time he reached the child, he was more than ready to growl. “Hey, you! Yeah, you. Come over here.”
Gripping his bright red saucer, the boy complied.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Logan snarled.
“It’s the first snow. Miss Mac always lets me sled when it snows.”
“Do I look like Miss MacDonald?”
The boy cocked his head and looked at him with a serious expression for a moment. His daughter, Samantha, had looked at him the same way before answering any question where she risked having one of her privileges curbed. Pain, sharp and swift, tightened his chest until breathing required his full attention.
“You look like the Grinch,” the boy finally said.
The Grinch. Green, bitter, empty. That’s exactly how Logan felt. “Miss MacDonald doesn’t live here anymore, and I don’t want you on my property. Is that clear?”
A cantankerous pout creased the child’s cold-reddened face. “But I don’t got a hill at my house.”
“That’s not my problem. Where do you live?”
The boy’s chin pointed toward the house where the real estate agent had assured him a nice little widow lived. Why hadn’t it occurred to him the widow might have children and grandchildren who’d visit? No, his mind, bent on escape, had simply pictured a blue-haired granny, knitting as she rocked herself by the fireplace, quietly, peacefully–alone.
“Mom said I could stay till she called me.”
“And I say it’s time to go home.”
The boy made a dash for the hill, but as he was encumbered by snow pants and the snow saucer, Logan easily caught him on the fly. Feet kicking, the boy fought Logan. “No, no, I wanna stay!”
The boy thwacked his saucer against Logan’s knee.
“Ow! Why you little….” Logan snatched the weapon from the boy.
“Let me go!”
In answer, Logan clasped his wriggling prey securely against his hip and marched toward the overbright package perched on a ladder … to the woman who was busily turning the frozen landscape he’d purposely sought into the winter wonderland he wanted to avoid more than anything in the world.