Welcome to Wednesday Writers Christmas Reads! Today’s guest author is Davalynn Spencer with an excerpt from her Historical Christmas Romance Just In Time for Christmas. So without further ado, let’s welcome Davalynn and get reading!
Just In Time for Christmas
by Davalynn Spencer
She’s seventeen with a ranch to run, a fear of heights, and a cowboy intent on stealing her heart.
Abigale Millerton leaves a Denver girl’s school and returns to her grandparents’ high-country ranch to find the boy she’d grown up with not a boy any longer—and butting in on her challenge with local timber thieves. If he’d stop telling her what to do, they might get along.
Seth Holt has loved Abigale since before he knew better. And now that she’s back in the high country, she’s still as bull-headed as ever. But Seth can match her, and he’s determined to keep her out of harm’s way and in his line of sight. Trouble is, he’d rather keep her in his arms.
The Catamounts, El Paso County, Colorado Territory
The chair tipped beneath her boots.
Abigale fanned her arms, fighting for balance in the barn’s drafty loft, but the chair tipped further. She dove into the hay pile, cringing as wood splintered on the barn floor twelve feet below.
That was the second kitchen chair she’d lost in three days.
Rolling to her back, she looked up at the leaky roof. If she didn’t know better, she’d think Pop had deliberately taken his shotgun to it. But she did know better. He’d been up in years, not out of his mind.
A tear escaped and slid to her temple. If she hadn’t gone back to school after Mams passed last year, she could have helped him more, and he might not have worked himself underneath that marker in the family plot.
She stood and brushed hay from her hair and clothes, then kicked the wooden boxes she’d stacked in the loft. Not exactly the most stable foundation for balancing a chair.
None of her classes at Wolfe Hall had prepared her for patching a roof without the aid of a ladder, and she didn’t relish the thought of climbing up on top of the barn, ladder or no. The loft was full of summer hay, so she’d have feed enough for the horses and milk cow, but only if she could keep the snow out.
And it’d soon be snowing by the foot, for the aspens had already turned.
So did the irony. Pop had called her his Aspen-gal ever since he and Mams took her in as an orphaned six-year-old.
“Just a few letters difference is all, for a pretty little gal with yella hair,” he’d said.
His nickname had changed everything.
As sure as the white-barked trees slipped from green to shimmering gold each fall, a timid, lonely child transformed into one who believed she could do anything she set her mind to.
Unless it involved heights.
Slowly descending the makeshift ladder nailed to the barn wall, she studied the rungs and how they were spaced. Why couldn’t she build one just like it on the outside of the barn, a rung at a time? It might be safer than her balancing act in the loft, and less costly. She had only two kitchen chairs left.
Below her, Chester yapped and wagged his encouragement. Not that she saw him. She simply knew that his happy bark meant a fanning tail. Looking down made things worse. If she didn’t look down, she didn’t have to think about how high up she was.
As the box stalls rose into her peripheral vision, she chanced a peek. Sure enough, Chester’s feathery tail swept the air.
“Good boy.” She stepped to blessed terra firma and rubbed the dog’s russet-colored back. “What would I do without your encouragement?”
Pieces of broken chair lay scattered around her, as well as the fallen board she’d tried to nail on the underside of the roof, and she tossed them on a heap of scrap lumber in Pop’s work room. A neat stack of shingles from the Windsor lumber mill waited for her to be reasonable and use them to replace those that had blown off or worn through. But that meant nailing them on from the outside.
As always, Pop’s intentions had been good. But this time they simply came too late.
A shelf along one wall held most of his tools, aside from those that hung from nails above. Leather punches, awls, hammers, a saw. Everything looked just as he’d left it, as if he’d walk in the door any minute and ask what she was doing. Sinking into her memories of the tall, robust man, she smelled the pipe smoke that clung to his plaid wool shirts. Saw the crinkles at the corners of his laughing eyes, the shock of white hair that helped her spot him from a distance if he wasn’t wearing his old brown hat.
It hung from a nail by a spare harness collar and she plopped it on her head. Fitting as poorly as ever, it made her feel like Pop was nearby, encouraging her on like Chester. It made her feel less lonely.
Rather than return to the loft for the hammer she’d left behind, she chose another one from Pop’s collection, shoved it in the belt holding up his trousers, and pocketed a handful of nails. After arming herself with several shorter pieces from the scrap pile, she cinched her determination, and marched out to the mountain side of the barn.
“This is a simple task—hold the board against the barn and drive a nail in each end.”
The dog dropped to his haunches as if expecting a show.
Abigale inspected the wooden siding, chose a narrow section between two vertical boards that created a shallow space, and nailed the first slat across it at knee height. The second one she hammered in level with her waist, and the third one she set even with her shoulders. Pleased with her work so far, she tugged on the rungs, testing their hold.
So far so good.
Craning her head back, she looked up. Way up past the barn into the gray-bellied clouds.
With her fingers clenched like a corset around the slats, she shut her eyes, climbed up to the second rung and back down.
“Thank you. Now if you’ll just follow me up, you can carry a shingle in your mouth.”
And it would take her a month to patch the roof. That would never do, for snow was sure to fly tonight. Besides, Chester didn’t climb ladders. But she could rig a rope pully and haul the shingles that way. Or fashion a sling across her back and carry them with her. Wouldn’t Miss Butterfield be impressed with her ingenuity?
Abigale snorted—a most unladylike habit she’d been temporarily shamed out of by the Wolfe Hall head mistress. But up here in the high country where the air was crisp and bracing, and the gun-metal sky so low she could touch it, such a rebellious gesture felt somehow liberating.
She mustered her nerve by considering the three mouths she had to feed that now grazed on winter-dry grass in the near pasture. Clearly, no one had felt compelled to take a couple of old horses and Ernestine home for the winter. You’d think someone would have fetched them, someone like the Holts from the next ranch over.
Memories flickered by, all the hours she’d tagged along with their son Seth. But what would he want with a couple of broken-down saddle horses and a dry cow?
Chester, on the other hand, still had a few good years in him. At the funeral, Pastor Meeks had agreed to take him home. Maybe the old dog had come back of his own accord.
Like she had.
She gathered more slat-like pieces from the scrap pile, slid them into her belt, and started up the so-called ladder.
A snowflake landed on her nose.
Nooo, not yet!
A drumroll tumbled, but she refused to look at the peak rising behind her. She’d witnessed thundersnow once as a child, a phenomenon that Pop said required precise conditions to occur. She didn’t need those precise conditions now. She needed to patch the roof and preserve the hay.
Pressed close as she was against the outside of the barn, she couldn’t see the wide park spreading out to the east, but she sensed the gathering storm and felt the cloud ceiling drop even lower.
Ignoring the next few flakes, she extended her ladder by three more slats, inspiring perseverance. She stepped up on one slat with another at waist level, appreciating the semblance of security. With wooden piece in hand against the barn’s side, she set a nail at one end, and pounded it in. Emboldened by the minute, she finished another set of three and climbed up to start on the next, and then the next.
A thunderous crash set the barn trembling, and she flinched. The hammer slipped from her hand, her fingers from the rung, and her heart lurched to her throat as bottomless space opened beneath her.
Want to read more? You can find Just In Time for Christmas at Amazon
About the Author:
Bestselling author and Will Rogers Gold Medallion winner for Inspirational Western Fiction, Davalynn Spencer writes Western romance set along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. She is the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters and an award-winning rodeo journalist and former crime-beat reporter who can’t stop #lovingthecowboy. When she’s not writing Western romance, she teaches writing workshops, speaks for special events, plays piano on her church worship team, and wrangles feline mouse detectors Annie and Oakley. Connect with her at www.davalynnspencer.com