A rugged Texas cowboy gets into the Christmas spirit to prove himself to the woman he loves in this heartwarming novel from the USA Today bestselling author of The Family Journal.
Maverick Callahan lives up to his reputation as a freewheeling cowboy. But a year ago he fell head-over-heels for an extraordinary woman he met while on vacation, a woman he was convinced he’d never see again. So when she appears on his doorstep like a Christmas miracle, Maverick is determined not to waste his lucky break.
Bridget O’Malley’s world has flipped upside down. As the new guardian of her best friend’s baby, she hasn’t had a moment to think about the Texas rancher who broke her heart. He’s just as sexy as ever, but she knows better than anyone that he’s not the settling-down type. As the trees are trimmed and mistletoe hung, will some holiday magic help Bridget trust this carefree cowboy with her heart and her future?
Includes the bonus novella “Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas” by Sara Richardson!
The minute Maverick Callahan pushed through the door of the pub in Ireland he zeroed in on a tall blonde playing darts. He threw a little extra swagger in his step as he walked past her and settled onto a barstool. When he caught her eye, he tipped his hat toward her and then removed it, laid it on the bar's polished wooden surface, and raked his fingers through his dark hair. When she finished her game, he'd ask her to dance.
"Jameson or Guinness?"
His focus shifted from the blond woman to the bartender, a redhead with a voice like honey. "I was thinking more of a shot of Jack Daniel's."
"You're in an Irish pub, not a honky-tonk, cowboy," she said with a sparkle in her green eyes.
Oh man, he'd always had a weakness for redheads. "Well, then I guess you'd better give me a pint of what you suggested since y'all ain't got good Tennessee whiskey."
"Ooooh, now those are fightin' words." She did a cute little head shake, and the dim light above the bar caught the sparkles of Christmas tree earrings. "And speaking of fightin' words, Denise McKay's husband will have a few if he sees you eyein' his wife like that." She nodded toward the tall blonde playing darts.
"Why are you telling me this?" He almost reached out to touch the tiny shamrock topping the tree on her earrings.
"Just trying to help you keep out of trouble," she answered. "Something tells me you have a way of findin' it pretty fast."
With a toss of her hair, she went to the other end of the bar to draw the beer up in a tall mug. He glanced around the place. Some of it was the same as the Rusty Spur honky-tonk in his home state of Texas—stools in front of a long bar, mirror behind the bar with shelves of liquor, beer mugs and shot glasses at the ready. But where the places in Texas had signed pictures of bull and bronc riders on the walls, along with old beer signs, the Shamrock Pub had dartboards and pictures of the rolling hills of Ireland hanging on the walls.
The cute little bartender set a pint of foaming Guinness on the bar in front of him. "Where'd you come from, cowboy?"
"Texas, darlin'," he said. "What's your name?"
"Bridget." She smiled.
"Just Bridget, cowboy," she said. "What's your name?"
"Maverick," he answered.
"Just Maverick." He gave her a dose of her own medicine.
"Well, then, just Maverick, welcome to Ireland. What brings you to our little town of Skibbereen?" She tucked a strand of red hair into her ponytail.
"My grandmother wanted to visit an old friend, and I didn't want her to travel alone. Plus, it gave me a chance to visit some distant cousins I've always heard about but never met," he answered. "It's been such a great trip, I'll be sad to leave tomorrow." What Maverick didn't tell her was that nothing he'd seen yet compared to the sight of her. Whether she was laughing with another customer, pulling a pint, or wiping down the bar—he was hyperaware of her every move, inexplicably drawn to her smile and sparkling eyes.
And she didn't exactly seem immune to his charm. Every time she caught a break, she was down at his end of the bar, chatting about anything and everything until he suddenly realized it was closing time.
As Maverick shrugged into his coat, he gave one last longing look at Bridget on the other side of the bar. Had he been home, he would've asked her out in a heartbeat. But he could tell Bridget wasn't exactly a one-night-stand kind of woman. And he'd be leaving in the morning. Reluctantly, he turned and strode out the door to make the cold, lonely walk back to his hotel.
The whole scene was surreal that night. Holiday decorations threw multicolored lights everywhere he looked. He stopped to stare at a huge Christmas tree that had been set up in the middle of the main street. It reminded him of those earrings Bridget was wearing and that his grandmother would be fussing at him and his brother, Paxton, to help her get her tree up as soon as they got home. A few snowflakes drifted from the skies and frosted the pine branches. He looked up, and sure enough right there on the top of the tree was a shamrock ornament.
"Skibbereen goes all out for Christmas." He knew her voice within a split second. He whipped around, and there was Bridget. Her red hair was now covered with a dark green cap, and she was bundled up in a black coat. She barely came up to his shoulder, and her hands were shoved down into her pockets.
"I feel like I'm in a Hallmark movie," he joked. "But it's so beautiful and peaceful."
"I just love Christmas," Bridget said. "We hardly ever get snow, though. So it's a special night indeed." Her eyes were shining as she tilted her head to look up to him. "There are some moments you just never forget."
It took all the willpower he possessed not to cup her face and kiss her right there in the softly falling snow. "Can I see you home safely?" he asked.
"Oh, that's all right. I'm just across the street here." She gestured down the road.
"Well, what a coincidence. That's my hotel there." He nodded toward where she'd pointed. "They usually have tea or coffee twenty-four hours a day if you want to join me for a cup in the lobby."
"I usually do have a cuppa to wind down before bed," she said. "Sure, I'd be happy to join you."
Maverick held out his arm to her, relishing the feeling of her sliding close to his body as they crossed the street together and entered the hotel.
With their steaming beverages, they sat down on either end of the worn sofa in the lobby and talked until the sun peeked through the windows, its rays making the snow coating the trees and grass shine like diamonds.
"I've got scones, jam, and a coffeepot in my flat next door. Would you be hungry?" she asked.
"Starving." He smiled.
* * *
Bridget might not have known Maverick long, but she felt like she already knew him well. He loved his family, especially his grandmother. He loved the land and described Texas with such great detail, it seemed like she'd taken a trip there herself. He took his coffee black and his bacon almost burned. In her heart, she knew he could be trusted, and sweet Jesus, he was a sexy cowboy. What would it hurt to spend a little more time with him? He'd said he would be leaving that afternoon to catch a plane back to Texas with his grandmother. Besides, she liked to listen to his deep southern drawl.
She led the way up the stairs of her building to the second floor and went to room 212. She tried not to fumble with her key as she unlocked the door. It's just breakfast, she reminded herself.
As soon as they entered her flat, it felt like Maverick's big frame took up the whole kitchen. She immediately busied herself with starting a pot of coffee and tried not to think about how close they were to her bedroom. Thank goodness she'd picked up her laundry and made the bed before her shift at the bar!
As she got out a container of scones she'd made the day before, Maverick plucked two mugs from her little shelf. They didn't even need words—they just moved around each other effortlessly, like they'd been doing the dance their whole lives.
When he reached for the first scone their hands got tangled up together. And after that everything moved in slow motion. Somehow things went from his big hand over her small one, to a kiss, and then more kisses. Then she realized where the make-out session could be headed, and she took two steps back.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I should be going."
"No, please stay." She could feel the blush heating her cheeks. "It's just…I'm not…"
"I know, sweetheart." His eyes were so kind, so understanding. "I get it. I just wish we could have met sooner."
"Me too." Bridget sighed. "Truly, though, please sit and have a scone with me. I'd hate to send you away hungry."
"I'd like that too." Maverick pulled out a chair and sank into it, stretching his longs legs out right as she turned to get more coffee. Next thing she knew, she had tripped over his feet and landed in his lap. His arms instinctively drew her close to steady her. When she got her bearings and looked up into his dark green eyes, she didn't even fight the pesky voice in her head telling her another kiss was a bad idea. She just put a hand on each side of his face and drew his lips down to hers.
Several hours later, Bridget awoke to find Maverick propped up on an elbow beside her, smiling into her eyes. She was glad that the sheet covered her because she was more than a little embarrassed. She'd never had a one-night stand—or, in this case a one-morning stand—in her life. What happened now?
Maverick reached out to twirl a bit of her long hair in his fingers. "So soft. Like silk."
Bridget knew she could fall in love with that voice. That she could fall in love with everything he'd made her feel in their short time together. She also knew falling in love with him would be a disaster.
"I have to be going," she said abruptly. "The first bus leaves in fifteen minutes, and Nana will be expecting me for church this morning. God only knows that I'll be needing to send up extra prayers this week."
"Just, Bridget, I will never forget this night." Maverick rolled over to the other side of the bed. "You're so beautiful there with the sunlight coming through the window to light up your red hair." He snatched up his phone and snapped a quick photo. "You don't mind, do you?" he asked.
"No," she said softly. "I'll never forget you either. But it's best if we just part ways now." She scooted off the edge of the bed and frantically started pulling on any clothes she could find. Why, oh why, hadn't fate given them more time? "We never did get around to scones and jam. I'll just leave them for you. Safe travels back to your Texas."
"Can I get your number?" he asked. "Or email or something?"
"I don't think that's a good idea," she said as she waved goodbye and slipped out the door.
The bus pulled up just as she made it to the stop. She glanced up at her kitchen window, hoping for one last glance of Maverick, but there was no cowboy looking down at the street. While other passengers boarded, Bridget stared at the big Christmas tree. This was the season of magic and miracles. She'd just spent a magical night, and she decided that she wasn't going to let guilt cloud her memory. She thought about Maverick all the way to her nana's house. But as soon as she walked in the door, there was no more time for daydreaming. Nana immediately started fussing that they'd be late if she didn't hurry.
"My friend Iris just left. I was so hoping you'd be home in time to meet her," Nana said.
"Sorry," Bridget said. "The bus was a little late." As her grandmother finished gathering her things for church, Bridget took a deep breath. She swore she could still smell Maverick's shaving lotion in her hair. She wondered how long it might take to fade. And she wondered how long it would take the memories of their very special night together to fade too.
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