A Bandit Creek short story
by C.J. Carmichael and Carla Roma
When is the wrong thing, the right thing to do?
Amy Gold, Bandit Creek’s kindergarten teacher, is not the sort of person to flout the law. Especially since she’s dating the local deputy, Gray Cassidy. But an unexpected Christmas gift is about to change everything--not just Amy’s plans for a traditional Christmas, but her entire future, and Gray’s as well
About the Author
Hard to imagine a more glamorous life than being an accountant, isn’t it? Still, CJ Carmichael gave up the thrills of income tax forms and double entry book-keeping when she sold her first book in 1998. She has now published 30 novels with Harlequin, and has twice been nominated for a RITA award. CJ likes to write stories about romance, family and intrigue. She’s inspired by real-life scenarios...the kind you read about in magazines and watch on the nightly news on television. When it’s time to take a break from the computer, she heads to the Rocky Mountains near her home in Calgary. If you’d like to learn more about her books, or see photos of her hiking exploits, check out her website: http://cjcarmichael.com and watch for her frequent contests.
THE GIFT by CJ Carmichael
Amy Gold didn’t know how local rancher and part-time deputy Gray Cassidy had ended up as her boyfriend. A couple of fun dates had somehow morphed into a real relationship. She had to put a stop to it. And soon.
She’d tried to do it a month ago, after the Thanksgiving dinner she’d made for him. But he’d gone and told her that hers was the first turkey dinner–with all the fixings–he’d ever had. The crusty old grandfather who’d raised him hadn’t believed in celebrating holidays.
“What about Christmas?” she’d asked. Gray’s answer had shocked her. He’d never had a Christmas Tree, never sung a carol, never exchanged gifts…
She hadn’t been able to resist. She’d promised him that this year was going to be different. This year he’d have a proper Christmas.
Which explained why she was out in the snow and the cold on Christmas Eve, struggling to hang fairy lights from her gutters and around the frame of her front picture window. The snow was pretty, but it didn’t make her job any easier, weighing down her eyelashes and making the rungs of the ladder dangerously slippery. But she was almost done now. The final touch was an angel, which she was placing in the center of her living room window. The angel had been formed out of white-coated wire, all of it glowing with a hundred tiny, silver lights.
Come dark it would look fantastic.
Amy fastened the last clip, then climbed down the ladder, and stepped back for a better view. Her tiny bungalow looked magical, if she did say so herself. Worth the two hours she’d spent outside, the numb fingers and toes.
She folded the ladder then carried it behind the house to store in her garage–not an easy job given all the stuff she had packed in here. She wove her way around the boxes of craft supplies for her kindergarten class, the mountain bike she used every summer, her toboggan, skis, snowshoes… hard to believe she’d accumulated so much stuff in the eight years she’d lived in Bandit Creek. Finally she found the nail in the wall where she hung the ladder. By the time she stepped outside again, the snow had stopped.
Well, didn’t that just figure. Now that she’d finished her work, the sky was clearing up.
Stomping her boots on the outside mat, she entered her house through the rear door, leaving her coat on the hook and her gloves spread over the heat register to dry. Aromas of cinnamon and cloves filled the air–testament to the baking she’d been doing today.
She’d gone all out.
Not like last Christmas, when she hadn’t even put up a tree. But then, last year she’d still been adjusting to her new reality. Even now she had days when it was hard to find her trademark, cheery smile. The sadness could come at any time, a bulldozer bearing down on a narrow country road.
Determined to keep her spirits light, Amy turned on a CD of high-spirited carols. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer…” she sang, as she placed slices of orange and lemon into her pot of mulled wine. No Silent Night for her. That had been her mother’s favorite and even after eight years facing Christmas without her was hard.
“Had a very shiny nose…” she continued, with determination. Gray was coming over later, around nine, after he finished feeding the cattle. She just had to keep her spirits up until then. It was impossible to be sad when Gray was around. His great sense of humor was what had first attracted her to him–not to mention his sexy blue eyes.
Gray was new to Bandit Creek. He’d moved here six months ago, after inheriting a thousand acre ranch from his Uncle Bo. Gray had quickly made himself an important part of the Bandit Creek community, signing up as a part-time Deputy as well. That job was how she’d met him, when he’d come to speak to her kindergarten class in October.
They’d talked after school let out for the day and he’d asked her out for coffee. She’d figured it couldn’t hurt to say yes. He’d seemed like the sort of guy who was only out for fun–nothing serious. But coffee had led to an invitation to dinner and they’d spent hours after that walking through town and talking. When she got to know the real Gray, the hidden depths, she’d discovered qualities that were hard to resist. Honor, loyalty, and most winning of all, kindness.
Just last week he’d shared his plans with her about his future. He’d grown up an orphan, in a quiet, loveless home with his grandfather. He wanted something different for his future. A loving marriage. Lots of children, noise and laughter.
She’d known then she couldn’t put it off much longer. She’d give him the perfect Christmas she’d promised.
But the very next day she was going to break up with him.
“All I want for Christmas is…”
A child of my own.
Now where had that wish come from? Amy had been singing as she prepared the stuffing for tomorrow’s roast turkey dinner. Sipping mulled wine, swaying in time to the music–living in the moment the way her counselor had advised.
The song kept playing and when the chorus came around for the second time, Amy very purposefully and loudly sang: “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!”
She added chopped hazelnuts to the dressing, then a dollop of brandy. Yum, this was going to be so good. She transferred the mixture from her frying pan into a bowl, then stuffed it into her fridge above the shelf that held the enormous twenty-pound turkey Gray had purchased from an organic farmer who lived down the road from him. She’d laughed when she’d first seen it. “Gray, there are only two of us for dinner!” But he’d pointed out they could donate the leftovers to Helping Hands, so nothing would be wasted.
He was thoughtful that way. Always thinking about how he could help others. It was one of the qualities she most lov–
No. She did not love Gray. She was just awfully fond of him. They made good partners in so many ways. Like during that early blizzard in November. She’d helped him with the chores at the ranch, then they’d driven into town in his truck and gone sledding down Toboggan Hill, then ended up under the quilt in her four poster bed…
Oh, there were many things she was going to miss about Gray Cassidy once he was out of her life. But she had to make him leave. It was only fair. Why should he miss out on a family just because she had to?
Anyone walking into her kitchen right now would think she had a houseful of children. They’d see the fridge covered with children’s art projects; jars of home-made modeling clay lined up on her counter; photographs of five and six-year-olds on her walls, that she’d taken in class, capturing special moments in her pupils’ days.
But that was the problem, wasn’t it? Her work days were full with children. But her nights…
Amy blinked, took another sip of mulled wine. At least she was alive. She pressed a hand to the scar that ran across her belly. She was one of the lucky ones.
The timer buzzed, and she checked inside the oven to make sure the pumpkin pie had set. Mmm–Gray was going to love this. She placed it on the counter to cool, then checked the clock on the stove. Almost eight now. She had to change. She wanted to wear something pretty and a little bit sexy. Maybe the red–
The doorbell chimed, catching Amy by surprise. It was too early for Gray, who never used the bell anyway, just called out a greeting as he entered the unlocked door. Who would be visiting on Christmas Eve? She’d had lunch with her girlfriends earlier in the day and they’d exchanged gifts then. And she had no family in town…
She waited to see if her doorbell would ring again. It didn’t. But then she heard a muffled thud. Maybe someone was dropping off a package on her front porch? She hurried to the door, and opened it cautiously.
A little bundle was on her porch all right. But it was no package. It was a little girl.