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A Very Maverick Christmas (Montana Mavericks: 20 Years in the Saddle! Book 6) by [Rachel Lee]

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A Very Maverick Christmas (Montana Mavericks: 20 Years in the Saddle! Book 6) Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 32 ratings

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About the Author

Rachel Lee was hooked on writing by the age of twelve, and practiced her craft as she moved from place to place all over the United States. This New York Times bestselling author now resides in Florida and has the joy of writing full-time. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes," Vanessa said over the phone. "Okay?"

"I'm almost ready," Julie answered, looking around for her boots. "See you." Spying one under the bed, she clicked off the call and made a grab for it.

Going to a Christmas pageant? She wondered if she was losing her mind. All those people… The only thing that was going to be worse was Thanksgiving, right around the corner, a day she was going to spend determinedly by herself.

Trying to feel at home constantly troubled Julie Smith. She had come to Rust Creek Falls nearly six months ago in June, had made a few friends at the Newcomers Club, but she still didn't feel as if she belonged.

But how could she? she wondered as she finished dressing to join her new friends for the Christmas pageant. She had no memory older than four years, and no idea who she was. Julie Smith was a name conveniently tacked to her by the people who had cared for her after the incident that had erased her memory.

But coming out here to Montana to live in this tiny ramshackle cabin sometimes struck her as the ultimate grasping at straws. She looked into the mirror that hung—oddly, she thought—beside her front door and touched the necklace she wore, her only touchstone to her past, gazing at the tarnished coins that hung from it. A specialist in antique coins had told her she was wearing a small fortune around her neck, and that the most recent information he had been able to find about the collection was that it had last been owned by a man in Montana. No name, as collectors preferred to protect their identities, and insurance companies wouldn't give out private information.

So here she was. All because of a necklace and an online blog by someone named Lissa Rourke that had somehow roused a sense of familiarity in her.

Stupid? Maybe. Desperately hunting for a place in this world? Definitely.

For sure, what she found most familiar was the deepening winter. Little enough to cling to.

She smoothed her blue wool sheath over her body and looked at her shoulder-length blond hair. She preferred jeans and Western shirts, and the dress felt awkward. Four years, and she still somehow didn't look right to herself, either. Something was wrong. The hair, she decided, and quickly pulled it back into the ponytail she favored. Better, but the bright blue eyes that stared back at her held no answers to the mystery of who she was. Sometimes she thought she ought to just cut off all her hair, but stopped herself. She'd been able to sell one of her coins, which had given her enough to live on for a while, but that didn't mean she could afford to splurge. Nor did she want to part with another piece of what might be the only clue to her identity.

Sighing, she went to get her coat, wishing she had a longer memory, wishing things in life really seemed to fit somewhere in her experience. But she was woefully inexperienced now. A grown woman with a four-year-old memory. Pathetic. Frustrating.

It struck her, though, as she pulled on her coat, that while Montana was a big state and some conviction that this wasn't the right town kept gnawing at her, things did strike her as familiar. Cowboys. Horses. Even the occasional family name. Those small familiarities kept her here, kept her hoping.

She felt more at home here, if she could feel that at all, than she had at any time since her memory loss.

But what was home? She didn't even know. And if she ever found out who she really was, could she be sure she would feel that other woman was really her? Or would she meet a stranger inside her own head?

Stop it, she told herself. Time to look forward to whatever tonight would bring, and stop peering backward into a black hole.

It had been hard enough to join the Newcomers Club. She suspected she hadn't always been so uncomfortable with people, but how would she know? Going to the pageant tonight had taken some persuasion from her small group of friends. Big groups still overwhelmed her, mainly because she felt out of context. Always out of context and unsure how to react. She didn't have a list of anecdotes to tell about herself in casual conversation, and much of her experience since the amnesia was off-limits. She couldn't bring herself to expose that flaw to anyone.

So she kept quiet, tentatively reacting, speaking only rarely about the most recent events around here, and that left her little enough confidence or conversation. Somehow she had to build enough of a future to have a past.

Because she suspected she might never regain her full memory. As time passed, it became less likely. But maybe she could find at least some snatches of who she had once been.

Maybe someday she'd feel less like she'd been born spontaneously into adulthood.

Headlights flared through the window of the tiny, two-room cabin she rented on the outskirts of town, casting the battered furnishings briefly in harsh light. Her new friends were here.

All she had to do was take one step at a time. Minute by minute, she just had to forge ahead.

It sounded easier than it was. She touched her necklace again before buttoning her coat. It was the only good luck in her new life and her only proof of her past.

Sitting near the front in the auditorium, near Mallory Franklin and her fiancé, Caleb Dalton, Vanessa Brent and Cecelia Clifton, Julie felt mostly uninterested in the show. It was a typical Christmas pageant, although she had no idea how she knew that. But then Mallory's niece, Lily, entered garbed as a darling angel, and the world seemed to stop for Julie.

All of a sudden she had a flash of wearing a similar costume, mouthing similar lines. Then, in an instant, the vision was gone.

She felt herself tremble as she came back to the crowded room, and wondered if she'd had a flash of real memory. Could she have ever played an angel in a Christmas pageant? Soon she realized that the people around her were applauding, and she halfheartedly joined in, trying to paste a smile to her face.

As the applause died away, and everyone waited for the show's little actors to emerge from backstage, Vanessa started talking. She was a tall, lovely woman with curly brown hair and sparkling eyes that for some reason Julie couldn't help but envy.

"I always love Christmastime," Vanessa said. "Don't you, Julie?"

"It's beautiful," Julie answered cautiously. She couldn't understand her reaction to little Lily's angel outfit, or why she still felt shaken.

"We used to have this family tradition," Vanessa continued. "I think I'm going to start it with my family." Over Halloween, Vanessa had gotten engaged to architect Jonah Dalton, and she clearly couldn't wait to begin their new life together.

"What's that?" Julie asked.

"Everyone—siblings, parents, cousins—got holiday pajamas exactly alike. Then on Christmas Eve we'd all gather on the staircase and take a group photo."

"Ooh, I like that," Cecelia said. She tossed her dark hair back over her shoulders. "Mind if I steal it?"

"Help yourself, if you can find the pajamas." Vanessa giggled. "It wasn't always easy."

Mallory spoke. Beside Vanessa she appeared especially petite. She looked ready to jump up from her chair the instant her niece, Lily, appeared. "I think my tradition for a while is going to be making costumes for Lily. She loved this whole pageant idea. But as for family traditions, oh, we had loads. From who did which job decorating the tree to the foods we had for dinner." She smiled at Julie. "What about you?"

"I." There it was again. Just the big blank that held her back from being a part of all this. "I just loved the season no matter how we celebrated."

"No traditions?"

Julie had to fight an urge to flee. She hadn't told anyone in this town about her amnesia, and this wasn't the place to start. "None that stuck." At least not stuck to her memory.

"Maybe you can start your own," Mallory said, then jumped up and grabbed Julie's arm. "There's Lily. Let's go tell her how wonderful she was." Caleb had already moved toward his soon-to-be daughter. Julie was touched by his eagerness to reach the girl. She wondered what it must have been like to be loved like that…but she couldn't remember.

Lily was a perfect little doll with a mouth that often embarrassed her aunt. She'd been adopted from China by Mallory's sister, who had died. With long, inky hair and almond eyes, she promised to become a stunning beauty.

Except for that costume. Something about it made Julie hesitant to approach. Mallory just kept tugging her closer, and she forced herself to don a smile and get ready to congratulate the little girl.

The Traubs and Daltons were already gathered, telling Lily how beautifully she had done. Julie had already met some of the Daltons through Mallory, but the Traubs were still utter strangers to her. As they approached, Vanessa suddenly poked her gently in the ribs. "Look at who showed up."

"Who?" Julie asked blankly.

"Braden Traub. The last single Traub brother. He's gorgeous enough that I might have given him a second look except I met Jonah. I hear the whole family gives him a hard time about still being a bachelor. Anyway, I guess he managed to come in from the ranch for once."

"But you got Jonah Dalton," Julie said with passable cheer. "Complaints?"

"Absolutely none. I just wish he could be here. Nick, too. You should hear Cecelia complain about her loneliness. The guys are working too hard right now."

"Needs must." Julie attempted to sound light, but she knew all about loneliness, she figured. She had no one at all. How nice it must be to have someone to miss.

Julie, who, unlike many of the women she had met at the club, hadn't come to Rust Creek looking for the cowboy of her dreams, finally picked out Braden from his family. They all shared similar good looks, but Vanessa was right. He was drop-dead gorgeous.

Apparently, amnesia hadn't deprived her of the ability to feel a quiver of response to a handsome, muscular man with brown hair and eyes that seemed to hold a sparkle. She'd been putting her sexuality on the back burner since her amnesia, for good reason. Her sudden reaction to Braden was almost disheartening. If she didn't know herself, she shouldn't even consider such things. No guy would want her in this condition anyway.

They reached Lily at last, and Julie squatted before the child to tell her how wonderful she'd been. Then before she could stop the words, she said, "When I was five I got to be the angel, too. I was so scared." Where had that come from?

"I wasn't," Lily answered confidently. "It was lots of fun." She beamed at the gathered adults, who all smiled and laughed. As soon as Julie straightened, Lily, clearly feeling like a queen bee at the moment, introduced her to everyone, Traubs and Daltons both, including little No-elle. They plunged into a discussion of past Christmas events, clearly trying to include her in a neighborly way.

Wondering how she could talk about something she didn't really remember, Julie started looking for a graceful escape. She could wait outside until Vanessa was ready to go.

Before she could take a step, Lily spoke again, freezing her. "Julie? I think you should talk to Braden. He hasn't got anybody yet, either."

Mallory gasped. "Lily! I've told you to stop saying embarrassing things to people."

Julie looked down in time to see the girl's face fall into a frown.

"Making friends is good. What's embarrassing?" Lily asked.

Plenty, Julie thought, wanting to sink through the floor.

But Braden pretended nothing had happened. His brother Dallas spoke. "About time you met the recluse, Julie. The last of the living Traub bachelors."

Braden offered his hand with a smile, and Julie reluctantly took it. His palm felt warm and callused, but it had more of an impact than a simple handshake should. Her urge to flee grew. She couldn't risk wanting a man, or becoming involved with one. But nothing about him suggested he was feeling anything more than friendly. Oddly enough, given her state of mind, that almost disappointed her.

"Nice to meet you, Julie. Don't listen to Dallas. I'm not a recluse at all."

"No, you just bury yourself in work."

"Only because you guys are so busy romancing the ladies. Or were." Braden released Julie's hand but continued to smile at her. "Why don't you join us at the Triple-T for our after party, and maybe we can get past the Lily-inspired awkwardness."

"What's awk…awkness?" Lily's question dissolved everyone into laughter, breaking any tension that remained.

"Seriously," Braden said. "You don't want to miss the after-show fun. Mallory? How about you and Caleb come, too?"

"I've got to get this little hellion home to bed," Mallory answered. "Sorry to miss out." She turned to Julie. "You really should go. A lot of people will be there, and it's always a great time. Vanessa can take you, or I can drop you to get your own car."

"I'll think about it," Julie said, while firmly convinced that she was going to bolt. Then she met Braden's friendly gaze again. Or maybe not.

She had apparently recovered a memory tonight. Maybe getting out more into larger groups would jar something loose.

With her heart in her throat, she agreed to go. But only for a short visit, she promised herself.

Braden knew his brothers were going to rib him about inviting Julie to the Triple-T, but he was so used to being ribbed about his dating life—or lack thereof—that he really didn't care. He'd dated before, he'd date again when the time was right. Just now it didn't feel right.

But something about Julie Smith had managed to reach out to him. For some weird reason, she made him feel like she needed a protector. Yeah, she was beautiful all right, but with an aura of innocence that cried out for shelter. And something else, something uneasy. Julie Smith was not a truly happy young woman, and that affected him.

She touched him, striking some kind of responsive chord, and it wasn't just those huge blue eyes, her soft face, her great figure. Those things were just a package, and at thirty-four, Braden wasn't often deceived by the packaging. He'd managed to learn a few lessons over the years.

But he'd always been a sucker for someone or something that needed protecting, whether a friend or a new foal. He could be all wrong about her, but he supposed he'd figure that out quickly.

At first he left her pretty much alone among the family and friends at the Triple-T. A party was underway, and he was one of the hosts. But he kept seeking her out with his eyes, and every time he noticed how uncomfortable she looked. The folks in his home were all friendly, but apparently, as a newcomer, she felt awkward. In fact, she looked as if she wished she could melt into the walls. He was sure people weren't trying to ignore her or make her feel out of place. Instead, she seemed to be creating her own bubble, emerging only when she had to so she could return a greeting or shake a hand. Welcomed but not feeling it.

His curiosity about her began to grow. She was definitely
not just another one of the women who had showed up here hoping to find a husband as they rebuilt the town after the flood. Not to say all those women were bad or anything. But this one seemed to be looking for escape more than company.

Curiosity might be his worst failing, he thought with some amusement as he realized he was steadily circling through the room toward her. He just loved a mystery.

He amused himself even more because he'd seen this woman around town a few times but had never felt the least urge to meet her, until tonight. Ah yes, mystery. Well, he'd try to find out what it was, kill his curiosity and move on. Things were too hectic on the ranch with all his brothers distracted by their families and girlfriends for him to spare the time for much more anyway.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00L0XO66U
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harlequin Special Edition; Original edition (December 1, 2014)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ December 1, 2014
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 351 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 218 pages
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 32 ratings

About the author

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Writing found me, not the other way around. In third grade a teacher asked me to help write a play for the class to put on for a school assembly. The bug bit firmly and permanently.

Among my favorite things is having coffee with a friend, cooking Korean food, and trying to figure out my two cats.

Among the high points of my travels were visiting Mayan pyramids, Roman forts, Gothic churches and the Eiffel Tower. I even got to stand where Charlemagne once held court. Oh, and I walked the Freedom Trail in Boston.

There's still a lot more I want to see.

Customer reviews

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4.5 out of 5
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Top reviews from the United States

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Book Maniac
4.0 out of 5 stars Okay
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 20, 2015
Katja
4.0 out of 5 stars Etwas langatmig aber als Teil def Rust Creek Falls Reihe doch ganz nett
Reviewed in Germany on January 26, 2015
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