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Home for the Holiday (Cowboys and Angels Book 30) by Jo Noelle (1)

Chapter 1

The Monday morning train had squealed to a stop, and passengers had scrambled to pick up their bags and boxes to get off. Boone stood, his body weary to the bone. He and Holt had been gone for nine months without much contact with home except a few letters passing between him and his mother, Seffi. She was always asking for an explanation for why they had to leave and what the big secret was. A couple of times he nearly told her. He had often reassured her that he’d be home for Christmas, and that was just a couple of weeks away.

His brother Waylon knew the reason, and Boone trusted that it was best that the rest of the town of Creede didn’t know until he and Holt showed back up.

He supposed that day was today. Living in Telluride hadn’t been much different than living in Creede. Telluride was also a mining town just a little north as the crow flies, but on horseback or on foot there were some wicked rugged mountain ranges so steep they would be impossible for most to cross. He supposed that if you could take a train directly from Creede to Telluride, it’d be less than a half a day’s trip. It was too bad the majestic Rocky Mountains were a formidable guardian of the tiny mining towns sprinkled in the valleys—it made for long trips to go short distances.

He and Holt had spent a full day just getting home by taking the train to Buena Vista then to Del Norte, and finally to Creede. When the train passed through the Narrows a couple miles outside of Creede, Boone had wanted to jump from the doors and go straight to the Morgan ranch in Topaz. He ached to be home.

But they had equipment filling an entire rail car behind them. He stood and stretched out the new kinks in his back. As soon as the town was aware of what he and his men were doing, it might be a race for them to create the first electric company in Creede.

Telluride was the first city in the West to have a fully electric Main Street. As soon as he had heard about it, he dragged Holt up there to get jobs and learn the business. They’d dug trenches, built sheds, carried and ran wire, and installed lamps in town and in mining shafts and tunnels. He knew this was a golden opportunity, and they’d have to act fast. He picked up his traveling bag and headed for the door.

Boone stepped off the train, backtracking along the cars toward the freight office that was down a ways. The boxcar loaded with his merchandise was still locked. He waited to unlock it until the rest of his crew assembled. Holt had gone in search of Waylon, who had several wagons that they would need to move the supplies to a building they’d purchased in town. When the freight manager arrived, Boone removed his lock and the manager removed his. Then Boone’s men clambered inside, and Waylon and Holt pulled the wagons up close.

Carl, Lawrence, and Danny jumped into the back of the box car, passing boxes into each other’s arms and out the gate to the wagon. Holt and Boone jumped inside as well. They needed to get their freight out and covered quick.

Boone tugged on a box and noticed the tower of crates behind it sway unevenly. They had shifted during travel and their balance was off. The heavy boxes didn’t right themselves, but continued tilting straight toward him. Before he could react to stop them, the ledge suddenly froze in awkwardly balanced stacks.

Boone blinked hard, but the image of a woman stood fixed between him and the cascading freight. She held her hands up as if to hold back the flow of boxes, but Boone would swear that she didn’t actually touch them. This wasn’t the first time he seen the woman. She’d shown up on and off from the time he’d arrived in Telluride.

Lawrence hollered, “You got an angel, Boone.” He took boxes from the top, steadying the load.

“Glad it followed us to Creede,” Danny added as he helped.

Boone looked toward the men and back again, but the woman was gone. Every time something serious happened that could have been a disaster, someone remarked they had an angel. The first time Boone had seen her was a week into their work in Telluride.

Their crew had been running wire in a tunnel. Some small rocks began to tumble down the side. Someone further up the tunnel shouted, “Cave in!” That’s when the woman appeared. There was an ethereal look to her, like someone drew her with water. She wore a stiff bonnet with a large bill and her hair twisted up under it. Her black jacket and white shirt tucked into a black skirt was reminiscent of his mother and father’s wedding portrait some thirty odd years prior, around the time of the War Between the States.

She stood beside Boone with her hands up toward the rockslide until the men scrambled out. When his boss asked what happened and how they all got out, Boone absently said, “I guess there was an angel.”

Since that day, whenever something life-threatening passed them by without harm, one of the men would call out that they had an angel. Only Boone knew they were right.

More men jumped into the boxcar, hurrying to stabilize the leaning load. Boone was grateful to both sources of help. When the wagons were full and the loads covered with tarps, they headed to the other side of town to their vacant building behind the blacksmith shop, then pulled the wagons inside.

“I’ll get the crew on organizing this,” said Waylon. “Get yourselves cleaned up and back here in an hour.” He pointed to three men at a time and assigned them to the work he wanted.

“Why do you get the daytime watch?” Boone asked. “It’s been a long time since I slept in my own bed. I’d like to do that tonight.”

“Because I’m married, and Vivian needs me at home. You’ll understand one day.”

“Fine. You and the men can unpack the wagons and get this mess organized.” Boone waved at Holt and the remaining men. “Let’s go to town.”

They hustled out and scattered in all directions.

“I guess I’ll go to the hotel and get us some rooms,” Holt said. “And a bath for me. I’ll meet you there later on.”

Boone nodded and stepped back onto the icy road, heading straight to the mercantile. Creede had changed more than a mite since he’d left. He looked up Main Street. A bank had opened and so had a tea shop. There was Edwin and Hugh’s new place and another restaurant. At the far end of town, before the road to Bachelor, a theater had opened across the street from the Tivoli ballroom. The Frog’s Knees Saloon and a carpentry shop were new as well.

He didn’t think he’d been gone that long—less than a year—but he hardly recognized his hometown. Last time he’d been here, there were many burned-down, derelict buildings.

Directly in front of him, it looked like the Jacksons had built onto the mercantile since he’s been gone, too. Boone slipped a little as he stepped from the icy road to the icy boardwalk. He opened the door, but moved aside as a lovely young woman with one box under her arm and two more in her hands passed through the door, giving him a smile and a nod.

“Thank you.” Her voice was like an arrow—a sweet, sure shot to his chest.

The ice was thick at the edge of the boardwalk. She couldn’t have seen that in front of the boxes that she carried. As soon as the thought entered his mind, her boot slipped, and the boxes went up in the air. She let out a squeal.

Boone dropped his hold on the door and reached under her arms to steady her, pulling her back against his chest. He so enjoyed her big brown eyes looking up at him that he nearly forgot himself. Boone held her closer just a moment.

“Thank you, again,” she said. When Boone’s help didn’t relax, she added, “I think I can stand on my own now. You saved me from a nasty fall.” She giggled a bit.

Boone’s chest constricted with the joy of it. She stepped out of his grasp, and he quickly retrieved her packages, inspecting them for dirt or mud. “I’d be happy to carry these for you, ma’am,” he said.

She smiled again, but seemed as if she were trying to decide whether or not that was a good idea. “I will take you up on that kind offer. I’m just going to Hearth and Home,” she said. “But I believe I can carry the small package myself.”  She tucked it under one arm and laid her other hand under Boone’s bicep. Even through his coat, he was keenly aware of the light pressure of her fingers curling around the inside of his elbow. He smiled at her as well.

He led them slowly across the street. Boone thought of how he’d had many women on his arm, but this one seemed different somehow. “I suppose I should introduce myself since I’m escorting you,” he said with a laugh. “My name is Boone Morgan.”

“Oh! Are you Seffi’s son?” Her voice lilted with excitement or surprise.

He wondered what his mother had told people about him. He cringed at the many choices. That he was always up to something. Well, that was probably true. That he was a ladies’ man. True, but he hoped that she wouldn’t say it. That he was the least likely of her children to ever give up his freedom for marriage. That one bit at him.

It might have been true if one only looked at his outward actions. Inside, he wanted the love of a good woman. He’d just never met the right one.

The woman’s sweet voice broke though his thoughts. “Your mother’s been quite excited for your return,” she added. “She’s always talking about the big secret the Morgan boys are keeping from her.” The young woman graced him with another smile. “Have you told her yet or is it still a surprise?”

Boone paused a bit to allow a wagon to finish turning across the road. They were almost to Hearth and Home, and he desperately wanted to find a way to keep her on his arm. “No. My mother doesn’t know the secret, and she isn’t even aware I’m back in town yet. We just got off the train, and I haven’t had a chance to go home. Careful there’s ice,” he cautioned as they approached the wooden planks in the front of Hearth and Home.

“Well, if I slip, I’m sure you’ll catch me,” she said with another delicate laugh. “I appreciate your assistance today, Mr. Morgan.”

Boone noted with some disappointment that she’d said mister instead of using his Christian name. “Might I have your name?” he asked as they approach the door.

“My name is Miss Turley,” she replied. She opened the door and they walked inside, being met with warmth from the huge fireplace along one end of the dining room. “You can leave those for me on the table.”

He set the boxes down. “I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Turley.” Then he looked at her. He wanted to say something to prolong the conversation and hear her sweet voice, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. He hadn’t known anyone named Turley when he left, so he figured she or her family must be new here.

She pulled some worn knitted gloves off her hands. “Good day, Mr. Morgan, and thank you again.” Then she turned and walked from the room, looking over her shoulder at him.

Boone wondered if she lived at Hearth and Home or if she was just visiting? He’d have to find someone who could give him more information about Miss Turley. He left again to resume his errands of the morning. He’d never quite made it to the mercantile for some more tools, and he needed to visit the newspaper office to run an ad for a few more workers.  

Boone couldn’t say exactly why, but the release his heart felt at hearing her say miss drilled him clean through. Apparently, he’d been hoping she wasn’t married, but he’d also hoped she’d give him her Christian name. He wondered if he’d come back to Creede at the exact moment just to meet her on the steps of Jackson’s Mercantile. It seemed as if that moment gave his life order and set him on a new path, one that would likely bring him back to Hearth and Home often.

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