Texas Christmas

by

Holly Castillo

Gabriella Torres loves returning home to San Antonio for the holidays–the decorations, the magic and her large family. As icing on the cake, she will serve as midwife for one of her cousins. Her Christmas visit also provides a temporary distraction from a looming obligation.

Luke Davenport has traveled across the world to accept the role as town doctor in San Antonio. But when he arrives to domestic chaos, the sheriff offers his hospitality and Luke can’t turn down the offer. While he’s embraced by all, Luke tries to keep his distance. His past remains a threat and the alluring Gabby Torres makes him dream of a brighter but impossible future.

When Gabby learns that Luke has never truly experienced Christmas, she sets out on a mission…to make this Christmas the best that Luke could ever have. As they spend intimate moments together, Luke begins to lose his heart to the woman who is showing him what life as part of a family could be like. When the ghosts of their pasts rise up to haunt them, will Christmas magic and love be strong enough to guarantee the happiness they’ve always dreamed of?

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Republic of Texas

December, 1840

The scream echoed around the small home and out into the street. It was a scream of pain. It was a scream of fear. It was a scream that made everyone hold their breath.

Gabriella Torres tried to use her arm to wipe the sweat off her forehead and blew at a wisp of hair that draped down over her face. “Jerelyn, I know it is painful. But instead of screaming, this time, push! And push hard!”

Gabby nodded to the young woman’s mother who wrapped her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and encouraged her to bear down. “Now, deep breath, Jerelyn…and…push!”

Jerelyn’s scream quickly turned into a high-pitched whine as she directed her energy to pushing. Her face was beet red, and she was covered in perspiration. She pushed for several seconds before letting her breath out in a sob. “I can’t anymore. I just can’t.”

“You can, and you will,” her mother said firmly.

Gabby rolled her eyes as she squeezed out the rag she was wiping Jerelyn’s face and neck with, trying to keep her cool and comfortable. A pushy mother was the last thing they needed at the moment. Gabby had met Jerelyn earlier in the year, as she had been one of the few survivors of the Comanche War that had nearly taken her own cousin’s life. So she had a special place in her heart for Jerelyn.

“Just take a few deep breaths. You’ll feel the need to push again very soon, so breathe as much as you can right…” Jerelyn’s face contorted in pain and she drew a deep breath.

“Don’t scream…push. There you go, you’re doing great! Push just a little more, just a little more…”

Jerelyn groaned low in her throat as she focused on Gabriella’s instructions, and then gave a soft cry of relief. “Is it over? Is it over?” she asked with excitement, then cried out in surprise.

“You’re almost there,” Gabby said, though her voice trembled more than she wanted it to. “One more good push should do it!”

Jerelyn bore down again, then gasped, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do anymore!”

“Isn’t there something you can do?” Jerelyn’s mother demanded.

There was the sound of a small smack and suddenly the wailing cry of a baby filled the room, the little house, and filtered out to the street, where the people let out a sigh of relief and then cheered, rushing up to Jerelyn’s ecstatic husband. He stood just outside the door of his home, silent tears of joy rolling down his cheeks and with a smile so large it nearly covered his entire face.

Gabby sighed with relief and joy as she carefully and gently wiped the young baby boy clean, then swaddled him and laid him in Jerelyn’s arms. Same as her husband, she was weeping tears of joy, and so was her mother.

“He’s perfect,” she whispered, as his tiny fingers wrapped onto her finger. “He’s so incredibly perfect.”

“He looks so much like your father.” Her mother beamed proudly.

Gabby smiled warmly at them, then finished cleansing the area, and cleaning Jerelyn. As soon as everything was clean, she went to the basin and scrubbed her hands and arms, and then tossed the bloody water out the back door.

When she came back, Jerelyn and her mother were watching her with grateful eyes. Gabby could feel her face flushing with a blush and avoided eye contact. Instead, she finished attending to Jerelyn and then pulled the sheet back into place.

“He’ll be hungry soon,” Gabby said softly. “So if you want your husband to see him, now might be a good time to bring him in to meet his new babe.”

“Oh,” Jerelyn said, as if she had forgotten entirely about him. “Yes, yes, of course.”

Gabby smiled. “You were very strong, Jerelyn. And you’re right. Your son is perfect.”

“We couldn’t have done it without you, Gabriella. This has been such a difficult pregnancy for her,” Jerelyn’s mother said, her voice thick with tears.

Gabby bowed her head in gracious acceptance of the praise. If only they knew that the babe wasn’t breathing when it was born, as it had the cord wrapped tightly around its neck, choking him. But after she had pressed on his tiny chest, and then gave him a light smack to the bottom, he had let out the wail that brought so much joy to everyone, including Gabby.

She stripped off her bloodied apron and stashed it with her medical bag, then hurried to the door. When she opened it, she faced the anxious father. She smiled at him. “You have a beautiful baby boy waiting for you,” she said encouragingly.

“You hear that, boys?” he shouted to the crowd. “It’s a boy!”

As he ran into the house she heard some of the men outside whooping and hollering, and others groaning. Obviously there had been quite the bet going on whether it would be a boy or a girl. She smiled to herself and began towards the small shed where her horse was tied and she secured her medical bag. It was always an adventure and a joy to bring a new life into the world and she was beyond grateful that this babe had survived the difficult birth.

As she mounted her horse and turned towards the family ranch where she lived with her brothers, her smile broadened. She was about to embark on her own special adventure, and she couldn’t wait to get started.

It seemed that with every mile they covered, the temperature dropped another degree colder. But it didn’t bother Gabby. She was so excited she was warm from the inside out. She was finally headed home, or, at least, what she considered home.

San Antonio was where she had spent most of her young life. When she was thirteen, her father had inherited his uncle’s incredible four-hundred-acre ranch in Corpus Christi where he raised some of the finest beef cattle in the state, if not the nation. Her father had jumped at the opportunity and gathered the family, some of their meager belongings, and headed South. Her whole world had changed.

“You’re deep in thought.”

The deep, rough voice made her jump, as she had been lost in her own world. She looked over at her brother, Raphael, and smiled at him. “I’m just very excited to be in San Antonio for Christmas. You know how much I love being with the family and in our hometown.”

He smiled back at her. “I know how much you miss it. You’ve always loved the town and the people so much.”

Gabby nodded, then snuggled deeply into her oversized cloak and settled in for the long ride ahead. It usually took five days to reach San Antonio, but Gabby was in a hurry. After having already been on the path for three days, she encouraged her bay mare into a smooth canter, taking advantage of the early morning light, then she would drop her down to a trot to regain her breath and cool down a little.

She had been worried that Raphael would protest the fast speed, but he seemed just as eager as she to get to San Antonio. It was the following day, just as the sun was beginning to crest, that they were finally coming to the outskirts of San Antonio, and Gabby’s heart swelled.

As the houses became closer together, it was obvious that a lot of work had been put into some of the elaborate decorations that adorned the exterior of the homes, with pine and cedar branches interwoven to form ornate garland that was draped over the doors and windowsills. Beautiful wreaths had been created with flowers and fruit and Gabby wanted to run up to them and smell them. Poinsettias were bunched at the front doors, and through the windows you could see families working on more decorations as well as preparing delicious foods.

“I don’t know why you are smiling so big,” Raphael said, even though he had a lopsided grin across his own face. “It’s cold enough out here that your face could crack like ice.”

Gabby laughed. “To be honest, my face feels like ice! But I couldn’t stop smiling even if I wanted to. Can’t you feel it in the air? Can’t you feel the joy?”

Raphael’s grin turned into a full-blown smile. “Yes, I can feel it. It is good to be home.”

“Yes,” Gabby said breathlessly. “Home.”

As they rode into the town further, they turned down a familiar street where there was a home with fragrant smoke billowing up into the air and catching on the breeze. Gabby turned her smile onto Raphael. “Home.”

They quickly tied their horses to the post outside along with several other horses already standing in the cold breeze, waiting for their masters. “Business looks good,” Raphael observed, but Gabby was already headed towards the door. He hurried ahead of her and opened the door for her, and they were greeted by the soft jingling of bells that hung on the door.

“Welcome! I’ll be right with you,” Angie’s joyful voice called from the kitchen. Gabby didn’t wait as she quickly shrugged out of her long cloak and scarf and stuffed her gloves in the pockets of her cloak and shed her fuzzy hat, trying, but failing, to calm her wild hair. She didn’t hesitate before heading to the back where the kitchen was creating the incredible concoctions that were pleasing the palates of everyone in the small restaurant.

She came through the swinging doors and nearly collided with a beautiful woman balancing several plates in her arms. They both gasped in shock, then laughed once they recognized each other. “Let me put these out, and then I’ll come back so I can give you a proper hug hello!”

Gabby took a few plates from her cousin’s arms and nodded towards the dining room. “Lead the way.”

Angie looked at her with gratitude, and together they made quick work of getting the plates out to the hungry patrons. Once they were back in the kitchen, Angie pulled Gabby into her arms for a warm, firm embrace. Raphael had already escaped out the back to be with the men grilling the delicious meat, not wishing to be a part of the overly emotional greeting.

Gabby closed her eyes, enjoying the hug that she had waited so long to have. With one final squeeze she released her cousin and brushed a few wisps of hair out of her face. Unlike her cousins, Gabby felt she had not been gifted with classic beauty. She thought of herself as plain when she compared her own skin and hair to their flawless olive skin, and long, shiny locks. Their smiles would light up a room and even after giving birth, the women returned to their hourglass figures quickly.

She turned quickly and began to head down the hallway towards Olivia’s room. “It’s time for me to check on my special patient.”

“Oh!” Angie exclaimed from behind her.

Gabby didn’t stop walking but cast a glance behind her to see Angie wringing her hands nervously. Gabby frowned. “Has something happened to Olivia? She’s overworked herself again, hasn’t she?”

“She always does that. There’s no way to stop her. But this pregnancy has been hard on her, Gabby.”

Gabby began walking even faster to Olivia’s room. “And none of you thought to contact me? What if I could have made things easier for her to tolerate?”

“It wasn’t until just recently that she let us know there was any type of problem. But, Gabby, I wouldn’t go in there…”

Gabby tapped on the door three quick times, then turned the knob and stepped into the room—and froze. There was a man kneeling at Olivia’s feet, his hands moving over her large, round belly, his face etched in deep concentration.

“What are you doing?” Gabby asked, completely startled. “Who are you? Olivia, what is going on?” Gabby was perplexed and flustered, trying to understand exactly what was happening. Why was this man touching her patient, her prima, or cousin, and why was Cade all right with that?

Slowly he stood, and Gabby began to notice other things. The man was tall. Very tall. He was built large through the shoulders, and would be very intimidating if it weren’t for the fact that she was determined to take care of Olivia, and give her the proper care she knew she needed. She certainly didn’t need whatever care this man was trying to give her.

He pulled off his hat and took a half step back from her to give her space to breathe, and nodded to her. That’s when she noticed his doctor bag set to the side. “I’m Doctor Luke Davenport. And you are…” He hesitated, giving her the chance to answer, giving her a slight smile, and Gabby momentarily forgot her own name.

To hide her sudden and unexplainable loss of speech, she turned, presenting him with her back, and placed her hands lightly on Olivia’s arms. “Are you all right? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“No, no,” Olivia said softly, though she was slightly pale. “It’s just the babe has been very…restless. Luke was just checking me. I wasn’t expecting you here so quickly, though!” She wrapped her arms around Gabby, and Gabby heard a shuddering sigh from her cousin’s lips. Olivia was far from fine.

“I’m here now, and I’ll make sure everything is taken care of. Now, I want you to get off your feet. Just take a short nap, and I’ll be in to check on you again in no time.”

She turned back to the tall doctor who was no longer giving her a disarming grin, but was frowning at her. “I haven’t finished my examination.” His thick accent threw her off her mission to get rid of him for a moment, and the natural curiosity that coursed through her wanted to find out more about the unusual man. She glanced over at Olivia again, though, and stood firm.

“Oh, yes, you have. Your services are not needed here any longer. I am the family midwife and healer and have been taking care of them for years. Now that I’m here, I can assure you they have no need for you.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Midwife and healer? I’ve heard stories of people with your certain, um, skills, but I’ve yet to meet one.”

It was only a slight hesitation, but hesitation enough to make Gabby incredibly sensitive. And when he had stuttered over the word “skills,” Gabby’s fuse had been lit. It was her turn to look astonished. “What do you mean certain ‘skills?’ I don’t think I like your tone.”

“I mean no insult. But you haven’t been through any real training to prepare you for all the things…”

“No real training? I have been treating the ill alongside my mother since I was a child. I know more about healing than any of those fancy training institutes.”

“Ah, well, perhaps, then, it should be your mother in here right now…”

“She’s dead.” Gabby spoke in a hoarse whisper.

“My deepest sympathies,” he said, looking truly contrite.

“Where exactly did you train? With some sawbones up East?”

“I received my certificate of training at London University.”

“London? Good grief! What brought you all the way out here?”

His face became guarded. “What does that have to do with my credentials to treat your…your…how are you related to her again?”

“She is my prima, my cousin, though that also doesn’t have anything to do with the subject of her care. Why are you even here?” She sounded harsh, even to her own ears, but this British doctor was about to earn a boot out the door if he didn’t start saying things she needed to hear.

“Gabby!” Serena exclaimed from the doorway, then dashed in and wrapped her arms around her neck. Temporarily distracted from the doctor, Gabby held her cousin closely. “I’m so glad to see you!” Serena practically squealed.

Gabby held a finger to her lips, motioning for them all to leave the room and let Olivia rest and was shocked to find the remainder of the family hovering out in the hallway, listening intently to the discussion inside. It would have been comical had Gabby not felt like she was part of the joke.

“Let’s go to the living room,” Cade said firmly, and gestured everyone in that direction, pausing long enough to pop into the room and give his sleeping wife a sound kiss on the cheek before quietly closing the door and joining the rest of them.

Grandma and Grandpa were focused on Gabby, telling her she needed to eat more because she was too thin, but they were soon interrupted by two youngsters racing as fast as their short, chubby legs would carry them with Cade’s oldest daughter, Annabelle, following behind them with a comical grin across her face.

Gabby snagged one of the children and lifted him high, wrapping him in a loving embrace. “Hello, precious!” she said in a silly voice. “I’ve missed you so much! It has been too long!”

“Gabba Gabba Gabba!” he cheered, sinking his hands into her hair.

“Okay, let’s try to get everyone to take a breath for a moment,” Cade said in his baritone voice, drawing everyone’s attention.

Gabby instantly remembered that the intruder was still in their home, and he needed to leave. She turned disapproving eyes on him, and was shocked to see him studying her, watching her with what seemed like fascination.

Gabby had never been one to hold her tongue or, for that matter, to even think twice before she spoke. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you it is poor manners to stare?” she blurted out and the entire room suddenly went completely silent. Serena’s jaw dropped slightly, then she hastily covered her mouth, obviously trying to hide the smile that threatened to burst through her shocked demeanor.

“Gabby, we are all very happy to see you and Raphael here,” Grandpa, Abuelo, said with kindness. “And I know you are very…bold…in your speech, but I ask for you to be respectful to our guest.”

“What guest? We’re all family, here, Abuelo, except for this man who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Olivia,” she said, her last words directed at Cade who was frowning deeply at her.

“That’s just it, Gabby,” Angie said.

“Gabba, Gabba, Gabba!” the toddler in her arms squealed again as Gabby tried to concentrate on what Angie was saying.

“Meet our special guest for the winter: Doctor Luke Davenport.”

End of Excerpt

Texas Christmas is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN:

October 18, 2017