Texas Heritage, Book 4
Release Date:

Oct 10, 2023



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The Texas Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle


Debra Holt

All they need for Christmas is a second chance nudge…

Sixteen years ago, MacKenna Davidson was a runaway bride, and she never found the courage to face her jilted fiancé and family back in Burkitt, Texas. Then her sister’s nuptials set off the very chain of events she’s feared: a sense of homecoming she can’t untangle.

Matteo Montez survived MacKenna once, and he refuses to fall for her again. But he has no choice except to team up with her when a fellow attorney informs them that a mutual friend has passed and named Matteo and Mackenna as her children’s guardians. How can he crush these little angels’ hopes for a family, especially at Christmas?

Mackenna is willing to work with Burkitt’s hottest bachelor to build a picture-perfect holiday, as long as her heart doesn’t get involved. Because she, too, has secrets that prevent her from picking up her past. But Christmas is a season of surprises and even a miracle or two—especially when Mackenna and Matteo have a guardian angel rooting for their happiness.

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Chapter One

Nothing had changed, and yet, everything had. McKenna stood on the top step after exiting the tall limestone façade of the Burkitt County Courthouse. She felt good about the meeting she just had inside the building. Her secret was still well-guarded. She could leave and not worry about that fact. She let a smile escape along with the soft breath of relief. Her gaze began sweeping the familiar site before her. The morning sun was rising higher in the sky and shafts of light bounced off the glass windows of the storefronts. Traffic was beginning to pick up . . . mostly pickups and smaller SUVs with ranchers headed to the local coffee shop, Coffee and a Chat, or the bank or post office. The majority of SUVs would be moms having dropped children off at the schools just down the block and either headed home or to their offices to begin another work week.

And she was headed due south. Back to her current assignment until she would relocate in a couple of months, probably to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Yet another city far removed from the quiet hum of small-town Texas. That quiet used to bore her. She couldn’t wait to find a place where the pace was faster and ever-changing each day. Where memories could be buried in the hurried pace of life easier than in a hometown that knew her too well.

And yet, the brief time she had spent back in her old hometown, doing her duty as her sister’s maid of honor, had surprised her. Her sister was off with her groom on an incredible honeymoon, and Brooke was safe and sound on the Aces High. And the visit, brief as it was, instead of boring her to tears within five minutes, had kept her interest, had even soothed her in a way that she hadn’t anticipated. Despite the fact that she had come face-to-face in a most unexpected way with a ghost from her past, Matteo Montez. Her fiancé . . . scratch that . . . her ex-fiancé, the man she had left at the altar on their wedding day.

He had not been pleased to see her. Or maybe it was the fact he had landed in a chilly river, fully clothed, looking up at her, standing, coolly surveying him, while the crowd laughed and cheered—yes, that might have been the last straw for him. He had climbed out and headed in the opposite direction from her.

But she knew it was a combination of both things. And they had managed to avoid each other after that. She was pleased by that fact.

Try that again with more conviction.

That darn little voice inside of her head never knew when to stay silent. Seeing Matteo again after so many years was both a shock and a blessing. It was done. The moment she had always dreaded was done. She had survived it. Now she needed to get back to where she belonged. Except her feet did not move. Somehow, they stood rooted to the spot, the sunlight not as bright as it had been.

“You look a bit lost. That isn’t how I remember my friend, McKenna. You always looked like you had someplace to be and you knew exactly how to get there. That’s why we all followed you.” The words caught her by surprise. Her gaze found a soft smile with warm brown eyes, waiting for recognition. The woman was slight in build, sitting bundled in a gray sweater, worn jeans, and scuffed tennis shoes. Her hair was pulled back at the nape of her neck and held with a purple bit of ribbon and a shiny clip. And, for some reason, that jarred something in a dusty file in McKenna’s brain from years before. The name would come, she just had . . .

And then the woman smiled a bit more and it came to her.

“Esme?! It is Esme,” she said, moving down the steps and over to the stone bench where the woman stood to greet her. They embraced, and McKenna immediately felt a frailty that shocked her in the other woman. She was no more than . . . “bones covered in clothing” was the description that came to mind as the hug ended and they both took seats on the bench.

“Yes, it’s me. I didn’t think you’d recognize me. I’ve changed a bit. But you have only changed for the better. Except for the frown creasing your brow. I hesitated to call out to you when I saw you come out of the courthouse.”

McKenna shook her head. “I was just thinking about some work things. The stack of things waiting for me when I get back to my office.”

“You also seemed a bit sad to me. Sad, maybe, to be leaving your home again?”

McKenna had a retort, but instead, she shook her head again and placed a smile on her face. “You always had a way of getting to the heart of the matter. It’s so good to see you after all this time. Catch me up on your life.” Changing the subject would keep her own life off the radar screen, which was her objective.

“There’s not much to tell,” Esme began. “I never planned to leave Burkitt, like so many of you did after graduation. I stayed here, got married, ended up moving to Del Rio, got divorced, but managed to be blessed with two amazing children that make life worthwhile every day. I’m just here taking care of some business.”

“You always were meant to be a mother. You cared for everyone who came into your orbit, as I remember. I’d say your children are equally blessed to have you in their lives.”

Was that a hint of a shadow that darkened Esme’s eyes and a wistful turn of her smile? McKenna’s intuitive powers were alerted.

“Did you have a nice visit with Matteo?” Esme switched the subject on her.

“I wouldn’t call it a visit or nice.” She gave her a brief review of her arrival and how Matteo had ended up waist-deep in the river in front of all the guests.

“Poor man,” Esme said, shaking her head. “I’m sure his pride was what was truly dampened. He’s been a different person since you left. And that isn’t placing any blame on anything you did. I’m sure you had a very good reason for leaving us.”

Us. The word caught at something inside her. Esme seemed to take note in the way she always had of reading people, even as a young teen, when they all became really good friends. She laid a comforting hand on top of McKenna’s that were clasped in her lap.

“We all missed you when you left. We worried about you. Where had you gone? Were you okay? And of course, Matteo . . . well, he was brokenhearted. He stayed to himself for a long time. Then he seemed to reinvent his life, to be upbeat and smiling, always the life of any party. But that was all a protective shell. Those of us who knew better weren’t fooled by it. And when I heard you were coming back for your sister’s wedding, well, I wasn’t the only one in Burkitt who said a few prayers and crossed a few fingers that things might just be about to change for the better. I prayed that you would discover that you missed us so much, that you would return for good.”

“That tone in your voice hasn’t changed all that much, Esme. You always were the hopeless romantic.”

“Not hopeless—only hopeful. There are people who are meant to be together in this life. They complete two halves of a whole. And that is you and Matteo.” Esme’s words were interrupted by a bout of coughing. McKenna didn’t care for the rattling sound in it. But it was also clear that Esme was almost embarrassed by the fact she was witnessing it. She finished up with a final cough into the hanky she had produced from her jacket pocket.

“I’m sorry. I’m getting over a pesky allergy infection. I promise it isn’t contagious.” She ended with a forced smile.

“It’s a bit chilly in this breeze. I don’t want to keep you out here. I should be getting on the road back to Austin.”

Esme’s smile faded. “Don’t you ever think about coming back home? Maybe not because of Matteo, but because of your family? Burkitt has grown some since you left. It’s a good place to raise children. You still like children, right? You were always so good with the little ones. I remember when we would host the children’s home kids on holidays. You have the heart of a mom. I recognized that early on. You even took care of your sister like a mom at times.”

McKenna felt the catch in her chest even more acutely this time. The words brought back memories . . . of earlier times when the future had so much promise to it. When she and Matteo had so many hopes between them and what their life could be together. And children were part of that dream. Until it wasn’t—and then the world was never to be the same. She slowly nodded.

“Yes, I still love children. But my future might not include them. One never knows what is in the cards for their life. I envy you, though. You have two precious gifts to have in your life forever. You help them grow and see what amazing adults they can be and how their lives will make a difference. I envy you that gift.”

“It is a gift you will receive one day,” Esme said, punctuating her words with a nod. “One way or another, I believe that you will be blessed. And you will know how it is to help a little angel grow and experience all the amazing things they can bring to your heart. I am very certain that day will come. It will be included in my prayers. And I will also be a little selfish and include a prayer that you might find your way back home, where people know and love you. Miracles do happen when least expected and are often disguised in different ways that might not reveal themselves at first.”

“I’m not so sure that miracles are in the same realm as I am. But I always appreciated your positive attitude, often when things seemed so hopeless. I’m sorry it’s been so long since we’ve spoken. I’m glad we ran into each other today. Do you usually enjoy a quiet time on this bench?”

“Not always,” she responded. “I have some business with one of the attorneys in the building across the street. He’s in court right now, so I like to wait here in the morning sunshine and watch the world wake up. And who knows? Perhaps it was one of those miracles that placed me here at the same time you were also in the courthouse. There could be a reason our paths needed to cross at this moment. I’m certainly going to consider it as such. Seeing you again makes me happy. I hated to miss out on your sister’s wedding, but I was under the weather. I know it was a great day for all of you.”

“Indeed, it was. She’s very happy and she found a really good guy who is perfect for her and Brooke.”

“Another blessing. But there are still some good guys around Burkitt,” she said with a grin. “You should stick around and meet some of them.”

McKenna had to laugh. “Nice try. You still have that determined streak in you.”

“Yes, I suppose I do. One has to be determined sometimes. Life is full of surprises. Sometimes it demands we deal with reality when we would choose not to do so. But guess that’s what it means to be an adult, and we couldn’t wait to get to be one of those. Wouldn’t it be nice to turn back that clock?”

Esme wasn’t grinning any longer. Her soft, sad look made McKenna aware again of the almost frailness in her old friend’s features. Had she had a particularly hard life since those carefree days?

McKenna felt even worse then, for not staying in touch. Maybe it could have been different if she had made the effort to come back to Burkitt sooner, had spent more time with her family and friends? But then, that brought other feelings—memories of Matteo and those dark days that followed. It was time to leave. She stood.

Esme did the same, wrapping her sweater around her body and bringing out one of her smiles again. They hugged, and somehow McKenna had a strange feeling it was really more of a final goodbye than a promise-to-see-you-later embrace. She pushed that thought away and smiled.

“I’ll see you again, Esme. One of those miracles you believe in so much just might have another surprise for us. In the meantime, you take care of yourself and those beautiful children. You tell them that they have a fantastic aunt McKenna who can’t wait to meet them next time.”

“They already know about you. I’ve told them some of our stories from school days—the sweet ones,” she added with a laugh.

And that was how McKenna chose to leave her friend . . . with the warmth of humor lighting those brown eyes and a wave as she drove away.

I’ll come back sooner next time. I’ll keep that promise to her.

End of Excerpt

The Texas Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 9781961544765

October 10, 2023

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