Southern Born
Wrapped Up in Christmas, Book 3
Release Date:

Aug 14, 2024

ISBN:

978-1-964703-41-1

More From Janice →

Wrapped Up in Christmas Hope

by

Janice Lynn

This Christmas they both hope to make a difference…

After the death of her daredevil husband, Morgan Morris longs to establish a stable life for herself and her son in the small town of Pine Hill, Kentucky. She finds comfort volunteering at the local quilt shop, but lately there is another draw—a handsome first responder who’s gentle and kind to her grieving son, but his career worries her.

Firefighter Andrew Scott thrives on the rush of adrenalin and purpose when taking a call and rushing into danger to save others. His goal is to become a smoke jumper so that he can fight raging wildfires across the country, but he’s increasingly torn between ambition and his attraction to Morgan whose smile and sweet son light up his life and holiday season.

He’s willing to risk his life to help others. Will she risk her heart on him?

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Chapter One

Andrew Scott watched with a grin as his good friend and fellow firefighter, Cole Aaron, raced down the school hallway toward him, both hands clutching at his oversized red velvet shirt.

The wide black belt flapped loosely on his friend’s waist, and his fake jolly ol’ belly sagged beneath it.

It was an entertaining sight, but not a particularly surprising one. In Pine Hill, Kentucky, Christmas was a three-hundred-and-sixty-five-days-a-year event. As soon as one December twenty-fifth came and went, the town started preparing for the next time Saint Nick made his appearance.

Which was today at Pine Hill Elementary. That was why his buddy was wearing the red suit, the wig, and all the other Santafication accessories. Cole’s girlfriend Sophie had done up his face with leftover Halloween makeup, so he appeared to be a rosy-cheeked old man, but it had been up to Cole to get his Santa suit on. A task that had, apparently, been a bit too much for him.

“Sorry,” his friend called out. “Wardrobe issues.” Cole had stopped by the bathroom for another belly adjustment, but it didn’t seem to have worked very well. Andrew and Ben, another firefighter, exchanged an amused glance.

“Best slow it down,” Andrew said. “How would it look to the kids if Santa got sent to detention for running in the halls?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time I got sent to detention,” Cole muttered. “But we’ll keep that between us. I wouldn’t want the kids knowing Santa ever had to put himself on the naughty list.”

“Unlike you two, I was a good kid,” Ben said. He wore regular uniform pants and shirt topped by a baseball cap emblazoned with the firehall’s emblem. Andrew had decked himself out in full firefighting gear. It wasn’t the most comfortable outfit to hang around in for hours, but kids liked that kind of thing. Firefighters and Santa. They couldn’t go wrong.

“Yeah? Look where all that goodness got you,” Andrew said. “Same place as us, only we had some fun along the way.”

Chuckling, Cole lifted his gloved hand and Andrew high-fived with his pal.

“I had fun,” Ben defended, adjusting the bag of fire safety goodies in his arms. “Just because I don’t rocket across town on Big Bertha like some motorcycle daredevil doesn’t mean I don’t have a good time.” He puffed out his chest beneath his uniform shirt. “After all, it was this great-looking Kentucky boy who had a fantastic date Saturday night.”

Andrew and Cole snorted at his boasting. But Andrew saw no need to mention that he’d spent his Saturday helping his grandparents put up outdoor Christmas lights and had then stayed for dinner. Not exactly the kind of Saturday night that would win him bragging points with the guys. “For the record, you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced the thrill of taking Big Bertha for a spin.”

“You and that motorcycle,” Ben accused, shaking his head. “No wonder you didn’t have a date this past weekend.”

“Or any other weekend,” Cole added, gaining a grin from Ben.

“What can I say? I don’t think a woman exists who could ever compete with Big Bertha,” Andrew said. So what if it had been a long time since he’d gone on a date? “She’s a beauty, dependable, gets me where I need to be. Dating is not a priority in this dude’s life.”

Fighting fires to save lives and property was. That and taking care of his grandparents. Ever since his grandfather had taken a tumble at the Christmas festival last year, he’d felt the need to keep a closer eye on them.

Andrew pointed toward the door, decorated with a Christmas tree covered in student-created ornaments.

“Well, guys, this is our stop.”

He knocked on the classroom door, then entered the room crammed with all three kindergarten classes—about sixty kids and five adults. Andrew recognized one of the teachers as Suzie Winters, who had stopped by the station to talk to Chief about sending some of his crew to speak with the students. He vaguely recognized all the others except one, a petite blond.

She glanced up and their gazes didn’t just meet.

They collided, held, left him struck with the sensation of deep recognition. He felt as if he should know her … but that was impossible. He wouldn’t have forgotten those big, Christmas-tree green eyes.

Those amazing eyes took on a leery expression, as if she didn’t trust him. That made no sense. Who was more trustworthy than a firefighter? Especially when that firefighter was delivering Santa Claus to a bunch of excited kids?

“Santa! Firefighters!” A posse of kids launched their little bodies toward them and wrapped their arms around his and his friends’ legs like stripes on a candy cane.

But it wasn’t the kids clinging to his legs that had his attention. It was the mysterious blond who filled his belly with the same thrill he got when gearing up to go fight a fire. A feeling of adrenaline, anticipation, and extreme caution for the ever-present danger. But why would she trigger any of that? She stood at no more than five-two or three, and she looked harmless enough.

Curious and unable to resist, he winked.

Shock registered on her face. She parted her lips as if to say something but instead she gave a little shake of her head and looked away, leaving Andrew feeling as if someone had just snatched away his favorite present on Christmas morning. Her attention focused on a boy standing near her.

“Okay, kids,” Suzie called out to the class. “It’s time for Santa and his firefighter friends to tell us about the Christmas coloring contest the fire department is hosting this year. They’re also going to talk to us about how to stay safe in case of a fire. My classroom, return to your seats. Miss Stevens and Miss Wilson’s classes, find a seat on the reading rug, please, and keep your hands to yourselves.”

The kids reluctantly released Andrew’s legs. He glanced again at the blond, now crouching down and talking to the boy. No wedding ring on her left hand, he couldn’t help but notice. Andrew made his way up to join Suzie at the front of the room.

Was the blond a teacher’s assistant or a parent volunteer? Andrew didn’t date single moms. It wouldn’t be fair to let a child get attached, since he planned to leave Pine Hill to follow his dream of becoming a smoke jumper—a firefighter that parachuted in to combat wildfires.

That was way too dangerous a profession for him to ever consider a serious relationship with any woman, much less one with kids.

“I’m so glad you wore your fire gear,” Suzie praised in her kindergarten-teacher voice. “The kids are so excited.”

Glancing toward the teacher, Andrew nodded. He needed to get his mind on fire safety and off the blond.

“Aw look, she has a statue of you on the corner of her desk,” Andrew teased Cole as they passed by the jolly old St. Nick figurine. The whole room was already fully decked out for Christmas. Cutout snowflakes, decorated Rudolph faces, tinsel over the dry erase boards. Pretty much the holiday works. “Looks as if you might have gained a little weight since that was made, though.”

Physically fit beneath his costume, Cole rolled his pale blue eyes, and then, smiling, waved at the class, and tossed out a few ho-ho-hos, doing a great imitation of the old guy himself.

“Who’s been good this year?” Santa Cole bellowed.

“Me. Me,” the kids chanted, their hands in the air as they bounced in their seats. The boy who’d remained in the back of the classroom raised his hand and motioned for the blond to put up her hand as well, which she immediately did, smiling down at him.

Andrew wasn’t surprised she raised her hand. She looked like the kind of “good girl” his Grandma Ruby wanted him to meet and settle down with. He kept telling his grandma that he wasn’t ever doing that, but she would just smile as if she knew something he didn’t.

Grandmas.

While Cole was telling the kids about the contest that would benefit the town’s annual Christmas Toy Drive, Andrew and Ben headed to the back of the room.

The blond and the boy still stood there, and after flashing a smile at the woman, he knelt to speak to the kid.

“Hey, there, bud. How’s it going?” he asked, keeping his voice low so as not to interfere with Cole’s talk.

The shy little boy’s eyes grew big. “Good.”

“That’s awesome.” Andrew held up his hand. “Give me five.”

Morgan Morris’s pulse was pounding as if she’d run to the North Pole and back. She gulped back the knot in her throat. Her instant awareness of this handsome firefighter disconcerted her, making her feel as if she needed to shield herself from the rush of unexpected emotions.

It had been almost two years since her husband Trey had died—her soul mate, who she’d met at nineteen. It had been a great love story. She just hadn’t expected it to end so soon.

But she tried not to give in to bitterness. A while back she’d made a promise to herself to count her blessings and be grateful for the time she’d had with him.

Time that had given her Greyson, the most beautiful little boy to ever exist.

For the most part, she kept that promise, but there were days when the whys took over. Why had Trey been taken so young? Why had her son been left without a father? Why had she been given a taste of what true happiness was only to be left to spend the rest of her life with a heart only half full?

She never got any answers, but those days would pass, and she’d settle back into accepting her new normal. She’d not vowed to remain single but had no interest in becoming involved with another man. What was the point when she’d already given her heart away and had nothing left to give?

Yet, when, with a grin on his handsome face, the firefighter had winked at her, it had been as if someone flipped a switch, lighting up her nervous system with millions of twinkling lights that cast a dazzling glow.

Seeming to be tongue-tied, Greyson smacked his hand against the firefighter’s.

“Good job,” the man praised him. He straightened and turned toward her. His gaze danced with interest, and no doubt hers shone with fear. Not for herself, but for the way her son was staring up at him with wide little eyes filled with adoration.

The life Greyson dreamed of was standing right there in front of him in full gear, and it was all she could do to not wrap her arms around her little boy and beg him to dream a different dream. One that didn’t involve running into burning buildings.

“Ahem.” The other firefighter cleared his throat, motioning for the man standing in front of her to join him.

He gave her a crooked little smile, then shrugged.

“Duty calls.”

She and Greyson watched as the firefighters spoke to each other, then opened a bag to pull out plastic helmets and fire safety goodies to give the kids.

“Did you see that?” Greyson asked, looking up at her in awe.

Placing her hand on her son’s shoulder, she smiled. “I sure did. You got to be the first one to meet one of the firefighters. He must have sensed that you want to be a firefighter, too.”

“You think so?” Greyson’s eyes were huge.

“It’s just a guess, but it would seem so since he came over to talk to you. That makes you special.” While she didn’t want to encourage firefighting dreams, she did want her son to feel appreciated and seen.

She’d been worried when he’d not rushed over to the firefighters along with the other kids. Was it because he still felt like an outsider to his new classmates and was struggling to fit in? He’d been through so much in his five years. She hadn’t wanted to uproot him from his home and bring him here, but when she’d lost her nursing job due to hospital budget cuts, she hadn’t had much choice. She’d hoped that a fresh start would be good for both of them—and in truth, she’d been feeling much better since leaving Georgia and their former life behind.

Her son’s gaze didn’t leave the firefighters, particularly the unsettling one in full firefighting gear, as he nodded.

“It’s awesome that our cousin Sophie’s firefighter friends are talking to your class today. And I know that her other firefighter friend, Cole, really liked meeting you at Grammy Claudia’s after church that Sunday afternoon.” She kept her voice chipper. “We’ll have to take him up on his offer to give us a tour of the fire hall.”

Greyson nodded. “We need to go.”

“I’m sorry we didn’t get to this past weekend, but my days off didn’t match up with when Cole would be there.”

She didn’t have much control over her work schedule at the assisted living center. At her son’s disappointed nod, Morgan’s heart squeezed. “Maybe one of the firefighters here will know if Cole’s working this Saturday. If so, we can go by then.”

Although she was anti-anything that might someday put her son in a dangerous situation, currently, she’d encourage most anything that put a sparkle into her son’s eyes.

Besides, kids usually changed what they wanted to be when they grew up many times over the years. Hopefully, Greyson would settle on something Mom-approved.

She couldn’t deal with living in constant fear due to a loved one’s reckless choices. Never again.

“That would be good. If the firemen don’t know, we could ask Santa,” Greyson suggested, staring up at her with big eyes that held her heart. “Santa knows everything, right?”

“Right, especially who’s been naughty or nice.” She bet this Santa really did know Cole’s schedule.

Hopefully, Greyson wouldn’t recognize Sophie’s boyfriend in the Santa suit. After all, he’d only met Cole once at Grammy Claudia’s, just over a week ago. Morgan herself had barely recognized the fit former Marine beneath the padded red suit, white wig, mustache, beard, and makeup. If not for his pale blue eyes, she might not have figured it out. “Plus, you can let Santa know what you’d like for Christmas this year.”

“I’d like to meet the firefighters first, though.” Greyson looked toward the firefighter in full gear, the one who’d winked and completely discombobulated her.

“Then I can ask Santa.”

Morgan’s chest tightened. Of course, Greyson would want to meet the firefighters first. She took his small hand into hers and gave a reassuring squeeze.

“Absolutely. Come on, let’s get you back at your desk so Mrs. Winters can get you assigned to a group to meet them.”

Maybe, if she was lucky, she could avoid meeting them.

Well, at least the winking one.

Because she suspected that firefighter started more fires than he put out, and everything in her warned that if she didn’t stay away, she’d get burned.

“I’m going to be a firefighter when I grow up.” The towheaded boy eyed Andrew’s helmet with longing as he took the inexpensive plastic imitation they were giving to each student.

Whereas the other kids had been animated, the boy chewed on his lower lip as he put the red hat on his head, then looked to Andrew as if for approval. Something in the kid’s eyes tugged at his chest, making him wonder what the kid’s story was.

“That’s great.” He fist-bumped with the boy. He had no doubt now that the kid was her son. Same big Christmas-tree green eyes. Cute kid. But that meant the blond was definitely a mother. Disappointment hit, though he tried to hide it.

“We need more good men on the crew,” he said, loud enough that Ben and Cole both cut their gazes toward him and rolled their eyes. “We’d love to have you join us after you complete your training.”

The kid’s face lit up. “Really?”

“Absolutely. Fighting fires is important work. Families count on firefighters to keep them and their homes safe. Plus, it may not seem like much, but this”—he gestured to the classroom—“is important firefighter work, too.”

The boy didn’t look convinced. “Talking to kids?”

“You bet. Teaching people of all ages what to do if they encounter a fire is very important. If you know what to do in the case of an emergency, especially fires, you could save your entire family before us guys even show up. That’s huge.”

The kid’s expression turned pensive. “You mean how you stop, drop, and roll if you catch fire, or you crawl to get away from smoke?”

Impressed that the boy had been paying attention when he and Ben had talked to them about fire safety, Andrew nodded. “Exactly. It’s vital that everyone, regardless of age, knows what to do in case of a fire. That way, we keep our community safe.”

“I’ll be the safest firefighter ever,” the boy assured Andrew, keeping his voice low. “But my mom won’t like it. She’ll still think I’ll get hurt.”

Andrew looked over and saw that the blond was snapping a photo of each student sitting in Santa Cole’s lap. But she kept sending worried looks in her son’s direction. “I understand,” Andrew said with a nod. “My family worries about me, too.” Not that his family wasn’t proud that he was a firefighter. They were, but they still worried, especially his Grandma Ruby. Growing more and more curious about the kid’s history, he asked, “How did you decide you want to be a firefighter?”

“I want to save people.”

“Good answer, kid.” Suspecting the boy would appreciate the gesture, Andrew took off his helmet and handed it over so the kid could hold it for a while. Eyes wide, the kid took it as if Andrew was passing over the holy grail. He liked this kid in ways that had nothing to do with his fascinating mother.

“Since you told me your future career goals, want to know mine?” A goal that he’d only ever told Cole and Ben. Why did he want to tell this five-year-old? No doubt Cole and Ben would say it was because Andrew was as mature as a kindergartner. But as crazy as it was, he felt like the boy was a kindred spirit.

Glancing up from the helmet, the boy nodded.

“When I was your age, I went with my grandma to bring supplies to a family who’d lost everything in a fire, ever since then I wanted to be a firefighter. I love being a firefighter. But a few years ago, I volunteered to help fight a wildland fire in East Tennessee, and now I’ve decided that I want to be a smoke jumper. That’s a firefighter who fights forest fires that the fire trucks can’t reach.”

Just the thought of smokejumping and possibly helping to save entire towns had adrenaline rushing through him.

Confused green eyes stared at him. “Then why aren’t you a smoke jumper already?”

The green gaze so similar to his mother’s burned into Andrew with the intensity of the hottest fire, making sweat pop out beneath his uniform. What could he say that this child would understand? No matter how much the desire burned within him, he had reasons why he couldn’t just take off and leave Pine Hill. Promises he’d made long ago that he’d always be there for certain people, just as they’d always been there for him.

“Adulthood isn’t that simple.”

“My mom says that a lot. She doesn’t want me to be a firefighter because she thinks it’s too dangerous.” The kid’s face took on a thoughtful expression. “Maybe by the time I’m old enough, she won’t worry so much.”

“Moms worry.” And grandmas, he mentally added. “It’s in their job description. Still, it’s good that they care so much, so we’ll consider ourselves lucky that we have people who love us.”

The boy nodded. “My mom loves me a lot. She moved here to give me a big Christmas.”

Again, Andrew found himself wondering what the kid’s story was. “Nothing wrong with having a big Christmas. Pine Hill is definitely the place for it. The holidays are everyone’s favorite time of year.”

“Greyson.” The blond gave a nervous-sounding laugh as she stepped up to them. “You’re the only student who hasn’t had your photo taken with Santa.”

The kid gave her a pretty-please-don’t-make-me-leave-yet look.

“You need to thank the fireman for his time and let someone else take a turn talking to him.” She placed her hands on the child’s shoulders.

“No worries, ma’am. Greyson and I were just swapping firefighter stories. I was telling him how our crew could use a good, safety-conscious firefighter like I know he’ll be. I’ve no doubt that he’ll work hard and make his dreams come true—in the safest way possible.”

Andrew met the boy’s gaze and winked conspiratorially. As he’d hoped, Greyson’s face lit up and he winked back. Andrew grinned at the exaggerated wink. Yeah, he liked this kid.

The boy handed his helmet back to Andrew. “Thank you and sorry I held up your line.”

Andrew reached out and patted the boy’s shoulder.

“Are you kidding me? I’m the one who held up my line because you’re an awesome dude. I enjoyed our man-to-man talk.”

“Me, too.” The boy eyed him as if he’d just promised him the moon.

It made him feel a little guilty—and maybe a bit undeserving. Andrew was proud of the work he did. But he didn’t want the kid idolizing him. He was just doing his job and being friendly to a kid who reminded him of himself as a child.

“Good luck with the contest and on becoming a firefighter. You’re going to make a great one.”

Digging in his heels as his mother tried to nudge him along, Greyson continued to look up at Andrew.

Then, he smiled. Andrew got the impression this happy, full-on smile didn’t happen to Greyson nearly often enough. The reaction from the boy’s mother seemed to confirm that. Her hand fell to her side and her conflicted gaze went back and forth between him and the kid. Kids deserved to smile—lots. That this kid obviously didn’t was a problem. One that made Andrew want to be a problem solver.

“Thank you, sir, and good luck to you, too,” Greyson said, and then to Andrew’s surprise, the boy hugged him. His little arms felt warm and tight as they wrapped around Andrew’s thighs. “Your secret is safe with me. Pinky promise forever.”

The stunned blond’s eyes widened even further at the last comment. Andrew was fairly stunned himself.

He and the blond watched the kid skip over to where Santa Cole had finished up with his last kid.

“What kind of secret?” she asked the second Greyson was out of hearing range, looking very much the mother hen who might attack at any moment.

“It was a comment I made about firefighting, nothing more,” he said, putting his hands up defensively.

“Okay. I … well, I…” She shook her head a little, then gave a forced smile. “Thank you for your kindness. You made Greyson’s day. But he shouldn’t have occupied so much of your time. Your line is backed up and the other children are waiting to get their firefighter helmets.”

“No problem,” he assured her. “It was my pleasure. Great kid you have there.”

Something flickered in her green gaze, then she nodded and motioned for the next kid in his line to step up. “Jace, thanks for being so patient while waiting for your turn.”

Then, without meeting his gaze, she headed toward Cole’s line where Greyson was now talking to Santa.

“Hi,” he greeted the kid who’d stepped up to him and handed the boy a plastic helmet while answering the kid’s questions. Laughter from across the room caught his attention, and when he looked up, the woman was smiling at Santa Cole.

What would it be like to have that smile aimed at him?

For the remainder of his time in the classroom, Andrew’s gaze kept bouncing between Greyson and his mother. Which wasn’t difficult as, although she helped with multiple students, she was never far from the future firefighter.

Greyson had gone to his seat, taken out a box of crayons and started coloring one of the pictures in the fire safety booklet. Most of the kids were paired off or in small groups, but Andrew hadn’t seen Greyson speak with or interact with any of the other children. No chattering or smiles or laughter. Wearing the plastic helmet Andrew had given him, along with one of the badge stickers Ben had given him, Greyson looked totally absorbed in the coloring book while around him noise and chaos abounded.

His aloneness tugged at Andrew’s heart and sucked him in further. It couldn’t be easy being the new kid in town.

Cole and Ben joined him, finished with their groups of kids while he still had a handful left to talk to. Great.

He was never last, except when it came to leaving a burning structure. Then, he always made sure all his crew was out safely before he himself got out.

“Miss Hilton was wondering if you would have time to talk to her first-grade class, too?” Suzie asked, smiling at them all. “I think the other teachers were a bit envious when they found out I’d made arrangements for you to talk to all of the kindergartners about the Christmas coloring contest.”

“Yeah, sure,” Cole agreed in his regular voice, then corrected himself. “Ho. Ho. Ho. Of course, Santa has time to talk to the other good boys and girls.”

“So long as no calls come in.” Ben patted the two-way radio at his waist. “We’ve got more coloring books, stickers, and helmets in the truck.”

“Thanks so much, that would be wonderful,” Suzie told them, clapping her hands together.

“Santa and I will grab the materials from the truck,”

Ben said. “And if Miss Hilton is ready, we’ll talk to her kids while the poky little firefighter here finishes up.”

Andrew rolled his eyes at his buddy, then smiled at the kindergartner who he was handing a red helmet to. “Choose your friends wisely, kid.”

“You’re lucky you have friends at all,” Cole said for Andrew’s ears only as he walked by on his way out of the classroom.

Andrew snorted but refrained from saying anything back. He wouldn’t want the kids to think he was insulting Santa. Instead, he turned to the next kid in line. Although his friend had been ragging him, truth was, Andrew knew how lucky he was to have Cole and Ben. He and Ben were lifelong friends, and Cole had just clicked with them as soon as he’d moved to Pine Hill a year or two back. There was no greater friend than one willing to lay his life down for the other. They were those kinds of friends. He knew they would literally walk through fire for him, and he’d do the same for them.

Andrew gave the last kid a plastic helmet and thought he was finished when he realized the cute want-to-be-a-firefighter with the pretty mom had gotten back in line.

Andrew grinned at Greyson and said, “Hey, I’m glad you’re here. With Firefighter Ben with Santa, I need a helper. Do you know of anyone who would want to help a firefighter out?”

“Me,” the boy immediately responded.

“Great. I hoped that’s what you’d say.” Andrew smiled at the kid. “Let’s see if your teacher is okay with you being my assistant when the class goes outside to look at the fire truck. I need someone to sit in the truck cab and keep an eye on things for me.”

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed you looking at Andrew Scott every time one of the kids isn’t demanding your attention.”

Morgan’s cheeks burned Rudolph-nose red. She’d tried to keep her mind on taking photos of the kids with Santa, but Suzie was right. Unfortunately.

Suzie’s lips twitched. “Is it because firefighting fascinates you?”

Terrified her, was more like it. She couldn’t imagine running into a burning building rather than out … and she couldn’t bear to think of Greyson doing that someday. Still, she gave her son’s schoolteacher a tight smile.

“Something like that.”

“Right.” Suzie laughed, glancing toward where Andrew was chuckling at something Greyson was saying.

“Looks as if you’re not the only one in your family who’s captivated. For whatever it’s worth, Andrew’s a great guy.

“Born and raised in Pine Hill. His parents had to travel a lot with work, so they built next door to his grandparents. He practically lived at their house. He played football with Marty, was the team’s star quarterback, actually,” Suzie added as if that should impress Morgan. “He was valedictorian of their class. And if someone needs help, he’s one of the first people to show up. Like I said, a great guy.”

Why was Suzie telling her Andrew’s life story? She wasn’t interested.

“Oh, and did I mention that he’s single?” Suzie teased.

Morgan didn’t want to know his relationship status.

Okay, so she had looked at his left hand and noted that he didn’t wear a wedding band. It didn’t mean anything.

And she definitely didn’t want the shaken-up-snow-globe flutters in her belly that knowing he was single had triggered.

“Not that it matters,” Suzie continued, eyeing where Andrew still talked with Greyson. “He’s a self-professed lifelong bachelor.”

“He doesn’t date?” Why was she asking that? She didn’t date.

“He dates, but never seriously. The moment he thinks a woman is getting attached, he calls it quits. Mostly, he just casually dates. My sister, Betsy, went out with him for a short while. He told her upfront that he’d never marry or have kids.”

“Why?”

Suzie shrugged. “He told her his life wasn’t conducive to a serious relationship.”

Morgan wished that didn’t intrigue her. It couldn’t be because of his job. Cole was a firefighter and seemed happy dating Morgan’s cousin, Sophie.

“He’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” Suzie added.

“Rides a motorcycle and jumps out of planes. That kind of thing.”

Morgan’s stomach plummeted. Of course, he was an adrenaline junkie.

There must’ve been some DNA sequence malfunction that alerted her whenever a thrill seeker was in the vicinity. Maybe that was why she’d kept looking toward him.

Because on some level she’d recognized that within him, and it had reminded her of Trey.

“Everyone thinks he’ll take over if and when Chief retires.” Which meant he’d be a lifelong firefighter. “But it’s going to be a lonely life for him if he sticks to that pledge to never settle down.”

“Interesting,” Morgan mused, still mulling over the possibility of whether her rattled response to him was because he was similar to Trey’s love of danger. “I’m sorry if your sister got hurt when he wasn’t willing to commit. But at least he was upfront with her. And honestly, good for him for meaning what he said. We have that in common. Although, I don’t plan to date at all—seriously or casually.” Especially not a firefighter who unnerved her. “Maybe I’ll reconsider after Greyson is older, but for now, he’s my priority.”

Morgan’s gaze went to where Andrew listened intently to whatever Greyson was saying. Were they talking about Greyson’s dream to be a firefighter again and swapping stories? She knew that she should direct her son back to his seat, but she didn’t have the heart to interrupt. Not when today was the most excited she’d seen him in a long time. They had fun together with just the two of them, and he’d warmed up to Grampy George and Grammy Claudia, but the move hadn’t been easy on him.

“Admit it. He’s great with Greyson and, as a bonus, is super cute.”

Morgan cut her eyes toward her friend and frowned. “His being cute has nothing to do with anything.”

Suzie laughed. “Sure, it doesn’t. A cute firefighter is talking to your kid and promoting a charity contest that’s raising money to buy Christmas toys for needy kids. What’s to like about that?”

Knowing that no matter what she said Suzie wouldn’t let up, Morgan sighed. “Yes, Greyson seems to like him very much.” She didn’t bother saying whether or not she agreed. Suzie would draw her own conclusions.

Suzie’s hands clapped together softly. “So, you’re going to talk to him?”

“What would be the point? You know Greyson and I are still struggling to find our way. We’ve got enough going on without throwing in a good-looking firefighter.”

It was good seeing the animated way Greyson chatted with him, though. Which must be why her heart still raced.

An adrenaline-junkie firefighter. That alone should turn her off completely. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson.

“Besides,” Morgan continued. “You’ve already said he’s a confirmed bachelor, and I’m not interested in dating, either, so what would be the point?” In all these months since being thrust back into single life, dating hadn’t entered her mind until today. She hadn’t been prepared for someone waking her insides. “That’s why I don’t plan to talk to him.”

She’d never let another adrenaline junkie get close to her. Not ever.

“If you say so.” Suzie didn’t sound convinced. “But you may not have a choice.”

“What do you mean? Of course, I have a choice. There’s no rule that says I have to date again.”

Suzie laughed. “I meant about talking to him. Because don’t look now, but your son has a firefighter by the hand and is bringing you a six-foot Christmas present worth writing Santa a thank-you note for.”

Chapter Two

Morgan had just enough time to frown before Greyson and Andrew reached her and Suzie. Greyson really did have the man’s hand. His eyes were bright and full of excitement.

“Mrs. Winters, may I have permission to be an assistant firefighter?”

Suzie and Morgan stared at him in confusion.

“What my buddy here is asking is if he can help me while I talk to the kids about the fire engine,” Andrew clarified, his eyes sparkling and not leaving Morgan’s.

Why was he looking at her that way—as if he knew something she didn’t and found it amusing? Had Greyson mentioned something embarrassing about her?

“Can I please, Mrs. Winters?” Greyson looked up at his teacher with such hope.

Suzie sent Morgan a questioning glance.

Greyson turned his pleading eyes onto her. “Please, Mom. I’ll be good and super careful. I promise.”

How could she say no to such an innocent request when it obviously meant so much to her son? “That’s fine, Greyson, so long as Mrs. Winters doesn’t mind.”

Suzie gave her a look of approval, then smiled at Greyson. “I appreciate you being willing to assist our visitor, Greyson. Thank you for always being such a great helper.” She turned to Andrew. “Should we wait for Santa and Firefighter Ben to come back from Miss Hilton’s classroom? Or should I line the class up to go outside and look at the truck right now?”

Rocking back on his heels, Andrew nodded. “Since we’re finished here, why not go now? It’ll give the kids more time to see the truck and ask questions.”

“Greyson, please get your coat, then go stand by the door,” Suzie said. “I’ll get the rest of the class bundled up and lined up behind you.”

Greyson nodded, then took off toward his cubby to grab his coat. Suzie walked to the front of the classroom and called her students to attention, leaving Morgan alone with Andrew. He’d been squatted down with the kids earlier. Standing fully upright, he seemed larger than life. Then again, most people seemed tall next to her.

“I’m Andrew, by the way.” He grinned at her, again.

Reminding herself that she wasn’t interested and could walk away at any time, Morgan nodded.

His eyes danced with merriment. “I missed where you gave me your name.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Stay calm.

“I didn’t tell you my name.” She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. Talking to him shouldn’t make her feel this fluttery excitement. Not excitement.

Anxiety, she mentally corrected herself. Anxiety that he’d gotten through her protective wall and put her on edge.

“But you’re going to tell me?” His tone was teasing, but Morgan’s heart raced. Andrew smiling at her warmed a freeze deep within she hadn’t even acknowledged existed. Somehow, though, keeping that ice in place felt safer than risking a thaw.

So, rather than answer, she bit into her lower lip.

“Great kid you have,” he continued, obviously not fazed by her refusal to answer. “He is yours, isn’t he?”

“He’s mine.” And how very blessed she felt. Greyson was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

“I like him.”

“Thanks.” Morgan’s heart swelled with pride. “He obviously likes you, too.”

Andrew’s brow arched. “I get the impression you wish he didn’t, though. He told me you weren’t into firefighters.”

Greyson had said that? Ha. Based upon her reaction to Andrew, she was definitely into firefighters. What was it about her that was attracted to men who thrived on danger?

“We’re not that bad, you know?” Andrew said.

The man’s grin was lethal. So much so that Morgan fought to tamp down welling-up emotions. He was cute and knew it. Just like Trey. But she wasn’t interested in any man, much less one who thought it was a good idea to run into burning buildings for a living.

“I never said you were. I appreciate you taking the extra time with my son,” she replied, carefully choosing her words.

“You’re welcome. I meant it when I said you have a great kid.”

“He is, only…” Her voice trailed off, then she made herself smile. Just because this man had shaken up her world didn’t mean she should be rude. She shouldn’t, especially when he really had been kind to Greyson.

“Sorry. The last thing you want to hear about is our personal issues.” She kept the smile in place, because it wasn’t his fault she got all flustered by him. “My name is Morgan. Morgan Morris, and thank you again.” Because what would telling him her name hurt? “Greyson’s excitement while talking to you is priceless. It’s good to see him smiling.”

Andrew’s gaze bored into her. “Doesn’t he smile much?”

Morgan didn’t want to tell this almost-stranger about how her son had gone from a full speed ahead kid to a quiet, subdued child, or that she was in Pine Hill to put the sparkle back into his eyes that had been missing for too long. She planned to surround him with so much love that his little heart healed from the ache they were both suffering from. Slowly, he was coming out of his shell, and Morgan thrilled at every smile, laugh, and seemingly carefree moment. They were precious.

“He smiles, but just hasn’t as much since … well, for a couple of years.”

Andrew’s brows raised. “What happened a couple of years ago?”

Taking a deep breath, Morgan whispered words that tore at her heart. “His dad died.”

Andrew felt like a complete heel for pushing. When he’d noticed that Morgan didn’t have a wedding ring, he’d figured divorce, not death. Then again, it was hard to imagine any man willingly walking away from her and Greyson, so maybe he should have suspected something more had happened.

“I’m sorry,” he said and meant it.

“Me, too,” she said, glancing away as if she might be fighting tears.

Helplessness and a need to make things better hit him. His grandma would’ve said she needed a hug. She certainly looked as if she could use one. But she didn’t know him and likely wouldn’t welcome his comfort. He’d never risk her taking his desire to comfort the wrong way.

“Greyson was so excited the fire department was coming by today,” Morgan continued, sounding nervous and as if she were chattering to distract herself from where her thoughts had gone. “I think he has a case of hero worship.”

“I’m no hero,” Andrew quickly denied. “Just doing my job, ma’am, and grateful I have the health and skills to be able to do so.”

She eyed him as if trying to decide how to take his response. “I suppose it’s a matter of opinion, but to most, firefighters are heroic. Some jobs are inherently more heroic than others.” She nodded over to where Suzie and all the kids had lined up. “They’re ready for you. Thanks again for being kind to Greyson. I truly do appreciate it and am positive he’ll be talking about it for weeks.”

And with that she walked away.

“Reindeer. I definitely need reindeer.”

Rosie, a vivacious, neon blue-haired woman in her late sixties, elaborated on her over-the-top Christmas wedding plans. She and several other women, including Morgan, had gathered at The Threaded Needle quilt shop to prepare supplies for an upcoming sewing event.

As Morgan unfolded a bolt of red fabric onto the cutting table, she suppressed a grin.

Rosie smoothed the material. Her manicured nails perfectly matched her hair, and her huge diamond engagement ring flashed with her movements. “Reindeer pulling a sleigh driven by Santa and delivering me to my lucky groom,” she continued, her well-preserved face lighting up with excitement as she shimmied her body a little. Morgan and her cousin Sophie shared an amused look.

“Your wedding is less than two months away. Where are you going to find trained reindeer to pull a sleigh?” Morgan’s Grammy Claudia asked, frowning at her lifelong friend who kept upsizing what she wanted for her wedding.

“The North Pole might have a few to spare,” Sophie replied, obviously unable to resist getting into the spirit of things.

Sophie and her sister, Isabelle, owned the quilt shop on the town square. They were avid supporters of an organization that made quilts for military servicepeople, past and present, to thank them and welcome them home. Morgan had never heard of Quilts of Valor Foundation prior to moving to Pine Hill, but as the daughter of military parents, she had the utmost respect for all those who served, so she had volunteered to help prepare for the upcoming event. Plus, she enjoyed being with her family and their friends.

“You should have gotten married on the Fourth of July, as you’d led your so-called lucky groom to believe,” Maybelle Kirby said drily as she cut a strip of the stretched-out material.

The older woman was classically beautiful. Likely in her seventies, she took great care with her appearance and overall presentation. She’d always reminded Morgan of an older Grace Kelly. If Pine Hill had royalty, Maybelle would be queen. Despite lacking an official title, there was a perpetual regal aura that clung to the woman. Even as a little girl, during her holiday visits, Morgan recalled being a bit in awe of Maybelle.

“If we’d gotten married in July, the ice sculptors refused to guarantee that the candy cane carvings would hold up throughout the ceremony. And then where would we be?” Rosie asked with an isn’t-it-obvious expression.

“In deep water,” Isabelle suggested with an amused eyeroll from where she leaned against the shop’s counter watching them. Sophie was all Christmas sunshine but her sister was usually all business, so Isabelle’s joke had Morgan smiling.

“You’d be married,” Maybelle deadpanned as she handed Sophie another stack of cut material strips. Sophie was going to run them all through a special cutting machine that had dies to cut particular patterns.

“Not doing more last-minute wedding planning,” Grammy Claudia added, shaking her head as she laid perfectly cut fabric squares onto a growing stack. Her gray hair was tucked so securely in a bun that it didn’t even wobble. “Maybe you and Lou should elope and be done with this wedding business.”

Her heavily, but tastefully, made-up eyes widening, Rosie gasped. “And deprive Pine Hill of the privilege of attending our winter wonderland wedding?” She ran her fingers through her azure hair. The punk rock shade of blue fit the feisty woman.

“Go ahead. Deprive us,” Maybelle encouraged.

Rosie pouted. “Why, Maybelle Kirby, you should be ashamed of yourself for even suggesting such a thing. You know perfectly well that our friends and family would never forgive us.”

“We’d forgive,” Maybelle assured her, cutting more material strips. “Forgive and be grateful the hoopla had ended. That poor man doesn’t realize he’s getting coal this Christmas.”

Morgan’s gaze met Sophie’s again, and she fought to keep from laughing at the older women’s bickering.

“Coal is just immature diamonds, and this girl has always been all sparkles,” Rosie informed in her most Southern accent, gesturing to her blingy poinsettia sweater and gold leggings.

“You are a bit rough around the edges,” Ruby teased as Rosie strutted her stuff at the end of the cutting table.

“Oh, phooey on you old biddies,” Rosie fussed at her friends. She shooed them away and picked up the rotary cutter she’d been slashing material strips with before her latest wedding discussion distraction. “We’re talking about my wedding day. I want it to be special, something the town will always remember.” Rosie fluttered her lashes. “I mean, how many times does a girl get to marry the man of her dreams?”

Maybelle cleared her throat and the other women in the room all avoided making eye contact. Rosie shot her a narrow-eyed look but continued on as if there had been no unsubtle reminder that this wasn’t her first walk down the aisle.

“Y’all are such scrooges. But no matter. I’m going to have the most Christmas-y Christmas wedding in the history of Pine Hill,” Rosie declared. “So much so that people will be talking about how marvelous it was for years—no, decades—to come.” Rosie’s raspberry-pink lips curled upward. “And you ladies are going to help make my day special with no more complaints.”

“I’ve not heard any complaints,” Ruby said, glancing around at the other women. “You heard any complaints, Claudia?”

Morgan’s grandmother shook her head. “Butterflies do not complain.”

Morgan smiled at the name the women had given to their group of friends. She wasn’t sure why or where they’d come up with the name, but they’d been known far and wide as the Butterflies for decades.

For all their good-natured squabbling, with Greyson in school, there was nowhere Morgan would rather be than here with these women at her cousins’ sewing shop. Her childhood had been full of wonderful memories of them during every holiday vacation to Pine Hill from wherever her parents had been currently stationed. These ladies had always been around, making life interesting, and always making Christmas magical.

This, she thought, was why she’d moved to Pine Hill two months ago. In Pine Hill, she had her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and these ladies. Morgan was in Pine Hill to make a new start for her and Greyson. One that was filled with family, love, and community.

And Christmas.

She was determined to give Greyson the best Christmas of his young life to make up for the previous two years when they’d barely celebrated. That first year after losing Trey, they’d been in shock. Last Christmas, the lights and decorations had just seemed to open wounds.

“Okay, sleigh pulled by reindeer,” Ruby said. “Got it. We can talk to Mr. Harvey and see if he can make arrangements for his horses to be replaced by reindeer. Does one need to have a red nose just in case it’s a foggy night?” Obviously amused at her own question, she giggled in the cutest old-lady way.

“Laugh if you will, but I’m being serious. I want our wedding to be straight from a fairy tale. Like something you’d see in the movies and think, oh, I wish I were there.”

In the short time Morgan had been in town, she was convinced Lou was so crazy about his bride-to-be he’d do his best to give her whatever she wanted. Especially since she’d put off the wedding several times already over various concerns, some real and some not so real.

No way would he give her any excuse to put their wedding off yet again. If Rosie insisted on reindeer, Morgan suspected he really would book a flight to the North Pole if it came down to it. Anything to get Rosie headed down that aisle to him.

“If you’re marrying the right man, the wedding itself doesn’t matter so much.” Ruby smiled, obviously thinking of her own wedding. “My Charlie and I had a simple church wedding in the middle of June. Nothing could have been more perfect than seeing that precious man waiting at the front of the church for me. Fifty years later and not once have I regretted marrying him.”

Morgan thought back to her own wedding six years ago. She’d been in the early part of her nursing school education, but they’d been young and in love when they’d stood before the justice of the peace and recited their vows. And they’d kept them—until, as promised, death did them part. She’d not thought that would be so soon. She swallowed back the emotion clogging her throat at the memories that threatened to assail her.

She’d come to Pine Hill to make a new, positive, happy life. Positive and happy, that was her from now on.

Most of the time, she really was a glass-half-full person. It was just since Trey’s death that she felt as if life kept tipping her glass over and draining it, and her. But coming to Pine Hill was refilling her cup, and every day seemed better than the one before.

“What about you, Morgan? Do you have plans to remarry?” Ruby asked.

Channeling positivity and happiness, Morgan settled for wrinkling her nose instead of frowning—or worse, crying. “No. I don’t plan to date, much less get serious enough to consider marriage.” Now why had the fireman from Greyson’s class just popped into her head?

Probably for the same reason she’d not been able to stop thinking about him as she’d drifted off to sleep the night before. “I just want to be a good mom to Greyson.”

“Nothing says a woman can’t be a good mom and date, too,” Maybelle pointed out in a no-nonsense tone.

Morgan considered pointing out that Maybelle herself had never remarried after losing her soldier husband at a young age, nor had the woman had children.

But she decided there was no reason to remind Maybelle of her loss. Over the years, Maybelle had dedicated her life to the betterment of Pine Hill. Morgan wanted to do the same. Positive and happy, she reminded herself. She had this.

“True, but Greyson’s been through so much. The last thing he needs is for me to get distracted by a man.” The last thing she needed was to be distracted by a man, which was why she needed to quit thinking about Andrew. “Currently, my top priority is to give my son the most amazing Christmas ever,” Morgan said, knowing the women would be all over that as Christmas was their thing. “That’s one of the reasons I agreed when Grammy Claudia suggested I move to Pine Hill. I want him to know the love of being around family and the enchantment of Christmas. He needs that.”

They both did.

“I’m so glad you moved here, and not just because there’s no place better to show a child Christmas,” Grammy Claudia said, reaching over to pat Morgan’s hand. “This town always goes above and beyond. No doubt this year will be something else with Rosie’s wedding on top of the other festivities.” She cast a skeptical glance toward her friend, then stage-whispered, “If the abominable bridezilla doesn’t delay her winter-wonderland wedding again.”

Morgan, Isabelle, and Sophie exchanged looks, then smothered their laughter.

“I heard that, Claudia,” Rosie fussed from across the cutting table. “You, especially, should be grateful I changed the date, since it meant you got to travel to Montana rather than sit here all summer.”

Morgan’s grandmother had longed to travel her entire life, but it was only over the past couple of years that she and Grampy had started doing so. The travel bug had bitten them both hard, and now they were constantly heading out on one trip or another.

“Plus,” Rosie continued, “We had all this extra time rather than having to have everything done by July fourth.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Maybelle said drily, waving the rotary cutter. “We know you got cold feet and you’re just going to find some other reason why you and Lou can’t get married this Christmas because you’ve suddenly realized a Christmas in July wedding was what you really wanted, after all.”

“Well, with the rate you’re going with getting fit for your new bridesmaid dresses, it’ll probably have to be a Christmas in July wedding,” Rosie complained with an impatient eye roll.

“Why bother getting fitted again for a dress I may never need? You still have over a month to change your mind again,” Maybelle accused, cutting more material. “Besides, I didn’t like the gleam in your eyes when you said you’d found new dresses for us. There was nothing wrong with the bridesmaid gowns we already have.”

“Well, you didn’t think I was going to have you wearing those strapless silver tinsel numbers in December, did you? You’d all turn into popsicles!”

“My Charles liked the silver number. Of course, he liked the red gown with the furry white collar, too,” Ruby mused, her expression saying she hadn’t been so sure about either one. “He’s looking forward to seeing what you choose next, as he says I’ll look lovely no matter what I’m wearing. That man is just the sweetest.”

All the Butterflies rolled their eyes at Ruby’s comment.

“Of course, you will look lovely because Rosie would never put us in something unflattering.” Maybelle gave Rosie a look that said she’d best not, if she knew what was good for her. “But sleigh-pulling reindeer?”

“Are you saying you can’t do it?” Rosie asked, obvious challenge in her eyes.

“We could improvise,” Ruby suggested. “I could have my Charles ask the local taxidermist if we can borrow some antlers. Mr. Harvey could strap them onto his horses. You know, like that cartoon where an antler was tied onto a dog’s head?”

Grammy Claudia, Maybelle, Sophie, Isabelle, and Morgan all covered their mouths to hide their smiles, while shaking their heads.

Rosie wasn’t smiling. “Real reindeer, ladies. I’m not starting my marriage with imposter caribou.”

Grammy snorted. “Next thing you know, she’s going to insist we find ones named Donner, Blitzen, and Comet.”

“Cupid would be kind of cute since it’s for a wedding,”

Ruby added.

“Do not encourage her,” Maybelle warned.

Morgan giggled as the older women continued arguing back and forth over whether or not Rosie would delay her wedding yet again over the reindeer. Then again, maybe there were other reasons Rosie kept putting off her wedding. Things that Morgan would understand all too well—such as the idea that Rosie didn’t want to risk marrying again, and possibly losing another husband.

The morning flew by, and the conversation turned to questions about Morgan’s new job at the Pine Hill Assisted Living Center.

“I’ve only been there six weeks and it’s a lot different from the hospital, but I really do like my job there,” she told them. Mostly, she was grateful to be working again. “I’m doing three twelve-hour shifts per week. On those days, Greyson stays with Grammy when he’s not in school. I feel so blessed for the wonderful coworkers and patients I’ve met and for Grammy and Grampy.” She smiled at her grandmother. “Coming to Pine Hill was the right move for Greyson and me.”

“No place better,” Maybelle said.

“Agreed, but I’m enjoying the opportunity to decide for myself,” Grammy said, referring to her and Grampy’s recent trips. Their brief visit to Georgia last year had been the highlight of her and Greyson’s holidays.

“Oh, I meant to ask you,” Sophie said to Morgan. “How did Greyson like Santa visiting his class yesterday?”

“He was certainly a big hit with the kids,” Morgan said. “But Greyson was more excited over meeting real-life firefighters.” She shot an apologetic look Sophie’s way. “Don’t tell Cole.”

“My grandson is a firefighter,” Ruby said proudly. “He is such a joy. I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s always swinging by to help Charlie and me with things around the house. Or maybe it’s just to grab some home-cooked dinner.” Ruby laughed. “Andrew was working yesterday, so he didn’t come by, but called to check on us.” She beamed with pride. “He mentioned that he’d been at the school with Cole and Ben.”

Andrew was Ruby’s grandson? That must be why he’d seemed vaguely familiar. No doubt their paths had crossed at some point during one of her holiday visits.

She wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t remembered, either.

He wouldn’t have taken notice of a kid several years younger than him.

“Did Greyson get to meet Andrew?” Ruby asked.

Trying to keep her expression nonchalant, Morgan nodded. “He did. Andrew was giving out plastic fire helmets and was a big hit with the kids, especially Greyson.” And her, unfortunately, based upon how much she’d thought about him since. Ugh. She didn’t want him in her head messing with her new positive and happy life. “It was all I could do to convince Greyson to take his helmet off when I put him to bed last night, and he insisted upon wearing it right up until the point he got out of the car at school this morning.”

“He looked adorable. You should have let him keep it on,” Grammy said. “He was so excited to show me and his Grampy his helmet and firefighter goodies.”

“Sounds just like Andrew when he was a kid,” Ruby mused, smiling with nostalgia. “I think I still have the plastic helmet he used to wear around my house. I certainly have numerous photos of him wearing them in my scrapbooks.”

“It’s hard to picture Andrew as a little boy,” Morgan said, then—realizing what she’d done—shut her mouth and hoped the Butterflies had missed her slip.

No such luck.

“Oh?” Maybelle looked at Morgan over her reading glasses. “Why is that?”

She gulped. “Um, well, just he’s so … grown up now.”

Yeah, she wasn’t fooling anyone. But it was the best excuse she could come up with since five sets of eyes were trained on her. As the only one who hadn’t caught Morgan’s blush, Ruby saved her.

“I understand. I have the opposite problem. It’s hard for me to remember he’s a grown man, now, rather than that sweet little boy running around my house and always getting into something. Those were the days.”

Grammy eyed Morgan curiously. “Did you ever meet Andrew when you visited before?”

“I don’t recall meeting him.” See, she sounded as if he wasn’t memorable to her.

Maybe that would throw the women off the scent. While she trusted their good intentions, she didn’t welcome the idea of interference when she wasn’t sure what was going on in her head in the first place.

She doubted she’d be able to get them to back down, though. According to what Sophie and her new friend Sarah had told her, Butterflies were like hound dogs when it came to the possibility of romantic interest.

“Mom and Dad were stationed overseas during my teen years,” she went on to say. “So, I spent my school holidays exploring Europe rather than returning stateside during those years. If I did meet him, it would have been when we were small.”

“I was so glad when you decided to come back to the states for college,” Grammy admitted. “We sure missed seeing you during the holidays.”

Guilt hit Morgan that she’d rarely made it to Pine Hill during college or in the years after. She’d met Trey and had been all caught up in life with him. She’d only visited her grandparents a couple of times, and those had been rushed holiday visits of no more than a day, giving her little chance to socialize with others in town.

“Andrew’s a few years older than you, so you might not remember if you met when you were younger,” Ruby pointed out, still seeming oblivious to the others’ curiosity. “I’ll have to ask him if he recalls meeting you.”

Morgan’s face heated. Ready to escape, she glanced at her watch. “Sorry, ladies, but I need to pick Greyson up from school. I’ll see you soon to help with wedding plans or making ornaments or whatever y’all need me for.” She went to her grandmother and kissed her cheek. “I’ll see you at home this evening, Grammy. Love you.”

And I’m so sorry I didn’t come home more. She’d make up for that

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping August 14, 2024

ISBN: 978-1-964703-41-1

August 14, 2024

Order links for Wrapped Up in Christmas Hope coming soon!

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