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A cowboy returning to his hometown—and the best friend he left a dozen years before. This Christmas, can Graham and Laney build a family and find their happily-ever-after?


“I’ll call about the power tomorrow,” she said, glancing back toward her house. “I don’t know why I didn’t call today.” She faced him again. “My pipes are all going to be frozen.”

“The power company wouldn’t have been able to come anyway.” Graham hadn’t thought of it either, and the fact was, he liked having Laney and Bailey upstairs, and he hoped they might be able to stay for several more days. He looked up into the sky. “It’s just starting to clear up.”

“And the forecast says it’s supposed to snow overnight.” Laney heaved a big sigh and spread her arms wide to the sky. She turned in a circle and said, “Remember when we used to shout what we wanted into the sky?”

Graham remembered, but he didn’t want to play that game right now. Because he was looking at what he wanted, and he wasn’t sure he could censor himself if she insisted he bellow to the clouds the way they had as eighth graders.

“What are you gonna yell?” He watched her, her presence so strong as she twirled in the snow, her boots crunching it down. 

She came to a stop and faced him, a giant grin on her face. He returned the smile, her happiness almost infectious, and the electric charges in his pulse testified that his feelings for her weren’t because Bonnie had put the idea in his head to ask her out. 

“Why did we never go out before?” he asked, cocking his head.

Her smile slipped, and Graham did some major backpedaling. “I mean, I was dating…someone. What was her name?” And why couldn’t he remember it?

“Emma Darrow,” Laney said immediately. “She married Flynn Mason, you know.”

“I think I heard that.” A long, long time ago. She probably had children the same age he was last time he’d thought about Emma. 

“And we never dated because we weren’t that kind of friends.” Laney folded her arms as if hugging herself to keep warm.

Graham took a step toward her and then another one. “Are we that kind of friends now?” He ran his gloved hands from her elbows to her shoulders and back down, really hoping she’d say yes. 

“I think we should probably define what kind of friends we are,” she said, a shaky note in her voice on the last few words. “What with your family coming into town and all.”

Graham nodded, but he didn’t open his mouth to make any such definitions. 

“Oh, you want me to start?” Her eyes crinkled as she smiled and shook her head. “Always making me do the heavy lifting.”

“Hey, I got down all the hay to feed the horses over here.” He grinned at her.

“Yes, well.” She put her hands on his biceps and squeezed, though she surely couldn’t feel anything through his thick, winter coat. “These muscles should be good for so much more than that.”

“Different kind of lifting,” he said, still wanting her to begin. She seemed interested in him, and he wondered how long she’d thought of him as a man she’d like to go to dinner with. Hold hands with. Maybe even kiss….

“I had a crush on you in high school,” she said with a swallow. “Did you know?”

Graham blinked, sure he’d heard her wrong. “I had no idea.” Foolishness raced through him at the speed of light. “You never acted like it.”

She lifted one shoulder in a shrug and Graham dropped his hands to her waist. The desire to kiss her soared toward the heavens as she laid her cheek against his chest and exhaled. “You always had Emma, and I always knew you’d leave Coral Canyon. I’m actually surprised you’re back.” She leaned away from him and searched his face. “You’re planning to stay, right?”

If he wanted to keep those nine zeroes. “Yes,” he said. “I’m planning to stay.”

Laney looked like she didn’t quite believe him, but she nodded. 

“So,” he said.

A flirtatious twinkle entered her light eyes, making them sparkle like gems. “So what?” 

“So you tell me what kind of friends we are so I can decide what to do next.”

“What do you want to do next?”

He swallowed, finding his throat very, very dry. “Do I have to yell it into the sky?”

She shook her head slowly as if she knew exactly what he wanted, the ends of her hair brushing the backs of his gloves.

“No,” she said slowly. “You can whisper it to me if you want.”

He bent down, taking a careful breath of the scent of her hair, her skin. He got something soft mixed with something fruity, and the combination of smells nearly drove him to madness.

“I want to kiss you,” he whispered, his lips dangerously close to her earlobe.


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