A Texas Kind of Christmas

By: Jodi Thomas

Thank you, Celia, for calling me New Year’s Eve to ask me to join you and Rachael on this fun adventure.

Chapter 1

Texas, 1859

Christmas Eve

Rain hung in the air so thick Cody Lamar couldn’t see the sunset as he rode into Dallas. He swore into the wind. This was the dumbest idea he’d ever had in his life.

He was thirty-four, old enough to know better, but here he was going courting at some fancy party, looking for a girl he hadn’t seen in years.

Probably half the single men in the state would be at the St. Nicholas Hotel tonight, lined up to propose if they’d heard the same rumors he had. A Texas princess, who came with a dowry of cattle and land, was looking for a husband. Shy, rarely seen, Miss Jacqueline Hartman, daughter of one of the richest ranchers in Texas, would be married by the new year or rumor was her father planned to disown her.

Cody had been twenty when he met his neighbor Harry Hartman, and his daughter Jacqueline had been about seven. The day hadn’t been much better than today; funeral weather, he’d thought then.

He couldn’t remember what the little girl had looked like that morning they all huddled around her mother’s grave. Harry had stood like stone in the rainstorm, but his daughter looked like she might blow away. She’d clenched her hands behind her back as the preacher shouted above the thunder. Cody wondered if she was stubbornly refusing to touch her father, or simply frozen in place.

Little Jacqueline Hartman wore a coat a few sizes too big with a hood covering her face. Cody remembered brown hair or maybe it had been wet blond. She was skinny, though. He noticed that. Bony as a fence post with that big coat flapping around her like a black flag.

She’d spent most of the funeral standing behind her daddy, who ignored her. When one of the cowhands tossed the first shovel of dirt on her mother’s casket, the girl started crying.

No one moved to comfort her. No one said a word. Harry finally noticed her. He swore so loud it raveled the storm. He picked her up and loaded her in the back of the buckboard as if she was simply a newfound burden.

All the other families stood in the rain watching as he climbed on the seat and grabbed the reins.

When the wagon finally disappeared in the dreary fog, Cody could still hear her sobs carried on the icy wind.

He had felt sorry for her that day, but he hadn’t known what to say. Afterwards, he’d watched for the kid at barn raisings and when he went to town. A sad little girl with a bull of a father raising her. Once he thought he saw her in the schoolyard sitting all alone. He’d noticed her asleep in the wagon while her father went about his business in town, and again a few years later when she rode wild across open pasture.

Cody had left his land for a while, raising money by serving in the war with Mexico. By the time he’d gotten back, folks said they never saw her in town at all. She’d grown up so shy she never left her father’s spread.

He remembered being happy for her when Harry married again. Folks bragged that Margaret Hartman was the most beautiful bride they’d ever seen. The new Mrs. Hartman was one of those rare women who takes up all the air in a room. She acted as if all others were simply around to entertain her. Harry paraded her about like she was a prize heifer and she talked baby talk to him as if she was too dumb to sneeze without directions.

Cody didn’t really care. The war had hardened him and all he wanted to do was live in peace on his land. On the rare occasions he saw Mr. and Mrs. Hartman, Harry’s daughter was never with them.

Now, over a dozen years since the day he’d seen Jacqueline cry, she was the belle of the ball. She was long into marrying age at twenty-one and her father and stepmother seemed set on the idea that she find a husband tonight.

Cody pushed memories aside as he slowed his mount into the heavy traffic of a dozen wagons. Dallas wasn’t much of a town, but bigger than most this far north of the Rio.

He stabled his horse across the street from the St. Nicholas and stomped through the mud suddenly in a hurry to get his chore finished. He planned to propose to Miss Hartman whether she was pretty or homely. Something he never figured he’d do. If she needed a husband he could handle that job.

He was about to walk into some elegant ball wearing worn clothes and ask a girl he’d never spoken to if she’d be interested in marrying him. He didn’t want a wife, but he’d treat her right. Talk to her now and then. Finish building the house he’d started years ago. Take her to town once a month whether they needed supplies or not.

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