Love Inspired December 2014 - Box Set 2 of 2: Her Holiday Family\Sugar Plum Season\Her Cowboy Hero\Small-Town Fireman

BOOK: Love Inspired December 2014 - Box Set 2 of 2: Her Holiday Family\Sugar Plum Season\Her Cowboy Hero\Small-Town Fireman
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Harlequin Love Inspired December 2014 – Box Set 2 of 2
Her Holiday Family
Sugar Plum Season
Her Cowboy Hero
Small-Town Fireman
Ruth Logan Herne
Mia Ross
Carolyne Aarsen
Allie Pleiter

Love Inspired brings you four new titles for one great price, available now! Enjoy these uplifting contemporary romances of faith, forgiveness and hope.

Look for bundle 1 of 2 and enjoy more inspirational stories every month from Love Inspired!

HER HOLIDAY FAMILY

Kirkwood Lake

Ruth Logan Herne

Former army captain Max Campbell is back in town to help his ailing dad. Can he prove to old love Tina Martinelli that's he's sticking around, not just for the holidays, but for forever?

SUGAR PLUM SEASON

Barrett's Mill

Mia Ross

Amy Morgan hires Jason Barrett to build sets for her dance school's holiday performance. Soon she'll have to choose between her ballerina dreams and building a future with the charming lumberjack.

HER COWBOY HERO

Refuge Ranch

Carolyne Aarsen

When rodeo cowboy Tanner Fortier ropes ex-fiancée Keira Bannister into fixing his riding saddle, the reunited couple just might have a chance to repair their lost love.

SMALL-TOWN FIREMAN

Gordon Falls

Allie Pleiter

Karla Kennedy is eager to leave Gordon Falls, but working with hunky fireman Dylan MacDonald on the firehouse anniversary celebration has this city girl rethinking her small-town future.

Home for the Holidays

When her café goes up in smoke, Tina Martinelli decides to make a big change. She plans to leave Kirkwood Lake and start over—somewhere without the haunting memories of family and failure. But just as she's plotting her new life, her girlhood crush Max Campbell returns to town…and suddenly takes notice of Tina all grown up. Having retired from his military career, Max's ready to start over, too. He's given his heart to her. Now, if only Max can convince Tina to stick around this Christmas—and forever after.

Kirkwood Lake: A town full of heart and hope

“I love baking.”

“Can't prove it by me,” Max retorted. “We've worked together for over a week and I've seen two measly cookies. Kind of lame, Tina.”

She laughed, and it felt good. They got to her door and she swung about, surprised. “That's the first time I've passed the café site without getting emotional. I didn't even realize we'd gone by.”

“The company, perhaps?” Max bumped shoulders with her, a friendly gesture.

“Indubitably,” she joked back, then looked up.

His eyes, his gaze…

Dark and questing, smiling and wondering.

He glanced down at her, then waited interminable seconds…for what? Her to move toward him?

She did.

His arms wrapped around her, tugging her close. The cool texture of his collar brushed her cheek, a contrast to the warmth he emanated.

He smelled like leather, dish soap and fresh lemons, a delightful mingling of scents in the chill of a Christmas-lit night.

Books by Ruth Logan Herne

Love Inspired

  Winter's End

  Waiting Out the Storm

  Made to Order Family

*
Reunited Hearts

*
Small-Town Hearts

*
Mended Hearts

*
Yuletide Hearts

*
A Family to Cherish

*
His Mistletoe Family

†
The Lawman's Second
Chance

†
Falling for the Lawman

†
The Lawman's Holiday
Wish

†
Loving the Lawman

  His Montana Sweetheart

†
Her Holiday Family

*Men of Allegany County
†Kirkwood Lake

RUTH LOGAN HERNE

Born into poverty, Ruth puts great stock in one of her
favorite Ben Franklinisms: “Having been poor is no shame. Being ashamed of it
is.” With God-given appreciation for the amazing opportunities abounding in our
land, Ruth finds simple gifts in the everyday blessings of smudge-faced small
children, bright flowers, freshly baked goods, good friends, family, puppies and
higher education. She believes a good woman should never fear dirt, snakes or
spiders, all of which like to infest her aged farmhouse, necessitating a good
pair of tongs for extracting the snakes, a flat-bottomed shoe for the spiders,
and for the dirt…

Simply put, she's learned that some things aren't worth
fretting about! If you laugh in the face of dust and love to talk about God,
men, romance, great shoes and wonderful food, feel free to contact Ruth through
her website,
www.ruthloganherne.com
.

HER HOLIDAY FAMILY

Ruth Logan Herne

For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

—Matthew
6:14

To the real Tina, one of the strongest and most amazing women I know. God blessed me the day we crossed paths in Denver, and He's continued to do so ever since. I love you, Teenster. And to Terry, Sean, Dan and Ronnie, my siblings who served when I was too young to understand the amazing sacrifice they made. Thank you. I love you. Your dedication is inspiration to so many!

Acknowledgments

Big thanks to Tony and Debby Giusti who are always willing to offer me advice on my military heroes. Your expertise is invaluable and I'm so grateful! To Melissa Endlich and Giselle Regus for their well-tuned advice about how to strengthen Tina and Max's story. Your advice produced a stronger book and I thank you! To Natasha Kern, my beloved agent, a woman with amazing patience and insight. I am so blessed to be working with you!

To Beth for all of her help and advice on how to write a better story. To the Seekers who are always there, ready to have my back as needed! To Basel's Restaurant, a fun, family style Greek restaurant here in upstate where I spent eleven years waiting tables. Real life is the VERY BEST research. And to Lakeshore Supply Company, our new local hardware store: I'm so glad you moved to town! Charlie Campbell's store came alive because of your delightful Hamlin and Hilton stores.

Chapter One

T
he old familiar voice stopped Tina Martinelli in her tracks as she stepped through the back door of Campbell's Hardware Store late Sunday morning. “I'll do whatever you need, Dad. I'm here to stay.”

Max Campbell was here? In Kirkwood Lake?

Max Campbell, her teenage crush. The Campbell son who'd enlisted in the army and had never looked back. Max Campbell, the to-die-for, dark-haired, brown-eyed, adopted Latino son who'd broken countless hearts back in the day? The guy who used to hang out at her neighbor's house, until Pete Sawyer and his girlfriend lost their lives in a tragic late-night boating accident.

She'd never seen Max at the Sawyers' again. Not to visit Pete's parents. Not to offer Pete's little sister, Sherrie, a hug. Abnormally quiet became the new normal.

No more Max, no more Pete, no more parties.

A lot had changed on one warm, dark summer's night.

The wooden back door of Campbell's Hardware swung shut before she could stop it, the friendly squeak announcing her arrival. She did a very feminine mental reassessment before moving forward.

Hair?

Typical elfin crazy.

Nails?

Short and stubby, perfect for a hardware clerk, but not for coming face-to-face with Max Campbell over a decade later.

Makeup?

She hadn't bothered with any. She'd spent her early morning testing a new recipe, something she hoped to use in the not-too-distant future.

“Tina? That you?” The forced heartiness of Charlie Campbell's voice said she had little choice but to move forward, so that's what she did.

“I'm here, Charlie.” She strode into the store, shoulders back, chin high, when what she wanted was a thirty-minute makeover. Why hadn't she worn her favorite jeans, the ones that made her feel young, jazzed and totally able to handle whatever life handed out?

Because you were coming to work in a hardware store, and who wears their best jeans to work in a hardware store?

The two men turned in tandem.

Her heart stopped when she locked eyes with Max.

She set it right back to beating with a stern internal warning because, despite Max's short, dark hair and dangerously attractive good looks, the guy had left his adoptive family when he'd finished college and hadn't come back since. And that was plain wrong.

“Tina, you remember our son Max, don't you?” Pride strengthened Charlie's voice, while the effects of his ongoing chemotherapy showed the reality of his current battle with pancreatic cancer. “He's a captain now, but he's come back home for a while.”

“For good, Dad.” Max's gaze offered assurance tinged with regret, but life taught Tina that assurances often meant little and ended badly. Around Kirkwood Lake the proof was in the pudding, as Jenny Campbell liked to say. And Max had a lot of proving to do.

She stepped forward and extended her hand, wishing her skin was smoother, her nails prettier, her—

He wrapped her hand in a broad, warm clasp, sure and strong but gentle, too.

And then he did the unthinkable.

He noticed her.

His gaze sharpened. His eyes widened. He gripped his other hand around the first, embracing her hand with both of his. “This is little Tina? Little Tina Martinelli? For real?”

The blush started somewhere around her toes and climbed quickly.

Little Tina.

That's what she'd been to him, an awestruck kid stargazing as the wretchedly good-looking youngest Campbell brother broke hearts across the lakeside villages. Max wasn't what you'd call a bad boy...

But no one accused him of being all that good, either.

“It's me.” She flashed him a smile, hoping her Italian skin softened the blush, but the frankness of Charlie's grin said it hadn't come close. “I—”

“It's good to see you, Tina.”

Warmth. Honesty. Integrity.

His tone and words professed all three, so maybe the army had done him good, but she'd locked down her teenage crush a long time back. Over. Done. Finished. “You, too.”

Did he hold her hand a moment too long?

Of course not, he was just being nice.

But when she pulled her hand away, a tiny glint in his eye set her heart beating faster.

Clearly she needed a pacemaker, because she wasn't about to let Max Campbell's inviting smile and good looks tempt her from her newly planned road. Life had offered an unwelcome detour less than four weeks ago, when her popular café burned to the ground on a windswept October night. She'd watched the flames devour ten years of hard work and sacrifice, everything gone in two short hours. It made her heart ache to think how quickly things could change.

“You're working here, Tina?” Max angled his head slightly, and his appreciative look said this was an interesting—and nice—turn of events.

“Tina came on board to help when I got sick,” Charlie explained. He indicated the waterfront southwest of them with a thrust of his chin. “She had the nicest little café right over there in Sol Rigby's old mechanics shop. Put a lot of time and money into that place, a bunch of years. Her coffee shop became one of those places folks love to stop at, but it caught fire a few weeks back. The local volunteers did their best to save it, but the sharp north wind and the fire's head start was too much. So Tina's helping us out while we're waiting for the dust to settle with my treatments.”

Concern darkened Max's gaze as he turned her way, as if the loss of her beloved business mattered, as if she mattered.

Don't look like that, Max.

Don't look like you care that my hopes and dreams went up in smoke. That despite how I invested every penny and ounce of energy into building that business, it evaporated in one crazy, flame-filled night. You're not the caring type, remember? When life turns tragic, you tend to disappear. And I've had enough of that to last a lifetime.

Tears pricked her eyes.

She'd been doing better these past few weeks. She could walk past the burned-out building and not shed a tear. Oh, she shed some mental ones each time, but she hadn't cried for real since that first week, when rain or a puff of wind sent the smell of burned-out wood wafting through the village.

“Tina, I'm so sorry.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but stopped himself. He appraised her, then stepped back. “You don't mind teaching me stuff, do you? I'm pretty good with a grappling hook or an all-terrain vehicle on caterpillar treads. Put a semiautomatic in my hands and I'm on my game.” He made a G.I. Joe–type motion and stance, ready to stand guard for truth, justice and the American way. “But Dad's new computerized cash registers?” He made a face of fear, and the fact that he steered the conversation away from her pain meant he recognized the emotion and cared.

Sure he cares. Like you're a kid sister who just broke her favorite toy. Get hold of yourself, will you?
“I'll be glad to show you whatever you need, Max.” She shifted her gaze left. “Charlie, are you staying today?”

“Naw.” Frustration marred Charlie's normal smile. “The treatments are catching up with me. When Max showed up at the house yesterday and said he was here to run the store for as long as we need him, well, I'll tell you.” Charlie slapped a hand on his youngest son's back. “It was a gift from God. I'd just told Jenny we needed someone here to help you and Earl, with the holidays coming up and all. And while I hate that your pretty little restaurant burned—”

The anxious look in the older man's eyes made Tina recognize a timeline she was loathe to see.

“Having you here, and now Max, well...” Charlie breathed deep. “It's easier for me to focus on getting well, knowing the store is in good hands. I know you're not planning to stay in Kirkwood, Tina, but I thank God every night that we've got you here now. I hate having your mother—” he moved his gaze to Max while Tina fought a new lump of throat-tightening emotion “—worrying over me all the time. But you know her, there's no keeping her from it. And while I'm not one to be fussed over, it's good to have her on my side right now.”

* * *

Old guilt and his new reality gut-stabbed Max.

Time had gone by. Mistakes had been made. No matter how many battles he fought, no matter how many medals the army pinned on his chest, a part of him couldn't move beyond the teenage boy who'd made a grievous error in judgment years ago.

He swallowed hard but kept his face even. “I should have come back sooner, Dad. I know that. But I'm here now, and I'll do everything I can to make things easier for you and Mom. That's if I can keep my mind on hardware with such pretty help.” He slanted a glance of pretended innocence Tina's way.

His ruse of humor worked.

Charlie's laugh lightened the moment. Tina looked like she wanted to mop the floor with him, making jokes at a moment of truth, but Max knew his father. Charlie Campbell would be the first to say that getting crazy emotional over must-have treatments and their outcomes wasn't in anyone's best interests.

You could have come back. You chose not to. That one's all on you, soldier.

Max's heart weighed heavy as Charlie picked up his car keys. Ten years of staying away, grabbing for a future because he couldn't face the past. He'd lost time with his mother, his father, his siblings. Time that could never be regained.

Now he was home, determined to make amends and begin again. Charlie and Jenny Campbell had taken in a five-year-old boy, dumped by his mother the week before Christmas, and brought him to their sprawling lakeside home. They'd changed his life that day, given him a second chance not all children get.

He loved them for it. Now? Time to give back. And if reconnecting with his hometown meant facing old wrongs? Then it was about time he manned up and did just that because staying away hadn't fixed anything. Over the years he'd faced enemies on three separate continents. He could handle Kirkwood Lake.

Once his father left the store, Max turned toward Tina.

“Don't you dare break their hearts again, Max Campbell.”

He'd come home expecting emotional shrapnel.

Tina's flat-out decree was more like a direct hit at close range. He started to speak, but Tina moved a half step forward, invading his space. “What were you thinking disappearing like that? All those years gone. What were you doing all that time?”

“My job?” He let his inflection say the answer was obvious, but he knew Tina was right. He could have come back. Should have come back. He'd missed weddings, baptisms, anniversaries and holidays. And he'd done it on purpose, because it was easier to face current danger than past lapses in judgment. He got careless and stupid, but he didn't need this drop-dead gorgeous gray-eyed beauty to ream him out over it.

Although he preferred her sass to the tears she'd been fighting minutes before. Tears went hand in hand with high drama. If there was something Max steered clear of, it was high-drama women.

“Your job wasn't 24/7/365.” She folded her hands across her chest, leveled him a look and didn't seem at all fazed that he had her by a good seven inches and sixty pounds. Or that he was a munitions expert. Her bravado made him smile inside, but he held back, knowing she wouldn't appreciate his amusement.

“I should have come back. Phone calls weren't enough. I know that now.” He'd known it then, too, but it had been easier to stay away. Still, this was
his
personal business, not hers. Fortunately his straightforward admission helped take the wind out of her sails.

Good. He had no intention of being yelled at all day. With the high-volume sales of winter and holiday items upon them, he knew Campbell's Hardware would be cranking. His job was to learn the new aspects of an old business ASAP, shouldering the work his parents did so naturally. “For the moment, if you can take a break from yelling at me, I need to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can to help out. Now we either do this together—” he mimicked her stance and saw her wince as if recognizing her stubbornness “—or we work as separate entities. But, Tina?” He held her gaze, waiting until she blinked in concession to continue.

Only she didn't.

He shrugged that off mentally and stood his ground. “We've got to take care of this for Dad's sake. And Mom's. No matter how you might feel about me. Which means we might have to declare a truce, at least during working hours. Agreed?”

Her expression softened. She stared over his shoulder, sighed, then brought her eyes back to his. “Agreed.”

He refused to acknowledge her reluctance. Ten years in the service taught him to pick his battles. He'd seen her face when they'd talked of her business burning. He understood that working side by side with the Campbell prodigal probably hadn't made her short list, and life had done a number on her.

But when she took a deep breath and stuck out her hand again, he realized that Tina Martinelli was made of pretty strong stuff. “Do-over,” she instructed.

He smiled, nodded and accepted her hand in his.

“Max, you might not remember me. I'm Tina Martinelli and I'm here to help your parents.”

He should resist. He knew it, knew it the minute her eyes locked with his. Held.

But he couldn't and so he gave her hand a light squeeze and smiled. “Well, Tina, I do remember you, but what I remember is a pesky tomboy who whistled louder, ran faster and jumped higher than most of the guys around.”

The blush heightened again. Was it because he remembered or because he'd brought up her penchant for sports and winning? Max wasn't sure, but he leaned closer, just enough to punctuate his meaning. “This Tina?” He shook his head, dropped her hand and stepped back. He didn't give her a once-over because he didn't have to. Her face said she understood. “This Tina is a surprise and I can't say I'm sorry to be working with her. Reason enough to clean up and hurry into work each morning.”

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