If you love watching the Hallmark Channel's Christmas Romances... Then this story is for YOU!
Holly Kidman is determined to be the best movie-producer California has ever seen…until her mother’s broken leg ruins Holly’s plans and she must return home for the holidays. During her stay in her home town of Timberland, Montana, fate throws her with a man she’d rather not be around. And yet, once she can get past old grudges, she realizes the charming man and his large ranch inspire her more than she thought possible. Dare she hope for her dream-come-true?
Rafe Montgomery is pleasantly surprised when Holly suddenly returns to town. Still haunted by the one, less than eloquent, kiss they’d shared years ago, he’s disappointed by the haughty attitude she’s come back with. His hope is to change the stubborn and unforgiving woman he’s slowly having feelings for and to show her what Christmas is all about.
Holly Kidman peeked around the thick, gray curtains as she stood backstage. Children of all ages were in attendance, all wearing different costumes, for their first dress rehearsal. Off stage, Mrs. Peterson sat at the piano, practicing the song O Holy Night – one of Holly’s favorites. Shifting from one foot to the other, Holly studied everyone in the town’s Christmas production. But her gaze stopped on one person… the cutest boy she’d ever seen. Steve Montgomery.
She giggled, and quickly slapped a hand over her mouth so the other kids wouldn’t hear her. At least twenty kids – ages ranging from six to seventeen – wore costumes resembling the story of Jesus’ birth. This year, she was excited to play the part of the angel, and Steve Montgomery, played one of the Wise Men. Everyone looked as though they had just walked out of the pages of yesteryear. Her mom was the best seamstress in Montana, having created all the costumes.
Sighing, Holly leaned her face against the wall, continuing to stare at Steve. He was her first real crush, and even though she was only twelve, she knew the difference between infatuation and having deep feelings. She rolled her eyes. Despite her parents telling her differently. Holly loved the way her heart skipped whenever Steve was near. His voice made her sigh with happiness.
Voices from the stage snapped Holly out of her daydreaming. Her mother shouted directions at those gathered around the edge of the stage. Tonight, her mother’s role wasn’t that of the town’s seamstress, instead, her mother was the director of the play. She wanted everything perfect – just like she’d done for the past seven years. People in their small Montana town respected Mrs. Kidman. Holly smiled. She would grow up to be just like her… except Holly just wanted to work on a real movie set, helping the actors and the stage crew.
The scent of eggnog and hot chocolate wafted through the air. Holly swung her attention toward the back of the stage, way behind the curtains, where a refreshment table had been set up for the cast and crew. Her stomach grumbled with the tantalizing smell of jelly donuts.
Mrs. Peterson played a wrong note on the piano, creating an ear-piercing screech. Holly cringed and peered down toward the older woman sitting on the piano bench. For a brief moment, the whole room quieted. Holly wrinkled her nose, hoping the woman would quickly get back on key. When Mrs. Peterson plays a wrong note, everyone notices.
Her mother’s voice boomed with authority again, bringing everyone’s attention back to her as she instructed the children on their cues, and when to start singing. Mrs. Peterson started the beginning of the song, once more. This time, she played perfectly.
Holly took that moment to switch her focus to Steve once again. He stood with the other two Wise Men. He fidgeted, tugging on his fancy robe, and adjusting the jeweled turban on his head. One of the other “Wise Men” in their trio, leaned over to Steve and whispered something in his ear. Steve’s gaze swung toward Holly… and stopped. She sucked in a surprised breath and jerked back. Did he know she’d been watching him? Hopefully, not. That would be too embarrassing.
Heat rushed to her face, so she slowly moved away from the curtains. Steve’s older brother, Rafe, and Sarah Carrington walked past her, heading toward the refreshment table. They played Joseph and Mary. They were both in high school. Some of Holly’s friends played the parts of sheep and cows. Her best friend, Melissa, played the part of the donkey. Melissa wasn’t too thrilled about that part, though. Thankfully, every year Holly’s mother gave everyone a chance to play a different character.
Melissa tugged on the stuffed donkey head, grumbling her distaste as she walked toward the front of the stage. Holly sympathized with her friend. Last year Holly had played the donkey.
She stopped in front of a full-length mirror. As soon as she gazed at her reflection, she gasped. My hair! Why hadn’t anyone told her that her hair was messy and tangled around the halo that had been placed crookedly on her head? She lifted her hands and tried to rearrange her brown curls. As the angel, she played one of the major parts in the play. She definitely couldn’t look like she’d just crawled out of bed.
Someone stopped behind her, and her attention moved from her reflection to another friend of hers, Lynda. This year, Lynda played the Innkeeper’s wife. Holly smiled and turned to greet her friend.
Lynda clasped her forearm, leaned in, and whispered, “I have it all figured out.”
“You do? What is that?”
Lynda glanced around and then met Holly’s stare again. She flipped her black hair over her shoulder. “I’m going to get you and Steve together.” She lowered her voice. “I want you to go into the prop room. Keep the lights off. I’ll tell Steve that you have a surprise for him, and I’ll have him go into the prop room, too.” Lynda’s smile widened. “You can kiss him and tell him how you feel.”
Holly sucked in an excited breath. “Do you think it’ll work?”
“There’s only one way to know.” She motioned her hands toward the prop room. “Now go!”
Holly’s heart pounded as she peered back at her reflection. Her face shone a brilliant red, contrasting greatly with the white angel dress she wore. She placed her cold hands on her heated face. Could this really work? Steve was the most popular boy in her class. Could he possibly share her feelings?
On shaky legs, she walked slowly to the props room. Ideas of what could possibly happen in the room spun through her mind. Her grin stretched wider the closer she came. She finally would be able to experience her very first kiss!
She reached the door without anyone noticing or stopping her. Her hand trembled as she placed it on the doorknob and turned. The old hinges squeaked, and she peeked over her shoulder to see if anyone heard. Thankfully, nobody looked her way. Without any more hesitation, she hurried inside and closed the door. The room was dark, just as it should be. The light from underneath the door helped her to see where she was going. She took three steps back and bumped into a shelf. She stopped. Not daring to go any farther.
The next few minutes crept by painfully – and nerve-wrackingly – slow. In the distance, her mother’s voice bounced off the walls and Mrs. Peterson continued to play the piano, but so far, nobody had ventured back toward the prop room. Not yet, anyway.
Holly twisted her shaky hands against her belly. The puffs of her uneven breathing matched the speedy rhythm of her heartbeat. The longer she waited, the faster her heart pounded.
Soon, hurried footsteps neared the door. Her gaze dropped to the floor, but this time, the small amount of light was gone. Had someone turned off the lights in this section of the stage?
As the doorknob turned, she closed her eyes and held her breath. This just had to work!
The door opened and someone entered quickly, shutting the door behind them just as fast. The scent of vanilla and cedar closed around her, touching her senses. Suddenly, his hands clamped onto her shoulders. She couldn’t breathe from the excitement of it all.
She opened her mouth, preparing to sigh his name, but the words were stopped. His lips brushed against hers. She sucked in a quick breath as she opened her eyes. But she couldn’t see his face very well, except for his closed eyes… just as hers should be.
He’s kissing me!
Trying to calm herself and enjoy the moment, she pressed her hands against his chest and cuddled closer. Strange, but she never figured him having such a muscular chest. And he was taller than she thought he’d be. It didn’t matter. She’d love him no matter what.
As she relaxed, she participated fully in the kiss. She wouldn’t tell him this was the first time a boy had kissed her. Instead, she’d just mimic the way he was kissing her. That’s what Melissa had once told her to do, anyway.
He broke the kiss, pulling back. “Mmm… Nice.”
Smiling, she sighed. “Oh, Steve. I love you so much.”
She fluttered her eyes open and peered into his face. The light must have come on from out in the other room, because she could see him better. But… it wasn’t Steve. For some reason, his older brother, Rafe – the one who was the junior varsity quarterback for the football team – had taken Steve’s place.
His eyes widened and he jumped back. “You’re not Cindy.”
A small squeak exited her throat before she could stop it. She retreated quickly, bumping into the shelves again, but harder this time. They shook. A plastic bottle rolled from the top and just missed her head on its way to the floor.
Panic grew on his expression as his gaze moved off her and to the tipping shelves. Immediately, he brought up his arms, catching the shelves from toppling. His hands braced on the ledges, which imprisoned her between his body and the thick pieces of wood against her back.
All she could do was stare into his wide eyes as humiliation soaked through her, because once again, her chest was pressed intimately against his. His gaze was locked on her eyes for the longest time as if he tried to read her thoughts. Ragged breaths blew against her face, and were just as erratic as her own. Heat scorched every inch of her body, and his eyes touched something deep in her soul, confusing her.
Once the shelves were stilled, Rafe dropped his hands and stepped back. His gaze shifted around the room, but it wasn’t on her.
“I-I thought you were Cindy. I had planned for Cindy to be in here with me,” he mumbled.
She swallowed hard, trying to get the sudden ball of cotton from growing any bigger in her throat. “I’m sorry. My friend told me to come in here because Steve was going to meet me,” she managed to squeak out.
Rafe’s attention jumped to hers. He scowled. “My brother was going to be here?”
“I-I thought so.”
Rafe folded his arms across his chest. “Well, obviously, there was a bad mix-up.”
Humiliation sank deeper inside of her. If only there was a hole to hide inside, now would be the time to bury herself and cover her head with the dirt.
“Sorry, I kissed you.” Rafe practically spit out the words.
He moved past her and swung open the door. He stopped instantly. Curiosity grew inside of her and she peeked around him to see what had captured his interest. Standing not more than ten feet in front of them were Steve and the other two Wise Men, laughing and pointing fingers. Cindy also stood off to the side, aiming her glare on Rafe as she tapped her foot angrily. Frowning, the girl shook her blonde head of curls, turned, and ran away.
“Cindy, wait!” Rafe darted after the other girl.
Tears stung Holly’s eyes as she cautiously stepped out of the room and walked in front of the three popular boys in her class. Her heart broke into tiny pieces as she made her way to find her mother. This wasn’t good at all, and she was sure they were going to spread rumors about her.
And what about Rafe? Did he even care that he’d kissed her? He sure didn’t look like he was sorry. He was more worried about chasing Cindy.
Embarrassment settled in her soul. She’d never be able to look at Rafe again. Plain and simple, she wouldn’t. Not ever. For the rest of her life, she’d avoid him as much as possible.