Haley Blackwell travels to Colorado with plans to relive her favorite childhood memories—including a snowy Christmas. When she meets her grandparents’ neighbor, she finds herself yearning for more than a white Christmas, but trusting men has never been easy for Haley.
After a failed marriage, and the death of his ex-wife, Tate Rivers is determined to concentrate on raising his preschool daughter, Ashlyn, and to stay clear of another relationship. He doubts he can ever trust his heart to another woman—until he meets Haley.
Despite the weather forecast that does not include snow on Christmas Day, Ashlyn prays that God will give Haley the desires of her heart. Will Haley realize Tate isn’t a man who will abandon those he loves, and will they be able to push aside the past and step forward together in love—the way God desires?
“Cora, thanks for letting Ashlyn stay here today.” Tate Rivers tipped his hat, appreciative of his neighbor’s generosity.
The older woman smiled, the edges of her dark eyes crinkling. “Of course, Tate. She’s always welcome.”
Tate reached down and grabbed his daughter’s tiny gloved hand. “OK, sugarbean, tell Miss Cora good-bye. We need to get go…”
The sound of an approaching vehicle caught his attention. An SUV rumbled down the road toward the house, dust and dirt spewing in its wake.
“That’s my granddaughter,” Cora said. She stepped out of the house and joined them on the porch, letting the screen door slam behind her.
The vehicle rolled to a stop, and the driver’s door popped open. A young woman dressed in blue jeans and boots climbed out. She was petite and attractive with long auburn hair swirling about her shoulders. Moving toward them, she wrestled her arms into a black quilted jacket. “Hello there.”
“Haley.” Cora treaded down the porch steps, her slippers slapping the weathered wood. “I about gave up on you.”
The two met on the stone walk and embraced.
“My flight arrived late in Denver, and the rental car company was packed,” Haley said.
Ashlyn tugged her hand from Tate’s grip, and before he could stop her, she lunged down the steps.
“Ashlyn.” Tate followed after her.
She ignored him and scampered along the walk as fast as her three-year-old legs could carry her.
“This is my little neighbor, Ashlyn,” Cora explained to her granddaughter as Ashlyn barreled toward them, arms flailing like a baby bird trying to take flight. She reeled to a stop and swung both arms around Haley’s leg.
What in the world? “Ashlyn.” Tate quickened his pace.
Haley startled a second then broke into laugher. “Well, hello there.” She tousled Ashlyn’s blonde curls.
At least Cora’s granddaughter wasn’t offended. Still, Tate had no idea why his shy little girl was clinging to a woman they’d never met. Reaching his daughter, he hunkered down beside her. “Sugarbean, let go of the nice lady.”
The blue eyes that met his showed no remorse. “I like Miss Cora’s friend.”
“I’m sure she’s very―”
“I like you, too.” Haley bent down to Ashlyn’s eye level, breaking the death grip on her leg. “My grandmother told me about a precious little girl who comes to visit with her and Granddad. Would that happen to be you?”
“Uh-huh.” Ashlyn’s giggle touched Tate’s heart. A sound he’d seldom heard...actually hadn’t heard in over a month, not since Ashlyn’s Nana and Pop left town to help with his sister Amy’s kids. Amy was on bed rest with her fourth child, and her husband was serving in Iraq. Tate’s sister needed their parents. But the absence of Ashlyn’s Nana and Pop made being a single father harder. Without them here…well, he thanked God for Cora and Ned.
“Ashlyn, let’s get you out of the cold.” Cora picked her up. “In fact, we all best get inside.”
Standing upright, Tate brushed dirt from his gloves. “Cora, thanks again. I need to get Ashlyn home.”
Cora shifted Ashlyn on her hip. “OK. I’ll put this little cherub in her car seat for you.”
“Bye, Miss Cora’s friend.” Ashlyn waved all the way to the truck.
Northern winds had been gusting all day, and with evening creeping in, the chill intensified. But as Haley smiled and waved to his daughter, Tate barely noticed the cold.
“She’s adorable.” Haley shifted her attention to him. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Haley Blackwell, Cora and Ned’s granddaughter.”
“Tate Rivers.” Tate removed his glove and extended his hand. “Sorry. My daughter isn’t usually so friendly.”
“Then I feel privileged.” Haley grasped his hand. A smile punched dimples in her rosy cheeks.
Beautiful and gracious. A rare combination.
He blinked. Great attributes but the last thing he needed was another female in his life. His last relationship cured him of that. Broken dreams. Tattered heart. He had no intention of making that mistake again.
Besides, he’d yet to figure the little girl in the car seat.
“I appreciate your understanding.” Tate smiled. “Welcome to Fairplay.”
“Thank you. It’s been a while since I’ve been here.” Haley paused to glance around. “Soaring mountains, fresh air, lush evergreens. It’s as beautiful as I remember, except there’s no snow.”
Tate snickered. “You and the ski resorts. The rest of us aren’t complaining.”
Her dark eyes rounded. “Colorado. Snow. Christmas time. They just go together.”
Which reminded him, he and Ashlyn needed to set up a tree. “Christmas will be Christmas even without snow. Although, it might be a first around here.”
Haley chuckled. “Thanks for the encouragement. I think.”
“You’re welcome.” He grinned. He couldn’t help it. “Well, I better go.” He tipped his hat and headed to his truck. He oozed out a slow breath. Haley was a beauty with no ring on her finger.
He hated that he’d even looked.
Haley paused, letting her pulse decelerate as Tate walked away. The little girl was too cute, and her father―
She took a well-needed breath.
Her grandparents had spoken about their neighbors, a computer engineer single dad and his preschool-age daughter. An image had formed in Haley’s mind of an older man, serious, subdued―the suit-and-tie type. Not an upper twenties male, rugged, handsome, and wearing a cowboy hat.
Haley bit the corner of her lip. The way he interacted with his daughter, sweet as sugary molasses. Dangerously attractive. Good thing she’d only be in town a week.
Darkness descended over the mountain, settling like a blanket upon the valley. Haley spun on her heel, letting her gaze travel and reveling in the crimson painted sky that haloed the white capped peaks. God couldn’t have created a more perfect location for her to celebrate Christmas.
A time to celebrate and a chance to rest. To read. To breathe.
A reprieve from the busyness of life. No deadlines to worry about. No middle-of-the-night phone calls dragging her out of bed for a breaking story. No last minute requests from Sam, her editor.
Behind her, a porch light flickered on. “Haley.”
Haley turned, almost embarrassed by her musing.
“It’s cold out there, dear. Come in. Granddad will get your bags after supper.”
Shoving her hands into her pockets, Haley headed toward the house. The spicy scent of barbeque drifted out to greet her. Good food, family, and Christmas. What could be better?
She said a little prayer.