Home > A Texas Christmas Carol(4)

A Texas Christmas Carol(4)
Author: Karen Witemeyer

The dog’s ears perked.

“Get the rabbit, Humbug! Get the rabbit!”

The dog shot out of the stable, eager to hunt imaginary hares. If only the dog’s mistress could be sent away as easily.

“Very well, Miss Wiggins, you’ve bullied me into compliance. Stop by the house this afternoon at four. I’ll have a check waiting for you.” A check his secretary could pass along, keeping Evan well away from Felicity Wiggins and her magical way with beasts. Dogs. Horses. He wouldn’t be surprised to learn she danced with grizzlies in her spare time. No beast seemed immune to her charms.

Not even him.

Scowling at that unwelcome realization, Evan turned his back on the redheaded siren and focused on the task at hand—saddling Fred and taking his ride. A hard ride. A long ride. He’d ride until all images of Miss Felicity Wiggins and her glorious smiles vanished from his mind. He’d paint over them with physical exhaustion, then apply a second coat of black-and-white numbers, going over the account books and receipts for the last week. So what if he’d already gone over them once? He could have missed something. He’d go over them again, then bury his head in a business journal until suppertime. He wouldn’t even know when she came by. And there would be no reason for her to return, so all would be well. A regimented routine would wrest her from his mind. It had worked the last couple years. It would work again.

“I’ve decided I don’t want your check, Mr. Beazer.”

An earthquake could not have shaken his foundations more thoroughly than that quiet statement. He’d had a plan, confound it. A solid plan. He didn’t know what game she was playing, but it ended here.

Keeping his gaze trained on his horse, Evan laid a blanket on Fred’s back, then reached for the saddle and hefted it into place. “Fine,” he gritted out. “I won’t leave a check for you. But since I made the offer, I will expect you to cease foisting yourself upon me. I’m a busy man and don’t have time for whatever insipid game you’re playing at my expense. Now, begone.”

He pressed his face against the horse’s shoulder and reached for the cinch strap, then promptly dropped it when a soft hand settled on his back.

“I’m not playing a game at your expense, Evan. I swear it.”

His eyes slid closed, and every muscle in his body turned to stone. Movement was impossible. Speech was impossible. Cognition was all he had left, and even that was focused on one tiny pinprick of reality.

She’d called him Evan.

No one had called him by his given name in years. And never with such warmth. Not since his mother, God rest her soul.

“I did come seeking a donation at first, that’s true. But over the last few days, I’ve realized there are needs that money can’t fix.”

Why did he get the feeling she wasn’t talking about charity baskets?

“It’s true that we are short of funds this year, but perhaps God is using that shortage to challenge us to give more than money. The spirit of Christmas is about touching lives and letting them touch you in return. That’s why Jesus left heaven, why he confined his infinite being inside finite flesh. To give us the best gift ever given—his presence. Immanuel. God with us. I want you to meet the children you are helping, to learn their names and see their faces. You were right, what you said before. They need more than a week’s worth of food and secondhand clothes. That’s why I want you to help me, Mr. Beazer. I need your perspective. I want you to be my partner. To leave your wallet behind and give what comes from the heart.”

It took every ounce of will he possessed to pull away from her touch, to turn and glower down into her naïvely earnest face.

“Haven’t you heard, Miss Wiggins? I don’t have a heart.”

 

 

three


“YOU DO TOO HAVE A HEART,” Felicity declared with more fervor than such a statement between mere acquaintances probably warranted. But she couldn’t help it. She hated hearing him speak of himself as if he were a piece of petrified wood, too hardened by choice and circumstance to let the softer aspects of life touch him. It wasn’t true, and she refused to let him believe such rubbish. “You might wrap it in barbed wire and hide it behind No Trespassing signs, but it’s there. I’ve seen it.”

His frosty, pale blue gaze jerked to hers, stabbing at her like a needle pushed too hard through linen. Well, let him jab. She wasn’t afraid of a few pinpricks. He might paint himself a villain, but she knew better.

She stepped closer, patted his horse’s neck. “You may not remember that day when you and Sir Frederick rescued—”

“Of course I remember,” he snapped, cutting her off as he finished tying off the cinch strap and dropped the stirrup back into place. “But only a fool would judge a man’s character based on a single event.” Taking hold of the reins, he led Fred out of the barn, pushing past Felicity with ungentlemanly vigor and haste. “A rattlesnake might not sink his fangs into you on Monday,” he said, glaring at her when she persisted in dogging his heels, “but that doesn’t mean he won’t strike when you cross his path on Tuesday. A viper is still a viper.”

“Not if he surrenders his fangs.”

“Ha!” The laugh that burst from his chest emitted no joy, only scorn. “As if he would sacrifice his only means of protection.”

“He might if he realized how much he would gain in the exchange,” she countered. “Friendship. Joy. Belonging.”

Mr. Beazer made a scoffing noise as he fit boot to stirrup and hoisted himself onto his mount. “As if anyone would offer such commodities to a viper.”

“I would.”

His face hardened, and a muscle ticked in his jaw. “Then it’s your own fault if you get bit.”

She winked up at him. “Don’t worry. I’ll wear leather gloves when you come for dinner tonight.”

His brow rose—only one of them—giving him a rather piratical air. His ruffled silver hair waved in the breeze, unfettered by hat or scarf. His rich olive complexion gave him a tanned look even in winter. And the white scruff on his unshaven jaw hinted at danger and excited her more than it should. Nothing about him was suitable, yet he presented a challenge she couldn’t resist. Putting herself in Evan Beazer’s path might indeed be folly, but leaving him alone and miserable seemed the greater tragedy.

“You presume much, madam.”

Felicity kept her smile in place despite the fact that his constant growling was beginning to grow a little disheartening. “Six o’clock. Don’t be late.”

He didn’t bother to respond. Just took off on his horse and left her staring after him, wondering if he would come.

Two weighty facts gave her hope that he would.

One—he remembered their encounter two years ago. Rather strongly too. Her chest twisted oddly as she recalled the adamant way he’d reacted to her bringing up the incident. It made her think that pivotal moment in time might have made as strong an impression on him as it had on her.

Two—he hadn’t said he wouldn’t come. He’d grumbled about her presumption and flung out dire warnings of doom and regret, but he hadn’t actually turned her down.

Two and a half—it didn’t quite merit a point on its own since it had been said to his horse and not to her, but the backhanded compliment had given her a surprising amount of delight, so she felt justified in adding it to the mix—Evan Beazer found her attractive.

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