I wrote The Perfect Gift, A Texas Devlins Christmas for an anthology that is no longer available. Now it's a stand-alone novella on Amazon. Today, I will share an excerpt showing how I imagine a family gathering in 1885. I hope y'all enjoy!
It’s Christmas in Bosque County, Texas, and everyone is gathering to celebrate at the River T ranch. The day promises a feast and fellowship for all, but surprises lay ahead for some
Nora Taylor adores Vittorio Medina. He’s been her best friend all of her young life, but now she wants more than friendship from him. She’s too young, he insists while fighting his own growing feelings for her. Besides, she is the boss’s daughter. He’s just a poor cowboy of Mexican blood. They can never be together.
Although Nora refuses to accept what Vittorio says, she’s afraid he will go off and marry someone else before she is old enough to fight for his love . . . until a special gift offers hope.
Jessie Devlin Taylor stepped back to admire the dining room table she and her twelve-year-old daughter Nora had just finished arranging. Everything was in place, ready for dinner to be served. Her good china, crystal and silverware gleamed, and a centerpiece of cedar bows decked with red ribbon stood out against the white linen tablecloth.
On the nearby sideboard, her cherished Christmas angel oversaw several serving pieces waiting to be filled. About ten inches tall, with a gown of ivory, a delicately painted face, golden hair and wings, the porcelain angel was one of Jessie’s most prized possessions. Her mother Nora had brought it all the way from
stuffed in her bundle of clothing, the only thing left of her former life.
Jessie’s father had saved the precious keepsake when they fled the terrible
that destroyed most of the city. He’d presented it to her after moving to Texas to
be near his children and grandchildren.
“Doesn’t everything look beautiful, Mama?” Nora said.
“It does indeed.” Slipping an arm around her tall, gangly daughter, Jessie gave her a light squeeze. She wished her sister Rose, brother-in-law Jack and their brood of little ones could be here, but Rosie was expecting again – this would make five children for them – and Jack had insisted they stay home. Considering how rough the ride was by buckboard from their
Red River cotton
plantation, Jessie conceded he’d been right.
She released Nora. “I’d best go see if all’s ready out back.” Her cook, Maria Medina, was roasting venison and turkeys in the cookhouse, while Jessie’s sister-in-law Lil prepared side dishes in the kitchen. Their food preparations were nearly complete. She just wanted to make sure David and Tye, her husband and brother, had finished setting up tables for the twenty-odd ranch hands from their adjoining spreads. They would soon gather in the courtyard behind the house for their Christmas meal.
“Quiet the little ones before they upset your grandda, aye?” she said, hearing children’s shrieks from the parlor.
“Yes, ma’am.” Nora’s reply came with a sigh and an impatient frown.
Jessie smothered a laugh. She knew Nora wanted to go out front and wait for Lil’s parents to arrive with their ranch hands. One hand in particular.
While Nora hurried across the hall to put a stop to the noise, Jessie headed for the back door. Stepping out onto the walled, flagstone-paved courtyard, she was glad to see two long tables stretching back almost to the cookhouse. Currently, David and Tye were spreading white sheets across the tables they had constructed out of wooden planks supported by sawhorses. More planks lay across barrels and crates along both sides of the tables, improvised seating for the ranch hands. Fortunately, the day was warm, or the men would have to eat in the bunkhouse, not nearly as festive.
David looked up, saw her and smiled. Leaving Tye to finish spreading the last cloth, he sauntered toward her. Even after all this time his dark-haired, handsome looks and long-legged gait made her heart beat faster. The new red shirt she’d gifted him with this very morning along with the black silk bandana knotted at his throat, both cut and sewn by her own two hands, fit well and showed off his deep tan and dark hair to perfection, if she did say so herself.
“Well, darlin’? Does it pass muster?” he asked, draping his arm across her shoulders and hugging her to his side.
She was so caught up in admiring him that it took her a moment to catch his meaning. She directed her gaze back to the tables. “Aye, it all looks fine. Now bring out the box of greens and ribbons if ye please and I’ll lay them out.”
“The boys don’t expect all this fuss, you know. Feed ’em good and give ’em some Christmas cheer and they’ll be happy as foxes in a hen house.”
“Nonsense! As I’ve told ye every year before, I want them to enjoy their holiday the same as we do.” She poked her finger at his broad chest. “Now fetch the –”
He cut her off by pulling her into his arms and sealing her lips with a lusty kiss that flooded her with warm tingles all the way to her toes. When he lifted his head, she sighed in regret.
“You look beautiful in that blue dress,” he murmured next to her ear.
“I’m glad ye like it. You picked out the material,” she said, feeling faintly dazed.
“So I did, and I recall why. It matches your bluebonnet eyes. It’s nice and soft, too.” He ran his hands slowly up and down her back
“’Tis velvet,” she said in a breathy whisper, delighting in his sensual touch.
“Mmm. Tonight, I’ll enjoy taking it off you, very slowly.” Smoky green eyes dancing, he grinned wickedly when she caught her breath, planted a quick kiss on her temple, then stepped away and went to do her bidding.
Jessie required a moment to collect her wits. Then, glancing at her brother, she met his leering grin and felt her face heat with a blush. “What are ye looking at, brother dear? He is my husband. He’s allowed to kiss me if he wishes.” She smoothed the skirt of her gown, thinking of David’s bold promise for tonight, and made sure the pins holding her auburn hair in a coil at the back of her head were still secure.
Tye’s vibrant blue eyes glinted mischievously. “I’ve no argument with that. I was merely enjoying the show and admiring the man’s ability to shut ye up, sister mine.” An even wider grin split his devilishly handsome features.
“Oh, is that right?” she huffed Slamming her hands onto her hips, she narrowed her own eyes, eyes the same color as his. “Keep talkin’, boyo, and I’ll pull your black Irish hair out by the roots.” Of course it was an empty threat, as he very well knew. She loved her big brother far too much to ever do him harm. Although, she wouldn’t mind boxing his ears from time to time.
The wicked imp laughed and raised his hands, palms out. “Oooh, I’m quakin’ in me boots.! Don’t hurt me, mum!”
Making a disgusted noise, Jessie shook her head and batted her hand at him as if swatting away a fly. Then she marched across the courtyard, heels clicking on the flagstones, toward the cookhouse where Maria worked to find out when the meats would be done roasting. Her stomach grumbled and her mouth watered at the delicious aroma wafting from the small stone building. All she’d eaten for breakfast was a slice of bread and butter, and that was hours ago. Dinner couldn’t come soon enough for her.
* * *
Nora stood on the front porch watching for riders. Goshdarn! What was taking Mr. and Mrs. Crawford so long? Uncle Tye and Auntie Lil had come early to help Mama and Daddy get ready. Lil’s parents were to come later with their men, but surely they ought to be here by now. What if something had happened to prevent them from coming?
No! Don’t even think that! They have to come, they just have to!
Smoothing the front of her Mother Hubbard, a short, baggy little girl’s dress she hated, she wished for a grown-up gown, but Mama had decreed she couldn’t start dressing like a woman until she turned fourteen. At least this Hubbard was made of pretty pink calico printed with sprigs of white flowers, and she liked the ruffled shoulders and neck. The color set off her black hair, which Mama had helped her put up, and her black stockings and high tops. She hoped Vito would approve.
She stuffed her hands into deep side pocket and glanced at her brothers and cousins. She’d shooed the four boys outside so Grandda Seamus could nap in his favorite chair in the parlor. Together with Maria’s younger children, they were playing ring taw, a game she’d once loved but now considered babyish. Crouched around a circle drawn in the dirt, they took turns shooting marbles, trying to knock each other’s marbles out of a small inner circle. Her brother Reece, less than two years younger than her, was winning judging by the pile of marbles he’d collected. Not surprised, Nora scowled, remembering how many marbles the little fiend had won from her and their baby brother Seamus in the past.
A faint thudding sound caught her ear. Shading her eyes, she spotted a cloud of dust in the distance. Then she made out a buckboard and horsemen. Finally! The expected company was almost here. Heart thumping wildly, she whirled and ran inside to alert her parents.
“Mama! Daddy! The Crawfords are coming,” she yelled, forgetting about her napping grandfather. At his grumble of complaint, she said, “Sorry, Grandda.”
Aunt Lil stepped out of the kitchen holding a large bowl and spoon just as Mama walked in the back door.
“Are they here?” both women asked.
“Not yet but almost. Should I tell Maria?”
Her mother nodded. “Aye, and your father and uncle. Lil, let’s greet your folks outside.”
“Right, you go ahead. I’ll set the cornbread on the stove and be right out.”
Nora was already dashing for the courtyard. “The Crawfords are almost here,” she announced to her father and uncle as she raced toward the cookhouse.
“What’s your hurry?” her father called.
“I have to tell Maria that Vittorio’s coming.”
Hearing the two men chuckle, she tore into the steamy little building. “Maria, Vittorio’s nearly here!”
“Sí, I heard you, niña,” the cook said with a broad smile. Tall and rather plump, with gray-streaked black hair, Maria was one of Nora’s favorite people. She was kind and good-natured and always ready with a tasty snack for all the children. And she was Vittorio’s madrecita, making her special.
Setting aside the huge kettle of gravy she’d been stirring, Maria mopped her sweaty face with her red-checked gingham apron – only worn on Christmas – and motioned for Nora to lead the way. “Let us go and welcome my son.”
By the time they joined everyone out front, Auntie Lil’s folks were pulling up in their buckboard followed by several riders. Nora had eyes for only one, a slim young cowboy with dusky skin and raven hair. Drawing rein, he gave her a bright smile, a smile she had seldom seen since he’d gone to work as a wrangler for the Crawfords and Uncle Tye a few months ago. Four years older than she was, Vittorio had been her best friend all her life.
She watched him dismount and greet his younger siblings who danced around him like eager puppies. Then it was her turn. Bounding down the porch steps, she launched herself at him. He laughed and caught her, lifting her off the ground in a tight hug.
“Hola, Vito! I’ve missed you so much!”
“I suppose I have missed you a little bit too.” He winked and whirled her around, making her squeal and laugh with joy. Caught up in him, she paid not a lick of attention to laughter and teasing remarks from their audience of cowboys, family and friends.
On the porch, Jessie shared a smile with Maria, whose husband Luis stood nearby with David and Tye. Short and wiry, Luis was the River T’s head horse wrangler. He glanced at his wife, grinning over Nora and Vittorio’s exuberant reunion. “I think maybe they are glad to see each other.”
Maria nodded. “Sí, they are each other’s best Christmas gift.”
“Aye, and always will be,” Jessie said under her breath. She’d seen the pair together in a time to come, and her visions never lied. If not for one very special vision, none of this would be happening. She never would have met David, Tye wouldn’t have crossed paths with his
Lil Crawford, and Rose might be a shy, convent- bred spinster living in Chicago instead
of wed to Choctaw Jack Lafarge.
As if sensing her thoughts, David turned his head and caught her eye. She gave him a misty smile; he grinned and tilted his head toward Nora and Vittorio. Assailed by guilt, Jessie wondered how he’d like seeing the two wrapped in each other’s arms if he knew what her vision predicted.
To see what perfect gift awaits Nora, find this novella on Amazon:
Happy Holidays, one and all! See you in 2018.