Excerpt from Blue Sky Cowboy Christmas by Joanne Kennedy
The snow globe on the dashboard rocked and sloshed as Griff Bailey’s Jeep dropped off the pavement onto the dirt road that led to his father’s ranch. The music-box base tinkled out a few hesitant notes, but they were lost in the racket of icy flakes clattering on the windshield.
picked up the globe at an airport gift shop, remembering how his sister loved
Christmas kitsch. He’d set it on the dashboard in an effort to inspire his own
Christmas spirit, but it was just making him sad. There was Santa, the most
senior of senior citizens, frozen forever with one foot in a chimney and a
heavy pack slung over one shoulder while phony snowflakes swirled around him.
It was obvious the bag wasn’t going to fit down the chute, and the jaunty,
tinkling rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” was just plain rude. This Santa
wasn’t going anywhere.
Griff, in the long run. Like Santa, he’d flown halfway around the world only to
find his life shaken and stirred by unseen forces.
As the wipers
thwacked out their restless rhythm, he saw a light burning in the distance.
surprised to find his heart lifting at the thought. His sole ambition from
boyhood had been to escape the everyday sameness of ranch life, with its early
mornings, late nights, and chores that were never done well enough, soon
enough, or fast enough.
So why was he
last place he wanted to go was now the only place that would have him.
At least, he
thought they would. As far as his family knew, he was still deployed. His dad
and stepmom were on an RV trip in the Southwest, while his sister was
honeymooning in California. He wasn’t sure how long they’d be gone, but he was
hoping for a couple weeks of solitude so he could shake off the dark memories
that had smudged his bright military future. Bit by bit, day by day, he would
become the man he’d been before.
Ghosts of the
past rattled their chains in the back of his brain, threatening to rise and
walk, but he knocked his head with the heel of his hand and sent them
skittering back to their caves. He’d deal with them later. Right now, he needed
to concentrate on the road.
As he nudged
the Jeep around an icy curve, he laid eyes on his father’s house for the first
time in four years—and slammed on the brakes, sliding sideways, feeling the
tug of a snowdrift hauling him into the ditch. White-knuckling the wheel, he
spun right, then left, and lurched to a sudden stop that slammed his chest
against the shoulder harness.
hard, he stared at his childhood home. He’d expected to feel reluctance,
nostalgia, even a surge of relief at the sight of it—but all he felt was
front wall of the house was demolished, with beams and boards scattered like
matchsticks in the snow. He might not be a fan of ranch life, but the Diamond
Jack was the one safe, unchanging place in his world. And it had exploded.
he opened the door and fell to his knees. A low buzzing began inside him, blind
bees bumbling for a way out. They were with him every day, simmering beneath
any emotion he dared to feel, pushing for release in a roar of rage, a howl of
fear, a savage strike at something, anything. But releasing them would make the
outside world match the darkness inside him, so he held them in.
ought to give him some credit for that. They ought to let him go back. They
would if he could control it, so he followed their advice.
As he drank
in the cold air, the buzzing faded and died.
oddly empty, he rose to his feet and trudged toward the house through snow up
to his thighs. It was slow going, but that gave him time to assess the
lights on in the upstairs bathroom, his sister’s bedroom, and the kitchen. That
was all wrong. Nobody was supposed to be home. And what was that weird shape in
the wreckage? Had it moved?
Holy crap. What is that?
like an animal—one with beaming yellow eyes that reflected the Jeep’s
headlights. Had he started hallucinating now?
not. The creature proved itself disturbingly real by launching itself from the
wreckage and loping toward him with an awkward, lolloping gait. Feet like
paddles flung snow all around, and its drooling jowls flapped as it ran,
revealing long, white teeth that gleamed in the starlight. Those teeth were the
last thing he saw before it leapt up and knocked him to the ground.
Griff’s shoulders into the snow with paws the size of dinner plates, the beast
dripped a cold string of drool onto his cheek as its amber eyes burned into his
with a passion for…
probably. Because it was just a dog. A big, weird-looking dog, but a friendly
one. As a goofy grin spread across its slobbery face, Griff heaved it off his
“Who the heck
The dog sat
back and presented its paw as if introducing itself. Confused, Griff shook it,
glancing around, and noticed a pickup in front of the barn.
mumbled. “I didn’t think there’d be anybody here.”
shimmied close and leaned hard against him, tossing its head back and almost
clonking Griff in the nose. It gazed adoringly into his face, and he suddenly
felt better than he had in a year.
It might be
nice to have a dog around. Trouble was, dogs generally came with people, and he
wasn’t ready for people.
Blue Sky Cowboy Christmas
by Joanne Kennedy
Publication Date: 9/29/2020
There’s no place like home…
Weary from a long deployment, Griff Bailey has been
dreaming of a quiet Christmas on his father’s ranch. But all his hopes of peace
are upended when he finds his one-time fling, Riley James, has moved in.
Riley swore off dark, dangerous men a long time ago, but
Griff’s emotional scars pull at her heartstrings, and she desperately wants to
help him heal despite their complicated past.
It’ll take a miracle for these two stubborn former lovers
to open themselves up again, but isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Joanne Kennedy is the RITA-nominated author
of ten contemporary Western romance novels. The first book in her Decker Ranch
trilogy, How to Handle a Cowboy, was named one of Booklist’s “Best
Romances of the Decade.” She lives with her retired fighter pilot husband in a
secret mountain hideout on the Wyoming border.
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