Railroad conductor Lee Donovan has struggled to raise his nine-year-old son Alex since the death of his wife and twin toddlers. He is fed up with the busybodies and school personnel who refuse to believe a single father can be a capable parent.
As the second anniversary of the Christmas Eve tragedy approaches, Alex grows increasingly agitated, insisting that his siblings' spirits want to take him to their mother. Lee grudgingly admits that he needs help and turns to Bethany Parks, the school librarian with whom Alex has developed a bond—and whose earlier offer of help Lee had curtly rebuffed.
What follows surprises them all, but brings wonderful gifts: the healing power of forgiveness and the promise of love.
Laughing, oblivious to her audience, the mousy Miss Parks flipped herself away from a sewing mannequin in a surprisingly good imitation of a jitterbug. As he watched, she bent at the waist, tossed her hair--her long, gloriously wavy and loose hair!--in a circle. The lamp behind her threw a burnished halo through the blur of hair as it whispered to a frothy halt all over her shoulders. She giggled and swung herself around the mannequin with a swoosh of her plaid skirt. Her eyes met his; her mouth formed an appalled 'O' and her joyous step out of character came to a dead stop. The mannequin did a few last happy circles before spinning helplessly onto its side.
Lee couldn't help it. He smiled at her. Without his permission, his hand reached toward her and his lips moved. "Need a real live partner, Bethany?"
Eyes wide, she clutched her skirt in bunches.
Hell. Good girls don't dance with bad boys. Lee lowered his hand just as Bethany breathed out, "Yes, please."
She looked as though she wanted to run. Lee almost turned and ran, himself, but he'd offered; she'd accepted.
Now he had to... no. He wanted to.
As a child, Simone Littleton adores the European folktale that animals are given the gift of speech at midnight on Christmas Eve. She makes a wish to talk to animals “forever and ever” and, when her pet Dalmatian asks her for a biscuit, she discovers her wish has been granted. Now Simone is all grown up and she uses her unique gift to rehabilitate unwanted horses. When racehorse trainer Chet Wallace rolls into San Antonio, with chocolate eyes and dimples blazing beneath his black Stetson, romantic sparks fly. He is immediately drawn to the beautiful woman who has a mesmerizing affect on both his horses and his dog, but his less than enthusiastic response to Simone’s claims threatens their budding romance. It takes a scheming Jack Russell terrier and a dose of Christmas magic to convince Chet she just may be telling the truth.
“So this is why all your animals are named after artists.” Her gentle voice washed over him, soothing his nerves.
He turned and there she was, hair full of hay like always. She looked particularly welcoming today, though, wearing a soft pink sweater that hugged her curves. Her hair was on top of her head in a ponytail rather than her usual braid. He had to press down the urge to loosen the fastener and let it tumble over her shoulders in thick, blonde waves.
He gulped. Hard. Just looking at her was almost enough to take his breath away. “Happy Thanksgiving, Simone.”
She came closer, ponytail swinging, and stood next to him. Close enough so he felt almost intoxicated by the orchid fragrance. “Happy Thanksgiving. I can’t believe you painted this. It’s breathtaking. When I close my eyes and picture Buttercup in my mind, she looks exactly like this.”
It was a nice compliment. The special gleam in Chet’s eye came not from her kind words, but from the fact Simone stood close to him and looked at him in the way Ted had observed in the kitchen the night before. Yes, there was something between them all right. He felt it in every nerve ending in his body. “Thanks. It’s just a hobby really.”
“You are quite the Renaissance Man, Chet.” She punched him playfully in the shoulder. “You’re just one surprise after another. What am I going to find out about you next?”
“Well, if I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise now, would it?” His gazed locked with hers and he winked.