Texas Christmas Tycoon
Only she could open up his closed-off heart
Lea Dunwoody has always been the classic girl-next-door right down to the tips of her elf booties she wears as a volunteer Santa’s helper. One night her bestie teases her that she should make a play for the handsome bad boy Braden Delaney as she’s always been better with animals than people and Braden is rumored to be a total Scrooge. Braden has always tempted Lea and then the night of the Corbyn Christmas Open House, she sees him make a wish on an evening star. Does she dare make a wish for her own fairytale?
Braden Delaney has had it bad for Lea since…well, forever. As soon as he realized how boys and girls were different, she’d been the only one he had eyes for. But the Delaney men aren’t easy for the women they love so Braden has kept his distance. Until this Christmas. He’s tired of spending the holiday alone.
He normally avoids the holidays, but this year Lea is giving him a reason to celebrate the season.
TEXAS CHRISTMAS TYCOON
November 14, 2019
“WHAT DOES SPIRIT of Christmas mean?” three-year- old Lane Maverick asked. The words were a bit garbled but clear enough as Braden Delaney held his nephew on his lap in the family room of the Delaney Ranch, the onetime hideaway of outlaws back when Texas was a republic and not a state. It had been Braden’s home for his entire life and as much as his brothers had wanted to get out of Last Stand—the Texas Hill Country town they’d been born and raised in—he’d never wanted to leave. The youngest of the brothers by a good five years, he’d been closest to Rose, their only sister and Lane’s mom, who’d been killed in a car
accident back in April. “It just means that you...ah, heck, kid, I’m not the right
one to ask,” Braden said. Lane shifted on his lap, turning his face up toward him, and for a moment Braden had to wonder about a world that would take the parents from a kid like Lane. He’d never had much Christmas spirit but this year he was finding it even harder not to be super-Grinchy all the time.
“Why not?” Lane asked. “I don’t like Christmas,” he said, then immediately realized this wasn’t a conversation he could have with a three- year-old, so he softened it with a smile. “I guess that’s because I wasn’t as good as I could be this year. Santa probably won’t have anything but a lump of coal for me.”
Lane shifted around and hugged him then scrunched his face up, which was something new he’d started doing lately. It reminded him a lot of Rose. “Maybe you need to stop using bad words.”
Braden chuckled at that. Amelia had put a swear jar in the kitchen when she’d moved in with Cal and so far, it had been filled up and given to the local animal shelter fourteen times. “You’re right about that.”
“Right about what?” Lancey Maverick asked as she came into the room.
He was still getting used to the fact that his best friend was now engaged to his brother Finn. Finn had his own house on the Delaney Ranch and Lancey had the old Maver- ick family home in town. This afternoon, she was dressed in her uniform—she worked the desk at the Last Stand jail. She’d been a MP in the Marines before she retired to help raise Lane after both of his parents had been killed in a car crash earlier in the year.
TJ—Lane’s father—had been Lancey’s only sibling. Rose—Lane’s mother—had been Braden’s only sister. The fact that this would be Lane’s first Christmas without his parents was the only reason why Braden hadn’t taken the month of December off and headed for a private resort in the Caribbean. He hated Christmas. His feelings weren’t ever going to change on that account. He knew he could be a bit of an ass during the holidays and had always been fine with just checking out. Cal and Finn—who’d usually been away from home during the year—were back. In the past they’d enjoyed spending time with the little sister they hadn’t seen enough of during those months they were away.
After his mother’s death, Braden had struggled to get through the holidays and though everyone in town thought he was the most easygoing Delaney, at home where he was most comfortable, he had a short fuse.
Rose hadn’t really liked that he would go away during the holidays, but she hadn’t argued either. She’d understood that sometimes a person just had to get away from family and commitments. Once Lane was born he’d started staying home at the holidays but it had been a struggle.
God, he missed her.
Being the two youngest siblings, they’d been close— really close. There were times when he walked into the big house and still expected to see her.
“Bray?” Lancey asked.
He shook his head. He really didn’t think he was going to be able to do this. He stood up and handed Lane to Lancey. “Changing my attitude to receiving presents at Christmas. I’ve got to go get ready for the Corbyn Christmas open house. You got him?”
“Yeah,” Lancey said, taking Lane and hugging him close. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, ruffling Lane’s hair before he walked out of the family room. He had a house in town that he had been living in before Rose’s death, but he’d moved back
home afterward. He and Cal had been here alone with Lane for the first six weeks or so while Lancey had been in the process of leaving the Marines, and Finn had been on the NASCAR circuit, racing.
Those first weeks had been trying, but he and Cal had gotten through them. And then Cal had reconnected with Amelia. Before long, he’d fallen in love with her and she’d moved in. That had made the big old house start to feel like a home again.
Then Finn had been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis and had retired from racing back in July. Now he was home too. Everyone was settling down and finding a way to create a normal family for Lane.
He was happy for them, he thought, as he thundered up the stairs, the heels of his Kelly Boots making a loud echoing sound with each step he took. But he also was starting to feel more and more uncomfortable in this place.
He hated this house. He had ever since his mom had got- ten sick. That’s why he had his own place. And now that Lane had his aunt and Amelia living at the ranch, there was no reason he couldn’t move back there.
He entered his bedroom and stood there for a long moment. He always felt his ghosts around him, but Christmas brought them closer. And they weren’t the sweet matchmaking kind of spirits, like the rumored ghost of Harwood House over in Whiskey River. His ghosts were more like the ones from A Christmas Carol—reminders of everything he’d never really dealt with. He saw his mom who’d died when he’d been ten and Rose had been three. His father, who’d
lived on another ten years, bitter and angry at the world. And now Rose. His sweet little sister who’d barely had a chance to live before she’d been taken from him too.
Damn. He needed to shake this mood before he went to the party. Or maybe he should just skip it. Except he knew Red was going—he’d asked him to be his wingman. Red was determined to make his move tonight and ask Emma Corbyn out.
Hell. He really should try to be a bit more in the Christmas spirit this year, for Lane’s sake if not for his own. But Christmas had always been the worst time of year for him. And honestly, he didn’t see that changing anytime soon.