Christmas Surprise on MacLean Mountain
Doctor Booker MacLean is shocked when his estranged wife calls and asks to talk in person. Is she back to ask for a divorce? Three days before Christmas? Sybil has a secret but won’t share it with Booker unless he forgives her and takes her back. Will his fierce pride and her need for his understanding keep them from spending Christmas with the one they love most?
Christmas in Vegas
Newly arrived in Las Vegas, Roxanne Anderson is searching for a job as a chef when she is offered a gig as a server at a Christmas Morning brunch. Driving to the top of Mount Charleston, she arrives at the mansion as a storm moves in. She’s forced into a role of crucial responsibility which will either be a complete disaster or an incredible opportunity for Roxanne’s career and her lonely heart.
Booker MacLean drove his black pickup truck across a pristine inch of snow in the parking lot of the Steamboat Springs Diner. After sunset, the snow had slowed to just a few stray flakes, but it was due to pick up again sometime tonight. The storm would hit them hard for at least three days, well through Christmas.
Multi-colored strings of lights surrounded each of the diner’s windows and shone into the darkness as he pulled into a parking spot and cut the engine. Only one other car sat in the lot, and it was covered with snow. It must be hers. How long had she been here? As he reached for his hat, he spotted a small, dark-haired figure huddled in a booth by a window, staring out at him. It had to be Sybil. His wife.
His heart nearly beat out through his chest, reminding him how much he loved her, how much he’d missed her, and how much she’d hurt him when she’d left.
“Get this over with.” Booker shoved his heavy black cowboy hat onto his head and opened the truck door. A cold blast of air hit him like a forecast of what Sybil was about to tell him. It would probably be the worst news he’d heard in his life, and his footsteps hit heavily as he trudged toward the building.
He pulled open the glass door of the diner, and an electronic doorbell gave a quick, off-key rendition of Jingle Bells. Staring straight ahead for a few seconds, he regained his emotional footing. He pulled off his hat and stomped on the entry rug to shake the snow from his boots.
“Hey, Doc.” Brenna, the owner, came from the kitchen, her red hair pulled up in a bun, her pretty face, which usually smiled in welcome, now frowning with understanding. She glanced to where the only other occupant of the building sat in a booth.
He had to do this. No changing course now. Nodding to Brenna, he turned and saw her. Sybil. Her long brown hair flowed softly over the shoulders of her thick red sweater. Around her neck, she wore the scarf he’d given her last Christmas. The reds, greens, and golds were a reminder of how he’d been preparing himself to spend this Christmas without her. Or, more accurately, ignoring Christmas all alone.
Sybil gripped the ends of the scarf in tight fists. She must feel as uncertain as he did.
With a long exhale, he finally looked at her face. Huge brown eyes that, right now, resembled a rabbit startled by a coyote. His wife, who he hadn’t seen in seven months and hadn’t expected to see again. Ever.
A huge tote bag leaned against her side, and a puffy lime-green coat filled up the other side of her bench. Evidently, she didn’t want him to snuggle in next to her the way they used to.
Swallowing emotion, he strolled toward her. To give himself a moment, he carefully hung up his shearling-lined coat and his hat before he slid onto the bench across from her.
Booker cleared his throat to test his voice. “I’m glad you called.”
She nodded, her cheeks two glowing red beacons. “Booker, I needed to see you…to tell you this in person.”
His chest clenched. Here it comes.
She had just one wish for the holidays. Snow. Roxanne Anderson yawned as she showed her clear plastic purse to the security guard sitting just inside the employee exit of King’s Palace Casino. “Good night, Burt.”
“Night, Roxie.” He winked. “Merry Christmas.”
She checked her watch. Five minutes after midnight. She smiled at the burly guard whose wrinkled face, gray hair, and glasses reminded her of her grandfather back in Minnesota. “I guess it is officially Christmas Day. Have a wonderful Christmas, Burt.” And like her grandfather, Burt was the only person she allowed to call her Roxie.
She pushed out through the heavy metal door. No snow in the Las Vegas forecast, but an icy blast of air cut through the T-shirt and jeans she’d changed into after her shift. The casino required she leave her skimpy waitress costume hanging in the locker room so it could be cleaned or repaired if necessary. She’d like to leave it behind permanently.
God, she hated waitressing. But, she’d taken the first job she was offered when she arrived in Las Vegas last month, determined to keep her meager savings account intact.
Roxanne stepped up into the shuttle that waited to take employees to the far parking lot. The heat in the van blasted full-strength to ward off the cold, high-desert winter.
She pulled the pins and ponytail holder from her upsweep and let her long, red hair fall across her shoulder and down over her breast. She scratched her scalp, digging her fingernails in, loosening the hairspray she used to keep the mandatory hairdo in place.
Once the vehicle was half full, it took off. She glanced around but didn’t know anyone. Not unusual, with the number of employees working at King’s.
Ten minutes later, the shuttle stopped, and everyone filed off.
“Merry Christmas,” the shuttle driver repeated to each of them.
She returned the greeting and walked toward her truck. Her plans did not include a very merry Christmas at all. Driving up Mount Charleston before dawn to serve brunch at some rich Californian’s chalet. But what else was she going to do? She didn’t have the money to fly home to Minnesota. She was too new in town to have made any real friends.
A week ago, when the temp agency called her looking for someone who would work Christmas Day, she’d jumped at the chance to get her bank account above a zero balance.
She unlocked the truck, but the driver’s door handle stuck—again—and she jerked it a few times to get it opened. Damn. She’d have to get this fixed, too.
Four hours later, after three hours of sleep, Roxanne dressed in black pants and a white shirt—the universal uniform for servers—pulled her hair back in a low pony, and poured herself a gigantic mug of coffee for the trip up the mountain.
After driving a half hour, the road sloped steeply upward. The clouds obscured the mountaintop, and as she got closer, fog blotted out the sun.
Slowly the landscape of joshua trees, scrubby bushes, and tan dirt changed to pines, aspen, and grass. Her breath caught. This looked so much like home. What was her family doing now? Probably opening gifts and sipping hot cocoa.
Choking back a surge of homesickness, she turned on her headlights. The sky grew darker as she ascended.
A light sheen of moisture landed on her windshield, and she turned on the wipers. Rain. Great. Not only a gloomy Christmas but drizzly as well.
After a few miles, the wet turned to flaky. Snow? Really? It snowed in Las Vegas? She’d seen the white-capped mountains in the distance, but it never connected with her that it was actually snow. That told her where her mind had been the last four weeks.
Once she’d given Charlie his ring back, sarcastically wished him good luck with his new girlfriend, and packed up everything she could carry in her truck, she’d focused on only one thing. Cooking in Las Vegas.
With chef jobs being so scarce because of the downturn in the economy, she’d taken a waitress job in a high-end restaurant. But the Egyptian goddess costume she was required to wear didn’t protect her butt from the pinchy fingers of over-sexed, over-served patrons.
She mentally checked off the list of restaurants she’d be heading to tomorrow to apply for any openings in the kitchen, then went over the list of the places where she’d already applied. The nice thing about Vegas was the nearly unlimited number of restaurants in the valley.
The rear tires of her truck skidded toward the edge of the road.
“Crap.” The snow came down heavier and accumulated on the blacktop. She slowed and shifted the truck into 4-wheel drive, listening to the axels engage. She smiled. “Yep. This is just like Christmas in Minnesota.”
Fifteen minutes later, she pulled into the back entrance of the mansion. “Wow.” She hadn’t expected it to be this massive. The red log structure resembled an A-frame, but with three sprawling floors, it looked more like a ski lodge.
Roxanne grabbed her bag and exited her truck, walking carefully on the unshoveled walkway. She rang the back doorbell, and in seconds, a large, older woman in a white apron opened the door. Her eyes shifted wildly, and her graying hair stuck up at odd angles. “Are you my wait staff?”
“Yes.” She reached out, expecting a proper handshake from the woman. “I’m Roxa—”
Instead, the cook grabbed Roxanne’s wrist and tugged her inside. “God bless you for being early.”