A Cowboy’s Christmas List – Vivian Arend

T 1 he air surrounding Yvette Wright alternated between comfortable and refreshing, the crisp winter wind sliding over her shoulders every time someone opened the door at the Buns and Roses coffee shop. The last sip of her caramel macchiato lingered on her tongue, sweet yet refreshing. Christmas carols floated on the air, along with the scent of gingerbread and pumpkin spice. In fact, sitting in the coffee shop should have meant blissful perfection. Nope. Yvette was vibrating so hard that if the chair under her hadn’t been absolutely level, she would’ve rocked a hole in the wooden floor by now. For the fifth time in under five minutes, she dug the key chain out of her pocket, staring at the small Christmas ornament in her fingers. The shiny golden key on the loop offered no clues whatsoever. The circle of cardboard next to it had begun to fray at the edges because she’d handled it so much since its unexpected arrival in the mail two weeks ago. The note on the circle asked her to be where she was right now. December 1, Buns and Roses, 12 p.m. THE DECORATİVE PART of the key chain was a tiny Christmas tree. Small, fake jewels nestled in its branches like a pretend string of lights. It was cute—and appealed to her at a core level.

“I swear, you’re part magpie.” Her mother’s voice echoed in Yvette’s mind, a solid memory. The mocking words had always been accompanied by a shake of her head and a click of her tongue. Yvette’s family often complained she was unreasonably attracted to shiny things. Yet it wasn’t the actual key chain making her squirm as if she were a two-year-old during an unending church service. It was very much the thought of who had sent the gift. Alex Thorne. Cowboy at a local ranch, volunteer firefighter coordinator in Heart Falls, and official pain in her butt. Or at least he had been before leaving town months ago, vanishing to his family’s farm. “Keys to the kingdom?” One of Yvette’s best friends, Madison Zhao, dropped into the chair opposite her. Her auburn hair lay in two braids over her shoulders, her pale skin flushed from her time in the cold. The green ribbons tied to the ends of her braids were nearly lost amongst the bright and shiny objects sewn all over the tacky red sweater she wore. Laughing out loud might be rude, but the response was pretty instinctive. Yvette pulled herself together quickly as she blinked at her friend. “Ryan already wrangled you into having to wear that monstrosity?” Tricking each other into wearing the gaudy sweater was a holiday tradition between Madison and her husband, and it appeared that even though Madison was now nearly eight months pregnant, some things would never change.

“Ryan informed me he’d finally had time to hang the curtains in the baby’s room, so I went to check. He had put them up, but also draped this over the curtain rod.” She flicked a finger at a fuzzy snowman attached to her left shoulder. “I’m happy he got the ritual rolling so soon, though, because I have such wonderfully evil plans for this year. It’ll be his turn to model our famous attire soon enough.” The door to Buns and Roses opened again, and this time, one well-built cowboy slipped in with the cold winter air. Alex. Worn jeans, a sheepskin-lined jean jacket. Dark-brown cowboy hat on his head, and well-worn leather boots on his feet. The whole cowboy uniform that fit him so well. After him being gone for most of the year, Yvette expected to discover some change in his appearance. Nope. Same strong jawline, same dark-brown eyes that turned intently in her direction, as if he’d sensed before even opening the door exactly where to find her. His skin was a tanned tone that suggested Mediterranean heritage, his dark hair a bit too long to be considered a military cut. He headed straight for her as if on a mission.

Madison noticed immediately. She blinked at Yvette in surprise. “Oops. Sorry. Didn’t know I was interrupting something.” “You’re not,” Yvette protested, but Madison shot to her feet so quickly, she wavered. Before Yvette could move, Alex was there, wrapping an arm around Madison’s shoulders and steadying her until she caught her balance. She offered a smile. “Thanks. Welcome back.” “You’re welcome. It’s good to be home.” Alex’s grin widened as his gaze dipped over her. “You’re looking well. The sweater suits you.

And the bump.” A snort of laughter escaped Madison. She shook a finger at him. “You just wait. You will see Ryan wearing this very soon, and it will suit him too, even without a bump.” “Sounds good. I’m back on shift at the fire hall starting tomorrow. If you ever need a hand pulling a fast one…” Alex offered with a wink. Madison grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She turned to Yvette and waggled her fingers. “Catch up with you tomorrow. I just stopped to pick up my to-go order of chocolate and fat. Have fun.” Like a whirlwind, Yvette’s friend vanished.

Which meant the wall of safety she offered vanished as well when Alex pulled out the chair beside Yvette and lowered himself into it. Those dark eyes drifted over her. She knew the instant he spotted the key ring tucked in her fingers. His smile widened the slightest bit before he met her gaze again. “Thanks for meeting me.” “Sure.” Suddenly, she didn’t know what to do with her hands. Or where to look. What nonsense. She was a grown woman meeting a man in a public place. She needed to solve a mystery of sorts. Ergo, there was no reason to act like a shy teenager. Yvette deliberately lifted her gaze and met his square on. “Did you want a coffee?” “I’ll grab it.” He flicked a finger at her cup.

“Refill?” “No, thanks.” He was gone before she could ask any more questions.


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Updated: 24 November 2021 — 02:26

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