Christmas in Briarwood
Historical Western Romance/Western
During a season of hope and healing, two souls find an unexpected gift in love.
Set against the backdrop of the Hawk's Peak Ranch and the town of Briarwood, the Gallagher family's generosity and love have permeated the lives of all those around them. This Christmas, Rachel Watson and Julian Frank discover that with the help of new friends and a special holiday wish, they can let go of their pasts and risk their wounded hearts.
A beautiful, frontier holiday romance, Christmas in Briarwood is the eighth heartwarming installment in the award-winning series that has delighted readers with tales of adventure, family, love, and hope.
NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: This is a short work of fiction and companion story to the Montana Gallagher series. While it can be read on its own, it is best read after the preceding book, The Healer of Briarwood.
Enjoy an Excerpt
Briarwood, December 8, 1885
FROST NIPPED HER reddening nose, and a crisp breeze brushed her cheeks as the winter sun shined through two puffy white clouds.
Life, she reasoned, was not about achieving happiness for the whole of one’s existence, but to enjoy the moment—for it might be the last. Rachel Watson once believed in hope for the future, and never more than now did she long to believe in it again.
Snow dust glistened through the air to land on and around her as she passed beneath the long branches of a tall pine. With the snow came a scent she had yet been able to describe since winter came to Briarwood. The fragrance of earth and air, light and dark—no matter what time of day or night she strolled the dirt roads, the sweet and refreshing smell grounded her.
In those moments when she thought herself unable to stay and face the events since her arrival, the wide valley and thick, green forests, with soaring mountains beyond, steadied her spirit.
More than the landscape kept her sane, she admitted. The people waved hello, smiled whenever she passed, and invited her into their homes. Although she avoided accepting many of the invitations—save for those at Hawk’s Peak or with Doctor Brody and his wife—they continued to make the offers. It’s what friends do, she imagined. Her job as a governess in San Francisco had left little time for friendships beyond the staff and her sister, Mary. She thought of all the years spent caring for another couple’s children, and wondered, somewhat guiltily, if they hadn’t been wasted.
Pine boughs and red ribbon adorned many of the storefronts, and the spicy fragrance of Tilly’s apple cider wafted from the café. The faint melody of song carried from the church choir, which practiced the carols it would sing around the town tree. With less than three weeks until Christmas and the opening of the inn, Rachel pictured the grand tree—described in detail by the storekeeper and his wife—covered with homemade ornaments.
Rachel navigated her way up the stone path to the wide front porch of The Briarwood Inn and stopped. A pile of lumber and snow blocked the doorway, so she walked instead to the back door, all the while smiling.
“Oh, wonderful. You’re here.” Katharine stood on the covered back deck that, when three feet of snow did not cover the ground, allowed for a view of the creek and the mountain range in two directions.
“The front door is blocked.”
“One of the builders caught the Smith boys trying to sneak in this morning.”
Rachel laughed. “It’s no wonder, with all the secrecy. You’ve piqued everyone’s imagination as to what is going on inside.”
Katharine held the door open and waved Rachel inside. “It’s a hotel. No, not even a hotel. A well-appointed inn. There isn’t much mystery in it.”
“You’ll be chasing off the boys again—and others I’m sure—until you open the place.”
Rachel set down her cloth-covered basket and unwrapped the thick white scarf from around her neck. “It is looking splendid.” She removed the cloth to reveal an assortment of muffins. “I stopped at Tilly’s for breakfast, and she asked me to bring these over for the workers. She knows you’re not starving because your husband has more sense than to let you go without a meal.”
When Katharine raised a brow, with a fresh pecan muffin in hand, Rachel tried not to smile too much. “Tilly’s words, not mine.” She hung her scarf and decided it was warm enough inside the inn’s kitchen to add her long, wool coat to the same hook. “I’m honored to be among the few who get to enter before your grand opening, but I am curious why I get the privilege.”
“I am going to work up to answering your question. In the meantime, would you help me distribute coffee and these muffins to the men working upstairs? There are three today, and they are almost done with the last bathing room upstairs.”
Rachel almost dropped the tin coffee pot before she could pour the strong brew through a strainer into the silver pot Katharine had set out. “Indoor plumbing? Here?”
Katharine nodded. “I fretted over it while they drew the plans up. The hot and cold running water wasn’t going to be an issue since others here have managed it, but sending guests to an outdoor privy . . . well, that wouldn’t do. I didn’t think it was possible until Brenna Gallagher mentioned the man who was installing a similar system at the ranch. I wish I could say that I knew how it all worked . . . suffice to say there are suspended tanks, pull chains, and great lengths of wood pipes going from the building to, well, out there.” Katharine waved toward an empty expanse of land beyond the trees.
Rachel’s laugh prevented her from finishing her task without splashing a little coffee on the table. She set the pot down and found a cloth to soak up the mess. “You might recall that I came from San Francisco, though I should like to see your expression again.”
“Right, of course.” Katharine placed half a dozen muffins on a plate. “We enjoyed some modern amenities in Astoria, but you are used to a far more sophisticated life than anyone else in town, I’m sure.” Her voice lost its amusement. “Have you heard from Mary?”
Rachel filled a third tin mug with coffee and set the pot aside. The intentional delay gave her time to force back the start of tears that always threatened to fall when she thought of her sister. “A letter arrived yesterday, in fact, and she cabled last week.”
Katharine hesitated before asking, “Is she well?”
“As well as can be.” Rachel fought every day to forget what had happened to both her and Mary when their journey to Montana turned from an adventure to an unimaginable nightmare. “She is living with our aunt. Before the weather cooled too much, she visited the beach almost daily. Sometimes I still feel the salt air and smell fish from the day’s catch by the wharf.”
“Do you miss it?”
How many times had Rachel asked herself that question since she watched her sister board the train bound to the coast? “Some days I do, but most of the time I can’t find the words to explain why I stay.”
Katharine touched a hand gently on Rachel’s arm. “Our circumstances were not the same, and yet, I understand what you mean. It took the thought of not seeing Finn again to admit why I wanted to remain in Briarwood.”
Rachel thought of Doctor Finnegan Brody, the man who had saved her life and soon after became a trusted friend. She had only known him as one half of a pair with Katharine, and she could not imagine either without the other. Her ruminations then shifted of their own accord to Julian Frank, the Pinkerton who kept his promise and saved her sister.
She looked at Katharine, who now stood in the kitchen doorway with the tray of coffee mugs.
“Did you hear me?”
With Julian’s face flitting through her mind, Rachel nodded and picked up the plate of muffins. “Wait. You haven’t yet told me why I am here.”
“No, I haven’t.” Katharine indicated the wide staircase leading to the second floor. “Let’s pass these around and then how about a tour of the place?”
With her curiosity growing, Rachel followed her friend across the spacious foyer to the stairs.
“Will you spend Christmas in Briarwood now?” Amanda Stuart asked.
Wife to Ben Stuart, the foreman at Hawk’s Peak, Amanda had become one of Katharine’s dearest friends since moving to the valley. Rachel considered herself blessed to call many at the Hawk’s Peak ranch her friends.
“We will. Brody has fretted about leaving the town without a doctor for so long, especially with winter so harsh already.” Katharine removed a vase from the final crate her father had brought with him from Astoria. Most of the large wooden boxes contained belongings, but the last two included favorite items from around the seaside house where Katharine had grown up. It was fitting that the mementos would now grace her own home.
Amanda placed a lid back on the empty crate. “At least you had that week in Denver for your honeymoon.”
Katharine grinned in return. “Yes. Yes, we did. Though I daresay we saw little of Denver.” The women laughed as Katharine found a place for the crystal vase on her new fireplace mantel. “He had his heart set on showing me Ireland, but he won’t go so far until he can find another doctor to stay on. Hopefully, in the spring. I heard we aren’t the only ones who have delayed a holiday across the sea.”
Amanda’s raised brow didn’t require her question to be verbalized.
“When Eliza was in last week, she mentioned something about Ethan and Brenna visiting Scotland next year, and not wanting to put it off any longer.”
Amanda nodded with new understanding. “Every time they plan to go, life makes other plans for them. Brenna feels Victoria is now old enough to withstand the crossing, so they’ve talked of going in the spring.”
Rachel listened to the women chatter while she unpacked a picture frame and set it on a small table between two stuffed chairs covered in tweed. The polished silver square framed a photograph of a beautiful woman who shared Katharine’s eyes and hair, leaving no doubt to their relation.
Katharine and Finnegan Brody had saved her life. Were it not for the skilled hands of Doctor Brody and the generous heart of Katharine Kiely—now Brody—Rachel’s story might have had a different ending.
END OF EXCERPT
Excerpted from Christmas in Briarwood by MK McClintock. Copyright 2021 © MK McClintock. Published by Trappers Peak Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
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