“DAD, WHEN’S MAGGIE going to get here?” Chloe’s breath fogged up the picture window. Her gaze scanned the snowy Montana mountains. “I hope she makes it in time for Christmas.” Ruffling Chloe’s dishwater-blond mane, I prayed like hell Maggie and her mother, Glad, would get here soon. Traveling had come to a halt across the country thanks to the winter storm, but at least Maggie and Glad were safe at home and not sleeping on some airport floor like the many interviewed on the news.
Feeling anxious, I massaged my temples. Wrapping my arms around Maggie and kissing her lips were the only Christmas presents I needed.
“Not sure, Pumpkin. Depends on the flights.”
Crossing paths with Maggie the summer before last was like finding a rose bush on top of a mountain while searching for gold. As much as she resisted, her heart finally won. We all won. Acquiring Glad in the deal was a bonus. Without hesitation, she’d taken a special liking to Chloe. They’d bonded instantly through their love of mischief. Glad was like the grandmother Chloe never had, and her sense of humor cut to the quick. Glad wore her heart on her sleeve and was the only one capable of giving Maggie a run for her money when Maggie needed a challenge. Glad was Maggie’s mother first and foremost, but their relationship—built on sarcastic wit, middle-naming, and genuine love—was most unique.
“Maggie has to get here.” Chloe drew a heart in the moisture on the frosty glass pane. She wrote her initials above Maggie’s, then she added a plus sign. “The snow is so thick you can barely see through it.” Chloe hummed a holiday tune between thoughts. “Just think, Dad, next year at this time, I’ll be nine and Maggie will have been here a whole year.”
Nudging the hat back from my brow, I thought about the woman who’d stolen my heart. I never dreamed in a million years I’d fall head over heels for my Michigan neighbor lady, Maggie Abernathy. Living in Grosse Pointe hadn’t been on my agenda originally, but the picture was crystal clear why I’d established residency in the Great Lake State before coming back to Montana. If I didn’t believe in fate before, I did now, and I wanted Maggie to get here as much as Chloe. We had big plans of starting a life together and this was only the beginning.
“Why couldn’t Maggie and Glad come earlier?” When Chloe spoke, deep lines appeared along the bridge of her nose.
“I told you, Chloe, Maggie’s settling things with her house. Remember when we sold our house in Grosse Pointe? It takes time. Papers have to be signed, things need to be packed, and besides Maggie wanted to spend some extra time with her momma. You can understand that, right? When Christmas is over, Glad’ll fly home. I don’t think Maggie has ever really been apart from her momma.”
I lifted Chloe’s chin with my index finger. My daughter’s soul shimmered behind her green stare. Hope should’ve been Chloe’s middle name because my girl never gave up when the chips were down.
“Glad’s house is where Maggie grew up. Maggie’s saying her last goodbye.”
Chloe’s expression tugged at my heart like the snap of a lasso when wrangling a wild pony.
“I know what you mean. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten used to being apart from my momma, but maybe that’ll change someday. Hollywood sure is a far way away.”
Chloe’s momma was nothing like Maggie, and I wondered if I’d ever shed the guilt from our failed marriage that had left my daughter living with her old man. Chloe longed for a normal household, whatever that was in this day and age. Smiling at Chloe, I wished she’d see the well of hope I carried myself.
“I guess so, but I want Maggie to be here. It’s almost Christmas. We have so much to do.”
“I want Maggie here, too, Peanut, but it is what it is.” Resting my hands on Chloe’s thin shoulders, I prayed for the skies to clear so our Maggie’s arrival was sooner than later.
“Maggie promised she’d make cookies with me. Christmas will be here before you know it. This is our first Montana Christmas, and I want it to be perfect.” Chloe leaned her forehead against the window, closed her eyes then whispered in the sweetest of voices, “Please Lord, it’s me, Chloe. I know I can be kind of a pain, but can you please help Maggie and Glad get here, and fast?”
“Come here, Peanut.” Opening my arms, I scooped my little girl up. My cheek grazed hers. Nothing compared to her soft touch when pangs of disappointment bristled.
On the outside, my daughter was as tough as they come, but on the inside, she was soft and cuddly. Chloe rested her head against my shoulder, her warm breath like butterfly kisses upon my neck.
“Are you going to marry Maggie?”
“Without a doubt.” My heart pounded as I imagined sharing life with the woman I loved. “Don’t you worry.”
“Good,” Chloe whispered. “I can feel your heartbeat against mine. I think we both love her.”
“This is where Maggie needs to be, Peanut.” Holding my daughter tight, I breathed her in. She was a wee one, but something told me the years would pass in a blink of an eye if I wasn’t careful.
“I love you, Daddy.” “I love you, too, Munchkin.” Outside, heaping mounds of snow grew deeper
with each passing hour. If Maggie and Glad couldn’t get to the 617 Ranch before Christmas morning this was going to be some Montana-bound holiday.
I'm Linda Bradley, author of the Montana Bound Series.
This merry band of misfits is together once again in A Montana Bound Christmas. Like warm cocoa and your favorite pair of slippers, I hope ho, ho, home for the holidays! warms your heart, too.
A little about myself . . . When I'm not writing or plotting my next Women's Fiction book, you can find me teaching second grade, reading, dabbling with my art supplies, baking, walking my beautiful rescue dog, Maisey or traveling.