FRONTIER CHRISTMAS with the Novella THE LONG JOURNEY HOME

Frontier ChristmasUSA TODAY Bestseller

After two years of being thought dead, lawman Logan Sutcliffe had finally made it home – only to discover that the wife he’d left behind on their wedding night was engaged to another man!

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“…I will look forward to reading this book for many Christmases to come.” Romance Reviews Today

“A Christmas anthology should hold all the magic and joy of the season and that’s just what FRONTIER CHRISTMAS does… This is a tender, emotional love story by Kate Bridges.” RT Book Reviews


Excerpt from THE LONG JOURNEY HOME

Copyright © Kate Bridges. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Alberta, December 15, 1888

He had to find her. In the rising wind and squalling snow, Logan Sutcliffe, an officer and veterinary surgeon of the North-West Mounted Police, unstrapped the snowshoes from his weary feet. He slung them over the heavy fur pelts of his overcoat, then peered down the early evening streets of Calgary, wondering where to begin. He moaned with fear and anticipation, the kind a man felt when he’d been gone for two suffering years. Logan wasn’t even sure Melodie still lived in this town.

Gripping his leather sack, he trudged along the boardwalk of Macleod Trail toward Fort Calgary, assuming it was still there. If it were daytime and clearer, if he looked above his shoulder to the west he’d see the jagged wintry peaks of the Rocky Mountains that marked the prairies’ end.

He nodded to passersby, none of whom he recognized.

“Howdy.” His warm breath formed a cloud in the icy air, adding more crystals to the icicles in his mustache and beard. Street lighting from the oil lamps flickered off his shoveled path and the sparkling snowbanks piled high along the road.

Would Melodie know him? He was a man in his mid-twenties now, bundled up in animal skins, with dark blond hair trailing down his shoulders and a long unkempt beard he hadn’t had the opportunity, nor desire, to shave.

The town had grown. The dozen stores he remembered had multiplied to three dozen. Some had leaded tinsel streaming down their square-paned windows, some had red bows tied to their pine doors, one had a painted wooden picture of Saint Nicholas. In the horse-plowed street, a crowd of youngsters and their folks surrounded one enterprising fellow who’d strapped jingle bells to his donkey and was giving rides. Disregarding the twenty-below temperature, children took turns as mothers and fathers chuckled. It brought a smile to Logan’s lips. He hadn’t seen a child in two years.

When he looked up again, he saw her store.

The sight knocked the breath out of him. Halting in his tracks, he leaned against the corner post to steady his trembling hand. It had to be hers. The sign above it read Melodie’s Bath and Barber House.

So she hadn’t left. And she’d finally opened her shop.

Did she live her life alone? Had she found another man? What man wouldn’t cross a desert to be with her?

Her shop was decorated with strings of dried berries and holly branches, the most colorful on the block. It was just like her to do it up special. She’d always loved everything about Christmas.

Well…his heavy feet wouldn’t move. How long had Melodie and the others searched for him?

How long had it taken before they’d presumed him dead?

What if she no longer loved him? What if she couldn’t tolerate the way his looks had changed, or simply told him…to go away?

With a wave of resolution, he stepped off the curb into the squeaky white snow, heading for her door. To feel her warm embrace again had driven him this far. He’d take her reaction however it came.

The bell above the door tinkled as he entered. A wet newsletter clung to the door window, but its headline was clear: Christmas Social At Fort Calgary, Saturday December 15. That was tonight at eight, in roughly two and a half hours.

“Evenin’.” The dark-haired young woman at the counter glanced up at Logan while she took change from another man who was leaving.

With heart leaping, Logan peered over her shoulder into a room dimly lit by lanterns and candles. Four men shuffled in their seats, two with towels wrapped around their faces, heating up for shaving. No Melodie.

Logan swiveled to the stone fireplace, taking in the Scotch pine Christmas tree decorated with fruits and nuts. The fragrance of pine needles and dried fruit was comforting. A speckled sheepdog lay curled on a mat by the burning fire, one Logan didn’t recognize. He let the heat warm his frigid gloved fingers, waiting until the other man left before he spoke to the woman.

“Is Melodie here?”

“You’re one of her customers, are ya? I’ll get you set up in the back with your bath, then you can take one of the far seats and she’ll get to your cut and shave after the others. Melodie’s in the back room gettin’ fresh towels.”

He’d found her! His legs almost buckled beneath him.

“Have you been on the road for long?”

Forever. “Four weeks.” Logan stared at the woman’s black braided hair and rosy cheeks. She seemed familiar but he couldn’t place her.

“What’s your name?”

“Smith,” he mumbled, not wanting to tip his hand before he got a chance to explain to Melodie. It wasn’t true, but he’d gone by that name for most of the months he’d been gone, named by the old man who’d found him facedown in the snow with a bullet wound to his face, with no remembrance of who or what he was.

“I’ll go tell Melodie you’re here.”

“Thank you.”

“And I’ll ask Boris to haul another tubful of hot water.”

She obviously thought Logan was a customer and he didn’t see the need to tell her otherwise.

She disappeared through the hallway of the large log building as a baby cried. Baffled by the sudden wail, Logan peered behind the counter. In a wooden cradle, bundled in a blue wool blanket with a head of black hair, the infant looked to be around two months old. Whose child was he?

Please, not Melodie’s. He did a frantic calculation. Two months plus nine for carrying him equaled eleven months. Logan had been gone for twenty-four.

Before he could let the shock of that sink in, Melodie brushed by him, arms full of linen towels. His joy knotted with his sorrow in one trembling lump.

She smiled up at him, as beautiful as the day he’d met her.

“Good evening, Mr. Smith.” She set down her pile of huge towels on the side counter beside his leg and frowned at him.

His heart stopped pulsing.

Deep, coffee brown eyes assessed him. Straight black brows framed her eyes and the tip of the pert nose he used to kiss every night was dotted with soap. Pretty peach lips turned up at him. The same lips that had first whispered I love you to him on a beaten-up old rocking chair one sultry autumn evening.

She flicked a handful of her silky black hair back over her shoulder from where it had fallen. A dimple caught in her cheek as she held his gaze.

It came to him like a powerful explosion. Melodie didn’t recognize him.

(…continued…)

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