Authors: Samanthya Wyatt
A Hero Grinch for Christmas
A Christmas Contemporary
A HERO GRINCH FOR CHRISTMAS
Cover Design by Victoria Vane
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America
I would like to thank everyone who aided in my journey to self-publication.
As always, I’d like to thank my husband who has been my main support.
I’d like to thank my new editor. She has called me, ripped me, encouraged me, and sent me on my journey to creating my Christmas contemporary.
I’d like to thank my new cover artist who saved my butt after weeks of struggling to find the perfect cover. Once I contacted her, she came up with an idea in one night.
Thanks to my good friends who gave me advice and guidance on their self-pubbing process.
Keep the Spirit!
Thank you to all who are serving or who have served in the armed forces. Thank you for your commitment, dedication, and sacrifice to keep America free.
To Uncle Denny and in memory of Aunt Fay. I love you both.
To everyone who loves a little Christmas Spirit.
Just like a picture on a Christmas card, the little town of Wyattsville was nestled between two snow-capped mountains. Population 763.
Hunter Armstrong stared out the window at the quaint village, where snowflakes grazed the glass glistening in the nighttime sky, every inch of ground was covered with snow. He hadn’t been here in two years, but nothing had changed. The soft glow of lights coming from various windows and storefronts along Main Street reminded him of everything he used to love. Although he should find comfort and joy in the familiar surroundings, instead, he closed his eyes in anguish.
Wheels squeaked and the engine resounded to a soft hum as the train came to a grinding halt. He regarded the passengers around him and waited as they moved to the aisle, gathered their belongings, and one-by-one, headed for the rear door.
They’d reached the end of the line, Wyattsville, Colorado.
With a heavy sigh, he grabbed his gear and loped down the two steps of the train. Blinking lights lined the roof of the depot, with silver, red, and gold decorations, and pine branches tangled around the supporting poles. All that was missing was a group of carolers. Even with Christmas around the corner, he’d expected the town to be vacant. Empty. Judging by the number of people gathered, either a celebrity was on the train, or some sort of festivity loomed.
God, he hated this. Hated waking up every morning to bright and cheerful people, even worse now that the holidays had arrived.
A cluster of people were vying for someone’s attention. Whoever stood in the center of the crowd must be important and well loved. The hugs and tears made Hunter’s own circumstances more real. No one was there to meet him.
He shook off his unease, and put one booted foot in front of the other, determined to forget the party. The circle opened as he walked by, revealing a man in uniform.
A hero’s welcome home.
Pain filled memories flashed through Hunter’s mind. Recollections of buddies he’d lost in combat. He studied each person, wondering which were relatives—friends—maybe a lover. Hunter’s comrades had not been so lucky.
He hefted the duffel bag higher onto his shoulder and plowed forward, making his way through the crowd. As he stepped off the platform, he spotted several teams of horses hitched to sleighs. He guessed it was a special treat to celebrate the soldier’s return.
With one last glance, he turned the corner and headed toward the center of the village. His hide-away for the next . . . however long, he hadn’t decided yet. There wasn’t any place else he wanted to go. In the mountains he could lose himself; no one knew he was here and he preferred it that way. He sure as hell didn’t want to celebrate Christmas.
Once people discovered his whereabouts, there’d be questions. Especially from the lady he suspected had been his uncle’s sweetheart. Had Denny lived, maybe his fourth wife. He remembered the happy glint in his uncle’s eyes the last time they’d seen each other, which suggested maybe the couple shared more than a friendship. After three failed marriages, the man had sworn off women. But Hunter knew better.
For a moment, a smile tried to form on his face, but misery overrode the effort. He just couldn’t be happy; he’d failed his uncle.
His eyes grew misty. He should have come sooner. Of course, he hadn’t had much of a choice. If the military wanted a GI to have a life outside the Army, they would have issued one. He was a Ranger. Dedicated to his profession.
Well, no more. He’d burned that bridge. All he had was time now. A little late, but he’d made a vow, and he intended to fulfill it.
Dani dropped the bundle of ribbons onto the tiled floor. “I know you’re here somewhere.” She dug through the items on the shelf until she found the box she’d been searching for. “Gotcha.”
The holidays were upon them, and it was time to remove the old merchandise from the store shelves and replace it with shiny new stock. Free from her busy life in New York, Dani relished spending December in the little village of Wyattsville. Throughout the year, she’d visited Tradition, Hobby Lobby, and a number of Christmas stores searching for items she knew the townspeople had never seen, knowing they would look perfect in the shop’s display window. Her aunt had been busy the last month ordering decorations, collectibles, and any gadgets that caught her notice. Including the things Dani brought with her, dozens of boxes lined one wall in the storage room in the back. Since this morning, she’d been up to her elbows digging through paper and bubble wrap.
When her aunt presented a box with a large bow and said it was an early Christmas present for both of them, Dani tore into the package.
An Espresso machine.
She feared she hadn’t convinced Fay to get one. But, pleading and whining had worked. Of course, Dani couldn’t wait to hook it up. So she’d carted the machine into the front of the shop finding a spot where it fit perfectly. Another box held a variety of coffee flavors. She filled the machine with water, popped in a disc, then impatiently waited for her first French vanilla latte.
She pulled a bright red mug with a gingerbread man painted on the side from the cabinet, perfect for a hot cup of frothy goodness. The machine sputtered and steamed, alerting her the drink was done. Lifting the cup from its holder, she blew at the foam, then took a sip.
Hot. Very hot. But oh, so very delicious.
She set the cup on the counter to cool.
Normally the shop closed shortly after dinner, since Dani was staying with her aunt for the holidays, she kept the store open later, accommodating customers who shopped after work. While she had some time to herself, she decided to unpack some new items from the back.
Arms loaded with boxes that blocked her view, she bumped the worktable and knocked over her cup.
Good thing her name wasn’t Grace.
Dani set the packages on the counter and dropped to her knees to clean up the spill.
This stuff was too tasty to waste. Tearing two sheets from the roll of paper towels, she mopped up the spilt coffee in a hurry.
The little bell above the Novelty Shoppe door sign tinkled, announcing a customer.
A very silent one. Usually a body yelled hello as soon as they crossed the threshold. So she mentally crossed off one of Aunt Fay’s hen pals.
“Excuse me,” a deep voice called from above—one she didn’t recognize.
Dani looked up, summoning a smile for the rugged looking man towering above her. Her breath left her body.
Deep blue eyes carefully assessed her. A blond furl fell over his forehead, right between two hiked brows. Five o’clock shadow covered his tight jaw. Damn the man looked sexy and here she was on her knees on the floor.
She held onto the edge of the counter and pulled herself up. Her face met a wall of bulging muscles. Then her gaze drifted higher. His wavy hair was just long enough to make him look a tad shaggy, but his blue eyes captivated her, and drew her in. Her grip on the counter tightened.
“Hi. New in town?” she asked.
How lame was that?
The lines in his forehead grew more pronounced.
She thrust out her hand. “I’m Dani.”
Every second he stared, chipped away at her sunny disposition.
It’s Christmas, for goodness sakes.
She wanted to put her fingers to his forehead and rub those frown lines away. Instead, she kept her hand stretched out, insisting he greet her.
“This is my aunt’s shop. I help her out.”
Strong fingers clasped hers in a quick shake. Sparks shot up her arm.
“Hunter,” he rumbled.
“Okay, Hunter. Welcome. First time in Wyattsville?”
“A man of few words,” she mumbled under her breath. “Haven’t seen you here before.”
“Stopped in for some coffee.” He looked over his shoulder toward the stone fireplace where a cozy fire blazed. Logs were stacked in a brass bin on the floor. In the corner, a framed oak cabinet with hand crafted shelves were enclosed in glass. The same carpenter built a few wooden tables and chairs for customers to use. The store screamed small town comfort.
And he was no casual tourist stopping by for coffee.
“We have a new Espresso machine.” She smiled with pride. “Would you like to try a cappuccino?”
“I’m just a plain black coffee guy.” He strode to the corner, grabbed the nearby pot by its handle, and filled a go-cup.
She had to disagree. There was nothing plain about this guy. Tall, she liked. Blonde? She usually went for dark hair, but hey, she’d make an exception for him.
He turned. The searing gaze of his Bahama blues made her dizzy. His good looks just made it that much harder to concentrate. And when she got nervous, she always turned into a motor mouth.
“Sorry we don’t have any pastries. Mrs. Campbell bakes fresh ones every morning and delivers them first thing. Come back tomorrow. We never know what flavor we’ll have until she gets here. It’s sure to be apple or blueberry. We had peach Danish and cream puffs today.”
She watched him place a lid on the steaming cup. He stood there with a disinterested expression, obviously waiting for her to shut up. She continued to chatter nervously. “Folks love coming in just to see what Mrs. Campbell whipped up. It’s kind of like a tradition.”
“Won’t be here in the morning,” he said.
“No more trains out tonight. Where are you staying?”
“Denny Armstrong’s place.”
“He’s . . .”
Way to go.
She’d almost blurted out the man was dead. “Uh. I didn’t know anyone was staying out there.”
Something like pain flickered in his eyes. She had the sudden feeling she’d just stepped into forbidden territory. So she spouted the first thing that popped into her head.
“How about a piece of German chocolate cake?”
“No. Just the coffee.”
She rang up the sale on the register. He handed her a five dollar bill.
“Are you a relative?”
Would it hurt the guy to carry on a conversation?
“Make me pull it out of you.” She huffed as she dug in the register for his change. Then it hit her. Her hands stilled. She glanced up to find his hard eyes watching her. “You’re the nephew he talked about all the time.”
“All the time?” He slanted a brow.
Dani swallowed. “He and my aunt spent a lot of time together.”
“Is Fay your aunt?”
“Yes. She’s more like my mother. I’m helping out in her shop over the holidays.”
He’d rested one hand on the edge of the counter. Dani couldn’t resist reaching out to him. She covered his hand with hers. His warmth burned her palm.
“I’m really sorry. Your uncle was a fine man and he had a special place in my aunt’s heart. Denny was loved by everyone in this community.”
He looked down at her hand on top of his. He didn’t move, but shadows clouded his eyes.
“If there is—”
He gave a nod and tugged his hand away. “Thanks”
His husky tone sent tingles down her spine, but she got the message. He’d cut her off. Her sympathy probably made him uncomfortable and reminded him of his loss. She didn’t want to upset him further. It had been months since Denny’s death, but she’d heard the two men were very close. Or maybe he wasn’t in the mood for little Miss Chipper.
He turned to leave.
“Are you headed out to Denny’s place?”
“I’ll tell my aunt you said hello,” she called after him.
He stopped at the door. When he turned, one corner of his mouth curved up in a smile. “You do that.”
The bell clattered as he closed the door.