Crystal Creek Christmas by Laura Haley-McNeil

Today we welcome Laura Haley-McNeil and her Christmas tale Crystal Creek Christmas. This sounds like the kind of book you cozy up under a blanket by the fire and read. Enjoy! I know I will!

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Celebrate Christmas with the Whitlochs

When a blinding snowstorm shuts down the Crystal Creek Ranch’s cattle operation, the Whitlochs have one mission – save the cattle. ER doc Jake Whitloch joins in the rescue, but the form he finds in a snowdrift is no cow. It’s a woman, a woman who consumes his thoughts despite that two carat diamond sitting on her ring finger.

Noelle Beaupré thanks the rugged doctor for rescuing her from freezing to death and the Whitlochs for taking her into their home, but now it’s time for her to leave the ranch. She longs to stay with the man who’s determined to protect her, but she doesn’t dare. Her deadly secret is in hot pursuit. Any delay and she’ll endanger the family who opened their home to her.

Noelle leaving Crystal Creek Ranch? Jake can’t let her go, but how can he convince her he’ll do anything to keep her safe?

This book includes your favorite Crystal Creek characters from Book One of the Crystal Creek Series and several new characters, including Max Whitloch’s children from his previous marriages who come to the ranch for Victoria and Garrett’s wedding. All Max’s children will have their own books as they pursue their quests for love.

While Crystal Creek Christmas could be read as a standalone story, readers will enjoy it more if they have read Guarding Her Heart, Book One of the Crystal Creek Series.

 

Chapter One excerpt:

Chapter One

Dr. Jake Whitloch white knuckled the steering wheel of the old ranch truck and squinted through the windshield. The truck’s bumper crunched through hubcap high snow covering the service road. At ten o’clock in the morning, the heavy snowfall had shrouded Crystal Creek Ranch making the day as dark as night. He flipped on the headlights.

It was crazy to be out in this blizzard. Hunting for stranded cattle made the risk a priority.

The Whitloch’s hired hands corralled together their duallys and SUVs and headed out to the back pastures, doing what they did best–risking their lives for the good of the ranch and for the owner they admired—Rose Whitloch, Jake’s step-mother.

Jake couldn’t let the ranch hands do it alone. He volunteered to check the south pastures.

He was out in the blizzard for a reason he pushed out of his mind. In this weather, he focused on the truck and on the road. No time to think about why he left Philadelphia.

The windshield wipers kicked back and forth like the Rockettes performing their Christmas finale. The wipers flipped the snowflakes right, then left. Faster, faster, but not fast enough. The snow piled on the windshield, piled on the hood, kept falling, falling, falling.

Thlpt.

That sound again. Tire tread gripping for snow, sliding over ice.

Panic shot up Jake’s throat. Lodged like a spear gun at the base of his brain.

Tires scraped across the gravel-snow road. Jake downshifted. Pumped the clutch. Tapped the brakes. The mounds of snow covering the creek crept closer, closer.

The treads lodged into a road rut, jerked to a stop. The brakes wheezed. The truck groaned.

Jake glanced out the side window. Not face on. He didn’t want to see how close he was to the creek bank until his brain understood that he had a few feet of buffer before falling over the edge.

He shifted his eyes sideways so hard he felt the ache in the back of his head. He ignored it. He studied the ground. The truck had stopped a few feet from the creek’s edge.

Closer than last time. But a few feet was a few feet.

His lungs eased like a deflating tire. He’d been right. That was the thought he allowed into his head. Behind that thought pulsed the real relief— he was safe.

He eased out the clutch. The truck crept forward. He squinted through the snow that whipped at the glass like the Enterprise traveling through space at warp speed.

As far as he could see, thick snow blanketed the ranch’s rolling hills and ragged bluffs.

The storm had started Monday. Four days ago. There was no sign of it stopping. The snowbanks along the driveway and the paths to the barn, the outbuildings, and the bunkhouse grew higher until they were almost as tall as his stepmother’s two and one half-story ranch house.

The snow was beautiful. More beautiful than the snow covered Philadelphia concrete and asphalt he trudged through every day to work in the inner city hospital’s emergency room. He watched the pristine white sift over the trees. It was as soothing as soaking in a tub of scented oil.

Fluffy. White. Snow.

Beautiful.

With the beauty, came treachery. Namely for the cattle. They would be foraging through the snowdrifts in search of food.

Food that would be difficult to find during this storm.

Jake and the hired hands navigated various parts of the ranch to make sure the cattle stranded by the snowstorm had found the bales of hay dropped by the helicopters.

He saw plenty of snow but no cattle. He only prayed that no cow had been trapped in the snowdrifts and was starving to death or worse freezing to death.

His sister and half-sisters told him he was insane to go out in this weather.

It would’ve been more insane to sit in the house and brood over the decision he’d made last weekend. He had to get away, get away from the mental banter that questioned the wisdom of his decision.

Yes, he was glad that his half-sister, Victoria, had escaped the clutches of a serial killer, that she and Garrett Nelson Reynolds were getting married, that Garrett had changed his mind about pursuing his family’s vendetta to reclaim Crystal Creek Ranch.

He was glad Christmas was in three days.

But with Victoria’s and Garrett’s upcoming Christmas Eve nuptials, the house was in turmoil.

Add to that the mysterious disappearance of Maxwell Aloysius Whitloch, Sr., Rose’s ex-husband, Jake’s father and the father of his siblings and half siblings.

The entire Whitloch clan had converged on the ranch to help Victoria celebrate her wedding and to await word from their oldest brother Max Junior regarding their father.

No word came.

That was when Jake had snatched up the battered cowboy hat he wore whenever he visited the ranch, borrowed the foreman’s keys to the ranch truck, and ventured into the snowstorm.

Jake guided the truck over the bumpy road. Snowflakes batted the windshield. The wipers shoved the flakes aside but a new blanket covered the windshield almost as quickly as the wipers whisked them away.

It was between swipes of the blades that he saw the dark form in the snowdrift. That swelling he sometimes felt in his throat when he worked in the emergency room flooded him. The rush always accompanied unwanted emotions, emotions that bordered on fear, anxiety, that not-a-good-feeling feeling.

The form didn’t move, didn’t react to the sound of the engine charging through the snow.

He edged closer. The size of the form should have grown larger. Instead, it seemed to shrink. It was small, too small to be a cow. It had to be a calf. But in the middle of winter? He may be a city slicker, but even he knew calving season was in the spring.

“How’re you doing out there, Doc?” Ralph’s, the foreman, voice crackled over the walkie-talkie.

Jake pressed the talk button. “I haven’t seen any cattle, but there’s something up ahead. I’m going to check it.” Jake aimed the headlights over the mound and set the emergency brakes. “I’ll radio you once I find out what this is.”

“Leave it, Doc,” Ralph said. “No reason to risk your life for a cow. It’s snowing concrete blocks. When this storm lets up, me or one of the hands will check it out.”

“Don’t worry, Ralph. It’s not a cow. It’s too small to be a cow. I’ll get back to you.” Jake turned off the walkie-talkie.

Arguing with Ralph was wasting precious time if this mound was an actual living, breathing creature. Human or animal, Jake was in the business of saving lives.

He pulled up his coat collar and shoved down his cowboy hat until the band caught his ears. He climbed out of the cab and hunched his shoulders. Snow beat at his face and slapped his chest. He tucked his chin and barreled into an army of snowflakes.

In the few minutes since he’d first spied the mound, the snow had nearly covered the dark shape.

He reached a gloved hand toward the form and dusted away the snow. A streak of strawberry blond hair glinted beneath the flakes.

A snare drum heartbeat battered his rib cage. What was he seeing? A fox? No. Lying in the snow was hair, not fur.

He bowed over the form and with both hands brushed heaps of snow away from the figure.

Dark lashes appeared as two velvet crescents in a face as white as the snow.

“Dear God.” He breathed.

The form was a person, a small person, a child. What was this child doing wandering through a snowstorm?

Adrenaline shot through his veins. The familiar metallic taste of the emergency room lifesaving mode burst into his mouth. Someone in trouble. Save the person in trouble.

The muscles around his throat clenched. He’d worked in an emergency room long enough to know the many reasons children ran away. From home? From someplace else?

He scooped his arms beneath the tiny body, braced his back and lifted the child from the snow mound. The lightness stunned him. The poor thing weighed less than a bag of oats. How could a human weigh so little?

The child’s wool jacket was slippery with snow, and the unconscious form slid through his arms. He shifted the limp body and held it close.

His hand pressed a pillowy soft shape. He jerked upright. The stirring within heated him like a hot numbness that made him want to dive into the snow to cool off.

In his arms was no child. In his arms, he held a woman.

Buy it here:

Amazon

Crystal Creek Christmas Book 2 of the Crystal Creek Series

http://www.amazon.com/Crystal-Creek-Christmas-Book-ebook/dp/B00Q5V2FYW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450408634&sr=1-1&keywords=crystal+creek+christmas

Kobo

Crystal Creek Christmas Book 2 of the Crystal Creek Series

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-ca/ebook/crystal-creek-christmas

 

Barnes and Nobel

Crystal Creek Christmas Book 2 of the Crystal Creek Series

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/crystal-creek-christmas-laura-haley-mcneil/1121493147?ean=2940151317207

IBooks

Crystal Creek Christmas Book 2 of the Crystal Creek Series

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/crystal-creek-christmas/id982599818?mt=11

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/heartstrings/id988418118?mt=11

 

 

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Laura Haley-McNeil is an award-winning author of romantic suspense and women’s fiction in novel length and in short stories. Her work has been featured in several women’s magazines. She has studied piano and ballet and has been a board member for two community orchestras. She and her husband reside in Colorado. When she isn’t writing, she jogs, bicycles and crochets.

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