This week’s Romance Cafe features an inside look into Author RaeAnne Thayne’s ‘Christmas in Cold Creek’
Romance Cafe is an exciting new weekly series on Kmart Books where we introduce readers tothe world of series romance with sizzling content including free chapters, excerpts, video trailers and more. Simply, Romance Cafe gives readers a little taste of romance…
She claimed to be a waitress and a single mother, but Rebecca Parsons doesn’t look like any hash-slinger Pine Gulch Police Chief Trace Bowman has ever seen. And she doesn’t seem particularly maternal toward her little girl, either. Still, one look in her vulnerable green eyes and his protective instincts go into overdrive.
Attention from local law enforcement is the last thing Becca needs. She’ll do anything to protect her little sister Gabi from their con-artist mother, even lie about their identities. When Trace shows up at their house carrying a Christmas tree and stirring desires she can’t afford to indulge, she longs to surrender to the magic of the season with him. But Becca’s past is catching up—fast. Can her sexy police chief perform a Christmas miracle?
About the author:
RaeAnne Thayne loves words. It started as soon as she learned to read, when she used to devour anything she could get her hands on (cereal boxes, encyclopedias, the phone book, you name it!). She loves the way they sound, the way they look on the page, and the amazing way they can be jumbled together in so many combinations to tell a story.
Her love of reading and writing those words led her to journalism, and she worked for fifteen years as a newspaper reporter and editor.
Through it all, she dreamed of writing the kind of stories she loved best. She started writing romance fiction in 1990 and sold her first book five years later. Since then, she’s published more than two-dozen novels and that same number of short stories.
RaeAnne finds inspiration from the rugged northern Utah mountains where she lives with her husband and three children. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her web site at or at PO Box 6682 North Logan, UT 84341.
Much as he loved Pine Gulch, Trace Bowman had to admit his town didn’t offer its best impression in the middle of a cold, gray rain that leached the color and personality from it.
Even the Christmas decorations—which still some-how could seem magical and bright to his cynical eye when viewed on a snowy December evening—somehow came off looking only old and tired in the bleak late-November morning light as he parked his patrol SUV in front of The Gulch, the diner that served as the town’s central gathering place.
That sleety rain dripping from the eaves and awnings of the storefronts would be snow by late afternoon, he guessed. Maybe earlier. This time of year—the week after Thanksgiving—in Pine Gulch, Idaho, in the western shadow of the Tetons, snow was more the norm than the exception.
He yawned and rotated his neck to ease some of the tightness and fatigue. After three days of double shifts, he was ready to head for his place a few blocks away, throw a big, thick log on the fire and climb into bed for the next week or so.
Food first. He’d eaten a quick sandwich for dinner around 6:00 p.m. More than twelve hours—and the misery of dealing with a couple of weather-related accidents—later and he was craving one of Lou Archuleta’s sumptuous cinnamon rolls. Sleep could wait a half hour for him to fill up his tank.
He walked in and was hit by a welcome warmth and the smell of frying bacon and old coffee. From the tin-stamped ceiling to the row of round swivel seats at the old-fashioned counter, The Gulch fit every stereotype of the perfect small-town diner. The place oozed tradition and constancy. He figured if he moved away for twenty years, The Gulch would seem the same the moment he walked back through the doors.
“Morning, Chief!” Jesse Redbear called out from the booth reserved for the diner’s regulars.
Greetings assailed him from the rest of the booth, from Mick Malone and Sal Martinez and Patsy Halliday. He could probably have squeezed into their corner booth but he still headed for an empty stool at the counter.
He waved at them all and continued his quick scan of the place, an old habit from his days as a military MP that still served him well. He recognized everyone in the room except for a couple he thought might be staying at the hotel and a girl reading a book in the corner. She looked to be his niece, Destry’s, age and he had to wonder what a nine-year-old girl was doing by herself at The Gulch at 7:30 a.m. on a school day.
Then he noticed a slender woman standing at one of the back booths with an order pad in her hand. Since when did The Gulch have a new waitress? He’d been busy working double shifts after the wife of one of his men had a baby and he hadn’t been in for a week or two, but last he knew, Donna Archuleta, the wife of the owner, seemed to handle the breakfast crowd fine on her own. Maybe she was finally slowing down now that she’d hit seventy.
“Hey, Chief,” Lou Archuleta, Donna’s husband and the cook, called out from behind the grill before Trace could ask Donna about the solitary girl or the new waitress. “Long night?”
How did Lou know he’d been working all night? Was he wearing a sign or something? Maybe the man just figured it out from his muddy boots and the exhaustion he was pretty sure was probably stamped on his features.
“It was a rough one. That freezing rain always keeps us hopping. I’ve been helping the state police out on the highway with a couple of weather-related accidents.”
“You ought to be home in bed catching up.” Donna, skinny and feisty, flipped a cup over and poured coffee into it for him. The last thing he needed was caffeine when he wanted to be asleep in about five minutes from now, but he decided not to make an issue of it.
“That’s my plan, but I figured I’d sleep better on a full stomach.”
“You want your regular?” she asked in her raspy ex-smoker’s voice. “Western omelet and a stack?”
He shook his head. “No stack. I’m in the mood for one of Lou’s sweet rolls this morning. Any left?”
“I think I can find one or two for our favorite man in blue.”
He eased his tired bones onto a stool and caught a better look at the new waitress. She was pretty and slender with dark hair pulled back in a haphazard sort of ponytail. More curious than he probably should be, he noted her white blouse seemed to be tailored and expensive. The hand holding a coffeepot was soft-looking with manicured nails.
What was someone in designer jeans doing serving coffee at The Gulch?
And not well, he noted as she splattered Maxwell House over the lip of Ronny Haskell’s coffee cup. Ronny didn’t seem to mind. He just smiled, somewhere in the vicinity of her chest region.
“Do you want something else to drink?” Donna asked him, apparently noticing he hadn’t lifted his cup.
He gave her a rueful smile. “To be honest, I need sleep more than caffeine today. A small orange juice will do me.”
“I should have thought about that. One OJ coming up.”
She headed toward the small grill window to give his order to her husband and returned a minute later with his juice. Her hand shook a little as she set it down and he noted more signs of how Donna and Lou were both growing older. Maybe that’s why they’d added a server to help with the breakfast crowd.
“Busy morning,” he commented to Donna when she came back with the sweet roll, huge and gooey and warm.
“Let me tell you something. I’ve survived my share of Pine Gulch winters,” she said. “In my experience, gloomy days like this make people either want to hunker down at home by themselves in front of the fire or seek out other people. Guess we’ve got more of the latter today.”
The new waitress eased up to the window and tentatively handed an order to Lou before heading back to take the order of a couple of new arrivals.
“Who’s the new blood?” he asked with a little head jerk in her direction.
Donna stopped just short of rolling her eyes. “Name’s Parsons. Rebecca Parsons. But heaven forbid you make the mistake of calling her Becky. It’s Becca. Apparently she inherited old Wally Taylor’s place. His granddaughter, I guess.”
That was news to Trace. He narrowed his gaze at the woman, suddenly put off. Wally had never spoken of a granddaughter. She sure hadn’t been overflowing with concern for the old man. In his last few years, Trace had just about been his neighbor’s only visitor. If he hadn’t made a practice of checking on him a couple of times a week, Wally might have gone weeks without seeing another living soul.
Trace had been the first to find out that he’d passed away. When Trace hadn’t seen him puttering around his yard for a couple of days or out with his grumpy mutt, Grunt, he’d stopped by to check and found him dead in his easy chair with the Game Show Network still on, Grunt whining at his feet.
Apparently his granddaughter had been too busy to come visit him but she hadn’t blinked at moving in and taking over his house. It would serve her right if he dropped Grunt off for her. Lord knew he didn’t need a grouchy, grieving, hideously ugly dog underfoot.
“That her kid?” he asked Donna.
She cast a quick look toward the booth where the girl was still engrossed in whatever she was reading. “Yeah. Fancy French name. Gabrielle. I told Becca the girl could spend an hour or so here before school starts, long as she behaves. This is her second morning here and she hasn’t looked up from her book, not even to say thank-you when I fixed her a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream, on the house.”
She seemed to take that as a personal affront and he had to smile. “Kids these days.”
Donna narrowed her gaze at his cheek. “I’m just saying. Something’s not right there.”
“Order up,” Lou called. “Chief’s omelet’s ready.”
Donna headed back to the window and grabbed his breakfast and slid it expertly onto the counter. “You know where to find the salt and pepper and the salsa. But of course you won’t need anything extra.”
She headed off to take care of another customer and he dug into his breakfast. In the mirror above the counter, he had a perfect view of the new waitress as she scrambled around the diner. In the time it took him to finish his breakfast, he saw her mess up two orders and pour regular instead of decaf in old Bob Whitley’s cup despite his doctor’s orders that he had to ease up on the real stuff.
Oddly, she seemed to be going out of her way to avoid even making eye contact with him, though he thought he did intercept a few furtive glances in his direction. He ought to introduce himself. It was the polite thing to do, not to mention that he liked to make sure new arrivals to his town knew the police chief was keeping an eye out. But he wasn’t necessarily inclined to be friendly to someone who could let a relative die a lonely death with only his farty, bad-tempered dog for company.
Fate took the decision out of his hands a moment later when the waitress fumbled the tray she was using to bus the table just adjacent to him. A couple of juice glasses slid off the edge and shattered on the floor.
“Oh, drat,” the waitress exclaimed under her breath. The wimpy swear word almost made him smile. Only because he was so damn tired, he told himself.
On impulse, he unfolded himself from the barstool. “Need a hand?” he asked.
“Thank you! I…” She lifted her gaze from the floor to his jeans and then raised her eyes. When she identified him her hazel eyes turned from grateful to unfriendly and cold, as if he’d somehow thrown the glasses at her head.
He also thought he saw a glimmer of panic in those interesting depths, which instantly stirred his curiosity like cream swirling through coffee.
“I’ve got it, Officer. Thank you.” Her voice was several degrees colder than the whirl of sleet outside the windows.
Despite her protests, he knelt down beside her and began to pick up shards of broken glass. “No problem. Those trays can be slippery.”
This close, he picked up the scent of her, something fresh and flowery that made him think of a mountain meadow on a July afternoon. She had a soft, lush mouth and for one brief, insane moment, he wanted to push aside that stray lock of hair slipping from her ponytail and taste her. Apparently he needed to spend a lot less time working and a great deal more time recreating with the opposite sex if he could have sudden random fantasies about a woman he wasn’t even inclined to like, pretty or not.
“I’m Trace Bowman. You must be new in town.”
She didn’t answer immediately and he could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Why the hesitancy? And why that little hint of unease he could see clouding the edges of her gaze? His presence was obviously making her uncomfortable and Trace couldn’t help wondering why.
“Yes. We’ve been here a few weeks,” she finally answered.
“I understand your grandfather was Wally Taylor.”
“Apparently.” She spoke in a voice as terse and cool as the freezing rain.
“Old Wally was an interesting guy. Kept to himself, mostly, but I liked him. You could always count on Wally not to pull any punches. If he had an opinion about something, you found out about it.”
“I wouldn’t know.” She avoided his gaze, her voice low. He angled his head, wondering if he imagined sudden sadness in her eyes. What was the story here? He thought he remembered hearing years ago that Wally had been estranged from his only son. If that was the case, Trace supposed it wasn’t really fair to blame the son’s daughter for not maintaining a relationship with the old codger.
Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to judge the woman until he knew her side of things. Until he had reason to think otherwise, he should be as friendly to her as he would be to anyone else new in his town.
“Well, I’m just up the road about four lots, in the white house with the cedar shake roof, if you or your daughter need help with anything.”
She flashed a quick look toward the girl, still engrossed in her book. “Thank you. Very neighborly of you, Chief. I’ll keep that in mind. And thank you for your help with my mess. Eventually I hope to stop feeling like an idiot here.”
“You’re welcome.” He smiled as he picked up the last shard of glass and set it on her tray.
She didn’t return his smile but he wanted to think she had lost a little of her wariness as she hurried away to take care of her tray and pick up another order from Lou at the grill window.
Definitely a story there. He just might need to dig a little into her background to find out why someone with fine clothes and nice jewelry who so obviously didn’t have experience as a waitress would be here slinging hash at The Gulch. Was she running away from someone? A bad marriage? An abusive husband?
Now that the holidays were in full swing, the uptick in domestic-disturbance calls made that sort of thing a logical possibility. He didn’t like to think about it. That young girl looked too bright and innocent to have to face such ugliness in her life. So did the mother, for that matter.
Rebecca Parsons. Becca. Not Becky. An intriguing woman. It had been a long time since one of those had crossed his path here in Pine Gulch.
He sipped at his juice and watched her deliver the plate of eggs and bacon to Jolene Marlow. A moment later she was back at the window, telling Lou apologetically that the customer had asked for sausage and she hadn’t written it down.
“She ever done this before?” Trace asked Donna with a jerk of his head toward Becca, as the other woman passed by on her way to refill another customer’s cup.
Donna sighed. “I don’t think so. I’m sure she’ll pick up on it a little better any minute now.” She frowned at him. “Don’t you be giving her a hard time, pullin’ your ‘I’m just looking out for my town’ routine. I get the feeling she’s had a rough go of things lately.”
“What makes you think?”
Donna cast a look to make sure Becca and the girl were both out of earshot before she lowered her voice. “She came in here three days ago practically begging for a job. Said she just needed something to tide her over for a few weeks and asked if she could work over the holidays for us. Smart girl knew to hit Lou up for the job instead of me. She must have seen he was the softy around here.”
Trace decided he would be wise to keep his mouth shut about his opinions on that particular topic. Donna probably didn’t need reminding about all the free meals she gave out to anyone who looked down on his luck or the vast quantities of food she regularly donated to the senior-citizens center for their weekly luncheons.
“Just be nice to her, okay? You were friendly with Wally, about the only one in town who could say that.”
“He died alone with only that butt-ugly dog for company. Where was this granddaughter?”
Donna patted his shoulder in a comforting sort of way, giving her raspy smoker’s cough. “I know Wally and his boy had a terrible falling-out years ago. You can’t blame the granddaughter for that. If Wally blamed the girl for not visiting him, he never would have left his house to her, don’t you think?”
Donna was right, damn it, as she so often was. He supposed he really would have to be a good neighbor to her and not just give lip service to the phrase.
That particular term made him think about her lips once more, lush and full and very kissable. He gave an inward groan. He really needed to go home and get some sleep if he was going to sit here and fantasize about a woman who might very well be married, for all he knew.
The chief of police. Just what she needed.
Becca hurried from table to table, refilling coffee and water, taking away plates, doing every busywork she could think of so she wouldn’t have to interact with the gorgeous man who passed for the Pine Gulch long arm of the law.
It didn’t seem right somehow. Why couldn’t Trace Bowman be some kind of stereotype of a fat old guy with a paunch and a leering eye and a toothpick sticking out of the corner of his mouth? Instead he was much younger than she might have expected the chief of police to be, perhaps only mid-thirties. With brown hair and those piercing green eyes and a slow heartbreaker of a smile, he was masculine and tough and very, very dangerous, at least to her.
She should not have this little sizzle of awareness pulsing through her every time she risked another look at him. Police. Chief. Did she need any other reason to stay far, far away from Trace Bowman?
With habits ingrained from childhood, she catalogued all she had picked up about him from their brief encounter. He either worked or played hard, judging by the slight red streaks in his eyes, the circles under them and the general air of fatigue that seemed to weigh down his shoulders. Since he was still in uniform and his boots were mud-splattered, she was willing to bet it was the former.
He probably wasn’t married—or at least he didn’t wear a wedding ring. She was voting on single status for Pine Gulch’s finest. If he had a wife, wouldn’t it be logical he’d be going home for a home-cooked breakfast and maybe a quickie after a long night instead of coming into the diner? It was always possible he had a wife who was a professional and too busy to arrange her schedule around her husband’s, but he gave off a definite unmarried vibe.
He didn’t seem particularly inclined to like her. She might have wondered why not if he hadn’t made that comment about being her grandfather’s neighbor. He apparently thought she should have visited more. She wanted to tell him how impossible that would have been since she’d never even heard of Wally Taylor until she received the notification of his death and his shocking bequest, right when her own life in Arizona had been imploding around her.
A customer asked her a question about the breakfast special, distracting her from thoughts of the police chief, and she forced herself to smile politely and answer as best she could. As she did she was aware of Trace Bowman standing up from the counter and tossing a few bills next to his plate, then shoving his hat on and heading out into the cold drizzle.
The minute he left, she took her first deep breath since she’d looked up and seen the uniform walking into The Gulch.
The man didn’t particularly like her and she had the vague sense that he was suspicious of her. Again, not what she needed right now.
She hadn’t done anything wrong, she reminded herself. Not really. Oh, maybe she hadn’t been completely honest with the school district about Gabi’s identity but she hadn’t had any other choice, had she?
Even knowing she had no reason to be nervous, law enforcement personnel still freaked her out. Old, old habit. Savvy civil servants ranked just about last on her mother’s list of desirable associates. Becca would be wise to follow her mother’s example and stay as far away from Trace Bowman as possible.
Too bad for her, he lived not far from her grandfather’s house.
She glanced at her watch—one of the few pieces of jewelry she hadn’t pawned—and winced. Once again, time was slipping away. She felt as if she’d been on her feet for days when it had been only an hour and a half.
She rushed over to Gabrielle, engrossed in reading To Kill a Mockingbird, a book Becca would have thought was entirely too mature for her except she’d read it herself at around that age.
“It’s almost eight. You probably need to head over to the school.”
Her half sister looked up, her eyes slightly unfocused, then released a heavy sigh and closed her book. “For the record, I still don’t think it’s fair.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. You hate it here and think the school is lame and well below your capabilities.”
“It’s a complete waste of my time. I can learn better on my own, just like I’ve always done.”
Gabi was eerily smart for her age. Becca had no idea how she’d managed so well all these years when her education seemed to have been haphazard at best. “You’ve done a great job in school so far, honey. You’re ahead of grade level in every subject. But for now school is our best option. This way you can make friends and participate in things like music and art. Plus, you don’t have to be by yourself—and I don’t have to pay a sitter—while I’m working.”
They had been through this discussion before. Her arguments still didn’t seem to convince Gabi.
“I can find her, you know.”
She gave a careful look around to make sure they weren’t being overheard. “And then what? If she’d wanted you with her, she wouldn’t have left you with me.”
“She was going to come back. How is she supposed to find us now, when you moved us clear across the country?”
Moving from Arizona to eastern Idaho wasn’t exactly across the country, but she imagined it seemed far enough to a nine-year-old. She also wasn’t sure what other choice she’d been given because of the hand Monica had dealt her.
“Look, Gab, we don’t have time to talk about this right now. You have to head to school and I have to return to my customers. I told you that if we haven’t heard from her by the time the holidays are over, we’ll try to track her down, right?”
“That’s what you said.”
The girl didn’t need to finish the sentence for Becca to clearly understand. Gabrielle had spent nine years full of disappointments and empty promises. How could Becca blame her for being slow to trust that her sister, at least, meant what she said?
“We’re doing okay, aren’t we? School’s not so bad, right?”
Gabi slid out of the booth. “Sure. It’s perfect if you want me to be bored to death.”
“Just hide your book inside your textbook,” Becca advised. It had always worked for her, anyway, during her own slapdash education.
With a put-upon sigh, Gabi stashed her book into her backpack, slipped into her coat and then trudged out into the rain, lifting the flowered umbrella Becca had given her.
She would have liked to drive her sister the two blocks to school but she didn’t feel she could ask for fifteen minutes off during the busiest time of the morning, especially when the Archuletas had basically done her a huge favor to hire her in the first place.
As she bused a table by the front window, she kept an eye on her sister. Between the umbrella and the red boots, the girl made a bright and incongruously cheerful sight in the gray muck.
She had no idea what she was doing with Gabi. Two months after she’d first learned she had a sister after a dozen years of estrangement from her mother, she wasn’t any closer to figuring out the girl. She was brash and bossy sometimes, introspective and moody at others. Instead of feeling hurt and betrayed after Monica had dumped her on Becca, the girl refused to give up hope that her mother would come back.
Becca was angry enough at Monica for both of them.
Two months ago she’d thought she had her life completely figured out. She owned her own town house in Scottsdale. She had a job she loved as a real-estate attorney, she had a wide circle of friends, she’d been dating another attorney for several months and thought they were heading toward a commitment. Through hard work and sacrifice, she had carved her own niche in life, with all the safety and security she had craved so desperately when she was Gabi’s age, being yanked hither and yon with a capricious, irresponsible con artist for a mother.
Then came that fateful September day when Monica had tumbled back into her life after a decade, like a noxious weed blown across the desert.
“Order up,” Lou called from the kitchen. She jerked away from the window to the reality of her life now. No money, her career in tatters, just an inch or two away from being disbarred. The man she’d been dating had decided her personal troubles were too much of a liability to his own career and had dumped her without a backward glance, she had been forced to sell her town house to clean up Monica’s mess, and now she was stuck in a sleepy little town in southeastern Idaho, saddled with responsibilities she didn’t want and a nine-year-old girl who wanted to be anywhere else but here.
Any minute now, somebody was probably going to write a crappy country music song about her life.
To make matters even more enjoyable, now she’d raised the hackles of the local law enforcement. She sighed as she picked up the specials from Lou. Her life couldn’t get much worse, right?
Even if Trace Bowman was the most gorgeous man she’d seen in a long, long time, she was going to have to do her best to keep a polite distance from the man. For now, she and Gabi had a place to live and the tips and small paycheck she was earning from this job would be enough to cover the groceries and keep the electricity turned on.
They were hanging by a thread and Chief Bowman seemed just the sort to come along with a big old pair of scissors and snip that right in half.
Did this little taste of romance leave you hungry for more? Buy ‘Christmas in Cold Creek’ online or in-store at Kmart!
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