Small Town Christmasby Gail Gaymer Martin
When seven-year-old twins act up in temporary teacher Amy Carroll's class, she meets their very apologetic widowed father, Mike Russet. The handsome man has his hands full—but can two mini matchmakers and holiday cheer open his heart to Christmas romance?
Her Christmas Cowboyby Brenda Minton
After being jilted a week before her wedding, Elizabeth Harden attends a bull-riding event for her dad, where she tries—unsuccessfully—to avoid bull fighter Travis Cooper, a too-handsome heartbreaker. But could her first impression of Travis be mistaken? A Christmas wedding just might be in her future, after all....
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Multi-award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin wrote over 50 Christian novels. She has received a Carol and Romantic Times Reviewer Choice Award. Her novel THE CHRISTMAS KITE was optioned for a Hallmark movie. Gail authored Writers Digest’s WRITING THE CHRISTIAN ROMANCE and is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers. CBS local news named her one of the four best novelists. A masters degree, Gail is a counselor and worked as a university instructor. She lives in MI
Brenda Minton lives in the Ozarks with her husband and three children. Life is chaotic but she enjoys every minute of it with her family and a few too many dogs. When not writing she's drinking coffee, talking to friends, or hanging out at the river with her family and extended family. visit her online at www.brendaminton.net
"You do understand that this is only temporary?"
Amy Carroll jerked her eyes away from the fall scene outside the window and gazed at the Alcona Elementary School principal. "Yes, I understand, Mrs. Fredericks. My grandmother told me the situation when she called." Grams seemed to know everything in the small town. "Temporary is fine. I lived in Chicago for five years, and I would miss the hustle and bustle being gone too long. I'd love to be called back, but I don't expect it to happen."
"Don't give up hope. You might be."
The finality washed over her. "They've closed a number of schools in the Chicago area, including the one where I taught. My only option would be finding a position somewhere outside the city."
Mrs. Fredericks smacked her hands together. "Whatever happens, this works well for us. You have excellent credentials, and I'm pleased you'll be joining our staff on Monday to finish out the school year." She closed the file folder, slipped it into her desk tray and rolled back in her chair. "Welcome to Alcona Elementary." She rose and extended her hand. "The secretary will give you what you need—a school calendar, your textbooks and a lesson planning guide. You've taught second grade before, so it's perfect."
Amy stood and grasped her hand. "It is, and thanks so much." She gave a firm shake and stepped toward the door. "I look forward to—"
"Mrs. Fredericks." The office secretary leaned into the room. "Mr. Russet—you know, the twins' father—is waiting to see you."
"The twins. Yes." A heavy sigh whisked the air as the principal's shoulders slumped. "You can…" She paused and eyed Amy. "Ask him to wait just a moment."
Amy took another step toward the door, anxious to retreat.
"Please wait a moment, Miss Carroll."
Amy jerked to a halt.
"The twins will be in your class next week."
"Really?" Amy tried to keep a smile on her face.
Mrs. Fredericks nodded. "It might help you to meet the girls. They have a propensity for getting into trouble. Earlier this week, Holly tripped Ivy while she was jumping rope."
Amy struggled to keep her eyebrows from arching. "Is this common?"
"I'm afraid so. It's their typical behavior, and as always, Holly insisted it was only an accident."
"Could it have been?" She liked to give children the benefit of the doubt in such situations.
"Not usually, but I think sometimes Ivy sets up the situation. Almost feeds Holly the ideas. Their teacher hasn't put her finger on the trouble. Maybe you can."
Maybe you can. Amy managed to keep her composure. The pressure didn't set well, although the comment appeared to be a compliment. But what if she failed?
"I'd like you to meet them. They're right across the hall in the cafeteria. It might help you prepare for Monday."
A niggling sense of worry settled over Amy. "I suppose that would be…practical."
"Plus you can keep an eye on them while I talk with their father." Mrs. Fredericks chuckled and motioned her to follow. "Let me introduce you."
Amy followed Mrs. Fredericks through the doorway. Across the hall, she spotted the girls seated on each side of the cafeteria benches, cuter and sweeter looking than her perception. Although not identical twins, their features were similar. Their bright blue eyes, like the Caribbean sea, widened when they saw the principal.
The child with a tawny-colored ponytail swung her legs over the bench. "It wasn't me, Mrs. Fredericks."
"Yes, it was." The blonder twin slipped from her seat, her hair gathered into a ponytail on each side of her head. "Mrs. Fredericks, Holly tore up my drawing in art class."
"I know. Please sit for a moment." Holly gestured to the benches. "I want you to meet someone."
Their heads turned and they scrutinized Amy before eyeing each other, a hint of fear quickly covered by determination.
Amy's heart squeezed.
"Miss Carroll, this young lady is Holly." She rested her hand on the one with honey-brown hair and the deep frown. "And this is Ivy."
Ivy gazed at her, curiosity written on her face.
Amy stepped closer. "Hi. It's nice to meet you."
Mrs. Fredericks eyed them. "Miss Carroll will be your new teacher, starting Monday."
"New teacher?" Holly's ponytail flipped as she swiveled toward Amy.
"Remember?" Mrs. Fredericks leaned forward, resting her palms on the table. "Mrs. Larch is expecting a baby soon, so she's taking a leave."
Their intent expression flickered as their glances collided. "She told us." Their responses blended in agreement.
"Good. Now I'll leave you with Miss Carroll, and you can have a nice talk." She turned to Amy. "I'll be back shortly." Mrs. Fredericks offered a pleasant grin, then strode toward the door. Before she exited she glanced over her shoulder. "When I return, I'll introduce you to the girls' father. I'm sure you'd like that."
"Our dad?" two voices rang in unison.
Amy wasn't so sure she was ready to meet her first parent quite yet, but she clenched her teeth and agreed. When she looked at the twins, they were peering at her again, Holly with her arms crossed at her chest and Ivy with one fist jammed into her waist.
Amy pulled her gaze upward, reading the signs written in large black letters that hung above the tables. Citizenship. Responsibility. Apparently, the twins hadn't read them. She bit the inside of her lip. Every year she'd met children and their parents, but today the meeting seemed more like confrontation.
"Why are you here?"
Holly's blunt question grabbed Amy's attention. She held back a grin. That's the question she'd planned to ask them. Instead she slipped around the end of the bench and sat at the table. Both girls scrutinized her before they settled down again, their query still hanging on the air.
"I came to pick up the textbooks used in your class," she answered simply. Getting to know the two girls better seemed more important than showing her authority. Still, behind those sweet faces, Amy sensed that some kind of unhappiness or hurt was dredging up their troublesome behavior. She looked from one girl to the other. "I think the more important question is what are you doing here?" She swung her arm toward the cafeteria serving counter.
"Mrs. Fredericks made us sit here."
"Hmm?" Amy tapped her finger against her cheek. "I wonder why? It's not lunch time."
Ivy bit her lip. "Kids who misbehave have to sit in here and wait."
Holly's frown deepened. "I didn't do anything bad."
Ivy rested her palms on the table, pressing her face closer to Holly's, her look searing through her sister. "You tore up my drawing."
"But you said it wasn't any good."
Ivy fell back to her seat. "If I wanted to tear it up, I would have done it."
"That's right, Ivy." Amy focused on Holly, monitoring her tone. "When something belongs to me, I make decisions about what to do with it. No one else."
Holly turned her head toward the doorway and tightened her ponytail.
Amy didn't respond to the child's behavior. "What kind of pictures were you drawing?"
Holly's head tilted back, as if she wasn't sure Amy really cared.
Hoping to soothe the tension, Amy grinned. "I'd like to hear about what you do in the classroom because I'll be your new teacher on Monday."
Holly's shoulders relaxed. "We were drawing pictures of pilgrims and Indians for our social studies."
"Because it's almost Thanksgiving, right?" Amy gave them a wink.
"Uh-huh, and…" A movement by the door caught her attention.
"Daddy!" Both girls shot from the benches and ran to a harried-looking man who stood inside the doorway, his hands tucked in his jacket pockets.
Amy's heart gave a twinge. A five o'clock shadow encompassed his lean jaw and his chestnut hair was tousled as if he'd run his fingers through it many times. His eyebrows stretched above his caramel brown eyes, flashing with emotion. She couldn't tell if he were ready to blow a gasket or just fizzle.
Her question was answered when he released a nervous laugh and rocked on his heels. "You must be Miss Carroll, the new teacher." He strode toward her. "I'm the girls' father." He wiped his hand on his pant leg before extending it to Amy.
Amy met him halfway while the twins hovered at his side. She dropped her palm into his, aware of his warm grip.
"Nice to meet you." His frustration couldn't hide behind his pleasant expression.
"Good to meet you, too, Mr. Russet."
Behind him Mrs. Fredericks watched the scene with seeming interest. "I'll leave you now. And I'll see you on Monday, Miss Carroll." She gave her a wave and vanished.
When she looked back, Amy saw the girls cringe, and her skin prickled. "Your daughters were telling me about their social studies."
"Social studies? Really?" A grin played on his lips before his gaze dropped to the twins. "You know, girls, we have some serious talking to do."
The twins lowered their eyes, but in them, she saw consternation. Maybe remorse. Whatever it was, the look caught her attention.
When she looked up, their father was studying her with curiosity. "I'm sure we've met." Amy drew back. "Met? Where?"
"At your grandmother's. Years ago." She did a double take. "My grandmother's?" A crooked smile curved his mouth. "Ellie Carroll. Lake Street. Right?"
"Yes, that's it." But Amy's memory drew a blank. "We live on...
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