Mood for what?
Cold nights with a good sexy romance book, chocolates, glowing fireplaces, and oh, yes, hunky cowboys! So with the spirit of Christmas, let's make this launch party a holiday affair. Egg nog in the punch bowl, those tasty little Martha Washington Candies and fancy finger foods galore and Raylen coming through the door to visit with us all. Pick up a bib to catch the drool, ladies.
Liz has visited her Uncle Haskell's place twice in her life and both times she was enamored with the cowboy on the next ranch, Raylen O'Donnell. Of course, as handsome as he was, there's no doubt some woman has snagged him and he's probably got two or three kids to boot over there at the horse ranch next door.
She's grown up in a traveling carnival and from the time she could remember all she ever wanted for Christmas was a house with no wheels. When she was a teenager she did add a sexy cowboy of her very own to the list. Now her Uncle Haskell has left her twenty acres, a house on a foundation but the cowboy part she'll have to take care of on her own. And then Raylen shows up and guess what, folks, he's not married.
Would you look at that? Folks are raising their champagne glasses and yelling for an excerpt. Well, 'tis the season...It was just a white frame house at the end of a long lane.
But it did not have wheels.
Liz squinted against the sun sinking in the west and imagined it with multicolored Christmas lights strung all around the porch, the windows, even in the cedar tree off to the left side. In her vision, it was a Griswold house from The National Lampoon's Christmas that lit up the whole state of Texas. She hoped that when she flipped the switch she didn't cause a major blackout because in a few weeks it was going to look like the house on that old movie that she loved.
Now where was the cowboy to complete the package?
Christmas lights on a house without wheels and a cowboy in tight fittin' jeans and in boots...that's what she asked for every year when her mother asked for her Christmas list. She didn't remember the place being so big when she visited her uncle those two times. Once when she was ten and then again when she was fourteen. But both of those times she'd been quite taken with the young cowboy next door and didn't pay much attention to the house itself. The brisk Texas wind whipped around ferociously as if saying that it could send her right back to east Texas if she didn't change her mind about the house.
"I don't think so," she giggled. "I know a thing or two about Texas wind, and it'd take more than a class five tornado to get rid of me. This is what I've wanted all my life, and I think it's the prettiest house in Montague County. It's sittin' on a foundation, and oh, my god, he's left Hooter and Blister for me. Uncle Haskell, I could kiss you!"
The wind pushed its way into the truck, bringing a few fall leaves with it when she opened the door. Aunt Tressa would say that was an omen; the place was welcoming her into its arms. Her mother would say that the wind was blowing her back to the carnival where she belonged.
The old dog, Hooter, slowly came down off the porch, head down, wagging his tail. Blister, the black and white cat, eyed her suspiciously from the ladder-back chair on the tiny porch.
Her high heels sunk into the soft earth, leaving holes as she rushed aross the yard toward the dog. She squatted down, hugged the big yellow mutt, and scratched his ears.
"You beautiful old boy. You are the icing on the cake. Now I've got animals and a house. This is a damn fine night."
The key was under the chair, tucked away in a faded ceramic frog, just where her Uncle Haskell said it would be when she talked to him earlier that afternoon. But he hadn't mentioned leaving the two animals. She'd thank him for that surprise when she called him later on.
She opened the wooden screen door and was about to put the key in the lock when the door swung open. And there he was! Raylen O'Donnell, all grown up and even sexier than she remembered. Her heart thumped so hard she could feel it pushing against her bra. Her hands were shaky and her knees weak, but she took a deep breath, willed her hands to be still, and locked her knees in place.
"If it's religion you're sellin' or anything else, we're not interested," Raylen said in a deep Texas drawl. He'd been pouring a glass of tea in the kitchen when he heard a noise. Hooter hadn't barked, so he figured it was just the wind, but when he opened the door he'd been more shocked than the woman standing there with wide eyes and a spooked expression.
She wore skin-tight black jeans that looked like they'd been spray painted on her slim frame. Without those spike heels she would've barely come to his shoulder, and Raylen was the shortest of the O'Donnell men, tipping the chart at five feet ten inches.
Her jet-black hair had been twisted up and clipped, but strands had escaped the shiny silver clasp and found their way to her shoulder. Her eyes were so dark brown that they looked ebony.
"Raylen?" she said.
Her voice was husky, with a touch of gravel, adding to her exotic looks. It made Raylen think of rye whiskey with a teaspoon of honey and a twist of lemon. He'd heard that voice before. It had been branded on his brain for eleven years, but she couldn't be Haskell's niece. Liz wasn't supposed to be there until the first of the week at the earliest.
"That's right. Who are you?" he asked cautiously.
"I happen to own this place," she said with a flick of her hand.
"Liz?" Raylen started at her toes and let his gaze travel slowly all the way to her eyebrows. She'd been a pretty teenager, but now she was a stunning woman.
"Surprise! I guess this chunk of Texas dirt now belongs to me. What are you doing here?" she asked.
Can a belly dancing, fortune telling carnie really give up her wings and grow roots? Would the very cowboy of her dreams be worth it?
And now for an O'Donnell Irish blessing for the holiday season:
God grant you lightness in your step, a smile on every face you meet, Loved ones gathered at your hearth, and at your door, good friends to greet. A holy hymn upon your lips, a window candle burning bright, And may the Good Lord bless your Heart and come to dwell there Christmas night. And may you find a copy of Darn Good Cowboy Christmas in your stocking of green and red.
Okay, okay! I slipped that last part into the blessing but I do hope lots of lists have Darn Good Cowboy Christmas right up there at the top! It's never too early to make your Christmas list: so what are you asking for this year?