A Bramble House Christmas (Carrigans of the Circle C Book 6)

By: CJ Carmichael


Dedication


With love to my life partner, Mike Fitzpatrick, who, this Christmas, will also become my husband.





Chapter One




Willa Fairchild hadn’t counted on driving through a blizzard on her first night in Montana, but given the way her life had gone the past two-and-a-half years, maybe she should have.

“Are we almost there?”

Her six-year-old son’s eyes looked huge reflected in the rearview mirror. Scout, strapped into a booster seat in the back of the rented Ford Escape, obviously found the big storm intimidating, too.

“Fifteen more minutes. I think.” Quickly she returned her focus to the road, her shoulders tight, her eyes straining. It was dark and snowy and she had to fight the wind to keep a steady path.

Traveling from Arizona to Montana for Christmas hadn’t been Willa’s idea. But a very special patient who’d recently passed away had gifted her a three-week stay at Bramble House B&B in Marietta, Montana. And when she’d mentioned the idea to Scout, he’d been excited to travel somewhere new and have a white Christmas for a change.

They were both open to fresh experiences these days, now that Scout had finally—thank you, God—been declared cancer-free.

A gust of wind rattled the car as a semi-truck blasted by her, sending up a cloud of snow as well. For two full seconds she was completely blind. And then she spotted the yellow dotted line again.

Whew.

Their flight from Phoenix to Bozeman had been smooth enough. They were in the rental car line-up when the snow started. By the time they were on the highway, the wind had begun to howl.

Just her luck.

The windshield wipers flapped against the steady onslaught of snow, yet despite the terrible road conditions, Willa knew she was driving too slowly. A steady stream of vehicles had been passing her since she’d merged onto the interstate. But she’d never driven in a snowstorm before and didn’t have the nerve to go faster.

She hunched over the steering wheel, her head aching with tension as another semi overtook her, spewing clouds of snow over her car, causing the Escape—and her—to shudder again.

Thwap, thwap. Seconds later she could see again, and her panic subsided. Blurry fluorescent white letters on a green background appeared like a beacon on the right hand side of the highway. “Marietta 8.”

Thank God.

Scout had seen the sign, too. “Only eight more miles, Mom.”

“Yup. We’ll be there before you know it.” Willa was a master at sounding optimistic and cheerful when she felt the exact opposite.

It was a necessary skill to acquire when your son was diagnosed with acute lymphoid leukemia at the age of three-and-a-half years.

Willa snatched another glance at the rearview mirror, this time to check if another vehicle was about to pass. But all she saw was the same pair of large headlights that had been traveling behind her since she’d left the airport. Another chicken driver, like her, who was terrified of the snow, ice and wind?

At least the driver had the good sense to keep a large buffer between them. Willa didn’t think she could handle a tailgater tonight.

Another green sign loomed ahead—this one signaling the right hand exit, which would lead them to Marietta. A moment after Willa turned on her indicator light, the vehicle behind her did the same.

It was an interesting coincidence, but one Willa forgot all about as she focused on slowing cautiously, taking the turn safely, then gradually easing back to her cruising speed of forty-five miles an hour.

Thank God they were almost at Marietta, because if anything, the snow seemed to be coming down harder now. Gobs of it were collecting at the base of the wipers. She ought to stop and clear it off—but she could hardly see the lane she was driving in now, let alone the shoulder. It seemed safer to continue with reduced visibility than risk a stop.

Before long they came to the one-mile marker.

Willa could sense her son’s anticipation as he leaned forward in his booster seat until his head was almost in line with hers.

“Remember Mom,” Scout cautioned. “Don’t tell anyone about the cancer.”

Her son was tired of being “the boy with leukemia,” the kid other boys and girls were scared to play with in case they gave him germs, or hurt him in some other, incalculable way.

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