Everyone's getting ready for Christmas in Icicle Falls, especially on Candy Cane Lane, where holiday decorating is taken very seriously. Tilda Morrison, town cop, is looking forward to celebrating Christmas in her first house…until she discovers that she's expected to "keep up" with the neighbors, including Maddy Donaldson, the inspiration behind the whole extravaganza. But this year, someone's destroying Maddie's precious candy canes! Thank goodness for the cop in their neighborhood.
Tilda already has her hands full trying to sort out her love life and fix up her fixer-upper. Oh, and won't it be fun to have the family over for Christmas dinner? Not really… Then there's her neighbor, Ivy Bohn. As a newly single mom, Ivy can sum up the holiday in two words: Bah, humbug. But she's determined to give her kids a perfect Christmas.
Despite family disasters, irritating ex-husbands and kitchen catastrophes, these three women are going to find out that Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year!
“Here’s an accident waiting to happen,” Tilda Morrison said grimly. Just what nobody wanted on the day before Thanksgiving.
“Not if we get to her in time,” said her partner, Jamal Lincoln.
“Why us?” Tilda grumbled to Cherie, the dispatcher. “This is a job for animal control.”
“Chief said you’d say that,” Cherie told her. “He also said to tell you that today it’s a job for you and to bring a rope and get to work before somebody ends up hurt.”
“I don’t believe this,” Tilda muttered as Jamal turned on the look-out-here-come-the-cops lights and shot their patrol car out of town toward the highway.
“We’re in Icicle Falls. Believe it,” Jamal said. “You still got that rope in the trunk?”
“Yes. It’s there from the last time.” Tilda frowned. “You know, this really isn’t the job of the Icicle Falls Police Force. I don’t care if Stumpy Hodgkins is best buds with the chief.”
“You gonna tell that to the chief?”
“Yeah, I am. As soon as we get back to the station.”
Jamal grinned. “That’s what I love about you, partner. You’re fearless. You should’ve been a man. I swear you’ve got more balls than most guys.” “Thanks. I think.”
Tilda knew she was a tough cookie, and she liked being tough. She liked being a modern woman, able to stand up for herself and hold her own against any man. But she also had a feminine side and, secretly, she fantasized about some man tougher than her, pushing her up against a wall and having at it.
She’d thought she’d found that man, but it hadn’t worked out. He’d never bothered to look beneath her tough exterior and check out her sweet, soft side. Instead, he’d fallen for the kind of woman Tilda thought of as a cream puff. Maybe that was what all men really wanted, someone as sweet as honey and as elastic and bendable as warm taffy. Tilda wasn’t a bending kind of woman. Sadly, there were very few men who appreciated that.
Jamal did, but he was her partner. Then there was Devon Black, town bad boy, the king of speeding tickets and barroom brawls, who thought he was God’s gift to women. In fact, he thought he was God’s gift to her. Christmas might have been just a month away, but she had no intention of unwrapping Devon Black.
She frowned, thinking of their last encounter. “What the hell?” he’d said angrily when she’d pulled him over a week ago for a broken taillight. “I wasn’t speeding.”
“No, you have a taillight out.”
Instead of showing some respect and thanking her for letting him know, he’d flashed her a cocky grin and said, “You’re looking for excuses to see me.” As if she had nothing better to do that chase after wolves dressed in blue jeans.
If I wanted to see you, I could just wait till the next bar fight,” she retorted. It was how she’d met him when he moved to town. Trouble followed Devon around like a lost puppy. “Now, do you want me to let you off with a warning or do you want to keep flapping that big mouth of yours and up the ante?”
That had shut him up—until she gave him his warning and turned to leave. “I’m working the bar at The Man Cave. Come on by after you get off work and I’ll give you a beer on the house.” As if he owned the place. It was his brother’s. He just filled in on weekends.
“In your dreams,” she’d called back over her shoulder.
“And yours, too, I’ll bet. I can show you some new uses for those handcuffs.”
“Oh, there’s an original line,” she’d muttered. Fifty Shades of Devon Black. No way, even if he was ridiculously gorgeous. So was a hot-fudge sundae, but look what it did to your butt.
“There’s Stumpy,” Jamal said, bringing her back to the present.
Sure enough, the short, old guy was hobbling as fast as he could down the side of the snowbanked road in his jeans and cowboy boots and leather bomber jacket, his hunting cap mashed down over his ears, a lasso dangling from his right hand and Daisy’s halter from his left. And there, half a mile farther up the road, trotted his horse, the escape artist. Loose again. Not a good thing, considering the fact that the old paint was deaf.
“You can turn off the lights now,” Tilda said, and Jamal obliged.
They pulled up beside Stumpy and Tilda lowered the window. “Stumpy, this is the third time this month she’s gotten loose.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. Daisy!” he hollered at the horse. “Dang it all, come back.”
Sometimes Tilda wondered how deaf Daisy really was. Either she was faking it or she was psychic because the darned beast tossed her head as though she was saying, “No way.” Then she started across the road. Oh, great.
An SUV came over the rise and Tilda sucked in her breath. The car skidded to a halt and waited while Daisy stood in the middle of the road, trying to decide what to do. The driver soon tired of waiting and honked. The noise didn’t faze Daisy. She stood there, watching Tilda, Jamal and Stumpy as if wondering what they were doing out here on a cold winter afternoon. Then she strolled back to her own side of the road and continued her journey, probably looking for some other horses to spend Thanksgiving with.
“Give me the rope and get in,” Tilda commanded. With Stumpy safe inside and the rope in hand, they set off in hot pursuit. Well, semihot, not wanting to end up hitting the animal.
“I’d’a gotten her,” Stumpy insisted from the backseat. “I don’t know why Mildred keeps calling you guys.”
“Because she’s seen the way you drive,” Tilda said. They were lucky that Stumpy hadn’t taken the horse trailer. The week before, he’d attempted to rope Daisy from behind the wheel, skidding into Dan Masters’s truck and effectively blocking traffic for a good forty minutes while they sorted things out. Daisy, naturally, had gotten away and wound up at the llama farm.
They’d almost reached the horse. “Stop here,” Tilda told Jamal. “We don’t want to spook her.”
“Everything spooks her,” Stumpy grumbled.
The natural retort would be, “Then why do you keep the dumb critter?” But Tilda didn’t say it. She knew why. Daisy had been their granddaughter Willow’s horse. Willow had died two years earlier from a brain tumor. Stumpy could no more get rid of the horse than he could throw out the pictures of their only granddaughter that filled their living room.
Tilda got out of the car and shut the door as Daisy moved down the road a few paces.
“Go get ’er, cowgirl,” Jamal teased.
“Ha, ha,” Tilda muttered. Jamal was the size of Texas and could take down three men single-handed, but he was a city boy and no use whatsoever in capturing a deaf horse.
Tilda moved away from the patrol car. Daisy, sensing pursuit, trotted a few more feet, then stopped and looked around. Neener, neener, neener. You can’t catch me.
Oh, yes, I can. You may be big but you’ve got a brain the size of an onion. Tilda squatted next to the freshly piled snow on the side of the road and waited. She’d done her share of ropin’ and ridin’. Gone to horse camp at the nearby guest ranch all through high school. She was not going to be outsmarted by a horse.
Daisy tossed her mane and then, to show that she wasn’t even remotely worried about Tilda and her rope, decided to enjoy a little roadside snack, pulling up a mouthful of snow-tipped grass.
Tilda slowly stood and sneaked forward a few feet. Daisy raised her head and Tilda froze. This was like playing Red Light, Green Light when she was a kid. Daisy went back for seconds. Okay, green light. Tilda moved forward again.
Daisy lifted her head and checked to see where Tilda was.
Frozen in place, of course.
The next time the horse went for some grass Tilda moved in, and this time when Daisy lifted her head Tilda swung the rope and…missed.
Daisy shied away and trotted off down the road and Tilda swore.
“You rope about as good as you shoot,” Jamal called from the patrol car.
Tilda gave him the finger and started the whole process again. Horses were such foodies. Tilda could have lured over any other equine simply by shaking a can of oats. Was there such a thing as horse hearing aids? If so, it would sure make catching Daisy a lot easier.
It took two more tries before she got the rope around Daisy’s neck, although the third try wasn’t exactly the charm. Daisy neighed and pulled away, and even though Tilda had planted her feet, the horse still managed to yank her over into the snow. “Oh, no, you don’t,” Tilda growled, struggling back to her feet. “Bring the halter,” she yelled.
Stumpy climbed out, holding it. “We got her now,” he said gleefully.
We. Yeah, right.
Finally Daisy was haltered and rewarded for cooperating with the police with a pat on the neck. “You’d better stop this escape-artist stuff or we’re gonna ship you off to become dog food,” Tilda threatened.
Daisy just tossed her head yet again. She knew Tilda was all talk and no action.
Tilda was equally stern with Stumpy. “You make sure your fence is well mended and you keep that barn door shut,” she told him as she handed over the escapee. “We can’t keep coming out to help you catch her.” She felt bad about being mean to the old guy. He was in his seventies and had arthritis in both hips, and maintaining the house and barn on their five-acre spread was getting to be too much for him. His wife was ready to downsize. Maybe being in trouble with the cops would motivate Stumpy to find a home for Daisy and move someplace smaller.
Stumpy hung his head. “I know, Tilda. You guys have better things to do.”
“In Icicle Falls?” Jamal cracked as they drove off, leaving Stumpy and Daisy to make their own way home. “Right.”
“Hey, you want action? Go to New York or LA,” Tilda said, and turned up the heat. They’d have to swing by her place so she could get some dry pants.
“No, thanks,” he said with a grin. “No horses to chase in LA. Anyway, I’d probably get stuck riding with some clown who farts all the time. Besides, where am I gonna find a lady cop as cool as you?”
That made her smile. “If you’re trying to flatter me…”
He snorted. “Like that would get me anywhere.” He shook his head. “It sucks when the best woman in town also happens to be your partner.”
“Okay, now it’s getting really thick in here.” She had a pretty good face and her body was in mint condition but, sadly, there were too many good-looking women and not enough men in this town. She glanced out the window at the snowy firs and pines. “Sometimes I think I should’ve moved to Seattle.” Except that Icicle Falls was her home and her roots ran too deep. Hmm. Maybe she was root-bound.
Jamal grunted. “You should’ve thought of that before you bought a house. Hey, we still on for Saturday?”
“Yep. When are you coming back from your mom’s?”
“Good. You can help me finish packing.”
“You know, some of us have to fill in for you and work that day. Who takes vacation on Thanksgiving weekend, anyway?”
Somebody who had a lot of vacation days piled up and more seniority than half the guys on the force. Tilda grinned at him and played the world’s smallest violin on her fingers.
“All I gotta say is you better feed me.”
“`Cause you’re a growing boy?”
“Order something from the deli. I don’t wanna get poisoned,” he joked. “Where’d you not learn to cook?”
“From my mom.”
“Come on, your mom owns Pancake Haus. She can’t be that bad a cook.”
“She hires people to do stuff in the kitchen, you dope.” Tilda sighed. “The turkey will probably be dry and we’ll have stuffing out of a box. But I like stuffing out of a box. And Mom’s great with pickles and olives. And at least Aunt Joyce and the cousins will be bringing the candied yams and casseroles.”
“What are you bringing?”
“What do you mean ‘from’?”
“I know you ain’t bakin’ it.”
Busted. Tilda shrugged. “Gingerbread Haus.”
“Yep, you’re gonna make some lucky guy a great husband someday.”
“Oh, ha, ha.”
He shook his head. “Somehow, I just can’t picture you in a house.”
“What I should be living in, a yurt?”
“More like an army barracks.”
“I do have a feminine side, you know.”
“Sure you do.”
She did, and she could hardly wait to get everything all squared away in her new house on Candy Cane Lane. She’d have dried flowers on the dining table and she was going to give that quilted wall hanging her cousin Georgie had made for her a place of honor on the living room wall. The house had three bedrooms, two baths, a big living room with a fireplace and a den, which she was going to turn into a kick-ass party room where her pals from the force could come over and play Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. The kitchen was bigger than the one she’d had in her condo. Once she put in new flooring, it would be great. Lots of room to…heat frozen dinners. Or make cookies. She made a mean chocolate chip cookie. Maybe, with her fancy new kitchen, she’d graduate to cake or pie or something.
Expanding her cooking skills would have to wait, though. The house needed some serious work. It had been a bank repo and the previous owners had done a fair amount of damage. Walls would have to be repainted, gutters replaced and, of course, the kitchen set to rights. And she’d have to replace the carpeting, which was badly stained and a little on the smelly side. Well, okay, a lot. She hoped she could afford to give herself new carpeting for Christmas, at least in the living room and den.
“I don’t know, Tillie girl,” her mom had said when they’d first gone to see the place. “Sure looks like a lot of work. You really want to mess with that?”
“Yes,” Tilda had replied. “It’s in a great neighborhood. It’ll be a good investment.”
“It’ll be a pain in the patootie,” Mom had corrected her.
Yeah, but it would be her pain in the patootie and she was ready for it. For the past five years she’d been envisioning herself in a house with a great guy and a couple of kids and a big, friendly dog. The guy thing hadn’t happened and she’d decided there was no point in waiting around. She was going to get her house and the dog, too. Heck, maybe even a kid. These days you didn’t need a man to have kids. These days, it seemed you didn’t need a man for much of anything.
Tilda wanted one, anyway. There were still some things nobody did better than men, and she was darned tired of being the only one who ever saw the lacy bras and matching thongs she wore under her uniform.
A man with a handsome, swarthy face and an admirable set of pecs suddenly appeared at the back of her mind. Oh, no. Devon Black was not in the running for that cozy life with the house, the kids and the dog. Devon Black did not deserve to see her in her bra and panties. Or out of them.
Someday she’d find the right man. New people moved to Icicle Falls all the time. Maybe Santa would bring her the perfect man for Christmas next year. This year it was a house. And that was enough to ask for. After all, there was only so much the jolly, old guy in red could fit in his sack...
About the Author
Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. She’s happily married and has three children. She’s been writing since 1989, but she did lots of things before settling in to her writing career, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Her band days are over, but she still enjoys writing songs. Sheila's books are best sellers and often appear as Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Her novel "Angel Lane" was named one of Amazon's top ten romances in 2009. Her novel "On Strike for Christmas" was a Lifetime Network movie and her novel "The Nine Lives of Christmas" is now a Hallmark movie, scheduled to air November 8th.
When she’s not speaking to women’s groups or at conferences or hanging out with her girlfriends she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.