Home for the holidays
An Unexpected Gift
Eve Pickering knows what it's like to be judged for your
past. So she's not about to leave the orphaned boy she's
befriended alone in this unfamiliar Texas town. Since Chance
Dawson's offer of shelter is the only way to look after Leo,
Eve is determined they'll have a warm, welcoming home for
Chance came from the big city to make it on his own
despite a painful secret. But Eve's strength is giving him a
confidence he never expected—and a new direction for
his dream. With a little Christmas blessing, he'll dare to
win her heart—and make their family one for a
Turnabout Texas November 1895
"Stop! You can't do this."
Eve's protests fell on deaf ears as the train conductor
continued to forcibly escort her young friend off the train
without so much as a backward glance. She trotted to keep
up with the long–legged official as he moved toward
the exit, his fist firmly clutching Leo's collar.
"Please be careful," she called out as she saw Leo
stumble. "He's just a boy, don't hurt him."
But the conductor still didn't slow down. Did the man
have no feelings?
As soon as they were on the platform, Eve scooted around
to face him, determined to halt his progress and make him
listen to her.
"Mr. McIvers, you can't mean to just toss him from the
train and leave him here." She tried to infuse her voice
with as much authority and confidence as possible but was
afraid there was a touch of pleading there as well. How had
she not realized before now that Leo was a stowaway?
She risked a glance Leo's way. The trapped, desperate
look that had crossed the boy's face when the conductor
pounced on him a moment ago was still there. It was enough
to break her heart – no child should look so haunted.
"And what do you suggest I do with him?" The conductor,
a beanpole of a man with bushy sideburns and an officious
manner, looked down his nose at her as if she were no older
than the ten–year–old in his grip.
She was used to such treatment. Even though she was a
grown woman of twenty, with her slight build and barely five
foot two height with her hair up, folks often dismissed her
as a child. But Eve drew herself up to her full height and
tried to match his stern expression. "I'm certain there's
been some kind of misunderstanding. If you'll just allow
Leo to explain––"
Leo tried to shake himself free of the conductor's grasp,
but the man just tightened his hold. "The time to explain
has come and gone," the man said sternly. "He's a stowaway,
pure and simple. And he rides no further on my train."
This situation was partly her fault. She should have
guessed something was amiss when she first spotted the boy
under the seat in front of her, should have taken the time
to figure out how to help him before it came to this. But
she'd been so wrapped up in her own worries, so plagued by
concerns of what the new life she was heading toward might
be like, that she'd missed the signs. So instead, she'd
merely assumed he was retrieving something that had fallen.
When she'd invited him to sit next to her and share her
apple, it had been as much to distract herself from her own
forebodings as to be kind to her new acquaintance. He'd
fallen asleep with his head leaning against her and her
heart had softened further toward him. But she'd become
concerned about him being separated from his party and had
quietly asked the conductor to let them know where the boy
was. That was when the man had realized he had a stowaway
Pulling her thoughts back to the present, Eve spread her
hands, trying once more to appeal to the stern conductor's
sympathies. "He's just a boy. What will become of him if
you leave him here?"
But the man refused to unbend. "Miss Pickering, I'm sure
your concern does you credit, but don't let his age fool
you. I've met his kind before and they'll smile innocently
to your face while they pick your pocket. I imagine a
scalawag like him will get on just fine, or end up in jail
Eve planted her fists on her hips. "You can't treat a
child like a stray dog and just dump him at your first
opportunity without anyone to look out for him."
She glanced around, looking for help of some sort, and
her gaze snagged on that of a gentleman standing across the
platform. Her eyes widened as she realized he was watching
her. There was a note of curiosity and sympathy in his
smoky blue eyes. And something else, something warm and
compelling that made it impossible for her to look away,
that made her certain she could trust him with her problems.
An older couple dressed for travel crossed between them,
breaking the connection, and Eve abruptly came to her
senses. She lifted her chin and turned back to Mr. McIvers.
What in the world was she thinking? Such fanciful notions
lead to nothing but trouble. And asking a strange gentleman
for assistance was not something a proper young lady did
unless the circumstances were indeed dire.
Still feeling the impact of those eyes, she did her best
to push that aside and deal with the more important issue at
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