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Just a Little Christmas

Just a Little Christmas

by Janet Dailey
Just a Little Christmas

Just a Little Christmas

by Janet Dailey


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A widowed cowboy and a pregnant divorcée unwrap a second chance at love in this holiday romance by a New York Times–bestselling author.

Ellie Marsden couldn’t wait to shake the dust of Branding Iron, Texas, off her heels and chase after bright lights, big city, and a wealthy husband. Now she’s come home, divorced, a little disillusioned, and a whole lot pregnant. Leave it to her one-time high school sweetheart, cattle rancher Jubal McFarland, to point out that citified Ellie is as out of place in small-town Texas as her teacup poodle. So why is there something about being back—and being with Jubal—that feels surprisingly right? 

Jubal’s eight-year-old daughter, Gracie, needs a mother, but he hasn’t found the perfect woman. Or maybe the problem is that he did find her, and had his heart broken when she left town. Gracie’s already falling hard for Ellie and that ball of fluff she calls a dog. And no matter how hard the rugged cowboy tries to resist, there’s no denying the appeal of first love and sweet new beginnings—especially when there’s a little Christmas magic in the air . . .

“A good pick for some wholesome family-oriented romance.” —Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Janet Dailey and her Christmas novels

“The spirit of Christmas permeates this charming holiday romance.” —RT Book Reviews on Merry Christmas, Cowboy

“In what has become a delightful annual tradition, Dailey creates a lovely Christmas romance.” —RT Book Reviews on A Cowboy Under My Christmas Tree

“A definite stocking stuffer.” —Library Journal

“A surefire winner.” —Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781420140095
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 09/26/2017
Series: A Cowboy Christmas , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 56,694
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

JANET DAILEY’s first book was published in 1976. Since then she has written more than 100 novels and become one of the top-selling female authors in the world, with 325 million copies of her books sold in nineteen languages in ninety-eight countries. She is known for her strong, decisive characters, her extraordinary ability to recreate a time and a place, and her unerring courage to confront important, controversial issues in her stories. To learn more about Janet Dailey and her novels, please visit or find her on Facebook at

Read an Excerpt


Late on a chilly November day, Ellie Marsden came home to Branding Iron, Texas.

Driving her black BMW sedan along the two-lane road, she gazed across stubbled fields, dotted here and there with grazing cattle. Under a soot gray sky, scattered houses, barns, and silos rose out of a landscape that matched Ellie's bleak mood.

San Francisco was behind her, most likely for good. For the foreseeable future, she was right back where she'd started — smack-dab in the middle of Nowhere, U.S.A.

When she'd left Branding Iron after high school, she'd vowed never to return except for brief visits to her mother. But now, ten years later, the small town had become her refuge. She had no place else to go.

A stray snowflake spattered the window as she neared the city limits sign. Just ahead, a worn dirt lane cut away from the asphalt. Ellie's memory traced its path through fields and stands of cottonwood, to the swimming hole where, one moonlit summer night, she'd almost surrendered her virginity to Jubal McFarland.

They'd been crazy in love back then. But when he'd asked her to marry him, she hadn't loved Jubal enough to spend the rest of her life herding cows on his family ranch. She'd turned him down and never looked back.

The last she'd heard of Jubal, he'd wed another local girl. By now he'd probably sired a brood of little blue-eyed McFarlands as handsome as he was.

And Ellie had gone off to law school and married cheating, lying Brent. End of story.

A plaintive yip broke into her musings. Harnessed into his booster basket, Beau, her white teacup poodle, was due for a potty stop. Ellie blew him an air kiss. "Hang on, boy," she said. "We'll be there in a few minutes. Then you can do your business on my mother's nice, clean lawn."

Beau yipped again, dancing in place as if to let her know he was getting anxious. Ellie pressed the gas pedal, pushing the speed limit. Beau was well trained, but his tiny bladder could only hold out for so long.

Lately, it seemed, she'd been experiencing a similar problem herself.

Feeling a solid thump, she glanced down at the rounded belly that barely cleared the steering wheel. Her unborn daughter was kicking up a storm. It wouldn't have surprised Ellie to learn that she was carrying a future Olympic soccer star — as if anything could surprise her after discovering that she was not only divorced but pregnant.

Brent had never been keen on having children. He'd always used protection. But during their disastrous trial reconciliation last spring, the unimaginable had happened. Now Brent was married to one of his wealthy law clients, and blissfully unaware that he was about to become a father.

Forcing the memory aside, Ellie drove down Main Street, where, on this, the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional Christmas lights were already being strung between the lampposts. Christmas in Branding Iron would be a far cry from the holidays in San Francisco — the glittering shops, the glamorous gowns, the cocktail parties and charity galas, which Ellie had always enjoyed. But that life was behind her now. It was time she adjusted to her new reality.

For better or for worse, the prodigal daughter was home.

Not that she planned to stay forever. She had an unfinished education and ambitions for a law career of her own. But right now there was this baby. She wanted to give birth in a safe place, surrounded by her caring family. In a few months, maybe a year, when her daughter was old enough to be left with a good nanny, she could start planning the rest of her life.

Minutes later she pulled up to a stately, two-story frame house and stopped in the driveway. By now it was dusk. The porch light was on, as well as the lights in the kitchen and living room. Clara, her mother, would be on pins and needles, waiting for her to arrive.

After freeing Beau from the basket, she scooped him under one arm and eased herself out of the car. Her spine and knees were stiff from long hours of driving. She set her dog on the ground. Then, keeping her eyes on him, she reached under her loose-fitting jacket and massaged her lower back. A few snowflakes drifted down from the darkening sky.

Beau sniffed the grass, his little body quivering. Catching a scent trail, he made a beeline for the giant sycamore that grew in the front yard. After checking out the canine calling cards around the base, he lifted a leg and added his own. He might weigh in at barely four pounds, but he was all dog.

The front door opened, and Clara burst onto the porch. Once tall, slim, and dark, she'd resembled Ellie as a young woman. But she'd been forty when Ellie was born, and now she was showing her age. She'd shrunk in height and looked as if a strong wind could topple her to the ground.

Clasping the side rail for support, she hurried down the steps. "Thank goodness you made it!" she exclaimed. "With a storm coming, I was afraid you might get caught on the road, and with you being pregnant ..." She let the words trail off, imagining, no doubt, a blizzard scenario with Ellie sliding off the shoulder and going into premature labor.

Ellie took a moment to snatch up Beau and tuck him under her warm jacket before turning back toward her mother. "I knew you'd be worried," she said. "But I was fine driving. The baby isn't due till the third of January. That's more than a month away. Let me get my suitcases inside, and I'll have some of that chili I can smell."

"No, you don't!" Clara moved to block Ellie's way to the trunk of her BMW. "You're not carrying those heavy bags in. Your brother's home from work. I'll ask him to come over."

"Great. I'll be happy to see him." Ellie's older brother, Ben, just reelected county sheriff, lived in the house next door with Jess, his wife, and Ethan, his son from a previous marriage. Ellie would have been fine unloading the car herself, but seeing Ben would lift her spirits. And having him here would ease the tension between her and her overprotective mother.

"I'll call him right now." Clara hurried back toward the steps.

"No need. His lights are on. I'll just go next door and surprise him." Ellie strode down the sidewalk to the modest, one-story house next door and rang the bell.

Ben answered at once. Dark, husky, and handsome, he was just putting on his coat. "I was about to come out and welcome you." He gave her a quick hug, then thrust her away for a better look. "I'll be damned, sis, you really are pregnant!"

"You noticed!" Ellie joked. "Where's your family?"

"Jess is at the B and B, getting ready for the Saturday buffet. And Ethan's at a sleepover. So it's just me. Come on, we can visit after I haul your stuff upstairs."

"Great. Mom's made chili."

"Here, take my arm." Ben stepped outside and closed the door. "That sidewalk's uneven. We can't risk having you stumble."

"You sound like Mom," Ellie said. "She's already treating me like an invalid."

"Well, it doesn't hurt to be careful." Ben slipped a hand behind Ellie's arm. As his fingers clasped her elbow, Beau's head popped out from under Ellie's jacket. With a protective growl, he glared at the stranger.

"Good Lord!" Ben pulled his hand away, then chuckled. "What've you got there, a fuzzy white rat?"

"Don't you dare insult my dog!" Ellie eased Beau out from under her coat and cradled him in her arms. "Beau's got grand champion bloodlines. You'd faint if I told you how much I paid for him."

"I still say he looks like a fuzzy white rat. Does he bite?" Ben offered a finger for the tiny dog to sniff. Beau growled again.

"He hasn't bitten anybody yet," Ellie said. "But he takes his job of guarding me very seriously, especially when it comes to men. Beau may be little, but he's got the heart of a Rottweiler."

"I'll keep that in mind." Ben walked her back to her car and took her keys to open the trunk. "Nice wheels, sis. You won't see any vehicles like this in Branding Iron."

"It got me here. Flying would've been easier, but I wanted to keep the car and load it up. The backseat's full of boxes. They'll all need to go inside."

"That's what I'm here for." Ben hefted a suitcase out of the trunk. "You must be planning to stay a while."

"I never wanted to come back here. But with the baby ..." Ellie shrugged. "Maybe a few months. But not forever."

"No chance you'll go back to Brent?"

"Brent remarried as soon as the divorce was final — not that I'd have him if he hadn't. He doesn't even know about the baby."

"What about child support? Aren't you going to need it?"

"I'll manage with the settlement I got. That should do me until I'm ready to get a job. I don't want Brent in my life — or in my daughter's."

"If you ever want to talk —" Ben reached for another suitcase.

"Don't wait for it. My divorce is a closed book. But thanks for the offer. I'll see you inside."

Ellie carried Beau into the house and gave him some water and kibble. She'd already cleared her pet with Clara, who liked dogs and didn't mind having a little one in the house. After turning him loose to explore, she helped her mother set the table for three.

By the time Ben had finished carrying her things upstairs to her old bedroom, supper was ready. Ellie joined her mother and brother at the table, with Beau at her feet. She was hungry, and Clara's chili, with fresh homemade bread and salad, was as good as she remembered. But Ellie wasn't kidding herself. Moving back home was going to be a huge adjustment.

Ben gazed around the table. "This is kind of like the old days, isn't it? The three of us eating supper together."

Ellie nodded, thinking how wrong he was. This was nothing like the old days. Not for her.

"Say, I've got an idea!" Ben grinned. "Jess and her mother are planning the first breakfast buffet of the Christmas season tomorrow morning. It'll be extra special with the tree up and Christmas music — just the thing to get everybody in the spirit. We can take Ethan and all go together."

Ellie stifled a groan. Her brother had always been like a kid when it came to Christmas. But the last thing she felt like was celebrating.

"Why, that's a wonderful idea!" Clara exclaimed. "Let's plan on it!" Ellie shook her head. "Count me out. I'm not in any condition to socialize — especially if it involves stares and gossip."

"Really, Ellie!" Clara punctuated her words with a motherly click of her tongue. "You can't expect to hide in the house like a hermit until the baby comes. And nobody's going to point a finger at you. Heaven knows, you're not the first woman in this town to be single and pregnant. You need to get out there and show people you've nothing to be ashamed of!"

"Mom's right," Ben said. "The longer you stay home, the harder it'll be to get out and make friends. You need to come with us tomorrow. Hey, it'll be fun. And Jess's mother makes a great breakfast."

Ellie sighed. "I can see I'm outgunned. All right, I'll go. But don't expect much. I'm never at my best in the morning, especially now."

It felt strange that night, lying awake in her old room, with her cheerleading photo still on the dresser. For all she knew, her pom-poms could still be tucked away in the back of the closet. The last time she'd been in Branding Iron was for Ben's wedding this past summer, when he'd married spunky, redheaded little Jess. Ellie had been almost three months pregnant at the time, but her loose-fitting matron of honor gown had hidden any sign of it. Not wanting to dampen the day's happiness, she'd said nothing about her situation. But come tomorrow morning, the whole town would know that Ellie Rae Marsden, daughter of perfect parents, high school honor student, cheerleader, homecoming queen, and big-city sophisticate, had fallen off her pedestal and landed hard on her butt.

Gazing up into the darkness, she felt the featherlight pressure of tiny paws on the quilt. A damp button of a nose touched her face. A wet tongue licked her cheek. She snuggled her little poodle close. At least somebody seemed to know she was hurting and needed comfort.

Ellie kissed the top of Beau's fluffy head. At last, with her small friend curled against her side, she drifted into exhausted sleep.

The next morning, as promised, Ellie was ready when Ben came by to take her and Clara to breakfast. Last year, Ben's wife, Jess, and her mother, Francine, had opened the Branding Iron Bed and Breakfast — known as the B and B for short — in an old house off Main Street. Their Saturday morning breakfast buffet had become a popular tradition, with scores of townspeople lining up to socialize and feast on Francine's delicious cooking.

Ellie and Clara were waiting on the porch when Ben pulled his club cab pickup into the driveway and climbed out to help his mother. His gaze fell on Ellie's Gucci bag and the small, fluffy head peeking out of the top.

"I see you're bringing your pet rat along." Ben was not above some brotherly teasing.

"For now at least, where I go, my dog goes." Ellie ignored the good-natured jab. Leaving Beau by himself in a strange house, or in the car, had been out of the question. As she'd often done before, she tucked the little dog into a section of her roomy leather handbag, with a doll-sized quilt folded on the bottom for comfort and enough of an opening left at the top for Beau to stick his head out and look around.

While Ben helped Clara into the passenger seat, Ellie climbed into the back. "Where's Ethan?" she asked.

Ben laughed. "Evidently the sleepover didn't involve much sleeping. He came home this morning and went to bed. When I checked on him, he was out like a light."

The drive to the bed and breakfast took only a few minutes. Cars and trucks were already lined up along the one-way side street. It was barely 9:00, but the Saturday buffet, which opened at 8:00, was doing an overflow business.

"We'll never find a parking place!" Ellie said, thinking of Clara and the distance her mother might have to walk.

"Not to worry. Being married to the owner has its perks." Ben swung the truck around thePRIVATE DRIVEWAY sign and parked next to the house. "Jess has even saved a table for us."

Dread congealed in the pit of Ellie's stomach as Ben helped her out of the truck. Why had she agreed to come here this morning? She would choose a den of man-eating tigers over what she was about to face — people she'd left behind ten years ago, people who would stare at her and snicker behind her back. What a comedown for the girl who'd thought she was too good for Branding Iron.

"Come on, dear, it'll be fine." Clara took her arm as they mounted the steps. "It's not as if you've done anything wrong."

As if that would make any difference, Ellie thought as Ben held the door for them. Sucking in a last breath of wintry air, she stepped across the threshold, into the crowded, noisy space of the breakfast buffet.

Aromas of bacon and fresh coffee assailed her senses. Some of the townsfolk eating at the tables or lined up at the buffet looked familiar, but everyone had aged. The place was decorated for Christmas with an old-fashioned tree by the window, lights strung from the ceiling, and Christmas music drifting on the air. The atmosphere was warm and festive in a tacky sort of way, but if Ellie could've gotten away with it, she'd have turned around and fled out the door.

Ben pointed toward an empty table with a RESERVED sign on it. To Ellie's dismay, it was on the far side of the room. To get there, they would have to weave their way between the tables. Lifting her chin, she followed her mother and brother. As she clutched her bag, she could feel Beau quivering, as if he sensed her anxiety.

Jess, wearing a cute ruffled apron over her sweater and jeans, bustled out of the kitchen, headed for the buffet table with a platter of flapjacks. She flashed her family a smile, as if to say, Catch you later. Ellie had met Ben's wife only once, on the day of the wedding. There'd been little time for them to get acquainted, but now that she was back in Branding Iron, Ellie knew she was going to need a friend. Dare she hope that Jess might become that friend?

Reaching the table, which was covered with a red-checked oilcloth, Ellie chose the chair that faced the corner, then set her bag underneath and draped her jacket behind her. Ben seated his mother. "Let me fill your plates, ladies," he said. "I'll get you a little of everything. It's all good. Somebody will bring you coffee."

He vanished toward the buffet tables. Moments later, hands reached past Ellie to fill her coffee cup from a steaming carafe. "Nice to see you again, honey," said a chatty voice at her ear. "Goodness, you do look ready to pop! How soon are you due?"


Excerpted from "Just A Little Christmas"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Estate of Janet Dailey.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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