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Cowboy Stolen Kiss for Christmas

Lucy's escape...


Twelve days until Christmas

Please hurry!


Lucy Lee paced the small waiting room at Pinetop Auto, hoping like crazy that the repairs to her truck wouldn’t take too long or cost too much. She’d already blown through most of her savings by splurging on a new-ish horse trailer — a really nice one with living quarters and everything.


The only reason she’d been able to afford it was because it had been involved in a highway collision and suffered some damage to the undercarriage. Mostly cosmetic, according to the previous owner. He’d said it “pulled a little to the right” while driving on the open road. She wasn’t yet sure if that was going to be a problem.


Guess I’m about to find out.


She’d be hitting the road just as soon as Wes replaced her battery or figured out what else was making it hard to start the old-ish truck she’d purchased to pull her new-ish trailer.


She moved to the beverage bar against the wall and poured herself a cup of coffee. Her frazzled nerves were in desperate need of a shot of caffeine. She hadn’t slept much the past two nights. She hadn’t eaten much, either. A shaky lightheadedness was setting in.


While she sipped the thick, black brew, the ping of an incoming text message sounded. Fishing her cell phone from her coat pocket, she scanned the screen.


Her shoulders tensed.


The text was from her ex-boyfriend, Belshazzar King. Or Bel, as he preferred to be called by the gypsy crafters she and her family had once traveled the country with. She’d broken up with him more than two years earlier. After her move to Pinetop, he’d all too quickly proven he was too possessive for a long-distance relationship. Too controlling. He craved the immediacy of face-to-face contact.


So, she’d ended things between them. Yes, she’d cried. Yes, she’d missed him, but it was for the best. Their match hadn’t exactly been one of those made-in-heaven kinds of situations.


Then, out of the blue, he’d attempted to resurrect their relationship a month ago. The timing made no sense to her. Why wait so long? Why now? With each text, his tone had grown infinitely more urgent and demanding. The one she was reading now took it a step further. It almost sounded like a threat.


You’re mine, Lucy. I’ve waited long enough.


Her hand tightened on the phone as a wave of indignation shook her. Bel no longer had a right to say stuff like that to her. Once upon a time, she’d been swept off her feet by his possessive nature. She’d considered it romantic to come first with another person like that — to be his focus, his obsession, the center of his world. At the moment, though, it simply felt creepy.


When a woman said no, a guy needed to respect that. But instead of backing off, Bel was notching up his pursuit of her. It was as if the thrill of the hunt meant more to him than she did.


It was a good thing she was already on her way out of town. Tonight, in fact. When he arrived and found her gone, maybe he’d finally get the message that things were truly over between them.


Stuffing her phone back in the pocket of her red wool coat, she hunkered down a little further into her fur-lined collar. If only there was a coat warm enough to chase away the chilling uncertainties about what came next!


She was leaving behind a good job at Santa’s Toy Factory, and she didn’t yet have another position lined up. But everyone she cared about the most was in the middle of leaving town — her sister, her parents, and now Flint. She had nothing else keeping her here.


She squeezed her eyelids shut as she relived her fateful encounter with Flint Hunkalicious Carson about an hour ago. He’d waylaid her outside of Castellano’s to invite her to join him and his brothers for Christmas in Dallas. Then he’d kissed her. He’d asked first.


And I let him.


She took another sip of the scalding coffee, still feeling the way his hard mouth had moved tenderly over hers.


Her phone vibrated in her pocket with another incoming message. Her eyelids fluttered open. Figuring it was Bel again, she ignored it. Or tried to. Her resolve lasted no more than thirty seconds. Eventually, morbid curiosity drove her to pull out her phone and take a look.

She was right. It was from him. Her heart thumped with trepidation as she read it.


I’m on my way.


She gasped and pressed the phone to her bosom. He’s coming here? Tonight? It certainly didn’t give her much time to finish making her escape.


Precious minutes ticked past as she waited to hear something from Wes about her truck. She was half-tempted to storm into the auto bay and inform him she needed to leave immediately, regardless of what condition her truck was in. In the end, though, she decided to wait. There was no upside to rushing out of town, only to end up stalled out on the side of the road.


After what felt like a decade of waiting, Wes finally made an appearance in the doorway between his workshop and the waiting area.


“She’s as good as new.” The dark-haired mechanic wiped the grease from his fingers with the rag in his hands.


“Thank you.” Lucy’s relief was so profound that her knees grew weak. “Thank you so much!”


Her breathless tone made his eyebrows rise. “All I did was replace the battery. Easy as pie.”


“For you maybe.” She held out her credit card to him. “I’m afraid my knowledge about cars doesn’t extend much past paint colors.”


“You and a bunch of other people, believe me.” He grinned as he carried her credit card to the cash register and swiped it to settle her bill. “Not everyone is as quick to admit it, though.”


“I really, really, really appreciate you squeezing me in tonight.” She knew she was gushing, but she was that grateful.


“It was no problem.” He handed her credit card back. “You said you were in a hurry to hit the road, so I bumped you to the front of the line.” He cast an assessing look out the window behind her. “According to the weather man, we’ve gotta doozy of a storm rolling in. The sooner you make it out of Pinetop, the better.”


She blinked and stared out the window. She’d been so caught up in her personal drama that she hadn’t been paying any attention to the weather. If a storm was heading their way, it meant snow. And snow could shut down the steep mountain roads in nothing flat.


Not good.


As if on cue, a crack of thunder rattled the front windows of the auto body shop, making her jump. She almost spilled the coffee she hadn’t bothered putting a lid on.


Wes angled his head at the beverage bar. “If you want a lid for that, there’s a whole stack of ‘em over there.”


“I’ll do that. Thanks again. For everything.” Though Lucy was pressed for time, she took a moment to go grab a lid and snap it on. The last thing she needed was to be spilling hot coffee all over the place during her first attempt at driving a truck hitched to a trailer.


She stepped outside with her coffee in hand and made a beeline for her pickup. Wes had pulled it around front and left the keys in the ignition.


Another crack of thunder made her flinch as she climbed behind the wheel and set her coffee in one of the cup holders on the console.


With a friendly pop of her horn, she pulled away from the auto body shop and headed toward Castellano’s, where she’d left her horse trailer parked. No, she didn’t own any horses yet, but acquiring one was on her to-do list. She’d taken a few private riding lessons at Bear Mountain Ranch last summer and loved every minute of it. After a lifetime of dedicating herself to the family toy making business, it had been nice to do something different for a change. Plus, it opened up more possibilities for her future.


She was debating the idea of applying for a job giving trail rides or something. Since her trailer was paid for, she could live cheap. All she needed was enough income for groceries, gasoline, and a few other necessities.


As she pulled into the dinner theater’s parking lot, it started to snow. Thick, white flakes sheeted down in front of her headlights. They weren’t the only things her headlights picked up on.


Her throat constricted at the sight of the black El Camino parked near the front entrance. There was no mistaking the two white racing stripes painted down the center of the hood or the silver studded rims gleaming in the moonlight.


He's already here.


The custom paint job on Bel King’s car was his pride and joy. He cruised around in it like he was royalty. And in some ways, he was — at least to the nomadic group of craftsmen she and her family used to travel with. His dad had always called the shots for them, making reservations for the entire group at various craft fairs across the country. Then he’d plotted their route, led the way, and everyone else had fallen in line behind him caravan-style.


None of which explained how Bel had known where to find her this evening.


She bit her lower lip as she caught sight of his arrogant head leaning conspiratorially closer to one of the wranglers on staff. They were standing at the top of the paved ramp leading down to the lower-level stables that housed the animals for Castellano’s indoor rodeo show.


She ducked as low as she could behind her steering wheel, carefully averting her head as she drove past the two men. With any luck, the snow was coming down too thick for them to see much through her truck windows. Since it was a recent purchase, few people knew it belonged to her. Bel would figure it out, though. Soon. She intended to be long gone by then.


Thunder rolled overhead. From the corner of her eye, she watched a streak of razor-sharp lightning shoot from the sky toward the parking lot. A brilliant flash of light exploded overhead, momentarily blinding her.


She jammed on her brakes, blinking to clear her vision. That was when she realized that the only lights left in the parking lot were her truck lights.


A quick glance over her shoulder revealed that the street behind her was black. The only explanation her dazed brain could come up with was that the lightning had struck the nearest transformer. Castellano’s, and every other building around her, appeared to be without power.


Her sense of urgency to be on the road notched up several degrees. At the rate the snow was coming down, she’d be stuck on the mountain indefinitely if she didn’t get out of here soon.


Her phone buzzed with another incoming text. She read it the second she’d backed her tow hitch ball beneath the coupler on her horse trailer. It was Bel again.


Where are you?


She resisted the urge to text him back and tell him it was none of his stinking business. However, she had no wish to fuel his rabid temper, which was all too easy to do. Her goal was to slip past him with her truck and trailer and be gone before he realized she’d ever been there.


Another text message flashed onto her phone screen.


I know you’re avoiding me, but it won’t do any good. You’re as much a part of this as Brex was. I have proof. Unless you want to join him behind bars, we need to talk. Now!


Disbelief gripped her. She returned her cell phone to her pocket before it slipped from her trembling fingers. She'd all but forgotten how cruel Bel could be. Was this the real reason he was in town, then? To accuse her of being involved in the gypsy robbery ring that had been busted up a few weeks ago? Had his attempts at reconciliation been no more than a ruse to pinpoint her whereabouts? What was his end game?


She reached for the door handle and stopped in the nick of time, not wanting the cab light to draw any unwanted attention. Fumbling around in the dark, she found and switched off the button to the cab light. Only then did she push open the truck door and hop to the pavement. Slipping a little in the snow, she shut the door behind her as quietly as she could. Since the truck was parked between her and the service ramp, she crouched behind it. Using it as a shield, she slowly peeked around the hood.


To her alarm, Bel and the wrangler he was chatting with had their flashlight apps on and were waving them around the parking lot. When one of them flashed in her direction, she yanked her head back behind the hood. Her heart thudded sickeningly while she waited for Bel’s shout of elation at discovering her whereabouts. It never came.


Dragging in a breath, she remained squatted down while she calculated the time it would take to pin the hitch ball in place, hook up the safety chains, and plug in the electrical cord that powered the trailer’s taillights, brake lights, and brakes. They certainly weren’t tasks she could accomplish while in hiding.


She risked another peek around the hood and saw the two men walking down the ramp together — away from her. She pressed a hand to her heart.


That was a close call.


She quickly moved behind her tailgate and fumbled with the latch and pin on the hitch. The latch slid into place way too quickly and way too easily.


She frowned in puzzlement. Normally, she had to wrestle with it a minute or two to get the bent latch into place. It was as if it had straightened itself during her trip to the auto body shop.


Then it hit her.


I must’ve hitched my truck to the wrong trailer!


She’d parked her trailer beside one that looked nearly identical to hers, at least under this evening’s less than desirable weather conditions. To Flint Carson’s trailer, no less! If the power hadn’t been out and the snow coming down so hard, she never would’ve made such a foolish mistake. Flint was going to have a heyday when he found out what she’d done. If he ever found out, that is. She could still fix this.

A single beam of light appeared on the ramp leading up from Castellano’s lower level. A lone figure strode into view. From this distance, it was impossible to make out his identity. The only thing that was clear was that he was moving in her direction.

He could be anybody, or he could be Bel.


Lucy hastily dropped back out of sight. What to do? What to do? Her brain ran feverishly over her dwindling options.


The quickest solution would be to hop in her truck and drive off. However, that would make her a thief, since her truck was currently hitched to Flint Carson’s horse trailer. The second solution was to hide out in the horse trailer that actually belonged to her and hope whoever was headed her way would veer off to his own vehicle. In which case, she’d rush back outside, hitch her truck to the correct trailer, and be on her way.


Liking the latter option better, she ran half stooped over into the narrow space between the two horse trailers. Reaching the door to the camper section of the one that belonged to her, she fumbled with the lock. She managed to get it open and slip inside without being seen.


Ever so softly shutting it behind her, she locked it. She sank to the floor, hugging her phone against her. Another series of text messages arrived with one consecutive buzz after another.


Almost afraid to look at them, she shakily held out her cell phone. What she read wrenched a whimper of terror from her.


Did you really think I’d stand by and do nothing while you and your family betrayed my best friend? That’s not how this works. You were part of something bigger. You still can be.


She had no earthly idea what he was talking about. While she pondered his words, her phone vibrated with an incoming call. She stared, panting, at the caller ID. Belshazzar King’s name flashed across the screen.


Though it was probably the worst decision of her adult life, she accepted the call and held the phone to her ear. “What do you want from me, Bel?” she rasped.


“I want you back. What else?” His voice was silky with promise, though the underlying threat wasn’t lost on her.


“So…” She hated how shaky her voice was. “Either I agree to kiss and make up with you, or what?”


“Or you go to jail.” He sounded so matter of fact that it stole her breath. He was quick to fill in the silence. “Nobody leaves the family, Lucy. I thought I made that clear when we first started dating.”


The family? Her gut told her they were no longer talking about her parents and sister. He was referring to the nomadic group of gypsy craftsmen his father had recruited into a tribe that was fast dwindling.


“But I haven’t broken any laws,” she spluttered.


“What you did is worse. You betrayed us, Lucy.” Despite the harshness of his accusation, he continued to speak in the same silky tone. “It’s either me or jail time, babe. Your choice. All it’ll take is one phone call to the police to get the ball rolling.”


One call, huh? Since she’d done nothing wrong, she should call his bluff right now and let him do his worst. She had nothing to do with the arrest of his friend, other than being related to the woman who had. There was no way she was throwing her own sister under the bus, though. Laura was happily married and on her way to Dallas, far from Bel and his father's reach.

I hope.


Apparently, he still needed a punching bag, and he'd chosen her. She blew out a resigned breath, trying to find comfort in the fact that she was protecting someone she loved. Someone who was worth the sacrifice she was about to make. I'm about to take one for the team here, so you owe me, sis. Assuming she survived whatever punishment Bel was planning for her...


She heard the rev of a truck motor, then the slam of a door. The trailer moved beneath her as someone jimmied with the bent latch. She recognized the metal scraping sound it always made.


She gasped. “What are you doing?” How had Bel figured out where she was hiding? Was he planning on stealing her trailer while she was still inside of it?


“Trying to talk some sense into you before it’s too late.”


Talk some sense into me? You’re the one in the middle of a trailer jacking! “Please don’t do this!” She was afraid her words were falling on deaf ears, but she had to at least try to reason with the man. Maybe somewhere in the middle of his twisted logic was a residual ounce of humanity.


“It’s already done, Lucy. Long before you broke up with me, I made sure you were mine. That you would always be mine.”


How? She was starting to wonder if he’d planted false evidence on her or something along those lines. That seemed low even for him, though. “You can’t force me to fall back in love with you.” They were past the point of reconciliation. It was over between them. Why couldn’t he see that?


“Wasn’t planning on using force, babe.” He was silent for a few seconds. “Because you’re gonna make the right choice and walk back to me on your own.”


Only in your dreams, mister! She shuddered as the horse trailer moved beneath her again. If he was truly giving her a choice, then why was he outside her trailer this very second, attempting to kidnap her?


Unless he wasn’t.


Her heart raced like a whole herd of buffalo as another possibility hit her. Maybe Belshazzar King wasn’t the man in the process of hitching her horse trailer to his vehicle, after all. The El Camino he’d driven into town certainly didn’t have the muscle to pull something as big as a horse trailer.


And if it wasn’t him outside her trailer, logic told her it could only be one other man.


Flint Carson!

It was the only explanation that made sense. Since her pickup truck was currently hitched to his trailer, he’d probably assumed that the one she was sitting in was his.


She abruptly disconnected the call with Bel and dialed Flint to explain the situation. Her heart fluttered frantically with each ring. Pick up! Pick up! Pick up!


But it was too late. The trailer was already moving.


Her heart leaped into her throat. This can’t be happening to me! Her perfectly planned exit from Pinetop was coming unraveled at the seams.


She pulled herself to her feet while the phone rang a few more times and eventually rolled to voicemail. Leaning toward the nearest window, she found it difficult to see much of anything through the thickly falling snow. The power outage wasn’t helping. The streetlights on Main Street were extinguished for as far as she could see, which wasn’t very far at all.


Her ears picked up the blare of music. Seriously? No wonder Flint hadn’t heard her phone call. Talk about a crazy bronc rider! Driving through a blizzard with his stereo turned up loud enough to wake the dead!


She staggered to the end of the trailer closest to the bed of his truck and started pounding the wall with both fists. Her cell phone went flying and clattered against the floor in the darkness. She continued banging against the wall.

“Flint! Stop!”


The thump of drums roared from his state-of-the-art sound system, drowning out her attempt to get his attention.


“Oh, for pity’s sake!” She dropped to her hands and knees and felt along the floor for her cell phone. She’d just have to keep calling him until he finally picked up.


The trailer hit a bump, and her forehead slammed into a cabinet.


“Ow!” It hurt like crazy. A wave of lightheadedness shook her. Her only comfort was that the man driving her out of Pinetop wasn’t gypsy royalty.


He was Flint Carson. A rugged cowboy with more scars on his body from his bronc riding career than the lines on most maps. A Texan to the bone with old-fashioned manners that had compelled him to ask for permission before kissing her silly. A man she’d foolishly tried to convince herself she could simply walk away from.


She hadn't counted on the good Lord Himself sending the snowstorm of the century to prove her wrong.


8 - Cowboy Stolen Kiss BONUS EPILOGUE.jpg

Pick up your copy of
A Very Country Christmas Wish #9
Cowboy Accidentally Hitched for Christmas
to read about the showdown coming between Lucy and Flint at the next truck stop.
Coming soon to eBook, paperback, and Kindle Unlimited on Amazon.


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