Home > A Texas Christmas Carol(7)

A Texas Christmas Carol(7)
Author: Karen Witemeyer

After tossing the rope over Prez’s head, Evan offered the man a hand up.

“Thanks, young feller.” A wide smile separated Prez’s hairy upper lip from the bearded chin below. “I wuz startin’ to think I’d be spending the rest of my days stuck out there.” He shook his head, then clamped Evan on the shoulder. “No man wants to live out his days alone. Family and friends are what make life worthwhile. And now I got me a new one to add to my collection.”

Evan tried to follow. “A new one?”

“Yep. A new friend. You!” He slapped Evan on the back, apparently fully recovered from his ordeal. Then he extended his mud-slimed hand. “Name’s Madison, but my friends call me Prez.”

Evan grimaced as he fit his palm to the mud-caked one offered to him. “I’m Evan.”

“Evan. That what yer friends call ya? ’Cause I aim to be on friendly terms from here on out.”

His friends? His business associates called him Mr. Beazer, as did his staff and the London townsfolk. His friends . . . Did he even have any?

All at once, he recalled Felicity Wiggins smiling up at him in his stable that morning. Extending him an invitation to her home to dine with her family and asking him to join her in her charity work. Calling him by his first name.

“Yes,” he finally said. “That’s what my friends call me.”

 

 

four


FELICITY SIDESTEPPED BETWEEN HER MOTHER, who stood at the stove whisking gravy, and her sister mashing potatoes at the counter in order to rescue the dinner rolls from the oven before they burned. She was notorious for her overdone rolls, but she was the best baker of the Wiggins clan, so the duty always fell to her. Her cookies, cakes, and pies always tasted splendid. Probably because she baked those when no one else was in the kitchen, which allowed her to focus on one task. But put her on roll duty with her mother and sisters in the kitchen, and the distractions invariably led to bread closer in tone to deep bronze than light gold. Today, however, she was determined to have golden perfection, even with one of her nieces tugging on her apron strings.

“Aunt Lissy, why’d you invite the scary man to dinner? I don’t hafta sit by him, do I?”

Unable to ignore the worry in the little girl’s voice, Felicity turned around, picked up four-year-old June, and plopped her on her hip. “Mr. Beazer will sit between me and Papa George,” she said, tapping her niece’s nose. “And he’s really not scary. Just a little grumpy. And sad. He doesn’t have a big, fun family like we do, so I thought we could share ours for tonight. Nobody’s family is as fun as ours, you know.”

“Or as noisy and chaotic,” Felicity’s sister Charity mumbled between mashes.

Felicity bumped her unoccupied hip against her sister, causing Charity to stumble sideways. “You love the chaos. Admit it. Why else would you add to it three times in the last six years?”

Charity chuckled. “Can’t argue with that.” She dropped the masher, drew close, and rubbed noses with her daughter. “I do indeed love this bit of chaos.”

June giggled. “Silly Mama. I’m not chaos. I’m June!”

“Yes, you are.” Charity took her daughter from Felicity, then set her on the floor and gave her a playful swat to her backside. “Now, go find your father and Papa George. They probably need help with the baby.”

June scurried out of the kitchen, ready to play big sister. Felicity’s heart gave a little twinge of longing.

“Felicity, dear,” her mother said, breaking into her wishful thoughts, “don’t forget your rolls.”

Her rolls!

Felicity gasped and rushed to the oven. As her mother stepped to the side of the stove, Felicity grabbed the oven handle with one hand and a folded towel from the counter with the other. She pulled out the roll pan and set it on a trivet. Well, at least they weren’t charcoal rocks. More brunette than blond but still edible. It could have been worse. Still, she’d hoped for better.

“They’re fine, dear.” Mama smiled in that soft way of hers that made every crisis feel like a mere bump in the road. Even when Mama had been so sick three years ago that she’d been unable to rise from her bed for months, that smile had remained in place. Felicity thought of it as her Jesus smile. The one so steeped in faith that worry couldn’t touch it.

Felicity sighed. “I’ll brush some extra butter on the tops. Maybe that will help.”

“You never cared about your rolls this much when Mr. Warren came to dinner,” Charity observed with a wink.

“Yes, well, I wasn’t trying to convince Mr. Warren to partner me in a charitable endeavor.”

“No. Mr. Warren was trying to convince you to partner him in a matrimonial endeavor.”

“Charity.” Heat flushed Felicity’s cheeks as she fetched the butter crock and scooped a few tablespoons into a saucepan to melt. “You know I was never interested in Bruce Warren that way.”

Her sister shrugged, her eyes twinkling. “Maybe not, but he was definitely interested in you.”

“I think our Felicity has had her eye on another gentleman for quite some time now,” their mother said, making Felicity’s cheeks heat even further.

Maybe she should just hold the saucepan to her face. At this rate, it would probably melt the butter faster than the stove.

Mama set the gravy pan aside and laid a hand on Felicity’s forearm. When Felicity finally managed to meet her mother’s gaze, the concern radiating there made her heart catch.

“Are you sure Mr. Beazer is the right man for you? He’s so . . . dour. I can’t bear to think of my Felicity’s sunny exuberance being dampened by a man who cloaks himself in storm clouds.”

“I’m not sure,” Felicity admitted softly. “But I’m hoping that spending time in his company will clarify matters. There’s something about him that calls to me, Mama. Maybe it’s just God urging me to befriend him and bring a little joy into his life. Or maybe there’s something bigger at work. I don’t know. I’m praying that by Christmas, things will be clear.”

Her mother gave her arm a squeeze. “I’ll be praying the same.”

A surge of love for her mother welled up inside Felicity and relieved a bit of the uncertainty that had been plaguing her since this campaign with Evan began. She’d initially been so focused on providing for the children that she hadn’t paused to consider what damage her scheme could do to the man she secretly admired.

Yet the moment she asked for a donation and disappointment flashed in his eyes, she’d realized her error. He had feelings. He hid them behind a sharp tongue and cold glances, but they existed. And she’d hurt them. Worse, she’d inadvertently fortified the idea that his worth lay only in his wealth. Her conscience had demanded she make restitution.

That was when the purpose of her campaign shifted. Yes, the children still needed Christmas cheer, but so did Evan. Maybe even more so. It might be presumptuous of her to foist friendship upon him and entangle him in her charity project without his consent, but he was too good at isolating himself for her to take a more conservative approach. Perhaps if he could experience the genuine affinity of family, the joy of doing for others . . . the esteem of a particular young lady . . .

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