Forgive my shameless self-promotion today… but The Christmas Bargain is featured on StoryFinds as part of their Christmas in July theme this week.Hope you”ll check it out!
If you haven’t read the book yet, here’s a little blurb:
Luke Granger is about to get more than he bargained for… As owner and manager of the Hardman Bank, Luke Granger is a man of responsibility and integrity in the small 1890s Eastern Oregon town. Calling in a long overdue loan, Luke finds himself reluctantly accepting a bargain in lieu of payment from the shiftless farmer who barters his daughter to settle his debt.
Philamena Booth is both mortified and relieved when her father sends her off with the banker as payment of his debt. Held captive on the farm by her father since the death of her mother more than a decade earlier, Philamena is grateful to leave. If only it had been someone other than the handsome and charismatic Luke Granger riding in to rescue her. Ready to uphold her end of the bargain as Luke’s cook and housekeeper, Philamena is prepared for the hard work ahead. What she isn’t prepared for is being forced to marry Luke as part of this crazy Christmas bargain.
And an excerpt:
Participating in more of Luke’s kissing lessons scrambled Filly’s thoughts the next morning as she turned on the kitchen lights and started setting out the items she needed to make cinnamon muffins, fried heham and eggs for breakfast.
Although he’d teased her about it plenty the previous evening, a neighbor in need of a hand kept Luke out late and Filly had gone to bed with thoughts of his kisses lingering in her dreams.
Humming a rousing rendition of Deck the Halls, Filly acknowledged she was both anticipating and dreading her next kissing lesson with Luke. Whenever he touched her, she tingled all over and felt strange fluttering sensations in her midsection. Just looking at his inviting lips made her feel flushed and light headed.
Retrieving eggs from the ice box, she turned to witness the biggest spider she’d ever seen in her life crawling across the counter.
Dropping the eggs, she let out a blood curdling scream that sounded throughout the house.
Just finishing his morning shave after taking a bath, Luke nearly sliced through his jaw with the razor when Filly’s scream echoed down the hallway. Dropping the razor in the sink, Luke tore out of the bathroom and ran down the hall, skidding into the kitchen to find a wide-eyed Filly staring transfixed at the counter.
Casting his glance that direction, he was surprised to see a huge spider scurrying across the end of the counter and vaulting itself to the floor. Luke hurried to the pantry, retrieved the broom and killed the spider. Sweeping it out the door, he went to Filly and folded her into his arms.
Putting her arms around him and resting her head on his chest, he felt her take in a huge gulp of air. He rubbed her back and murmured soft words until he felt her relax. Pushing her back, he cupped her cheek and looked into her eyes.
“Okay, now?” he asked, realizing the jokes he’d heard about women needing men to kill spiders for them was true.
Filly was anything but okay. Luke was standing before her in nothing but a towel knotted around his waist. Trying not to stare, but helpless not to notice, she took in his broad shoulders, tight muscles and fine matting of golden hair on his chest. His hair was still damp and fell in waves around his forehead, and a dollop of shaving cream still clung to one cheek. Her mouth suddenly went dry and she felt dizzy.
Luke had as fine a physique as any man should be allowed to have and the majority of it was on display right there in the kitchen.
“Filly, are you okay?” Luke asked, putting his hands on her upper arms and giving her a worried look when she didn’t respond.
Nodding her head, she attempted to regain her composure.
“I would never have pictured you as an afraid-of-spiders kind of girl,” Luke said, trying to lighten the mood with his teasing. “Granted it was a big one, but I thought you’d been nearly killed by your screaming.”
“Sorry,” Filly said, stepping back so she could lean against the counter until her knees felt capable of holding her upright without assistance. Seeing the spider brought back unpleasant memories she’d rather have kept buried. She knew it was silly to have such a reaction, but she couldn’t help it.
“What is it?” Luke asked, genuinely concerned at her white face and shaking hands. “Come on, Filly, tell me what’s wrong.”
Shuddering, Filly wrapped her arms around herself and looked off in the distance, lost in the past. “My father sometimes locked me in the cellar when he got really angry with me. It was dark and there were spiders. So many spiders. I couldn’t see them and they’d crawl on me and… I don’t like spiders.”
“Filly,” Luke’s voice came out in a ragged whisper. “I’m so sorry, darlin’. So sorry.” Pulling her to him again, he held her close, furious once again at the suffering she had needlessly endured. “Everything is fine now. No one will ever put you in the cellar. And you scream all you want anytime you see a spider. I promise to come slay it for you.”
“Thank you,” Filly whispered, once again stepping back from Luke. Knowing they were married, a part of her still felt wicked for seeing Luke in his current state of undress. Unable to resist the temptation, though, she reached out a hand and rested it on his muscled chest, right above his heart. “Thank you for being such a good man.”
Filly’s hand on his chest was about to burn right through Luke. He had completely forgotten all he wore was a towel until he felt her hand warm against his skin. He would like nothing better than to sweep her into his arms and continue their kissing lesson, skipping right past hugging and moving directly on to marital bliss.
Now was not the time to give in to his growing desire for his wife. Instead, he took a moment to tamp down his need and let Filly gather herself together.
“I’ll finish getting dressed and help you clean up the mess,” he said, as she stood holding the edge of the counter in a death grip.
“That won’t be necessary,” she said, grabbing a kitchen towel and bending down to clean up the broken eggs. When she turned to see if Luke had left the kitchen, he was standing watching her. Her vision was suddenly filled with Luke’s muscled legs and she felt her cheeks flame once again as her eyes traveled up to where his thighs disappeared behind the white towel.
Watching Filly blush, Luke bent over and grasped her arm, pulling her to her feet. “See something you like, Mrs. Granger?”
“Good gracious, Luke, don’t be…” Filly was so rattled, she couldn’t even think of a word to describe him.
“Dashing, charming, your knight devoid of his armor?” Luke teased, quite pleased at his wife’s flustered state.
“No, so…so…” Filly spluttered, completely flustered.
“Appealing, enchanting, handsome?” Luke added, kissing her cheek.
“Conceited!” Filly managed to say, trying to keep from smiling.
Luke slapped a hand to his chest and took a step back. “You wound me, wife, deeply and profoundly.” Luke would have continued his theatrics, but the towel started to slip. Grabbing it with both hands, he shot Filly a devilish grin then sauntered back to the bathroom to finish getting ready.
Following Luke’s exit from the kitchen from the corner of her eye, Filly let out the breath she’d been holding.
Merciful stars, she had no idea what men looked like beneath their clothes. No wonder girls became so distracted thinking about boys. Picturing Luke’s muscled arms and chest made heat rush through her from head to toe. Thoughts of those muscled legs made her stomach flutter.
How was she supposed to keep her focus on anything with her growing attraction to Luke? She had admired, respected and liked him from the first day he rescued her. Immediately, she was infatuated with him. The past few weeks she knew she loved him, truly loved him, and now she realized she wanted him.