“Christmas Angel” by Lindsay McKenna excerpt, Harlequin
Snow sparkled, twisted and turned around Kyle Anderson as he eased out of the rental car. He closed the door and thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his leather bomber jacket. The cold snowflakes landed in his hair, slid across his jacket and melted upon touching his face as he slowly walked toward the White Sulphur Springs Ranch house. The wind was inconstant and he hunched his shoulders, hearing his combat boots crunching in the foot of snow across the graveled parking area.
His heart squeezed with anticipation and worry. Anna Campbell, the woman he loved and had walked away from, had been in a serious auto accident two weeks ago. She’d been in a coma, though now was recovering at home.
Kyle had been notified only three days ago because his SEAL team had been out on a two-week mission. He didn’t think twice before leaving to see her.
His mouth tightened and he opened the creaking white picket fence gate. Snow had covered the bright red tiles he had helped place there as a ten-year-old. Kyle had grown up with Anna on her parents’ ten-thousand-acre cattle ranch. There were so many good memories here. He halted for a moment on the covered sidewalk, looking around.
The sun was setting, the sky a light gray. He could see the sharp pointed tips of the evergreens behind the massive two-story log house. To his left were three large red barns. To his right were pipe-rail fences where the cattle were kept. Most of the animals were probably in nearby pastures, huddled in herds, their butts to the wind, keeping warm. The barns would house the wrangler’s horses in box stalls, the grain and hay to feed these herds.
No one was out in the coming blizzard. The car rental place at the Great Falls, Montana, airport had warned him that a major storm was on its way. It was expected to dump three to four feet of snow in the next one or two days. He’d arrived home just in time.
Turning, he wiped his wet face and spotted something in the window nearest the bright wooden red door. It was an electric candle sitting in the window.
Old memories flowed through Kyle as he stared at the light, filling him with remorse and yearning. When she was eighteen, Anna had bought the electric candle in a scroll-like saucer of green copper at a hardware store in Great Falls. She told Kyle she would keep the candle on during the holidays, as a light, so he could find his way home to her. Pain squeezed his heart.
The window was partly frosted over in the corners, the ice crystals making the soft yellow light look like some kind of halo an angel might wear. Anna was his angel. She always had been. His mouth pulled in at the corners as he stood there on the walk, his gaze on that candle, the memories filling him like warm, spiced red wine tainted with bitterness.
Kyle couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t loved Anna. They had grown up together on this ranch, attended the same small school, played together, laughed together and had so much fun. He’d joined the Navy at eighteen and later became a SEAL. He’d left Anna crying in this very driveway that cold December day. Rubbing his chest, grief, loss and concern warred within Kyle.
Of all the people in the world he loved, Anna had always owned his heart. And he’d broken hers. Dragging in a ragged breath, Kyle tried to steady his emotions, but it was impossible. He knew from several phone calls with the head wrangler at the ranch, Jepson Turner, that Anna had a stage-three concussion, a serious one, but was steadily improving. For that, Kyle had breathed in a sigh of relief so deep that he was overwhelmed with gratefulness in that moment.
He had always expected to die in combat, not be called home because Anna teetered between life and death for two weeks in a hospital.
What could he say to her? Kyle stood with the snow falling silently around him, his gaze never leaving that candle, or the hope Anna had clung to that he’d someday come home and stay here forever. With her. The starry-eyed idealism of an eighteen-year-old girl helplessly in love with him. He’d loved her and she’d blindly loved him. At first, as children, it was puppy love. In junior high, the love turned serious. But then, she’d turned down his marriage proposal when he’d come home at twenty-two.
No one in his platoon saw him weeping. Kyle had gone off by himself. He’d cried for what he’d selfishly thrown away: Anna. He’d never talked or emailed her again, not wanting to cause her more pain. And then, five years later, he got an email from his mother, telling him that she’d divorced her wrangler husband, Tom Carter. Kyle hadn’t even known she’d married. It came as a shock. But he couldn’t leave the SEALs and come home and marry her. His heart wanted that, but his loyalty to his team had been a stronger calling.
News of her accident—that she’d almost died—changed everything. It changed him. But Kyle wasn’t sure about anything right now. And it was the uncertainty that made him tense and edgy as he forced himself to move the last twenty feet toward that red-painted door and press the buzzer. He tried to ignore the circular wreath composed of sprigs of pine with a bright red ribbon and silver-glittered pinecones fastened to it. That was Anna’s work. She loved Christmas and made beautiful arrangements to celebrate the season. When he was younger, he had helped her.
What would Anna look like now? She knew he was coming home to see her. So many years ago, at her parents’ urging to protect the family property, Anna had made out a will and had given him power of attorney, if she ever got seriously injured. Kyle had completely forgotten about it because she’d made this decision so far in the past. Part of her eighteen-year-old idealism, he supposed. Even though she had gotten married, she’d never changed that in her will. Throughout the years, had Anna hoped he would return someday to her?
Now, he was twenty-nine. Never had he thought he’d be pulling emergency medical leave to see Anna. Kyle had always expected to be the one to die, not her. She was too beautiful, too filled with life, to ever die. And she almost had.
The door opened. Kyle stared at Anna.
COMMENT: Be sure to pick up a copy. Available in paperback and eBook (all platforms). “Christmas Angels” by Lindsay McKenna, “Unexpected Gift” by Delores Fossen, and “Navy Joy” by Geri Krotow.
NOTE: All three of us women were in the military. We’re vets. We’ve served our country. Myself and Geri were in the US Navy. Delores was in the Air Force. When you get military romance written by military vets, you’re getting the real deal. We hope you enjoy our novellas for the Christmas season!