Published: October 25, 2015
Have yourself a steamy little Christmas… After three years in prison, freight train engineer Lacey Gallagher doesn’t expect this Christmas to be very merry and bright. At least chopping down trees for her brother’s Christmas tree farm will help her save money to get her life back on track. All her plans derail, though, when her new job puts her in territory patrolled by the man who haunts her dreams—the forest ranger who sent her to prison. Austin Wilder isn’t thrilled about Lacey working in his forest—but he soon realizes he needs her help. His family is depending on him to restore an old steam train for a spectacular Christmas event, and train expert Lacey is his only hope of finishing in time. Working together challenges every assumption Lacey and Austin have about each other, and they discover a desire hot enough to melt even the deepest Montana snow. But will the season of second chances be enough to mend the most hardened broken heart?
The lights in the unit went on at 5:45 a.m., but Lacey had lain awake on her hard prison cot for hours. In fact, she couldn’t be sure whether she’d even fallen asleep. She’d shut her eyes a few times and noticed that Charlene—who slept on the lower bunk of the bed next to hers—had flopped from her belly onto her back, but exhaustion made Lacey doubt she’d actually slept in those brief moments her eyes had been closed. Just as she had every morning for the past 1,016 days, she rolled out of her bunk and rubbed the bleariness from her eyes. She rotated her shoulders and eased her neck from side to side, trying to work out the kinks, but, after nearly three years, they’d knotted themselves so tightly into her muscle memory she doubted anything could unravel them. Grumbles and groans filled the air as the other fifteen women in the dorm-style cell reacted to the coming of another miserable day, a day of no surprises—at least, that was the best one could hope for in prison. Surprises here were never good. But for Lacey, everything that came after breakfast would be a surprise. Oh, she knew the outline of her day’s schedule—it had been flashing in her brain like a beacon ever since her lawyer had given her the good news three weeks ago—but understanding a timetable of events was not the same as knowing how she would react to those events. Right now, trepidation warred with her exhaustion, but she had to get through two more hours in purgatory before the rest of her life could start. “What do you think it’ll be today—rehydrated eggs and cardboard potatoes, or cardboard potatoes and rehydrated eggs?” Charlene asked, pushing herself out of her bunk. “Forget today,” Monique called across the cell as she dropped trou and plunked herself onto the open-air toilet they all shared. “What about tomorrow? Turkey patty, obviously, but do you think we’ll get a Twinkie?” “My cousin said they don’t sell Twinkies anymore,” Charlene shouted back. “Hostess went belly-up.” “Yeah, the original company did,” Lacey said, “but some billionaire bought them out and started making them again.” Charlene put her hand on her hip, her eyes narrowing. “How d’you know that?” “Newspaper.” Her brother, Sawyer, had bought her subscriptions to the Copper Mountain Courier—their local paper—and the Washington Post. She’d really only wanted the Post, but it didn’t pay to look too uppity around here, so she’d claimed she did it for the funnies. Whenever she read the more serious sections, she hid them behind the Courier. “But they never give us the real-brand stuff, anyway. Just knock-offs. I’m guessing we’ll get—” The words jammed in her throat. Not we. You. “Lace?” Charlene’s dark brows pulled together. Lacey gave her a brief smile. “My money’s on a donut—not chocolate or jelly filled. Something beige and so dry it makes you choke.” “Happy Thanksgiving to us,” Charlene said, her voice dripping with irony. The cell door slid open, and several women filed out on their way to the chow hall. Charlene took a step to follow them, but Lacey laid her hand on her friend’s arm and Charlene stopped, giving her a curious look. “I need to tell you something,” Lacey whispered. Charlene threw her hands in the air. “Oh, shit. No, you don’t. I don’t want to know anything.” “Yeah, you do.” “No, no, no, no, no. No. I really don’t. Knowing something was how I ended up here. Nothing good comes from knowing something.” Lacey snorted. “Nothing good comes from not knowing something, either. Believe me.” Ignorance was how she’d ended up here. The unforgiving voice of the forest ranger who’d arrested her vibrated through her memory, telling the jury, “She’s either guilty of transportation of a controlled substance or of criminal stupidity.” She’d certainly been guilty of one of those. The jury had convicted her of the other. “This isn’t something that’ll get you in trouble.” Lacey reached for the well-worn books and box of third-hand art supplies she kept on the shelves next to her bunk. “Here. These are for you.”
About the Author
Kat Latham is a California girl who moved to Europe the day after graduating from UCLA, ditching her tank tops for raincoats. She taught English in Prague and worked as an editor in London before she and her British husband moved to the Netherlands. Kat’s other career involves writing and editing for charities, and she’s traveled to Kenya, Ethiopia and India to meet heroic people helping their communities survive disasters. Find out more on her website: katlatham.com.