Red Bows and Mistletoe (A Lilac Romance Book 4)
Copyright © 2019 Pamela Ferguson
Published by Forget Me Not Romances, a division of Winged Publications
Cole Higginbotham peered through his binoculars into the drizzly November twilight, his gaze fixed on a speck of light fluttering among the apple trees. Up. Down. Left. Right. The twinkling froze for a moment, as if listening, then swayed back and forth, as if dancing.
He snagged a chicken leg from the take-out container in the middle of the kitchen table and took a bite. The night before, he’d sat outside on the back porch, watching the distant light flit here and there for ten minutes in the cold winter rain. If his older brother Ben were here, he’d say it looked like a video game power-boost.
His phone buzzed.
You coming home tomorrow?
He stared at the text from his kid sister Sally. He’d jumped off his family’s crazy train a year ago. He could just imagine the scene at the house right now. His parents would be barking orders. Ben and Sally would be unpacking boxes. Everyone would be cranky two days before Black Friday.
He really missed his brother and sister. But not enough to return home.
He wiped the grease from his hands and picked up the binoculars. The light was still there. Buck Day had taken a chance and given him a job watching the orchard. No way was he going to let kids playing flashlight tag mess things up.
Noelle Arber aimed her headlamp at the top of the Granny Smith apple tree and angled her twelve-foot pruning pole into the air. Cold water dripped off her hard hat, sending icy shivers down her back.
Please work this time.
The blade slipped and thudded onto a lower branch. She took a deep breath, hefted the pole, and moved it back and forth.
The pole jerked downward, sending a jolt of pain through her forearms. “Ouch!”
She blinked back moisture. Why had she felt so compelled to decorate Main Street this year? There had to be a better way to earn extra money.
A sudden beam of light blinded her.
“Mind telling me what you’re doing?” a deep voice demanded.
The pole slid from her gloved hands and clattered to the ground. “Look what you made me do!” Condensation misted her goggles.
The man angled his flashlight away. He bent his arm, his palm shielding his eyes. “Turn off your headlamp! Please.”
She yanked off her hard hat and aimed the headlamp lower. Pushing her goggles on top of her head, she studied him. Tall with dark hair sticking out from beneath a knit cap. Battered boots and jeans. Oversized ski jacket. Another homeless wanderer taking refuge in the orchard?
He gave her a funny look. “You’re pruning trees?”
Shadows sharpened the angled planes of his face. “This is private property. You’re trespassing.”
She snatched up the pole. “Mr. Quisenbury gave me permission to take whatever fruit and plants I wanted. You’re the one who’s trespassing.”
He suddenly appeared taller. “I work for Buck Day.”
Why did that name sound familiar? “Who’s he?”
He gave her an odd look. “The owner of this orchard.”
Her mom had said something about Mr. Quisenbury’s long lost grandson. Was that the name she’d mentioned? Large rain drops splattered on Noelle’s face. She pressed a button, and the pole collapsed to six feet. “Better go inside and call. This is an emergency.”
Pain shot through Cole’s knee as he tried to keep up with the woman stomping towards the house. Most people lived their entire lives without experiencing a single mistletoe emergency.
This was his second.
The smell of rotting apples mingled with the scent of damp, loamy soil. His flashlight beam illuminated her bright yellow boots and her backpack’s silver reflective tape. The woman walked like she owned the place, her quick steps determined as she dodged around twisting tree limbs. His gaze lingered on the dark hair streaming down her back. Another surprise. When she’d whipped off her hard hat, she’d freed a mass of curls that reminded him of his mother’s favorite Christmas ornament, a porcelain angel that had sat atop his family’s tree since before he’d been born.
From what he could tell, this woman would not sit still for anyone.
By the time he caught up with her, she was standing on the back porch, knocking on the kitchen door. Her pruning pole leaned against the railing.
“Buck’s not here.” He stepped around her and led the way into the kitchen. A single dim light glowed over the stove. The paper wrappings from his meal littered the table. He yanked off his coat and hat and hung them on a peg. “Now if you’ll—”
Words failed him. She had the face of an angel, too.
He didn’t know what captured his attention more, the determined set of her full pink lips, or her dark brown eyes, sparkling with certainty. She seemed to glow with purpose. She made him think suddenly of the hikers he’d encountered while exploring Skyline Drive. Exuberant and self-reliant. Confident they could deal with any obstacle in their path.
She slid her backpack from her shoulders and slipped out her phone. “Mr. Quisenbury? It’s Noelle Arber. How’re you doing?”
Cole hadn’t heard that sweet tone in her voice when they’d been standing outside in the rain. Her no-nonsense attitude and confident stride had given him the impression she was accustomed to being in charge.
And she didn’t look much older than his sister Sally.
She pushed her wet hair off her forehead. “I’m standing in the kitchen of your house with—what’s your name?”
He cleared his throat. “Cole Higginbotham.”
“Do you know a Cole Higginbotham?” She shot him a cautious glance. “He doesn’t know you.”
“Tell him to ask his grandson Buck.”
Read Red Bows and Mistletoe to find out what happens next.