A Daddy for Christmas

By: Linda Ford

Chapter One

Edendale, Alberta, Canada

December 1882

The church door clattered open. A cold breeze skittered across the floor as two little girls rushed into the room from beyond the partition of raw wood that separated the entryway from the main part of the partially finished church. They skidded to a halt, staring at him with wide eyes.

The peace twenty-eight-year-old Blue Lyons sought so desperately shattered into fragments as tiny and elusive as the sawdust at his feet.

“We need help,” the bigger girl said, an unfamiliar child with hair the color of caramel candy sticks and heavily lashed eyes as dark as night.

“Something’s wrong with Mama,” the second girl said. This one had sunny-blond hair and blue eyes.

At the fear he saw in their expressions, Blue felt cracks begin to form in the barrier he’d erected around his emotions. Then he tightened his self-control. Part of the reason he’d asked to work here, making pews for the new church in town, was to avoid contact with children. Back at Eden Valley Ranch he was surrounded with them—smiling, laughing, chasing, playing, happy children continually threatening the fortifications he’d built around his memories.

But these two little girls were alone and frightened. “Whoa. Slow down. Where’s your mama, and what does she need?”

The pair gasped for air, then closed the distance to his side, apparently unafraid of him as a stranger. Or were they so concerned about their mama they would seek help from anyone?

The girls caught his hands, one on each side, and tugged at him. He let them drag him forward as the memory of other occasions burst from the locked vault of his mind. Two other children—a boy and a girl—pulling on his hands, eager to show him something. Sometimes it was a new batch of kittens. Sometimes a flower peeking through the snow. Once they’d discovered a baby rabbit hidden in some grass, and the three of them had hunkered down to watch it.

The two girls who had burst into his serenity hurried him toward the door. Then, suddenly, one of them halted.

“Stop. You need your coat. It’s too cold to go out without it.” The older one had suddenly grown motherly and concerned. She spied the coat hanging from a nail and dropped his hand to point at it. “Best put it on.”

He hesitated. He’d like nothing more than to get back to the peace he’d found in his work. But how could he until he made sure everyone was safe? So he obeyed and slipped into his warm winter coat.

The girls rocked back and forth, their little faces wreathed in concern and urgency.

His nerves twitched at the impatience of the girls, but he would proceed cautiously. “We haven’t met. My name is Blue Lyons. I’m going to be working here for a few days, making pews. Do you have a name?” he asked the older child as she twisted her fingers in her worry.

“I’m Eleanor. I’m the oldest. I’m eight.”

The little one piped up. “I’m Libby. I’m seven, so I’m just about as old.” She gave her sister a challenging look.

Eleanor’s dark eyes flashed. “Are not.”

Little Libby’s chin jutted out. “Am, too.”

Blue did not let the argument escalate. “What’s your mama’s name, and where is she?”

“Mrs. Weston,” said Eleanor with a degree of triumph that she had spoken first.

“Clara Weston,” Libby added, not to be outdone.

Reminded of their mission, they again grabbed his hands. “Come on.”

He let them pull him along, as curious as he was concerned. “Where are we going?”

“To Mama,” Libby said. “She fell down.”

His heart lurched. He tried to still it, but it refused to obey. “Is she hurt?”

“I don’t know.” Libby’s voice wobbled.

Oh, please don’t cry. Please don’t.

Eleanor must have had the same thought, though likely for an entirely different reason. “Libby, don’t blubber. We gotta get back to Mama.”

She sounded so grown-up. The responsible one of the pair. Now why would he think that? He knew nothing about them. He slammed shut the quaking doors of his heart. All he had to do was make sure their mother was safe.

They trotted onward, both girls latched on to his hands as if afraid to let go. Their fear and concern knotted in his stomach. What if their mother—

No. He would not think the worst.

Though nothing could be as bad as what he’d seen two years ago. The fire. The—

He would not, could not, think of it.

They headed for the river. A dozen possibilities rushed at him, none of which he hoped to find.

“There she is.” Eleanor pointed. With a cry, she broke free and rushed to the figure facedown on the ground.