Christmas in Moose Creek
A Second Chance Romance Novelette
Sweet & Clean
On a winding mountain road in Moose Creek, Montana
THE 4X4 CAREENED to a stop and the driver waited in disbelief at the deplorable timing of Mother Nature. Moose Creek, Montana, had its share of wildlife—bear, deer, elk, mountain lions—but in her thirty-three years, Saige Travers had never seen a moose on this mountain. Until today.
No one waited for her in her swank two-bedroom condo in Seattle except the goldfish her brother gave to her as a joke for her birthday. She’d needed a break from the city and the cataclysmic string of end-of-the-road relationships she’d been in the past five years. More like dates, if she was going to be honest with herself.
Saige Travers didn’t have time for relationships.
She didn’t believe in settling for less when she wanted more. The “more” included her position as an ad executive for one of Seattle’s elite marketing firms, a corner office, and the respect of her colleagues while she worked her way up the time-honored ladder to the top floor.
Unfortunately, no one ever told Saige that when she reached the top, she would be alone more often than not. She enjoyed her work and the success she’d attained, but whenever the holiday season approached and her artfully constructed campaigns graced billboards, television spots, and magazine covers, Saige always experienced a moment of doubt and a touch of sadness.
Saige had completed her campaigns ahead of schedule, and while the leaves began to change in the landscaped park next to her office building, she’d found herself wondering how she ended up in a sky rise 500 miles from home. Autumn was her favorite season in Montana, and staring out her office window overlooking Elliot Bay, Saige realized she was exactly where she didn’t want to be.
In a moment of nostalgia, she clicked the bookmarked tab on her PC that took her to the chamber of commerce website for her hometown of Moose Creek. The town had put up a web camera overlooking Main Street and the tranquil bay of Eagle Lake. Out of habit and enjoyment, she perused the classifieds page, which featured five advertisements from local businesses. She smiled. It was a busy week for the chamber.
Whether it had been fate, luck, or good timing, an idea sparked. Saige had planned everything. From the day she graduated high school, packed up for college, and said goodbye to her high school sweetheart, every second had been part of a careful strategy to conquer the world.
One week ago, Saige had tossed aside every plan she’d ever made, and now she waited for a moose on a road she’d forgotten remained untraveled unless her parents happened to drive to and from town. According to the last conversation with her mother, they’d been holed up planning this year’s Halloween festival for a town that managed to fill every month with some kind of fair, feast, or special event.
If she’d told them she was coming, they would have asked questions, and right now, she didn’t have all the answers.
Coming home tripled Saige’s doubt because it forced her to face what she’d left behind fifteen years ago for her career—Owen McGregor. She had escaped Montana, or so she’d thought, without ever telling Owen how she felt about him. If she had, Saige might have stayed. All she managed was a hug and a few tears when she drove away. She’d kept busy, worked her way to a successful career, and accomplished her goals, but a week hadn’t gone by in those fifteen years when Saige didn’t regret her choice.
Saige pressed on the horn, the sound reverberating off the mountainside only to be muffled by the thick wall of pine trees on the opposite side. She pressed down again, this time gaining the attention of the moose.
“Okay, you win.” Saige held up her hands. “You win. I’ll wait right here until you decide not to stand in the middle of the road, you wacky-looking creature.” She exhaled, removed her wool cap, and lowered the heat a few degrees before she rolled down the window. Winter had come early to Montana, and she relished in the cold, crisp scent of the pine forest. Saige looked back out at the animal and wondered how its head would look above the great fireplace in her parents’ living room.
She shook her head and stared at the moose who stared back. “I know you don’t know what I was thinking, but I’m sorry anyway. Now, will you please get out of the way? I promise to never, ever hunt one of you in my life.”
Saige credited the moose’s departure to its own desire to be off the road rather than her nonexistent telepathic abilities with wild animals. She nodded her thanks to the lanky beast, shifted her car back into drive, and continued up the mountain.
THE HOUSE LOOKED as it did every time she came home, and Saige found the normalcy comforting. Her mother had decorated the exterior with her usual array of autumn and Halloween decorations. Lanie Travers never decorated anything half-measure, and from what Saige saw, her mother had expanded upon her ever-growing holiday décor.
She pulled into the driveway leading to the guest house rather than going up to the main house first. She needed a little more time to figure out what she would tell her parents. Regardless of her thirty-three years, Saige had come home, though she intended for the housing arrangement to be temporary.
She unloaded her overnight bag and a second suitcase out of her Jeep and set them on the small front porch of the cozy guest cabin. As a young girl, she’d pretended the cabin was her own house, a grown-up escape from what she had once considered a boring and stifling childhood.
Careful what you wish for, her grandmother used to say. Saige should have taken those words more to heart back then.
“Saige Victoria Travers, is that you?”
Saige stepped off the cabin’s porch and grinned at her father. His long legs covered the distance between the barn and cabin in quick order. “Hey, Dad.” The second he reached her side, he enveloped her in a big hug. At six-feet-four inches and over two hundred pounds, her father towered over her, but she always liked that about him. He hadn’t changed much over the years. Saige had his gray-blue eyes and her mother’s thick, wavy hair that her father always said reminded him of the sand castles they had built together when they visited the ocean.
That had been more than twenty years ago. When Saige went to high school, she spent most of her time focusing on her studies, ensuring she received a perfect GPA, which enabled her matriculation into the university of her choice and to have her pick of jobs. She’d achieved what she though most important but little else.
“What a nice surprise. We didn’t expect you until Thanksgiving.” Her father stepped back, his gaze drifting to her car and the front porch of the guest house. “Looks like you’re here for a long visit.” He looked at her the same way he always had when he wanted to get information from her.
“If you and Mom don’t mind. It won’t be long, just until I can get my own place fixed up.”
“Fixed up? What do you mean? What happened to your condo?”
“Ah, well.” Saige wrapped her arm around her father’s waist and started toward the main house, a big log and river rock structure with more windows than walls. “There’s something I’d like to talk to you and Mom about.”
“If something is wrong, then—”
“Nothing is wrong, Dad.” Saige cast her gaze over the forest and Eagle Lake below. She’d always loved this spot, except she didn’t realize how much until she’d left. “In fact, everything is just right.”
Her parents owned half the mountain, forty-five acres in total and another two hundred set aside for conservation. The land had been passed down to her father from her grandfather and his father before him. Four generations of Travers had lived on this mountain, and most of her life had been spent running from the legacy.
“You quit your job?”
Saige popped a corner of a cinnamon roll into her mouth and savored the mouth-watering pastry covered in cinnamon, brown sugar, and her mother’s secret frosting. “I swear, these get better and better.” She glanced between her parents, both wearing expressions that shifted between concern and curiosity. “Yes, I quit my job.”
“What about your condo?”
Her father, ever the business man, never liked to see anything go to waste.
“It’s on the market. The realtor thinks it will go fast.”
Her mother wiped her hands on the black-and-orange checkered apron. “Honey, I’m glad you’re home, and you are welcome to stay for as long as you want, but I still don’t understand.”
“Now, Lanie. Our girl obviously has a plan or she wouldn’t be here.” Wesley Travers squeezed her shoulder and smiled at his daughter. “Give her a chance to explain.”
Saige exhaled a deep breath, and to gain herself a few extra seconds, ate another piece of the delectable roll. “Mother, you could sell these and make a fortune. Oh, and I bought Moose Creek Farm.”
She imagined her parents were now picturing the rundown barn on twenty acres of land once owned by Mr. Cutter, a grumpy old man who only wore denim overalls, flannel shirts, and a sour expression. His farm also grew the best Christmas trees within 400 miles.
“Moose Creek Farm?” Her mother stopped clearing the dishes. “You’re going to be a farmer?”
“No, I’m going to be a business owner who happens to own a Christmas tree farm.”
Her father chuckled and shook his head. “No sense in talking her out of it, Lanie.”
“You think the idea is crazy?”
Wesley chewed on one of the chocolate brownies her mother had left out to cool. “Of course I do. You don’t know the first thing about growing trees. You’re smart and creative, and I’m sure you have a plan, but a tree farm? The barn on Cutter’s land will have to be redone, and that’s not cheap.”
Saige studied her parents, knew they loved her, and would support her no matter what, but she didn’t want them to think she’d made a mistake. “I’ve done well for myself and can afford this. The place does need some work, but half of it’s cosmetic.”
Her mother went back to mixing some kind of chocolate batter and her father ate another brownie.
“You’ll see. It’s going to be amazing.”
OWEN FINISHED HIS examination of the exterior and slid open one of the barn doors, clipboard in hand. He’d been surprised when the realtor called him to say the new owner needed an estimate on a full remodel. When old man Cutter passed away, he figured the place would have been bulldozed to make room for homes, but he wasn’t alone in his relief when the town council disallowed new developments within city limits.
Moose Creek, Montana, was the place of Owen’s birth, where his children had been born, and where he’d built a thriving business. As a contractor, many of the locals had been surprised when he voted against the new subdivision. Owen didn’t care about building new homes. He preferred to refurbish, remodel, and turn something old back into what it should be, which is why he agreed to look over the old barn.
The timbers and frame were sound and solid, even after more than 100 years standing. Owen made a study of older structures in the area and discovered the barn had been built in 1889. No modifications had been made to the original structure. It deserved a place on the historical registry, and yet, it had been almost forgotten during the decades under Cutter’s ownership. It was only the place where people paid for their Christmas trees, few giving it another thought.
Owen noted the floor needed to be replaced, though he’d salvage as much of the wood as possible. At some point, someone had insulated the barn, though most of it had been covered in drywall and left, in his opinion, ugly.
He continued to make notes as he walked through the rest of the interior. With the exception of the living area in the back, the building was open and spacious. He climbed the narrow stairway to the loft. The stairs would have to be rebuilt, widened, and brought up to code if the owner intended to use the loft. He hoped so. The loft was shaped in a U and offered almost as much floor space as the main level.
Other than the owner’s plans to keep Moose Creek Farm producing Christmas trees as it had for fifty years, the realtor wasn’t able to tell him much. He glanced at his watch. The owner was supposed to meet him in ten minutes. Owen wanted to walk through one more time before he or she arrived. He stepped off the wobbly last step of the wooden staircase and started for the front of the barn.
She’d walked inside without him hearing. Her focus was on the building, not him, and it gave him a chance to compose himself before approaching her. Unfortunately, the combination of anger and heartache rushed through him as though he was eighteen again staring at the back of her car. She’d left him behind, determined to prove to herself and everyone else that a small town girl could make all her dreams come true. Too bad her image of the perfect life had been misunderstood.
More beautiful than he remembered, and clothed in a pair of loose jeans and plaid shirt beneath a long duster, she looked nothing like he imagined she would. He’d thought about her over the years, wondered how a homegrown Montana girl fared in the big city.
He saw her parents on occasion—hard to avoid anyone in a town of 1,200 people—but Owen kept to himself more often than not. He liked her parents and had considered them the family he didn’t have growing up. It had been difficult, not asking about Saige, but he’d decided forgetting her was going to be the only way to move on with his life.
Saige Travers had broken his heart sixteen years ago, and until this moment, he didn’t realize just how much.
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Excerpted from Christmas in Moose Creek by McKenna Grey. Copyright © 2016 by McKenna Grey. Published by Trappers Peak Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.