Excerpt: A Barker Family Christmas

A Barker Family Christmas by Juliana Stone

A Novella

Chapter One

Three days until Christmas…

Bobbi Jo Barker chewed off her last good fingernail and it was all Shane Gallagher’s fault. She glanced down at her hands and grimaced. Her sister Betty Jo was going to have a cow when she saw the state of Bobbi’s fingers. Not exactly the right look for a bridesmaid.

Crap.

Another wave of ice hit the windowpane and her head shot up, brows furrowed. At least she had until tomorrow to deal with her sister. The Hollywood starlet was coming to town for the Christmas holidays with her fiancé, Beau Simon. And with two days to go until their not-so-secret wedding on Christmas Eve, her sister was cutting it close.

But then, when had Betty Jo Barker ever done anything by the book? When had she ever gone for easy or proper, or you know, organized?

Whatever, Bobbi thought. She wasn’t worrying about it now.

She leaned closer to the window and wiped her palms across the frosty panes. The storm was getting worse—swirling snow mixed with ice pellets. Made it hard to see. Made it hard to concentrate on anything besides the fact that Shane should have been back from the pharmacy nearly an hour ago.

She squinted, nose pressed against the cold glass, but she could barely see past the front step of the porch.

“Where the hell are you?” she muttered fiercely.

Blowing out hot breath she swore once more as the windows fogged up.

“He’s been gone a while. I told him I could wait until tomorrow for those damn pills.”

Bobbi turned from the window, tucking a dark piece of hair behind her ear as she attempted a smile. But it fell flat and she gave up. What was the point? She was worried and pissed off and not in the mood to pretend that everything was okay. Besides, her gramps could see through bullshit. In fact his bullshit radar was legendary.

She crossed her arms, looking for a bit of comfort as a shiver rolled over her body.

“Yes,” she said softly, eyes on her grandfather. “And no, you need those meds now.”

His worn and dog-eared John Deere cap was askew, and his white button down shirt had suspicious red stains down the front of it. Bobbi was pretty sure her gramps had gotten into the red wine after she’d cleared out of the kitchen. He’d been told to stay away from it on account of his medication, but she wasn’t going to call him out on it.

His cheeks were rosy, his eyes soft, and her heart swelled at the sight of him. He’d been through so much lately—they all had—but it had been particularly hard on Gramps.

Two months earlier the family had been forced to put Bobbi’s father—Herschel’s son—into a long term care facility. Trent Barker’s Alzheimer’s had been getting worse and when he’d started a fire in the kitchen for the second time in two weeks, there was no choice but to admit him. He’d become a hazard not only to himself, but to Gramps. They’d been told it would be for the best, but the best is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.

As if that wasn’t bad enough a few weeks back her gramps had fallen. He’d screwed up his hip, damaged an already weak knee and was now tooling around in a motorized wheelchair.

A wheelchair he used as if he was racing in the Indy 500.

She winced when the chair bumped into the doorframe and took out another chunk of wood before nearly toppling the oak bookcase propped up along the wall.

“Damn thing,” Gramps muttered, glaring at the bookcase. “Wasn’t in that spot yesterday.” He scratched his head, glowering. “Mrs. McKewen’s been screwing with the furniture again.”

Bobbi tried to hide a smile, but figured by the look tossed her way she hadn’t been entirely successful.

“Nice try, Gramps, but Mrs. McKewen hasn’t been screwing with the furniture. That bookcase has been in the same exact spot since I was ten. The only thing that’s different is the big old dent you just put into the doorframe. Honestly, Gramps, I don’t know if this house is going to survive that wheelchair.”

“Bah,” Herschel said gruffly. “It’s just a little tricky around the corners is all.”

“Uh huh,” she replied, eyes moving back to the window as another wave of ice slammed against it.

“Have you tried calling Shane?” her grandfather asked carefully. By his tone, Bobbi was figuring he’d picked up on the tension between the two of them.

At least twenty times.

She nodded. “I sent a few text messages as well but his phone goes straight to voicemail. There’s either a problem with the service, or his phones not on or dead or…”

He doesn’t want to talk to me.

Her voice trailed off as headlights cut through the dark and shot through the window. Twin beams illuminated the unlit Christmas tree in the far corner and shadows crept up the wall behind it.

Bobbi wiped at the window once more, heart beating way too fast and squinted in order to see properly. The snow gusted and then fell away. When she spied the truck and Shane’s long legs unfolding from inside it, she bit her lip to stop the tears that threatened to poke at her eyes.

Not now, she thought. No way was Bobbi going to cry in front of Shane.

First off, she was an ugly crier at the best of times and this so wasn’t the best of times, because secondly, she was feeling a whole lot fragile and more than a little unsure. She was also scared as hell. Bobbi was pretty darn sure that any kind of crying to come from those places wasn’t going to be good.

There was ugly crying. And then there was ugly crying. Gramps didn’t deserve to catch sight of that.

Bobbi slowly peeled her hands away from the plaid sofa she’d been using to keep herself steady. She exhaled slowly and counted to ten before shaking out her fingers.

Maybe Shane had a good excuse for being so late. Maybe he had a fabulous reason for not checking his phone, or sending her a message to let her know what that fabulous reason was. Maybe his cell was dead and so was every single phone in New Waterford.

Or maybe, Marie Devilde, the pharmacist, had to go into her secret lab and cook up whatever the hell crap was in the pills that Gramps needed.

So many variables. So many maybes.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Bobbi Jo was strung so tight that pain shot across her shoulders and she winced. She heard the front door open. Heard boots scuff over the welcome mat. Bobbi listened as Shane murmured something low, his voice hitting that timbre that did funny things to her insides. She had no idea who he was talking to, or what he was saying and even though things were bad between them, there was still that part of her that reacted to him. She supposed there would always be a part of her that belonged to Shane Gallagher.

She wished that nothing mattered. Not their arguments. The lack of communication these past weeks. Not Shane’s stubbornness or Bobbi’s either.

The sound of his voice had her wanting to run into the hallway, and throw her body into Shane’s arms.

She wanted to feel his strength. Hear his heartbeat. Hold onto his warmth. She wanted him to tell her that everything was going to be okay. That together, they’d weather this storm. A storm neither one had seen coming.

Bobbi Jo wanted to tell him so many things, but instead she found herself hovering in the front room. Waiting.

Waiting for something to happen.

And it did.

A bundle of fur flew into the room, barking crazily as it wove around the furniture and then nipped at Bobbi’s feet. Pia.

She bent over and scooped up the little fur ball, hugging the dog close, eyes drawn to the man standing a few inches behind Gramps.

Shane Gallagher. He looked way too dangerous. Way too intense. But as always, Bobbi was helpless to look away.

Snow glistened against his dark hair, the ends damp as they waved around the collar of his leather jacket. His generous mouth was curved into a half smile as he watched the little dog struggle to lick every inch of Bobbi’s face. And those eyes, well, they glittered in the dim light, making her stomach tumble.

He leaned against the doorframe, his long legs crossed, his arms loose at his sides, though one hand clutched a small bag.

“That had to be the longest trip to the pharmacy, ever,” Bobbi said sharply before she could stop herself, hating that she sounded like the person she swore she’d never become. A shrew. A nag. A total bitch.

Shane’s eyes narrowed slightly and he straightened up, handing the bag over to Herschel.

“Sorry about that,” Shane replied. “I swung by the house to grab Pia because I didn’t want her there alone overnight.”

“Oh,” Bobbi murmured, hands dug into the little dog’s body so tightly, Pia yelped. Bobbi loosened her grip and exhaled.

She’s been staying with her gramps in the evenings ever since their father had gone to the Rest Acres Long Term Care Facility. No way was she chancing anything happening to her grandfather, and with Billie busy with her baby it made sense for Bobbi to stay with Gramps. That she’d been using it as an excuse to avoid Shane was neither here nor there.

“You’re staying here then? With us?” she asked softly, stomach dipping again.

Shane studied her for a few moments. He rubbed his hands along the stubble on his chin and nodded “The storm is going to get worse overnight. They’re calling for a couple feet of snow and with that ice, I don’t want you two alone in case anything happens.”

“Shane, I can look after myself.”

He didn’t answer, though his mouth tightened. Instead he tossed his leather jacket onto the sofa and rolled up the sleeves of his blue plaid shirt.

“Can I get you a beer, son?” Gramps asked, hands going for the controls of his wheelchair.

“Nah, I’m good, Herschel.”

“Bobbi can you throw some of that there, Uncle Ben’s in the microwave?” her gramps said, as he maneuvered his chair toward the sofa.

What?

Bobbi turned to her grandfather and frowned. “Rice? You want rice?”

Herschel scratched under his ball cap. “Rice? Who said anything about rice? There’s a Criminal Minds marathon on and we should settle in before we lose power. I’d like some of that there popcorn.”

Popcorn. Right.

She let Pia down and kissed her gramps, a small smile on her face. “Anything else you need?”

Herschel raised an eyebrow. “Some of my homemade red wine would be good.”

“No.”

“Maybe the last bit of that scotch, neat?”

“No.”

“Whisky?”

“Water is the only thing on the menu tonight,” Bobbi said, shaking her head. “Or maybe some hot cocoa?”

“Can we add a dash of rum to that?”

“You’re impossible,” she replied. Bobbi glanced up at Shane, mouth dry at the look in his eyes. Something in their depths touched that scared place inside her and for one moment, Bobbi wished she were anywhere other than trapped here with the man that she loved.

How screwed up was that?

She cleared her throat and moved toward the hallway, breath catching when Shane leaned close to her as she passed by him.

“I’m done waiting, Bobbi. Done with you pushing me away. Done with you avoiding the one thing we can’t avoid. The one thing we need to figure out if we’re going to have half a chance. The way I figure it, this storm is our chance to get all this bullshit sorted out once and for all. There’s no place to hide anymore. I’m not letting you hide.”

She froze.

“And even if there was,” Shane continued, his voice dangerous, his warmth scorching the skin beneath her ear. “It wouldn’t matter because I’d find you.”

Her heart stopped.

“I’d find you,” he repeated softly.

Bobbi swallowed the biggest lump ever and squeaked out a response. It wasn’t eloquent or well thought out, but it was all she had.

“Okay.”

Okay, she thought, moving past him and heading toward the kitchen. This is good.  We’ll get everything out.  We’ll fix this.

Everything will be okay.

So why did she feel so damn scared?


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