Two Cowboys Save Christmas by Lacey Davis

Chapter 1

Christmas Rawls loved helping the children of the orphanage decorate the cedar tree for the holiday. Unless the women in town brought the children presents, there would be nothing under the tree. Such was the life of an orphan.

Outside, the cold wind rattled the windows in the old house, seeping inside. She would need to bundle the little ones tightly to keep them warm tonight in the drafty rooms.

“Jennifer, can you put the paper star on the top?”

The girl reached up and tied it onto the tree, where it promptly fell over.

“Let me do it,” David said. The boy moved the hand-cut design farther down the stem, and then with a bow, managed to keep the star on top. At thirteen, he would soon be leaving to find his way on his own.

Christmas stared at each of the children. Each had arrived in their own special way. Each held a special place in her heart. Christmas hated the idea of having to leave; she loved the children and took care of them. They were her family. They made her happy.

On Christmas day, she would turn twenty. She knew it was time to go, but this was the only home she’d ever known. As a toddler, she’d been left on the doorstep on Christmas Eve, and the lady who ran the orphanage named her Christmas.

Mrs. Griffin had long since died, and now the place was run by Mr. Stephens, who cut corners and tried to make the place profitable, but with ten mouths ranging in age from two to twenty, it was difficult.

One of the smaller kids, Benjamin, jumped up and down, happily. “Santa?”

“That’s right, Santa will arrive in one week,” she told them.

At her age, she was accustomed to not receiving gifts, but for the sake of the children, she hoped the town would remember them during this special time of year.

The orphanage sat on the outskirts of the town of Blessing and most of the time, the people were generous to help them.

The babies were adopted, but the older children usually remained until they left on their own. She was the eldest there; those older had already gone into the world. Some in the middle of the night. Those were the troubling ones. Especially the young women. Where had they gone? Why hadn’t they said good-bye?

Mr. Stephens walked out of his office and stared at their makeshift tree. “Time for bed.”

Turning, she glanced at the man whose presence she avoided. When he gazed at her, it was like he undressed her with his eyes, and the thought made her shiver with revulsion. There was something about him that had her intuition warning her to stay far away.

“Come, children, and I’ll tuck you in.”

As the seven little ones and three older children climbed the groaning stairs under where the roof leaked, she couldn’t help but think of this place as home. It was all she knew, and yet if repairs were not soon made, the place would fall down around their ears.

With a shiver, she helped the toddlers change into sleeping clothes. This was her favorite time of night. When she put the little ones to bed, read to the older children, then ushered them into the main room where they all slept.

After everyone was settled in for the night, she undressed and crawled into bed. She turned down the lantern to where she could read from the latest book she borrowed from those donated to the home. Here, she could disappear into a story and not worry about her future.

Mr. Stephens opened the door. “Christmas, I need to see you.”

“Yes, sir,” she said as she waited for him to close the door before she rose from the bed.

“What do you think he wants?” Jennifer asked her. At fourteen, the girl was often anxious. She worried about everything. She had yet to realize that they didn’t have much control over their lives at this time.

“Oh, probably one of the little ones is sick. You know he doesn’t like to care for them when they’re ill.”

The man didn’t seem to like children and it was one of the reasons she stayed. Who would care for them if she weren’t here?

Crawling out of bed, she picked up her wrapper and put it around herself. He had never entered the room this late at night and a trickle of unease wound itself around her middle.

Whatever could he want?

Before she went downstairs, she checked on the toddlers. They were fast asleep. Nervous flutters settled in her stomach as she hurried down the creaking stairs.

When she stepped into his office, two men jumped from behind the door. They were rough looking and hadn’t seen a razor or a bath in a long time.

“She’ll do,” the man said as he shoved a bandana between her lips.

“Told you she was a beauty,” Mr. Stephens said.

Fear sparkled down her spine and she struggled to get away, but her hands were being pulled behind her back and tied. The other man placed a tow sack over her head, engulfing her in darkness.

“Damn shame to hide all this beauty. But where you’re going, it will make you lots of money.”

What in the hell was he referring to?

She screamed, but only garbled sounds came from between her lips.

“Here’s the cash,” she heard the man say.

“Tell the madam she owes me a free sample,” Mr. Stephens said.

Dear God, Mr. Stephens was selling her. But to whom? Madam who?

Hands wrapped around her upper arms, and they dragged her from the room and out the door of the house. The cold night air seeped beneath her bed clothes. All she wore was her nightgown, wrapper, and bloomers. She began to fight in earnest, knowing that once they put her in that wagon, she would never return to the orphanage.

“Stop fighting,” the man said. “Don’t make me hurt you.”

Tears trickled down her face. Not even a chance to say good-bye to the children. Who would take care of them?

She felt herself lifted into a wagon and then they were riding away from the only home she had ever known.