EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT #3 OF CHAPTER 1 BOXCAR CHRISTMAS by Lindsay McKenna

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT #3 OF CHAPTER 1 BOXCAR CHRISTMAS by Lindsay McKenna

Exclusive excerpt #3

12.18.17

Travis Ramsey was behind the counter of Ramsey Fishing Guides when the bell above the door tinkled, telling him he had an early morning visitor. His fishing guide business was mostly dormant during this time of the year and he had little to do over the coming winter months. Next April when the snows left the Bitterroot Valley where Hamilton sat, fishermen from around the world would stream in to take advantage of the world-class trout in the creeks and river. Looking up, he saw a young woman, her short black hair emphasizing the paleness of her features. Straightening, he saw her look around the large, two story building. As her blue gaze met his, he frowned. She was wearing an Army jacket. A real one, with patches that he quickly recognized. Had she bought it at an Army-Navy store or was she the real deal? She was tall, her shoulders thrown back, wearing a heavy Army rucksack on her back. His gaze dropped to her long legs wrapped in denim to her boots. Those were Army boots. There was something about her, a sense that she was probably ex-military. So was he.

“Can I help you?” he called, walking toward the end of the maple counter that had been in his family since the late 1800’s. He saw her blue eyes narrow upon him, silently evaluating him. There was a glittering intelligence in them, something he rarely saw outside the military. Her fingers tightened around the strap of her rucksack curved across her shoulder. He’d been a Delta Force operator and missed nothing. If she was ex-Army, she didn’t act like office personnel at all. No, she was carefully assessing him on every potential level as he was her. There had been women in Delta Force for over a decade. She certainly behaved like an operator and his respect for her was already amping up. He halted at the end of the counter. “I’m Travis Ramsey. How may I help you?”

The woman looked disheveled, but clean, her clothes showing wear and tear. Something pinged his intuition as she headed toward him, her lips set in a line that suggested she was afraid of his response to whatever she wanted or needed from him. Travis couldn’t prove it, but he never dismissed an intuitive hit. It had saved his life way too many times.

“I’m Jesse Myers. I was walking in the woods along the Bitterroot River when I saw a red caboose in the nearby meadow. I went to the county Recorder’s office here in Hamilton to find the owner and they said it belonged to you.” She hesitated and then said, “I’m looking for a place to rent. I have a part time job at Katie’s Koffee Bean down the street. I can’t afford much, but I would take good care of that boxcar if you’re open to renting it to me.”

Stunned by her request, he nodded, watching fear and hope alternate in her eyes. “You did your homework.”

Jesse managed a weak smile. “It’s my nature. I fell in love with the caboose and thought it would be a great place to stay. I’m not making enough money to rent something in town, yet. I could clean it up, maybe paint it and repair some of the things inside and make it livable once more. I’m pretty good with mechanical and electrical stuff.”

Travis liked her low, husky voice. She might be fearful that he’d say no, but she stood her ground and kept good eye contact with him. “You have family around here?” Hamilton was a town of four-thousand plus people and he knew all of them because his family was one of the first to settle in this town.

Shaking her head, she said, “No, sir, I don’t. I was born and raised in Billings, Montana, and that’s where my folks live.”

Things didn’t add up. “And you’ve come to Hamilton to get a job?” Travis knew there were no jobs after tourist season, which ended in late September and didn’t begin again until the first of April. Everyone who worked here was seasonal. What was her story?

“Yes, sir, I have. Growing up, my parents favorite place to go for a weekend or a vacation was Hamilton. I’ve always loved this small town, the people, and how it’s surrounded by nature.” She gave a slight shrug. “I’m not a city person even though I was born in Billings. I need the outdoors, the woods, the water and the quiet.”

She appealed to him on so many levels that Travis felt momentarily rocked by that unexpected awareness. Jesse’s short hair was mannish in cut and that triggered something in him that he hoped to explore with her. “Listen, I’ve got an espresso machine at the rear of the store. Why don’t we go back there, have a cup of coffee and we can talk?” He gestured toward the front door. “There isn’t going to be anyone coming in today. I just bought a half-dozen fresh pastries from the Las Palomas Bakery next door. Let’s talk further in my office?” He wasn’t looking for a woman, but damned if Jesse Myers didn’t call strongly to him, man-to-woman. She was clearly mature for her age, had morals and values because she went to the county office to find out who owned that caboose and then asked to rent it. He’d seen some vets who passed through the area in the summer who squatted and used the caboose, never asking if they could stay there or not. He liked her honesty.

“Well…”

He gestured toward the other end of the store. “Come on. It’s early and I don’t know about you, but hot coffee is something we can all use this time of morning.” Military people were coffee hounds of the first order. He saw her eyes widen momentarily, those thick dark lashes emphasizing them. Pleased, he saw the offer appealed to her.

“Sounds good, Mr. Ramsey.”

“Call me Travis and you can put the ‘sir’ away, too. I’m ex-Army. Are you?” he asked, walking down the length of the counter. He met her at the other end and opened the door to the tourist area of the shop. The waiting room was large, lots of wooden chairs with cushions spaced neatly around the perimeter. At one end was a long table filled with paper coffee cups, boxes of assorted teas, sugar, cream, and spoons, and a very expensive espresso machine. “Put your rucksack on a chair and have a seat,” he invited. Partly shutting the door, he went and turned the machine on. “Coffee? Espresso? What’s your poison?” He grinned a little, wanting the tension she carried to dissolve. He saw her gently set the fifty-pound pack on the floor next to the chair where she sat down.

“Just plain coffee is fine. Black. Thank you.”

Her manners were all military and Travis nodded, getting busy making her that coffee. “Reach over and grab yourself a donut or two,” he said, pointing to a box near where she was seated. “Help yourself. Alex Delgado, the daughter of Hector and Maria, now runs the bakery and she’s known as the queen of pastries around Hamilton. They all taste great.” Jesse was a tall, big boned woman and he noticed how the wrinkled Army jacket hung on her frame. He saw her look wistfully at the pastries and lick her full lower lip. Her hands were taut against the thighs of her jeans. She was hungry. The realization hit him hard. In black ops, it was the little things, jigsaw puzzle pieces that alone, didn’t tell much. But as an operator in Afghanistan for far too long, it was all these tidbits that came together to paint a fuller picture of a situation. Or in the case of Jesse, that she was definitely an Army vet. There was no question in his mind about that.

Further, she had hesitated momentarily at the door to the coffee room to thoroughly evaluate it. This told him she was clearly an operator, not some office assistant. Maybe she was an Intelligence officer or maybe an operator out in the field like himself? When she came into the room after sweeping it thoroughly in a moment with her gaze, she deliberately sat down in one corner, at the end of the table, her back up against a wall, facing the only exit door. An operator always did that. As he put the coffee into the machine, placing a white paper cup beneath the spout, he began to cobble more of her story together in his head. If she’d been in combat, more than likely she had PTSD. The fact that she wasn’t at home after leaving the Army told him that. He had many friends, ex-Delta operators, who had their marriages go bust after coming off a deployment because of the years of accumulated PTSD and being unable to adjust to civilian life again. They couldn’t go home to their parents, either, because they wouldn’t understand the flashbacks, the nightmares, and the ongoing anxiety they carried in them 24/7/365, either.

His mouth flexed in sympathy as he watched her from the corner of his eye. She rose in one fluid motion and picked up a paper napkin, her long, elegant looking fingers hovering over the mouth-watering array of pastries. When she leaned over, her jacket opened and he saw she was wearing a desert tan shirt he was very familiar with. It was an operator’s shirt, with camouflage print on both long sleeves and a tan torso core of one color. Yeah, she was black ops, no question.

“Where were you stationed in Afghanistan?” he asked, turning and placing the steaming brew on the table next to where she’d sat down.

Jesse froze for a second, transfixed by the man’s large, slightly narrowed gray eyes as he buttonholed her with that question. His dark brown hair was cut military short, his beard clipped close, showing off his square face and giving him an air of dangerousness. Trying to slough off her shock that he knew what she was in the Army, she replied, “Nangarhar Province.” Tensing, she saw several emotions flit across his face. How the hell would he know that about her? She hadn’t answered his question earlier about being in the Army. The chocolate éclair teased her wide-open senses. Her mouth watered. The scent of the sugar, vanilla pudding and chocolate was too much to resist and she bit slowly into it, savoring it as if her life depended upon it. Closing her eyes, she made a humming sound in the back of her throat. The world stopped in that moment as she tasted the luscious, thick chocolate coating. He finally swallowed, feeling it hit her hungry stomach, the urgent amount of strength that it created within her as the glucose shot into her system.

Slowly, her senses moved outward once more and she heard Travis tinkering with the espresso machine, the fragrance of chocolate surrounding her as the machine hissed and steamed. Opening her eyes, she saw he was making a large mocha latte. He was a tall man, at least six-foot-tall and broad shouldered. The blue plaid flannel cowboy shirt he wore stretched against his powerful chest, with a black leather vest worn over the shirt. He was someone who was in top shape, probably in his late twenties, she would guess. There were a lot of crinkles at the corners of his gray eyes, telling her he was outside a lot. She liked his short dark brown hair that sported reddish strands among them.

She decided to take a closer inspection of him because no one was a mind reader. His hands were large, square and calloused. When he made a gesture, she saw that he sported a thick callous on the inside of his right index finger, his trigger finger. Black ops all had that telltale sign. She had it on hers, as well. And he might have spotted it on her hand after she’d removed her gloves. When she’d come into the store, she’d seen him suddenly shift almost invisibly, into a heightened space of alertness aimed at her. It was nothing obvious, but her senses were far too honed not to pick it up and now, she was beginning to put together that this man standing in a cowboy shirt, jeans and scarred, well-worn leather boots, was black ops himself, not regular Army–otherwise he wouldn’t have recognized who she was. Questions came, but she sat on them. Right now, she needed a place to rent. Besides, he’d probably find her personal questions rude.

END OF INSTALLMENT #3!

Stay tuned for next Monday’s installment #4 BOXCAR CHRISTMAS on 12.25.17!!

Have you missed the 1st Exclusive Excerpt?
Go here: https://wp.me/pBmdA-Dpt

Have you missed the 2nd Exclusive Exerpt?
https://wp.me/pBmdA-DpC

If you missed Lindsay’s Blog on the “Story behind the story” of BOXCAR CHRISTMAS?
Go here: https://wp.me/pBmdA-Dpp

Happy Holidays!

http://www.lindsaymckenna.com

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