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Authors: Anna Small

Mistletoe and Montana

BOOK: Mistletoe and Montana
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MISTLETOE AND
MONTANA

 

by

 

ANNA SMALL

 

 

Copyright 2012

 

This book is dedicated to Carolyn
Leister and Julia Zapzic– my real-life heroines!

Thank you for always standing by me, no
matter what.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

“Mommy, Mommy, you’re on TV!”

Joely Burbank glanced up from the apples
she was slicing to glance at her seven year-old daughter, Molly, who stood in
front of the TV, her finger jangling as she danced up and down. Her own face
stared back at her in vivid color; her hand was raised to prevent the paparazzo
from taking her picture. The footage was a few nights old already, and showed
her leaving the swanky restaurant after her boyfriend that the media had
affectionately termed her boy toy broke up with her. She’d thought he was going
to propose, and had bought a new pair of heels she couldn’t afford. Boy, did
she feel stupid when he’d spoken the dreaded, short words right after dessert.

She forced herself to put the knife
down.
Deep breaths
. But her yoga instructor’s stress relief aid didn’t
help.

“Mommy?” Molly’s little voice cracked.

“I’m ok. Mommy’s ok.” She opened her
eyes and smiled brightly at Molly, who’d appeared at her side. She handed Molly
a bowl of fruit and took the TV clicker from her. She changed the channel and
Molly quickly became engrossed in the cartoon that replaced the trash she’d
been watching.

Numbness replaced the sickening fear
that had grown in the pit of her stomach since last Friday. How could she have
mistaken a break up for a proposal? Wasn’t Matt ready to start a world tour,
promoting the next installment of his teen-targeted hot vampire movie
franchise? He would never have considered throwing all that away on a
twenty…okay, thirty-something year old soap opera actress who hadn’t even made
a feature film yet.

Her agent had assured her dating Matt
was the best thing for her career. All the tabloids wanted the inside scoop on
their life together, made glamorous by careful styling and invitations to the
hottest parties and clubs in town. Still young-looking enough to pass for her
mid-twenties, Joely plastered a smile along with her make-up and did her best
to look adoringly at Matt whenever the cameras were rolling. But inside, she
secretly wished she was still in the bleachers, cheering on her high school
sweetheart; a megastar NFL player in his own right.

“When are we going to Daddy’s?” Molly
asked.

Joely snapped back to the present. “In a
few days. I’m waiting to see if Sarah can take you and Ian.” Her assistant had
recently remarried, and Joely wasn’t sure if the biannual jaunt to Montana had
lost its appeal yet.

“I want you to take us.”

Ignoring Molly’s pout, which was hard to
do when the pout in question had a milk mustache, Joely flipped through the
contacts on her phone. “That reminds me, I need to call Daddy. Do you want to
say hello to him?”

Molly shook her head and went back to
her cartoon. Taking a deep breath as if she were about to jump off the high
dive at the Y where she grew up, Joely pressed the call button.

“Hey.” Ben doled out words with as much
frugality as he handled money. She imagined he glanced at his phone when her
name popped up. How was her number stored? Bitch? or Joely? Baby Mama?

She wasn’t in the mood to pick up where
their last fight ended, and steeled herself for her four times a year phone
call to her ex-husband. “Hi, Ben. I just wanted to make sure you had the kids’
flight info. I emailed it to you…”
            “Yeah, I got
it. I’ll be there at 4pm to get them, just like I always do.”

She hated it when he cut her off, but
couldn’t really blame him. Their divorce, when it finally came after five years
of fighting, had been ugly and hateful and splashed all over the front pages of
every supermarket tabloid in America. She didn’t understand why the private
life of a B-actress and a former NFL jock concerned anyone.

Refusing to rise to his tone, she
mentally nodded. “OK.” She didn’t know what else to say, but added, “Ian and
Molly are really looking forward to seeing you.”

“Like I’m the reason they only see their
dad a few times a year.”

Molly was there, or else she’d have used
a few choice words. Dammit, but he always knew how to press the right buttons.
She wished she could channel her daytime TV character; a supreme bitch who had
the world eating out of her hand.

“You didn’t have to move to Montana. The
judge said…”

His whistle pierced through the phone
and she winced. “Spare me your support of that crook! He’s a fan of your inane
show, and that’s why he took your side.”

“Ben, we don’t have to do this…” Why,
after all these years, did tears spring to her eyes the moment she heard the
anger and hurt in his voice?

“Right. I’ll get them at Billings. Just
like last summer.”

Her phone screen darkened. She looked up
to see Molly’s little red face. “Daddy can’t wait to see you and Ian. Christmas
in the snow will be lots of fun.”

The rosebud lips quivered. “I don’t want
to see Daddy. I want to stay here, with you.” She threw herself into Joely’s
arms. Joely stroked her hair from her face and patted her back.

“You always have fun up there. Daddy
probably has some new horses and calves. You can play in the barn with the
kittens, too.”

“The kittens are all grown up.”

“There will be snow. Daddy can make a
snowman for you.”

“I hate snow. It’s too cold. I want to stay
here. You won’t have anybody for Christmas.”

Joely forced a happy face. “I have Sarah
and…and George from the show, and…you know, all those people I work with.”

“Why don’t you and Daddy love each other
anymore?”

It was the same question every time a visit
to Montana came around. It served both to send Joely on a guilt trip and coddle
Molly.

“Honey, sometimes….”

“Sometimes parents can’t live with each
other anymore. It has nothing to do with love.” Ian’s mocking tone reached her
from the den where he was glued to his game console.

“Ian…” Joely pulled Molly onto her lap.
“Molly, honey, Daddy and I aren’t together anymore, but that doesn’t mean we
don’t love each other.”

“That is what it means. That’s why it’s
called divorce.”

She closed her eyes and forced herself
to remain calm. “You’re not helping, Ian.”

“That’s okay,” Molly said, cuddling on
Joely’s shoulder. “Maybe you can take us, instead of Sarah.”

“Maybe.” She rubbed her eyes with one
hand and hugged Molly with the other. “Maybe I will.” It wasn’t as if she had a
hundred reasons to stay home. Matt was already in London, and had probably
forgotten her the moment his plane landed to an airport full of screaming fans.
The hot lump of tears in her throat began to melt. “Maybe I will take you guys.
I can do some shopping up there. I always wanted a bearskin coat.”

“Mommy!” Molly shrieked with laughter.
In the other room, Ian snorted. Joely sighed and slid her legs beneath her.

“Tell me about this cartoon again,
honey. Who’s the cat with the crazy teeth?”

Molly’s descriptions of the characters
helped soothe Joely’s worn spirit. Catching a glance of palm trees rustling
gently in the warm breeze, she almost looked forward to the trip north. If only
she were going for pleasure, and not having to face the man who broke her
heart.

If only Santa
Claus were real, and divorce was only a fairy tale. A sad, twisted fairy tale.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

“That snow will be coming down all day,”
Ben remarked, ruffling Ian’s hair. “We’ll be able to make a big snow fort
tomorrow and throw some snowballs. Would you like that?”

Ian’s shoulders twitched noncommittally.
“I guess.”

Joely turned away so Ben wouldn’t see
that she’d heard. Ian was taking Matt’s leaving too hard. She hadn’t thought
they were very close, but Matt had been part of their lives for a year. They
were standing in Ben’s kitchen at the ranch. He’d been waiting at baggage claim
for them, and she almost didn’t recognize him, but the kids did, of course. It
was a shock to see him in a shearling coat and cowboy boots, until she realized
he looked like almost every other man there. Except they didn’t have broad
athlete’s shoulders like Ben, or that hard, steely look in the eyes whenever
she was around.

He’d been polite, but distant. She was
glad she’d prepared him that she was escorting the kids and not Sarah. He’d
even held the door to his massive truck open for her, and waited until she was
seated before closing it. That he hadn’t spoken a word to her but conversed
with the kids the hour and a half it took to reach the ranch didn’t bother her.
Well, it did, but she told herself it didn’t, which was almost the same thing.

She listened to the hold music in her
ear and jumped a little when the airline agent’s shrill voice came back on too
loudly.

“I still have Buster and Lilly,” Ben was
saying to Ian. “We can ride in the woods. Last time you were too young, but we
can do it now, if you want.”

Again, the shrug.

Wait a minute
… “What was
that? I’m sorry; did you say my flight was cancelled?” Joely turned her back
slightly to Ben and the kids and twisted a long tendril of hair around her
finger. She was supposed to go back the next morning, after spending the night
at a nearby hotel, which suited her just fine. Anymore stares from the Ice Man
and she’d be frozen through. “When is the next one?” She ended the call a few
seconds later and slipped her phone back into her purse. Ben and the kids were
looking at her. “They’re closing the airport. A big storm, or something.”
            “Probably
another blizzard.” The animosity in Ben’s eyes was gone. His excitement at
having the kids to himself for a month had replaced his anger at her. “When can
you leave?”

Abrupt. Cool.

“They said to call back once the storm
passes. How long will that take? Two, three days?” She could only hope that a
hotel other than the Rancher’s Roost was available. They’d passed it on the way
to Ben’s place, and she’d nearly shivered at the idea of sleeping there.

“This isn’t Malibu, princess.  It
might take a week for the storm to pass, and then another week or so for the
snow to melt. You’d better call your agent and tell her to inform Spielberg.”

“Mom doesn’t work with him,” Ian said.
Joely smiled inwardly at Ben’s humbled look.

“I know. Sorry.” He looped his thumbs through
his jeans pockets. “Well, we should settle the kids and I’ll call Mrs. Gomez to
babysit. Then I’ll drive you into town…”

“Nooo!” Molly’s wail split the air.
“Mommy, stay with us!” Molly jumped up and down. Ian gave her a brief, hopeful
glance before turning his attention to his piece of pie Ben had waiting for him
the minute they entered the house.

“I…I can’t stay here, sweetie.” She
avoided Ben’s eyes, concentrating instead on her daughter. “I’ll stay in town,
and then hop on another plane once the airport opens.”

Molly buried her face in Joely’s skirt.
“Don’t go! Please, don’t go! Daddy will let you stay.”

Her helpless tears only made things
worse. Joely tried not to notice the flush spreading across Ben’s face. He was
probably embarrassed the kids didn’t want to stay with him alone, but that was
how they acted when it was his turn to drop them off with her.

“Daddy, please!” Molly abandoned Joely
to grip her father around his waist.

“It’s just for a few days,” he said, not
looking at Joely and smoothing back Molly’s ringlets.

It wasn’t as if the house wasn’t big
enough. There were at least six bedrooms and enough space so she wouldn’t have
to be in the same room with him if she didn’t want. She hesitated before
responding, but some look of relief in Ian’s eyes confirmed her decision.

BOOK: Mistletoe and Montana
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