The holidays are the best time of the year in Baker City, Washington especially when the town ghosts, led by newcomer, Army Ranger Moises Pride decide to wreak havoc and do their own version of A Christmas Carol.
Welcome to one of the November 20th stops on the blog tour for Merry Ghostmas by Josie Malone with Silver Dagger Book Tours (schedule linked.) Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for more spotlights, reviews, and a giveaway! More on that at the end of this post.
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About the Books
A Baker City: Hearts & Haunts Christmas Novella
by Josie Malone
Published 15 October 2023
Genre: Holiday Paranormal Romance
Page Count: 158
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
The holidays are the best time of the year in Baker City, Washington especially when the town ghosts, led by newcomer, Army Ranger Moises Pride decide to wreak havoc and do their own version of A Christmas Carol. They’ll attempt to redeem Nick MacGillicudy, the incompetent horseshoer who’s been hurting two and four-legged folks for years. He needs a lesson not only in manners, but also in empathy and what the haunts consider decency.
Along the way, they’ll also help Kyra O’Neill, local riding instructor find love, light and happiness with a ‘real man’. Orphaned at a young age, Derek Waller found a new life in the US Army. Thirty years later, he’s ready for something more than camos and combat boots. A home of his own in Baker City won’t be complete without the woman who runs the pool table in the cocktail lounge at Pop’s Café and defeats him on a regular basis.
There’s no place like home for the holidays in Baker City – thank heaven! And it’s Merry Ghostmas to one and all!
Moises Pride drifted through the cocktail lounge at Pop’s Café in Baker City, Washington. It wasn’t super busy on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Most people had other commitments, shopping, cooking, visiting their relatives, but he wasn’t one of them, not anymore. That’s because I’m dead, dead, dead! Sorry, Momma. Another year of missing the family and your sweet potato pie.
He spotted a few of the other ghosts hanging out, watching the action between the living patrons. An old-time holiday movie played on the big-screen TV in the corner. He floated toward the corner booth where Mayor O’Connell, a middle-aged fellow in a black suit sat talking to Zeke Garvey and Raven Driscoll-Barlow, two former soldiers who’d died in ambushes in Afghanistan. Their war might not be his, but it didn’t mean they didn’t have a lot in common when it came to paying the ultimate cost for serving their country. Nodding respectfully, Moises waited to join the conversation.
Raven, a thin, dark-haired wraith in camouflage fatigues and combat boots, gestured at two of the people sitting at the bar, focused on their conversation and one another. “You have something to do with that, Pride? Are you following Garvey’s example and playing Cupid the way he did with Ann Barrett and Harry Colter?”
“I just gave them a little nudge.” Moises followed her gaze toward the lovely ash-blonde woman in a red dress and the soldier next to her. Derek Waller was a solid, muscular man whose worn features looked as if he’d won more fights than he’d lost in his thirty-plus years of military service. A ‘high and tight’ style for his receding salt and pepper black hair, dark brown, almost black eyes, he was all man. “I’ve hung out at the barn for the past few months, and I’ve seen Kyra O’Neill busting her butt. She deserves someone decent, not that candy-assed horseshoer who bullies the animals when he’s sure nobody’s watching.”
“These two were betting on how long she’d wait for some guy tonight.” Raven frowned thoughtfully. “Is that him?”
“Not the Sergeant-Major,” Moises said. “I already told you. She’s hung up on Nick MacGillicudy and I’d like to do something about the jerk.”
Mayor O’Connell frowned thoughtfully. “What do you have in mind, Pride?”
“Oh, let’s get in the holiday spirit.” Moises pointed at the TV. “We could do our own Christmas Carol on Nick MacGillicudy and teach him what he needs to know.”
“He might even move on and leave town,” Zeke agreed. “I never liked the guy when we were in high school. Do I get to be the Ghost of Christmas Past?”
“You’re not the only one who has issues with Herman MacGillicudy and his son,” Mayor O’Connell said. “That banker has been running Baker City into the ground for years. He tries to get his grown kids to help him rip off our kin.”
“He won’t be happy until he levels the place and turns it into one of his gravel pits,” Zeke said. “His daughter, Dominique, the realtor may say she’s on the same page, but that isn’t true, not when she finds buyers for the houses and businesses here. She helped my wife purchase the bakery after I died. ”
“She restores the places that need it before she sells them,” Raven pointed out. “I like Dominique. She did right by my bestie and her hubby. They love the home she found for them.”
The mayor nodded. “She takes after her momma, one of the O’Leary women.” He paused, obviously considering Moises’ suggestion. “Most of our folks will be here tomorrow when Pop sets up his holiday meal. Let’s get everyone involved. Things have been downright dull since the haunted town festival last month and the Veteran’s Day Parade a couple weeks ago. We need something to do now.”
On Wednesday night, Thanksgiving Eve, the lounge at Pop’s Café in Baker City wasn’t as busy as it would be on the upcoming holiday weekend. When she’d arrived an hour ago, Kyra O’Neill had glanced around the room but didn’t see her date waiting in any of the booths against the walls or at the tables in the middle of the room or playing pool in the alcove near the restrooms. He wasn’t standing at the bar either. Oh no, not again! Nick MacGillicudy had a habit of being late and not showing up at all when he promised to meet her.
She sighed. For this, she’d hurried through the horse chores at work when she finished her last equitation class. She’d hustled into the barn manager apartment, nabbing the shower before her room-mate, Trina Sweeney could. Kyra turned down the offer of a microwaved pasta dinner, saying she’d eat in town with Nick. They’d arranged to meet at the café. Okay, so it was more her idea, than his, but he’d agreed. They could eat and then spend the night out at his trailer. She wasn’t comfortable taking him back to the carriage house style apartment above one of the barns at Miracle Riding Stable.
Her comment earned a pitying look from the other riding instructor, but she hadn’t shared the criticism both of them often heard from Nick’s younger sister. She claimed he only made piecrust promises, easily made, and easily broken. When she heard about Kyra being stood up once again, Dominique would have a lot to say and none of it would be positive.
After another look around the lounge, Kyra took a deep breath and sauntered toward the bar. She’d dressed for romantic success in a cranberry red, heirloom lace dress with tight-fitting, three-quarter lace sleeves. The double-layer handkerchief hem swirled around her knees and her fashion boots tapped out a rhythm on the tile floor. She’d pinned her long ash-blonde hair into a loose bun, leaving sexy tendrils around her face, ears, and neck. Throw in the cosmetics and jewelry and she looked damned hot tonight, nothing like a 38-year-old woman who was shoveling horse pucky two hours ago.
Most of the tables appeared to be empty, not an unusual sight in Baker City. The corner booth had a cord across the end and a ‘Reserved’ sign hung from it. Pop MacGillicudy, the owner had said his grandfather always held the place for the mayor and his cronies. Granted, all of them had died years ago, but in this town, the ghosts were real and treated with respect. Or else!
Kyra decided she’d order a glass of white wine and wait a little longer. A somewhat successful farrier, Nick could be busy shoeing a horse for a client. She reached into her purse and drew out her cell phone. No messages. She hesitated before she texted him. She didn’t want to appear desperate even if she was. She pasted on a smile and hoped it looked genuine when the bartender, Pop’s daughter, Linda, a plump, brown-haired woman in a flowered shirt and black slacks approached.
There were a few years between them and way too much history, but then again Kyra knew she was too snarky to make friends easily. Sarcasm was always a good offense and defense, for that matter. She’d hitched up on a stool. “A glass of Chardonnay please.”
“You look ready for the holidays.” Linda smiled and reached for a goblet in the rack. The soft brown eyes warmed her pretty face. “How’s life at Miracle Riding Stable? Are Debbie and her family off to eastern Washington for Thanksgiving?”
“They left early this morning.” Kyra put her small red purse on the antique bar. “I’m in charge while she’s gone.”
“Of course you are. Debbie says she doesn’t know what she’d do without you. She’s so grateful you stayed on after she bought the place last spring.”
Pleasure flooded through Kyra. Granted, she often heard sincere praise from the retired Army sergeant, but it was even more special knowing the woman shared her opinion in the small town. “The housekeeper only does the daily stuff and is off for the weekend. Debbie has a special project for your cleaning company on Friday. Her grandmother is coming to visit after the holiday and Debbie hoped you’d have time to prepare the guest suite off the kitchen for her.”
“No worries, as her daughters say. I’m grateful she kept me on after she hired Lupe Gonzales.” Linda placed the glass on the bar. “Would you like something to eat? The kitchen’s still open.”
Kyra hesitated. She was supposed to have dinner with Nick, but she was hungry, close to starving. Her day started with morning chores, feeding forty equines while her boss loaded her Jeep. She and the three girls left early to meet Debbie’s husband at the army base. From there, they’d head over the mountains to Pullman where Debbie’s stepsons attended college.
Once they’d gone, Kyra groomed and saddled the string of lesson horses. She’d taught horsemanship classes all day and afterwards, it’d been time to muck stalls, water and feed those same horses once again. Granted, she didn’t have to do it alone. Trina always did more than her share, plus they had a high school boy to help. The younger woman promised to look after the cats and dogs at Debbie’s house since their boss preferred to leave the pets at home, not take them on a road trip.
“Dinner?” Linda repeated. “Dad made chicken fettuccine, and I know it’s one of your favorites.”
“That sounds good.” Kyra lifted the glass, sipped chilled wine. “Have you seen Nick anywhere? He was going to…”
Linda froze for a moment before she picked up a damp towel to wipe the counter between them. “He hasn’t been in since last night.”
“We’re supposed to have dinner together,” Kyra said. “Everybody in town eats here at the cafe. Are you sure you haven’t seen him?”
The silence grew between them. Linda reluctantly shook her head. “He was hustling some gals playing pool last night and he left with one of them. You can do so much better than my cousin’s son.”
Kyra nearly admitted the truth. She didn’t want a different man. She wanted tall, blond, muscular Nick MacGillicudy, the raunchy, sexy man whose kisses set her on fire. She blinked hard, determined not to cry in the middle of a town where she was related to far too many of the citizenry. “Is there garlic toast to go with that pasta? Since I don’t have to worry about my breath, add a couple pieces along with a small house salad. Ranch dressing on the side, please.”
“You bet. I’ll order your dinner right now.”
Sergeant-Major Derek Waller hadn’t wanted to stop on the way to Baker City from Seattle. It’d been difficult enough fighting the rush-hour, followed by the holiday traffic. He appreciated the invitation to spend the weekend and have Thanksgiving dinner with Harry Colter, one of the other sergeants from Fort Bronson, the Army Reserve base in Seattle, and his family.
Otherwise, it’d be another plastic meal at a restaurant because there was no longer a dining facility at the old historical fort that protected the city for more than a century. Now, the different units were transitioning to various sites throughout Liberty Valley and the army post would become a park. Only the military cemetery would remain at Fort Bronson along with two buildings designated as a museum.
An orphan raised in a series of foster homes, Derek enlisted as soon as he could. He’d dreaded retirement after being in the Army for more than twenty years, so he joined the Active Guard-Reserve program and was in charge of various part-time military units for another eleven years. Harry was one of the newest liaisons assigned to the post after his career in the elite Army Rangers, and their experiences in combat ensured they had a lot in common.
Parking outside Pop’s Café, Derek headed into the lounge rather than the restaurant. He recognized the perky, middle-aged woman behind the bar as the owner’s daughter. The tall, classy blonde in a brilliant red dress sitting on a stool at one end definitely drew his attention. He didn’t know her, but he’d like to have the opportunity. He deliberately angled closer to where she sat, a nearly empty glass of white wine in front of her.
Derek eased onto the stool next to hers. “Are you ready for another one?”
“Not from someone I don’t know.” She turned an icy gray gaze on him. “Go away.”
“I just got here.” He grinned at her, entertained by the rejection. “How will you get to know me if I leave?”
“I’ll handle it.” She signaled the bartender. “Linda, I’m ready for my check.”
“I’ll have it for you in a few minutes.” Linda turned her attention to Derek. “Twila Garvey dropped off those cheesecakes Ann Barrett ordered and said you’d be along to pick them up. Bad traffic, huh?”
“And a late night at the base,” Derek agreed. “I barely made the PX in time to grab the case of wine her husband, Harry Colter wanted.”
“I’ll get those desserts. Meantime, Kyra O’Neill, play nice with others. Sergeant-Major Waller works nearly as hard as you do.” Linda paused. “Have you had dinner, Derek? Or do you want Pop to throw a burger on the grill for you?”
Grateful for the half-assed introduction, Derek nodded. “Sounds good. Then I won’t have to impose on Ann and Harry for a meal.” After the bartender walked away, he eyed the other woman again. “So, what do you do, Kyra?”
She picked up the glass in front of her and he admired the fact that she didn’t wear polish on her extremely short fingernails. He never had liked claws on women, especially red ones.
“I manage Miracle Riding Stable outside town,” Kyra said. “It’d serve Linda right if I did the ‘dine and dash’ routine, but she’d just send half my relatives after me. And because we barely speak except at holidays, I’m not in the mood for a lecture from the likes of them.”
He chuckled. “And being the perfect gentleman I am, I’d volunteer to pay for your drinks.”
“I also had dinner and a piece of Twila’s New York cheesecake for dessert.” Slight amusement flickered across her face, then faded. She scowled, but still looked amazing even when she was slightly pissed. “It hasn’t been a good night. I shouldn’t take it out on you.”
“Guy’s an asshat.”
She blinked, shocked. “How did you know I was stood up?”
“Dump him. Anyone who’d blow off a date with you isn’t worth your time or effort.” He paused. “I bet you know little Princess Devon, Ann’s daughter.”
“She’s one of my best students,” Kyra admitted. “The girl has talent. She’s never a princess in my barn. She’s only seven and impresses me most of the time. You’re talking a kiddo who’s happy to brush, clean hooves and saddle up for herself. She even grabs the plastic fork and scoops poop if one of the horses takes a dump in the arena. Oh, crap. I probably shouldn’t have said all that.”
“Hey, I enjoyed it. Tell me more.”
Baker City: Hearts & Haunts Book Five
by Josie Malone
Published 9 August 2023
Genre: Holiday Paranormal Romance
Page Count: 309
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
Two soldiers devastated by heartache, Debbie Ramsey and Rex Sinclair decided to rescue themselves with a mutually supportive endeavor, a “marriage in name only.” He wanted a guarantee after a tumultuous divorce. Betrayed, rejected, and abandoned by her family, she wanted a safe harbor. Amazingly, their scheme actually worked and oh, what adventures they had along the way.
Eight years later, she’s leaving the U.S. Army behind, trading her camos and combat boots for blue jeans and cowgirl boots. Now, the owner of Miracle Riding Stable near Baker City, Washington, Debbie intends to have a riding good time at her new home. Does having a new life mean leaving Major Rex Sinclair behind?
“Sir! We need to talk!”
Recognizing the low, feminine voice as that of the new noncom in charge of the warehouse he operated, Captain Rex Sinclair glanced over his shoulder at the woman in camouflage fatigues standing behind him. “No good conversation ever started with those words, Sergeant Ramsey.” He gestured to the seat next to him. “Pull up a stool before you tell me what an asshat I am, and I’ll buy you a drink. I’m having boilermakers. Want one?”
“No thanks. At least we agree on something, sir. Your behavior is execrable, sir and unbefitting an Army officer.” She sat down, next to him, carefully placing her regulation handbag on the bar. She narrowed the electric-blue eyes that haunted him twenty-four, seven and glared at him. “You bailed on me, sir. You know there’s an I.G. inspection at 0800 hours tomorrow. You should have stuck around, sir, and helped prep for it, not hightailed it before closing formation.”
“I’m getting a divorce and the call from the lawyer today pissed me off. My going to be ex-wife wants beaucoup bucks. Beyond child support for the kids, she isn’t getting a dime.”
“Everything pisses you off, sir. Ranting, raging and yelling obscenities at the top of your lungs is inappropriate, sir, when we have work to do.”
Rex winced, reaching for the shot glass of whisky in front of him. Sergeant First Class Deborah Ramsey was tired. He saw the exhaustion in her pale, lovely features. She’d undoubtedly been working ever since he stormed out of the warehouse. In the past month while assigned to his section, she always arrived before he did and stayed long after he left. She hadn’t gone to the barracks to change out of her camouflage fatigues before tracking him down at this ramshackle tavern. “You’re not letting this go, are you, Ramsey? Are you sure about that boilermaker? You probably need it.”
“No, thanks. I’m not drinking whisky and following it with a beer chaser.” She folded her arms and frowned even more fiercely. “It’s ‘sergeant’s business’ to train junior officers. You know that’s second lieutenants fresh out of college. If you need somebody to wipe your tail or your nose, it’s not me. Man up, sir!”
He tossed down the whisky and took a hasty swallow of the waiting beer, struggling to collect his thoughts. He’d been drinking since afternoon and now it was well into the night. “Cut me some slack, Sarge. My wife, soon to be ex-wife introduced me to what she said was my six-month-old daughter when I got off the plane three months ago. Made a big splash on national TV.”
“You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who cares, sir. I don’t. Not about your piddly personal problems – .”
“I’d been gone for a year and a half. When I had a week’s R & R, she wouldn’t meet me in New York and now, I know why. She told me she couldn’t get anyone to stay with the other four kids, that the housekeeper was away on vacation. My wife lied to me. She was pregnant with someone else’s kid.”
“Again, I don’t care.” Sergeant Ramsey held up her hand. “You have choices, sir. Divorce her. Reconcile with her. But stop throwing tantrums. You’re grown. Put on your big boy panties and act like a commissioned officer up for promotion.”
“And it’s an ‘embrace the suck’ moment, isn’t it?” He finished his beer and signaled the bartender for a refill. “You deserve a better C.O., Ramsey. If you want a transfer, I’ll sign the request.”
“We can’t both run away, sir. You requested the job here in Texas instead of returning to California after your last combat tour – .”
“Everybody knows my business there. I wanted a fresh start.”
“Then act like it.” Sergeant Ramsey nodded at the bartender when she approached, carrying another two glasses, his next boilermaker. “What kind of white wine do you have?”
“Put it on my tab,” Rex said. “If the sergeant’s gonna keep ripping me a new one, she needs dinner to go with it. I know she skipped lunch and I’m pretty sure she hopped supper too. Better give us a menu.”
“It’s almost 2300 hours,” Sergeant Ramsey said. “Isn’t the kitchen closed?”
“Not yet. You have ten minutes to select a burger and fries.” The sturdy, gray-haired older woman handed over a grease-stained sheet of paper. “Choose fast, honey.” She glanced at Rex. “Might want to sop up some of that booze with food, Captain.”
“Good idea.” Rex waited until they had fresh drinks before he gestured to a table on the other side of the room. “Let’s move over there to eat. You can bring me up to speed on what still needs to be done for the inspection.”
“It’s hopeless, sir.” She followed him across the tavern, bypassing the men at the pool table. “I could only clean up so much of the mess in the month I’ve been at the warehouse. Your previous N.C.O.I.C. retired. Scuttlebutt is he didn’t want to put up with you a moment longer.”
Rex pulled out a chair and waited for her to sit down. “Unfortunately, there’s more truth than fiction to that story, Ramsey. We’re both fairly new at this base. How do we salvage the situation?”
“I don’t know.” She heaved a sigh. “If it’s like other posts where I’ve served in the last ten years, the senior Army officers won’t care about the crap-fest in our section. They’ll want optimum results whether it’s reasonable or not. So, I’ll get the proverbial ass-chewing tomorrow. It’s annoying, but it can’t be helped.”
“You’ve done your best to rectify a bad situation.” Rex gestured to her wine. “Drink up. I’ve got your six, Sarge. I know I haven’t been doing my share, but it isn’t reasonable to expect us to clean up something this broken in such a short amount of time.”
“It’s not the troops’ fault. They’ve done their best with the minimal, erratic leadership they’ve been receiving.”
“I know that as well as you do. You need more support from the non-commissioned side of the house, so let’s see what we can do to get it.”
She hesitated. “I’m not here for much longer, sir. This is a transition assignment. I’ll be shipping out to Afghanistan before the end of the year. I don’t have my orders yet, but they’ll be coming through soon enough.”
“You’ll be missed.” He paused, waiting for their meals to be placed in front of them. “Let’s eat and then we’ll work out a plan.”
“That’s do-able, sir.”
More than once during the next half-hour, Debbie Ramsey reminded herself to focus on the cheeseburger and fries in front of her, rather than staring at the broad-shouldered, dark-haired man in combat fatigues sitting across from her. It’s not my fault he’s a hunk and a half. She couldn’t help admiring his rough-hewn features, the strong cheekbones and, from an earlier combat tour, the broken nose. His previous noncom had told her Sinclair was injured from an I.E.D, but luckily all his troops survived the assault. If they hadn’t, she’d have heard about it. Army bases ran on gossip too.
She hadn’t expected him to admit he’d been irresponsible at the warehouse or to buy her dinner. Granted, he was in a ‘sticky wicket’ as her best friend would have said. Debbie knew that long before she’d heard him shouting at a lawyer through a closed office door today. The conversation ended with Sinclair roaring he wasn’t paying his ex-wife the alimony she wanted. He’d demanded DNA tests on all five of the kids she’d foisted off on him, especially the daughter born when he was away for more than eighteen months in Afghanistan, the one obviously conceived when he was out of CONUS and his wife’s mind and life.
Debbie swirled a French fry in a pool of ketchup. It wasn’t as if Sinclair was lying about his failed marriage. She’d heard yet another sad story from a different noncom. The captain’s wife was a serial cheater who’d slept around on more than one base and when her affairs resulted in pregnancies, Sinclair ended up with his name on the birth certificates. Still, he needed to do his job just like she did. If he yelled, ‘bullshit’ one more time when everything went from sugar to shit in less than a heartbeat, she’d tell him again to freaking ‘man up’.
After he slammed down the phone this afternoon, he’d stormed into the warehouse and raged at a civilian driver delivering a load who’d unfortunately parked in the wrong space. The poor woman burst into tears which meant it took even longer to get the semi-truck moved to where it should have been in the first place. Debbie had stepped in and smoothed over the situation.
It hadn’t gained her any points with the man in charge. Everyone around heard another stream of repeated ‘bullshits’ and ‘f-bombs’ before he swept out of the building, shouting his favorite words at full volume. She’d worked the rest of the day and most of the night, grateful not to deal with his tantrums or so-called supervision. When she couldn’t finish everything that needed to be done at the warehouse in time, she’d decided to tour the small town near the base and track him down at his favorite watering-hole.
“All right. We’ve eaten.” She sipped the remains of her favorite Zinfandel. “What’s it going to take for you to step up and do your job, sir?”
“I’ll do my best not to lose it from now on, Ramsey.” Rex lifted the glass of beer. “I’m worried. I miss my kids. I need a guaranty I won’t go back to California. It’s hard to deal with Averill cheating on me when I never chippied on her. Not in fifteen years.”
“That’s a better track record than most men have.” Debbie met his golden-brown gaze. He’d shown his vulnerability and she could do the same. “Tell you the truth, sir. I’m apprehensive about going back to the sandbox this time. I don’t have anyone in CONUS to look after my business matters.”
Debbie shook her head. “My grandparents have health issues, and I don’t want to burden them. They’ve been looking after my horses and I’m not sure if they’ll be able to handle them for the next year and a half.”
He paused and studied her. “Maybe, we could help out each other.”
“How do we do that?”
“I need a new wife when my divorce is final in September. If I’m married, I won’t do something stupid and get reeled back into more drama. And if I’m your husband, you can trust me to look after your concerns.”
“Are you serious?” She stared at him, hoping her jaw didn’t hit the table. “Sir, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. You may want a wife on paper, but I can’t see how a ‘paper’ husband could help me.” She paused, recalling her turbulent life before she enlisted. Then again, it could resolve a few issues I don’t like to remember.
“Well, at least you didn’t refuse.” He chuckled, finished his beer, and then stood. “Come on, Ramsey. Let’s call it a night. I have a few months before my divorce is final and you leave the States. I’ll convince you it’s a life-saver for both of us.”
“Not happening, sir.” Still, the idea made her smile.
They’d deliberately honored the thirty-day waiting period required by Texas after his divorce was final before they married. Rather than let anyone know their plans, she’d used two weeks’ leave to visit her grandparents before she shipped out. She’d told them about Rex Sinclair, so they’d know how to contact him if she didn’t make it home. Then, she met him in Las Vegas.
She’d always wanted an “Elvis” wedding and luckily, Rex was willing to go along with the plan without bitching about the kitschy ceremony or the minister happily singing Elvis songs. Of course, she laughed her backside off when Rex demanded equal time and the opportunity to reserve a honeymoon suite at the luxury Bellagio Hotel and Casino. Turnabout was fair play as the saying went. They’d spent two days together after the ceremony enjoying gourmet meals, gambling, dancing and of course making love in their suite.
She always woke up early, a leftover habit instilled in childhood when she lived on her parents’ ranch in Montana. Debbie eased out of the king-size bed leaving him to sleep. She had to pack and be downstairs in an hour to catch the shuttle to the airport. On her way to the ensuite, the vintage sapphire and diamond claddagh wedding set on her left hand caught her eye.
He’d told her it belonged to his grandmother, and she’d made him promise to give it to his ‘real’ wife, or save it for his oldest daughter, because his granny and Averill were always at loggerheads. After a quick shower, Debbie opted for comfortable civilian clothes, jeans, a light blue sweater, and flip-flops. She braided her hair, added makeup, and returned to the bedroom.
He must have heard her soft footsteps because he opened his eyes and sat up, the blanket still covering his lower body. “You’ll be gone by the time I get back to the base, won’t you?”
Debbie nodded. “Yes, but I’ll call whenever it’s possible.”
When he held out his hand, she crossed to him. She leaned down and kissed him. “Stay safe.”
“That’s my line, Ramsey. I’ll see you when you get home.”
“You know it, Sinclair.” And she kissed him again. “I’m counting on it.”
Master Sergeant Debbie Ramsey stopped halfway across the parking lot in front of the warehouse to watch the August sunlight brighten Mount Rainier’s beautiful snowcapped peak. No matter how often she’d seen it in the last ten months she’d been stationed at Fort Clark, the sight always made her feel at peace, that everything was right with her world. Yes, she knew the ancient mountain was a volcano, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and sleeping before it erupted again. Sometimes, she felt like that herself.
She drew a deep breath of the warm afternoon air and continued to stroll toward the large building where she’d work for the next three days until her current enlistment ended. She’d taken two weeks off in April to close the deal on the riding stable she’d bought near Baker City in the Cascade foothills, then taught horse camp for two weeks in June and three more in July. She was running out of leave, but that didn’t actually matter since she wasn’t staying in the Army.
On Saturday morning, she’d be free to follow what she often thought of as an impossible dream. Now, she had to find a way to share her upcoming departure with the soldiers she supervised. They’d be fine, but what about her commanding officer? He’d certainly notice she was gone when he wanted something. He’d begun complaining about her using up her leave in what he called “dribs and drabs” rather than taking it all at once, but she told him it was easier to pick up the slack after short spurts rather than cleaning up various messes when she was gone for an extended period of time.
Smiling, she hurried up the concrete stairs near the end of the long building. Inside, she paused long enough to remove her camouflage cap. She glanced at the loading area and breathed a sigh of relief when she noted the last delivery of military supplies from the night before had already been stored. One less hassle. She headed for the hallway that led to the offices at the far end of the warehouse.
She’d barely reached the entry door when a familiar bellow assaulted her ears. Debbie grimaced. She’d only been away two hours. How did hell break loose so soon?
“Damn it, Petrie. This is bullshit. Where’s Ramsey?”
“She left for an appointment.” The other man sounded perfectly calm. “What was I supposed to do when the MP’s showed up, Major Sinclair?”
“It’s bullshit, Petrie. You’re giving me bullshit.”
Debbie pushed open the door, glimpsing the vintage sapphire and diamond claddagh ring she always wore on her left hand. She stepped into the large room that doubled as her office and that of the young company clerk who thankfully had a dentist appointment and wasn’t here to see the major make a fool of himself again. Silently, she watched the broad-shouldered man in combat fatigues rampage toward her desk, still chanting his favorite word.
A taller, slighter, younger officer with perfectly styled black hair wearing the Army service uniform, their version of a business suit, turned to face her. Lieutenant Petrie annoyed her on so many levels, not the least of which was his insistence on refusing to wear the same uniform—camo fatigues that she and everyone else did to work in the warehouses.
Petrie nodded at her. “Sergeant Ramsey, do something with him.”
“Is that an order, sir?” Debbie opted for her most professional tone but didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, she walked across the room, stopping where she’d be in the major’s way.
For a moment, she allowed herself to admire how he filled out his fatigues and then met his golden-brown gaze when he swung around to face her. “Excuse me, sir.”
“Ramsey, where have you been? Don’t you know better than to leave a college-trained, moron in charge of my warehouses? He can’t even keep the latrines stocked in toilet paper. It’s bull—”
“Major Sinclair!” Debbie exclaimed, keeping a straight face. “You wouldn’t swear in front of a lady?”
Red seeped into his rough-hewn features, edging the strong cheekbones and from an earlier time, the broken nose. “Sorry, Ramsey. I forgot you were female.” Rex Sinclair ran a hand through his short, salt and pepper hair. “Where were you? That damned Petrie—”
“Major!” One of these days, Sinclair might catch onto the fact that she could out-swear any and all of the soldiers working in the supply company, but luckily, he hadn’t yet.
“I’m sorry.” Rex repeated his apology and fired a glare in the direction of his so-called aide. “Lieutenant Petrie had me called off the golf course. I had to leave the general before we finished our game, and it made me irritable.”
“Yes, sir.” Debbie sank her teeth into her bottom lip to keep from laughing. “I’m sure the first lieutenant didn’t remember how much the general depends on you, sir.”
“Watch it, Ramsey.” Humor replaced the anger. “I may have been making a fool of myself, but you don’t have enough rank to tell me so.”
“It’s never stopped me before, sir.” She met his gaze and smiled up at him.
He wasn’t a big man, only four inches taller than her five feet, six inches, but he carried himself as if he were ten feet tall and bulletproof. Just by looking she could tell he was a warrior in every sense of the word, the kind of man who picked himself up when he was knocked down, ready to fight again. At forty-two, he wasn’t a spring chicken, but then again at almost thirty-five, neither was she. No wonder she preferred experience.
She folded her arms. “I don’t know what’s going on here, sir, but I’ll take care of it.”
“I know you will.” He paused. “Where were you?”
“My current enlistment ends in three days, sir. I was at the Recruiting and Retention Office for my appointment with the non-com in charge there. I asked the lieutenant to let you know if you returned before I did, but—”
Rex nodded. “Did you get everything you wanted in your re-enlistment contract? A bonus, a guarantee that you’ll stay here instead of being transferred or sent overseas, a promotion? Do you need me to make some calls to ensure you get everything you want?”
“It will be fine, sir. There’s quite a bit of paperwork to finish, so I get what I need, but we can discuss that later.” Debbie glanced at the junior officer waiting by the door to his office. “Why don’t you get back to your golf game? Like I said, I’m here now and I’ll stick around to handle any problems that arise.”
“All right.” Rex frowned before he stepped around her, his attention on the exit door. “Wait for me to make the command decisions, Ramsey. If the general could discuss this in his office, he would.”
“But the two of you can’t be overheard on the golf course.” Debbie inclined her head. “We both know how this game is played, sir.”
“I couldn’t do it without you, Ramsey.” He flashed the sudden smile that always charmed her, although he didn’t realize it. “I’ll be back for closing formation. If I’m not—”
“I’ll handle it,” Debbie repeated.
“Thanks, Ramsey. I can always count on you.” Rex started for the door.
“If I’d known how important the game was, I wouldn’t have had you paged, Major,” Lieutenant Petrie said. “I’m glad Sergeant Ramsey was able to use her womanly wiles to calm the situation.”
Before Debbie could respond, Rex did with a bark of sharp laughter. “Ramsey doesn’t have any of those, Petrie. She’s been in this man’s Army longer than you have—almost eighteen years—and has more combat experience. When she tells you to do something, I suggest you try listening to her and actually do it before you end up in a pine box.” He strode out the door, closing it behind him.
About the Author
Josie Malone lives and works at her family business, a riding stable in Washington State. Teaching kids to ride and know about horses, she finds in many cases, she’s taught three generations of families. Her life experiences span adventures from dealing cards in a casino, attending graduate school to get her Masters in Teaching degree, being a substitute teacher, and serving in the Army Reserve – all leading to her second career as a published author. Visit her at her website, www.josiemalone.com to learn about her books.
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