The Forest Ranger's Christmas

The Forest Ranger's Christmas by Leigh Bale

Book: The Forest Ranger's Christmas by Leigh Bale Read Free Book Online
Authors: Leigh Bale
also like divinity and pumpkin bread.”
    He shouldn’t encourage her, but he loved homemade goodies. In fact, now that Vi was gone, he and Gracie rarely got such treats. He certainly didn’t know how to make them. His cooking abilities were limited to mac and cheese, hot dogs, scrambled eggs and cold cereal.
    Josie laughed, the sound high and sweet. “I think some pumpkin bread can be arranged, but I’m awful at making divinity. No matter how long I cook it, I can never get it to set up. It always tastes delicious, but you have to eat it with a spoon.”
    He chuckled. “Okay, definitely no divinity.”
    She folded her arms against the cold air. “You holler if you need help. I’ll hear you through the window.”
    He nodded, but he wouldn’t call. As she went inside, he felt a strange sense of elation, as if this was right where he belonged. But that didn’t keep his old friend guilt from chewing at his mind. Clint told himself he was doing these service projects to help Frank and nothing more. Yet he couldn’t help looking forward to seeing Josie again.
    His jaw tightened. He was crazy to think such thoughts. He couldn’t understand what had gotten into him. Then again, he knew exactly what the problem was. He’d met a beautiful woman. The first he’d been attracted to in seven long, lonely years. And he wanted to pursue her. To ask her out. But he wouldn’t. He couldn’t take the chance of ruining her or Gracie’s lives.
    He shook his head. His wayward thoughts were an illusion that would only backfire on him down the road. Christmas brought the healing power of peace. It was a special time that promised joy throughout the year. But Clint knew better. It wasn’t real or lasting for him. No matter how much he liked being near Josie, he could never be with her. Once the holiday ended, they’d each return to their normal lives. They’d pack up their Christmas ornaments and put them away, and Josie would go home. And Clint and Gracie would be alone once more.
    * * *
    Something was wrong. The moment Josie stepped inside the kitchen, she could feel an edge of tension buzzing through the air.
    Gramps stood in front of a cupboard, the doors open. He held several cans of soup in his hands. More cans lay haphazardly on the green linoleum, as though they’d been knocked there.
    “What are you doing, Gramps?”
    He jerked around and another can thudded to the floor. It rolled and thumped against the base of the refrigerator. “I can’t find my chicken noodle soup. You changed the labels on me.”
    A look of confusion crossed his face. Gracie’s charming voice came from the living room, singing Christmas carols with some kid show on TV.
    “What do you mean?”
    “I don’t recognize the labels. It’s all different. I don’t buy this brand of soup.”
    In a flash, Josie realized what had happened. She’d bought groceries and put them away in the cupboard. She’d obviously purchased a different brand of soup than Gramps was used to. Since he couldn’t read the labels, he didn’t know which can to choose for lunch. But his tension seemed more than just about soup.
    “I’m sorry, Gramps. I didn’t realize. Let me help you.”
    She reached to take the cans, but he jerked away. “Don’t. I’ll do it myself.”
    Stunned by his brusque tone, she pulled back and watched him.
    The back door opened and Clint stepped inside and smiled. “Hey, Frank, I’m out of staples for the staple gun. If you don’t have any, I can run over to my place to get some.”
    He froze, seeing Gramps’s incredulous expression. No doubt sensing the anxiety in the room like a blast of chilly January wind.
    Clint clamped his mouth shut and stood there, his snow-covered boots dripping onto the old, tattered towel Josie had laid in front of the door for this exact purpose.
    “I’m useless. Good for nothing. I can’t even find a can of chicken noodle soup,” Gramps said.
    He bent down to pick up the fallen items, his hands visibly

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