A Christmas Courtship
Nicholas Hunkston eyed the spindly fir in front of him. “You sure this is the one you want?”
“Oh, yes. It’s perfect!” The blue-eyed beauty at his side clapped her mittened hands in delight. “Widow Ellison has a soft spot for things others tend to overlook. She will love this tree.”
Susannah Sweetpeach smiled at him, and all thought of how silly he might look carting this lopsided tree through town to the widow’s house fled Nick’s mind. He’d thought to impress the fair Susannah with his manly skills and chop down a monster tree, but if she wanted this small one with the ugly bald spot and crooked trunk, his pride would just have to take the hit.
Nick unhooked the ax from his saddle and flexed his half-cooked chicken. “If this is the one you want, this is the one you’ll get.”
Excitement filled her wide blue eyes. “Oh, Nick honey, you’re my hero.” Taking a wide stance next to the tree, he shimmied the ax in the bark, snapping the handle.
The broken axe handle flew through the air toward Susannah. She jumped back, caught her heel on a fallen branch and fell into the snow. Nick dashed toward her. “Are you hurt?” he asked, a googly expression playing on his handsome face.
Susannah shook her head, dislodging snow from her hair. Nick dropped to one knee beside her as her rosy lips turned up in a beguiling smile. “It was a good thing I landed on my lunch.”
Nick arched an eyebrow at her, then offered her his hand. She chortled to her feet instead, cheeks pink, and gave him a shy smile. “We’d better look for your ax handle.”
Nick gave a low sigh as Susannah moved a step away from him. Impressing her was not going to be as easy as he’d hoped–especially with no way to bring in the chocolate tree that she had her heart set on. What could he do? Offer to bring her back tomorrow? There were other men in town waiting in line for their chance to help Miss Susannah Sweetpeach with her holiday preparations, and she might just take one of them up on it.
“Susannah,” he blurted. “Uh…will you–I mean can you wait until tomorrow afternoon to get the tree? I’ll bring my spare axe, and we can come back–”
“Oh, I can’t tomorrow, Nick. I’ve already made plans.”
Well then, he’d have to figure out something fast. As Nick stood there trying to think of a solution other than hunting down a local beaver to do the job, a rodeo clown came charging toward them.
“Look out!” Nick hollered and stepped in front of Susannah, intending to protect her by putting himself in harm’s way.
Instead, he missed his chance when the toe of his cowboy boot caught on a rock buried beneath the snow, nearly causing him to lose his balance. To his surprise and, he admitted, his chagrin, Susannah grabbed hold of his elbow to steady him before bobbling sideways, her hands outstretched.
“No worries. I’ll handle this.”
What was she thinking? A petite thing like Susannah, no matter how chapped she was, could never stand up to such a rampaging menace. Nick scrambled up but before he could intervene, Susannah whipped out a large, brightly-colored kerchief and waved it with unladylike vigor. To Nick’s stunned surprise the confused troublemaker veered away, crashing into the tree and felling it before running off as quickly as it had appeared.
Now that the tree lay at his feet, what to do with it? He turned his gaze to sweet Susannah and his heart did a little flip. She was peaches and cream. He had to get this tree into town just for her. He recalled the small pig in his pocket, but that had to wait until the job was complete.
Nick rolled up his sleeves. “I think I can get this into town without any help at all.” He lifted the splintered trunk and threw it over his shoulder.
Nick was relieved, now that he was carrying this little tree, that he hadn’t picked out the biggest, most beautiful one in the forest. As he walked beside Susannah, he had a bright idea.
“Can I take your arm?” He’d done enough staggering around, Susannah seemed to enjoy saving the day. This might appeal to her.
She turned to him and her smile was warm as she tucked her hand through his elbow.
“If you carry that tree, the least I can do is daydream.”
Later that night, through Widow Ellison’s front window, lights flickered on the branches of that leaning, spindly fir tree. While he stared, the flirtatious star on top tipped precariously.
“It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?” Susannah breathed.
He had to admit, surprisingly, it was.
Standing at her side, with nothing attacking, no broken axes flying, no stones tripping him, the peace was profound. Snowflakes drifted and danced. The church bell rang, as it did each day of Advent.
“Thank you for helping me today, Nick. Without you, Widow Ellison would never have gotten her tree for Christmas.” She rose up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “You’re a saint, you know that?”
It was the finest moment of his life.
Coming up next!
Part 2 – THE WINNERS