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The Maverick's Christmas Homecoming
 

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The Maverick's Christmas Homecoming


  THUNDER CANYON NUGGET

  GUESS WHO’S COMING FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER?

  The fine citizens of Thunder Canyon have always gone out of their way to make the holidays special. But Christmas this year promises to be one no one will ever forget. You know that handsome celebrity chef everyone’s been talking about, Shane Roarke? Don’t tell anyone, but it turns out he has a remarkable—and shocking!—connection to our town. And not everyone is going to be happy about it….

  Gianna Garrison has been looking downright radiant, however. Is it true that the Gallatin Room waitress has been sneaking under the mistletoe with the mysterious maverick? Hang on to your spurs, merry readers, because the surprises are just beginning. Wait till Gianna finds out who her sexy boss really is!

  “It’s the holidays. I need to see my family.

  “The one that actually does want me around,” Shane clarified. “I’m going to Los Angeles.”

  Gianna had a bad feeling about this. “For Christmas?”

  He went on as if he hadn’t heard her. “It’s time for me to move on. Like you said, I found out what I came here for.”

  But was that all he’d found? What about her? What about the two of them? Instead she said, “What about the restaurant?”

  “The sous chef can take over for me. I’ve trained her. No one is irreplaceable.”

  He was wrong about that. He couldn’t be replaced in her heart. And that’s when she knew she’d fallen in love with him.

  Dear Reader,

  In childhood we pick up the traditions that are carried on throughout our lives and one of the most time-honored is to spend the holidays with family. Everything’s supposed to be perfect during this special season, at least that’s what I thought as a little girl. One year, reality set in when my younger brother was in the hospital with pneumonia. He was a pretty sick kid. But on the morning of December 25, he was discharged and the whole family went to spring him. All of us were together which made the day even more special because it nearly didn’t happen that way.

  At Christmas most people make family plans, and Shane Roarke, the hero in this book, is no exception. But he takes it to the next level. Adopted as an infant, he’s wondered all his life about the biological parents who gave him up. What he discovers about them will either give him more family than he’s ever dreamed of or threaten his career and a future with Gianna Garrison, the woman he loves.

  Life has taught me that things aren’t always perfect. I make a conscious effort to treasure the crisis-free times and count on family for support during all the rest. But in my books there’s always a happy ending and every day I’m grateful for this dream job.

  I wish everyone health, happiness, love and peace at Christmas and all the best in the new year.

  Happy holidays!

  Teresa Southwick

  The Maverick’s Christmas Homecoming

  Teresa Southwick

  Books by Teresa Southwick

  Harlequin Special Edition

  ‡‡To Have the Doctor’s Baby #2126

  ~~Her Montana Christmas Groom #2156

  ‡‡Holding Out for Doctor Perfect #2187

  ‡‡The Doctor and the Single Mom #2204

  ¤The Maverick’s Christmas Homecoming #2230

  Silhouette Special Edition

  The Summer House #1510

  “Courting Cassandra”

  Midnight, Moonlight & Miracles #1517

  It Takes Three #1631

  ¶The Beauty Queen’s Makeover #1699

  At the Millionaire’s Request #1769

  §§Paging Dr. Daddy #1886

  ‡‡The Millionaire and the M.D. #1894

  ‡‡When a Hero Comes Along #1905

  ‡‡Expecting the Doctor’s Baby #1924

  ‡Marrying the Virgin Nanny #1960

  ‡‡The Doctor’s Secret Baby #1982

  ‡The Nanny and Me #2001

  ~Taming the Montana Millionaire #2059

  ‡‡The Surgeon’s Favorite Nurse #2067

  ‡‡Cindy’s Doctor Charming #2097

  Silhouette Books

  The Fortunes of Texas

  Shotgun Vows

  Silhouette Romance

  *And Then He Kissed Me #1405

  *With a Little T.L.C. #1421

  The Acquired Bride #1474

  *Secret Ingredient: Love #1495

  *The Last Marchetti Bachelor #1513

  **Crazy for Lovin’ You #1529

  **This Kiss #1541

  **If You Don’t Know by Now #1560

  **What If We Fall in Love? #1572

  Sky Full of Promise #1624

  †To Catch a Sheik #1674

  †To Kiss a Sheik #1686

  †To Wed a Sheik #1696

  ††Baby, Oh Baby #1704

  ††Flirting with the Boss #1708

  ††An Heiress on His Doorstep #1712

  §That Touch of Pink #1799

  §In Good Company #1807

  §Something’s Gotta Give #1815

  ‡‡Men of Mercy Medical

  ‡The Nanny Network

  §§The Wilder Family

  *The Marchetti Family

  **Destiny, Texas

  †Desert Brides

  ††If Wishes Were…

  §Buy-a-Guy

  ¶Most Likely To...

  ~Montana Mavericks: Thunder Canyon Cowboys

  ~~Montana Mavericks: The Texans are Coming!

  ¤Montana Mavericks: Back In the Saddle

  Other titles by Teresa Southwick available in ebook fromat.

  TERESA SOUTHWICK

  lives with her husband in Las Vegas, the city that reinvents itself every day. An avid fan of romance novels, she is delighted to be living out her dream of writing for Harlequin.

  To my brothers—Jim, Mike, Dan and Chris Boyle. I love you guys. Merry Christmas!

  Special thanks and acknowledgment to Teresa Southwick for her contribution to the Montana Mavericks: Back in the Saddle continuity.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Excerpt

  Chapter One

  When he’d come to Thunder Canyon five months ago looking for his biological parents, Shane Roarke never expected to find out that his father was in jail for stealing from the town. So far his mother’s identity was still a mystery, but maybe that was for the best. Did he really want to meet the woman who’d shown the bad judgment to hook up with a criminal? And what did that say about his own DNA?

  He’d arrived a city-slicker chef with a list of questions about who he was. Now he had half the answers and a lot to lose if anyone else found out. The information and what to do about it weighed heavy on his mind.

  In June he’d taken the executive chef position at The Gallatin Room, the fine-dining restaurant at Thu
nder Canyon Resort. With successful restaurants in L.A., New York and Seattle it had been a career step-down, but necessary for personal reasons. Now he was the definition of a man in conflict—part of him wished he’d never come, while the other part really liked this town.

  “Oh, you’re still here—”

  Shane looked up from the glass of wine in front of him to the redhead who’d just walked into his kitchen. Gianna Garrison was a waitress and part-time bartender on his staff. In the big cities where he’d worked his name had been linked to models, actresses and celebrities, but he’d never seen a more beautiful woman than the one in front of him now, looking like a deer caught in headlights.

  “I’m still here,” he agreed.

  “Like the captain of a ship.”

  “The last to leave.” He smiled.

  Gianna was wearing the black slacks and long-sleeved white shirt all the waitresses wore but it looked better on her. The tucked-in blouse accentuated breasts, not too big or too small, which only left just right. Her waist was trim, her legs slim and that curly, shoulder-length red hair always got his attention even from across a crowded room. Close-up was even better.

  “Sorry to bother you.” She started to back out of the room. “I’ll just be going.”

  She wasn’t bothering him. In fact she’d done him a favor. Shane realized the last thing he wanted was to be alone with his dark thoughts.

  “Wait. We were a waitress short tonight.” Pretty lame stating the obvious, but he’d just switched mental gears and it was the best he could come up with to stop her from leaving.

  “Yeah, Bonnie has a bad cold. Coughing, sneezing and breathing germs on that party of ski executives from Switzerland seemed counterproductive to the goal.”

  Shane nodded. “Convincing them that Thunder Canyon has the snow, slopes and service to make it a winter vacation destination for Europeans.”

  “Right. And have you seen any of those movies on the flu pandemic and how disease spreads? We wouldn’t want Thunder Canyon identified as ground zero by the Centers for Disease Control. The Swiss would probably hear about it.”

  “That wouldn’t be good. Bonnie was wise to call herself off.”

  The humor sparkling in her eyes made them almost turquoise. He hadn’t noticed that before, which wasn’t surprising. Between work, looking for his birth parents and feeling guilty about it on account of his real parents who loved him unconditionally, he’d been a little preoccupied. Now she was only a couple of feet away and he noticed that her eyes were wide and beautiful, like the Caribbean Ocean. If he wasn’t careful, he could drown in them.

  “So one waitress less means you worked twice as hard,” he said.

  She lifted one shoulder in a no-big-deal gesture. “I just moved faster, smiled more and dazzled them with the Garrison wit, hoping they had no idea it was taking just a little longer to get their orders delivered. The complimentary bottle of wine you sent over to the table didn’t hurt, either. By the way, they raved about the food and seemed surprised. You’d think the invention of Swiss cheese entitled them to culinary domination of the universe.”

  “I’m guessing you didn’t say that to them.”

  “No.” She grinned.

  “The head of the delegation complimented me on the food and service before they left. He promised me maximum stars, diamonds, happy faces, thumbs-up, however they designate their rating. Without you I couldn’t have pulled that off, Gianna.”

  Her wit wasn’t the only thing about her that dazzled. When she smiled, her face lit up like the town square decorated for Christmas. “I’m flattered you noticed.”

  “I make it my business to notice. It crossed my mind to come out to help serve, but I couldn’t get away.”

  “Cooking is what you do. Delivering what you cook is my job.”

  “There’s more to it than that. Even when the food is good it’s not always easy to keep the customer happy. But you make it look easy. Tonight you did a fantastic job.”

  “I just handled it,” she said modestly.

  “You always do. You’re one of my best waitresses. Thanks for all your hard work. I appreciate it very much.”

  “No problem. It’s what you pay me for but it’s nice to hear you say it.” Gianna backed up a little more. “I’ll just be going now.”

  No, he thought. Her dazzle kept the dark away and he wasn’t ready for it to come back yet. He wanted her to stay. Saying that straight out might make her nervous, think he was hitting on her. That wasn’t his intention. The pleasure of her company was his only goal; the question was how to achieve it.

  All Shane could come up with was a delaying tactic. “Did you want something?”

  “Why do you ask?”

  “You came in the kitchen.”

  “Oh, that. It’s just, you know—” Her shrug did interesting things to her breasts. “Tonight’s special looked and smelled amazing so...”

  “You’re hungry.” Of course. What other reason would she have for coming here when her shift was over. After a mental forehead slap, he said, “Doing the work of two people didn’t leave time for a dinner break.”

  “It’s my own fault. I missed the staff meal before service started. I’ll just grab something on the way home.”

  “No.” He stood and walked over to her. “The least I can do is feed you. And there will be a glass of wine involved.”

  “Don’t make a mess on my account. The dishwasher and prep crew already cleaned up.”

  “But I’m the boss. I have a nice Pino Grigio already uncorked and it pairs well with the spinach and crab ravioli.” He led her to the stool he’d just vacated then pressed gently on her shoulders, urging her to sit. The slight touch ignited a need in his belly and the instinct to pull her against him was unexpectedly powerful.

  It was his business to notice workflow in the restaurant and he had. Just because it wasn’t his job to be attracted to someone working the flow didn’t make the attraction any less real. But he still wasn’t hitting on her. This was just a gesture. A happy staff didn’t quit and contented workers kept things running smoothly. Training a new waitress was time consuming and costly.

  “I was going to have something myself. Please join me.”

  “Okay, then. Thanks.” She rested her heel on the metal rung of the stool and crossed one leg over the other.

  The movement was graceful, sexy, and it was an effort to pull his gaze away. On his first day at The Gallatin Room, Gianna Garrison had caught his eye, but for professional and personal reasons he’d resisted the impulse to act on the temptation. Until tonight.

  Just before Thanksgiving he’d received conclusive proof that Arthur Swinton, the most hated man in Thunder Canyon, was his biological father. The information had weighed on him over the last couple of days and he was low on willpower. That was the best explanation he could come up with for this lapse in professional judgment. It was time to do his chef thing and take his mind off other things.

  While he worked assembling plates, warming food, pouring wine, Gianna chattered away. He let her, liking the sound of her voice, the warm honey with just a hint of gravel. Then something she said tapped into his dark mood again.

  “The Thanksgiving dinner you prepared last week for military families was amazing. Everyone in town is talking about it. Angie Anderson and Forrest Traub told me how thrilled the families were, how special and appreciated they felt for their loved ones’ sacrifices.”

  He’d been more pre
occupied than usual since that night. People had looked at him like he walked on water and he felt like a fraud. How could he be a walk on water type when Arthur Swinton was his biological father? The man had been convicted and sent to jail for embezzling public funds. Not only that, he’d perpetrated a conspiracy to ruin the Traubs, one of the most prominent families in town. If there was someone who didn’t hate Swinton, Shane hadn’t met them yet.

  Gianna smiled at him. “They said it really helped because of missing their loved ones overseas so much, especially around the holidays.”

  “I know something about missing family,” Shane whispered.

  “What’s that?” she asked.

  He slid hot food onto two plates, then looked over his shoulder. “You’re missing something if you don’t eat this while it’s hot.”

  “It looks wonderful and smells even better.”

  He put the two steaming plates on the stainless-steel countertop, then pulled up another stool and sat at a right angle to her. “Dig in.”

  “Okay.” After she did, her gaze met his. “This is sinfully good. I don’t even want to think about the calories.”

  “It’s a little-known fact that when you do the work of two people calories don’t count.”

  “Thank goodness. Because this tastes even better than it smells and it smells very fattening.” She licked a drop of white wine sauce from her lower lip.

  For a second, Shane thought he was going to choke on his own food. The look on her face was the most unconsciously erotic thing he’d ever seen.

  A sip of wine kick-started his brain again and he managed to say, “I’m glad you like it.”

  The words almost made him wince. He had a reputation for being charming but tonight he wouldn’t win any awards for witty repartee. It was a miracle that she didn’t make an excuse and run for the hills.

  “How do you like Thunder Canyon?” She took another bite and chewed.

 
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