A Yellowstone Christmas

By: Peggy L Henderson

Yellowstone Romance Series Novella





Acknowledgment





As always, a huge thank you goes out to my critique partner, Carol Spradling. You’re the reason this series even exists.

My husband and best friend, Richard Henderson. Your support in my writing means so much to me.

Shirl Deems and Barbara Ouradnik, my beta readers on this novella.





Dedication





This story is dedicated to one of the nicest people I have had the pleasure of getting to know this year, Barbara Ouradnik. Our friendship began a few months ago over endless conversations about the characters in this series, as if they were real people. Now I feel so fortunate to count you as one of the best friends a girl could ever have. Thank you for all your encouragement and being such a positive influence in my life.





Chapter One





“Come on, Matthew. We have to hurry.” Aimee Osborne’s hushed voice sounded urgent. She frantically waved her hands in front of her, urging her five-year-old son on. She gripped the pine branch she held in her gloved hand more firmly, using the fan-shaped needled branches like a broom in an effort to obliterate the tracks left behind in the deep snow by her snowshoes. She knew it was a futile exercise. Her pursuers had to be close. Aimee had no idea how much of a head start they had, so there was no time to adequately cover her own tracks and Matthew’s.

“I’m trying, Mama,” the little boy said, a note of panic in his voice. He swished his own makeshift broom along the snow-covered ground, his arms moving furiously back and forth. The heavy furs he wore to keep out the winter cold hampered his efforts.

Aimee glanced up, squinting into the bright sun. The snowy landscape reflected the rays of the sun, nearly blinding her. Her head and most of her face were covered in thick fox fur. Combined with the snowshoes she wore, the bulky buffalo robes that kept her warm made moving around in the deep snow awkward and laborious.

She scanned as far into the distance as she could. Lodgepole pines and spruce trees in all directions were weighed down heavily with snow. It was easy for someone to hide behind the trees and not be seen. Easy for an ambush. Catching her breath, she reached for her son’s arm.

“It’s no use, Matthew. This is only slowing us down. Let’s find a place to hide.”

The boy stared up at her. “Papa always says it’s important to cover your tracks when you think you’re being followed.”

“Yes, I know,” Aimee said. “But I think in this case we need to think of something else. What would your papa do?”

Matthew’s forehead scrunched in deep concentration, then his eyes widened. “If you can’t outrun your enemy, you need the element of surprise,” he quoted his father’s words.

Aimee smiled beneath the heavy fur that covered her face. “Let’s go hide over there.” She pointed to a stand of trees about fifty yards away. “Drag your branch behind you, and cover your tracks as best as possible. We’ll hide among those trees.” With one final glance over her shoulder to see if their pursuers were visible yet, she pushed onward, dragging her own pine branch behind her. By the time she and her son reached the stand of spruce trees, sweat ran in rivulets between her breasts and down her back. She swiped a gloved hand across her forehead while she tried to catch her breath. Her bulky hides that kept her warm in the winter chill now heated her like an oven.

“All we can do now is wait and see,” she said in a hushed tone. Matthew continued to sweep at the snow around them in a continued effort to obliterate their tracks as best as possible.

“We only have one weapon to use in case we’re discovered,” Aimee said softly, crouching beneath the tree. The area where they huddled under low-hanging branches was dry and covered in a thick layer of pine needles.

Countless minutes passed. The forest remained eerily quiet, the air still and devoid of even the slightest breeze. Matthew adjusted his weight from one foot to the other, crunching pine needles beneath his feet. At least he was able to move a little in their cramped hiding spot.

Aimee touched him lightly on the shoulder. Her little boy shot her an anxious glance, his eyes wide with nervous anticipation. Pride swelled in her heart for her son. For a five-year-old, he showed remarkable patience and self-control. Something he’d learned from his father. She pulled the fur from around her face and smiled softly. Her breath swirled in a white ghostly pattern around her face. She held a finger to her lips, silently cautioning her son for quiet.

Leaning forward on the balls of her feet, adjusting the cumbersome snowshoes underneath her, Aimee peered between the branches of the spruce. A snowshoe hare unexpectedly darted closely in front of their hiding place. Aimee stiffened, and her heart rate increased. Something, or more likely someone, had to be near to cause the hare to spook like that. Matthew gripped her hand. He was also aware of the impending danger.

An earsplitting shrill yell suddenly pierced the stillness of the afternoon. A shadowy movement to the right of them spurred Aimee into action.

“Now, Matthew,” she yelled.

With a loud war cry of his own, the boy darted from beneath the spruce, sending a shower of snow from the branches.

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