On a Snowy Christmas Night Online - Debbi Rawlins Page 0,1

after returning from Afghanistan was find a dealership and drive the latest model off the lot. It wasn’t until later, when he’d seen the disrepair of the ranch, that he’d realized what a selfish bastard he’d been.

But that probably wasn’t the only thing Noah was wondering about. Jesse wasn’t himself and everyone, including Noah, thought the war had changed him. Jesse knew the war had nothing to do with his restlessness.

Sure, he’d seen things no human being should have to witness. War was never pretty. And yeah, even though he’d been a tanker pilot and not one of the fighter jocks, he’d flown some damn hairy missions, but he hadn’t experienced anything like the men with boots on the ground. As far as deployments went, he’d had it fairly easy.

No, his problem was pretty basic. After living in Montana most of his life, being completely sure that his duty and his destiny were bound up in the Sundance, he didn’t belong here anymore. Ironic that it had about killed him to give the military all those years in exchange for teaching him how to fly. He’d even chosen a college close enough that he could come home most weekends. And now...each day his sense of belonging seemed to fade even more.

“Weren’t you supposed to fly to Billings to pick up a pair of pit bulls?” Noah finally said, while he topped up his coffee.

“The neighbor of the woman who runs the center there adopted them.”

“That was lucky.”

“Yeah, people are too biased against pit bulls. They’re good dogs as long as they’re raised right.” Jesse sipped his coffee and stared idly out the window, suddenly feeling foolish that he’d stopped by. It wasn’t as if he needed advice. He knew what he had to do. Volunteering for animal search-and-rescue had taken the edge off his discontent but it wasn’t helping his family.

“Sit down.” Noah indicated the sorry black vinyl-and-chrome chair, then sat behind his desk. “What are you doing in town, anyway?”

“I had to pick up some fencing wire and fuel the truck.”

“It’s quiet around here without Sundance guests coming and going. Rachel take any reservations for January?”

Jesse sighed. The family had agreed they’d close the dude ranch for the holidays, but his sister was a pushover. “She’s got a woman coming in next weekend.”

“A week before Christmas?” Noah frowned over the rim of his mug. “I thought she’d shut down for the month of December.”

“She’s making an exception. The woman is volunteering over at Safe Haven and was desperate for a place to stay.” Jesse shrugged. “You know Rachel. Couldn’t say no. You still going to New York to see Alana?”

Noah grinned like a ten-year-old with a new puppy. “I leave next Thursday. My sisters are coming with their families to spend Christmas with the folks.”

Jesse managed a smile. Not that he wasn’t happy for his friend. It was the holidays he was dreading. He hadn’t heard anything about the annual open house his mother usually hosted, but he knew it had to be on the calendar. Even if they did have to shell out a few bucks for the food and beer, no one would deny her the McAllister tradition.

“Which airport you flying out of?” Jesse asked.

“Billings. Anything closer was either booked or involved too many layovers.”

“Need a ride?”

Noah’s brows furrowed with curiosity. “I thought you’d be looking forward to spending the time with the family. This is what...only the second holiday you’ve been home?”

“Jesus, it’s just a ride.”

Noah leaned back, a self-deprecating smile pulling at his mouth. “Thanks, I’m taking my truck.” He took another sip, his probing eyes staying on Jesse. “How’ve you been, buddy?”

“You know...” He shrugged. “Good. I’ve been doing a lot of flying for different shelters.” Nothing new, and not what his friend was asking. Jesse let out a gushing breath. “I’m thinking about reenlisting.”

Noah’s mouth opened, and he quickly set down his mug. “You gotta be kidding. Shit,” he said when he clearly realized that Jesse was dead serious. “What do Cole and the rest of the family say about it?”

“They don’t know.” Jesse looked him square in the eye. “This stays between you and me.”

“Why reenlist?” Noah shook his head. “You hated being away from Montana.”

“I’m no good here. At least with an officer’s salary I can send home money, plus the bonus I’ll get for committing to another ten years.”

Noah frowned, looking so troubled Jesse was sorry as hell he’d opened his mouth. “You talked to someone from the air force