The Battle Begins Chapter One…




I was used to working every Saturday in my father’s law firm, but this work felt different. I had to admit that corporate law didn’t satisfy my need to help people. In fact, most of the time, it seemed like I was doing the opposite.

When I heard about the threat to Holly Well Springs, my hometown, something inside me stirred, and I knew I had to get involved. I’d always teased my younger brother James for his obsession with the town and the way he always wanted to go back to be with our grandparents, Kris and Christine Kringle, but maybe he was right.

I’ll never tell him that.

I sighed at the stack of papers in front of me. I’d never been on the side of a lawsuit that fought against a giant corporation since my father’s business had corporate clients, but now I understood just how much work it took to do just that.

Someone knocked on my door, and if I were being honest, I was happy about the interruption.

“Come in,” I called.

James, my little brother, stepped through the door with a giant steaming mug. The scent of rich chocolate made my stomach rumble, and I smiled.

“Sophie made you a big mug of Gran’s special hot chocolate,” he said.

I took the mug from him and smiled, wrapping my hands around it. There was nothing on earth that compared with Gran’s special recipe hot chocolate. Even in the city with all the fancy restaurants I’d been to, no beverage had ever been as delicious and comforting. It was impossible to describe what was so special about it, other than having some whipped cream on top and a candy cane inside in it to stir it—maybe it was just the type of chocolate she used. Regardless, it was the perfect escape from my stack of papers.

“How did she know I needed that right now?” I asked.

“There is never a time we don’t need Gran’s hot cocoa,” he said with a laugh.

“You are right there, brother,” I said.

I took a sip, and even though it was still a bit hot, it tasted perfect. “But how did Sophie have the recipe? I thought Gran kept those under lock and key. Last I heard, even Pops didn’t have a copy of that key.”

He laughed. “There’s a special connection between Sophie and Gran. Sophie was instrumental in helping her decide to get her health checked out in the first place. Besides, whenever Pops and Gran are in Billings for the treatments, Gran gives Sophie free rein in the kitchen here on the ranch. That means access to all Gran’s recipes.”

“All of them?” I asked. “That’s impressive.”

He shrugged. “Sophie is special.”

I smiled and took another sip of my cocoa, closing my eyes for a second to enjoy the flavor. “Sit down for a while. All this paperwork is giving me a headache. I could use a break.”

He sat down but stayed at the edge of the chair, as if he were in a hurry. “We appreciate all your efforts, Jesse. Everyone in town is thrilled that you’re helping us fight this. Though, I can’t stay for long.”

I looked up. “Oh? What’s going on?”

“I guess you’ve been really busy since you got here, so you hadn’t heard,” he said. “The town’s gearing up for the September Spectacular celebration. So, as you can imagine, there’s a lot going on. And with Pops and Gran out of town most weekdays, the farm needs all my attention.”

“How are they doing?” I asked.

He took a deep breath. “Pops and Gran are holding up as well as can be expected. As long as they’re together, I just know they can get through this. The doctor is very optimistic about Gran’s treatment, and so am I.”

I nodded. “I know Gran will be fine, James. She’s the strongest woman I’ve ever met in my life.”

“I completely agree,” he said. “Pops is pretty strong himself. I don’t know how he’s handled all this work by himself all these years, especially with so much else going on in town. He made it look so easy, which from my experience right now, is not the case.”

I laughed at my brother, and he gave me a crooked smile back. “You always were the one to follow in every footprint he left on the ground.”

He shrugged. “It just felt natural to me.”

I laughed again. “You had it so much easier.”

He furrowed his brow, and his next words had a bitter tone to them. “How do you figure? Have you not heard the arguments between Dad and me all my life?”

“Yes, but you always took the road you wanted to travel,” I said.

I had to admit that I’d always admired him for that. It was so hard to fight against Dad’s strong will. “You’ve never let Dad push you into doing something you didn’t want to do.”

“You could have done the same,” he said.

I sighed, twirling my pen around my fingers mindlessly. “It was never that easy for me, James. Being the firstborn and all that was expected of me gave me no room to choose my own path in life.”

I could feel my brother staring at me. “I never knew you wanted to do something else,” he said. “I always thought you loved being a lawyer.”

I looked up and met his eyes. “I did and still do. It’s working in Denver and taking only cases that make the firm look good that I regret.”

“What would you do if you could get away from the family firm?” James asked.

I leaned back in my chair and put my feet up on my desk, something that my father always frowned upon. I glanced over at the paperweight James had given me when I graduated from law school. It was a miniature statue of Lady Liberty, carved with my name on the side. I’d had it on my desk since the day he gave it to me, and I’d brought it along when I came back to Holly Well Springs.

“It’s been so long since I gave that any thought that I’m not sure what I would do,” I said. “It’s been great the last few weeks to get involved with something that really matters to people. You’re not the only one who remembers the kind of life we had as kids here in Holly Well Springs.”

He sat back in his chair a bit. “It’s all being threatened now. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here and fighting for the town and everything Pops holds dear.”

“It’s the least I can do, really,” I said. “Plus, it’s nice to have an office here on Pops’s ranch.”

He smiled. “You sure made this office here in Pops’s infirmary look extremely professional.”

“It’s easier to work from here,” I said. “I can help you around the ranch as well when you need it, especially with Pops away so often.”

“What about all your cases in Denver?” James asked.

“I finished the biggest one I had on my desk right before I came here,” I explained. “My associates are handling the smaller cases, and Brooke travels back and forth with things I need to work on myself. The most important thing right now is to protect Holly Well Springs.”

“I’m still having a hard time with Dad representing Astext in their bid to get the land,” James said. “He knows very well what will happen to Holly Well Springs if Astext gets the rights to put in a casino right next to town.”

“Dad has always been resentful of Holly Well Springs,” I said sadly. “Having two of his sons back here, whether it’s temporary or not, has really sent him over the edge. He wants to see the town destroyed, which is exactly what will happen with a casino next door.”

“The battle ahead looks to be a rough one.” James sighed. “But if anyone can beat Dad at his own game, it’s you.”

I laughed, pulling my feet off the desk and sitting up. “It sure will be interesting, and I don’t intend to lose.”

James stood and started walking toward the door. “Don’t forget about the engagement party tonight for Evan and Nessa.”

“I won’t,” I said. “Brooke is flying in this afternoon, so we will be there.”

“Is this a serious thing between you and Brooke?” James asked.

I laughed again. “She’s very important to me, but not in the way you are implying. She is great at her job, and part of that is to keep me from being approached by other women. That’s why she’s always my date whenever there’s an event like that going on.”

James nodded, but he looked at me as though I was missing out on something. I could see it in his eyes.

I moved to change the subject, and my lips curled up into a broad smile. “Now, let me ask you something. Is this a serious thing between you and the doctor?”

“Yes, so stay away from her,” said James with a laugh.

I chuckled. “I’m glad to hear it. From what I’ve seen so far, she doesn’t know another man is in the room when you’re there. You are a lucky man.”

“Yes, I am,” he said. “And I’m sure you will meet someone soon who will change your whole life.”

I laughed then, a bit louder than I’d meant to, and shook my head insistently. “Not going to happen, bro. I could have my pick of dozens of women, but none of them even stir my heart to a second look.”

He laughed. “Well, you may be in for a surprise. Holly Well Springs, as you know, has a very magical presence to it. I could bet the farm that your heart will not only be stirred soon, but that it’ll feel like it has been put in one of Gran’s dough makers.”

I laughed and stood up as he opened the door. “I’d advise against that bet.”

He shook his head. “We’ll see. See you tonight, bro. Don’t be late.”

I watched my brother walk out the door of my temporary office space. Turning around, I went back to my chair and looked out the window. Sophie was out there, and they greeted each other with a warm embrace before walking off toward the petting zoo area, hand in hand. Even at that distance, I could see the smile on my little brother’s face and the energetic spring in his step as they walked together.

Smiling, I felt happiness for my little brother and the wonderful woman who made his eyes sparkle. It was so difficult to think of him being in love like that, but there it was, happening before my eyes. I supposed that I always thought of him as just a little kid. He spent so much time brooding over being separated from Pops and Gran that I never saw him take an interest in anyone in Denver, other than a casual date for the prom or other fancy occasion.

If I were being honest, no one had ever really turned my head either. Back in Denver, almost everyone thought that Brooke and I were together, and that was fine with both of us. I respected her as a colleague and we were good friends, but we were both too busy to bother with the singles scene.

Yes, I was happy for my little brother. But every time I saw James and Sophie together, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever find someone who completed me the way Sophie did James.

Completed me? What the heck is happening to me?

I closed the blinds and sat back down at my desk to tackle my stack of paperwork, headache or not. It was time to get back to work before I started believing in finding that kind of love for me.

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