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His Christmas Wish (Wander Canyon #3)

By Allie Pleiter

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“Can I have four turtles? So they don’t get lonely?”

Emma Mullins smiled to herself as she stood in the pet store aisle. Was a little boy pleading to get pet turtles for Christmas next month? The hopeful voice from the adjacent aisle warmed her heart—until she recognized that it belonged to Cole Wilson.

“You can have a dozen if you want, buddy,” came an older voice she identified as Jake Sanders’s, the boy’s bachelor uncle. “With the best bowl in the whole shop.”
She felt her heart pinch the way it had each time she looked at Cole. No one in Wander Canyon would deny the poor boy any bit of happiness. It was almost the holiday season and such an awful thing had happened to him. Still, Emma wasn’t sure a dozen turtles was the smart path out of the little boy’s sadness. Jake was charming, heartbreakingly handsome, prone to a bit of swagger—and not at all emergency parent material. She had to help. Emma set down the bag of food she was buying for the class guinea pig and made her way to the next aisle.
Jake crouched next to his nephew. It was rather sweet how the man folded his tall, athletic frame down to peer with the boy into a tank holding several dozen small green turtles. Emma had met Jake at preschool functions—he was the sort of man who stood out in any room, even a preschool classroom, and was prone to grand gestures. Emma had no doubt Jake would have indeed bought the store’s entire stock to please his nephew. Especially now.

“Twelve might be a bit much,” she offered with her most helpful smile. “Two might be a better start.”

“Miss Emma!” the boy cried, running up to her and giving her a sweet hug. How he managed to retain any joy, despite the recent accident that killed both his parents, she might never know. The whole sorry situation made a lump rise in her throat whenever she thought of it. For a five-year-old to lose both parents on the cusp of the holidays seemed beyond tragic.

Jake stood up to meet her gaze. The defiant weariness in his eyes still didn’t overshadow how handsome the man was. And yet he looked deeply sad. After all, he was grieving the loss of his sister as Cole grieved the loss of his mom. That was a steep hill to climb on any day, much less while caring for his nephew.
A free-spirited bachelor with no parenting experience, he was barely holding it together after the tragic overpass shooting that had killed Kurt and Natalie Wilson. He’d been late to pick Cole up multiple times and forgotten the boy’s backpack twice. Emma hadn’t yet decided if it was loving bravery or foolish pride that drove the man to step in and care for the boy while Cole’s paternal grandmother traveled back to her Arizona home to make arrangements to move here to Wander Canyon. She had to admit, she rather admired Jake either way.

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