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Finding Sunshine

Monroe Brothers, Book 2

A rugged mountain man was the last thing I’d tick off on my Christmas checklist. 

As a single mother I’m used to counting only on myself. Imagine my surprise when I arrive home to find my porch decorated with holiday lights. I didn’t expect Knox’s kindness, or the way he makes my heart skip a beat. He’s handsome, sexy, sweet, and attentive; everything I want under my Christmas tree. 

I’m 100% focused on my daughter, I don’t have time for socializing, dating, or falling for a grumpy mountain man whose family owns a Christmas Tree Farm. But Knox is constantly there, offering support and friendship and unknowingly reminding me that I’m still a hot-blooded woman and not just a mother.

Because Christmas is his job, Knox has completely lost his Christmas spirit, but in return for his generosity, I’m determined to help him find it once more.

From cutting down a Christmas tree for my home and decorating it with my daughter, to including us in his family’s Christmas celebrations, I’m soon drawn into the magical spell of a Christmas romance. This year, Christmas seems to have brought us both some unexpected surprises. He adores my daughter, and she adores him, just like I do.

Every day I fall a little more in love with Knox, his family, and their farm. But Knox’s priority is his family and the Christmas tree farm. Can he ever put me first? 

 

Will the magic disappear after the holidays, or will this love last forever?

+ Excerpt +

“Mommy, do you see the lights?” Addy asked as she opened the door of the SUV and hopped out.

My heart stutter-stepped because the handsome landscaper I’d seen around the neighborhood was hanging Christmas lights on my porch. 

“I sure did.” Other than the occasional chin lift or head nod, he’d never said anything to me.

Addy tugged her hand from mine and ran up to him. “You put up the lights like I asked.”

He wore his signature baseball cap low on his forehead, a T-shirt stretched taut across his chest and biceps, worn jeans, and work boots. 

“You asked him to do this?”

Addy gestured down the street. “The rest of the houses on the street are decorated. I asked Knox to make ours match.”

“Mr. Knox does this as a service. People pay him to decorate. You can’t ask people to do things for free.”

Knox stepped closer to us and lowered his voice. “I wanted to do this for you.”

Something about the intensity in his eyes and his words had my heart pounding for a different reason. “I’m so sorry about this. I’ll talk to her.”

“Please accept the lights. It makes her happy, and I wanted to do this for you.” Knox gestured in the direction of his crew. “My family wanted to do this for you.”

For the first time, I took in the rest of the crowd. There were three other men who were similar in stature to Knox, with dark hair, and a woman. I wondered if these were his siblings.

“See, Mommy? Knox had fun putting up our lights.”

A chuckle erupted through the crowd. 

When it quieted, I said, keeping my gaze on his family, “I can’t thank you enough for doing this for us.”

Knox touched my elbow, sending my pulse racing, and guided me to the porch, where everyone stood. “These are my brothers, Talon, Heath, and Emmett, and this is Emmett’s girlfriend, Ireland.”

Talon crouched down to Addy’s level, talking to her about the wire decoration in the shape of a present propped next to the steps. I think he was explaining how he’d made it, but I couldn’t concentrate.

Emmett and Ireland said their goodbyes to Knox, and I managed a stiff smile. 

When it was just me and Knox, I turned to face him. “Thank you for doing this, but—”

Knox held up his hand. “I don’t expect you to pay me or give me anything in return.”

“I don’t understand why you did it. Were the neighbors giving you a hard time because I was the lone holdout for the holiday decorations?” I crossed my arms over my chest, trying not to feel less than because I was a single parent and didn’t have a partner to help with these kinds of things.

There was a fierce holiday decorating contest in the neighborhood. I couldn’t hope to compare, so I hadn’t even bothered putting up our meager decorations. 

“Addy asked me to make your house look the same, and I said I would,” Knox said carefully.

I nodded. “She’s hard to resist.”

For the first time, Knox’s lips twitched. “I’d probably give her whatever she wanted.” Then he rushed to add, “Please don’t tell her I said that. I’ll be in trouble.”

I smiled, lowering my arms to my sides. “I won’t.”

Knox stepped back, gesturing to the porch. “We hung lights on the roof and twisted lights around the garland on the railing and columns. Then Talon made the present to give your house that extra something. You probably won’t win any contests with this.” Knox gazed out over the neighborhood, where each house had blow-ups of Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph on their lawns and roofs, in addition to the lights.

I rested my hand on his forearm, where his flannel shirt had been rolled up to expose his skin. “I really appreciate it. Sometimes I feel like I’m failing at this parenting gig. Between work and activities at school, I feel like I’m always behind.”

Knox’s face filled with understanding. “I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.”

I shook my head. “You didn’t.”

He nodded toward Addy. “I wanted to make her smile.”

“I was worried she was bothering you when you worked on the neighbor’s lawn.” A couple of weeks ago, Addy was home with a day off from school, and Knox was next door, working on flower beds along the fence line. Addy talked to him through the fence, but I didn’t say anything because it was only for a few minutes.

“Talking to her was the highlight of my day.”

That made me pause because Addy’s father went months without seeing her, and he never said he missed her and wanted to see her. But this man, a stranger to us, enjoyed her company. “Ever since she was a baby, I called her my sunshine because she brightens everything around her.”

Knox nodded. “I think so, too.” 

I blinked away the unexpected sting of tears, unsure how to deal with this unexpected kindness and revelation. 

The rest of his brothers said their goodbyes, and I thanked them for their help.

When they were gone, Addy asked Knox, “Would you like some hot chocolate?”

“I’m sure Knox has other places he needs to be.” He could have someone waiting for him at home, or maybe even a date. Just because my life was ruled by the elementary school schedule didn’t mean this man didn’t have a life.

“I’d love some,” Knox surprised me by saying.

“See, Mommy?” 

I unlocked the door, and Addy stepped inside. 

I hung back for a second to talk to him. “Seriously, you don’t have to hang out with us. I’m sure you’re busy.”

“I don’t have anywhere else to be. I’d love to spend more time with Addy and you.”

My cheeks heated. I’d secretly crushed on him when he was a nameless man who worked on various yards in the neighborhood. It was safe to have naughty thoughts about the way his muscles stretched the cotton of his T-shirt. I never thought I’d talk to him or that he’d be walking inside my house.

I followed him into the kitchen and pulled out the ingredients for hot chocolate. Addy piled toppings on the kitchen table, mini marshmallows, and candy cane shavings, and she grabbed the whipped cream from the fridge. 

I heated the milk on the stove while Addy explained her favorite choices for toppings.

“I’ll have to try that,” Knox said, his deep voice resonating around the small space. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a man in the house who wasn’t my father.

When my ex, Gary, visited, he met Addy outside by his car and took her out for dinner or to the playground. He never came inside. He sent a check for child support every month but never asked how we were doing or if we needed any help or anything else. But then again, I wasn’t his concern, and he’d done his duty if he paid the child support.

“Do you have a Christmas tree yet?” Knox asked Addy.

Addy frowned. “Not yet. Mommy said we’ll go to the lot when we have time.”

My heart pinched. There never seemed to be enough time. I was always putting her off about something. Then there was the issue of how I’d get a real tree into the house. “We have a fake tree we could put up.”

Knox rested his palm against his chest. “First you said you were getting a tree from a lot, and then you said you had a fake tree. I can’t believe you’d say that to me.”

My forehead wrinkled. “Why?”

“My family owns Monroe Christmas Tree Farm.”

“I didn’t realize,” I said at the same time as Addy gushed, “You own a Christmas tree farm?”

“My family does. My brothers and I run it with our mother.” A hint of sadness raced across his expression, but it was gone before I could even register what it was about. 

“Will you take me there?” Addy asked.

Knox chuckled. “I’d love to. I can help you cut down a real tree.”

Addy’s eyes widened comically. “Mommy, please?”

The trees on the lot were expensive. I couldn’t imagine what they’d be if we cut down a fresh one. “I don’t want to take up too much of Knox’s time, sweetie.”

“We’re busy this time of the year, but I can make time for you. I wouldn’t want you to suffer without a tree. Why don’t you come before opening on Saturday, and I’ll help you out?”

I waved a hand at him, still uncertain how I’d pay for it. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Let me do this as my treat for you two. I can’t let you put up a fake tree.” He shuddered as if the idea was distasteful to him.

Addy giggled.

He’d put me in a position where I couldn’t say no, and I was curious about what it would be like to have a real tree.

“I’ll bring it by after close on Saturday and help you put it up. Do you have a tree stand?” He looked around as if I kept one in the corner for him to drop by and offer his help.

“I do have one.”

“Will you help us decorate it, too?” Addy asked.

Before I could say no to that suggestion, Knox rushed to say, “I’d love to.”

I bit my lip, not wanting to remind Addy in front of Knox to not invite people to do things without asking me first. We needed to have a conversation when Knox wasn’t standing in front of us, looking too good to be true. 

His navy cap read University of Colorado. I pointed to it. “Is that where you went to school?”

Knox took off his hat and ran a hand through his short hair. “That’s right. I worked for an architectural firm before I returned home to help on the farm.”

His face was pinched, and I wondered if there was a story behind his moving back. He hadn’t mentioned his dad, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t around. 

I mixed the cocoa into the steamed milk and poured the liquid into three mugs. In the spirit of the holiday, I used the ones from the movie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

“What would you like in your hot cocoa?” Addy knelt on the bench seat at the table and used a spoon to lift the mini marshmallows into her Rudolph mug.

“The works.”

Knox could easily have told her he’d do it himself, and I appreciated that he allowed Addy to do it. He seemed to be at ease around her. “You seem good with kids.”

Knox glanced up at me as Addy dropped the candy cane shavings into his mug. “I have a niece, Ember, who’s in the same grade as Addy. That’s how I knew you’d be out tonight. I wanted to surprise you.”

I was so surprised by his admission I couldn’t form a response at first. 

“I know Ember. She’s in my class and in the play at school,” Addy said as she dropped marshmallows into my Santa mug.

“She told me an Addy was in her class, and I put it together. You have a unique name.”

“So does Ember,” I said.

“She’s the light that keeps our family burning bright.” Knox shrugged. “That’s what my brother, her father Sebastian, always says.”

“I love that.” Her name had meaning, and it was eerily similar to my description of Addy.

“She’s the only kid in the family, and we spoil her.”

I smiled, imagining the brothers who were on my porch smitten by a little girl. “I can imagine.”

“Thanks for the hot chocolate,” Knox said when Addy pushed the Abominable Snow Monster mug in his direction. 

“You have to taste it,” Addy said pointedly, and Knox dutifully lifted the mug to take a sip. 

“Mmm. It’s delicious.”

“Mommy always makes the real kind. Not instant.”

“It’s good,” Knox said with a wink in my direction, which heated my entire body. 

I shrugged off the cardigan I wore and filled a glass with ice water. I needed to cool down fast. 

Addy frowned. “You don’t want hot chocolate?”

“I’m just really thirsty.”

Thankfully, Addy accepted my explanation.

I avoided Knox’s gaze. He was young and most likely single, or at least not looking for a relationship with a single mother. I worked from home and, in general, felt frumpy. I wasn’t old, but I didn’t go out to the bars or hang out with girlfriends. I was more concerned about homework and soccer practice than going out and meeting anyone. 

Addy stirred her hot chocolate with a spoon and drank from the mug. The liquid spilled onto the table and her shirt. 

Before I could move, Knox grabbed a paper towel from the roll on the counter and mopped up the mess. “Don’t want you to get it on your sleeve.”

“Thanks, Knox,” Addy said to him, and Knox’s entire body relaxed. His lips stretched into a smile. “You’re welcome.”

I’d never seen another man interact with Addy like this. No one besides my father. It was heartwarming.

“Would you help me with a puzzle?” Addy scrambled off the bench and headed toward the living room without waiting for Knox.

“If you need to go…” I said quietly.

Knox winked at me. “Let me see what this puzzle looks like.” Then he followed Addy into the living room, where we’d set up a card table and chairs. We enjoyed working on puzzles all winter. 

I used to do them with my grandmother and passed the tradition on to my daughter. This puzzle was a silly one of a snowy mountain. There was a ski lodge, a lift, skiers, people drinking hot chocolate, and a group of people decorating trees. Each time we sat down to do it, we discovered a new scene. It was so busy it took some time to take it all in.

“Wow. This is a big one,” Knox said as he sat in the chair.

Addy chewed on her lip as she searched for the piece she wanted. 

I turned on my holiday music playlist. “Is this okay?”

“It’s perfect,” Knox said. 

“You don’t get sick of the holiday stuff after working at a tree farm and decorating the entire neighborhood?”

Knox sighed. “Mom pumps the holiday music in the shop and by the tree lot. I work in the fields, so it’s not too bad.”

“You get to cut the trees down?” Addy asked, sliding her piece into the spot. 

“Sometimes. Or I assist with securing the trees on the tops of the cars. I go wherever I’m needed. My brother, Emmett, doesn’t like the crowds, so we let him work the fields.”

“Is he the one who had the girlfriend?” I asked him, curious to know more about his brothers.

Knox chuckled. “You’re never going to believe this, but Ireland was supposed to get married on the farm on Thanksgiving weekend.”

“To your brother?” I asked, a little confused.

Knox shook his head. “She was engaged to someone else. She discovered he was cheating on her right before she walked down the aisle. She ran through the fields, hoping to have a quiet place to think, and ran into Emmett. He hung out with her for a while, and then they got snowed in at his cabin for a few days.”

“Are you saying their relationship formed after she ran from her own wedding?” I asked carefully.

His lips twitched. “It’s unconventional, but I assure you, their feelings are real.”

I frowned. “Her ex doesn’t sound like a good guy.”

“Definitely not. Emmett and Ireland said it was because they were meant to be. Everything happened like it was supposed to. It was fate, or something like that.” Knox waved a hand.

“That’s so romantic.”

“Are you talking about kissy stuff?” Addy asked.

Knox chuckled. “I guess so.”

Her face screwed up. “Gross.”

“She doesn’t like kissing in movies. Even if it’s animated.”

Knox nodded. “I guess it’s the age. Ember doesn’t like it either.”

“I’m not in a hurry for her to like it.” This stage of not liking boys could go on forever, as far as I was concerned.

Knox shared a smile with me, and it felt intimate, like we were here on a date, and he was getting to know my daughter.

We worked on the puzzle in silence for a few minutes. Knox was quick to help Addy when she needed it. 

Reluctantly, I glanced at the clock. “It’s time to get ready for bed.”

Addy’s shoulders dropped. “Do I have to?”

“It’s eight-thirty.” Usually, I’d make her get ready earlier, but she was having such a good time with Knox that I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was time.

Knox stood. “It’s about my bedtime, too. I need to be up early tomorrow.”

“I bet you’re busy this time of the year,” I said as I followed him to the door.

“It’s a lot, but it’s just for a couple of months. Then I’m back to the landscape business.”

“Addy, go on up and get in your pj’s,” I called to her.

Instead of listening, Addy stepped in front of Knox. “Thank you for the lights. They’re beautiful.”

“You’re welcome,” Knox said, ruffling her hair.

My heart squeezed at the sweet interaction.

“Night, Knox.”

“Good night.”

I opened the door and followed him onto the porch. The lights twinkled around us, giving me a warm and cozy feeling inside.

“Thank you so much for what you did. It was so nice and unexpected.”

“I’m just happy you like it.”

“Don’t feel like you have to help us with the tree this weekend.”

He raised a brow. “I promised Addy a tree, and she’s getting one.”

“I don’t want you to feel obligated to help us.”

He rested a hand on my shoulder. “I don’t.” Then, with a flash of a smile, he turned and jogged down the porch steps. He stopped at his truck. “I’ll see you on Saturday.”

My heart pounded in my chest. I was attracted to him but never thought he’d be in my life. Not in any significant way. In one day, he’d surprised us with a beautifully decorated porch, and now, a tree.

I didn’t know what to make of him or the situation. I just didn’t want either one of us to get hurt. At the end of the day, it was just me and Addy. I needed to protect our hearts at all costs.

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