Kiwi Summer Christmas

A romantic miracle novella.

Christmas is close, and the first date for high-country shepherd Brigitte Foster and rugged farmer Steve Sorenson should go well. Unfortunately, Brigitte needs a dress for the date and she isn't a dress sort of girl. Borrowing one from an empty room in Steve’s farmhouse seems like a harmless thing to do, but her choice sets off a chain of events which blows Steve’s family apart and digs up buried pain for all involved.

Now, they need a sparkly Christmas miracle to save them. She has the three wise dogs. He has the repainted stable. But will this be enough?

 

 

Chapter 1 – An Unexpected Invitation

Brigitte Foster sat astride the shuddering quad-bike and for about the ninety-ninth time reviewed her decision to leave the farm.

Majestic and beautiful, the New Zealand landscape made her heart swell. The shepherding job at Silver Peaks had been an incredible opportunity. She’d learned so much. Stretched her confidence. Been in heaven working with her dogs.

But she was lonely with no prospective partner on the horizon. Unsettled with no shape to her life yet. And in winter, in the snow, she froze here, however many layers of wool and waterproofing she piled on.

Further down the steep hill her younger dogs were in good control of the woolly mob they were driving to the yards. Fella, Ben and Hitch had long futures ahead of them. It would almost kill Brigitte to sell them, but they’d bring good prices, and that was the reality of her life. She whistled, and her signal echoed through the valley. The trio obeyed and turned the mob fractionally.

Twisting around on the quad, she fondled old Jess’s head for comfort. The Border collie gazed at her with adoring eyes, one of which was clouded with cataracts. They’d started their first job together when Brigitte was eighteen; no way would Jess ever be sold.

“How are you doing there, Jess?” she crooned. “Not too cold for your old bones? I’m planning to go somewhere warmer, so you hang in there a while longer.”

Jess gave a soft wuff and buried her nose in Brigitte’s hand. Ten years together. Absolute love.

*

Steven Sorenson scanned the online farming news and stopped when he found the ad for three working dogs. Owner giving up shepherding. Why? Illness? Retirement? No clues, except that the dogs worked well as a team, and there was an unwritten but somehow obvious plea they should be kept together. Steve needed another good dog, but not three. Someone was going to be out of luck. Would it be him, or the owner, or the dogs?

The ad ended with ‘Brigitte’ and her mobile number. Maybe a foreigner leaving New Zealand? The name Brigitte sounded somewhat foreign. 

He glanced out to the darkening lawn, knowing his mother would have a fit if she saw how he’d let the grass get away in her absence. Then he checked his watch. Brigitte, whoever she was, should be off work by now. He grabbed his phone.

It rang four times before a breathless voice answered. “Hello? Brigitte Foster.”

Not foreign then. “Yeah – Steve Sorenson, enquiring about your dogs.”

“Oh.”

She didn’t sound thrilled. Was he too late? Had she already sold them? “All collies?” he asked, hoping she’d chat for a while. He’d had enough of his own company. “That’s unusual. No huntaways?”

A short gap. A sigh. “Well, my first was a collie. And she was so good, I just…” She hesitated.

“Kept going with the same?” Steve supplied.

“Yes, I guess. Three and four years old, like I said in the ad.”

He swung his feet onto the coffee table and settled more comfortably into the sofa cushions. “Why are you selling?”

Nothing for a few moments again, then she cleared her throat. “I don’t want to. I love shepherding, but this place is so cold. I don’t think I could stand another snowy winter.”

“So move somewhere warmer. Where are you?”

“Outside Taihape.”

He whistled. “Yup – like a freezer up there sometimes.”

“And… also… it’s not that I’m exactly lonely, but everyone’s married here, and decent social events are pretty few and far between.”

Steve scratched his jaw. She was probably ugly as sin. Boring as all get-out. Needy. Clingy. There’d be something wrong, for sure. He summoned up every reason why this was a bad idea, but not looking forward to yet another microwaved meal on his own, he asked, “Can you get as far as Hunterville? I’m south of Halcombe. We could meet at the pub, grab some food, discuss the dogs.”

He squeezed his eyes closed and grimaced, embarrassed to be practically begging a total stranger for a date. But yeah, unrewarding social events, no suitable partner in sight – not a million miles from his own situation. With his parents in Europe for a long-anticipated holiday he was stuck here, rattling around in the big old farmhouse, keeping the whole place going. He’d had enough of his own company. And she had a pretty voice. A little bit of a catch in it. It would be no hardship listening to her for an hour or so.

“This evening? I could be there by seven-thirty? I have more photos of the dogs on my phone.”

Huh! He sat up straight. “O-kayyyy… The Argyle on the corner? That’s a bit further for you to travel than me. Or there’s Ohingaiti?”

“Hunterville’s fine. I wasn’t planning on doing anything too important tonight.”

Suddenly energised, Steve set his feet on the floor. “Right. I’m six two. Wearing a grey jersey with a black stripe around the chest.”

“Long brown ponytail,” the unknown Brigitte replied. “Um… red hoodie. See ya.”

*

She sucked on her bottom lip. Why on earth had she agreed? At least she couldn’t come to any harm in a pub. If he was an old perv she’d simply leave and curse the waste of time and petrol. But six-two – he couldn’t fake that. And he’d sounded efficient and as though he knew about working dogs. Maybe not so old, either. His voice was deep, Kiwi, and not rough. Had he been sent to boarding school? Entirely possible if he’d grown up way out in the countryside.

She glanced at her watch. No time for a shower or messing with makeup, but some fresh lip-gloss at least, and she’d brush out her hair because wearing a woollen hat over the bundled-up mass did it no good at all. She shook her head at her fanciful thoughts. They’d only be talking about dogs, for heaven’s sake.