Merry Ghostmas

A Baker City: Hearts and Haunts Christmas Novella

by Josie Malone

Merry Ghostmas by Josie Malone

The holidays are the best time of the year in Baker City, Washington especially when the town ghosts, led by newcomer, Army Ranger Moises Pride decide to wreak havoc and do their own version of A Christmas Carol. They’ll attempt to redeem Nick MacGillicudy, the incompetent horseshoer who’s been hurting two and four-legged folks for years. He needs a lesson not only in manners, but also in empathy and what the haunts consider decency.

Along the way, they’ll also help Kyra O’Neill, local riding instructor find love, light and happiness with a ‘real man’. Orphaned at a young age, Derek Waller discovered a new life in the US Army. Thirty years later, he’s ready for something more than camos and combat boots. A home of his own in Baker City won’t be complete without the woman who runs the pool table in the cocktail lounge at Pop’s Café and defeats him on a regular basis.

There’s no place like home for the holidays in Baker City – thank heaven! And it’s Merry Ghostmas to one and all!

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Release Date: November 7, 2023
Genre: Paranormal (Ghost) | Military Romance

A Pink Satin Romance


Chapter One

Moises Pride drifted through the cocktail lounge at Pop’s Café in Baker City, Washington. It wasn’t super busy on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Most people had other commitments, shopping, cooking, visiting their relatives, but he wasn’t one of them, not anymore. That’s because I’m dead, dead, dead! Sorry, Momma. Another year of missing the family and your sweet potato pie.

He spotted a few of the other ghosts hanging out, watching the action between the living patrons. An old-time holiday movie played on the big-screen TV in the corner. He floated toward the corner booth where Mayor O’Connell, a middle-aged fellow in a black suit sat talking to Zeke Garvey and Raven Driscoll-Barlow, two former soldiers who’d died in ambushes in Afghanistan. Their war might not be his, but it didn’t mean they didn’t have a lot in common when it came to paying the ultimate cost for serving their country. Nodding respectfully, Moises waited to join the conversation. 

Raven, a thin, dark-haired wraith in camouflage fatigues and combat boots, gestured at two of the people sitting at the bar, focused on their conversation and one another. “You have something to do with that, Pride? Are you following Garvey’s example and playing Cupid the way he did with Ann Barrett and Harry Colter?”

“I just gave them a little nudge.” Moises followed her gaze toward the lovely ash-blonde woman in a red dress and the soldier next to her. Derek Waller was a solid, muscular man whose worn features looked as if he’d won more fights than he’d lost in his thirty-plus years of military service. A ‘high and tight’ style for his receding salt and pepper black hair, dark brown, almost black eyes, he was all man. “I’ve hung out at the barn for the past few months, and I’ve seen Kyra O’Neill busting her butt. She deserves someone decent, not that candy-assed horseshoer who bullies the animals when he’s sure nobody’s watching.”

“These two were betting on how long she’d wait for some guy tonight.” Raven frowned thoughtfully. “Is that him?”

“Not the Sergeant-Major,” Moises said. “I already told you. She’s hung up on Nick MacGillicudy and I’d like to do something about the jerk.”

Mayor O’Connell rubbed his jaw. “What do you have in mind, Pride?”

“Oh, let’s get in the holiday spirit.” Moises pointed at the TV. “We could do our own Christmas Carol on Nick MacGillicudy and teach him what he needs to know.”

“He might even move on and leave town,” Zeke agreed. “I never liked the guy when we were in high school. Do I get to be the Ghost of Christmas Past?”

“You’re not the only one who has issues with Herman MacGillicudy and his son,” Mayor O’Connell said. “That banker has been running Baker City into the ground for years. He tries to get his grown kids to help him rip off our kin.”

“He won’t be happy until he levels the place and turns it into one of his gravel pits,” Zeke said. “His daughter, Dominique, the realtor may say she’s on the same page, but that isn’t true, not when she finds buyers for the houses and businesses here. She helped my wife purchase the bakery after I died. ”

“She restores the places that need it before she sells them,” Raven pointed out. “I like Dominique. She did right by my bestie and her hubby. They love the home she found for them.”

The mayor nodded. “She takes after her momma, one of the O’Leary women.” He paused, obviously considering Moises’ suggestion. “Most of our folks will be here tomorrow when Pop sets up his holiday meal. Let’s get everyone involved. Things have been downright dull since the haunted town festival last month and the Veteran’s Day Parade a couple weeks ago. We need something to do now.”


* * *


On Wednesday night, Thanksgiving Eve, the lounge at Pop’s Café in Baker City wasn’t as busy as it would be on the upcoming holiday weekend. When she’d arrived an hour ago, Kyra O’Neill had glanced around the room but didn’t see her date waiting in any of the booths against the walls or at the tables in the middle of the room or playing pool in the alcove near the restrooms. He wasn’t standing at the bar either. Oh no, not again! Nick MacGillicudy had a habit of being late and not showing up at all when he promised to meet her.

She sighed. For this, she’d hurried through the horse chores at work when she finished her last equitation class. She’d hustled into the barn manager apartment, nabbing the shower before her room-mate, Trina Sweeney could. Kyra turned down the offer of a microwaved pasta dinner, saying she’d eat in town with Nick. They’d arranged to meet at the café. Okay, so it was more her idea, than his, but he’d agreed. They could eat and then spend the night out at his trailer. She wasn’t comfortable taking him back to the carriage house style apartment above one of the barns at Miracle Riding Stable.

Her comment earned a pitying look from the other riding instructor, but she hadn’t shared the criticism both of them often heard from Nick’s younger sister. She claimed he only made piecrust promises, easily made, and easily broken. When she heard about Kyra being stood up once again, Dominique would have a lot to say and none of it would be positive.

After another look around the lounge, Kyra took a deep breath and sauntered toward the bar. She’d dressed for romantic success in a cranberry red, heirloom lace dress with tight-fitting, three-quarter lace sleeves. The double-layer handkerchief hem swirled around her knees and her fashion boots tapped out a rhythm on the tile floor. She’d pinned her long ash-blonde hair into a loose bun, leaving sexy tendrils around her face, ears, and neck. Throw in the cosmetics and jewelry and she looked damned hot tonight, nothing like a 38-year-old woman who was shoveling horse pucky two hours ago.

Most of the tables appeared to be empty, not an unusual sight in Baker City. The corner booth had a cord across the end and a ‘Reserved’ sign hung from it. Pop MacGillicudy, the owner had said his grandfather always held the place for the mayor and his cronies. Granted, all of them had died years ago, but in this town, the ghosts were real and treated with respect. Or else!

Kyra decided she’d order a glass of white wine and wait a little longer. A somewhat successful farrier, Nick could be busy shoeing a horse for a client. She reached into her purse and drew out her cell phone. No messages. She hesitated before she texted him. She didn’t want to appear desperate even if she was. She pasted on a smile and hoped it looked genuine when the bartender, Pop’s daughter, Linda, a plump, brown-haired woman in a flowered shirt and black slacks approached.

There were a few years between them and way too much history, but then again Kyra knew she was too snarky to make friends easily. Sarcasm was always a good offense and defense, for that matter. She’d hitched up on a stool. “A glass of Chardonnay please.”

“You look ready for the holidays.” Linda smiled and reached for a goblet in the rack. The soft brown eyes warmed her pretty face. “How’s life at Miracle Riding Stable? Are Debbie and her family off to eastern Washington for Thanksgiving?”

“They left early this morning.” Kyra put her small red purse on the antique bar. “I’m in charge while she’s gone.”

“Of course you are. Debbie says she doesn’t know what she’d do without you. She’s so grateful you stayed on after she bought the place last spring.”

Pleasure flooded through Kyra. Granted, she often heard sincere praise from the retired Army sergeant, but it was even more special knowing the woman shared her opinion in the small town. “The housekeeper only does the daily stuff and is off for the weekend. Debbie has a special project for your cleaning company on Friday. Her grandmother is coming to visit after the holiday and Debbie hoped you’d have time to prepare the guest suite off the kitchen for her.”

“No worries, as her daughters say. I’m grateful she kept me on after she hired Lupe Gonzales.” Linda placed the glass on the bar. “Would you like something to eat? The kitchen’s still open.”

Kyra hesitated. She was supposed to have dinner with Nick, but she was hungry, close to starving. Her day started with morning chores, feeding forty equines while her boss loaded her Jeep. She and the three girls left early to meet Debbie’s husband at the army base. From there, they’d head over the mountains to Pullman where Debbie’s stepsons attended college.

Once they’d gone, Kyra groomed and saddled the string of lesson horses. She’d taught horsemanship classes all day and afterwards, it’d been time to muck stalls, water and feed those same horses once again. Granted, she didn’t have to do it alone. Trina always did more than her share, plus they had a high school boy to help. The younger woman promised to look after the cats and dogs at Debbie’s house since their boss preferred to leave the pets at home, not take them on a road trip.

“Dinner?” Linda repeated. “Dad made chicken fettuccine, and I know it’s one of your favorites.”

“That sounds good.” Kyra lifted the glass, sipped chilled wine. “Have you seen Nick anywhere? He was going to…”

Linda froze for a moment before she picked up a damp towel to wipe the counter between them. “He hasn’t been in since last night.”

“We’re supposed to have dinner together,” Kyra said. “Everybody in town eats here at the cafe. Are you sure you haven’t seen him?”

The silence grew between them. Linda reluctantly shook her head. “He was hustling some gals playing pool last night and he left with one of them. You can do so much better than my cousin’s son.”

Kyra nearly admitted the truth. She didn’t want a different man. She wanted tall, blond, muscular Nick MacGillicudy, the raunchy, sexy man whose kisses set her on fire. She blinked hard, determined not to cry in the middle of a town where she was related to far too many of the citizenry. “Is there garlic toast to go with that pasta? Since I don’t have to worry about my breath, add a couple pieces along with a small house salad. Ranch dressing on the side, please.”

“You bet. I’ll order your dinner right now.”


* * *


Sergeant-Major Derek Waller hadn’t wanted to stop on the way to Baker City from Seattle. It’d been difficult enough fighting the rush-hour, followed by the holiday traffic. He appreciated the invitation to spend the weekend and have Thanksgiving dinner with Harry Colter, one of the other sergeants from Fort Bronson, the Army Reserve base in Seattle, and his family.

Otherwise, it’d be another plastic meal at a restaurant because there was no longer a dining facility at the old historical fort that protected the city for more than a century. Now, the different units were transitioning to various sites throughout Liberty Valley and the army post would become a park. Only the military cemetery would remain at Fort Bronson along with two buildings designated as a museum.

An orphan raised in a series of foster homes, Derek enlisted as soon as he could. He’d dreaded retirement after being in the Army for more than twenty years, so he joined the Active Guard-Reserve program and was in charge of various part-time military units for another eleven years. Harry was one of the newest liaisons assigned to the post after his career in the elite Army Rangers, and their experiences in combat ensured they had a lot in common.

Parking outside Pop’s Café, Derek headed into the lounge rather than the restaurant. He recognized the perky, middle-aged woman behind the bar as the owner’s daughter. The tall, classy blonde in a brilliant red dress sitting on a stool at one end definitely drew his attention. He didn’t know her, but he’d like to have the opportunity. He deliberately angled closer to where she sat, a nearly empty glass of white wine in front of her.

Derek eased onto the stool next to hers. “Are you ready for another one?”

“Not from someone I don’t know.” She turned an icy gray gaze on him. “Go away.”

“I just got here.” He grinned at her, entertained by the rejection. “How will you get to know me if I leave?”

“I’ll handle it.” She signaled the bartender. “Linda, I’m ready for my check.”

“I’ll have it for you in a few minutes.” Linda turned her attention to Derek. “Twila Garvey dropped off those cheesecakes Ann Barrett ordered and said you’d be along to pick them up. Bad traffic, huh?”

“And a late night at the base,” Derek agreed. “I barely made the PX in time to grab the case of wine her husband, Harry Colter wanted.”

“I’ll get those desserts. Meantime, Kyra O’Neill, play nice with others. Sergeant-Major Waller works nearly as hard as you do.” Linda paused. “Have you had dinner, Derek? Or do you want Pop to throw a burger on the grill for you?”

Grateful for the half-assed introduction, Derek nodded. “Sounds good. Then I won’t have to impose on Ann and Harry for a meal.” After the bartender walked away, he eyed the other woman again. “So, what do you do, Kyra?”

She picked up the glass in front of her and he admired the fact that she didn’t wear polish on her extremely short fingernails. He never had liked claws on women, especially red ones.

“I manage Miracle Riding Stable outside town,” Kyra said. “It’d serve Linda right if I did the ‘dine and dash’ routine, but she’d just send half my relatives after me. And because we barely speak except at holidays, I’m not in the mood for a lecture from the likes of them.”

He chuckled. “And being the perfect gentleman I am, I’d volunteer to pay for your drinks.”

“I also had dinner and a piece of Twila’s New York cheesecake for dessert.” Slight amusement flickered across her face, then faded. She scowled, but still looked amazing even when she was slightly pissed. “It hasn’t been a good night. I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

“Guy’s an asshat.”

She blinked, shocked. “How did you know I was stood up?”

“Dump him. Anyone who’d blow off a date with you isn’t worth your time or effort.” He paused. “I bet you know little Princess Devon, Ann’s daughter.”

“She’s one of my best students,” Kyra admitted. “The girl has talent. She’s never a princess in my barn. She’s only seven and impresses me most of the time. You’re talking a kiddo who’s happy to brush, clean hooves and saddle up for herself. She even grabs the plastic fork and scoops poop if one of the horses takes a dump in the arena. Oh, crap. I probably shouldn’t have said all that.”

“Hey, I enjoyed it. Tell me more.”

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