Tongue firmly clamped between his lips, six-year-old Nate Palmer concentrated on cutting out a heart with a pair of blunt-edged scissors.
Pieces of red and white paper, a spilled pot of paste, and bits of ribbon and lace gave testament to his efforts at creating a Valentine’s Day surprise.
The sound of footsteps outside his bedroom door made him glance up with worry creasing a vertical line down his small brow. A tap on the door sent him scurrying to toss a blanket over the mess on his bed.
“Nater? May I come in?” his stepfather asked.
Nate expelled a sigh of relief. “Yep!” he called out. “You can come in.”
The boy was so happy when his mama, Posey, agreed to marry Uncle Tad. Although he knew Tad wasn’t really his uncle, he loved him anyway. Tad had always been a part of his life since his father died in a mine accident when Nate was just a baby. His father and Tad had been best friends.
When his mother had married Tad last summer, Nate cheered to finally have a father, one he’d loved his whole life.
“What are you working on, son?” Tad asked as he stepped into the room.
Nate removed the blanket hiding his handiwork and looked up to Tad. “I’m trying to make a surprise for Mama. Do you think she’ll like it?”
Tad smiled and set his hand on Nate’s head, ruffling the boy’s mussed hair. “She’ll love it, Nater. Do you need some help?”
“No. I want to do it myself,” Nate said, climbing back up on his bed and picking up the scissors.
Tad hunkered down beside him and placed a hand on the boy’s knee. “You’re doing a fine job, and I’m proud of you for remembering to put the paste on a plate so if you spilled it this time, your mama wouldn’t have to scrub it out of your quilt.”
Nate wrinkled his little nose. “It sure was a mess last time, wasn’t it?”
Tad chuckled. “It was, indeed, son.” The man straightened and took a step toward the door. “I’ll tell your mother you’re not to be disturbed, but supper will be ready in about an hour.”
“I better hurry.” Nate turned back to constructing the most beautiful card he could imagine.
An hour later, when Tad tapped on his door again, Nate stuffed a card beneath his pillow before running over to answer the door.
“Ready to eat, son?” Tad asked, grinning at him.
“Yep! I’m starved, but I need your help.” He grabbed his stepfather’s hand and tugged Tad into the room, handing him a pencil. While Tad wrote, he dictated what he wanted written inside Posey’s card. When they finished, Nate ran past Tad to the kitchen where he climbed on a stool to wash his hands at the sink.
“You’ve been awfully quiet all afternoon, baby.” Posey Palmer smiled at her son as she set a bowl of mashed potatoes on the table. “What mischief have you been making?”
“None, Mama. I’m working on surprises,” Nate said, shaking the water from his hands before taking the dish towel Tad handed to him. Together, they all sat at the table, festively adorned with Posey’s best cloth and her gleaming china.
After Tad asked a blessing on the meal, Nate rushed to eat his meal, anxious to give his parents the surprises he’d made. When he’d cleaned his plate, he looked at Tad. The man winked at him and tipped his head toward the doorway, letting Nate know he could leave the table.
Nate jumped down from his chair and carried his plate to the sink.
“Where are you going, Nate? We haven’t even had dessert yet.” Posey gave him a curious glance. “You’ve never turned down a piece of chocolate cake.”
“I want cake, Mama, but I have to give you something. Wait right there!” Nate raced down the hall, his footsteps echoing on the hardwood floor. He soon returned holding both hands behind his back. “You both close your eyes. Please?”
Posey glanced at Tad then back at her son. She set down her fork and folded her hands on her lap then closed her eyes. “Don’t you dare put something creepy-crawly on my plate, Nate. I don’t need that kind of surprise.”
Nate laughed. “I won’t, Mama. I only did that once and you liked to scared that poor little lizard to death.”
Tad chuckled. “You did give him quite a fright, Posey.”
She opened one eye and stuck out her tongue at her husband before closing it again.
Nate delivered his surprises then climbed back up in his chair. Excitedly, he clapped his hands and yelled, “Surprise!”
The boy had set two cards on the table, one for each of the adults.
“Oh, baby, this is wonderful,” Posey said, lifting the card, still damp with paste. Snips of lace and one crookedly tied bow adorned the front. Inside, it read:
I think you are the sweetest, nicest, prettiest mother in the whole world.
“Thank you, Nate. This is perfect.” Posey pulled him onto her lap and kissed his cheek, giving him a tight hug. “Is this what you worked on all afternoon?”
Vigorously, he nodded, hair flopping into his eyes. Posey brushed it back and kissed him again.
“Look at yours, now,” Nate said, turning to Tad.
The big man lifted the card in his hands, admiring the lopsided heart pasted on the front. In a childish scrawl, Nate had written inside the card.
I love you, Daddy.
“Aw, Nater! Come here, son.” Tad lifted Nate from Posey’s lap and gave the boy a warm hug. “I love you, too, and I’m so happy to wake up every day, knowing we’re a family — you, and your beautiful mama, and me.”
“I’m glad we’re a family, too!” Nate wrapped his arms around Tad’s neck and gave it a squeeze before loudly whispering, “Will you give Mama her present now?”
Tad grinned. “Sure.” He set Nate back into his chair at the table and walked over to where he’d set his saddlebags just inside the door when he arrived home earlier. He pulled two packages wrapped in brown paper and tied with red ribbon from them then walked back to the table.
“I think Nate should get his gift first,” Tad said, handing the boy one of the packages.
Nate tugged off the ribbon and gave it to his mother then folded back the paper. “Oh, golly! Did you make these, Daddy?” He lifted a pair of soft leather gloves, just like all the ranchers in the area wore for work.
“I sure did, Nate. They should fit you like, well…” he glanced at his wife and winked, “a glove.”
Posey laughed and pointed to the gloves. “Try one on, Nate.”
When Nate stuck his hand inside the glove, something blocked his fingers. He tipped the glove over and pieces of wrapped candy fell onto the table. “Candy, too?” Wide-eyed with surprise and excitement, he smiled at the adults. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome, son.” Tad held the gloves and helped Nate put them on. While the boy rubbed his hands together and examined every stitch in the tanned leather, Tad handed Posey her gift. “It’s something for your quilting.”
Posey untied the ribbon and removed the paper to reveal a beautiful leather sewing pocket. “Oh, Tad. It’s wonderful.” The leather pocket could hang on the wall and hold her thimbles or any sort of treasures. Her fingers ran over the soft leather of a heart-shaped pincushion at the top of the pocket. “I love it.”
Tad knelt beside her chair. “And I love you, Posey Palmer. With all my heart. Happy Valentine’s Day to both of you.”
Wishing you all a very Happy Valentine's Day.
USA Today Bestselling Author Shanna Hatfield writes character-driven romances with relatable heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”
Convinced everyone deserves a happy ending, this hopeless romantic is out to make it happen, one story at a time. When she isn’t writing or indulging in chocolate (dark and decadent, please), Shanna hangs out with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.
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