“Oh, woe!” Trixie Belden cried, reading the list posted on the door of the drama department. “I’m a sheep!”

Mart stifled a smile. “And what, pray tell, is wrong with being a sheep? The ones we took care of at Happy Valley Farm seemed to have a pretty good life.”

Trixie whirled to face him and made her way through the group of people crowding around to read the cast list. “It’s as bad as being a daffodil!” she wailed. “The costume will be big and bulky, and I’m bound to trip, or fall off the stage, or do something else embarrassing.”

“Well, if you’re going to be doing something embarrassing, you’ll be doing it right along with me,” Jim Frayne told her cheerfully. He shifted his books so that he could shoulder Trixie’s backpack. “I’m a sheep, too.”

Mart’s mouth gaped open. “Really? You’re a sheep?”

“Soooeee,” Jim agreed.

Mart rolled his eyes as his sister’s face lit up.

“What about the rest of us?” Dan asked, joining them. “Did you check, Trix, or should I go see?”

“Oh!” Trixie tore her attention away from her fellow sheep with difficulty. “Yes! Diana got the part of Mary!”

Mart felt a grin stretch across his face. “Of course she did. She’ll be perfect!”

“And you, Brian, and Dan are wise men,” Trixie continued. She paused to snort. “Good luck with that, guys.”

“Hey! I resemble that remark,” Mart protested.

“What about Honey?” Brian asked, hoping to avoid a major argument.

“Didn’t you know?” Trixie asked. “She’s on the costume crew this year.”

Brian passed a hand over his eyes. “Right. I knew that.”

“Are you sure you have time to be in the pageant?” Trixie asked, biting her lower lip. “I know I asked all the Bob-Whites to participate, since admission for the performance is an item of food for the Sleepyside Food Bank, but I didn’t know that you’d have so many papers due.” She let out her breath with a whoosh.

“I’m fine, Trixie,” Brian assured her. “Honey did mention it to me, but it slipped my mind. Probably when all that advanced biology slipped in,” he quipped.

“So who’s Joseph?” Dan asked.

“You won’t believe it!” Trixie crowed.

“Please tell me it’s not Ben Riker. Please tell me it’s not Ben Riker. Please tell me it’s not Ben Riker,” Mart chanted under his breath.

“He doesn’t even go to our school!” Trixie protested. “Why are you so worried about Ben?”

Mart sighed. “It would just be my luck. He’s the kind of practical joker that gets the rest of us in trouble. After the par-squirrel episode, and the strainer fiasco, Moms keeps a much closer eye on me.”

“So does Miss Trask,” Jim admitted. “She still won’t add sugar to her coffee without testing it.”

“Plus, he likes country music,” Mart muttered.

“Kind of like a certain leading lady,” Trixie teased.

“Enough! Who’s playing the part of Joseph?” Mart demanded.

“You’ll never guess!” Trixie chortled.

“Never guess what?” Honey asked, surprising her best friend. She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Is the cast list up?”

“Yes, and I’m a sheep,” Trixie groaned. “But so is Jim. And Dan and Brian and Mart are wise men.” She paused to shake her head. “And Diana is Mary!”

“That’s wonderful!” Honey exclaimed. “She’ll be so excited when she hears the news. Does anyone know what time she gets back from her dentist appointment?”

Trixie looked at her watch. “Any minute now! Let’s go to the cafeteria to meet her.”

“But who’s playing the role of Joseph?” Mart wondered aloud, but Dan was already pushing him to follow the others as they made their way down the crowded hallway to the cafeteria.

“Nick?” Diana questioned. “Nick Roberts?”

“Is there any other Nick that tried out for the pageant?” Trixie teased.

Diana blinked. “Well, no. But…”

“But what? He’ll be fine,” Brian said, carefully collapsing his milk carton to ready it for recycling.

“He is the tortured artist type,” Honey mused.

Mart scowled at the only remaining item, an apple core, on his tray. “That means he can draw. Can he act?”

“Of course he can act!” Trixie exclaimed. “How else would he have gotten the part?”

Mart shrugged and picked up his tray, eager to leave the Sleepyside Junior/Senior cafeteria behind.

“What’s your rush?” Diana asked, resting her hand on his lower arm.

Suddenly, Mart wasn’t in so much of a hurry.

“Practice starts today after school,” Trixie reminded the group.

“I’ll be in the sewing room, starting on the costumes,” Honey replied. “But I’ll meet you at the front doors when we’re done,” she offered.

“I can’t wait!” Diana exclaimed. “This is going to be so wonderful! I won’t even have to learn any lines!”

Mart blinked in surprise. “What?”

“Weren’t you listening when Ms. Croft explained how the pageant would work?” Trixie asked. “The story will be told through narration and carols. The actors won’t be speaking at all.”

“It’s perfect!” Diana glowed, her excitement contagious. “I get to act without having to worry about messing up my lines!”

Mart frowned. “You did a great job when you played Juliet,” he protested, nudging her arm.

Diana flushed. “Thank you. But memorizing all those lines was really stressful for me. I’m looking forward to this!”

Trixie’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “So I guess this means you won’t get a chance to use any of those lines you slaved over,” she told her brother.

“Trixie,” Mart warned, “I wrote those years ago.”

“What lines?” Dan asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Trixie said breezily. “Just Mart writing what he thought would be appropriate dialogue for the three wise men.”

Jim’s lips twitched. “Let me guess. You wanted them to sound educated.”

“Well, they are wise men,” Mart defended himself. “All we ever hear them say is, ‘Which way to the inn?’, and ‘Here are your gifts, Baby Jesus,’. Does that seem like all a wise person would say? No!”

Dan groaned. “Did any of the words you wrote have less than four syllables?”

Mart laughed good-naturedly at the ribbing. “Don’t knock it until you’ve read it. That was some premium stuff!”

“I’m sure it was great,” Diana soothed, placing her hand on his. “But don’t you think it will be fun to try it this way? It’s completely different!”

“Plus, this way the choir can be more involved,” Trixie interjected. “Lots of people wanted to be in the pageant. This way they can!”

“Isn’t it fantastic?” Honey asked dreamily. “So many students wanted to participate in the pageant that Ms. Croft had to find a way to include them all. I think the choir and multiple narrator idea is perfectly perfect!”

“And the Sleepyside Food Bank is going to get tons of donations,” Trixie continued. “Literally! All of the parents will want to see their kids act, and the churches are all announcing it in their bulletins, and…” she ran out of breath.

“It’s going to be great,” Mart agreed.

“And just think,” Jim added, his lips twitching. “Ben Riker may even be out here by then. His school has a longer Christmas break than ours does.”

Mart stifled a sigh. The last thing he wanted was more competition for the attention of beautiful, classy Diana Lynch. And Ben Riker was definitely competition.

“Hold still, Mart! I don’t want to stab you with a pin,” Honey Wheeler scolded.

Mart gave her a sheepish smile and made a concerted effort to stand still. The classroom that the costume crew had taken over for fittings was packed, and he knew that Honey was doing her best to work quickly.

“I’m almost done,” she continued, speaking around the pins she held in her mouth. After placing one last pin, she stood back to survey her handiwork critically. “There. Perfect!”

Mart heaved a sigh of relief and began tugging off the loose, brilliantly coloured garment. In a fit of pique, he wondered why the director hadn’t just asked the wise men to bring bathrobes from home. It had worked for all the pageants he had participated in when he was in elementary school. He had to admit, though, that the deep purple fabric Honey had fitted him with was a lot classier than the tattered hand-me-down beige and brown striped robe hanging on the back of his bedroom door.

Honey carefully hung the fabric on a hanger and pinned a label to it. “Now, can you send Jim to me?” she asked, already sorting out the next costume.

“I thought you were only doing the wise men’s costumes,” Mart commented, tugging his sneakers back on to his feet.

“Oh, you didn’t hear?” Honey asked. “Jim is taking Dan’s place as a wise man.”

“But why? Jim seemed pretty happy as a sheep.” Mart knew that the only reason Jim was even in the pageant was to spend more time with Trixie. Why would he decide not to be a sheep anymore?

Honey lowered her voice. “There was a costume difficulty,” she said.

Mart raised an eyebrow.

“Jim couldn’t fit in the sheep costume,” Honey admitted. “Apparently, the makers of the costume didn’t intend the sheep to be so… husky.”

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘supple’,” Dan said, joining them. “Ms. Croft sent me over to be fitted. And, just so we’re clear, I’m not that much smaller than Jim. I’m just… streamlined,” he decided.

Mart snorted indelicately. “Yeah. Streamlined. Go with it.”

Dan elbowed him in the side. “The ladies haven’t complained yet.”

“Marcia is doing the animal costumes,” Honey said, interrupting before Mart and Dan’s teasing could escalate. “She’s waiting for you at work station four.” She made a little shooing motion, and smiled as Dan obeyed.

“Trixie’s not going to be too pleased that Jim isn’t a sheep,” Honey said quietly, and then clapped a hand over her mouth. “Woops! I didn’t mean to say that out loud,” she admitted.

Mart shrugged. “I was thinking the same thing. I bet Jim isn’t any too pleased, either.”

“Oh, Mart!” Honey exclaimed, giggling. “You should have seen him trying to squish himself into the sheep costume! He was so determined to make it fit. It wasn’t until the second seam let go that he finally admitted that it just wasn’t going to work.”

“He’s got it bad for Trixie,” Mart agreed. “Why, I’ll never know.”

Honey’s eyes narrowed, but her voice remained sweet as she offered, “I could always ask Mother and Daddy if they could invite Ben to come out for Christmas even earlier. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“Touché,” Mart muttered.

“Honestly!” Honey exclaimed, “You guys are crazy. It’s obvious that Trixie likes Jim, and that Diana likes you. And yet, you do nothing about it.”

Mart stepped backwards as she began pinning costumes with considerably more force than was strictly necessary. “Why shouldn’t Di enjoy Ben’s attention?” she asked. “Or Nick’s? Why shouldn’t Trixie keep writing to Ned?  Or Tenny? And why shouldn’t I—“ She stopped abruptly. “Never mind.” Throwing up her hands, she snapped, “I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Someday.”

Mart’s eyes were wide as he backed away from Honey’s work station. Honey Wheeler had lost her temper? And implied that Trixie and Diana should encourage other guys? This was not good. Not good at all! It was possible that he and Jim were in serious trouble. But wait! Honey hadn’t finished her last statement! Was Brian in the same position?

It seemed that the three wise men were a little out of their depth.

“I’m telling you that Honey was ticked!” Mart exclaimed, readying a saddle for Strawberry.

Brian shook his head. “You must have misunderstood,” he told him, swinging up on Thunderer and adjusting the stirrups.

“I don’t know,” Jim said thoughtfully. “I can see why Diana might be interested in Nick Roberts or,” he winced, “Ben Riker. I mean, Di’s really pretty, and there are bound to be lots of guys interested in her,” he continued, ignoring Mart’s glare.

“Oh yeah? You don’t think Ned Schultz isn’t ready to cut you out of the picture?” Mart demanded. “And Dan didn’t seem to much mind trading places with you.”

Jim paled. “Dan doesn’t think of Trixie like that, does he?”

Mart shook his head. “I don’t think so. Then again, he might not tell me if he did…”

“But even if Dan doesn’t have feelings for Trixie, some other guy is bound to,” Brian put in. “Much as I hate to think about it.”

Jim shifted uncomfortably.

“Geez,” Mart muttered. “This is awkward.”

They rode along the path in silence.

“Hey!” Mart exclaimed, surprising horses and riders. “This isn’t as bad as it seems.”

“It’s not?” Jim questioned, running a soothing hand over Jupiter. “How so?”

“Well, the way I see it, Honey, Di, and Trixie might have other guys interested in them, but we have the advantage.” Mart bounced in his stirrups, vibrating with intensity.

“How do you figure?” Brian asked. “We’re the boring boy next door guys. How is that an advantage?”

Mart sighed. “You’re not boring, Brian.”

He waved aside the statement. “How do you figure this is a good thing?” he pressed.

“Well, that’s just it. We are the guys next door. If we don’t want the girls thinking about other guys, all we have to do is keep them busy ourselves! It’s brilliant! We can do this!”

Jim and Brian exchanged wary glances. “You think?” Jim asked.

Mart nodded emphatically. “The fact that we’re in the pageant together is perfect!” he went on. “All we have to do is stick close and make sure that they don’t start spending time with other guys. Easy!”

“Easy,” Brian agreed doubtfully.

“Piece of cake,” Jim intoned.

“What?” Mart asked. “How hard can it be?”

Mart nodded covertly at Brian as he watched his older brother gather a stack of material and trail along after Honey as she took her position at her work station in the school sewing room.

“Thank you, Brian,” Honey said, smiling sweetly. “That was very thoughtful of you, but I’m sure that I could have carried it by myself.”

Brian set the pile of fabric on top of the long cutting table and leaned back against it. He crossed his arms over his chest and smiled, looking down at Honey because of his considerable height. “No problem. I’m glad I could help,” he said.

Honey stood, waiting for him to return to the rehearsal. “Don’t you need to head back?” she asked gently.

“Nah,” he said, leaning further back against the table. “The wise men aren’t up for another ten minutes.”

From across the room, Mart sent him the “thumbs up” gesture. Honey would be sure to love Brian keeping her company while she sewed!

“Okaaay,” Honey said. “Well, I need to get back to work on these costumes.” She began threading the sewing machine with deft precision. When the bobbin was secured and the needle threaded, she turned back to Brian, a puzzled expression on her face. “Are you sure you want to hang around here? We’re just sewing. And what if Ms. Croft wants you early?”

Brian faltered for a minute, but quickly recovered. “No, no, I’m fine here. Besides, maybe I can help you? I’m sure you have a lot of work to do, what with all the costumes.”

Brilliant, Mart thought. Offering to help was pure genius!

“Mmm,” Honey said, eyeing him suspiciously. “Okay. Can you hand me the aubergine fabric please?”

Mart could feel Brian’s panic. What self-respecting man knew what the heck aubergine was? The only reason he knew was that Diana had oohed and ahhed over some sweater, and had identified it as aubergine. Mart still thought it was just plain dark purple, but who was he to judge? He watched in horror as Brian handed Honey some deep red material.

Honey took the fabric and gave Brian a pained smile in return.

“Anything else I can do for you?” Brian asked, even while Mart made “stop” gestures with his hands. Oblivious to his own blundering, Brian ploughed on. “I bet you need a thimble,” he continued, rooting through Honey’s small basket of supplies.

“Actually, I don’t need to use a thimble with the sewing machine,” Honey started to say, but she was interrupted by the sound of something falling to the floor.

Mart watched in dismay as Brian accidentally knocked the basket he had been looking through off the table. A container holding at least fifty pins burst open, creating a quiet musical tinkling as the pins rolled across the floor.

“Oh, no,” Honey sighed. She got down on all fours and started to gather the potentially dangerous objects.

“I’ll get them,” Brian said hastily. He dropped down beside her, knocking his forehead against hers as they searched for pins in the same area.

“Oh!” Honey sat down abruptly, rubbing her head.

Brian, too, winced, but kept his attention on Honey. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, reaching a hand to graze the bump already growing on Honey’s forehead.

“That’s okay,” Honey told him, forcing herself to smile despite the pain.

On the other side of the room, Mart groaned. Operation Monopolize the Girls was not off to an auspicious beginning. At that moment, Jane Morgan skidded into the room.

“Ms. Croft is looking for the wise men,” she called, scanning the room. “Everyone’s waiting!” She spotted Brian on the floor beside Honey and rolled her eyes. “Oh, please! You kept the rest of us waiting so that you could visit with your little girlfriend?” She spotted Mart across the room. “And you! What are you doing in here? We’re waiting!” Tapping her foot impatiently, she motioned for Brian and Mart to hurry.

With an apologetic smile for Honey, Brian left her on the floor gathering the pins.

“Well, that went smoothly,” Mart muttered as they followed Jane’s clacking heels down the hallway.

Diana Lynch sighed as she slid on to her chair in the cafeteria. Instead of picking up her egg salad sandwich, she pushed her tray toward the middle of the table and set her head down on her arms.

“Di, what’s wrong?” Honey asked, moving her chair closer to her and placing her hand on Di’s back.

“Yes, oh talented thespian. What troubles thee?” Mart asked, depositing his tray on the table as he settled onto the chair across from her.

“It’s this math,” Di groaned, glaring at one of the text books she’d brought with her. “I’ve been so busy with pageant practices that I fell behind, and I don’t understand it all!”

Mart took a bite of his roast beef sandwich and swallowed most of it before asking, “What unit are you on?”

“Algebra. And it’s harder than it was last year.” Diana shoved the text book further away from her. “If I never have to remember the order of operations again, I’ll be happy.”

“Maybe you should ask Nick for help,” Trixie suggested. “He really helped me a lot last month when I couldn’t figure out geometry.”

“That’s right!” Di exclaimed. “You did really well on the geometry test!”

Trixie blushed. “Nick made it easy. And I bet he could help you with algebra.”

Di took another bite of her sandwich, nodding in agreement. Her entire countenance brightened at the possibility of an end to her scholastic challenges.

The roast beef in Mart’s mouth turned to dust as he pictured the surprisingly talented math student tutoring Diana. “Wait! No need to bother Nick,” he blurted. After a brief pause he added, “I can help you!”

Trixie stared at him, eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Really? You can help Di? You barely passed algebra yourself last year!”

“I didn’t do too badly,” Mart said, his face colouring.

Trixie, Honey, Brian, Jim, and Dan all stared at him doubtfully while Diana beamed. “Oh, Mart, that would be wonderful! You were a big help last year when I had trouble with my English paper. Thank you!”

“Don’t thank him yet,” Trixie muttered.

“Why don’t you and I get together after practice tonight?” Mart suggested, surreptitiously kicking Trixie’s foot even as he kept his eyes on Diana.

“Perfect! Maybe we could go to Wimpy’s and have a snack while we work on it?”

Mart beamed. This was perfect! Not only could he help Diana and earn her gratitude, he could keep her away from Nick Roberts at the same time! It couldn’t have worked out better if he’d planned it. Ignoring the amused expressions on Jim, Brian, and Dan’s faces, Mart continued to smile. “It’s a date.”

Later that evening, he wasn’t quite so certain that the study date had been such a good idea.

“But we still don’t have the right answer!” Di sighed as she checked the answer guide in the back of her text book. “Why don’t we have the right answer?”

Mart resisted the urge to tug at his sandy curls. Instead, he took another fry and dipped it in ketchup. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I can’t find our mistake.”

Diana sighed and tossed her pencil down on the battered and scratched Formica table top. “Maybe we should just give up,” she suggested, her voice dismal.

“No. We can do this,” Mart insisted. Frantically, he searched his memory banks, but the bare necessities of facts he’d manage to commit to memory long enough to pass his algebra class had long since deserted him.

Diana waved aside the waitress who was offering to refill her coke yet again. “I don’t know, Mart. I’m getting awfully tired. And it’s late.”

Mart checked his watch and was shocked to find that it was, indeed, late. If he was going to get Diana home before her curfew, they would have to leave immediately.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I really thought I’d be able to help you.”

Diana closed her books and gathered her purse. “That’s okay,” she told him. “You tried. And I’m sure I’ll figure it out. It just won’t be tonight; that’s all.” Covering a yawn, she led the way out of the restaurant. “Maybe it will make sense in the morning.”

After he dropped Diana off at her house, Mart hurried up the stairs to the bedroom he shared with his brother.

“Brian! You have to help me!” he called.

Brian looked up from the text book he was reading and raised an eyebrow. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you need an emergency algebra transfusion.”

“Hardy-har-har,” Mart griped. “Seriously! It was awful, Bri. We didn’t get the right answer to any of the questions!”

Brian took out a suspiciously convenient algebra text book and flipped it open to a page with a sticky note. “All right,” he said. “It’s time for the Brian Belden Algebra Crash Cart.”

Mart stared at him. “Crash cart?”

“It was the only way I could get through algebra myself,” he admitted. “Calling it a crash cart reminded me that I needed the algebra credit to get into university. You, on the other hand, need algebra to save your pitiful attempt at keeping Nick Roberts away from Di.”

Mart pulled his chair up to Brian’s desk and resisted the urge to thunk his head on the smooth wood surface. “Okay. Hit me, doc.”

When Mart woke the next morning, he was thrilled to note that he still remembered the precepts Brian had drilled into him. Just to reassure himself, he did a few problems on his own, and pumped his fist in victory when he found the correct answer for each of them. He whistled happily through his shower, through breakfast, and through the walk to the bus stop. When he boarded the bus, however, his good mood vanished.

Shoving his backpack into a seat and dropping down beside it, Mart turned to Honey. “Where’s Di?” he asked. “Is she sick? Isn’t she coming to school today?”

Honey raised an eyebrow. “She caught a ride with her dad this morning,” she told him. “Apparently Nick called her last night and offered to tutor her this morning before class.”

“But…” Mart protested, his mouth dropping open.

“But what?” Honey asked. “She has a test in two days, and she really needed the help.” She patted Mart’s shoulder. “It’s too bad that you couldn’t help her figure it out last night.”


“She said you tried really hard, though. And it’s the thought that counts, right?” Honey said sympathetically.

Mart felt the beginning of an eye twitch. Staying up half the night reviewing algebra was seeming like less and less of a good use of his time.

“And since Nick is so good at math, it just made sense,” Honey continued. “Did you know that he might actually get a scholarship based on his math scores?”

“No,” Mart muttered, “I didn’t know that.”

“Say, Mart,” Tad Webster called from across the aisle. “Did you finish that social studies assignment yet? It took me all evening!”

Mart smacked his hand to his forehead. Not only had he failed to help Diana with her homework, he’d forgotten to do his own!

Jim whistled happily as he ran his hand over Jupiter’s flank. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, he had finished his homework for the weekend, thanks to an early morning start, and he had time for a leisurely ride on Jupiter before the afternoon pageant rehearsal. Life didn’t get much better than this. He settled the saddle on his favourite horse and was about to mount him when he heard two familiar voices.

“Hurry up, Belden,” Dan called, his tone teasing. “The deer are hungry. They didn’t get to enjoy Moms’ pancakes, you know.”

Jim’s grin grew. Dan and Bobby regularly restocked the deer feeding stations on Saturday mornings. It gave Mrs. Belden a break from the little imp, and supposedly taught Bobby responsibility. Mostly, Jim thought, it reminded Dan of the importance of family planning. Dan and Bobby usually enjoyed breakfast together at Crabapple Farm and spent the rest of the morning riding together.

“Hey, I’m hurrying,” another voice called back. “It’s not my fault Moms’ pancakes taste so good! I’m too full to move.”

Jim’s grin faded. It was not Bobby who had answered Dan. It was a different curly-haired blonde.

“Hi, Jim!” Trixie called as she entered the stable. “Are you going riding? Dan and I are checking on the feeding stations. On account of Bobby is at a birthday party. I mean, Dan would be checking the stations no matter what, but normally I wouldn’t, because Bobby would be.” She stopped. “Did that make sense?”

“Perfect sense,” Jim replied, chucking her under her chin. “You’re standing in for Bobby today.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Trixie agreed. “But I haven’t done this since Honey and I tried to be gamekeepers. I’m not sure I remember where all of the stations are.”

Dan hauled Susie’s saddle off the wall for Trixie and approached the mare. “You’ll remember. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t. I’ve done this so many times I could find them in my sleep.”

Jim took the saddle out of Dan’s hands, surprising the dark-haired young man. “I can do that,” Jim told him. The air was suddenly stiff with challenge.

“Nope, I got it,” Trixie said cheerfully, plucking the saddle from Jim’s arms. “Saddling Susie is one of my favourite parts of riding.” She slipped into her favourite horse’s stall and crooned to the docile mare as she carefully followed Regan’s checklist for the proper saddling of an animal. “It gives us time to talk, doesn’t it, Susie?”

Jim watched as Trixie expertly saddled the horse. Even dressed in jeans and a heavy sweater, she was captivating, Jim decided. Compelling. There was just something about Trixie Belden that made him want to keep her in his sights for the rest of his life.

“Ready,” Trixie sang out, and emerged from Susie’s stall.

Dan appeared at her side, leading Spartan, and Jim realized that Dan had been saddling Spartan while Trixie was readying Susie. The two riders began leading their horses out of the stable.

“Wait!” Jim called, making a snap decision. “I’ll come with you.” Hastily, he finished saddling Jupiter and joined them.

They both turned to him in surprise. “Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Trixie protested. “I’m sure you had planned to take Jupiter for a fun ride. We’ll be taking smaller paths that you can’t go fast on, and stopping to fill the stations. You won’t have any fun!”

“She’s right, Jim,” Dan agreed. “The feeding stations are in quieter spots so that the deer will feel safe. We’ll be going at a crawl in places.”

“No problem!” Jim forced a bright smile. “I don’t mind a bit.”

“Okay,” Trixie said with a shrug and a smile. “It’ll be fun!”

The first feeding station went well. It was close to a well-maintained path and easy to find. Jim watched as Trixie and Dan worked in tandem, tidying and filling the station. Jim hung back, knowing that his presence was superfluous. Trixie’s presence, too, was largely superfluous, but he also knew that in order for Bobby to take his job seriously, others had to take it seriously as well. To gain permission to attend the birthday party, Bobby had been required to ask Trixie to take his place as Dan’s helper, and agree to do some of her chores for the rest of the week.

So, instead of helping her lift the bulky bags and replace salt licks, he was reduced to standing on the periphery of the action. And he didn’t like it.

Dan, however, seemed to be enjoying himself. Clowning around, he juggled the bags of feed, and then pretended to stagger under their weight. Much to Jim’s chagrin, Trixie seemed to find his actions hilarious. She giggled as Dan flexed his muscles, and whacked him in the ribs. Their interaction was completely innocent, but Jim found himself wincing at their easy camaraderie.

The next few feeding stations followed the same pattern. Though both Trixie and Dan included him in the conversation, he still couldn’t help feeling that his plan of keeping from Trixie from other guys was not only not working, but was completely wrong, for some reason he couldn’t put his finger on.

Mart tapped his imaginary gavel on the table in the clubhouse. “I hereby call this meeting of The Three Wise Men to order.”

Brian and Jim stared at their fellow wise man.

“What?” Mart demanded, his tone defensive.

“I’m having a bit of trouble with the ‘wise’ part,” Brian told him. “Actually, a lot of trouble.”

Mart winced. “It’s not my fault that you spilled the pins! When did you turn clumsy, anyway?”

“I don’t know; maybe it was when I was trying to figure out what the heck aubergine is.” Brian glared at his brother.

“Purple, dude. It’s purple.”

“I know that now.” Brian slouched in his seat. “I’m starting to think that our plan must be flawed.”

“No! It’s a good plan,” Mart insisted. “Jim? Back me up, here. If we just keep spending time with the girls, the other guys will take the hint and move on, right?”

Jim shifted in his seat. “I’m going to have to go with Brian on this one. There’s definitely something wrong with this plan.”

“Okay, what’s wrong with it?” Mart demanded.

Both Brian and Jim were silent.

“All I know is, it’s not working. I’m banned from the sewing room, so I can’t spend extra time with Honey. And Di is meeting Nick every day for tutoring. How’s that working out for you?” Brian demanded.

“Okay, it may not be a perfect plan,” Mart muttered. “But what else are we supposed to do?”

They looked at each other with identical blank expressions.

“I say we concentrate on the pageant,” Mart said. “Tutoring didn’t work out very well for me, and Jim didn’t do so hot helping Trixie with the feeding stations.”

“Hey! Nothing went wrong at the feeding stations,” Jim protested.

Mart raised his eyebrows. “Was Trixie spending time with you, or with Dan?”

“Point taken,” Jim sighed.

“As I was saying,” Mart continued, “I think we should focus on the pageant. That’s where the girls are spending most of their time, anyway.”

Brian glared at his brother. “Did I fail to mention that I’ve been banned from the sewing room?”

“Oh. Right.” Mart shrugged. “You’ll just have to rely on your bedside manner?”

Brian buried his face in his hands. “We’re doomed.”

Stifling a yawn as he boarded the bright yellow school bus, Brian was happy to note that Trixie had opted to sit beside Jim, and had left the spot beside Honey available. He sat down, his long legs extended into the aisle. Honey’s sweet smile and warm greeting assured him that she wasn’t holding a grudge about the sewing room fiasco, for which he was grateful.

“So, more sewing after school today?” Brian asked, even though he knew the answer. Or, at least, he thought he did.

“Not today,” Honey said, her smile fading. “I have to go to the city with Mother and Dad to attend one of mother’s pet charity functions.”

Brian felt a quick stab of disappointment. “Oh.” He frowned, trying to figure why he hadn’t known about this. “Is Jim going, too?”

“No,” Honey replied. “He has too many tests and papers due this week. With the pageant, he felt that he couldn’t take any more away from his homework.” She ended the statement with something that sounded like “lucky guy”.

“You’re not looking forward to it?” Brian inquired. “I thought you enjoyed those fancy dress up things.”

Honey shrugged. “My dress is nice,” she admitted. “I just don’t feel like going and having to talk to all the grownups who tell me how much I look like Mother, and dance with all the guys my age and up who think that they’re God’s gift to women. I usually depend on Jim to keep me company.”

Brian’s jaw clenched at the thought of Honey dancing with the spoiled, rich boys. “I could come with you,” he suggested, the words out before he could think them through. His own eyes widened at his presumptuous offer. What was he thinking?

Honey’s face, however, lit up. “Really? You could? That would be fantastic! I’ll call Mother at the first break and make sure that she still has Jim’s ticket. She reserved spots before she knew that he couldn’t make it. And, even if she doesn’t still have the ticket, it will be fine. She is on the planning committee.” She clapped her hands. “This is wonderful!” she exclaimed, impulsively kissing him on the cheek. “Thank you!”

Brian smiled and tucked Honey’s hand into his. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. In any case, it was a great excuse to spend time with her.

A few hours later, Brian was seriously wondering what he had been thinking. The tux he had borrowed from Jim was not a good fit, his dress shoes hurt his feet, and he was completely out of his element in the fancy hotel ballroom. He started to tug at his bow tie, but managed to stop himself. Pretty soon he was going to have to sit on his hands to keep himself from ripping it off.

He plastered a smile on his face as he returned to the table where Honey was waiting for him. He handed her a glass of punch, and downed his in a single gulp. Wearing a slightly amused expression, Mrs. Wheeler assured him that the meal would be served shortly. Brian flushed, knowing that he wasn’t using the manners Moms had tried so hard to teach him.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler soon excused themselves to mingle with the rest of the guests.

“Would you like to dance?” Honey asked.

Brian nodded, even though his feet were throbbing. He led Honey to a quiet spot on the dance floor, and held her loosely as a slow song began. Not for the first time that evening, he took the time to study her. She was wearing a white and gold dress with a black embroidered pattern. The skirt was very full, and the straps on her shoulders were very thin. Three inch heels put her at a very pleasant height for dancing, and her hair was secured in an elegant upsweep. She was the most beautiful woman in the room in Brian’s eyes.

The longer they danced, the less Brian noticed the pinching of his shoes, and the chaffing of his bow tie. The fact that his pants and sleeves were an inch too short ceased to bother him. All that mattered was that he was holding Honey Wheeler in his arms.

Caught up in the moment, Brian began to relax. He grew bolder in manoeuvring his partner across the dance floor, and allowed himself to hold her closer. Honey, too, appeared to be enjoying herself as she allowed Brian to sweep her across the room. He felt as if she were melting in his arms, allowing him complete freedom. His heart swelled with rich emotion.

The moment was ruined when a young man a year or two older tapped him on the shoulder. “May I cut in?” he asked.

In the scant seconds it took for Brian to register what was happening, the interloper had taken his place and swept Honey away. Brian turned away in disgust and started to return to his own table. Frustration overwhelmed him as he realized that not only had he allowed the best dance he’d ever had to be interrupted, he had failed to rescue Honey from having to dance with other men.

Brian’s stride increased along with his frustration. Too late, he realized that he was closer to the refreshment table than he had realized. He tried to turn away, but was jostled from behind. Powerless to stop himself, he bashed his leg against the corner of the table. Ignoring the stabbing pain, he clutched desperately at the tablecloth that was threatening to slide off the table and take the massive punch bowl with it. He managed to avert disaster, but not before several artistic napkins had fluttered to the floor, and one glass had tipped over.

Face flaming, Brian hobbled away as the wait staff tidied the mess. He eased himself into a chair, nursing his bruised leg. There wouldn’t be any more dancing for him that evening. Hopefully Honey wouldn’t mind keeping him company at the table in between her dances, he thought grimly.

“Okay, everybody, this is it!” Ms. Croft addressed the milling throng of students crowding the stage. “Dress rehearsal! And we’re lucky enough to have some residents of the Sleepyside Nursing Home in attendance to be our audience. As well as a few out of town guests, I understand.”

Mart sneaked a look at Jim, who was looking markedly uncomfortable in his brilliant red robe. Somehow, Mart was certain that Jim’s irritation stemmed not from the extremely unflattering colour he was wearing, but from the fact that the out of town guests Ms Croft was referring to included Ned Schultz. And it really didn’t help that Trixie’s nervousness about performing had increased exponentially when she found out he would be attending the dress rehearsal. It was just plain bad luck that Ned was scheduled to attend a basketball camp in New York, and was passing through Sleepyside on his way there.

Mart took his position in the wings beside Jim and Brian, watching Diana as he waited for his cue. Mesmerized, he watched as Diana glided onto stage, looking graceful even with a massive pregnancy pillow attached to her stomach. Her simple beige garment contrasted sharply with her blue-black hair and violet eyes, and Mart couldn’t take his eyes off her. Neither, apparently, could the guy playing Joseph.

“Stupid sensitive artist tortured soul Nick Roberts,” Mart groused, watching as the aforementioned actor guided Diana on the stage, his hand on the small of her back. Mart found himself edging closer to area of the stage where Diana and Nick were situating themselves at the inn props. As Nick walked past him, Mart caught the unmistakable aroma of liberally applied cologne.

He rolled his eyes. Great. No guy put on that much cologne unless he was trying to impress a girl. Mart froze, and then tried to unobtrusively sniff himself. He was relieved to discover no trace of the cologne he had applied that morning. Nick, on the hand, reeked of it, and Mart realized that he must have reapplied it during the day. He felt his teeth gnash. Nick was definitely upping the game. But two could play, he reminded himself, and he began to formulate a plan.

Mart’s sneaky tactics were put on hold as Jim nudged him. “What are you doing here?” Jim whispered, trying to not distract the actors.

“Just checking on things,” Mart hedged. His eyes remained locked on Nick Roberts, and Jim wasn’t fooled for an instant.

“Everything okay?” Jim questioned.

Mart narrowed his eyes as Nick settled himself beside Diana on a bale of hay and wrapped his arm around her.

“We’re due to make our entrance in a few minutes,” Jim reminded him, his eyes on the animals on stage.

Mart followed his gaze, noting the two sheep huddled together. “They look cosy,” Mart observed, referring to the close quarters that the “animals” had been allocated.

“Yeah. Cosy,” Jim agreed.

Mart couldn’t see clearly in the dim lighting of the wings, but he was pretty sure that Jim’s eyes were turning greener by the second. They both watched as one of the cows tripped on the bulky costume and jostled Trixie. Dan caught her, holding her until she was steady.

“Does he have his hand on her—“ Jim started to ask, his hands balling into fists, but he was interrupted by Jane Morgan.

“Get into position!” the stage manager hissed. “The wise men are supposed to go on right away!”

Mart tugged Jim’s arm until he got his attention, and the two of them joined Brian. They arrived just in time to make their appearance. The bulk of their acting was done in just a few minutes, and then they took positions around the manger along with the shepherds. Catching another whiff of cologne, Mart tried to sniff the air unobtrusively. The lingering aroma tickled his nose, and caused a slight burning sensation. Great, Mart thought. Not only was another guy wearing girly perfume to impress Diana, apparently he was allergic to it!

Mart finally drew his attention away from Diana’s “husband” when he noticed the stiff posture of one of his fellow wise men. Jim was by no means an accomplished actor, but his posture and facial expression was more stilted than normal, Mart observed. It took a moment for him to figure out what the problem was. When he did, however, he almost couldn’t squelch a groan. The “animals” on stage were out of position, and, once again, Trixie and Dan had been crowded together. The two sheep were huddled off to the side, on the side of the stage.

Mart watched as Jim edged closer to the animals, and realized that Trixie’s stalwart protector was on duty. But what could he possibly hope to accomplish? As unobtrusively as a red-head in a crimson robe could be, Jim inched closer and closer to Trixie and Dan, pausing to try to make his progress less noticeable to the audience. From stage left, Jane Morgan waved her arms in a furious stop motion. Unfortunately, one of the camels misinterpreted the signal and tried to make his way off the stage and into the wings.

Mart watched in horror as the camel’s hump swung hard and connected with Jim’s arm. Jim never had a chance. Caught off guard, he stumbled forward and caught himself on the nearest available person. Trixie let out a surprised “oomph” and staggered back. Dan tried to catch her, but was shoved to the side by what appeared to be a donkey attempting to follow the camel off stage.

All action on the stage stopped and every eye in the auditorium turned to Trixie as, in slow motion, she teetered, tipped, and ultimately toppled off the edge of the stage. Announced by the clatter of dissonant chords, Trixie landed in the lap of the accompanist.

Mart watched in horror as his sister’s face flamed bright red. She struggled to her feet and attempted to regain her composure, but Mart could tell that she wouldn’t be forgetting her tumble from the stage any time soon. And, judging by the shocked silence followed by excited murmurs, the small audience attending the dress rehearsal wouldn’t be forgetting it any time soon, either. He winced when he caught the flash of a camera.

Though most of the people, both on stage and in the audience, had frozen in the face of disaster, one person had not. Ned Schultz pushed his way to the edge of the stage and gallantly helped Trixie to her feet. Without a backward glance, he led her out of the auditorium. A smattering of applause followed them.

And, once again, Jane Morgan was waving her arms. This time it was a “Keep going! Keep going!” gesture that had the rest of the cast snapping to attention. The shaky accompanist started playing the choir’s next song, her nerves recovering as the hum of excitement in the auditorium abated. Jim returned to his position beside Mart and Brian, hanging his head in shame.

“She’s never going to forgive me,” he muttered under his breath, earning a glare from the ever-watchful Jane.

Even though Mart felt that perhaps a, “No shit, Sherlock,” was in order, he restrained himself.

“She’ll be fine,” Brian muttered back. “Miss Castles broke her fall.”

And, even though it was completely inappropriate, Mart felt the stir of laughter in his chest. This could only happen to Trixie! One look at Jim’s anguished expression quelled the nervous laughter, and Mart shared his regret that Trixie’s childhood experience of falling off the stage had repeated itself. Though he preferred to see his sister with Jim, if he had to see her with a guy at all, Mart couldn’t help feeling grateful that Ned had stepped up. With any luck Ned was distracting her enough to help her forget her embarrassment.

Jim, however, looked sick at the thought of Ned riding to her rescue. The three wise men went through the motions for the rest of the play, but Mart found that he couldn’t remember a single thing about the performance after Trixie’s impromptu exit.

The evening of the pageant performance was crisp and cold. Mart shook his head as the three Beldens donned heavy winter coats and trudged through the snow to Brian’s latest jalopy. “Don’t anyone act too excited,” he quipped, noting Brian’s stiff limp, and Trixie’s leaden feet.

Brian merely threw his brother a withering glare, but Trixie’s face turned even paler than it had been. “I think I’m going to be sick,” she groaned.

Brian immediately turned back to her. “Do you have a fever? Are you hot? Cold?”

“I’m cold because it’s a million degrees below freezing,” Trixie told him, stuffing her hands into the fancy muff that Mrs. Belden had insisted that she use. “And I’m hot because I’m deathly embarrassed at the thought of setting foot on that stage again!” She paused. “I don’t think I have a fever, though.”

Brian smiled sympathetically and chucked her under her chin. “Trix, the people who were at the dress rehearsal yesterday won’t be at tonight’s performance. You have a clean slate,” he assured her.

“And dress rehearsals are supposed to go poorly,” Mart told her earnestly. “It’s an unwritten rule.”

“Kind of like breaking a leg,” Trixie said thoughtfully. “Hopefully I won’t actually break my leg, or anyone else’s, tonight.” She winced, thinking of landing in Miss Castle’s lap.

“Tonight is going to be perfect,” Mart assured her, throwing a parka-clad arm around her. “You’ll see.” He patted his pocket, confident that his plan would have Diana forgetting all about Nick Roberts, math genius and artist extraordinaire.

The two Belden brothers, decked in their fine robes, met Jim backstage. He was pacing and muttering to himself. “How’s she feeling?” Jim asked as soon as they were within earshot. “Is she still upset about yesterday?”

Mart shrugged. “She’s not too thrilled about going onstage again, if that’s what you mean.”

Jim winced. “I can’t believe I knocked her off the stage. How could this have happened?” He appeared to pull himself together as he added, “She’ll be safe tonight, though. I made sure of it.”

Brian and Mart looked at him in confusion. “I don’t want to burst your bubble,” Brian said slowly, “but you know that you can’t protect Trixie from finding trouble, right? Believe me, I’ve tried.”

“Check out the stage,” Jim instructed.

Mart’s eyes lit up when he spotted what Jim was referring to. “You built a fence?”

Jim nodded. “A pen. Yes. I only hope it doesn’t offend her. I just want her to feel safe out there tonight.”

“She’ll appreciate the effort,” Brian told him, and Jim relaxed visibly.

Effort, Mart thought to himself. Yes, it was all about the effort. Hopefully Diana would also appreciate his efforts tonight. He patted his prop of myrrh and smiled to himself. He could almost smell the sweet scent of victory.

The mood behind the curtain grew excited, then tense, and excited again before the curtain finally rose. Trixie ambled on to the stage in her cumbersome costume and started at the sight of the pen. Almost immediately she looked straight at the blackened off-stage area where the wise men waited, and smiled directly at Jim. Jim’s goofy answering grin was enough to cause her to lose her footing, but she steadied herself on the sturdy structure of the pen and smiled even more brightly.

Giving his friend a covert thumbs-up, Mart implemented his master plan of the evening. He withdrew the small bottle of lavender perfume he’d bought at Crimper’s and carefully poured it into the fancy myrrh container. A test squirt of the spray mechanism proved that it was in working order.

Beside him, Brian made a queer choking sound. “Yuck!” he gasped. “What is that?”

Mart sniffed the air. “Um, I don’t smell anything,” he prevaricated.

Brian’s nose twitched. “Then there’s something wrong with you. It smells like,” he paused, and then grimaced, “potpourri.”

Jim withdrew a perfectly pressed and folded handkerchief from somewhere within the voluminous folds of his robe. He wiped his streaming eyes with it, and then used it to blow his nose.

“Smells like a floral shop exploded,” he agreed. “And then burned down.”

Mart rolled his eyes. “You guys are crazy.”

Eager to get away from the cloying, pervasive odour, the three wise men gladly followed Jane Morgan when she urged them to get into position. With a smug smile, Mart followed Jim and Brian onto the stage. It was time to put his plan into action.

After wandering aimlessly across the stage through the singing of “We Three Kings” to symbolize their journey, they arrived at the inn and presented themselves to the holy family while a narrator described their gifts. Jim placed a box wrapped in shiny gold paper in front of the manger. Brian added a box that was supposed to contain frankincense. Lastly, Mart approached the nativity.

Perfect, he thought, as his nose twitched at the scent of Nick’s overbearing cologne. Instead of merely laying his gift at Jesus’ feet, he made a theatrically low bow. With an expansive arm gesture, he extended the bottle of perfume, or myrrh, with a flourish. Diana and Nick both looked surprised at this deviation from what they had rehearsed, but smiled in encouragement.

With a final flourish, Mart depressed the squirt mechanism, sending a puff of lavender-scented perfume into the air. Nick and Diana followed his lead, pretending to admire the scent.

Success! A broad smile crept across Mart’s face. Not only had he counteracted Nick’s terrible cologne, he had done it with a scent that Diana loved! And Brian and Jim had thought that his plan wouldn’t work, he scoffed. Fools! This was sheer brilliance!

Mart savoured his success for about three seconds. Almost immediately, the expressions on Di’s and Nick’s faces changed from surprised amusement to sickly horror. Nick swallowed hard and tried to surreptitiously plug his nose by holding a finger above his upper lip. Diana staggered a half step backwards and sat down on a convenient bale of hay, her hand over her mouth.

Mart stared at them, aghast. What were they doing? Spraying actual perfume was a little outside of what had been rehearsed, but Nick and Di were taking things too far! Mart was moving toward them, trying to figure out what was going on when he was assaulted with the most pervading, cloying, sickening aroma he had ever smelt. His nose and throat began to burn immediately, and his stomach churned. Nick’s cologne, combined with the inexpensive perfume from Crimpers, had combined to form a stench formerly unknown to mankind. Mart thought longingly of the sharp stink of a pig farm he had once supplied labour for. Anything would be better than this sickly sweet torture!

He reeled back two steps, brushing against the other wise men. The smell was less strong already, but Mart still felt as if he’d been sucker punched in the gut. Brian and Jim looked slightly disgusted, but not in danger of passing out, as Mart still thought he might be in danger of doing. Nick and Di also appeared to be recovering, although both were pale. The rest of the actors continued to play their parts, oblivious to the extra drama.

Mart kept his eyes on his sandals, reluctant to see the expression on Diana’s face. She must be furious with him! By the end of the pageant, the smell had completely dissipated, and his stomach was almost back to normal. With a sigh of relief, he tore off his costume and dumped the bottle of perfume in the nearest garbage can. Avoiding as many people as possible, he tugged on his jacket and escaped into the cold winter night. He ducked around the corner of the building and took deep drafts of the fresh air, and wondered how things had gone so wrong. Several moments later, he felt someone join him.

“It went well tonight,” Diana said, settling herself against the wall beside him.

Mart turned to her, eyes wide. “I almost killed you by accidental olfactory poisoning, and you think it went well?”

Diana smiled. “What was that stuff? I thought I’d tried every lavender scent ever made, but obviously I was wrong.”

“I got it at Crimper’s,” Mart admitted. “It wasn’t exactly high end.”


The silence between them grew, but for once, Mart didn’t feel the need to fill it with big words.

“It was a good idea,” Di finally said. “I thought if I had to smell Old Spice for one more minute, I was going to start acting not nearly so serene as the Virgin Mother should.”

“Oh, yeah?” Mart asked, hardly daring to hope that Diana could forgive him so easily.


Another comfortable silence descended. Diana pulled elegant white kid leather gloves from her pocket and slipped them on. “I’d say that the pageant was a success,” she finally offered.

“Well, sure,” Mart agreed. “Everyone had to donate the food items before the pageant began.”

“Oh, stop it,” Di said, laying her hard on his arm. “The audience loved it! And I’m sure that no one even noticed that little stink bomb.”

“Little stink bomb?” Mart asked. “Little stink bomb? I think I’ve discovered the next generation of biological warfare!”

Di squeezed his arm. “We’re not going to talk about Trixie falling off the stage, and we’re not going to talk about the perfume fiasco. It’s all in the past.”

The silence was still comfortable, but didn’t last nearly as long as the previous ones.

“You want to know what the best part of the pageant was?” Di asked suddenly, turning to face him.

Mart looked at her warily.

“Spending all that extra time with you,” she said softly.

He looked up, startled. Surely he had heard her wrong… “Really?”

Diana nodded. “And you’re still my first choice for a tutor, even if we can’t find any of the right answers,” she told him, lowering her voice.

Staring at the beautiful girl beside him, Mart knew that words weren’t the right option for the moment. He grazed her cheek with one hand and gently drew her closer. Carefully, tenderly, their lips met for the first time.

“Oh, Di,” Mart breathed.

Diana pulled away just far enough to grace him with a happy smile. Mart pulled her back to him, holding her tightly. Maybe his plan hadn’t gone so wrong, after all, he mused.

“Does this mean that you’re going to stop giving Nick the evil eye?” Diana asked suddenly, surprising him.


“Because you know that I chose you over him, even though you were acting kind of crazy,” Di continued. “So it’s pretty clear how I feel. There’s no competition between you and Nick.”

Mart stared at her, unsure of how to answer her.

“Unless I’m wrong in assuming that you didn’t like me spending time with him,” Di offered.

Mart winced. “No, I didn’t like you spending time with him. And the idea that you would chose me over him, well…” He cupped her face with both hands. “You’re it for me, Di. I don’t want anyone else, and I don’t want you to want anyone else.” He watched her anxiously, hoping that he hadn’t assumed too much.

Di grinned in delight. “Merry Christmas, my wise man,” she said before kissing him soundly.

Long moments later, they broke apart when they heard cat calls coming a group of kids leaving the school.

“Oops,” Mart said, grinning sheepishly. “Say, I wonder if my fellow wise men are faring as well as I am.”

Di laughed. “If Trixie isn’t showering Jim with gratitude for the pen he built, then my name isn’t Diana Lynch. And as for Honey… Well, I don’t think Brian has anything to worry about. After that dance they shared at the fundraiser, there’s no way she’ll consider anyone else.”

Mart paused. “Wait. I never did figure out who was interested in Honey. Other than Brian, of course.”

Di stared at him. “Seriously?”

Mart shook his head, mystified. “It could be anyone, I suppose.”

“Not hardly. Let’s just say that he’s a fellow Bob-White, and leave it at that.”

Mart’s eyes bulged. “Dan?! But we thought…”

“You thought wrong,” Di informed him, eyes twinkling. “But don’t worry. He may not be a wise man, but he knows how to protect his heart. He’ll be fine.” She cuddled closer to him to ward off the winter chill.

“Guess I’m not so wise, after all,” Mart admitted.

Diana snorted delicately. “Offering to tutor me in algebra may not have been your smartest move,” she agreed. But, Mart?” She waited until he was looking her straight in the eye. “You’re my favourite wise guy.”


Author’s Notes

9939 words

When I learned that I would be writing for one of my very favourite authors this year, I almost had a heart attack! Once I had fortified myself with a bracing cup of eggnog (this is a Christmas story, after all), I made an attempt. I thought to myself, “Perfect! I can stay in my universe and write the story of how adult Mart and Diana get together!” Two thousand words later I realized that Mart and Diana weren’t ready to get together. Not good. Next, I thought, “Okay, I can do this! I’ll write a story where teenaged Mart and Diana end up taking care of an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve!” Four thousand, five hundred words later, I realized that it was registering a little too high on the angst-o-meter, which would simply not do for someone who had requested a romantic comedy with no angst. Well, crap! *grin* Luckily, third time’s a charm. Maybe. I felt utterly ridiculous writing a romantic comedy for the Queen of Romantic Comedy, but, well, them’s the breaks. *wink* Since the recipient named We Three Kings as one of her favourite Christmas carols, I couldn’t resist playing a little. Merry Christmas, AprilW! (And no need to stick a chopstick in your eye, I hope. *wink*)

Thank you to Dianafan for editing and designing these breath-taking graphics. I really appreciate you taking the time to do so much at such a busy time of year. *hugs*

Merry Christmas!

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2010 by Ryl. Images from istockphoto.com and manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2010.

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