Christmas Presence: Three Tales of Love [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Susan Crosby
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: NAUGHTY OR NICE? Meet three sophisticated women who aren't above a little mischief under the mistletoe to relieve holiday stress. CHRISTMAS PRESENCE by Donna Birdsell: Young widow Astrid Martin wants to boycott Christmas--but her husband's ghost won't let her! Before long she has a tree, even a gift-wrapping job at the mall, where she meets the man who holds the key to her Christmas future. SECRET SANTA by Lisa Childs: When Maggie O'Brien receives gifts from a secret Santa, she suspects one of the three men in her life has finally wised up to how special she is. Who's the mystery man--her ex, her boss, or that good-looking car mechanic? Come Christmas morning, will true love be waiting under Maggie's tree? YOU'RE ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS by Susan Crosby: Divorcee Lauren Wright opts for a Bahamas Christmas getaway--only to be stranded at the airport by weather. But a very personable fellow traveler makes the time fly--and temperatures rise. Bahamas or no Bahamas, things are about to get steamy...
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Next
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2007
2 Reader Ratings:
Tuesday, December 4, 12:30 p.m.
All she needed was a pair of panty hose.
So now here she was, in the middle of a crowded mall in the suburbs of Philadelphia, just twenty-one days before Christmas, wishing like hell she could just go to her meeting with a run in her stocking.
Because until today, Astrid Martin had almost—almost—managed to ignore the holidays. Aside from a few anemic decorations at the nursing home where she worked, and the occasional snippet of a Christmas song as she flipped through the channels on the radio, her exposure to all things merry had been nonexistent.
But it was kind of hard to ignore the holidays here. Fake icicles. Giant red and green Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling. Enough garland to circumnavigate the globe.
She tucked her chin into the scarf around her neck and averted her eyes, heading for the department store at the far end of the mall. Unfortunately, she didn't see the temporary kiosks that had sprung up in the middle of the promenade, and walked forehead-first into the banner of one of them, which read: Wrapping for R.U.F.F. We'll wrap anything for a buck!
"So sorry," she murmured to the two women who manned the booth. They were dressed like elves, in hats with jingle bells and red shoes that curled up at the toes.
"No problem," one of the elves said. "Hey, you look like an animal lover. Here."
The elf handed Astrid a flyer.
"Resources for Underprivileged Furry Friends(R.U.F.F.) needs you! Join our team of volunteers, and give underprivileged animals the gift of hope this Christmas."
Astrid was, in fact, an animal lover. And last year, she might have been tempted to join the R.U.F.F. volunteers in helping their furry friends. But not this year.
This year she was boycotting Christmas.
She gave the elves a polite smile, and ran away. Or rather, she tried to run away. Instead, she ran straight into a sweater.
A sweater covered in cat hair.
A sweater that covered a very broad chest, which was attached to a good-looking guy.
Easy smile. Hazelnut eyes. Hot-chocolate-brown hair, with just a touch of marshmallow at the temples.
He bent to pick up the flyer she'd dropped when she bumped into him, and as he handed it to her he whispered, "You've got a run in your stocking."
His breath was warm in her ear, like the steam from a mug of hot cider.
Astrid tugged at her scarf. Who did this guy think he was?
Over his shoulder, she could see the elves at the wrapping booth watching them with interest. She snatched the flyer out of his hand and shoved it into her purse. "Thank you. I think."
She skirted around him and headed toward the department store, this time taking care to watch where she was going.
"Merry Christmas!" he called after her.
December 4, 3:07 p.m.
THE SOLES of Astrid's sneakers—into which she'd changed after her big meeting (at which no one even so much as glanced at her brand-new panty hose)—squeaked on the freshly waxed tiles of the third-floor hallway at Tall Pines Nursing Home.
Paper daisies pasted on the doors of the rooms, announcing the residents' names with fading cheeriness, rustled as she walked past.
Astrid stopped in front of a daisy that read VERA T.! She knocked and pushed open the door. A nurse towing a rolling blood-pressure machine was on her way out.
"Good luck," the nurse said to Astrid under her breath, "She's in rare form today."
The nurse disappeared and Astrid entered the room, closing the door behind her.
A woman for whom the adjective birdlike seemed to have been invented perched on the edge of an oversized armchair near the window. A lime-green-and-orange striped dress covered her slight form from neck to ankle. It looked as if it had seen better days.
The same could be said for Vera T. herself.
"Vera, how are you?" Astrid said brightly.
"How do you think I am? I can't breathe without this damned tube up my nose, I have no teeth, and I'm wearing a diaper," Vera said. "Plus we had butterscotch pudding for dessert again. Butterscotch pudding sucks."
"I know it does. But look on the bright side. At least you don't have to chew it."
After a moment of shocked silence, Vera began to squeak and wheeze. It took Astrid a second to realize she was laughing.
"Oh. Oh, dear." Vera pressed a trembling, bony finger to the corner of her eye. "I haven't laughed like that in ages."
Neither, thought Astrid, had she.
Not counting the automatic responses to sitcom gags, or the fake noises of amusement she'd perfected for her boss's corny jokes, it had been almost a year since she'd laughed. Three hundred and forty-eight days, to be exact.
"Mind if I sit down?" Astrid moved the portable oxygen tank around to the other side of Vera's recliner.
The older woman turned to face Astrid and gestured to the vinyl-padded rocking chair beside her.
"I hear you've been giving the staff a hard time," Astrid said. "Want to talk about it?"
"No." Vera frowned, and stared out the window.
Astrid waited her out. Besides the fact that the view from Vera's window wasn't great, if there was one thing she'd learned as an advocate for the elderly, it was that many of them were desperate to talk.
Or rather, they were desperate to be heard.
Copyright © 2007 by Harlequin Books S.A.