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The Christmas Children
By Irene Brand
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDarkness had fallen when Carissa Whitmore drove into Yuletide, New York, and parked her SUV in front of a fast-food restaurant. At first, she couldn't understand why she felt so let down, until she recalled her reason for being there. She'd come to this lakeside village to find the kind of holiday spirit she'd enjoyed as a child, but she couldn't see any indication of Christmas.
Carissa had anticipated a village ablaze with Christmas lights, nativity scenes and decorated trees, but except for the streetlights sparkling on the gentle snowfall as it filtered among the evergreen trees, the town was dark and uninviting. Stifling her disappointment, she entered the restaurant, sat at the counter to order a sandwich and a cup of tea. When she finished the meal, Carissa asked the waitress for directions to the police station.
The woman answered Carissa's question, then asked, "Are you the one who's moving into Naomi Townsend's house for the winter?"
Carissa smothered a laugh, but her blue eyes sparkled with mirth. She'd lived in a metropolitan area since leaving Minnesota twenty-five years ago. Carissa had forgotten how little privacy a person had in a small town.
"Yes, I am," she said. "I'm supposed to pick up the key from the chief of police."
The woman peered over the counter and nodded approvingly when she saw that Carissa wore boots. "I see you know how to dress for winter. It's only two blocks to the police station, but the streets are kinda slippery. It'll be safer if you leave your car parked here and walk, 'specially since you're from down South and maybe don't know how to drive on snow."
Carissa laughingly admitted that she had no experience with treacherous roads. When she lived in Minnesota, she couldn't afford a car.
She zipped up her heavy coat and stepped out into the chill air. The business section of Yuletide was located on the southern tip of Lake Mohawk - a small lake that measured four miles from north to south. Many vacation and permanent residences dotted the lakefront and extended into the wooded highlands.
Although Yuletide lacked Christmas ornamentation, it was a picturesque alpine village of small shops and businesses. Carissa looked forward to exploring the stores at her leisure, but she didn't dawdle tonight; the wind from the lake was penetrating her heavy parka. She gave herself a mental pat on the back for being wise enough to shop at a mall in Pennsylvania on her way north. Her Florida clothing wouldn't have been warm enough for Adirondack weather.
Warmth from a wood-burning stove welcomed Carissa when she entered the police station. The chief of police, a short sturdy man, sat behind a massive oak desk that dwarfed him.
"Hiya!" the chief greeted her. "I'm Justin Townsend. Mary, at the restaurant, called and said you'd arrived. We've been expecting you, but figured the snow had delayed you."
Carissa unzipped the front of her parka and shrugged out of the hood, revealing a head of short, curly blond hair.
"The highways were clear until a few miles south of Saratoga Springs. After that, I had to maneuver my way out of a dozen or more snowdrifts. I'd have stopped, but I didn't see any motels after the snow got so heavy."
Chief Townsend stood and reached across the desk to shake hands. "Welcome to Yuletide."
He took a ring of keys out of a desk drawer and handed them to Carissa. "Naomi's my sister-in-law. Sorry you missed her, but she left for Florida three days ago. She'd intended to show you around before she had to leave."
"I was delayed at the last minute, and Naomi already had prepaid airline reservations, so I insisted that she go ahead. I called her on my cell phone this morning. She's already in Tampa enjoying the view of Tampa Bay from my eighth-floor condo. When I called, she was sitting on the balcony drinking a cup of coffee."
A grin spread across the chief's broad face. "Well,
you won't be drinking coffee on her balcony in the morning."
Justin gave Carissa directions to his sister-in-law's home. "If you want to wait a while, I can drive out with you. My deputy will be back in a half hour."
"Oh, you don't need to do that, unless the house is hard to find."
"It's along the main road, but it's getting dark. I thought you might be a little skittish about going into a strange house and all."
Carissa's even teeth gleamed in a wide smile. "I've lived alone for more than twenty years, so I'm not afraid of an empty house."
"No need to be," he assured her. "Yuletide is noted for its low crime rate." He beamed expansively. "I keep it that way. Remember, Naomi's house is the first two-story log house on your left, a mile north of town. There's a security light in the yard. We have someone in the station 'round the clock, so call if you need help finding the place. Drive carefully."
Before Carissa reached the sidewalk, Chief Townsend stuck his head out the door. "Naomi turned the temperature down. The house might be a little cool, but it'll warm up in a hurry when you raise the thermostat."
Carissa waved her hand to indicate she'd heard him and hustled to her vehicle.
The drive along a narrow road, bordered by snowcovered evergreen trees, reminded Carissa of her childhood in Minnesota. And a wide smile spread across her face as she pulled up to the chalet she was to occupy for the next few months. The storybook setting was exactly what she'd been expecting.
Excerpted from The Christmas Children by Irene Brand Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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