Holiday Dream: Christopher's Gifts / Whisper to Me / The First Noel (Harlequin Kimani Arabesque Series)

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Overview

Along with the scent of evergreen, romance is in the air this joyous holiday season, as three authors bring you heartwarming classic tales that are the perfect way to celebrate this special time of sharing, caring and falling in love.

Christopher's Gifts by Gwynne Forster

High-profile New York interior designer Nadine Carpenter advertises for a chauffeur and gets a handsome, ...

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Overview

Along with the scent of evergreen, romance is in the air this joyous holiday season, as three authors bring you heartwarming classic tales that are the perfect way to celebrate this special time of sharing, caring and falling in love.

Christopher's Gifts by Gwynne Forster

High-profile New York interior designer Nadine Carpenter advertises for a chauffeur and gets a handsome, overqualified divorcé named Wade Malloy. He has just two Christmas wishes: to win custody of his son and a certain career woman's love.

Whisper To Me by Carmen Green

When teacher Iman Parrish meets widower Cedric Hamilton, a self-made businessman and father of two who prizes his possessions, they celebrate Kwanzaa and find that the tradition opens their minds and joins their hearts.

The First Noël by Felicia Mason

Master woodworker Franklin Williams is determined to show an overworked Kia Simmons that the true wonder of the holiday season lies in a love that shines as brightly as the Christmas star.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"poignant, sensual story..."
-- RT Book Reviews on Gwynne Forster's Christopher's Gifts

"The magic Ms. Mason weaves with her spellbinding words will captivate."
-- RT Book Reviews on Felicia Mason's The First Noël

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780373534883
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 10/16/2012
  • Series: Harlequin Kimani Arabesque Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,031,866
  • Product dimensions: 4.00 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Gwynne Forster is an Essence bestselling author and has won numerous awards for fiction, including the Gold Pen Award, the RT Book Reviews Lifetime Achievement Award.

She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology and a master’s degree in economics/demography and has traveled and/or worked in sixty-three countries.

She lives in New York with her husband.

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Read an Excerpt

"You begin work Monday morning, and I leave home at seven-thirty. I don't go anywhere late, so please be on time." A shadow crossed his face in what she supposed he'd meant as a smile. "Yes, ma'am."

Nadine Carpenter watched the unassuming, very dark, tall man of about thirty-five years, who strolled out of her office nonchalantly, but self-possessed, jingling his pocket change and obviously confident of his place in the scheme of things. Chauffeur? She had trouble seeing him in that role, but he had answered the ad, and she was desperate. His eyebrow had arched when she'd explained why she needed one. Several evenings recently, after leaving her Manhattan office and driving to her isolated home upstate in Accord, New York, muggers had threatened her when she opened her garage door. Either she hired a chauffeur for protection or gave up her lovely stone house and moved back to Manhattan, and she didn't see how she could do that. It was dark when she got home at eight o'clock and, with autumn approaching, it would soon be dark mornings when she left there. Wade Malloy had wondered about her; she could see that in his demeanor, relaxed though he had appeared, but he had taken the job. Still, she couldn't reconcile his ready acceptance of the employment terms and his occupation as chauffeur with his air of authority. But the employment agency had vouched for his references, so she wouldn't worry about his mixed signals and would just be grateful to have her problem solved.

She pulled her shoulder-length hair farther down over her left ear, patted it self-consciously and recalled that she'd done that repeatedly during the interview, a warning that she'd cared what he thought of her looks. She tried to get him out of her thoughts, but she found it hard to push aside the picture of him gliding out of her office with the posture of a man certain that whatever he left behind would be there if he ever decided to go back for it. Tremors of excitement flashed through her at the thought, and she cautioned herself not to let her tenderhearted nature soften her toward a man just because he might be down on his luck, as she supposed Wade probably was. She'd seen many chauffeurs, but not one of them wore the demeanor of Wade Malloy.

Her doorbell rang the next morning just as she reached the bottom of the stairs, briefcase in hand. She peeped through the viewer, saw Wade and opened the door.

"I didn't expect you to start until Monday, but I'm sure glad to see you this morning. I hate driving in a fog."

He opened his big umbrella, shielding her from the windy mist. "I figured on getting settled in this weekend, so why not? Today's on me. My stuff's in the trunk of my Thunderbird, so I hope you don't mind if I park it in your garage."

She didn't mind, she told him, conscious of his finger at her elbow as they walked to the two-car, stone garage. He stood at the back door of her Crown Victoria, his left hand resting on the handle. "Backseat or front?" She opened the front passenger's door, got in and closed it. They drove ten miles in silence, except for the tension of awareness that shouted loudly to them both.

She couldn't help being self-conscious about the rough texture of his pants touching her nylon-covered thighs and wondered if he sat with his legs spread wide apart intentionally or whether she had become paranoid. She groped for conversation to ease the tautness that simmered between them.

"The accommodations are simple, but I hope they're satisfactory."

"A one-room apartment over your garage is heaven compared to some of the places I've stayed." Her lashes flew upward, and she stared at him. However, he didn't elaborate further, and his tone said she might as well not ask. They reached her office on Park Avenue South fifteen minutes earlier than usual. He got out of the car and opened her door.

"The day is yours, Wade. Just be here at five." He nodded, and she turned to go.

"Hold on. Let me get this umbrella up. Wouldn't want you to get wet." She tensed at his firm grip on her arm.

"Thanks, but don't bother. It's only a few steps."

"I'll see you to that door." He did. Then, he tipped an imaginary hat and half smiled in a way that made her want to use him for a pin cushion, but she immediately chastened herself for being mean-spirited. She didn't see him, but she didn't doubt that he stood there until she got on the elevator.

Wade stuffed his son's letter in the inside pocket of his jacket and leaned against the hood of his boss's car, watching Nadine Carpenter as she approached. Tall, well built and about thirty, she was choice. But her sepia good looks, lithe strides and the gentle sway of her hips failed to entice him right then, though he appreciated beautiful women as much as the next man. He couldn't rid himself of the pain that his son's letter had caused, couldn't gloss over the meaning that it conveyed. Barely seven years old and already a genius at turning the knife.

"Dear Wade, my mother says I have to go stay with you, but I don't want to. Christopher." Wade stared at the childish scrawl and groaned. When would it end? He pasted a mask over his face as Nadine reached the car, he greeted her and then began the drive home. Well, he was staying there. What else could he call it?

"Ms. Carpenter," he began, hating that he had to ask, "I have to have my son with me for a while. I don't know for how long, hopefully indefinitely. Is that all right with you? If not, I can get a place somewhere."

"Of course he can stay with you, Wade. And please call me Nadine, otherwise I'll have to call you Mr. Malloy." He tried to cover his look of surprise.

"Where does he live now?" she asked.

"In Scarsdale with his mother. She's going on her honeymoon, and I get to keep him while she's getting a taste of true love." He hadn't meant to sound bitter, because that wasn't what he felt. He'd turned his life around so that he could gain custody of his son and teach the boy to love and respect him, and he wasn't looking a gift horse in the mouth. He felt her hand on his knee, glanced over at her and knew that she meant to console him and hadn't thought about the intimacy of it.

"Does he split his time between you and his mother?"

"My son hasn't lived with me since he was six months old, but I aim to change that now."

She glanced at him just as he ground his teeth and winced. He figured she ought to know that he felt more deeply about it than his words and casual tone suggested. "Scarsdale is a very upscale neighborhood," she began, obviously trying not to make him uncomfortable. "Do you think it's a good idea for you to bring him to that small room over the garage? He may make some invidious comparisons."

"It's all I've got right now."

Nadine didn't have much information about him, but she decided to take a chance. "You can have my second floor. It has two bedrooms, two baths, a sitting room and a back porch. I promised you room and board as part of the deal, because I'm not paying much. You don't have to bring your son to that garage apartment. I'll move my office to the basement," she explained before he could comment, "and I'll sleep in the guest room. It's a big house, Wade. I'll also have the living, dining and family rooms plus the kitchen and breakfast room."

Wade asked her why she'd bought such a big, almost-isolated house and learned about her practical side. The stone house was invincible to termites, fire and hurricanes, the property had big beautiful trees, and bordered Rondout Creek, which was a trout fisherman's dream, she told him. She also wanted to live in the country, and the place came at a price she could afford. He accepted her offer to let him have her second floor and told himself that he wouldn't think of the implications of living under the same roof as this delicate morsel. He resisted the urge to whistle. He had nearly slammed his foot on the accelerator when she offered him her second floor.

She leaned back in the bucket seat and sighed. When Wade sensed that she might be troubled and asked what the problem was, she questioned the wisdom of telling him.

"You can tell the help," he needled, gently. "That's been acceptable from time immemorial."

She looked over at him and couldn't resist a smile, because his face shone with a wicked grin. "I can't find my plans for that model home in the Rolling Hills Village. It's the best interior decorating job I ever had, and if I don't finish it by January tenth, the contract is void. I've looked everywhere. The owner has tentatively approved it, so I can't make changes unless I have that plan."

"Where did you last see it?"

"On my desk. I came back from lunch, and it wasn't there." Nadine told him that she was one of the firm's four decorators, the only woman. He nodded.

"Let me know if I can do anything to help." She smiled as she entered the house. It was a nice gesture.

Nadine didn't tell him that she might not find the plans nor that one of her colleagues might have destroyed or misplaced them in order to undermine her position with the firm. She moved her things down to the first floor guest room, picked up the phone and called Wade.

"Hamburgers, baked potatoes and salad will be ready in twenty minutes. Tomorrow you cook."

"You promised me board."

"I promised food—I didn't say in what state."

"Modern man eats his food cooked."

"Sure thing. And in case it escaped you, modern man also cooks."

"Okay. I cook tomorrow, but don't be surprised if you lose the next round."

Fast tongue for a chauffeur, she thought with some amusement and not a little surprise. "Don't worry. I have a housekeeper, but she's sick, so we'll take turns until she gets back."

"You bake a pretty good potato," Wade said, after putting the dishes in the dishwasher. "Good night." The wind swished in as he left by the back door, chilling her as she took in his slim, tight hips and easy gait. The door closed, and she sat down, suddenly melancholy. She had taught herself to be contented with her life. She had conquered the grief of losing her parents and had begun to pursue her dream of becoming a renowned interior decorator. But right then, there was an emptiness in her that she couldn't banish. It was almost like last Christmas when she'd been unable to face the holiday alone and, though she wasn't impulsive, had decided on the spur of the moment to go to Madrid. If she was lonely there, she had reasoned, it would be for a good reason. She knew she was considered a beautiful woman, but she was careful—no, she was religious—about not exposing her left ear, which had been marred by a burn in her childhood. Her mother had always said that the effect on her looks was mostly in her mind, but her mirror denied that, and her one venture into true intimacy with her college sweetheart had proved it. The boy had pulled her hair back while ardently kissing her face and had seemed surprised when he saw her ear. She cringed at the memory.

From then on, their tryst had deteriorated into the worst of disappointments. He'd said later that she had withdrawn, had turned away from him, but in her mind, it was he whose ardor had cooled. She hadn't had the courage to expose herself to the possibility of another such rejection.

I wonder who that turkey is, Wade asked himself as he stood at the curb waiting for Nadine, who approached the car accompanied by a man. His smile could only be described as feral, when the man stood back and let him open the door for Nadine and then waited for Wade to hold it for him.

Don't hold your breath, pal, he said to himself as he left the man standing there and got in the driver's seat. On the way to Accord, the man's obsequiousness with Nadine disgusted him. When he glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed the hand that tried to creep around her shoulder but failed when she moved away, he had to muzzle his temper and did the only thing he could do. He lectured himself. It wasn't his business who Nadine Carpenter spent her time with. Still, he reasoned, a woman like her deserved a better man than that one. He knew men, and this man was a gopher. He'd bet anything on it. He'd never been so glad as when Nadine directed him to let the man off at his house. He realized that he'd been perspiring and wondered what he'd have done if she had taken the man home with her. This job was not going to work out.

He turned into her driveway and, immediately, his finely honed sense of self-preservation—sharpened by years of work in hazardous areas of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa—alerted him to danger. He flicked on the reflector lights and glimpsed two men dashing around the back of the house.

"Stay here and roll up your windows. If you hear a shot, get down between the seats." He raced to the back of the house, but the men had seen him and were running toward Rondout. Later, when he let her out of the car, he noticed that she didn't seem the least perturbed.

"You've got to install some flood lights around here, especially out back," he told her, holding his hand out for her door key. "I'd better look around, see if anybody's been in here." He satisfied himself that she was in no danger and investigated the grounds.

"Wouldn't you like some coffee?" She wanted to show him that she appreciated the protection he offered her.

"Thanks. It's my night to cook, so I'll just go put on something casual while you get the coffee."

"Be careful, Wade. Those men may still be out there." She hoped the anxiety in her voice didn't register with him. She'd been horrified when he'd gone after those men, not knowing whether they were armed. I don't know Wade Malloy, she reminded herself as she measured the beans, but one thing is certain: he isn't afraid of much, and he isn't in awe of my status as his employer.

The smell of garlicky, Italian meat sauce brought her to the kitchen just as he placed it along with spaghetti, French bread and a green salad on the kitchen table.

"Does it taste as good as it smells?"

"So I've been told, but don't get happy—you're going to eat it every other day until your housekeeper gets back, because it's the only thing I can cook." He seemed to derive great pleasure from that announcement, jingling his pocket change as he stirred the sauce. She'd noticed that he habitually played with his change, doing it rhythmically as if to some silent tune.

"That guy you dropped off tonight. What does he do?"

Nadine explained that the man was an interior decorator and her colleague.

"I should have known. When he wasn't pawing over you, he was picking your brain, and you let him do it." Aghast, her lower lip dropped, and she stared at him in a silent attempt to warn him against casual familiarity. He stared her down until she told him she hadn't realized it.

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    Posted November 20, 2012

    Would not recommend

    Very dissapointed.

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