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The Billionaire's Christmas Baby
By Victoria James, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Wendy Chen
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Victoria James
All rights reserved.
"Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas ..."
Hannah pounded the volume button on her car stereo so hard her index finger bent backward painfully. She rubbed her throbbing finger, glaring at the now black display. It was so not going to be a Merry Christmas. The odds were stacked against merry and highly in favor of miserable.
She had lied to her boss, co-workers, and broken some of the cardinal rules in child protective services to be here. While other people were decorating their homes, doing Christmas shopping, and attending holiday parties, she was sitting in a cold car, spying on a man from behind a snowdrift with a sleeping infant in the backseat.
But she'd finally tracked him down, and after three miserable, long weeks, she'd found baby Emily's uncle. Now all she had to do was knock on his door and introduce him to Emily.
Oh, and then convince him to adopt her.
Right. Great plan, Hannah.
If she had any sense of self-preservation she'd throw her car into reverse and hightail it out of Northern Ontario. She would brave the nightmare road conditions over convincing a man who had turned his back on his family for over a decade to drop everything and adopt his niece. But she knew she couldn't do that. Hannah turned in her seat to check on Emily who had been sleeping contentedly in her car seat.
Hannah glanced back at the rustic log cabin in front of her. She had everything rehearsed. She would approach the situation with compassion and honesty. She could do this. She had to do this. Hannah bit her lower lip as she peered through the peephole she'd created in her windshield. Her half-full cup of Starbucks holiday blend, long since abandoned, sat in the cup holder beside an empty baby bottle.
She ducked as she spotted movement in the house. Luckily, she was almost sure that the man hadn't noticed her silver Jetta buried in the snowdrift in the driveway. As soon as she had exited the highway and pulled out onto the back roads she'd felt like a moving snowman on wheels. When she finally found the cabin, located in nowheres-ville, she had drifted down the unplowed drive, saying a silent prayer she wouldn't hit the parked Range Rover.
Gurgling from the backseat jolted her. She had to go in before Emily woke up. It's now or never, Hannah. She turned on the engine one last time, blasting the heat on high before she had to leave the car.
She slipped her lucky red wool knitted hat with its oversized pom-pom onto her head with a decisive tug — she'd need all the luck she could get. She had a good ten minutes before she had to worry about Emily getting cold, but she added a few more layers of blankets onto the baby, who was already bundled in a bunting bag, hat, and mittens. Hannah reached over to the passenger seat, her hands blindly seeking out her purse and mittens, while her eyes stayed riveted on the cabin. She tucked the vintage Santa tin filled with homemade, sparkle-laden sugar cookies under her arm. No one could resist her Christmas cookies.
She hoped Louise's brother, once Christopher James, now Jackson Pierce, was the type of man to appreciate homemade cookies. His name change had added a few extra days to her search, but thanks to her friends at the police department and her own bit of ingenuity, she'd found him at this cabin. There was no trace of Christopher James when child services had looked for him, but Hannah knew the details of his past, and knew this man would want nothing to do with Louise's baby. She'd been pretty shocked by his identity. He was the founder and CEO of one of North America's largest computer software companies.
Hannah opened the door and the wind whipped snow onto her face as she struggled to get out quickly before the cold air infiltrated the car. She stepped into at least three feet of snow and fought the urge to yelp out loud as it made contact with her feet. So much for waterproof boots. Careful not to fall and drop the cookies, she walked as fast as she could, her feet feeling like lead as she reached the front porch. She glanced around the house and confirmed what she'd suspected from the inside of her car — there was no Christmas wreath on the door or Christmas lights. Or anything remotely Christmas- y at all.
It was an omen. A bad one.
She gave herself a mental shake, forcing herself to calm down. Hurry up, Hannah.
She took a deep breath of icy air and knocked. Her thick red mittens made it sound more like the paws of a furry animal thumping on the door ... maybe he couldn't hear the muffled knocking against the sound of the storm. She was about to yank off a mitten when the door swung open. Her hand froze in midair, and the only thought she could process was why oh why did she have to be wearing the hideous red hat?
Jackson Pierce was at least six foot two inches of raw masculinity — the type of man who looked as though he belonged to no one, shared with no one. The kind that would normally make her run in the other direction. His hair was the color of expensive cognac, slightly mussed but clean cut, with eyes a few shades deeper. He was tanned, in that natural, not-from-a-tanning-salon sort of way, with dark stubble across a firm jaw and chin. Jackson was not what she expected.
Definitely built and definitely mouth-watering ... if you were into that sort of look.
And she was not.
He frowned at her. "Are you lost?"
Hannah realized she must look like an idiot standing on his porch not saying a word. She lowered her arm, straightening her shoulders, and tried to project the image of the calm, cool, collected professional she usually was. "No, no. Not really."
In the six-hour car ride and the twenty minutes of stalking in her car outside, she'd had everything rehearsed. She had even practiced her speech in front of Emily and had earned a few enthusiastic gurgles. But now, in front of him, she couldn't bring herself to say the words she'd carefully planned. He raised his eyebrows, bracing his shoulder against the doorjamb. His fitted navy Henley shirt outlined his muscular arms and wide chest. The cold air obviously wasn't bothering him in the least.
"Do you need help?" His voice. Sort of like smooth silk and rough suede. Unfortunately, his carefully enunciated question also implied that he thought she was mentally challenged.
It was now or never. She cleared her throat and was sure to maintain eye contact.
"Are you Christopher James?" she blurted out, deciding to use his real name at the last minute.
His brown brows snapped together. He pushed away from the doorjamb, and stood straight up. Suddenly he looked much more intimidating, and not at all nice.
"Who are you?"
"I'm Hannah Woods. Look, I'm sorry to bother you —" She took a deep breath. "I'm here because of your sister, Louise." Self-preservation was a skill she'd learned early in her life, and right now her instincts were telling her to run in the other direction.
"I don't have a sister."
Hannah cleared her throat. "I'm sorry. I know that —"
He scowled. "What? What do you know?"
"I know that you changed your name and —"
He slammed the door in her face and Hannah was in disbelief. She stood still and stared at the black door. One thing was for sure — Jackson Pierce or Christopher James or whatever his name was, was definitely not a Christmas sugar cookie kind of man. What had she been thinking anyway? That she could shove cookies down the man's throat while having a heart-to-heart about his sister and abandoned niece?
Tears began to blur her vision as she stared at the bare door, the reality of her situation setting it. Emily's temporary foster placement with Mrs. Ford would end soon and after that Hannah would have very little control over what happened to the baby. Hannah had fought vigorously to have the woman be Emily's interim guardian. Mrs. Ford was one of the best foster parents she'd ever come across. Hannah had gone to visit Emily every day after work. Spending time with the baby had become the highlight of her day. Hannah had been able to sleep at night, knowing the baby was in good hands while she searched for her uncle. It was Mrs. Ford's faith in her that allowed Hannah to take Emily to find her uncle without going through the child welfare office. There was no way Hannah's boss would have given her approval.
Hannah clutched the tin tightly to her chest and tried to ignore the lump in her throat that she suspected was due in part to feeling like a moron and in part to desperation. She would not cry. She did not cry. Before the night she'd found Emily, she hadn't cried in years. What was she going to do? The man she had gambled on was nastier than a man that good-looking had any right to be. And to top it all off, she was in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard with a two month old baby and only her car for shelter.
She squinted against the wind, looking at the car. She had to make a move and fast. She pictured little Emily being removed from Mrs. Ford's care. What if they didn't find permanent placement for her? Emily could have years and years of being shuffled around, never having a home of her own. Hannah knew all about that. She wasn't going to let that happen to this baby.
The minute she had picked up that baby outside the church she knew it was for a reason. Louise believed in her. And Louise believed in her brother. There had to be more to this man than what she'd just witnessed. She owed it to Louise. She had to honor Louise's wishes, no matter how miserable of a man Emily's uncle was. She couldn't chicken out now.
Hannah took a deep breath, straightened out her not at all fashionable hat, and knocked on the door again. She didn't know what she was going to say, but Jackson Pierce was not going to get rid of her that easily. Adrenaline and panic intertwined and wove their way through her body as she gave herself a mental pep talk. She wasn't a quitter. Emily needed her.
There was no answer.
She ripped off her mitten and pounded. Hard. But there was still no answer.
Fine. Jackson Pierce thought he was stubborn? Well, he was about to meet his match. She lifted her foot and gave the door a swift, hard kick. Just as she was about to give it another one worthy of a champion soccer player, he whipped open the door. She struggled not to fall backwards as she almost lost her balance. She quickly lowered her foot, composed herself, and forced a smile on her face.
He didn't smile back.
"Look, Mr. Pierce, this is a matter of life or death."
He raised his eyebrows, clearly unimpressed. "Whose death?"
She frowned at him. "It's really a matter of life, actually."
"What's your name again?"
"Hannah, Hannah Woods." She was relieved by his more reasonable tone. The life or death line was always a winner at getting someone to take her seriously.
"Do you realize, Hannah Woods, that you are trespassing on private property?"
Okay, so maybe that line didn't work on Mr. Pierce. She felt her insides twist into a knot as she stared into hostile brown eyes.
She nodded carefully. "Yes, I realize that. I don't usually do this sort of thing, but your sister Louise died ..."
He cursed loudly. "And let me guess, she left a pile of bills?"
She shook her head. She was about to explain when he cut her off.
"I don't associate with money-grubbing, junkie friends of my sister. So get your ass off my property and —"
"I'm not a friend of your sister's."
He leaned forward so that his face was a few inches from hers. "I don't care," he hissed. "I don't care if you were a friend of hers or a friend of the frickin' Pope. I. Don't. Care. So get the hell off my property."
He stepped back and this time he slammed the door so violently that she actually shuddered. It took her a few seconds to process what had happened.
Jackson Pierce was a jerk.
In all her imaginings about how this was going to unfold, him yelling at her and slamming a door in her face, twice, wasn't what she'd envisioned. She'd thought he'd at least hear her out. But he hadn't even given her a chance to tell him about Emily. She knew deep down, under that nasty temper, there had to be a good man. Louise had told her all about him, what a good brother he'd been. But that had been a long time ago, and Louise had made so many mistakes. He had obviously never forgiven her. When he hadn't been at the funeral Hannah assumed it was because he didn't know she had died. But now, after witnessing his palpable anger toward anything Louise, she wondered if he just hadn't cared to show up. So where did that leave Emily?
Hannah stood unmoving on the porch, the harsh wind hammering snow and ice up and down her body as though it too were taking a turn at trying to knock her down. Her car was already buried under the snow and must have lost most of its heat. She wasn't a quitter, but it was obviously time to think of a Plan B. She needed to get moving. But where the heck were they going to go at eight o'clock at night during a blizzard?
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Pierce," she grumbled to herself, as she carefully climbed down the porch steps, still holding her Santa tin filled with cookies. She could sit in her car and gorge herself on cookies until she came up with a plan. Luckily, she had two cases of baby formula in the trunk.
So much for the lucky hat. Maybe she should rip it off and then stomp on it. She was exhausted and cold and now, thanks to Jackson Pierce, miserable. She trudged through the snow as quickly as the wind and snow would allow, her sights on the car. Emily was going to need to eat again in under an hour, and the last thing she wanted to do was pull over in the middle of nowhere to give her a bottle. Maybe she could try and knock on the door of that charming bungalow at the end of the street — it had been adorned from top to bottom in Christmas decorations and lights. Surely, whoever lived there wouldn't turn a woman and a baby away in a blizzard.
What kind of a jerk would let a woman go out alone during a blizzard anyway?
* * *
What kind of a jackass yells in a woman's face and then lets her drive away in the middle-of-nowhere Northern Ontario, during a blizzard, at night?
Jackson looked out the window at the petite brunette as she tried to brush the snow off the windshield. But every time she did, the wind would blow on even more snow. By the looks of her, one strong gust might carry her away too. Even that grandma hat she was wearing was all white with snow.
He continued to stare out the window, his fists jammed into his jeans pockets. Guilt was ripping a jagged hole through his gut, as he recalled the shocked look in her eyes. He'd been an ass. He rarely lost his cool, and yet, a few minutes ago he stood yelling at this tiny slip of a woman at his front door. Would it be so bad to let this Hannah woman spend the night? How much of a threat could a woman who barely reached the top of his chin with the pom-pom be? He'd find out what she wanted and then make it clear that he had no intention of speaking to anyone about his family. Then tomorrow morning, when the storm was over, she'd leave. Easy. Done.
Jackson shook his head as she disappeared into a giant mound of snow. With a rough sigh, and a few of his favorite curses, he shrugged into his leather, sheepskin lined jacket and flicked on the outdoor lights. One way or another, women were always complicating his life. Even when he was trying to get away from them, they found him.
"Hey!" he called out, approaching her. The snow was past his shins and showed no sign of slowing. He squinted as snow and ice pellets beat into his face and eyes. She either couldn't hear him above the wind or she was purposely ignoring him.
She didn't bother to look at him when he reached her side. She kept brushing off the snow with angry bursts.
A cloud of snow hit him in the face. He wasn't so sure it was an accident.
"Look, you can spend the night here. Leave in the morning when the storm is over."
She paused and went back to fruitlessly wiping off the windshield with one arm, while clutching a round container like a football under her other arm. He spotted a Christmas wreath attached to the front bumper of her car. He tried not to groan out loud at the absurd ornament. He had never actually met anyone who went to the trouble of decorating their car for Christmas. She was working on her side windows, still ignoring him. Stubborn was the last thing he needed right now.
"Well, we both know you can't get anywhere with this weather tonight." He felt the ice pellets drumming against the back of his neck like a bunch of nails. She continued to pay no attention to him. Enough was enough. He walked over and grabbed the scraper from her hand. She glared at him and yanked it back.
"I'm not staying here. You're mentally unbalanced."
"What were you thinking coming here alone, at night? Obviously you intended on staying." He tried to pry the scraper out of her hand again, but it was as though that giant red mitten was super glued to the damn thing.
"Stop being a bully. I didn't think it would take me over six hours to drive up here. I never planned on staying here, I never planned on staying here, so stop flattering yourself. I don't like you. I don't trust you. So leave me alone and let go of my brush!"
She yelled that last part and he let go, his hands up in the air in a surrender motion. He wasn't going to beg her to stay here.
Excerpted from The Billionaire's Christmas Baby by Victoria James, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Wendy Chen. Copyright © 2012 Victoria James. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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