Tidings of Great Joy

( 10 )


From the author who knows all the secrets of a woman's heart comes a tantalizing tale of holiday romance—as a young woman discovers how a night of passion can change your life, and your dreams, forever....

Ria Lavender is the last woman in the world to be swept away by a smooth line and a seductive smile. A talented architect, she's just beginning to savor the fruits of her success when she meets a man who will change everything.

Mayor-Elect ...

See more details below
Paperback (Mass Market Paperback - Reprint)
BN.com price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (119) from $1.99   
  • New (12) from $2.00   
  • Used (107) from $1.99   
Sending request ...


From the author who knows all the secrets of a woman's heart comes a tantalizing tale of holiday romance—as a young woman discovers how a night of passion can change your life, and your dreams, forever....

Ria Lavender is the last woman in the world to be swept away by a smooth line and a seductive smile. A talented architect, she's just beginning to savor the fruits of her success when she meets a man who will change everything.

Mayor-Elect Taylor MacKensie is handsome, charming, and charismatic. Still, Ria never imagines that she'll leave a Christmas party with him, or that, caught up in the magic of a snowfall and a bottle of champagne, she'll give in to desire. Eight weeks later, Ria knows she's carrying Taylor's child.

To give their baby a name, Ria persuades Taylor to marry her—at least temporarily. But while Ria soon feels a surprising tenderness—and passion—for Taylor, she fears his prime concern is protecting his career. Ria vows to keep her distance from the man who holds the key to her heart...until life teaches them both a lesson in miracles—and love.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brown...is one of today's hottest writers of romance and romantic suspense novels."—Brazosport Facts

"Nobody in the '90s has had more hits....Brown's storytelling gift [is] surprisingly rare, even among crowd-pleasers."—Toronto Sun

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553576009
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 230
  • Sales rank: 448,010
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.74 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown is the author of more than fifty New York Times bestsellers, with over seventy million copies of her books in print. She and her family divide their time between South Carolina and Texas.

Read More Show Less
    1. Also Known As:
      Laura Jordan, Rachel Ryan and Erin St. Claire
    2. Hometown:
      Arlington, TX
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 12, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Waco, Texas
    1. Education:
      Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Texas Christian University, 2008
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

"May I come in?" he asked politely. If he had had a hat, it would have been in hand.




"I want to talk to you."

"And hurl more ugly accusations? No, thank you, Mr.MacKensie." Ria started to close the door. He stuck out his hand and caught it.

Ria looked at him closely. What she saw made her feel better. If his appearance was any indication, he'd had a hellish day. His dark hair was mussed. His tie had been loosened and the collar button on his shirt undone. He was holding his suit coat over his shoulder by the crook of his finger. He looked haggard and worried and tired. For a man who had gone through a heated campaign with nary a wrinkle, his dishevelment was a dead giveaway that he'd suffered some recent mental anguish.

Too bad, Ria thought. She refused to be moved to pity, not after the things he'd said to her. "Just go away and leave me alone. Forget everything I said this morning."

"I can't."

"I never should have told you."

"Of course you should have."

Annoyed, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, while still blocking his entrance. "Need I remind you, Mr. MacKensie, that you didn't take the news too well? You were insulting and abusive."

"That's one of the reasons I'm here, to apologize for my knee-jerk reaction. Grant me one point."

"What?" she asked cautiously.

"That my initial reaction was just a teensy bit justified."

His eyes were intensely blue. They were set off by his dark hair and tanned face. Wary of their persuasiveness, Ria lowered her gaze to his vest. But that, too, evoked memories. Was it really possible that she had once unbuttoned his vest in a lustful hurry to touch him? Had her fingers fumbled in their rush to gain access to him? She couldn't imagine reaching out to touch him now.

She cleared her throat uneasily. Reasoning that she owed him the courtesy of accepting his apology, she decided to be conciliatory. "I suppose that what I had to tell you did come as quite a shock."

"Then will you please let me come in, Ria?"

Maybe it was because he addressed her by name. She couldn't explain it to herself afterward. But for whatever reason, she stepped aside. He came in. She closed the door behind him and they were alone.

The room had changed. It was filled with golden afternoon sunlight rather than flickering firelight. The fireplace had been cleaned out and a potted philodendron with leaves as large and flat as place mats stood in front of the brass screen. A leafy ficus occupied the spot where the Christmas tree had been.

"You have a green thumb," he remarked.

She inclined her head in acknowledgment of the compliment and indicated a chair. She sat down in a bentwood rocker. Both of them avoided the sofa, looking past it as though it weren't there. The room might have changed with the season, but the atmosphere still teemed with vivid and disturbing memories of a snowy night.

"Would you like something to drink?"

"Not if that's all you've got." He nodded toward the glass sitting on the end table beside the rocker. "What is that?"


"Are you sick?"

"I get indigestion every afternoon."


"I can get you a soft drink," Ria offered. "Or something stronger."

"No, thanks."

A clock was ticking. It seemed very loud. The rocker squeaked slightly each time it moved to and fro. Whenever their eyes accidentally met, they guiltily looked away, like children who'd been caught playing doctor the day before.

Ria wished she hadn't changed out of her tailored suit and into the old jeans and T-shirt. She wished she had on a brassiere. She wished she had on shoes. She knew that she needed to take a firm stand with this man. Bare feet weren't a very reassuring platform. Her hair was a mess. After taking down her bun, she'd only shaken it out. It hung unbrushed and untamed around her shoulders.

She knew the strain of the last twenty-four hours was evident on her face. She hadn't been able to hold down much food lately. Her cheeks were gaunt. No amount of Erase would hide the violet crescents beneath her eyes. She hadn't slept at all the night before, worrying over her dilemma and planning what she was going to say to Councilman MacKensie the next morning.

In the end she had decided to take the straightforward, honest approach. And just look what honesty had gotten her. His temper. His suspicion. His contempt.

"How long have you lived here?"

She roused herself to answer his conversational question. "Going on three years. Ever since I started working at Bishop and Harvey."

"It's a nice house."

"Thank you."



"Did you decorate it yourself?"


"This is a good neighborhood."

"The city keeps the garbage picked up and the streets repaired," she said, smiling sickly.

"Ah, well, that's good to hear." His smile was just as puny as hers. "It felt almost like spring today."

"Yes. I saw some daffodils already in bloom."

Sitting on the edge of his chair, his knees widespread, Taylor stared at the hardwood floor between his feet. The fingers of one hand were nervously doing push-ups against the fingers of the other. He forced a cough. "When, uh, when did you know about, uh, the, uh, baby?"

From all she'd read, heard, and experienced firsthand about Taylor MacKensie, stuttering was totally out of character. His voice frequently rang out in the City Council chambers as he waxed eloquently and intelligently on the topics presented for the council's review. His campaign speeches had been incisive, amusing, and articulate. Reporters' questions, even the most probing or complex, never left him at a loss for words.

It was gratifying to know that he was as uneasy now as she had been that morning before entering his office. Diving off the cliffs at Acapulco couldn't compare to how she'd felt when she'd walked through that door and faced him for the first time since Christmas morning. Especially in light of what she had to tell him.

"When did I know?" Ria kept her eyes averted. "I missed a period."

He fidgeted on the edge of his seat. "I understand that happens sometimes."

"It does. But never to me. I'm always like clockwork."

This time it was she who coughed. It flustered her to talk about such personal things to this stranger. Well, not exactly"stranger." Yes, this stranger. What did she really know about him? That he was handsome. That he knew how to open a bottle of champagne correctly. That he was a good driver on snowy streets. That he could charm the pants off a woman. Literally.

She began again. "I started feeling sick...not really sick, just..." She foundered, looking for a word that precisely described that bloated feeling, that lassitude, that inability to draw enough breath, that feeling of being full to bursting even when she was hungry. There wasn't a word descriptive enough. "There were just symptoms," she said conclusively.

"Like what?"

"Upset stomach. Emotional instability. Itchy—"

He cocked his head inquisitively. "itchy...?"

"Breasts," she supplied huskily, having to force the word through her lips.

"Oh." He looked down at her chest and kept looking in that vicinity for a long, uncomfortable time. "I'm sorry."

She crossed her arms over her stomach, wishing she could place her hands over her breasts to shield her hardening nipples from his piercing eyes. "You know the symptoms," she said shortly.

Taylor looked completely baffled. "Yeah, I guess."

"Then I skipped another period last month. I finally went to the doctor yesterday, and he confirmed my own diagnosis. My due date is September twenty-sixth."

He expulsed a deep breath. The jury had just brought in a guilty verdict. "I guess that cinches it."

"There was never any doubt about the child's father, despite what you might think of my sex life, Mr. MacKensie."

"Make it Taylor, okay?" he demanded crossly.

Just as crossly she said,"Regardless of your 'experience' with me, as you so ungallantly referred to it, I don't sleep around."

"Forgive me for saying that. I shouldn't have."

Her angry outburst had exhausted her. Her shoulders slumped, and she rested her head on the caned back of her chair. "I suppose you had every right to think that." Her soft laugh was bitter and self-disparaging. "On Christmas Eve, I was an easy lay."

"Don't say that."

"Well, wasn't I?" She raised her head and looked at him directly.

"I never thought that. Then or now."

"You thought that this morning."

He ran a weary hand down his face and blew out another gust of carbon dioxide. "We're going in circles and getting nowhere." He held her gaze for a moment. "Look, I don't think you're an easy lay. Because if you are, then I am. And I'm more discriminating than your average tomcat.

"So let's just drop whatever recriminations we're harboring, self-imposed or otherwise, and try to figure out what we're going to do about the consequences, okay?" Ria only nodded. "What about this guy you told me you're seeing? The one with the elderly mother in Florida."

"Funny, Guy happens to be his name." She was surprised that he remembered the details. "Guy Patterson. He's an associate in the firm."

"Have you told him yet?"

"Yes. As soon as I'd told you. I felt I owed him that."


Guy Patterson had taken the news of her pregnancy no better than Taylor had. Worse, in fact. He'd been livid, calling her in explicit terms the names Taylor had only implied.

"He's permanently out of the picture," she said without elaboration.

Actually, having Guy out of her life was a relief. Older by fifteen years, he was somewhat stuffy. She was tired of his staid, conservative ideas. Their conversations were boring, because he directed them to topics only he was interested in. When you got right down to it, Guy was a persnickety old maid, and not much fun to be around. The only reason she was dating him was that nobody better had come on the scene. She wouldn't have chosen this earth-shattering way to break it off with him, but she was glad it had been done so irrevocably.

"You could have passed the child off as his," Taylor said tentatively. "Why didn't you?"

"I never would have done that," Ria exclaimed, taking umbrage. "What kind of woman do you think I am?"

"All right, I'm sorry."

"Besides, I couldn't have deceived him even if I'd wanted to. Guy had a vasectomy years ago."

He'd made no secret of it. When their relationship had developed into more than that of working associates, he'd told Ria that he might consider marriage, but children were out of the question. There was another reason why Guy couldn't possibly be the father of her baby, but she'd let Mr. MacKensie think what he would.

"Has this ever happened to you?" she asked suddenly.

"You mean fathering a child? No. How 'bout you? Have you ever been pregnant?"

"No." She wondered why she was pleased to know that this was new to him too. There was no explanation except that she would have hated knowing she was one of a group of unfortunates. Taylor's Tarnished.

He studied her carefully for a moment, but lowered his eyes before asking,"Did you come to me for financial assistance?"

"Financial assistance for what?"

"Any number of things."


"Abortion. Is that what you plan to do?"

Ria turned her head, giving him her profile. Tears were glistening in her eyes. They reflected the light of the setting sun coming through the window.

"No. Mr. Mac—No, Taylor. I believe in living with my mistakes, not burying them. And for your information, abortions come cheap these days."

"I was only asking because the timing is right. I know there's a deadline before that, uh, solution becomes unfeasible."

"Are you sure you're not suggesting that's what I should do? Before you answer, I should warn you that that's a rhetorical question. I won't be having an abortion." She turned her head and looked at him squarely, almost defiantly. "Why else do you think I'd come to you for money?"

"To help with supporting the child, before and after it's born."

"I earn a very good salary, in addition to the commission I make on each job. Thank you very much, but I don't need your money, Mr. MacKensie." Leaving her chair, she picked up the Alka-Seltzer-coated glass on the end table and made a beeline for the door across the room.

Taylor followed her. Her kitchen was alive with a jungle of plants. He had to swat aside a leaf as he went in. She was rinsing out the glass in a stainless-steel sink.

"Why do you bristle at everything I say?"

She swung around to face him. "Because I find everything you say offensive."

"Well, pardon me, ma'am, but I'm not quite myself today." His tone of voice bordered on loud. "Forgive me for pointing out that we're a little old to be caught 'in trouble' like a couple of teenagers. This didn't happen in the back of Dad's Ford after the prom."

"That's why I don't see why we can't be adult about it and stop throwing blame on each other."

"We can. But the idea of a baby is going to take some getting used to. You've had weeks to reckon with it. It's new to me. Don't expect me to be my normal, glib self today. I've suffered a shock."

"So have I!" she yelled back. "It's not your body that is going through all these changes, it's mine. Think about the adjustments I've had to make."

"I can appreciate that," he said, striving for calm.

"You have a damn funny way of showing it."

"I said I was sorry."

"Then stop making unflattering innuendoes about my milking you for money, etcetera. I'm willing to live up to my obligation. Why aren't you? We share this responsibility equally. We were both on that couch. We both enjoyed it. It was a simultaneous—"

Horrified at what she heard herself saying, Ria turned her back on him again. Her cheeks were on fire. She hadn't blushed before or since Christmas Eve. It seemed that she'd packed a lifetime of blushes away and saved them all for Taylor MacKensie.

Her heart was thudding. Her mouth was dry and her palms were wet. In her ears she heard a roar as loud as crashing waves. In fact, it felt as though they were ebbing and flowing through her burning earlobes.

It took a moment for her to collect herself. "All I meant is that I'm willing to assume responsibility for my actions that night," she said in a shaky voice. "It's not going to be easy for me to have a baby, but I am and that's that. You don't know me very well or you never could have thought I'd have an abortion." She shuddered.

"Why did you bother to tell me about the baby at all?"

She came around slowly, clearly mystified by his question. "You didn't want to know that you had fathered a child? I considered it my moral obligation to tell you."

"Your integrity is admirable."

"But you'd just as soon I hadn't involved you," she said with a humorless laugh. "Won't the ski bunny like it?"

"The ski bunny?"

"The woman who got ticked off when you didn't go on the ski trip with her."


Lisa. Ria had wondered later what Lisa would have thought of Taylor's Christmas Eve. Would she have been jealous? Or had she been making it with a ski instructor at the same time? Were they sophisticated enough to tell each other about their escapades? Had he regaled Lisa with a detailed account of their lovemaking, perhaps for the purpose of stimulating her?

The thought made Ria ill. She pressed one hand against her stomach and covered her mouth with the other.

Taylor jumped as if he'd been shot. "What's the matter?"

"Something, dammit."


"You're green!"

She drew a deep breath through chalky lips. "I'm a little queasy, that's all."

"Sit down." He yanked a chair away from the table.

"I'm fine, really."

"Sit down." The order was issued in a terse, authoritarian voice that Ria was too weak and woozy to argue with. He pulled out a chair for himself and dropped down into it, plowing his hands through his hair and cursing. "Don't scare me like that again. Can I get you something?"

"No." She glanced up at him. He was glaring at her sternly. "All right. A cracker. That helps settle my stomach sometimes."

She told him where he could find a box of saltines in the pantry. He shook crumbs all over the table as he wrestled two crackers out of their cellophane package. The box fell to the floor when he bumped the edge of the table with his thigh as he sat back down. Nibbling the cracker, Ria began to laugh.

"What?" he grumbled.

"For a man who's so adept at uncorking champagne, you don't handle saltines very well."

He smiled with chagrin. "Well, I've had more practice with champagne than with pregnant ladies."

Ria sobered instantly. She dusted salt off her hands as she said softly,"I'm sure you have."

It surprised them both when he reached across the table and covered her hands with his. "Please don't take offense," he said. "I didn't mean anything by it."

She stared at his hand. It was a beautifully masculine hand. Blunt, well-trimmed fingernails. Her stomach experienced a sinking sensation when she remembered those very hands moving over her body, massaging the breasts that even now ached to be touched. Those fingertips had stroked the secret-most part of her body, lifting her toward ecstasy, taking and giving pleasure in equal quantity.

At least she thought he'd taken pleasure in caressing her. She hoped so.

Discomfited by her thoughts, she brought her head up and looked straight into his blue eyes. "Did you tell Lisa about me?"

"Of course not." He abruptly withdrew his hand from hers.

"I don't think I could have stood that." She felt weepy, as she had in the last several weeks, and hoped to heaven she didn't burst into tears over the thought of him and Lisa having a good laugh at her expense.

"I'll confess to going out with a lot of women, but I'm not a complete jerk, Ria."

"I thought you might have used Christmas Eve to make Lisa jealous."

"Did you use it to make Guy jealous?"

"I don't play games like that."

"Neither do I."

She saw that he was telling her the truth. "I didn't tell anybody."

"You had to tell Guy when you told him about the baby."

"I wasn't specific about the date. I didn't name you. Are you still seeing her?"

"Lisa? Yes."

"What will she think of the situation?"

"It isn't any of her business."

Ria stared at him, aghast. "She may beg to differ."

"It isn't like that between us."

He'd felt free to take another woman to bed on Christmas Eve without having to grapple about it later with either his conscience or his steady lady friend. That typified more than anything what a casual, forgettable event their lovemaking had been for him. Ria's heart was aching around the edges, as though the border of her soul had been trespassed.

"Now that we've acknowledged our dual responsibility for this child," he said,"and eliminated abortion as an alternative, what do you suggest we do?"

Ria steadily held his gaze. "You're going to marry me, Mr. MacKensie."

Read More Show Less

First Chapter


* * *

Oh, excuse me!"

"No apology necessary."

"Didn't I stick your finger with my toothpick?"

"A few stitches and it'll be as good as new." He shrugged negligently and sucked on his injured finger.

Ria laughed. "I'm sorry."

"Forget it."

"Please take the shrimp."

"Uh-uh. If you've had your eye on that particular shrimp, I wouldn't dream of depriving you of it."

Ria smiled up into an incredibly handsome face. It sat atop one heck of a good body too. Tall, slender, outfitted in a dark three-piece suit, white shirt, red tie. Red tie? Well, it was Christmas Eve. The tie and matching silk handkerchief, three corners of which were peeking out of his breast pocket, were his concessions to the holiday. Where other men might look silly because of such frivolity, this one had the panache to carry it off well without its threatening his masculinity. The wide white smile helped. Guileless, open, warm. Growing warmer by the second. Or was that the furnace in her own belly being stoked by that smile and his dazzling blue eyes?

"Ria Lavender." She switched her plate from right hand to left so she could shake hands with him.

"Taylor MacKensie." He didn't have a plate yet, only the cocktail toothpick that had been about to skewer the same shrimp her toothpick had aimed for. He shook hands with her.

"The Taylor MacKensie?" she asked. Her hand wanted to snuggle in the warm, firm clasp of his forever.

"Is there a the Taylor MacKensie?"

His eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. He liked the outdoors. And the outdoors liked him. Its ravages had saved him from being pretty. Although that square jaw was far from what one could define as pretty. "Are you the famous City Councilman MacKensie, candidate for mayor?"

He bowed stiffly. "The same. It's a pleasure, Mrs. Lavender."

Ria cocked her head to one side. "Very clever."


"Mrs. Lavender. You're clearly manipulating me into telling you whether or not I'm married."

He lowered his voice to a confidential pitch. "The suspense is killing me."

"It's Ms. and has never been Mrs."

"Hot damn," he said, snapping his fingers. "I've always had phenomenal good luck."

Immensely pleased with what they saw, they stared at each other until someone jostled Taylor from behind. "Uh, more shrimp?" he asked courteously.

"I've already got an immodest number, but thank you."

He glanced down the length of the holiday buffet table, shopping the variety of food. "Can we talk turkey?"

Ria liked his sense of humor. So far there was nothing about him she didn't like. And she loved turkey. She flashed him her own rendition of a dazzling smile. "Please."

He picked up a plate for himself and they moved along the buffet, serving themselves, though food was now the last thing on their minds. The Grahams' Christmas Eve open house had taken on new interest. Each had attended the party out of a sense of obligation and had planned to leave after making an appearance. Taylor forgot the excuse he had intended to give the hosts for having to leave early. Ria was relieved of having to dream up one.

"Where shall we sit?" Taylor scanned the crowded living room, looking for two empty seats close together. There were single chairs scattered here and there, but he seemed disinclined to claim one, and Ria was glad.

Spontaneously she asked him, "How friendly do you feel like being?"

"I can be downright rude and still sleep nights," he told her with a devilish grin.

"Then follow me."

Winking conspiratorially at the bartender, Taylor picked up a bottle of chilled champagne and two glasses. Ria headed for the staircase. A Persian runner was secured to the steps with brass rods, but the staircase still appeared to be contemporary because of its cantilevered construction.

"That is a really knockout dress," Taylor remarked as they climbed the stairs.

She glanced at him over her shoulder. His eyes were trained on her spine, which was left bare by the low back of her thickly sequined blue dress. It was cut equally low in the front, dipping to a deep V between her breasts. The skirt was narrow and was hemmed straight across her knees. The waist was cinched with a wide self-belt. The padded shoulders were decorated with a design formed of silver sequins. A matching sequin-covered clasp held back one side of her long, straight hair.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

The stairs led to a gallery, which overlooked the rooms below. "This was a great idea," Taylor said as they glanced down at the noisy crowd.

"I'm glad I thought of it too."

They stood at the railing for a moment, staring at each other. He looked much hungrier for a bite of her lower lip than he did for any of the food on his plate. She would have enjoyed being nibbled. "This way," she said gruffly.

She led him into a spacious room lit only by the fire in the fireplace and the mammoth Christmas tree in the corner. The room was furnished with white leather sofas and chairs as soft and plush as marshmallows. The pile of the butterscotch-colored carpet almost swallowed the high heels on Ria's black satin shoes. She crossed the room and set her plate on the glass-topped coffee table.

"The light switch is on your left," she told Taylor. He was standing in the wide doorway, appreciatively surveying the room. "But if your hands are full I can get it."

"Do you mind if we leave it like this?"

Holding his gaze, she shook her head. "Actually, I prefer it this way."

"Me too."

He joined her where she stood, between the sofa and the fireplace, and by tacit agreement they sat on the floor. Ria folded her legs beneath her hips. Taylor sat with one knee raised, his back against the couch.

Expertly, he opened the champagne so that it only burped loudly, but didn't spew. Ria tipped her head to salute this expertise and held up her glass. He poured. When his glass was brimming, he raised it to hers.

"Merry Christmas, Ria."

"Merry Christmas, Taylor."

Looking at each other over their glasses, they drank. He smacked his lips. "Far better than the champagne punch."

"Hm." She let the champagne bubble and sparkle inside her mouth before swallowing its icy heat. "There's nothing like the real thing."

Taylor popped an olive-crowned canape into his mouth. "How did you know where to find this getaway room?"

"I designed it."

Obviously impressed, his eyebrows climbed up his forehead a fraction. "Interior design?"

"No. I only made recommendations on how it should be decorated. I designed it from the studs out. I was the architect."

"You were the architect who designed this house?"

She nodded. Methodically chewing a cherry tomato stuffed with crab salad, Taylor surveyed the room again, looking at it from a new perspective. From the carpet beneath them to the cathedral ceiling, he liked what he saw. Ria could tell that by the way his eyes lingered on every structural detail.

She was expecting a compliment, so when he said, "It's snowing," she was surprised. She tilted her head back and saw that flakes as big and fluffy as goose down were settling on the clear skylights overhead.

"How lovely, a white Christmas," she said with hushed reverence.

"I'm moved to break out in song. Want me to?"

"Can you sing?"

"I sound great in the shower."

"Then maybe you'd better not."

"You don't believe I can sing? Guess you'll just have to join me in the shower to find out."

Ria calmly took a sip of champagne. The innuendo wasn't offensive. His smile was too disarming. Still, it was sexy, just as he had intended it to be.

Setting her glass down, she glanced up at him through her lashes. "You're as dangerous as they say, Mr. MacKensie."

"Who say?" He was suspiciously sniffing at an anchovy.

"Everybody who's ever accused you of being a lady-killer."

"Oh, them." He shrugged dismissively, both at the allegation and the anchovy, which he returned to his plate. "Political enemies started those rumors."

"Or women scorned."

"I suppose there are a few of those." His smile was rueful.

"I didn't mean to imply that you're not a serious politician and businessman," she said sincerely. From reading newspaper articles about him, she knew that he owned and operated an electrical-contracting business. "Despite all the mud your opponent is slinging, I think you'll win the mayor's race."

"Will you vote for me?"

"If you'll pour me another glass of champagne." Coquettishly, she held up her glass.

He topped it off, then refilled his own as he said, "I wish all votes were as easy to come by. Why are you going to vote for me?"

"Because you're a progressive thinker. Maybe a tad too outspoken and aggressive."

"Bleeker called me `street tough.'"

She laughed over the label his opponent had stuck on him. "The description fits, though I'm sure Bleeker didn't mean it as a compliment. I don't think you'd ever let anybody bully you."

"You're right. I grew up in the suburbs, an all-American kid. But I held my own with the bad guys."

"You impress me as a mover and shaker. Some people are afraid of change, but for a long time I've thought that this city needed some changes."

"I only hope I'll be able to move and shake all the deadwood on the city council. If I'm elected," he grumbled. Then seconds later in the same tone of voice he said, "Damn."


"I forgot to get turkey after all."

"Here, have some." She offered him her plate.

He held up both hands. "No, really, I couldn't."

Was she getting tipsy, or was his protest actually that overstated and funny? "Go on. I insist. After all, I took the shrimp away from you." She picked up a sliver of white meat and extended it to him.

He stared at it as though it were the last morsel of food on earth but he was unworthy of eating it. "You won the shrimp in a fair fight."

"Please?" She lifted her hand closer to his mouth.

"Well, if you insist."

He bit into the succulent slice of turkey breast. It had never occurred to Ria that teeth could be sexy, but she felt that bite right above her belly button. It was a thrilling sensation. His breath was warm against her fingers. The turkey was so tender, it could have been cut with a fork, but he moved his head from side to side slightly, as though tearing at it. The bottom of her stomach dropped away, as if she'd just cannoned over the highest peak of the roller coaster.

He said, "Delicious."

"Nice and juicy."


She realized that he was looking at her mouth. His eyes were as unblinking as a predatory cat's. She felt vulnerable beneath that steady blue gaze. Her hand trembled slightly as she reached for the stem of her glass of champagne.

Only when she moved and broke the spell did he stop staring. "I like this Christmas tree better than the one downstairs," he said.

Ria was glad he had changed the subject. It relieved the tension in her chest. The party noise coming from downstairs was a faraway roar. Occasionally a burst of laughter would puncture the quiet, but basically the only sound in the room was that of the popping applewood logs in the grate and the sexy whisper of evening clothes each time one of them moved. A take-your-shoes-off-and-be-comfortable kind of mood had settled over them. She had never felt so relaxed. Anywhere. At any time. Nor had she ever felt so breathless with anticipation. As a safety precaution, she kept her shoes on.

She looked at the Christmas tree. Its fragrant green branches were decorated with twinkling colored lights, glass balls, tinsel, and candy canes. "I like this one best too," she said. "I prefer the old-fashioned kind."

"They don't count unless you can smell them."

"Right. The one downstairs in the living room is gorgeous, but so formal."


"It was done by a professional decorator. You can tell that the family decorated this one. The ornaments are irregularly spaced."

Her host and hostess, the Grahams, had several grown children and numerous grandchildren. Ria could imagine the laughter, the affectionate bantering, the squeals of pleasure that would echo off these walls when the myriad gift-wrapped boxes were ripped open the following morning.

Leaning closer to her, Taylor whispered, "I'll bet if you looked close, you'd see some of those ornaments are tarnished and broken."

She nodded dreamily. "But they're the most cherished ones. The older the better. They're the reminders of past Christmases, and will never be thrown out."

He touched her cheek with the backs of his fingers. "The lady architect has a sentimental streak."

Pleasurably, she broke out in goose bumps. "I confess."

No longer pretending to eat, they abandoned their plates. Another kind of hunger had set in. There was no sense in denying it. Unabashedly Taylor stared at her. "I've never had a battle of toothpicks with someone as pretty as you. Are you sure you're real?"

It was on the tip of Ria's tongue to say, "Touch me and see," but she thought better of it. He looked ready to pounce and gobble. If the rumors were true, Taylor MacKensie needed no encouragement. Whether such rumors were maliciously sowed by his political enemies or not, they must have some basis in truth. Ria was too level-headed to be swayed by a smooth line and a seductive smile. But she was having too good a time to rebuff him. So she decided to keep them on a friendly and flirting basis.

"Oh, I'm real, all right. What you didn't know," Ria drawled, "was that my stomach was growling most indelicately when I spotted that fat pink shrimp."

"Hush, now." He laid his index finger vertically against her lips. "You're making my mouth water."

Time out! Ria thought. So much for flirting. It was no longer harmless. Taylor MacKensie was making her mouth water. The softly lit room, the fireplace, the Christmas ambience, were having a dangerous effect on her. She felt herself losing control of the situation and knew she had to get it back.

"Maybe we'd better go downstairs and mingle."

He frowned, but seemed to recognize the advisability of that. This was getting way out of hand way too fast. "I guess we'd better. There are lots of voters down there."

He stood up and offered her his hand, which she gladly accepted. She should have eaten more. The champagne had gone straight to her head. And to her thighs. They were rubbery. She swayed slightly as she stood up. He slipped an arm around her waist to steady her, pressing her against him briefly.

"Okay?" His voice was merely a low growl that reminded her of animal mating sounds.

"Yes, fine."

He released her, but she felt his reluctance to do so. Carrying their plates with them, they descended the staircase. "I like the house," he said. "Very innovative. Contemporary without being stark."

"I was pleased with how it turned out," Ria replied modestly.

"Don't let her get by with that."

They turned at the sound of their hostess's voice. Decked out in plaid taffeta that whistled as she approached them, Mrs. Graham beamed a smile upon Ria and embraced her affectionately. "She's far too modest, Taylor. I'm glad you've met our town's most ingenious, original architect. I threw this bash solely for the purpose of showing off Ria's masterpiece."

"I think you have excellent taste," Taylor said, smiling his charming smile. "Both in houses and in architects."

Mrs. Graham took Ria's arm and drew her away from Taylor's side. "A friend of mine has been dying to meet you, Ria. She's pea green over my house and wants one of her own. She owns a lovely piece of property--For heaven's sake, Taylor, don't look so downcast. You'll catch up with Ria later. Now, be a good boy and spread yourself around. I think some of the men are playing pool in the game room."

He caught up with Ria three-quarters of an hour later. She was one of a group collected around the white grand piano. Taylor overcame the decked halls, boughs of holly, not to mention the fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-las, in order to reach her side and join her on the chorus of an ancient Yuletide carol.


"Hi. Did you play pool?"

"Yep. And won. I didn't collect my bets, though. I'm always charitable at Christmastime."

Another song was already under way. They joined in. In the middle of the second verse, Ria leaned back. "You were right. You--"

"What? I can't hear you." He leaned down far enough for her lips to graze the peach fuzz on his earlobe.

"You were right," she repeated. He tilted his head and looked down at her quizzically. "You can't sing."

Laughing, he squeezed her elbow.

The party began to wind down. The weather was rapidly becoming a factor in people's getting home safely. Together, Ria and Taylor drifted toward the room where a maid was holding coats. When she came back with Ria's, Ria saw Taylor give a start of surprise. He took the full-length silver fox from the maid and draped it over Ria's shoulders, slinging his overcoat over his arm. They progressed to the front door, where the Grahams were bidding everyone good night.

"It was lovely. Thank you for inviting me," Ria said to the distinguished couple. She kissed her hostess on the cheek.

Mrs. Graham patted Ria's hand. "The party was lovely because my house is lovely, and my house is lovely because you are lovely. And if you think I'm going to let you drive off this hill alone in weather like this, you've got another think coming."

"I'm used to driving in snow," Ria exclaimed.

"But not down that sheer cliff we mistakenly call a road," Mr. Graham said.

"I'll be happy to drive her home." Taylor stepped forward with the bravura of an Alamo volunteer crossing the sword-drawn line in the sand.

"Excellent," Mrs. Graham said with a wide smile. "Darling, be sure to contribute to Taylor's campaign fund," she told her husband.

"But my car," Ria protested. She wasn't accustomed to being looked after like a child.

"I'll get someone to drive it down to you tomorrow. You'd better go now, before that icy hill gets worse. Good night, dears, and merry Christmas."

The Grahams waved them off perfunctorily and turned their attention to other departing guests. Without causing a scene, Ria had no choice but to submit to the nudge Taylor gave her elbow.

"You don't really mind, do you?" he asked her, bending his head against the blowing snow.

"No. Do you?"

"Of course not."

"They put you on the spot. You didn't have much choice."

"Sure, I did. I told you earlier that I can be downright rude." His grip on her arm tightened. "Besides, even if they hadn't asked, I would have offered you a lift. I wouldn't like it either if you tried to drive home alone in this weather."

"I'm sure I can handle a little snow."

He glanced up at the sky. "It's more like a blizzard. And remember," he said, squeezing her elbow, "I know how much champagne you guzzled."

Laughing together, they moved along the row of parked cars in the driveway until they reached a new Corvette. As he fumbled in his pocket for the keys, he said, "You know, I'm still not sure you're real. You're gorgeous, talented, smart, amusing. You've got your own jewelry and--"

"These?" she asked, indicating the chandeliers of rhinestones dangling from her ears. "These are costume."

"But this isn't." He ran his fingers through the fur collar of her coat. For warmth, she had bunched it up close to her ears. The coat had been her one material indulgence when she joined the most prestigious firm of architects in the city. She had chosen to wrap herself in yards of silver fox rather than the leather interior of a fancy automobile.

"You've already got your own fur coat, on top of all your other attributes. There's got to be something wrong with you." He peered at her through the falling snow. "You must have rotten teeth."

She swatted at his nose before ducking into the car. The road was much more perilous than Ria would have felt comfortable driving down. She was glad the Grahams had insisted that she ride with someone, although she wasn't certain that Taylor MacKensie was the wisest choice.

She felt muzzy. Her ears were ringing, and it wasn't the echo of Christmas Eve church bells. She wasn't sure all her toes were still there. That could be due to walking through the snow in evening pumps. But how could she account for feeling so warm everywhere else? The car's heater was blasting them with hot air, true, but the heat she felt was generated from beneath her own skin.

Philosophically she determined that she had imbibed too much Christmas cheer or Taylor MacKensie's masculine magnetism had made her high. Either way, she was ashamed of herself for behaving so foolishly.

The windshield wipers were clanking as hypnotically as a metronome. Snowflakes merrily danced in the beam of the headlights. The night had a surreal quality. But if this was fantasy, who needed reality? While it lasted, why not enjoy it?


"Pardon?" He nodded toward the radio. "Yes, please." She winked at him. "If you promise not to sing along."

"Looks like they're all playing Christmas carols tonight," he said after punching in several stations.

"That's fine with me. I enjoy hearing them once a year."

"Yeah, me too. How come you're spending Christmas Eve alone?" he asked suddenly. "I'd have thought there'd be a dozen beaux lined up at your door begging for a date on the night before Christmas."

Ria thanked him for the compliment. "The man I'm seeing is away."

"There's a man?"

"Yes. He has an elderly mother in Florida. He's spending the holiday with her."

Taylor digested that information without comment. "Parents?"

"They decided to take a trip to England to visit friends. They were reluctant to go at this time of year, but I urged them to. After all, Christmas Eve is just like any other night."

"Do you really believe that?" he asked, looking across at her.

For as long as it was safe, their eyes held. "No," she said softly, shaking her head, "but I didn't want my folks to miss this trip on my account."

"What about the man?"

"I couldn't be responsible for his neglecting his mother." To divert the conversation away from herself, she asked, "What about you? Why are you alone? No family?"

"My dad, but he has another family now. He and Janey live in Los Angeles." He explained that his father had remarried a considerably younger woman after his mother's death. They'd had two children together. "I've got a stepbrother and stepsister young enough to be my own kids. I'm always welcome at their house, but I think my being there makes everybody uncomfortable, afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing."

"Friends?" She meant, specifically, girlfriends, and hated herself for wanting to know.

"I was invited to go on a ski trip with a group of people."

"How large a group?"

He grinned, letting her know that he knew what she was fishing for. "Seven. Among them the woman I'm seeing. I backed out at the last minute."

"Why? Did you have a tiff?"

"No. The day before yesterday I sprained my ankle playing racquetball, and decided it would be really stupid to ski on it. That's when we had the tiff."

"She went without you?"

He shrugged. "She's a very independent lady."

"Funny, how Christmas can either be hectic and exuberant, or empty and sad."

"It depends on whether it's shared with someone or spent alone."

"I guess. Although it could be terrible if shared with someone you didn't love, or even like. I think that would be worse than spending it alone."

Ria had given him her street address when they left the Grahams. He drove straight to it without asking for directions. The young, volatile candidate for mayor knew his city well.

Pulling to a stop at the curb in front of her house, he turned the key and cut the Corvette's motor. The windshield wipers ceased their rhythmic clacking. "O Come All Ye Faithful" fell silent in mid-verse. Neither passenger in the car moved. Finally, at the same time, they turned to each other and started talking.


"I could be--"

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry. Ladies first."

"I was just saying thank you for the ride."

Taylor turned his head and stared through the windshield, which was quickly becoming blanketed with snow. Ria could see him gnawing the inside of his jaw. He swiveled his head back around quickly. "I could be talked into a cup of coffee."

She hesitated only a few heartbeats before nodding. He got out and came around to open her door. His fingers curled firmly around her upper arm as they made their way up the treacherously icy sidewalk.

Ria took her key from her silver metal evening bag and opened the front door. The warm air inside embraced them like an old and beloved friend. Ria flipped on a wall switch. The end-table lamp didn't come on, as she had expected it to. Instead her Christmas tree lit up.

"Oh, I forgot. I plugged the lights into the socket operated by this switch."

"You should have had an electrician do it," he said teasingly. "Nice tree."

"Thank you."

"The old-fashioned kind."

Leaving her standing just inside the door, he walked over to the fireplace. Glowing red coals were still smoldering beneath a stack of charred wood. He moved the screen aside, stirred the coals with a poker, and added two new logs. They caught immediately.

In the bright firelight, the melting snowflakes on his hair and shoulders sparkled like diamonds. He turned and looked at Ria. His eyes, his shadowed face, the purposeful way he moved toward her, made her tremble.

"I'll put the coffee on," she said breathlessly.

He caught her hand as she went past him. "Ria?"


"There's snow on your hair," he whispered. She shook her head. He watched the sensuous movement of her loose hair. "It's beautiful. Black as midnight. So shiny and silky. So seductive."

What was seductive, she thought, was the way he threaded his fingers through it and spread it out on the fur shoulders of her coat. His eyes moved over her face, down her throat, into the shadowy cleft between her breasts. Ria shivered, and said, "It'll be warm in just a minute."

"Baby, it's already warm."

His voice reminded her of the low purring of his car's engine. The power behind it was temperately held in check. One careless move and it could zoom out of control.

Stepping closer, he cupped her face between his hands and stroked her cold cheeks with his thumbs, warming them instantly. He bent his head and brushed his lips across hers.

His first kiss was light and questing. The next one was firm and questing. Ria gasped and quickly turned her head away. "I'm sorry," he said. "I had no right to do that. It's just that ... damn, I wanted to kiss you."

She lifted her face up to his again. She felt boneless, as light as air. Her eyes remained open only because they were greedy to look at him. "Don't apologize. This is Christmas Eve."

"In that case ..."

He kissed her again. This time his mouth opened over her lips, urging them to part. She complied. They tasted each other. Their tongues touched. Circuit completed. Nerve endings popped and hissed like live wires.

"You were right, Ria," he said in a raspy tone of voice, moving his lips against her dewy mouth. "There's nothing like the real thing."

He pulled her against him. His hands caressed her through the lavish fur of her coat. Then he flung it aside, twirling it out and away from her like a matador's cape. It landed on the couch, a few feet away. His eager and curious hands moved over her. They explored the shallow valley of her spine, her hips, her thighs--the backs, sides, and fronts of them.

She made a startled sound when he splayed his hand over her lower body. Taylor didn't remove his hand, though he raised his head and looked down into her face with an unspoken question in his eyes. She was panting through parted, moist lips. Her eyelids fluttered open, and she gazed up at him. Then she tilted her body forward, filling the hollow of his palm with her mound.

They both groaned with the delicious pain of desire. He stroked her, petted her, pressed her, seeking the source of her heat. While kissing madly, he shrugged out of his suit coat. Ria thought that there must have been at least a thousand buttons on his vest, but at last they were all undone and her hands were caressing his chest through his white silk shirt.

He laid his hands on her shoulders and slowly pushed down her dress. His fingertips skated down her throat and over her collarbone. She threw her head back and he kissed her neck. His mouth was open, hot, fiercely possessive.

Ria fumbled with the buttons of his shirt after having pulled it from his waistband. When they were all undone, her fingers combed through his generous chest hair. She reveled in the shape of his form and the vibrancy of his skin.

Reaching around her, he slid down the back zipper of her dress. The bodice dropped to her waist. She wasn't wearing anything underneath. Reflexively she raised her hands to cover herself, but he gently drew her hands away.

"No, please," he whispered. "You're beautiful."

Entranced, he watched the fluid movement of her breasts as she withdrew her arms from her tight sleeves. He touched her so lightly that he was barely touching her at all as he framed her breasts between his hands. Then he slid his hands up the undersides of her arms all the way to her wrists. He raised her hands and folded them together around his neck.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer


    Tidings of Great Joy by Sandra Brown
    Rhia tells him she's pregnant from their one night of lovemaking on Christmas Eve.
    Taylor is a mayor elect. They decide to get married and worry
    about the annulment later on. He wants to be married so he can
    concentrate on the election. They will live at his house and
    financially take care of them. She quit her job so it'd not
    jeopardize his new career and be a conflict of interest. Maybe
    she'd start her own firm in the art field.
    something goes terribly wrong, medically.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 5, 2010

    Romantic Quick Read

    The premise of this book is a little unrealistic, but the characters are well developed and it was an enjoyable, quick read - with the exception of the last chapter. Taylor adopts a child to present to Ria as gift - I found this to be such a strange thing to do and completely unrealistic.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good Book

    I loved this book! I love Sandra Brown and have never been disappointed in any of her books. It was a good love story. I like she has them go through ups and downs before they figure out they are in love. I have recommended this book and will re-read come next Christmas. I enjoyed this book and it was an easy read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2008


    cute little short story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2003

    i cried

    this was such a wonderful tale for christmas. sandra's an amazing writer. she pays so much attention to detail. her books are always well writen. the emotions are so strong you can't help but feel them yourself. sandra had me hooked from the first book i read, and i plan to keep reading her books till i've read them all.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2002

    Can't Stop

    I really love Sandra's books. Once I got one of her book in my hand I can't stop myself reading it till the end. Her books accompanied me through the long flight. My friend said that I was crazy however I said I lucky to have Sandra with me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2000



    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2000

    A great afternoon of reading!

    One of those 'Feel Good Endings' books!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2000

    S. Brown brings you her characters true hearts!

    The author brings two totally different characters together. A woman who is nearly engaged with a co-worker and a pretty much self centered-hard-working-man. They both meet at a christmas party and enjoy each others' company. Both connect in the beginning of this fictional tail and after having a blissful night with each other,she finds out that she is pregnant. She goes to his work and tells him. He of course, denies that he is the father. After talking with this man for and spending time with him, they marry for the best interest of the child. They become the average married couple only they deny their love for each other. It is in the climax of the story when porblems evolve that they each find out what their lives would be like without each other. This was one of the MOST kindest and sweetest 'chick flick book' I have ever read. In the best interest of this talented writer i think you will enjoy this out of most of her books!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)