Celebrate the magic of Christmas in Haven Point with New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne, where hope, home and happily-ever-after are as close as your holiday stocking
Christmas is the last thing on Cole Barrett's mind this year. He's barely hanging on trying to care for his two grieving children since his ex-wife died in a tragic accident. For the reclusive Cole, this is no time for gift-giving and celebrationand certainly not for a sunny-natured optimist to blow into his screwed-up life.
Physician Devin Shaw has long researched the curative powers of Lake Haven's mineral waters. Unfortunately, the hot springs are on Barrett property, forcing Devin to strike a bargain with the ranch's attractively gruff owner: she'll give Cole's children a magical Christmas, and Cole will allow her patients access to the springs. But can she work her holiday magic to heal the Barrett family's battered heartsand her own?
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Devin Shaw was bored.
She supposed that particular state of affairs wasn't necessarily a bad thing in her current role as substitute attending physician at the Lake Haven Hospital emergency department. While a juicy trauma might be professionally stimulating and serve to break up the monotony, she adored all her neighbors in Haven Point and the greater Lake Haven area too much to wish that sort of stress and pain on anyone.
Better to be stuck at the nurses' station of the small emergency department trying without successand not for the first time, alasto learn how to knit.
"No. Your problem here has to do with the amount of tension on the working yarn," Greta Ward insisted. "If you don't have the right tension, you'll end up losing control and making a huge mess you will only have to undo."
The scarily efficient charge nurse of the emergency department at the Lake Haven Hospital leaned over her and tugged the yarn around her fingers in some kind of complicated way that Devin knew she would never be able to replicate.
"There. That's better. Try again."
Devin concentrated, nibbling on her bottom lip as she tried to work the needles that seemed unwieldy and awkward, no matter how she tried.
After her third time tangling the yarn into a total mess, Devin sighed and admitted defeat. Again. Every time they happened to be assigned to work together, Greta took a moment to try teaching her to knit. And every time, she came up short.
"People who find knitting at all relaxing have to be crazy. I think I must have some kind of mental block. It's just not coming."
"You're not trying hard enough," Greta insisted.
"I am! I swear I am."
"Even my eight-year-old granddaughter can do it," she said sternly. "Once you get past the initial learning curve, this is something you'll love the rest of your life."
"I think it's funny." Callie Bennett, one of the other nurses and also one of Devin's good friends, smirked as she observed her pitiful attempts over the top of her magazine.
"Oh, yes. Hilarious," Devin said drily.
"It is! You're a physician who can set a fractured radius, suture a screaming six-year-old's finger and deliver a baby, all with your eyes closed."
"Not quite," Devin assured her. "I open my eyes at the end of childbirth so I can see to cut the umbilical cord."
Callie chuckled. "Seriously, you're one of the best doctors at this hospital. I love working with you and wish you worked here permanently. You're cool under pressure and always seem to know just how to deal with every situation. But I hate to break it to you, hon, you're all thumbs when it comes to knitting, no matter how hard you try."
"I'm going to get the hang of this tonight," she insisted. "If Greta's eight-year-old granddaughter can do it, so can I."
She picked up the needles again and concentrated under the watchful eye of the charge nurse until she'd successfully finished the first row of what she hoped would eventually be a scarf.
"Not bad," Greta said. "Now just do that about four hundred more times and you might have enough for a decent-sized scarf."
Devin groaned. Already, she was wishing she had stuck to reading the latest medical journals to pass the time instead of trying to knit yet again.
"I've got to go back to my office and finish the schedule for next month," Greta said. "Keep going and rememberten rows a day keeps the psychiatrist away."
Devin laughed but didn't look up from the stitches.
"How do you always pick the slowest nights to fill in?" Callie asked after Greta left the nurses' station.
"I have no idea. Just lucky, I guess."
It wasn't exactly true. Her nights weren't always quiet. The past few times she had substituted for the regular emergency department doctors at Lake Haven Hospital had been low-key like this one, but that definitely wasn't always the case. A month earlier, she worked the night of the first snowfall and had been on her feet all night, between car accidents, snow shovel injuries and a couple of teenagers who had taken a snowmobile through a barbed-wire fence.
Like so much of medicine, emergency medicine was all a roll of the dice.
Devin loved her regular practice as a family physician in partnership with Russell Warrick, who had been her own doctor when she was a kid. She loved having a day-to-day relationship with her patients and the idea that she could treat an entire family from cradle to grave.
Even so, she didn't mind filling in at the emergency department when the three rotating emergency medicine physicians in the small hospital needed an extra hand. The challenge and variety of it exercised her brain and sharpened her reflexesexcept tonight, when the only thing sharp seemed to be these knitting needles that had become her nemesis.
She was on her twelfth row when she heard a commotion out in the reception area.
"We need a doctor here, right now."
"Can you tell me what's going on?" Devin heard the receptionist ask in a calm voice.
Devin didn't wait around to hear the answer. She and Callie both sprang into action. Though the emergency department usually followed triage protocol, with prospective patients screened by one of the certified nurse assistants first to determine level of urgency, that seemed superfluous when the newcomers were the only patients here. By default, they automatically moved to the front of the line, since there wasn't one.
She walked through the doorway to the reception desk and her initial impression was of a big, tough-looking man, a very pregnant woman in one of the hospital wheelchairs and a couple of scared-looking kids.
"What's the problem?"
"Are you a doctor?" the man demanded. "I know how emergency rooms work. You tell your story to a hundred different people before you finally see somebody who can actually help you. I don't want to go through that."
She gave a well-practiced smile. "I'm Dr. Shaw, the attending physician here tonight. What seems to be the problem?"
"Devin? Is that you?"
The pregnant woman looked up and met her gaze and Devin immediately recognized her. "Tricia!
Tricia Barrett had been a friend in high school, though she hadn't seen her in years. Barrett had been her maiden name, anyway. Devin couldn't remember the last name of the man she married.
"Hi," Tricia said, her features pale and her arms tight on the armrests of the wheelchair. "I would say it's great to see you again, but, well, not really, under these circumstances. No offense."
Devin stepped closer to her and gave her a calming smile. "None taken. Believe me, I get it. Why don't you tell me what's going on."
Tricia shifted in the wheelchair. "Nothing. Someone is overreacting."
"She slipped on a patch of ice about an hour ago and hurt her ankle." The man with her overrode her objections. "I'm not sure it's broken but she needs an X-ray."
At first she thought he might be Tricia's husband but on closer inspection, she recognized him, only because she'd seen him around town here and there over the past few years.
Cole Barrett, Tricia's older brother, was a rather hard man to overlooksix feet two inches of gor-geousness, with vivid blue eyes, sinfully long eyelashes and sun-streaked brown hair usually hidden by a cowboy hat.
He had been wild back in the day, if she remembered correctly, and still hadn't lost that edgy, bad-boy outlaw vibe.
In a small community like Haven Point, most people knew each otheror at least knew of each other. She hadn't met the man but she knew he lived in the mountains above town and that he had inherited a sprawling, successful ranch from his grandparents.
If memory served, he had once been some kind of hotshot rodeo cowboy.
With that afternoon shadow and his wavy brown hair a little disordered, he looked as if he had just climbed either off a horse or out of some lucky woman's bed. Not that it was any of her business. Disreputable cowboys were definitely not her type.
Devin dismissed the man from her mind and focused instead on her patient, where her attention should have been in the first place.
"Have you been able to put weight on your ankle?"
"No, but I haven't really tried. This is all so silly," Tricia insisted. "I'm sure it's not broken."
She winced suddenly, her face losing another shade or two of color, and pressed a hand to her abdomen.
Devin didn't miss the gesture and her attention sharpened. "How long have you been having contractions?"
"I'm sure they're only Braxton Hicks."
"How far along are you?"
"Thirty-four weeks. With twins, if you couldn't tell by the basketball here."
Her brother frowned. "You're having contractions? Why didn't you say anything?"
"Because you're already freaking out over a stupid sprained ankle. I didn't want to send you into total panic mode."
"What's happening?" the girl said. "What are contractions?"
"It's something a woman's body does when she's almost ready to have a baby," Tricia explained.
"Are you having the babies tonight?" she asked, big blue eyes wide. "I thought they weren't supposed to be here until after Christmas."
"I hope not," Tricia answered. "Sometimes I guess you have practice contractions. I'm sure that's what these are."
For the first time, she started to look uneasy and Devin knew she needed to take control of the situation.
"I don't want to send you up to Obstetrics until we take a look at the ankle. We can hook up all the fetal monitoring equipment down here in the emergency department to see what's going on and put your minds at ease."
"Thanks. I'm sure everything's fine. I'm going to be embarrassed for worrying everyone."
"Never worry about that," Devin assured her.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but I need to get some information so we can enter it into the computer and make an ID band." Brittney Calloway, the receptionist, stepped forward, clipboard in hand.
"My insurance information is in my purse," Tricia said. "Cole, can you find it and give her what she needs?"
He looked as if he didn't want to leave his sister's side but the little boy was already looking bored.
Whose were they? The girl looked to be about eight, blonde and ethereal like Tricia but with Cole's blue eyes, and the boy was a few years younger with darker coloring and big brown eyes.
She hadn't heard the man had kidsin fact, as far as she knew, he had lived alone at Evergreen Springs the past two years since his grandmother died.
"You can come back to the examination room after you're done out here, or you can stay out in the waiting room."
He looked at the children and then back at his sister, obviously torn. "We'll wait out here, if you think you'll be okay."
"I'll be fine," she assured him. "I'm sorry to be such a pain."
He gave his sister a soft, affectionate smile that would have made Devin's knees go weak, if she weren't made of sterner stuff. "You're not a pain. You're just stubborn," he said gruffly. "You should have called me the minute you fell instead of waiting until I came back to the house and you definitely should have said something about the contractions."
"We'll take care of her and try to keep you posted."
"Thanks." He nodded and shepherded the two children to the small waiting room, with his sister's purse in hand.
Devin forced herself to put him out of her mind and focus on her patient.
Normally, the nurses and aides would take a patient into a room and start a chart but since she knew Tricia and the night was slow, Devin didn't mind coming into her care from the beginning.
"You're thirty-three weeks?" she asked as she pushed her into the largest exam room in the department.
"Almost thirty-four. Tuesday."
"With twins. Congratulations. Are they fraternal or identical?"
"Fraternal. A boy and a girl. The girl is measuring bigger, according to my ob-gyn back in California."
"Did your OB clear you for travel this close to your due date?"
"Yes. Everything has been uncomplicated. A textbook pregnancy, Dr. Adams said."
"When was your last appointment?"
"I saw my regular doctor the morning before Thanksgiving. She knew I was flying out to spend the holiday with Cole and the kids. I was supposed to be back the next Sunday, but, well, I decided to stay."
She paused and her chin started to quiver. "Everything is such a mess and I can't go home and now I've sprained my ankle. How am I going to get around on crutches when I'm as big as a barn?"
Something else was going on here, something that had nothing to do with sprained ankles. Why couldn't she go home? Devin squeezed her hand. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."
"No. You're right." Tricia drew a breath. When she spoke her voice only wobbled a little. "I have an appointment Monday for a checkup with a local doctor. Randall or Crandall or something like that. I can't remember. I just know my records have been transferred there."
"Randall. Jim Randall."
He was one of her favorite colleagues in the area, compassionate and kind and more than competent. Whenever she had a complicated obstetrics patient in her family medicine practice, she sent her to Jim.
As Devin guided Tricia from the wheelchair to the narrow bed in the room, the pregnant woman paused on the edge, her hand curved around her abdomen and her face contorted with pain. She drew in a sharp breath and let it out slowly. "Ow. That was a big one."
And not far apart from the first contraction she'd had a few minutes earlier, Devin thought in concern, her priorities shifting as Callie came in. "Here we are. This is Callie. She's an amazing nurse and right now she's going to gather some basic information and help you into a gown. I'll be back when she's done to take a look at things."
Tricia grabbed her hand. "You'll be back?"
"In just a moment, I promise. I'm going to write orders for the X-ray and the fetal heartbeat monitoring and put a call in to Dr. Randall. I'll also order some basic urine and blood tests, too, then I'll be right back."
"Okay. Okay." Tricia gave a wobbly smile. "Thanks. I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here."
"I'm not going anywhere. I promise."