All Olivia Armstrong ever wanted was to be a wife and mother. Her storybook marriage to Jamison Mallory gave her the love and happiness she craved…everything except the one thing that could make them a true family.
Her family's fertility institute was her last hope for the miracle that could reunite her with her husband and give them the baby they both wanted.
Jamison knew how badly Olivia wanted a child. He did, too. But he wanted and loved his wife even more. Somehow he had to help them find their way back to each other. And just maybe they'd also find a way to make their most cherished dream come true.
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The chime of the house alarm alerted Olivia Armstrong Mallory that someone had opened the front door, rousing her out of her light sleep. The door squeaked open and then clicked shut, the sound echoing in the cavernous hallway.
As footsteps sounded on the parquet floor, she sat up on the couch, smoothed her brown hair and blinked at the Christmas tree—the sole light illuminating the expansive living room.
She'd only closed her eyes for a moment—or so she thought. However, a quick glance at the mantel clock begged to differ. It was after three in the morning.
Her husband had finally arrived home.
As a United States senator who was being groomed for the presidency, Jamison Mallory wielded a lot of power, but one thing beyond his control was the weather. It wasn't his fault that ice and snow had grounded all planes coming in and out of Washington, D.C.
It's a wonder he's home now, she reminded herself as he appeared, suitcase in hand, in the archway that divided the living room and the foyer hall.
"Liv, you're still awake?" His deep voice was flat. "You didn't have to wait up for me." Even in the low light, she could see that his handsome face looked drawn. His chiseled cheeks looked hollow, despite the day's growth of blond razor stubble. The dark circles under his pale blue eyes hinted that he suffered the kind of travel-weary exhaustion that comes from long flight delays and blisteringly cold weather.
"Of course, I waited up for you. It's Christmas Eve, Jamison—well, it was. Merry Christmas." Olivia stood and smoothed the wrinkles from her red silk dress. She made sure the clasp to the pearl necklace she always wore was in the right place. When her husband didn't move toward her, she swallowed her pride and crossed the room to him.
One of them had to extend the olive branch. In the spirit of Christmas, and for the sake of their marriage, she'd be the peacemaker tonight.
Two-and-a-half months apart—with only a brief Thanksgiving Day visit—was more than enough time to help her realize that her marriage was that important. In their seven years of matrimony, this trial separation was the longest they'd ever been apart.
She'd missed her husband so much it hurt—a deep, gnawing pain that only grew worse each day they were apart.
Jamison set down his bag and raked a hand through his short, wavy blond hair before opening his arms to her. Olivia slipped inside the circle of her husband's embrace and tried to find that place where she fit so well. She wanted nothing more than to bury her face in his chest, to lose herself in the feel of him. But his hug felt stiff, almost perfunctory. As she shifted to find her spot, he dropped his arms and pulled away ever so slightly.
She hesitated a moment, processing the conflicting emotions that swam to the surface as she stood face-to-face with this handsome familiar stranger. But, no, she wasn't going to make an issue of it. So she slammed the door on the irrational thoughts goading her to take his aloofness personally.
Spending Christmas Eve stuck in the airline's Executive Lounge surely wasn't his idea of a good time. He must be so tired and—
"You must be starving." She started toward the kitchen. "I kept dinner warm for you. Sit down and I'll fix you a drink and a plate."
She glanced over her shoulder in time to see his frown deepen as he shook his head.
"Olivia, I'm exhausted. I just want to go to bed."
His brusque tone made her wince. As was often the problem between them, it wasn't so much what he said, but how he said it that cut her to the quick.
Tonight, though, she was willing to overlook it.
"Yes, of course," she said. "I can see that you're worn-out."
He picked up his suitcase, walked over and kissed her on the forehead. Then, without another word, he turned and took his bag into the first-floor guest room, closing the door behind him.
Olivia stood alone in the living room. Confused, she crossed her arms over her chest, trying to ward off the numbing chill coursing through her. She could understand that Jamison was bone tired. She could even accept that he didn't want to eat a meal and go to bed on a full stomach. But choosing the guest room over their bed?
That hurt worse than his gruff tone.
Suddenly, the cold distance between them yawned like a vast canyon, full of all the reasons they'd decided to separate in the first place.
She'd had such high hopes for the evening. But nothing was turning out as she'd hoped.
Wasn't that par for the course these days?
It hadn't always been that way, though. Once upon a time, not so long ago, their love seemed invincible. There was nothing like it from the moment they'd set eyes on each other. She'd never forget the first time she saw him. In person, that is, because every red-blooded woman in America knew of Jamison Mallory, Panorama Magazine's "Sexiest Bachelor in the Universe" for several years running. With his tall, bronzed, quarterback body and his All-American blond, blue-eyed good looks, the man simply needed to flash his lightning-strike smile and women fell under his spell.
As a Harvard Law graduate and the youngest elected U.S. senator, Jamison had come back to his alma mater to deliver a commencement address. They'd bumped into each other—literally—as Olivia rounded a corner, rushing from one of her classes to a rehearsal for a Harvard Ballet Company performance of Sleeping Beauty. She'd dropped her dance bag and books and he had helped her retrieve her ballet slippers from underneath a shrub. Somewhere between, "Excuse me," and "It was so nice to meet you, Olivia," he'd asked where she was going and she'd nervously rattled off information about the ballet performance, which was the next night. She had never dreamed he'd be in the audience—front and center.
Because he was Jamison Mallory. She was simply a shy, college freshman who'd barely had any experience with men. After all, up until meeting Jamison, her one true love had been dance.
Later, they'd both sworn it had been love at first sight.
He'd often said that from the moment he'd looked into her eyes as he handed her those slippers, he'd known he'd met the woman he would spend the rest of his life with.
"It was cosmic." He used to flash his devastating smile when he'd tell that to reporters. "The feeling was so much bigger than anything I'd ever felt before, I knew it was right."
Now it was the small things that stood between them and what was really important. The minutiae blurred the perspective so that they couldn't keep the big picture in focus anymore. If they couldn't get past the small stuff, how in the world were they going to reach the real issue that was keeping them apart?
Feeling as if she were dragging a heavy weight, she made her way into the kitchen to put away the uneaten dinner. She and Jamison had always spent Christmas Eve with her family and Christmas Day with the large Mallory clan at his mother's palatial compound in the Berkshires. This year, she'd opted out of Christmas Eve with her mother, father and three siblings—all of whom were married to their careers at the Armstrong Fertility Institute. Well, except for her brother Paul who, though he was still the consummate workaholic, had recently met his love match in Ramona Tate, at the institute. Olivia wanted to spend their first night back together alone. Just the two of them. Little had she known how alone she'd actually be.
Staying home had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, especially since none of the family knew about her and Jamison's current living arrangement—that Jamison hadn't come home on weekends during the congressional session. Or that he'd stayed in Washington after the session had adjourned. They'd told everyone he was busy with a particularly demanding committee, that he needed to focus so that he could wrap up work in time for Christmas. They'd played their roles so well that no one had a clue that their marriage was actually deeply in trouble.
Olivia hoped to God she'd find a Christmas miracle in her stocking, because it seemed as if nothing less than a miracle would save them now.
Jamison awoke to a slant of sunlight streaming in through the white plantation shutters, hitting him square in the face. He blinked, disoriented for a moment, and then it all flooded back to him. He was…home.
He glanced at the clock on the bedside table: seven-thirty. Although he could've told the time without the clock, thanks to his internal alarm. No matter how little sleep he'd gotten the night before—in this case only about four hours—his system awakened him at seven-thirty every morning. It was fail-safe, and there was no sense fighting it. He might as well get up, because he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. Plus, he and Olivia needed to get on the road by noon to make the two-hour trek to his mother's for the Christmas Day festivities.
He stretched, and his arms slid over the cold, empty side of the queen-size feather bed. He wished he was waking up in his own bed, with Olivia in his arms, rather than realizing another morning alone—especially Christmas morning in the guest room of his very own house.
He'd been so exhausted by the time he'd arrived home last night, he'd barely been able to string together a coherent sentence, much less have a discussion with her about sleeping arrangements. After being separated from Olivia for two-and-a-half months, he wanted to be fair to her. Even though sleeping apart from her wasn't what he wanted, he didn't want to seem presumptuous on their first night back together—and even more, he didn't want to fight.
He'd been beyond exhausted and, yes, a little cranky. He knew himself well enough to know that combination was a recipe for disaster. But now, in the bright light of morning, his head felt clearer, his purpose stronger. Eager to talk to his wife about their next step in their relationship before they joined his family for the annual Christmas Day festivities, he showered, shaved and dressed before making his way toward the kitchen in search of a good, strong cup of coffee… and Olivia.
The house was dark and quiet. Even before he flicked on the kitchen light, he could see that the room was pristine—everything in its place. The only evidence of the dinner Olivia had offered him last night was the ghost-aroma of something delicious mingling with the faint scent of dish soap and the slightly smoky traces of the fire that must have blazed in the fireplace.
He breathed in deeply, relishing the familiar, comforting scents of home. But as he did, guilt tugged at him. He knew his wife had not only prepared a delectable Christmas Eve feast that neither of them was able to enjoy, but she'd probably stayed up long after he went to bed putting everything away and cleaning up the mess of a dinner that never happened.
The least he could do was let her sleep a little while longer and then make her some coffee.
No, he'd go one better and surprise her with breakfast in bed.
Before their separation, the kitchen had been foreign territory to him. One thing he'd learned in the time they'd been apart was how to cook up a mean batch of scrambled eggs—the trick was to use low heat so that they cooked slowly and the outside didn't scorch. Hmm…the low-heat approach would also benefit their marriage. Because the other thing he'd learned during this time apart was that he loved his wife desperately. He missed her…he missed them. It was time to put all the ridiculous fighting and blaming behind them and move on.
Time to use the low-heat approach.