When an ice storm leaves professor Lucy Guerin stranded in rural Arkansas, she's forced to accept shelter in the secluded home of woodworker Richard Banner. Handsome as sin and twice as grumpy, Banner is not quite what Lucy had envisioned when she'd added "eligible bachelor" to her Christmas wish list.
But his awkward kindness and rare, warm smile are more than she bargained for. And his reluctance to open his homeor his heartto anyone is a challenge she's ready to face. Isn't Christmas the season for miracles? If only Lucy can entice Banner to slip under the mistletoe with her... Then she'd tempt him with a love he could believe in.
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About the Author
Born Gina Ferris Vaughan on December 20, 1954 in Little Rock, Arkansas, daughter of Beth Vaughan, an executive secretary, and Vernon Vaughan, an electrician. In February 1972, she married John Wilkins, a wood turner, and they have three children.
She obtained a journalism degree from Arkansas State University (ASU) and worked in advertising and human resources. In 1987 she sold her first book to Harlequin and embarked on a career as a full-time writer. Since then, she has written more than eighty-five novels for various Harlequin and Silhouette category romance lines. Her early Silhouette novels were written under the pseudonyms, Gina Ferris and Gina Ferris Wilkins, which she later dropped in favor of Wilkins. Her books have been translated in twenty languages and appear in more than one hundred countries.
Wilkins was awarded a Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award in 2003 for Best Silhouette Special Edition, Make-Believe Mistletoe and has been nominated for both a Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Harlequin Temptation (1998 for Tempting Tara) and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. The Georgia Romance Writers have awarded her the Maggie Award for Excellence four times, and Wilkins has seen her books appear on the Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and USAToday Bestseller lists.
Wilkins is a member of Novelists, Inc. and the Romance Writers of America, and often speaks at schools to emphasize literacy, goal-setting, and motivation.
Read an Excerpt
By Gina Wilkins
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLucy Guerin had never quite understood the appeal of a white Christmas. After all, the holidays were traditionally a time for travel, and snowy weather had a way of seriously impeding travel plans. When Bing Crosby crooned about glistening treetops, he had probably not had anything like this in mind, Lucy thought glumly, staring out the rapidly icing windshield of her small car.
She had asked Santa for a man for Christmas, but she hadn't meant Jack Frost.
Ice storms happened fast and sometimes without much warning in the Ozarks. The weather guy Lucy had listened to had said that, depending on the temperature, there would be rain or snow or maybe ice. His own guess had been rain changing to light snow with little accumulation.
He had been wrong.
The ice on twisting, rural Highway 65 through north central Arkansas was growing thicker by the moment, causing Lucy's car to slide perilously. It was rapidly getting dark at 5:00 p.m. on this December 23. Between the heavy clouds and early sundown of winter, little natural light remained to guide her way. The beams of her headlights splintered off the falling ice. She was still several miles from the nearest town, and the only sign she saw warned that the next five miles of road were winding and steep. Great.
She wasn't going to make it much farther. Her back tires skidded, and it was all she could do to keep the car from sliding off the road. Though this highway was usually well traveled by Branson-bound tourists, the combination of the weather and the approaching holiday had the road almost empty now. Only one other vehicle was visible, an ancient pickup truck following at some distance behind her, also headed north.
Maybe all the other would-be travelers had listened to better weather forecasters.
It was quite a relief when she spotted a driveway ahead - a long gravel road leading to a rock and redwood house set at the foot of a rocky hill. She slowed her car to little more than a crawl to study the place. Evergreen and hardwood trees surrounded the area, but a fair-size yard had been carved out of the woods. The yard was surrounded by a chain-link fence with a gate that crossed the driveway.
A single security pole lamp sat beside the house, casting a dim glow over the place. There were no Christmas lights or other decorations visible, and the windows seemed to be heavily draped or covered with blinds, so Lucy couldn't tell if there were any lights on inside. For all she knew, no one was home. But she could at least park in the driveway and get off this dangerously slick road before she smashed her car into a mountainside.
She skidded again as she made the turn into the gravel driveway. Holding her breath, she brought the car to a stop in front of the chain-link gate. The old pickup truck slid in behind her, its driver obviously coming to the same conclusion she had about the hazards of traveling farther.
Now what? Lucy drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, staring at the house and wondering if the gate was locked. She could see now that there was another large building behind the house, a workshop, perhaps. No lights in those windows, either. She couldn't call for assistance from here; her cell phone wasn't picking up a signal. This, she thought, must be the very spot people referred to when they said "out in the boonies."
It was getting darker by the minute, and the freezing rain and sleet were falling harder. She heard the distant crack of a tree branch snapping beneath the weight of accumulating ice. She had to do something.
A tap on her driver's side window made her start. She looked around to see an elderly African-American man huddled beneath a black umbrella that was having little effect against the pelting ice. She rolled down her window and he asked, "Are you okay, miss?"
He looked as though the strong winds would topple him right over - or carry him away by the umbrella like Mary Poppins. "I'm fine, but you should get out of this weather."
"You think that gate's locked? Maybe if we blow our horns, someone in the house will come out to let us in. My wife wants me to keep driving, but I don't think I can get much farther in this."
"Absolutely not." He shouldn't have driven this far.
Lucy reached for her door handle. "You go back to your wife. I'll see if I can get someone in the house to help us."
She slipped a little when she stepped out of her car, clutching at the door for balance. Ice bombarded her head and slid down the inside collar of her inadequate leather jacket. She had a heavy parka but it was in her trunk, as she hadn't expected to be out of her car long enough to need it before reaching her destination.
After making sure the older man was safely back in his truck, Lucy moved carefully toward the gate. The gravel driveway provided a bit more traction than a smooth surface would have, but the hard-packed rocks were still slick and wet. Thank heaven she had worn hiking boots with slip-resistant soles. She had selected them more because they completed her outfit of a heavy hand-knit green sweater and boot-cut jeans than because she had expected to do any hiking, but she was grateful for them now - not that even boots helped much in this weather.
The gate was latched but not locked, she discovered in relief. Cold seeped through her thin leather driving gloves when she lifted the latch and pushed the gate open far enough to allow her to slip through. Literally slip through. She nearly fell on her butt before she caught her balance.
Her curly red hair was wet and icy, and her face was so cold it hurt. She wouldn't have been surprised if an icicle formed on the end of her nose. Huddling into the fashionable leather jacket, she carefully climbed two slick rock steps to the covered porch that ran the length of the single-story house. It felt somewhat better to be under cover, but no less miserably wet and cold.
She was shaking so hard she missed the doorbell the first time she aimed for it, jabbing her finger into the redwood siding, instead. The second attempt was more successful. She heard a chime echo inside the house. And then she rang it again, hoping this wasn't the secluded hideaway of a paranoid, gun-toting, bigoted survivalist.
The door finally opened to reveal the most gorgeous man Lucy had ever seen in person. Around thirty. Thick, dark hair, navy-blue eyes, chiseled features, body to die for. What little breath the cold had left in her lungs escaped in a long, appreciative sigh.
Thank you, Santa.
She blinked ice-tipped lashes to clear her vision, just in case she was imagining this apparition of masculine perfection. But no. He was still there, and still fabulous - even if he did wear a less-than-welcoming frown.
Excerpted from Make-Believe Mistletoe by Gina Wilkins Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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