Our First Christmas

Our First Christmas

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It’s that time of year when the world falls in love . . .”
Join four of your favorite authors for tales of Christmas romance to remember forever.
“Under the Mistletoe,” Lisa Jackson
Megan Johnson’s marriage is over—or so she thinks. When her husband Chris lands in the hospital, she remembers the unexpected joy of their first Christmas together . . .
“A Ranger for Christmas,” Mary Burton
The holidays bring painful memories for history professor Marisa Thompson. But agreeing to help Texas Ranger Lucas Cooper solve a case presents her with more than a distraction . . .  
“A Southern Christmas,” Mary Carter
Reporter Danielle Bright is heading home to write about Christmas down south—and possibly win back her ex. But Sawyer, the sexy photographer, is determined to jingle her bells . . .
“Christmas in Montana,” Cathy Lamb
Family is where you go after quitting your job, but Laurel Kelly isn’t prepared for the changes at home in Montana—or the fact that her high school boyfriend now owns the family land . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781420125047
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 09/27/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

LISA JACKSON is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of over ninety-five novels, including You Will Pay, After She’s Gone, Deserves to Die, You Don’t Want to Know, Running Scared, and Shiver. She is also the co-author of the Colony Series, written with her sister and bestselling author Nancy Bush, as well as the collaborative novels Sinister and Ominous, written with Nancy Bush and Rosalind Noonan. There are over thirty million copies of her novels in print and her writing has been translated into nineteen languages. She lives with her family and three rambunctious dogs in the Pacific Northwest. Readers can visit her website at www.lisajackson.com and find her on Facebook.
Mary Burton lives with her family in Central Virginia. She is an avid hiker and enjoys the occasional triathlon. She can be reached by e-mail at www.maryburton.com.
Mary Carter is a freelance writer and novelist. Readers can keep up with Mary on Facebook—Mary Carter Books, Twitter: @marycarterbooks, or her website: marycarterbooks.com.
Cathy Lamb is the bestselling author of twelve novels, including The Man She Married, No Place I’d Rather Be, What I Remember Most, The Last Time I Was Me, Henry’s Sisters and Julia’s Chocolates. She lives with her family in Oregon and can be found online at cathylamb.org.

Read an Excerpt

Our First Christmas



Copyright © 2014 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4201-4328-7



Mary Burton

Chapter 1

Austin, Texas Friday, December 19, 7 P.M.

You're a hard woman to find. Professor Marisa Thompson stared at the text. You're a hard woman to find. Was this a joke? No one was looking for her. She'd barely been back in Austin forty-eight hours. But as she reasoned this was a mistake, silent warnings whispered.

As she considered responding to the number with the Texas area code, a knock at her office door had her sliding her phone back into her back pocket.

"Professor Thompson, bet you don't know what the other professors are calling you?"

Marisa raised her gaze to the junior professor's smiling face. Kyle Stone wore a Santa hat cocked sideways over shoulder-length sandy blond hair and his nose glowed red, a sign he'd had too much tequila punch at the history department's holiday party. She tugged off her glasses and tossed them on a pile of manuscripts she'd marked up in red ink. She reached for a cold cup of coffee, stood, and moved to a small microwave in the corner of her office. Christmas music drifted through the hallways of Garrison Hall. "I don't bet. But it's Scrooge, no doubt."

Laughter rumbled in his chest and he strolled into her office. "How'd you know?"

"I have a reputation."

"Their teasing is good-natured."

"No, it isn't."

He pouted, clearly making fun of her sour mood. "Why didn't you make an appearance at the party?"

"Just didn't." She put the mug in the microwave and punched in one minute. Behind the lectern or cutting through the jungles to a Mayan ruin, Professor Marisa Thompson was at home. Ancient languages buried by time, neglect, or malice were easier to grasp than a holiday packaged in disappointment and wrapped in bows of false promises. The Christmas season was a time to be endured, not celebrated.

"More sour than usual."

"I miss the jungle."

You are a hard woman to find. The text tugged at her concentration before she brushed it away.

She'd returned two days ago from a six-month sabbatical spent in the jungle west of the Yucatan in Mexico, hunting for evidence of the Mayans who'd lived in the region one thousand years before the Spanish had arrived. Two weeks before she was to leave, she stumbled upon a hole in a large limestone mound. The hole had been carved out centuries ago by grave robbers and offered a glimpse into a tomb. She'd been able to squirm inside the hole and with a light had found a cavern covered with ancient writings. It had been the single most important find of Mayan language in decades. She'd wanted to keep digging and work until the entire site had been mapped and catalogued. But her time and money had run out thirteen days later and she'd been forced to leave her ruins behind, until she could find sponsors to pay for her return.

"Everyone was asking about you. This is your first Christmas back in Austin in several years."

The seasonal travel had been deliberate. Life was easier when she vanished during the holidays. However, this year a lack of funding and the university's schedule dictated a return to campus to teach graduate classes in the spring semester. And so here she now sat in her small office, trying to immerse herself in her ancient languages and hide from the holidays and festive coworkers. Of course, she could go home to her Hyde Park home in central Austin, but that would mean facing too many unpacked boxes delivered this morning from the storage company. The boxes had valued papers and books and memories — items that belonged to her mother, items she'd not been able to look at in the seven years since her mother's death.

"Bradley and Jennifer were there. He's been talking nonstop about your trip to Mexico and your find."

She allowed a twinge of disappointment with the mention of the ex-boyfriend. "That so?"

Kyle lowered his voice a notch, speaking in a conspirator's whisper. "He's itching to work with you on your find."

Six months ago Bradley had dubbed her adventure a fool's errand. "He wasn't the one sifting through rubble and rock in one hundred degree heat."

"He's never loved field work." Kyle picked up a limestone rock from Marisa's bookshelf. "Hard to chase the financing when you're in the boonies."

Marisa studied the rock in Kyle's hand. Found at her latest dig, it reminded her that she belonged in the jungle, not here. "I suppose." The microwave dinged; she removed her coffee and sipped. The coffee tasted bitter.

"Aren't you supposed to pick up toys for your brothers?"

She glanced at the clock on her desk. "Damn."

Thanks to her trips to Mexico, she had avoided family gatherings, but this year had no credible excuse exonerating her from her father and stepmother's big holiday party. She wasn't close to her dad and his second wife, but they had two sons, Travis and Tyler, seven-year-old twins. As much as she dreaded the holidays, she had a begrudging affection for her half brothers, whom she'd not seen in over six months.

Kyle glanced at his black explorer's watch. "If you hurry you can make it."

The shopkeeper had called and warned her that today would be the last day he'd be open before Christmas. He was closing early this year to go on a holiday vacation. If she didn't pick up the toys today, she'd not get them until after New Year's.

Marisa grabbed her leather jacket and slid it over a black T-shirt embellished with a glyph symbolizing life. Pulling her long dark hair out from under her jacket, she reached for her satchel purse. Silver and beaded bracelets rattled on her wrists as she shut off her desk lamp. "I can't believe I forgot. I swore to myself I'd not mess this up." She might not love the holidays now, but when she'd been seven, the holiday spirit had zapped through her body like electricity, just as it did her brothers now.

"Why didn't you order online like a normal person?"

"Because my stepmother said the boys wanted these specialty trucks from this particular store. She had the shopkeeper set them aside for me." She shrugged. "It would be nice if I bought a nice gift for the boys. I haven't shared Christmas with them in years."

"I didn't think you were motivated by guilt."

If she hadn't liked her brothers, she wouldn't have taken the bait. "Easier to get the trucks, put in an appearance at their Christmas party, and be done with it all." She scooped up her papers, dropped them in the bottom desk drawer, and digging her keys from her purse, fastened the lock. "I'll see you after the holidays."

"Tell me you aren't doubling back here to the office and working on Christmas Day."

"Okay, I won't tell you."

"Give yourself a break."

"I love my work." And it's all I really have.

"You are hopeless." He kissed her on the cheek. "Merry Christmas."

"Back at you."

Christmas music chased after her as she hurried along the hallway and out the front door. Cold winds had her drawing in a breath as she tugged up her collar and ducked her head. With her mind squarely on reaching the toy store in time, she didn't see the large man until he was feet from her.

"Dr. Thompson, you are a hard woman to find."

The familiar deep baritone voice echoing the text message had her turning to face a man with broad shoulders. He wore a Stetson, white shirt, red tie, a heavy dark jacket, and silver-tipped boots that peeked out from crisp khakis. The Pecos star, clipped to his belt buckle, confirmed he belonged to an elite group of lawmen, the Texas Rangers. Only one hundred and forty-four men and women wore the Rangers' star.

For a moment, she struggled to reconcile the man before her to memories she'd done her best to forget.

They had met six weeks ago on the Day of the Dead celebration that had beat with a fever pitch in Merida, Mexico, the centuries-old city that was the heart of the Yucatan. Music reverberated around the small university café built in the European style of the Conquistadors and coated with the white limestone of the Mayans. She'd been savoring a spicy hot chocolate and watching parading revelers, dressed in brightly colored Indian garb and carrying large gold crucifixes in honor of their Catholic faith.

The Day of the Dead festival was a remembrance of dead ancestors, and when she was in Mexico she always made a point to attend. A toast to her late mother had been on her lips when he'd crossed her path.

He'd worn a simple white shirt, jeans, and that Stetson. If not for the hat, certainly his commanding attitude gave him away as American. He sat at a table beside hers and ordered a beer in fluent Spanish spiced with a subtle Texas drawl.

Texans might squabble and carry on while inside their borders, but once they stepped over the state line, they shared a kinship. She'd been feeling festive that day, perhaps lonely, and so she'd done what she'd rarely done. She'd struck up a conversation with the man, Lucas, which had led to drinks, dinner, and later his room.

The next morning she'd awoken, satiated and chagrined over their encounter. Sleeping with strangers had never been her style, and she'd felt awkward. While he'd slept, she'd slipped away and returned to her jungle, certain the past would stay dead and buried.

Now as Marisa watched Lucas walk up the stairs with slow, purposeful steps, her heart dropped into her belly. What were the chances of them ever seeing each other again?

"Lucas Cooper."

The sound of his name sharpened gray eyes. "Good memory."

"Some say too good." She glanced at her watch. Forty minutes until the store closed. Grateful for the excuse, she said a little too quickly and candidly, "I'm sorry to run off, but I have to pick up a gift for my brothers or I'll be blackballed from my family. Have a good evening."

As she descended the steps, he followed. "I came to see you."

She fished her keys from her purse, energy flooding her veins. "Why?"

"Not for the reasons you might think." He kept pace with her easily.

Heat now burning her cheeks, Marisa let the comment drift past, hoping it would carry away the night they'd shared. She tipped her head forward, letting the curtain of black hair obscure his vision of her face.

"I hear your thing is ancient languages." His tone remained steady, though she sensed a vague insult simmering below the surface.

Her thing? She'd dedicated the last decade of study to the subject. Like her mother before her, she'd established herself in international circles as the premier linguist in the Mayan language, whose origins could be traced back over two thousand years. "Yeah, you could say that."

"I hear you're mighty good." His face softened, but avoided a smile.

"So I've been told." She burrowed chilled fingers into the pockets of her jacket.

"I'd like to run an idea by you."

"What? Why?"

"I'm on a case." Ah, so Merida hadn't mattered much after all.

Pride piqued, her voice was more clipped. "Maybe you could call my assistant, Kyle, and make an appointment. Like I said, I must get these presents picked up. I'll have plenty of time after the holidays." Truth was, she had plenty of time, but his blatant dismissal of that night had her digging in mental heels. Stubbornness, she'd been told, was her greatest asset and her worst fault.

"Now would be better than later." Steel coated the words barely softened by a slight smile.

She glanced up, conscious of the difference between her diminutive height and his six-foot-five frame. To appear a bit more intimidating, she tilted her chin and raised a brow as if staring at a tardy student. "I don't imagine you as a student of ancient languages."

Amusement danced in his gray eyes at her attempt to claim command of a situation he'd owned before he'd uttered the first word. "You'd be surprised what interests me, ma'am."

"Are you trying to be clever?"

"Wouldn't know how to be clever if I tried."

False modesty didn't ring true. "What do you want?"

"Got a research question for you."

"Regarding?" He wasn't the relaxed man with the easy smile she'd met in Mexico. This man was harder, tougher, the kind of man who didn't seek out anyone without an express purpose.

He glanced from side to side and dropped his voice a notch so that only she could hear. "I'm not here to interfere in your personal life. I'm working on a drug case. It's the same case that took me to Merida. A drug dealer has developed a code that's been used to communicate information about an upcoming shipment, and no one can break it."

She drew cool air deep into her lungs. "And you want me to break the code?"

"I'd have asked you in Mexico if you'd let me get to know you better. I figured we'd talk more at breakfast."

Color warmed her cheeks. "Breakfast."

"You vanished into the jungle until a few days ago. I never forgot you, and it's taken me this long to track you. Like I said, you are a hard woman to find."

Chapter 2

Friday, December 19, 7:40 P.M.

Lucas had hunted down Marisa. He'd tracked her to Mexico and now here. She wasn't sure if she was upset or pleased. "I see."

"No one has figured the code out so far. It's made up of dots and dashes and pictures. We think perhaps Mayan or Aztec, but no one can read it."

"There are glyphs?"

"Say again?"

She unzipped the folds of her jacket to show him her T-shirt. "Like this?" His gaze dropped, lingered. "I suppose so."

She zipped up her jacket. "Why didn't you talk to the folks here at the university? I'm not the only one who could have figured this out."

His gaze met hers. "We had Rangers interview the professors here. None could help us out."

Despite the situation's awkwardness and the ticking toy clock, her interest flickered. "Do you have it with you?"

"I have all the pieces and parts back at Ranger headquarters."

"Is this time sensitive? Can I look at it tomorrow?"

"We don't have much time, now. Days maybe. Now would be best."

The front door to the building opened, and a woman's laugh drew their attention to a couple — her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend, a tall blonde dressed in a silk dress and fur jacket. Awesome. Marisa had Ranger-from-the-Past and Bradley and Jennifer to contend with at once. Awesome. And thirty-eight minutes until the toy store closed.

"Marisa," Bradley called from the top of the stairs.

She watched as Bradley's girlfriend whispered in his ear, and he nodded. Her frown suggested she clearly did not want to meet Marisa any more than Marisa wanted to meet her. The power duo descended the stairs, both all smiles.

When they approached, Marisa straightened her spine just a fraction and tried not to focus on her lack of makeup or her faded jeans. How many times had her dad told her to lose the homeless look and dress like a professional? "Bradley."

"We missed you at the party. Mrs. Lorraine was looking for you. She had lots of ideas for the spring semester programs."

Mrs. Lorraine was a sixth-generation Texan and a large donor. The last time she and Marisa had talked, she'd wanted Marisa to include more Texas history in her curriculum. When Marisa tried to explain she taught Mayan history, Mrs. Lorraine had said she didn't really care about any history other than Texas history. "Right."

Bradley's mouth twitched. "There's a lot of buzz about your work. Had some alumni at the party who wanted to meet you. Your kind of find could mean lots of donations."

"I don't have concrete information yet." Aware of Ranger Cooper's gray gaze assessing every move, she itched to be gone.

"Who's your friend?" Bradley asked.

Marisa swallowed. "Bradley and ... Jennifer, I'd like you to meet Texas Ranger Lucas Cooper."

Lucas took Bradley's hand in his, and she savored a moment's satisfaction when Lucas squeezed the professor's hand a bit too hard. "Didn't catch the last name."

"Rogers." Bradley pulled back his hand. He had enough pride at least not to grimace or shake the cramp from his hand. "Marisa, Jennifer and I were hoping you could join us for drinks. She was just telling me how fascinated she is with your work on ancient languages."

Jennifer smiled and nodded. "We'd love to have you."

As obtuse as Marisa could be about reading body language, she realized Jennifer's flat smile and distracted gaze telegraphed total disinterest. "I can't."

"Give me one reason why you won't join us, Marisa." Irritation had crept into Bradley's voice. So far her work had kept her job safe in the department, but she didn't have tenure yet and he'd been hinting about budget cuts. She might be sitting on the breakthrough of the century or nothing. "You can't hide from Christmas for the rest of your life."

"Not the rest of my life," she said. "Just six more days."

"She was like that when we dated," Bradley said to Lucas. "Hated the holidays. Always a sore point with us."

Embarrassment mingled with anger. She was not going to have a blow-by-blow of her failed relationship in front of a man she'd slept with and abandoned. "No one's interested in our history. Now, if you all will excuse me."

Bradley's smile vanished, and he looked as if to block her path. Lucas shifted his stance just a little closer to Marisa as if making a claim. "She's got a real tight schedule. Just time for me this evening."

Bradley didn't hide his shock. "You have a date?"

Marisa enjoyed his shock too much to correct him. "We do."


Excerpted from Our First Christmas by Lisa Jackson, MARY BURTON, MARY CARTER, CATHY LAMB. Copyright © 2014 Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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