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The scent of evergreen lingers and romance is in the air this joyous holiday season. Three beloved authors bring you heartwarming classic tales that are the perfect way to celebrate this special time of year.
by Rochelle Alers
Tragedy forced Rhianna Campbell to run away from the small town of Shepherd. Years later, she returns to find her former fiancé's brother resents her for leaving after his brother died in a Christmas Eve accident. Can Emery Sutherland find a way to forgive Rhianna? And will they both find peace and maybe something more this holiday season...together?
Wishing on a Starr
by Adrianne Byrd
Years ago, Gia Hunter's husband was killed in combat, so she was forced to give up their infant daughter, Starr. In a twist of fate, Starr's adoptive father, Daniel Davis, and Gia have a chance encounter while Christmas shopping. Their attraction is immediate, but complications arise because Starr has been searching for her biological mother. Will there be a future together waiting under the tree for this would-be family?
A Christmas Serenade
by Janice Sims
Callie Hart is having a hard time being grateful this Thanksgiving. She just lost her job in Atlanta, and while traveling home to her family in Charleston, she gets a flat tire. Out of nowhere, a tall, handsome stranger appears to help her. After thanking him, Callie doesn't expect to see him ever again. But Callie's mother has a plan to keep her daughter close to home—and that plan includes the gorgeous stranger that Callie cannot forget....
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Hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today's most popular African-American authors of women's fiction, Ms. Alers is a regular on bestsellers list, and has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing and a Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. Visit her Web site www.rochellealers.com
Rhianna Campbell slowed the rental car as she entered the town limits for Shepherd, New York, population 642. A smile, the first one in hours, curved the corners of her mouth. Shepherd was undergoing a population boom. When she'd moved away ten years before, the official census was 598.
The tiny hamlet nestled in the picturesque Hudson Valley was frozen in time. There were no malls or multiplex movie theaters. How, she mused, was a town able to survive without at least one Wal-Mart or fast-food restaurant?
During one of their biannual reunions, her parents told her that a fast-food chain executive had tried to bribe several town officials to get their approval to erect a fast-food burger outlet in Shepherd, but the lifelong residents went to the county's district attorney with the scheme. The general consensus was that as long as Campy's remained open for business, another eating establishment had as much chance of opening in Shepherd as a snowball in hell.
Grief had sent Rhianna fleeing from her hometown, and now a family emergency had brought her back. Turning off the county road, she continued along an unlit winding stretch of roadway until the two-story brick building that housed the Hudson Valley Communities Hospital came into view. She maneuvered into a space in the visitors lot and shifted into Park. It took a full minute before she was able to shut off the engine and get out of the car.
Vivid memories of speeding to the hospital after receiving a call at her parents' restaurant that Errol Sutherland and his parents had been transported to the hospital after their car skidded off an icy road, crashing into a tree and exploding on impact, came flooding back.
Rhianna knew the moment she walked into the hospital and met Emery Sutherland's pain-filled gaze that he'd lost his parents and identical twin brother. She had lost her high school sweetheart, fiance, and a part of herself on that cold and snowy Christmas Eve.
Turning up the collar of her lightweight jacket, Rhianna quickened her pace as she walked toward the entrance. She was chilled to the bone. Living in Southern California had thinned her blood.
Bright lights, antiseptic smells, and the soft squishing sound of rubber soles on highly polished tiles greeted her as she made her way to the information desk. A clerk gave her a pass, her father's room number, and a stern warning that visiting hours would end in fifteen minutes.
Rhianna stepped into an elevator and took it to the second floor. Less than a minute later she walked into her father's room. Anna Campbell rose from a chair beside her husband's bed.
Rhianna nodded as she closed the distance between her and her mother. Wrapping her arms around the older woman's waist, she kissed her cheek. "Mom, you know I had to come."
Anna eased back, smiling up at her only child. She and Reid reunited with their daughter twice a year, but each time she saw Rhianna, she had changed. Now she'd cut her shoulder-length curly hair into a pixie style that flattered her delicate features and made her look a lot younger than thirty-three.
Her daughter's looks were striking: tall, slender, high cheekbones, slightly slanting dark brown eyes, short buttonlike nose, and a lush mouth that made most people—men in particular—give her a second look. The California sun had darkened her taupe-brown skin.
Rhianna glanced over at Reid Campbell, his chest rising and falling in a slow, measured rhythm. The beeping sounds from the machines monitoring his vitals and his ragged breathing through the tube in his mouth reverberated throughout the small private room.
She released Anna and walked over to the bed. Abrasions on his forehead, his right cheek, and chin marred his handsome face, while his right arm was immobilized over his chest by a sling.
"Daddy, what did you do to yourself?" she whispered, as she leaned down and kissed his thinning gray hair.
"He can't hear you. He's in a drug-induced coma."
Rhianna knees weakened. "Coma?"
"He hit his head when he fell, and there's some swelling in his brain. His doctor wants him sedated until it goes down."
"But you told me he hurt his arm. You said nothing about a head injury."
Anna ignored her daughter's strident tone. "If I'd told you the seriousness of your father's injuries you'd have been a basket case before your jet landed."
Running a hand over her short hair, Rhianna nodded. "You're probably right."
"I know I'm right." Anna's voice was soft, conciliatory. "He's going to make it, sweetheart."
Turning away from the figure in the hospital bed, she blinked back tears. "How long is he going to be like this...hooked up to these tubes and machines?"
Exhaling a long breath, Anna shook her head. "I don't know."
Anna had called Rhianna at her Los Angles home, leaving a message on her voice mail that her father had fallen and was admitted to the hospital. Rhianna returned from her early morning jog, picked up the message, called her boss to tell him that she had a family emergency, then went into superwoman mode. An hour after listening to her mother's voice, she found herself in a taxi en route to LAX. She used the time to call her boss back to inform him that she was taking an extended family leave. She managed to get a stand-by reservation, and then spent the next four hours in the airport before she boarded a nonstop Los Angeles-New York connection.
"Your father forgets that he's a cook whenever he tries to play Mr. Fix-It-Yourself," Anna continued with a frown.
Rhianna stared at her mother. Petite, silver-haired, fifty-eight-year-old Anna had given up a career as a kindergarten teacher to marry Reid and help him run Campy's.
"What was he doing this time?"
The dimples in Anna's cheeks deepened as she compressed her lips. "He fell off a ladder."
"What was he doing..." The announcement that visiting hours had ended halted Rhianna's query. "Tell me about it on the way out."
Rhianna held Anna's hand as they walked from Campy's parking lot to the restaurant's rear entrance. The original clapboard siding she remembered had been replaced with white vinyl siding and the windows in the three-story farmhouse with a wraparound porch now sported dark red shutters. The restaurant took up the first floor; her family occupied the second and third. Soft golden light filtered through the curtains in the bedrooms on the second floor.
She was still reeling from the disclosure that Reid had attempted to single-handedly renovate the restaurant to include a party room where Shepherd's retirees could gather for their breakfast specials, card games, and club meetings.
Her father had always liked tinkering around the house and the restaurant, hammering or tightening a screw here and there. But he'd never attempted to build anything. The year he'd put together a dollhouse for her eighth birthday was the exception.
Anna unlocked the door, pushed a button on a wall panel, and light illuminated the storeroom. A smile softened Rhi-anna's face as she was surrounded by the familiar structure that had been home for two thirds of her life. The distinctive aroma of apple pie lingered in the air. Anna was renowned for baking the best apple pie in the Hudson Valley.
She walked into the dining room and stopped. Nothing had changed. Campy's was reminiscent of a 1950s soda shop with a counter and stools, bright red leather booths and a large colorful jukebox with compact discs instead of vinyl 45s, which were popular when her parents were teenagers. A slight frown appeared between her eyes. It was the first week in December, yet nothing in the restaurant hinted at the holiday season.
"Where are the decorations?"
Anna removed her red knit cap and fluffed up her silver curls. "We stopped putting them up years ago."
"How long ago?"
Anna stared at the black and white tiled floor. "Once you left Shepherd, Christmas never felt the same for me and your father."
Rhianna closed her eyes for several seconds. "You know why I couldn't stay."
"I understood why you wanted to go away for a while, but I didn't think you'd never come back."
She did not want to argue with her mother, they'd done enough of that before she moved to the West Coast. "I'm back now, Mom."
"For how long, Rhianna?"
She heard the pain in Anna's voice and recognized the pain in her eyes. "For as long as it will take for Daddy to fully recover." She hugged her mother. "Why don't you go upstairs and try to get some sleep."
"What are you going to do?"
She stared at the colorful clock over the jukebox. "I'm going to hang out here until I'm ready for bed. My circa-dian rhythm is out of whack because of the three-hour time difference."
Anna's gaze met and fused with Rhianna's. "I've missed you so much," she said in a hushed tone.
She flashed a wry smile. "Please go to bed, Mom, before you have me bawling my eyes out."
Anna nodded. "I'm going, but I want you to consider one thing."
"What's that, Mom?"
"Emery Sutherland returned to Shepherd to bury his parents and brother and he stayed."
"He stayed to raise his brothers and sisters."
"True. But he sacrificed what could've become a rewarding career as a vet to take over his father's business."
Rhianna felt as if her composure was under attack. Her mother was at it again. No one could lay a guilt trip on better than Anna McCray-Campbell. She called her parents every Sunday night, and at least once a month Anna hinted that she wanted her to move back to Shepherd. Her response was always the same: I like California and my job as a hotel banquet manager.
"Good night, Mother."
Anna turned her head rather than let Rhianna see her expression. She'd hit a nerve. Whenever her daughter called her Mother she knew she had shaken her resolve.
"Good night, baby girl."
Rhianna sat in her favorite booth, staring into nothingness. It was where she'd sat with Errol Sutherland planning their wedding and a future that promised forever—a future that ended in a ball of fire.
Hours later her lids grew heavy and fatigue swept over her like a heavy blanket. She got up, walked out of the dining room, opened a door, then climbed the staircase that led to her bedroom. Her eyes were drooping as she showered, pulled a flannel nightgown over her head, and slipped under several handmade quilts. She fell into a deep, dreamless sleep within minutes of her head touching the pillow.
Rhianna woke up feeling disoriented Friday morning, her body still on Pacific Time. She lay, staring up at the ceiling until she realized she was in her old bedroom. Everything that had happened over the past twenty-four hours, coupled with the image of her motionless father in the hospital bed, his breathing regulated by a machine, swept over her and the tears fell, streaking her face, streaming into her hair and soaking the pillow. She cried until spent, then left her bed and walked on trembling legs to the adjoining bathroom to complete her morning routine.
She descended the staircase and opened the door leading to the restaurant's storeroom. The smell of coffee, bacon, and eggs wafted toward her nostrils, and reminded her that the only thing she'd eaten in the past twenty-four hours was an airline bag lunch. The babble of voices, rattle of utensils, and waitresses calling out orders reminded her that she was truly home.
She hadn't taken more than half a dozen steps into the dining room when she saw him. Sitting in a booth reading a newspaper was the mirror image of the man with whom she'd fallen in love. Her heart slammed against her ribs as she stared at Emery Sutherland's bowed head.
His close-cropped hair was liberally sprinkled with flecks of gray. He was only thirty-six, yet he was graying prematurely. Even though she couldn't see all of his face, she was able to recall his large penetrating dark-brown eyes, strong chin, and chiseled cheekbones. Emery had removed his jacket and a pair of broad shoulders and massive biceps were outlined under a waffle-knit crewneck pullover.
Emery was the reason she'd fled Shepherd, because every time she saw him she was reminded of his identical twin, reminded that the man she loved enough to offer her innocence to was lost to her forever. Turning quickly, she retreated to the kitchen.
Emery Sutherland's head came up, his eyes narrowing in concentration. There was something about the tall woman in a pair of fitted jeans that was vaguely familiar.
His attention was averted as he watched the wall-mounted flat panel television; he read the crawl along the bottom of the screen. A winter storm watch was in effect for counties ranging from Westchester to Onondaga. He'd planned to fly to up to Ithaca later that afternoon to confer with a former professor at Cornell University's New York College of Veterinary Medicine. But with the threat of snow and sleet he would have to cancel the meeting.
Removing a cell phone from his jacket pocket, Emery scrolled through the directory and punched in his mentor's number. The geneticist answered the call after the second ring. It took less than sixty seconds to reschedule their meeting for the following week—weather permitting.
He'd committed to participate in a research study concentrating on sheep breeding, and communications with the octogenarian would've been easier if Dr. Maddox had not eschewed computers.
Emery entered all of his data into a computer, but was forced to travel to Ithaca to discuss his findings with the brilliant geneticist. The man's eccentricity did not bother Emery because it had been years since he'd been involved with veterinary medicine.
Propping an elbow on the table, he closed his eyes and tried recalling where he'd seen the strange woman before.
* * *
Rhianna found Anna in the kitchen dicing onions. Gary Tobin, Campy's long-time shortorder cook, dropped one of the eggs that had been cradled in his enormous hand when he recognized her.
"Joey! Come clean up this mess." His deep voice reverberated throughout the kitchen when he shouted for the young college student who doubled as a dishwasher/ busboy. Reaching for another egg, Gary glared at Rhianna. "I guess it took your father cracking his melon to get you to come back home."
She smiled at the irascible middle-aged man who never seemed to age. His round sable-brown face reminded her of statues of Buddha.
"Hello, Mr. Gary. How have you been?"
Gary rolled his eyes at her as he cracked two eggs and dropped them onto the heated skillet. "I should ask how have you been. You're nothing but a bag of bones. What are you eating in La-La Land? Seaweed and tofu?"
Rhianna patted his thick shoulder. "No. But, I can honestly say that I've missed your cooking."
He waved his spatula. "Sit down and I'll fix something that'll stick to your ribs."
Rhianna picked up an apron, and tied it around her waist. She washed her hands and selected a knife from a stack on a shelf. Sitting down beside Anna, she reached for an onion.
"How often does Emery come here to eat?"
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Book Description Harlequin Kimani Arabesque, 2013. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373091338
Book Description Harlequin Kimani Arabesque, 2013. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373091338
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Book Description Harlequin Kimani Arabesque, 2013. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Ships with Tracking Number! INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE Shipping available. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory # 0373091338n