Under the Mistletoe: Bluebird Winter\Naughty or Nice? (NYT& USA Today Bestselling Auth)

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9780373774265: Under the Mistletoe: Bluebird Winter\Naughty or Nice? (NYT& USA Today Bestselling Auth)

Bluebird Winter by New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Linda Howard

Stranded by a Christmas blizzard on her way to the hospital, Kathleen Fields is out of luck. Until Derek Taliferro arrives on the scene with his doctor's skill and caring heart. Together they bring Kathleen's child into the world and discover love, the greatest gift of all.

Naughty or Nice?
by Kindle bestselling author Stephanie Bond

Eric Quinn Stanton has never let pleasure interfere with business. He arrives early and incognito at a job, to see firsthand what's working...and what's not. But he can't seem to see past Cindy's beautiful green eyes or her other generous assets. And he can't stop himself from testing her skills--on the job and in the bedroom. But what will she think when she learns his true identity?

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

See Stephanie's Amazon Author Page:  amazon.com/author/stephaniebond

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



It wasn't supposed to happen like this.

Kathleen Fields pressed her hand to her swollen abdomen, her face drawn and anxious as she looked out the window again at the swirling, wind-blown snow. Visibility was so limited that she couldn't even see the uneven pasture fence no more than fifty yards away. The temperature had plummeted into the teens, and according to the weather report on the radio, this freak Christmas Day blizzard was likely to last the rest of the day and most of the night.

She couldn't wait that long. She was in labor now, almost a month early. Her baby would need medical attention.

Bitterness welled in her as she dropped the curtain and turned back to the small, dim living room, lit only by the fire in the fireplace. The electricity and telephone service had gone out five hours ago. Two hours after that, the dull ache in her back, which had been so constant for weeks that she no longer noticed it, had begun strengthening into something more, then laced around to her distended belly. Only mildly concerned, she had ignored it as false labor; after all, she was still three weeks and five days from her due date. Then, half an hour ago, her water had broken, and there was no longer any doubt: she was in labor.

She was also alone, and stranded. This Christmas snow, so coveted by millions of children, could mean the death of her own child.

Tears burned her eyes. She had stolidly endured a bad marriage and the end of her illusions, faced the reality of being broke, alone and pregnant, of working long hours as a waitress in an effort to keep herself fed and provide a home for this baby, even though she had fiercely resented its existence at the beginning. But then it had begun moving inside her, gentle little flutters at first, then actual kicks and pokes, and it had become reality, a person, a companion. It was her baby. She wanted it, wanted to hold it and love it and croon lullabies to it. It was the only person she had left in the world, but now she might lose it, perhaps in punishment for that early resentment. How ironic to carry it all this time, only to lose it on Christmas Day! It was supposed to be a day of hope, faith and promise, but she didn't have any hope left, or much faith in people, and the future promised nothing but an endless procession of bleak days. All she had was herself, and the tiny life inside her that was now in jeopardy.

She could deliver the baby here, without help. It was warm and somehow she would manage to keep the fire going. She would survive, but would the baby? It was premature. It might not be able to breathe properly on its own. Something might be wrong with it.

Or she could try to get to the clinic, fifteen miles distant. It was an easy drive in good weather... but the weather wasn't good, and the howling wind had been getting louder. The roads were treacherous and visibility limited. She might not make it, and the effort would cost her her own life, as well as that of her child.

So what? The words echoed in her mind. What did her life matter, if the baby died? Would she be able to live with herself if she opted to protect herself at the risk of the baby's life? Everything might be all right, but she couldn't take that chance. For the baby's sake, she had to try.

Moving clumsily, she dressed as warmly as she could, layering her clothing until she moved like a waddling pumpkin. She gathered water and blankets, an extra nightgown for herself and clothes for the baby, then, as a last thought, checked the telephone one more time on the off-chance that service might have been restored. Only silence met her ear, and, regretfully, she dropped the receiver.

Taking a deep breath to brace herself, Kathleen opened the back door and was immediately lashed by the icy wind and stinging snow. She ducked her head and struggled against the wind, cautiously making her way down the two ice-coated steps. Her balance wasn't that good anyway, and the wind was beating at her, making her stagger. Halfway across the yard she slipped and fell, but scrambled up so quickly that she barely felt the impact. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she breathed to the baby, patting her stomach. The baby had settled low in her belly and wasn't kicking now, but the pressure was increasing. It was hard to walk. Just as she reached the old pickup truck a contraction hit her and she stumbled, falling again. This contraction was stronger than the others, and all she could do was lie helplessly in the snow until it eased, biting her lip to keep from moaning aloud.

Snow was matting her eyelashes when she finally struggled to her feet again and gathered up the articles she had dropped. She was panting. God, please let it be a long labor! she prayed. Please give me time to get to the clinic. She could bear the pain, if the baby would just stay snug and safe inside her until she could get help for it.

A dry sobbing sound reached her ears as she wrenched the truck door open, pitting her strength against that of the wind as it tried to slam the door shut. Clumsily she climbed into the truck, barely fitting her swollen stomach behind the wheel. The wind slammed the door shut without her aid, and for a moment she just sat there, entombed in an icy, white world, because snow covered all the windows. The sobbing sound continued, and finally she realized she was making the noise.

Instantly Kathleen drew herself up. There was nothing to gain by letting herself panic. She had to clear her mind and concentrate on nothing but driving, because her baby's life depended on it. The baby was all she had left. Everything else was gone: her parents; her marriage; her self-confidence; her faith and trust in people. Only the baby was left, and herself. She still had herself. The two of them had each other, and they didn't need anyone else. She would do anything to protect her baby.

Breathing deeply, she forced herself to be calm. With deliberate movements, she inserted the key in the ignition and turned it. The starter turned slowly, and a new fear intruded. Was the battery too cold to generate enough power to start the old motor? But then the motor roared into life, and the truck vibrated beneath her. She sighed in relief and turned on the wipers to clear the snow from the windshield. They beat back and forth, laboring under the icy weight of the packed snow.

It was so cold! Her breath fogged the air, and she was shivering despite the layers of clothing she wore. Her face felt numb. She reached up to touch it and found that she was still covered with snow. Slowly she wiped her face and dusted the flakes from her hair.

The increasing pressure in her lower body made it difficult for her to hold in the clutch, but she wrestled the stubborn gearshift into the proper position and ground her teeth against the pressure as she let out the clutch. The truck moved forward.

Visibility was even worse than she had expected. She could barely make out the fence that ran alongside the road. How easy it would be to run off the road, or to become completely lost in the white nightmare! Creeping along at a snail's pace, Kathleen concentrated on the fence line and tried not to think about the things that could happen.

She was barely a quarter of a mile down the road when another contraction laced her stomach in iron bands. She gasped, jerking in spite of herself, and the sudden wrench of the steering wheel sent the old truck into a skid. "No!" she groaned, bracing herself as the truck began going sideways toward the shallow ditch alongside the road. The two right wheels landed in the ditch with an impact that rattled her teeth and loosened her grip from the steering wheel. She cried out again as she was flung to the right, her body slamming into the door on the passenger side.

The contraction eased a moment later. Panting, Kathleen crawled up the slanting seat and wedged herself behind the steering wheel. The motor had died, and anxiously she put in the clutch and slid the shift into neutral, praying she could get the engine started again. She turned the key, and once again the truck coughed into life.

But the wheels spun uselessly in the icy ditch, unable to find traction. She tried rocking the truck back and forth, putting it first in reverse, then in low gear, but it didn't work. She was stuck.

Tiredly, she leaned her head on the steering wheel. She was only a quarter of a mile from the house, but it might as well have been twenty miles in this weather. The wind was stronger, visibility almost zero. Her situation had gone from bad to worse. She should have stayed at the house. In trying to save her baby, she had almost certainly taken away its only chance for survival.

He should either have left his mother's house the day before, or remained until the roads were clear. Hindsight was, indeed, very sharp, unlike the current visibility. His four-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee was surefooted on the icy road, but that didn't eliminate the need to see where he was going.

Making a mistake made Derek Taliferro angry, especially when it was such a stupid mistake. Yesterday's weather bulletins had warned that conditions could worsen, so he had decided to make the drive back to Dallas right away. But Marcie had wanted him to stay until Christmas morning, and he loved his mother very much, so in the end he'd stayed. His strong mouth softened as he allowed himself to think briefly of her. She was a strong woman, raising him single-handedly and never letting him think she'd have it any other way. He'd been elated when she had met Whit Campbell, a strong, laconic rancher from Oklahoma, and tumbled head over heels in love. That had been... Lord, ten years ago. It didn't seem that long. Marcie and Whit still acted like newlyweds.

Derek liked visiting the ranch, just across the state line in Oklahoma, and escaping the pressures of the hospital for a while. That was one reason he'd allowed Marcie to talk him into staying longer than his common sense told him he should. But this morning the urge to get back to Dallas had also overridden his common sense. He should have stayed put until the weather cleared, but he wanted to be back at the hospital by tomorrow. His tiny patients needed him.

The job was compelling, and he never tired of it. He had known he wanted to be a doctor from the time he was fifteen, but at first he'd thought about being an obstetrician. Gradually his interest had become more focused, and by the time he was midway through medical school his goal was set. He specialized in neonatal care, in those tiny babies who came into the world with less of a chance than they should have had. Some of them were simply premature and needed a protective environment in which to gain weight. Others, who were far too early, had to fight for every breath as their underdeveloped systems tried to mature. Every day was a battle won. Then there were those who needed his surgical skills after nature had gone awry, and still others who were beyond help. Every time he was finally able to send a baby home with its parents, he was filled with an intense satisfaction that showed no signs of lessening. It was also why he was now creeping, almost blindly, through a blizzard instead of waiting for better weather. He wanted to get back to the hospital.

The snow completely covered the road; he'd been following the fence lines, and hoping he was still on track. Hell, for all he knew, he was driving across someone's pasture. This was idiocy. He swore under his breath, holding the Cherokee steady against the gusting, howling, swirling wind. When he got to the next town—if he got to the next town—he was going to stop, even if he had to spend the night in an all-night grocery...provided there was an all-night grocery. Anything was better than driving blindly in this white hell.

It was so bad that he almost missed seeing the bulk of an old pickup truck, which had slid into a ditch and was now resting at an angle. In one sense seeing the old truck was good news: at least he was still on the road. He started to go on, thinking that whoever had been driving the truck would have sought more adequate shelter long ago, but a quick uneasy feeling made him brake carefully, then shift into reverse and back up until he was alongside the snow-covered bulk. It would only take a minute to check.

The snow had turned into icy, wind-driven pellets that stung his face as he opened the door and got out, hunching his broad shoulders against the wind that tried to knock him off his feet. It was only a few steps to the truck, but he had to fight for every inch. Quickly he grabbed the door handle and wrenched it open, wanting to verify that the truck was empty so he could get back into the Cherokee's warm interior. He was startled by the small scream from the woman who lay on the seat and then jerked upright in alarm when the door was opened so suddenly.

"I just want to help," he said quickly, to keep from frightening her more than he already had.

Kathleen gasped, panting at the pain that had her in its grips. The contractions had been intensifying and were only a few minutes apart now. She would never have been able to make it to the clinic in time. She felt the numbing blast of cold, saw the big man who stood in the truck's open door; but just for the moment she couldn't reply, couldn't do anything except concentrate on the pain. She wrapped her arms around her tight belly, whimpering.

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