THE CHRISTMAS WISH BY MICHELE SHRIVER #SWEETROMANCE CHRISTMAS STORY #BOXED #SET

 

 

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What Early Readers are Saying!

The Christmas Wish – Michele Shriver

Will a fall from a horse bring Hayley’s parents back together in time for Christmas?

“This was a great novella and I love the writing around it and how Hayley and Thunder showed Ashley and Brennan what really matters!”- Rebecca Austin

“Michele Shriver has once again given us another heartwarming story.”- Elizabeth Clinton

“This is another great read by Michele Shriver! Loved the sweet family story centered around Christmas!!”- Jill Snead

The Christmas Wish by Michele Shriver is one of sixteen new, never-been-published-before sweet Christmas stories from Christmas Pets and Kisses. Pre-order now!

Puppies, Kittens and more for Christmas. 16 All-New Sweet Christmas Romances from Bestselling Authors.

Amazon: http://bit.ly/XPetsK

B&N: http://bit.ly/XPetsNk

iBooks: http://bit.ly/XPetsAp

KOBO: http://bit.ly/XPetsKb

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25867443-christmas-pets-kisses

Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/XPetsUK

Google Play: http://bit.ly/XPetsGo

Nook UK: http://bit.ly/XPetsNUK

99c for a Limited Time. Get into the Christmas Spirit and Holiday Cheer with Christmas Pets & Kisses

 

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Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Sneak Peek: Dog-Gone Christmas by Melinda Curtis #Christmas #romance

 
Dog-Gone Christmas by Melinda Curtis
Widow Marnie Haywood wants Christmas hosting her in-laws to go smoothly. And it would – if her handsome neighbor and his friendly St. Bernard would stop coming over, mooching food, and stealing kisses.
Excerpt

“The abominable snowman is in our backyard!”
Marnie Haywood kept stirring the gravy. She had a few days to perfect her gravy-making technique before Christmas. She wasn’t going to burn the gravy this year, especially since her in-laws were coming for the holiday.
Besides, the likelihood that a live snowman was in their sunny San Diego backyard was small.
Five year-old Alex jumped up and down next to her. “Abominable! Snowman!” He made claws with both hands and dropped his voice to a monster snarl. “A-bom-in-a-ble! Snow-man!”
Maybe it’d been a mistake to allow Alex to binge-watch Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and sample the baked goods she’d made to share with their friends and neighbors. He was supercharged, bursting with enough energy to power Rudolph’s nose through a foggy all-nighter.
No fictional snowman was ruining Marnie’s gravy. She stirred as vigorously as her son jumped.
And then they both stopped, because something growled. Something in their backyard.
Alex gripped her jean-clad leg. “I told you.” He pointed to the glass slider behind her. The one leading to their condo’s backyard.
A thin sheet of glass separated them from a huge white dog. A pony-sized dog. A slobber-on-the-slider, paws-as-big-as-softballs, jaws-as-big-as-bear-traps dog.
Marnie’s insides shimmied like tinsel near a heating vent. This situation wasn’t covered in the Single Mom Handbook.
The dog gave another growly-grumble.
“No. I will not let you in,” Alex said as if he understood dog-speak.
The canine drooled and licked the slider, but mostly he panted. Now that the initial shock of him had passed, Marnie noted he had a black nose and a brown mask and ears. He was just so large, white, and Abominable Snowman-like.
“He’s thirsty.” Alex’s death grip relaxed on Marnie’s leg. “We have water, doggy.” Her little man took two steps toward the slider before Marnie dragged him back.
Panting, the dog plopped to his haunches and tilted his head to one side, trying to see in.
“Mama, you said we have to be nice to the new neighbor.”
Their condo shared a backyard and a wall with the unit next door. They’d heard someone move in yesterday. Marnie had planned on introducing herself tonight after whoever moved in had time to settle. But this…
Marnie held on to Alex’s small shoulders. “That dog is not a new neighbor. He’s a stray.” Had to be. There was a no pet policy at the condo complex. She had no problem with people sneaking in hamsters, indoor cats, or parakeets. But this…
The dog rested his humongous head on his humongous paws and made a sound that was half growl/half howl in a way that sounded as if he said, “But I’m harmless.” And then he put a paw on the glass with all the grace of a ballerina.
Her heart wanted to soften. But Marnie was a single mother. She had to be strong.
Alex broke away from Marnie’s arms and ran to the sliding door. He pressed his hand where the dog’s paw was. His small one was almost a perfect fit with the dog’s.
Marnie hurried after him. “Touch that slider latch, young man, and you’ll never watch Rudolph again.”
The beast lifted his head slowly, staring at Marnie with soulful eyes. He licked the glass near her son’s face before resuming his panting in a way that sounded like, “Hot-hot-hot-hot.”
Granted, it was warm. Ninety degrees wasn’t too warm for San Diego. But it was warm for the week before Christmas and for a big, furry dog.
“Water, Mama. Please?” Alex had big soulful eyes of his own.
“We’re not letting in a stray dog.”
An even larger figure stepped on to their small concrete patio.
Shrieking, Marnie and Alex stumbled back.
The setting sun outlined a towering, muscular frame, and kept the man’s face in shadow. He surveyed the backyard, paused, and then peered inside as the dog had done.
A second scream caught in Marnie’s throat. A man. At her backdoor. With only a flip-lock and a thin sheet of glass separating them.
He moved, and sunlight illuminated him in all his raggedy glory. A sleeveless black T-shirt, faded blue jeans, and tan work boots – torn, dirty, and scuffed. None of which made her pulse slow. Her gaze met his smiling one – blue eyes as soulful as the dog’s, his teeth just as white. She wasn’t fooled by his good looks and that meant-to-be-reassuring smile. Dressed like that, her money was on vagrant serial killer. The Single Mom Handbook was clear on big strange men in tattered clothing – call the police.
Marnie ran through their small living room/dining area and into the galley kitchen, looking for her phone. Where had she left it?
“Mom?” Alex pointed to the patio.
The man had straddled the sitting dog and was pounding the beast’s barrel chest as if it was a drum. “Good boy, Snowflake.”
Snowflake?” The name was more fitting for a small white poodle than that monstrosity.
The vagrant serial killer straightened, smiling as if he had the world at his feet. He knocked on the glass.
Did she trust those soulful blue eyes? That sun-kissed brown hair? That sigh-worthy smile?
Alex did. He unlocked and opened the slider.
“Alex!”
“I didn’t do anything.” Her son’s standard disclaimer.
Snowflake bounded in, circling Alex and licking his face, eliciting a giggle. The dog finished with her son and galloped through the living room, past the Christmas tree, toward Marnie.
Big white teeth. Big white paws. Big white underbelly.
He tackled her, knocking the air from her lungs, banging her head to the hardwood, and wiping every trace of makeup from her face with his tongue.
~*~
“Off the nice lady, Snowy.” Using the dog’s nickname and his cop voice, Jonas Johnson took hold of the St. Bernard’s collar and pulled him off the petite woman. “Sorry. He only tackles people he bonds with.”
“But…We just met.” She wiped her face with the back of her hands. “Tell me you didn’t move in next door.”
“I did. I was crashing at a friend’s apartment, but Snowy wouldn’t have fit in that small space.”
Introductions were exchanged.
The little boy, Alex, giggled. “You smell like my friend Ursula’s Christmas tree.”
“That’s because I’m managing some Christmas tree lots for my family. We have a big Christmas tree farm. Three generations.” He took a couple of weeks off from the police department at the holidays every year to help out.
Holding Snowy back with one arm, Jonas extended his free hand to help Marnie up from her whitewashed hardwood floor. Only then did he get a good look at her – velvety brown eyes, a delicate nose, and a cascade of black, silken hair. Her small hand fit in his like a properly placed puzzle piece. When he brought her to her bare feet, she hardly came to his shoulder. But there was nothing petite about her attitude.
“No dogs allowed.” She tossed her hair and tugged at her clothing. Her hair was straight and her body was curvy, covered in blue jeans and a simple red tank top.
Something shifted in the air between them. And it wasn’t dog breath. It was a bone deep awareness that spread from Jonas’ lungs to his chest to his gut. Her words finally sunk in. “No dogs? In your house?”
“In the entire condo neighborhood!”
“Well, I…Is something burning?” He glanced at the brick fireplace. Was that what had him all tied up in knots?
My gravy.” The spitfire hurried into the small kitchen, turned off the stove, and put the saucepan on the back burner. “Ruined again. I’ll never get past this.”
Snowy trailed after Marnie. He was tall enough to put his nose on the stove, but he didn’t. He took deep breaths and then did his doggy-mutter, the one he used to beg for food. He sat, still talking, sounding hopeful and reproachful at the same time.
“Gravy isn’t good for dogs,” she said. “Especially dogs who aren’t supposed to be here.” She leaned against the counter, brought Jonas in her sights, and crossed her arms.
“Don’t you like Snowy?” Little Alex hugged the St. Bernard. “I do.”
Snowy made a soft noise and licked the boy’s cheek.
“He talks,” Jonas said, studying her for more than just her negative reaction to a dog. “How can you not love a dog like that?”
“It doesn’t matter what skills your dog has. He has to go. Little boy. Big dog. Someone’s going to get hurt.” She touched the back of her head, wincing slightly. “The policy is clear. No pets.”
Snowy slumped.
She couldn’t possibly care that much about the rules. More likely she didn’t want any more overly-loving take-downs or extra-large poop piles for Alex to step in.
 “He’s not my dog,” Jonas admitted. “I’m taking care of him for a friend who just deployed. This was the only place I could find that was available on short notice and had a fenced yard.” Yeah, he’d seen the photo of a Marine in dress blues on her corner table next to the brown microfiber couch. And yeah, he wasn’t lying. Darren had been deployed with his SEAL team yesterday and was due back in two weeks.
Her gaze flew to the picture in the corner. Something flashed across her face. Pain? Guilt? Remorse? The jumbled emotions disappeared as fast as they came, triggering Jonas’ spidey-cop sense. What had begun as a friendly, neighborly distraction, threatened to plunge into private territory Jonas wanted to avoid.
Jonas flashed an expression of his own: his most charming smile – the one that settled speeders he’d pulled over to ticket and that sold Charlie Brown Christmas trees at full price on Christmas Eve. “I’m only here until Christmas Day and then I’m gone.”
“So he’s here until the holiday?”
The “he” in question grumbled softly and slid to the floor, putting his head on his paws. Alex sank next to Snowy and gave him another hug.
Marnie shook her head. “Does Snowflake always take things so personally?”
“He’s a sensitive dog.” Her white granite counter was lined with baked goods, including an open tin decorated with toy soldiers and filled with sugar cookies. “Are these homemade?” He selected a red stocking cookie as she nodded, and then handed one to Alex. The cookie was soft and sweet, worth savoring. “I miss home cooking. Your husband is a lucky man.”
Marnie paled.
“Daddy’s in Heaven.” Alex stood, dropping cookie crumbs on Snowy’s head. He bounded over to the couch. “And my grandparents live in Houston and Hackensack.”
Somebody liked alliteration.
“Michael’s parents are coming to spend the holidays with us for the first time.” Marnie’s words were tension-filled, her eyes clouded with worry. “They arrive day after tomorrow from Hackensack.”
Ah, the reason for the rules comes out.
Marnie glanced at the pot of ruined gravy and then back to Snowy. “Is there anyone else Snowflake can stay with once they arrive?”
“No.” Jonas took another cookie and admired the fridge art. If he had to guess, the rectangle with stick legs, Xs for eyes, and a red nose was Rudolph.
“Just for a few nights?” Her voice had a hand-wringing quality to it that reached inside Jonas’ chest and squeezed.
How far did she have to reach before she found his heart? Most days lately, it felt like it had gone missing. Some days, like today with an exuberant, friendly dog, it felt merely Grinch-sized.
“My former in-laws didn’t approve of me either.” Jonas admitted begrudgingly, tugging at his wrinkled, sap-stained T-shirt over the place where his heart should be beating. He was only crashing here for a few days. Why did this have to be complicated? “Hillary’s parents wanted someone with a college degree and an office job.” Anyone who wasn’t a cop.
Snowy climbed onto the couch and curled into a tight ball next to Alex, who leaned on him as if he was a pillow.
“I just…” Marnie lowered her voice, glancing at her son. “I just want us all to get along and move past…things.” Her gaze returned to the photograph of her dead husband. She seemed as reluctant to talk about her past as he was. “Things that…Well, I just want Christmas to be perfect.”
Things. Such a small word with such big emotional punch. According to his police captain, Jonas had “things” to get past before he could return to patrol. For the first time in weeks, Jonas felt he wasn’t the only person in this oversharing world that didn’t want to regurgitate the past. Maybe that wasn’t sexual attraction he’d felt when he’d helped her up earlier, but an intuitive emotional connection. Had to be. He hadn’t felt anything like it since.
 “I could be convinced to take Snowy to work with me at the Christmas tree lot while they’re here, if you could see it in your heart to share some of your holiday treats.” He gestured to the apple pie and cinnamon rolls on the counter. Both looked homemade.
“Could you?” Marnie perked up. “I’ll close the curtains at night so they won’t see Snowflake. This will be perfect.”
Snowy grumbled and nuzzled Alex’s head.
Jonas bit into his cookie. It was bakery quality. Really, setting aside the burnt gravy, Marnie had skills in the kitchen. “So we have a deal?” It was the least he could do for their mutual “thingness.”
“We have a deal.” And then Marnie smiled.
He hadn’t seen her smile before, hadn’t experienced that deep hit of joy and enthusiasm.
The air deflated from his lungs quicker than an inflatable snowman with a puncture wound.
This had nothing to do with things.


About the Author


USA Today bestselling author Melinda Curtis

Award winning, USA Today bestseller Melinda Curtis writes the Harmony Valley series of sweet and emotional romances for Harlequin Heartwarming, and the indie pubbed Bridesmaid series. Brenda Novak says: “Season of Change has found a place on my keeper shelf”. Melinda also writes independently published, hotter romances as Mel Curtis. Jayne Ann Krentz says of Blue Rules: “Sharp, sassy, modern version of a screwball comedy from Hollywood’s Golden Age except a lot hotter.”

Dog-Gone Christmas is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 – November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Dog-Gone Christmas  by Melinda Curtis
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99cAmazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Amazon UKGoogle

You’re Invited to the Christmas Pets & Kisses Countdown Launch Party! [September 21 – Oct 6]
Chat with the authors and win great prizes! Come join the Fun.
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DANTE’S GIFT BY AUBREY WYNNE #SWEETROMANCE CHRISTMAS STORY #BOXED #SET

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Dante’s Gift – Aubrey Wynne

Seventy years ago, a collie mix brought two hearts together in war torn Italy. Will their story help their grandson find his own Christmas love?

“Wynne has crafted a beautiful short story guaranteed to warm your heart and make you sigh.” ~ Kishan Paul, author of Blind Love and The Second Wife

“It is a story of romance…that will have you misty-eyed.” ~ Celeste Williams ~ Goodreads Reviewer

“This is a really beautiful love story that will touch everyone’s heart and brings tears to your eyes.” ~ Winnie Lim ~ Top Goodreads Reviewer

Dante’s Gift by Aubrey Wynne is one of sixteen new, never-been-published-before sweet Christmas stories from Christmas Pets and Kisses. Pre-order now!

Puppies, Kittens and more for Christmas. 16 All-New Sweet Christmas Romances from Bestselling Authors.

Amazon: http://bit.ly/XPetsK

B&N: http://bit.ly/XPetsNk

iBooks: http://bit.ly/XPetsAp

KOBO: http://bit.ly/XPetsKb

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25867443-christmas-pets-kisses

Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/XPetsUK

Google Play: http://bit.ly/XPetsGo

Nook UK: http://bit.ly/XPetsNUK

99c for a Limited Time. Get into the Christmas Spirit and Holiday Cheer with Christmas Pets & Kisses

Mavy’s Christmas Miracle by Sharon Coady #SweetRomance Christmas story #Boxed #Set

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Here’s what reviewers say:

Mavy’s Christmas Miracle – Sharon Coady

Anne takes a rescue kitten to the vet, only to discover he’s the man who broke her heart.

“I just couldn’t put down! Very sweet, family oriented reading… A definite “feel good” story that is at home around the holidays or any season! I heartily recommend this story!” ~ Holly Lachman-Militello

“This story is full of Christmas hope, dreams of lost love found and family. I couldn’t put it down. A delightful tale you will read again.” ~ Karen Baird-Butler

“..this story is phenomenal. Love the characters and the plot is amazing. I couldn’t put it down. Would highly recommend this to anyone that loves a good romance!!” ~ Delina Parker

Mavy’s Christmas Miracle by Sharon Coady is one of sixteen new, never-been-published-before sweet Christmas stories from Christmas Pets and Kisses. Pre-order now!

Puppies, Kittens and more for Christmas. 16 All-New Sweet Christmas Romances from Bestselling Authors.

Amazon: http://bit.ly/XPetsK

B&N: http://bit.ly/XPetsNk

iBooks: http://bit.ly/XPetsAp

KOBO: http://bit.ly/XPetsKb

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25867443-christmas-pets-kisses

Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/XPetsUK

Google Play: http://bit.ly/XPetsGo

Nook UK: http://bit.ly/XPetsNUK

99c for a Limited Time. Get into the Christmas Spirit and Holiday Cheer with Christmas Pets & Kisses

An Impossible Rescue – Sweet #Christmas Romance by Annamaria Bazzi #boxed #set

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One of sixteen new, never-been-published-before sweet Christmas stories from Christmas Pets and Kisses. Pre-order now!

Puppies, Kittens and more for Christmas. 16 All-New Sweet Christmas Romances from Bestselling Authors.

Amazon: http://bit.ly/XPetsK

B&N: http://bit.ly/XPetsNk

iBooks: http://bit.ly/XPetsAp

KOBO: http://bit.ly/XPetsKb

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25867443-christmas-pets-kisses

Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/XPetsUK

Google Play: http://bit.ly/XPetsGo

Nook UK: http://bit.ly/XPetsNUK

99c for a Limited Time. Get into the Christmas Spirit and Holiday Cheer with Christmas Pets & Kisses

#FootballFriday – Intercepted by Love – is COMPLETE! Quarterback Cade threw his best interception ever! #romance

Hey Readers and Football Fans, Cade and Andie’s story is complete with today’s release of Intercepted by Love Part 6

I have truly enjoyed writing Andie and Cade’s story from the first line to the last.

First Lines:
Cade Prescott flung the sleepy blonde’s arm off his shoulder and swept the brunette’s hair from his face. Sunlight peeked in through the plantation shutters, making stripes over his king-sized bed.

His heartbeat pounding like a persistent snare drum, he rubbed his eyes and turned over, dislodging the Asian woman tucked between his legs.
Last night’s pass interception played in slow motion before his mind’s eye. They’d lost the Super Bowl. Lost it on the last play. Didn’t matter that he’d led a seventy-five yard drive. Nothing mattered, except he’d let his team down. Let the entire city down. The entire league.
Last Lines:
“That’s wonderful,” Andie said. “How’d you know I was struggling to find a name for my business?” Andie reached over and hugged Cade’s mother.
“Mothers always know. Welcome to the club.”
And a whole lot of in-between, over 230,000 words of Cade and Andie awesomeness! All books are on Kindle Unlimited for a limited time, and to top it off, Book 1 is FREE this weekend, so jump on Intercepted by Love and get your Football Fix today!
And watch for the Paperback [complete set] to be released soon!
Thanks so much for your support. Get all six on Amazon for your Kindle.Intercepted by Love (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Sneak Peek: His Christmas Promise by Alicia Street #Christmas #romance

His Christmas Promise by Alicia Street
A stray dog with a penchant for giving warm and fuzzy love finds refuge with an ex-Army helicopter pilot and helps restore his bedridden grandmother’s will to live. It seems like a Christmas miracle until the bachelor war vet discovers the mutt belongs to a little girl who wants him back—and a single mom who makes him rethink his freewheeling ways and maybe even believe in love.

Excerpt

Veronica Hughes walked out of the gray stone building and was guided across the windy pier by a man wearing big fat baby-blue earmuffs—the industrial strength variety. The kind especially made for manly tasks like firing pistols at the range, using leaf blowers, or in this case, escorting customers to their designated helicopter.
Her ride sat perched at the edge of the asphalt landing pad amid an array of white circular chalk lines: a cool jet-black helicopter with its mighty blades already roaring and chopping through the crisp November air. Its windy downdraft caused ripples in the water of New York City’s East River that surrounded the downtown Manhattan pier. It also sent Ronni’s long straight brown hair swirling about, although the set of regulation muffs she wore helped keep it somewhat out of her eyes.
Enough to see that the pilot waiting in the cockpit was Justin Reynolds.
She told herself it didn’t really matter, that whatever pilot was assigned to her flight would be fine. So how come she couldn’t suppress that happy relief that bubbled up knowing she’d get to see him one last time?
Foolish girl. Did she really want to be just another notch on his belt? Another female conquest? Mr. Alpha’s latest fix?
When the guide at her elbow helped her climb into the helicopter and buckled her safely into the seat right up front beside the pilot, Justin turned his head and faced Ronni, his brown eyes fixed on hers. He always looked like he’d stepped right out of one of those old World War II movies she’d seen on TCM—all virile and ready to rumble, his broad shoulders filling out his brown leather flight jacket. Perfect square jaw. A wisp of dark hair across his forehead.
He cracked a warm grin and a thunderbolt shot right through her. How was it that a mere look from this man could wake up some part of her she’d thought was long gone?
Holding her reaction in check—she wasn’t about to let him think she was one of those silly women taken in by his looks—she offered him a stiff, businesslike nod.
His face changed to a mask of cordiality as he welcomed her aboard. “Good afternoon, Veronica. Got some crisp clear weather for you today.”
Since she was the only passenger on this chartered flight, Ronni’s headset had a mouthpiece that allowed her to speak back to him. Too bad his deep voice in her ears sent her into a state of brain freeze, so all she could manage was a nod and a squeaky hello.
How could she allow him to affect her like this? Especially after she saw what a hotshot he was on the group shuttle flight she’d taken into the city this morning. At six hundred dollars a pop, the other five seats on that flight had been occupied by “beautiful people” straight off the gossip pages, including a few fashion models who’d flirted with the hunky pilot and vied for the seat next to him. Luckily Ronni’s client was even wealthier and usually chartered a solo flight for her, to the tune of $3500.00. She couldn’t help thinking how many shelter animals that could feed, or needy children for that matter. But she couldn’t risk losing her job by opposing a client’s way of doing things.
The ground fell away as the helicopter rose up, its nose dipping slightly downward when it moved east across the river toward Long Island. As they sailed above Brooklyn’s gray skyline, the buildings below bunched together like toys she almost felt she could reach out and grab in the palm of her hand. Ronni recalled her days backpacking in the Rockies and the deceptiveness of distance. Mountains that were miles off seemed only a short jaunt, when in reality they equated three days of hard trekking.
After Justin Reynolds made his usual comments about the flying conditions and their projected arrival time, he said, “So this is your last trip. Gonna miss ya.”
Her eyes went wide. He actually remembered. To keep her racing pulse in check, she reminded herself this was just a comment coming from a pilot doing his job to make customers feel special. It did not mean this well-practiced player had any feelings for her.
“I’ll bet you say that to all your passengers.” Ronni’s response sounded more sarcastic than she’d intended, so she added softly, “Yes. Thank you for remembering.”
“You must be one heck of a physical therapist.” As if the compliment weren’t enough to throw off her cool performance, he flashed her that devastating smile of his.
“Actually, I’m only a physical therapist assistant.” She’d dropped out of college to work full time to put Craig through law school. Then it was going to be her turn when he finished and signed with a firm. But her turn never came.
“Walker told me he’s ready to get back in action, thanks to you. Says he’s stronger than ever.” Mega-star action hero Walker Strout had been flying Ronni into Manhattan for his private physical therapy sessions every week. He’d originally been treated out in Southampton in one of the hospitals where Ronni worked part time, and he’d specifically requested that her supervisor give Ronni the eight-week assignment.
Its completion was like a gold star on her career file. She should have been feeling elated—and would have been if she hadn’t developed this stupid teenage crush on the man who piloted her flight each week. Even though she tried to keep her distance, he always managed to pull her into interesting conversations. Every week after seeing him she’d find herself thinking about things he said—and eagerly awaiting a chance to be near him again.
Good thing it was ending. She didn’t have time or energy for this nonsense.
As they flew over Queens and into the Long Island suburbs, she noticed all the cars on the highway below. “Whoa. Check out the Long Island Expressway. Bumper to bumper.”
“Aren’t you glad you don’t have to ride in that mess at this hour?”
“Yes, but I think my daughter might be down there. She spent the day with her father and he’s probably driving her home now.” Her tone went dry. “My illustrious ex. The reason I will never marry again.”
Why did I just say that? Where is my control?
“Oh, right. I remember you mentioned him.”
How embarrassing. Ronni knew he was referring to the one day she’d lost her cool. After having a texting argument with Craig, she couldn’t hold back venting her frustrations in front of Justin on the return flight.
Ronni changed the subject. “Do you ever fly over the city at night? I’ve noticed your shuttle schedule is only daytime.”
“Daytime’s safest. But we take the occasional charter flight at night. Why?”
“The Christmas lights will be up soon and I was thinking it would be a beautiful way to see them.”
“It is. Give me a buzz, and I’ll give you a little tour.”
“How much would that cost?”
“On the house.”
“Are you sure?”
He flashed a sly grin. “You doubt my generosity?”
She laughed. “Let’s just say, when it comes to women, I’ve found most men are usually seeking something in return for their… generosity.”
“Cynical.”
“Realistic.”
His eyes stayed on her as if he wanted to say something else. But he didn’t.
Ronni wasn’t sure what to make of his offer. Despite her overpowering attraction to him, she would guess this flyboy Romeo was like most men. Never seeing beneath the surface when it came to women.
Even when it came to their wives, as she’d learned from her disastrous marriage. It took her six years to realize her ex didn’t really know her and never cared to discover who she was or what she wanted.
She’d never be that stupid again.
                                                 ***
About forty minutes after takeoff, and moving at 178 miles per hour, Justin looked out to see signs of their destination. He flew along the coast of Long Island Sound, but beyond the ribbon of sandy beach lay a gridwork of greenish gold rectangles dotted with tiny gray rooftops. The farms and vineyards of the North Fork reached into the distance, spanning a long skinny finger of land that led to the Atlantic Ocean.
Justin loved this place. He’d grown up on a farm in the down-home, rural North Fork, but he could also appreciate the more fashionable South Fork where he regularly delivered New York City passengers to the Hamptons. Right now he was headed for the heliport in Greenport near the tip of the North Fork.
Where Ronni lived.
“Almost home, Ms. Hughes.”
She glanced up at him and smiled. Justin loved those luminous amber eyes of hers. She was an angel with chestnut hair and a quick athletic body. He liked that she didn’t dress in a showy way. She wore a simple navy blue woolen pea jacket with practical loose-fitting trousers that would allow a physical therapist to move freely in her work.
Justin knew he should keep his mouth shut and just focus on flying the copter, but something inside him wanted desperately to change her mind about men.
Face it: the truth hurt. She may have a bad attitude, but could he blame her? Considering the one-night stands that made up his social life, guys like him didn’t exactly inspire female faith in the male gender. Who was he to judge her cynicism? After all, Justin Reynolds was a perfect example of the kind of man who wasn’t good enough for a woman like her.
So why was she getting under his skin? What did he have invested in changing her opinion of him? Why not simply chalk her up as a hot girl who had his number and didn’t feel like playing his game?
Maybe because lately Justin sensed that something was lacking in his life. A deficiency nagged at him. He felt like a person who’d lived on fast food for too long, then found himself craving something different. Something nourishing, life inducing. Everyone had a breaking point, that time when out of the blue they hit the wall and end up making changes.
Was Ronni his catalyst for change?
                                                   ***
Buckled into the black leather backseat of her father’s car, eight-year-old Daphne Hughes glanced at her dad and Ellen up front, then whispered a secret to Cuddlebug. She didn’t really have to whisper it because Dad and Ellen never listened to anything she said anyway.
Right now they were busy talking about their boring law firm stuff, as usual. It went this way every visit. Her dad would ask how she was doing in school and start looking at his phone while she answered him. Ellen would tell Daphne she had pretty blond hair like her dad’s, then order a pizza or Chinese food, and Daphne would eat while Dad and Ellen talked to each other. After that they’d go into their home office and work, leaving Daphne in the room with the giant TV.
That was why she’d asked her father if she could bring Cuddlebug along this time. Her tawny-colored doggie with big brown eyes was the best company ever. When her dad said yes this morning, she’d let out a giddy squeal. Except when they got to his house, Ellen got mad and said the dog would mess on her rugs. So Daphne told them she really wanted to play outside in the back yard today and headed out there with Cuddlebug. That got them to stop arguing.
Trouble was, Daphne forgot the weather had turned cold. Thanksgiving was coming next week, but it felt more like Christmas. After a couple hours, her dad came out and tossed a football around with her, but by then her fingers were like ice sticks and she missed each pass, making him grumble something about girls.
She thought she’d warm up having Cuddlebug on her lap here in the backseat of the car, but then Ellen insisted on having all the windows wide open. Daphne wasn’t sure if she believed what Ellen said about dogs needing to have lots of air, because she saw her give Daddy a look and hold her nose.
Even though Cuddlebug wasn’t that big, he was kind of heavy on her lap, his head taller than hers as he sat. He kept fidgeting and making nervous whines, and his head was sticking pretty far out the window.
“Don’t worry, boy. We’ll be home soon,” Daphne whispered, hugging her arms around Cuddlebug’s narrow back, brushing her fingers into his coarse fur. “And Mommy will be home by the time we get there.” Just as she said it, Daphne got that uncomfortable twist in her tummy. It happened this morning when her mom left for the place she called a heliport. She might be flying in the air right now.
Daphne leaned her head near Cuddlebug’s and tried to look up at the sky, but that only brought back the nervous crimp in her stomach.
What if the helicopter crashes and Mommy never comes home to me? She squeezed her eyes shut. Please, please let my mommy be safe.
Daphne took a few breaths the way her mom had taught her to do when she got too worked up. Then she sat back and watched the world go by from the car window, her beloved pooch doing the same. She held tight to the dog, pretending her arms were his seatbelt. They passed a bunch of shopping malls and then the landscape turned to woods. Lots and lots of boring woods. So Daphne started thinking about Christmas coming and pretended she and Cuddlebug were riding in Santa’s sleigh.
Her fantasy was interrupted by her father using a swear word—the kind she’d been told never to say—followed by horns honking, screeching brakes, and a jolt that sent her lurching into the seat in front of her.
A loud bang came and then a second jolt, this one bigger than the first, lifted the car up off the ground. For a split second it seemed like the fun ride her mother took her on at Luna Park, the one that spun around while sailing through the air.
But this one hurt. Her arm banged hard against the door when she was thrown to the side. She heard Ellen scream. And in what seemed a blur, she watched Cuddlebug fly straight from her arms and shoot out the window into space.
“No!” Daphne cried and desperately tried to unlock her seat belt so she could go after him, but it was jammed. Or maybe her hand just wasn’t working right.
The cars had all stopped and she heard a siren in the distance. Daphne’s father bolted out of the driver’s seat, rushed around to the front passenger side, and tended to Ellen.
Unable to get the buckle to release, Daphne started yelling out the window for her dog. He always came when she called, but now as she watched him in the distance and could only sit there desperately shrieking his name, she saw his skinny brown tail disappear into the woods that bordered the expressway.
“You okay?” asked her father while opening her door.
“Cuddlebug got scared and ran away.” Her voice cracked and she couldn’t stop the tears that would only make her dad start muttering complaints about “girls” again.
“Most likely got spooked by all the commotion.” He unhooked her seat belt and helped her out. Daphne broke into a run, but her dad grabbed her waist. “Whoa. Hold still. Your hand is bleeding.”
Daphne struggled against his grip. “I don’t care. I need to go get Cuddlebug.”
“Just stay put. Anything else hurt?”
“Let me go. Cuddlebug’s upset and he doesn’t know his way around here.”
“That dumb dog is probably halfway to Canada by now. Nothing you can do about it.”
“I need to go find him.”
“You need to go to the hospital. We all do. See if anything’s broken. Your wrist looks like it might be.”
Yeah, her wrist hurt. A lot. But they were miles from home. If she left here now, how would Cuddlebug know where to find her? “I’m not going anywhere without Cuddlebug,” she sobbed.
“Quit whining. I’ll get you a new dog. A better one than that mutt.” He picked Daphne up and carried her across the road toward the arriving EMT.
“Nooooo.” She let out a wail that turned into a shriek. Daphne knew she was making a scene, crying and howling like a baby, but she didn’t care.
All she cared about was getting Cuddlebug back.
                                                           ***


About the Author


Alicia Street is a USA Today bestselling author and a Daphne du Maurier award-winner. She writes both sweet and steamier romances and sometimes collaborates with her husband, Roy. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher and is a compulsive reader of every genre. Alicia grew up with dogs and cats and could not imagine living without furry pals.
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Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Sneak Peek: We Wish You A Ferret Christmas by Nikki Lynn Barrett #Christmas #romance


We Wish You A Ferret Christmas by Nikki Lynn Barrett

Widower Lance Rossiter wants nothing to do with the pet ferret who caused his daughter to be hit by a car. Widow Cara McLean is shocked by the ferret her son finds and wants to keep. When Lance and Cara meet, sparks fly and love suddenly seems possible. Can a lost and found ferret bring two fractured families together?

Excerpt

  “We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you….” Children’s voices blended with a few adult ones filled the hallways.
Seriously? Lance Rossiter glanced up from the magazine he’d barely been looking at anyway to peer out the hospital room door. Christmas carolers? So people still did things like that? He found it a little disheartening that Christmas tunes were sung as a background noise to beeping machines- one of them currently hooked up to his five year old daughter to monitor her breathing.
Fine. Maybe some people felt the need to surround themselves with the holiday. He could put on a little cheer and go with the flow. He loved Christmas, as did Tamara, but his bad mood reflected on his first reaction to wave off the cheery carolers.
Nah, really they were a welcome sound. Plastering on a smile, he stood and quietly moved toward the holiday cheerers. He watched as the group of around eight or more kids with two adults slowly walked down the hospital hallways singing. In their hands, they each carried a bag. Lance spotted a teddy bear hanging out of one of them. So not only were they singing, but bringing gifts as well. Maybe a get-well effort? Kind of like candy stripers, or whatever you call them. They weren’t over-the-top loud, and their harmonies blended well. Others had taken up his idea and lined the doors of hospital rooms. Some were wearing a smile, but others were unsure what to make of the whole scene. When the kids spread out and handed each person a bag, his heart melted. Well, this wasn’t something he saw every day. What a sweet gesture. Whoever organized this event deserved a medal. This was a perfect way to brighten a sick child’s day.
A little sandy blond haired boy Lance guessed to be about seven trailed behind. He wasn’t singing, and his face was masked into one of confusion and worry. The woman leading the group stopped, smiled, and held her hand out to him. “Come on, Alex. Don’t be afraid,” she soothed. “You love music.”
The boy didn’t reach for her hand. He trailed close behind the woman, but didn’t make eye contact with her. His gaze was cast downward. The child shuffled his feet along the tile.
“Look up at me, please,” the woman said softly. The rest of their party continued down the hall singing. The kid clutched the gift bag.
Lance should have gone inside, but he continued to watch the two. Most of the other patients and family members had already disappeared from the doorway, probably taking pictures of the goodies, posting them on social media, and sharing them with the patients.
“No! Leave me alone!” The boy screamed and ran from her, barreling straight towards Lance. Startled, he took a step back as the boy plowed into him, ran into the room, and closed himself off in the bathroom.
Alrighty then. Talk about awkward.
“I’m so terribly sorry!” The woman’s cheeks reddened as she darted toward him. “I’d hoped for a better outcome today.” She shoved her frizzy brown curls from her face.
Unsure what to do or say, Lance shrugged his shoulders. “Kids will be kids.” He stared back at Tamara and hoped this situation could be resolved quickly. He felt for the little boy, who was obviously having some kind of meltdown. He also sympathized with the woman, who’d become very flustered and nervous.
“Alex, please come out of the bathroom. I don’t want to have to call your mom. She’s very busy at work today,” she coaxed from outside the door.
The sound of crying wafted through the walls. Lance didn’t want to sit back down, but standing around seemed like the wrong thing to do. He didn’t want to leave the room in search of a nurse or someone else who could help, either. He blew out a breath and hoped to hide his exasperation. While patient and understanding, he silently pleaded with no one in particular for this to get situated quickly.
The woman glanced back at him again. “I really am sorry-”
“It happens.” He waved it off, but Lance wished he’d never walked toward the door. Would that have stopped the little boy from running into his room? Maybe not. Thank God for little favors, though. Tamara hadn’t woken from her nap to this mess.
The woman pulled out a cell phone and, in a desperate plea, spoke into it. “Cara? I’m sorry to bother you, but Alex locked himself in a bathroom at the hospital. In a patient’s room. I think it’s best you come down here.”
Lance stifled a groan. This could take a while.
As the boy inside the bathroom continued to wail, the sound of Christmas carolers on TV now drew his attention, singing the same song he’d just heard.
“We wish you a Merry Christmas….”
Some Christmas.
*****

Cara McLean ignored the frustrated mixed with pity stare from her boss as once again she had to leave her desk for another meltdown rescue. Alex had been been having meltdown after meltdown at school, and more frequently she continued to go there to coax him out of a room. It wasn’t really the teachers’ faults. They didn’t know how to handle him.
Just before school, Alex had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, after countless appointments and evaluations. She’d dodged the suggestions for months about moving Alex to a more private school setting. He was a bright kid and had a lot of talent, but it appeared his behavioral issues were going to be in the way of regular learning.
It took her a long time to accept it, and Cara hoped the damage hadn’t already been done. She’d agonized over the decision and the pros and cons of it since the diagnosis. It didn’t help being a widowed mom of two and going at this alone, especially since Cara had attempted to convince her late husband that something wasn’t right with Alex. No, he’d avoided the subject and said she was paranoid. Nothing could be wrong with his son.
Now, things were spiraling out of control. Time to actually get something done about it. Swiping at stray tears, she swallowed her regrets, then headed toward her car to drive to the hospital. Ten minutes later, she arrived in the crowded parking lot. Cara called Jean to find out where they were.
“Still in the room. The others have gone on to keep things normal.” There was a frantic note in Jean’s voice. “I made that mistake again- mentioning for him to look at me- and he got extremely agitated. I’m sorry.”
Suppressing a sigh, Cara asked for the room number, then hung up and made her way.
Alex’s cries could be heard all the way down the hall. And no nurses helped? What about the patient in the room? Cheeks heated, Cara stepped up her pace. Nurses stood outside the door, baffled and unsure what to do.
“Excuse me, but that’s my son in there. I’ll get him out. I’m so sorry.” Cara apologized as she blew past them and bumped full force into a body. “I’m-”
Strong arms held her steady. “Careful there.” Her skin tingled where the man’s hands still rested.
Cara stared up into the blue eyes of a gorgeous man. Oh, this must be his room, or at least a member of his family, as this was the children’s ward. There was compassion, curiosity, and a whole lot of torture in those eyes. What a disaster! He continued to study her, and Cara was frozen in place. His bangs drifted across tan skin along his forehead. A tiny mole close to his hairline caught her attention for a moment. Sucking in a breath, Cara realized she’d better move, instead of staring back at this man.
“I’ll have my son out of the bathroom in just a second,” she whispered, regaining her composure and jerking out of his hold. He dropped his hands to his sides. No wedding ring on his left hand. Why did she even look? A shiver rippled through her. Cara briefly searched the room. Her heart ached for the pale young girl in the bed with her eyes closed.
Could this day get any worse? Failure and worry settled over her shoulder like a heavy weight. She needed to coax Alex out of that bathroom, take him home, and make the necessary calls.
Cara ignored the stares and walked with rubbery legs to the door and knocked. “Come on out, Alex. I’m here. Please open the door, okay?” Her voice came out weak and squeaky. Ugh. She dared not to look back at the blue eyed man behind her, though she had to really work at that. Who cared what he thought about her? She’d never see him again. After today, Cara could wake up and forget about this encounter. But those eyes, the way they carried so much, really ate at her. He had a story to tell, but she’d never hear it.
“Mommy?” Alex’s voice came out small and uncertain. What was he doing in there? Had he hurt himself? Was he curled up on the floor, trembling and scared? It bugged her to no end how she couldn’t understand her son sometimes. What went on in his busy brain? What did he think and feel when hit with these meltdowns? Most people who weren’t up to date with signs and symptoms of Asperger’s would naturally assume a spoiled brat temper tantrum. Cara knew better, but she didn’t feel like explaining herself every single time Alex had a meltdown. And it happened more and more in public. What should she do, not go out any more to avoid it? That wasn’t the right answer, but she had no idea how to avoid that type of behavior. It all came down to wishing she could understand, so that making decisions would be easier.
“Yes, buddy. I’m here. Come on out so we can talk. There’s a little girl who needs her rest, and we’re in the way.” She kept her voice calm. No loudness, no distractions. Cara hoped for the best.
For a fraction of a minute, no one said anything. The crying stopped, but no other sounds came from behind the bathroom door. Cara anticipated a wail, a shout, something. Then after the hesitance, the door opened and Alex ran straight into her arms. Cara couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard several sighs of relief.
Yeah, they did what she felt like doing. Tears formed in her eyes as she held her son. “Will you say sorry to the nice man for barging into his room?”
Alex’s lower lip quivered. Big eyes stared back at her, but her son did just what she asked. He pulled out of Cara’s hug and stood before the man. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s okay,” the man awkwardly replied. “I accept your apology.”
“Give him the gift bag for the little girl, Alex.” Jean broke her silence, prodding him gently.
He thrust out his hand, still clutching the bag. “Here you go.”
Mr. Blue Eyes smiled. Dimples. Oh, he had dimples. “Thank you, Alex.” Not a tone of disdain, not even an irritated scowl. He could have really pitched a fit, but the man took it all in stride. Cara sent him a look of relief and a silent thank you. His gaze lingered on her for a lot longer than she anticipated. Alex hung back behind Cara. She blinked, breaking eye contact with the man so she could focus. Time to get out of here.
Cara led Alex out of the room. Jean followed, making more apologizes to the man. Nurses had finally scattered away from the door, but the faster Cara got out of here, the better.
“Cara-” Jean started once they were down the hall. She’d bet Jean had a lot to say right about now.
“I know, okay? I get it. I’m going to make those calls and look into getting him in the school you guys keep suggesting!” She didn’t mean to yell. Her loud voice echoed off the beige walls. Keep calm, keep calm. The last thing she needed was to upset Alex because she got all riled up and defensive.
Jean blanched. “I wasn’t going to say that. It’ll be good for him, though. I was going to apologize because I pushed again for eye contact. That’s what set him off.”
Shaking her head, Cara turned away again, keeping her arm on Alex’s shoulder. Jean was a good teacher, wonderful and patient, but Cara knew that she wasn’t equipped to deal with a child with Asperger’s when the rest of the kids were mainstreamed students.
“Cara.”
Keeping her tongue in check, she faced the teacher.
“It’s not your fault.”
The words were meant to be a comfort and a help, but they weren’t at this very moment. Giving Jean a curt nod, she walked Alex out of the hospital, attempting to put her emotions in check.
Lately, she took everything to heart, blaming herself. How could she not understand her son? Why did she feel so helpless? As Alex’s mother, Cara should have some sort of idea how to handle these situations, but she didn’t.
And it bothered the heck out of her.


About the Author


USA Today bestselling author Nikki Lynn Barrett I’m an avid lover of books. I’ve been writing as far back as I can remember, completing my first “book” by fifth grade in one of those one subject spiral notebooks. I have a passion for music, photography, jewelry and all things creative. I live in Arizona with my husband and son, but dream of being somewhere much colder and stormier. For now, I’ll have to live that life through my characters and stick it out with the summer heat.

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Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Sneak Peek: Christmas Lovebirds by Rachelle Ayala #Christmas #romance

 
Christmas Lovebirds by Rachelle Ayala
Melisa Hart has a soft spot for her brother Connor’s ex-best buddy, Rob Reed, who slept with Connor’s girlfriend. When her pet lovebird is mixed up with Rob’s, Melisa discovers he’s always cared about her. Can two little lovebirds and Christmas cheer open Melisa’s heart to giving Rob another chance?
Excerpt

“Come here, cutie pie. Step up.” Melisa Hart stuck her finger into the birdcage for her lovebird, Cassie. “That’s a good girl.”
Her entire class of kindergarteners held themselves still in barely suppressed excitement.
“Can I hold her?” her most talkative student, Bree, squealed.
“It’s ‘may I hold her,’ and, no, not right now.” Melisa brought her bird’s beak to her lips and let Cassie take a nibble, which was her version of a kiss.
“Eweee!” Mattie, the tallest boy in the class, shouted, pointing. “She kissed the bird on the lips.”
“Beak,” Bree corrected Mattie. “Birds don’t have lips.”
“Oh yeah?” Mattie retorted. “How do you know? Bird Brain Bree.”
Melisa stuck Cassie on her shoulder and put her hands over her hips. “Class. What did I say about teasing? Is it nice or mean?”
“Mean,” the children shouted in unison, startling Cassie, whose wings flapped briefly.
“Inside voices,” Melisa reminded the children. “Cassie gets scared easily.”
“Will she fly?” Mattie asked.
“Of course she can fly.” Bree turned her nose up at the taller boy. “Everyone knows birds can fly.”
“Actually, she has her wings clipped to keep her safe.” Melisa tickled Cassie under her wing and said, “Scratchy.”
The little bird lifted her wing and spread out the feathers.
“You’re stupid.” Mattie stuck his tongue out at Bree.
“That’s enough,” Melisa said. “Mattie, go back to your sharing chair. Bree, you too. Talking out of turn. The rest of you will get to line up and hold Cassie.”
“But I wasn’t being mean,” Bree said.
“You were belittling Mattie and talking without raising your hand. Go.”
She stomped back to her chair, her blond curls bouncing. “My Papa’s getting me a big bird for Christmas.”
“You too, Mattie.” Melisa pointed toward the boy’s chair.
“Screech,” Mattie shrieked and flapped his arms at Cassie.
The bird squeaked and flapped her stubby wings. She lifted straight up like a helicopter, hit her head on the ceiling and landed on the top of a row of hanging overhead lights.
The rest of the class jumped up and down, pointing and yelling.
“She can fly.”
“Come here, little birdie.”
“Is she stuck up there? Is a fireman going to get her?”
“Oh look, she’s scared.”
“Everyone, take your chairs,” Melisa said as calmly as she could. “Sharing time is over.”
“Ahhh …” the children complained.
Melisa glanced at the wall clock. Ten more minutes until Christmas break. As much as she loved her students, their energy and excitement with Christmas drawing near meant they couldn’t sit still or follow directions.
She passed out the green candy Christmas trees she made by drizzling melted candy over straight pretzel sticks, along with a flyer about the Giving Tree Toy Drive at the Reed Christmas Tree Farm. Bring a wrapped toy and take a picture with a pet bird, ride in a firetruck, and other fun activities.
When the bell rang, Melisa stood at the door and wished all the children a happy vacation and New Year. She kept one eye peeled for Cassie, in case she made a break for the open doorway, but the little bird seemed content to perch high above her and preen her colorful feathers.
“Bye, Miss Hart,” Bree waved her candy Christmas tree. “I want to take a picture with Cassie. How are you getting her down?”
“The janitor has a ladder.”
“My Papa’s coming home.” Bree nodded. “I prayed real hard.”
“He will, sweetie.” Melisa caught the eye of Ella, Bree’s aunt, and reassured. “I’m also praying for him.”
Bree’s father was a war veteran who’d gone back to Afghanistan for a humanitarian trip. He’d been taken hostage by terrorists, but the news reported that he was safe and had been airlifted to Germany to be debriefed, and hopefully able to return by Christmas.
“Are you going to the Christmas Tree Farm tomorrow with Cassie?” Ella took the green pamphlet from Bree and helped her unwrap the Christmas tree candy.
“If I can get her down from the light.” Melisa pointed to her bird. “How about you?”
“Bree, you want to go to the toy drive?” Ella ruffled Bree’s head.
“Yes, I want to hold Ms. Hart’s birdie and take a picture. But we have to bring a toy.”
“Then let’s go to the toy store and pick one up,” Ella said, winking at Melisa. “Maybe we’ll see your teacher there tomorrow.”
“Sure thing.” Melisa said to her friend from UC Berkeley where they’d taken student teaching classes together. “Let’s have coffee some time and catch up now that school’s over.”
“Great. I’ll text you,” Ella said as she took Bree’s hand.
Once all the students were gone, Melisa shut the door and called Larry, the custodian. After she got Cassie down, she’d have to get her wings trimmed again, despite what the guys on the bird forum argued.
Clipping was for Cassie’s safety. She’d heard too many stories of birds flying away, landing in frying pans, or crashing into windows to be persuaded by the free-flight people, especially that arrogant guy with the handle Lovebone who claimed his parrot regularly flew outdoors and hadn’t gotten lost yet.
These days, anyone could say anything on the internet without proof.
Melisa climbed onto a table and held her finger, waving it up and down as a landing strip. “Come on, Cassie. Don’t be afraid. Fly to me, baby. Come on.”
The bird bent low and arched her wings, shaking and considering, but unable to figure out a way down. She’d been so frightened by Mattie that instinct took over, but now that she was calm, she couldn’t bring herself to try.
Melisa turned on her cell phone to check her messages. Maybe she’d ask Lovebone how he got his bird to fly to him.
# # #
Dr. Rob Reed was running late. He hated evening shifts, and these days, they were getting slammed, especially with the increased ambulance traffic due to all the holiday parties and their drinking and carousing activities.
He whistled for his bird, Casey, a lovebird he rescued from his irresponsible actor brother who was the king of the impulse buy. The little bird flew skillfully, hovering a second before landing on his outstretched finger.
“Good boy,” Rob said, handing him a sunflower seed. He tucked the bird inside his cage. “Papa has to go to work. Sorry I have to cover you early tonight.”
Rob was an emergency room doctor working shifts that jumped around without rhyme or reason. He’d go from twelve-hour overnight shifts, to sixteen-hour six AM to ten PM shifts, to ambulance rides to transfer critical patients. But it was the evening shifts that relegated his dating life to a big fat zero.
Not that he could complain. He was making good money for a young doctor fresh out of residency, and this year, he’d purchased a cabin in the mountains near Lake Tahoe. Not bad for a twenty-nine-year-old.
San Francisco General was the only level-one trauma center for the entire City of San Francisco and northern San Mateo county. Once Rob was on the job, he was on. No time for phone calls, internet, chit-chat, or even catching a bite to eat.
After packing his food in thermal packs, he checked the free flight parrot forum where he was the moderator.
There was a message from HaveAHart, a kindergarten teacher who was a newbie bird mama.
My little bird had a fright in the classroom and she’s perched on the overhead light bar. She seems to be trying to fly to me, bending low and lifting her wings, but she’s not taking off. What do I do?
He dashed a reply.
Call a fireman. It’s easier for a bird who doesn’t know how to fly to go up, but it’s scary to come down. Your bird doesn’t have the confidence to fly, so to her, it’s like jumping off a cliff.
He shut his laptop. There really was nothing he could do. Why did these people never listen until they were in trouble? Clipping wings was like chopping a man’s legs off. Rob was sorry he was so grouchy, but he’d bet her bird had other problems too, probably feather-picking, incessant screaming, and other pathological behavior that came from not being able to do what came naturally—fly.


About the Author

 
I love the magic of the Christmas season filled with family and the spirit of giving and helping others. From romantic suspense to sweet contemporaries, I write from my heart and love to include children and pets in my stories. My stories range from steamy to sweet, so be sure to check the reader’s guide at my website.
 Christmas Lovebirds is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 – November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Christmas Lovebirds  by Rachelle Ayala
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Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Sneak Peek: Christmas on Cougar Mountain by Nancy Radke #Christmas #romance

 

Christmas on Cougar Mountain – Nancy Radke

Hard-working Zoey is dedicated to helping children learn, and has built her business to the neglect of having a family. When she rescues a dog on the freeway, she discovers that the escape artist brings a family with him, including a boy she would like to help, and as love grows, a man she would like to keep. But will Kellen ever trust her to help his son, much less give her his heart?t.

Excerpt

A dog… on the freeway! Or just about. A lovely Border Collie, it was walking up the on-ramp, headed into deadly traffic. Zoey’s headlights picked up the shadowy form as she drove past.
Quickly decelerating, she pulled over to the edge and stopped, throwing on her emergency flashers. She hadn’t reached the actual freeway yet, she still had about thirty feet before the lanes merged. Watching for any cars coming up the on-ramp behind her, she opened her driver’s door and stepped out into the pouring rain. It was December in Seattle, so she was used to it. She splashed around to the back of her car and called the dog.
“Here boy. Here girl.” What did you call a dog when you were a total stranger? “Come on.” She bent forward and patted her hands against her legs. Zoey had grown up on a farm in Idaho and was no stranger to animals. She used her very best, soft coaxing voice, one that had saved the lives of lambs and other baby animals who had lost their mamas and had to be coaxed into eating. “Come on, pet. This is no place for you. You’ll get killed, or cause a pile-up, as people try to miss you. Come on, sweet.”
The dog paused, looking about, totally bewildered, then looked toward her, head low. Hers was the only encouraging, friendly voice around, and Zoey called again, wishing she had even part of a sandwich to help bring the dog to her. The rain soaked her hair and shoes and made short work of her raincoat. She could feel the moisture working its way around the collar.
“Come on. Would you like to go for a ride?”
The collie lifted its head.
“Ride? Go for a ride?”
That evidently meant something, and Zoey hurried over to the passenger door and opened it. “Get in! Ride.”
The dog bounded forward and leaped into her car. She shut the door quickly. None too soon, as two cars made the turn and were headed up the ramp, their headlights blinding her. She waited for them to swerve around and pass on by, then she rounded her car, cracked open the driver’s door, and slipped inside.
A wet tongue greeted her, adding to the wetness on her face. The dog was halfway onto the driver’s seat, thoroughly soaked, and Zoey had to push it away so that she could sit down. It put a wet paw on her arm and licked her face, treating her like a long lost friend, giving her a big doggy “thank you.”
“Down. Get down,” she protested, thankful that she had chosen to travel in her jeans and heavy coat, rather than in her better clothes.
The dog immediately jumped down on the floor and sat there, head cocked to one side, as if to say, “Now what?”
She stared out into the pouring rain. Almost a monsoon. Now that she had the collie off the freeway, what was she going to do with it? She was still close to Bellevue, although not familiar with this neighborhood.
“Well, I’m not going to have to worry that you’ll bite me,” she said, flipping on her turn signal and accelerating onto the freeway. “Let’s hope your owner had a chip put in you.”
She continued alongside the freeway for a few hundred feet, then pulled back off it, following the cloverleaf around. She drove down to the small shopping mall where she had stopped to get some coffee. There should be a veterinarian somewhere close. She didn’t want to take the dog with her, out of the area where she found it, in case the owners were looking for it.
Flipping on her phone, she searched for a nearby vet’s office. She found an animal hospital about a mile away, and drove to it.
Leaving the dog in the car, she tried the office door. Still open.
“Hi. I found a dog on the freeway, and would like to see if it has a locator chip,” she called across the room to the attendant.
“Sure. Bring him in.”
Zoey still wasn’t sure if the dog was male or female, so checked when she opened the door to take it out. Male.
He ran happily ahead of her, but when she said “Heel,” he came in close to her left side and stayed there.
“Well, someone has been teaching you manners,” she said, opening the vet’s door and going inside.
“He doesn’t look like he’s been injured,” the lady said, as they approached her.
“No. He was running up the on-ramp when I got him.”
The attendant petted the dog on the head and got a sweeping tail wag response. “Good boy. He might have been following his owner’s car. Dogs do that, expecting to get picked up. Then they get lost or hurt.”
“If so, he might be from around here. I picked him up on this exit.”
The lady scanned him along the back and shoulder. “No chip. Probably a family pet, and so no one thought to put in a chip. Do you want to leave him here?”
“What will you do with him?”
“We’ll send him to one of the pet rescue groups. If they can’t find his owner, they’ll put him out for adoption. If no one takes him, he’ll be put down.”
“That would be a shame. He’s a nice dog. Well trained. I think I’ll leave my name and number with you, and take the dog. You know what he looks like. If someone calls looking for him, you can send them to me.”
“Do you have room for him?”
“Yes. I have a large enclosed porch where he can stay.” Zoey wrote down her name and phone number on a pad and handed it to the attendant. “I put ‘Found Dog’ beside my name.”
“Border Collie. Male,” the attendant said, and added the words to the paper. Then she tore off the note and stuck it on a bulletin board on the wall behind her.
Zoey looked at all the notes. There were a lot of them. “All lost dogs?”
“Dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds… you name it. Even a rooster. We get a lot of missing pets this time of year. Folks get busy with the Christmas holidays and forget to check their animals. Or they think someone else in the family has done it.”
That wouldn’t be her, Zoey thought. Her family was still in Idaho.
“Come along, Dog.”
“You’d better name him. Do you want a leash?”
“A name?” Zoey’s mind stayed blank. What would she name the dog?
“Call him Jack. Just something rather than ‘Dog.'”
“OK. Jack was my grandfather’s name. I can remember that.”
“Have you had a dog before?”
“Not recently. But my folks had dogs. There was always one or two around.”
Leashes and collars hung on a rack near the counter. Should she get one? She might only have this dog for one day. She realized she wanted Jack. He would keep the nights from being so long. He probably wouldn’t sleep out on her porch, after all.
“I’ll take a leash and collar.” She chose a serviceable-looking set from the rack and put it on Jack. Sixty dollars. She could afford it, and pulled out her credit card.
The attendant ran the card and handed it back to her. “There you go. Don’t get too attached. Owners have a habit of showing up out of the woodwork, when you figure they never will.”
“Thanks for the warning.” She put the collar and leash on the dog. “Come on, Jack.” The collie followed her to the door and waited while she opened it. “Good dog. Heel.”
Jack positioned himself on her left side and stayed that way out to the car. She opened the door and he looked at her. “Get in.”
Thus invited, he jumped inside. She went around the car and joined him.
“There is no way I’d let anyone put you down,” she told him, giving him a scratch behind the ears. “Even if you chewed holes in my boots. I’m a sucker for a lost animal. Besides, you’ll make the kids feel at home.” And herself less lonely. She didn’t say it, but she thought it.
Zoey’s biological clock was ticking. She was almost twenty-eight and had no man interested in her. She had tried gym membership, but couldn’t stand the smell. Online dating seemed too risky. Her work kept her so busy, she really didn’t have time for dating. She had spent her college-age years getting her business going, and hadn’t met anyone.
Now she wished she had spent a little time looking around, “husband hunting,” but it had seemed so important to find a place where she could work. She had tried renting a duplex, where she could live in one side and work in the other, but it wasn’t set up the way she wanted it, and the double rent was just as expensive as a house. So she had bought a new house, built the way she wanted it.
She felt left behind. As lost as this dog. The eligible men had all settled down with someone else. She was going to have to make some changes in her life. Schedule more vacations. Join some clubs. Go out and meet people. Pray about it more often.
She turned on the windshield wipers and drove home to their rapid thumping. At top speed they still couldn’t keep the windshield clear of the heavy rain. Like everyone else on the freeway, she slowed down to forty miles an hour.
The dog in the car made a difference. She had made this trip many times, to and from the airport, but always by herself. Just the presence of a living, breathing being in the car beside her made a difference. He couldn’t talk back to her, but she chatted away to him, happy to have a companion for the journey.
“Do you know you are both beautiful and intelligent?” she asked Jack. “I don’t expect I’m going to get to keep you very long, not a dog like you. But if your owner is out of town or somewhere, I wouldn’t want you to end up at a shelter and go to someone else. Or get put down. I’ll take care of you. You really are a sweetie. You don’t look very old.”
In reply, he steamed up the windows and filled the air with the smell of wet dog, but she was very glad to have him.


About the Author

Author Nancy Radke, started out writing full-length, modern romance and suspense stories, then switched to novella length for her western series, The Traherns, and now writes both, usually two or three books at the same time. She has published ten Sisters of Spirit books, including Christmas on Cougar Mountain, thirteen Trahern books, and one book of a new Brothers of Spirit series. A former special education teacher, her education background shows when she includes history, or in this case, reading problems, in her books. Her books are G-rated, no sex, no swearing.


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