Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Spotlight: The Vet’s Christmas Pet by J.L. Campbell #Christmas #romance

The Vet’s Christmas Pet – J.L. Campbell
The last thing Toni wants for Christmas is more responsibility, but her daughter has other ideas. A near accident not only brings them a dog in need of a home, but Matthias Laing, who Toni would prefer to keep in the past.

I watched Matthias’ hands, fascinated by his gentle handling of the dog’s paw. Then his words pierced the cloud surrounding my brain. “His leg is bruised, but not broken.”
“But, it’s not my—”
“When you get home, apply some ice to the area for twenty minutes.” He smiled, showing an even row of teeth I remembered well. His gesture also reminded me of the small space we’d been crammed into for the last ten minutes. He rubbed the dog’s forehead, bringing my attention back to the size of his hands.
“I hope this little guy is smart enough to stay off that leg,” he said, “but if not, ensure he doesn’t run or jump on it.”
“He’s not—”
“Talk to Melanie about the bill,” Matthias said, handing me the dog, which I wasn’t too enthusiastic about touching, since I didn’t know where he’d been. At least he seemed clean and didn’t smell.
“It’s great seeing you again,” Matthias added, oblivious to the panic he’d unleashed in my brain.
Bill? I could only hope his fee wouldn’t amount to more than I could afford. Doctor’s fees on the island were out of the reach of some people and vet bills were even more expensive.
I wasn’t even sure I’d hit the damn dog, but Jade insisted that we bring the dog in because she thought I’d run over it. We should have been home by now, but here we were having a stray dog examined by the last man I expected to meet again in life.
“Can I hold him, Mommy?” Jade said, shifting from one foot to the other.
I looked at Matthias, to be sure it would be okay. When he nodded, I answered Jade. “Sure.”
I put the dog in her arms, sighing. What was I going to do with a dog when I could barely take care of the two of us?
I sighed again and that’s when Matthias frowned. “Is something wrong?”
“I was trying to tell you this isn’t my dog.”
His forehead crinkled and one of his eyebrows arched into a questioning expression. “Really? Then how did you end up with him?”
“We were coming down from Jade’s school and the dog ran across the road. Jade thought I hit him.” I shrugged. “That’s why we’re here.”
Matthias peeled off the gloves he’d been wearing and then scratched the back of his head. The motion of his arm parted his coat and revealed a pale-green shirt and a tie several shades deeper. Spiffy dressing for a dog-doctor, I thought. When our eyes met, he smiled as if he’d guessed what I was thinking.
He scratched his scalp again and frowned. “So, would you like me to keep him overnight while you try and find the owner?”
My eyes widened and I knew I was looking at him as if he’d suggested something illegal. I had no intention of searching for the dog’s owner or getting involved with an animal I didn’t own, but that left the question of what to do with him.
As if the dog understood what was happening, he tipped his dark head to one side and put on a sad expression, which didn’t fool me. He was probably an impostor, because if I was right about his breed, there was some Pit Bull in there somewhere and I’d heard horror stories on the news about them ravaging children. I shook my head, wondering under what unlucky star I’d been born.
Jade clutched the puppy to her chest and whined, interrupting my pity party. “Why can’t we keep him, Mommy?”
“Because he’s not our dog and his family is missing him.”
“No they’re not.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, if they cared about him, he wouldn’t be on the street.”
“He probably got out by accident.”
“If you care about your dog, you don’t leave the gate open so he can escape.”
Matthias folded both arms across his chest and leaned against the doorway of the examination room as if settling in for the evening’s entertainment.
I flung him a glare, but that only expanded his smile.
“This isn’t funny,” I said through my teeth.
I threw him another desperate glance or two before he cleared his throat and dialed down his smile. “Tell you what, Jade. Maybe I can try and help your Mommy find his owners.”
Ever the realist, Jade frowned. “How are you going to do that?”
Speaking as if he was conversing with an adult, Matthias said, “Well, we can put a community service announcement on the radio and see if anybody comes forward.”
Jade considered that for a minute before her brows cleared. “Okay, but won’t Ridley be lonely here tonight?”
“Ridley?” I held on to Jade’s shoulder to get her to look at me. “Hon, you can’t name the dog. He doesn’t belong to us.”
She squeezed her lips together and put on her stubborn face, which always reminded me of her father. “Every dog needs a name.”
“And his family knows what it is.”
Jade looked at Matthias as if to invite him to back up her argument. After meeting my gaze for long seconds, Matthias dipped his head.
“What your Mom says is true, but anyway … ” Here, Matthias slipped me a glance. “Ridley won’t be lonely tonight because we have a few other patients that are staying over.”
Jade’s eyes went wide. “You mean this is a dog hospital too?”
“Not exactly, but … would you like to look around?”
“Yeah!” Jade shot a fist into the air and came close to dropping the dog, who scrabbled at her uniform with his paws.
A sigh worked its way up from my belly and I glared at Matthias. “We do have to be on our way home.”
“I’m sure your husband will understand if you’re running a bit late.”
Jade now stood between Matthias and me. “She doesn’t have one anymore,” she said.
Matthias’ curiosity was clear when our eyes met, but he was speaking to Jade when he asked, “What doesn’t she have anymore?”
“A husband. Mommy said she and Daddy were no longer compati—”
“Never mind that,” I said, prodding her toward the doorway.
Amusement brightened Matthias’ eyes and curved his lips. It was clear he saw through my evasive action. “Tell you what,” he said, “I’ll talk to Melanie about the bill and you can wait while I give Jade the tour.”
Great, now I’d be wasting more time in Matthias’ space when I needed to get home to the one hundred and one things that filled my evenings.
Jade walked ahead of us with the dog still pressed to her clothes, which would be crawling with dog hairs. Good thing she wasn’t allergic, but I’d be the one who had to de-hair her clothes before getting them into the washing machine.
In the waiting room, I sat and pulled out my smartphone while Matthias spoke with the woman at the desk. I stopped listening after he pointed to me and said, “Mrs. Barnett’s dog … “
As if I hadn’t told him I didn’t own the stumpy thing, with the brownish-black coat, that had captivated Jade.
Despite trying to focus on my own business, I couldn’t help looking up when Matthias left the office with Jade. A little over eighteen years had passed since I last had contact with him, so seeing him earlier had been a shock.
Our conversation had been stilted at first, and Jade’s eyes were like shiny marbles as she looked back and forth at us. I could only hope she’d forgotten about that by now, otherwise she’d ask a ton of questions and I wasn’t prepared to say much, if anything, about my history with Matthias.

About the Author

J.L. Campbell is an award-winning, Jamaican author who writes romantic suspense, women’s fiction, new and young adult novels. She has written thirteen books, three novellas and two short story collections.
Her novels include the Island Adventure Romance series, which currently has four exciting, stand-alone stories and features feisty women and determined men. Campbell is a certified editor, who also writes non-fiction.
The Vet’s Christmas Pet 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 The Vet’s Christmas Pet  by J.L. Campbell
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c

Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Spotlight: Tails, Time, and St. Nick by Mary Leo #Christmas #romance

Tails, Time, and St. Nick – Mary LeoKris Timemaker has inherited a magical clock. Using the clock’s magic for anyone other than St. Nick on Christmas Eve has some grave consequences, but when his daughter’s beloved Westie goes missing, and his estranged wife asks for his help, Kris has no choice but to take a chance with time and try to win back his family in the process.


“Are you sure this is the right road?” Annabelle asked for the umpteenth time. Her mom, Noelle, glanced down at the GPS on her phone and sure enough, it read that the turn off for Merry, Pennsylvania was in two-point-four miles. The house they were looking for, located at 206 Mistletoe Drive was located only another three miles in. Still, there was no visible indication there was a town anywhere near the deserted road they were driving down. Not that Noelle could see anything other than a few feet in front her. Snow had begun falling about an hour ago, and with it visibility had dwindled to almost nothing. Darkness had engulfed everything on either side of the road so that not even a gas station or a street light pierced its gloom. For the sake of her daughter, Noelle tried to remain calm, and in control, but her insides quivered, and panic threatened to spring out at any moment. It seemed that her special GPS app could find Merry, but the town was completely absent on any other map.

“Yep. About two more miles and we should be there,” Noelle told her precocious eight-year-old daughter. There were times when Annabelle acted more like a teen rather than an eight-year-old, and this was definitely one of those times. She’d been skeptical about the directions from the start.

“You know that sometimes a maps app doesn’t always work correctly. We could be lost in all this snow forever and freeze to death. We should call Daddy and have him come get us.”

Noelle absolutely, one-hundred percent, refused to allow her soon-to-be ex-husband, Kris Timekeeper, to swoop in and be the hero. Those days were over. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, her daughter, and their dog, thank you very much!

Kris had emailed the link, warning her of the importance of using this GPS app rather than any other. At first she thought he was being ridiculous, but when her Google Maps couldn’t find Merry, PA, she tried his Merry Maps and sure enough it brought up the driving directions instantly. Now all she had to do was trust that this special app was accurate.

“We don’t need to call your dad. We’ll get there just fine on our own. We’ve gotten this far, haven’t we? If you learn one lesson in all of this, it’s don’t give up when your goal is just around the corner.”

“Why does everything always have to be a lesson? Can’t we just have fun?” Annabelle was obviously in one of her I-don’t-want-a-lesson moods. Noelle knew there was no winning when she decided to be this way, but the lesson was too important to drop.

“We are having fun, but you also have a chance to learn something important.”

“If you say so,” Annabelle mumbled. “But I want to be there now.”

At once Noelle knew she’d managed to alienate her daughter, a common occurrence these days. She hadn’t meant to. She simply wanted to make sure Annabelle grew up to be a strong woman, and never needed to depend on anyone. Whenever she had the opportunity to demonstrate that strength, she’d make a point of telling her daughter.

Apparently, this was not the right time.

“Okay, we’ll save the lesson for later. For now, we’ll simply savor our triumph of driving here all on our own from Long Island. That’s a big deal, and you helped!”

“Whatever,” Annabelle said, without looking at her mom.

Noelle glanced over at her daughter just as their car slid on some ice for an instant. Noelle’s hands locked on the wheel in a death grip, she eased up on the gas, and she purposely did not step on the brake. She had the car back under control in the blink of an eye, but the adrenalin rush still pumped up the beat of her heart.

“Mom, don’t do that. It’s too scary.” Annabelle sat up straight in her seat, and stared out the front window at the snowy road.

“I’ve got it. I’ve got it,” Noelle repeated, but she knew at any moment she could lose control once again. “No worries.”

The roads were getting dangerously slippery, and she was too tired for the constant battle. All she wanted was to find this darn turnoff and get out of the car for a while. She’d had enough fun for one day.

Noelle had never driven this far in her entire life. Kris had always done the driving, or her parents, or an assortment of friends. She looked at it as a sort of rite of passage and daydreamed of one day driving across the entire country with only her daughter by her side . . . and Holly, Annabelle’s dog, of course.

She sucked in a breath, sat up straight and once again tried to relax her shoulders by releasing the vice-grip she had on the wheel.

“In five-hundred feet, use the right lane, and make a right turn onto Candy Lane,” the male voice coming from her linked car radio said. Annabelle had chosen the male voice with the English accent to lead them to her dad’s house. The voice sounded more like her dad’s, and Annabelle worshiped her father, as she should. Noelle would have liked a little of that adoration coming her way every now and again.

“We’re here!” Noelle said as she made a right turn up Candy Lane. The tension of driving in snow had kept her body tight for the past fifty miles. Just knowing they were about to enter the town and were off the main highway was enough to ease the stiffness in the back of her neck.

“Holly is happy, but I think she needs to pee really bad.”

Holly was Annabelle’s very pregnant Westie, and the reason why they had driven from Long Island to this gosh-forsaken place to begin with. Annabelle wanted to spend Christmas with her dad, and wherever Annabelle went, Holly went right along with her.

When Annabelle’s dad had moved out eight months ago, she’d gone into a tailspin of sadness that Noelle couldn’t handle. A child phycologist told Noelle that a pet might help cheer her up, so Noelle immediately went out and found Holly, a five-month-old Westie pup who was already housebroken. Annabelle’s disposition immediately changed for the better. They were inseparable, along with Jolly, the Westie who lived down the block and was the inspiration for buying Holly in the first place. Little did Noelle know that Holly and Jolly had more than a friendship going on, and before Noelle could remedy the situation, Holly was pregnant with at least three pups, according to a local vet.

Now, with her ever-growing baby-bump, Holly stood on Annabelle’s lap and perched her front paws on the passenger door to get a better view out the window at her new world. Her head dipped to one side as if she wasn’t too sure about what she saw.

“Let’s find your dad’s house first. I don’t want to stop the car in all this snow.”

Annabelle’s dad had been the love of Noelle’s life. She thought they’d be together forever, until last spring when he inherited some old clock from his great-uncle Tim and refused to tell Noelle anything more about it, or why they had to move to Pennsylvania so he could work on it. She would have followed him anywhere if he’d been honest with her, but he wanted her to trust him, and just go along with the program.

All he told her was the clock could not be moved from its location and he was the only person who could work on it. God knew how much Kris loved to tinker with old clocks, but there was no longer a future in it. Great-uncle Tim had been a master clockmaker, and his dad before him and so on for several generations. Kris’s dad never had an interest, and instead owned a highly successful electronics corporation, making Kris the last in a long line of clockmakers. His great-uncle had never married nor had any children, but he’d made sure Kris learned the trade.

Unfortunately, Kris had given that love of clock tinkering to Annabelle. Noelle hoped it was a passing passion and her daughter would soon develop a fascination for anything other than a completely dead craft. So far, Annabelle still loved to tinker with old clocks despite Noelle’s encouragement for the arts, or math, or any number of viable potential interests. None of them appealed to her except those darn clocks. She was always working on one, and had brought one along for her dad to help fix. It was almost as if clock making was part of her DNA. Unfortunately, Kris’s great-uncle could barely make ends meet, and Kris seemed to be heading in the same direction.

Picking up and leaving so Kris could take up clock making full-time meant she’d have to give up the job she’d worked so hard to maintain at the marketing agency that paid her six figures a year. And Kris would be giving up his teaching position at Columbia University. They argued about it for months, until he finally walked away from his job and his family, and moved to Merry, PA. A town that wasn’t even on a map.



Kris Timekeeper thought he would be finished with all the upgrades he needed to make on St. Nick’s clock before Annabelle and Noelle arrived. He hadn’t wanted his work to get in the way of spending every minute with his daughter. Unfortunately, only a fraction of the assortment of copper coils and tiny gears he’d ordered from London had arrived, which meant not only would his time have to be divided up, but because he was running late with the fixes, he may have to let some of his planned upgrades go.

“This is highly unfortunate,” Kris said to his assistant, Mrs. Florence Tannenbaum, as they stood in the clock room, each busy with their own projects. “I’m nervous about using the old parts with all my upgrades.”

“You’ll have to work with what you have,” Mrs. Tannenbaum said with her usual dismissive flair. “You can’t depend on the mail service for such an important task. It just isn’t prudent. Never has been.”

Mrs. Florence Tannenbaum came with the house, which was fortunate because she knew almost everything about the ancient clock, the town, and great-uncle Tim. There had been contentious times in the past month when Kris had thought about dismissing her, but his great-uncle, even though he’d been practically bankrupt, had managed to make financial provisions for her and had strongly suggested that he find a way to work with her, despite her sometimes caustic behavior.

Kris had bit his tongue on many occasions, as she continued to be a challenge. “Is the guest room ready for my daughter? They should arrive any minute.”

Kris turned off the light on his desk inside the hidden room at the back of the house that was filled with gears, coils and various parts of antique clocks. The room dated back to when the house was initially built in the late eighteen hundreds, but was never added to the blueprints. For all intents and purposes the room didn’t exist. It resided on the third floor of the Victorian house, was purposely south facing with the entire upper half and ceiling made of thick, reinforced glass. The glass was automatically cleaned each dawn and dusk by a set of pulleys and squeegees run by some of the same gears and springs the clock ran on. The water was also automatically provided from a natural spring that ran through the back of the property. Trees hid the windows from the outside world, but the sun, the moon and the stars shone bright through the glass each and every day.

“Your guest room is ready, but I had little to do with it. Your annoying housekeeper saw to it with her regular chores. If that’s all you need for today, I’ll be heading home for the night.”

“Have a nice evening, Mrs. Tannenbaum,” Kris told her, anxious to end their day together.

“I will, but it certainly won’t be because you told me to do so.”

Kris sighed and hung his head in resignation. He’d once again forgotten that wishing her a nice evening was not something she responded to in kind. Instead, she took all of those traditional social pleasantries like ‘have a nice day,’ or ‘take care,’ as insults. To her, the person bestowing the kind wishes was literally telling her what to do. And Mrs. Tannenbaum would most definitely have none of that. No one told her what to do, ever, and she made darn sure everyone knew it.

“Ah, of course,” Kris replied, hoping that by some miracle she’d have a great night despite her acerbic nature and return in the morning with a smile on her face. Of course, he’d hoped for this in the past and each morning she’d arrive with her usual scowl. But Kris was an optimist at heart, so he never gave up hope on anything or anybody. Surely one day she would change her tune. It was simply a matter of good temperament and time . . . which he was running desperately short on.

He followed her out of the room, walked past the sliding wall, pulled on the large candlestick on the black marble mantle and watched the wall glide back into place, concealing the secret room from any prying eyes. No one would ever suspect that what was hidden behind that wall helped St. Nick–or Santa Claus, as was his more modern name. It was a secret that had been passed down in his family ever since his fifteenth century ancestor, who had lived in Prague, had designed the clock. It was one of two, only this one had been kept as a secret from the beginning, and shipped to this location once the house was completed. The other clock hung on the wall of Old Town City Hall, in Old Town Prague. This one was a smaller version, had been commissioned by Mr. Claus himself, and no one knew of its existence except the clockmaker’s family for more generations than Kris could count.

Annabelle didn’t know it yet, but she was the last descendant, and would one day be the sole custodian and Mastermagical Clockmaker. With her most recent birthday, she was finally old enough to be told the truth, and Kris couldn’t wait to tell her . . . at the appropriate moment, of course. It also meant that he could tell his wife all about St. Nick’s clock as well, and this time, he hoped she would finally understand the importance of his work.

About the Author

USA TODAY bestselling author Mary Leo grew up in a complicated Italain family on Chicago’s Southside where she developed the art of storytelling. She writes with ironic humor, a bit of whimsy, some serious drama, and has a longstanding love affair with the American cowboy. 
Tails, Time, and St. Nick 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 Tails, Time, and St. Nick by Mary Leo
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c

Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Spotlight: Graced by Jade Kerrion #Christmas #romance

Graced – Jade Kerrion
Connor Bradley doesn’t have time for distractions, not while juggling single parenthood and his clinic on five hours of sleep a night. He most certainly doesn’t have time for Noelle, the high school flirt, who is prettier and more irresistible than he remembers. When Noelle’s father’s heart attack derails Connor’s plans for his first Christmas without his wife, Noelle wants to save the day for his adorable children, but can she also find her way into Connor’s guarded heart?

Ten dead in as many days.
It had reached the scale of an epidemic.
Thirty-year-old Dr. Conner Bradley braced himself for accusations of brutish ignorance and downright incompetence as he pushed on the door to enter the store.
The elderly gentleman behind the counter looked up with a smile. “Connor!” Moments later, his smile slipped, and the kindly blue eyes lost their friendly twinkle. “Another one?”
Connor nodded.
“Are you eating them for breakfast?”
“I don’t know what’s going on.” Connor held up a plastic container. “I brought a water sample, just in case.”
Huffing, old Mr. Langford tested the chemicals in the aquarium water. He frowned. “It’s perfectly balanced. Your filter and air pump working fine?”
“The tank looks great, but every morning, there’s a goldfish floating belly up in the tank.”
“And that’s the only goldfish, right?”
“We have only that one fish in that tank. I have a smaller tank in my bedroom closet with the backup goldfish, and that one does fine until he’s transferred to the big tank. The next morning, he’s gone too.”
Mr. Langford snorted, the sound edged with humor. “I’d say your tank is cursed, but that would be impossible. How hard is it to keep a goldfish alive for more than twenty-four hours?”
Connor dragged his fingers through his dark hair and scowled. “I’ve been asking myself the same question. Medical school was easier than this.”
“Good thing you’re a better doctor than you are a goldfish owner.”
“One would hope. Anyway, I need another backup goldfish. Better make it two to save me a trip out here tomorrow.”
Mr. Langford shuffled to the goldfish tank. Squinting at the flurry of bright orange fins and tails, he selected two that looked relatively alike and scooped them up with a net, before depositing them into Connor’s plastic container. “Has Grace caught on yet that you’re swapping out the dead goldfish with a live one every morning before she wakes up?”
Connor shook his head. “No. Thank God, the goldfish all look alike.”
Mr. Langford’s lips tugged into a half-smile. “You might want to think about telling her. She’s six; she ought to learn how to handle things like this.”
Like death. Tension stiffened Connor’s shoulders, and a muscle twitched in his smooth cheek. “Not yet. It’s too soon.”
The line furrowing Mr. Langford’s brow gave him a concerned look. “What are you doing this year for Christmas?”
“We’ll be in Orlando, visiting my parents and staying through the New Year. I’ll take the kids to Disney World for a few days. It seemed…smarter to get away from home this year.”
“You can’t outrun memories of Millie forever,” Langford said gently.
“No, but I can put it off for a year, maybe two, until Grace and Hope are older and I can explain to them how their mother died.” His voice cracked slightly. “Christmas will always be rough.”
“And how is Hope doing?”
“On track for a one-year-old. She alternates walking and crawling, but hasn’t started speaking yet.”
“I expect she will soon.”
Connor nodded. “What about you? Any Christmas plans?”
Mr. Langford rubbed at his lower jaw and neck. “Nothing special. We’ll be in town; just a quiet family Christmas.”
“Is Noelle coming back this year?” Connor asked, referring to the Langford’s youngest daughter, Noelle, who had entered high school as a freshman the year he’d graduated.
“No. She’s still in love with the bright lights of Los Angeles. You’d think that after eight years, she’d have come to her senses.”
Connor heard wistfulness in Mr. Langford’s voice. “The cities offer a great deal,” he conceded. “I had fun living in Boston for a while.”
“Yet you didn’t stay there.”
“The eight years for college and medical school were too long. Millie and I couldn’t wait to come back to Havre de Grace.” He shrugged. “We were just different, I guess. Homebodies.” He glanced at the two fish in the plastic container. “I should get them home and into the backup tank.”
“Do you have an automatic feeder for when you’re away?”
Connor nodded. “I do, and we’re not leaving for another two days. Our flight to Orlando leaves on Christmas eve.”
“Sounds good.” Mr. Langford grinned, displaying white teeth. “You mind those two fish you have there. I’m not selling you another one before Christmas.”
Connor chuckled. “Gotcha.” He turned to leave, but at Mr. Langford’s sharp inhalation of breath, he glanced over his shoulder. The older man sagged against the counter. Connor rushed back to him. “What’s happening?”
Mr. Langford pressed a fist against his abdomen. “Just heartburn.” His breath came in short pants, as if he could not get enough air into his lungs. “Feeling woozy. I’ll be okay if I just sit for a bit.” He sank with relief into the chair Connor brought to him and mopped the beads of sweat off his forehead.
Connor’s eyes narrowed. “Any discomfort in your chest?”
Mr. Langford shook his head.
“Any discomfort anywhere else? I saw you massage your neck and jaw just now.”
The old man blinked, as if assessing his aches for the first time. He rolled his shoulders slowly. “Just a slight pain along my back and arms.”
“One or both?”
“Any nausea?”
Mr. Langford nodded. “Breakfast probably didn’t agree with me. Damn eggs.”
“Do you have any aspirin here?”
“Cabinet over there.” The old man indicated with a jerk of his chin.
Connor retrieved the bottle of aspirin and handed Mr. Langford a single tablet. “Don’t swallow it whole; chew it.”
Bewildered, the old man began chewing on the tablet as Connor tugged his smartphone out of his pocket and dialed 911. “This is Connor Bradley. Send an ambulance to Langford’s pet store right away.”
Mr. Langford clutched Connor’s arm. His hands trembled. “What’s going on?”
“I’m your doctor; I know your medical history. You’ve never had heartburn in your entire life.” Connor kept his voice calm. “Your symptoms…I think you may have just had a heart attack.”
About the Author

Jade Kerrion writes her award-winning science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary novels at 3:00 a.m. when her husband and three sons are asleep. She aspires to make her readers as sleep-deprived as she is. Her alphabetical Life Shocks Romances series anchors around unlikely romances you will root for and happy endings you can believe in. 
Graced 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 Graced by Jade Kerrion
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c

Countdown Til Christmas Pets – Spotlight: Unexpected Gift by Chantel Rhondeau #Christmas #romance

Unexpected Gift – Chantel Rhondeau
Aspiring decorator Cali Johnson moves to New York City—lonely, afraid, and far from home during the holidays. When she finds a lost cat in her apartment building, she strikes up an odd friendship with his reclusive owner, Marcus Ritz. If only she knew what he was hiding.

Cali Johnson covered her nose, trying to block the putrid smell of rotting garbage and body odor as she navigated the dirty linoleum flooring in the hallway of her apartment building. Four more doors and she’d reach her tiny place. Knowing she had a safe haven of cleanliness and cheer at the end of the hall was the only thing that kept her walking through it.
She couldn’t believe the way her neighbors treated their home. In her small hometown of Idaho City, no one would ever think about leaving rotting trash in another person’s way. Her new fifth story apartment off Bedford Park in the Bronx was an entirely different matter. Cali usually tried to see the good in everyone, but her new neighbors left a lot to be desired. She wondered how many of them were drug dealers or killers.
“But I’m living my dream,” she muttered under her breath, gagging when she walked by a bag at the apartment next to hers with something stinky inside.
The doorway across from her apartment opened and a tall, muscular man stepped out. His well-built arms made Cali gulp with fear and the scowl on his face didn’t invite friendly conversation.
She gripped the pepper spray canister attached to her key ring as she walked toward him, knowing she had to be ready if he came after her. She’d already learned that lesson on the subway last week. A thug overtook her while she rested and stole her purse, which would cause her aggravation for some time to come. People were different in New York than they were back home.
Just as the man was about to pass, a low hissing sound traveled through the hallway, making Cali jump and fumble her key chain protection to the floor.
“Again?” the man roared and pounded his fist against the wall with a short jab. “I’m sick of this crap!”
Cali pressed herself flat against the opposite hallway wall, not daring to bend over for her keys and be more vulnerable to the stranger. She turned her head briefly toward the hissing, noting a large ginger and white cat emerging from a garbage bag. The cat was a minor threat, however, and Cali fixed her attention on her neighbor.
“Don’t worry, miss,” the man said. “He probably won’t hurt you. It’s me he wants a piece of. I hate that cat.”
Swallowing quickly, Cali struggled to moisten her tight throat so she could speak. It seemed the man had misunderstood her fear. He must not be planning to attack if he assumed her fear wasn’t directed toward his scowling face and bulging biceps. “I thought cats weren’t allowed in this building,” she managed to say. “You’ve seen him before?”
The man rolled his eyes, clearly frustrated. “Yeah. That’s Jasper. He’s a service animal for the weirdo who lives in the apartment above yours.” He stuck his hand out. “I’m Clint, by the way. Been meaning to introduce myself since you moved in last week, but I work nights so it’s tough to sync up schedules with daytime folks.”
As he gave her a reassuring grin, Cali’s fear began to melt away. This was the first person in the building to offer her their name or a friendly word. Cali didn’t know anyone in this city and was awfully lonesome. Maybe Clint wasn’t so bad. She shook his hand. “I’m Cali. Just moved here to work as an assistant for an interior decorator down in Manhattan.”
Jasper stopped hissing and walked toward Cali and Clint. Even though the cat’s eyes stayed trained on Clint, he came up to Cali and rubbed against her leg in a friendly enough fashion.
“Of course he would like you,” Clint grumped. “Damn thing bit me last time he got out and I tried to take him home. No one can control him, but the woman who lived in your apartment before you managed to handle him.” He glared down at the cat. “You’re pure evil, Jasper.”
“Do you have a number for his owner?” Cali asked. “We really should get him home.” She wrinkled her nose, thinking about what Jasper might be rubbing against her work slacks. “He’s going to need a bath after digging through that garbage bag.”
“If our neighbors gave a sh—” He paused. “Sorry, Cali, I meant a crap. If they gave a crap about where we lived, Jasper wouldn’t have rotting garbage to dig through.”
She nodded her agreement. “It’s definitely a lot different than where I come from. Unfortunately, The Bronx is the only place in New York City I can afford. At least the subway ride down to my job in Manhattan isn’t too bad.” If she didn’t include getting robbed last week, of course.
“Yeah, it’s cheap but we’re basically living in the slums. Our slumlord doesn’t give a crap about this place. I’ve never seen the owner show his face around here, of course. All he cares about is our money. I used to try and clean up, but it’s pointless.”
She couldn’t worry about that. The hallway wasn’t her problem. Then again, she had a furry, orange problem still rubbing her leg. “So, about the cat’s owner…?”
“I don’t know his number, but he lives upstairs right above you. Apartment seven.” Clint narrowed his eyes. “Be careful around him. I wasn’t kidding when I called him a weirdo.”
Gulping, Cali twisted her hands together. “What do you mean? Is he dangerous?” Maybe she’d just mind her own business and let Jasper roam the halls until his owner came to find him.
“Not dangerous,” Clint reassured her. “But definitely not normal. Don’t expect to see him. He never comes out of his apartment.”
“Then how can I give him the cat?”
Clint’s black bushy eyebrows scrunched down and then he shrugged. “There used to be a cat carrier up there to put him in. This little jerk gets out at least a few times a month. I wish he’d get some bad garbage and we could get rid of him for good.”
Cali widened her eyes in shock. Maybe Clint wasn’t the good guy she thought. Who could wish death on a poor cat?
She glanced down, finding that Jasper had sat next to her foot with his tail curled around the back of her high-heeled shoe. He purred loudly, licking whatever he’d gotten into off his paw.
“I’ll take him home,” Cali decided. His owner had to be a good person if he liked animals. Weird was a relatively broad term in this strange town as far as Cali was concerned. The owner couldn’t be any worse than some of the people she’d already come across. “It was nice to meet you, Clint. I’m glad to know someone in the building finally.” After all, it wouldn’t do her any good to be rude to him, even if he wasn’t as kind as she’d hoped.
Clint bent down, snagging her keys off the ground. Jasper hissed again and took a swipe at his face, but Clint was too fast. He handed them to her. “Probably won’t see much of me, due to the opposite schedules, but if you ever need anything, let me know. Pretty, young girl like you living all alone in a place like this?” He shook his head, expressing his disapproval. “Don’t let any of the weirdos bug you, okay? I’m gone from ten at night until ten in the morning, but I’m normally here sleeping other than that. Holler if you need me.”
As Cali accepted her keys, she realized her over-simple method of judging good and bad might not work for her in such a diverse area of people. Clint might not be a saint, but he wasn’t all bad. “That’s very nice of you. Thank you so much.”
Grinning, Clint took off down the hallway, continuing to wherever he’d planned to go before running into her.
Cali looked down at the cat and sighed. Speaking of weirdos in the building, she needed to go meet one now. “Come on, Jasper. Let’s take you home.”
She bent down, holding her hand out for the cat to sniff. After he’d thoroughly inspected her hand and began purring again, she lifted him from the floor and cradled him to her chest.
The rotting smell became stronger with the cat so close to her nose, and Cali hoped she didn’t have many problems returning him to his owner. She definitely needed a shower.
Stepping onto the top floor of the apartment building was like walking into a different world. The walls and linoleum flooring were spotless and not a single garbage bag graced the hallway. A crisp, clean scent of pine pervaded the area.
Cali scratched behind Jasper’s ears. “Why would you ever run away from this place to dig through trash?”
Jasper only purred louder in response. For Clint’s claims of the cat being such a vicious beast, Jasper hadn’t offered to bite her once on the way up the stairwell. He continued to be docile and sweet while they moved toward his home. If only he didn’t stink so badly, Cali might enjoy holding him.
She’d never been allowed to have a cat growing up, though she’d spent a lot of time trying to make friends with the feral cats that lived on nearby farms. She’d always wanted one, and Jasper was just the loving sort of furry friend she wished to have. She wondered what type of weirdo a person had to be in order to get a cat as a service animal. She’d love to have one if she qualified—after all, no one could really claim to be ‘normal.’
With growing trepidation, she reached apartment number seven. There wasn’t a cat carrier by the door, so Cali hoped Clint had exaggerated when he said the person living inside never came out.
“Here goes nothing, Jasper.” Cali raised her hand and knocked, holding her breath as she waited for a response.
After several moments, her heart continued to hammer away with nerves but no one came to the door. She knocked again, longer and harder.
“Go away!” yelled a deep voice from inside.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” Cali yelled near the crack in the door. “I have Jasper. He was digging through garbage downstairs.”
“So put him inside the door and leave.”
The man definitely wasn’t friendly, but it seemed Cali could at least drop the cat off.
She tried the knob and it turned easily in her hand. A small part of her worried whether the man would be on the other side, ready to jump her and steal her new purse, but Clint said he wasn’t dangerous, just weird.
What awaited her on the other side of the door was a surprise. It was a small room with another closed door. Logically, she’d expected the apartment to be set up like hers. She never figured someone would have a pointless room inside their entryway.
More nervous than before, she walked into the room and tried the knob on the second door. That knob didn’t turn in her grasp. “Sir? The door is locked.”
“Set Jasper down out there and shut him in. I’ll get him after you leave.”
Something was certainly different about this situation, but at least Jasper could get home. Then again, Cali worried about the man living here. Clint said he never came out of his house. Why would that be? She knew how lonely she was living in this city and not knowing anyone. Purposely avoiding everyone was the strangest thing Cali had ever heard. This man definitely needed Jasper, just so he had some companionship and wasn’t completely alone. How sad that seemed.
“Look, sir, I’m new here,” she said through the door. “My name is Cali Johnson and I live in the apartment right below you.” She hesitated, wondering if that was too much information to give to a stranger. She wasn’t used to watching what she said or worrying about stranger danger. Strangers were an unusual occurrence in her small hometown except when tourists came through, and Cali never worried much about them.
Deciding she wanted to help this man even if he was a stranger, she forged on. “How about I give you my phone number in case Jasper gets out again? I’ll keep an eye on him for you. My neighbor said he gets out a few times a month, and he seems to have a problem with Jasper. I’d hate for you to lose your cat because no one brings him home.”
A loud snort came from the other side of the doorway. “Why would you do that? You don’t even know me.”
“Isn’t that what people do?” she asked, sincerely shocked. “It’s the holidays. Christmas is just around the corner. Isn’t this a time to be kind to other people?”
“Great,” the man said. “One of those bleeding heart types. You all want to help others until it’s an inconvenience to you and you stop helping.”
He certainly wasn’t grateful, but Cali reminded herself that she shouldn’t do nice things in the hopes of getting recognition for it. Being kind was reward enough.
Awkwardly, because of Jasper’s heavy weight in her arm, Cali sifted through her new purse and found a receipt from lunch. Not daring to shut herself inside the small room in case the door didn’t open back up and the ‘weirdo’ trapped her, she couldn’t put Jasper down. Carefully, she managed to write out a shaky message with her name and phone number. “I hope someone would help me if I were in the same situation, sir. I’m leaving my phone number. Call if you need anything at all. I just moved to the city and don’t know many people, so I’m home a lot besides going to work. Jasper seems like a good boy. I’ll keep an eye out for him.”
“If I could keep the damn cat inside the house, it wouldn’t be a problem. He’s tricky. Always sneaking out when the groceries get delivered. He hides in that room until the door gets opened again.”
Even his groceries were delivered? The man must have quite a bit of money, despite living in a rough neighborhood and a rundown building. It explained why the hallway up here smelled good and was free from trash. He must pay to have it cleaned so his delivery people wouldn’t have issues making it to his door. Not that money mattered if he were trapped inside his home.
“I’ll help out,” Cali promised. “Jasper seems like a good boy. Oh, I didn’t catch your name.”
“I didn’t throw it,” the growly voice replied.
She sighed. “Well then, have a good evening, sir. I’ll leave Jasper and go now.”
Setting the slip of paper with her phone number on the ground, Cali stroked Jasper’s chin and kissed his head despite the smell. “Be good, boy.”
Carefully she backed from the room, set Jasper on the floor, and shut the door.
About the Author

Bestselling author Chantel Rhondeau once thought a great mystery or fantasy book with strong romantic themes was the highest level of reading bliss. After reading her first romantic suspense novel, she never looked back. Chantel is author of six romantic suspense novels, a Christmas novella, and the new McCallister’s Paradise series with many more in the works. She lives in the western United States, and when she’s not writing she loves playing cards with her family, bowling on leagues, and snuggling with her lazy kitties.
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