Excerpt

 

Five days before Christmas, Emma Bagwell’s structured existence spirals out of control. Her wayward sister has blown into town with a six-week-old who needs an emergency sitter for a week. Emma knows zip about babies, but after one look, she falls in love. And being a substitute mom is a great diversion from the one problem she can’t seem to solve. 
Doctor Damon Knight is even more infuriating than he is hot. Emma can’t decide which she’d sooner forget…their no-holds-barred public argument or his very private bone-melting kiss. But when the baby comes down with a fever, then an alarming rash, Emma doesn’t hesitate. Dropping his festive out-of-town plans, Damon comes to the rescue, and in more ways than one. 

 

One Christmas Knight

part of 

The Holiday Romance Series

One small town, 4 great stories!

 

"This set was a very enjoyable  read! ...I couldn't put [it] down!"

  Amazon Reviews 

Monday, December 20

 

DAMON KNIGHT had thought Point St. Claire’s only realtor office was empty―until he caught a whiff of freshly brewed coffee then heard a run of choked sobs. Clearly a private moment for the person involved. Anyone else would creep back out the way they’d come.

But Damon was a doctor. He’d taken an oath. Someone might be hurt. Need his help.

Edging forward, beyond the buttressed front counter, he found brokerage manager Emma Bagwell clutching a glittery Christmas card. The second she sensed company, Emma jolted off the chair to her feet. Dashing moisture away from her cheek, she assumed an unconvincing business-as-usual face and slid the card to one side.

Damon shut his hanging jaw. Emma ‘Bad-ass’ Bagwell—the woman who prided herself on needing no one and nothing—was crying over a card? Right. And maybe later, he’d see Frosty the Snowman come to life.

“I stroked the neighbor’s cat this morning.” Emma snatched a tissue from a handy box and brushed it under her nose. “I’m allergic. Eyes puff up. Throat closes.

Damon cleared his own throat. Sure, if that’s how she wanted to play it. He resumed his doctor’s air.

“Have you tried antihistamines?”

“Wouldn’t help.”

“They’re great for most people with—”

“I said it wouldn’t help.”

With her long blond waves and brave blue eyes, Emma exuded a sensuality that had less to do with her dynamite dimensions and more with that ‘no comprise’ spirit. In Emma’s world, breathalysers were compulsory in all vehicles―no blow, no drive―every egg was free-range, and no child went without breakfast or lunch, courtesy of the state if need be.

The first time they met, they’d discussed world security. The conversation had become heated then bubbled over big time. Voices were raised. So were emotions.

 Then something primal had snapped and exploded in them both. He’d taken her in his arms and kissed her for all he was worth. Emma Bagwell had given just as much back.

Since then, Emma had gone out of her way to either avoid or ignore him. In a small town like Point St. Claire, not so easy. But she hadn’t forgotten how they had fused in that steamy moment any more than he had. Hell, he sometimes dreamed about it. Enough chemistry to launch Santa’s sleigh ballistic-missile style.

Now, Emma balled the tissue in a fist before lifting her chin and crossing her arms―stoic, and stubborn, again.

“Is there something I can do for you, Damon?”

“I need your professional services.” When she barely stifled a put-upon sigh, he frowned. “What?”

She blinked at him. “What, what?”

“You just heaved out a breath like I’d asked you to hang a mountain of laundry.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Not a bit.”

Another sigh. “Whatever.”

Damon set his jaw. Unbelievable.

“Is it that bad,” he said, “that you can’t stomach me for five minutes?”

“I had a light breakfast.” She grinned. “That should help.”

He drove a hand through his hair. God knows, he shouldn’t goad her. Be the mature one, Damon. Let it go.

“I have to ask,” he said, “did you have a particularly nasty childhood? Do I have the words Dump On Me inked on my forehead.”

Her arms tightened over her chest. “Psychology 101. You don’t have to like everyone, and not everyone will want to like you.”

“Well, see, that’s the funny part, because as much as you’d like to deny it, you do like me, Emma. And while for the life of me I sometimes don’t know why, I like you, too.”

The office door whooshed open. Wearing paint-splattered overalls and ancient Bean boots, Judd Everett ambled in.

The seventy-something-year-old handyman had lived at the Point all his life, as had his ancestors going right back to Year Dot. Judd had a repertoire of local stories, including a Halloween tale that involved the town lighthouse. To add credence to the story, strange things had happened up on that cliff this past October. Things the authorities were still trying to figure out.

Judd tipped his worn peak cap at them both as he stopped by the reception area’s coffee pot. “Mahnin’.”

With her cheeks flushed, Emma summoned a neutral smile. “How’d the job go at Whitecross Street, Judd?”

“Drain’s working just fine now. Just fine.”

Judd poured himself a steaming cup, and then handed over what looked like an invoice. Emma set it down on the counter next to that troublesome card.

“I don’t have anything more for you today,” she said.

“Guess I’ll grab a bagel at Millers then.” Judd’s pale blue eyes twinkled Damon’s way. “Millers Bakery in Main Street. Best Whoopie pies on the coast.”

Over previous months, Damon had enjoyed Millers goods many times himself. He’d even spoken to Judd there more than once, only Judd never seemed to remember him. Nothing dementia related, Damon was certain. More a mindset. A New Englander’s belief in the order of things.

A phone rang—a tinkling Jingle Bells type tune that reminded Damon of family and all their Christmases past. Good times. Close times. He couldn’t wait to see them again. Five days to go.

Emma checked her cell phone’s ID. “Excuse me a minute, boys,” she said, and headed for her separate glass-paned office.

Left alone, Judd eyed Damon as he swallowed a mouthful of coffee. “You’re the doctor new in town,” he said.

“I’ve been here close to a year now.”

“Like I said.” Judd lifted his cup again. “New.”

When Damon had accepted residency at Point St. Claire’s Medical Center, he’d been so over big city politics. New York medical practice was manacled to the almighty triage dollar. His professional ethos of ‘personal care above all else’ was better suited to a small, close-knit community. And Damon did enjoy his work here. He was stoked to have quality time to spend with his patients, young, old and everyone in between.

His first week was one he’d never forget. A five-year-old boy had presented with a fever. Another doctor diagnosed influenza. The family was ready to return home when, in passing, Damon had noticed the boy’s reluctance to turn his head―a stiff neck. His own examination revealed initial signs of purpure, a discoloration due to bleeding beneath the skin. Tests came back positive for meningitis. After receiving appropriate antibiotics and eleven days in intensive care, the boy was discharged, fully recovered.

An awesome start, right?

Only twelve months on, Damon was still considered ‘from away’, an outsider, and he couldn’t shake the feeling he always would be. While he’d made a couple of great friendships—newly returned to the Point, architect Max Devlin sprang to mind—much of the time, at sporting events or community get togethers, Damon felt excluded. He looked different, thought different. He even spoke different.

Judd poured himself another cup, checked his watch. The silence was deafening.

“You work for Emma, Judd?” Damon asked.

“When I’m needed. A man’s gotta keep going or he’ll stop all togeth-ah.”

“Gotta get busy living or get busy dying, right?” Damon grinned but Judd only swirled his coffee cup. Damon cleared his throat, pushed on. “I need a few things fixed at my house, if you’re interested.”

“Plumbing’s my speciality.”

“Plumbing’s the problem.”

Damon explained the issues―a clogged drain, a leaky pipe or two.

“I can take a look today,” Judd said. “Maybe the day aftah.”

“I’m at the clinic until late, but feel free to let yourself in.” Damon passed on his address and one of the spare keys he’d brought along. “It’d be great to have it all fixed by end of the week. I’m heading out for the holidays.”

“Off to see family?”

“Parents and six married siblings with husbands, wives and plenty of kids. The number keeps growing.”

And they all wanted to know when the baby of the family would find the love of his life, have some kids of his own. At thirty-five, Damon had begun to wonder, too. God knows, it wouldn’t happen here. The love/hate connection he shared with Emma was hardly a viable option.

And yet whenever he saw her, some loopy, persistent part of him whispered “what if?” There were times when he had to plug his hands in his pockets to stop from trying to re-ignite the sizzle that had left them both so steamy and confused six months ago.

Another reason to get on with his life.

“My family’s scattered all over the globe,” Damon told Judd because, first time ever, he actually looked interested. “Meeting up in Hawaii this year.”

“What do they eat there? Papaya? Nice’n’warm, too, I s’pose.”

Oh, yeah. Maine’s winter hadn’t got a proper hold yet and already Damon was over the thought of snow, and more snow.

Judd finished his coffee and headed out. When he fanned open the door, icy air blew in, swirling around Damon’s shoulders and chest before sweeping around the counter. Papers flew, darting every which way. As Judd shut the door behind him, Damon glanced toward Emma’s office. Still on that call.

He walked around, scooping up loose sheets. When he came across that Christmas card…well, he was human. He wanted to peek. But nothing good ever came from snooping. Whatever had upset Emma was none of his business.

He was placing the pile back on the desk when Emma joined him again. Blond waves bounced about her shoulders as she flung a look around. “Judd gone?”

“Guess he couldn’t wait for that bagel. He’s doing a plumbing job for me this week before I leave.”

“Leave for where?”

“Hawaii for the holidays.”

Emma closed her eyes and sighed. “Lord, that sounds good.” Then her eyes sprang open and she gave her jacket’s hem an officious tug.  “I mean, it’d be good to…you know. Get away from…whatever.’

Damon arched a brow. “Is there something you want to escape, Emma?” Something to do with that card?

She chewed her lip and dimples deepened. But she shored herself up again, pinning back her shoulders.

“You said you wanted my help,” she said.

“My property,” he said, forgetting the card and wanting to help. Waste of time. “It needs to go on the market.”

“Trading up, Damon?”

“Moving on. I finish up at the medical center in February. Starting on the west coast two weeks after that.”

Her face dropped, like she couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d gotten on one knee and proposed.

“Congratulations.” In spite of herself, she looked curious. “A better offer?”

“I grew up in L.A. It’s been two decades, but an older brother and his family still live there.”

“Family…” she murmured, and her focus drifted toward the counter. To that card.

The fax machine began to hum and rattle. Moving across, she concentrated on the digital display, head down, expression shielded. But her hand resting on the desk was white-knuckle clenched.

He stepped closer, softened his voice. Emma Bagwell could be prickly, snarky, but it killed him to see her like this.

“Em…you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“When I walked in earlier, you were upset.”

“Because you scared me half to death.”

“I thought you might be hurt.”

She angled her head away more and her hand clenched tighter.

“It sometimes helps,” he said, “to talk about things.”

When she fixed her eyes on his, aside from daggers, he also saw hurt―glistening and raw.

“Sometimes, Damon,” she said, “nothing can help.”

She slipped the received fax onto the counter and joined him. While her eyes were wet, her jaw was firm. She had I’m back in control written all over her.

No one could say he hadn’t tried.

He gave his address along with a brief description of the house layout and such.

“These are my numbers, private and at the clinic.” He pulled out his card and the other spare key. “Guess you’ll need this.”

She took both. “I’ll get some shots for advertising. I’ll call to make sure I’m not interrupting anything before I come over.”

Emma Speak for So I don’t run into you there. Heaven forbid.

Damon tipped an imaginary cap. “I’ll leave it in your capable hands.” But as he turned to leave, he glanced again at that Christmas card and hesitated. Tried again. “Look, if you need anything…”

She only sent a bland, brave gaze.

He was at the door, reaching for the knob, when she called out his name. As he turned back around, Emma pressed her lips together then did the most surprising thing he’d seen all year. She sent him a genuine smile.

“I’ll, uh, try an antihistamine,” she said.

Damon wasn’t sure, but he thought maybe, possibly, that was a thanks.

 

That afternoon, as Emma drove into her street, she recognized a car parked in her driveway and her heart hit the floor. This morning’s Christmas card had given her a jolt. But the message inside had said to expect a visit on Christmas Eve, three days from now. She needed at least that much time to prepare.

As her visitor got out of her parked car, Emma pulled into the driveway, her hands shaking on the wheel. The knots wrenching in her stomach made her want to throw up. She could get wound up sometimes, but she hadn’t felt this jumpy since that debacle with Damon Knight six months ago.

Whenever she remembered their argument and explosive kiss―and she remembered them often―Emma died all over again. She should have slapped his face. Instead, she had sagged like a ragdoll in his arms.

She wanted to blame him for the whole thing. Would like to say that he’d ambushed her with his bad boy charm. That she’d hated that kiss and hated him more.

But Damon wasn’t a bad boy. And she’d enjoyed every second that his lips had worked so expertly over hers. Worse, a big part of her wanted to do it again, particularly this morning when he’d come into the office looking so sexy and concerned.

From the start, this day had been a disaster aching to get worse.

Bracing herself, Emma parked and slid out of her car. Her younger sister’s arms were crossed over a grubby white parka. A billowy red scarf was wrapped around her neck, covering half her face. Like she was walking on eggshells, she inched her way over to Emma’s vehicle.

“Did you get my card,” Krystal asked. “I know how you like them.”

Emma had a flashback, a snapshot of the two sisters dancing around a Christmas tree crowded with cards and lights, their father clapping his hands, enjoying the show. She’d loved when her dad had been happy. She’d wished that every day could be Christmas.

“The card came this morning,” Emma said now. “I didn’t expect you until Friday.”

“Yeah…uh…” Krystal fussed with her scarf. “Something came up.”

Something to do with your love life, Krys?

Emma bit back the words. She wouldn’t rake over old scabs. This meeting was awkward enough, but when all was said and done, Krystal was blood. The only blood Emma had left. Once, they’d been such good friends. The absolute pinkie-promise best.

When she put out her arms, Krystal didn’t hesitate. She stepped into the embrace and they hugged each other tight.

  Krystal looked the same…sweet and light and innocent, of all things. But through her parka, she felt thin. Krystal had always been picky. When they’d been very young, Emma had spoon feed her mac and cheese. Krystal had been her baby.

Another bubble of emotion pushed up her throat. Emma pulled away, found a smile. “You hungry?”

“Me? Not so much. But my passenger will want dinner soon.”

“Passenger?”

“I brought someone with me. Hope you don’t mind.”

Nerves in Emma’s stomach pulled tripwire tight. Deep inside, that old wound pulsed. If she dared to bring a man here to my house―

Krystal exhaled. “You’re angry. Whenever you’re about to flip out, your eyes turn dark and a vein sticks out on her forehead. Right there.” Krystal pointed. “It’s blood pressure.”

Their father had blood pressure issues, not her.

“Krystal, I’m not going to flip out.” I’m not, I’m not, I’m not. “Just…who have you got in the car?”

Her sister moved around and opened a backseat door. She bent inside for what seemed an eternity before finally emerging with something wrapped in a blanket cradled against her chest.

Emma let out that breath. So, clearly not a man.

She moved closer. “What’s that? A puppy? A kitten?”

“A baby. My baby.” Krystal snuggled her bundle. “You’re an auntie, Em. And we need your help.”

One Christmas Knight

is book 4 from

THE HOLIDAY ROMANCE SERIES

One Small Town, 4 Great Stories!

Her Mother’s Day Miracle (Book 1) 
Nothing will stop Riley Mathis from giving his infant daughter a safe and stable life growing up. After his wife passed away during childbirth, Riley moved to Point St. Claire, Maine, where families are close and people simply care. So, who had he ticked off to be lumped with this neighbor from hell? 
Aster Lawrence could do without her friendly, happy, handsome new neighbor poking around in her business. This time last year, her world was shot down in flames. She’d been keeping her head above water before Riley Mathis introduced her to his baby. How could she keep her distance—keep surviving—when they were both so easy to love? 
Hers For The Summer (Book 2) 
Ten years ago, Melanie Beachmere had been given the responsibility of her life: assume legal guardianship of her much younger sister. Melanie is still determined to make all the right choices for high school senior Phoebe…even the unpopular ones linked with a seventeen-year-old bad boy who recently breezed into town. 
When a lawyer from Portland brings news of an inheritance left to Phoebe by a stranger, and a scandal from the past, Melanie’s world is rocked. Then her sexy lawyer crosses the boundary from business to the bedroom, and Melanie discovers…attorney Logan Taylor has some dark secrets all his own.
One Haunted Moonlit Night (Book 3) 
Former dot-com success Jack Mason doesn't believe in ghosts or goblins. He hadn't bought this old lighthouse and keeper's cottage in Maine because of its eerie past, but to indulge a childhood dream. Then photographer Sammy Briar blows onto the scene. 
Sammy's story, delivered the night before Halloween at the site of a haunted grave, would raise the hair on the back of anyone's neck. Jack is intrigued, and not only by her tale. Everything about Sammy is captivating, mesmerizing, including her kiss. It's as if... 
Well, it's as if they'd met before.