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The Christmas Baby Bundle: Novella (Windy City Romance 4), страница 1

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The Christmas Baby Bundle: Novella (Windy City Romance 4)
 

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The Christmas Baby Bundle: Novella (Windy City Romance 4)


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Other Windy City Romance Books

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  From the Author

  Finding Southern Comfort

  Acknowledgements

  About the Author

  The Christmas Baby Bundle

  By

  Barbara Lohr

  The Christmas Baby Bundle

  Copyright © 2014 Barbara Lohr

  All rights reserved.

  ebook ISBN: 978-9896023-9-6

  Purple Egret Press

  Savannah, Georgia 31411

  Cover Art: The Killion Group

  Editor: Nicole Zoltack

  All Rights Reserved. This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be resold or given away to other people. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems. With the exception of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews, this work may not be reproduced without written permission granted by the author

  This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events and places in the book are products of the author's imagination and are either fictitious or used fictitiously. Any similarity of real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  To my readers: Books in the Windy City Romance series are all stand alone stories that can be read in sequence or separately. The Christmas Baby Bundle is a novella that would come after Her Favorite Hot Doc, although the story is timeless. Connor, the hunky firefighter hero, is McKenna Kirkpatrick’s big brother. Like a lot of couples, he and his wife Amanda discover that having a baby sometimes isn’t easy. And at Christmas time? Especially tough. How can they keep their marriage strong? I hope you are enjoying the Windy City ladies – Vanessa, Amy and McKenna – along with their family and friends. The stories are developed from reader interest so join me on Facebook or sign up for my newsletter on the front page of my website!

  Other Windy City Romance Books

  Finding Southern Comfort

  Her Favorite Mistake

  Her Favorite Honeymoon

  Her Favorite Hot Doc

  Dedication

  For all the couples

  who want so desperately to have a baby…

  keep searching, keep hoping.

  Christmas peace.

  Chapter One

  “You don’t touch me like you love me anymore, Connor.” The words felt like shards of glass in Amanda’s throat.

  “That’s crazy.” Her husband jammed a hand through his thick auburn hair. Her palms tingled. Amanda ached to be the fingers in his hair, the lips on the neck he was rubbing, the voice whispering in his ear, asking him for more.

  More like it used to be.

  Not more of what they had now.

  Enough of the arguments and the tension.

  She wanted their crazy loving back.

  The way it was before they tried to have a baby.

  Across from the kitchen table, Connor was counting to ten. After nine years, she knew him that well. “Of course I love you, Amanda.”

  “Doesn’t feel like it.” Maybe she should have counted to ten. He pulled in a deep breath that expanded the broad chest that once brought her comfort.

  Not anymore.

  Snow pelted the kitchen window and the wind moaned in the eaves. Her meatloaf cooled on their plates. Connor always took second helpings but not tonight. He’d hardly touched his meal. She loved him desperately but why couldn’t he understand?

  “It doesn’t feel like you love me anymore, Connor,” she said quietly.

  “Why would you say that?” His fist came down on the table. Plates jumped and so did she. “That is not true.”

  But she wasn’t backing down. “Our marriage has become a duty. We make love on schedule.” That last was a whisper.

  A muscle twitched in Connor’s cheek. His eyes never lifted from the table. There should be a law against men having lashes that long. Finally, he shoved back and picked up his plate.

  “Aren’t you going to finish your dinner?”

  “What? Now you’re my mother?” His plate landed on the counter behind them hard enough to shatter. But it didn’t.

  With a frustrated growl, he crouched in front of her and scooped up her hands. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? Sweetheart, why are we arguing?” His thumbs brushed her knuckles.

  Throat swelling, she shook her head. “Maybe we should see someone. A counselor.”

  He blew out an exasperated breath. “Whoa. We can barely pay our medical bills now.”

  “I can ask my dad…”

  He dropped her hands and she curled them into her lap. “Amanda, that’s not right. Your folks are retired.”

  “Do you think I enjoy asking them for help?” She hated it worse than Connor. But she’d give anything to save her marriage and they were in trouble. “For heaven’s sake, we have to do something. It’s Christmas, Connor.”

  He sprang up with the grace learned on a basketball court, before he became a fireman. Hands on slim hips, he walked to the window and peered into the darkness like it might hold some answers. “We’re adopting a baby. I don’t understand why you can’t be happy about it. We should go to my family’s baby shower Sunday and enjoy it. Lord knows, we’ve waited long enough. You worry too much.”

  “We’ve been disappointed before.” Taking her fork, she began to break the meatloaf into pieces.

  “But McKenna helped us with this. All systems are go.”

  “Doesn’t matter if your sister’s involved. Adoptions don’t always go through. I want to be prepared for the worst.”

  “You sound like your mother.”

  Acid roiled in her stomach. Despite her mother’s cheerful exterior, she had terrible ulcers. The woman worried about everything. Amanda didn’t want to be like her, but her stomach had been bothering her lately. She edged the meatloaf into two separate piles.

  Connor continued to pace. Her capable husband could make a shot from center court or put out a five-alarm fire. But when it came to becoming a father, he was helpless. Probably made him furious. “Even if the adoption would fall through, we still have the in-vitro. We’ve loaded the bases this month.”

  If only she could be that hopeful. “I know Dr. Castle’s procedure is different than the other ones we tried. Trust me, when you’re the girl on the exam table, they all feel the same. Humiliating. And then you find out it didn’t work.” How well she knew the crushing disappointment and the desperation.

  She could feel Connor studying her. “Don’t say it.”

  “I won’t but…”

  “I know. I sound like my mother.”

  “Maybe we should just let nature take its course.”

  “Isn’t that what we’ve done the past five years?”

  “Yeah, but sometimes it just happens. Look at my baby sister Harper. Mom had Harper late in life.” Sliding back into the chair across from her, he tipped it back.

  “She’d had six other children before Harper. Not the same thing at all.”

  “Please give this a chance.”

  “Trust me. Nothing’s the same.”

  Later that night, she could have run a garden hose down the middle of their queen size bed. Connor was gone when she woke up the next morning. Scooting to his side of the bed, she nuzzled into the warmth.

  Sa
turday and she had a big day ahead. The Kirkpatrick clan was having the baby shower, and she’d insisted on helping them set up. Amanda reached deep for the excitement she should be feeling. Nothing. Only caution. Trepidation. She needed a serious attitude adjustment. A fun, rowdy group, Connor’s family would know something was wrong if she showed up in this mood.

  “You don’t have to come,” her sister-in-law McKenna told her when she called later that morning. “It’s started to snow again.”

  Taking a sip of her peach tea, Amanda glanced out the kitchen window. At least two inches of snow already coated the garage roof. “So what else is new? This is Chicago.”

  “Harper’s here to help me. Really, don’t go out if it gets messy.”

  “Oh, I can’t wait to see Harper.” Maybe it would be good to get out of this house. “I’ll be there this afternoon. Soon as I do the laundry.”

  “Whatever. But if the snow gets too heavy, do not go out.”

  “Right. Connor will kill me if I got stuck somewhere.”

  McKenna chuckled. “Just stay on the main road.”

  A Kirkpatrick rule.

  “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

  Three hours later, Amanda wished she weren’t so stubborn. The tires of her sedan spun on the hard- packed snow. Where were the plows? Saturday before Christmas and shoppers were out in full force, clogging the streets and honking their horns. Inching along Harlem Avenue, Amanda took a deep breath, the steely whirring of her tires fraying her nerves. Maybe she should have taken McKenna’s advice and stayed home. Squeaking across the windshield, her wiper blades were having trouble keeping up. She meant to replace them last month but never got around to it, and Connor didn’t need one more thing on his to-do list. He’d been working such long shifts.

  She blinked eyes dry from the heat blasting from the vents. So darned hard to see and she didn’t want to clip the car in front of her. When she first left the house, the Christmas carols on the radio had been good company. Now “Jingle Bell Rock” grated on her nerves, and she snapped it off. When she came to a side road, she sure was tempted, but Connor’s words rang in her ears, “If you get stuck on a main road, there are always people around to push you out.”

  The stoplight at Lake Street changed to green. Cars jolted forward, but the silver Grand Am in front of her stalled and spun sideways. Two guys leapt from the back seat and pushed. The car lurched forward and they jumped back in the car. So hot in here and she ripped off her green stocking cap and tossed it onto the seat. Traffic inched along.

  No side street could be worse than this. When Amanda came to a cross street, she jerked the wheel to the left, took advantage of a break in oncoming traffic and shot through. She could almost hear Connor’s disapproving sigh in her head. “Babe, you are so headstrong.”

  McKenna and Harper were probably decorating and the Kirkpatricks always went full out. The house would smell of her mother-in-law’s cooking. Suddenly she wanted to be there more than anything else in the world. But she was late and headed east toward her in-laws’ house on Clinton.

  This whole baby shower thing felt surreal. Amanda ran a hand over her flat stomach. Adoption wasn’t the same, not at all. But after five years trying to have a baby, she’d take a baby elephant. At least that was the joke she told in the teachers lounge.

  The joke had stopped being funny.

  The side street hadn’t been plowed. Amanda gripped the wheel so tight she could feel the hard ridges through her gloves. Maybe leaving Harlem had been a mistake. Was she getting anywhere? This was like churning through six inches of oatmeal. On either side, of the street, cars were stuck in driveways. Abandoned shovels stood upright in snow banks. The only sound was the eerie ping of icy snow hitting the windshield. Holiday lights cast a dull glow through the snow-covered bushes. She passed a man digging his car out. Red-faced and panting, he didn’t look happy.

  She opened her window. “Merry Christmas,” she called out above the scrape of his shovel.

  Straightening, he pushed back his navy stocking cap. He was probably around their age, thirty or so. In the house behind him, a young woman stood watching, a swaddled infant in her arms. Yearning squeezed Amanda’s chest.

  The man smiled. “Same to you. Don’t get stuck now. Don’t want to have to dig you out.”

  “I’ll be careful. Watch it lifting all that snow.”

  He waved and got back to work, broad-shouldered and invincible. Like Connor.

  Sleety snow sifted through her open window and Amanda closed it.

  The car crept along. Every time she stepped on the gas, the Malibu fishtailed. This had been a stupid idea. A sickening chill rolled over her. She would have been better off on the main street.

  How would she ever explain this to Connor if she got stuck?

  Took forever to inch forward for a couple more blocks. Almost every window held a Christmas tree or a blue star, eaves and bushes dripping with lights. Chicago was like a giant Christmas cookie during the holidays.

  Where was her holiday cheer this year? She should feel wildly excited about this couple’s shower, a concept she’d had to explain to her father over the phone.”

  “You mean the men go to this baby party too? Sounds kind of sissyish to me.”

  Amanda had laughed. “Have you ever met a Kirkpatrick man who was a sissy?”

  That brought a muffled grumble. Her dad adored Connor’s father and brothers. Probably would have loved to have a self reliant and strong son. But Amanda was an only child.

  That’s when it happened. While Amanda’s mind wandered, the car skidded sideways. She turned the wheels into the slide, just like Connor had taught her. Didn’t help. With a dull thunk that reverberated through her body, the Malibu smacked into a snow bank. She counted to ten and then began to work. Shifting from forward to reverse like a Nascar driver, she tried to rock the car from the bank, No luck and she wasn’t liking the smell of the engine by the time she gave up.

  The street was ghostly silent. No one was coming to help. Snow continued to shift from the sky like powdered sugar. She’d have to walk. The Kirkpatrick house wasn’t that far. Two other cars were abandoned along this street – not a good sign. After turning off the heat and her lights, she grabbed her purse, got out and locked up the car. No use trying to find the sidewalk. She took off and stayed in the street.

  The air felt crisp and clear and the first few breaths stung her lungs. Walking in snow this deep was no picnic and she kept her ears perked for a car. Thank God she’d worn knee high boots. Christmas decorations blinked at her from trees and bushes.

  Another Christmas. When had Christmas turned into a reminder of what they didn’t have? Maybe it was all the ads for toys. Inserts in the Sunday newspaper and commercials on TV. Just no escaping the excited smiles of children everywhere she turned. After a while she could hardly stand to read the Sunday paper.

  But this year was different.

  Maybe this would be a better Christmas. Spectacular even, if Angie didn’t change her mind and decide to keep her baby. Their baby. Maybe.

  Amanda tipped her face up and stuck out her tongue to catch the snow, smiling at the icy pinpricks. Maybe she’d teach her little boy to do this. How old would he have to be to stick his tongue out? She had no clue. She knew zip about being a mother. Connor was the one with the big family. She didn’t even have babysitting to fall back on. Her parents had wanted her to do well in school and she really didn’t need the money like some of her friends.

  A wind kicked up and the snow shifted into deeper drifts like a wily beast. For a second, she stood there, boots stuck. Motherhood might be a stretch for her, even though she’d read every book she could get her hands on. What to Expect When You’re Expecting helped her appreciate what Angie was experiencing. Connor and Amanda met with her every two or three weeks. She wanted the girl to know they appreciated her backaches and the cramps in her legs. Amanda had read all about them.

  But heck, Angie was so young. She didn’t compl
ain about a thing. Seemed like she was breezing through the months, a thin reed of a girl with a pronounced baby bump. Amanda was the one poring over self help books.

  Connor seemed so confident. “Don’t worry. Parenting comes naturally. Just ask my mom.”

  Was that his pride talking or did he really feel that way? For Amanda, none of this had come naturally. The years had brought disappointment and an increasing number of doctor appointments and bills. Through it all, Connor’s love kept her steady and secure.

  But things had been different between them lately.

  She was beginning to wonder.

  Why had she left her hat in the car? The tips of her ears burned and she cupped her mittened hands over both ears. Of course motherhood came naturally for Maureen Kirkpatrick. She’d only been in her early twenties when she had Connor. Amanda was twenty-nine and felt like forty.

  How far had she come? Four blocks? Turning around, she couldn’t see the car. A truck must have come down this street and she stepped into the deep groove left by the tires.

  What were her parents doing right now in Florida? Probably sitting out by the pool in their condo complex. Still irritated her no end that they had not responded to the baby shower invitation. Any other grandparent would be thrilled but her folks apparently remained happily cocooned in Sarasota.

  Maybe they were worn out by the whole baby thing. Her father had helped them with the in-vitro fertilization expenses early on, no questions asked. She felt guilty that his investment hadn’t paid off. Growing up, she’d heard a lot about return on investment, or ROI. Her dad checked his investment portfolio every day. Now they were doing in vitro maturation, and her father was once again helping them out financially. Connor hated it. He’d insisted on setting up a repayment plan with her father.

  When the possibility of adoption had come out of left field, they’d grasped at it. Loaded the bases, as Connor called it. They’d do the in vitro and proceed with adoption paperwork. See what happened. Of course there was a charge. They were going to take out a loan but when her mother caught wind of it, another check arrived.

 
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