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The Christmas Gift [Book One in the Ladies of Legend Christmas Anthology]
 

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The Christmas Gift [Book One in the Ladies of Legend Christmas Anthology]


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  Resplendence Publishing, LLC

  www.resplendencepublishing.com

  Copyright ©2008 by Janet Eaves

  * * *

  NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.

  * * *

  CONTENTS

  The Christmas Gift

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  About the Author

  Also available from Resplendence Publishing:

  More than Words by Kelly Kirch

  Find Resplendence Titles at the following retailers:

  * * * *

  The Christmas Gift

  By

  Janet Eaves

  Copyright © 2008, Janet Eaves

  Published November 2008

  by

  Resplendence Publishing, LLC

  Edgewater, Florida

  All rights reserved

  [Back to Table of Contents]

  Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and occurrences are a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places, or occurrences, is purely coincidental.

  [Back to Table of Contents]

  Look for the following Legend, TN titles by the Sister Writers now available from Resplendence Publishing:

  Ladies of Legend, TN, Finding Home by Janet Eaves, Magdalena Scott, Maddie James and Jan Scarbrough

  Beauty and the Beast by Janet Eaves

  Harvest Moon by Janet Eaves

  Murder on the Mountain by Maddie James

  A Legendary Christmas, A Christmas Anthology by Janet Eaves, Maddie James, Jan Scarbrough, and Magdalena Scott

  [Back to Table of Contents]

  To the men and women of our Armed Forces, past, present, and future.

  A special thank you to CPL Inocencio Ortiz Toro, US Marine Corp.

  Another special thank you to my own personal hero, Mike, for all that you do.

  [Back to Table of Contents]

  Prologue

  Christina Montgomery hit the remote, effectively turning off the stereo, heartbroken she still couldn't listen to the song she'd loved since her first memories of Christmas. The old Bing Crosby song, I'll Be Home for Christmas, had been sung around her parents’ piano every year, their friends’ and neighbors’ voices raised, some lovely, some not so lovely, but all filled with the joy of the season.

  She'd loved those Christmases, had looked forward to them as children do, with anticipation of both presents and communion with her friends. Friends who, like the generations before, stayed close even after graduations and marriages. Life had been so simple then, so fun.

  Times had certainly changed.

  Now the song brought tears to her eyes, shattered her heart all over again, reminding her of all she'd lost. Her friends had stopped coming around because they didn't know how to deal with the situation of someone so young losing so much, nor the questions that hung over her head like a ton of steel beams precariously bound by cotton threads. Their lives were still filled with love and laughter, new babies, new homes, new everything.

  Her life was at a standstill. And had been since that fateful day two years, one month, and twenty-nine days before when two uniformed Marines showed up at her door, the older of the pair with a white collar around his throat.

  She'd known even before they spoke, had felt the very life drain from her soul. The tears started and didn't stop for days. She hadn't been able to function for weeks. Her sweet baby girl hadn't understood, having already missed so much time with a father who had spent the better part of her life serving his country.

  In some ways it was a blessing that Lisa barely remembered Johnny. She hadn't suffered the loss as deeply as she would have if there had been more memories. At the same time, Christina felt Lisa had been cheated out of knowing a great man. A man who would have made a wonderful father if he hadn't died only three weeks shy of the end of his final tour of duty.

  Fury built, replacing sorrow. Her husband was dead. She knew it in her heart. She didn't believe what was being said, what had been insinuated. She refused to believe that just because his body had never been found, it meant he may have deserted. She knew him. They all knew him, which made it all that much harder to know that they still wondered if he was capable of such a deed.

  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them to the deep concern clouding the eyes of her tow-headed seven-year old. A child who was every beat of her heart. “Hey, baby. Good morning."

  Lisa opened her arms to be lifted for a hug. “You're sad again, Mommy."

  Christina embraced her tightly, hating that Lisa had caught her in low spirits—again. She was doing better. Had been for a while now. But that song had torn open the wound.

  "Mommy just has something in her eyes,” she said, sitting her daughter back down. “You run on to your room and get dressed for school. I'll fix you some breakfast so you have all kinds of energy for today's fieldtrip."

  Lisa nodded, her blond curls flying. “Okay! We get to send letters to Santa today and I'm getting a miracle!"

  Christina smiled through the lump in her throat, curious, but knowing better than to ask what Lisa was going to ask of Santa. She could wait for Miss Cameron, Lisa's second grade teacher, to call her, as she would each parent who didn't have internet capabilities, with the children's lists.

  Her spirits lifted with an all encompassing love as she watched her baby girl skip her way down the hall to her room. Life was so much easier when you believed in Santa Claus ... when you still believed in miracles.

  She headed for the kitchen, determined to put her tears away for good. To give Lisa the best Christmas she could. To bury her sorrow, and begin again.

  [Back to Table of Contents]

  Chapter One

  Expected snowfall turned to blizzard faster than the weather forecaster had predicted that morning. Since there should have been nothing more than flurries until nightfall, he'd felt confident he could take care of the problem and get back to the solitude of his temporary home without difficulty. It was the only reason he'd agreed to take the call, then drove twenty miles up the mountain's winding two lane road, and was now belted and boot-hooked to a utility pole his bucket-truck couldn't manage to reach.

  He shivered deliberately, knocking snow from his upper body, wondering if he'd be able to repair the damage to the television cable line that had sucked out at the pole before he'd have to pack it in.

  Of course Cartwright Cable Company, the company he'd contracted with to upgrade their old, outdated system, would throw a hissy if he a
llowed their customers to miss the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Or, more importantly, the football games that would follow for the rest of the afternoon. Especially the contest between the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots. Hell, he couldn't blame them. He'd be pissed if he missed that game himself. But, as the only contractor who'd stayed in town because he had no family to spend the holiday with, on this very family oriented holiday, if anybody got left out in the cold, literally and figuratively, it promised to be him.

  Which meant he kept his freezing butt nearly thirty feet in the air, and his numb fingers functioning until he reconnected the three piece connector to the coax cable and tap, making it all ready to function once again for Cartwright's customers. Then he'd use his meter to check the strength of the signal. And finally, if everything checked out, he'd have to interrupt one of CCC's local customers to make sure his or her TV viewing needs were being met.

  He hoped everything went off—or in this case on—without a hitch as there was no way he was climbing back up on a pole that was swaying in the howling wind. Given the current conditions, a whiteout was imminent, which took the choice out of his hands anyway. Once he climbed down, he'd be lucky to get himself and his bucket-truck back to his tiny rented cabin without incident.

  Shivering for real this time, he tightened the last screw, knocked the additional inch of snow off his hardhat and shoulders, connected the meter and ran his test, and was eternally grateful the specs were within the required limits. Though not dead-on, it was as perfect a signal as he was going to get on a day like this, and if that wasn't good enough for Cartwright, they could send one of their own out into the freezing cold to alter it. Not that that would ever happen. Those guys wouldn't leave the office to see to a problem on a nice day. They sure wouldn't leave the comforts of their homes on a holiday in weather like this.

  After disconnecting the meter, he tried to latch it onto the old leather tool belt he'd bought at a pawn shop three years earlier. Without warning the belt snapped, stunning him all the more because replacing it has been on his mind only that morning. Like a juggler he held tightly to the nylon cover protecting the expensive meter that was his livelihood as he reached for the sliding, holstered set of pliers. He snatched at the pliers as his holstered drill slipped off the belt. He grabbed at it, caught it too, only to have his knife case slide from the belt past his groping fingers, fall the length of the pole, and sink into the snow that was deepening by the minute. Furious to lose his favorite knife, he snatched the belt, pulled off the remaining holster, which held his screwdrivers and the pack filled with an assortment of connectors, and then dropped the broken leather to the ground.

  Shaking now from nerves as much as from the cold, he licked chapped lips and forced himself to take a moment to just breathe. It was a long way down the pole. The descent would be made harder still with hands filled with tools, in blinding snow, and the accompanying biting ice stinging his exposed face and hands. He had two options—just drop everything, pull the gloves he'd removed to do the more intricate work from his hip pocket and slide them on, and then belt and hook his way down the pole as usual. Or strap his tools to the belt holding him against the pole and trust the strength in his arms and the gaffs on his boots to get him to safety with his tools intact.

  Too chilled to give it much thought, he loosened the belt as he hugged the pole with one arm. He slid the tool holsters onto the belt blindly using his rapidly depleting sense of touch. His fingers were starting to stiffen and crack and he couldn't see what was where on the backside of the pole. Finally successful, he buckled the long belt, slung it over his head and under his free arm like an ammo belt, then leaned into the pole, exhausted. He took another tired, shaky breath, blowing steam into the air, before reaching for his gloves, which, when touched with unbending, unfeeling fingers, followed the path of his knife. He wanted to shout in frustration, and though he didn't want to admit it, perhaps even a little fear.

  A step at a time.

  A step at a time.

  Shaking his leg to dislodge first one spiked boot, then the other, once he had re-spiked the first in the decent was a tedious, slow process, but necessary at the best of times, and these were not the best of times.

  A step at a time.

  A step at a time.

  He repeated the mantra as he took one step down after another. Exhaustion was setting in, causing his body to feel heavier. Or perhaps it was hypothermia as he'd been out in the cold for well over an hour. The soaked material of his coveralls certainly added to the zapping weight, he realized. His strength nearly spent, his arms, heavy with snow and fatigue held tight to the pole, loosening only long enough to move one below the other as he inched his way down.

  A step at a time.

  A step at a time.

  He smiled to himself, then hissed at the spearing pain, knowing he'd cracked open his bottom lip. What a way to spend Thanksgiving. He hadn't expected much from the holiday. Just a man-sized turkey TV dinner, a pillow and blanket on the oversized, heavily stuffed couch. The remote at one hand, and a half dozen or so beers at the other. He'd even planned on sleeping in, taking a shower, maybe even jacking-off, since there wasn't anyone currently available to give him that kind of release, and then he'd planned to spend the rest of the day watching men trying to kill each other on the football field.

  Now all he wanted was a hot shower, a roaring fire, and a hot, hot, hot cup of coffee laced with a little Jim Beam.

  A bright flash. A hard smack to the face.

  He reached for the monster attacking him, fell backwards, and grasped the thin red line dangling before him. More fascinated than frightened, he realized that he was flying backwards through giant snowflakes as they spun and danced around him, while a large silver balloon chased him, until a hard, stunning jerk of breath exited his body, and all that was white, went black.

  [Back to Table of Contents]

  Chapter Two

  "Sir, can you hear me?"

  He opened his eyes, disoriented, disconnected from everything but the pain at the back of his skull. Swimming—no blurred—in front of him, a woman was looking at him. At least he thought it a woman. Her face was too close, her muddy eyes flashing in surprised delight, her nostrils flaring, showing a giant albino booger lodged within. He didn't know whether to be more afraid of the booger dislodging and falling on his face, possibly crushing it, or the very large teeth she flashed through dinner plate sized blood red lips.

  "Well, there we go. Welcome back to the world."

  The world? What was she talking about? What world? As she pulled back, he glanced around as much as he could without moving. He tried to focus but it hurt too much. Everything was foggy-white, or steel, or plastic-looking, the only moving item a large silver disc hovering weakly, flipping, and hovering again in the corner. There were steady sounds, mechanical sounds, coming from just behind him, but he couldn't turn his head to look. In fact, he couldn't seem to move anything.

  The sounds increased in speed, and the woman-thing was over him, looking closely again. “Just calm down. You're safe here. You can't allow yourself to get excited until we're sure nothing important is broken."

  He wanted to nod, to thank her, to ask questions, but something was in his mouth, and his head was trapped.

  "I have orders here to change his catheter,” said a deep, male voice.

  "Yes. Bebett said something's wrong with this one.” She flashed an irritated a look. “Students! If we weren't so desperate for help..."

  "But we are. Especially tonight."

  Head throbbing, he slid his gaze towards the two, no one, no two ... no, one giant-sized dark skinned man, who walked up to his side at the hip and flipped back the sheet that covered his body. Cold air rushed over him, jolting him, as the woman joined them, stopping to stand on his opposite side. He glanced down to see what they were doing and the mechanical sounds increased again, making him realize they were somehow directly connected to his internal panic button. What the
hell were they going to do down there!

  "Take a deep breath, sir."

  He tried to shake his head as the man grasped his penis and pulled something painful from inside it. He wanted to shout for him to let it go. He wanted to kick, but his legs and feet were somehow trapped at the end of the bed. He flashed a fearful glance at the woman, seeing her more clearly now, only to realize she held a long thin red piece of tubing that looked like it had barbs near the tip. The beeping sounds by his head skyrocketed as he realized the tubing was going to replace what they'd just pulled from him, but they ignored his attempts to scream around whatever was jammed down his throat.

  The woman slid him an apologetic smile before calmly passing the device to the man. He had to make her understand that they couldn't do that to him. He begged with his eyes, first at her, then at the man who now had the instrument of torture barely an inch from its destination. Neither looked at him.

  He wanted to scream for them to stop as it was pushed in. It felt like fire, burning him from the inside out. But no one seemed to care and he was powerless to stop them himself. Finally they turned to him, and smiled like they'd all shared a pleasant interlude. A frustrated growl escaped, perhaps even more than frustration, more like fear, which shamed him, but he was powerless.

  As the sheet was pulled back up by the male, he felt his penis being tugged. He glanced at the woman who was working down there, taping clear tubes together, before laying them by the side of the bed. He scowled at her, hoping his eyes would communicate what the rest of him couldn't.

  She approached him again, fussed with his pillow and sheet. “There, now. I'll be back in a second with the doctor. They're getting a room ready while she reads your x-rays. All in all, you were pretty lucky.” They left together, barely making a sound.

  Doctor? He stared at the ceiling, until he realized he was counting tiles. He lowered his gaze, allowing it to follow the curtained wall which went halfway around his bed. Where the curtain ended, a solid wall took over, holding a blood pressure device, pictures of unpleasant medical conditions, and a red box which clearly stated its purpose as a bio-hazard material disposal unit. An emergency room?

 
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