Judy Duarte

A Baby Under the Tree


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      “We really don’t have much in common.” Nothing other than a baby, of course.

      “I’ll admit that it might look that way on the surface. But we don’t know that for sure. We never really had a chance to talk much that night.”

      Shane was right about that. Even though they’d known each other’s bodies intimately, the rugged cowboy was pretty much a stranger to Jillian—as she was to him.

      But he’d also put her healing process on the fast track and had made her feel desirable again.

      So did that make them friendly strangers?

      Or strangers with benefits…?

      Dear Reader,

      Welcome back to Brighton Valley, where we’ll move from summer to winter with Shane Hollister, a police detective turned cowboy, and Jillian Wilkes, who’s pregnant with the cowboy’s baby.

      You’ll get a chance to revisit Caroline’s Diner, which has been adorned with a Christmas tree and all the trimmings. You’ll also have a chance to catch up with Dan and Eva Walker, hero and heroine of His, Hers and…Theirs? as well as their two sets of twins. The youngest girls are toddlers now.

      There’s something special about a small Texas town during the holidays, especially when love is in the air. So find a cozy spot to curl up and read Shane and Jillian’s story in A Baby Under the Tree.

      Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a happy new year,

      Judy

      A Baby Under the Tree

      Judy Duarte

       www.millsandboon.co.uk

      JUDY DUARTE

      always knew there was a book inside her, but since English was her least-favorite subject in school, she never considered herself a writer. An avid reader who enjoys a happy ending, Judy couldn’t shake the dream of creating a book of her own. Her dream became a reality in March of 2002, when Silhouette Special Edition released her first book, Cowboy Courage. Since then, she has published more than twenty novels.

      Her stories have touched the hearts of readers around the world. And in July of 2005, Judy won a prestigious Readers’ Choice Award for The Rich Man’s Son.

      Judy makes her home near the beach in Southern California. When she’s not cooped up in her writing cave, she’s spending time with her somewhat enormous but delightfully close family.

      To Susan Litman.

       If they had an editor of the year award, you’d get my nomination, my vote and my wholehearted applause.

      Contents

      Chapter One

      Chapter Two

      Chapter Three

      Chapter Four

      Chapter Five

      Chapter Six

      Chapter Seven

      Chapter Eight

      Chapter Nine

      Chapter Ten

      Chapter Eleven

      Chapter Twelve

      Epilogue

      Chapter One

      As Jillian Wilkes entered El Jardin, an upscale bar in downtown Houston, she couldn’t decide whether this was the most therapeutic move she’d ever made—or the craziest.

      After all, how many thirty-year-old women celebrated the day their divorce was final when they’d gone from princess to pauper in a matter of months?

      Not many, she supposed, unless they, too, had been humiliated by their wealthy husband’s serial infidelity.

      Eight years ago, marrying Thomas Wilkes had been a fairy-tale dream come true, but the split, which had created quite a stir in the highest social circles, had been a nightmare.

      Now that the worst was behind her, she planned to treat herself to one last bit of fine dining and some much-needed pampering at a good spa before retreating to the real world in which she’d been born and raised.

      So after leaving her lawyer’s office, she’d checked in for the weekend at a nice but affordable hotel, then took a short walk to one of the newest and classiest bars in town. There she intended to raise a glass to salute her new life. No more grieving the past for her. Instead, she would embrace whatever changes the future would bring.

      Now, as Jillian scanned the interior, with its white plaster walls adorned with lush, colorful hanging plants and an old-world-style fountain in the center of the room, she was glad she’d come.

      She spotted an empty table at the back of the room, near a stone fireplace that had a gas flame roasting artificial logs. After crossing the Spanish-tiled floor, she pulled out a chair, took a seat and placed her black Coach purse at her feet.

      For a moment, she considered her decision to make a good-riddance toast to Thomas Wilkes. Another woman might have just gone home to lick her wounds, but Jillian couldn’t do that. Thanks to an ironclad prenuptial agreement—and the fact that all of the properties in which they’d ever lived during their marriage had been owned by the Wilkes family trust—Jillian didn’t have a home to go to. But she’d remedy that on Monday, when she would find a modest, one-bedroom apartment near the university where she would start graduate school in the summer.

      It was a good game plan, she decided, and one deserving a proper kickoff. She was a free woman. So out with the old, and in with the new.

      As if on cue, a waiter stopped by the table and set a sterling silver bowl of mixed nuts in front of her. “Can I get you something to drink?”

      “Yes, I’d like a split of the best champagne you have.”

      He nodded, then left to get her order. Minutes later, he returned with a crystal flute, a silver bucket of ice and a small bottle of Cristal.

      The sound of the popping cork gave Jillian an unexpected lift.

      “Shall I?” the waiter asked.

      “Yes, please.”

      When he’d poured the proper amount, Jillian lifted her flute, taking a moment to watch the bubbles rise to the surface. Then she tapped the crystal glass against the bottle, setting off an elegant sound that promised better days ahead.

      As she leaned back in her chair and took a sip of champagne, she surveyed the rest of the happy-hour crowd.

      A forty-something man sat to her right, drinking something that appeared to be Scotch. She surmised he was a businessman because of the gray suit he was wearing—or rather, make that had been wearing. The jacket, which he’d probably hung on the back of his chair, had slipped to the floor.

      When he glanced up, his eyes red and glassy, his tie loosened to the point of being sloppy, she realized he’d had a few drinks too many.

      As their gazes met, he smiled and lifted his glass. “Hey, there, pretty lady. How ’bout I buy you a drink?”

      She looked away, letting her body language tell him that she wasn’t the least bit interested in having a barroom buddy.

      Maybe coming here hadn’t been such a great idea, after all. She probably ought to pay her tab and head back to the hotel, where she could kick back, order room service and watch a pay-per-view movie.

      That sounded a lot better than avoiding glances from an amorous drunk.

      But before