Connie Cox

Christmas Eve Delivery

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of being evaluated.


      DESERÉ TOOK HER time studying Dr. Jordan Hart. Under cover of this crowd, there was no way he would notice a single pair of eyes trained on him. That she kept thinking he was glancing in her direction was purely her imagination as she never caught his eye, even though she tried.

      He stood at least six feet one or two. His cowboy hat and boots made him look even taller. With his hat pulled low, she couldn’t make out the color of his eyes or hair, but thought they might both be dark brown.

      He was rangy with a stringy kind of muscle that would make his movements graceful.

      As he shifted his weight, the chaps he wore emphasized his package. Modestly, she tried to look away, but her raging hormones wouldn’t let her.

      Something about being pregnant had kicked her libido into high gear. Whether it was because she no longer needed to worry about an accidental pregnancy or a release of hormones gone wild, or something else entirely, she couldn’t tell for sure. She just knew that she was noticing men even more than she had during her intensely boy-crazy teenage years.

      And she didn’t want just sex. She wanted to be touched, petted, protected.

      How many nights had she gone to sleep lately, pretending that her fantasy lover lay next to her, that he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close, his big hand over her slightly softening belly?

      Keeping this baby she carried hadn’t been the original plan. But, then, the plan hadn’t been for her sister to die, either.

      Deseré pushed down her grief and straightened her spine. She was a survivor. Always had been. And always would be—especially now with her son to care for.

       Her son.

      Get a grip, Deseré. That’s what her sister would have told her if she were here. We do what we have to do to survive.

      That’s what her sister had told her ten years ago as Deseré, acting as maid of honor, had arranged her sister’s wedding veil so Celeste could walk down the aisle into the arms of the rich and powerful neurosurgeon who would provide for them both.

      Deseré had thought that being a surrogate for Celeste would make up for some of the sacrifices her older sister had made for her. And it had, until Celeste had run a red light while talking on the phone and had crashed into an oncoming eighteen-wheeler.

      Even though Deseré knew it was too early, she imagined baby James moving deep inside her.

      She would do more than survive. She would build a happy, healthy life for her son and for herself.

      In the indigo sky, the first star appeared opposite the fading sunset. Feeling foolish, she made a wish. A miracle. Just a little one. Just a chance to prove myself, okay?

      A feeling of be careful what you ask for washed through her.

      She shook it off. Fanciful and unrealistic things had no place in her practical world.

      The reality was that everyone would say the politically correct thing. They would say her pregnancy didn’t matter in her job hunt.

      But the truth was no one wanted to hire a woman who would need time off to have a baby, not to mention time out of her workday for the morning sickness that struck like clockwork at ten a.m. each and every morning.

      In less than a month her pregnancy would be evident. But by then she’d have had the job long enough to show her competence, long enough to make herself indispensable.

      Her stomach lurched as she thought of how badly she needed this job.

      With great willpower she stopped herself from staring at the man who could give her a safe, secure future.

      Surely, her sister’s husband, the great Dr. Santone, didn’t have influence over every sleepy little town in Texas, did he?

      What would a small-town country doctor care that a big-time surgeon who sat on the board of the largest hospital in Louisiana would be heartily upset if his sister-in-law found a job in the medical field?

      Gathering her purse and slinging it over her shoulder, she pushed off the bench, remembering at the last moment to watch where she stepped as she walked toward Dr. Jordan Hart.

      Feeling self-conscious, she looked up in time to see he was watching her every step of the way.

      A challenge? Why?

      Under the wide brim of his hat his eyes were too shaded by the darkening night skies to read. But his lips, so full and rich only a moment ago, were now set tight and grim.

      “Dr. Hart?” Deseré called out.

      “Just Jordan, ma’am.” Automatically, Jordan touched the brim of his hat, not even thinking about it until he saw her eyes follow the movement of his hand.

      She held out her hand. “Deseré Novak. Your new nurse practitioner.”

      Not a rodeo groupie at all. But she was an assertive little thing, wasn’t she?

      Dr. Wong’s recommendation had seemed to contain a lot more between the lines than in black-and-white.

      Dr. Wong hadn’t exactly said she’d worked for him. The letter had been carefully worded. What Dr. Wong had said was that Deseré Novak deserved a chance.

      So Jordan would give her one. But he’d only promised an interview.

      Or did she think Dr. Wong’s recommendations carried that much weight with him? Jordan was a man who made up his own mind about things.

      “You’re early for your interview. We didn’t expect you until Monday.”

      She gave him a smile. “I thought I’d check out the place first.”

      “Makes sense.” He put his hand in hers. “Thanks for coming to Piney Woods. I know we’re a long way from New Orleans.”

      Her grip was firm. No-nonsense. Assertive. With just enough give to suggest hidden softness.

      Ms. Novak’s eyes flicked in worry before bravado had her lifting her chin. “I’ve already researched your practice. I’m sure it’s perfect for me. You won’t be sorry to hire me.”

      If Jordan hadn’t noticed the slight quiver he would have been fooled into thinking she was totally confident that she had the job.

      It wasn’t that he’d had any better-qualified applicants. How many experienced nurse practitioners wanted to move out to the edge of nowhere, taking room and board as a significant portion of their pay, when they could be pulling in the big bucks in any major city?

      “We’ll talk about it in the morning.” He gestured to the open arena, still and quiet between events. “I’ve got other things going on tonight.”

      She stood still waiting for—for what?

      Something about her stillness made him notice the dark circles under her eyes.

      “The closest hotel is back toward Longview about two hours away. You may want to head in that direction before it gets much later.”

      She shook her head, shaking off his suggestion. “I understood room and board would be part of the deal. If you could point me toward this boarding house, maybe I could stay the night?”

      “Boarding house.” Jordan’s smile was so tight it made his mouth hurt, way too tight to be reassuring, he was sure. “I guess, in a way, it is.”

      His office administrator had drawn up the job description.

      It would be just like Nancy to gloss over the details to get what she wanted.

      And what she wanted was a local medical facility for the folks of Piney Woods, solving two problems at once. The town and surrounding ranches would have good medical attention.

      The loudspeaker blasted over the explanation he was about to