Baby Under The Mistletoe
Book 27 in the Little Secret series, 2009
I grew up in a house full of Harlequin romance novels. My mother was an avid reader, and as soon as I was old enough to be curious about the books that filled her shelves, I became a fan of the genre myself. Stories about strong women and dashing men had endless appeal for me. I even tried my hand writing a romance story in middle school, much to the chagrin of my English teacher. Still, I had some growing up to do before I would understand much about the complications of falling in love.
After graduating from college, armed with a bit more information about the ways of the world, I decided to give romance writing another try. Five years later, I was thrilled to sell my first novel to Harlequin. Seeing my book in print with the company that had spawned my love for the genre felt like coming full circle, and to this day, I’m still proud to write for a publisher that celebrates the hopes and fantasies of women around the world.
I love to hear from readers. You can reach me and find out about my upcoming releases at my Web site, www.jamiesobrato.com.
To my grandmother, Mary Gentry,
who helped shape my earliest memories of
good food and farm life.
I love you, Granny.
HE WAS ALL WRONG for her.
Everything from the color of his skin to the jagged scar across his forearm, the result of some unsavory Special Forces operation, indicated that they were two different people from two incongruent worlds.
Which was what made West Morgan the perfect summer distraction. He’d be gone tomorrow, and Soleil Freeman would never miss him.
Okay, she would miss
This, as in the adult conversation, the grown-up closeness. It was something she rarely had in her everyday life, with a houseful of teenagers for whom she played mentor, coach, social worker and teacher. Those kids were her life, but with their endless needs and sad personal histories, they could suck the life right out of her if she wasn’t careful.
So for a few weeks, spending her free time with someone unsuitable was exactly what she needed to put everything back in balance.
Soleil’s hand dangled over the edge of the canoe, trailing through the icy water of Promise Lake. From beneath the wide brim of a straw hat, she watched West’s dark head bent over her, kissing the flat of her belly. His lips, a mere butterfly flutter, sent shivers through her in spite of the warm day.
When he spotted her gooseflesh, he looked up and smiled. His face was so arresting, it never failed to give her a little thrill. Icy blue eyes, a full, sensual mouth and dark hair a little longer than the military regulations allowed. Special Forces could get away with the longer hair, he claimed. They had to blend in, look like civilians.
She didn’t know if he was telling the truth, and she didn’t really care. He was gorgeous, a lovely distraction, though not the kind of guy she normally went for. He didn’t own a single item of hemp clothing, couldn’t carry on a conversation about French poets to save his life and wouldn’t have been caught dead driving around in a car festooned with Save the Endangered Condor bumper stickers. In short, he was nowhere near in danger of worming his way into her heart. Couldn’t even see her heart from where he stood.
Soleil wore a black bikini, and he, a pair of navy swim trunks, but they hadn’t dared swim yet in the cold water. Instead, they’d paddled to the middle of the lake to have a picnic lunch and now were simply floating there, soaking up the sun.
A speculative expression crossed his face. “Do you ever think about having a family?” he asked, a question so out of the blue Soleil laughed in surprise.
But he was serious.
“Why do you ask?”
“When you look at me, do you see a baby-making machine?”
He flashed a sly grin. “Yep.”
“If that’s your idea of smooth talk, I can see why you’re thirty-seven and still single.”
“Maybe I’m still single because I’ve never met a woman I’d want to make a baby with. Maybe you’re the first one.”
Nausea struck her. Until this moment, they’d seemed equally intent on keeping things casual.
“I don’t want kids,” she said.
She loved children, but there was no way she could have one of her own and continue to do the work she did. And that work was too important to the future communities of the kids she mentored to abandon.
Besides, after surviving her own hippiefied Berkeley childhood, she was hardly a candidate for the home- baked-cookies-and-suburban-play-groups crowd. Even with their limited time together, Soleil knew beyond a doubt that picket fences and minivans featured large in West’s ideal future.
“Oh, come on. Every woman wants to settle down and pop out a few kids.”
He smirked. He was pushing her buttons because he enjoyed her temper. And even though she recognized that he was playing again with her, she couldn’t avoid reacting. She was furious.
“You’d look hot in an apron, barefoot and pregnant-”
“Shut up,” she said through clenched teeth.
“It would be great. You could be at home all day with the kids, taking care of the house.”
One more word, and-
“You could be my little woman, and I could be your-”
Fury like a white-hot rod of lightning shot through her. She thrust all her weight into his chest, knocking him backward. He lost his balance and went over the side of the boat, into the lake. She caught the surprise on his face just before he hit the water and enjoyed a moment of satisfaction as she steadied herself against the rocking. Then she grabbed a paddle with shaking hands, not bothering to look back as she propelled the canoe toward the dock.
“Hey!” he called out, but she kept going. They hadn’t gone out so far that he couldn’t swim to shore. He was a strong swimmer, after all.