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Authors: Heather Graham Pozzessere

The Christmas Bride

BOOK: The Christmas Bride
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The Christmas Bride
Heather Graham Pozzessere


Chapter 1

nd what would you like for Christmas, little girl?” Cary Adams asked. She leaned forward at the table, resting her chin whimsically on her hands as she asked her friend June Harrison the question. Cary's hair, a sleek and shimmering brown, curved around her delicately boned features, and her eyes, a tawny hazel that glittered when she laughed, were as wide and innocent as a child's. Well, it
Christmas. Nearly.

“It's not a ‘what,' but a ‘who,”' June replied with a laugh. “His name doesn't matter. He just has to be tall, dark and handsome. And rich,” she added as an afterthought. She grimaced. “It's not that I'm a material girl, but it
a material world.”

Cary grinned and leaned back. She wagged a finger at June. “Not fair. I can't get you a man for Christmas.”

“No? Well, I wasn't expecting one, anyway. But you, Mrs. Adams, deserve one. And he
be tall, dark and handsome. And rich.”

“What if I prefer a blond?”

June shook her head. “No, I'm sorry. The saying is ‘tall, dark and handsome.' Take it or leave it.”

Cary laughed and looked around the room.

Despite the fact that it was always held indecently early—at barely a week after Thanksgiving—Cary loved the annual office family Christmas party. She loved the music, the colorful lights, the scent of the holly branches, pine and candles, and today she even loved the snow that was piling up on the sidewalks and streets.

There was another Christmas party held at the
office every year, always the night before Christmas Eve. But today's party was Cary's favorite. It was held for the families of the employees. Husbands, wives, children, grandparents and even a few cousins managed to finagle invitations. Every year Jason McCready, the publisher of
rented the ballroom of one of the most prestigious hotels in Boston, and it was pure joy to see toddlers and teens running amok among the handsomely tuxedoed waiters. Champagne, eggnog, beer and wine poured freely for the adults, and Christmas punch—bright red for the season, of course—was in abundance for the underage crowd. There were drawings for huge turkeys and hams, and there was a main prize, too, a microwave oven, a television set, a video recorder or the like. Always the latest, always something that someone would really want. Jason McCready, for all his eccentricities, planned Christmas well for his employees. Everybody went away with something, for there was a draw that he called the seasonal exchange. Each employee drew a name from a hat, someone with whom to exchange a gift. Not that it mattered what McCready called it, for everyone in the office joined in his Christmas party, regardless of their religious beliefs. It was all done with tremendous warmth and goodwill, and though the hall was adorned with a giant Christmas tree and someone was always elected to hand out toys to the children, McCready saw to it that the beautiful and ancient Hanukkah songs were also played, and no one's beliefs were trodden on.

“Hey, kid, you're awful quiet! This is a party, a celebration, remember?”

Cary blinked, then smiled. June, of the magazine's advertising salespersons extraordinaire, was staring at her pointedly. June was her senior by about five years. At first Cary had resented being called “kid” all the time, but she had quickly learned that June used the word with affection. After a rocky start, the two had become best friends.

“I was just thinking,” Cary said.

“Horrors!” June murmured in mock protest. She was a striking woman with a headful of wild platinum hair and soft gray eyes. She had the type of figure that might well have once graced the inner pages of a magazine centerfold, but she was as smart as a whip and knew her business backward and forward. June stirred her Irish coffee. “What were you thinking about? Men?”

“No. Actually, yes. One man. I was thinking that McCready throws a fabulous party—especially since he is…McCready,” Cary finished a little lamely.

June smiled and shrugged, and Cary knew her friend understood her completely. Jason McCready was a good-looking man—definitely tall, dark and handsome—and he was very young for his position, still a year shy of forty. But it was said that he had been a dynamo in his early twenties—bright, energetic and full of the ideas that could turn a dying biweekly into a respected glamour magazine.
had a section on the finest homes in America, an entertainment division, a special section devoted to current politics and one to current affairs. And there was the “American World” column, Cary's own baby, full of insights into people and more personal events. The magazine had a contemporary flair along with the old, traditional values that were intangible and yet all important. And that was Jason McCready's doing.

He was the publisher, and he was also the president of the board. He was an American success story, and years back, long before Cary had come into the business, he had often graced the covers of various other news-oriented magazines. She could remember one photograph in particular, taken when he had been at Rockefeller Plaza with his wife.

Oddly enough, Cary reminisced, it had been a Christmas photograph. And she could remember it so clearly. The huge annual tree had risen behind them, the ice rink had stretched out before them, and New York had been decked out in a fabulous display of colorful lights. McCready had been in a long black coat that had accented his dark good looks, and his strong, decidedly masculine profile. His wife, Sara, had been in the softest white mink, a complete contrast to him with her feathered white-blond hair and eyes so blue that, even in the picture, their color shone with an almost unreal light. They had been smiling at one another in that picture, the look on Sara's beautiful face one of adoration. And he had gazed at her with a tenderness that was somehow shattering to the observer; one could almost touch it. They had been so stunning, a fairy-tale couple.

The next year, though, Cary knew, Sara McCready had been dead before Christmas.

And Jason McCready had never consented to another interview. Cary had thought to do one for their own magazine. It had been one of the few times she had actually spoken with him.

And he had nearly jumped down her throat.

She could still remember the occasion in his office. She had made an appointment with his secretary, had gone in fully prepared and with a truly intelligent presentation.

She had walked into his sparse office. White-walled, peach-carpeted, two prints on the wall, a massive oak desk, a leather sofa, two chairs.

He had never even asked her to sit.

He had remained behind his desk, his lime green eyes sharp and cold and so pointedly on her that she'd felt as if steel blades were stabbing her. He had listened for at least sixty seconds before the pencil he had held idly between his fingers suddenly snapped. Then he'd stood, rising to his full, imposing six-three, and walked around the desk to stand before her. She had nearly cowered, when his palms touched her shoulders. Hard. Forcefully. But not violently.

And he had issued one harsh word to her. “No!”

He had stood there staring at her, a strand of his usually impeccable black hair falling over one of his deadly dark eyebrows. His bronze features had gone tight and white, and the fullness of his mouth had been compressed into a grim line. He'd stared at her as if she were an ancient enemy, and she had wanted nothing so much as to run.

It wasn't courage that had kept her standing there—she was simply too surprised to move. And at last his hands dropped from her shoulders and he turned away. “I said no, Miss Adams—”

“It's Mrs. Adams,” she'd interrupted, fighting the tears that welled in her eyes, wondering why it should matter at this particular time that she make such a point about her name.

Adams. Excuse me,” he said coldly. He walked around the desk and sat again, with something like an air of royalty about his designer-suited form. “Could you leave now, please? I'm busy, and this interview is over.”

She stiffened her shoulders, certain that not only had he refused her, but that he had also fired her. “I can have my desk cleared out by five,” she said flatly. “I shall expect to see a severance check just as promptly.”

Only then did his dark brows arch and a look of fleeting surprise pass over his hard and handsome features. “Why on earth should you clean out your desk, Mrs. Adams?”

She hadn't wanted to falter, but she had. And she knew that crimson flamed in her cheeks. “Mr. McCready, it certainly sounded as if you were annoyed and no longer cared to employ me.”

annoyed, Mrs. Adams, but I do not fire people simply because they annoy me upon occasion. I find your work excellent. I merely wish that you would vacate my office and refrain from mentioning such an article in the future.”

She was still staring at him blankly. She had often wondered if the man read anything that went into the magazine anymore. Apparently he did.

“Is there anything else, Mrs. Adams?”

“No!” she exclaimed. But she didn't move, and she was stunned to hear herself speaking again. “Mr. McCready, this is your own magazine! Why won't—”

He was on his feet again. And, oddly enough, she felt as if she had his attention. Really had his attention, and not just his anger.

“Because I cannot talk about my personal life, and that is that! Do you understand?”

“All right,” Cary agreed. He was still staring at her. She felt tremors, hot one minute, cold the next, racing along her spine.

For the briefest moment she saw what might have been a glimmer of anguish in his eyes. And she knew, intuitively, that he was thinking about his wife. He had nothing to say without her in his life anymore.

“I'm sorry—” Cary began.

“Don't be!” he interrupted her.

The words were soft, the emotion behind them vehement. And Cary found herself speaking again despite them. “Mr. McCready, you loved her very much. I can see that. I'm sorry. So very sorry. But you're not the only one who has ever lost someone they love. Perhaps the article is a bad idea. But you should talk to someone. You should…”

Her voice trailed away. He was staring at her with ice-cold fury in his eyes.

“Are you quite finished, Mrs. Adams?”

She nodded. His life was none of her business.

“Perhaps you'd like to get back to work then?” he suggested pleasantly.

She spun. She did not thank him for his time. He hadn't willingly given her any. And she didn't need to thank him for not firing her. Her work was good; that was what mattered. He just wanted her out of his office.

“Mrs. Adams!”

She looked at him.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “I really do beg your pardon.” His voice was soft. And, seated behind his desk, his hands folded, his hair so dark and his eyes so startlingly green, he was striking—and more. He was appealing. She gritted her teeth, startled at the temptation to walk to him and slip her arms around him. To offer him some comfort.

It was an illusion. McCready wanted nothing from her. And there were no weak links in his armor. He just wanted her to leave his office.

She obliged him.

And she had never ventured back in.

“He still throws a very nice Christmas party,” she commented idly, then cast June a mischievous smile. “Almost as if he still believed in the Christmas spirit. Ho, ho, ho.”

“You almost make it sound as if you still believe in it yourself,” June said sagely, eyeing her friend across the table.

Cary felt as if her heart slammed against her chest, and it was suddenly difficult to breathe. That hurt. She tried. She tried very hard every Christmas. She had learned to smile and laugh a lot. For her family, if not for herself. She had done very well, or so she had thought.

She had gotten past the shock and the agony and the feelings of utter rage, of helplessness. She had found her own apartment, she had become independent and she had managed to build a new life, filled with her son's school activities, her work and visits to her in-laws and her family. It wasn't in the least fair that June should attack her about her Christmas spirit.

But June wasn't really attacking, nor was she going to persist in that vein. She tossed her wild mane, licked her swizzle stick and used it to point toward the large, intricately decorated cardboard house where Santa was seeing to the little ones. “Jeremy is playing Santa this year, isn't he?” she asked.

Cary nodded. “Padded to the gills, complaining black and blue and having the time of his life. Danny should be just about up to him now. I wonder if he'll recognize Jeremy.”

“Let's go see,” June suggested.

They rose and threaded their way through the gaily dressed crowd, stopping to call a greeting here or there. Just as they reached the line leading into the house, Cary came to a halt, smiling. It was just about Danny's time to go in to talk to Santa. The little girl in front of him had just been escorted through the bright red curtains. Through a tiny crack in the cardboard, Cary could see Jeremy give Santa's long-legged and beautiful helper a little pinch where the short-skirted elf outfit left her thigh bare.

BOOK: The Christmas Bride
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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