Holly Jolly Christmas
Prequel to Holiday Babies Series
by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author
Copyright © 2016 by Mona Risk
Heather and Jeff have always been in love. Yet to find herself pregnant now, at eighteen, before she even starts college and he joins MIT for a master’s degree… Talk about the wrong time. Besides, the news might kill her father who is battling cancer.
Although the decision to give up her baby is breaking her heart, Heather contacts an adoption agency. But Jeff absolutely refuses to consider her solution. How can they save their relationship and their baby’s future?
Seething at Heather’s dismissal of his fatherly right, Jeff called Madelyn. “Why are you encouraging Heather to get rid of our baby?”
“Nothing of the sort, Jeff. She trusted me with her secret and I plan to be at her side to make sure no one takes advantage of her.”
“I always considered you to be a sensible person, a doctor I respect.” His heart churned with resentment. “Yet you’re not even trying to stop her from doing that crazy thing,” he almost yelled. “Instead, you’re taking her to an adoption agency.”
“Calm down, Jeff,” Madelyn replied in a gentle but firm voice. “I’ve already talked to her, advised her, but she’s convinced she’s doing the right thing. I hope she’ll soon come to her senses. Meanwhile, I’ll stick by her and accompany her.”
He felt embarrassed at unleashing his anger on her. “Which agency? Give me the address.”
“I’d rather not have you come.”
“For heaven’s sake, Madelyn, it’s my baby too. I should have my say in his future.”
“I know, but according to the agency, putting a baby up for adoption is the mother’s decision. They don’t require the father’s signature.”
“Damn.” He almost threw the phone, and then closed his eyes and forced himself to regain his composure. “Still, I want to be present.”
“You may not like the place or the people, and you may lose your temper—”
“Of course I won’t like them, but I’ll keep my cool.” Like a lion in a cage, he paced his small living room where his girlfriend had announced her big news. “Please tell Heather to text me the agency’s name and address. If she doesn’t within the hour, I’m confessing the whole thing to my parents and yours.”
“You know you wouldn’t.”
“Just tell her I am at the end of my rope. Bye, Madelyn.” He heaved a long sigh. When would this nightmare end?
His baby was not a nightmare. His baby would bring joy and love. Jeff knew it. He felt it deep in his heart and would do everything in his power to prepare for the baby’s arrival.
Jeff stood at the door of his bedroom and surveyed the small area already cluttered with a double bed, a night table, a chest of drawer and a desk. There was hardly any space left. Where would he put a baby crib? If he squeezed it in between his bed and the wall, they would have to scramble onto the bed to reach the crib.
Frustration coursed through him. He spun around, considering various options. Get rid of the chest and use the space for the crib. Move the desk to the living room and remove the chair. He huffed. There was no room for a baby in his bachelor cabin. And even less for a young family. It was one thing to share a passionate tumble with his girlfriend and another to ask her to live here with a baby. Damn it, was she right?
He would find a solution. Soon.
The phone interrupted his musing. She did call.
“You’re a jerk. A lowly sleaze.”
“The address, Heather.”
Her voice a crisp murmur, she gave him the information. “If you come, that’ll be the end between us.”
“If you give my baby up for adoption, I’ll make your life a living hell. But I won’t let you.” He couldn’t believe the nasty words they were hurling at each other. Last night he’d been dreaming of having Heather join him in Boston, of sharing two years together before getting married.
And now… But he wouldn’t let her carry on her thoughtless plan. He’d create space, a warm cozy house where she’d be eager to live.
It had taken him two months to transform the barn into living quarters. He’d build two new rooms, a baby room and an office. Adding two rooms wouldn’t be such a big deal. The money he’d saved for sharing fun time with Heather in Boston would come in handy now. Maybe he’d request help from two amazing handymen, his brother Bert and his best friend Josh. He could trust them to keep his secret and work diligently at his side.
Comforted by his reasonable solution, Jeff sat at his desk, tabulated his priorities, and organized a schedule. By the time his son arrived, they would have a comfortable house to welcome him, with a pretty baby room painted in sky blue and furnished with a white crib, a changing table, and a rocking chair for Mommy to nurse him.
A clear image of the area formed in Jeff’s mind and helped him loosen up. On one wall he would draw teddy bears, cars, boats and airplanes to provide a cheerful mood and inspire his child’s curiosity, and on another wall he would line up the alphabet in capital letters and the numbers from one to ten. Already a proud dad, Jeff chuckled, imagining his son singing “ABCDEFG…”
Heather spotted Jeff waiting for them on the sidewalk in front of the adoption agency. So handsome in a pair of navy-blue pants and a white button-down shirt. His neatly combed golden strands shone under the blazing sun, and he displayed a three-day stubble with a growing goatee that gave him a more mature appearance. The subtle but enticing scent of his lemon cologne tickled her nose. Yet Jeff’s blank face revealed no expression, no frown, no smile, only a direct steely gaze.
Early in the morning, he’d called Madelyn and offered to pick them up. Her sister had declined and arranged to meet him at the agency. But he hadn’t contacted Heather herself. Not hearing from him for three days had been close to hell. She loved Jeff and couldn’t imagine herself without him or with anyone else.
“Hi,” Madelyn said when they reached him.
“Hi,” he answered with an icy tone, without reaching to kiss Heather. It was the first time in the two years they’d being dating that Jeff hadn’t greeted her with a kiss, or a hug, or a touch. Her heart squeezed with pain and she realized he might seriously resent her.
Without adding another word, he opened the door of the four-story building and let them pass. They found a plaque on the wall indicating the agency’s location on the third floor and took the elevator. The waiting room reminded Heather of a doctor’s office, furnished with chairs and side tables covered with magazines. She signed in at the reception window.
A moment later, a tall, middle-aged woman walked to them with a big grin. “I’m Norma Benson. Ms. Heather Ramsay, I presume.” She proffered a hand at Madelyn who grabbed it for a handshake.
“I’m Dr. Madelyn Ramsay, and this is my sister Heather, who called you.”
“Welcome to our agency, Dr. Ramsay, Heather. And the gentleman is…” Norma narrowed her eyes.
Jeff arched an eyebrow and turned to Heather.
For the life of her, she couldn’t utter a sound and kept fiddling with the straps of her handbag. Why had he insisted on coming and embarrassing her?
“I’m Jeff Bolin, Heather’s boyfriend. The baby’s father.”
“The fath… Oh.” Norma’s gaze flipped from Heather to Jeff. “How honorable of you to share the responsibility and decision of putting the baby up for adoption. Many young fathers choose to disappear and leave the moms to deal with the problems.”
“We are here to study the situation before making any decision. Right, sweetheart?”
Taken by surprise at his unexpected cooperation, Heather frowned. What game was he playing now?
“Very wise attitude, Mr. Bolin,” Norma said, although her questioning look attested to her unease. “Please follow me.” She led them to an office with an oblong table and a screen on the wall. Bottles of water waited in front of each seat.
Heather sat beside Madelyn, but Jeff walked around the table and took the chair next to Norma.
“I will ask you a few questions.” She opened a laptop. “When is the baby due?”
“December,” Heather said.
“A Christmas baby,” Jeff blurted.
Heather felt like slapping him for his insensitivity. She was giving away the baby. It was certainly no Christmas gift.
“Who’s your doctor?”
“I haven’t seen a doctor yet. It’s next on my list of things to do,” Heather answered in an apologetic voice.
“It’s important to make sure the baby is growing normal and healthy.”
A shiver slithered down Heather’s spine. “Normal and healthy?” she murmured. Oh God, it would be horrible if she were cursed with a sick baby no one wanted.
“I’m sure our baby is healthy.” Jeff’s voice had lost its frigid tone.
“We’ll need a health report.”
“If we decide to sign up with you, we’ll give you all the necessary reassurance,” he uttered with a razor-sharp voice.
“Heather, please fill in this form and sign at the bottom,” Norma instructed as she slid an open folder with a bunch of papers across the table.
Madelyn leaned over to read while Heather entered the information. Jeff sidled behind Norma and skirted around the table to study the file. “Before you sign anything, Heather, we have to know who will take our baby.”
“Sorry, sir, we can’t disclose any name.”
“I was hoping I could have news about the baby, visit him sometimes,” Heather said with a pleading voice.
“We will send you a report after a couple of months, but you can’t see the child or have any contact with him. He will become someone else’s child. I’m sorry. The parents’ names and contact information will remain secret. These are regulations necessary to protect the privacy of the adoptive parents.”
Heather folded her arms on her stomach as if to shield her baby from an uncertain future. “Oh God, what if he’s not happy or well-taken care of?” She felt Jeff’s fingers squeezing her shoulders.
“We make sure we place the babies with excellent families. After waiting for years to have a baby, the adoptive parents are often the best parents in the world.”
“How do we know that they are a loving couple?” Jeff asked. “We need some proof.”
“I can show you videos with information about prospective parents on our waiting list.” She turned on a projector connected to her laptop. A big house with a beautiful yard appeared on the screen. “First couple, mid-thirties. He’s a contractor and she’s a teacher. She plans to stay home and take care of the baby. They live in Montana.”
“So far away?” Heather choked on the sip of water she was swallowing.
“Second couple. Very wealthy, in their forties. Two grownup daughters. They want a son. The baby will be quite pampered in their mansion.” Several more slides followed, all presenting big houses belonging to rich middle-aged people who’d be eager to welcome Heather’s baby. “By the way, do you know the baby’s gender?”
“No.” Exasperated by the woman’s assumptions that money topped a single mother’s priorities for her child, Heather couldn’t wait to get out. “I’m feeling nausea coming. Can we take the flash drive and watch it at home?”
“At home? We usually don’t —”
“Yes, please,” Madelyn interfered. “We’d better leave before Heather vomits on the floor of this room.”
“Huh…just sign here, and initial there.” Norma shoved a pen in Heather’s hand but Jeff snatched the papers from the table.
“We need time to look at the flash drive, study the couples and discuss. We’ll get back to you, Ms. Benson. Come, sweetheart.” He pulled out Heather’s chair, wrapped an arm around her waist and tugged her out of the room.
“Thank you, Norma,” Madelyn added politely. “As Jeff said, we’ll be in touch.”
“You shouldn’t have brought him along. These young bulls create a mess and continue to muddle things when they are not welcome.”
“Goodbye,” Jeff threw over his shoulder.
Heather couldn’t help but admire his poise. She’d expected him to cause problems but he’d been calm as if he had initiated the meeting with the adoption agent.
“Ride with me, Heather. I missed you.” He leveled a gaze full of longing on her when they stepped onto the sidewalk, and her heart beat a happy staccato.
“I missed you too. Madelyn, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. I have errands to run. See you later.”
Heather slipped into the passenger seat of Jeff’s car and buckled her seatbelt with a sigh of relief. Her boyfriend didn’t resent her.
Without wasting time, he drove away.
“I wanted to take you to lunch but you said your stomach is unsettled.”
She chuckled. “Not at all. It was a way to get out of that place. The woman was grating on my nerves with her show of wealthy houses.”
Jeff nodded with understanding. “Hamburgers okay?”
He parked his old Chevrolet in the Rock Burger parking lot. They got out of the car and strolled to the fast food place, hand in hand.
After placing their orders, he carried the tray with their food and soft drinks to the table she chose next to the window. The view of a pond with a family of geese paddling in the shallow water brought a smile to her lips.
“They’re so cute. The father leading and the mother turning, now and then, to watch her brood.”
“Laws of nature. Even the birds follow it.”
“Jeff.” She covered his hand on the table. “I don’t want you to think I don’t care about the baby. Because I do.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “My decision is breaking my heart, but I know it’s for the best. I don’t want to get attached to this baby and spend the rest of my life crying.”
“I understand.” Jeff grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips. “Listen, what do you think if we take a break from that subject and enjoy life for a couple of days? No more talk about future, study, work or baby. Just a few days to relax and go out together.”
“I’d love that. Where would we go? To your lodge?”
“No, my lodge is not a fun place.”
“It used to be. We created wonderful memories there.” She winked at him. “First kiss under the big oak tree in the backyard. First—”
“Okay, okay. No need to go into details. I have a good memory.” They burst out laughing together. It felt so good to have her Jeff back. “I wanted to take you to Cumberland Lake to relax. We could walk, swim and kayak.”
“Hmm, why not?”
“And next weekend we can attend your friends Olivia and Lucia’s party.”
“I already sent my apologies. I wasn’t in the mood for a big birthday and graduation celebration when I received their invitation.”
“How about reconsidering? It’s a pool party, a huge affair at the Herberts for the twins. I’m sure it’ll be fun.”
She grimaced and lowered her head. “I have trouble fitting into a bathing suit. People may notice.”
“No need to swim. Just wear a pool outfit. We’ll dance and have a good time. Please, sweetheart. We can’t lock ourselves away because—”
“You don’t have to. Nothing has changed for you.”
“Wrong. I love you and share all your feelings.” He stopped her protest with a raised hand. “But we said we’re taking a break from all that talk.”
“Correct.” Suddenly hungry, she bit into her sandwich with gusto. “I’ll talk to Olivia Herbert tonight and tell her I can’t miss her party.”
If he wanted to go to the party, she’d go with him and stick by his side. Jeff was her man and she’d do anything to keep him. Too many of her dear friends wouldn’t mind snatching the good-looking agricultural engineer who’d just garnered a scholarship at MIT.
(To be continued on 12-5-2016)
Holiday Babies Series
With high moral values and a strong sense of unity, the Ramsay family counts five daughters—Madelyn, Roxanne, Heather, Claire, and Tiffany, and their mother Barbara. Later, stepdaughter Monica Roland joins the clan.
Christmas Babies: Can a career fill her life? (Madelyn and Dr. Nick Preston)
Valentine Babies: Can he love a woman expecting another man’s baby? (Roxanne and Dr. Greg Hayes)
Mother’s Day Babies: Never too late to find love and happiness. (Barbara and Lou Roland)
Wedding Surprise: Is it the worst or best wedding surprise? (Claire and David Wheeler)
Christmas Papa: Who’ s my papa, Mommy? (Monica and Michael Wheeler)
On Christmas Eve: We want a mommy for Christmas. (Tiffany and Dr. Matthew Alonso)