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?
“Gorgeous. Absolutely stunning.” Standing in the living room next to Mr. Ramsay’s recliner, Jeff had trouble closing his sagging jaw.
Pregnancy hadn’t lessened his girlfriend’s loveliness. On the contrary, it had enhanced her charm a hundred times. Her blond tresses framed her face and bounced on her back as she sprinted toward him on high-heeled sandals, a vision in a symphony of blue highlighting the blue of her eyes. Her sweet floral scent drifted over to him. Longing to have her in his arms, Jeff wished they could make a detour by his lodge before driving to the twins’ party.
“Take good care of my little girl,” Mr. Ramsay ordered with a jovial voice.
“Absolutely. We may end up staying overnight. I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Ramsay. The Herberts own a huge house and will distribute sleeping bags. Some of the guests will probably decide to bunk on the floor, in the family room and living room, rather than drive back if they’re too tired.”
“Wise decision. We won’t worry about you.”
Heather sashayed to her dad and leaned forward to kiss his cheek.
“Have fun, little girl.” Mr. Ramsay insisted on calling his daughters little girl.
How would he react if—and when—he learned that one of his dear little girls was expecting out of wedlock? Eventually the truth would come out. Jeff swallowed wrong, hating to hurt the sick man’s feelings. Mr. Ramsay was a wonderful father who adored his female brood.
“Goodnight, sir.” Jeff picked up the overnight bag Heather had left near the door and followed her out to his car. “You look terrific. To think you were afraid of showing.”
“This dress works miracles with its three layers of different shades. Somehow, the layered hems hide any roundness.”
Jeff glanced at her midsection and smiled appreciatively. The darker lowest sheet in satin tightly fit to her hips, the shorter second shift in blue muslin loosely covered her belly and the top layer with printed blue flowers revealed delicious cleavage.
After she settled in the passenger seat, he stowed her bag in the trunk next to his and slid behind the wheel. “Honestly, Heather, you’re far from being round.” He shook his head and started the car. “And your shoes are something else.” His fingers itched to caress her tanned, sexy legs elongated by the silver stilettos. To distract himself, he tapped on the steering wheel.
She laughed. “I borrowed Roxy’s high-heeled sandals. She owns more shoes than all of us together. And Madelyn let me have her silver clutch to match. My sisters are the best.”
She’d finally relaxed and was enjoying the moment. Hopefully, the evening would proceed with the same mood. He should follow her example and unwind.
At her friends’ residence, they met a noisy crowd of teenagers ambling in and out of the house. Some splashing in the pool, other meandering about in bikinis and swim trunks with drinks in their hands. A few in shorts or dresses chatted at the bar and in the family room. In the kitchen, the twins’ parents prepared plates of appetizers without missing a glance of the party. Heather and Jeff stopped by to say hi.
“What a pretty dress,” Olivia’s mother exclaimed. “You can hang it in one of the girls’ closets when swimming.”
“I’m not swimming today. My throat is…huh.” Heather scratched her neck and laughed nervously.
Jeff suppressed a chuckle. She was becoming such a good actress.
“Well if you’re feeling something coming, then it’s better to play it safe,” Mrs. Herbert said with an understanding nod.
“What about your friend?” the twins’ father asked, his eyebrows arched. Darn, she’d forgotten to introduce Jeff.
“I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert. This is my boyfriend, Jeff Bolin. He too is not swimming.”
Jeff shook hands with the dad. “Don’t worry about us. We’re going out to mingle.” He gripped Heather’s hand and tugged her toward the family room. “A soda?”
“With a lot of ice.” They sat with a group of Heather’s classmates who preferred to chat rather than swim.
An hour later, Heather wanted to move around and Jeff obliged, leading her to the patio. The setting sun tinted the sky in various hues of pink and the noise in the pool escalated.
“Hey, Heather, come and join us,” a young male called from the water.
“I didn’t bring a bathing suit,” she answered with a laugh.
“Who cares? Jump in with your dress on or take it off.”
“Jerk,” Jeff mumbled and spun Heather away from the pool and the rowdy throng. “Let’s walk on the terrace. There’s a nice breeze.”
A young woman sitting at a table by herself waved. “Hi.”
Heather approached her. “Can we join you?”
“Please do. I’m Lyn Herbert, Olivia and Lucia’s cousin.”
“Heather Ramsay. I’m a classmate of Olivia. And this is my boyfriend, Jeff Bolin,” she added and seated herself at the table.
“I’m going to the bar. A soft drink, Heather?” Jeff offered.
“Just a glass of ice water.”
“Make that two, please.” Lyn sent him a charming smile that puzzled him.
Heather’s heart swelled with love as she watched Jeff stride to the bar. He took such good care of her.
“Nice guy.” Lyn’s voice startled her.
Heather whirled, and then scowled at Lyn’s dreamy expression. With her tilted head, parted lips and dazed eyes, the woman was mentally devouring Jeff’s back.
“We’ve been together for three years,” Heather said with a crisp keep-your-hands-off tone.
“You lucky one.”
“I know.” True, Jeff was a handsome man. And a smart one. And a kind one. But he was her man and she’d scratch out the eyes of any woman who’d try to take him away from her.
“I had a good-looking boyfriend.”
“What happened?” Too late, Heather bit her lip. She shouldn’t interfere in this stranger’s personal melodrama. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude. Ignore my question.”
“You’re not intruding. If I was standing you’d have noticed I’m pregnant.”
“Ah.” Heather’s eye flew to the woman’s waist. Her situation hit close to home.
“He left me when I told him.”
“What a scumbag.”
“Yeah, he spent two years saying he loved me and we’d get married as soon as he had a good job. And then he disappeared and left me to deal with the situation.”
“Are you putting the baby up for adoption?”
“Are you crazy?” Lyn scowled at her. “Adoption? No way.”
“So what are you…”
“I’m keeping my baby. One more year and I’ll be done with college. I’ve already secured a job as a social worker. My mother promised to help.”
“You told her?” Stunned, Heather considered her.
“Of course. It’s too difficult to handle a baby on your own. Although I have a friend who’s doing it. But the poor thing had no choice. She had no loving support around her and she’s pinching pennies just to scrape by.”
“Why? Why expose a baby to a miserable life when she can put him up for adoption and give him a good future?”
“Are you adopted by any chance?”
“So how can you be so sure the kid will be loved the way his own mother would love him?”
“Well, because usually the adoptive parents have done so much to have a baby and waited so long and—”
“My mother was adopted and ran away at sixteen to escape a drunken father and neglectful mother. I won’t take any risks with my child, unless I’m dying of hunger, or terminally ill, or…or crazy. Maybe I’ll find a nice guy like Jeff to marry and help me raise my kid.”
“Oh.” Momentarily speechless, Heather stared at Lyn.
“Here are your ice waters.” Jeff set the plastic cups on the table. They’d been so engrossed in their conversation, they hadn’t seen him approaching.
“Thanks.” Her throat dry from the emotional exchange, Heather gulped her water.
“So what’s the big discussion about?”
“Nothing important,” Heather hastened to answer, not ready to give Jeff more ammunition to oppose her in the adoption issue.
“Thank you for the drink, Jeff,” Lyn said with a sugar-sweet curl to her lips. “We were discussing adoptive parents.”
Jeff threw Heather a concerned glance. “Wrong subject for a party. Too serious. We’re here to have fun.” He grabbed her hand. “The music is starting. Let’s dance. Sorry, Lyn, we’re going to leave you.”
“I’m coming too. Dancing is a good idea.” Lyn put her hand on Jeff’s arm and tagged along.
They joined other guests dancing on the edge of the terrace. Jeff folded his arm around Heather’s waist. Lyn faced him and followed his lead. Always the gentleman, he included her in the dance.
Sharing her partner with Lyn was definitely not part of Heather’s agenda. But how could they get rid of Lyn? Patiently Heather waited for the rock music to end, but Lyn seemed to be having the time of her life and lingered next to them for the second and third songs.
“I haven’t danced for so long. Jeff, you’re amazing,” she crooned with a flirty tone that grated on Heather’s nerves.
Jeff grinned awkwardly and glanced at Heather. She didn’t feel like smiling.
A slow song started. Heather wrapped both arms around Jeff’s neck. “Excuse me.”
“We can dance together again.” Lyn’s eyes filled with tears. “I haven’t had so much fun since Rob dumped me.”
Heather rolled her eyes. “I’m tired. Jeff, let’s go home.” Exasperation knotted her insides. Jeff nodded and held her elbow.
“If you’re leaving, can I ask you for a ride home?” Lyn said.
Unable to believe her ears, Heather braced herself to deal with the woman’s demand. “How did you get here?”
“My mother dropped me off. I was going to sleep over. But I’m not feeling well now.”
As far as Heather could see, Lyn was determined to take advantage of Jeff’s kindness. Maybe she was even plotting to snatch him.
“Lyn is pregnant,” Heather said in a warning tone. If she fainted or threw up in Jeff’s car, they’d be stuck taking care of the manipulating woman all night.
“Stay with her for a minute, sweetheart, while I bring the car around.”
But Jeff had already disappeared.
“Exactly what do you have in mind?” Heather asked, fuming at the scheming of the woman.
Lyn gave her a cold stare and shrugged. “He’s a nice guy.”
“He’s my boyfriend.”
“You don’t deserve him.”
Darn, the nerve of this shrew.
Just then, Jeff returned with Mr. and Mrs. Herbert. “Lyn said she’s not feeling well. Please take care of her. Heather and I are leaving.” Without giving Lyn time to protest, he drew Heather off the terrace toward the front yard and the street. “Hurry.”
She took off her shoes and ran with him to his car. “What a bloodsucker. She kept saying you’re so nice. I swear the woman wanted to grab you.”
“Jealous?” He wiggled his eyebrows as he drove away.
“Yes, Jeff, yes. I don’t want to lose you.”
“I don’t want to lose you either. Yet you don’t mind my going away to MIT. On my own.”
“Huh…Why would I mind?”
“We’ll be separated for a year or two, you here and me in Boston. So much can happen during such a long time.”
“Do you mean…” Would he cheat on her?
Of course he wouldn’t. But women like Lyn wouldn’t mind throwing themselves at his neck.
Silence settled in the car. Jeff finally slowed down and turned into the lane leading to his lodge. After cutting the engine, he unbuckled his seatbelt and cupped her face in his hands.
“Heather, I love you. I adore you.”
“I know, Jeff. I adore you, too.”
“Will you marry me?”
“Of course. We’re going to marry in two years.”
“Not in two years, Heather. Will you marry me now? Next week?”
Her eyes rounded like saucers. “Next… Seriously?”
“I want you in my arms, but we can’t continue to hide from your family, lie to your parents.”
“Ah.” She blinked, guilt nudging her.
“Today, I felt like dirt when telling your father we were staying at the Herberts’.”
“You were not lying. We were going to sleep there, if it wasn’t for that b… hmm.” Heather couldn’t stomach the woman who had been clinging to Jeff too closely.
“There will always be jerks trying to grab you away from me, like the ones in the pool who wanted you to jump in without a bathing suit, or girls thinking I’m available. As long as we have no commitment, we’re fair game.”
She frowned, not liking this bit of truth. He had a point there. Although she had laughed at the friends in the pool, thinking they’d had one beer too many, Jeff had been irritated, and jealous. The way she felt about Lyn.
“You want us to get married before you leave for MIT?” She wouldn’t have to worry about other women, although marriage didn’t come with a guarantee of faithfulness.
“If we marry, I’m not going to MIT. I’m already looking for a job here in Lexington. And I’ll join a local program for the MS. Going to Boston doesn’t appeal to me anymore.”
In spite of her bravado, the idea of a two-year separation terrified her. She’d tried to be generous and think only of his future, but that had been before she met Lyn and imagined the likes of her hanging on Jeff’s neck.
A sigh of relief escaped her. Jeff hadn’t mentioned the baby. He’d proposed because he loved her, not to fix a bad situation. She loved him too. Would her parents agree to let her marry at eighteen? Before finishing, or actually starting college?
“I don’t mind getting married now, but it would require some diplomacy to obtain my parents’ blessing.”
The family had always thought that Madelyn or Roxanne would be the first to marry. They had already graduated from college, garnered jobs, and lived on their own. But Madelyn had no other interests than her medical training and career, and no one knew anything about Roxanne who traveled for business continuously.
“I know. My parents too might give me a hard time. But I’m not a kid anymore. I’m entitled to make my own decisions.”
How she loved him when he sounded so confident. She laced her fingers around his neck and kissed him, ready to melt in his arms.
“Your answer first?”
“I will marry you, Jeff. Any time you want.” She stroked his hand to reassure him. “I just need a few days to think about the how and where.”
“Wonderful. You have three days to give me a final answer.” He enfolded her in his arms for a searing kiss, one of those kisses that made her forget the rules and principles her parents had instilled in her since she was a kid.
“Hmm. Let’s go inside.”
He revved the engine and drove away.
“Jeff, where are you going?”
“Taking you home. No more sneaking around.”
“But Jeff, can we…tonight… No one would mind.” It would feel so good to snuggle against his muscled body.
Lips pursed, he shook his head and kept driving.
“No way…” She blew up. Some willpower he had. “You’re going to dump me at home to sleep alone in my bed like a …”
“Like a good girl, sweetheart. Yes. I’m a good boy who loves good girls. And I plan to marry one.”
“Until you give me your final answer.”
(To be continued on 12-7-2016)
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)