Holly Jolly Christmas Ch. 9

Holly Jolly Christmas

CoverFinalMD-HollyJollyChristmasPrequel to Holiday Babies Series

by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author
Mona Risk

Copyright © 2016 by Mona Risk

Book Description
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?

Chapter Nine

A smile lingered on Heather’s lips long after Jeff left. Dad had received his night medicine and switched off the light in his room. Too excited to sleep, Barbara and her daughters had changed into their nightclothes and gathered in the family room. “You want to watch a movie or the news?” Roxanne fiddled with the TV remote.

“Can we chat?” Tiffany said, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “It’s not every day that we have to prepare a wedding.”

We?” Heather scoffed as her mother and sisters settled on the sofa, love seat or reclining chairs. “What are you planning to do for the wedding, Tiffany?”

“We have to shop for a wedding gown for Heather, outfits for the bridesmaids, a new dress for the mother of the bride, flowers, bridal cake, a place for the reception, and—”

They all burst out laughing. “How did you turn into such a wedding expert?” Roxanne dropped onto the sofa, leaving the TV remote on the end table beside her.

“My friend Kennedy’s sister is getting married next summer. Kennedy and I flipped through her bridal magazines. You can ask me any questions about weddings.” Tiffany bobbed her head with importance.

“You’re right, Tiffy, I should start shopping with Heather soon,” Barbara said.

“Tomorrow, Mom. Claire and I will come with you. Please, Mom?” Tiffany begged.

Mom glanced at Heather, and she nodded. “Sure. It’d be so much fun to be together.” Too bad Madelyn and Roxanne would be leaving early tomorrow to return to their workplaces.

Madelyn checked her schedule. “Can you set the wedding date in three weeks? I’ll be done with my current rotation and will have a weekend off.”

“Let me ask Jeff.” Heather called him right away.

Roxanne chuckled. “She’s already talking like a married woman.”

“He was having the same type of discussion with his family. And yes, third Saturday in August is perfect. Mrs. Bolin will meet with the priest tomorrow and organize the ceremony.”

“Good, because I hardly have time.” Mom sighed.

“Jeff and I will choose the flowers. Mom, can we have the reception on the patio around the pool? It’d be easier for Dad. If he gets tired, he’ll be able to take a break and rest.”

“If the Bolins agree, it would be great.”

“Our patio is so beautiful.” Claire spent her free time drawing and painting. She’d often asserted she’d be an architect when she grew up. “We’ll decorate it with banners and flowers. Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll take care of the decorations.”

“Mom, can you order the cake? You’re the expert.”

“I will, sweetheart. I’m going to bed now. It’s been an eventful day.”

At the top of the stairs, Mom held up Heather and Madelyn, after the three others entered their rooms. “Madelyn, don’t forget to give Heather your friend’s card. She needs to see a doctor and be sure everything is going well with the baby.”

“Everything is going great, Mom. He’s kicking often.”

“He does?” Mom broke into an elated smile. “I’m so happy. Regardless, you’ll go see that doc as soon as possible. Good night, girls. I hope Dad feels better tomorrow.”

***

Early in the morning, Madelyn drove Roxanne to the airport and continued to her hospital in Cincinnati. Around nine o’clock a nurse came to take care of Dad and give him his medicines. “Mrs. Ramsay, I’ll be staying with him until noon to check his blood pressure and monitor the effect of his new medication.”

“We’ll leave you for a couple of hours. You have my phone number in case he needs anything.” Mom added a few instructions and gave Dad a kiss on the forehead.

Claire and Tiffany already waited at the door. Heather climbed into the driver’s seat of the van while Mom settled beside her and the girls in the backseat. The first bridal shop didn’t excite them. The gowns offered were too elaborate, too low cut, or too expensive. The second boutique had a more restricted choice.

At the third shop, Claire chose a dress. “You’ve got to try this one. It’s beautiful.”

“Select as many as you want,” a sales clerk suggested. “I’ll bring them to the fitting area.”

When Heather tried the first dress and walked onto a platform, three pairs of eyes stared at her. “Turn around,” Mom ordered. “I’m not crazy about it.”

“Try this one.” Tiffany approached her and whispered, “Seriously, Heather. You’d better go on a strict diet and lose some weight before the wedding.”

Heather shrugged. “In three weeks? Forget it.” Her extra weight was too precious to lose.

The second and third gowns didn’t flatter her, but the fourth one chosen by their mother suited her so well. The dress sparkled with a beaded top and capped short sleeves. The high-waist skirt gathered under the breasts and spread into a flow of lace with embroidered appliqués. “So what do you think?” Heather pirouetted, posed, turned left and then right.

“I love it.” Mom’s ecstatic expression spoke volumes. “Darling, you look so beautiful.”

“Claire, Tiffany?”

“That’s the one. It’s so you.”

“Take it, Heather.” Tiffany clapped her hands.

“It needs to be shortened.”

“Let me take your measurements,” the sales clerk said. “We’ll start on the alterations right away.”

After Heather changed into her clothes, Claire and Tiffany moved to the bridesmaids’ section and picked up two lovely short dresses with the same design but different colors, orange and yellow for Tiffany, light pink and hot pink for Claire.

“They are perfect. No need for alterations.” Mom paid and checked her watch. “Now take me home right away. It’s already noon. I hope your father is feeling better.”

In fact, Dad’s condition kept improving. Two days later, he didn’t feel like napping and invited Jeff’s parents to come over and talk about the wedding.

“David has chemo next week. These treatments exhaust him. He wants to postpone it until after the wedding, but his doctor doesn’t want to hear about it,” Mom explained to their guests.

“Don’t worry, Barbara. I’ll survive it. I have a bride to walk down the aisle.” Sure enough, Dad requested a pad, pencil and his phone. He prepared a list of guests. A total of fifty, including the bride and the groom’s large families, a few aunts and uncles, and a dozen friends.

Mom had insisted on inviting Dad’s oncologist, his general practitioner, and his nurse. There was no time to order and send invitation cards. “We’ll call the guests. This way you’ll have a yes or no answer right away.” Heather perched on Dad’s bed all day and helped with the phone calls.

Mom joined them to decide the reception menu and call the caterer and the bakery that would prepare the wedding cake.

The Bolins had agreed to handle the details of the church ceremony and provide the drinks for the reception. Jeff’s friend, Josh who dabbled as a DJ, offered to take care of the music.

Heather barely saw Jeff that week. He’d started to work and stayed long hours to impress his new boss from day one. Since the lodge was a part of the Bolins’ farm, Jeff’s father took over the construction of the addition and hired a contractor to continue the remodeling job. To Heather’s delight, he also decided to expand the tiny kitchen into the patio and create a dining area. She would have a complete little house to welcome her baby.

As their mother had feared, Dad’s chemo generated the terrible side effects that usually caused him so much pain. His doctor transferred him to the ICU and forbad any visits. Besides, Dad didn’t want his daughters around, crying, when they saw him suffering.

Jeff came to stay with them the whole week. He occupied Roxanne’s room and kept the wedding preparation going. Five days before the wedding, Dad was still in the hospital, sedated by more drugs than he’d ever taken, but in the evening the doctor discharged him. At home, he remained in bed for three more days with a nurse at his side to help him with his medication.

The day before the wedding Madelyn and Roxanne arrived. The Bolins, parents and children, showed up at five p.m. “To maintain the tradition, we brought the rehearsal dinner here.”

“Make yourself at home in the living room and dining room. Give us a few minutes and we’ll all be ready.”

For the first time since he’d had his last chemo, Dad descended the stairs to be part of the celebration. Everyone seemed delighted.

Everyone except Heather.

Her sisters had immediately donned pretty dresses. Jeff’s sisters exhibited equally nice outfits. But Heather stared at herself in the mirror. She’d tried every dress she owned and couldn’t fit in any. And she couldn’t appear at her own rehearsal dinner with shorts and a large flowing blouse.

Dismayed, she sat on the bed, frowning, not knowing what to do.

“Heather,” Mom called from downstairs.

“Heather,” Madelyn repeated from outside the door. “Can I come in?” She entered without waiting for an answer. “What’s wrong, sweetie?”

Heather huffed and threw both hands up. “I can’t fit in anything. Why did they have to come? I hate surprises.”

Madelyn chuckled. “That coming from the girl who gave us the biggest surprise. Listen, I don’t have anything for you, but let’s raid Roxy’s closet. She’s the fashionista of the family.” She pulled Heather’s arm and dragged her to the next room.

Roxanne was putting the final touches on her makeup. “What’s up?”

“Can you be my proxy for tonight?”

“No way. You’re the bride.”

“I can’t go downstairs. I don’t have a nice dress to wear. I put on too much weight because…because…”

“I know, sweetie. You don’t have to explain.”

“You knew?”

“Of course. I understood when I saw you vomiting three days in a row. Mom would have guessed too, if she wasn’t so busy and worried about Dad. Now let’s solve your problem.” Roxanne surveyed Heather’s waist and hips. “Hmm… I think I have something. Not a dress. But black silk pants with flared legs, and elastic at the waist. It comes with a gold silk blouse and a sophisticated golden crocheted jacket. Try them.”

Heather immediately peeled off her top and shorts. Roxanne and Madelyn helped her get dressed. “The blouse is a bit tight.”

“Leave the buttons undone in the back. Much better. Now wear the jacket. Lovely.”

“You’re a miracle worker, Roxy. Is it too low cut?”

“Who cares? Jeff will love it and the parents won’t say anything. You’re getting married tomorrow. Now wear these golden stilettos. And let me fix your hair and makeup.”

A few minutes later, Roxanne and Madelyn exclaimed together, “Wow.”

Heather glanced at the mirror and gasped. “Is that me?”

“You’re stunning,” Madelyn said. “Let’s go downstairs. Jeff must have arrived.”

When they walked into the living room, every pair of eyes stared at Heather with surprise and admiration. Jeff broke into a huge grin and came to her. “My beautiful bride. You are gorgeous.”

Sitting between Jeff and her dad, Heather had never felt so happy. She was glad that Jeff’s brothers snapped dozens of pictures, and a video of the toasts, dinner and delicious chocolate cake baked by his mother. Of course, Mom also served her famous cookies.

The party ended two hours later to allow Dad to rest before the big day.

***

At one o’clock, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March resonated in the church and the guests turned to the door to peer at the bridal cortege led by Tiffany, with Claire and Jeff’s sisters following, each carrying a bouquet of three orange roses and baby’s breath. At the altar, Jeff and Bert waited beside the priest and smiled at the pretty girls.

Soon Jeff’s jaw sagged at the sight of his striking bride, her hand tucked into the crook of her father’s elbow. With her white wedding gown and the long veil covering her blond curls and trailing behind her she was more beautiful than he could have ever imagined.

Wearing his own wedding tuxedo that now fit him after he’d lost so much weight, David Ramsay slowly proceeded down the aisle, tall, straight and displaying a radiant smile that brightened Jeff’s heart but brought tears to Barbara Ramsay’s eyes.

When they reached the altar, David put his daughter’s hand into Jeff’s open palm. “Take good care of her, son.”

“I promise, Dad,” Jeff said without hesitation.

“Thank you. I know you will have a happy family.” David kissed Heather’s cheek and sat in the first pew next to his wife.

Following Barbara’s request to spare David a long time away from his house, the whole ceremony, including the vows and a short homily about love, lasted ten minutes and ended with the priest’s traditional “You may kiss the bride.”

Jeff immediately obliged with a long kiss that won him a lot of applause. Holding hands, he and his bride walked down the aisle while “Ave Maria” filled the church.

At the door, he whispered to her, “How about going to the lodge to check the construction progress?”

“Now?”

“Barbara mentioned your dad will be resting for a couple of hours. The guests will go home or gather on your patio for a swim or a drink. The reception won’t start until four p.m.”

“Sure. Let’s go. My parents and sisters already left.”

Jeff led her to his car and helped her into the passenger seat. After he drove away, he turned to her and winked. “Finally, we can enjoy some privacy without hiding or enduring frowns.” He gently squeezed her hand. “I can’t wait to hold you in my arms, Mrs. Bolin.”

At his lodge, he opened the car door for her and lifted her into his arms to pass the threshold of her new home. She burst out laughing and kissed him until he set her in the middle of the living room.

“My small bedroom will become our office.” He allowed her a quick tour of the additions. “This will be our bedroom. That little area is the new bathroom between our room and the baby’s room.”

Heather held her skirt up to protect it from the dust and debris on the floor.

“Sorry, I cleaned as much as I could.”

“Don’t worry. It’s all so lovely. A dream come true.”

“When they finish the construction, you’ll be in charge of decorating and furnishing our house.”

“That’s the easy part. I love it. When will we move in?”

“No sure yet. Maybe in two months. Now come see the kitchen. They will knock down the end wall and use the patio to build a dining area.”

“Thank you, Jeff. You’re amazing.” She thanked him with a blazing kiss.

“Hmm… How about a little nap in your hubby’s arms?”

She chuckled. “Anytime.”

At four o’clock, they returned to the Ramsays’ house. Cheers and applause greeted them when they stepped onto the patio decorated with banners and golden balloons. The warm fragrance of roses and lilies wafted over a light breeze. Around the pool, several round tables decked out with white and golden tablecloths awaited the guests.

Madelyn, Roxanne, Jeff’s brothers and their relatives milled around with drinks and hors d’oeuvres plates in their hands. Claire, Tiffany and Jeff’s two young sisters sunbathed on lounge chairs. At the sight of the bride and groom, they dashed into the house to get dressed.

A moment later, Jeff’s friend, Josh, playing the master of ceremonies announced, “The father and mother of the bride, and our hosts for tonight, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay.”

Holding hands, Barbara and David stepped outside and walked to his recliner at the head of a table.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bolin, the groom’s parents,” Josh announced as Jeff’s parents sat at their hosts’ table.

“The bridesmaids, Claire and Tiffany Ramsay, and Ann and Michele Bolin.” The four girls had slipped into their pretty dresses but their wet hair draped down their backs.

“And now, drums roll. The groom and his bride. Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Bolin.”

With ear-to-ear smiles, Jeff and Heather sauntered to stand next to the pool. A languorous song started and they danced together as husband and wife.

After their first dance, they sat at a bridal table decorated with pink roses. Bert toasted the bride and groom. “Wishing you long life, happiness, and many children.”

“Yeah. To many grandchildren.” David raised his flute of champagne but didn’t drink.

Waiters set the plates of salad on the tables. When Heather finished her salad, Jeff signaled to Josh who started the music again. “And now, the father of the bride will dance with his daughter.”

David stood and buttoned the jacket of his tuxedo. Heather had already jumped to her feet and approached him. His eyes shining with love, David wrapped an arm around her waist and held her hand. “I was looking forward to my dance.”

Every guest raised a camera for a memorable picture.

Soon after dinner, David fidgeted in his large chair but refused to leave the wedding party to rest. Barbara helped him out of his jacket and untied his bowtie. Jeff and the male guests followed suit. Attentive to his father-in-law’s condition, Jeff asked him if he could adjust the footstool of the recliner. “You’ll be more comfortable to watch the party, Dad.”

“Thank you, son.”

“Jeff, please, tell the waiters to bring the wedding cake. No need to wait longer,” Barbara said.

A moment later, two waiters carefully rolled a cart with a two-tier cake and placed it in front of the parents. The bride and groom cut the cake, fed each other a piece, and brought the first slice to Heather’s father. He hardly tasted it.

“It was a beautiful wedding. Keep eating and dancing. I am going upstairs. Goodnight.” He hugged Heather and Jeff, and held on to Barbara’s arm to walk inside.

“I’m so glad he was able to attend my wedding,” Heather said as their anxious eyes followed him.

(To be continued on 12-16-2016)

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)

Posted in Anthology, Boxed set, christmas stories, Contemporary Romance, medical romance, USA Today Bestseller | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holly Jolly Christmas Ch. 8

Holly Jolly Christmas

CoverFinalMD-HollyJollyChristmasPrequel to Holiday Babies Series

by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author
Mona Risk

Copyright © 2016 by Mona Risk

Book Description
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?

Chapter Eight

“Water, please.” Heather jumped up at the sound of her father’s voice, just as Madelyn and Mom returned to their dear patient’s room. Mom’s deep frown revealed her anxiety. She approached the bed and leaned in to kiss Dad’s cheek. He blinked. “So tired.”

Madelyn poured water from the pitcher left on the moving table. “It’s okay, Dad. It’s probably the morphine making you drowsy.”

Dad opened his eyes. “Madelyn, you left your hospital and came? Am I on my deathbed?”

She chuckled. “No, Dad. You’re a fighter.”

A middle-aged doctor entered the room. “How are you doing, Mr. Ramsay? I’m Dr. Lewis, your cardiologist. I saw you yesterday but you were unconscious.”

“Mom, can you take the girls and go to lunch?” Madelyn suggested. “Dr. Lewis is going to examine Dad. I’ll let you know the diagnosis.”

In the cafeteria, they lined up with trays. When they reached the cashier, Heather blushed at her full tray where she’d loaded steak, spaghetti, green beans, and a pudding, compared to Mom’s soup, Claire’s salad and Tiffany’s hamburger. “You shouldn’t starve yourself, Mom. It’s not healthy.”

“I’m not very hungry.” Mom paid without even looking at the other trays.

But Tiffany grimaced. “How can you gobble up all that food? No wonder you go throw up after you eat. You have bulimia, right?”

“No I don’t. Shut your mouth, little shrimp.”

“Madelyn,” Tiffany called their eldest sister who’d just joined them. “I think Heather is suffering from bulimia. Last month, she had anorexia.”

“Enough, Tiffy, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Madelyn shrugged. “Mom, they did an EKG on Dad. It’s almost normal. They took him for an MRI to make sure they’re not missing anything.”

Mom nodded. Poor Mom, she was exhausted.

“Mom, what’s going on?” Their sister Roxanne strode toward them, in mismatched pants and top for a change, her hair pulled into an untidy ponytail. “I jumped on the first plane as soon as I heard your message.”

“He’s better now. Have a seat, Roxy. We’ll get you something to eat.”

“Not hungry. I ate on the plane. Can we go see Dad?”

“As soon as he returns from his MRI.”

When they went back to Dad’s room, they found him sitting and drinking juice. “Hey, Roxy, you came too, little girl.” Dad held out his hand and Roxanne rushed to hug him.

“Daddy, you scared me.”

“The doctor said no stress.” Mom waved everyone one out. “Too much noise here. We’ll have one at a time.”

“Barbara, relax. Having my girls around me is a joy, not a stress.” Dad surveyed the room. “But we don’t have enough chairs.”

“Tiffany and I can sit on the bed,” Claire decided.

“Mom has her chair. I’ll bring more for Roxanne and Madelyn,” Heather suggested. She needed to move around. The no stress for Dad directive had clasped her heart. No matter what she decided to do about the baby she was bound to cause him stress.

“I’ll help you.” Madelyn followed her out of the room. “How are things going with you and Jeff?”

“Good. Couldn’t be better. Actually, he asked me to marry him.”

“Wow. When would—” Madelyn couldn’t say more with Claire coming to help with the chairs.

They all sat facing Dad so he wouldn’t have to turn around to speak to one or the other. “It’s great to have my whole family here. As if I were in my own house.” He inhaled and slowly exhaled. “What more could I wish for?” He stared at the window, regret filling his eyes.

They respected his silence.

“What is it that you miss, Dad? Other than your health of course,” Madelyn asked.

“The Lord allowed me to attend your graduation and Roxanne’s, and see you starting promising careers. Heather will start college in September. And the little ones are doing great in school. So I’m not worried about your academic or business achievements but…”

“But what, Daddy?” Tiffany asked as they focused on his sad expression.

His head bobbed and his gaze flitted from Madelyn to Roxanne. “One of the proudest moments in a father’s life is to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. I have five daughters, yet I won’t be able to walk any of them.”

Heather’s breath caught in her throat and she listened intently.

Madelyn’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry, Dad. I wish I had someone special in my life. The only males I hold in my arms are babies in the NICU,” she added with a derisive chuckle.

Mom arched her eyebrows. “What about that doctor who works with you and took you out for dinner?”

“Nick Preston?” Madelyn huffed. “Oh Mom, he’s the biggest flirt I’ve ever seen. The playboy of the hospital. Marriage is the last thing on his mind.”

“What about Bert Bolin, Jeff’s older brother? His mother hinted that her son has a crush on you, but he’s too shy to ask you out.”

Poor Bert. Jeff had often mentioned his brother’s feelings for Madelyn, but she didn’t give him the time of day.

“Mom, we’re too different.” Madelyn sighed. “He loves his farm and I live for my patients. It would never work between us.”

“How about you, Roxy? No one special?”

Roxanne shook her head. “No one. I travel abroad too often to have a chance to meet anyone around here.”

“Heather is the only one who has a special man in her life,” Tiffany said with an important voice. “One who adores her.”

“Tiffy, don’t start annoying me,” Heather warned.

The little sister shrugged and Roxanne added fuel to the fire. “If I had someone like Jeff, I wouldn’t let him slip out of my hands.”

“Mom always said that Madelyn should marry first, then you, and then me,” Heather mentioned to get them off her back.

“Ideally, but not necessarily,” Roxanne retorted.

“Heather, don’t you have something to tell Mom and Dad?” Madelyn pinned her with a stern look.

Panic churned in her stomach. She felt her baby kicking and paced to the door. Why was Madelyn betraying her now?

“Heather, come back,” Dad called.

“Yes, Dad.” She returned to perch on the arm of Mom’s chair.

Madelyn smiled and shook her finger. “There’s nothing wrong in telling our parents that Jeff proposed.”

“He did?” the three other sisters squealed.

“Oh God, he did?” Mom entwined her fingers together, her face ecstatic.

“He did?” Dad’s gaze lit with so much hope, guilt invaded Heather’s heart.

“Yes, he asked me to marry him. He doesn’t want to go to MIT. He’s been interviewing around here for a good job. Eventually, he’ll come to talk to you, Dad.”

“You have my blessing, little girl. I already love him like a son.” He opened his arms to Heather. “On that happy note, I think I’m going to nap.”

***

Jeff showered and changed into a pair of dressy gray pants and a white and gray striped shirt. Heather had told him about receiving her father’s blessing when sharing that Jeff had proposed to her. Before leaving his lodge, Jeff dug from his pocket a little velvet pouch and opened it to admire the tiny diamond he’d bought yesterday, as soon as he’d received the eagerly expected call offering him a job. On his way to his car, he paused by the backyard and checked the construction progress. The walls framed the two new rooms. Next week, he and his team would install the ceiling and the roof.

Yesterday, Mr. Ramsay had finally been discharged after spending another week at the hospital. Although David Ramsay was confined to his bed, his daughters had planned a birthday party for him and Heather had invited Jeff. But she hadn’t mentioned anything about the adoption agency.

“Gee, you look so neat tonight,” Heather blurted as soon as she opened the door. She’d donned a strappy sundress flowing straight to mid-calf.

“You look lovely. I missed you, babe.” A warm kiss rewarded his compliment.

“Missed you, too. Come upstairs. Mom baked a delicious chocolate and strawberry cake. Dad is waiting for you before he blows out his candles.”

“How nice of him.”

Heather led Jeff to her parents’ room. A cake covered with white icing and decorated with flowers and a red Happy Birthday Dad sat on a round table. The Ramsay daughters gathered on one side of the king-size bed and chatted quietly.

“Daddy, Jeff is here,” Heather announced.

Dad opened his eyes and smiled. Jeff suppressed a gasp at the sight of the jovial lawyer who now appeared to be a ghost of himself.

“I’m glad you’re back home, Mr. Ramsay.” Jeff stood by Heather’s chair next to the bed.

“Good to see you, son. It hasn’t been a great week, but I’m still around.” The chemo treatment administered after his mild stroke had created dire complications and sent Mr. Ramsay back to the ICU last week. Madelyn and Roxanne had requested time off from work, and took turns with Barbara to stay at his side overnight.

“I have some news to share.” Jeff decided not to waste time. The Ramsay sisters stepped closer to avoid missing a word. Even Barbara leaned toward him. “Today I received an offer for a staff position as engineer at Lexington Agricultural Tools. The salary and benefits are great, along with health insurance and paid graduate studies. I’d be able to go for a master’s degree by joining Lexington University’s evening program.”

“That’s fantastic.” Heather clutched her hands together and bit her lip. “What about MIT?”

“I already notified them I won’t be able to attend their program. No regrets at all.” He winked at Heather. “Mr. Ramsay, I have been in love with Heather for ages and she loves me too.” Jeff took her hand. “May I ask your permission to marry her soon?”

“Yes, son. As soon as possible.” Tears filled Mr. Ramsay’s eyes and Mrs. Ramsay sniffled.

“Is two weeks from today acceptable?”

“Two weeks?” Claire and Tiffany exclaimed.

“That would be mid-August,” Barbara mused. “Why not? We can arrange a private ceremony with just your family and ours. Have you talked to your parents, Jeff?”

“I did. Today.” He pulled the pouch out of his pocket and took out the ring. Gasps echoed around them. “I love you, sweetheart.” He slid the ring on her finger.

“It’s so beautiful.” Her eyes wide, Heather stared at her diamond, and then threw her arms around his neck. “I love you too.”

Her sisters clapped their hands and Mr. Ramsay extended his to Jeff. “Congratulations. I have to get better now to walk my daughter down the aisle.”

“We’ll toast with soft drinks so that your father can share,” Barbara said.

David Ramsay held his glass with a shaky hand. “To Heather and Jeff.”

Roxanne lit the candles on the cake and brought the plate closer to the bed for her father to blow out. They sang “Happy Birthday” with unsteady voices.

Would it be the last birthday for their dear father?

Madelyn cut the cake and distributed the dessert plates.

David took a small bite. “I can’t eat much.”

Barbara sighed but didn’t insist. “Girls, can you put the rest in the fridge?”

Claire and Tiffany collected the plates and went downstairs.

“Excuse me, Dad. I have a business call to make.” Roxanne followed her sisters out of the room.

It was a unique opportunity for Jeff. “Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, there’s something you should know.”

“No, don’t,” Heather squeaked.

“I won’t start my marriage on a lie by omission. I know they will understand.”

“What is it?” Barbara frowned, already concerned.

Heather rubbed her temples and lowered her head.

“Go ahead, Jeff,” Madelyn urged.

“Although it’s hard to say, I have taken advantage of Heather. She’s pregnant and will deliver in December.”

“Oh my God.” Startled, Barbara clutched the arms of her chair.

“Oh my God, a baby. Oh my God, I’ll hold her baby, my grandchild.” A few tears slid down Mr. Ramsay’s emaciated cheeks.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry,” Jeff repeated, not sure he’d heard right.

“Under different circumstances, I would have punched your face, Jeff. But not now. Not when you’ve just given me an incredible joy. When is the baby due?”

Her lips still trembling, Heather straightened. “Mid-December, I think.”

“Just before Christmas. Barbara, it’s going to be a holly jolly Christmas.” He hummed the happy tune. “A Holly Jolly Christmas. I promise I’ll be around to celebrate.”

“Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Jeff.” Heather smiled, a big happy smile Jeff hadn’t seen for a long time. “I will call Norma and tell her I can’t meet her after all.”

“Who’s Norma?” Two lines of worry creased Barbara’s forehead, but her husband continued to sing.

“A person we met recently at a meeting,” Heather answered with a non-committal wave of her hand.

“She was trying to befriend Heather, but I didn’t like her, and prefer to keep her away.” For nothing in the world would Jeff reveal Heather’s crazy idea of giving up their baby for adoption—not to her parents, or his parents, or any of their friends. He threw a sharp glance at Madelyn who responded with a barely perceptible shake of her head.

“Heather, how far along are you?” Barbara studied her daughter’s waist.

“Almost five months.”

“You’re not showing. Have you seen a doctor?”

“Not yet, Mom. But I’m not going to your Dr. Newman.” Heather preferred not to visit their father’s friend who treated them like his own kids and was sure to scowl upon her condition.

Barbara and Madelyn chuckled. “I’ll give you Dr. Lui’s card. She’s a friend and an excellent obstetrician,” Madelyn said with an understanding nod.

“Mom, please don’t tell the girls or anyone until after the wedding.”

“I don’t plan to,” Barbara reassured her.

“Any more surprises for today?” David’s voice sounded stronger.

“I think they gave us a big packet of surprises so far.” Barbara’s sigh revealed her mixed feelings. “Since Roxanne moved out, you can use her room as a nursery for the baby—”

“Thank you for the offer, Mrs. Ramsay. We plan to live in my lodge.”

“Your lodge?” David’s eyebrows rose. “Isn’t it too small for a young family?”

“Bert and Josh have been working with me on an addition in the back. Two large rooms and a small bathroom. It was a surprise, my wedding gift to Heather.”

“Oh my God, you are amazing.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and he didn’t hesitate to kiss her.

“Good job, son.” David held out his hand and Jeff shook it. “As soon as I’m stable on my feet, I’m coming to help.”

(To be continued on 12-14-2016)

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)

Posted in Anthology, Boxed set, christmas stories, Contemporary Romance, holiday, USA Today Bestseller | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holly Jolly Christmas Ch. 7

Holly Jolly Christmas

CoverFinalMD-HollyJollyChristmasPrequel to Holiday Babies Series

by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author
Mona Risk

Copyright © 2016 by Mona Risk

Book Description
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?

Chapter Seven

To calm his rattled nerves, Jeff jogged all the way to his lodge. He couldn’t believe his bad luck. Why had the woman called just when Heather had started to accept the idea of marriage? She’d even shared with him a precious moment of their baby’s development. By the time he reached his lodge, he regretted his outburst of anger and promised himself never to lose control again. No matter what Heather decided, he’d keep his cool. Only his continuous support would convince her he’d be able to support their child.

At home, he changed into his old jeans and joined Bert and Josh in the backyard where they had been laying the foundation. “Your break was too long. At that rate we’ll never be done with the addition in six weeks,” Josh said.

“Sorry, guys. I had to see Heather.”

His two helpers looked at each other and burst out laughing. “He needed a dose of vitamins to sustain his effort.” Bert cast him a sarcastic glance.

“Vitamin kiss you mean?” Josh mocked.

Jeff shrugged. “No more breaks.” He’d drawn a grueling plan of work. So far, things had proceeded on schedule. This morning he had a promising interview with a company and the hiring manager had asked him to come back in two weeks and meet with the division director.

With the sun setting late in Kentucky, they were able to toil for two more hours. Around nine o’clock, they called it a night. Jeff offered a round of beer and warmed boxes of frozen lasagna. “We’re doing well. Tomorrow, we’ll start on the studs. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Not to worry. You’ll return the favor one day,” Josh said with a wink. They lingered around eating, drinking and chatting. By the time his helpers left, it was too late for Jeff to call Heather and clear the air.

To avoid an unpredictable argument, Jeff emailed her the next morning, a brief, I love you, sweetheart. And I love our baby.

She emailed back right away. Me too. Please don’t be upset with me.

Poor Heather, she had probably rehashed his angry words late into the night and hadn’t slept well. Never. Sorry, I lost my temper. I can’t bear the thought of losing you or our baby.

Me too, Jeff.

He sighed with relief. Just don’t sign anything in haste.

I won’t. Not before sharing what I find out.

Thanks.

Reassured, he prepared a pot of coffee and finished his bowl of cereal by the time they arrived.

At noon, the men broke for lunch and Jeff seized the opportunity to call Heather. No one answered. She might have gone to see the adoption agent. He huffed and left a brief message. Love you. With his energetic companions, he resumed building studs. At four o’clock, his brother stopped to prepare more coffee. Jeff couldn’t wait to hear Heather’s report of the meeting, but no one answered his call. He tried the house. No answer there either.

Had the Ramsays gone out for an early dinner, as they sometimes did when David Ramsay wanted a family gathering without Barbara spending too much time in the kitchen?

Jeff went back to work, but his mind kept wandering. He hammered his finger and cursed, and had to cope with Josh and Bert’s annoying laughter. By eight o’clock, he couldn’t wait to see them leave. “You’ve done an amazing job. See you tomorrow.” As soon as Josh’s car cleared the driveway, Jeff rushed under the shower, and donned shorts and a shirt.

Impatient to see Heather, he drove to the Ramsays’ and arrived just as the garage door opened and the family van rolled in. The three girls stepped out.

“Heather,” he called and stopped short when he heard muffled sobs. Why were they crying? “What happened?”

“Dad had chest pain. Mom called 911. They rushed him to the ER and we followed. He’s in the ICU now.” Heather sniffed a few times. “We spent the whole day at the hospital. Mom sent me home with Claire and Tiffany. But she’s staying overnight there.”

He hugged Heather and her sisters. “I hope he’ll be better by tomorrow.”

“I hope so,” Tiffany mumbled, her voice trembling with tears.

“We wanted to stay with Mom. But she insisted we should go home, have dinner and sleep in our beds.” Heather wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and shrugged. “As if we’re going to be able to sleep tonight.” She unlocked the door to the mudroom and they followed her inside the house.

“I’m so scared.” Tiffany started sobbing.

Jeff turned the lights on and held her shoulders. “How about if I go get burgers and we talk while eating dinner.”

“Mom said to finish the leftovers. We have roast, potatoes and broccoli. And a delicious chocolate cake for dessert,” Claire recited.

“Thank you, Jeff. Yes, stay please. Can you girls start warming the plates?” As they obeyed quietly, Heather turned toward him and covered her mouth. “Mom said she’d called me if things get worse. And we’ll rush back to the hospital.”

“That bad?”

“We thought we’d lose him today. The doctors were great. But he may have another stroke. Oh, Jeff, I’m scared too.”

He couldn’t take her in his arms now, not when he’d appointed himself a protector of the three girls, and her young sisters appeared as shaken as Heather. He opted to comfort her with words. “We have to believe he’s going to make it. He wants to live and he’s fighting hard.”

“And Mom was praying. I prayed too, but I’m not a good… Well in my condition…” She lowered her head in abject misery.

He understood her unfinished sentence. “God always listens. We’ll pray together. Now let’s set the table.”

When Claire and Tiffany returned with the plates, they sat at their usual places, leaving the parents’ seats empty. “We’ll say grace now.”

They held hands and Jeff started, “Lord we pray to you for Mr. Ramsay. Give him health and give his family strength and endurance.”

One by one, the girls added their prayers mingled with tears and hiccups. No one touched a fork. “Heather, can you serve?”

She nodded.

“What is your funniest memory of your dad?” Jeff asked to distract them from their sadness. They looked at him and frowned. He started eating and they followed suit. “Now think hard.”

Tiffany bit her lip in concentration. “I know,” she blurted. “It’s when Daddy took me to the father-daughter dance, and made me dance to a rock song. It was so funny. I stepped on his toes a few times. And he screamed. And they stopped the music. And he had to apologize to our principal for disturbing the party,” Tiffany finished with a hoot of laughter.

“My story is even funnier.” Claire related her tale. By the time Heather finished hers, they were all laughing, and reminiscing on other special moments with their parents.

“Remember when your brother Mark wanted to steal my wand, the pretty one with a feather?” Heather’s gaze turned dreamy. “I ran and hid in the tree and I was terrified of falling down. I cried for an hour, I think. But then you climbed up and saved me.”

“Is that when you fell in love with Jeff?” Tiffany asked.

Heather shrugged. “Yes, but I was only five.”

“You never told me that.” Jeff stared at her. She’d loved him since she was five? A fierce desire to protect her overwhelmed him.

After they binged on the chocolate cake, they all cleared off the table. Barbara called to make sure the girls were doing well.

“Mom says she really appreciates you coming to check on us,” Claire said.

Determined to keep them entertained, Jeff asked Tiffany to bring a couple of games. They gathered in the family room and played scrabble until eleven o’clock. When Tiffany rubbed her eyes but refused to go to bed, he suggested she lie down on one sofa and Heather on the other. “I’ll bring two sleeping bags from the basement for Claire and me, and we’ll all watch a sweet movie and doze here.”

“Great idea,” the girls said together.

Claire turned on the TV and selected The Princess Diaries. “We’ve already seen it, but it’ll be fun to watch again.”

They settled comfortably and relaxed. Heather dozed on and off during the movie. After an hour, Tiffany drifted off. Claire watched with him to the end, and then covered her head and slept.

“Jeff, are you awake?” Heather whispered.

“Yes. How are you feeling?”

“I’m so worried. Do you think Dad will make it?”

“I hope so. Try to sleep.”

“I’m hungry. Can you get me some cookies? Mom baked a whole box yesterday. It’s on the counter.” He unzipped his bag and jumped to his feet. “And a glass of water, please.”

“Sure.”

Recently, she’d started eating a lot. Soon there’d be no way to hide her condition. Yet he couldn’t tell her that and add to her concern. They would take one day at a time.

He brought her a glass of water and a small plate of cookies that smelled heavenly, and put them on the corner table by the sofa.

“Sit here.” She rose to a sitting position and patted the sofa.

He glanced at her sisters. They were asleep. He sat next to her and gently stroked her hair. “Your stomach is better?”

She gave him a sweet smile and pointed at her belly. “He’s been behaving well. Soft kicking now and then, but otherwise everything’s great.”

He forced himself to ask the question that had been tormenting him all day. “What did you think of the couple?”

“What couple?” She frowned as if she didn’t understand his words.

“The couple you were supposed to meet at the agency.”

“Ah, I didn’t go.” She finished a cookie and reached for another. “It was an awful day. We all jumped into the van and Mom followed the ambulance. While in the waiting room, I called Norma and told her I was in the ER with my dad and couldn’t think of anything but him. And I turned off my phone.”

Jeff slowly exhaled. The Lord up there was watching over their baby. Now Jeff would be able to sleep.

***

The next morning, Heather awoke with a backache, probably due to her awkward position on the sofa. Her sisters didn’t seem to be in better shape but they hastened to shower and get dressed.

The wonderful smell of fresh coffee wafting from downstairs restored Heather’s vitality and she rushed to the kitchen. “Thanks for the coffee.”

Jeff set a cup in front of her and she opened the box of cookies. Too nervous to chat, Claire and Tiffany ate their cereal in silence, and then waited for her, each holding a book.

“Are you ready?” Heather collected her laptop and purse. “I’m bringing the box of cookies, just in case…”

“Don’t.” Claire shook her head. “You’re too nervous. If you keep eating cookies and crackers, soon you won’t fit in your clothes.”

Heather gasped. Her sisters were way too sharp. “It’s for all of us. Especially for Mom. She calls them her soothing cookies.”

“Mom is already too heavy.” Claire sighed. “And if we don’t pay attention we’re going to follow in her tracks.”

“No to worry. Mom was very slim before her wedding, but after so many pregnancies what do you expect?” Heather promised herself she’d never have so many kids and she’d lose her baby fat right after her delivery. “Let’s go.” She locked the door of the house and climbed up into the van. “Bye Jeff.”

“Bye.” Always a gentleman, he walked to his car, but waited until she drove away to leave.

At the reception desk, the volunteer checked her computer. “Mr. Ramsay is in room 405.”

“Ah, a private room… You hear that, girls? Dad is not in the ICU anymore.”

“Here are your ID badges. You take a right and…”

They were already dashing along the hallway to the elevator. On the fourth floor, they followed a corridor and paused at room 405. The door was ajar.

Tiffany jutted her head in. “Mom, can we come in?”

“Yes, come in, girls.” Dad’s dear voice melted Heather’s heart.

“Halt there,” Mom warned. “Before you hug your dad… Any running nose, cough, or sore throat?”

“No,” they answered together.

“Heather, no tummy ache?”

“No, Mom. I’m healthy. Now, can we hug Dad?”

Her father opened his arms. “Sure. I need all the hugs I can get from my wonderful daughters to feel better.”

Oh God, she was far from being a wonderful daughter. If Dad ever learned her secret, the disappointment might kill him. “Daddy, we were so worried about you,” she said, after they took turns hugging him.

“That was a close one, but I managed to survive. Now I’ve learned a good lesson. We should make the best out of each day. Be together, laugh together. Never let depressing situations ruin our happiness. Right, little girls?”

“Right, Daddy,” Claire and Tiffany replied in chorus and perched on the foot of the bed, one on each side.

Standing beside her mother’s chair, Heather stared at her father. Guilt and worry clasped her heart. Her father had just escaped death. She had no right to ruin his last months or days with her problems. Dad’s previous words reinforced her resolution to keep her pregnancy a secret and give up the baby for adoption.

“Barbara, why don’t you go rest? The girls will keep me company.”

Mom’s gaze flipped from Dad to each of their daughters. “Heather, I’ll leave you in charge. I’ll shower and change, and put a roast in the slow-cooker for dinner.”

“I said rest, Barbara. Not cook for the kids. Dining on fast food for once is not going to kill them. You didn’t sleep last night.”

“Oh, David, you know I can’t leave you for long. I’ll be back in an hour. Girls, don’t exhaust your father. He needs to rest too.” Their mother leaned over the bed to kiss Dad on his cheek.

“Drive safely, Barbara. Please don’t rush.” She left and Dad closed his eyes.

Claire and Tiffany opened their books to read and Heather kept rehashing her dilemma. Up until last week, she’d been determined to protect Jeff from messing up his future with responsibilities too heavy for him, but so many things had happened to confuse her and make her doubt her decision—Jeff’s anger every time she mentioned a possible adoption; the baby kicking and reminding her he was very much alive and happy to dwell inside her; Jeff’s proposal and suggestion they marry right away; and then Dad being rushed to the ER.

Yesterday, she’d completely ignored Norma and her clients. After watching Jeff’s kind attentions toward her and her sisters, she’d realized he’d make a great dad for their baby and she’d pondered confessing the whole mess to her parents and asking for their help.

But now…

How could she spoil Dad’s last moments?

She dropped onto the chair vacated by her mother, blinked back the tears threatening to spill and closed her eyes, wishing she could sleep like Dad and awake without problems.

A knock on the door interrupted her distressing thoughts and a young woman in scrubs stepped into the room. “Dad?” Madelyn froze. “How is he?” she whispered.

“Better than yesterday,” Heather answered.

“Where’s Mom?”

“She went home for an hour. She was here all night.”

“What about you?”

“We went home last night. Jeff came and stayed with us. Ah, here’s Mom.”

“Madelyn, sweetie, I’m sorry I worried you so much.”

“You did well to call when Dad was rushed to the ER. I was in the OR all night and didn’t get your message until this morning. I drove here as soon as possible. You never know. A stroke can be followed by another.” Madelyn played with the stethoscope hanging around her neck.

“I have questions for you.” Mom grabbed Madelyn’s hand and pulled her outside the room, probably to ask her details about their father’s condition.

Heather opened her laptop and bit her lip at the sight of an email from Norma.

I hope your father is better. Can we reschedule for today?

As if Heather could leave Dad and meet anyone today? I’m at the hospital with my family. Dad still not well.

A reply came right away: How about tomorrow? The couple is eager to meet you.

Gee, the woman was too pushy. Heather wanted to ignore her, but her father’s words echoed in her ears. “We should make the best out of each day… Never let depressing situations ruin our happiness.”

She couldn’t be the depressing situation that would ruin Dad’s mood.

She couldn’t upset Norma and risk losing a good couple.

I’ll email or call tomorrow. Thanks.

(To be continued on 12-12-2016)

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)

Posted in Anthology, Boxed set, christmas stories, Contemporary Romance, medical romance, USA Today Bestseller | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment