It's Christmas, and Navy pilot Michael Kavanaugh is home from deployment-with a "Dear John" letter in his pocket. In spite of a rather serious case of Bah-Humbug, Mike heads to Christmas, Michigan, to spend the holidays with the York family. But then he meets Merry York, and spending Christmas in Christmas doesn't seem such a bad idea after all....
That is, until Mike discovers Merry has a present she's been hiding-she's five months pregnant! As attracted to Merry as he is, Mike isn't prepared to be a father and husband after only seven days.
But in a town called Christmas, almost anything can happen....
About the Author
There was never any doubt that Carrie Alexander would have a creative career. As a two-year-old, she imagined dinosaurs on the lawn. By six it was witches in the bedroom closet. Soon she was designing elaborate paper-doll wardrobes and writing stories about Teddy the Bear.
Eventually she graduated to short horror stories and oil paints. She was working as an artist and a part-time librarian when she "discovered" her first romance novel and thought, "Hey, I can write one of these!" So she did.
Carrie is now the author of several books for various Harlequin lines, with many more crowding her imagination, demanding to be written. She has been a RITA and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice finalist, but finds her greatest reward in becoming friends with her readers, even if it's only for the length of a book.
Carrie lives in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where the long winters still don't give her enough time to significantly reduce her to-be-read mountains of books. When she's not reading or writing (which is rare), Carrie is painting and decorating her own or her friends' houses, watching football, and shoveling snow. She loves to hear from readers, who can contact her by mail in care of Harlequin Books, and by email at email@example.com
Read an Excerpt
"Are you certain we're not at the North Pole?" Michael surveyed the frigid landscape beyond the iceencrusted windows of the rental car. After his deployment to the Persian Gulf earlier that year, he was familiar with loneliness and deprivation, but he'd never been to a place as cold and isolated as this before.
The strange new world was nearly colorless. Out of the flannel sky, fat, lazy snowflakes spiraled toward the windshield in random loops and whirls. A frosty two-lane highway stretched away into a frigid forest of bare branches and ragged pines, which were burdened by mantles of heavy snow. Even the sun seemed leached of warmth and color, a tissue-paper disk hidden behind layers of clouds.
Michael shivered inside his Navy-issued topcoat. His bleak mood offered no more warmth than the rental car's faulty heater.
Christmas in a town called Christmas. The stuff of sugar plum dreams, except he wasn't buying it. There was no magic remaining in Mike's world. "Gotta be the North Pole," he grumbled.
"Nah." Nicholas York shoved the heating lever up to full blast, hoping to eke out another degree of warmth. The hearty Yoopera common slang term for a denizen of Michigan's Upper Peninsulahad been Mike's closest friend since flight school in Corpus Christi, right on through to their present assignment in the Blue Knight strike fighter squadron.
"Not unless our pilot took a wrong turn."
Michael grunted. "I didn't like the look of the man." They'd connected in Detroit, flown north in a rinky-dink prop plane, then disembarked at an airport in the middle of nowhere. From there they'd driven over a hundred miles deeper into nowhere. Maybe they had traveled beyond the North Pole.
"Only because you hate giving up control," Nicky said cheerfully.
He had good reason to be cheerful. Nicky was going home for the holidays, to his wife and children. While Mike was glad their leave had come through at the last minute, for the Yorks's sake, he sure wished he had a better plan than extra-wheeling it with someone else's family for the holidays. If Nicky hadn't insisted, Mike might have spent the time off hunkered down with a case of Michelob and a sixty-four-inch football telecast, in an effort to forget that he had no homecoming reunion of his own. Not even one that took place in a frozen wasteland.
Mike burrowed deeper into the coat's raised collar. "I'm here, aren't I? Seven days of Christmas in a town called Christmas. Seven days of out-of-control holiday celebration."
Nicky gave him a look. An I-know-what's-frosting-your-butt look. "Buck up. There are no Scrooges in a Christmas Christmas."
"Yeah, yeah." Ordinarily, Mike was a doer, not a brooder, but he'd had a lousy year. First he'd been Dear Johned, then stranded for the holidays by a mother and stepfather who'd rather cruise Belize than gather around a faux fireplace in their Florida condo. Adding the recent news that his squadron would soon be sent on another tour of the Gulf had put him in an unusually morose mood.
He looked out at the barren landscape and said, with heavy sarcasm, "Another fine Navy Day."
"Hey, now." Nicky peered eagerly through the windshield, as if there was anything out there except more of the same. "Wait'll you see Shannon and the kids. They'll get you into the Christmas spirit."
"Don't worry," Mike said. One good, swift kick in the keister would jar him out of his malaise. "I'll be jolly for them. Ho, ho, ho."
While more than a year had passed since Mike had seen Nicky's family, they'd always be tight. There had been many good times, especially during the first years of duty after the men had earned their wings.
Mike was the godfather to the Yorks's first son, Charles, known as Skip. And Shannon had fixed Mike up with Denise, so they'd frequently double-dated with the Yorks.
At that thought, the fond memories might have turned sour, but Mike wouldn't let them. He focused on Nicky's kids instead. He was looking forward to being Uncle Mike again. Presents were wrapped and ready in his luggage.
There were also other family members to meet on this visitparents, two sisters, assorted aunts and uncles. All of them ready to welcome Mike with open arms. Given his less-than-festive mood, the prospect was not entirely heartening.
Mike straightened. "What's that? That big, white thing?"
"What?" Nicky followed Mike's nod. "You mean the snowman?" He leaned over the steering wheel.
The plywood snowman was fifteen feet tall, erected on the side of the road beside a placard that read Welcome to Christmas, Michigan. Mike stared as they drove by. The snowman's painted details were faded by time and a dusting of snow, but the message was clear. He was in for it.
"There's a Santa sign on the western end of town," Nicky said, almost apologetically.
Celebrate or bust. Mike geared himself up as they drove toward a cluster of buildings that signified the outskirts of the town. Here was color at last. Every structure was strung with lights and decorated to the max. Bulbous, blow-up cartoon figures perched atop piles of snow. Plastic reindeer ran a roof line. Metallic man-made trees sat side by side with the real thing, all of them circled with blinking lights. The holiday banners that had been strung from the electric poles flapped in the wind.
"I ought to bring something," he said suddenly.
"Like a what do you call ita hostess gift?"
"Don't bother. We Yorks are an informal bunch."
"No." Mike seized on a plan that would give Nicky and his family some private time. And himself, too.
"When we reach the downtown area, drop me off. I'll nip into a gift store, then get a taxi" He stopped abruptly, supposing that there were no taxis. "I'll hitch a ride, or whatever. If your family's place is close enough, I can walk."
"In this storm?" Nicky shook his head. The snowfall had thickened. Clumps of the white stuff had accumulated at the edges of the windshield wipers that swept the glass. "Mom would never forgive me. She's expecting you."
"Rightfor dinner." Mike tucked a wool scarf into his coat collar and removed a pair of gloves from one pocket. "You want me to look bad, showing up empty-handed?"
"All right." Nicky braked. "I'll be back in an hour to pick you up." He pulled off the highway beside a mound of waist-deep snow. A couple of people bundled like penguins emerged from one of the litup buildings and waddled toward a stop sign that crowned another of the snowbanks. The street corner, presumably.
Mike glanced around. The smattering of buildings was still a smattering. "Where's the shopping district?"
"This is it."
"What about the downtown?"
"This is it."
"This is it?" This was nothing. The way Nicky had talked about his hometown's Christmas celebrations, Mike had expected a mini-Times Square, not a hodgepodge of humble businesses and homes half buried in snow. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Christmas is small." Nicky grinned. "But it's got a big heart." He pointed past the steering wheel.
"There's the grocery, that's the post office and beside it is a gift store. The brick building across the street is a tavern called The Christmas Cheer. You can get warmed up there."
Michael stepped from the car and straightened. He took a gulp of the chilly air, smelling wood smoke as he looked from building to building. The tavern seemed to be the center of townsurrounded by vehicles, bursting jukebox music and activity. Three doors away, a white steepled church stood silent and closed, save for the tree sparkling with lights beside a signboard that listed service times beneath the spattered snowfall.
"See you in an hour, man." Mike shut the door, feeling road weary and run dry. Whether he was plunked in a Michigan snow pile or stranded on the arid mesas of Arizona where he'd grown up, small towns were all the same. Even when they came dressed in garish decoration.
"One hour, then," Nicky said with a nod. He gave a wave and put the car into gear.
Mike straightened his shoulders as he surveyed the town again. Travelers must have barely slowed down when they reached Christmas. A heavy foot on the gas, one blink of the eyes and they'd be out the other side.
A rush of wind sent snowflakes whirling. Mike tasted them on his lips. They clung to his lashes. He blinked and the swinging strings of lights that festooned the town turned to multicolored stars, blurry at the edges.
A second hard blink restored his vision. He was particularly glad of that when he saw the woman.
She was crossing the road, swept along by the wind. Her long, heavy coat flapped open. The tails of a red scarf whipped free, dancing like semaphore flags. Between the scarf and a matching knit hat pulled snugly past her ears was a fringe of golden-blond hair, molded to her pinkened cheeks.
The woman shot a clenched smile at Mike as she hurried past him and into one of the modest shops. She clutched a large leather purse and a paper gift bag with mitten-clad hands.
Pretty lady. A needle-sharp shot of interest made Mike's sluggish blood quicken.
He huddled in the cold, considering his shopping options. Severely limited. So why not follow her? The store she'd entered looked promising. Icicle lights danced from the eaves. A giant candy cane stood sentry at the door, twined in ribbon and evergreen garland.
A bell went off as Mike pushed inside. He stamped his feet on the welcome mat. The blond woman was at the cash register, chatting to the clerk while she shook snow off her hat and mittens. "My mother went and invited Oliver for Christmas dinner, since he'll be alone. I need to find him a last-minute gift."
The salesclerk, a rounded woman in her middle years, leaned over the counter and made a whispered comment. Both of them glanced at Mike, who was peeling off his gloves. "Merry Christmas, sir," said the clerk. Her smile was big and toothy. "I'll be with you in just a minute."
The blonde turned away before he got a good look at her face. "No rush," he said. "I'll look around."
The store was small. He prowled the rows of gift items, mainly Christmas-themed ornaments and such. He eyed the blonde over a rack of greeting cards. Something about her was arrestingher color, her brisk energy, the effervescent cheer that bubbled in her voice as she chatted about holiday preparations while fingering a display of fountain pens near the register.
"Finding anything?" the clerk called.
Mike nodded and pulled out a card at random. A cardinal in the snow.
He advanced along the aisle. Wrapping paper, twig reindeer, needlepoint Christmas stockings. Porcelain plates painted with winter scenes. Matching coffee mugs. What did a man without the proper Christmas spirit get to thank his best friend's parents for welcoming him into their home and holiday?
"Is it a fix-up?" the clerk asked her other customer.
"You and Oliver?"
"Good grief, no." The blonde seemed alarmed by the idea. Her hands flashed over her hair before tucking a lock of it behind one pink-rimmed ear. A small gold hoop pierced the lobe. "In my situation? No."
Mike glanced away so he wouldn't be caught staring. Situation?
"Not even my mother, desperate as she is to marry me off, could think I'd possibly be interested in " The woman shook her head in the emphatic negative.