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The Surprise Christmas Bride [Secure]
by Maureen Child

Category: Romance
Description: On the first day of Christmas... Finding herself in bed with her childhood love after being jilted at the altar by another man wasn't exactly Casey Oakes's idea of a merry Christmas. But she knew she wouldn't have wanted to spend her "wedding" night alone--even if Jake didn't love her. He got a wife... After he and Casey were caught in compromising positions, Jake had proposed. But love had made a fool out of him once, so he told himself that it was only lust his new bride inspired... And a surprise! Until the stick turned pink and Casey was congratulating him on his impending fatherhood!
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Readers' Choice,
eBookwise Release Date: November 2007

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23 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [245 KB]

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One

"May be I should put the top up before I drown."

Casey Oakes pushed wet hair out of her eyes and squinted into the freezing rain. A deep hard shiver rippled through her. "Too late now to bother," she grumbled, and told herself that maybe it would be a blessing if she did drown. At least then she would have done something no other Oakes had ever managed. Drowning in a convertible while cruising the back roads outside Simpson, California, wasn't, as her mother would say, "what society expects of an Oakes."

Accomplishing that feat in a wedding gown would only add to the myth, she told herself. A few years from now, her little ride would probably become the stuff of local folklore. People would tell the story of Cassandra Oakes in hushed tones around campfires. Parents would discipline misbehaving children with the threat of a nighttime visit from the Drowned Bride.

Still smiling to herself, Casey flinched when her soggy veil flew in front of her face and blocked her view of the road. She slammed on the brakes, heard something under her car snap, then came to a shuddering halt.

She cut the engine, and when that powerful noise disappeared, all that was left was the sound of the heavy rain pelting on and all around her. The windshield wipers continued to slap rhythmically as they futilely tried to do battle with the downpour. Nearly an inch of water covered the floorboards, no doubt ruining the plush scarlet carpet. Casey winced as she realized that the leather seats probably weren't faring any better.

"Well, hell," she muttered to no one, "who expected rain?" But then, with the way the rest of her day had gone, why not rain? Heck, why not a blizzard?

Reaching up, she pushed her veil to the back of her head and looked around at the drenched countryside. The road wasn't much more than a narrow dirt track, covered yearly by a thin layer of gravel. Now the ground-up rock was practically floating atop a sea of churning mud. On either side of the road wooden fence posts, strung with barbed wire, stood at attention for miles. Behind those fences lay open ground. Meadow grasses, waving and dipping with the wind and rain, a few gnarled leafless trees that looked as though they'd been there for centuries, a veritable forest of giant pines, their needles dipping with the weight of the rain—and that was it.

No houses.

No lights.

No people.

To top it all off, it had been so long since she'd been back in Simpson she didn't know if she was close to the Parrish ranch or not.

Casey inhaled sharply and felt the familiar sting of tears filling her eyes. Roughly she brushed them away with the backs of her hands.

She already had all the water she could handle.

Then she heard it.

The call came softly at first, then built into a low throbbing moan.

Frowning, Casey stepped out of the car and grimaced as the cold mud oozed over the tops of her white satin pumps. When her right foot slid out from under her in the muck, she forgot all about her ruined shoes. She grabbed at the car door for balance and managed somehow to keep from landing facedown in the thick brown river at her feet.

"Yuck." A sucking noise accompanied the movement as she lifted one shoeless foot from the icy mud. She heard the moaning sound again and turned her head to find the source.

Her eyes widened and a rush of sympathy for something besides herself washed over her.

"Oh, you poor little thing," she crooned, and started slogging through the mud.

* * *

"No, I don't want to tell you what it is." Jake Parrish laughed, shook his head and reached for his coffee cup. His sister, Annie, hadn't changed a bit over the years. Grown-up or not, she still couldn't stand suspense.

"C'mon Jake," she pleaded over the phone. "One little hint. Just one."

"Nope," he told her, and took a sip of coffee. "You'll just have to get out here first thing in the morning if you want your curiosity satisfied."

"You really are an evil man, big brother."

"Yeah, I know." He grinned, then added, "Oh, and would you mind bringing Dad, Uncle Harry and Aunt Emma, too?"

Annie sucked in a gulp of air and Jake could almost see his younger sister's black eyebrows shooting into her hairline. Lord, how she hated not knowing everything.

"This must be big," she finally said.

"Big enough," Jake assured her.

"Dammit, Jake!" Annie's voice dropped into the stern no-nonsense tone she used on her three-year-old, Lisa. "You know I hate surprises. If you don't give me something to go on, I won't get a wink of sleep all night."

She wouldn't, either. Memories rushed through him. The night before her birthday, Annie would lie awake all night, wondering what she might receive. And Christmas Eve was even worse. Then she was so bad not only did she stay awake, she kept Jake up, too.

"All right," he said with a smile. "One little hint."

"Yesss!"

Jake frowned thoughtfully as he tried to figure out a way to phrase the hint without giving away too much of his surprise. He leaned back against the kitchen wall, crossed his feet at the ankles and stared up at the overhead light fixture. Shaped like a wagon wheel, the chandelier held six globe-covered lightbulbs, which shone brightly against the late-afternoon gloom.

He shifted his gaze to the storm raging outside the window. Thanks to the deal he'd just managed to pull off, he told himself, not even the torrential rain or predicted snow could ruin his good mood.

Copyright © 1997 by Maureen Child.


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