It's a Wonderful Christmas [Secure]
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by Colleen Collins
Description: In Charles Dickens Brentwood's profit-driven life, there is no time for sentimentality. There's no room for family, friends or even the only woman he's ever loved. But when Christmas Eve visitations of holidays past and future show him the life he could have, will Charles change his ways and make this An American Carol his ancestor would be proud of? Down-on-her-luck Stella Gray is about to lose her apartment and her business. The last thing she needs is temporary custody of a troubled boy and the distraction of his well-meaning--and attractive--lawyer, Victor Lancaster. But with Kris Kringle's help and a little Miracle on Bannock Street, this unlikely trio might actually form a family.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Romance,
eBookwise Release Date: December 2007
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [410 KB]
All formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
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THE CAVERNOUS INTERIOR OF Brentwood Industries was unnaturally quiet—the staff had all gone home, phones and computers silenced by the arrival of Christmas Eve. Gloria Alvarez checked one last time to make sure no memo was left uncirculated on her desk and no folder poked out of its appointed file drawer. Satisfied that nobody, not even the notoriously difficult and demanding Charles Brentwood, would be able to complain that she'd left important work unfinished, she shut down her computer and got up from her desk.
Instead of immediately walking into Mr. Brentwood's office, she stood by her chair for a full minute, summoning the nerve to confront her bad-tempered employer. Finally, as ready as she was ever likely to be, she crossed the deserted outer office and tapped softly on the door of his lair.
"Come in." Her boss delivered the words in his usual snarl.
So much for the joys of the Christmas season, Gloria thought, rolling her eyes. Still intimidated by his grouchy attitude after almost a year working for him, she dug deep to find some courage. Then she squared her shoulders, opened the door and walked in.
The president's office was quite small and hadn't been refurbished since the death of Mr. Brentwood senior a dozen years earlier. Given that Brentwood Industries was among the most successful plumbing supply companies in the country, the current CEO could probably have sprung for a new rug and a comfortable chair without breaking the bank. However, Charles D. Brentwood was notorious for never spending a dollar if he could squeak by on a dime, so it was only to be expected that his office would be as cold, cheerless and shabby as the man himself.
Astonishingly, Mr. Brentwood wasn't seated at his desk, barricaded behind his laptop, poring over the latest logistics chart or whatever the heck it was he spent so much time scrutinizing. Instead, he was standing by the grimy window, looking out at the view of Trenton, New Jersey, and the warehouses that ringed Brentwood's headquarters.
Gloria so rarely saw her boss standing up that she was shocked to realize he was both tall and well built, with thick brown hair that he had allowed to grow unfashionably long. Probably because he was too cheap to pay for a haircut, she reflected with a cynicism that was alien to her usually sunny nature. In profile, when you couldn't see his expression, he was good-looking in a boring sort of way. Old, of course, but since she had celebrated her nineteenth birthday only a month ago, Gloria had to admit that anybody over the age of thirty looked old to her.
She followed her boss's gaze out the window. For once, the view was worth looking at. It was snowing: the sort of crisp, powdery snow that hushed the noisy clamor of the city and laid a thick coat of glistening white on the ugliness of decrepit and abandoned buildings. Gloria felt her spirits lift. Even inside the bleak headquarters of Brentwood Industries it seemed that Christmas could impart a touch of magic, a shimmer of hope in a wintry world.
She seized the hope and clung to it, allowing optimism to bloom. So what if it sometimes felt as if she carried the weight of the world on her inadequate shoulders? Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and she would sit down with her family to eat delicious roast turkey and pan dulce and forget for a few hours that her father still didn't have his green card and that there was never enough money to pay Timoteo's medical bills. When her mama's pan dulce was on the table, she thought with a silent laugh, the world couldn't be all bad.
Besides, there was always a chance that Mr. Brentwood would reward her hard work with a Christmas bonus. Well, it could happen, Gloria told herself. It was possible. Even twenty dollars would mean that she could stop at the drugstore on the way home to buy chocolate candies for the family and some of the special diabetic lollipops her little brother loved. She'd worked hours of unpaid overtime in the six months since she had been promoted to the job of Charles Brentwood's personal assistant. Maybe it wasn't silly to hope for a small holiday bonus.
"Mr. Brentwood, it's four o'clock and it's Christmas Eve. If it's okay with you, I'd like to leave now."
"Of course it's not okay with me." Charles Brentwood slowly turned to face her, his eyebrows drawn together in a heavy, disapproving line. "The workday finishes here at five-thirty. Why would today be any different?"
Because it's Christmas Eve, you mean old grouch, and every other person in the building has gone home. Gloria drew in a deep breath. "I'm sorry, sir, but I still must leave early. There is a special service at our church tonight and it starts at six. There will be a nativity play and songs from our Mexican tradition. I promised my little brother I would take him, and I won't be home in time unless I leave now. There are not so many buses tonight because of the holiday."
Charles Brentwood's frown grew darker. Gloria felt sweat trickle down her spine. This was not a man who appreciated employees with the backbone to stand up to his harsh demands. The fact that everyone else had already left wouldn't protect her if he decided to fire her. Mr. Brentwood had made it clear when he promoted her that she wouldn't keep her new job and fractionally increased salary unless she worked harder and longer than the rest of his underpaid, overworked staff.
"The holidays and buses aren't my problem," Charles Brentwood said. "They're your problem. My problem is that the agenda for the January sales meeting hasn't been prepared—"
Copyright © 2007 by Harlequin Books S.A.