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Cathy Gillen Thacker
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Baby's First Christmas
Baby's First Christmas

Chapter One

Kate Montgomery's younger sister, Lindy, charged into the workroom at Gourmet Gifts To Go and slammed her crammed bookbag down between the stacks of Thanksgiving gift baskets and decorative Christmas sleighs still waiting to be filled. "He's here," she announced.

Kate looked up from the home-deliver form emblazoned with the logo of her Chapel Hill, North Carolina, store. Although she and her twenty-six year-old sister looked alike--they had the same pale blond hair and light green eyes--they remained as different as night and day. Lindy, who couldn't get enough of school, was currently finishing up her PhD in mathematics. Whereas Kate had had all she could bear of classroom education after just four years of college.

"Who's here?" Kate asked casually.

Lindy slipped off her UNC windbreaker with the sweatshirt lining. "that guy with the really sexy voice who keeps calling you for an appointment and won't say why. He's cu-u-u-te, Kate. You ought to go talk to him. After all," Lindy said to Kate, a matchmaker's sparkle in her eyes, "he might not be selling anything."

That'll be the day, Kate thought, her lips curving upward wryly as she added tins of smoked salmon and chocolate truffles to a gift basket already filled with goodies. "That's what you said about the last half-dozen," Kate reminded her sister as she patiently fit in individual packets of raspberry-flavored cappuccino and fruit snack mix. "And I ended up listening to two life insurance salesmen ready to write policies on my baby in utero, a peddler of encyclopedias ready to educate my child via audiotape, a beachfront property time-shar Realtor who wanted me to have a vacation home to take my baby to, a financial analyst who wanted to plan my baby's college fund for him or her and--last but not least--a person who just knew, because I was pregnant, that I'd be needing to turn in my beloved Saturn sedan for a station wagon ASAP."

Always quick to help out, Lindy cut off a length of blue satin ribbon and tied it around the handle of the wicker basket Kate was filling. "How do you figure all these guys know you're pregnant?" she asked, pausing to make sure the bow was tied just so.

"And single? I don't know." Kate slid off the stool and straightened, one hand on her aching back. Today was one of those days she just couldn't seem to get comfortable. She'd been having a lot of them lately. Though never had she felt this sort of aching, insistent pressure in her thighs, too. She smiled at Lindy, who was not only her sibling, but her closest friend. She strode past the Santa cookie tins and golden-mesh gift totes that were sold year-round. "But I guess I do need to talk to this guy before he interferes with any of my regular customers."

Lindy cupped a hand around her mouth and used the slow singsong voice they'd adapted when both were starry-eyed teenages, "Be nice now. He really is cute."

Kate rolled her eyes at the blatant matchmaking. Suddenly, everyone--including her strongest ally--wanted her to get married again, but she knew there was no way that was going to happen. One disastrous marriage was enough. She was ready for motherhood. And nothing else. Meantime, there was this nuisance to be dealt with, afternoon deliveries to be made, a quick dinner with her mother and one final Lamaze class to attend. And all in the five hours before nine o'clock, her self-imposed bedtime these days.

Taking a deep breath, Kate tucked the satiny ends of her pale blond bob behind her ears, smoothed the lines of her black velvet maternity jumper and white satin blouse and breezed into the shop where Dulcie, the store's assistant manager, and Jeff, another part-time employee and premed student, were busy chatting it up with a well-dressed man in his early thirties. her glance sweeping past the window display promoting upcoming holidays and events--namely Thanksgiving, semester exams and Christmas--Kate focused on the center of activity.

Darn it all if her younger sister wasn't right, she thought, amused despite herself as she glided gracefully between the rows of elegant gift baskets and gourmet treats. The persistent man of mystery was cute. Devastatingly so, even in profile. His dark sable brown hair was windblown and shiny clean, his ruggedly handsome face clean-shaven and, she noted as she neared, scented with a deliciously spicy aftershave. Tall and fit, he was dressed in khaki slacks, a pale blue shirt and tie and a navy sport coat that made the most of his broad, imposing shoulders.

"Here Kate is now!" Dulcie said, and beamed at her introduction.

The attractive stranger turned to her, enfolding her hand in the warm, strong palm of his. "I'm Dr. Michael Sloane. I work over at the medical center."

And, Kate thought, alarmed, he wanted to talk to her in person and wouldn't say why. As her next thought came with frightening speed, Kate's hand flew to her swollen tumy and hovered there protectively. "The baby." she said breathlessly. "Is there---"

"There's nothing wrong with the baby." Michael Sloane paused. His sensually chiseled lips thinned and he looked her over from head to toe before his sable brown eyes lasered in on hers with disarming intimacy. "Is there some place we could talk privately?"

If ever there was a person who looked like he had been tapped to deliver bad news, it was Michael Sloane. Kate swallowed. "This is serious, isn't it?" She asked softly.

"It's---" He stopped abruptly. Took her arm firmly but gently. "Before we continue, we need to be somewhere you can sit down."

Cathy Gillen Thacker is the bestselling author of witty romantic comedies and warm, family stories whose books are published in 17 languages and 35 countries.