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Cathy Gillen Thacker
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Santa's Texas Lullaby

Chapter One

Amanda Witherspoon had heard Riley McCabe was returning to Laramie, Texas to join the Laramie Community Hospital staff, but she hadn't actually seen the handsome family physician until friday afternoon when he stormed into the staff lounge in the pediatrics wing.

Nearly fourteen years had passed, but his impact on her was the same. Just one look into his mesmerizing amber eyes made her pulse race, and her emotions skyroket. he had been six foot when he left for college, now he was even taller. Back then he had worn his sun-streaked light brown hair any which way. Now the thick wavy strands were cut in a sophisticated urban fashion, parted neatly on the left and brushed casually to the side. His lanky body filled out his button-down shirt, V-necked Fair Isle sweater and jeans in an exceedingly appealing way. He looked solid and fit, mouthwateringly sexy, and every inch the kind of grown man who knew exactly who he was and what he wanted out of life. The kind not to be messed with. the sound of holiday music playing on the hospital sound system and the Christmas tree in the corner only added to the fantasy-come-true quality of the situation.

Had Amanda not known better, she would have thought Riley McCabe's return to her life would have been the Christmas present to beat all Christmas presents, meant to liven up her increasingly dull and dissatisfying life. But wildly exciting things like that never happened to Amanda.

"Notice I'm not laughing," Riley McCabe growled as he stormed close enough  for her to inhale the fragrance of soap and brisk, wintry cologne clinging to his skin.

"Notice," Amanda returned dryly, wondering what the famously mischievous prankster was up to now, "neither am I."

Riley marched toward her, attractive jaw thrust out pugnaciously, thick straight brows raised in mute admonition. "I would have figured we were beyond all this."

Amanda had hoped that would be the case, too. After all, she was a registered nurse, he a doctor. But given the fact that the Riley McCabe she recalled had been as full of mischief as the Texas sky was big, that had been a dangerous supposition to make. "All what?" she repeated around the sudden dryness of her throat. As he neared her, all the air left her lungs in one big woosh.

"The practical jokes! But you just couldn't resist, could you?"

Amanda put down the sandwich she had yet to take a bite of and took a long sip of her diet soda. "I have no idea what you're talking about," she said cooly. Unless this was the beginning of yet another ploy to get her attention?

"Don't you?" he challenged, causing another shimmer of awareness to sift through her.

Deciding that sitting while he stood over her gave him too much of a physical advantage, she pushed back her chair and rose slowly to her feet. She was keenly aware that he now had a good six inches on her, every on of them as bold and masculine as the set of his lips. "I didn't think you were due to start working here until January 2," she remarked, a great deal more casually than she felt.

He stood in front of her, arms crossed against his chest, legs braced apart, every inch of him taut and ready for action. "I'm not."

"So?" She ignored the intensity in the long-lashed amber eyes that threatened to throw her off balance. "How could I possibly play a prank on you if I didn't think you were going to be here?"

"Because," he enunciated clearly, "you knew I was going to start setting up my office in the annex today."

Amanda sucked in a breath and tilted her head back to glare up at him. "I most certainly did not!" she insisted. Although she might have considered a practical joke and she had realized he intended to pick up right where they had left off all those years ago. Matching wits and wills. The one thing she had never wanted to cede to the reckless instigator was victory of any kind.

Riley leaned closer, not stopping until they were practically close enough to kiss. "Listen to me, Amanda, and listen good. Playing innocent is not going to work with me. And neither," he warned, even more forcefully, "is your latest gag."

Amanda regarded him in a devil-may-care way designed to get under his skin as surely as he was already getting under hers. "I repeat--" she spoke as if to the village idiot "---I have no idea what you're talking about, Doctor McCabe. Now do you mind? I only have a forty-five minute break and I'd like to eat my lunch."

He flashed her an incendiary smile that left her feeling more aware of him than ever. "I'll gladly leave you alond just as soon as you collect them."

Amanda blinked, more confused than ever. "Collect who?" she asked incredulously.

Riley walked back to the door. Swung it open wide. On the other side was the surprise of Amanda's life.

Santa's Texas Lullaby

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The McCabes American Romance Book Series by Cathy Gillen Thacker

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.