One Special Christmas & Home for the Holidays

BOOK: One Special Christmas & Home for the Holidays
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Praise for Irene Hannon and her novels


One Special Christmas,
by Irene Hannon, is a story that tugs at the heart.”

—
RT Book Reviews

“[A] gently-paced love story with characters who make you care what happens to them.”

—
RT Book Reviews
on
Home for the Holidays

“Irene Hannon's
The Way Home
is such a delightful read.”

—
RT Book Reviews

“Absolutely stellar…. The ending will leave readers with tears of joy.”

—
RT Book Reviews
on
The Unexpected Gift

IRENE HANNON
One Special Christmas
&
Home for the Holidays

Books by Irene Hannon

Love Inspired

*
Home for the Holidays

*
A Groom of Her Own

*
A Family to Call Her Own

It Had to Be You

One Special Christmas

The Way Home

Never Say Goodbye

Crossroads

**
The Best Gift

**
Gift from the Heart

**
The Unexpected Gift

All Our Tomorrows

The Family Man

Rainbow's End

†
From This Day Forward

†
A Dream to Share

†
Where Love Abides

Apprentice Father

††
Tides of Hope

††
The Hero Next Door

††
The Doctor's Perfect Match

††
A Father for Zach

IRENE HANNON

Irene Hannon, who writes both romance and romantic suspense, is the bestselling author of more than thirty novels. Her books have been honored with a coveted RITA
®
Award from Romance Writers of America (the “Oscar” of romantic fiction), a HOLT Medallion and a Reviewer's Choice Award from
RT Book Reviews.

A former corporate communications executive with a Fortune 500 company, Irene now writes full-time. In her spare time she enjoys singing, traveling, long walks, cooking, gardening and spending time with family. She and her husband make their home in Missouri.

For more information about her and her books, Irene invites you to visit her website at www.irenehannon.com.

ONE SPECIAL CHRISTMAS

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope.

—
Jeremiah
29:11

To my brother, Jim,
and his lovely bride, Teresa—
May all your happily-ever-after dreams come true.

Prologue

I
t was over in moments, yet it seemed to happen in slow motion.

The car swerved suddenly, fishtailed wildly as the driver struggled for control on the icy road. Then it skidded sideways off the steep shoulder, rolling over once before coming to rest, upright, at the bottom of the embankment.

Eric Carlson watched in horror, his hands tightening instinctively on the wheel as the accident unfolded a few hundred feet in front of him. Though he didn't doubt his eyes, the terrible scene had an odd air of unreality about it, seeming to happen in utter quiet, like an old silent movie. The sleet hitting his car roof, combined with the volume of the radio that Cindy had just cranked up, must have masked the grating sound of metal being crushed, the high-pitched crackle of shattering glass—and the inevitable screams that would accompany such a traumatic crash. But Eric could imagine them, and he swallowed convulsively as his breath lodged in his throat.

Dear God,
he prayed as the full impact of what he'd
just witnessed slammed home. He slowed his car as quickly as the icy road would allow and eased it over to the shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Cindy demanded stridently.

He set the brake and reached into the back for his bag. “Exactly what you think I'm doing,” he replied tersely.

“Oh, for heaven's sake, Eric, we're going to be late for the party! They're serving dinner at eight. Let's just call 911 and get out of here. Those other Good Samaritans can help,” she said impatiently, gesturing toward two other cars that had also stopped.

He turned to his wife, and as he looked at her petulant expression he wondered what had drawn him to her a dozen years ago. Her blond beauty had attracted him, certainly. And he'd been flattered that someone so sophisticated had found him appealing. But surely there had been more. Hadn't her heart once been kind and caring? Hadn't the smiles she'd given him in those early days been tender and warm? Or had he seen only what he'd wanted to see, imagined what had never been there at all?

As the years had passed and the chasm between them had widened, he'd been forced to admit that perhaps it was his perception—not Cindy—that had changed. Or perhaps she had simply become more of what she had always been as she grew disillusioned with him and disenchanted with the demands of his profession—the “doctor stuff,” as she demeaningly termed it. He was well aware that his dedication to his work grated on her, that she felt his devotion to his patients diminished his devotion to her. And perhaps it did. Perhaps if he had been able to give her the kind of attention she needed, their relationship wouldn't be disintegrating. Yet how
could he give anything less than one hundred percent to his profession? It was a dilemma he wrestled with constantly, but always the answers eluded him. All he knew was that both of them were unhappy in their marriage.

But it was too late now to alter their status, Eric reminded himself grimly. He had meant the vows they'd made on their wedding day, including “For better, for worse.” After all, as his old maiden aunt used to say, he and Cindy had made their bed. Now they had to lie in it.

Eric knew they couldn't go on like this. But his repeated suggestions that they seek counseling were always met with cold sarcasm—and a cold shoulder. As he looked at her now, in the shadowy light of the car, she seemed almost like a stranger.

Cindy shifted uncomfortably under her husband's scrutiny, and when she spoke again her tone was more conciliatory. “Look, those other people will do whatever they can until help arrives, Eric. They don't need you.”

“I'm a doctor, Cindy.”

“You're a pediatrician.”

She didn't say “just,” but the implication was there in her disparaging tone. A muscle in his jaw clenched as he handed her the cell phone. “Call 911.” Then he stepped out into the darkness, turning up his collar as he strode toward the embankment, sleet stinging his face much as the familiar gibe always stung his heart.

By the time he made it down to the smashed car, slipping and sliding all the way, the other two motorists were already there. Both had flashlights and were peering into the vehicle. They glanced up when Eric approached.

“How many inside?” he asked.

“Looks like just two. A man and a woman,” one replied. He eyed Eric's bag. “Are you a doctor?”

“Yes.”

“Well, the woman's conscious but the man doesn't look too good,” the other passerby reported dubiously.

Eric strode around to the passenger's side of the car, and with some effort the three of them were able to force open the jammed door.

“One of you give me some light,” he instructed as he leaned down to look in, noting with relief that the woman's seat belt was securely in place. He touched her shoulder gently, and she turned to him, her eyes wide and dazed.

For just a moment, Eric simply stared at her. Even in the harsh beam of the flashlight, she had the face of a Madonna—a perfect oval, with dark hair and even darker eyes. She was like something out of a Raphael painting, he thought numbly, momentarily taken aback by her beauty. Her looks were classic, timeless—and marred by a nasty bump that was rising rapidly on her left temple. Abruptly he shifted his focus from her physical attributes to her physical condition.

“I'm a doctor. Can you hear me?” He spoke slowly, enunciating each word carefully.

She nodded jerkily. “I—I'm all right. Please…please take care of my husband,” she pleaded.

He looked past her, noting the unnatural position of the male driver, who lay crumpled behind the steering wheel, as well as the blood seeping from the corner of his mouth. “All right. Try not to move. An ambulance is on the way.”

“Can I do anything to help?” the flashlight holder asked as Eric straightened.

“The two of you can give me some light on the other side,” he said over his shoulder. The other motorist had managed to get the driver's door open, and the two men focused the beams of their lights on the injured man as Eric bent down to examine him.

He wasn't wearing a seat belt, Eric noted. Right off the bat, that was a major strike against him. And the car was an older-model compact, without air bags. Strike two. Eric felt for the man's pulse. Shallow. And his respiration was uneven. He showed signs of major trauma, including head-and-neck injuries—which meant possible spinal damage, Eric noted after a quick visual scan.

Frowning, he glanced up and his gaze met that of the woman passenger. She stared at him, and he saw the fear in her eyes suddenly mushroom at his grim expression.

“He's going to be all right, isn't he?” she pleaded desperately, the stricken look on her face making his gut twist painfully. “This can't be happening! Not tonight! Not now!” She let out a strangled sob and turned her attention to her husband, reaching over to touch his face. “You'll be all right, Jack. I know you will. You have to be!” she said fiercely.

The man's breathing suddenly grew more erratic, and Eric snapped open his bag and deftly withdrew his stethoscope. As he listened to the man's fading pulse, his own heart ratcheted into double time.
God, please let the paramedics arrive soon!
he prayed.

But within seconds it became clear that they weren't going to arrive soon enough. The man's breathing grew more labored with each breath, and obviously he was fighting a losing battle to suck air into his lungs. Eric reached for his bag again. In all his years of medical
training, in all his years of trauma work, he'd never had to open an airway in the field, let alone with makeshift lighting and icy sleet pricking the back of his neck. But as the seconds ticked by, it was obvious that if he didn't, this man was going to die. He couldn't let that happen—especially after seeing the anguished look in the woman's eyes.

Eric drew in a steadying breath. Then, without further hesitation, he deftly performed the procedure, aware of, but steeling himself against, the woman's startled gasp. Only when he'd finished did he glance up, noting with alarm the pallor of her face and the glazed look in her eyes. She was starting to turn shocky, Eric realized. And he couldn't handle two trauma cases at once.

Just as he began to panic, the welcome sound of approaching sirens pierced the night air. He closed his eyes and slowly he let out his breath as relief washed over him. Thank God! He needed all the help he could get—and the sooner the better.

Within moments the paramedics joined him, and he explained the situation in clipped phrases, the economy of his language honed during years of emergency-room work where every second counted. As one paramedic temporarily distracted the woman, he spoke softly to the other two.

“Probable severe neck-and-head trauma. I opened an airway, but he's still very unstable. Handle him with kid gloves.”

“No problem. We've worked cases like this before,” one of them assured him.

“Do you need me to stay and help?”

“We've got it covered. But thanks for stopping. Imme
diate medical attention can make all the difference, as you know.”

Eric nodded, then straightened. He spoke briefly to the policeman on the scene, then made his way up the embankment.

As he crested the rise and stepped onto the pavement, he glanced back once more toward the accident scene, surrealistically illuminated by the police-car headlights and the rotating red-and-white beacon on the ambulance. The woman was standing now, her arms wrapped tightly around her, and though it was clear the paramedic was urging her to sit in one of the vehicles, she was adamantly shaking her head. Her gaze was locked on the two men who were carefully extricating her husband from the battered car. Eric could feel her panic, could sense her almost-palpable fear even from this distance.

Would Cindy look like that if something ever happened to him? he wondered. But even before the question formed, he knew the disheartening answer. Any love they had once shared had died long ago.

For just a moment, despite the man's severe injuries, Eric almost envied him. His wife's deep, abiding love was evident in her eyes, her expression, her very body language. Her husband was obviously the center of her world. And Eric knew intuitively that she was the center of his. Which was as it should be in a good marriage.

Finally, unable to look at the heartrending scene any longer, he turned away, his gut twisting painfully. He was reasonably certain he'd saved the man's life. But as he reached his car and slipped back inside, he wondered for just a moment if he'd done anyone a favor. Eric suspected that the road ahead would not be an easy
one—for either him or his wife. That tonight was only the beginning of their trauma.

Maybe Cindy had been right, after all. Maybe he just should have driven on.

BOOK: One Special Christmas & Home for the Holidays
8.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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