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Elizabeth Gregory's heart is as cold as the snow falling on the nation's capital. Three years ago, her life went on hold when a fatal accident took her only sister on Christmas Eve. That accident involved James Hill, Elizabeth's fiance. Since then, she makes the rounds of holiday parties but her heart is not in the season.

Embroiled in SEC regulations, fraud and insider trading accusations, James had his hands full surviving the attacks and convincing his clients of his innocence. Unable to tell Elizabeth the complete truth about her sister, he left her alone until one Christmas Eve when he finds her standing at his door. Knowing time is running out for them, James embarks on a new season to change their fates.

This Christmas old secrets, lies and truths will be driven into the light and like a shinny new toy, Elizabeth's world is transformed. Yet whether James can convince her that their Christmas past is not their present or future is a North Pole she will have to find. Is their love worth a second chance. . .



Shirley Hailstock

Elizabeth had vowed never to see James Hill again. Yet tonight, twelve days from Christmas, when her emotions were as raw as the wind whipping at her skirt, she found herself standing on his porch. Tiny white lights outlined the entire structure and she could see the tree, with its lights blinking, through the huge picture window. The scene couldn't have been better set up if Hallmark had photographed it for one of their Christmas cards.

"How could I have been so stupid!" she asked herself. Of all the addresses to mix up, how could she have pulled his out instead of the one behind it? Why hadn't she thrown it out three years ago when she'd walked out of his life?

Walked, she laughed. It was a run, a sprint, taking her as far from him as her breath allowed.

Elizabeth Gregory's finger punched the doorbell as if she wanted to push the Georgian colonial over with her index finger. Inside she heard the musical notes of St. Michael's permeate the chilling air. He hadn't changed that either, she thought. How often had she listened to that sound with a wide smile on her face? She shuddered pulling her red velvet cape closer around her, knowing the coldness gripping her had more to do with anticipation than temperature.

"He's not here," she muttered, pushing the bell a second time. She should be relieved that he wasn't home, but she had to get that package back and deliver it to the right address. "Come on, James," she ordered. "You've got to be here."

It was the Christmas season. The sudden memory of a previous Christmas burst in her brain. Where had they been? Curled up in front of the fire at his cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains, only the two of them and a fake fur rug. Snow piled up to the windows outside, yet neither of them noticed or cared. Elizabeth shook herself. She forced the image of their naked bodies out of her mind. The firelight was too hypnotizing not to remember James highlighted against the red-gold glow of leaping flames.

In three years, she expected her anger would have cooled, but she found the prospect of facing him as frightening as reaching for an exposed wire. Pressing her fingers against her temples, she closed her eyes and forced herself to relax. She didn't need a headache tonight.

Ringing the bell a third time, she knew her luck had run out. James wasn't home. Even Mrs. Andrews, his part-time housekeeper, would be with her own family by this time. She looked around the porch for the package. It wasn't there. Maybe the delivery hadn't been made. Silently she prayed for a tiny bit of luck. If James hadn't been home, the box could have been returned to the shop. Silently she prayed for the alternative to be true. It was worth a try.

Elizabeth turned to leave. She could phone Joanne, the temporary assistant she'd hired, from her car. Mary, her competent assistant, had wanted two weeks off at Christmas. Elizabeth thought she could handle the load while Mary took her much deserved time off. Everything had gone well until today when she had pulled James Hill's address from the Rolodex instead of Jason Hillery and handed it to Joanne. The young college co-ed, away from home for the first time, was distressed over the mix-up, but didn't know the city well enough to find James's house, saving Elizabeth from facing a man she hadn't seen in three years. Few people could negotiate Rock Creek Park during daylight hours. After dark, the poor girl would never have found the house nestled among giant rhododendrons on Redwood Terrace. And the very important delivery would have no chance of reaching the correct address in time. Chantel Hartman-Lawrence had been adamant about it arriving on time. Elizabeth had assured her Invitation to Love built a reputation on correct and prompt delivery. Now she was going to have to eat those words.


James Hill, his voice literally took her breath away. Elizabeth closed her eyes again as she gathered strength and pushed the pounding in her crown away. Squaring her shoulders, she turned to face her former fiancé. He hadn't changed much, from what she could see of him silhouetted against the back light of the doorway. At thirty-seven, his hair had not a hint of grey. His face was strong, his skin tight across his features. He had a square jaw giving him a ruthless look until he smiled. Then any hint of severity disappeared. He was smiling now.

Elizabeth's heart pounded in her ears. She stifled the urge to press her hands against her head. Her breath congealing in the crisp December air looked like a jerky staccato. She hoped James didn't notice it. He filled the doorway, dressed in tennis shoes and a sweat suit. Even the bagginess of the outfit couldn't hide his powerfully built physique. She knew he exercised regularly. It appeared that even tonight, while most people were still frantically shopping in the area malls, he'd gone to the gym. James had always been calm and exacting. He'd probably finished his shopping, wrapped everything and stored them under the tree a month ago.

"I wasn't expecting you," he said, raising one eyebrow. "I just got in."

"It's nice to see you too," she said, her sarcasm undisguised as she swept passed him without an invitation. The house too, looked the same. A roaring fire in the huge fireplace that dominated the high ceilinged room made it warm and comfortable. Pine boughs scented the air. Entwined with the same white lights as decorated the outside, they arched from the mantle, the doorways and up the imposing staircase, whose newel post was as large as her waist was around. Silent Night played softly from the sound system in the back room. Wires traveled through the walls to reach the speakers in the corners and bring music to each room.

The house was beautiful, the kind Elizabeth often saw displayed in the holiday issue of Architectural Digest. The tree, its lights flashing in the window, was perfect, so much so, it brought tears to her eyes. Quickly she blinked them away. She loved this old house. It had been built at the end of the twentieth century and she'd imagined herself living here after she and James were married.

They hadn't made it.


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