Cates Brothers Series — Book 5.5 (novella)
Christmas is coming to Climax, North Carolina—and it’s delivering an unexpected second chance right to Hawk Savage’s door…
For small-town cop and single dad Hawk Savage, Christmas tends to be more hassle and worry than mistletoe and magic. His daughter, Heather, is ten going on teenager, while his son, Henry Lee, has decided he needs a mommy, ASAP. HL’s constant matchmaking is enough to break a father’s heart, but Hawk has a more immediate problem. His high-school girlfriend, Nora Joy, just arrived on his doorstep, claiming to be his family’s new Rent-A-Mom. He sure didn’t hire her, but he can’t throw Nora—and her long, long legs–out on the street.
Sidelined by injury, Olympic medal-winning volleyball player Nora receives a mysterious Rent-A-Mom job offer just when her finances, and her spirits, are at an all-time low. True, she’s not much for cooking. Or housekeeping. Still, it’s hard to resist Hawk’s children…and Hawk himself has changed from the lanky teenager she once knew to a strong, steady, very tempting man.
Christmas in Climax is shaping up to be full of surprises. But the biggest one of all might be the happy-ever-after that a little boy’s Christmas wish can bring…
Copyright © Lee Kilraine
Home for the Holidays
Nora pressed the doorbell and ran a hand over her hair, smoothing back some of the strands that had fallen loose from her ponytail. Everything had been going smoothly until her rental car broke down a half mile back.
As soon as she’d accepted the job, the company had overnight expressed her a uniform and arranged her ticket from California to North Carolina. The rental car was ready and waiting when she landed at the airport in Greensboro.
When the car shuddered and shimmied just before reaching her destination, Nora had eased it onto the side of the road and jogged the last half mile. Being an athlete, running a half mile with her backpack was nothing. A former athlete, she reminded herself, rolling the words around in her mind, trying them on, since her knee-jerk reaction was still to quit. To retire. Retiring wasn’t quitting.
The door opened and two wide-eyed kids stood staring at her. She was guessing these were “her kids.” Nora sucked in a breath, pulled the business card from her back pocket, and dove right into uncharted territory.
“Hello! I’m Nora, your Rent-A-Mom. I’m here to help you with homework and drive you to school. I’ll make your lunch, keep your schedules on track, and drive the carpool too. I’m your Rent-A-Mom. How totally rad and cool.” Nora shifted her gaze up from the card to the kids.
The younger boy looked duly impressed. The older sister…yeah, not so much. Right. Nora totally got it. Whoever wrote that spiel, bless their heart, knew less about kids than she did. She did a mental eye roll.
The girl looked at her, her face very serious. “No one says ‘rad’ anymore.”
“That was stupid, I know.”
No response, except the girl raked her gaze down Nora’s “uniform” and back up, judging the heck out of her. Okay, maybe she wasn’t judging. Maybe it was simply that Nora felt silly in the company’s “Rent-A-Mom” uniform. The creative genius who thought a pair of “mom” jeans and a T-shirt that said, “A Mom is Priceless. A Rent-A-Mom is Cheap” should maybe rethink their career. Even with her totally useless degree, Nora could point out the problems with that marketing slogan. Jeez.
“Are your parents here?” She adjusted the super-high waistband of the mom jeans for the millionth time.
“We don’t have a mom,” the boy said, looking very sad—like the saddest boy in the whole world. Nora’s heart broke.
“Right. Thus the need for me, your Rent-A-Mom. Is your dad here?”
“Yes,” the girl said throwing her brother a cut-it-out glance. “But he’s busy.”
The sound of someone getting sick down the hall had both kids frowning and shifting their feet.
“Sounds like someone has the flu. Do you have a grown up you can call to help? Or maybe your family doctor?”
“No,” the little boy said. The big sister elbowed her brother again, but the fear on his face prompted Nora to press on.
“Look, here’s the receipt for the Rent-A-Mom order”—Nora handed the paper over to the girl—“and here’s my driver’s license. Why don’t I just go check on your dad? And then if you’re uncomfortable with me here—I’ll leave. How’s that?”
More ralphing echoed from down the hall and both kids jumped at her offer.
“Okay, point me to the sick room.”
They walked her through a pristine living room, a comfortable family room, down a hallway lined with kid’s art and school photos to a darkened bedroom.
Nora pushed the door open and a cloud of humid, sweaty sickness hit her. “How long’s he been like this?”
“Since we came home from school.”
Please let this be the flu and not some drunk-ass father. “Does he get sick like this often?”
Good to hear. Nora walked in and over to the bed. The man was huge. Just a big pile of groaning muscles. Leaning down, she placed a hand to his forehead. “He’s burning up. How about we put a call into his doctor?”
Gone as in dead? Darn, and she thought her life sucked.
“She’s visiting her grandkids for Christmas.”
“Ah, okay. So the hospital maybe?” Nora bent close over him and lifted one eyelid, not sure what she was looking for. Signs of life? She found herself peering into a very bloodshot and annoyed hazel eye. There was a flash of déjà vu. Did she know him? She’d lived here until her mom had moved them to California just after her junior year of high school. Her first boyfriend had red hair, but this man’s was more of a dark auburn.
“No hospital.” His voice tumbled out like it scraped along sharp rocks. “Just flu.”
He batted her touch away with hands as big as baseball mitts. Fine, tough guy. Except she understood. It was much better to suffer in the comfort of your own home than be stuck waiting for hours in some hospital’s ER.
“So, like I said, I’m Nora, your Rent-A-Mom but I can fill in as a Rent-A-Nurse too. And if I have the right house, you two are Henry Lee and Heather.”
The boy smiled, tapping his thumb into his chest. “I’m Henry Lee. You can call me HL. This is my sister, Heather.”
“And your dad’s name is…?” Because she was pretty sure he looked familiar, even running a fever and miserable with the flu.
* * * *
Hawk lay in bed wondering who in the hell beat him up. It felt like a sharp implement impaled him through his front left temple. Every muscle in his body ached and he alternated between burning up and teeth-chattering shivers.
He had a vague memory of calling his sister just after he’d managed to get the kids on the school bus, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember if he’d talked to her or left a message. He should get up and find his phone in case she’d called. Only every time he moved to sit up, his stomach roiled with nausea. Someone lifted his eyelid, and he suddenly felt sympathy for vampires as the light poked into his throbbing head.
Holy shit. An Amazon warrior stood over him. He didn’t have the strength to fight her. “Take my wallet. Leave the kids. Where are my kids?”
Hands prodded and pushed at him. God, he hurt. Everything hurt. Stop poking me, dammit. He threw his hand out and he registered a satisfying smack.
“Ow! Trying to help here.”
He struggled to get up, but she slapped a hand on his forehead to hold him still until he finally gave up, exhausted. Her hand felt blissfully cool on his hot skin.
“Damn, it’s about time. I mean, darn. Sorry, kids.”
“It’s okay.” HL’s giggle floated across to him.
Not okay. He made a point not to cuss in front of his kids.
“Right here. We’re fine, Dad.”
He relaxed back hearing Heather’s voice clear and calm.
“See? Your kids are fine. You…not so much. Open for me.” She slipped a thermometer under his tongue. Her voice sounded like it was moving away, down into a tunnel. Eons later the talking started again, like a mosquito buzzing annoyingly in his ear. “One hundred and three point five. We’re going to need a towel, a washcloth, and a bowl of water.”
There was shuffling and more prodding and pushing, and then something blessedly cool and soft ran along his forehead and face, down his neck, and across his chest—finally putting out the flames burning up his body.
“That’s it, big guy. HL, run and get the trash can from the bathroom, bud.”
“Not Georgie. Here, swallow these.” A firm hand lifted his head and he swallowed, sucking down the cool water with greed. His throat was scratchy and dry as the dust of an Iraq summer deployment. “Not so fast, Red. We need to see if everything is going to stay—whoa—here you go. Exactly what I was afraid of.”
His stomach turned itself inside out, purging itself at the Amazon’s feet.
“Gross.” Heather. Someone gagged and light footsteps sped out of the room.
“Good aim, Red. And aren’t you lucky all my years in a sorority have me well-versed in vomit catching 101.” The glass pressed against his lips. “Rinse and spit. We’ll stick with sponge baths for now.”
Cool hands rearranged him back against the pillows and once again water dripped along his face and chest. He moaned and turned into the cooling relief, needing more. “Burning up.”
“You are definitely hot. Plus, you have a fever.” The Amazon gave a throaty chuckle, all the while stroking the cool cloth over his body. “You can stand down, Red. I’m on kid watch now. You just get better.”