Mackinnon 03 the bonus.., p.1

Mackinnon 03 - The Bonus Mom, page 1

 part  #3 of  Mackinnon Series

 

Mackinnon 03 - The Bonus Mom
 


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Mackinnon 03 - The Bonus Mom


  A single father and a runaway bride find love—and a new family!—at Christmas in Jennifer Greene’s newest romance, The Bonus Mom!

  They’re two strangers...

  When widower Whit Cochran meets runaway bride Rosemary MacKinnon, something magical happens. Whit and his twin daughters rented a cabin for Christmas on Rosemary’s Whisper Mountain, and the girls think it’s only right their single dad and the pretty bachelorette spend the holiday together....

  ...who are a perfect match

  Out there in the forest, loneliness turns to love. Rosemary falls for the girls—and their frazzled dad—yet she knows she’ll never replace their late wife and mother. But Whit isn’t leaving without the woman who’s given him back hope. With Christmas approaching, he has only days to prove that together they make a forever family.

  “Whit, you didn’t come here for the girls.”

  He stopped stoking the fire and looked at her. “What do you mean?”

  “You came for me.”

  She went to him. His expression questioned what she was doing, but she couldn’t answer. She didn’t know what she was doing. For sure, she wasn’t seducing him; her ex-fiancé had erased any aggressive sexual ideas from her head. But Whit…

  She’d seen how he looked at her. Knew he’d been celibate since his wife’s death. Knew his girls dominated his time.

  But when she put her arms around his neck, a groan escaped him, more primal than a wolf’s cry.

  Just like that she knew what Whit wanted for Christmas. And she was the only one who could give it to him.

  Dear Reader,

  Usually I love to write a reader letter, but this time…well, this is the last book in the Whisper Mountain trilogy about the MacKinnon family, and I confess I’m going to miss them.

  This whole trilogy has been a joy to write—from researching wild orchids to vanilla history to the real tea plantation I had a chance to visit. This is Rosemary’s story.… Rosemary is the sister of Ike and Tucker…she’s the one into studying wild orchids, and that’s given her an excuse to live like a hermit on top of the mountain.

  Whit—her hero—realizes early on that she has some kind of troubling secret, but he doesn’t care what it is, not once he meets her.

  This is a Christmas story that all of my characters dreaded…until they discovered each other, and what “presents” they alone could bring to each other.

  Since this was set in South Carolina, I was forced to do a little research about SC’s “dark corner”…which meant I was forced to buy a bottle of Peach Moonshine. I haven’t opened it yet. But I wish you were all here, so we could all try a sip and see what on earth that’s about.

  In the meantime…thank you. So many readers have sent me letters or emails about Ike and Tucker (Little Matchmakers and The Baby Bump). You readers keep me going—knowing when you like a book is a wonderful affirmation—and I hope you love this one.

  All my best,

  Jennifer Greene

  The

  Bonus Mom

  Jennifer Greene

  Books by Jennifer Greene

  Harlequin Special Edition

  The 200% Wife #1111

  The Billionaire’s Handler #2081

  Yours, Mine & Ours #2108

  Little Matchmakers #2202

  The Baby Bump #2236

  The Bonus Mom #2285

  Silhouette Romantic Suspense

  Secrets #221

  Devil’s Night #305

  Broken Blossom #345

  Pink Topaz #418

  §Secretive Stranger #1605

  §Mesmerizing Stranger #1626

  §Irresistible Stranger #1637

  Silhouette Desire

  **Prince Charming’s Child #1225

  **Kiss Your Prince Charming #1245

  *Rock Solid #1316

  Millionaire M.D. #1340

  ∆Wild in the Field #1545

  ∆Wild in the Moonlight #1588

  ∆Wild in the Moment #1622

  Hot to the Touch #1670

  The Soon-to-Be-Disinherited Wife #1731

  Silhouette Books

  Birds, Bees and Babies

  “Riley’s Baby”

  Santa’s Little Helpers

  “Twelfth Night”

  *Body & Soul

  ∆The Scent of Lavender

  §New Man in Town

  **Happily Ever After

  Other books by Jennifer Greene available in ebook format.

  JENNIFER GREENE

  lives near Lake Michigan with her husband and an assorted menagerie of pets. Michigan State University has honored her as an outstanding woman graduate for her work with women on campus. Jennifer has written more than seventy love stories, for which she has won numerous awards, including four RITA® Awards from the Romance Writers of America and their Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement Awards.

  You’re welcome to contact Jennifer through her website at www.jennifergreene.com.

  To the real “Lilly,”

  who is likely to get a zillion more dedications

  from me. You’re the light of our lives, sweetheart!

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter One

  When the oven bell dinged, Rosemary sprinted for the kitchen faster than the sound of a fire alarm. She’d added a ton of amenities to the old MacKinnon lodge in the past six months, but a new stove never made the budget. The temperature gauge in the oven could be downright cantankerous.

  This time, thankfully, the old monster behaved. She grabbed a hot pad and pulled out a tray of cream puffs, all swelled up, their surface a golden-brown. Perfect.

  While the puffs cooled, she headed outside to cart in an armload of peachwood. Outside, a blustery wind bit her face with needles, but considering it was December 19, Rosemary figured she was lucky. There could be snow or a serious ice storm on top of Whisper Mountain by now. A little wind was nothing.

  Back inside, she knelt in front of the massive fieldstone fireplace. The grate already had a huge bed of snapping, orange coals, just needed a stir and a poke and fresh logs. Moments later, she had a sassy crackle of fire back, warming the whole living room.

  She stood up and stretched, dusting her hands. The MacKinnons had spent a lot of Christmases here when she was a kid. She couldn’t remember the last holiday when the place hadn’t been a complete wreck. By now, there should be a giant Christmas tree in the corner, already dropping needles. Dusty Santas and holiday tchotchkes should be cluttering every surface. Instead, there was no tree, no winking lights, no tinsel or glitter, no wrapping paper and crushed bows anywhere in sight. The place was fabulously tidy and clean.

  Truth to tell...she hated it. She had no problem working alone, being alone. But darn it, at this time of year she loved the chaos, the clutter, the razzle-dazzle, the messes, the feasts and for darned sure, the time with her family.

  This year she just couldn’t do it. So...she’d decided to ignore the holiday altogether. She’d work, and when she got sick of work, she planned a heap of silly distractions
.

  Like wasting time on Judge Judy and old sappy movies.

  Like having cream puffs for dinner—with vanilla bean ice cream and hot, dark chocolate sauce. And cherries.

  She foraged for a big spoon, and had just pulled the steaming-cold container of ice cream from the freezer when the front door suddenly blasted open. She went to the kitchen doorway, figuring she must not have adequately latched the front door—but that wasn’t the issue at all. Over the wheeze and whistle of wind came the unmistakable sound of screams and cries. Human screams and cries. Girls. Children. Dozens of children, judging from the volume of cries.

  She dropped the spoon, dropped the ice cream, peeled out of the kitchen.

  There were children. Not a herd of them, just two girls, red-faced and shaking and crying.

  They spotted her, and as if identifying a woman was all it took to let go, thundered toward her in a nonstop sputter of tears and words.

  “You have to help us! There’s a bear chasing us! A huge grizzly bear! He wants to kill us!”

  “He’s right out there. We ran and ran. I ran so hard my side hurt and I still kept going—”

  “We didn’t know where we were going. Anywhere. We just had to keep running because it kept coming after us!”

  “It’s still out there! It could still get us!”

  “You think it could break windows? It was huge! I thought we were going to die!”

  “And what if there’s more than one? What if that bear was married and there’s a wife, too, and he has baby bears only they’re all big like that—?”

  Rosemary raised her hands, and finally managed to squeeze in a few words. “Hold it. You’re both safe. No bear is getting in here. Let’s get your coats off, sit down by the fire. I want to hear the whole story, everything you want to say, but let’s calm it down a few octaves, okay?”

  They’d closed the front door—slammed it, actually, and she bolted it. The front closet had a shotgun, locked on the top shelf. The girls’ jaws dropped when they saw it.

  “Are you going to kill the bear?”

  “Afraid I’m not much on killing anything. But I’m going to shoot a couple blasts in the air. There’s a good chance he’ll scare off.”

  “Oh. Can we watch?”

  “You can watch from the window. I’m guessing neither one of you are in a hurry to go back outside this minute, right?”

  “Oh. Right.”

  She looked outside, both north and east windows, before opening the door. If a bear had been close—seriously close—she would have smelled it. Nothing smelled quite like a wild bear. She didn’t want to steal the girls’ thunder by telling them grizzlies didn’t live anywhere near Whisper Mountain, South Carolina. Besides, black bears definitely did. They usually snoozed through the cold months, but never went into total hibernation. She stepped outside, clicked off the safety, and aimed a shot at the sky. Then a second one.

  She was only gone for a minute—max—but when she stepped back in and relocked the door, the girls were sitting on the old leather couch, staring at her openmouthed.

  “Something tells me you girls weren’t raised in the country,” she said wryly.

  That started them talking again. They came from Charleston. Their dad had taken them out of school a little early and rented this place on the mountain. They were doing the whole holiday here. It was because their mom had died about a year ago. Just before Christmas. She’d been Christmas shopping with them. A big truck hit her. Their mom died and both girls ended up in the hospital. They’d missed a heap of school, and Pepper had two casts, and Lilly really wrecked her left foot and had some scars, but not so much now. Anyway, their dad thought it’d be hard to have Christmas at home this year, because it was like an anniversary from when their mom died, so they were here. Having fun mostly. Until the bear.

  Rosemary took in this information between handing out drinks and waiting through bathroom breaks.

  At some point, one of them wandered toward the kitchen, and that started them on a different track. One picked up the dropped ice cream container, the other honed straight for the cream puffs. They immediately confessed that they’d never had a cream puff and didn’t think they could live another minute before trying one. They were desperately hungry. It was from all that running away from the vicious, angry bear.

  One of them abruptly realized that they should have phoned their dad right off—and promptly took out a cell. The line was busy, but that wasn’t a problem, because their dad never talked on the phone long, and rather than leave him a message that they’d been in terrible danger because of the bear, they figured they’d just call him in another couple minutes.

  Rosemary’s ears were ringing by then...but she’d more or less sorted them out. They were twins. Eleven. Lilly and Pepper. They were both blonde, both coltish and lanky. They both had straight, fine hair, shoulder length, but one had a red streak and the other had a green one. They had purple jackets that matched, skinny jeans, blue eyes...but not identical blue eyes. Lilly’s were uniquely blue, with a dark ring around the light blue iris—the effect was mesmerizing and striking. Pepper had a tendency to scrunch up her nose and prance around, restless, curious, irrepressible.

  They were both cute.

  They were both going to be breathtaking.

  Rosemary figured once they left, she was going to need a long nap. After they’d finished talking, they started on her with questions. How come she lived here? She really studied orchids? What was a university grant? So was she wearing a Duke sweatshirt because that’s where she got the grant? She really had her own gun? Oh, my God, was that a dark room, and could she develop pictures by herself? Could they see? Was she married? Well, if she wasn’t married, what was she doing for Christmas?

  “Wait a minute. You can’t spend Christmas alone,” Lilly said firmly.

  Right about then Rosemary suggested they call their father again.

  Pepper grabbed the cell phone from Lilly—they only had one cell phone between them, which apparently caused arguments several times a day. This time their dad promptly answered, and Pepper went on a long rendition of the walk, the bear, the bear chase, the house, Rosemary, the cream puffs.

  “Can you come and get us, Dad? We really got lost when we started running. And now it’s already dark, even though it’s so early.... I told you, we’re at Rosemary’s. Oh. Well, no, I...” Pepper lifted the phone and arched her brows to Rosemary. “Could you tell my dad where we are?”

  Rosemary was almost laughing as she pressed the cell to her ear. Pepper had a ditsy side, for sure. She’d sounded as if she assumed her dad had some magical ability to automatically know where she was.

  “Hi— I’m Rosemary MacKinnon,” she said immediately.

  “And I’m Whit Cochran.”

  She took a quick breath. He just had one of those unique guy voices, a clear tenor, that put a shiver in her pulse. It didn’t matter if he was ugly as sin or plain as a sloth—she had no way to know, and didn’t care. It was just that his voice made her think of sex and danger. Preferably together.

  “Just tell me quick,” he started with. “Are the girls hurt in any way? And are they okay now?”

  “They’re fine—except for conning me out of ice cream probably before they’ve had dinner.”

  “There really was a bear?”

  “I didn’t see it myself, but black bears regularly wander around here. Normally they don’t bother humans, but they’ll venture close when they’re scrounging for food. At this time of year, it’s pretty rare to come across one.”

  “I like your voice, Rosemary MacKinnon.”

  The comment was so unexpected, she got an inexcusable warm fuzzy feeling in her tummy...but obviously, she’d relieved his mind about his girls and he was just getting his breath back, not thinking clearly. “I’m guessing you’d lik
e my address,” she said quickly.

  “Yes, of course.”

  “You’re not far. There aren’t that many places near the top of Whisper Mountain. I’m on the east side, and most of the land up here is MacKinnon property. I’d guess you’re either in the Landers place or the Stewarts...they often rent out at Christmas. The Stewarts’ place is brick, double kitchen, double deck—”

  “That’s the one.”

  “So. If you’re driving a car, you’re going to have to go down the mountain road—there’s only one, as you probably know. Where it ends in a Y shape, turn left. Give or take a half mile, you’ll see a wood sign for MacKinnons—that’ll lead to the house here. Take you ten, fifteen minutes. On the other hand, if you have some way to go cross-country—”

  “A Gator.”

  “Okay, so it’s your choice...with the Gator, you go up that same mountain road...you’ll run into a gravel road, turn right, then zip along that way until you run into a battered old MacKinnon sign, turn in.”

  “So the girls really weren’t far.”

  “I don’t know...they could have circled and backtracked a zillion times if they were trying to outrun a bear. Speaking of which...until you get here, I’ll be talking bear defense with your girls.”

  “Maybe you’d better have that talk with me, too.”

  She laughed, so did he...but when she clicked off the phone, she found both girls sitting side by side on the leather couch, staring at her.

  “Your dad’ll be here in two shakes.” When they kept up with the stare, she cocked her head. “What?”

  “You laughed. And we thought we heard Dad laughing.”

  Rosemary didn’t understand. “He did laugh. But not because he thought your bear was funny. He had to hear that you two were safe. So he was relieved, and naturally he got in a happier mood.”

  Lilly said, “Our dad hasn’t done a whole lot of laughing since Mom died.”

  She didn’t know what to say. The girls had already spilled a lot of information about their personal circumstances that was none of her business. She didn’t want to pry—but actually, she was relieved to understand their circumstances. She could have said something painful or insensitive accidentally, if she’d never known the girls had lost their mom, and that they were trying to have a different kind of Christmas to keep the grieving memories at bay.

 
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