The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby

By: Victoria James

Prologue



Hannah hated Thursday nights.

All she felt like doing after counseling a group of single, unemployed mothers was changing into her penguin flannel pajamas, and having two glasses of wine and a large bag of fat and calorie-laden potato chips while watching mind-numbing television.

Luckily for her waistline she had nixed that habit after the first two months of the workshop when she spotted an emerging muffin top over her favorite jeans. Now she only allowed herself the indulgence once a month. And she had switched to half-the-fat organic chips. There was no point in killing herself one chip at a time just because she couldn’t save the world and every child who ended up in foster care—or so she kept telling herself. Nights like this tested that theory.

Hannah jiggled the key until she heard the lock click shut on the ancient church door. She swung her bag over her shoulder and tread down the shallow stairs two at a time, her mind preoccupied by the woman who hadn’t attended the meeting tonight, Louise. Her pace faltered on the last step and she paused despite the chilly wind. Something felt off. She slipped her BlackBerry out of her pocket and glanced down at the display. No messages. She bit her lower lip while she stared at the lit screen; she had expected a phone call from Louise. Maybe she’d stop by her apartment on her way home.

Hannah pulled her collar up, but instead of walking toward her car, she put her keys and BlackBerry back in her pocket and slowly turned to look at the church. The old stone structure stood like a comforting beacon, illuminated in the yellow glow of the old-fashioned street lamp. Snow fell like powdered sugar through a sifter and the faint scent of cedar was laced through the crisp late November wind. She knew this scene perfectly.

But something was different tonight.

A small cry rang out as clear as a singing bird at dawn. Hannah’s eyes followed the sound. Her heart jerked when she spotted a Moses-like basket with pink lining sitting on the stone porch. Had she walked right by it? The massive oak doors towered over the tiny bundle like a giant tree protecting a nest of baby birds. Hannah tried to swallow past the painful ball of dread in her throat.

She knew that basket. She had bought it.

The distraught cries from the baby lying in the basket snatched her from the present and catapulted her back to a past she rarely dared to visit. She stared at that basket, its image becoming blurred by her tears. She fumbled back up the steps with trembling legs and knew with every ounce of her being and in every goose bump that taunted her arms whose baby that was. And what it meant.

Hannah took a deep breath and looked down into the basket, struggling for control. She stumbled onto her knees before the baby, the stone steps tearing through her sheer nylons, but she didn’t notice and didn’t feel a thing because her eyes were on the baby. Pink blanket, pink fuzzy sleeper, pink hat; the ones she had picked out for her and given to her when she was born.

Emily.

Her skin was pale with blotches of red from her crying and the chill of the winter air. Hannah struggled to peel off her gloves with fingers that felt like rubber. She reached out and picked her up and felt a surge of relief when Emily stopped crying. Hannah held her close, with shaking arms, enveloping the infant in the folds of her coat. She rubbed the baby’s back, nestling her own face into the tender spot of impossibly soft skin at the base of her neck. She took deep breaths and let the baby’s angelic purity calm her.

Snow swirled around them as Hannah sheltered and warmed the baby. Minutes trickled by slowly, until Hannah finally stopped rocking Emily and looked into her wide, porcelain blue eyes wondering what had brought her here, but deep down she already knew. Louise was gone. Emily’s mom was gone.

Hannah rose slowly, knowing she’d have to notify the police and knowing that she was going to have a hell of a battle on her hands with the child protective services office tomorrow. She wasn’t going to play this one by the books. She had been there when Emily was born, and she was going to do whatever she could to make sure she didn’t go through the foster care system.

She cradled the baby with one arm, ready to take out her BlackBerry and call her contact at the police station when she spotted something attached to the inside of the basket. She crouched down and read the note. It was scribbled on the back of a grocery receipt, in thick, black marker:

“I’m sorry, Hannah. I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard. This life is too hard. Please find my brother, Christopher James. Please find Emily’s uncle. He will raise her.”

Acid burned her throat and Hannah fought the bile that threatened. This couldn’t be happening. She had just spoken with Louise yesterday. How had she missed the warning signs?

Hannah held the infant closer to her chest. Emily’s breathing became calm, her steady heartbeat a complete contrast to Hannah’s erratic one. What have you done, Louise?

She buried her head against the baby’s soft hair, and the tears that had been threatening finally triumphed for the heartache that Emily would one day face knowing that she’d been abandoned. She knew the depth of that pain. Hannah knew that kind of pain could never be erased.





Chapter One



“Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…”

Hannah pounded the volume button on her car stereo so hard her index finger bent backward painfully. She rubbed her throbbing finger, glaring at the now black display. It was so not going to be a Merry Christmas. The odds were stacked against merry and highly in favor of miserable.

She had lied to her boss, co-workers, and broken some of the cardinal rules in child protective services to be here. While other people were decorating their homes, doing Christmas shopping, and attending holiday parties, she was sitting in a cold car, spying on a man from behind a snowdrift with a sleeping infant in the backseat.

But she’d finally tracked him down, and after three miserable, long weeks, she’d found baby Emily’s uncle. Now all she had to do was knock on his door and introduce him to Emily.

Oh, and then convince him to adopt her.

Right. Great plan, Hannah.

If she had any sense of self-preservation she’d throw her car into reverse and hightail it out of Northern Ontario. She would brave the nightmare road conditions over convincing a man who had turned his back on his family for over a decade to drop everything and adopt his niece. But she knew she couldn’t do that. Hannah turned in her seat to check on Emily who had been sleeping contentedly in her car seat.

Hannah glanced back at the rustic log cabin in front of her. She had everything rehearsed. She would approach the situation with compassion and honesty. She could do this. She had to do this. Hannah bit her lower lip as she peered through the peephole she’d created in her windshield. Her half-full cup of Starbucks holiday blend, long since abandoned, sat in the cup holder beside an empty baby bottle.

She ducked as she spotted movement in the house. Luckily, she was almost sure that the man hadn’t noticed her silver Jetta buried in the snowdrift in the driveway. As soon as she had exited the highway and pulled out onto the back roads she’d felt like a moving snowman on wheels. When she finally found the cabin, located in nowheres-ville, she had drifted down the unplowed drive, saying a silent prayer she wouldn’t hit the parked Range Rover.

Gurgling from the backseat jolted her. She had to go in before Emily woke up. It’s now or never, Hannah. She turned on the engine one last time, blasting the heat on high before she had to leave the car.

She slipped her lucky red wool knitted hat with its oversized pom-pom onto her head with a decisive tug—she’d need all the luck she could get. She had a good ten minutes before she had to worry about Emily getting cold, but she added a few more layers of blankets onto the baby, who was already bundled in a bunting bag, hat, and mittens. Hannah reached over to the passenger seat, her hands blindly seeking out her purse and mittens, while her eyes stayed riveted on the cabin. She tucked the vintage Santa tin filled with homemade, sparkle-laden sugar cookies under her arm. No one could resist her Christmas cookies.

She hoped Louise’s brother, once Christopher James, now Jackson Pierce, was the type of man to appreciate homemade cookies. His name change had added a few extra days to her search, but thanks to her friends at the police department and her own bit of ingenuity, she’d found him at this cabin. There was no trace of Christopher James when child services had looked for him, but Hannah knew the details of his past, and knew this man would want nothing to do with Louise’s baby. She’d been pretty shocked by his identity. He was the founder and CEO of one of North America’s largest computer software companies.

Hannah opened the door and the wind whipped snow onto her face as she struggled to get out quickly before the cold air infiltrated the car. She stepped into at least three feet of snow and fought the urge to yelp out loud as it made contact with her feet. So much for waterproof boots. Careful not to fall and drop the cookies, she walked as fast as she could, her feet feeling like lead as she reached the front porch. She glanced around the house and confirmed what she’d suspected from the inside of her car—there was no Christmas wreath on the door or Christmas lights. Or anything remotely Christmas-y at all.

It was an omen. A bad one.

She gave herself a mental shake, forcing herself to calm down. Hurry up, Hannah.

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