Read All I Want For Christmas Online

Authors: Julie Coffin

All I Want For Christmas

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

Julie Coffin

British
Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

This eBook edition published by AudioGo Ltd, Bath, 2012.

Published by arrangement with the Author.

Epub ISBN 9781471308024

U.K. Hardcover ISBN 978 1 445 83764 2

U.K. Softcover ISBN 978 1 445 83765 9

Copyright © Julie Coffin, 2010

All rights reserved

Jacket Illustration ©
iStockphoto.com

CHAPTER
ONE

Today my husband is getting married.
The words thundered in Lauren's head as she raced towards the line of parked cars, aware that a dark green Range Rover, hurtling through the gate behind her, was heading in the same direction.

With a deft twist of the steering wheel, she swung her Mini straight into the one remaining gap in the hospital car park. Gravel spurted out from under her tyres, rattling onto the bonnet of the Range Rover, as she slammed on the brakes.

Snatching her bag from the seat, Lauren threw open the door and leaped out, locking it behind her. Glancing up, she saw blue eyes blaze down at her, but it wasn't their anger that sent shock waves radiating throughout her body. It was the face.

A face exactly like Rick's. And yet—not quite the same.

The good looks were similar, in a rather angular sort of way. But the dark hair that curled slightly over well-shaped ears was definitely in need of a trim. Rick's was never like that. He was fastidious about his appearance. Obsessively so. And this man's eyes were wider set, and a deeper blue.

Today my husband is getting married.

Ex-husband,
Lauren told herself fiercely. Would Rick never be out of her mind? Was that why any man looked like him?

But this one resembled him so much.
And he's probably exactly the same type,
she thought.
Overwhelming. Overpowering. And oversexed.

The last word hovered in her brain.
Definitely the same type,
she decided.

With no time for apologies, she turned and ran towards the main door of the hospital complex. The wall clock showed it was two minutes to eight as she rushed into a foyer seething with people, and jumped into a waiting lift, squashing herself against the nearest corner.

Its doors were sighing to a close, when two hands appeared on either side, holding them apart. Square shoulders in a charcoal-grey suit eased themselves past. As the rest of his lean frame followed through the narrow opening, Lauren recognised the driver of the Range Rover. And she could see, from the taut thrust of his jaw, that his annoyance hadn't faded.

Lauren inched sideways along the lift wall, behind two chatting auxiliaries, hoping he wouldn't notice her. But at the movement his head swung round and she found herself spiked on the ice of his gaze.

‘Do you make a habit of cutting up other drivers like that?'

His voice was low and deep, the vowels extended in a way Lauren felt she should
recognise.
A pleasant voice, but each word was spoken in a tone that speared through her.

Conversation ceased abruptly as the other lift occupants swivelled round to stare. Lauren felt colour burn up her neck into her cheeks.

Her chin jutted.

‘You were racing me for that space and, as I was there first, it was rightly mine.' Somehow her voice sounded petulant.

‘You evidently failed to notice in your haste,' he grated, ‘that it's a staff-only car park.'

Lauren lifted her head, wishing she wasn't five foot three and half-hidden behind other people. Even by standing on tiptoe and peering over their shoulders, it was difficult to look him straight in the eye.

‘I am a member of staff.'

‘From when?' His voice held disbelief.

‘Today.'

The lift doors opened while she spoke and everyone surged forward. He stood back to let her step out, but she shook her head and pressed the button for the second floor. Apart from the two of them, the lift was empty now, moving silently upwards.

He was quite a bit taller than Rick, Lauren noticed, still unable to avoid the comparison. Thinner, though. Some men grow paunchy in their mid-thirties. Reaching that stage had upset Rick so much. But there was not a spare ounce on this man. He was almost too thin.
And
yet they were incredibly alike.

Are women always attracted to the same type of man?
she wondered, and quickly retracted the thought.
What a stupid thing to think. As if I could ever be attracted to any man, after three years with Rick.

And today he's getting married again.

The memory caught her unexpectedly. Unable to prevent it, her chin quivered and she pressed her lips tightly together, her eyes brimming.

‘Are you all right?'

There was a softer note to the man's voice now. Looking up, Lauren saw the frost had melted from his eyes, leaving them full of compassion.

But why?
she asked herself. Surely the pain that sliced into her whenever she thought of Rick's rejection wasn't apparent? She prided herself on keeping it under control. Letting no-one know the anguish of her rejection.

So why did she have to meet a man like him, today of all days?

‘Quite all right, thank you,' she replied tersely, as with blurred eyes she stepped swiftly out of the lift when the doors opened again. She heard them close and the car travel on up to the next floor.

The crèche was at the far end of the corridor. She'd had her interview there. A long room with tall windows, full of light, the walls covered with collages and paintings created by
the
children.

Lauren keyed in the door code.

‘Hi, I'm Sarah Walsh.'

The greeting came from a girl who looked up from where she was sitting, slicing a roll of wallpaper into squares.

‘Great for the kids' paintings,' she explained, putting down the roll and holding out her hand. ‘You must be Lauren Mallory, the new crèche manager? You're obviously not one of the mums. No lively little attachment. Come on into the kitchen and grab a cup of coffee.'

Rising to her feet, she led the way into an adjoining room. ‘Kettle's just boiled. You won't get much chance, once the kids arrive.'

Taking a jar from a high shelf, she spooned granules into a mug patterned with black cats.

‘We bought this last Christmas for Cathy, your predecessor. She thought it was because of her name—until I let out it was meant to represent her!'

‘Lucky, you mean?' Lauren asked.

Sarah chuckled. ‘No—catty!' Then her face sobered. ‘Perhaps I shouldn't say that to her replacement. Anyway, we weren't sorry to see her go. Sugar?' She unsnapped the lid of a plastic box.

‘No, thanks,' Lauren replied, taking the mug and perching herself on the corner of the table. ‘I hope you won't feel the same about me.'

‘And
so say all of us!' the other girl replied, laughing as she picked up a carton of milk. ‘There's been a lot of speculation about what you'll be like.' She tugged at the top of the container. ‘Oh, now it's gone everywhere!'

Soaking up the spilt milk with a paper towel, she continued. ‘One or two noses were put out of joint when we heard we were getting an outsider.'

‘Outsider?' Lauren queried.

‘Not one of us,' Sarah explained. ‘You must have been told there are six staff working in the crèche. Three full and three part-timers. Well, everyone thought one of the full-timers would get the job when Cathy left.'

‘That sounds ominous.'

Sarah dropped the wet paper towel into a bin. ‘You may get some hassle from one who shall be nameless. I'll just say that she does have the longest nose for putting out of joint!'

‘Thanks for the warning,' Lauren said. ‘And while we're on our own, how about giving me a few pointers about how the crèche is run?'

Sarah gave her a surprised look. ‘That's for you to decide, isn't it?'

‘Well, I have a few ideas of my own to bring in gradually, but small children don't like their routine being changed.'

‘Weren't you told anything at your interview?'

Lauren finished her coffee, rinsed the mug and picked up a cloth.

‘Not
a great deal. Everyone had gone home, and Miss Knolls—Cathy—showed me round. I'd have preferred to see the children.' She smiled as she put the mug back on the shelf. ‘I'm sure you can give me a far better idea.'

‘Well, like I said, there's the six of us. Full-timers—Helen, Emma and Jane. Part-timers—me, Gina and Lucy. The children belong to hospital staff and can only be here when that person's on duty.' Sarah wrinkled her nose. ‘Although that does get stretched a bit sometimes.'

‘How do you mean?'

‘A few of the staff who do a split duty—a morning and an evening—often bring the child at eight-thirty when we open, leave it with us all day, and a husband or partner collects it again at six when we close. It gives them a quiet hour or two to sleep, or go shopping, or whatever.'

‘But it shouldn't happen,' Lauren pointed out.

Sarah shrugged. ‘How would you feel, coping with a crying baby or lively toddler, knowing you had another hectic shift to face, with no rest?'

Lauren smiled ruefully. ‘I see. How do you deal with problem children?'

Laughing, Sarah said, ‘It's only when they get home they're a problem. There's far too much going on here for them to be unhappy.'

‘Some must be,' Lauren insisted.

‘Well,
there is one,' Sarah replied slowly. ‘Zoe. A four-year-old. Only been here a few days. At that age, they can take a while to settle.' She chuckled. ‘The babies are best. Far easier. And they grow up completely used to us. We really miss some of them when they start school.'

‘So what's the routine when there's a new admission?' Lauren persisted.

Rinsing her hands under the tap, Sarah dried them on a paper towel. ‘We ask the mums for any special details. Whether they have a toy or comforter of some kind when they have their sleep. Likes and dislikes with food. I'm sure you know the sort of thing.'

She turned as the door opened and two older women came in. One of them frowned on seeing Lauren. Lauren couldn't prevent her gaze from straying to the woman's nose, remembering Sarah's earlier words.

‘Helen and Jane.' Sarah introduced them. ‘This is Lauren Mallory.'

‘And what are we supposed to call you?' Helen demanded, unbuttoning her jacket.

Late forties, Lauren judged, studying the short greying hair that fringed a narrow, prematurely lined face. Probably resenting a twenty-five-year-old taking over.

She smiled. ‘By my first name, of course. Isn't that what you all do?'

‘Catherine Knolls was always called Ms Knolls.'

‘And
Catty behind her back,' Sarah added with a wide grin.

Helen swung round, glaring furiously at the younger girl. ‘It's about time you learned to show some respect for senior staff. I wouldn't be surprised if it was because of you and your flippant remarks that Cathy left.'

‘Of course it wasn't,' Sarah protested, her cheeks bright with colour.

Three more girls came in, hesitating when they saw Lauren.

‘You must be Emma, Gina and Lucy. I'm Lauren.'

At her friendly greeting, they relaxed, and started chattering again as they quickly made themselves mugs of coffee.

‘Look, being completely inexperienced here,' Lauren said, joining them, ‘I'm going to need all the help and advice you can give me.'

‘Inexperienced?' Helen swiftly picked up on the word. ‘Do you mean you've never worked in a hospital crèche before?'

‘Not a hospital crèche,' Lauren replied. ‘I originally worked as a nanny.'

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