Published by Entangled Publishing: Bliss on November 12, 2018
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
The weather forecasters said the snowstorm would miss the eastern seaboard. They were wrong. When Ally Henderson’s flight from Southern California to New York City for Christmas gets diverted to the tiny Midwestern town of Bethlehem, she’s desperate to get back in the air and back to the Big Apple. But with all the airports closed, she’s forced to rely on Midwestern hospitality to wait out the storm. And she soon learns that she has a storm of her own to weather. One that could shatter her life.
Living with a kind stranger is one way to spend a snowed-in Christmas, but when she meets the local diner owner, Jake, sparks fly. Only, Ally’s a big-city girl with big-city dreams, and Jake will always be a Bethlehem boy.
“Let me get this straight,” Ally said. “You sneak over here every December 22nd and build a snowman in the yard?”
“Pretty much,” Jake said. “Each year I have to wait a little longer because Maddie’s bedtime keeps getting later.”
“But what if there’s no snow?”
“Yeah, we did have that problem a couple of years ago. Luckily, I have a buddy who works at Echo Mountain Ski Resort. I drove two hours one-way to load up my pickup with manmade snow. Had more than I needed, so I spread the rest in the yard.”
Ally smiled. How sweet that he would go to all that trouble.
“Does Maddie know you’re the culprit?” Ally asked.
“She pretends she doesn’t,” Jake said. “Though I did catch her peeking out the window one night several years back. To be honest, I think she enjoys the fantasy more than the reality.”
“Don’t we all?” Ally said. “So,” she added, “let’s get started.”
Jake swung open the gate. “I like your attitude.”
He retrieved a canvas bag of supplies that he kept hidden beneath the porch steps, explaining that he stowed the bag at his sister’s so that he’d have the materials on hand year in and year out when he stole over in the night to do this snowman-building deed. As she worked side-by-side with Jake constructing the surprise snowman, Ally noticed that he seemed a bit chattier than usual. She liked it. He was getting more comfortable with her.
“So anyway,” Jake said, “when this all started, Maddie was into Bob the Builder. That’s why she named him Snowman Bob. One year, I put one of Mom’s wigs on him just to test that, and she still called him Snowman Bob.” Ally laughed as she packed some icy snow onto Bob’s midsection. “Been doing it every year since she was four. And, tomorrow morning, she’ll wake up, remember what day it is, run outside and…here he’ll be.” Ally stepped back and took in their joint venture. They’d been at it for about a half hour, and she thought they’d done a pretty fair job.
“I bet this one’s the best yet,” she said. “Yeah,” Jake said. “And it’s all because of you.” “Oh really?” Ally asked. “Are you patronizing me?”
“Maybe a little,” Jake said.
“Well, that won’t do.” Ally picked up a clump of snow and flung it at him. “That’s what you get.”
“Oh, it’s on now!” Jake said. He went to retaliate, quickly packing some frozen snow into a ball, while Ally worked furiously to beat him to the punch. Ally’s shrieking laughter echoed down the street, bouncing off the houses.
“You’re going to wake the whole neighborhood,” Jake teased.
“It’s your fault,” she said. She picked up another handful of snow and plopped it on his head, then let out another cackle of laughter that reverberated down the block.
“Nice,” Jake said. “Real nice. How would you like it down your back?” Jake grabbed a chunk of ice.
“Don’t you dare!” Ally said. She made a halfhearted attempt to avoid capture, but Jake grabbed her around the waist as Ally laughed so hard she could barely catch her breath. “Jake, you’d better not! Ahhh! That’s cold!” Jake managed to slip a chunk of ice down her collar, and Ally felt the freezing cold against her bare skin. As she squirmed trying to dislodge it, Ally realized that, for the moment, at least, her troubles were miles away. She felt girlish and euphoric. So, this is what fun feels like, she thought.
The snow battle lasted no more than a couple of minutes, but Ally felt like she’d had a real workout. If there had been ringside judges, she felt she would have held her own, gotten a split decision at the very least. Jake had just as much snow on him as she did.
The bout ended like some clichéd romantic comedy with the participants tumbling into the snow, Jake ending up on top of her, looking down into her face, which Ally could feel was pink with flush. Her head rested on the firm snow, and she could feel the cold on her exposed neck. They were both laughing and breathing hard, and then Ally realized they were all alone and face-to-face. She felt calm and happy as she looked up into his sea-blue eyes. He’s got specks of brown in his pupils, she thought. She also picked out a few light freckles high on his cheeks that she hadn’t seen before.
His eyes were locked on hers, searching. She could sense him wanting to kiss her, and she felt a sudden warmth rush through her. Ally recognized it instantly. Desire. She wanted that kiss, wanted his lips on hers. She wanted to reach up and grab him by the lapel and pull him down to her, but, instead, she waited. It was his move.
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