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Copyright © 2016 by Erin Wright. This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be constructed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews.
All characters in this story are 18 and over.
Richard B. Smith & Felix Bernard © 1934 – Walking in a Winter Wonderland
Bing Crosby © 1943 – I’ll Be Home for Christmas
To my own cowboy:
Thanks for not making me move to Arizona. You know I’d rather be cold than hot any day of the week.
Quick Note: If you enjoy Blizzard of Love, be sure to check out my offer of a FREE Long Valley novella at the end.
With that, enjoy!
Luke Nash wandered down the aisle of Frank’s Feed & Fuel, looking for a new halter for his mare. He didn’t need a new halter, of course — he had a half dozen for her already — but dammit all, he was tired at being holed up at home. Usually, he could go weeks at a time out on his farm, ignoring the outside world, but lately, he’d started getting antsy.
It was probably because Christmas was coming, the most hated time of the year. The music, the bells, the lights, and worst of all, the fake cheerfulness that just meant that someone was trying to sell something to him. It was a sham, a marketing scheme.
And yet, how did he escape it? Shopping, with his dog no less, two days before Christmas.
It was like a cruel joke played on him by the universe.
With a sigh, he dismissed the halter choices and wandered over into the hardware department to eyeball new cupboard handles. Maybe he should remodel his kitchen this winter. That would give him something to do. Countertops and cupboard handles would make a world of difference to how his kitchen looked. He could—
The greeting broke into his thoughts, startling him, and he whirled around to see his best friend, Stetson Miller.
“Did I give you a heart attack?” Stetson said, grinning.
“Oh hell, if Carmelita doesn’t stop feeding you cinnamon rolls every morning, she’s going to be the one giving you a heart attack,” Luke volleyed back. Carmelita was Stetson’s housekeeper/cook extraordinaire, a surrogate mother after Stetson’s mom died when they were in junior high.
And based on the roundness of Stetson’s stomach, it looked like she was trying to fatten him up like a Christmas goose.
“Damn, you should see Jennifer,” Stetson said. “She’s fattening up realnice.”
Luke bit back his grin. He was pretty sure Stetson’s pregnant wife would not be happy if she heard her husband say that.
“So, what are you and ol’ Willie doing for Christmas?” Stets asked.
Luke just stared blankly at him for a moment. Doing for Christmas? That made it sound like he was going to go out caroling or something. And with ol’ Willie to boot. The idea of his crusty, old farmhand singing Christmas songs was ridiculous, and Stetson knew it.
“What if you headed over to my house for the weekend?” Stetson continued when Luke didn’t — couldn’t — say anything. “Might as well take advantage of the fact that Christmas is on a Sunday this year. Carmelita would love to have someone else to hover over and cook for.”
Luke contemplated a whole weekend of Carmelita’s cooking — hams and gingerbread cookies and mashed potatoes and oh God, pies — against the idea of actually having to celebrate Christmas this year, instead of just treating it like any other day of the year.
His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything but a piece of toast with peanut butter on it all day. Well, toast and lots and lots of coffee.
Stetson heard the rumble and laughed. “I’m going to take that as a yes. Come over as soon as you can. I’ll tell Carma to set another plate at the table.” Without waiting for a reply, he turned and headed for the cash register, a roll of copper wire in his hands.
Luke stared at his retreating back for just a moment, sighing in an odd combination of frustration and humor, and then snapped his fingers. Sticks, his black lab, headed back towards him from where he’d been alternatively sniffing and then licking the dog food bags. “Come on, boy, let’s go get our stuff. You get to guard the Miller farm this weekend.” Sticks wagged his tail with delight and trotted along behind Luke, his toenails clicking on the floor as they went.
Luke was only a little bit surprised that he’d somehow been shanghaied into spending Christmas with Stetson, without ever giving his consent to the idea. Stetson was a force of nature, and worse yet, he knew that Luke had nothing to go home to, no one to please. He knew the truth about Luke’s pathetic life, and so Luke couldn’t even offer socially acceptable white lies about being too busy to come over.
Dammit, sometimes it was a pain in the ass to have a best friend who knew him so well. Sticks jumped into the bed of the truck and Luke gave him a quick pat on the head before sliding into the cab.
It was time to go pack some clothes and then go eat Stetson out of house and home. At least he could exact his revenge on Stets for his high-handedness that way. Served him right.
Bonnie Patterson walked into the house, her arms full of purchases. Without her family in town for Christmas, she’d had shockingly few people to go Christmas shopping for this year, so she’d ended up shopping for herself instead. She now had a new lamp for her nightstand, a shower curtain for the bathroom, and an adorable red peacoat, all curtesy of the thrift store. She couldn’t afford shopping elsewhere, and anyway, she liked the hunt — the thrill of finding something great in amongst all of the junk.
Her phone began vibrating in her pocket and, after pulling it out and checking caller ID, tapped the red button and shoved it between her shoulder and cheek.
“Hey, Jennifer!” Bonnie said enthusiastically as she began unloading her bags. “It’s been so long since we’ve talked — I was just thinking about how much I missed you. How’s it going up in Sawyer?”
Jennifer, her closest friend in the world, had married some cowboy just a couple of months earlier and had moved to Long Valley of all places, some tiny podunk corner of the world where people still honest-to-God canned their own food every fall and intentionally listened to country music. It was a world that Bonnie couldn’t help catching a glimpse of occasionally, living in Boise, Idaho as she did, but still, Sawyer just seemed so…quaint.
The kind of thing you saw on a postcard but didn’t think still really existed.
Well, not in reallife.
“Awww…” Jennifer said, a smile in her voice. “I’ve missed you, too. Things have been awesome up here. Things are starting to settle down now that harvest is done. You can’t grow anything in a foot of snow!”
“A foot?” Bonnie repeated, stunned. Surely she was kidding. There was only a skiff of snow on the ground outside Bonnie’s apartment, and Sawyer and Boise were only 90 minutes apart. How was it possible that so much snow had fallen up there?
“Yeah, I think it’s snowed more up here in the last month than it did all last winter in Boise. I really like it right now; you’ll have to ask me in February if I still feel that way or if I’m starting to go a little snow-crazy.” She laughed and Bonnie couldn’t help smiling in return. It was amazing how much better the world seemed with Jennifer in it. “How’s work going?”
“Ugh,” Bonnie groaned, and then laughed. “About that good. I can’t believe you and I worked so hard to get our degrees in accounting so we could be this miserable at work. Well, so I could be so miserable. How’re you doing with the handsome hubby?”
“Good!” The love and cheerfulness in Jennifer’s voice rang through and Bonnie knew Jenn meant it. Of course, she was married to a drop-dead gorgeous cowboy and no longer had to put up with a boss from hell, so Bonnie supposed that she was genuinely just that happy.
“Anyway, are you doing anything fun with your family for Christmas?”
Bonnie grimaced, glad her friend couldn’t see her expression. “No,” she said, struggling to keep her voice light and airy, while lying for all she was worth. “Mom and Dad — well, Mom, and then Dad went along with it because he wanted to make her happy — decided to take everyone and go to Hawaii for Christmas. Palm trees and walks along the beach just doesn’t sound Christmassy to me, so I opted out of the trip.”
Bonnie was pretty sure lightning was going to strike her apartment for such a blatant lie, but was surprised when nothing happened. Maybe God wasn’t paying attention to her just then, which was probably just as well. She wasn’t sure if she had lightning strikes for lies in her rental insurance coverage.
“Oh Bonnie, I’m so sorry to hear that. Listen, why don’t you come up here? Sawyer has plenty of pine trees and craggy mountains, so I’m pretty sure it passes your ‘Must look Christmassy’ test. It’s been a week since the last snowstorm, so the roads are all cleared now and anyway, I’m sure Stetson and Carmelita would love having someone else here for Christmas.”
“Really? I wouldn’t be an imposition?”
“Of course not! Wyatt can’t come for Christmas, of course, and Declan is mad at Stetson for not being more forgiving, so it was just going to be Stetson, me, and Carmelita for Christmas. The little one isn’t due until April, so we can’t count on that quite yet.” She laughed. “You should come up tonight and spend the weekend here. Take advantage of the fact that Christmas is on a Sunday. Do you have Monday off too?”
“I do — even Boss McScrooge agreed that there was no client on the planet who would be demanding numbers on December 26th.”
Jennifer’s joyful laughter spilled out of the phone’s speaker. “Well, maybe you should upgrade him to Boss McScrooge Lite just for that.”
“Let’s not get crazy,” Bonnie grumbled as she tried to fight back her own laughter. Jenn could always make her grin. Ever since they met in the Survey of Federal Income Taxation class, which sounded as awful as it really was, they’d been drawn together — a perfect match of fun and laughter. Jennifer had moved in soon afterwards, living on Bonnie’s couch for two years while they worked their way through Boise State University to get their degrees.
It was how Jennifer had managed to escape from Paul, her ex and a man so vile, Bonnie never could understand Jenn’s attraction to him.
Not everyone has the benefit of hindsight. And hey, she doesn’t make fun of you for Ryan, so…
“Yay! Pack quickly and head over. See you in a couple of hours?”
“Sounds good. See you soon.” Bonnie hung up and hurried to get her bags packed. It was time to go have some fun, and get the hell out of her apartment.
Luke pulled up in front of the old Miller farmhouse, the Christmas lights that were lining the roofline sparkling in the snow covering the landscape. It looked so festive, so Christmassy and shit.
So unlike his own house.
Sticks jumped down from the bed of the truck, his stocky Labrador body navigating the snowdrifts with ease. Luke and Stick’s noses wiggled in the crisp night air, breathing in the smell of…was that pot roast?
God, it’s gonna be nice to eat Carmelita’s cooking this weekend. I might end up as fat as Stetson when she’s done with me! Oh, but it’ll be worth it.
He knocked once and then, brushing his feet on the welcome mat, pushed open the front door. “I’m here,” he called out. Sticks shook the snow off his fur and then trotted in behind him.
“Hello!” Carmelita came bustling into the entryway, the delicious pot roast and…something else trailing in behind her, like the world’s best smelling perfume. Is that cinnamon rolls? I’m pretty sure it’s cinnamon rolls.
His stomach rumbled its agreement.
“Oh, you poor thing,” Carmelita said in her heavily accented English, taking his jacket and hanging it up in the hall closet. “Dinner will be done soon. You go upstairs and I will tell Stetson and Jennifer you are here.”
She bustled off before he could answer, and so he headed up the stairs and down to the far guest bedroom. It was a little less…girly and shit than the other one, so it was the one he usually chose when he spent the night at the Miller’s house.
He lay down on the bed for a few minutes, closing his eyes and turning the idea of doing absolutely nothing for an entire weekend over and over again in his mind. This was something he hadn’t done in years. Was he even capable of doing nothing for an entire weekend? He didn’t know.
Dammit, am I really only 26 years old? I sound like an old man. Time to stop wallowing in my geriatric ways and get moving.
He decided to take a quick detour to the bathroom before heading downstairs, but when he slid the pocket door open, he saw something that he was pretty sure he’d never, ever forget: A half-naked woman, jeans down around her knees, and the most sexy pair of red lace underwear on that he’d ever seen.
It was only then that he registered a screaming noise, and realized it was because of him. She was screaming at him.
A whole lot of not-very-nice words.
Bonnie had softly hummedWe Wish You a Merry Christmas on the way up the stairs. Jenn had told her to use the first guest bedroom on the left at the top of the stairs because it was simply gorgeous — she’d promised hand-painted roses on the walls, a fireplace, and a beautiful canopy bed, which sounded heavenly. Who actually had a canopy bed?! Her inner princess was squeeing with excitement.
When Bonnie opened the door, she gave a drawn-out sigh of appreciation, a smile spreading across her face. Jennifer hadn’t been exaggerating. The room was too beautiful to use.
On second thought, it was too beautiful not to use.
With a big grin, she placed her bag on the bed and then headed to the sliding pocket door on the far side of the room. She’d use the bathroom before she headed back down the stairs to find the source of that amazing smell that was wafting through the house.
She was almost to the toilet, her jeans around her knees, her thumbs in the waistband of her panties, when a stranger walked into the bathroom.