One Hot Christmas by Anna Durand

Chapter One


Sometimes a bloke knows when disaster is about to strike, and he prepares for it in whatever way he can, even if it's just to squeeze his eyes shut and brace for impact. This is not one of those times. I had no idea what lay ahead for me until it was too late to do anything other than scream for help.

Uh, scratch that. I didn't say "scream." I said "shout for help in a manly way." I wish I could say I rescued myself from disaster, but I'm not an action hero. I'm a massage therapist.

Maybe I should go back to the beginning.

I had a brilliant life living in England with my mates and working as a massage therapist at a day spa in a little Essex village. I loved it there. Nick Hunter, my boss and my friend, gave me the job despite the fact I'm not a normal employee. He overlooks my past and my family. Nick is amazing, and so is his twin brother Richard. The Dixon brothers have become good mates too. So yeah, I had a perfect life.

Until three months ago, when my mother summoned me home.

No, maybe I shouldn't think about that right now. It's not important to my disaster story, anyway. Let's just say my mother tried to pull me back into the family "business," and after three months of that bollocks, I'd had enough. I plotted my escape, which led me to America—New Hampshire, to be precise. My mate Chance Dixon lives in this state, but he and his wife Elena and their baby daughter have gone off to Switzerland for Christmas. Chance has lent me his house for the holidays. That's where I'm headed, to Chance and Elena's place.

Well, that was the plan. But now I'm lost in a snowstorm.

And of course, the bloody GPS thing on my phone decides now is a good time to snuff it. I try smacking my phone, but that stupid app refuses to resurrect itself. It's dead—and I'll be joining that bloody app soon enough if I can't find my way out of this blizzard. The wind has kicked up, whirling the snow round and round, obscuring my view of the road ahead. Asphalt gave way to gravel a while ago, and I'm starting to worry I've made a wrong turn. The car's headlights can't penetrate the deepening gloom, so it's hard to tell if the sun is setting or if the snow has gotten so thick that it's mimicking twilight.

I see trees. Nothing but trees.

Well, trees and ruddy snow.

Can't get even one bar on my phone, which means I have no hope of ringing for help. Who would I call, anyway? I'm in the middle of sodding nowhere in a country I've never visited before without even a map to guide me. I'd bought a road map, the paper kind, but I managed to cock that up too. It's a map of New Mexico, not New Hampshire.

I squint through the windscreen at the snow. Can't see a thing.

Thump. The right front corner of the car slants down and to the side, and the vehicle won't move even one more inch.

Perfect. Now I've driven into a ditch or a hole. Whichever it is, I'm stuck. The wheels only spin when I press down on the accelerator. Oh, bloody hell. No phone signal, no GPS, no way to tell where I am or to figure out how to get my car unstuck. Should I get out and walk? The snow looks awfully deep, like it might soon pile up higher than the wheels on my car, the one that doesn't belong to me because I hired it at the airport. I brought winter clothes, of course, but not the sort designed for trudging through a blizzard.

"Fuck," I hiss through my clenched teeth. "You're a bloody stupid arse, aren't you, Ben? Yeah, I think I'll drive to Chance's place on my own with a map of New Mexico to guide me, and gee, maybe I'll get my stupid arse stuck in the snow on a road in the exact middle of nothing. Brilliant plan, mate."

Now I'm chastising myself—out loud. Christ, I've lost my mind.

The wind whips up a whirling dervish of snow that buffets the car, making it shiver. The engine sputters, then quits.

I am going to die out here, aren't I? They'll find my frozen remains in the spring, crumpled over the steering wheel.

A flash of light up ahead jerks me out of my miserable fantasy of Ben the Ice Mummy. What was that flash? Maybe I imagined it. Another burst of light pierces the falling snow. No, I did not imagine that. A one-eyed vehicle of some sort is barreling toward me. Straight toward me. On a head-on collision trajectory. Since my car decided to die on me, that means the headlights went out too. The person or persons in that one-eyed vehicle can't see me.

Bugger. I'm about to get creamed by…whatever that thing is.

I try to open the driver's door, but it won't budge. I shove and shove, throwing my whole body into it, but the door refuses to open. Doesn't that just figure? I finally escape from my mother's clutches, only to die when a motorized Cyclops crashes into my car.

The light slows down and stops bobbing. It remains stationary several yards ahead of my car, but I still can't make out what the vehicle is. A figure emerges from the swirling snow—a figure dressed all in pink, including a pink helmet. A woman? Maybe it's a bloke who likes pink. I don't care who it is as long as they can get me out of this bloody car and to a warm, safe place.

The figure stops beside the driver's door and knocks on the glass.

I can't roll down the window. It's electric, and the car is dead. So I raise my hands and shrug, shouting, "It won't open."

My savior nods, then disappears into the blizzard again. The pink person comes back a moment later carrying a small shovel. It only takes a minute to clear the snow away from the car door, then the mystery man or woman pulls it open and waves for me to get out.

I grab my parka from the backseat and clamber out.

And trip over a rock or something that's hidden in the snow, falling flat on my face in the damn white stuff. Snow is very cold. More so than I expected. And it's melting in my nose. Small but strong hands push under my arms and hoist me out of the snow, onto my knees. The wind buffets me, cold and sharp, suddenly making me wish I'd brought a ski mask. I clamber to my feet and do my best to brush off the snow. Some of it has already melted and made my trousers damp.

My savior pushes up the face shield on that pink helmet, and I get my first glimpse of the person who rescued me. I see lovely green eyes with thick, dark lashes, as well as an adorable nose that turns up slightly at the end. My gaze travels down to the mystery person's chest.

This is definitely a girl. Not many blokes have such nice, round breasts.

I open my mouth to thank the angel, but she speaks first.

"We can chitchat later," she says. "Better take you to a warm place before you get frostbite. Did you bring any serious winter clothing?"

"Isn't this serious?" I ask, gesturing at the parka I've just pulled on.

We both need to almost shout to hear each other over the wind and the creaking of the trees. I can't help picturing an enormous branch snapping off one of those trees to slam down on my head. That would just be my luck.

I have started to shiver a bit, so this girl might have a point about getting to a warm place.

She waves for me to follow as she trots back to her snowmobile. Yes, I can now see that's what the machine is. I hurry after the girl as fast as I can, but the snow is at least two feet deep here. Can't understand how the woman who rescued me can slog through this mess like it's candyfloss, but I'm getting winded and starting to sweat. When I reach the snowmobile, a black one with pink accent stripes, she hands me a full-face helmet almost identical to hers.

A black helmet, thankfully. Pink isn't my color.

The girl climbs astride the machine and pushes down the face shield on her helmet.

I climb on behind her.

She glances back at me. "Better hold on to me. It'll be a bumpy ride."

"All right." I feel a bit weird about it, but I wrap my arms around her waist. I've never hugged a stranger so tightly before, but she did mention a bumpy ride ahead. "I'm ready."

The snowmobile revs up, and we're off.

As my new mate drives past my car, she calls out, "We'll come back for your stuff in the morning. Okay?"


The girl finds a wider spot in the road and turns around, then seems to hit the accelerator, or whatever machines like this one have, and we rocket away. I cling to her as the forest streaks by, my teeth clacking every time we bounce over a lump on the ground or…I don't know what. Can't really see, what with a blizzard raging around us and my helmet obscuring my view. Soon, I notice lights up ahead. They don't look like vehicle headlights, so maybe that's a house I see. My assumption is confirmed when we stop in the driveway of a modest-size log cabin, near the porch steps.

My savior angel shuts off the snowmobile's engine. "Let's get inside."

I dismount from the machine a bit more clumsily than I would've liked. A pretty girl saved me, and now I'm bumbling around like I'm on drugs. I'm not, I swear. But our ride through the woods has left me feeling slightly off balance.

Still, I manage to follow the girl into the cabin.

As she shuts the door behind us, every muscle in my body relaxes for the first time in at least an hour, maybe longer. I got lost, then got bogged down in a blizzard, and then my car died… Yeah, I've had some stress. We take off our helmets, and I finally see all of her face.

This girl is beautiful. Her long blonde hair falls over her shoulders now, though it seems to have been tucked up inside her helmet before. It still looks a little squashed. Since I know she has dark lashes and dark eyebrows, I assume she's not a natural blonde, but I don't care.

She pushes her hands into her hair and shakes her head while she combs her locks out with her fingers. A smile curves her luscious mouth. "Ahhh, much better."

The girl reaches out to remove my helmet.

Why? Because I've been standing here like a bloody statue, gawping at the pretty girl who saved my life. What a brilliant first impression I'm making.

"How are you feeling?" she asks.

"Not bad, considering I almost died out there."

"Glad you didn't." She taps the tip of my nose. "A cutie like you shouldn't become a human Popsicle."

She thinks I'm cute? I definitely think she's adorable.

I glance at my surroundings, taking note of a large fireplace behind us that has flames dancing away. The room also has a sofa, two armchairs, a coffee table, and some other smaller pieces of furniture that seem more decorative than practical. A Christmas tree stands in one corner, its multicolored lights brightening the space, while red, green, and gold garlands decorate the walls and the island in the open kitchen.

As I peel off my parka, I notice seven stockings hanging from the mantel. Does she have family staying here too? A husband and kids?

"Oh no," she coos in a sympathetic tone while she studies my clothing. "You're all wet, aren't you? Poor baby. You get those soppy clothes off while I find some dry stuff for you to wear. There's a blanket on the sofa that you can wrap yourself in while I get clothes for you."

She turns away, hurrying toward a hallway. I see a staircase to the left of the front door, but she breezes right past it.

I clear my throat. "Is there, ah, anyone else here?"

"Nope. Just us." She flashes me a grin over her shoulder. "Afraid I'll attack you while you sleep? I might do that, but only if you want me to."

She's flirting with me, isn't she?

Maybe my holiday started out as a disaster, but things are looking up now.