By Kris Eton
Available from Cobblestone Press, LLC
When Piper Henderson and her boyfriend join friends for a winter mountain getaway one weekend, little does she know her high school crush, Jacob Townsend, would show up. And he isn't alone.
At first, she fights off her fantasies, but when she and Jacob are trapped after an avalanche, they both discover how strong an old flame can be. Will they give in to their desires?
Piper dumped her heavy suitcase onto the floorboards of the rustic, wood-paneled cabin. “I thought I told you I’m not really the outdoorsy type, Celia.” She brushed a cobweb off of the leg of her jeans.
“Oh, come on. You don’t have to go outside if you don’t want to. Just sit and read by the fire or take a nap.” Celia carried two full bags of groceries into the cabin, her cheeks rosy-red from the biting winter air outside.
“So, where’s everyone else?” This was supposed to be a relaxing weekend with old friends. At least, that was how Celia sold it to her a few weeks ago.
“You mean Matt?”
“Are you going to give me a hard time about him, too?” Piper slammed the door shut.
Celia took the bags into the kitchen. “Your mother’s right, Piper. That guy’s no good for you.”
“I’m just getting back into dating again. Cut me a little slack.”
“Yeah, you’re getting back into dating, so you go back to your high school boyfriend?” Celia appeared in the doorway. “He’s such a weenie.”
“What?” She put her hands in the pockets of her brown corduroys and shrugged. “He is. After being married to Jim, you’d think you’d be a little more discriminating.”
Piper ignored her friend’s comment and rubbed her hands together for warmth. “How do you turn the heat on in this place?”
She looked around the room. Kitchen to the left, living room straight ahead with some comfortable looking couches and a big fireplace. “Do you know anything about building a fire?”
“You were in Girl Scouts. Didn’t they teach you stuff like that?” Celia peeled off her puffy down jacket and hung it in the closet by the front door. “I’ll make some hot chocolate. You get the fire going.”
“Gee, thanks.” Piper pulled off her hat and gloves, and set them on a rickety table in the entryway. Stepping into the living room, she caught her breath at the beautiful wooded scene out the bay window. Several inches of new snow already covered the ground, and the lake was a sheet of sparkling ice under the midday sun. “You should see the view.”
“I told you it was a nice place.”
If it wasn’t for the chilling cold in the room, she probably could have looked out that window all afternoon. She shivered. Next to the fireplace sat a stack of wood, old newspapers, and a box of matches. She could do this. How hard could it be to get a fire going?
She crumpled up a sheet of newspaper and set it under the grate. Then she stacked a couple of pieces of firewood on top.
Striking a match, she held it to the paper and watched in satisfaction as it flared to life. “Fire’s taken care of.”
Celia came around the corner with two mugs of steaming hot chocolate in her hands. “Or not.”
At her friend’s words, Piper made a frown and turned back to look at her handiwork. The newspaper had burned all right, but the wood didn’t catch. “Dang it.”
“Here, drink this. Maybe there’s a thermostat around here somewhere.” Celia handed her a mug then disappeared down the hallway that branched off of the living room. “But keep trying! It’s colder than a witch’s tit in here!”
Piper took a sip of her hot drink then set it down on the brick hearth. Looking at the blackened paper under the logs, she tried to think about how to tackle the task. More paper? Was there lighter fluid anywhere around? Would a shot or two of vodka, which was in those grocery bags, get things going?
She grabbed another newspaper and set to crumpling.
“Who left you in charge of the fire?”
Piper jumped at the masculine voice. Celia’s six-foot-two, dark-haired, green-eyed, sexy-as-hell brother stood just inside the living room, the front door wide open. “Jacob? What are you doing here? Celia didn’t mention you were coming.”
“Why wouldn’t I come? Anders High School. Weekend reunion. Sounds like I fit the bill.”
“Weekend reunion for the class of ’92. You’re class of ’90.”
“Don’t remind me. Are you trying to make me feel old?” He peeked into the kitchen. “Where’s Celia?”
“Would you mind shutting the door? It’s freezing in here.” Her pulse raced. It was so unfair he had that affect on her so many years out of high school.
“I think it’s warmer out there than it is in here.” He closed the door.
“Why do you think I’m building a fire?” To prove how hard she was working, she picked up another piece of newspaper and crumpled it.
“Do you mind if I give it a try?”
“What? You don’t think I can do it?”
“I didn’t say that. I’d just like to have a fire going before we all freeze to death.” He rubbed his hands together and blew on them.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
He left his duffle bag near the front door and stepped into the living room. “First, you put too much paper under there. And these logs? You need something smaller.”
“I was just working with what they gave me here.” She gestured at the wood and newspaper stacked next to the grate.
“There’s some kindling outside on the porch. You pull some of this out of here...” He pointed at the paper. “...and I’ll go bring in some wood we can use.”
Leave it to Jacob to make her feel sixteen again. A goofy, silly, infatuated sixteen. She was pulling out a few half-burned wads of newspaper when Celia came back into the room.
“Found the thermostat in the front bedroom.”
Piper swept bits of ash off the hearth. “So when were you going to tell me about Jacob?”
“What’s that now?” Her friend clutched her mug close to her chest, a finger nervously tapping the ceramic.
“Your brother’s here. You didn’t tell me he was invited.”
Celia cleared her throat and tucked a strand of long, dark hair behind one ear. “Yeah, well, he wasn’t doing anything this weekend, and I thought that maybe you two...”
“I can’t believe you!”
“Well, you’ve had a crush on him forever. I thought, now that you’re divorced and all, why not?”
“I’m dating Matt Duncan, remember?”
“Matt Duncan?” Jacob came bursting through the front door looking like the Brawny man, a pile of kindling stacked high in his arms. “You’re going out with that weenie again?”
“See? I told you,” whispered Celia.
Jacob made his way toward the fireplace to unload the wood.
“He’s not a weenie. That was ages ago. Can’t you just let the past go?”
Celia sat down in the leather armchair next to the fireplace. “Don’t worry, Jacob. It won’t last.”
Jacob knelt next to her in front of the hearth. Piper could smell his cologne. Musky. A little bit spicy. Her insides squirmed. He was so close to her, she itched to reach out and run her fingers through his hair. And then he would turn to look at her. He would close in for a kiss, and then...
“Are you feeling all right?” Jacob asked.
Piper had let her thoughts drift a little too much toward fantasy land. “Um, yeah. Just a little cold. Are you going to get this fire going, or what?” She sneaked a glance at Celia who had an eyebrow raised.
“Why don’t we start dinner while he works on the fire?” Celia said a little too loudly. “The rest of the gang will be here in a few hours.”
Piper hopped up. “Sounds like a plan.”
“That’s how I like it. Keep the women in the kitchen. Leave the real work to the men.” He winked at Piper and laid the kindling in the grate.
“Oh, my Lord. No wonder you’re still single.” Celia grabbed Piper by the hand and practically dragged her into the kitchen.
“Who would take on a project like that?”
Jacob yelled after them, “Hey, can I help it if I’m too much for any woman to handle?”
The minute the two friends were in the kitchen together, Celia threw orders rapid-fire at her. “Okay, Matt won’t be here until seven. Plenty of time for a little one-on-one time with the hermano. I can start dinner. Then I’ll say something about forgetting the milk. You go take a shower and put on anything red. Jacob loves red. And then—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. What in the hell, Celia? Are you insane?”
“One might call my deviousness insanity, but there is also something brilliant in my scheming. Admit it.” She pulled a package of celery out of one of the grocery bags and opened the refrigerator.
“I’m dating someone.” Piper handed her the milk.
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am. We’ve already talked about this.”
“Matt is nobody, Piper. He’s your rebound man. Someone safe from your past. I get it. Jim hurt you. You needed somewhere soft to land, and Matt, even though he’s an idiot, was pretty darn safe. And now it’s time to move on.”
“When did you figure this all out? When did you suddenly decide I needed to seduce your brother?” Even though outside she was emanating outrage, her insides were a mass of conflicting emotions.
“What?” The first bag was empty. She crumpled it up and tossed it toward the trash bin by the back door.
“God, I tried so hard to get the two of you together in high school.”
“You did not.”
Celia rolled her eyes. “Oh, my God, Piper. You really were that stupid.”
“I had you all wrong. I knew you had this crush on him but thought maybe you didn’t think he was smart enough for you or something. I mean, I gave you plenty of opportunities to throw yourself at him sophomore year.”
“What did you do?” Piper narrowed her eyes at her friend.
“You really didn’t know?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Let’s see. Labor Day weekend you came with us to my aunt’s house—”
“And you got sick.”
“I pretended to be sick. Didn’t you ever watch E.T.? Thermometer by the light bulb? Works every time.”
“You tricked me?” Piper pulled a bag of apples out of the second grocery bag.
“Tricked you into going alone with Jacob on that hayride? Heck, yeah. And then there was the homecoming dance and the case of the missing date.” Celia opened a cupboard and rooted around for a minute before discovering a frying pan.
“You sabotaged my date?” She dumped the apples, red-cheeked and shiny, into an empty glass bowl.
“That one almost worked. I saw the two of you. Alone. In that dark corner. Jacob’s hands all over you.”
“He was consoling me. I was crying because I thought my date stood me up, and he was nice enough to talk to me.” She picked up the bowl and carried it toward the small table across from the stove.
“Success!” Jacob appeared in the doorway and gave a little bow. “I have created fire, my ladies. Please, no applause.” He smiled, grabbed an apple out of the bowl in her hands, and took a bite of the crisp, white flesh.
“Piper’s going to take a shower.” Celia banged some pans around on the stove and avoided her friend’s eyes.
Jacob gave Piper a quick glance. There was a familiar heaviness in her chest when those green eyes turned on her. His gaze flicked quickly to her mouth then back up to her eyes. “Wanna look nice for Duncan, huh?”
A blush crept up her neck. She set the bowl on the counter and ducked past him. She scooped up her bags still sitting inside the door, and headed down the hall to any empty room she could find. Behind her, she could hear Celia say to her brother, “Darn it. I forgot to bring milk. I’ll just go run out to the store.”
Piper shut the door behind her and leaned against it. She took a breath. What was she doing? Why was she going through with Celia’s crazy plan? This was nuts.