Fritz made an effort to close his sagging jaw. “I’m your date?”
The auburn haired beauty didn’t look crazy. Maybe the hints of silver he’d found so fascinating in her gray eyes masked a touch of lunacy.
“The name threw me at first. Your sister told me her brother Freddy was visiting for the holidays. Since I’m dateless for the Hoffman’s Christmas Eve bash ever since I dumped my boyfriend after I caught him…never mind.” Anger flashed in Shay’s silvery eyes. “Anyway, Bridget had the bright idea the four of us could go together to what will no doubt be the biggest social event of the season.”
“You know my sister?”
“Sure. We only live a few miles apart as the crow flies, which makes Bridget and Crosby my closest neighbors. They’re the friends I mentioned I was visiting.”
“Oh.” When a coyote howled somewhere in the gathering night, he cleared his throat. “Maybe we could continue this conversation in the truck.”
“Let me grab my skis.” After she’d laid her equipment in the back beside the tree, she climbed into the cab.
He flipped on the headlights and turned up the heater. “I assume I’m going in the right direction?”
“You are.” She leaned forward, nearly pressing her nose against the windshield. “Wow, the snow’s really accumulated since I set out. This might be a little tougher than I thought.”
She flashed a smile. “Hey, we’ll get there. My cabin isn’t too far from here, but it’s several miles past to your sister and brother-in-law’s place. I took a shortcut through the woods then detoured over when I heard you swearing up a bigger storm than the one raging outside.”
His cheeks colored as he glanced her way. “As we’ve established, I had an excellent reason.”
Her answer was preceded by a quiet laugh. “Yes, you did.”
The pickup bounced and skidded slightly as they climbed a short hill. He shifted into a lower gear and gripped the wheel tighter on the descent.
“No offense, but you suck at driving in the snow.”
“I live in Hawaii…or used to. Winter driving isn’t exactly a skill I’ve had a chance to acquire.”
“Bridget mentioned Freddy was in the middle of relocating. I have to admit I was a little nervous about this double date she insisted upon. She did say you were easy on the eyes. That wasn’t an exaggeration.”
He cast another quick glance in her direction before returning his attention to the poor excuse for a road. “Thanks, I think. My sister’s the only person on the planet who still calls me Freddy. I go by Fritz.”
“Fritz suits you better. Turn here.”
“Here, where? I don’t see—”
“Between those two fir trees. That’s my driveway.” She gripped the armrest as he made the turn. “Good grief, I need to get out the snow blower.”
He plowed down the narrow lane and pulled to a stop in front of a detached, single car garage. A small cabin made of split logs sat a short distance away, tucked up against the hillside. “I didn’t even notice your home when I drove past earlier.”
“It’s kind of hidden from the road.”
His hands dropped from the steering wheel. “It’s nice back here.”
She turned to face him. “Thanks for the ride. Um, do you want to come in, maybe have a cookie and some hot cider?”
At the hesitancy in her eyes, a slow heat started in his belly and coiled upward around his heart. Had her earlier confidence masked an underlying vulnerability?
“I’d like to, but I’m afraid I won’t make it out of your driveway if I wait to leave. As you pointed out, driving in the snow isn’t one of my strong suits, though I swear I do have a few.” He tossed her a quick smile.
She grinned back. “I’m sure when it comes to maneuvering a surfboard, you could give me lessons.”
A vision of Shay in a bikini fogged his brain. He was dead certain there were spectacular curves hidden beneath the slim-fitting jacket. “You find a wave, and I’ll teach you to ride it.” His voice held a husky undertone he covered with a cough.
Pull it together, moron. She invited you in for hot cider, not hot sex.
When she opened the car door, a blast of cold air swept into the cab. “I guess I’ll see you on Christmas Eve, then.”
“Tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it.”
She slid off the seat to land up to her knees in snow then turned to face him. “I enjoyed meeting you, Fritz.” Hesitating for a moment, she let out a breath. “Good night.”
The door shut before he could respond. He waited as she took her skis from the truck bed then waded through the snow to the front porch of the cabin. With a final wave, she slipped inside.
He put the pickup in reverse, and with a few jerks, managed a three point turn to face back down the driveway. Why hadn’t his sister told him her neighbor was smoking hot? Before he’d set out in search of the perfect tree, she’d mentioned a friend was dropping by. Too bad she’d failed to add the friend was prettier than a Christmas angel.
Good God, I sound like the biggest dweeb on the planet.
Fritz rolled his eyes. The tires slid a little as he nosed the truck out onto the road then slowly picked up speed. Snow fell in heavy drifts with the headlights doing little to illuminate the winding track between a tunnel of evergreens as the wipers slapped furiously across the windshield. His grip on the wheel tightened. A huge gust of wind blew abreast of the pickup, shaking the vehicle and swirling around him in an opaque cloud of white. He let off the gas and slowed to a stop, waiting for his vision to clear.
“White Christmas my ass! Give me a palm tree and a beach any day.”
Groaning and creaking penetrated through the howling wind. He frowned. What the hell was that? It sounded like—
A sharp crack. A sudden whoosh as limbs and trunk plummeted across the road—landing inches from his front bumper.
“Holy mother of God.” His heart lodged in his throat, nearly suffocating him. If he’d rolled even a few feet farther, he’d have been flattened like a piece of wrapping paper.
With a shaking hand, Fritz put the truck in reverse and backed slowly down the road until finally, with an exhalation of pure relief, he reached Shay’s driveway.She’d offered him hot cider and a cookie before. He hoped the invitation was still open.
If you're enjoying my story, stop by tomorrow for Part Three of Christmas Destiny!