Shay’s stomach did a little flip when a soft knock sounded at the door. Fritz? Had he changed his mind about hanging out for a while? She hoped so. Her friend’s brother was unbelievably handsome and sweet and…a bunch of other adjectives she had no business imagining after knowing the man for less than an hour. She set down the cup of cider she’d just poured then ran a hand through hair flattened by her knit hat. Walking across the cabin, she pulled open the door. The bells on the wreath adorning it jingled.
Halleluiah. He’s back! “Couldn’t resist the thought of Christmas cookies?”
His smile was tentative. Doubt shadowed eyes the color of a deep alpine lake. “Slight problem.”
“Oh?” She motioned him inside then shut the door behind him.
“A tree fell across the road about a quarter mile from here. If I hadn’t learned my lesson about driving in a whiteout, I’d be picking pine needles out of my teeth right now.”
Her breath caught. “Are you okay?”
“Seeing that monster crash down in front of me might have scared a few years off my life, but otherwise I’m fine.” He cleared his throat. “The road’s blocked.”
“I’ll call to report it. I’m sure they’ll send a crew out to clear it away. Sit.” She pointed to a stool at the bar counter separating the living area from the kitchen. “I’ll pour you some cider.”
Minutes later Shay hung up the phone. Her stomach, along with other parts, did a few more gymnastic moves as she turned to face him. “Apparently that wasn’t the only tree the wind took out this evening, and since this isn’t a high-traffic road…” She gave a little shrug.
“They aren’t in any rush to get here.” His lips firmed. “I was afraid of that.”
“Sometime tomorrow was their best estimate.”
“If I borrow your skis…”
“You’d end up getting lost in the dark and freeze to death.” She let out a slow breath. “You’ll stay here tonight.”
Those blue eyes warmed. “You’re comfortable with that?”
He was Bridget’s brother. He seemed like a good guy. She wasn’t worried Fritz would turn into a sex-crazed lunatic at the sight of her dressed for bed in a pair of flannel pajamas. Her only concern was whether or not she could resist him. He’d taken off his jacket while she was on the phone. A thermal, waffle-knit shirt stretched across an impressive chest. Her imagination was working overtime picturing the muscles molded beneath the soft fabric.
Shay licked dry lips. In short, she wasn’t the least bit comfortable.
“Of course I’m comfortable. You’re more than welcome to stay.”
They stared at each other for a long moment, the only sound the ticking of the mantle clock above the crackling fire.
She tore her gaze away. “Um, I should bring in more wood then start dinner.”
“I’ll carry in a supply.” He reached for his jacket, draped over a second stool.
“Thanks. The wood is stacked along the side of the house.”
After shrugging on his coat, he glanced around. “I like your home. Cozy.”
“It’s small, but then I don’t need a lot of space. I’m afraid I don’t have a guest bedroom.”
“No problem. I’ll sleep on the couch.” He nodded toward open boxes of ornaments left in an empty corner of the room. “You don’t have a tree.”
“I might go cut one tomorrow, though it seems kind of pointless with just me to enjoy it since I’ll be alone for the holiday. I did put up the rest of my decorations.” She gave a half-hearted arm sweep toward the living room.
Pinecones, candles and cedar boughs graced the mantel on either side of the clock, crocheted snowflakes dangled from the front window frames, and a nativity scene covered a small end table beside the long, leather couch.
“A tree is mandatory…and you aren’t alone anymore.”
His expression warmed her to her toes and stayed with her while he hauled in logs and she heated the homemade minestrone soup she’d prepared the day before. When he went back outside after filling the wood box, Shay wondered why. She was tearing lettuce for a salad to go with the soup when he blew in with a swirl of snow, dragging the noble fir behind him.
With a grunt he settled it into the stand she’d left beside the ornaments. “Perfect size.”
“Fritz, you can’t! That tree is for your sister’s house.”
“Sure I can. They already have one in the living room. This one was for the family room, but I think Bridget can spare it.” He glanced over. “Which reminds me…I should call her. She’s probably wondering what happened to me. Do you mind if I use your land line. I don’t get any cell service out here.” His smile was self-deprecating. “I discovered that when I got the truck stuck.”
“Go for it.”
Shay tried not to listen to his conversation but couldn’t help herself when his cheeks took on a rosy hue.
“Uh, yeah, she is.” His gaze shot her way before he turned his back. “I’m not going to tell her…” His voice trailed off. “Fine. See you when they get the tree cleared.” He put the phone back in the cradle.
“Was Bridget worried?” Shay slid a loaf of crusty French bread into the oven to warm.
“Not really.” He snorted. “She sent you a message.”
“She said to tell you that you should use this opportunity to pay Vance back in kind. Whatever the hell that means.”
Shay turned with a knife gripped in her hand. “Your sister said that?”
She sliced through a tomato then chopped it into little pieces. “Not a bad idea. Not bad at all.”
“Do I even want to know what you’re talking about?”
She laid down the knife then smiled at him. The smile turned into a snort of laughter. “Your sister’s crazy, but if I work up the courage to follow her advice, you’ll be the first to know.”
“I will?”She nodded. “And if I do, this could be a Christmas neither one of us ever forgets.”
You've come this far... The conclusion of Christmas Destiny will be posted tomorrow!