Zane Waters carried four bulging bags of groceries through the grocery store parking lot and loaded them into the backseat of his pickup. Snow was falling harder, decorating the entire town in a fresh coating of white. Under the glow of the street lights, Main Street look like a scene Norman Rockwell might have painted. With the Rockies towering over them, he couldn’t imagine anyplace more beautiful. Living in the small town of Nugget beat the hell out of surviving in Denver. After years serving and protecting, he was happy to turn his efforts toward helping wildlife instead of people. He didn’t take nearly as much crap from the deer.
He climbed into the truck cab and slammed the door, then started the engine and pulled out of the lot. After a month on his new job spent mostly alone out in the mountains, he was ready for some human interaction…preferably with someone soft who smelled good.
An image of the redhead from the flower shop materialized. He wasn’t sure how she smelled, since the whole shop had reminded him of his grandma’s rose garden, but she’d certainly looked soft. All that beautiful red hair had slid over her curved cheek and long neck when she flicked it back, and he’d itched to bury his fingers in the thick mass. Every now and then a flare of heat in her blue eyes made him think she might be interested, too. But hitting on one woman while he was buying a corsage for another had seemed like bad form. He just hoped Joanie’s friend was half as pretty.
Zane slowed to a stop at the only stoplight in town and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel.
Despite his cousin’s assurance his date was hot, he had his doubts. The fact that she was alone on Christmas Eve and willing to go out with a perfect stranger must mean something…but then, the same was true of him. At this point, he’d be content with a woman who was good company. Funny would be an added bonus. The redhead had made him smile more than once.
When the light changed, he cruised down the street, easily navigating the slippery pavement. The conditions worsened as he left the downtown area behind and turned into the sparsely populated neighborhood where he’d rented a house. Apparently, the plows hadn’t been out this far yet. Up ahead, something pink caught in the beam of his headlights, and he took his foot off the gas.
The Flower Power van was pointed nose-first into a snowbank. The redheaded owner of the shop stood on the street with her hands on her hips. Even through the closed window of his truck, he could hear her swearing. A grin formed. Maybe she wasn’t as sweet and innocent as she looked.
He rolled to a stop some distance behind the van and turned off his engine but left his lights on. When she spun around and met his gaze through the windshield, her eyes widened.
Zane got out and slammed the door. “Need some help?” Stupid question.
Apparently, she thought so, too. She waved a hand toward the dark bulk of the mountains. “No, I thought I’d set up camp out here and wait for the moon to rise.”
He laughed out loud. “Let me rephrase that. I’m here to help. I have a shovel in the back of my truck and kitty litter. We’ll have your van free in no time.”
“God, I love a man who’s prepared. Sorry for being sarcastic, but this day couldn’t get any worse. No, I take that back. It probably will get worse, but I’d be eternally grateful if you’d help me out.”
“One good turn deserves another. That’s how karma works, and you certainly went above and beyond for me.”
“Speaking of which…shouldn’t you be at home getting ready for your date right now?”
“I’m on my way. I bought a week’s worth of groceries after I left your shop, so let’s get you unstuck before my ice cream melts.”
“At the moment, the whole world seems to be on ice.” She blew on her hands. “In fact, my guess is hell just froze over.”
“Good point.” He reached into the bed of his truck and pulled out a shovel. It looks like you skidded over a good-sized hump of snow, which is probably why you can’t get any traction to back up. I’ll shovel it out, and you can give it another try.”
“Thank you. The only good news is I don’t think I dented my van. The snowbank was pretty soft where I hit it.”
He scraped hard-packed snow away from the front tire and then rounded the back of the van to work on the second one. “It’s deeper over here. Just a heads-up, your tires don’t have much tread left.”
“I have an appointment to replace them next week. My bad for putting it off for so long.”
Bending low, he worked to dig out the icy snow. When he backed up, he bumped into her. “Oops, sorry.” He turned and slid an arm around her when she swayed. “I didn’t know you were behind me.”
She definitely smelled good, but not like flowers. Vanilla. He took an extra moment to enjoy the scent and feel of her, despite her bulky jacket, before he stepped back.
Her cheeks were pink when she met his gaze. “I was going to offer to get the kitty litter.”
“I’ll grab it. The bag is heavy.” He grunted as he lifted the sack out of his truck, then pulled a pocket knife from his jeans to slit open the bag. “I haven’t had to use any yet this winter, but with all the off-road driving I do, I’m sure this won’t be the last time.” Once he’d sprinkled litter behind both of her front tires, he returned the bag to his truck and smiled at her. “That should do the trick.”
“Thank you so much for stopping.”
He stuck his hands in the pockets of his down jacket. “Can’t leave a lady in distress by the side of the road.” What he wanted to do was reach out and touch her rosy cheek with his warm palm. “Well, I could, but I was raised better.”
“Your parents would be proud. Tell you what. Next time you need flowers for your girlfriend, they’re on the house.”
“I don’t…” He broke off. It really was cold out, and she looked like she was freezing. She didn’t need to stand around shivering while he confessed his date was actually someone his cousin’s wife had scrounged up. “Sounds good. See if you can back up now. I’ll wait to make sure you’re okay before I go.”
“Thanks again. One more delivery before I can head home.” She pulled out her phone and glanced at it. “Damn. I’m going to be so late,” she moaned. “I’m out of here.”
He waited beside his pickup while she got in her van and started the engine. The taillights flashed on, and the tires skidded a little before catching hold. She backed slowly then rolled down the window and gave him a thumbs-up.
“Have a nice time tonight,” he called.
“You, too. Just so you know. Whoever your date is, she’s a lucky girl.”
He stood on the street without moving as her van disappeared into the darkness. His date wouldn’t be lucky at all. He had a feeling he was going to spend the entire evening thinking about the blue-eyed beauty who’d just driven away.
* * * *