She peered through the snow-spattered windshield at the neon sign and hoped like hell there was room at the inn. Had Brooke Myers known a snowstorm of epic proportions was due to hit the area, she would have delayed her trip to Vermont. Of course, traveling north in December was no doubt guaranteed to include snow, but not one meteorologist had predicted these blizzard conditions before she’d left sunny Texas. Her flight into Burlington had been on schedule, but by the time she’d rented a car, the snow had started to fall.
By. The. Ton.
She still had another hour’s drive to meet her parents at the ski lodge. Continuing at this point in the dark and terrible weather, however, was just asking for trouble. If she could shack up here at… at…
“Deer Creek Inn,” she read after squinting at the sign her headlights illuminated. She couldn’t see much of the inn through the white sheet of falling snow, but she’d stay anywhere right now to not have to drive any longer.
Assuming there was an available room.
“There has to be.” Brooke hit the gas and slid into the first empty parking space she found. How many people decided to spend the holidays in the frigid woods of Vermont? Most people were smarter than that. Most people packed their bags and went to a tropical location in the middle of winter. Most people she knew anyway.
That was why she was so surprised when her parents announced a skiing holiday excursion for this Christmas. Normally the Myers family convened somewhere exotic, somewhere south to celebrate. Brooke’s father would simply send airline tickets and resort reservations to his four children scattered about the United States, and it was expected that everyone would show up at the destination, full of yuletide spirit. Brooke was still searching for that spirit. Hopefully it’d show up before she had to actually see her parents.
The last time they’d all been together had been at her sister’s wedding this past summer. Her younger sister’s wedding, where her family had done their best to hound her about when she’d be getting married. Brooke had assured them an engagement was just around the corner because surely her serious boyfriend of three years was about the pop the question. She’d been right too.
About the wrong question.
“Can we see other people, Brooke?” he’d asked on her birthday.
She’d been just about to dive into the huge hunk of chocolate cake the waiter had brought over to their table at their favorite restaurant. “What?”
Needless to say she hadn’t been back to that restaurant since. A shame really. That cake was to die for.
Puffing out a breath now, she zipped up the winter coat she’d had to buy specifically for this trip. She pulled on a pair of gloves and eyed the front door of the inn. Why did it have to be so far away? The parking lot wasn’t plowed and the walkway wasn’t shoveled. With snow falling this fast, Brooke understood why, but her boots were in the trunk somewhere, buried under all the junk she’d packed.
I’ll just have to make a run for it.
She was at least wearing sneakers and if she stayed in the car any longer, she wouldn’t have to worry about getting a room at the inn because she’d be frozen to the driver’s seat.
With a quick thought of warm Texas sunshine, Brooke opened the car door and hopped out of the small rental sedan that had no business driving down snowy Vermont roads. She pulled the hood of her jacket up and took off for the front door of the inn. Heavy, wet snow sloshed into her sneakers, but she kept moving and made it across the parking lot. A laugh bubbled out of her as she thought about her colleagues back at the Silver Saddle nightclub in Texas. They were accustomed to seeing her manage and sing at the club she’d started from scratch herself. If they’d caught even a glimpse of her bundled up and darting through snow in the dark, desperate for cover, they’d fall over in hysterics. Wait until she got back home and told them this tale.
Brooke stepped onto what she assumed was the walkway, but it was hard to tell with all the snow. Everything looked the same bluish white in the floodlights shining from the inn’s porch roof. She trudged forward, putting her arm out to shield her face from the wind and snow.
Which was why she didn’t see that she’d veered off the walkway a bit. Not until she took her next step and her left leg sunk into snow up to her thigh. The rest of her body got thrown off balance and she fell, face first, into the bank. She struggled against the snow’s hold on her and something low in her back wrenched the wrong way.
The blizzard wind swallowed her holler. Brooke tried to break free, but the pain in her back radiated throughout her body each time she moved her limbs. She had to get up though. Had to get out of the freezing snow and into that inn. Had to have someone massage the throbbing ache in her back, in her head, in her…
Brooke’s heart beat wildly as she snapped awake. Crap. She’d passed out from the pain and from imagining all the ways she could die if she didn’t get free. How long had she been out here? Long enough that her strength was at zero and parts of her body had gone numb. She got her hand into her jacket pocket only to remember she’d left her cell phone in the car because she’d been using it to listen to an audio book on the drive.
This would only happen to me. All her family members were probably nestled by a roaring fire at the ski lodge by now. Too bad her family would have to remember this Christmas as The One When Brooke Froze to Death.
A low howl sounded from the dark woods bordering the inn. It sounded like something… big. Brooke pulled the sides of her hood tighter around her face as a second howl echoed the first.
Great. Not only did she have to worry about freezing to death, she also had to try not to look like prey.
More howls erupted from the white-washed shadows, sounding more and more like an entire pack of… dogs? They had to be some mighty huge dogs to let loose howls like these. Did Vermont have wolves? Were they active in the winter?
Did they eat nightclub owners from Texas?
When the next howl vibrated from the trees, the front door of the inn opened, spilling golden light onto the porch. A silhouette filled the doorway and Brooke called out, “Help!” Her voice cut in and out though, and the silhouette disappeared as the door closed. Brooke’s shoulders sagged and fresh pain zinged down her spine.
A moment later the door opened again and the silhouette came onto the porch. It was slightly larger and Brooke realized the person had donned a jacket.
“Hello?” a deep male voice called above the wind. “Is someone out there?”
“Yes!” Brooke’s voice was barely a rasp. She’d already been outside in the cold too long. She couldn’t yell any louder.
The silhouette came down the front steps but was looking toward the other side of the walkway. She had to do something to get noticed or this would definitely be her last Christmas.
Using what little strength she had left, she grabbed two glovefuls of snow—though her back protested at the movement—and packed them together into a tight ball. She took aim and sailed that snowball right into the silhouette’s back where it exploded.
The silhouette flinched and turned around, his gaze connecting with hers. “Oh my God!”
Brooke fell forward just as the silhouette reached her. Strong arms caught her before she hit the snow. A second later, a warm jacket was wrapped around her shoulders and she was lifted out of the bank completely.
A wail of pain escaped her throat as she was jostled.
“You’re going to be okay, lass,” a soothing male voice with just a touch of an Irish accent said. “Let’s get you inside.”No sweeter words had ever hit Brooke’s ears.
Come back tomorrow for the second part of Melt My Heart!
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