Snow looked great in pictures but as a Montana transplant there were a lot of things about winter that had taken Lucy DeMarco by surprise. Her pipes had frozen in her newly built home, her own fault not anyone else’s, and she had to rely on the kindness of strangers… Normally she didn’t identify too strongly with Blanche Dubois but today she was feeling it.
Her business neighbor Lane Scott – US Marine Corps (Retired) – had offered to let her use his temporarily empty ranch house part-way up Paradise Valley, until she got her pipes fixed. Lane himself and the entire rest of the Scott family were at the main Scott ranch getting ready for the double wedding of two of his brothers, Hudson and Carson.
Lucy thought it was sweet and could think of nothing better than a candle light Christmas Eve ceremony – as long as both marriages lasted. Otherwise no one was going to like Christmas much.
She closed her eyes as she rinsed the conditioner out of her hair and then opened them to find that the whole house was dark. Great.
That was what she got for being cynical. Bad juju as her mom used to say. She felt a pang in her stomach as she remembered that Lydia wasn’t her mom. Not really. Not biologically. At twenty-eight Lucy had thought she would be hitting her stride and really coming to a full understanding of who she was as an adult, but instead last year her father had told her on his deathbed that she was adopted.
Her entire life no one had said anything, even though these days most families seemed to go for honesty about where their kids came from, and suddenly everything she’d ever believed about herself seemed like a lie.
She shook her head. She needed to deal with the electricity problem now.
Actually that was the way she’d been handling everything since her father—Tony’s—funeral. She’d just kept moving forward. Not stopping, not thinking. But it was Christmas and for the first time all the traditions she’d always claimed as her own somehow didn’t seem to belong to her anymore.
Which was why she’d been dodging phone calls from her cousins in Cherry Lake and why she’d settled here in Marietta, five hours from them, instead of choosing somewhere closer. She needed distance to come to terms with the news of her parentage.
But birth mom or not, Lydia had been right about karma.
Lucy apologized to the universe, hoping to reverse her energy for the day. She grabbed the towel from where she’d slung it over the rod and towelled off before wrapping it around her body. She’d left her cell phone on the bathroom counter beside her clothes, and fumbled for it.
She hit the iPhone flashlight, almost blinding herself when the bright light reflected off the mirror. She saw her hair hanging in thick wet ribbons around her neck and her face, which looked… well… tense.
Moving from California to the outskirts of Marietta had been necessary, but the stress of starting a new café, literally from the foundations up, and settling in to such a remote place had weighed on her.
Still thinking about that physical and emotional journey, she opened the bathroom door and stepped out in the hallway, slamming into a solid masculine chest. She yelped. Almost screamed.
The man grabbed her as she stumbled and she found herself wrapped in a pair of very warm, very strong arms. She looked up, but her phone had fallen flashlight side down so he was all shadows. She was close enough to see the faint stubble of beard on his jaw. He smelled of snow and pine, and if there was danger, he didn’t smell of that.
She wedged her arm between them. She wanted to believe that the good thought she’d just put out in the universe had netted her this cowboy but she knew that probably wasn’t the case.
“Well, hello, gorgeous.” The deep male voice was all laconic Old West. For a minute she thought maybe she’d conjured him up from the images of Nineteenth Century Marietta that she’d seen hanging on the walls of the guest bedroom Lane had offered to let her use.
But no, he looked real and solid, standing in the hallway as she exited the bathroom. She had left her robe in the guest room since she’d thought she was alone, and only had a towel wrapped around her naked body.
“Hello. Who are you?” she asked. Her voice sounded a bit squeakier than usual.
“Trey Scott. And I thought this was my brother’s house,” he said in a deep baritone that sent the right kind of shivers down her spine. Even his breath smelled nice. Minty and warm as it brushed across her cheek.
Trey Scott? He did look vaguely like Lane, who’d offered to let her stay here until the plumbing in her newly built home on the edge of town was fixed.
“Lane thought you were delayed in Chicago until Thursday…he’s across at your brother Alec’s place,” Lucy said.
“That still doesn’t explain why you’re naked in his house.”
“I’m just borrowing the shower, and a bed for the night,” she said. “My pipes froze. I’m Lucy DeMarco. Why aren’t you at the main ranch with everyone else?”
“I wasn’t sure I could make it that far. The snow is falling fast and heavy and I decided it was safer to stop at Lane’s than continue on. I knew he’d be at Alec’s. I didn’t think I’d be disturbing anyone, here.”
She stepped a few feet back from him and bent to retrieve her phone, carefully holding on to her towel. She’d been a competitive swimmer in high school so she knew the mechanics of towels, and usually once she wrapped one around her body it stayed put. No sense chancing it around this particular member of the Scott family, however. Lane and Hudson were friendly and treated her like a kid sister so she’d sort of treated them the same way. But there were no brotherly feelings toward Trey, she discovered. He had been all hot, American male from the moment she’d noticed him.
She wasn’t sure what was in the water here in Montana but they grew their men tall, solid, and without an ounce of fat anywhere on their frames. She flicked the light up and caught her breath as she took in the strong jaw, the crooked ridge of nose and the intense look in his dark chocolate brown eyes. Lane’s were grey she thought vaguely.
And where Lane had an affable look about him, Trey seemed intense. Given to brooding?
Normally that was her kind of guy. The depths contrasted with her own sunny nature. But the past year had changed her. She wasn’t the happy-go-lucky-gal she’d been before her father had gotten sick.
Trey’s shoulders were broad and his chest all muscly under a thermal t-shirt. His torso tapered down to a lean waist. His jeans were faded, his thighs solid and his cowboy boots looked worn not new. She wondered what his butt looked like.
She doubted he’d stand still while she checked him out from the back.
He cleared his throat and she glanced up to meet his gaze. He arched one eyebrow at her and she blushed but shrugged. He was a good-looking man, he must be used to women checking him out. “What?” she said.
“Enjoying the view?”
“I am,” she admitted, then pulled her gaze away. That shouldn’t have been difficult, but somehow was. “So do you know where the fuse box is?”
“I do. I’ve already checked it out. It’s not a blown fuse, I think the power is off at the transformer. I have no idea if Lane has a generator at this place, and my cell has zero bars. Yours?” he asked.
She glanced at the left corner of her phone and saw she had the no service message. “None.”
“I’ve made a fire downstairs but heard the water running so came to investigate. I had no idea I’d find you,” he said.
“But I’m happy I have.”
“I should get dressed,” she said, taking a step back.
“Not on my account,” he said with a wink.
She shook her head.
“I’ll meet you downstairs in a little while.”
He disappeared and she smiled to herself thinking he was just the distraction she needed to get through the holiday season.