Winter in Minnesota didn’t rate high on my list of
seasons, but I couldn’t imagine spending Christmas anywhere else. The pristine
snow, the crisp, fresh air and the rainbow-colored lights decorating
snow-covered roofs reminded me of a Hallmark movie. I loved shopping at the
Mall of America for gifts and watching the Holidazzle electric light parade in
downtown Minneapolis, but my favorite event always happened on the second
weekend in December. That’s when I met up with my best friends for three days
of good wine, more food than we could ever eat and lots and lots of laughter.
We’d grown up in the same northeast Minneapolis neighborhood—Ellie, Jeanette,
Ginny, Sarah and me—and through the years, were inseparable until our careers
took us in different directions. Now that we’d hit our mid-thirties, it had
become more difficult than ever to schedule a “girls only” weekend, but we’d
made it a priority.
cabin in Breezy Point, Minnesota. Frankly, I didn’t know why they called it a
cabin. The multi-level monstrosity had six bedrooms, four baths, a den, two
kitchens and two living rooms. In the lower kitchen, the Stone family cooked
all their meals. The upper kitchen, the one with the beautiful view of Gull
Lake, they used to stock all their booze.
early this year. Ellie’s family had always considered me “one of the bunch” and
had no problem with my coming up ahead of time. I needed to take a break from
my photography business, something I hadn’t allowed myself to do for a long
time. Lately, though, I’d begun to question the price of success. I had a
thriving business, but the toll it placed on my life was slowly burning me out.
The thought of spending four days alone in that big house with nothing to do
but sip wine in front of a crackling fire would be good for me; it would also
force me to give some serious thought to the dismal state of my love life.
snow-covered alley, I pulled into the back and parked in the driveway in front
of the tuck-under garage. Thankfully, someone had cleared away the snow and
shoveled the sidewalks. I slid out of the car and drew in a deep breath of
fresh air, taking a much-needed stretch from the two-hour drive from
Minneapolis. Even though the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky, the
temperature hovered around twenty degrees. Anxious to get out of the cold, I
grabbed my bag and the tote containing my four-week-old kitten and bounded up
the cement stairway. The Stone family always hid a spare key under the planter
next to the back door. I let myself in through the screen porch to the lower
level kitchen and living room.
the rocking chair. The rest of my gear landed on the sofa in front of the
fireplace before I dumped my coat and made my way to the bathroom. I turned on
the water in the tub and stripped down to my undergarments. A nice hot bath
sounded like the perfect way to kick off my vacation.
room across the hallway. My heart slammed into overdrive as a frightening
thought raced through my head.
hanging on the back of the door and wrapped it around myself then peeked
through a narrow crack in the opening. I didn’t see anyone in the living room
but finding the immediate area empty didn’t bolster my courage. I needed to
call 9-1-1 and my phone lay tucked in my purse across the room.
and hope the intruder just goes away.
phone. Run. Now.”
rushing water from the bathtub faucet made enough noise to mask my footsteps. I
scurried over to my purse and snatched the phone then made a beeline back to
the bathroom. Got the door open and almost made it inside when a large hand
gripped my shoulder.
fast I hardly knew I’d opened my mouth. My body shuddered and the phone went
flying as the strong hand pivoted me, bringing me face to face with my
me transformed into jaw-clenching anger.
What are you doing sneaking around the house?”
gap in time did nothing to cool my foaming-at-the-mouth resentment of the kid
who’d spent the entirety of his youth teasing me.
but a pair of skin-tight jeans, barely zipped with the top snap gaping open.
I’d seen him wearing less at the beach, but even his favorite chino shorts had
never looked this good on him. Before I knew it, my gaze quickly traveled from
his slim waist to the width of his broad shoulders and smooth, muscular chest.
Embarrassed by my obvious curiosity, I looked away. This body did not match the
scrawny kid I used to wrangle with growing up. When did all this happen? I
mean, I knew most ball players worked out to gain strength and boost their
power to hit a baseball for a living. I’d watched Chris on television and on
the big screen at the ballpark, but I never imagined him looking this good up
appearance as he yawned and ran a hand through his tousled dark hair. “I wasn’t
sneaking around,” he said in a smooth, deep voice. “I was sleeping. You woke me
stomach. “Are you—are you alone?”
you doing here?”
away from the crowds—I crash. What are you doing here?”
I said matter-of-factly and raised one brow to let him know he’d better crash
up the decorations so the place would look great when the girls arrive,” I said
lying through my teeth. He didn’t need to know my real plans.
and picked up my phone. “I thought for a minute there you were trying to get
rid of me.”
be in the way. Don’t you have to get back to the cities to get ready for a hot
date with your girlfriend or something?” Whoever she is this week…
twitch in his cheek, as though the whole “date” situation didn’t set well with
him. It didn’t surprise me considering the high-profile women he
chased—Hollywood starlets, models and pop singers—Queen Bee Central. He changed
girlfriends with the same frequency most men took their shirts to the laundry.
Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but just the same…
vacuum and do whatever it is you need to do.” His eyes flashed when I shook my
head. “What’s your problem?”
hand. “I’m not in the mood to spend the next four days dodging a guy who likes
to play practical jokes on me. You know, like throwing water balloons,
unscrewing the top off the salt and pepper shakers, flipping my glass of soda
upside down on the table, hiding a whoopee cushion under a blanket on my
chair,” and his crowning achievement, “putting a live snake down my shirt?”
that? I did those things when we were kids.”
me mad and I didn’t trust him one bit. “Yes,” I said in my snippiest voice,
“and I’m soooo not in the mood for any of your antics this week.”
cause an ounce of trouble. I promise.” His gaze suddenly dropped to the front
of my body and his eyes widened. “Uh, but I can’t say the same for you.”
with black polka dot Victoria’s Secret undies in full view. “A-h-h-h-h-h!” My
scream this time had more to do with frustration than fright. I jerked my robe
shut and stormed into the bathroom, determined not to give my childhood nemesis
the satisfaction of seeing my face turn crimson like he had so often in the