A grumpy lumberjack
Former Army Ranger Harrison Wilkes isn't actually a lumberjack, but he's doing his best impression while hiding out in the mountains of East Tennessee. He needs to rest, recharge, and stay the hell away from people, while he wrestles with ghosts from his past and figures out his future. Neither includes a snowbound rescue of his favorite author.
A runaway writer
Ivy Blake is on a deadline. Her hero is MIA, and she's desperate to find some peace, quiet, and inspiration to get her book—and her life—back on track. She doesn't plan on driving off a mountain. Or the mysterious stranger who shows up to save her.
Who's rescuing who?
When Winter Stormageddon traps them together, Ivy finds the inspiration she didn't know she needed in her real-life hero. As more than the fireplace heats up his one-man cabin, they both find far more than they bargained for. This intuitive author just might have the answers Harrison's looking for, but will their newfound connection survive past the storm?
Release date: January 24, 2018
Publisher: Take The Leap Publishing
Print pages: 201
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Listen to a sample
Baby, It's Cold Outside
“Where are your pages, Ivy?”
Ivy Blake winced at the snap of her agent’s voice on the other end of the phone. Marianne was pulling out her stern, mom-of-three tone. That was never good. “They’re coming.”
At some theoretical, future time that was actually true.
“You’ve been saying that for weeks. And you’ve been avoiding me. You only do that when the words aren’t flowing.”
You have no idea.
“The book’s been giving me a smidge of trouble.” Understatement of the century. “But I promise, I’m nearly done.” Flagrant lie. Ivy wondered if Marianne’s Momdar was sounding an alarm. Ivy’s own mama had an Eyebrow of Doom that could be heard over the phone when engaged.
“You have to give me something to give to Wally. I can’t hold him off much longer.”
Walter Caine—who inexplicably went by Wally, a fact that made it utterly impossible to take him seriously—was currently at the top of Ivy’s avoid-at-all-costs list. Her editor was brilliant but a bit like a banty rooster when he got angry. He had deadlines. Of course, Ivy understood that. Everything about publishing involved deadlines. He’d absolutely blow a gasket if he knew she was still on Chapter One. The thirteenth version.
It was probably a sign.
“Next week.” Was this what it felt like to be in debt to a bookie? Making absurd promises in hopes of avoiding broken kneecaps or cement shoes? Except in this case it was Ivy’s career, not her actual life, in danger.
“Ivy.” Marianne drew her name out to four syllables, which was tantamount to being middle-named by her mama.
Ivy hunched her shoulders. “I swear I’m finishing up the book. In fact, I’m taking a special trip for the express purpose of focusing on nothing but that until it’s done.”
Where the hell had that come from? She had no such plans. Apparently in lieu of offering up reasonable plot, her brain had decided to just spew spontaneous, bald-faced lies.
Her agent sighed. “Fine. How can I reach you?”
In for a penny…
“Oh, well, you can’t. There’s no internet up there, and I was warned that cell service is spotty. The cabin has absolute privacy and no distractions. It’s perfect.”
Actually, something like that did sound perfect. If she went totally off the grid, Marianne and Wally wouldn’t know where to send the hitman when she missed her deadline. The one that had already been pushed back once.
You’ve never missed a final deadline, and you’re not going to start now.
Marianne offered another beleaguered sigh. “Find an internet connection and check in on Monday or I’m hunting you down, understand?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Ivy had no doubt she meant it. Despite her trio of children and the stable of other writers she managed, Marianne would absolutely get herself on a plane and show up on Ivy’s doorstep if she thought it would get results.
“I’ll do what I can to hold off Wally. This morning’s starred review at Kirkus for Hollow Point Ridge should appease him for a little while. You know he loves nothing more than seeing you rack up acclaim.”
“Because acclaim means dollar signs for us all,” Ivy recited. As if she could forget that it was more than just her depending on income from her books.
“Damn straight. I forwarded the review to you. Check your email before you go,” Marianne ordered.
She’d already seen the review this morning. Somebody had posted it in her fan group, which had generated a discussion thread that was already twenty pages deep about where she planned to go with the series next. But bringing that up would only prolong this conversation.
For just a moment, Ivy considered coming clean and telling Marianne the stark, unvarnished truth. Her agent was, ultimately, meant to be her advocate. But right now, she was only more pressure. So Ivy held in her snort of derision as she hung up the phone and tossed it on her desk.
It had been a long damned time since she’d been happy writing. The truth was, she had a raging case of writer’s block, and she was already weeks past her initial deadline. That wasn’t like her at all. She was a machine. Her first three books had poured out of her. The next three were each successively bigger, deeper, harder. And with each had come more success and higher expectations from her publisher, who wanted to capitalize on momentum to maximize sales. That was a business decision on their part. She was a commodity. Ivy understood that. And up to now, she’d been able to work with it.
But along with the professional pressures had come the rabid excitement of her fans. They loved the world she created, the characters she’d given them, and not a day went by when she didn’t get emails and messages on social media demanding to know when the next book was coming because OMG they needed it yesterday! They had no idea the months, sometimes years of work that went into each book. What ate up her entire life occupied theirs for mere hours or days. And their insatiable enthusiasm was just one more stone piling on and crushing her with stress.
This book wasn’t like the other six in her best-selling series, and she just hadn’t found the right hook yet.
She would. Of course, she would. She just needed some more time and less pressure.
“Why don’t you ask for world peace, while you’re at it?”
Dropping into her office chair, Ivy shoved back from the desk and rolled across her office to the massive whiteboard occupying one wall. At this stage, the whole surface should’ve been covered with color-coded sticky notes detailing the assorted character arcs and how they drove and were driven by the action of the external plot. But it was empty other than the scrawl of “Michael” at the top in red marker. Below it a bright yellow note read, You are a stubborn, taciturn asshole, who won’t talk to me. In a fit of pique and stress cleaning earlier in the week, she’d stripped away version number twelve of her plot. Now she couldn’t face the blank space.
Page fright was so much a real thing.
Maybe she should get away. Find one of those out-of-the-way cabins to rent, with no phone, no internet, no way to be crushed under the weight of other people’s expectations. Maybe then she could hear herself think.
Rolling back to her computer, she opened a browser, compulsively clicking on the little envelope that told her she had seventy-nine unread messages.
She’d cleared her inbox this morning.
“Why do I do this to myself?”
She started to close it out when a subject line caught her attention.
Come visit the brand new spa at The Misfit Inn!
She’d forgotten about The Misfit Inn. Last summer, she and several girlfriends had taken a weekend trip up there in spontaneous celebration of Deanna’s divorce. The owners had mentioned they were considering adding a spa. Ivy had signed up for the mailing list and promptly forgotten about it. She opened the email, feeling the first hints of excitement as she read it. Okay, maybe that was desperation. But really? A spa? One set right in the gorgeous Smoky Mountains, just four short hours away? She desperately needed to relax. It had to be a sign from the Universe.
Someone answered on the second ring. “Thank you for calling The Misfit Inn. This is Pru. How can I help you?”
Ivy remembered Pru, the kind-hearted woman who’d done everything possible to make the inn feel like home.
“This is Ivy Blake. I don’t know if you remember me, but a bunch of girlfriends and I stayed with y’all last summer for a Thank God I’m Divorced party weekend—”
“Deanna’s group! Yes, certainly we remember y’all.”
“Well, I got the email about the opening of the spa, and it did say call to ask about booking specials that covered the inn and spa, so here I am.”
“Wonderful!” The genuine warmth in Pru’s voice had some of the knots relaxing. “How many?”
“In need of some pampering?”
“You have no idea.”
“Okay then. When were you wanting to come?”
The sooner the better. “Um…today?”
“Today! Good gracious. Y’all are all about the spontaneity aren’t you?”
Sure, let’s call it that. “I know it’s last-minute, but I was hoping to book two weeks.”
“We can certainly accommodate that. But you should know before you make the drive that we’re supposed to be having some really serious winter weather. Full-on snow and ice. The drive is liable to be pretty nasty and there’s a really good chance you could get snowed in.”
Snowed in at an inn and spa for two weeks, far away from everyone who knew her? “That sounds absolutely perfect. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
* * *
Grief smelled of onions, cheese, and cream of something soup. Multiple tables groaned under the weight of death casseroles along one wall of the church fellowship hall. The scent of it wafted over as Harrison Wilkes walked in, simultaneously curdling his stomach and making it growl. A quick scan of the room told him the widow hadn’t made it over from the cemetery yet, but he spotted the man he’d come to support hovering near the dessert table. Careful not to make eye contact with the other mourners, Harrison wove his way through the crowd.
If possible, Ty looked worse than he had during the service. But then, he was here against medical advice and had served as a pall bearer. Sweat beaded along his brow. His shoulder had to be hurting like a son of a bitch from over-exertion.
“Sit your ass down before you fall down, Brooks.”
Ty lifted bloodshot eyes to Harrison’s. “You’re not my CO.”
“I’m still your friend.” He took a step closer and lowered his voice. “You did your duty to Garrett. Don’t you go blowing all the work you’ve done in PT by pushing yourself too far.”
Ty’s pale face turned mulish, but before he could pop off, another familiar voice interrupted.
“Step aside, y’all. I’ve got food to add to the table.”
Sebastian Donnelly muscled his way past, a casserole dish in hand. Its contents smelled both familiar and noxious.
“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Harrison said.
Sebastian plunked the dish down on the table and took off the foil. “My famous barbeque beef casserole.”
“More like infamous,” Ty said. “Only you would try to make a casserole out of MREs.”
“I tried to talk him out of it.” Porter Ingram joined the group. “We all know how much Garrett hated that shit.”
Sebastian straightened, suddenly sober. “Yeah, but he’d hate this damned wake even more.”
They all lapsed into silence, aware of the dubious privilege of standing here able to bitch and moan about the wake. A privilege Garrett didn’t have.
Everything about this sucked. Funerals sucked to begin with, no matter who they were for. They sucked worse when it was a friend. Someone you’d fought alongside, who’d saved your ass, who should’ve made it home. And they sucked most when they brought up old shit you were still trying to move past. There were too many ghosts stirred up for anybody to be comfortable.
“Come on. Let’s either make plates or go sit down.” Porter’s voice interrupted Harrison’s thoughts.
“I’m not hungry,” Ty insisted.
“Then let’s get out of the way for the people who are.” Porter smoothly managed to nudge him toward a table.
“Always the peacemaker,” Harrison murmured.
“Yeah, he’s good at that.” Sebastian picked up a paper plate and began filling it from the assortment of dishes, skipping his own offering to the spread.
Not knowing what else to do, Harrison fell in behind him.
“How are you doing with all this?” Sebastian asked.
It was instinct to deflect. “Better than Ty.”
They both looked across the room, where he’d finally sat, shoulders bowed, head bent as if he couldn’t hold it up anymore. Porter had a chair pulled up, talking to him in a low voice, one hand on his arm.
Sebastian scooped up some kind of hash brown casserole. “You think he’ll come back from this?”
“You never come back from this. Not really.” Harrison twitched his shoulders inside the jacket of his suit, wishing the thing didn’t feel like a straitjacket.
Glancing at Ty, seeing the clench of his jaw, the lines of strain fanning out from his eyes, Harrison knew exactly the kind of shit going through his buddy’s head. He’d been there. It was the reason he’d left the Army. It didn’t feel like three years. Not when so many familiar faces filled the room. Men he’d fought with, bled with. Many were still fighting the fight. In his own way, so was he. But he couldn’t do what they did. Not anymore.
Harrison trailed Sebastian across the room, nodding acknowledgments to those who greeted him, but not stopping until he reached Ty’s table. Ty went silent, straightening in his chair with a Styrofoam cup he no doubt wished held something stronger than sweet tea, as they all realized Bethany Reeves had just arrived.
Ty hadn’t spoken to her at the funeral. He hadn’t even been able to go near her. He blamed himself for Garrett’s death. Wrongly. But none of them could talk him out of that at this stage. So the three of them ranged around him, buffers between their friend and everybody else here. They shoveled in food and talked football and other stupid, civilian shit because he needed distraction and it was all they could do here. But they each tracked Bethany’s progress around the room and braced themselves when she made her way to Ty.
He didn’t bolt. Ty was no coward and his mother had raised him better than that. But Harrison knew he wanted to.
Bethany’s face was ravaged by grief as she reached out for Ty’s hand. “Ty.”
Her expression twisted. “Don’t you ma’am me, Tyson Brooks. You were the closest thing Garrett had to a brother, and that makes you family.”
Ty’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “I loved him like a brother.”
“I know you did.” She tried to smile, but tears streamed down her face. “He got out because of you. You’re a hero for that.”
Ty shoved to his feet so fast his chair tipped over, the metal clattering against the industrial tile floor as he jerked his hand from Bethany’s. In the sudden silence, his words sounded too loud. “I’m no hero.”
He walked out without another word. With apologetic looks at Bethany, Sebastian and Porter followed, no doubt to make sure he didn’t do something stupid. That left Harrison to find the right thing to say to the poor woman to smooth things over. Fuck.
He didn’t know how much Bethany knew about the details of her husband’s death. Some of the details were classified, as Ranger missions often were. There were things he didn’t know himself, but could easily fill in from experience. And he knew those things wouldn’t bring comfort to Garrett’s widow. In truth, he had no idea how to comfort those left behind. Standing beside her, looking into her stricken face, he felt all the old impotence rise up, strong enough to choke him.
Harrison didn’t know what he said to Bethany. His head was too full of the visits he’d had to make to the significant others of his own men. But he said something, taking a moment to squeeze her hand because even he could tell she needed human connection. The grasp of her cold, clammy fingers sent him back, until his head echoed with tears and recriminations. Needing to get the hell out, he made his excuses and all but ran for the exit.
Outside the fellowship hall, he braced his hands against the trunk of a car and sucked in big, cleansing lungfuls of the cold, winter air. It was so cold it hurt, colder than it should be in north Georgia this time of year. But the pain was good. The pain brought him back to the now.
Harrison straightened and turned to Porter. “Where’s Ty?”
“Sebastian took him home. He’s gonna stick around a while, keep an eye on him.”
“Good.” Ty didn’t need to be left alone right now. He had a long, dark road ahead.
Porter angled his head, studying Harrison with eyes that saw too much. “You’re not looking so great.”
Because it was Porter, because he’d see through the bullshit, Harrison admitted the truth. “I need to get the hell out of here.”
“I’ve got a cabin nobody’s using. It’s a chunk out from town, away from everything and everybody. It’s yours if you want it. Peace and quiet and a chance to get your head screwed on straight. And Eden’s Ridge is closer than you driving all the way home.”
The whole idea of being in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of Tennessee, away from people and pressures, where he could think was beyond appealing. He had some decisions to make. It would be easier to make them without all the reminders of the past.
“Lead the way.”
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