Dr. Ian Finnegan knows all about brains; hearts, not so much. He’s ready to find the perfect match, someone as logical and sensible as he is. When the matchmaker he’s hired suggests he improve his seduction skills, he’s not sure where to turn—until he plucks a damsel in distress from the side of a snowy Alaska highway. She might be a “hot mess,” but Chrissie Yates could be just the fun and flirty tutor he needs.
Chrissie hasn’t been back to Lost Harbor since her eccentric recluse of a grandfather sent her away at the age of seventeen. Her family now consists of her beloved yellow lab and her broken-down car. Why Gramps has left her his property, she has no idea. She hopes to get in and out as quick as she can, but reconnecting with old friends and her quirky hometown makes her yearn for something she didn’t know she needed. Then there’s the sexy newcomer…
Flirting lessons turn to something more passionate, as Chrissie makes Ian feel things he never dreamed. Is it possible he had the wrong idea about who’s right for him? Can he put his new skills to good use … before a deadly storm threatens all he holds dear?
Release date: March 9, 2021
Print pages: 320
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Flirting with Forever
“Don’t stop, Prince Valiant. You’re my hero. Come on, don’t let me down now. Just a little more. Oh yeah. That’s the way. Nooo…crap.”
Chrissie Yates swung the wheel of Prince Valiant—her nickname for her not-so-trusty gold Pontiac—and coasted to a stop on the shoulder of the quiet mountain pass.
With a sigh, she turned off the sputtering engine. She and Prince Valiant had made it all the way from Arizona, across Canada by way of the Al-Can Highway, into Alaska and halfway down the Aurora Peninsula before her old car had decided it needed a break.
“Seriously, Prince? You couldn’t have broken down just a little closer to civilization?”
Not that there was much in the way of civilization in this stretch of wilderness between Anchorage and Lost Harbor. There was a general store, the Kniknik Mercantile, about thirty miles in her rearview mirror, and a tiny settlement on the other end of this snowy pass. In between, there was nothing but mountains and spruce trees.
She checked her phone. And of course, no cell service.
Sitting back with a sigh, she burrowed her hands into the pockets of her winter coat. In Phoenix, she hadn’t owned a wool anything, so as soon as she’d hit the Yukon, she’d stopped at the first thrift store she saw. This old crimson and black plaid wool coat was all they’d had in her size.
From the backseat, Shuri, her cream-colored yellow lab, nuzzled her neck. Shuri had a knack for knowing when she was upset. She reached back and caressed the dog’s silky ears.
“Don’t you worry about a thing, my sweets. That’s the thing about Alaska. No one’s going to let us freeze by the side of the road.”
She looked out the window at the snowy slopes rising toward the sky. The tracks of snow machines crisscrossed the flanks closest to her. On the other side of the highway, snow machines were banned in favor of skis. She remembered the time she and her friends had come up here and they’d whooped and hollered so much on their Ski-Doos, they’d triggered a mini-avalanche.
Toni and Maya had barely escaped the tumbling snow, while she and Tristan, Toni’s older brother, had seized the chance to make out.
Chrissie hadn’t told any of her old friends that she was coming back to Lost Harbor. She hadn’t told anyone at all. Not even her mother. Like some kind of stunned zombie, she’d given notice at her job, packed up some essentials, and hit the road.
She could have flown up, of course. But she’d needed the time to process the fact that Ohlson Yates was gone. She’d needed the hour after hour of road vanishing behind her. The little towns appearing and disappearing like mirages in a snowy desert. The radio stations coming into tune, then breaking off in a fade of static.
Gramps had essentially raised her, then he’d kicked her out into the world at the age of seventeen. She’d learned a lot of things from him—eccentric inventor that he was—but most of all, she’d learned that she could only rely on herself. Well, also Shuri and Prince Valiant. They were her family now.
And ol’ Prince wasn’t doing so well at the moment.
The vast hush of the Aurora Mountains settled over her. The sun was flirting with the highest peak, which reflected a brilliant flash of snow. In an hour or so, she’d lose the daylight, and she didn’t relish the thought of dealing with a stranger after dark. Up here in the mountains, it would chill down fast. Already, tendrils of fog—more like ice mist—hovered over the road. Best to get on with it.
She scrounged through the chaos of wrappers and chargers and empty energy drink bottles that covered the passenger seat. Her hat was under there somewhere, along with some mismatched mittens—all from the same shop in Whitehorse. Finally she located the soft prickle of the hat’s hot-pink pompom and pulled it out. The hot pink clashed with the scarlet of her wool coat, but at least it was guaranteed to catch the eye.
She stepped out of her car into the chill of the mountain pass. She buttoned her coat all the way to her neck, wishing she’d found a scarf to go with the rest of her extremely random winter wardrobe. Glancing down at herself, she winced. Lovely outfit she had going on. With her bunny boots, plaid coat, and neon pink pompom hat, she looked like the love child of a lumberjack and a tween cheerleader.
Typical Chrissie Yates. Only she would hop into a car for an epic drive to Alaska without stopping first to make sure she had the right clothes.
Chrissie was her name, chaos was her game.
“It’s not that I’m stupid, Shuri,” she murmured to her dog, who had wormed her way into the driver’s seat. She tucked the dog’s paws safely inside so she could close the door. “You know that. I know that. Everyone knows that. It’s a little thing called self-sabotage.”
Shuri sat on her haunches on the seat and gazed at her with moist, worried eyes.
“But don’t worry, you are officially exempt from my knack for catastrophe.” She rubbed Shuri’s head the way she liked. No dog could be more loyal and patient than Shuri. She wasn’t sure she deserved her. But she appreciated her. “Hang tight, I’ll get us out of here in no time, sweet stuff.”
Complete and utter faith shone from Shuri’s eyes, even though she probably had no idea what Chrissie was talking about. Or maybe she did. Chrissie had spent all of Washington State listening to an audiobook about the latest research on canine intelligence. Shuri probably knew a lot of things she didn’t.
Gently, she closed the door and walked a few feet ahead of her car. With each step, icy snow crunched under her boots. She hadn’t heard that sound in years. It brought back memories of sledding and snowballs and rosy-cheeked exhilaration. And lots and lots of shoveling.
So far, a few vehicles had whizzed past Prince Valiant but hadn’t stopped. She hadn’t put her hazard lights on, so for all they knew she’d stopped to sneak into the trees for a quick pee.
Now she had to make it clear that she needed help. Standing beside the road in a hot pink hat ought to do it, but just in case, she stuck out her mittened hand as if she was hitchhiking.
She hoped it was still okay to hitchhike around here. When she was growing up in Lost Harbor, she’d hitched rides all the time. But it was certainly possible that things had changed in the last eleven years.
And in fact, the first vehicle to slow down at the sight of her didn’t look at all promising. The crew cab of the expensive-looking truck was filled with at least three men, and that was probably three too many for her. She’d much prefer to hitch a ride with a woman to the nearest gas station. Quickly she pulled out her phone and pretended to be searching for a signal instead of a ride.
The truck came to a stop. She noticed a ripped bumper sticker that said something about “my cold dead hands.”
“Need any help?” one of the men called to her.
“I’m good,” she said cheerfully, pulling the phone away from her face. “Just talking to my husband. Couldn’t get a signal inside my car. He’s a few miles behind me in our other car.”
“There’s no service up in these mountains,” the man said.
Uh oh. Busted. Would he catch on that there was no husband in these mountains either? From his smug smile, she didn’t doubt it.
“Must have gotten lucky, then. I have one bar, that’s all I need.”
“There’s a bar in Crooked Creek,” another of the men called. “We’re headed there now. Just hop on in.”
“No thanks.” The man looked her up and down with narrowed eyes. “Where ya headed?”
“Home,” she answered firmly. “To be with my husband.”
“Thought your husband was right behind you.”
“We’re both headed home.”
“Your license plate said Arizona. This is the wrong direction for Arizona.”
Time to end this conversation. “Thanks for stopping, guys. Don’t want to hold you up any longer.” She put the phone back to her ear and murmured into it, keeping a close watch on the truck out of the corner of her eye. Should she worry about this situation? Do something more than ignore these guys?
Her alarm grew when she realized that they weren’t moving along down the highway. Just her luck that the first truck that stopped would be trouble. She began calculating exit strategies. Lock herself in her car and lean on the horn until her battery ran out? Let Shuri out to show she had backup? Pretend she had a gun in the car? Flag down another vehicle?
A car rounded the curve of the highway and sped toward them. An expensive sedan-type car, like a Mercedes or something. It was a bland beige color that felt promising somehow. Safe and solid.
She waved her arms wildly at it. “There he is now! Honey, I’m over here!” she shouted to the Mercedes. It slowed, and she saw that the driver was shielding his eyes as the rays of the sun slanted through a gap in the mountain peaks. There were two people in the car, and both appeared to be male.
Whew. She hoped at least one of them wouldn’t mind pretending to be her husband.
Of course, it was still two more men than she wanted to catch a ride with. This could be a frying pan/fire situation. But she’d cross that bridge if she came to it.
With relief, she stepped back so the Mercedes could pull over beside her. The window on the passenger side rolled down and a young man stuck out his head. Twenty or so, she’d guess, with a head of wild dark curls and an eager smile.
Conscious of the truck still idling close by, she stepped toward the window. “Hi honey! I sure missed you, sweetheart.”
The kid’s eyebrows flexed and he looked over at the man in the driver’s seat. All she caught from him was a frown, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, and some more dark hair. He was clearly older and more age-appropriate to play her husband. But s
he had to go with the closest guy. Cougar time. “Can you just go with it?” she murmured. “Please?”
The kid cleared his throat. “Hi, honey,” he said back to her—clearly deepening his normal speaking voice.
For the first time, she noticed that he was wearing kind of an outrageous outfit. The fluffy yellow scarf twined around his neck was more like a feather boa. And was that a leather vest he was wearing?
If he got out of the car, no way would those truck guys believe he was her husband. And if they were at all homophobic or opposed to men wearing feathery boas…Suddenly she felt even more protective of her pretend husband than of herself.
She waved at the truck. “It’s okay, you can go now! My husband and son are here.”
She doubted that more than seven or eight years separated her from the yellow-scarf kid, which made one more reason to end this as quickly as possible. Without waiting for an invitation, she opened the back door and slid inside the warm, luxurious comfort of the heated Mercedes.
With the eyes of the truck crew on her, she leaned forward and planted a kiss on the cheek of the Mercedes driver. A very slight stubble brushed against her lips. With a start, he turned his head abruptly toward her, and she nearly wound up kissing him on the lips.
That was taking it a little too far, considering he was a complete stranger.
A good-looking one, she had to admit, all dark and smoldering behind those horn-rims.
“Uncle Ian,” the boy hissed. “You gotta kiss her.”
“No, you don’t,” she murmured quickly. “You really don’t.”
Slowly, almost suspiciously, the truck rolled past them. They were staring into the car, as if searching for some crack in their happy family facade.
With an unhappy growl, Uncle Ian met her lips with his. She didn’t object, partly because she was stunned and partly because she knew the boy was right; they had to make this look real. After the first moment, she didn’t object because it actually felt surprisingly good. His lips were gentle and he smelled nice. Very clean, like Dial soap.
She watched out of the corner of her eye as the truck picked up speed, then merged back onto the highway.
“They’re gone,” said the boy. “You can stop kissing now.”
She and Uncle Ian jerked away from each other with equal speed. Her lips tingled.
“We weren’t kissing,” Ian corrected. “I was touching her lips with my lips.”
“That’s literally what kissing is,” said the kid.
“I don’t want to talk about kissing with you, Bo.” The man’s profile was absurdly well-structured, with firm cheekbones and a classic jawline. But he didn’t seem like someone who paid much attention to appearances. His haircut was unflattering and his glasses were much too heavy for his face.
“Can we talk about sex then?” Bo piped up.
Chrissie smothered a laugh at Uncle Ian’s irritated frown. Clearly he’d spent a good portion of his drive dealing with his live-wire nephew. The least she could do was intervene. “I’m Chrissie. I take it you guys are Ian and Bo. Thanks for the rescue.”
“Who were those guys?” Bo turned wide eyes on her. “They looked like some serious 2A types.”
“I don’t know who they are. Prince Valiant broke down and I was hoping some nice lady would give me a ride to the nearest town with a garage. Instead I got those guys. They wouldn’t take ‘no thanks’ for an answer, so I flagged you down. I really appreciate you stopping.”
She realized the two of them looked confused, and gave a half-laugh. “Sorry, I’ve been on the road by myself too long. Prince Valiant is my car.” She jerked her thumb at her Pontiac. “He got me all the way from Arizona, but couldn’t handle the last hundred miles. Poor fellow.”
“You’re headed to Lost Harbor?” Ian must have done the mileage math.
“Indeed I am. But you don’t have to do me any more favors,” she added quickly. “You’ve done enough.”
Bo snickered. “Uncle Ian hasn’t kissed anyone since the Jurassic Era. You did him a favor.”
Ian’s dark eyebrows drew together. “Don’t you have more ragtime to listen to?”
“Reggaeton, Ian. Not Ragtime. Reggaeton. And this is more fun. You seem cool, Chrissie. Did you really drive all the way from Arizona?”
“Sure did.” She put her hand on the door handle, not wanting to cause any more problems for Ian, who had, after all, volunteered his lips to help her out.
“We’ll take you to Lost Harbor,” Ian said brusquely. She got the feeling he spoke like that in general—direct and maybe a little awkward. “Get what you need from Prince Valiant. We’ll wait.”
She found it shockingly endearing that he called her car by the name she’d given it. He didn’t even say it in a patronizing way. He just accepted that her car was named Prince Valiant.
Impulsively, she decided to take him up on his offer. “That’s very kind of you. I don’t need much. Just Shuri.” As she slid out the door, she heard Bo say, “She must name all her stuff. Maybe Shuri’s her phone. Or her iPad. Or her vibr—”
“Cut it out,” Ian said, wearily.
Laughing silently to herself, she headed for her car. She had a feeling this was going to be a fun ride—at least for her and Bo. Though she felt a little sorry for Uncle Ian.
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