Seduced by Snowfall
Nate's more than aware that Bethany doesn't take him seriously. And that's fine; relationships, a family of his own...those things aren't for him. Not when he knows how painful the loss of a loved one can be. But when he discovers a mysterious injured runaway hiding out in the firehouse, it's his turn to ask the lovely doctor for help.
As winter closes in, the line between fake and forever keeps disappearing. How could Nate know that every moment spent with Bethany would chip away at the shield around his heart? How could Bethany guess that Nate's brand of laid-back fun was exactly what she needed? It may take more than a snowstorm to make them see it's okay to want it all...and to grab it before it disappears forever.
Release date: January 28, 2020
Print pages: 295
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Seduced by Snowfall
First dates were always awkward, but a hundred times more so when the man across the table had already seen her in nothing but a towel.
Oh yeah—and a plunger.
Bethany Morrison tried not to think about that mortifying moment, but Nate wasn’t making it easy. As he stood to greet her, the gleam in his gray eyes told her he remembered every second.
“Hi, Bethany. Nice to see you again.”
Again. An obvious reference to the locked-out-of-her-house-in-a-towel incident.
“Here we go,” she muttered under her breath. Commence the teasing. Mustering a smile, she gave Nate a dignified nod of her head. She was a doctor, after all. Doctors had dignity. “Hello, Nate. How are you?”
She cut him off. “I don’t have a lot of time before work, so how about we get our orders in?” She sat down in the chair that he’d pulled out for her. They’d met for dinner at Lost Harbor’s best seafood restaurant, the Nightly Catch. Heavy silver, scarlet linen tablecloths, servers dressed in black. But since this was Lost Harbor, a town of hardworking fishermen and women, fish-and-chips and mac-and-cheese were also on the menu.
Obligingly, Nate sat back down and signaled for the waitress. Bethany looked at the menu cover, which featured an etching of a fishing boat against the backdrop of Misty Bay. Beautiful.
She opened it and stared at the menu options, but couldn’t make herself focus on food. Everything was a jumble in her head—which was ridiculous because so what if Nate Prudhoe had seen her practically naked? As a doctor, she’d seen various body parts of thousands of people. It was no big deal.
“Do you have to get back to the hospital?” Nate asked, his tone nothing but polite. Which he’d been ever since she walked in, come to think of it. She was being rude, not him. Somehow that irritated her even more.
“Yes, I’m working an overnight shift tonight.”
“I know that drill. I recommend protein, no carbs. Carbs can make you sleepy, sneaky bastards. Before you know it, you’re nodding off and forgetting routine things.”
She looked at him sharply over the edge of the menu. Forgetting routine things…was that a reference to her locking herself out that night? But he was studying the menu, a picture of innocence. With his laughing eyes and lean face, she had to admit he was good-looking. Not her type, obviously. She went for the overeducated brainy types, not the players.
Of course, that went both ways. Nate’s type was probably more like the waitress, a busty redhead who was smiling down at him as she arrived at their table.
“Heya, Nate. Haven’t seen you in a month of Tuesdays.”
“Moira Leafborn. How you been? Looking good, like always. How’s the kiddo?”
“Doing better. You need to come over and see for yourself.” It was impossible to miss the friendly invitation in her eyes. Bethany bristled, even though it didn’t matter at all. She wasn’t interested in Nate. But she also didn’t like being ignored on her own date.
Nate gestured toward her. “This is Dr. Bethany Morrison, she’s new at the hospital.”
Moira turned a big smile her direction. “Well, look at you. Welcome to Lost Harbor. I’m Moira.” She offered a handshake. “The more doctors around, the happier I am. My kid catches every virus in a thousand-mile radius.”
She was so friendly that Bethany regretted her moment of juvenile jealousy. She shook Moira’s hand and smiled warmly at her. “I hope it’s not rude to say I hope I don’t see you soon.”
Moira laughed. “Great, a doctor with a sense of humor. Angie’s going to love you. What can I get you two? A round on the house to start with?”
Bethany waved off that offer. “I’m on shift tonight, so no alcohol for me.”
“Nate? Are you working too?”
“Nope, but I’ll pass on the wine. Solidarity.” He winked at Bethany and handed Moira the menu. “The scallop special for me.”
“Great choice. My hubby brought those in last night from Kodiak.”
And now Bethany felt like even more of an idiot. Moira was married with a kid, and her friendliness was just that. Friendliness.
This was why Bethany didn’t like dating. It brought out all her insecurities. All her life, her sister had gotten attention from men, while Bethany had gotten praise from teachers. By now, she just assumed things would go that way.
“That sounds great. I’ll have the same thing,” she said, handing over her menu. “
Making my job easy. I’ll make it fast, since you have to get to work.” With one last smile at Bethany, she whisked away the menus.
With Moira’s sociable presence gone, awkwardness fell between them again. Ugh, dates were the worst. Bethany had gone on dozens of dates set up by her first stepmother, her second stepmother, her third stepmother, and various connections of her father’s. Each one had been perfectly appropriate for her when it came to income, education, status, background, etcetera. And she’d counted the minutes through each one.
Her only successful relationships had been formed while working with someone, or studying with them. Dates were an outdated form of torture, if you asked her.
“Call me crazy, but you don’t seem like you want to be here,” Nate murmured.
She started. Were her anti-date thoughts written across her face? “Sorry. It’s just…I’m not a fan of setups.”
“Mrs. Bellini is hard to say no to.”
She laughed ruefully. “That she is. She even played the ‘I just had a stroke’ card.”
She’d treated Nicola Bellini after she’d had a stroke a few weeks ago, and the woman had decided to treat her like one of her own six children. Apparently that involved matchmaking and lots of homemade baklava. Her freezer was already full.
Nate sat back in his chair, forcing her to notice his wide shoulders and lean physique. He wore a thick blue cable-knit sweater, which was about as dressy as men got here in Lost Harbor. She had yet to spot a single blazer or dress jacket around town.
“We could always drop the date part, and just have a conversation,” he suggested.
“What about? I’m sure we have nothing in common.” She slanted a glance toward her phone to check the time. One hour until she had to get to work. But one hour in “date time” could seem like five in normal time.
“Really? We’re both in the medical field. We could talk triage techniques and blood pressure readings.”
“I might need triage after that,” she murmured. Nate laughed. He had one of those contagious laughs that made everyone around take note. “You have a sneaky sense of humor, don’t you? It kind of springs out from the bushes when you aren’t expecting it.”
And there it was. Another reference to the night they’d met, when she’d been hiding behind some alder bushes in her towel. “Would you please stop doing that?”
“Doing what?” He cocked his head at her. He had a thick thatch of brown-butter hair that never looked entirely smooth.
“And now you’re playing innocent. It’s very annoying.”
Moira appeared with two steaming plates of scallops. Plump and lightly browned, they were the largest scallops Bethany had ever seen. The fragrance of lemon and garlic and butter made her stomach rumble. “Is Nate annoying you? He has a knack for that.”
Nate scowled at the waitress. “Turncoat. See if I babysit for you guys again.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” she added. “He’ll make you laugh too. Through the tears.”
Moira made a sassy little face at Nate as she positioned the plate in front of him.
“That’s just great, Moira. I should come here and get all my dates sabotaged. And this isn’t even a date. It’s just a conversation between two people with nothing in common.”
Bethany laughed. Then stopped herself the second she realized Moira was right. Nate did have her laughing.
“Welp, I’ll leave you two to your scallops. At least you have that in common.”
“True that. Looks great, compliments to the fisherman,” said Nate.
Moira smiled and left them to their meal.
Nate shook a cloth napkin across his lap. “Okay, before we plunge in, I should apologize.”
Plunge? Was that a plunger reference?
Bethany stabbed a fork into her scallop. “You just did it again. You can stop it with the innocent act.”
Nate actually looked confused for a moment, then he laughed. “Oops. That one slipped in there, I swear. Sometimes things just happen without you planning it.”
Was that another one? She pressed her lips together, refusing to fall for his baiting anymore. Besides, her mouth was full of the most delicious scallop she’d ever tasted, so she couldn’t stay mad. The butter-lime sauce was tart and sweet and made her practically moan with happiness.
She zoned out for one blissful stretch of time, finally coming back to herself when she realized that Nate was watching her with a slight smile and attentive eyes. “What?”
“You’re not frowning at me. I’m just soaking in the moment. It may never happen again.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m usually very cordial.” She dabbed the napkin to her lips. “People have to make a real effort to get on my bad side.”
“Really? For me it comes so easily.”
“What can I say, you’re a natural,” she said dryly.
He took a bite of his scallops, and groaned with appreciation. “Damn, that’s good.”
“It’s beyond good. It’s amazing. I want to marry the chef.”
“You might have a problem there, unless you’re into polyamorous transsexual interracial relationships.”
She nearly choked on a mouthful of the braised greens that came with the scallops. “Excuse me?”
“The chef here is a trans man who lives with his former husband and new girlfriend. They’re all very happy together, but they might have room for one more, you never know.”
She closed her eyes, once again noticing that jumbled-up feeling. It felt as if she’d stepped onto a Ferris wheel when this “date” had started. So many ups and downs and round-and-rounds. “Can we talk about something people talk about on normal dates?”
“Wait, now it’s a date again? It’s hard to keep up, Doc. Okay, normal…hmm…” He made a show of racking his brains. “Can’t say it’s a term I know a lot about, but okay. Here’s one.” He took a moment to chew and swallow, while Bethany braced herself for a question about where she was from or what she liked about being a doctor.
“What are you going to dress up as for Halloween?” he finally asked.
She laughed in surprise. “Halloween isn’t until next month.”
“Exactly. Have you started the initial creative concept phase yet? Or maybe you’re a last-minute type?”
“I’m sorry, is this…I mean, I’m not ten anymore. Halloween costumes aren’t really on my radar.”
“Okay, then what did you dress up as when you were ten?”
“A doctor,” she admitted. “Lab coat, stethoscope, clipboard.”
Nate burst out laughing. “Well, I guess you’re all set then.”
Wow. Was she really so boring? “Maybe I’ll wear a sparkly tiara or something at the hospital. Patients do love it when we get into the Halloween spirit.”
“They do. We usually go all out at the fire station. Lost Harbor is big on Halloween, I have to warn you. Any holidays that take place during the winter season are a big deal.”
“Thanks for the warning. Are there a lot of trick-or-treaters?”
“Oh hell yes, depending on your neighborhood. Where you live, expect to get mobbed. Unless you have to work that night, or, you know, get locked out for some reason.”
“You—” But as she met his gleaming gray eyes, all her annoyance vanished and instead, she burst out laughing. “You just had to sneak in one more jab, didn’t you?”
“I did. I’m terrible. I’m sorry. I give you permission to smack me—with a plunger or something.”
“Are you done yet?”
“Yes. I swear. I just had to get it out of my system. But you know…” He leaned forward, both elbows resting on the table. His nearness made her oddly dizzy. “I wouldn’t even bother except that you shouldn’t be embarrassed at all. Do you know how many people I’ve helped out of awkward situations? It happens all the time. Old Stan the Man got stuck in his bathtub once. It took three of us to pry him out. I’ve rescued cats from telephone poles, kids from treehouses, a pet parrot from a stovepipe. Helping a woman who locked herself out of her house is no big deal.”
“It was a little more than that, you have to admit.”
“Okay, sure, maybe there was some kinky sex stuff going on with that plunger that I don’t quite get—”
“Ack! Of course there wasn’t.” She put down her fork and dropped her head into her hands. “Is that what people think?”
A warm hand touched her forearm. “Good Lord, of course not. No one thinks anything. It happened, I dealt with it, it was barely a mention in the police blotter.”
“The police blotter?”
He reached across the table and tilted her chin up so she would meet his eyes.
“Dr. Bethany Morrison, you are way too easy to tease. What I’m trying to tell you is that anyone can lock themselves out of their house, and you handled the entire thing with grace and composure. No one except you ever gave it a second thought. So what I’m curious about is you. Why are you so worried about it? Don’t you ever make mistakes? Do you always have to be perfect?”
Bethany swallowed hard and gazed at Nate in surprise. What an unnervingly perceptive question for him to ask. He returned her look steadily, with none of his usual joking manner. He waited patiently for her to answer, as if he had all the time in the world.
What an unusual concept, “all the time in the world.” She was always racing the clock, she never had enough time…
Time. Crap. What time was it, anyway? She checked her phone, which she hadn’t looked at since they’d first sat down, and holy smokes. She was actually late. This date—or whatever it was—hadn’t gone slowly. It had raced by at twice the normal speed of time.
“I have to go.” She gathered up her purse, ready to pull out her wallet.
Nate waved her off. “Don’t even think about it. Go, your patients need you.” He rose to his feet. “Thanks for enduring the setup. You made Mrs. Bellini very happy, I hope that’s some comfort. You’ll probably get some baklava out of it.”
She laughed. “Like I need any more of that. Thanks, Nate, this was…” She paused, unable to come up with the right word. “Not so bad?” she ended weakly.
He laughed. “I’ll take it.”
In all honesty, it had been a fun evening. Even his teasing had entertained her more than she’d expected. For two people who had zero in common, they’d managed to converse quite easily.
“And don’t forget that Halloween costume,” he said as she turned to go. “Doesn’t have to be fancy. A towel, a plunger…the possibilities are endless.”
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