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From New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker comes a sizzling suspense about the romance that blossoms between two strangers during a snowstorm and the stalker who threatens them both.
Riggs “Chappy” Chapman didn’t expect to be disrupted at his remote cabin in the woods. But when a stray dog arrives on his porch, he winds up finding a stray woman, too, trudging through the snowstorm in search of shelter. His military days may be behind him, but Chappy is hardwired to protect her from the storm and whatever it is she’s running from.
Carlise Edwards didn’t expect her car to break down in the Maine wilderness. All she wants is to escape whoever is stalking her back home. There’s no way anyone’s going to find her and Chappy deep in the forest, especially not in dangerous weather. But she finds it hard to mind the circumstances when the company is this stimulating.
As the snowstorm rages, Chappy and Carlise find that, despite the cold, they can generate plenty of heat of their own…but there’s more than just natural dangers lurking in the woods.
Release date: March 14, 2023
Print pages: 309
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Riggs “Chappy” Chapman smiled as he approached his cabin, instant calm descending. It was hard to believe it had been three full years since that day in a cold cell when he and his friends had decided their future. At the time, it had been a pipe dream. He was well aware JJ had been grasping at straws, desperate to help them think about anything other than their depressing situation. But the more they’d talked about Jack’s Lumber and moving to Maine, the more Chappy wanted it.
And they’d done it.
They’d been rescued by a team of men from the navy and army working together. The soldiers had swarmed in like the badasses they were, killed every one of their captors, then blown up the mountain where they’d been held captive.
Their rescuers entering the country in the first place had caused a mini-international incident, but because the terrorists had gleefully shared videos of the torture Chappy and the others had been put through, the country’s government couldn’t exactly protest the Special Forces teams coming to their rescue.
That was his team’s last mission. The paperwork for them to get out of the military was started long before their physical injuries had healed. Every one of them still dealt with the mental ramifications of what they’d been through, what they’d seen over the years, and the missions they’d participated in. But the choice to move to Maine had turned out to be just what they’d needed to soothe their souls.
Even more surprisingly, their business had taken off pretty much from the first day. If there was one thing Maine didn’t lack, it was forests. And having four more men willing and able to handle the physical labor it took to deal with any kind of issue involving trees meant they were constantly busy.
So busy, they’d had to hire an administrative assistant after less than a year to keep everything straight.
Chappy had just completed his last AT guide for the season, and right on time too. A huge winter storm was approaching, projected to dump at least two feet of snow on the area.
The first winter Chappy and his friends had spent in Maine was a shock. They’d expected it to be cold and snowy—but not as cold and snowy as it actually was. Now, with only two seasons under their belts, they felt as if they were old pros at Maine winters.
Chappy chuckled to himself. He could just imagine Mother Nature sitting in a bar, reading their minds and saying “Hold my beer” to the bartender as she rolled up her sleeves.
Prior to coming to Maine, Chappy had never seen two feet of snow in person. Now, he couldn’t think of a better place to experience it than the small cabin in the woods that he used when he needed some time to himself.
It wasn’t big, basically one room with a small bathroom tucked in the back. He’d worked hard to get it plumbed, put in a septic tank, and set up the water system. There wasn’t electricity, but he had a generator that he ran when he needed to charge his computer or heat water for a shower. It was a simple cabin, and it suited him perfectly.
The guys had bitched about him coming up here right before a huge storm, but he’d reassured them he’d be fine. Even if he was snowed in, he had plenty of food, the snow would provide water if he ran out, and he had no intention of doing anything other than relaxing.
As if thinking about his friends had somehow conjured them, the satellite phone on the passenger seat rang just as Chappy was parking his vehicle.
“It hasn’t even been an hour. I’m fine,” he said in lieu of a greeting. He didn’t know which of his friends was on the other end of the line, but considering only four people in the world had the number, it was either Cal, Bob, JJ, or April . . . and he seriously doubted it was their assistant. She never called him. Or Bob or Cal for that matter.
April Hoffman was a godsend. Extremely organized and utterly unflappable. Nothing seemed to rile her—not their occasional bad moods, not stressed-out customers. She hadn’t even blinked when they’d expanded her duties to include handling the reservations for their AT guide service. She’d also had a ton of great ideas in the last couple of years on how to make their jobs easier—and to make their customers happier.
Chappy was sure a large part of their success was due to April. But if she was worried about something, she’d call JJ, and he’d be the one to communicate her concerns to the team.
“I just wanted to see if you’d made it up there yet,” JJ said.
“I pulled up to the cabin literally two seconds ago,” Chappy said. “I haven’t even had a chance to get out of my Jeep yet.”
“Well, you’d better get on that because the weather guy said the storm’s going to hit sooner than they’d previously predicted. And just for fun, it’s going to start out with rain, then some hail, before turning to snow.”
“Damn,” he muttered.
“Yeah. You’ve still got time to come back to Newton,” JJ told him.
Chappy chuckled. “Not happening.”
“You okay?” JJ asked.
This was only one of the many reasons Chappy admired Jackson. He wasn’t afraid to come right out and ask about their mental health. He didn’t shy away from his PTSD, or his team’s, and he was especially concerned about Cal. Out of the four of them, Cal had come out of captivity with the most scars. Not to mention, because he had royal blood, he’d gotten the most media attention.
It ate at him, they all knew that, but he always kept his cool and never let anyone know his experiences had taken a part of his soul . . . except JJ. Their leader could always break through the ice that seemed to surround Cal and get him to open up and admit when he was struggling.
“I’m good,” Chappy reassured him. “Just ready for this break.”
“That last group you took on the AT was a handful, huh?”
Chappy huffed out a breath. “That’s one way to describe them.” He’d taken three college girls on a two-night trip down the Appalachian Trail, and they’d done nothing but complain the entire time. Their feet hurt, their backs ached, their bags were too heavy, they were hungry, the coffee sucked, the shelters they’d stayed in were too cold . . . the complaints went on and on.
By the time Chappy had waved goodbye as they were picked up at a designated stopping point, he was utterly relieved to be by himself. He took his time during the two-day hike back the way he’d come, making notes on which trail markers needed to be repainted and which trees would probably fall across the trail during the upcoming winter, needing to be chopped and cleared come spring. When he finally returned to Newton, he was ready for some down time.
“Well, if you need anything, call. I’ll be pissed if you don’t,” JJ said sternly. “You need extraction, we’ve got your back.”
“The roads up here are going to be unpassable, and you know it,” Chappy told him.
“Don’t care. You need help, we’ll be there. Besides, you know it’ll give Bob a thrill to have a chance to take his truck out with that new plow.”
Chappy laughed. JJ wasn’t wrong. Of their small team, Bob was the most comfortable in nature, which was somewhat humorous since he’d wanted to live in New York City. He’d taken to life in Maine as if he were born to it. He volunteered for the longest AT guide jobs and was always the one who wanted to shimmy up a tree to get to the highest branches that needed trimming.
“I appreciate it,” Chappy told JJ.
“And I know I don’t need to say it, but I’m going to anyway . . . the rain before the snow is gonna make the snowpack unstable. Just because there hasn’t been an avalanche out this way in a long time doesn’t mean there won’t be again.”
“Let me guess, April cornered you and filled your head with statistics on avalanches and how many there have been in the state and what the ideal conditions are for them to occur,” Chappy said with a smile.
“Got it in one. But she has a good point. There was one over at Baxter State Park only a couple of years ago. And you being at the base of Baldpate Mountain doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies.”
“I’ll be fine, Mom,” Chappy teased.
“I’m being serious,” JJ argued, sounding grumpy.
“I know. But this cabin is about a mile away from where the slides are most likely to occur, if they happen at all.”
“Right. Well, enjoy your time away from the hustle and bustle of Newton.”
Chappy laughed outright at that. “Uh-huh. You gonna tattle to April if I don’t check in every other day?”
It was JJ’s turn to chuckle. “Don’t need to tattle. She’s gonna be on my case, wanting to know if I’ve talked to you and if you’re all right. You don’t check in, she’ll probably find a way to get up there to see for herself that you’re in one piece.”
“She would too, wouldn’t she?” Chappy mused.
“Yes. So hunker down, enjoy the solitude, and call me so I can reassure her that you’re fine and don’t need to be rescued.”
Chappy smiled. He and the others might bitch about April being like a mother hen, but the truth was, it felt good. He wasn’t close to his biological family. Couldn’t even remember the last time he’d talked to his own mother.
“I will. Talk to you soon.”
Chappy clicked off the phone and climbed out of his Jeep. He had a good bit of work to get done before the worst of the weather moved in.
As soon as he had the thought, a drop of rain hit his nose. JJ wasn’t wrong, the weather was moving in way faster than forecasted. Looking up, he saw the tops of the trees blowing in the high wind. He frowned and mentally calculated which trees needed pruning. It was too late now, of course, so he’d just have to hope they held up under the weight of the coming snow. It would suck to have one of the large trees fall onto his cabin.
Taking a deep breath, and trying not to borrow trouble, Chappy turned back to his Jeep. He needed to get his supplies inside, make sure the generator was filled and operational, ensure there was enough firewood stacked on the porch to last awhile, and what seemed like a hundred other little chores.
He had three new books to read, along with the dozens he’d hauled up here over the last two years that were sitting on bookshelves inside. He was looking forward to a nice, relaxing, boring two weeks before he headed back down to Newton to pull his weight with Jack’s Lumber.
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