Win

Winterlude

What’s a guy to do when his career depends on keeping the boss’s virginal daughter untouched during a weekend ski vacation, especially when she’s determined to lose her innocence – to him?

 

 

 

Read an excerpt …

 

Chapter 1
     “You want me to do what?” Dylan McCabe searched his boss’s face for a sign this was his idea of a joke. He couldn’t have heard the old man right. There was no way he was going to babysit Aubrey’s daughter at some ski lodge in Vermont.
     Aubrey St. Clair leaned back in the leather chair and clasped his hands across his ample stomach. “Now, my boy,” he said in a low Southern drawl, “it’s only for a few days.”
     “Don’t you think Nicole’s a little old to need a babysitter? What is she now – twenty-six, twenty-seven–?”
     “She’s only twenty-five, and pure as a nun fresh from the convent where men are concerned. She’s far too sweet and trusting for her own good. Somebody needs to look out for her.”
     If he remembered anything about his boss’s daughter, the last thing she’d have to worry about was the big bad wolf. But he kept quiet. He’d learned long ago when to keep his mouth shut, and he was smart enough to know that it wouldn’t be wise to point that out to her doting father. Instead, he kept his questions and comments general. “Wasn’t she away at school somewhere? Surely she had dates and boyfriends then.”
     Aubrey nodded, letting out an exasperated sigh. “I mistakenly thought she was well chaperoned at school. And her last … suitor … cost me $10,000 to buy him off.”
     Dylan let out a soft whistle. Suitor? Didn’t that word go out with the Dark Ages?
     “I’m a rich man,” Aubrey went on. “Once I’m gone, everything I have will be hers. Even now, with the trust fund her darlin’ mother left from her side of the family, she’s a long way from the poor house. There are a lot of men who would like to get their hands on some of that money.”
     “But–”
     Aubrey straightened and rested his elbows on the desk. He eyed Dylan squarely. “Ever since her mama passed on, my little girl is all I’ve got. And I won’t have some damn Yankee taking advantage of her again. She needs a man who loves her, not her pocketbook. Once she finds that man, I’ll be happy to step back and let him take care of her. But until then, as her daddy, it’s my job to protect her. That’s why I’m asking you to take care of her for me. I trust you.”
     “You do?” That was a shock. Dylan’s reputation with women was a constant source of gossip around the water cooler. Trust wasn’t a word that came up in the conversation often.
     “Don’t look so surprised, my boy,” Aubrey said. “I’ve heard about your escapades and the trail of broken hearts you’ve left behind you. And believe it or not, that’s precisely why you’re the perfect man for this job.”
     Dylan’s eyebrows lifted. “I am?”
     “It’s common knowledge how you feel about being tied down to one woman.”
     True, Dylan thought. In all the women he’d dated, never once had he had any inclination to make a relationship permanent. Even the mere thought of waking up to the same face every morning made him break out in a cold sweat.
     “All you have to do, my boy, is make sure she doesn’t get hornswoggled by some Yankee gigolo. She’s a beautiful young woman, Dylan. Men are attracted to her like honeybees to a magnolia blossom.”
     That Dylan found hard to believe. He’d only seen Nicole St. Clair once, and granted, it was a few years ago, but by no stretch of the imagination could she be called beautiful. But parents were always convinced their offspring were the most beautiful, the smartest, the best. At least in his family that’s the way it was. He supposed it was natural for Aubrey to feel the same way about his daughter.
     “I don’t–”
     Aubrey raised his hand to stop Dylan finishing his sentence. He took a long puff of his cigar, then exhaled. A cloud of blue smoke filled the air. Heaving his massive bulk out of his chair, he waddled around the front of the ornately carved cherrywood desk and crossed the plush carpeted office. He stopped at the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the city. “Isn’t this a magnificent view, Dylan?” he asked. “This is one of the reasons I love to come into the office every day, just to be able to have a view like this.”
     Dylan moved to stand beside him and followed his gaze. The city of Atlanta spread out before them, miles of concrete and glass. Far below, people the size of dust mites carried on their business. In the distance, he could see the Gold Dome and the Twin Towers, as well as the government buildings that occupied most of the downtown core of the city. He was glad Aubrey had decided not to move the company to the suburbs as many businesses had over the past few years.
     “Davidson’s office has almost the same view as this one,” Aubrey went on. “It’ll be hard to decide who’ll get that office when he retires at the end of the month. I need someone I can trust, someone I can count on …”
     Dylan groaned inwardly. Aubrey knew exactly what he was doing, dangling the carrot right in front of Dylan’s face. The old man was well aware how much Dylan wanted that corner office and the title that came with it. If he refused this request, he might as well kiss his promotion goodbye.
     “You know you can depend on me, Aubrey,” Dylan said. “There is one problem, though. I don’t know how to ski.”
     “Dylan, my boy,” Aubrey responded, turning away from the window and waving his arm to take in the expanse of his office, and to virtually encompass the entire building housing the St. Clair Development Corporation, “I built this business from scratch with nothing more than gut instinct and the ability to improvise. I’m convinced you have those same qualities. I don’t think I need to say any more.”
     No, he didn’t need to say one more word. He’d spelled it out pretty clearly. Everything Dylan had worked for, everything he’d dreamed of since he walked into the St. Clair Tower eight years ago – his entire career hinged on getting through seven days of playing nanny to a spoiled little rich girl.
     He had no choice. “Don’t worry,” he said, plastering a confident smile on his face, “I’ll bring your little girl home safe and sound.”

***

     The van rumbled up the mountain road, the engine groaning with the effort. As Nicole St. Clair removed her kid leather gloves and shoved them in her jacket pocket, she glanced around at her fellow passengers.
     A young couple was cuddling in the seat across the aisle from her. Honeymooners, she guessed, taking note of the way the young redhead constantly twisted the diamond and ruby band on the fourth finger of her left hand.
     For a few seconds, the memories rushed back into her mind. She’d planned a honeymoon once, an around-the-world cruise filled with love and laughter. She’d also planned a future. And she’d learned the hard way that she shouldn’t count on anything – or anyone. Maybe if she hadn’t been so innocent … so afraid to take the next step. Maybe if she’d given in when he’d asked her to sleep with him … Something had stopped her, something she couldn’t define. And suddenly, he’d left her.
     She wouldn’t be foolish enough to make that mistake again.
     Forcing her thoughts back to the present, her attention was drawn to the man in the passenger seat beside the driver. She’d first noticed him when she got into the van at the airport and hadn’t been able to take her eyes off him ever since.
     He was gorgeous. Heart-stopping, drop-dead gorgeous. She’d only really managed a quick glance before she sat down, but one look was enough. A tanned face with a strong jaw and high forehead, straight nose and lips that were just right for kissing. For a moment, she wondered if the slight crease in his right cheek was evidence of a dimple waiting for a smile. She hadn’t been able to determine the color of his eyes, but she’d noticed the lashes – long and thicker than a man’s lashes had any right to be.
Now, with her eyes glued to the back of his head, she studied his hair for the first time. Short, but still tending to curl at the nape of his neck. And black. Jet black. And seeming so soft and shiny it was difficult to stop herself reaching up to touch it.
     The van bumped over a rut in the road, jarring every bone in her body. “Sorry, folks,” the driver called out above the constant chugging of the engine, “this road gets pretty rough sometimes. Only another few minutes, though. That’s the lodge over there,” he went on, pointing to a cluster of buildings tucked into a snow-blanketed valley on his left.
     Nicole’s gaze followed the direction he indicated. The lodge, a two-storey cedar building lay nestled in a clearing in the side of the mountain. Latticed windows, and curls of smoke rising from a fieldstone chimney gave it a cosy appearance. In the distance, ski lifts crawled up the sides of the surrounding mountains, the bright reds and blues and yellows of the skiers’ suits contrasting sharply with the starkness of the winter landscape.
     She was almost there. Her stomach flip-flopped, and the doubts that had plagued her all the way from Atlanta came rushing back.
     She shouldn’t have come here alone. What was she thinking? When her friend had been forced to back out of their trip because of a bothersome appendix, Nicole should have cancelled her reservation. But Kim had persuaded her to go on without her. “Find yourself a man,” she’d ordered. “A guy who’ll knock your socks off and show you what you’ve been missing all these years.” When Nicole had protested that it was quite possible no man would be interested in seducing her, her friend had laughed. “Then it’s simple. You seduce him.”

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