Winter Stratton convinces herself that love is like lightning and it only strikes once. She had the love of her life and lost him. Yet, even when she feels nothing romantic for the friend who helped her through hard times, a sense of obligation presses upon her to give him a chance. Winter didn’t expect her ‘friend turned lover’ might just be the death of her.
When Cord Kesso decides to step in and rescue Winter and her daughter from what looks like a bad situation during a snow storm, he feels an instant attraction to the pixie of a woman. Offering her a place to wait out the storm through the holidays is the gentlemanly thing to do. If they connect on a deeper level, even better. When Cord sees something he wants, he goes all in. Fighting Winter’s doubts is one thing. Fighting for their lives…a whole other thing entirely.
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The cab driver swerved to avoid a collision with the sedan that followed. He maneuvered the cab expertly, missed the curb on their left, but spun out in the parking lot of alone convenient store. A scream caught in Winter’s throat as the cab skidded sideways across the snow-slicked road then came to a stop inches away from a bright yellow crash post. She clutched her daughter, Andrea, to her chest as she thanked God that they didn’t crash.
“Get out of the cab, Winter.” His harsh tone was loud and promised pain.
Winter closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Only, there was no time to get herself together. Her eyes popped just as the passenger door of the cab was pulled open. Cold air and snow overcame the warmth inside the cab almost immediately.
“Leave us alone, Terry,” Winter told him.
Terry grabbed Winter by the arm; his fingers dug into her skin as he pulled her across the leather backseat. Winter struggled to keep hold of her daughter as she was yanked out of the cab. Her foot slipped on the snow and she would have gone down but Terry jerked her arm above her head. She had to tighten her free arm around her daughter as she danced on her tiptoes to gain traction.
“Get her fucking bags out of the truck, cabbie,” Terry yelled to her driver.
The cab driver looked at Winter with imploring eyes. He stood by the driver’s side door with one fisted hand on the hood and the other on the door of his cab. It was clear that he wasn’t sure if he should help. This wasn’t his fight and Winter had no desire to involve him in her mess. No one else should have to suffer for her choices.
Winter nodded her snow-covered head to convey to the cab driver that it was alright to take her things out of the trunk. Only, the cab driver stayed in place.
“Get. Her. Shit,” Terry yelled again.
Winter looked the cab driver over. He was an older gentleman with a studious demeanor about him. There was no way he could win a physical confrontation with Terry, and she hoped he knew that. She was certain he’d get hurt.
“Can you get my things out of the trunk, please?” Winter told the cab driver.
“Are you sure miss?” The man looked torn.
“She’s sure,” Terry answered for her.
Winter stared into Terry’s hard blue eyes for several heartbeats then nodded. The cab driver went to the rear of his cab and took out her two suitcases, then Andrea’s little character case and placed them next to Terry’s car.
With the luggage out of the cab, Terry relaxed his hold on her. Winter tried to pull her arm free of his grasp but he squeezed tighter then gave her a threatening look before letting her arm go.
Unrestricted, Winter was able to support Andrea’s small body better. She used her body to cover her daughter as best she could as she took in her surroundings. They were in front of a 24-hour convenient store that was decked out with red and green Holiday décor. The store and the parking lot were brightly lit but Winter saw no one inside. What she did see was a huge black dog that sat under the awning in front of the store’s door. Dogs usually frightened Winter but Terry owned the rights to her fear these days.
“Put the kid in the car, Winter,” Terry said from behind her.
Winter turned her attention back to the thorn in her side. He stood there as if he were a King and that all the world should bow to his will as snow fell over him. He picked up one of her suitcases that sat on the ground and held the back door of his car open.
If I put Andrea in that car seat, we will never be free.
The chill she felt was nothing compared to the fear that pulsed through her body. On shaky legs, Winter took a careful step back, then two more. The snow seemed to pick up the moment she made her decision. If that was a good or bad sign, she didn’t know, but Winter prayed for the storm to be in her favor. Her name was Winter after all.
“I swear to God, Winter,” Terry yelled, “You’re pissing me the fuck off.”
“Leave the lady alone,” the cabbie called out. He sounded scared but he did speak up for her.
That gave Winter a bit of needed strength. She took a few more steps back when Terry whipped his head around to stare at the cabbie.
“Shut the fuck up old man, before I shut you up.” Terry turned his angered attention back on her.
Winter backed away from Terry until the heel of one of her feet met the curb’s edge. She kept her eyes on Terry and used her foot to feel her way onto the sidewalk that led to the door of the store. If she could just get inside, maybe the clerk had protection hidden in the store?
When she took another step back, something large stepped into her path, and effectively shielded her from Terry.
Cord grabbed several fruit and nut chocolate bars off of the shelf then went to the chilled drink case in the rear of the store. If he had to be snowed in for the next few days, he needed to be stocked full of his guilty pleasures.
He picked up a few liter bottles of orange cream soda before he pulled out his earbuds and made his way to the register.
“Are those for you or Onyx?” Remy, the night cashier, glanced down at the items then gave Cord a knowing grin before looking away.
Cord held out his ATM card but Remy occupied with something outside, didn’t take it. “What’s going on?” he asked. Cord leaned back so he could see around a display case that blocked his view. Outside, a cab and a sedan were parked at odd angles.
Cord also noticed the people whose muffled voices he now heard since he removed his ear buds. He first focused on the man who walked toward the driver’s side of a cab, because the person was the one in motion. Next, his attention moved to the other male who stood beside the sedan with the driver’s side and passenger door ajar. The third person looked to be a female of small stature, who held a small child. The back of the woman was all Cord could see but he did see the child’s face clearly.
The child, a little girl with a round cherub face, had sad, fear filled eyes. Both, her and the woman were covered in snow. They had to be wet and cold. Why in the hell were they out in this damn storm? Not your party, not your business, Cord said to himself.
Though, it looked like a bad situation.
“I can’t get involved but I’ve called the police. No telling how long it will take with all the snow,” Remy said, shamefaced.
Cord figured he must have looked a little pissed because Remy felt that he had to explain himself. He didn’t expect Remy to physically help. The angry looking Asshole outside doing all the yelling, it was clear he’d been in a tussle or two before.
No, Remy already did all he could.
But Cord was a different story. He wasn’t on the clock and he was definitely more of a match. He smiled, shaking his head. Well, he was a closer match to the guy.
Cord left his stuff on the counter then headed for the door. By the time, he pushed it open he knew that the lady didn’t want to go wherever the loud guy wanted her and the kid to go. Cord said nothing to Onyx as he went to stand between the woman, as she slowly retreated, and the man he dubbed the ‘Asshole’.
Cord, glanced at the cab as it drove off. Why can’t you mind your own damn business, Cord? Those harsh words in his mother’s angry tone reverberated in his head but Cord ignored them. He planted himself between the woman and the Asshole but stood back enough to see both of them. The woman looked at him with, fear, confusion, then relief. The ‘Asshole’ grimaced.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Cord focused his intimidating gaze on Asshole but ignored the question and asked his own. “You leaving with him?” Cord questioned the woman.
“No.” Her voice was small but surprisingly sweet. Cord frowned because he wanted to look at her face, to see her entirely and not just hear the echo of her enchanting voice, but he had to keep his attention on the threat.
“Then you’re leaving him?” He asked, making sure she understood what he wanted from her. She must have understood because she lifted her shoulders and stood taller.
“Yes,” she answered with conviction.
That was all Cord needed. He continued to watch the Asshole but said, “Go stand by Onyx. Onyx,”—his dog barked, “protect.” Cord pointed at the woman and the child she held. He didn’t have to look back to know that his dog got to her feet and now stood in front of the pair, ready to attack friend or foe to follow his orders.
“You should leave,” he said to Asshole.
“Fuck you,” Asshole sneered, “you leave.” The guy looked past Cord and focused his attention on the woman. “You know this piece of shit, Winter? You’ve been cheating on me…you icy whore?”
Winter? Odd name but he liked it.
Cord glanced over his shoulder and noticed the way she recoiled at the ‘icy’ remark. Before she could answer, Cord closed the distance between him and the Prick—because yeah, his asshole status has been upgraded. “You should leave now. One: because she’s not going with you so you’re wasting my time. Two: if you make a move to force her, it won’t be the last thing you do,” he leaned in closer so only the prick could hear him, “but it will be the last pain-free thing you do for the rest of your life.”
Prick-the-Asshole stared at Cord for several heartbeats as he flexed his fist and rolled his shoulders.Cord wasn’t impressed. Prick-the-Asshole pivoted, kicked one of the suitcases, then gave Cord a scathing look. Cord squared off his shoulders and widened his feet, just in case the prick decided to go against his good advice.
The guy broke eye contact with Cord and pierced the woman with a hard look then slammed the back door of his vehicle shut. He then slowly walked around the front of the sedan, all the while staring her down, and got inside the driver’s seat.
Cord grabbed the luggage before the prick could run it over and laughed to himself as the sedan fishtailed as it sped out of the parking lot. He gathered all three pieces of luggage and carried them over to where the woman stood.
When he saw her, really saw her, Cord almost stopped in his tracks. Winter, he let her name settle in his head, is beautiful. Her coiled curly brown hair with honey blonde tips accentuated her smooth brown complexion. She had an oval face, almond-shaped eyes, her nose was button-cute, and her beautiful kissable lips were shaped like a bow. A beautiful bow on a tiny curvaceous gift who was named Winter.