Get a Clue(2)

By: Jill Shalvis

That’s when her driver had begun four-wheeling up a narrow private road lined by tall pines covered in so much snow they looked like two-hundred-foot ghosts, swaying in the wind. On either side of them was a dramatic drop as they rose in altitude with every mile. Hues of peach, pink, blue, and purple colored the sheer granite escarpment of the Sierras through the falling snow in the deepening dusk.

Finally they’d maneuvered down a long, steep driveway, stopping in front of a beautiful log-cabin mansion. The backdrop should have been a private alpine lake, but the ascending dark and thick precipitation kept it from view.

“Here you go.” The driver had reached over and opened her door instead of getting out and coming around for her.

She supposed she couldn’t blame him; night was nearly upon them, and there was at least three feet of white, fluffy snow all around. She ruined her new suede boots just by hoofing it to the front door, clutching her only possession, her carry-on bag. She felt a little awed at how fast it was getting dark, and at the utter lack of city lights—or any lights, for that matter.

As she’d raised her hand to knock, a blast of wind pummeled her, plastering the snow from face to toe, going in her mouth, stinging her eyes, snaking like chilled fingers down her cashmere, open-necked sweater. Gasping for breath at the shocking cold, she staggered around to face her driver, intending to ask him for help.

He was gone.

As she contemplated the aloneness of that, a small streak rushed out from the corner of the house and practically across her feet, ripping a startled scream from her.

Then the streak howled. A coyote.

The sound had the hair on the back of her neck rising as she stumbled back against the door. Don’t panic, coyotes don’t eat humans. Probably. Hugging herself, she felt very alone.

Alone, alone, alone . . . the word echoed in her head in the voice of her mother, who was certain her troubled youngest child would never marry, would never bring forth grandchildren into the world to spoil, and therefore would never amount to anything.

Shrugging that off—no more pity parties!—Breanne eyed the house. It certainly looked impressive with mounds and mounds of white snow pressed against the base, more white stuff falling, and the sky ominously dark and foreboding. Inside, there was supposedly a huge stone fireplace, a Jacuzzi tub, a sauna, a mini movie theater with an entire library of DVDs to pick from, and much, much more, including her own discreet staff for the week.

A honeymooner’s delight, right? Dean had claimed to be excited. A shame he’d not been as excited about showing up for the wedding.

No one answered her second, desperately desperate knock, which for an instant perpetuated the hope that maybe she’d been cast in some sort of new reality show called Torture the Bride. Any second now, the director would yell Cut! and then, in a This Is Your Life moment, Dean would pop out and laugh at her for falling for it.

Only there was no camera, no Dean, laughing or otherwise, nothing but snow in her face, making her eyes water, her lips cold, raising goose bumps over every inch of her flesh.

Oh, and let’s not forget the coyote, still howling in the distance with his friends, discussing eating her for dinner.

Forget polite. She opened the unlocked front door and gaped in awe at the interior of a most impressive house. She stepped inside the foyer that stretched up to the second story—and came face-to-face with a moose.

Just a head, she told herself, mounted on the wall. Slowly, purposely, she let out the air that she’d nearly used to scream. “Definitely not in Kansas anymore,” she whispered. There was also a wood mirror with shelves, each holding glass lamps that sent soft light across shiny, hardwood floors. In complete opposition to the “warm” feel of the room, the air itself danced over her, icy cold.

“Hello?” she called out, trying to stomp the snow off her clothes. Not much of it budged, happier to stick to her every inch, making her wet and miserable.

There was a reception area with a small pine desk, and a sticky note there that read:

Newlyweds get the honeymoon suite, complete with accessory package. Room is open and cleaned.

Well, damn it, she might not be a newlywed, but she was still getting that honeymoon suite, charged as it was to the rat bastard Dean’s credit card. She just hoped the suite was warmer than the foyer, because she could make ice cubes in here.

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