Read an Excerpt
Despite the sun high in the sky, it was cold. More than cold, it was cover every inch of exposed skin so it doesn’t instantly turn white and freeze cold. And for Samantha Burke, the bitter cold was the one thing she hated about living in the mountains. Unfortunately for her, the temperatures had been unseasonably low in the last week leading up to the Christmas festivities of Cedar Springs, festivities she normally loved both to help plan and participate in. But unless it warmed up a little, and soon, she’d be hard pressed to get excited about skating on the lake or joining in the town’s Light Up celebrations.
With a sigh, she looked away from the frosty view outside the window, poured herself another coffee from the carafe on the counter and went to rejoin her friends in the living room. Carmen Kincaid, one of her best friends, had begged the ladies to come up to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend Dylan Harrison and their new son, Hunter. It was a nice place. More than nice: as one of the co-owners of the Springs resort, Dylan had a gorgeous apartment built for himself, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows that afforded brilliant views of the Rockies outside.
It was an exact duplicate of the apartment Sam shared with Dylan’s brother, Trent. An apartment she’d moved into over a year ago. A move she’d felt would lead to other, more permanent moves in their relationship.
“Hey, Sam. You have to see these pictures Bria took of Hunter. They’re amazing.”
She shook herself out of the fog she seemed to find herself in more and more lately, and focused on Carmen, who sat on the floor, her legs outstretched in front of her, a pile of pictures scattered between them.
“Of course they are.” Sam took a photo from the pile. “Hunter’s way too adorable for them to be anything but amazing.”
“And Bria’s pretty fantastic, too,” Carmen said.
Bria blushed, the way she usually did when someone complimented her work. Which was all the time, because she was an extremely talented photographer. She was also a really nice person, and even though it had taken a bit to get past the walls she put up, Sam was glad they had and now she could count both her and her boyfriend, Jax Carver, as good friends.
“Really, it’s not hard to take pictures of this little guy. He’s perfect.” Bria didn’t even look at the other women as she spoke, she was so focused on Hunter. They’d always had a special relationship. Bria had inadvertently helped Carmen with her labor, and no one was as surprised as Bria by how much she enjoyed spending time with the baby. No doubt, Jax and Bria would be the next to get pregnant.
The thought filled Sam with unexpected and totally inappropriate jealousy. Why shouldn’t they have a baby? Sure, they could and some would say, should, get married first, but Carmen and Dylan hadn’t. And they seemed perfectly happy in their family situation.
That’s because they have a family situation, Sam thought. All she had was a live-in boyfriend. And of course she loved Trent. More than anything. But their relationship wasn’t moving forward, and more and more Sam couldn’t help think that it was because they’d rushed into things too soon. Maybe they weren’t meant to be together forever and get married and have babies. Maybe that’s not what Trent wanted. After all, they’d gotten serious quickly, and shortly after, she’d moved in to his apartment and out of her little house down in town that was now occupied by their friends Rhys and Kari.
And they’d probably be the next to get engaged.
Sam tossed the picture down on the pile and walked over to the window, avoiding the questioning gazes from all the women. She didn’t want to have to admit she was burning up with jealousy for all of them. Especially Beth, her best friend, who couldn’t join them for coffee because she was with her rock star fiancé Slade Black, while he finished up the last leg of his tour before the holidays. It was all too much.
“Sam?” Kari’s quiet voice floated across the room. “You okay?”
She nodded, but didn’t turn around. She knew it would all sound ridiculous if she tried to say anything and she didn’t want any of her friends to feel bad about their own happiness. No. That was the last thing she wanted. Of course she was happy for them all. They deserved it. But so did she.
“Sam?” It was Bria’s voice this time. “I’m sorry if my pictures…I mean, I could take pictures of you and Trent, too. Lots of people are doing that for Christmas this year.”
She almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. Not that a photo shoot with Trent would be absurd; it might actually be fun. No, it was the idea that she was acting like a pouty child when she should be enjoying an afternoon with her friends. They didn’t get the chance to spend time together much anymore and she was wasting it by feeling sorry for herself.
Sam shook her head and turned away from the window. “Thank you, Bria. That would be awesome. I’d love to have you take some pictures of us. But I know how busy you are and there’s really no reason to do them.”
“What do you mean, no reason?” Carmen chimed in. “How about celebrating your love? That’s a good reason.”
Sam snickered. “You do realize how Disney that just sounded, right?”
“She has a point.” Kari agreed with Carmen, but Sam could see the woman try to hide her laughter. “It would be nice to do the pictures. Have you guys ever done any?”
“We’ve never had a reason to.”
“Exactly.” Having made her point, Sam helped herself to a cookie and sat on the floor opposite Bria and the baby. “Maybe if we had a baby or were recently engaged or…” She drifted off as Hunter crawled over to her. He really was a cute little guy, and the happiest baby she’d ever seen. Sam broke off a bit of the cookie and fed it to him before Carmen could object.
She was so taken with the baby, she didn’t notice right away that her friends had stopped talking. It took her a minute, but finally Sam looked up to see them all staring at her. “Stop looking at me,” she snapped. “I told you, nothing’s wrong. And I don’t need any pictures of Trent and me, either.”
“If you say so,” Kari said slowly.
“I do.” She gave them all a stern look before she pasted a smile on her face. “Now tell me what this little guy wants for Christmas.”
Her friends dissolved in happy chatter about Hunter’s first Christmas. As soon as it was polite enough to do so, Sam excused herself and let herself into her empty apartment across the hall.
Of course it was empty. Trent would be working. It’s what he did. And she couldn’t blame him. Not really. He’d worked really hard to get the Springs up and running, and his hard work had a lot to do with how successful the hotel was. They were always booked up and now with the new ski resort, Stone Summit, opening just up the mountain, the notoriously slower winter months were set to look just as successful.
So why then was it too much for her to expect Trent to slow down and focus on their relationship a little? Every time she mentioned that they take a holiday, he had a reason it wasn’t a good time. If she wasn’t such a strong, self-assured woman, she might have been worried about things between them long before now.
She pulled the afghan off the back of the couch and wrapped herself in it as she stared out at the snow coming down harder now. For a while they’d both been workaholics, doing their best to make their individual businesses successful, and that had been okay, for a time.
But people change. Things change. Heck, she’d changed.
And maybe now she wanted more.
* * *
Trent Harrison was in the middle of combing over November’s numbers for the third time, trying to make sense of the patterns that were slow to emerge. In business, there were always patterns that would help to predict the future, and he knew if they went through it just one more time, he’d be able to see it.
“Are we done here?” Across the table, his brother Dylan gathered up papers and stuffed them into his portfolio. He was already half out of his seat when Trent objected.
“We still have to—”
“We don’t. Not tonight. It’s late and I have a baby boy waiting for a hug before he goes to bed. And hell, where’s Sam? Why don’t you take her down to the Stillwater for dinner?”
It wasn’t a bad idea. They hadn’t spent much time together lately and if there was anything he enjoyed, it was spending time with Sam. Preferably naked and in bed. Something else they hadn’t had much time for lately. Maybe he’d order up some dinner and keep her all to himself.
“You know what?” Trent gathered his own papers and stood. “That sounds like a good idea.”
Together, they walked out of their offices and headed to the elevator bank. As they waited, Dylan’s phone chirped. He pulled it from his pocket and read the text message that appeared on the screen.
“Hey,” he said to Trent. “Why don’t you stop by our apartment before you go home? Carmen wants to talk to you about something.”
Trent shrugged. It wasn’t an unusual request and it probably wouldn’t take more than a few minutes; besides, he didn’t like to admit it, but he’d take any excuse to see his nephew. He’d never been one for kids, but Hunter was different. Something about him made Trent actually consider having some of his own one day.
The elevator ride to their penthouse floor only took a few minutes, and instead of going into the apartment he shared with Sam, Trent headed across the hall with Dylan. He watched as Dylan greeted Carmen with a kiss and took the baby from her arms before he headed into the living room. Trent felt a twinge of something in his gut as he watched the cozy family scene. Was it jealousy? That was crazy, because he had the love of his life across the hall, and ever since he’d met Sam, he’d been totally satisfied that there was no one else for him.
“We need to talk.” Carmen took his arm and led him into the kitchen. “I had the girls over here today.”
“And Sam came.” Carmen turned to the stove and gave her attention to the pot of boiling water.
“That’s a good thing, I’m assuming.” Trent leaned up against the counter and waited for Carmen to get to the point.
“It is. But there’s something you should know.”
His senses instantly went on high alert and he stood straight. “What? Is everything okay?”
“Yes.” Carmen shook her head and nodded at the same time. “I mean, no. There’s something not right with Sam. We were talking about the baby, and Slade and Beth and how they’ll probably be planning a wedding soon, and Sam just kind of disconnected. She looked sad, Trent.”
He had trouble following the conversation. Nothing was wrong with his girlfriend, but she looked sad? Nothing made sense. “I don’t understand.”
Carmen sighed and put her hands on her hips. “You’ve been working a lot lately.” It wasn’t a question, so Trent simply shrugged in response. “And you’ve been living together for over a year now.” He shrugged again. “Her friends are having babies and getting married.”
“And Sam’s feeling left out.”
He didn’t have an answer for her right away. In fact, he didn’t have an answer for her at all. He’d thought everything was good with Samantha and their relationship. He was happier than he’d ever been and even though he’d had reservations about moving in together as quickly as they had, it all worked out. Things were good. What Carmen was saying was ridiculous.
She looked as though she was going to say something else, but just then the pot of water boiled over and Dylan called from the other room, something about an “explosive diaper.” Definitely Trent’s cue to leave.
“Just think about what I said,” Carmen called after him.
He’d think about it, all right. But if Samantha hadn’t said anything, why rock the boat? Everything was fine.
Trent turned the key in the lock and let himself into their apartment. It was just like the apartment across the hall, except where theirs had been full of life, the sounds of a happy baby and the smell of a home-cooked meal, the apartment he’d walked into was dark and quiet. Maybe Samantha wasn’t home. There was a chance she’d gone down to town and was at the Grizzly Paw.
“Samantha?” He dropped his portfolio and keys on the side table and walked through into the living room. “Are you home, sweetie?”
He saw the shadow on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and fast asleep. She looked so calm and peaceful and absolutely adorable. Trent bent down and placed a kiss on her forehead before he scooped her up in his arms.
She stirred in a half-sleep state and snuggled closer into his arms. Trent’s body responded instantly to the satisfying weight of her in his arms, and when she nuzzled into his neck, he turned to take her to the bedroom, where he had a plan to convince her that maybe she wasn’t so tired after all.
“You’re home early.” Samantha stretched like a cat when he deposited her on the bed and her mouth spread into a slow, sexy smile. “It’s nice.”
Trent dropped to the bed on top of her and framed her body with his arms. “With you here waiting for me, how could I stay away?” He slid his hands under her t-shirt and slowly moved them over her skin, feeling the heat of her. A low groan escaped her lips, encouraging him, and he captured her lips with his own. He kissed her thoroughly before he removed the rest of her clothes and showed her just how happy he was to be home with her.
Later, much later, Trent pulled Samantha up against his body and held her close. She fit perfectly with him, in his arms. He kissed her hair, inhaled the fresh scent that was distinctly hers and hers alone. “I love you.”
“Mmmm.” She wriggled in his arms to settle herself further into his embrace. Passion surged in his groin, but something stopped him from acting on it. Something that had been troubling him.
“Are you happy?” He asked the question before he could stop himself. She stiffened in his arms. “I mean, are you…is there anything…”
Samantha turned in his arms so she looked up at him. Her beautiful deep chocolate eyes stared directly into his. “Trent,” she said slowly. “I love you.” He nodded. Of course she did. He knew that. She turned again and snuggled into him once more. She was quiet for a long time, and he’d assumed she’d fallen asleep, but then she spoke again, her voice quiet and heavy now, as if she were just on the verge of unconsciousness. “Sometimes, don’t you want more?”
He wasn’t sure he heard her correctly, and before he could ask, the soft, even sounds of her breathing filled the space. Trent placed another kiss into her hair and held her tight. He was no longer sleepy, and Samantha’s question filled his head, replaying over and over. Was Carmen right? Was Samantha unsatisfied? Did she feel left out as their friends all moved on with their lives?
It wasn’t as if he didn’t want to move forward with their relationship; it was just that he hadn’t thought much about it. Things were fine with them—why would he? But if Samantha felt unsettled, even a little bit, he had to do something about it. Especially if her best friend would be the next to get married. Beth’s wedding to Slade was all anyone seemed to talk about lately. Of course Samantha was excited for Beth, but maybe…a smile crossed Trent’s face as an idea formulated. Maybe, he’d figured out the perfect Christmas gift for the love of his life.