Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Snowed In :: Chapter 1


Five minutes. Marissa Clarke knew she couldn’t have stepped away from the reception hall any longer than that. She scanned the room, which was draped in so much white and bright pink tulle it should be illegal. The number of wedding guests shuffling around the dance floor had dwindled to less than twenty, making it impossible not to notice her roommate had disappeared. All night she’d purposely kept an eye on Christa, who’d drunk too much champagne and had an old college boyfriend hanging on her.

She’d been dutiful for the last two days, ensuring last night’s rehearsal dinner and today’s wedding ran smoothly, if not perfect. Maid of honor was a full-time job. So of course her one trip to the bathroom in hours resulted in a missing Christa and the not-so-suspicious absence of her former flame as well.

God, she hated weddings. She hadn’t been to a single one since her own had imploded in the most mortifying way possible. Tanya was the only person she’d brave this for. Especially since so many of the guests tonight were their college friends who had witnessed her own catastrophe. The entire weekend she’d been sharply aware of how many of them whispered about her, still wondered what she had done to be so spectacularly jilted.

Marissa sank into a chair at a nearby table and rested her chin on her hands. She was so emotionally exhausted from feeling scrutinized by everyone that she wanted nothing more than to go to her room, close the door, and let it all go. But she knew exactly what she’d fine if she went upstairs now. The world’s rudest roommate and her dolt of an ex getting it on, in her room. She couldn’t decide whether to go break it up or let it play out. But then, if she let them have at it she’d have to sleep in a room—and a bed—that smelled like sex. She shuddered at the thought.

She should have said no when Christa begged to room with her. After all, she’d booked a single room at the swish central Oregon resort on purpose. But she’d agreed out of kindness, the way she always did. “No” was in her vocabulary, but it didn’t get used very often. Especially when it came to her friends.

Tanya had wanted their entire sorority pledge class at her wedding. They’d spent hours hunting down addresses to invite everyone for the mini-reunion. So when flighty Christa RSVP’d at the last minute and there’d been no room at the inn, Marissa had offered to share hers so her best friend could have her wedding-day wish.

She was good at taking care of things. Making a list and checking it thrice, that’s what made her an excellent event coordinator, and apparently a good friend for free-spirited artists to have. Though stealing away to her room for sex was so far out of bounds she could hardly believe it.

Maybe Jerry had only dragged Christa to the men’s room for a quickie. In college Christa had called him the two-pump chump, so unless his prowess had improved in the last few years, they could reappear any minute now.

“Do you know where they went?” Scott Zimmermann’s deep baritone sounded behind her. His voice had always seemed so sexy, even when she had no business thinking of him that way.

“They gave you the slip too? We should have coordinated a babysitting schedule.” She turned in her chair and smiled, the sight of him hitting her with a familiar jolt of attraction. He still had a boy-next-door-meets-action-hero kind of thing going on. Always up to something and as easy on the eyes as he was to talk to. She’d witnessed too many women get lost in his mossy green eyes and thick eyelashes. Plenty had baited their hook, but none ever caught him.

Scott sank into the chair beside her and shook his head. “I’ve wanted to go home ever since Matt and Tanya left. I should have dragged Jerry out of here by the ear.”

She nodded, wishing she had her own place to escape to. But Portland was hours away, and she had a post-wedding brunch to attend tomorrow before her maid of honor duties were done. “I should have put Christa in a chastity belt before the wedding,” she muttered. “She practically swooned when she spotted Jerry.” She cut a glance to Scott. “Don’t tell me, he forgot to book a room and that’s how you got saddled with him.”

Oh, that smile should be outlawed. “I take it that’s how you got Christa?”

“Guilty. And there’s only a king-sized bed in the room.” Her shudder was not at all exaggerated. She let him connect the dots. His cringe said he followed it with no problem.

“Should we dance while we’re waiting for their walk of shame?” It was hard to miss his hopeful look. He’d asked last night after the rehearsal dinner and twice today, but she’d been too focused on ironing out wedding details the resort coordinator was not trained to handle. She’d much rather organize an event than make idle conversation with people she didn’t know anymore. If she ever did.

“I’m too spent to do anything but sleep. I need the energy to do it all again tomorrow.” Marissa checked the bangle watch on her wrist and sighed. “I’d hoped they were doing the deed in the bathroom. But now I’m sure they’re in our room. No, my room. I’m going to have to evict him and bother housekeeping for fresh sheets.”

“I’ll go with you.” He stood so tall and solid, his athletic body gift wrapped in a tuxedo. Not a rented one either, she recalled from the wedding planning. She’d wondered why he had a tux hanging in his closet ever since.

“You don’t have to.” She pretended not to see his hand as she snagged her clutch from the deserted table and stood. She didn’t want to know if his touch would still vibrate through her followed by a sharp hook of guilt. She’d put Scott deep into the friend zone a long time ago, and now was not the time to throw him a pass. “I’ll send Jerry down. Probably with a swift kick to his sorry butt.”

His gaze lingered on her face a beat too long, the corners of his eyes crinkling as that I-know-your-secrets smile spread across his face. His chuckle sent a warm ripple of desire down her spine. “I want tickets to that show.”

Of course he did. She didn’t bother to convince him she could handle it. The sooner she got to her room and could shut the world out, the better. They walked to the elevator, her head level with his shoulder. Most of the guys she dated were shorter than her, and her strappy sandals had a three-inch heel. She’d forgotten what it felt like to stand tall and still feel delicate, feminine.

“Have you grown since college?” she asked, trying to make conversation. She pushed the button for her floor and stepped back, much too close to him. He didn’t move away, and neither did she, though her heartbeat took off.

He shrugged and glanced down at her. “I hope not. There’s an upper limit to height where it goes from being tall to circus freak. You know, like the half of the basketball team that started.”

She gave a silent laugh, imagining all those giants with rainbow wigs and red bulb noses. Next time one of them gave her a snide comment she’d imagine they were clowns. As the elevator rose, she flashed through memories of those basketball team parties back in college. Chris would abandon her to party with his entourage, leaving her alone and so out of place. But Scott had always taken the time to talk to her, to listen. He’d been the one to suggest she join a sorority, gaining an instant sisterhood and support system. She wouldn’t have survived the aftermath of her non-wedding disaster without them.

He bumped her shoulder and raised his brows. “We should have brought a pitcher of ice water. Sneak in there and cool them both right off.”

She shook her head, an amused puff slipping out. “It might not work with these horndogs.” She shot him an optimistic look. “Are you taking them both back to your place?” The bachelor party at Scott’s cabin had been all any of the groomsmen could talk about.

“Probably.” His grimace was filled with disgust. “I feel like a parent, dragging my kid home from a rave.” Sympathy bloomed next to relief in her chest. If Christa stayed with Jerry, there was half a chance she’d actually get some sleep tonight—after she called housekeeping. But that ray of hope quickly darkened when they approached her room.

“What the actual hell?”

Next to the door sat a black paisley suitcase. Her suitcase. No. Just no. If Christa thought she could kick her out of her own hotel room, she had best think again. Outside. In the cold.
She jammed the keycard into the lock, turning the handle the second the lock clicked. She barged forward, but the door stopped dead an instant later. She glanced at the security lock and her frustration boiled over.

“Damn it, Christa!” she yelled inside, almost gagging on the waft of sweat and sex.
Inside the dark room came a thump, followed by whispers and rustling. Christa had the nerve to smile when she put her face to the three-inch gap, clutching a bedsheet against her chest.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Marissa asked her used-to-be friend.

“We’re getting back together.” The blonde batted her fake eyelashes and beamed with excitement.

“Wait, you’re what?” Holy hell, the girl had learned nothing in college. She lowered her voice, forcing a calm tone. “Have you forgotten how he dumped you the week before he graduated and then backpacked through Europe instead of getting a job?”

“We’ve both grown up, and he’s a basketball coach for underprivileged kids now.” Her indignant glare communicated exactly what she thought of Marissa’s opinion. “We’re going to give it another shot. Be happy for me.”

Marissa shook her head and surrendered that battle, but not the war. “Fantastic. I’m thrilled for you both. Now will you please take your reunion out of my hotel room?”

“About that . . .”

“I don’t know why my suitcase is out here, but I’m not sleeping in a hotel lobby so you can get laid. It’s my room. I booked it. I’m paying for it.”

Jerry’s head appeared atop Christa’s. He cleared his throat. “I’ll pay for the room.”

“No, you won’t, because you’re not staying. You need to get out, now.” She grabbed the handle of her suitcase. “And take Christa with you.”

“I would, except I’m bunking at Scott’s place and he’s— Oh hi, buddy.” The interloper had the nerve to keep the grin on his face as he looked over her shoulder.

She snapped her fingers to keep both trespassers on topic. “No one wants to host your little rendezvous. One of you should have bothered to get a room before you needed to, you know, get a room.”

“It’s not that.” Christa put on her most dazzling smile, the one she saved for modeling shoots and manipulation. “We’d like some privacy to reconnect. You understand.”

“The only thing I understand is that I booked this hotel room, not you.” Awareness shivered up her spine, the scent of soap and cedar wrapping around her like a blanket. She didn’t need to turn to know Scott had stepped closer, way inside her personal bubble.

Christa mouthed the word please. “You could take Jerry’s room up at Scott’s. You’ll have your own room instead of having to share a bed with me. And Wi-Fi. I know you’re annoyed about the Internet here.”

“Help me out,” Jerry implored his friend.

“You’re welcome to stay with me, Marissa.” Scott’s deep timbre vibrated through her again. “The guest room has a private bath, and it’s quiet. Which I doubt either of these two will be.”
Christa nodded like a bobble head. “See? Your own bathroom. I won’t be there to mess up where you put everything.”

Marissa bit the inside of her cheek and her pulse kicked up. She barely restrained urge to kick in the door, call security, and have their naked asses dragged from the hotel. But that would be the talk of brunch tomorrow, instead of everyone telling Tanya how much they’d enjoyed the wedding. This maid of honor gig just didn’t end.

“I’ll drag them back to my place if you want,” Scott offered. “Though my rules stand for you two— I don’t want to hear it, see it, or smell it.”

A punch of disgust turned her stomach. When he put it that way, Marissa really didn’t want to go back in that hotel room where they’d done who knows what, who knows where. She’d have to have housekeeping disinfect the place, and pack up Christa’s things, and she really didn’t want to be on anymore. She had every right to that room, but this whole mess would go away if she just stayed at Scott’s. After all it was just one night. She’d known Scott since college; she’d be safe with him. Even if he did remind her of complete and utter humiliation.

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