I found my jacket hanging from the coat rack near the front door. I shrugged into it, wrapped my long, woolly scarf around my throat a few times, and stepped outside, closing the door quietly after me.
The cold robbed me of breath. It burned in my sinuses and throat and ears. The temperature had to have plummeted in the last couple of hours. Snow had started to pile in miniature drifts on the wet-dark deck and railings. The world was eerily hushed and silent, the snow seeming to absorb all sound.
It smelled like Christmas. Pine trees and woodsmoke and cold. I looked up at the sky, half expecting to see Santa’s sleigh silhouetted against the enormous silver moon that hung over the trees.
But Santa was still on the other side of the planet.
My foot slipped going down the steps, and I grabbed for the railing. I made it safely to the bottom. Snow petals melted against my hot face. My heart was thumping in a mix of alarm and anger as I crunched across the soft new snow to my car. It took a couple of tries to unstick the door. I slid in behind the wheel. The car felt like a refrigerator. My breath hung in the air. White lace covered the front and rear windows.
I turned on the engine and hit the defrosters. Lukewarm heat wafted out. I waited impatiently for the glass to clear, for the veil of new fallen snow to melt away. Regardless of what Rocky thought, I was not so stupid or impulsive as to risk a blind drive down the mountain.
I glanced across the clearing at the house. The white-blanketed ground had an almost unearthly glow. The chimney smoke looked white against the night. Lights shone cheerily from the windows. I could see Louis sitting at the table. He was still talking.
My throat closed. My eyes stung. Everything I wanted most was in that cabin. And might as easily have been on the moon.
I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the rest. Maybe I was getting sick because energy seemed to be draining out of me as though I’d opened a vein. Less messy though.
The idea of driving down that narrow, pitch dark road was just…
Thump! Thump! Thump!
My eyes jerked open and I sat bolt upright. A dark, burly figure filled the driver’s window and a Fair Isle-gloved hand was banging on the glass.
I rolled down the window. “Yes? What is it?”
Rocky began to splutter. “Whadya mean what is it? What do you think it is? Get out of the car, you headcase.”
“No, you look. You’re not driving home tonight, Jesse. I don’t care what you have planned. Poppy and your mama would kill me if anything happened to you.”
“I get it,” I said. “You don’t care what happens to me, but you don’t want Poppy—”
“Jesse, get out of the fucking car. If you weren’t coming down with Poppy’s flu, you wouldn’t say this stuff. And you’d never consider doing something this dumb.” He yanked open the door.
“Hey!” I drew back like a shy oyster clutching its pearl to its breast.
“I’m not comfortable in there.”
Rocky gaped at me. “What are you talking about? What do you think’s going to happen to you?”
“Louis doesn’t want me there and I don’t blame him.”
“I don’t care what Louis wants. Or what you want. Get out of the car. I’m freezing my ass off here.” Rocky reached in, groping me as he fumbled for my seatbelt and I gave a maidenly squeak and batted his hands away.
“I’ll do it!”
“Then do it.”
I turned off the engine, unlatched the seatbelt and climbed with dignity out of the car. Well, not really, because there actually is no dignified way to climb out of a car when you’re half frozen and stiff. I lurched out of the car. Rocky steadied me, hard hands on my shoulders, and said, “You’re not making this easy for me.”
“Why would I want to make it easy for you?”
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