Snowed In (Sleigh Ride Novella Book 1)

Chapter 1

“You’re really going to drive all the way up to Vermont to spend Christmas with family you haven’t seen in years?” Spencer’s voice was so thick with sarcasm that Roxanne couldn’t decide which part of what he’d said disgusted him the most. Despite the perfection of his coifed hair and meticulously starched clothes—both of which were styled with painstaking precision—one might think he were more mannequin than man and thus impervious to the indignities of human emotion. But, the expression on Spencer’s face said plainly that he was not. He was wearing the most severe of his trademark animated faces: upper lips drawn back to expose a row of pearly white teeth, nostrils flared, and expertly sculpted eyebrows dangerously arched. It was the one that clearly said he hated everything that had just came out of his mouth.

All of it.

“In a log cabin,” Spencer added before Roxanne could defend herself, his index finger pointed haughtily at the ceiling for emphasis. A visible shudder passed through him. He was so spun up that he actually looked faint.

“I guess,” Roxanne shrugged, looking for a way to deflect her friend’s derision as she nervously fingered the edge of her pencil wrap skirt. She tapped the toe of her heel against the plastic floor mat under her rolling desk chair and endeavored not to squirm under his gaze—which was pretty much impossible with Spencer Bradley. It wasn’t that she disagreed with him—in fact, she hated everything about that sentence, too—but finding herself on the receiving end of her GBF’s disdain was not a place she enjoyed being. It made her feel small and uncertain…and Roxanne Hudson despised feeling small and uncertain. She’d moved to New York City and gotten a job as a fashion editor just so she didn’t have to feel that way. It was hard to feel insecure about yourself when you were among the elite who determined what was hot and what was not, not to mention who was hot and not. Lately, Roxanne couldn’t have felt more certain of herself. She’d leapfrogged two steps on the editorial ladder and had attended Milan Fashion Week this past fall. Her Vogue resume was growing; the editor-in-chief, Valerie Yurich, knew her by name after she’d wowed the team with a spread of the Royal Wedding. All of this meant Roxanne was on the fast track to her dream job—producing some of her own designs, the kinds that were flattering and affordable for the everyday woman and not just the runway. On Valerie’s request, Roxanne had even churned up the courage to pitch some of her sketches to the formidable fashionista after the success of her wedding coverage.

So far, though, Roxanne hadn’t heard back, and she was trying not to feel down about it. Besides, dreams were something you saved for “one day.” For now, she was content to wear other people’s names while she worked to get hers out there. Today she was wearing a new design straight off the Coco Chanel catwalk, paired with her favorite Christian Louboutin pumps, and a new cut-and-style that Francesca at Christo Fifth Avenue had assured her made her cheekbones pop and eyes sparkle.

Roxanne didn’t just work for Vogue, but she had felt vogue when she looked in the mirror this morning. Unfortunately, her ensemble didn’t come with a shiny answer to Spencer’s questions as an accessory, and if anyone could sniff out a lie, it was him. Spencer’s nose for lies was so on point he was basically a truffle pig wrapped in expensive designer labels. He was certainly at the top of his game when it came to nosing around in Roxanne’s—and everyone else’s on the editorial floor—personal lives.

“It’s not as bad as you make it sound,” she protested, waving her hand flippantly in his direction. “It’ll be very Currier and Ives.” The reference felt old-fashioned coming out of her lips, and she reconsidered. “Or, maybe Martha Stewart”—she sucked her teeth at the thought—“Post-prison, Martha Stewart.” The last was an important clarification. Pre-jail Martha Stewart was DIY and Kmart; post-jail Martha Stewart was DIY and Snoop Dogg—edgier and several degrees of magnitude hotter by every possible metric.

“Rox. Honey.” Spencer, a diehard fan of Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, dismissed her as he perched against the edge of her cubicle wall with a motherly tsk, careful not to crease the edge of his carefully pressed rose-colored shirt that had probably cost more than her last utility bill. He fixed her with his characteristic glower—the one he reserved for the most obtuse and the most ridiculous, but rarely used on her. “Vermont. Drive. Christmas.” He rolled his eyes, and then widened them meaningfully as he listed off the finer points of Roxanne’s holiday plans, straightening each of his cuff links as he named off every item. “You hate all of those things. Why on earth are you doing this to yourself?”

Roxanne tugged at her skirt again, and then smoothed her thin cashmere sweater against her chest. She bit her lip and shrugged once more, furrowing her brows in an effort to ward off deeper thoughts about the subject at hand. It would all be so much easier if she could just put herself on autopilot and not think about it. That’s basically what she’d done when she’d been instructed to write a throwback column to 90s fashion, and it had worked then, saving her from the horror of sunflower t-shirts, butterfly hairclips, and black lace chokers. She was so glad she’d missed that era. Returning to the present, Roxanne did her best to feign confidence, flipping the ends of her long auburn hair over her shoulder as she turned a defiant face to her coworker-slash-bestie. “Because it’s Christmas,” she stated matter-of-factly, hoping it sounded more convincing than it felt coming out of her mouth. Judging by the smirk on Spencer’s face, it didn’t. “It’s the season of giving, and”—Roxanne sighed, already exhausted from trying to hide her true feelings from someone who would see through it anyway—“perpetual suffering,” she admitted. “This year I’m giving up the rest of my sanity.”

“Honey, you do realize Christmas is in, like, three days. We didn’t even have a chance to throw your sanity a goodbye party.”

She shrugged. She had thought about leaving even later—maybe just showing up the day of the holiday instead of suffering through a few extra days of Yuletide cheer—but if she pushed it that late, she may lose her nerve and never go at all. “Figured I’d put in the face time with the family,” she fibbed. “Enjoy the festivities?” She hated making statements that sounded like questions, but this upspeak was inevitable.

Spencer scoffed and flicked a speck of invisible lint off his sleeve. “Mmm. It’s going to be so…” His voice trailed off and his lips puckered up while he searched for the right word, and then he wrinkled his nose as if the one he’d decided on actually tasted bad, and spat, “Quaint.”

The word was so sharp it almost hurt Roxanne’s ears.

Unfortunately, as usual, Spencer wasn’t wrong. Roxanne tightened the corner of her lips and tried to think up a silver lining to what promised to be a holiday nightmare. This whole thing was a death wish—not hers, obviously, but Grandma Myrtle’s. In failing health and ever-increasing wrinkles, this year might be Grandma Myrtle’s last Christmas, and she’d requested to spend it with the entire family at the mountain cabin that had been in their family ever since her grandfather had built it decades before. Roxanne’s attendance was mandatory, order of Grandma Myrtle.

Roxanne hadn’t been to the cabin since she was a girl. All she really remembered about it was that it was old, isolated, and barely had functional electricity much less Wi-Fi. It probably couldn’t even support dial-up, assuming there was a working phone line, which there probably wasn’t. It was also small, and drafty, and had questionable indoor plumbing. When she’d been younger Roxanne had loved the outdoors—the freedom, the wildness—and her family had spent most of their Christmases at the cabin, as well as most of their summers. Back then Roxanne had thought that Christmastime in the snow was the most majestic time of all the seasons. She’d waited anxiously all year for chestnuts roasting on an open fire, lumpy snowmen and snow angels on the lawn, carols and wassail, and all the other accouterments of the holidays. Then she’d grown up, joined the real world, and outgrown it all—not just the cabin and Christmas, but the outdoors in general. But, Grandma Myrtle had kept growing older as well, and at ninety-three who was Roxanne to deny an old woman’s last wish? She figured she could make it through one more year in the woods, and maybe even cook up a decent article on rustic Christmas something-or-other. Besides, it was just a couple of days—what was the worst that could happen? Not to mention, there was no way her mother would ever forgive her if she were a no-show. Luckily, Roxanne had found a super cute rib-stitched cashmere beanie at Burberry to keep warm and fashionable in the backwoods of Vermont. Her Instagram pictures were going to be super cute.

Spencer, however, wasn’t done with his interrogation, nor was he letting her off that easy. “And what about Hunter?” he asked, zeroing in for the kill as he casually admired his carefully manicured nails. “Will he be joining you on this homey holiday hoorah in the backwoods of nowhere?”

An uncomfortable twinge cramped Roxanne’s stomach and her eyes fell on the framed photograph of her boyfriend that sat near her desktop computer. It was a picture of the two of them at one of his photo shoots in the Bahamas over the summer—the last time they’d spent any real time together. They’d looked to happy in the photo, Hunter in board shorts and a linen button down, her in a silk white sundress, both of them beaming at the camera with their arms around each other. It was hard to believe things were so…different now than they had been then. She couldn't even remember the last time they’d done much of anything together, much less actually looked genuinely happy.

She scanned her desk for a distraction—anything to stack, or staple, or stamp. Perhaps there was an urgent email that needed her attention, or some copy deadline she’d overlooked. She wanted to talk about her on-again, off-again, maybe boyfriend even less than she wanted to talk about driving six hours to spend Christmas—her least favorite holiday, due to its over insistence on things like love and family and general warm fuzzies—in the woods. She hated the cold. She hated the snow. She hated the obligatory exchanging of gifts that nobody wanted. The whole thing made her stomach churn. Honestly, the same thing applied to her basically-ex live-in boyfriend, Hunter, too.

A stack of copyedits for this week’s column was waiting nearby, so she snatched those, tapped the bottom edge against the desktop so that’d they organize in a neat bunch, and held them against herself defensively as she pushed herself to her feet and angled for her escape—both from her coworker and her own thoughts. Nothing could shake off Spencer’s interest in her personal life like actually being reminded that he was supposed to be working his actual job.

“Oh, no.” A manicured hand stopped her in her tracks, and a clucking sound told her that she would not be exiting her cubicle. Spencer knew an escape attempt when he saw one. A worried tone replaced his previously sour one. “Don’t tell me—”

There was no use denying it. Roxanne cleared her throat and cut in before Spencer had too much time to speculate, feeling superior as at 5’8” she stood taller than him in her Loubs. “We’re not—,” she started, “We didn’t break up. We’re just…not in a great place right now. That’s all. He’s been gone a lot—like, a lot a lot. Lots of overseas ‘photoshoots’.” Roxanne added air quotes around the last for effect. It wasn’t so much that she thought Hunter might be cheating on her with one of the innumerable beautiful women always in his modeling envoy, it was just that she wasn’t sure he was actually working nearly as hard as he claimed to be. Lately hanging out with her at seemed to be at the very bottom of Hunter’s very long priority list.

Spencer had the grace to look sympathetic as he laid a light hand on the curve of her shoulder. When he spoke his voice had morphed again—from supportive to sassy—as per the protocol of one girlfriend finding another down in the relationship dumps. “Girl, it doesn’t matter if he's hot, this relationship has obviously reached its expiration date. Cut that boy loose and find yourself some fresh meat.” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “Besides, it’s not like you can’t do better. That boy is as dumb as a box of rocks, and you deserve a man whose brain is bigger than his—”

With a groan, Roxanne cut off Spencer’s advice before he could get fully ramped up. She moved out of her cubicle, waving the stack of papers as if she could shoo him away as easily as a nosy puppy. “We’re fine, really,” she insisted, knowing it was at best a stretch and at worst a total lie. “And his brain and his”—she lowed the papers over her abdomen and waved them again—“you know, are…proportional.” It was a generous statement, but obligatory.

“We’re fine,” Spencer echoed, emphasizing the word and ignoring her vain attempt at defense. “Honey, anyone who uses the word ‘fine’ to describe their love life is in deep trouble.”

Roxanne groaned and slid out of the cubicle, moving toward the copy room at the end of the aisle without bothering to respond. Spencer was right. She and Hunter were past their expiration date—so far past, actually, that had their relationship been a latte it would have already gone from curdled to downright spoiled. They’d been hanging on by that silken thread for months, and it had long since begun to fray. He was hot, but then of course he was. He was a model, for goodness sake. They were all hot; it was literally part of the job description. But some old stereotypes held true, and poor Hunter was equal parts handsome and vapid. Not to mention ambitious. He’d probably date a badger if it would help him improve his resume. Roxanne had begun to question whether she and Hunter had actually ever had something, or if they’d dated simply to leverage each other for their respective careers—his a budding leading man and hers a hopeful career in high-fashion, both things that they no longer needed each other for. He’d landed a contract at Elite Model Management while Roxanne had, of course, started climbing the corporate rungs at Vogue. Those occurrences matched exactly with when their relationship had started its downward descent. Lately it felt like they were two different people, living two completely different lives and just too lazy to bother leaving each other.

Not that Roxanne really cared at this point. A fashion editor dating a model was so cliché she should almost break it off with him just for sake of saving her reputation.

“Oh, Rox,” Spencer fake whispered as he swung himself away from her cubicle wall and began to move toward his own. He gave her a sly wink over his shoulder. “Maybe you should ask Santa for a new man this Christmas—assuming the Big Guy in Red delivers in Vermont. Maybe he’ll bring you a big, strong mountain man.”