Authors: Mackenzie McKade
To the irresistible man in my life. I love you.
Unbroken powdered meadows stretched as far as the eye could see. Snow so pure and undisturbed it gave Sydney Boyle the impression she was alone, instead of perched upon one of the many winding trails within the Big Horn Mountains.
Straddling a stationary snowmobile, she pushed her goggles up to rest against her helmet. Nearly blinded by the bright sun reflecting off the ocean of white, she squinted until her eyes adjusted. She smiled beneath the ski mask protecting her face from the freezing temperatures.
How could anything be so perfect?
Majestic mountains stretched toward a crystal blue sky. The air smelled so clean and fresh, tinted lightly with the scent of pine. And then the silence. So serene that life itself seemed to stand still.
Yes. This was perfection.
No office. No computer. No clients or customers. Just her and…
The sudden roar of an engine shattered Sydney’s perfect moment, jerking her from the bewitching spell. Disappointment and irritation clashed as the noise grew louder and nearer. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched a rider top the hill. The snowmobile caught air, soaring high above the ground. For a moment, her heart skipped a beat. Then the heavy machine landed with a thud, grooving deep ruts in the pristine haven.
Sydney shook her head. She knew the interloper wasn’t her sister Cameron, or one of the three friends she had arrived with that afternoon. No. The rider oblivious to the peace he had disturbed would be Sean—her older and very arrogant brother, bane of her existence, and, unfortunately, her boss.
Sydney clenched her jaws, her gloved fingers tightening around the handlebars of her ride. The man was exasperating.
Sudden sorrow swept over her like the brisk breeze stirring the loose powder to rise and shift across the ground. She inhaled a shuddering breath. The sting in her eyes and chest wasn’t only from the cold. After Sean Duncan Senior had passed away last spring of heart failure, his only son had returned home from finishing his doctorate to take over the reins of their family’s publishing business in New Jersey.
Sean made several sharp turns testing his new machine, or maybe he was showing off, although surely not for her.
Something itchy crawled beneath her skin. More irritation? Why did she let him trouble her? Sydney pulled in a breath and exhaled, steadying herself.
Maybe it was time to quit—move on.
Emotion thickened in her throat with the thought of leaving the only stable life she had ever known. No. She would stay because she loved being an editor.
What a crock. Not that she didn’t adore being an editor, but Sydney remained because she loved the Duncans. They were family.
Abandoned at the age of two, she had been in and out of foster homes. At the age of twelve, Shay and Sean Duncan Senior had taken her in and raised her with their two children. They made her feel welcomed, wanted—a part of their family. Well, with the exception of Sean, and maybe that had been her fault. They hadn’t exactly started off on the right foot.
Just a girl flirting with her teens, Sydney had had an awful crush on Sean. Long, dark hair, broody, with a touch of bad boy, the seventeen-year-old had been the epitome of what every girl dreamed of. That was until he embarrassed her in front of three of his friends.
His exact words had been, “Get lost, squirt. I’m too old to hang around you.”
Later he had tried to apologize, but what was done was done. Sydney didn’t need anyone, especially a cocky boy. Thankfully, a year later he left for Harvard.
As he pulled to a stop beside her, his vehicle making a percolating sound, she glanced away. Old habits were hard to break.
“You’re still angry at me for rejecting your book?” His deep voice was muffled beneath his ski mask.
Slowly she turned to face him. Behind his shaded goggles she could only imagine his gray-blue eyes narrowed, or was he laughing at her this time?
Sydney raised her chin. “I’m a professional. It’s your right to veto a manuscript. You’re the boss.”
Honestly? The story needed work. Yet the author had something special in her voice that had called to Sydney. If only she hadn’t been so flustered with Sean during their meeting. She couldn’t find the right words to support her case. But his presence had always left her befuddled. It didn’t help that he was God’s gift to women. Tall, dark and far too handsome for his own good, Sean had women coming out of the woodwork.
Not that she cared one iota.
“Cameron’s snowmobile quit halfway up the mountain. The rest of the group is calling it a day.” Sean stared at her for longer than was comfortable. “You know you shouldn’t go off by yourself. What if that had been you?”
Was she two or twenty-two?
Sydney ground her teeth together. When would he stop treating her like a child? The last thing she needed was to be chastised, especially by him.
Instead of wasting her breath with an answer, she silently asked herself a different question. Why had she agreed to this trip knowing she would be trapped in the same house with Sean?
Sliding her goggles down her nose, she reached for the ignition and gave it a twist. The engine screamed to life. Without hesitating, she pressed the gas and shot forward, jerking herself backward and almost losing control of the snowmobile.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
Sydney tightened her grip and carefully scooted up the seat. The very last thing she needed was to fall on her ass in front of
What made it worse was that the whole way down the mountain Sean followed closely behind her. Three times she took a wrong turn and he had to ride alongside her to steer her in the right direction. The last time he stopped her, she lost it.
“Take the lead,” she yelled over the loud engines.
He shook his head. “I don’t want you to get lost.”
Great. So he would dog her every move. Follow her like she was a wayward child.
Sydney squeezed out an exasperated breath.
If she had an ounce of daredevil in her, she would have sped ahead, leaving his sorry ass behind. As it was she continued her sedate pace, until finally the two-story log cabin they had rented came into view.
It was a beautiful sight, the massive structure cradled in the arms of tall pines. Large panoramic windows stretched around the house so that from north, south, east or west you could enjoy the picturesque landscape. And the inside of the home was as grandiose as the outside. It even had a sunroom with a Jacuzzi and closed-in sauna.
Without waiting for Sean, Sydney glided into the large open garage alongside the others’ vehicles and cut the engine. Swinging her leg over the side of the snowmobile, she climbed off and removed her gloves, goggles, helmet and ski mask, before hanging them on the bike’s handles. An ebony braid fell midway down her back. For a brief second, she couldn’t help wondering what the rest of her looked like. Then again, who cared? She wasn’t trying to impress anyone, and that included Sean.
In a small retention area that had a floor drain, she stomped her feet, shaking off the clumpy snow, before she bent down to unfasten her boots. Until now she hadn’t realized how cold her fingers and toes were. They ached, tingling as feeling rushed back in. Glancing around to find her foot warmers, she startled when Sean handed her the fur-lined boots.
Taken aback by his courtesy, Sydney stared dumbfounded at him. For a moment she was unable to tear her gaze away. Heavy eyelashes framed mesmerizing eyes that even as a sensitive teen had reached out to her. She swallowed hard, resisting the urge to brush back a lock of dark hair that had fallen across his forehead. Damn the man. He had that bedroom look about him. The one that made a woman’s heart speed and knees turn to jelly. It did hers and she hated it.
Choking on a “thank you”, she snatched her boots.
“Sydney?” He reached for her arm, but she moved beyond his grasp.
“Really. It’s okay, Sean.”
Setting her boots down, she wiggled out of her ski jacket and hung it on a hook along the wall that held all the others’ jackets. Then she leaned against the cold surface and eased her foot into a boot, before donning the other.
“You were probably right about the book,” she admitted grudgingly.
Before he could say more, she had already edged toward the door. Quickly, she opened it and stepped inside, leaving Sean behind.
The wide-open country kitchen was vacant, but laughter abounded beyond the doorway leading to the living room. She propped her hip against the butcher-block island to steady herself. Her heart was a mass of flutters, her stomach weak. Why did his nearness affect her so? Straightening her turtleneck shirt, she hid her unease behind a smile and headed for the noise.
She entered the living room to see the rest of their party sipping wine and lounging on two love seats. Two brown leather love seats and several matching chairs were arranged in a semi-circle before the huge flagstone fireplace. Orange and red flames crackled in the hearth, taking away the chill and adding the scent of pine. In the background, soft music played low.
Harry Morris, Cameron’s sexy boyfriend, had his feet propped on the coffee table before him, his arm draped around her shoulders. When the willowy brunette caught sight of Sydney, she sprang to her feet.
“Good. I thought perhaps you and Sean had gotten lost.” Standing half a foot taller than Sydney’s five-four, her sister’s cheerful smile always warmed Sydney.
She cleared her throat. “Do I have to admit to a bad turn?”
“I think there were three of them.” The deep voice behind her made her cringe as Sean strolled up beside her.
. She tensed, feeling his body heat seep into her. Hoping for inconspicuous, she inched away from him. His frown revealed she didn’t quite manage the fine art of stealth.
“Well…” Six foot two, blond and gorgeous, Harry stood and eased up behind Cameron. “It’s a good thing you were looking out for her.” He snaked his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “You know most women are directionally impaired.”
“Whoa there, buddy.” Cameron arched a neatly plucked brow and glanced over her shoulder at him. “I just might not find my way to our bedroom tonight.”
,” he groaned. “You know I wasn’t speaking of you.”
While Harry nibbled on Cameron’s neck, Louisa and Ted, the only married couple in their small group, chuckled. Laid-back and “real”, the Campbells had been high school sweethearts. Ted was the typical athletic, brown-haired jock, while Louisa the sweet, blonde cheerleader. She had been one of Cameron’s closest friends since third grade. They did everything together and always included Sydney, even though she was a couple of years younger.
Once again, Sydney had to ask herself why she allowed Cameron to talk her into coming this weekend. Everyone was paired up with the exception of her and Sean. The arrangement was a disaster waiting to happen.
“We’re heading up to Big Bear for dinner and some dancing.” Cameron leaned her head to the side so that Harry could continue his apology. “You two going to join us?”
“Sure,” Sean said.
Sydney shuddered. “Not me.” Sean might feel obligated to ask her to partner him. His closeness would be suffocating, and there was no telling what her contrary body would do when he touched her. “I have some reading.”
He stared at her for a moment without speaking. Then he finally asked, “You brought work with you?”
His brows furrowed. “I’ll have to see about signing you up for time-management classes.”
Her backbone went rigid with indignation. “Instead, perhaps you should replace Edward. He’s been gone for six months.” She regretted the bite in her voice the second the words left her mouth. Still, she had consumed much of Ed’s workload. Long days and nights were the only way she kept up.
If the resentment in Sydney’s tone wasn’t enough, the look of disdain said it all. The woman was pissed. Pert nose in the air, she stared defiantly at him, like every other time they butted heads. And there was a lot of that going on since he’d returned seven months ago.