Wrapped Up – Fall 2015
Stone Cliff Series, Book 4
‘Tis the season—for a little holiday magic.
Business deal behind him, attorney Carter Reed can’t wait to put Stone Cliff Resort and the festive town of Deerfield in his rearview mirror. Once upon a time, he believed in Christmas, but that was before Santa had permanently placed him on the naughty list.
When snowy roads and a stray dog send his car into a spin, foiling his attempt to get to the airport, a woman comes to his rescue. Suddenly, he can think of all kinds of ways to pass the time, but when she tells him he hit a magical wolf and he’s soon to get everything he needs, he’s more determined than ever to get out of town. He doesn’t believe in magic, and the last thing he needs is more false hopes and empty promises.
Biologist Josie Walker takes one look at Carter and can’t help but wonder if her Christmas wish has been granted. She’d like nothing better than to take him home and unwrap him, but Scrooge is determined to get out of town. When his every attempt to flee is thwarted, Josie knows the wolf is keeping him there, because sometimes what you think you want isn’t necessarily what you need.
Carter soon finds himself caught up in Josie’s spirit of Christmas. Making new memories with her has him wanting to ask for things—a family of his own, someone to love—things Santa had refused him as a child. But when the storm abates and he’s finally free to leave, will he get on the plane and turn his back on the one girl who has thawed his frozen heart or find the courage to break his rules and ask for everything he’s always needed?
Carter Reed stuffed a stack of legal papers into a manila folder and tried to ignore the distress on Mayor Walker’s face as he glared from the other side of the boardroom. Turning sideways, Carter snapped his briefcase shut with a little more force than necessary. At least the loud clicking sound gave him something other than Walker’s anger to focus on.
“Carter—” Walker began, clearly refusing to let it go.
“The deal is done,” Carter said. “You signed the final agreement yesterday. The contract is legal and binding.”
“That was before I found out the buyer wanted to turn the church into a casino,” the older man retaliated. Walker ran his hands through graying hair, and Carter studied the letters emblazed on his briefcase to avoid the concern in his opponent’s dark eyes. It was not his concern. “There must be something you can do,” Walker continued.READ MORE
From his peripheral vision, Carter caught the mayor shifting his gaze. Carter didn’t need to turn to know Walker was scanning the ski vacationers through the boardroom’s glass walls as they bustled around the lobby at Stone Cliff resort. “This is a small community, Carter, and the resort caters to those wanting to get away from it all, not those wanting to gamble. We don’t need that kind of trouble around these parts.”
“What my client does with the property after purchasing it is not my business.” Carter grabbed his wool coat from the rack near the door and picked up his suitcase. He’d check out of his room earlier that day and brought his bags to the meeting, wanting to put Stone Cliff Resort and the festive town of Deerfield in his rear view mirror, sooner rather than later. All the Christmas music, carolers, lights and parades were giving him a damn headache. “I’m just here to see that the legal work gets taken care of. Any problems you have from here on out will have to be taken up with the purchaser.”
Mayor Walker rested his elbows on the table and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Come on. It’s Christmas and that church is currently being used as a food bank. Right at this moment, the space is filled with volunteers preparing meals for those less fortunate. We can’t just close up in the dead of the winter, especially since we’ve yet to find another location to set up a kitchen. When we started this deal, your client said he wouldn’t be touching the property until spring and we would continue to use it.”
“Things change.” Carter wrapped his gray woolen scarf around his neck and pulled up his collar.
“Right, so then why can’t the deal? Let’s face it. If we had known things were going to go down—”
Carter held his hand up. “The law is the law, Mayor.” He really didn’t have time to keep rehashing the same argument. He was going to be late for his flight. “I don’t make the rules, I just abide by them.” Besides, even if Carter could reverse the sale—and there was no way he could—he wasn’t going to blow his first job out of law school.
He’d worked his ass off to get where he was, and in fifteen years, he’d never asked anyone for anything. There were times he had even held down two jobs between classes. He was here to prove himself to the law firm that hired him straight out of university. The last thing he was about to do was go soft and dig for some loophole in the contract. Someday, he’d like to make partner at McMillian and Stratton. Failing to return east with a binding contract in hand because the town decided they didn’t want a casino wasn’t in his best interests. Carter had learned the hard way that survival and getting what he wanted meant he needed to play life like a game of chess—each move careful and calculated. Sure, the deal could very well hurt the town, but emotions played no part in this job. Or in life. Another lesson he’d learned the hard way.
Walker’s dark eyes moved over Carter’s face. His brow furrowed, and in an almost sad voice, he asked, “You’re still young, Carter. Is this the guy you really want to be?”
This is the guy I have to be.
“Just doing my job,” Carter countered.
“But it’s Christmas…” Walker said, like that meant something to Carter.
It didn’t. Not anymore anyway. There was a time he believed in the magic of Christmas. Believed that someday Santa would give a scared and lonely boy the only thing he’d always longed for when he was being tossed around from foster home to foster home. He could only assume Santa had permanently placed him on the naughty list because he never did get that family he’d wished for year after year. And really, can anyone blame a kid for acting up when the real kids in the home woke up to a tree full of gifts, and the puppy Carter had asked for was nowhere to be found?
He hardened himself as he thought back to that Christmas some fifteen years ago. He’d spent that whole month of December being extra good, making his bed, studying every night, and doing additional chores around the foster house. All he wanted was for the nice family he was temporary living with to keep him forever, to love him like he was one of their own, and, because everything had been going so well, for Santa to give him the puppy he’d dared to ask for.
Except that cold December morning had changed everything for him. That was the day he realized three things: no one gave a shit about the kid who’d been tossed away when he was a toddler; if he wanted something, he’d damn well have to get it on his own; and being nice never, ever paid off.
The mayor stood, and the sound of his chair scraping across the polished tile floor pulled Carter’s thoughts back to the present. Walker crossed around the table and came up to Carter. The two stood nose to nose, and as he took in the fine lines bracketing the man’s eyes and the worry pulling down his face, Carter squared his shoulders, expecting another round of backlash. What the man did instead confused Carter and hit like a sucker punch.
In a nurturing manner, Mayor Walker tightened the wool scarf around Carter’s neck. “It’s cold out there, son,” he said. “And be careful on the roads, the forecast is calling for more snow, and the hills around here are pretty tricky for those who aren’t used to them.”
Disconcerted, Carter stood there for a moment longer, staring mutely at the man who had bundled him up with fatherly concern. What the hell? He sucked in air and took a distancing step back as something inside his chest tightened, making it almost difficult to breathe. As the boardroom walls seemed to close in on him, he turned to leave, needing—almost desperately—to get out of there, but when Mayor Walker said, “Merry Christmas, Carter,” he stopped mid-stride and forced down the lump climbing into his throat.
Shifting his briefcase from one hand to the other and then cracking his knuckles to disguise his emotions, he took a quick moment to compose himself. He let his breath out slowly to expel the unwelcome things he was feeling and pulled the boardroom door open, ready to get out of the festive town that was making him…feel.
Without turning back, he said, “Yeah, you too.”COLLAPSE