Read an Excerpt
By Natalie Anderson, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2011 Natalie Anderson
All rights reserved.
Emma didn't know whether it was nerves or excitement fueling her, but despite not bothering with breakfast, she was amped with energy. She jumped from the bus, calling a singsong thanks to the driver. Tomorrow she'd land in the world's driest, coldest, most inhospitable place on the planet. The next twenty-four hours couldn't tick quickly enough to keep up with her happy-dancing heart.
In Antarctica, there was no permanent population—only a few base camps clinging to the coastal edges, and only a select few people got to stay at them. She'd never been so lucky in her life. Nor had she been so nervous.
But at this second, excitement trumped those nerves.
She all but skipped toward the small purpose-built terminal a block or so from Christchurch's main airport, the flash-card facts from her info pack pinging in her head. Her flight was scheduled for first thing in the morning, but right now she had to be issued with her ECW—Extreme Cold Weather gear. The jackets and pants weren't available to the public for purchase—only those going on the ice, as it was known, were issued with them. She still couldn't believe she was going on the ice at all.
A guy walked a few feet ahead of her, a huge bag slung effortlessly over his shoulder. He looked army with his short, tidy haircut and lean muscles—even from the back it was clear he was ripped. The bronzed biceps protruding from his gray tee were utterly fat free. No prizes for guessing they were headed to the same place, and she smiled as he held the door for her.
"You're going down?" she asked, stepping through the doorway, her anticipation rendering her breathless.
A slow drawl followed behind her. "I sure hope so."
Startled, Emma turned, replaying the question she'd meant completely innocently but that he'd answered with a distinct tease in his tone. He met her gaze expectantly, the glint in his eyes both suggestive and utterly amused.
She tried to suppress the scalding heat of her blood rushing to her face. She didn't want to blush, but she felt the fire—yeah, she lost that battle mighty quickly. But anywoman's blood would warm when so close to such a male. Add the hint of sexual amusement, and she stood no chance. Her skin had to be stop-sign central.
She lowered her gaze and snuck in a rationalizing breath because, no, this wasn't happening. She refused to react so sensitively to a simple comment. She snapped her spine straighter, though the half inch it added to her height did nothing to counter his towering physique, and glanced back up at him coolly.
Now his vivid blue eyes were positively dancing.
"I'm really looking forward to it," he added with the suggestion of a wink.
Good grief. "Yes." Emma forced some vocal power to counter her breathlessness and cleared her throat. "I have a really big job to do there." A life-changing one. Aiming to change her life—she wasn't going down to muck around.
His smile widened. "Good for you."
Emma watched as he approached the receptionist in the small vestibule and drawled "Hello." He had the same lilt that Emma's grandma Bea had never quite lost despite her fifty years' residence in New Zealand, only his apparently mesmerized any female he turned it on. Emma nodded at the receptionist, too, but the woman didn't notice. She was still busy smiling at the jaw-dropping hunk a step ahead of Emma. Yeah, he had that effect on every woman. And no doubt he knew it.
As she followed him down the corridor the receptionist had directed them to, Emma couldn't help smiling inwardly at his unashamedly bold attitude—this flirt incarnate was definitely one to keep her distance from.
When he hit the door to the kit room, he paused and waited for her to pass through ahead of him. She cursed his good manners because, in a step, he was right beside her and giving her a sidelong look that she was acutely aware of despite determinedly keeping her gaze front and center. His matching strides made it feel like they were together, not random strangers. But "together" wasn't a word in Emma's vocab; she was on her own in this one, more than ever before.
"You two are heading down?" An efficient-looking woman dressed in casual slacks bustled to meet them, and behind her was the biggest walk-in wardrobe Emma had ever seen.
"We are." The American answered with a devastating smile and more than a hint of laughter in his voice. "Really looking forward to it."
Emma's blood bubbled back to simmer level at the way he'd put the two of them together, but she scotched the resurgence of warmth by thinking of icebergs and blizzards.
"I'm Pam, in charge of all this gear—lose it at your peril," the woman threatened good-naturedly. "You've got your details?" Emma handed over the document detailing her itinerary, and so did the gorgeous guy standing a little too close beside her.
"Okay." Pam quickly scanned both lists. "No problem. What's your shoe size?"
"Big," he answered.
"Little." Emma couldn't help sassing back. She shot him a glance to gauge his reaction and got slayed by the gorgeous smile directed at her.
Pam laughed. "Follow me."
To stop herself from staring at him, Emma focused on the racks and racks of clothing, the open shelves on which she could see boots, gloves, socks, gloves, goggles, jackets, and yet more gloves. Ten minutes later she had two pairs of boots, the American had three, and they were on to overalls.
"The giant and the pixie," Pam joked as she went from one end of the rack to the other to get the opposite sizes for them. "Try these on."
The American stepped into the overalls right where he was. A quick glance around showed Emma there was no such thing as a changing room here. And honestly, one wasn't needed, given they were putting the gear over the clothes they were already wearing. She looked back at the man and caught him staring at her with a sardonic grin. Stiffening, she stepped into the legs of her overalls. He probably thought her prudish, but there was something oddly intimate about dressing alongside another person, even if they were completely covered up.
"You want them to fit well." The woman frowned at Emma's trouser length. "I think that needs to be longer in the leg but tighter at the waist," she fussed. "You try this thermal." She tossed a top to the guy on her way to the far end of the rack.
He slipped it over his head. "Perfect," he said.
Emma glanced at him, and yes it was.
He pulled off the light layer to add it to his mounting pile, but his gray tee underneath got caught up with it, so for a split second his torso was almost completely bare. His bronzed, broad, muscled chest.
Just because Emma had sworn off men didn't mean she couldn't appreciate their form. She was an artist, after all. And this guy had a magnificent form to admire. She'd never seen anyone so fit in her life, not without the aid of Photoshop. Certainly not in the flesh and near enough to touch.
It took her far too long to realize she had her mouth open—wide open—as she stared. He pulled his shirt back down, and Emma quickly turned, looking away in time to catch a wink from Pam, who was as pink in the cheeks as Emma felt.
"Hot in these overalls, isn't it?" Emma muttered, waving a hand in front of her face to cool her burning skin.
"Sure is." Pam nodded.
Emma bent to pull them off, staying that way extra long so she could tell herself her reddened face was from hanging upside down and not from the thrill of gawking at a near-naked man.
Ten minutes later, she was even hotter from pulling on all kinds of gloves.
"How many pairs do I need?" she asked Pam.
She couldn't help glancing at the oversized gear laid out alongside hers. He had eleven pairs already—all different styles.
"It depends on how long you're on the ice for and the work you're doing," Pam explained.
So he must be going down for a good long while, then. That sounded good. Emma battled the impish giggle. Since when did her humor get so smutty? But honestly, there was no looking at a guy like that without wondering what it would be like with him on the job.
She frowned. She had a job to do—the biggest she'd ever been given. Nerves swamped her amusement, and the sense of pressure returned. She still didn't believe she deserved this opportunity. There were post-graduate artists who'd applied for the project. How had she—full-time receptionist and mere hobby artist—managed to be awarded an artist-in-residence opportunity in Antarctica? With her lack of formal training, she felt like a fraud, and in her gut, she feared it was only a matter of time before she was found out. Eleven days, in fact.
She straightened her shoulders as she surveyed the pile of special clothing at her feet. Well, she wasn't mucking it up. Pride made her determined to prove she did deserve it—that she could create something worthy of the prize. And she wasn't getting sidetracked by anything or anyone.
The only person she could rely on down there—indeed anywhere—was herself.
* * *
Hunter Wilson watched the pretty girl trying to work her slender fingers into the thick gloves and idly wondered what it was about her that had made him launch straight into tease mode.
Admittedly that was the first thing that had sprung to mind when he'd seen the petite brunette with her excessively long legs. But he had no intention of fooling around. He was going on ice—escaping both world and dysfunctional family for the worst season of the year and doing something useful at the same time. And no woman—no matter how pretty—was on the agenda.
But this one looked so adorable. So prim yet so sparkly in the eyes and pink in the cheeks. Making her redden more had been irresistible and delightful. Seeing her disappear into her snow gear now was hilarious, especially because she made it obvious she was uncomfortable with him close by.
He wondered what she'd be doing down there. He hadn't gotten a good look at the form she'd handed to the clerk getting their gear. He knew most of the domestic support had gone down a month or so ago at the start of the summer season, so he guessed she was a beaker, ice slang for a scientist. He also figured she was on a short visit, given how she now had all her gear and he was only halfway through the issue. She looked the science type with that intense, sincere enthusiasm. And that hint of seriousness.
He couldn't help one last little tease when Pam disappeared off to find him a neck warmer. "You're on the flight heading out tomorrow?" She nodded as she stuffed her gear into the standard-issue bag.
"I must admit, I'm a nervous flier," he said in his typically laid-back,
I'm-all-easy way. "Will you hold my hand during the bumpy bits?"
Her bag-stuffing ceased, and she glanced up. "Little early in the day for flirting, isn't it?"
"Never too early to flirt," he answered unrepentantly. "I'll look out for you tomorrow. It's great we're going down together."
Hell, could he be less subtle? Even for him this was bad. But her reaction was worth it.
She thrust her last glove into her bag, her cheeks rosy again and her eyes a startling green glitter. Full of life and color and response—to him.
Realization slammed into Hunter. He actually meant every damn word.
* * *
Christchurch in December was hot and dry. While it was only the first month of summer, the water restrictions were already in place and the following morning dawned warmer than any before. With the added excitement of her trip, Emma was steaming. Out at the airport, the last thing she wanted to do was pull on the subzero safety clothing. But no gear on meant no seat on the plane, so she hauled on the ugly overalls and zipped up the giant jacket.
She went through customs, handing over her heavy bag with her supplies for the week and her precious plans. As she crossed the tarmac, she caught sight of her reflection in the terminal window. She looked like the Michelin Man's twin sister—whose head and shoulders had been crazily sprayed with orangeade.
She drew a last breath of fresh balmy air and then climbed aboard the massive gray Hercules. The space was squished but even the prospect of seven hours of windowless noise and cramped conditions couldn't kill her excitement. She deposited her daypack and spent a few minutes figuring out the webbed seat and the safety harness—until one of the other passengers came and clicked it in for her.
"Thanks," she mumbled apologetically. She sat back and tried to steady her heartbeat. No point in bursting yet—there was a while to go before they even took off.
More passengers boarded, sharing easy smiles, their camaraderie instantly established by the shared privilege of their journey. She recognized a couple of politicians and a popular musician, a few media guys on a junket with their press passes slung around their necks, and then some definite science-looking types. Yeah, she was one of the very lucky few.
She couldn't suppress her smile. She, Emma Reed, former foster child and high school dropout, was heading to Antarctica for just under a fortnight and doing her dream job for the duration. A full-time artist working on her first commissioned piece—miles from her everyday hotel receptionist routine and light years from her time as an unwanted, truant youth. Excitement surged again at the possibilities this project could bring. So long as she didn't stuff it up.
As a few more men boarded, Emma couldn't help wondering where the handsome guy from the kit room had gotten to. The seats were almost all full now and their scheduled takeoff time was only minutes away.
A heavy but energetic tread on the stairs signaled a late-running passenger and sure enough, eleven pairs of gloves worth of gorgeous bounded into the gangway. He looked along the occupied rows, his glance locking on her for a searing second. She'd have thought it impossible for anyone to look sexy in the giant regulation jackets with their bright orange stripes, but it turned out orange was the ultimate in sexy ... Who knew?
Begging her body to cool down, Emma looked hopefully for empty seats farther away from her, but this flight was full and the last vacant seat was the one next to hers.
He settled into the seat and had no trouble doing up the safety harness himself.
"Wouldn't want to miss this." He stretched out his legs as far as he was able in the cramped space.
Well, no, you sure wouldn't.
He looked down at the way she was gripping her hands together. "It's your first time?"
Why did she read something suggestive into everything he said?
"You're nervous?" He followed up with a touch of concern.
"No," she replied, making the conscious decision to relax. "I've resigned myself to the fates." She glanced at him. "Are you really a nervous flier?"
"Not really." He reached down to secure his daypack. "I'm a fatalist, too." Sitting back in the seat that his shoulders were too broad for, he threw her another of those killer tinged-with-tease smiles. "So how long are you going for?"
"Only eleven days." She tried to ease away a millimeter or so from him, but there was nowhere to go. A problem, as the safety-gear/hot-American combo meant she was cooking quicker than instant noodles. "I'll be back home in time for Christmas."
And with Grandma Bea having fallen and broken her hip only a few weeks ago, it seemed important to treasure the festive season this year.
Until that fall, Bea had always seemed ageless—like time had no noticeable effect on her. But overnight she'd weakened and suddenly Emma had seen how brittle and thin she really was. That hit Emma in the one spot where she was most vulnerable: she had no one else.
Grandma Bea's drilled-in manners had her asking, "What about you?" But that was as far as manners would make her go; she was determined to restrict this guy to polite acquaintance territory. It didn't matter how good-looking he was. Definitely not. Nor did it matter how he could infuse every sentence with a devilish double entendre. Nope. She was not going there.
Excerpted from Melt by Natalie Anderson, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2011 Natalie Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.