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The 48-Hour Hookup
A Chase Brothers Romantic Comedy
By Sarah Ballance, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Sarah Ballance
All rights reserved.
There wasn't a sound on earth more cringe-worthy than a ringing phone, unless it was someone telling Liam Chase the call was for him. Blame insta-fame or his smirking brothers, but the result was the same: Liam dreaded phone calls. He had just leaned back in his creaky chair at Fusion Air, the HVAC company he owned with his brothers, when the office line rang. Again.
"It's not for me," he yelled. He sure as hell hoped not, anyway. Five entire weeks had passed since a college girl had snapped a photo of him wearing a sweat-soaked, filthy white tee while working on a heat pump. Apparently his somewhat irritated glare over being interrupted for a photo had presented as "bedroom eyes" because she'd uploaded it to some social network with the caption HOT HVAC GUY, followed by a dozen emojis and exclamation points. Cue the hysteria.
The photo had since been viewed over a million times, and he'd gotten hundreds of personal calls on the work line, to the great amusement of Sawyer, Ethan, and Crosby Chase. His mother, who ran the office, probably wouldn't have been so good-humored about the ordeal if not for the genuine uptick in business, but Liam had pretty much had it.
Every time he thought the hysteria would die, someone else posted a so-called sighting and dredged it up all over again. He couldn't go anywhere without being recognized. Case in point: lately he'd signed more paper cups than the barista in his favorite coffee haunt. At first, the attention had been flattering, sort of, but five weeks was way too long, and the personal calls from girls who sounded like they were still in high school were creeping him out.
And if he heard one more joke about pumping heat ... He'd naively corrected the first couple of women who'd made the reference — I think you mean heat pump — but then he'd noticed his brother, Sawyer, on the floor in unrestrained hysterics, and that had been the end of that.
Needless to say, any time the phone rang and one of the Chase men started snickering, Liam usually made himself scarce. Today wouldn't have been an exception, but he'd just gotten comfortable in the chair. Unfortunately, Shaggy, the office mutt, didn't even raise her head when Liam asked her to shut the door. Someone really needed to teach her that trick.
And how to bite Sawyer, who appeared in the doorway dividing the front and back offices. "You might want that one to be yours," Sawyer said.
"Why?" Liam asked, instantly suspicious since his smirk-happy brother maintained a straight face.
Sawyer shrugged. "It's a job upstate. Some woman in the Catskills with a mountain lodge thought she was getting screwed by the local guy's estimate and asked if we'd send someone up."
"She thought the local estimate was high, so her alternative is to call in a contractor from New York City?"
Sawyer grinned. "Yeah, I know. But she's paying hourly plus mileage, so we're not losing anything on the estimate. And she didn't even specifically ask for Hot HVAC Guy, so I'm thinking you can go up there and enjoy a reprieve."
"You actually want me to have a reprieve?" It was more likely Sawyer was setting him up. He'd probably arranged some kind of public meet and greet, knowing him. Although he wouldn't bother sending Liam upstate for that. That, he'd probably set up in Liam's apartment, giving half the city his address in the process.
"No," Sawyer said, utterly serious. Which in itself was suspicious because he was hardly ever serious, at least off a job. "I want to be able to say you've left the city so the phone will stop ringing booty calls and give me some peace while I have office duty."
"Ah." Yeah, that sounded more like Sawyer. "Okay, I'm in. You got an address?"
Sawyer handed him a work order. "Pack a bag, bro. It's an overnighter."
* * *
Liam shot an uneasy look at his GPS. The address was in the ass-crack of nowhere, and the curvy mountain roads were treacherous in the snow. If this was another one of Sawyer's pranks, Liam might actually have to kill him. Either that, or hit a ski resort while he was up there. He'd taken one look at the map and had packed his snowboard. Christmas was three weeks away. Business was light in December and mostly consisted of emergencies, so no one would miss him if he spent a couple days shredding the slopes. Anything to avoid what he hoped were the waning days of his unwanted Internet fame.
But first, he had to find this lodge.
He couldn't imagine what kind of woman would live up here, miles of snow-packed roads between her and his last brush with civilization. Nor could he fathom what to expect of the building. Google street view had never been anywhere near the place, and even though it was supposed to be a guest lodge, he found no trace of it listed online. He hadn't dug into property records, but as he crawled around yet another sharp bend on the icy road, he wished he had. Especially since his GPS had just announced he'd arrived at his destination, and he saw only evergreens weighted with snow.
He was going to kill Sawyer.
He inched forward. Ahead, the road widened. Maybe he could make a phone call — if he had reception, that was. He was about to pull out of the single set of tire tracks that left shallow grooves on the snow-packed road when he glanced up. He had, indeed, arrived.
His jaw dropped. The lodge was huge. Surrounded by picturesque evergreens, it towered a solid three stories above the ground, its dormered roofline laden with postcard-perfect deposits of snow. Stone accent walls gave an almost out of place modern edge, but he had a feeling that stone predated the recent Craftsman trends in architecture. Huge windows crept to the eaves, but no light spilled through. Standing tall in the shade cast by evergreens, the lodge was dark and a little lonely, but he could easily see the potential for the place.
That, and a lot of work ahead. If the owner wanted a thorough estimate, he'd be lucky to get out of there before his long weekend was up.
There wasn't a soul in sight, but it wasn't like he expected a welcoming committee. He did, however, hear a muffled buzzing sound. Curious, he cut the engine of his hybrid truck and opened the door.
Once he stepped outside of the cab, slamming the door behind him, the buzz turned into a roar paired with a horrendous cracking sound. In the sudden silence that followed, he watched in disbelief as a huge evergreen broke from the trees lining the road and landed on his hood with a sickening crunch.
He blinked. Twice. There was still a tree on his brand new truck.
"Oh my gosh. Are you okay?"
He pivoted, dazed, in the direction of the voice to find a woman standing in the gap left in the row of trees that were still upright. She wore a blue knit hat and a matching puffy ski jacket. Tinted safety glasses hid her eyes, but long blond hair and full pink lips gave a cherubic impression that was immediately dashed by the chainsaw she wielded.
"What are you doing?" he asked tightly. Frankly, he was surprised any sound came out. Because there was a tree on his truck. "You can't drop a tree in the road."
"I didn't," she said, oddly defensive considering she'd nearly killed him. "You left the road a while back. This is my property."
Well, great. This was the owner? He'd half-expected some crotchety old woman with a dozen cats. Instead, he got a gorgeous blonde with curves even thick layers of outerwear couldn't hide. Figured, the first woman his age he'd met in weeks who likely didn't know him as Hot HVAC Guy had just wrecked his brand new ride.
Sawyer was definitely dead.
In hindsight, Liam really should have investigated this situation a little better, but getting the hell out of the city had been his first priority. Insta-fame didn't sound horrible until you experienced it. For weeks, not a single day passed without him causing some kind of scene just by existing. At first he'd kind of eaten it up, allowing dozens of selfies to happen — mostly women, but men, too — but that only made his fame more widespread, and by the time he figured out things were getting worse, it was too late.
His life had turned to utter shit, and he had absolutely no desire to ever experience any kind of notoriety again. At this point, if he won the lottery, he wouldn't claim it. Fuck fame.
"You're the owner?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, looking a little less defensive and a hell of a lot more flustered now. He wasn't sure why. Even if he was going to lose his shit, he wasn't going to do it on a woman who held a chainsaw and clearly knew how to use it. "Claire St — Henley."
"Stuh Henley?" He didn't remember that being on the work order, but he stopped short of rummaging through the paperwork he'd left on the front seat. Hell, he didn't even know if his truck door would open now, though the door frame didn't look bent. Most of the damage was on the hood. And under it. Just the driving parts. He sighed and forced a tight smile. He wasn't sure why, other than he had what was apparently an impressively ingrained habit to be polite to clients.
"Henley." She ditched the safety glasses, revealing a stunning pair of blue eyes. "No Stuh."
"Liam Chase. Fusion Air." He waited a moment, dreading the flare of recognition that had become a thing on the vast majority of the jobs he took. When it didn't happen, he relaxed a notch ... at least until he remembered she'd just smashed his truck. "Aren't you supposed to yell timber before you cut down a tree?"
Blue eyes flashed sparks, and not the good kind. "You didn't hear the chainsaw, but you think you're going to hear me yelling?"
Apparently the pleasantries portion of their meeting had passed. "I didn't hear the chainsaw," he said evenly, "because I was in my truck."
"And I didn't hear your truck. At all."
"It's a hybrid," he said. "When the electric motor kicks in, it's quiet."
"Looks like it'll be that way for a while now," she said under her breath. "I'll call a garage."
He didn't argue, or say a word, while she did exactly that. Minutes later, she seemed to have confirmation from some guy named Monk that he was on his way. She ended the call while he tried to figure out what was familiar about her voice.
"I appreciate you coming all the way up here," she said, like there wasn't a wrecked truck sitting between them. "The local estimate to get the heat operational was more than double what I expected. Small towns ... that's how it usually goes."
He cast a pointed look at his truck and saw the bill for Fusion Air's services triple. "Good to know."
She followed his gaze. Her voice a bit wobbly, she said, "I'm really sorry about your truck. I wasn't expecting you for another hour, and to be honest, the tree fell the wrong way. I shouldn't be surprised the way everything has been going lately, but I'm absolutely mortified that you were dragged into it. I'll cover the cost of repairs."
"Don't worry about it," he heard himself saying. At least now she actually looked sorry, not that he wanted her to cry. And why did she sound so familiar? The name wasn't, but there was something about her ...
She left the chainsaw on the fresh stump and walked over to the hood of his truck. When she turned her head to the side and gingerly tested the weight of the tree, recognition hit him.
Claire St — Henley.
She was Claire Stevens, an NYC-based television reporter.
And a two-time runaway bride.
Probably the only person in New York City more unfortunately famous than he. The proverbial last woman on earth, as far as he was concerned, and he stood there thinking she was hot.
Despite the fact that she'd wrecked his truck.
And now he was stuck on the mountain with her and no visible means of escape.
He'd never been so screwed in his life.CHAPTER 2
Claire had barely covered the misstep of starting to give him her real name, but Liam had it figured out now. Her voice had caught his attention, but it was the three freckles that made a little triangle on her temple that gave it away. He'd always thought her attractive, but out here in the wilderness, fresh-faced and glowing from the cold, she was something else.
Something he really needed to avoid. Because the only thing worse than have a totaled truck would be word getting out that the Hot HVAC Guy had hooked up with New York City's infamous Runaway Bride. Thank goodness for being in the middle of nowhere. As long as this Monk guy couldn't put two and two together, Liam's reprieve from infamy might be preserved.
He doubted he had to worry about Claire. She'd probably avoided media about as much as he had, but even if she recognized him, she'd be the last one to point fingers. He sure wasn't going to say anything.
He realized he was staring at her when she cleared her throat. "Sorry," he said. "Just ... my truck." Flimsy excuse, but better than telling her he knew who she was.
Genuine remorse filled her eyes — unless that was just a made-for-television response they taught in broadcasting school — and a dull ache gnawed at him. She'd been on the air as recently as a week ago. If she was out there dodging the public eye, he related a little too well. Not that they'd commiserate over that fact, because he was keeping his ability to do so to himself.
"We should probably move the tree," she said.
He eyed the thing, a bulky, snow-soaked beast of a conifer, and doubted he'd be able to roll it off the truck, let alone move it. But he wasn't going to leave it there to give that Monk dude any reason to upcharge him. "Okay," he said. "Let me just take some pictures." She'd said she'd cover it, but he didn't want to take any chances. If he was going to be stuck footing the bill, he needed more than a ridiculous story to tell his insurance company, and no doubt her insurer would be just as interested in pictures as his.
She stood well to the side while he took a dozen photos. Satisfied he'd preserved the evidence, he assessed the tree. "What were you going to do with it? Cut it up for firewood?"
She gaped, as if he'd said the worst thing in the world. "It's my Christmas tree."
"Unless your tree is going in Times Square," he said dryly, "I'd say it's a bit much."
She didn't respond, much less back down from the idea of moving the tree inside, not that he expected her to. He tossed his phone on the front seat of his truck and grabbed a pair of work gloves. The middle of the tree had crunched his truck, which left the tree trunk on the ground and the top half hanging over the road.
He hadn't any idea if Claire planned to help him, but the tree needed to move. He went to the trunk and lifted, and she moved in beside him. It was heavy, but it budged, so that was something, particularly for a snow-soaked twenty-five-foot spruce. Together, they half-rolled, half dragged it off his truck. It hit the ground with a thump. When he looked back at his hood, he immediately wished he hadn't.
"I'm really sorry," Claire said again. "I'll pay for it."
He ignored that, mainly because he wasn't sure the whole thing was completely her fault, and picked up the cut end of the trunk. The tree had to weigh a couple hundred pounds, but he found it wasn't so hard to drag over ice, and it became a lot easier when she grabbed a branch near the middle and helped. The process was slow, and by the time they crossed the hundred feet to the lodge, he was a lot less amused by the steps spanning the distance from the ground to the porch.
Before he could say a word, a 1950s-era tow truck arrived, horn blaring. Liam and Claire exchanged glances — hers apologetic, his he couldn't imagine — and crossed the clearing in time for Liam to hear the man he assumed to be Monk mutter, "Ain't never seen one of these before."
"One of these trucks?" Liam almost fell over. Was that what he hadn't seen before? The guy had a garage. Or at least a tow truck. Sort of. Liam eyed the heap of junk, his hopes of ever again seeing his own truck in one piece diminishing by the second. "It's a Chevy."
"It's one of those hi-breds," Monk said. "Says right there on the side."
Excerpted from The 48-Hour Hookup by Sarah Ballance, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2016 Sarah Ballance. 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.
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