But Sloan can't deny the appeal of the rugged local men-Walker Montgomery in particular. Soon she finds herself falling in love with the wild outdoors...and with one of Indigo's most beloved residents. There's just one question that remains: is the town's most confirmed bachelor ready to get caught?
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New York City
The Sunday After Thanksgiving
Jane Austen had it wrong, Sloan McKinley thought miserably as the black Lincoln Town Car drove her ever closer to the bright lights of the George Washington Bridge and the Manhattan streets she called home. A man in possession of a good fortune only wanted to get laid.
Of course, she thought reflectively, that made rich men really no different from the poor ones.
Despite the fact that dear old Jane was being cheeky in her pronouncements on the proclivities of wealthy young bachelors, Sloan knew her point was valid all the same.
What she didn’t know was why her mother thought an endless parade of Scarsdale’s finest was going to be the answer to her daughter’s walk down the aisle.
She’d known these men since birth— had played Little League soccer with them, dissected frogs in science class as lab partners and attended the prom together. She knew who had been a bad loser, who had stuffed frog parts inside the principal’s tote bag and who had puked outside their limo after the prom.
Sadly, she knew these guys. None of them had developed any mind- blowing, irresistible qualities as they matured. Sloan hadn’t wanted any of them at fifteen and not much had changed.
Case in point: one Trevor Stuart Kincaid the Fourth— Trent to all who knew and loved him. If the asshole stuck his hand on her knee and allowed his pinky finger to creep up her inner thigh one more time, she was likely to go all Terminator on his Armani- covered ass.
And to think she had actually been looking forward to seeing him.
“I’m glad your mother suggested this. It’s a far more enjoyable drive back to the city with company.”
“She’s full of ideas.” Sloan shifted yet again, firmly pushing his fingers away as his other hand inched closer on the backseat. “So tell me about what you’ve been working on. That hotel you designed in Seattle is absolutely magnificent.”
“The Dahlia?” His bloodshot eyes sparkled for a moment under the reflected lights of the streetlamps and a surge of hope filled her. She’d visited the hotel shortly after it had opened and had been impressed that it was designed by someone she’d known since childhood.
It had been that spark— that innate belief that who you were at fifteen didn’t dictate who you were forever— that she’d been desperately searching for since Trent had arrived at her parents’ for dinner.
“It’s a sweet gig. They’re paying me to design a sister hotel in Malaysia, so I can’t complain. Speaking of sweet gigs”— he let the words hang there for a moment before leaning closer— “why haven’t we ever gone out, you and me?”
Perhaps because Mitzi Goodby shared with our entire class at our fifteen- year reunion just how shitty you were in bed, how you enjoy the occasional cocaine bender and that you are a bad tipper. But Sloan said none of that and instead opted for, “I think we’ve likely just been in different places in our lives.”
“It looks like we’re in the same place now.”
“We’re probably not as close as you think.”
“We can easily fix that.”
Sloan caught the driver’s raised eyebrows in the rearview mirror and shot him a glare. While she knew she wasn’t in any danger— Trent was a world- class jerk with opportunistic hands, but that was about it— she also knew most people saw only what they wanted to see when they looked at her. Blond hair, all- American blue eyes and a slender five- foot- eight- inch frame had a way of doing that to a person.
The gangly, ugly duckling Trent must remember from high school— which was one of the many reasons they never had been in the same place— had been replaced on the surface by a swan.
But it was the duckling that Sloan couldn’t seem to shake loose.
People thought they were so discreet, but Sloan knew how she was discussed in her family’s social circle. The only daughter of Forrest and Winifred McKinley had been saved, according to the wealthy matrons of Westchester, by the overpowering influence of genetics. The gawky teenager had long ago been replaced by a grown woman with poise, intelligence and flawless skin, a fact for which her mother would be forever grateful.
What Winnie wasn’t grateful for, however, was the fact that her only daughter was still unmarried at the oh- so- advanced age of thirty- three.
Oh, the horror.
So whatever fears her mother had harbored when Sloan was a teenager— that she’d never catch a husband, have children and take Winnie’s place as one of the movers and shakers of Scarsdale— were still firmly in place. And— Sloan couldn’t help but dwell on it— she’d become the town charity case to boot, based upon an overheard conversation between her mother’s best friends— Betsy and Mary Jo— just before everyone sat down to Thanksgiving dessert.
The memory of that whispered conversation still rang in her ears, no matter how hard Sloan tried to fight it.
“You know Winnie’s just been sick over this. I mean, can you imagine? She went to her reunion alone.”
“Oh, Mary Jo, it’s just so sad. Sara told me when she brought the twins over the other day that Sloan was the only one in their entire class who didn’t have a date.”
“It’s not natural. What’s wrong with that girl?”
“You know she’s always been independent.”
“Independent is having a cocktail by yourself at the Plaza before your lunch date arrives. Not going to your high school reunion alone.”
Sloan unclenched the tight fists that had formed at the memory, as the bite of her nails digging into her skin finally registered.
The fact she’d given the overheard comments more than a few minutes of her time was growing tiresome and Sloan was hard- pressed to understand why she couldn’t let them roll off her back. She knew she had more to offer the world than her uterus. And despite the fact she fervently hoped to put it to good use someday, it wasn’t the only body part she had that worked.
“So what are you doing this week? I’ve got Coldplay tickets for the Garden on Wednesday night.” Trent’s invitation pulled her back from her maudlin holiday memories.
What would be the harm in going on a date? Sloan wondered. Except for the bad tipping and the drugs, she amended as a quick reminder.
Still— some good music, a nice evening out. A quick glance at Trent’s clueless face and overheated gaze and she knew what the harm would be.
She wasn’t interested— in Trent or the myriad ways he spent his time— and she’d long ago stopped trying to fake it.
Sloan was prevented from having to craft a polite refusal by a buzzing from her coat pocket. She pulled out her cell phone and quickly forgot Trevor Stuart Kincaid the Fourth as she read the message from her best friend, Grier.
SOS. DESPERATE FOR HELP. ANY CHANCE YOU CAN COME TO ALASKA AND SAVE ME? THIS WHOLE INHERITANCE MESS HAS GONE OFF THE RAILS.
Trent gazed at the phone, a mixture of irritation and jealousy filling his features. Sloan hit reply and tossed a brief apology at the problem. “A friend of mine. Her father passed away and she’s dealing with his estate.”
“Oh. That’s too bad.” His tone was flat with irritation, but she’d managed to stamp out the jealousy.
“It is a shame. It was very unexpected. Sorry. Just give me a minute.” Sloan tapped out a quick text of her own.
WHAT’S GOING ON? I THOUGHT THE LAWYER SAID THINGS WERE MOVING ALONG FINE. P.S. MOM’S STRUCK AGAIN. YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHO I’M SHARING A CAR BACK TO THE CITY WITH.
Sloan hit send and turned her attention back to Trent. Her exit was coming up soon and now was the time to firmly extricate herself from whatever ideas her mother had put in Trent’s head. “Thanks for sharing the car with me.”
“So you never answered me on the Coldplay tickets. You up for it?”
“I’m sorry, Trent. It’s a full week work wise, so I should pass.”
“I’m sure you can get out on the town for one night. The concert doesn’t even start until eight.”
“Yeah, but I really shouldn’t.”
The chiseled features that had been distantly annoyed veered straight toward pissed off, evidenced by the narrowed eyes and tightly drawn lips. “Seriously?”
“I really don’t get it. Your mom makes this huge fuss about coming over to dinner. We take a car back to the city together. What the hell am I supposed to think?”
“Um. That two people who’ve known each other since they were five shared a ride home?”
Trent ran a hand through his perfect hair. “What a fucking joke. You come on to me all night and don’t follow through?”
A slow burn started low in her stomach, her rising anger the culmination of a long weekend full of subtle clues saying she was a failure in the only area her family chose to place value. “Again, all that happened is we shared a car. If you thought that was a come- on it’s not my fault.”
“High- society bitches. It figures.”
Sloan abstractly heard the ringing bell of her phone, letting her know another text message had come in, but she ignored it.
How dare he?
When it was roaming hands hoping to get lucky and a few suggestive comments, she could handle it. But this? To borrow his phrase— seriously?
“Look. Whatever impression my mother gave you isn’t my fault. I know I wasn’t the one giving off vibes I was interested.”
The car had come to a stop outside her building and she could hear the driver opening the trunk for her luggage. Trent’s face was a cold mask of irritation and indifference. “Whatever. Your mother wonders why you’re not married. You can’t even go on a date you’re so fucking repressed. We’ve arrived at your castle. Have a nice life, Princess.”
The door opened and she knew the prudent thing to do was to ignore the barb, get out of the car and go home.
Fuck prudence, her subconscious taunted as she slipped out of the car.
“Oh, Trent,” she crooned as she leaned over and stuck her head back in. “There are about three thousand rea-sons why I’m not asking you up for a drink this evening. But there’s one reason— above all the others— that you should know.”
“What reason is that, Princess?” he sneered as he kept his gaze on his cell phone.
“It’s your penis.”
That got his attention as his eyes snapped from his phone to her. “Excuse me?”
“Aside from its less- than- impressive size, the way I hear it, all that cocaine’s ruining your ability to wield it. Maybe you should think about that next time you start shoving a thousand dollars’ worth of powder up your nose. Ta- ta, darling.”
She slammed the door on her own, before the driver could take care of it. Sloan didn’t miss his broad smile before she slipped him an extra twenty on top of the tip already sitting on her mother’s credit card.
“Sloan, he’s a slimy bastard. He’s just pissed you didn’t want to have sex with his sorry ass.”
The tears had stopped over an hour ago, leaving behind the fatigue of a good crying jag, coupled with raw, angry frustration. Even now, Sloan wondered why she’d let him say those things.
And why she was even bothering to give Trevor Stuart Kincaid the Fourth another second of her time.
“Yeah, well, we can thank my mother for whatever expectations she put in his head. Hell, she’s so desperate at this point she probably implied I haven’t had sex in five years.”
It had only been two years, Sloan thought defensively, not five.
Had it really been two years?
A quick mental tally indicated her math was correct. And the knowledge only added to the uprising of gloom Trent had managed to unleash. Firmly tamping down on the rampaging self- pity, she turned her focus to her friend.
“So what, exactly, is going on up there?”
“Where do I start?” Grier quickly got her up to speed on the rapidly deteriorating inheritance battle she was waging in her father’s adopted hometown of Indigo, Alaska. “So there you have it. A contested will, barricaded from entering his home and the cold shoulder from every single person I’ve met in this damn town.”
“What does the lawyer say about it? Shouldn’t this be more straightforward? It’s an inheritance, for Pete’s sake.” Sloan hesitated for a moment, but decided since it was Grier she’d keep on going. “I mean, do you think he’s qualified to handle this? He is practicing in the middle of nowhere.”
“No, he really has been wonderful. And he seems as puzzled as I am by the town’s reaction.”
“What have they taken sides about? It’s nobody’s business but yours and your father’s.”
“Well, there is this other thing.”
“What other thing?” Sloan recognized that tone in Grier’s voice— a mix of panic and nervous laughter— as exhaustion and it all fell into place.
Things were far worse than her friend had been letting on.
“I have a sister.”
“I have a half sister named Kate.”
Sloan almost dropped the phone. “You have a sister and it took you this long to tell me?”
“She’s the holdup. She claims I don’t have a right to my father’s estate.”
“Um, isn’t it called a will for a reason? He willed it to you.”
“Well, the will was changed relatively recently and she’s making a fuss.”
“And your lawyer can’t do anything? You can’t even get in to see your father’s things?”
“Nope. While it’s moving through the legal system, neither of us can touch anything. That’s why I’m still at the hotel.”
Sloan refrained from pushing harder on the lawyer angle, trusting her friend’s judgment on that front. “So tell me about this sister of yours.”
“From what I can tell, she’s about as warm as a python, and instead of the term ‘sister,’ I think ‘bitch’ would be far more appropriate.”
“Are you sure it’s not just her grief talking? I mean, she presumably knew the man.”
“I wish,” Grier snorted, her disgust more than evident despite the three thousand miles separating them. “That I could understand. I could even sympathize if it made her prickly, but the attitude I’m getting is just way off the charts. She’s actively waging a campaign to alienate me.”
“Have you tried talking to her?”
Grier never had any problems winning anyone over, her effervescent personality drawing people to her like a lodestone. Sloan knew grief drove some strange behavior, but the idea that Grier’s sister was purposefully shutting her out was hard to understand. If she was mourning the loss of a father, shouldn’t she try to accept a new-found relative?
“Oh, Sloan, I’ve tried everything on the rare occasions I can even get her to look at me. Friendship. An appeal to sisterhood. Hell, I’ve even tried to boss her around as her older sister. Nothing works. And since the entire damn town’s on her side I can’t get anywhere. Whoever said small towns were interested in newcomers was smoking crack. These people won’t give an inch.”
“They won’t talk to you? What about your side of the story?”
Grier snorted. “The entire town communicates with me as little as possible. Everyone except for my lawyer cuts me a wide swath.”
“The cold shoulder treatment in hopes you’ll pack up and go home.”
“If they only knew how little I had to go home to,” Grier murmured, before adding, “Besides you, of course. And we can’t forget my mother and those biannual occasions she chooses to take an interest in her only child.”
Sloan couldn’t stop the memory of the car ride home from intruding on their conversation. She thought back to the self- pity she’d indulged in an hour before. She might be entitled to a private moment here or there, but her night was nothing compared to what her friend was dealing with.
“So what do you say? Will you come up here and help me? You could call it research and use it to put together an article or two.”
The offer was more tempting than Sloan cared to admit, and Grier had a point. Although she was fortunate with steady work, the life of a freelancer meant she was always looking to line up more. A trip to Alaska could be some good fodder for a few articles. She’d just talked to a travel editor a few weeks ago who was looking for some fun pieces with a unique twist.
Miles and miles away from here.
Now that the words were out, Sloan couldn’t shake a sudden sense of optimism. She was filled with the certainty that this was not only a good choice, it was the right one. And it was a chance to do something out of the ordinary. And unexpected.
And it was something she wanted to do.
“I’ll book my flight in the morning.”
“You really mean it?”
Sloan couldn’t stop the small laugh from escaping.
“Don’t sound so surprised.”
“I guess I never thought— ” Grier broke off and Sloan heard it. That slight hitch of indrawn breath that said her dearest friend was holding back tears.
It confirmed she was making the exact right choice.
“This is going to be so much fun. We’ll put on our very best New York charm and work it. The people of Indigo aren’t going to know what hit them.”
As she hung up the phone a few minutes later, Sloan couldn’t stop the flutter of hope that filled her stomach.
Maybe a trip to the middle of nowhere was just what the doctor ordered.
Excerpted from "Baby It's Cold Outside"
Copyright © 2011 Addison Fox.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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