Pretty massage therapist, Ellory Star needs a fresh start! After yet another failed relationship, she's decided to focus on finding herself, not a man. So her only resolution this New Year no dating until she's ready! Although she hadn't counted on getting snowed-in with delicious ER doctor, Anson Graves…
It might not have been in her plan, but Ellory must face the fact that charming life-saver Anson might just be the one man worth breaking her 'no-dating' rule for!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Ellory Star had never been a sentinel before, and there were good reasons for that.
But this was where her mission to find herself had led. From the hot, life-laden forests of Peru to Colorado in the winter. To cold legs and a head full of static, hair that stuck to everything, and, of course, to trying to find other people. Correction, she wasn't even out doing the heavy lifting on the finding. She was just waiting for other people to find people.
The universe had a wicked sense of humor.
A tight cluster of yellow headlights flickered in the far left of her field of vision and soon grew strong enough to cut through the gray-blue haze of hard-falling snow.
The rescue team was back!
She turned from the frosty glass inset in the polished brass doors of the Silver Pass Lodge to face the ragtag group of employees she'd managed to round up after the mass exodus. Most lodge employees had families they wanted to get to before the blizzard hit, and nearly all the patrons had left toothe ones who hadn't left were the ones the rescue team was returning with. She hoped.
"Okay, guys, do the things we talked about," she saidthe most order-like order she'd ever given.
Usually, she was the last person to be put in charge of anything, and that was how Ellory liked it. She had less chance of letting people down if they didn't expect anything from her. It probably highlighted some flaw in her character that the only time she was willing to take on any kind of serious responsibility was when her primary objective was guarding her best friend's sexy rendezvous time.
Ellorygatekeeper to the love shack.
She who kept non-emergency situations from disturbing the resort doctor while she got her wild thing on with Jack, aka Number Five.
She watched long enough to see the first staff member break into motion, placing another log on the already blazing fire and opening the damper so the lobby fireplace would roar to life.
Later she could feel guilty for the amount of carbon she was responsible for putting into the atmosphere today. Right now, her heart couldn't find a balance between the well-being of people around her and the well-being of the planet.
Some lifestyle choices were harder to live with than others.
Those returning would be cold at the very least, and Ellory prayed that was the worst of their afflictions. Cold she could remedy with fire, hot beverages, hot water, and blankets hot from the clothes dryereven if all those warm things further widened her expanding carbon footprint and left her feeling like a sasquatch. A big, hypocritical, sooty-footed, carbon-belching sasquatch.
And those kinds of thoughts were not helping. She had no room for negativity today. She had a job, she had a plan, she'd see it through and not let anyone downespecially the only one with any faith in her.
One of them should be having wild monkey sex with someone, and as she wasn't having any she'd defend Mira's love shack to the last possible minute. Be the stand-in Mira today, and do the very best she could for as long as she could. At least until she knew exactly what Mira would have to deal with when it got to be too much for her to handle.
When she looked back at the headlights, they'd grown close enough for her to count. Six sets, same number as had gone out. Good sign.
She fastened the coat she wore, crammed a knit cap on her head and pushed her hands into her mittens. Her clothes might be ridiculous since she hadn't yet augmented her wardrobe with Colorado winter wear, and her bottom half might freeze when she went out to meet the team, but at least the places where she kept her important bitsorgans, brainwould be warm.
As the snowmobiles rolled to a stop in front of the ornate doors, she took a last deep breath of warm air and pushed out into the raging winter. Wind whipped her gauzy, free-flowing skirt around her legs and made it hard to keep her eyes open. With one hand shielding them from the blast of snowy, frigid air, she counted: ten people, one dog.
Should have been eleven.
Another quick count confirmed that all the six rescuers in orange had made it back, which meant one of the lodge's patrons was still lost in this storm that was forecast to only get worse.
She'd have to disturb Mira.
People were already climbing off the snowmobiles, rescuers in their orange suits helping more fashionably dressed and slower-moving guests from the machines.
"How can I help?" she called over the wind, approaching the group.
The large man paused in his task of releasing a big snowy black dog from the cage on the back of his snowmobile, turned and pointed at Ellory. "Get inside now!"
Real yelling? Okay Maybe it was just to get over the wind.
He unlatched the cage and his canine friend bounded out. The sugar-frosted dog didn't need to be told where to go. Ellory made it to the outer doors behind the massive canine and opened it for him, then held it for people.
It wasn't technically a blizzard yet. It was snowing hard, yes, and blowing harder, and of course she was cold, but she wouldn't freeze to death in the next couple of minutes while she helped in some fashion. And she needed to help. Even if all she could think to do was hold the door.
As the man approached, he lifted his goggles and sent a baleful stare at her, stormier than the weather. With one smooth motion he grabbed Ellory's elbow and thrust her ahead of him into the breezeway, "That wasn't a suggestion. Get inside now. You're not dressed for the weather."
"I didn't offer to make snow angels with anyone," she joked, looking over her shoulder at the angry man as he steered her inside.
Stumbling, she pulled her elbow free and pushed through, intent on getting some space between them.
Good grief. Up close, and without fabric covering the bottom of his face or the goggles concealing his eyes, the fact that he was working some kind of rugged handsome look canceled the effect of winter and made her feel like she was dipped in peppermint wherever she touched him.
Ellory didn't get those kind of excited feelings for anyone ever, not without really working at it. Must be the cold. And now that she was inside, she had things to do besides tingle and lust after Ole Yeller.
A specific list of things, in fact, to look for when checking these people out.
As the group gathered around the fireplace and the hats and goggles came off, she got a good look at how beaten down they all were. Exhausted. Weak. All of them, both the rescuers and the rescued. But those who didn't do this for a living, the ones who'd been helpless and still had a missing friend, looked blank. It was the same shell-shocked expression she'd seen on the faces of victims of natural disastersearthquakes, mudslides, and floods. Being lost in a snowstorm probably counted
Her people stood around, waiting for her. Follower to leader for one dayno wonder they didn't know what to do. She was supposed to be leading them. Her list of things had hypothermia at the very top as the most important situation to remedy.
"Okay, guys, we need to help everyone get out of their snow suits and boots. Get the hot blankets on them. And hot beverages. Hot cocoa " she corrected. Everyone liked cocoa, and it was loaded with calories they no doubt needed after their harrowing day.
While the employees did as she asked, Ellory backtracked to the Angry Dog Man. He seemed much more leader-like than she felt, so he got the questions.
In hushed tones, she asked, "Where is the other one?"
He frowned, his left hand lifting to his right shoulder to grip and squeeze through the thick coat he wore. "The other one tried to get back to the lodge when these four wanted to stay put."
"Where were they?"
Ellory winced. The terrain around the mines was left rugged on purpose in the hope of discouraging exploration by guests. The mines weren't safe, and signs announced that, but they could serve as shelter in a pinch. A very dangerous pinch.
"Did you see a trail or any sign of him?" Mira would want to know everything, so she tried to anticipate questions.
"There is a trail, but it's the one that they followed in. If he's wise and we're lucky, he'll follow it back. There's still a chance that he'll make it back to the lodge while we're out looking for him. If he does, I need you to call on the radio and let me know. It was impossible to take the snowmobiles directly along that trail, but we're going to go back out and look. We'll take a quick peek in the mines between here and there, and hit South Mine again in case he went back to where they all were."
"After the storm?"
"No." He looked back and called to the group, all of whom had dove into the drinks and stew to fortify themselves. "Ten minutes and then we're going back out."
"You can't!" Ellory said, much louder than she'd intended. She tried again, quieter, calmer than she felt. "The storm is going to get really bad."
"We have some time." His voice had a gravelly sound that sent warm sparks over her ears, almost like a touch. That kind of voice would sound crazy sexy in whispers, hot breath on her ear. Raspy and.
"I'm sorry, what did you say? I think I misheard you." Or hadn't heard him at all. God, she had to do better than this.
"Are you a doctor?" he repeated.
"No." It was time for him to figure out she wasn't important, or capable of handling this.
"Where's Dr. Dupris?"
She noticed him looking back at the people in front of the fire, all out of their suits now, which meant time for step two.
Ellory spun and headed for the guests, expecting him to follow. "She's here, but I'm like triage or something. I have a list of things to wake her up for. And we have water heated in case there were any frostbite cases. Also I read that heating the feet would help get the body temperatures up fast. Actually, I have the saunas roaring too if that would help. I just wasn't sure whether or not that would be a bad thing or a good thing, and it wasn't in the books. Do you know?" She didn't stop, just threw the question out and then went on.
Since the staff had handled her warming requests, she headed for the smallest member of the party, a petite, pixie-like woman who wasn't drinking her cocoa and who held her hands above her lap as if they were hurting.
His stride longer, he overtook her and scooped up a stethoscope as he passed the tray of first-aid and examination supplies she'd laid out and slung the thing around his neck. Catching it caused a brief flash of pain on his handsome features. He ignored the pain, but Ellory noticed. That was her real job: Physio and massage therapy. Just not today.
He wasn't the concern right now. He'd been mostly warm when out there in it, though his cheeks looked chapped from the winter winds
She reached down to gently lift one of the woman's arms to get a better look at her fingers. "What's your name, honey?"
"Chelsea," she answered, teeth chattering. "My fingers and toes burn. Like they're on fire."
"Socks off, everyone. Time to check extremities." Chelsea's fingertips were really red. Ellory didn't want to touch them, but she didn't really know enough about medicine not to investigate fully. Maybe frostbite started with redness?
Gingerly, she wrapped her hands over Chelsea's fingertips, causing the freezing woman to gasp in pain but confirming that they were indeed hot. This wasn't frostbite. Though that was probably going to be the next stage. "I'm sorry," she whispered, and let go of the hands, her gaze drifting down to where Angry Leader had knelt at Chelsea's feet, which he now examined. Her toes were exactly the opposite in color from her fingertips: an unnatural, disturbing, somewhat corpse-like white.
That might be a good reason to call Mira.
"Is that?" She hadn't got the question out before he nodded and looked Chelsea in the eye.
"My name is Dr. Graves. Anson, if you prefer. I'll even tell you my middle name later if you need some more names to cuss me with. This isn't going to be pleasant. We have to warm your feet fast," Anson said, his raspy voice much gentler with the woman. "You have the beginning stages of frostbite."
Chelsea's gaze sharpened and she blurted out, "Are my toes going to fall off?" She sounded so stricken every head in the lobby turned toward her.
Ellory's heart skipped.
Anson looked grim and his wind-burned cheeks lost some of their color, but he shook his head. "It's going to feel like it. It will hurt like probably no one but you can imagine right now, but that's how you get to keep them." He didn't sugarcoat it, not even a hint of the usual discomfort nonsense doctors liked to say.
Chelsea nodded, her eyes welling.
Anson looked at Ellory again. "Get her pants off. How hot is the water?"
"One hundred and ten on the burners." Ellory answered. That she knew.
He looked surprised they'd been using a thermometer on it. "A little too hot. Add a small amount of cold water to it to get it to one hundred and five and then pour. It's got to be between one hundred and one hundred and five degrees Fahrenheit all the time. Dip out water, pour more in, or swap out the containers to keep it within range. I know that's going to be hard to do in buckets, but it needs to be done as ex-actingly as possible for a full half-hour." Anson said this to Ellory, who nodded and relayed the orders to her kitchen helpers, then helped Chelsea out of the bottom half of her suit.
By the time Chelsea was down to her ther-mals, the water had been sufficiently cooled and poured into a large rubber container. Ellory pushed the cotton cuffs to Chelsea's knees and guided the woman's feet into the water.
It hurt. She could tell by the way Chelsea's lower lip quivered, though admirably she didn't cry out.