Looking to escape a lonely Christmas, newly divorced Meredith Matthews, decides to visit her sister in her childhood hometown. But her plans take a turn for the worse when she finds herself stranded on the roadside without any cell signal or sturdy winter shoes to keep her from falling on her butt. Half-freezing, she awaits help. It arrives in the form of a handsome stranger but is he just that? The past with its embarrassing teenage crushes, old memories, long-forgotten emotions, and painful letdowns gets undone and repaired as a new flame of romance decorates the festive season with its joy and cheer.
The weather is atrocious, even for December. My little car doesn’t know what’s hit it, crawling down the M5 with the heater on full whack and sad love songs playing on the crackly radio.
It seems like everyone is going to Devon for the holidays.
But instead of going to a lovely little cottage like most of the tourists probably are, I’m heading to my sister’s tiny terraced house containing a sofa for me to spend the next two weeks.
But I don’t care—I don’t want to be alone at Christmas. I’m looking forward to seeing my niece and nephew and, of course, my sister and her husband.
The alternative was flying to see my mother in Australia—no funds for that. Or getting excessively drunk alone in front of the TV with a paper hat on.
I can’t do that, so here I am.
I sigh, and my breath comes out in a cloud of smoke despite the heater having been on for four solid hours.
My feet are aching from the constant struggle to keep my car alive, playing with the accelerator and the clutch, praying it doesn’t cut out.
My phone rings, and I press the speaker button to hear my sister’s cheerful voice greeting me.
“Merry! Where are you, love?”
“Hey, Cass. I’m still on the M5.” I sigh, craning my neck to see a blanket of traffic in front of me.
“Still? But you were on that an hour ago,” Cassie complains. “Harry, put the cat down. ~He’s ~not~ a toy—”
“I know, but the weather is pretty bad. I swear it’s going to snow.” I peer out at the gray, almost neon-white sky.
It’s definitely going to snow.
“Oh, that’s why I’m calling you. There’s snow here already, and it’s falling thick and fast. I know you’ve not got the Range Rover anymore…”
Yes. No winter tires or heated seats. No Bluetooth. Hell, I’m lucky this car has seat belts.
“No, but I’ll be fine. The car is running perfectly well,” I lie as it shudders beneath me. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Victoria, do not hit your brother with a glass! Do either of you have an iota of common sense?!” Cassie screams, and I close my eyes, knowing this is going to be my reality for the next two weeks.
“I’ll see you soon.” I sigh as Cassie shrieks at the children again. Harry and Victoria are twins and fight like cats and dogs. Separately they’re angels, but together… they’re anything but.
The traffic begins to ease somewhat as I pass Bristol, and I’m relieved at being able to put my foot down. The last thing I need is to be stranded in a snowstorm in this heap of crap.
The snow is falling thick and fast, heavy clouds of it hitting my windshield as my wipers work furiously to keep my vision clear. I spot the turnoff for my sister’s county and heave a sigh of relief.
My indicator is so faint it’s absurd, so I have to make sure there’s no one on the left side when I exit the highway.
The slippery road is already glistening, a white wonderland for my car to play in.
“Shit,” I mutter, feeling the snow crunch beneath the tires. “Come on, Bertha, we can do it.”
My car groans as it slides along the snowy exit, and I ease it slowly off the roundabout and toward the little town my sister lives in.
We grew up here, and my sister never left. She married her high school sweetheart and popped out a few kids. And thanks to her husband, she doesn’t need to work.
My core aches at the word, and I stare down at the indentation on my ring finger. Years of wearing a ring there has left a permanent reminder that I’ve failed at marriage.
It wasn’t my fault, though, not entirely.
Forcing the thoughts away, I focus on making a sharp left to climb the hill toward Bellwood, my childhood town.
My car loudly groans as I press on its accelerator, leaning forward like I’m helping it move. Stupid, really, but I want to give Bertha some moral support.
“Come on,” I plead as the car slows down. “No, no, no!”
It barely reaches the top of the hill, and I lean back when I see the familiar sign welcoming me to Bellwood.
It happens so suddenly I’m not even able to process it. The car slides daintily on the sheet of ice like a figure skater, twirling as I desperately grip the steering wheel.
Somehow, I manage to guide it toward the only thing I can see that will stop me from careening down and heading for certain death, and it happens to be a tree.
I brace myself for the impact, but it still stuns me.
The side of the car crashes into the tree with a loud bang, and the sound of shattering glass makes me cry out. I’m thrown against the driver-side door, but then it stops.
I’m trembling as I unclip my seat belt, reaching for my phone with hands that are paralyzed with shock.
“Shit!” I hiss, realizing I’ve got no signal here.
Tears sting my eyes, but I expel a deep breath, shoving the car door open. My shoes aren’t made for snow. Knee-high tan boots slide instantly on the ice my car is stuck on.
I steady myself against the car as I wave my phone around, trying to get a signal. I’m in the AA car rescue service, so I just need to call someone to come and get me.
God, it’s cold.
I reach into the back seat to pull my coat out, wrapping it around me as I shiver involuntarily.
The tree, the poor thing, wasn’t as sturdy as it probably would’ve liked to be. Its branches are sodden with snow, and it’s leaning backward from the weight of my car.
Shifting my gaze to the surrounding area, I notice I’m definitely in the middle of what can only be described as nowhere.
I know without consulting any map that I’m at least twenty miles away from town and surrounded by trees and not a lot else.
I lift my hand to protect my eyes as I turn toward the road I’d been on, the snow attacking me with the harsh wind. My ears sting from the cold, and I curse myself for not bringing a hat.
I need to get to the road.
It’s not far, but it’s uphill, which fills me with dread. If I don’t get up there, though, I’ll freeze before anyone finds me. Hopefully, I’ll get some signal up there too.
I slip and slide on the icy terrain, my red, raw fingers clawing desperately at the ice as I try to reach the road. The snow is lethal now, falling so fast I can barely see my hands in front of my face.
I want to cry, but I know if I do, my tears will probably freeze, and my eyeballs will fall out.
Finally, I’m there.
I huddle my coat around me, raising my phone in the air like a beacon, hoping it attracts some signal from somewhere.~
“God!” I cry out, finally succumbing to the tears that have threatened to fall for the past however long I’ve been here.
I’m going to have to flag someone down, I realize, turning to check both sides of the road.
Nothing. Nothing and no one.
“Be calm, Meredith,” I whisper to myself, staring at the network sign on my phone like I can conjure up some bars.
But it’s cold, beyond cold, and I’m starting to panic. I’m not within walking distance of anywhere, and it will be ages before my sister thinks of looking for me. She’ll assume I’m in traffic.
Headlights peer over the top of the hill, and despite not being able to make out the vehicle, I wave like a crazy woman, praying the driver sees me.
They drive on, and I realize with despair that the snow is too fast and too thick for anyone to spot me.
“Keep it together.” I coax myself, fingers trembling as I switch the torch on my phone. “The next car will see you.”
My lips feel numb, and I bounce on my feet to try to keep myself warm.
After everything I’ve been through, I’m not going to freeze to death out here on the edge of Bellwood.
It’s another agonizing fifteen minutes before headlights glow through the thick snow that’s turning the world into ice, and I wave my phone in the air with gusto.
It’s a truck.
It could be Noddy, for all I care, and I’d still get in. I can’t feel my toes.
The truck slows, and I see the orange hazard lights blinking, notifying all around that it’s stopping on the hill.
My teeth are chattering as I move in the direction of the truck when the driver’s door opens, and a winter hat comes toward me, bobbing in the mist.
“You okay?” calls the voice, a male voice.
“Cold,” I call back as the man stomps forward through the snow, thick winter boots gripping the ice easily.
I can’t see him, but he guides me toward the truck, holding me up as I slip and slide on the ice. He tugs open the door of the car, helping me into the warmth of the cabin.
The door slams shut behind me, and it’s then I realize my nose is completely numb. The driver’s door opens, and my savior climbs in, handing me his hat and gloves.
“Put those on.”
I close my eyes as I tug the hat on gratefully, pulling the gloves on over my bone-white fingers. The heater is blasting against my skin, and I bask in it as the truck moves.
“What happened?” The voice asks with concern, and I shake my head, trying to speak.
“Crashed,” I mumble, my lips hurting from forming the words.
“Shit, is your car back there?”
“Okay. My friend runs a garage in town, which isn’t too far away. I’ll take you there.”
I close my eyes, nodding as I thank him mentally.
What a start to my holidays.