The apartment door closed with a sharp click as Louisa threw her keys in the bowl by the door. Her dress, bra, and panties left a trail behind her on the polished wooden floors as she moved to the shower where she could wash away all trace of the man. She caved to pressure from her secretary and agreed to one date. What she hadn’t agreed to was a bad meal, overpriced shoes, and having to pepper spray the guy to get him off her in the car. As one of the top lawyers in the country it was hard for her to find men. They were either intimidated by her job, or after a piece of her power. This one fell into the power category. A legal aide, he sought to use her to get a place at her legal firm. After all, it’s not what you know, but who you know.
Louisa let the hot water run over tired and tight muscles. The heat worked kinks from her neck that no amount of sleep could relax. When she felt she had wasted enough water she wrapped a large fluffy towel around herself and moved through her small apartment to the couch before allowing her eyes to close. The soft light from a lamp illuminated the room, which was furnished sparsely. She was never home so hadn’t bothered decorating her small loft. Besides, her office was like a second home. When she was here she slept in her small double ensemble or worked at the large wooden desk to one side of the open plan space. She looked to the desk now, knowing what sat on its battered top and cringing at the thought of dealing with it. A yellow envelope, which she had yet to decide what to do with, glared at her in the low light. Its simple front held stamped black letters spelling a name she had hoped to never see again. A siren sounded outside on the street, drowning out her thoughts. She was getting claustrophobic living in the city and working twenty hours of the day. The buildings pressed in on her on all sides, suffocating her. Every step she took was closer to another case, another hour of work, and another night alone. Her foot twitched as she scoffed at her own inability to settle. Her friends kept telling her, just marry someone as busy as she was and they would never have to see each other. At least that way, they reasoned, she would have a chance at children down the track. Louisa could never do such a thing. She couldn’t remember her family at a time when they were happy. She wouldn’t bring a child into her world unless she could give them a stable, loving home. Children deserved to be brought up with two parents, even if she had to quit her firm to do it. This was the reason she hadn’t settled down, she thought as she gazed at the offending envelope again. She was not ready to give up her career, not when she had worked hard to build it out of the dirt.
Her gaze narrowed on the envelope. If she took it to the client she would be out of this claustrophobic place, and it would be done. A brief trip out of the city would do her good. If she played her cards right she wouldn’t even have to see the person those name it broadcast into her mind.
It also meant she might run the risk of making her life even more complicated.
Her decision was made for her when the neighbours started arguing in the hall. Their loud accusing voices were piercing as they screamed their hatred. Her bags were packed before the screaming stopped. Dialling the familiar number, the phone rang just twice before her client’s daughter answered, her friendly voice welcoming her to the mountains.
Louisa climbed into her hired car at the small airport wondering how she could explain what she discovered. On the phone she had requested a meeting, not telling the client’s daughter the nature of the visit. Mr. McKillip, Louisa’s client, was known to be harsh when it came to business. She hoped his children would understand his decision more than she did. Rechecking that she had her bag and purse before she pulled out of the airport, she glanced at herself once in the rear view mirror, smoothing the stray brown curls back into their tidy bun. A quick stop in the plane’s toilet was all the time she had allowed to straighten up before she arrived at the client’s lodge. The trip in the car would be a long one, and with the weather turning she couldn’t afford to pull over to apply mascara, one of the few beauty products she used.
Her flight had been delayed, causing her to arrive later than she had planned. It would be another three hours before she reached the lodge. Pulling out of the small town the skies opened up creating white capped roofs. Snow drifted down, sticking to the wipers as she attempted to clear the build-up from the windshield.
Two hours passed before the snow became a problem, and she squinted through the glass trying to see through the thick swirling blanket. Switching the lights to high beam illuminated the flurry of snow before her, not the road beneath. There was still another half an hour at least until she arrived at the lodge. She shifted in her seat, the heater blaring from the dashboard at her face and legs. Even with the heater at its max, her fingers twinged with cold on the steering wheel. She hadn’t dressed for such weather, thinking she would be well gone before the first snow of the season. The option to pull over and wait it out didn’t appeal to her. These mountain roads were narrow leaving no room for her to pull over with visibility so low.
Louisa considered what she had planned for the week to take her mind off the storm. This was her first trip to see Mr. McKillip’s middle daughter, Sophie. She would still have to see the two brothers, Cole and the one she was dreading the most, Dominic. She hadn’t seen Dominic in several years. They had gone their separate ways after a brief relationship during her stay at McKillip Lodge when she was a teenager. A proud man, he had his father’s striking strong nose and olive skin.
Louisa had fallen for the boy she grew up with, not the man he now was, a mistake she now had to live with every day. His name glared up at her from the envelope sitting atop her simple black overnight bag. He had taken over the company after his father’s death just weeks ago. She was thankful that his sister, Sophie, was happy, and legally able, to sign on his behalf.
Slowing as she rounded a bend, her headlights unable to see around the corner, her thoughts were on Dominic and how she would face him when the time came. She didn’t see the figure appear through the trees on her right until she was upon it.
A face swam before her, and she blinked several times to allow the features of the man to come into focus.
“Dominic?2 She muttered. His pale green eyes and dark brow swam in and out of focus as her head spun.
They had pulled her from the car and laid her on the shallow snow beside the mountain track. She could feel the frigid air chafing her face, the cold snow soaking her back. The faint shape of the deer lay half on, half off the bonnet of the dented car.
“Should I call for a chopper to take her out?” a voice said at her side.
“No, thank you, Murphy. Call the doctor and take her up to the house, out of the cold.”
The second voice felt so familiar to her, deep and commanding, one she knew could raise goose-bumps on her skin with the right words whispered against her neck. The sound fell on her now like a warm blanket. She tried to reach out and touch him. She wanted to feel the firm skin beneath her fingers to see if he was real. Strong hands slid under her, and as she was lifted from the ground, her vision swam once before pain flared and she was swallowed into the blackness.
Louisa awakened with thick dark blankets heavy on her body. The huge bed dwarfed her and made her feel as if she were a small child, as she had been the last time she slept in the lodge. Dominic’s father, Malcolm, had insisted she stay the winter with them, after her mother—who had worked as their housekeeper—was taken to hospital. Louisa had waved to her mother from the front steps of the lodge, not knowing it would be the last time she saw her alive.
She pushed the memory back and tried to focus on her surroundings. She was at the lodge. No other building was close to where she came off the road. Its dark wooden walls held the warmth of the large fire that blazed in the stone fireplace next to her. The night’s events were still hazy in her mind. Trying to recall them made her head pound and pain flare at her temple. She knew her first mistake had been being too much of a coward to call all of the McKillips to Dominic’s office in New York, just hours from her own office. She cursed herself for being so foolish. She knew the deer that roamed the forests in this area often wandered onto the roads. During that winter in her teens she had hunted them with Mr. McKillip, often waiting by the roads for one to attempt the crossing in search of food in the frozen ground either side of it.
The impact with the poor creature was a haze in her mind, yet she was sure she must have imagined Dominic being on the road side with her. She closed her eyes and remembered the scene. Green eyes, she hadn’t imagined those. So clear, like light through forest leaves. She had gazed into those eyes for what seemed like hours once, and she would remember them until the end of her days.
“Gods,” she muttered opening her eyes again. The mere thought of him here tonight sent shivers down her spine. This was the reason she had been hesitant to come here. It appeared their parting hadn’t driven her feelings for him from her body. It was well known that Dominic was a recluse and spent most of his time at his New York penthouse. For him to be here in winter was out of character. She had heard rumours, stories that after his dad passed that he had been acting odd. Missing parties, social events, fundraisers, even those hosted by his sister, Sophie. Some said that it was grief, but Louisa knew that he had never held a shred of affection for his father.