Chapter 1

Sam paced in the crowded gate area. She’d never seen so many people in the airport. Granted, she’d only been in the Denver airport twice before, but still. These people needed to go home, and Mother Nature needed to deal with whatever was making her grumpy.

Although, Sam could relate. She was tired and frustrated. Things couldn’t get much worse. It was two days before Christmas, and she—and a hundred billion other people—were trying to fly out of Denver.

A plane taxied to a nearby gate, and Sam crossed her fingers that her plane would land soon.

She wanted to spend the holidays back in Texas and finally get to visit Kaci, but all hopes of that were dashed when the woman at the desk announced that the flight was delayed.

Christmas with her family and friends was important, but dreaming of the New Year’s Eve party was what had gotten Sam through the long, frustrating workdays right before the holidays. She couldn’t miss the party. She wouldn’t. The perfect outfit waited in her suitcase—where it was probably getting wrinkled. But wrinkled clothes beat checking a bag.

The biggest reason for not missing out on the holidays was the fear that Kaci would think Sam was still upset. Their friendship had been mended. Sam didn’t want to create a new rift by being a no-show at Kaci’s party.

But the friendship part aside, who wouldn’t want to attend a billionaire’s party? Drake spared no expense when it came to Kaci, and the New Year’s Eve gathering would probably be amazing.

Sam pulled her hair over her shoulder. Disappointment soured her mood, and as if things weren’t bad enough, her cell signal had gone kaput, which left her out of contact with her best friend.

Almost afraid to hope, Sam checked the board again, praying the status for her flight had changed from delayed to check-in. It had changed, but not in the way she wanted.

Canceled.

The scene outside the window explained why, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept. Dragging her suitcase, she waited in line at the desk. With every glance at the board, her hope diminished. All down the list, the flight statuses changed to canceled.

After thirty minutes in line, she pasted on her friendliest smile and stepped to the counter. “I need to get to San Antonio. How can I make that happen? I’ll take whatever flight you have. Even if I can only go to Austin or Houston. That’s close enough. I can drive from there.”

The man at the desk sighed and shook his head before saying a word. “The snowstorm has all flights grounded. You might try in the morning or the next day. I’m not sure how long it’s expected to last.”

“What flights are leaving in the morning?” She wouldn’t lash out at the poor guy who had probably heard every sob story known to man.

“Those are all booked solid.”

Maybe she would lash out a little. “How am I supposed to get to Texas?”

“You could drive.” There was no smile to indicate humor. He’d genuinely offered that as a suggestion.

She snatched up her suitcase. “Fine.”

If she was going to drive, she had to somehow get in touch with her brother who had borrowed her car. Maybe if she caught a shuttle or taxi back to her apartment, she could call him on the way there. The crowds heading toward the exit made her question her plan. She’d be waiting for hours just to get a ride home. Why wouldn’t her phone just work?

Breaking into a run, she headed toward the bus pickup for the car rental desk. Maybe it wasn’t too late to rent a car. Hopefully they had at least one left.

After riding a packed bus, Sam ran up to the counter and got in line behind a tall, lanky guy, a southern boy if she had to guess. When he stepped away, she slapped the desk. “I’ll take whatever car you have.”

The lady behind the desk pointed at the guy. “He got the last one.”

Sam was desperate. She whirled around and made a split-second assessment. He wasn’t creepy looking, quite the opposite. He had honest eyes. Gosh, that sounded like the intro to a Ted Bundy documentary. But she needed to get to Texas.

She took a risk and grabbed his arm. “Where are you going?”

“Excuse me?” He looked down at her hand, his eyebrows raised. The slightest hint of a smile tugged at his lips. Was he surprised or amused?

“You got a rental car. Are you just going to park it here in Denver and draw pictures on the fogged-up windows? Or, do you plan to drive the car somewhere?”

“Why would I rent a car to park it? That makes no sense.” The tiny creases near his eyes indicated humor.

Sam didn’t have time for verbal games. “I’ll pay you double what you paid to use the car. Can I pay you through Venmo?” She yanked out her phone before remembering her lack of signal. “My data isn’t working right now, and I don’t trust financial transactions to public Wi-Fi, but—”

He held up his hand. “I am not giving you the car. Where are you headed?”

“I need to get to Texas.” She reached for his arm again. “Please.”

“Texas is a mighty big place. Care to be more specific?”

She didn’t want to give her life story to a stranger, and she wasn’t sure she should trust him. “Maybe you could just take me to my car. I only live a few miles from here.” Riding across town with a stranger made her a little nervous, but the thought of missing Christmas made her sad. The thought of missing the New Year’s Eve party made her sick.

“You ever driven in snow before?” He eyed her with a look that irritated her.

“How hard can it be?” Putting on her best act, she batted her eyelashes and flipped her hair.

Did he think she was an idiot?

He opened his mouth then closed it again.

She exaggerated her eye roll for his benefit. “Yes, I’ve driven in snow. Now will you take me, or won’t you?”

“I’ll take you.” He reached for her suitcase.

“I can carry my own bag.” She yanked out the handle and dragged it behind her.

He kept pace with her. “What part of Texas?”

She stopped when her phone beeped repeatedly. “Hang on. My signal is back.”

Messages would have to wait. First, she needed to call her brother.

It rang five times before he answered. “Hey, sis.”

“Jason, I’m sorry to do this, but I need my car.”

“About that … didn’t you get my message?” Jason’s tone ratcheted up her concern.

“I haven’t had a signal. Just tell me.”

“I’m in Wyoming. My buddy has a place up here. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

Her grand plan shattered. “All right. Have fun.”

“Everything okay, sis?” Jason rarely showed such concern.

“No, but I’ll figure it out.” She shoved her phone in her pocket. “Thanks for the offer of a ride, but my car isn’t even in the state.”

The handsome guy with keys to the rental car tucked his phone in his pocket. “I’m headed to San Antonio if you want to ride along.”

She hadn’t told him where she was going, and hearing that he was headed to the same place felt like an opportunity too good to pass up. “Normally, I’d say no to a stranger offering me a ride, but I’m about out of options.” She stopped to look him in the eye. “I’d very much like a ride.”

He started walking again. “You have a name, or should I just call you Miss San Antonio?”

“Samantha Perkins, and I’m quite sure the title of Miss San Antonio belongs to someone else.” When her phone rang, she pulled it out of her pocket. With her purse in one hand and a suitcase in the other, keeping the phone to her ear required magical powers she didn’t have, so she stopped.  “This is my friend calling. I really need to take this.”

“If you can walk and talk, I’ll get your bag.”

She nodded as she answered. “Kaci, hi!”

“The news is saying they are canceling all flights out of Denver. What are you going to do?”

“I’m driving down, so I should be in town before Christmas. Don’t worry. I’m not missing the party for anything.” She flashed her new-found travel companion a smile. “Seriously. I’ll be there.”


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