Find Me in the Snow
Can you love someone with secrets?
When Althea meets Morgan Hunter at Muldoon’s pub for the first time, she thinks he’s a handsome, ego tripping, prissy-pants executive. She quickly rebuffs him only to find him thundering at her in the operation theater, the very next day. He’s dogged in his censure of her, but not immune to her allure. Through a snowy December Morgan courts Althea and wins her heart but not her trust.
When she travels with him at his request for Christmas to his home in Finesse, a tumble in the snow leads to the discovery of Morgan's missing ex-girlfriend. Dead. Morgan pushes Althea away and she doesn't understand his reasons.
Althea returns to build the new rural clinic in Finesse. She discovers the truth about Morgan’s heritage, the murdered ex-girlfriend and the secrets about the Hunter clan.
Can she save the man she loved from going to prison?
Release Date: December 1, 2020
Genre: Contemporary Romance
~ A PINK SATIN ROMANCE ~
Althea Moraes had gone to everybody’s refuge at the end of a horrible day, the bar. What she needed was a stiff drink. The first snow of the season had blanketed the city, and she’d skidded smoothly on the corner of 4thAvenue despite her sneakers’ promise of extra grip and landed on her butt! She stayed flat on the sidewalk, unable to feel her feet in the bitter cold, not a single hand to help her up. Welcome to New York, baby. No cute guy to offer her assistance; it didn’t happen like in the movies. Despite it all she loved this city. Even as she walked to Muldoon’s Pub, she couldn’t hate this place.
When she’d gone for a poster presentation to Ohio, she’d actually felt homesick. New York was home since she moved here a year ago. Especially at Christmastime, it was the best place to be, streets decked with lights, doors displaying festive wreaths, snowmen in the yards, and the smell of cinnamon and apples filling the air. And the Big Apple always welcomed Christmas early, well before Halloween. The premature snow this year just made it more magical. New York and its brownstones, dead trees, and narrow streets all virginal white and quiet. It took her breath away.
Her butt was sore, however; she knew she’d have a large bruise there from her fall. With each step, every extended motion of her leg made her wince in pain. It soured her mood. The soft cove lights at Muldoon’s Pub relaxed her, while the southern tunes of some guy’s wife leaving him played quietly in the background. The smell of cigarette smoke made her raise an eyebrow. Hey, maybe passively smoking would relax her frayed nerves.
Settling down on a bar stool, the bartender handed Althea her usual Christmas drink, a snowball with tequila and cinnamon. She’d started ordering it on Thanksgiving Day when she’d been working. She giggled to herself after she had the second one and realized that she’d probably had too much already, though she wanted another, because the searing pain in her butt was slowly numbing—but not entirely so. Her phone interrupted her thoughts. Rivka called and told her she’d be late.
“Just report the extra hours to Hendrick. Human resources should take care of it. You’ve already done sixteen hours of work. Hurry up, I’m waiting,” Althea told her.
Knowing her friend, she knew Rivka would work the extra hours without complaining. They worked in different departments, she in family medicine and Rivka in surgery. Althea, herself, had reported being overworked to Hendrick before and he made sure it didn’t happen often. After hanging up, she was thinking of ordering another drink when she heard the guy beside her speak to her. His voice rang deep and strong. It made every strand of hair on her skin stand up.
“Hi, I couldn’t help but overhear. I’m guessing you work for the hospital. Which department do you work in?”
“Me? I’m in housekeeping,” she said, trying to keep her composure although her mind ran riot over this devastatingly handsome man.
He laughed, showing his even white teeth, his head full of honey-colored hair thrown back. The din of the bar and the soft country music didn’t drown out his laughter. “I’m serious. Maybe I could get your number, take you out to dinner sometime.”
She gave him more than a cursory glance. He was laughing at her. The painful memory of being the joke of last year infuriated her. Even now it made her wince as people congratulated her on her wedding date and she had to tell them it had been canceled. What was worse was explaining why. Sure, people sympathized but she heard the snickering and the rumors. Later, it wasn’t just a sad story, once she waved it off, people used it as a folk tale. “Don’t jinx it, or you might end up like Althea.” They amused themselves at her expense.
She straightened herself, flicked some notes onto the bar, and slid off the bar stool. “I do housekeeping—you know, change sheets, add the toilet roll, and clean up puke. Do you still want to go to dinner?” she asked, biting her lip.
He dropped the smile. The transformation was visible. His cornflower blue eyes flashed. Was it anger she saw? Rage? But she watched him try to save face, make a last-ditch attempt to salvage his stricken pride. He didn’t answer her, and Althea tried her best to conceal her disappointment.
“Nah! I thought not,” she said and walked to the opposite end of the pub to pay her tab.
Althea had been struck by his presence. His well-tailored blue suit jacket had been unbuttoned, and his maroon scarf, polished leather shoes, and clean-shaven appearance had indicated the man had some sense of style. His long fingers had held a glass of what she assumed was whiskey and his broad shoulders had filled the space.
She glanced around the room, while the bartender rung up the till and watched the women send him winks and smiles. It silenced the guilt she felt at turning down such a gorgeous guy.
With her peripheral vision, she saw him snort when the bartender passed him a drink, courtesy of a woman in the corner. Another in the long line of many desperate women, throwing themselves at him. He laughed, probably at their unceasing efforts to get his attention.
Not wanting to be lumped in with that group of women, she did her absolute best to forget him. After all, she was done with those kinds of men. The ones who used and threw women like her away. Women that worked hard to make a living for themselves.
Althea was tired of them. Although she admitted it was difficult to ignore him, his voice was a rich timbre when he ordered his drink. It reminded her to watch that James Bond movie she kept postponing. She’d dealt with men like him in the not-so-distant past.
And, boy, was she made sorry for it. They were the men who saw the package and followed the checklist; single—check, lonely—check, decent-looking—check, under one-hundred-and-twenty pounds—check, smells nice enough—check, average rack—check, doable—check, easy—check, makes her own money—check, can ask her for a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am—check. Once everything was ticked off—ask where she works, what she does, calculate how much she makes, where she stands on the social ladder—then you ask for her number. Or don’t ask for her number, just ask her if she’s available for the night.
It made her angry. Yet, she had studied these men, could even write a thesis on the subject; who better than her would know? She’d smiled and had told the gorgeous man at the bar what he never expected to hear. She watched him drop his gaze to his fancy Cartier watch, tug his hundred percent cashmere scarf and put his custom leather clad feet on the floor, turning and giving her his full attention. He was lean and breathtakingly handsome. His hair a dark shade of honey and chestnut, cut fine. His initial smile turned to dismay when she repeated herself.
Housekeeping? Undatable—check. Move on. Next.
She should have at least got his name, a still small voice within her prodded. Gorgeous man at the bar was a disappointment, if she could call a money-grubbing, ego-tripping specimen a man. Where had the real men gone? Where were the men of her father’s generation? The men who opened doors, paid for drinks, stood up for women, pulled out chairs, bought flowers, paid attention to detail, married before impregnating—okay, so that was also a woman’s responsibility.
Outside the bar, Althea called Rivka, who finally said she couldn’t make it. She shouldn’t have been surprised. So now she had no ride. With two tequilas making her brain swim, and her ass virtually on fire, her only alternative was the bus. She should have waited inside the bar. Thanks to Mr. Prissypants, she was forced to wait out in the cold for another twenty minutes until a bus arrived.
Sitting down in the corner, shielding herself from the chilly wind, she hugged her coat tight and pulled on her gloves. Her gaze drifted to the entrance of Muldoon’s Pub where she saw the suave man she’d rejected stride out. The valet brought a shiny black Audi around and he tipped him. He looked confident, used to being in charge, with that no-nonsense air about him. She watched him put on his seatbelt, quickly spinning his steering wheel and powering out of the lot onto the open road. Men.
Sometimes she wished she was a man. Who was she kidding; most of the time she did. She could have done what they did, played the field, leaving a trail of broken hearts with no remorse or guilt. “Gotten tail,” like the boys would say. And probably settled down at thirty-eight or thirty-nine. Women these days loved older men. And real men loved dumb, DD-chested, zero IQ pinheads.
Althea sighed. She was thirty now. Soon she’d be crossing over. The two years she’d spent chasing Braz Serrao had been a total waste of time. She should’ve been smart about it. He’d treated her like some side chick, a garden tool.
He was that good guy she hated because he’d used her in the nicest way possible. There was not much she could have done because she’d loved him. He’d known that she did. She’d known that she did and tolerated everything. The lies, the insults, and the hurt. He’d led her to believe that he loved her, but he used her as he waited for a better model to show up. She’d overlooked the fact that he was inherently selfish. While he appeared to have her best interest at heart, he’d actually put himself first, always.
He’d misled her, talking about the future, her plans, and how many kids she wanted. He never cheated physically, because he wanted to avoid drawing accusation from her and, in the process, eased his own conscience. However, he’d emotionally checked out of their relationship long before to make his own transition easier. He’d proposed and they’d gotten engaged. A week before her wedding date she’d given up the lease on her apartment and picked up her wedding dress that she’d won in a magazine’s bridal sweepstakes. She’d taken it as a sign that he was “the one.”
Then she got a call from him two days before the wedding day saying he couldn’t spend the rest of his life with her. He didn’t feel invested enough in their relationship and she didn’t hear the rest of the conversation, except that there would be no wedding.
She’d spoken to her landlord, who was sympathetic and let her back in. Althea sent the dress back and asked the magazine to give it to someone else. Then she had to cancel flight tickets for her parents, who were traveling from Portugal. Since she’d planned most of the wedding, she had the singular responsibility of handling all the cancellations. She hated the pitiful looks from her friends and colleagues.
At the end of it all, he left her feeling empty. Braz had made her feel that way. He’d been honest without ever telling the truth. He hadn’t lied, but he told her what she wanted to hear instead of what she needed to hear. He used her as a pit stop but assured her repeatedly that his future was with her. Yet, he’d found someone soon after that. At least, that’s what he told her.
He’d used her hope to keep her paralyzed. She was left waiting, in vain, as he gave the love she longed for to another woman. That woman was no stranger. Kimber, Braz’s new wife, was previously engaged to her colleague, Craig O’ Donell. Craig and Althea went way back, they’d even studied at the same college many years ago and had remained friends over the years.
Even once married, Braz continued to let her believe there may be a future for them if things didn’t work out between him and Kimber.
In truth, Althea fell in love with Braz while he’d helped her when she moved from Portugal. Those initial days in New York were hard as she navigated the culture shock. She missed home and the pace of NYC was nothing like the Silver coast. It was rip-roaring fast and intimidating.
Braz knew the city, its’ ins and outs. He loved her rustic perspective and simplistic view of life. And she was attracted to his charm and wit. Braz was street smart. Having grown up here, he knew exactly what to say and how to say it to win people over. It was why he was a diplomat for the Portuguese embassy, the place where she’d first met him.
Now a different set of tears rolled down her cheeks. One full of anguish and despair. Braz had moved on quickly after breaking off their engagement. She couldn’t even keep a man for a few weeks, let alone snap up someone for marriage. Yet, Braz, now married to Kimber, recently had a baby.
Braz had been something of a smooth talker. He had swept her off her feet, taking her dancing and wine tasting. He’d wooed her and, after eight months of courtship, proposed. Her parents had been happy. He came from a political family. They agreed to split wedding costs but when he canceled, she bore much of the financial responsibility herself since he wanted it low key and she’d insisted on a grand celebration. Saddled with wedding debt and her college loans, Althea practically had a nervous breakdown. Craig had gone through worse.
Now in hindsight, the signs were there; he hadn’t really invited her for embassy events after they were engaged, citing how boring they were. He always introduced her as a doctor at the hospital rather than as his fiancée. She had passed it off as pride; in truth, it was probably embarrassment. Craig and she had double-dated with Kimber and Braz once, and that was probably the worst mistake of her life. That’s where Kimber and Braz had connected.
Unfortunately, she was never anything more than his backup plan. Never again, she vowed. Never, again.
* * *
The bartender pretended he didn’t hear what happened, but he obviously must have, Dr. Morgan Hunter thought to himself. He flung his notes on the counter and decided to head home. He’d misread the woman with bronze skin and blue-black hair. When she sat near him for a drink, he’d noticed the slight accent as she spoke over the phone. Was it Spanish? There was no point guessing. Whomever she was waiting for had been late. He’d always considered it bad manners to keep a lady waiting.
Nursing a strangely creamy drink, the siren had tapped her foot on the wooden floor. She didn’t look at him or she was playing hard to get. He’d ignored most of the women offering to buy him a drink. Twenty minutes later she was still looking at her watch, her drink, and then the bartender. Not necessarily in that order.
There was very little happening at the bar. Being a weekday, the crowd was thin, but the patrons kept to themselves; at least the males didn’t want to mingle. He didn’t want to but couldn’t help eavesdropping on her conversation with the bartender, who spoke first.
“How’s work, Al?”
The bartender and she knew each other, well enough obviously. He called her Al; what was that for? Alice? Alison? Alicia? A nervous chill ran up his spine. He shuddered at the possibility that her name could be Alicia, his ex-girlfriend’s name.
He heard her soft voice. “Holding up. Today was a good day. I finished early. Your load easier?”
The round, wrinkly bartender poured a beer, handed it to his customer on the other end, and returned.
“You know how people can be, messy with their lives. I mean, I don’t know why people want to air their dirty laundry, but that comes with this territory. Are the girls coming?”
Morgan listened to her sigh. “I don’t know. Rivka’s late and I think Hendrick’s giving them a hard time.”
Hendrick, yes, that’s why he assumed she worked at the hospital. Hendrick was the human resource supervisor at St Mary’s. After he overheard the conversation, he wanted to know in which department she worked. Or maybe she didn’t. The rest he could find out later.
Morgan felt his whiskey burn its way downward. Every year on this day he’d get drunk with no memory the next morning of how he’d gotten to his apartment. It was the anniversary since Alicia had walked away from him and never returned. How he hated this date!
He couldn’t quite tell what about the woman with the accent drew his attention, but since she’d stiffed him, he couldn’t stay at Muldoon’s any longer. Thanks to her, he couldn’t even get drunk today. Well, he was losing his touch if he couldn’t be a good judge of character. His father would be appalled.