“A Road Worth Going Down”
A professor falls for his best friend’s sister in this sweet and steamy story by Lillie Vale, author of THE DECOY GIRLFRIEND.
Owen is definitely not thinking about the time he kissed Shyla. Absolutely not, no way, nuh-uh—except, of course he is. He just needs to get through the road trip home together—but when a nasty winter strands the pair in a Nancy Meyers-esque winter cabin, they’re finally able to hash out their feelings… and more.
This delightful holiday love story by acclaimed rom-com author Lillie Vale completes our holiday slate. However you celebrate, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season filled with good food and good love.
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“A Road Worth Going Down”
Owen Lake almost doesn’t recognize her at first, lost in the sea of beanied puffy jacket–wearers waiting to be picked up at the pull-out in front of her graduate student housing. It’s one of those looming steel-and-glass Goliaths that he imagines every incoming student hopes to be assigned instead of the squat, puke-colored residence halls he and his best friend Rohan Roy lived in over a decade ago.
But then, through the veil of fluttering snowflakes and the fogged-up windshield, he sees her. Shyla Roy’s long hair is whipping around her face, and even though the mittened hand not clutching her suitcase handle bats at her flying tresses, it’s a futile effort.
Their families are longtime friends, and he’s known Rohan’s younger sister for most of his life and all of hers. When she lost her ride back to their hometown, Owen offered before Rohan even had to ask. It makes perfect sense: he teaches on the same campus she’s getting her M.A. and they’re both heading home to Miller Beach, an Indiana beachfront community sitting at Lake Michigan’s tip.
The bus and cars in front of him finally depart, allowing him to slide his Nissan up to the curb. He gets a better look at her now, and damn it if doesn’t sucker punch the oxygen out of his lungs. Shyla’s once blond ombré is now the black-red of mulled wine, dark and glossy, bringing out the pink in her round, apple-y cheeks. She has exactly two beauty spots on her face: the first to the left of the cleft in her chin, the second just above the arch of her brow. The perfect fit for his hand, thumb to middle finger.
He swallows and tries not to think about the first and last time he cradled her face, which of course means it runs through his mind at 2x speed, on a loop, fully HD. He hasn’t been able to stop thinking about her since what happened on the way back to campus after their joint family Thanksgiving three weeks ago. The way he’d zigged and she’d zagged, and somehow their mouths had connected, anyway. The aftershocks going through him that left him completely frazzled. Her scramble to get out and dash inside her building, leaving him unsure whether she’d meant to kiss him at all.
Exorcising her from his mind is just as futile as her swatting at her hair—the harder he tries to pretend it didn’t matter or that it didn’t happen, his traitorous dick of a brain only screams it louder in reminder.
HONK HONK HOOOOONK!
Owen starts, foot accidentally coming off the brake. “Fuck!”
The cars ahead of him in the pull-out are gone, there’s an irate middle-aged couple making rude gestures at him in the side mirrors, and…Shyla Roy is looking right at him.
“Fuck,” he repeats, this time softer, rolling his way to the curb. He rolls down the passenger window. “Hey.”
Hey? His insides shrivel. He’s had three weeks to think about what to say to her, and he leads with that?
“Hey! Thanks for picking me up, Owen.” She smiles, attempting to smooth her hair. He follows the arc of her hand as she tucks her hair behind her pink-tipped ears and wishes it was his hand there instead.
“No problem.” He steps out to grab her luggage. In addition to the backpack she’s wearing, there are two huge roll-alongs that will be a tight squeeze to fit in the trunk. He glances at the guy next to Shyla, who, now that Owen notices it, is standing a little too close. Wearing the quintessential Midwest college cool-guy outfit that hasn’t changed since Owen’s time: black North Face jacket and grey sweats. He fills it out with a buff frame and his golden hair is annoyingly swoopy and kind of perfect, looking very much like a long-lost Hemsworth brother.
“I’ll see you next semester, Matt,” Shyla says, letting go of her luggage to stand up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. A record screeches in Owen’s ears as he takes hold of the first roll-along. “Try not to stress too much about finals, okay?” With that, she heaves the second suitcase over to the car, straining to lift it.
“I’ve got it,” says Owen, taking the weight from her. It fills his chest with a warm, satisfied feeling when she lets him, biting her lip and looking up at him from under her thick fringe of black lashes. Breaking eye contact is a Herculean effort.
“Sorry about hogging the trunk,” Shyla says with an embarrassed smile when he has to take his own stuff out to toss in the backseat. “I had to do all my Christmas shopping here since you know how nonstop it’ll be once we’re home. Good luck finding the perfect gifts amidst all the chaos of family fun.”
He grins. “There’s a little thing called a gift card, you know.”
She flings her own backpack next to his. Hers is pink and new, unlike his ratty old college backpack, filled with winter survival gear. “Only if it’s accompanied by a real, actual, personal present.”
“That defeats the purpose of the gift card,” he says dryly. “Who doesn’t like getting money?”
She opens her mouth, then snaps it shut. “Okay, fair.”
With a laugh, he opens the front passenger door for her. “If it makes you feel any better, I got you a ‘real, actual, personal present.’”
“You did?” Her brown eyes sparkle. It makes him feel warm all over, and then a little unsteady, which makes it all the harder to pretend that three weeks ago didn’t happen. He gets in the driver’s seat, rubbing his hands in front of the heater before settling them on the steering wheel. For the next four hours, it’s just the two of them. He swallows.
Keep it casual, Lake. Stick to safe topics. Ask her about exams. If she’s registered for next semester’s classes already. If she’s hungry, wants to stop for some food. Anything except what you really want to know.
“That kid your boyfriend?” he asks, voice a little too loud as he pulls away from the curb.
“What?” She turns away from the window, waving hand dropping into her lap.
Owen grunts. “Him. Back there. With the hair.”
“With the hair,” she repeats, bemused. He immediately wishes for a time machine. “Um, no, he’s not. Just a friend from bio.”
He’s too pissed at himself for asking, for giving her a reason to think he cares beyond a platonic amount, or, god forbid, is jealous. He steadies his breath, relaxes his death grip on the wheel, and tells himself that the less time they spend talking, the faster and less painful this road trip back home will be. He’s a thirty-four-year-old professor of architecture, damn it. He does not get tongue-tied over a woman a decade his junior. And certainly not when she’s his best friend’s younger sister.
Even if she did kiss him first.
Owen zips past stately brick buildings and twinkling lights on bare trees, harried-looking parents loading their kids into SUVs. Everyone wants to get home fast, before the highway gets backed up and the storm hits. If they’re lucky, they’ll make it before the roads get treacherous.
Shyla flips down her sun visor to check her hair in the mirror. Her gasp of dismay draws his attention, but he quickly averts his eyes. Her long hair is a complete tangle, like a sloppy nest of spindly twigs made by a drunken bird, or even one of those tumbleweeds bouncing across the dry, arid landscape in those old westerns he grew up watching with his dad. Shyla works her fingers through the tangles, making soft, irritated sounds in the back of her throat.
She looks atrocious. She looks beautiful.
“Bio, huh?” he says finally, inanely. It’s just something to say, something to reach out with that’s less risky than, frankly, eye contact. “Photosynthesis kind of stuff? I remember sprouting a bean on a wet paper towel in a Ziploc.”
She snorts and crosses her legs. “Like when you were in second grade?”
He throws her a swift glance.
“I just finished BIO 657,” she explains. “Multivariate Analysis. Basically stats.” She makes a face.
He tries not to smile; he fully concurs with that assessment. The design courses he teaches are a creative blend of both art and science, and while technology makes the engineering part of his job a whole lot easier, he still makes sure his students know the math behind every decision, whether they’re working on a hospital or a high-rise or even building a film or theatre set.
He tunes back in as Shyla continues, “Trying to understand and make predictions about enormous swathes of environmental data. That’s a hell of a lot more challenging than—wait, what did you even think I was studying the last six years? Seriously, Owen, photosynthesis?” Her voice drips with condescension. “You do realize that when we come back to campus, I’ll be in my final semester? That at the end of it, I’ll have my masters in geoscience?”
It’s not like he doesn’t take an interest in her, he just nips it in the bud whenever her brother mentions some amusing collegiate anecdote, especially those involving other guys. He would never have been able to explain to Rohan why he was more protective than Shyla’s own brother.
Why every new boyfriend or situationship made his skin crawl, his throat scorch, his chest clench like every single one of the Baalbek Stones were perched atop him.
Better to feign no interest than to take too much.
Owen scratches the back of his neck. He’s hot and itchy in his sweater. He fiddles with the knob on the heater, turning the heat down. “Just making conversation, Shy.”
“You sound like my brother,” she accuses, elbow jabbing his on the center console.
“Sorry,” he says, a little bewildered at her reaction. “Guess I picked it up from him.”
“Except you’ve never called me that before.”
He usually likes it when she’s prickly, but now he feels shitty for the slip.
“You never complained before,” he says finally.
She wrenches off her jacket, breasts jutting out. He’s momentarily distracted as she leans closer to him to shove her jacket onto his backseat. Eyes on the road, Lake.
“I don’t like it coming from you, Owen,” she clarifies. “Ugh, how are you not boiling in here?” Her hands move to grip the hem of her college sweatshirt.
His fingers clench the steering wheel tighter.
She whips the garment off in a tangle of hair and limbs.
The distinct scent of her perfume hits him full force. Not the generic pine of his air freshener that he maybe liberally spritzed before picking her up. This is comforting and sweet, like chestnuts crackling in the fire. Vanilla and brown sugar on warm skin.
Oh fuck. This is the exact opposite of what he needs to be doing: ignoring Shyla and her perfect pout and the way she’s carefully picking strands of hair out of her sticky lip gloss. That gives him pause. She doesn’t usually wear gloss. She leaves tins of lip balm in her purse, in her glove compartment, in her childhood bedroom… She has backups for her backups, this girl.
Has she worn the gloss for him? No, that’s just wishful thinking. He sighs and merges into the slow lane so he can take the exit.
It’s going to be a long trip.
Two hours later and they’re not even halfway home. His red Nissan is 80% coated in snow that sticks and hardens, like instant chocolate shell that hardens over ice cream. His heater is struggling to defrost the windshield, he’s lost most of his rear visibility, and the staticky radio has exchanged Christmas oldies for a minute-by-minute weather watch. To make it worse, there’s been some accident up ahead, according to Google Maps. Ambulances zigzag through the nearly bumper-to-bumper traffic lanes.
They haven’t moved in thirty minutes. He’s used every single one to work himself up to ask the question that’s been on his mind for weeks. It would absolutely be the worst move to ask Shyla right now.
“Did you mean it when you kissed me a few weeks ago?” asks Owen, tugging at the sleeves of his gray merino-wool sweater and hoping she doesn’t hear the embarrassing catch in his voice.
She startles, pushing away from the window she’s curled against. The radio station begins to play Josh Groban’s “Believe,” a song he knows is her favorite. But it’s like she tunes it out, her focus on Owen and only Owen. Under the fierce brightness in her eyes, he fights the urge to squirm.
“Of course I did,” she says, a bit defensive and a bit incredulous. “Did you think it was just a parting kiss? A thank you for the lift back to campus?”
He coughs into his fist. “Well, I thought we were going for the cheek and then one of us got the angle wrong and we…missed.”
“I didn’t miss. I got what I was aiming for.”
His heart stutters, then swells. “…Oh.”
“I was waiting for you to text me. Ask me for coffee or something. Why didn’t you?”
“I thought it was a mistake,” he says honestly, finding it easier to stare straight ahead—at the snowy brilliance and the red glare of dozens of tail lights—than into her honey-brown eyes.
“Kissing me was a mistake?”
There’s no mistaking the edge of hurt in her voice. It slices into him at all angles. “No,” he’s quick to say. “I didn’t think you meant to kiss me, is all. Not on the lips, anyway. I didn’t want to make a thing of it if it was just bad timing. Or an impulsive whim. And then you just jumped out of the car, grabbed your stuff, and said thanks. I was still trying to catch up with what happened.”
And what makes it worse is that mistake or not, whim or not…it felt so right. Even though the kiss was sweet and light and over too quickly, giving him no time to shake himself out of his shock to properly kiss her back, the memory keeps him up at night.
He craves a do-over. He’ll get it right this time.
Shyla’s cheeks pink, but her voice stays even. “I was scared. I didn’t want to stick around in case you decided to let me down easy. You need to know that I didn’t kiss you for any reason other than I wanted to kiss you. And honestly, Owen, I’ve wanted to for a long time. And it’s fine if you don’t feel the same way, I just wanted you to know.”
Her voice trails away, swallowed by the lashes of wind against metal and Mariah Carey singing "All I Want For Christmas Is You.” New, heady awareness charges the air, the scant two feet of space separating them. He swallows, meeting her eyes. Heat seeps through him, turning his bones molten, his pulse thrumming. It’s all he can do not to reach out and cup her cheek, let his fingers slot into place over her beauty spots.
“I’m glad it wasn’t a mistake,” he says, voice hoarse. “It killed me that it could have been.”
Maybe it’s the softness of his voice that makes her reach out, pry his right hand from the wheel. Trail her fingertips between his knuckles, lightly clasp his wrist. She pulls their joined hands down to his thigh and he lets her, luxuriating in her tender, featherlight touch. Her thumb works in electrifying concentric circles until he aches with want, left hand white-knuckling the steering wheel. He doesn’t need to grip it right now, stuck in traffic as they are, but it’s solid and reassuring in his grip, like he isn’t on the precipice of a ledge, about to fall head over heels into something new and dangerous and wonderful.
“So now that we’ve both established that we’re being deliberate about this,” says Shyla, a glimmer of a smile in her tone, “what happens next?”
His heart stress ball–squeezes. It’s a good question. He’s sown all his wild oats and wants more than someone slinking in and out of his bed. He wants to build a life, be as stinking in love as his parents are, or her parents are, for that matter. Does she want a relationship with him? And even if she does, if this doesn’t work out, not only will the tension trickle over to their families, but maybe the awkwardness will magnify until they can’t even be friends. Is this road worth going down?
“Are you going to say anything?” Shyla asks softly.
“Look,” he says, ignoring the little stab of guilt that her question brings. He pulls the sleeve of his sweater over his fist to scrub the inside of the fogged-up windshield. “See all those cars ahead of us taking this exit? In a couple of minutes, everyone will move up enough that we can take it, too. Eventually we’ll join the interstate again, and in the meantime, we’re not stuck here.”
She strains to see out her frosty window. “You heard the radio, the storm’s about to hit. I don’t think we should be taking one of these old country backroads.”
“I have an emergency kit in the back, an ice scraper, a couple of flares. We’ll be fine.”
She lets out a sigh. “Owen.”
The red taillights of the car in front of them shine bright. There! Finally! The line is creeping forward, just enough for him to flick on the turn signal and then, ten seconds later, make his move.
“Shyla, it’ll be fine.”
It turns out to be not fine.
He followed the other cars taking the off-ramp, past a rusted and peeling shady-looking gas station where he wouldn’t stop to pee if his life depended on it, and down a long, narrow road that his map app assured him would get them home without obstructions. And it would have, if not for the humongous felled tree that’s blocking their way to the bridge they need to cross to meet back up with the interstate.
“This is on me,” he says. “I should have listened to you.” He puts the car in reverse, does a three-point turn, and heads back the way they came.
“It’s coming down harder,” she says, peering ahead.
They’ve already lost the light. Owen has to squint past the two buttery pools coming from the headlights. Bump-bump-bump. The wheels stutter over a bad patch in the road.
“Slow down,” says Shyla, for the first time sounding panicked.
“I’m only going twenty.” Still, he obliges.
“We passed a turn-off just before reaching the bridge,” she says, scanning the tree line. “Someone’s driveway? If anyone’s home, maybe they’ll let us wait out the storm.”
This time, he listens.
While he huddles up in his jacket, bracing himself to grab some of the winter travel provisions from the backseat, Shyla simply unbuckles her seat belt, grabs her clothing, and dresses herself quicker than she’d undressed.
The snowdrifts force them to leave the car halfway up the long driveway and make the rest of the trip on foot, taking only the essentials. The snow hits him mid calves, soaking his trousers and his long socks. Shyla, a head shorter, looks miserable with each step she takes.
Without thinking about it, he offers her his arm. She gives him a grateful look and takes it. Even though he’s the farthest thing from warm, something electric and right settles in his ribcage when her fingers wrap around his, squeezing him tight.
Weighed down with luggage, it takes them what feels like forever, but soon enough they reach a small log cabin. Despite the sparkling lights strung across the rafters, there aren’t any welcoming lights on inside. Clearly, no one’s home.
After his knock goes unanswered, Owen takes a deep breath, then shoves the door with this shoulder. It hurts. But he feels something shift, so he grits his teeth and repeats the action. This time, the door gives, and he stumbles through. “Age before beauty,” he wheezes.
She rushes after him, slamming the door shut. He’s massaging his sore shoulder when she finds the light switch. “Oh,” she says in surprise. “It’s adorable in here.”
Colorful rag rugs dot the hardwood floor, plaid blankets drape artistically over the arms of the sofas, and the long wooden table is dressed for a dinner party. There’s a welcome basket with a huge red velvet bow as the centerpiece, surrounded by pillar candles and evergreen boughs sprinkled with silver bells and tiny red berries.
“Shacky chic,” he agrees, hoping his pun makes her smile.
Shyla’s laugh bubbles out of her, light and airy. “You’re cute when you’re earnest.”
His lips twitch. “I am cute always.”
“And humble. Clearly.”
“Mm-hmm. I’m working on that.”
“To get on Santa’s ‘Nice’ list?” she asks flippantly.
He aims to match her tone and misses by a mile, the words coming out low and gruff and unintentionally flirty. “The only good books I want to get on are yours.”
Shyla looks everywhere but at him, patchy color blooming in her cheeks. “I guess if I have to be stranded somewhere, at least it's decked out for Christmas.”
Owen clears his throat. “If I have to be stranded somewhere, at least it’s with you.”
He hurriedly turns his attention to the cabin. “It must be a rental,” he says, spotting the Welcome, Jansen Family! note tucked between the bottle of mulled wine, wedge of apple-cinnamon cheddar cheese, and flaky chocolate-filled croissants. His stomach gives an involuntary rumble. In comparison, the electrolyte rehydration powder, granola, and fruit leathers in his kit are supremely unappetizing.
Shyla peers out the window. The snow is coming down harder and faster, a world draped in icing sugar. “If we’re hunkering down because of the weather, it’s likely the Jansens are, too. I doubt they’re going to show.” She tilts her head, arching one eyebrow in the direction of the basket. “Maybe we should…?”
He follows her gaze and gives her a grin. “I like the way you think.”
While Shyla fiddles with the remote for the electric fireplace, Owen jots down a quick thank-you on the back of the notecard, adds a couple of twenties, and places it back in the basket. He brings the wine and food over to the now blazing fire and drops down to join Shyla on the rug.
“They didn’t happen to have any hot chocolate mix in there, did they?” she asks as he pops open the bottle.
“Nope, sorry.” He shakes his head, thinking of the Swiss Miss he makes in the faculty microwave whenever he has a craving. What he really wants is the kind he grew up with, thick and gooey with melted chocolate. Decadent as a kiss and nearly as sweet. His eyes flick to hers, then drop to her lips, yearning hitting him hard and fast.
“When I agreed to give you a lift, this isn’t how I thought it would go,” he admits, offering her the first sip from the bottle.
“Me neither.” She doesn’t seem to mind, taking a long gulp before passing it back to him. “God, that felt good. Too bad it’s not tequila, though. That’d really warm me up.” She stretches her legs out in front of her, wiggles her socked feet. “I don’t think we’re going to dry off anytime soon.”
He hesitates. “We could shuck off these wet things.”
“But then we’d be…” Shyla trails off, cheeks pink, and not from the fire.
“Yeah, no,” he says quickly. “Let’s check what we have in our bags.”
“Or we could just”—she whisks one of the plaid blankets off the sofa—“use this.” With that, her hands disappear under the blanket, fiddling with her jeans. “Uh, Owen? Could you help me?”
He doesn’t even hesitate before kneeling at her feet. Her skinny jeans, perfect for shoving into boots, are now clinging wetly to her skin. He pinches the fabric between his fingers as much as he can, then tugs. “You sure you don’t want me to pass you some pants from your bag?”
“Unfortunately, I, um, forgot that this one was mostly full of presents,” she mumbles.
Tug, tug. “Mostly?”
“I’d rather you not see my neon-green Grinch leggings, if we’re being honest,” she says with a huff.
“I don’t know, that could be pretty sexy.” He peels the jeans down her legs and she kicks them off the rest of the way.
She looks like she’s trying to hold back a laugh. “You’re kidding.”
He smirks, then unzips his own pants, revealing a few inches of his red boxers patterned with tiny reindeer.
This time she does laugh. “You weren’t kidding.”
“I think you’re beautiful in whatever you wear. Whether your hair is brushed or not. Even when your nose is red and dripping.”
She blushes. “You’re sweet. But for the record, this really is not the way I wanted you to undress me.”
“Something you’ve thought about a lot?” he teases.
“Shut up and take your pants off.”
A few minutes later, they’ve finished half the bottle, both their pants are drying in front of the fire and the two of them are sharing the blanket. It’s large enough that they don’t need to sit close enough for their thighs to touch, but they do, anyway. When Owen has to readjust the blanket over his lap, his leg accidentally brushes against hers. Meteor showers tingle down his entire body.
“You never did tell me what happens next,” Shyla murmurs.
He leans in just shy of their noses touching. “Can it start with this?”
“Yes,” she breathes, breath ghosting over his mouth.
This kiss is sugar and spice: sweet, honeyed lips and gentle pressure that turn to nips and nibbles as the kiss deepens. She runs her hands over the rasp of his stubble, dives into his hair and scratches at his scalp. Her mouth swallows his broken moan when her blunt nails teases his nape in the exact way he goes wild for. Flurries of desire swoop in his belly as she scooches closer until she’s half in his lap.
When she pulls back for air, he lets out a bereft groan that sends the corners of her mouth curling upward. She affectionately goes back in for a peck, stroking his jawline and rubbing at the corner of his mouth. “Sorry,” she says, not sounding sorry at all. “A bit of glitter. So, you and me? We’re really doing this?”
“Yes.” He bumps his nose gently against hers. “I’m all yours. When you kissed me, it was like Christmas came early, Shyla.” Then, because he has to know, “Are things really over with that guy you were seeing? Rohan told me that your ride home fell through because you dumped your boyfriend.”
“I made out with him once!” she says indignantly. “He’s just a friend. I didn’t ‘dump him,’ he decided to stay on campus because his crush is staying too, and he wants to log flirting hours with him.”
His lips tick into a smile. “Really?”
“Owen, in case this wasn’t clear, I’ve liked you for basically forever. But I knew you never looked at me like that.” She shrugs. “Do you know why I’m studying geoscience?”
“I want to be proactive about things that are important to me. I want to find and enact solutions. Maintaining clean drinking water, finding new sources of energy, battling sea level change. I don’t want to be a person who waits and sees what happens, just hoping for the best. I want to do something about it.”
She cracks a smile. “Someone I want to do? Yes. But also yes in the not-crude way, too.” She holds his gaze until there’s no doubt in his mind that she’s as serious as he is. That he’s the present she wants under her tree, the only thing on her Christmas wish list. His heart doubles in size.
“You know, I’m profoundly glad that we’re snowed in right now.” Owen tucks her hair behind her ear, delights in the little shiver that goes through her at his touch.
“Yeah? Why’s that?”
“Because now that we’re both on the same page, I could never just drop you off at your folks’ house and drive away,” he says quietly. He cradles her chin in his palms. “A thousand kisses and I still wouldn’t be content.”
“Content? Huh. That’s a pretty low bar, Owen. Personally? I’m aiming for ecstatically, ridiculously, euphorically happy.”
“Then we better make it a thousand-and-one kisses.”
The flames reflect in her eyes, making her beautiful brown irises sparkle. “I’m good with that,” she says, tipping her face up to him.
Owen angles himself into her, hand coming up to cup her face. Thumb to middle finger, landing perfectly on each beauty mark. “Merry-almost-Christmas, sweetheart.”
“Merry Christmas, Owen.” She presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth before nipping at his lower lip. “I know I asked you what comes next, but right now, I’m only capable of thinking five minutes ahead.”
“Then can I tell you what I want?” At her nod, he says softly, “I’d love to take you out for that coffee I owe you. Every day of winter break if you want. Or we can wait until we’re back on campus if you don’t want our families getting nosy about where we’re disappearing to.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t want to hide how I feel anymore.” Her grin is impish. “I like charming coffee shops that serve their hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows and a full-size candy cane. Those mini ones are a crime against cocoa.”
“Agreed,” he says solemnly. “I’m sorry it took me so long to ask you.”
“Luckily, we’re trapped here in what will hopefully be an only-one-bed scenario. Make it up to me.”
Owen’s laughter ricochets around the cozy cabin. He bends his mouth to slant over hers. “Yes, ma’am.”
He doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring. Whether they’ll be snowed in or able to dig themselves out. Soon, they’ll have to call their families and let them know they’ll be late.
But right now, as lumpy snowflakes tumble down, encasing them in a sugar-crystal snow globe, there is only Owen and Shyla, wrapped up tight in each other, exceedingly glad that going off track led them to the right destination after all.
Next week on Heartbeat, get ready for a short story from Jo Piazza, author of We Are Not Like Them.
Follow Heartbeat on Instagram at @storiesbyheartbeat for upcoming behind-the-scenes sneak peeks at Jo’s story!
Three quick things from Georgia
All the rumors are true: Book Lovers by Emily Henry is a goddamn delight and my fave rom-com of the year. It’s a masterclass in banter, an ode to enemies-to-lovers, and hits every note with the perfect, peppy precision. A wonderful rec for your holiday reading.
I’m writing this while on vacation in Sydney, where I recently contracted a vicious stomach bug and was hospitalized (!) to rehydrate. While I’m recovering, I’m binging Harry & Meghan. So far I haven’t learned much new information apart from the fact their meet-cute involved a Snapchat dog filter, and Megs met Kate and Wills while wearing ripped jeans, but it is helping me get through a crippling illness.
Last week Hannah shared her invention for 2023, which was growth. I’ve been chewing on mine: balance is a strong contender, as I seek to harmonize my life as a wife, parent, writer, entrepreneur, friend, and community member. I’m also drawn to bloom, as it evokes a feeling of lush and vital expansion. Let me know your intention for 2023!
What did you think of this week’s story? Let us know in the comments below!