Okay, here we go! Below is Chapter 1 of SNOWED IN. I hope you enjoy meeting Andrew and Emma. After the chapter is over, feel free to read my Author Notes for an inside look at the making of this chapter, if you’re into that kind of thing. If not, I’ll see you in Chapter 2.
SNOWED IN by Jessica Calla
Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Calla
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Emma Ballard hated snow. Cursing her shoe choice—leather designer boots clearly not made for mid-Atlantic winters—she stomped her feet on the frozen sidewalk under the overhang outside of the Portuguese restaurant in Newark, New Jersey. As she rocked back and forth to stay warm, she wrapped her grey wool coat, a Ballard original, a little tighter around her chest, pulled a cap from her oversized bag, and cursed all things winter.
Despite her hatred of the white flakes falling around her, the bitter cold air felt good against her cheeks, which were still warm from the heat and activity of Russell Westingman’s retirement party. Even though Thanksgiving had just passed and it was still early in the season, the weather people had been predicting a snowy winter, starting with the storm today.
Emma had insisted on keeping the party on as scheduled. As CEO of Ballard Industries, she wanted to send Russell out in style, and the five-course, open invitation luncheon, complete with a band and open bar, seemed to do the trick.
If only Mother Nature had agreed with her party plans.
She should have left earlier but after the party cleared out, Emma had sat with Russell, polishing off a pitcher of Sangria. With her belly full and her head spinning from the alcohol, Emma listened to Russell’s stories about her father, and had to make a conscious effort not to let her tears fall. Russell missed Daniel “Danny Boy” Ballard, almost as much as she did.
Emma had known Russell all her life, since her father had started Ballard Industries with a flagship store thirty years earlier, and Russell had been his first administrative hire. Later, while her father focused on building the international and domestic business side of things, Russell “kept the home fires burning,” working out of the Jersey branch and focusing on human resources, office management, and technology. Their competition—Ann Taylor, Dress Barn, the Gap—had all tried to lure him away, but he’d been loyal to “Danny Boy” and BI from day one.
When they’d finally said goodbye, Russell thanked Emma for the party, gushed over the generous retirement package he’d been given, and cried reading the card she wrote out for him. His would be hard shoes to fill.
She stomped her feet again, but her toes had officially become numb. They’d gotten word earlier that the trains to Manhattan were cancelled due to the storm. Emma debated staying in a hotel for the night. But holding onto one last thread of hope that she could get home to the city, she willed herself to be patient, and waited for the car she’d summoned.
After adjusting her wool cap over her ears, she pulled out her phone and opened her email, figuring she’d give the car another ten minutes before high-tailing it to the nearest Hilton. Snowflakes dropped onto the device as she texted the Assistant CEO, Rhonda Lewis, that she was still in Jersey. She brushed the flakes off her phone, hating the snow even more.
“Ms. Ballard!” A man’s voice called from the street.
“Thank God,” Emma murmured to herself, shoving her phone back into her bag. Another minute waiting, and the frostbite would have set in.
A grey, Honda something-or-other idled at the curb, while the man attached to the voice waved at her from the driver’s seat. “Everything okay, ma’am?”
“Fine now.” She took a few careful steps toward the car. The man exited the vehicle and met her on the icy sidewalk, offering an arm to steady her. He was tall, but so was she, and she grabbed his forearm and leaned on him for support. “You can get me back to New York in this mess?”
The man quirked an eyebrow, glancing down at her with green eyes. The snowflakes gathered on his blond, unruly hair—hair that looked overdue for a cut. “Oh, um.” Looking across the street and then up to the sky, he finally focused on her. “I don’t think so.”
Her shoulders slumped. Dumb weather. She’d never make it back to the city. “Then why did you answer the call to pick me up?”
“Call?” His broad shoulders, covered in a navy blue dress coat, shook with his nervous laugh. “Oh, I’m not your driver. I… I work for BI. I was at Russell’s party.”
Her breath caught and she groaned, embarrassed. “I’m so sorry.” She hadn’t noticed him inside and certainly didn’t know every one of the company’s fifteen-thousand employees, or even the few hundred that worked in the New Jersey branch. Still, she felt the need to make excuses. “I’m a little out of it, drank too much and I’m tired. My feet…” She stopped talking, knowing she shouldn’t be complaining to an employee, especially a stranger.
“What’s wrong with your feet?” He peered down to the ground.
“They’re cold.” She stomped them with the hope of feeling her toes again. No luck.
Shaking his head, he pointed. “Makes sense. You’re not wearing proper footwear for a snowstorm.”
Ah, a know-it-all. “Aware, thanks.”
“Why didn’t you wear your snow boots?” He lifted his foot to show her his perfectly outdoorsy, warm and dry looking footwear. “I did.”
Who was this guy? “Good for you. But I don’t have snow boots. I don’t make it a habit to be out in this awful weather.” She moved back under the overhang of the restaurant before she froze to death or started babbling. “How can I help you, Mr….?”
“Mooney. Andrew Mooney. IT supervisor, Jersey branch.” He held out a gloved hand. She took it, the warm wool scratching her cold, uncovered hands. “Nice to officially meet you, Ms. Ballard.”
Emma smiled as she racked her brain for prior interactions with Andrew Mooney. “You can call me Emma.” She wasn’t sure that she’d ever spoken to Andrew in her five years as CEO. She certainly had never seen him. She would have remembered that full smile and angled jawline, those bright green eyes, and that height.
“Okay, Emma. As much as I’m enjoying holding your hand—”
“Oh!” She hadn’t realized her hand was still encased in his. She pulled it away as if it were suddenly set on fire.
“—we should probably not be standing in the snow on the streets of Newark. We could get sick. My company policy only allows for a few sick days a year, and I’m already tapped out.” He let his jaw drop, feigning shock. “Did I say that out loud?”
She laughed again, wondering how many sick days employees actually received. Her Human Resources Department handled those things, and HR was Russell’s end of the business. Now that Russell was gone, she’d have to learn that side of the company too. “You’re fired,” Emma barked, pointing at his chest.
He gasped. “For realsies?”
She tried to maintain her fake scowl but couldn’t stop the grin from forming. “No, for fakesies, I guess.”
His cheeks turned a cute shade of pink. “Sorry. I have little girls at home and that’s one of their favorite questions. ‘For realsies?’”
Girls at home. Emma was surprised at the wave of disappointment she felt upon learning that he had a family. Not for his sake, but for her own. Their short exchange was the most non-business-related conversation she’d had with a man her age in a long time. Maybe she was even flirting? It’d been so long, she wasn’t sure anymore.
“Do you mind if I start using that in my meetings? Like, when someone says something inappropriate or completely off the wall, I’ll just look at them like this,” she scrunched her face, “and ask, are you for realsies?”
He nodded. “Great technique. Now if you want to add the hand and the hip jut, you’d be exactly like my girls.”
She tried again, following his directions. “Like this?”
“Perfect,” he said, his eyes dancing. “You’re a natural.”
“Imagine that.” She adjusted her bag on her shoulder. “Well, I hate to do this in the middle of our training here, but I kind of need to find a hotel or something since it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting home tonight.”
He held out a hand and caught some snowflakes in his glove. “Oh right. That’s why I stopped originally, to help you, but then I just got distracted by your shoes and stuff.”
The way he peered down at her, like a complete gentleman helping a damsel in distress, made her pulse race. But she wasn’t a damsel in distress, she was his boss, and she was competent enough to deal with a weather inconvenience. “That’s okay, Mr. Mooney. I appreciate the offer of assistance, but I’ll be fine.”
“Andrew.” He tilted his head. “Why don’t you at least come wait out the storm at my place?”
She squinted at him.
“That came out weird, didn’t it?” he asked, copying her expression. “I mean, you can meet my family, have a meal, I’ll show you my company ID if you’re worried that I’m some wacko kidnapper or something.”
“Funny, I didn’t think that until you mentioned it.” Would she go home with this man? He was a stranger, sure, but he worked for her company and was willing to help. He had a houseful of girls too, apparently. Seemed sincere. She thought for a second. “How about this? I’ll ask you a company question and if you answer it right, I’ll believe you work for BI and take you up on your generous offer.”
“For realsies?” He rubbed his chin. “Okay, shoot.”
“What’s the name of the woman from the cafe in the Jersey branch who ran off with the V.P. of Sales?” Everyone in Jersey knew this story. It was corporate legend.
“Millicent,” he answered, without hesitation. “Personally, I think she could have done better.”
Emma stifled her laugh before it escaped. He wasn’t wrong.
“Did I pass?” Andrew asked.
“You did. Still going to text a picture of your license plate to Rhonda, though.”
He drew his hands to his chest, feigning pain. “Ouch. But smart. I’ll pose next to it if you want.”
“Perfect.” She dug her phone out of her bag and waved him toward his car.
With a huff, he took the two steps and leaned against the snow-covered trunk, crossing his boots at the ankle, and extending his long arms to the side. “My chariot. And my regards to Ms. Lewis.”
After she took the picture, he jumped back to her, extending his arm. She held it, and wobbled her way over the sidewalk, into the street, to the passenger side door. He opened it for her and she sat in the warm car, texting Rhonda the photo while he scraped the snow that had accumulated off the windshield.
Emma: Know this guy?
Rhonda: Andrew Mooney. NJ office. Something with IT?
Emma: He’s giving me a ride. Thoughts?
Rhonda: Neutral. If you go missing, I’ll know where to look.
By the time he sat in the driver’s seat, she’d defrosted and dried off a bit. “Thank you for helping me, Andrew Mooney.”
He put the car into drive and glanced at her in the passenger seat. “It’s an honor, Boss Lady.”
Smiling at the nickname, she realized she had no idea where they were going, but she didn’t really care. Despite Rhonda’s neutrality, her instincts told her she was safe with Andrew. Best of all, in the heat of the little car she could feel her toes again.
Andrew pulled the Accord onto the streets, which thankfully were plowed, and pointed them toward his home, mentally reviewing his factual knowledge of Emma Ballard.
He knew as much about the woman sitting next to him as she seemed to know about him. Very little. Emma Ballard. CEO. Former model. Took over five years ago when her father died, which would make her his boss’s, boss’s, boss. Considered a reluctant CEO, he’d heard she was a good businesswoman, tolerated by the Board of Directors as a legacy to her father but considered a placeholder until the Board could usher her out for a more suitable candidate. Smart. Neutral about employee issues. She didn’t bother the staff, they didn’t bother her.
He glanced at her in the passenger seat and added to his fact base about her. Beautiful. Brunette. Long, thick hair. Brown, mysterious eyes with long lashes, perfect for catching snowflakes.
At Russell’s retirement party—Russell being his boss’s boss—she’d glided around the room, somehow avoiding attention but at the same time lighting the place up. He vaguely recalled seeing her on the cover of magazines, but had a hard time reconciling the supermodel with the CEO. That afternoon was the first time he’d seen her in person.
That afternoon was also the first time he’d had a woman in his car since Hayley.
When the silence got to be awkward, for him at least, Andrew cleared his throat. “So, Emma. Any big plans for the holidays?”
“Not really. Just working. How about you?” Her tone was friendly, inviting the conversation.
“Hanging with my girls. They already made their lists for Santa.”
“Already? But Christmas is still a month away.”
He smiled. “They insisted the elves need the lists now to start making toys.”
“Smart. How old are they?” she asked.
She paused. “Both of them?”
“Yep. They’re twins.”
“The Realsie Twins?”
“You got it.”
“How fun. You and your wife must have a blast with them.”
Andrew gulped and glanced at her. “Oh, I’m not married.”
“I’m sorry.” She groaned. “I’m an idiot. You wear a ring. I just assumed…”
Andrew had loved his wife more than the world but hated talking about her out loud. Even after six years, when he heard the sadness in people’s reactions to her death, it felt like a vise around his heart. “My wife passed away.” He hoped she’d leave it at that.
“I’m so sorry,” Emma said quietly. “For you and your girls.”
She didn’t ask any questions, which he appreciated. “What about you? Are you involved with anyone? Any kids?” Andrew knew the answers to these questions from the company gossip hounds, but figured they’d make do for conversational purposes.
“Not married. Not involved. No kids.”
Andrew couldn’t imagine a life so free. He loved his girls more than anything, but between work and them, he didn’t have time for much else. Thankfully, his father lived next door and helped out more than he should so that Andrew could do things like attend the retirement party for Russell. “What do you do besides work?”
Emma shifted in the passenger seat. “Not much. I mean, sometimes I sew.”
“You do?” He hoped the shock in his voice was indecipherable. “What do you make?”
She twisted her hands in her lap. “I love to stitch by hand. I’ve been making a lot of scarves lately. Trying to make more functional stuff.”
“Really?” Andrew tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. “Wasn’t your mom a clothing designer? I vaguely remember something in our company’s history.”
“She was.” When Andrew peeked at her, her eyes lit up. “She created the first designs that my father sold for BI.”
“Such an amazing story. I’m proud to work for the company.” He smiled and gave a curt nod.
“That’s a nice thing to say.”
They drove in silence for a few more blocks. Traffic slowed as the sun set and the roads iced up. “Only a few more minutes and we should be there.”
He tapped the wheel.
“What about you?” she asked. “What do you do besides work and parenting?”
Andrew pressed his lips together, unsure whether or not to confide in the fancy pants Boss Lady sitting beside him. After a glance her way, he realized that she may look fancy, but she didn’t act fancy, and that he could probably trust her with personal information. “Well, promise not to laugh?”
“I’d never,” she insisted.
“I like theater.”
“Yeah. And singing. Broadway. Musical theater is my passion. I memorized every song in Heatherby.”
She reached across the console, grasping his upper arm. “Wasn’t that a wonderful play? I loved it so much.”
Andrew tried not to pull away at the feel of her hand on his body. “I never saw it. I don’t really have time to get to the theater with the girls. It’s expensive too.”
Placing her hands back in her lap she nodded. “Yes. That’s true. Well I hope someday you get to see it. It’s,” she sighed, “absolutely indescribable.”
He smiled. “I bet.” He pulled up to the duplex, his tires crunching over the snow in the driveway that he already dreaded shoveling. “This side is me. The other side is my dad. He’s babysitting tonight so I could attend the party. Want to come in and meet everyone?”
“Sure,” she said. “Beats being home alone.”
If it weren’t for the sadness underlying her tone, he may have taken that as an insult. Instead, it almost made him feel sorry for her. As if he should be feeling sorry for a rich lady, his boss, as he struggled to make ends meet.
He helped her walk over the slick driveway and opened the door to his home, the feeling of relief washing over him. He always loved walking through that doorway. Whatever was happening on the outside always faded away as his girls ran to give him hugs and tell him about their days.
That evening was no exception. The soft lights and the crackle of the fire had created an orange glow through the house, and a smell of winter and Christmas. Devon and Bella darted into the room, screaming, “Daddy!” but then stopped short when they saw Emma.
“Devon, Bella, this is Daddy’s boss, Ms. Ballard.”
“Hi Ms. Ballard,” Devon said.
Andrew’s father joined them, extending a hand to Emma. “Jeffrey Mooney, Andrew’s father. Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
Emma shook his outstretched hand. “Please, call me Emma. I’m sorry to intrude on your evening.”
The girls circled her as they spoke, inspecting her like she was a great mystery they had to solve.
She addressed them directly, obviously not intimidated by their scrutinizing glares. “Your dad was kind enough to offer me shelter from the storm. I hope that’s okay with all of you.”
Bella stopped in front of Emma, crossing her arms. “You’re my dad’s boss?”
“She’s more like my boss’s, boss’s, boss,” Andrew added. “And I expect you all to be polite and respectful.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bella said, waving a hand at him. She turned back to Emma. “Why can’t he have more days off?”
“Bella!” Andrew yelled.
“It’s a fair question.” Emma pressed her lips together and side-eyed him, clearly trying not to laugh. “What would you do if he did?” she asked.
Devon joined her sister, striking the same pose. “Go to the zoo. I like elephants.”
“I like them too. I got to see some when I was on a safari in Africa.”
“For realsies?” Bella asked.
Emma jutted a hip and lifted her chin, in the pose that Andrew had coached her on. “For realsies.” She winked at Andrew. “I’ll tell you all about it. And I’ll do my best to get your dad more days off, okay?”
Amused, Andrew shot a grin over their heads to his father. Jeffrey raised his brows and tilted his head toward Emma, clearly impressed.
When Devon waved her down to eye level, Emma squatted before her. “You have nice hair,” Devon said, running her hand over it.
“Devon!” Andrew barked. “Leave Ms. Ballard—”
“Emma.” Emma smiled up at him. “Ms. Ballard makes me sound old and official.”
Official maybe. Old? Not so much. He vaguely remembered reading that she was thirty-something. “Miss Emma, alone please. Hands to yourself. Can you let her take her coat off and get comfortable?”
His father shooed the girls into the living room and looked to their houseguest. “How about a cup of coffee, Emma?”
“That sounds perfect,” she answered, as she slid her coat off of her arms. “You’ll join me?”
Andrew wasn’t sure if she was talking to his dad or him, but they both jammed their hands into their front pockets and answered in unison. “Sure.”
Something about Emma Ballard had turned the Mooney men to mush.
Chapter 1 Notes:
- Remember this is an unproofed copy! I tried to fix it up best I know how, but please excuse any grammar or proofing errors.
- Chapter 1 is always a “getting to know you” chapter. Here, the reader gets a glimpse of the setting (contemporary, NYC/NJ, winter), and meets our characters. Emma and Andrew have what we call the “meet cute.” There should be one in every romance, and it should hook the reader into wanting to continue the journey with your couple.
- For writers, Chapter 1 is always a delicate balance of actual happenings and backstory. I rewrote this chapter over and over, trying to hit that balance. At first, I had wayyyyyyy too much backstory about Emma and her dad. I *think* now it’s a pretty good mix of backstory and other stuff.
- Also for writers, Chapter 1 is the most important chapter if you are looking to submit your book to agents/editors/”publishers who shall not be named” ;). If your first chapter is a snooze, you won’t get anywhere with them. With self-publishing, that first chapter is the one that your potential readers will see when they find your book on Amazon and click “look inside.” It has to set the tone for your story, again, with that delicate mix of “just enough but not too much” in every aspect.
- For my NJ friends, I imagined the restaurant where Emma is waiting outside as one of those amazing “down neck” Portuguese restaurants. I used to work in Newark and always loved having lunch there. Ah, the Sangria! Had to give a shout out to that!
- Heatherby is a made up title for a play, named after my friend Heather. I was going for a Hamilton type of feel as far as Heatherby’s success level. Devon and Bella (the names of the twins) are also young ladies I know in real life.
- Maybe you figured out from the title and blurb that SNOWED IN would have some sort of snow theme or issue running through it. The first line: “Emma Ballard hated snow,” is completely the opposite of the last line (which I am not going to tell you-you’ll have to keep reading). You’ll see that a lot of the major events of the book happen during snowstorms. As Emma’s life changes, so does her opinion of the snow.
- You can probably tell from this chapter that this is a pretty tame story. Again, I was writing for the Publisher Who Shall Not Be Named, and trying to write to the mood of their other stories. When I’m done posting, I’ll share more about their rejection with you and why I think I failed at my attempt.
- I was hoping to contrast Emma’s sort of, cold-ish life with the warmth of Andrew’s home. Despite him losing his wife, I wanted him to have a rich family life, with his little girls, his dad, his duplex. Regular family and dad things. You’ll see that his dad is a more traditional type of masculine guy. I thought having these two men raising the little girls would be a fun thing to explore.
- SI is written in third person alternating POVs. You may see me slip into first person once in awhile (although I’m trying to catch errors prior to posting here). I usually write in first person because you can dig into your characters’ minds a bit more, in my opinion. But this book flowed so easily for me, as I wrote it during NaNoWriMo last November. I’m not sure why or what that means (should I always be writing in third person? Is sweet my thing?), but I thoroughly enjoyed writing every scene in this book.
Thanks for reading! I hope you stick with me for the rest of SI!