Back with Chapter 2! Hope you enjoy…
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 woke to the sounds of whispers from the other side of the door. Confused, she looked around and remembered she was in Andrew Mooney’s bed.
“Why is she in your room, Daddy?” The little voice whisper-shouted.
Emma smiled at the girl’s attempt to be quiet. The clock on the nightstand read six-fifteen, and sat next to a picture of a woman, presumably Andrew’s wife, on their wedding day. The woman was a beauty. Smiling, beaming actually, in a long, lace-covered, A-line gown. Emma wondered how she’d died. How this family had survived without her.
“Because she was tired, and the blizzard would have made it hard to get her home.”
“But where does she live?”
“In New York City. I think. Make sure you whisper. We don’t want to wake her.”
“You know, the book? She lives in New York City too.”
“I thought Madeline lived in New York?”
“No, she lives in Paris.”
“Oh, that’s right. Come on. Let’s get moving. Go get Devon and we’ll have breakfast.”
“But I need my library book. I left it on your nightstand.”
Emma sat up and looked around. The nightstand was covered in books, mostly adult sci-fi, except for the one illustrated book with an elephant in a tutu on the front.
“You’ll get it later,” Andrew whispered.
With a long stretch, Emma grabbed the book and dragged herself out of bed. She looked down at her attire—a long, black, men’s T-shirt with a spaceship on it, and a pair of flannel pajama bottoms rolled up at the ankles. She barely remembered changing out of her work clothes the night before, after Andrew had convinced her to stay.
Emma shuffled to the door and opened it, as the two stunned faces turned to her. “I think this is yours.” She held the book out to Bella.
“Thank you,” Bella said, as she took the book. Then, in a flash, she stuck her tongue out at her dad and ran down the stairs.
“Hey, you. Watch that attitude.” Andrew’s loud, deep “dad” voice couldn’t scare a fly, as he called after Bella.
Emma took the opportunity to check him out. He was showered, shaved, his messy hair tamed with gel. He wore the typical IT outfit of khakis and a button down. “These kids,” he muttered, turning back to her. “Sorry. It’s only a little after six, but that’s like noon around here. We didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Please. It’s your house. There’s no need to apologize.”
“Did you sleep okay?” he asked.
She crossed her arms over the ridiculous shirt, as his eyes did a quick sweep of her. The combination of his warm gaze and the smell of bacon wafting up the stairs woke every wonderful nerve inside her body. “Perfect.” She made a show of sniffing the air around them. “That smells fabulous.”
“Breakfast is our favorite meal.” He pointed down the hallway. “Two doors down is the bathroom. Why don’t you get cleaned up and meet us downstairs?” His eyes darted back to hers. “Not that you’re dirty.”
She raised an eyebrow as he shifted before her. “But, you know, women do things in the morning in the bathroom I guess. I mean, what they do I’ll never know, but you’ll figure it out. I think what I’m trying to say is, you look great, but, if you need…”
He huffed as she reached to poke his arm, hoping to put him out of his misery. “Andrew. Stop. It’s fine. Yes, I’d love to have a minute in the bathroom.”
Andrew shook his head, clearly embarrassed. She thought it was cute, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d made a man blush.
“Anyhoo,” he continued, rocking back on his heels, “we’ll eat and then I’ll drive you wherever you need to go. The roads are plowed, and the world keeps spinning so… Does that sound okay?”
“I’d be grateful, but I don’t want to put you out. I can call a car.” Emma already dreaded the ride back in this weather. Andrew Mooney’s house was so warm and bacon-y, she didn’t want to leave.
“It’s no problem. You may have to write me a late note for my boss though.”
“Who is your boss?” she asked, realizing that the topic of work hadn’t come up at all the night before. “I’m not clear on where you sit in the company flow chart.”
His laugh indicated he’d relaxed a bit. “I have three employees I supervise, so I’m sort of low-middle management. I report to Stuart, who used to report to Russell.”
“Stu Borowski? Oh, no problem. I’ll text him right now.” She knew Stu well, and would probably promote him to Russ’s now-vacant position.
Andrew held up a hand. “Maybe that’s not the best idea. Don’t want the rumor mill to get started.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Good point. You’d probably be embarrassed that I was squatting in your house…”
“I don’t mean for me, for you. They’ll say you’re slumming with the IT guy or something.” He sputtered out an awkward chuckle.
With a tilt of her head, she grinned. “You’ve been a perfect gentleman. But whatever you want me to tell Stu, I respect that.”
“Thanks.” He ran a hand over his head, but with the gel it only made his hair stick out at weird angles. “I’m really annoying, huh? How about I just go downstairs. Take your time, help yourself to what you need, and meet us down there. Deal?”
She nodded curtly. “Deal. And you’re not annoying.”
With a thumbs up, he started to the staircase.
“Andrew,” she called.
He turned to face her.
“Thank you for letting me have your room last night.”
He smiled a warm grin, his eyes crinkling in the corners. “You’re welcome, Boss Lady.”
A few hours later, after Andrew had dropped her off at her building and she had a much-needed shower and outfit change, Emma sat in her office overlooking Midtown Manhattan. The snow-lined streets were busy with business people weaving around the holiday influx of tourists who’d taken over the area. She wished she’d been at the office earlier, before the snow had turned the dingy-grey color that the city always painted it.
Which reminded her. She had to send an email to Stu. She opened her inbox and a started a new message, cc’ing Andrew. Seeing his name pop up on the company mailbox made her heart race. He really did work there. She wondered for how long.
Emma sent a simple message to Stu, explaining that Andrew had “assisted her with business that morning” and thanking him for understanding. Then, she called Rhonda’s office, opposite hers in the executive suite, and asked her to stop by when she had the chance.
Rhonda Lewis was born on the island of Trinidad, and had started working for Emma’s father at the flagship Ballard store in Brooklyn the month after she’d arrived in New York, shortly after her sixteenth birthday. She’d worked her way up through the corporation as she pursued her business degree, and eventually her MBA. Twenty years to the day of her hire date, Emma’s father asked Rhonda to be the Assistant CEO, the position she still held. She knew the company inside and out.
Knowing her mentor wanted Emma to learn the business, Rhonda didn’t object when Emma was named CEO after his death. Instead, Rhonda had taken her under her wing. Your father gave me a chance when I was starting out. It’s only right he should do the same for his daughter. I respect that man and his wishes more than I care about which office I sit in, she’d said. As much as she’d tried to teach Emma the art of people skills, Rhonda was the company expert on getting information, and Emma needed her help.
After a quick knock, Rhonda poked her head into the office. “Yes, Emma?”
Emma cleared her throat. Rhonda had known Emma since she was a child, and would be able to sense the curiosity in Emma’s voice if she wasn’t careful. “Could you find me a personnel file on the down low?” Her cheeks warmed as she shuffled papers on her desk in an effort to appear disinterested.
“Sure. What’s the name?”
Emma folded her hands on her desk, sitting up taller and meeting Rhonda’s gaze. “Andrew Mooney. The guy from the Jersey branch.”
Rhonda lifted her chin, squinting at Emma. “From the party? Did he give you a hard time? If HR needs to get involved—”
“Oh no, not at all,” Emma interrupted. “He helped get me home and I felt terrible that I didn’t know who he was, that’s all.”
“That’s all?” Rhonda asked, lifting a brow and studying Emma.
“Yes.” And I want to know more about him, Emma didn’t admit to Rhonda.
“I’ll have it to you in an hour.” Rhonda smiled at Emma and closed the door as she left.
Later, when Rhonda emailed the file on Andrew Mooney, Emma clicked on it but deleted it before reading anything. He’d been nice to her, and she wouldn’t abuse her position by stalking him through his company history.
She took a spin in her chair and then picked up her phone. Thinking of Andrew, she cashed in a few favors, made a few calls, and spent more than a few dollars.
Maybe she wouldn’t stalk him. Maybe she’d just be direct. One thing was certain—she hadn’t felt so alive at Ballard Industries in five years.
The letter was delivered after work, just as Andrew was returning home with pizza for dinner. He didn’t get a chance to open it until the girls were fed, bathed, and in bed.
His jaw dropped as he read the handwritten note.
I can’t thank you enough for helping me last night and for the hospitality your family showed me during the snow storm. I’ll never forget your generosity, your bacon, or your beautiful girls’ advice on life (secret girl stuff!). I came across these Heatherby tickets, and remembered you saying how much you wanted to see it. It’s late notice, I know, but I’ve set up a car to pick you up and bring you to the city if you are able to go. Please take your father, and I’d love to babysit the girls. They are welcome at my place, or I’d be happy to watch them at your place if you think they’d be more comfortable there.
I hope you enjoy the play as much as I did. Talk soon.
She’d signed the note and scribbled her phone number on the bottom.
The first thing he did, the first thing he always did when life threw him a curveball, was text his father.
Jeffrey walked through the door, hobbling into the kitchen before Andrew had a chance to put down his phone. He grumbled a greeting, then went straight for the leftover pizza, tossing a piece onto a paper plate. “What’s this about a letter?”
Andrew handed the card and the tickets to his father. He’d read the thank you note from Emma twice, and thought maybe he was in shock feeling the Heatherby tickets between his fingers. “Do you believe this? Is this even real?”
As Jeffrey scanned the card, Andrew paced the kitchen. “Nice penmanship.” His father lifted the tickets to the overhead light, as if he were an expert on counterfeiting. “They look real to me.”
“Not the tickets, the…the…sentiment.”
Jeffrey handed the card and its contents to Andrew and picked up his slice of pizza. “I think it’s appropriate for her to send a thank you to her employee who helped her out. You gave up your room and drove her into that horrid city in the ice and snow. She’s a classy lady, with a good upbringing—”
“She’s a corporate viper.” He tossed the card onto the counter.
“A damn pretty one—”
“Dad! You can’t say things like that. It’s not the sixties.”
Jeffrey scowled and pointed the tip of the pizza slice at his son. “If I think a woman is pretty, I sure as heck can say so.”
Andrew rolled his eyes, brewing a cup of coffee as his father took a bite of the cold slice. After Jeffrey finished, he stood next to Andrew, who was focused on the coffee streaming into his “World’s Best Dad” mug.
Jeffrey reached a hand out for his son. “I think maybe your…jitters…toward Emma come from a different place than you think.”
“A different place?” He felt like the twins snapping at his own father like that. All he needed was to put a hand on his hip and stick out his chin. “So it’s not because she doesn’t care about her job? It’s not because she has no clue how to run a company?”
Jeffrey waved his hands, turning his head away. “You know that’s not true. The woman has an MBA and the company’s doing fine. The stock market has held since she took over for her father. Listen, son, it’s been six years since Hayley—”
Andrew held up a hand to stop his father’s words, words he didn’t want to hear because they hurt his heart. “This has nothing to do with Hayley.” He picked up the note and tickets, and waved them at his father. “It’s not like she wants to date me, Dad. She wants me to take you.”
Jeffrey huffed. “So then why are you so upset?”
Andrew peeked at the envelope in his hand. He didn’t know why he was upset. Maybe because he’d never have been able to score Heatherby tickets on his own, and all Emma Ballard had to do was bat an eyelash, and they fall from the sky. Maybe because she’d assumed he’d leave his girls with her, a practical stranger, while he gallivanted around the city. Or, maybe it was because, like his father had said, she was really pretty, and had been sweet and nice to him during her stay in his home.
Emma Ballard scared him. Not so much as his boss’s, boss’s, boss, but because she was likable. He didn’t want to like her.
“I should have never stopped to help her yesterday. I should have left her to her own devices.”
Jeffrey grunted in disapproval. “That is not how you were raised. Don’t you lose your manners because you’re suddenly out of your comfort zone, young man.”
Young man. His father hadn’t called him that since he was a teenager so Andrew knew he was angry. And the whole situation did make him uncomfortable. “I’m sorry.”
Jeffrey took the note and pulled out the tickets again, studying them. “Friday night. I’ll be around to watch the girls.”
Andrew furrowed his brow. “I’ll call Mrs. Fletcher to watch them. You’re coming with me, remember?”
His dad laughed. “Oh heck no. I hate that city, and you know I can’t sit through that musical stuff. I fall asleep and my hip gets sore.” Jeffrey hated Broadway, a bone of contention between him and Andrew for years. It didn’t help that he’d had hip surgery after his time in the Army, which made it difficult for him to sit for long periods without stiffening up. “I’d rather have a movie marathon with Dev and Bells.”
Andrew sighed. “Well, who am I supposed to take?”
His father held up the card, tapping his thumb over Emma’s signature.
“Are you insane?” He grabbed the card from his chuckling father’s hand. “She’s my boss, Dad. And she doesn’t want to go. She said she’d seen it already, and the card says to take you.”
“Of course it does. A classy lady like Ms. Ballard wouldn’t invite herself out with a man she barely knows, especially one who works for her.”
“But I bet if you asked her, she’d say yes.”
“Well, I’m not asking.” Andrew huffed again, proving to himself that he was his daughters’ father. He sounded just like them. He glanced sideways at his father. “And what makes you think so?”
Jeffrey shrugged. “Just a feeling. The way she looked at you like she needed a friend. The way she poked around the house after breakfast, picking up the picture of you on the mantel, like it was the most fascinating thing ever.”
“Oh please,” Andrew sang, feeling his cheeks heat. He hadn’t noticed any of that. Did Emma really look at the picture of him with his prize-winning tuna catch? “You make her sound like a schoolgirl with a crush. She’s an ex-model, a spoiled princess turned CEO of a major corporation. She’s a vi—”
“A viper,” Jeffrey finished. “Yeah, right. She really seemed viper-ish and spoiled when she was letting Devon paint her fingernails orange.”
Andrew ignored his father’s sarcasm, taking a minute to think while he cleared the table and crushed the pizza boxes for recycling. Sure, Emma had seemed nice, sweet. But he’d heard stories about her tearing things up in the Board Room. Stories about how the Board constantly challenged her and tried to force her out, and how she’d never been able to move her agenda. She wasn’t strong enough to fight for the company, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t tried. At least from what he’d heard through the gossip that filtered to the Jersey branch.
Jeffrey stood next to him, leaning his bad hip against the counter. “It’s just a play. You don’t have to marry her. Heck, you don’t even have to talk to each other. It would be a common courtesy to ask the person who got the tickets if they wanted to accompany you. Just like you do when Uncle Sal gets you Yankee tickets.”
Andrew growled. Why did his father have to be so smart? He glared at Jeffrey, then sputtered out, “Fine. I’ll think about it.”
Chapter 2 Notes:
- When writing romance, we always prefer to have our couple on the page together as much as possible. With this chapter, I wanted to get the romance starting a bit, but also needed to set up emotions behind Andrew and Emma before they met again. I think it works to set up Chapters 3 and 4, where there’s a bit more forward movement with the romance.
- Still getting to know our characters, but now we have a little awkward flirting tossed in. Emma’s part has some backstory about Rhonda’s character and the BI history. We see Emma in her office for the first time, and she’s being a little vulnerable and weird about Andrew, but hopefully you feel she’s maintaining professionalism.
- On Andrew’s end we get a little of his relationship with his dad, and some emotion about Hayley. I think it’s clear that Andrew hasn’t been interested in anyone since his wife died, and that’s making him feel a little off kilter.
- I should have mentioned after Chapter 1 that I only know basics about how corporations work, and I wing it a little with Ballard Industries. I do know from working various places that the typical IT uniform is khakis and a button down and that everyone crushes on an IT guy at some point in their careers 🙂
- I thought Andrew could be middle management because I wanted him to have a bit of longevity at BI, but not be someone who Emma would know.
- Also, with writing sweet romance, I had to be careful of them checking each other out too much. I didn’t want them to be lusting after each other, but still wanted to show that they were physically attracted to each other. Note: sometimes writing sweet is a lot more difficult than writing steamy, because of subtleties like this!
- I love dad, Jeffrey, in this chapter, mostly when he’s pointing his pizza slice at his son. I’m hoping to convey him as a bit gruff, but also very understanding of his son’s feelings. I also love Bella’s whisper-shouting about her library book outside the bedroom door. I kind of picture the twins as my niece, who is their age.
- Bacon makes an appearance more than once in this story too, ha. Like I’d mentioned in the notes to Chapter 1, I wanted Andrew’s house to be a warm, welcoming environment, and what better way to show that than to have a bacon smell wafting up the stairs.
Thanks for reading! See you in Chapters 3 and 4 next week!