Dashing Mr. Snow
September 20, 2021
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Dashing Mr. Snow
Christmas isn’t Claire Asher’s favorite season. But she endures it for her teenage daughter. When Sullivan Snow moves in next door with his teen daughter, all holiday breaks loose. Suddenly there are twinkling lights and blow up decorations littering the yard, and when the two girls become friends, all kinds of nauseating jolly ensues thanks to her annoying but oh-so-good-looking new neighbor. It isn’t long before Sullivan is dragging her along tree shopping, gift buying, and making her feel things she hasn’t felt in a very long time.
Sullivan doesn’t get why anyone wouldn’t love Christmas. Claire is as grumpy as a Grinch, but also smart and beautiful and funny. He intends to show her what the season is all about—with some holiday spirit, warm nights in front of the fire, a lot of steamy cuddling, and the magic of falling in love.
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“Brooke, come here.”
“I’m on my phone, Mom.”
Claire Asher rolled her eyes. As if her teenage daughter being on the phone were something new. But she wanted Brooke to see what was going on in the neighborhood.
“There’s someone moving into the house next door.”
“Really?” She heard footsteps coming down the stairs. She knew Brooke’s curiosity would get the better of her. “Who is it? And who moves in the Friday after Thanksgiving, anyway?
“No idea. But there’s a girl who looks close to your age standing around outside on her phone. Do you know her?”
Brooke peeked through the curtains. “Nope. Don’t know her.”
“We should go over and say hello.”
Brooke gave her a horrified look. “I don’t think so.”
Claire leaned back. “Why not?”
“Because…I don’t know. We don’t know them.”
“Exactly why we should welcome them to the neighborhood. With baked goods or some food or something.”
Brooke rolled her eyes. “I’m out.”
After Brooke made her way back upstairs, Claire continued to peek as the furniture was moved into the house. Not that she was all that interested in their furniture, but she was hoping to see the couple moving in. So far, no glimpses, but she knew what it was like to be new in a neighborhood. Though she’d lived in this house for a long time. After the divorce, it had been Ed who’d moved out, while she and Brooke had stayed.
Still, it would be nice to welcome them, and she had the time.
“Brooke, I’m running to the store. I’ll be right back.”
She heard some grumbling that might have been acknowledgment. Good enough.
At the store she picked up ingredients to make a quick casserole. It wouldn’t be fancy or anything, but at least she could bring something over to welcome her neighbors. She cooked the pasta, mixed the ingredients together in the casserole dish, and put it in the oven. Within forty-five minutes, it was hot and ready.
“Come downstairs, please?” She’d give a kidney for some kind of intercom system so she wouldn’t have to spend half her life yelling up the stairs. She refused to engage in text messaging her daughter who lived with her, though it was Brooke’s preferred conversational system.
Brooke came down the stairs. “Something smells good. What’s for dinner?”
In her hurry to make something for the neighbors, she’d completely neglected making something for Brooke and her. She’d have to rectify that later. “No, it’s for our new neighbors. Come on, we’re going over to meet them.”
Eye roll was in perfect working order today. “Mom. I don’t want to.”
“But you’re going to. Put on some shoes and your coat.”
Brooke heaved a sigh but slipped into her tennis shoes and slid her coat on. It wasn’t overly cold for late November, and fortunately they hadn’t had any snow—yet. But it was due any day now.
Claire had wrapped foil around the casserole to keep it warm, and she used pot holders to carry it across the lawn. The movers had left, but lights were on all through the house.
“Ring the doorbell please.”
“I’ll just hide here in the corner.” Brooke wrapped her arms around her middle, giving her standard sullen look.
The door opened and a strikingly handsome man answered, offering up a stunning smile. For a moment, Claire forgot to breathe.
“Hey, there,” he said.
“Hi. We’re your next-door neighbors. I thought you might be hungry, so I brought over a welcome-to-the-neighborhood casserole.”
“Really? That’s nice of you. Come on inside.”
They stepped inside and he closed the door. “Want me to take that for you?”
“It’s still hot.”
“Okay, follow me, then. Madison, we have company,” he yelled to the stairs, making her feel right at home.
She followed him down the hall, winding their way around boxes and into a small kitchen. A younger couple had lived here before, but they hadn’t been friendly, so Claire had never been in this house.
The place looked recently renovated, but it was a very charming Craftsman model, and the kitchen still retained that feel, though it had a beautifully modern look with a white, cast-iron sink, all-white cabinets, and lovely quartz counters.
“You can set it here on the counter. I’m Sullivan Snow.”
After she pulled the pot holders off, she held out her hand. “Claire Asher. This is my daughter, Brooke.”
He shook Brooke’s hand. “Great to meet both of you. Thanks for bringing the food.”
A beautiful dark-haired girl about the same age as Brooke came into the kitchen.
“And this is my daughter, Madison. Maddy, this is Claire Asher and her daughter, Brooke. They live next door.”
“Hey,” Maddy said.
“Hey,” Brooke said in return.
“We just moved here from Chicago,” Sullivan said. “My ex-wife got a new job here, and since I work from home, we figured it’d be good to keep the family together. As much as you can be together when you’re divorced, anyway.”
“Oh. So it’s just you two here?”
Sullivan nodded, sliding his hands through his thick head of hair. Claire couldn’t take her eyes off him. He was tall, lean, his hair silvery gray with some raven black still visible, and eyes a deep shade of blue. He was so handsome, her throat had gone dry, a rarity for her since most men she encountered didn’t hit her hot buttons. This one did, which was damned inconvenient since he was her new neighbor.
“So wait.” Brooke turned to Maddy. “They moved you in the middle of the school year?”
Maddy nodded. “Yeah.”
“That’s awful.” Brooke shot Sullivan a disapproving look. “She had friends and stuff. Do you know how hard it is to make new friends at our age?”
“Brooke.” Claire slanted her daughter a glare then looked over at Sullivan. “I’m so sorry.”
But Sullivan just smiled. “It’s okay. I’ve already heard it plenty from Maddy.”
“At least someone understands how hard it’s going to be for me,” Maddy said.
“What year are you?” Brooke asked.
“Me, too. Are you going to go to Notre Dame?”
“Perfect. We’ll hang out and be friends. See? It’s not going to be so bad now.”
Maddy’s shoulders seemed to relax, and she smiled. “Wanna see my room?”
The two girls left the kitchen but not before Brooke gave Sullivan a parting glare.
Claire sighed. “I am so sorry about that. I don’t know what to say other than she’s sixteen and loaded with attitude. Maybe twice a week, she’s nice.”
Sullivan laughed. “Don’t worry about it. Madison’s exactly the same. She’s been mad at me for three months now since I told her we were going to be moving here. But it’s better for us to all be close.”
Claire leaned against the kitchen counter. “It is really nice of you to follow your ex-wife here. Not many men I know would do that.”
“It’s not a hardship for me. I write graphic novels, so I work from the house.”
“Graphic novels? Like comic books?”
“Sort of. Longer stories with continuing arcs.”
“I’ve never known anyone who did something like that. It must be fascinating work.”
“Thanks. It is. And I can do my work anywhere. My ex is an international finance executive, and she already travels a lot. She had an opportunity for a new job, but I didn’t want Maddy to lose the opportunity to spend time with her mother, so we decided to make the move. Maddy will be pissed for a while, but she’ll make friends, and in two years she’s off to college anyway.”
“A good decision.”
“I thought so.” He glanced over at the casserole. “And this smells great. Would you like to join us for dinner? Invite your husband to join us?”
“No husband. I’m divorced, so it’s just Brooke and me. And no, that’s for you and your daughter.”
“I see. Still, you made the casserole. And we can all get to know each other if you eat with us. I already unpacked the paper plates. The real dishes are in here somewhere. I’m sure I’ll find those by tomorrow.”
She laughed, then realized if he was new in town, he probably didn’t know anyone here. She should stay and make him feel welcome.
Which had nothing to do with his amazing forearms, or his extremely awesome ass, which she for some reason couldn’t take her eyes off of. “Then we’d love to. It’ll give the girls some more bonding time, which is important for Madison.”
“Great.” He got out the plates and cups, pulled iced tea out of the refrigerator, and then went upstairs and the girls came downstairs with him.
Claire was amused that both girls were chatting incessantly with each other as if they’d been best friends for years. Obviously, they not only had a lot in common, but started a friendship that Claire hoped lasted once school started up again after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Sullivan served up the casserole in the dining room on place mats and on paper plates. They ate with silverware since he’d already unpacked it.
“This is really good,” he said. “I had planned on driving around to find all the awesome fast-food places.”
“I can tell you where those are,” Brooke said.
“You can just tell me since he’ll probably make me fetch dinner anyway,” Madison said.
“Oh, like you’d find driving a hardship.” Sullivan gave her a teasing grin.
Madison shrugged, then her lips lifted.
Claire enjoyed the easy interplay between Sullivan and his daughter. You could tell a lot about a guy from the way he treated his children, and Sullivan seemed to have a good relationship with his. A plus in her book.
Not that she was searching for someone to date or anything, because she wasn’t. But if she was, so far, he’d get a high ranking on her possibilities list.
“I drive to school every day,” Brooke said. “So I can give you a ride.”
“That’d be great. Thanks.”
“And I’ll introduce you to all my friends, so you’ll have a core group as soon as you start. In fact, we’ll go meet some of them tomorrow, if you want. That way you’ll know people before you start on Monday.”
Maddy looked to her dad, who nodded and said, “Yes, you should definitely do that.”
She grinned. “Sounds fun.”
The girls finished their plates, took them into the kitchen, and disappeared upstairs again, leaving Claire alone with Sullivan.
“How long ago did you get a divorce, if you don’t mind me asking?” he asked.
“Four years ago.”
“Five for me. We’re much better as friends than we were together. She wanted travel and exotic locations, and I’m a homebody who likes working on the house and the yard. We just didn’t mesh well. But we both love Maddy and want what’s best for her, so we work well in that together.”
“That’s a good thing. My ex and I—I thought we had a good marriage. Until he knocked up his office manager.”
Sullivan choked on his tea and set the glass down. “What? Holy shit. I’m sorry, Claire.”
She couldn’t believe she’d just blurted that out to someone she’d barely just met. But there it was, out there now, and she couldn’t take it back, so she shrugged. “I’m over it. He’s married to her and they’re living happily ever after, I guess. And Brooke has a little brother now.”
He leaned back in the chair. “Wow. What a mess that must have been.”
“It was ugly for a while. Now we’re at least civil with each other.”
“Still…painful. What kind of asshole does that?”
She appreciated the sentiment. At least he understood. “Thanks for that.”
He refilled their glasses and sat down again. “What do you do for work, Claire?”
“I own a yoga studio.”
“That was probably helpful around the time of the divorce.”
Her lips curved. “Yes, I needed the stress relief. Though vodka was extremely helpful, too.”
He laughed. “I’m sure it was. The one thing I learned after my divorce was that you can’t go back and change the past. You can only move forward and design your future the way you want it to be. I wanted Maddy to know that her parents could still be her parents. That just because we weren’t together as husband and wife didn’t mean we couldn’t still successfully act as her parents. As a team. That we both loved her and wanted what was best for her. Know what I mean?”
“Yes, I do.” She wanted to believe that was true, but there was still so much bitterness inside of her because of what Ed had done that she could barely stand to have a phone conversation with him. But sometimes it was necessary to schedule changes in visitation days and vacations and the like for Brooke. She wished it could be different, but it wasn’t.
And yet here was Sullivan, who’d changed states because of his ex-wife. He’d uprooted his daughter—his own comfortable life—so Madison could see more of her mother. To see someone else navigating their divorce so successfully was almost…painful. And at the same time, it was encouraging to see that it could be done.
Then again, it was already clear Sullivan didn’t put his own needs and wants first, which made him completely different from her ex.
She stood. “Well, I need to go. I have some things I need to do.”
He stood, too, and followed her into the kitchen, stopping next to her, making her aware of how tall he was. And he smelled good.
How long had it been since she’d been so utterly aware of a delicious man standing next to her? And this one was her next-door neighbor.
Was that inconvenient, or utterly convenient?
Claire didn’t have an answer for that. All she knew was she felt a fizzy zing of attraction. And whether it went anywhere or not, she liked that feeling.
“Do you want to take the casserole home?” he asked.
“No. You keep it and finish it off.”
“Okay. I’ll bring the dish back to you.”
He walked her to the door and helped her with her coat. When she turned, she saw him looking at her. Not a disinterested looking, but a definite “Hey, I see you and I like what I see.”
It was good to know that her zings and tingles weren’t all one-sided.
“You sure you don’t want to stay for a cocktail?” he asked.
Oh, she definitely wanted to stay, to get to know him better, to ask him about a hundred probing questions. Which was a really bad idea because dating wasn’t on her agenda right now. Dating her next-door neighbor? Probably a terrible idea.
“No, I can’t. But thanks for the invite.”
He nodded, and she couldn’t help but feel those subtle tingles of awareness when he smiled. God, the man had a devastating smile.
“Sure. I’ll walk Brooke over later. What time do you want her home?”
“Is ten thirty okay?”
“Fine with me. Thanks again for coming over. It was great meeting you, Claire.”
“You, too, Sullivan.” She smiled at him then turned and walked out.
When she got back to the house, she closed the door and leaned against it.
What a fine-looking man who seemed to have all his shit together.
So why didn’t she?
End of Excerpt
Dashing Mr. Snow
September 20, 2021