Chapter One

Chapter One

That first winter was cold. Even though the temperatures were slightly warmer than they had been the previous day, Jessica still chose to wear a flannel shirt and thick socks beneath her comfortably worn jeans. The hardwood floors seemed to hoard the cold like a leprechaun after a pot of gold, and no amount of heat could chase away the cold. So to protect her bare feet, Jessica donned her favorite pair of socks, in a lavender hue.

Her husband was in his study at the moment, and Jessica chose not to disturb him. She couldn’t resist the urge to peek in at him, and her mouth turned up in a secret smile as she watched him at his desk. His hair was mussed from combing his hands through it, and his eyes were filled with frustration. Jessica drifted away from the doorway and to the bedroom they shared.

Here, she went to the closet they shared and pulled out her suitcase. Jessica didn’t mind curbing her appetite for couture once she married Josh; the space was divided equally between them, with enough room for her clothes and enough for his. Considering the weather where they were going, Jessica picked out her warmest shirts and pants.

She was about to zip up her first bag when a thought occurred to her. She rose and stood on tiptoe. On the top shelf above her sweaters were her snow boots, perfect for a winter escape in the snow.

She sucked in her breath and reached the toes of the boots but couldn’t grab them because she was barefoot and short. Her fingertips grazed the heels of the boots. She swatted them down toward her, and they fell to the floor ungracefully, along with a shoebox that had been under them.

Until that moment, she had been Jessica Simpson, the wife of successful music producer Josh Martin, happily married and thinking in happy anticipation about the ski trip she was going to take with her little sister and her boyfriend.

But the contents of the shoebox had unearthed something inside of her that she had buried.

Forgetting the boots, she bent down to the ground and picked up a photo on the ground.

A picture was worth a thousand words.

For Jessica, it was worth a thousand memories. She stared at her teenaged self in a cheerleading uniform that flirted with the middle of her thighs. She could almost smell the hotdogs and adrenaline from the bleachers, the sweat and grit from the football players. And cologne of the man she had loved…

He stood beside her, wearing his jersey and padding like a Roman gladiator. His dark hair was slicked back with sweat in the photo, his face streaked with sweat, but he still handsome to her. She got lost in the depths of his blue eyes, and found herself sliding back…

* * *

Seven years ago, wintertime

The wind bit like little jagged, icy teeth, but she barely felt it. Her heart was so huge that its warmth consumed her whole self, including her nyloned legs. She tilted her face up for a kiss and found her lover’s lips. They sent a warm tingle down to her nearly-numb toes. She broke away from him, her lips curved in a smile.

“I think we’d better get to somewhere warm,” he murmured against her mouth. “Your teeth are starting to chatter.”

She laughed, and found that she was shivering. She hadn’t thought it was from the cold, but from his love. “I’ll be just fine right here with you. You and your Eskimo coat will keep me warm.”

It was his turn to laugh, and he brought her tighter in his embrace, allowing for her to become swallowed up in his mammoth coat. “I like the thought of keeping you warm, but I don’t want you to get sick.”

The possibility of a romantic tryst outside in the cold was squashed by dreary logic. She sighed and moved away. The parking lot was empty, save for her car and his, and they were parked side-by-side as if by association they were together, too. The whispers and ghosts of the football game remained around them, unheeded. They were in their own world together at the moment. Of course, to their despair, they would soon have to leave their secret world.

“We’ll have to go somewhere warmer,” she agreed.

“Everyone’s hanging out at the Shack,” he told her. The Burger Shack was the hangout for their friends and classmates, and after a Friday night football game, the dining room would be packed. “We could go there and eat with everybody else.”

She shook her head and moved closer to him again. “I don’t want to be around them. I want to be with you.”

She could feel him soften, bit by bit. His hand came up to cup her cheek tenderly, and the rush of warmth came flooding over her.

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” he asked her softly, gently.

She chuckled. “What, do you think I’m a dumb blonde or something?”

He laughed and insisted that he didn’t. Afterwards he kissed her again, his lips lightly brushing hers. In that moment in time, things were perfect, despite the temperature. She had a feeling in her heart that they were going to make more moments like these together until they were lowered to the ground.

“I love you,” he whispered.

Her heart could have swallowed the oceans at that moment. “I love you, too,” she whispered back as something drifted down to her eyelashes.

She blinked furiously and stepped away from him, confused. She lifted her face and palms to the sky as flakes of white trickled down upon them. He looked up, too. She giggled as it dawned on her what this phenomenon was.

It was snow.

* * *

Footfalls on the floor in the hallway broke Jessica away from her reverie. She picked up the shoebox and tossed the picture inside. After putting the lid on it, she shoved it under a bottom shelf and picked up her snow boots.

Yes, that had been a memorable winter in many ways, Jessica mused. Now she had to forget it. It was in the past.

But the smell of his skin still lingered, teasing other sensory spikes from her memory.

Josh sauntered in, looking much calmer and more amiable. Jessica placed the suitcase on the bed and zipped it. Her eyes drifted up to him, taking in his lanky figure and thick hair. He appeared relaxed in jeans and a sweater that matched the color of his brown eyes, but Jessica could see the stress in his eyes.

“Are you ready to go skiing, Jess?” Josh asked as he softly planted a kiss on her cheek.

“I sure am,” Jessica responded as she turned around and hugged him. Thoughts of the past were buried for a moment.

As Jessica tried to kiss him, Josh moved away. “Something wrong?’’ Jessica asked, frowning.

“Well, my phone is on vibrate in my pocket,” he explained, “so I have to get that.” When Jessica gave him a look, he added, “It could be important!”

Jessica started laughing despite herself and continued packing. The eternal worker, her husband was. She continued to smile to herself as she began to pack her toiletries in a smaller bag.

Josh saw Ryan’s number on the LCD display of his Verizon flip phone and flipped it open. “Hey, Ryan,” he greeted the young man on the other end. “What’s up?”

The duo chatted for a minute of so. After Josh hung up the phone, he turned to Jessica and said, “We have to hurry, because they’ll be here in five minutes.’’

Jessica finished packing her things and zipped the suitcase she was working on while Josh grabbed their coats.

“Are all of the windows and doors closed in the house?’’ Jessica inquired while grabbing her coat.

“Yes, Jess,” Josh said with a bit of mock-exasperation in his voice. Jessica rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry, it’s going to be a wonderful winter in Mammoth Lakes. It’ll be the vacation of a lifetime.’’ Josh hugged her tightly as if to reassure her. It helped, and she focused on the trip before her. And nearly before they could blink twice, they were sitting in the plane up to the snow.

homenext

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