Authors: Shara Azod
Berlin frowned as she followed the directions her brand new navigation system gave her. Remote locations were one thing, but this was freaking ridiculous. Who knew West Virginia was full of mountains? Okay, maybe a lot of people did; but damn it, she hadn’t had time to investigate the landscape before heading out in search of “Uniquely American” designers. She shouldn’t have been on this trip at all. Her devoted assistant, Betty, had come down with the flu at the last minute, leaving Berlin to go check out the designs herself. Judging by the rugged rustic landscape and sparse housing, this designer was obviously a recluse. Who lived this far away from civilization? As the head buyer at
, the most exclusive department store in the eastern United States and Canada, Berlin had worked hard to get to where she was. She had offices in Miami, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York.
But not in Bumblefuck, West Virginia.
She had been a major advocate for the “Uniquely American” promotion. The idea was to find designers outside of Los Angeles and New York and upscale them so to speak. The clothing line would be designed and produced only in America by stateside designers specializing in Americana; and after a few months of being sold exclusively in American stores for American women, the line would be sold internationally. The goal was to create something unique, something sexy, yet practical for the real bodies of real women. Too many demanded fine clothes for more voluptuous figures. She had managed to sign up three hot new designers so far—one from Atlanta with a unique kind of neo-soul style with a funky twist; one from Kansas who had a country edge with leather and textiles that were sexy and daring; and one from Wisconsin who incorporated fleece and twill in fun flirtatious ways. Generally, Betty would vet them, flying out to their home bases and bringing back examples she thought Berlin would approve. But with Betty sick, there was only one other person Berlin trusted to make these trips—herself.
So here she was on a trek through the snow-covered mountains of West Virginia, going to see a woman who liked to mix Native-American designs with something indefinable. The pictures of designs from Mattie Mae Hartsfield of Somewhere, West Virginia touched Berlin in a way she hadn’t been since her first Vera Wang gown. Sure, she had to starve herself to get in the damn thing; seemed Vera definitely didn’t understand the dimensions of the modern African-American woman. On the other hand, good old Mattie Mae captured the imagination; her designs could be worn by women of many different body types without being based on a mu’umu’u or a sarong. It was astounding the way her designs understood a woman’s body, be that body full of curves, devoid of curves, or somewhere in between. Berlin had been excited she’d be the one to actually see the woman and designs herself, until the road got longer and the snow started falling harder.
To her chagrin, Berlin had blown past a sad little town a few minutes ago, figuring Mattie Mae Hartsfield would live right outside of it. Apparently not. Berlin just hoped and prayed she would get to the woman’s house before she ran out of gas completely, or the damn snow that seemed to fall quite a bit steadier than when she had set out turned into a blizzard.
A quick side glance at the GPS showed she was on the right road, though calling this expanse of hard-packed dirt a “road” was a bit of a stretch. Abruptly the car swerved a bit too much, forcing Berlin to cut the wheel to the right. Unfortunately, the tires failed to find purchase when she tried to straighten out once more. The car tumbled front first into a snow-packed ditch.
Thankfully, there was enough snow to cushion the crash, but Berlin found she couldn’t back out of the ditch. When she tried to gun the engine, she just dug the tires deeper and deeper into the snow. The only way she could think of getting out was to physically push the vehicle, and the odds of her pushing the heavy SUV out of a ditch covered in snow was slim to none. Well, none, considering she wasn’t about to wallow through the growing drift mounds and try to push this heavy-ass car.
“Damn it all to hell!” Berlin muttered, banging her hand against the steering wheel.
She would have to get out and try to make her way by foot, but whether she should try to make her way to the unknown Ms. Hartsfield’s home or back to the town she’d passed ten minutes ago was the ultimate question. The boots Berlin wore were definitely not snow boots, and she had no idea what the terrain up ahead was like, so she opted to go back towards the town. Making matters worse, her cell phone didn’t have a signal, which meant she really didn’t have a choice but to try and find help. She regretted not springing the extra hundred dollars for the rental with OnStar. If Berlin were lucky, there would be a car or truck headed in the same direction. Not very likely, but it could happen.
About three minutes into her trek, she realized this was a huge mistake. She should have stayed in the car and set off the alarm rather than try to trudge her way to town. Her boots, while fashionable, were not made to walk in the wet snow. Ice water seeped into the cracks and crevices, leaving her feet burning from cold. Her stylish pea coat matched her outfit to perfection, but it was nowhere near as warm and weather-ready as it should be. As the snow fell heavy on the faux-wool fabric, it melted and seeped into her very bones. After no longer than ten minutes, Berlin’s teeth were chattering and she could barely lift one foot in front of the other. It was by sheer force of will she managed to continue. There was no way in hell she was going to die here by the side of the road, lost in West Virginia. She would never live that one down.
“Of course you wouldn’t, idiot,” she chided herself. “You’d be dead.”
The indignity of it all. To claw her way to the top of her profession only to be foiled by weather. That was not how she planned to go out. No way, no how. There was too much she wanted to do with her life. Berlin wanted to get married…maybe. She definitely wanted to have at least one child. And just once, she wanted to know what it was like to fall in love. Not the fly-by-night casual relationships she’d had up to this point. She wanted the kind of love she’d only read about in her electronic library. They were her own guilty little secret, the erotic e-books she bought by the dozens, but there was something about the characters in them that called to her. She wanted an all-encompassing love, a raging passion that couldn’t be denied. Therefore, she couldn’t possibly die now, not without ever really feeling more than a passing fondness for someone.
She was so engrossed in her mental pep talk, she didn’t hear anyone drive up behind her. In fact, she didn’t notice she was no longer alone until she was literally swept off her feet into very large, very capable arms. She would have fought off the bear that handled her, but she couldn’t move, far too numb with cold. She couldn’t see much of her abductor; the man (it had to be a man to be that big) was swathed in clothing. The only thing she could see was eyes, piercing, glittering deep-blue eyes.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire,
Berlin thought to herself as her scream froze in her throat. Damn it, it hurt to even think about talking, much less screaming.
Then she promptly passed out.
Matthew Hartsfield, Matty to the few friends he had left, looked down at the woman he held.
His breath hitched at the sight of her. And they said angels didn’t fly this low to earth and in this weather. They were wrong. In his arms, he clutched a fallen one tight to his chest.
Judging by the useless coat and the boots designed for looks rather than practicality, he guessed she was a long way from home. He’d been gathering firewood for the coming blizzard when he heard the unmistakable sound of a car skidding into a ditch. Seeing as he had the only cabin this far up the mountain, well, the only cabin anyone would dare to visit, Matty had figured whoever had driven into a ditch was coming to see him. He’d waited for a few minutes, to see if the person could make his way out of his predicament. But when the person didn’t, Matty had headed out to search. The last thing he’d expected was a woman, obviously from big city somewhere, half frozen to death.
“Well, hell,” Matty muttered, shifting his burden and plodding back to his truck. There was no help for it; he was stuck with her, whoever she was. Somehow that knowledge didn’t annoy him as much as he thought it should.
Carefully placing her in the passenger seat, he took his time buckling the seatbelt across her breasts. He tried to steady his gaze on inserting the metal buckle, but he couldn’t resist looking at her. Her head lolled to the side and luxuriant hair brushed across her face, making her look all the more tousled and all the more alluring. He wanted to kiss her lips, lick the melting snow from their plumpness. Instead, he ran a gloved thumb across them.
I’m shouldn’t be thinking thoughts about fallen angels like this.
A slip of melted snow shot down his back, reminding him a blizzard was building around him. Cold urgency shoved his heated thoughts to the side and he zipped around to the driver’s side. Stealing one more delicious glance at his passenger, Matty shifted the truck into drive and made his way back to his cabin. The radio had warned the blizzard would last at least a day, maybe two. It would take at least a week to get the road clear. He was stuck with an unwanted guest for at least a week, perhaps two. Something stirred from deep within him, a rattling of untruth. Beside him, the woman wasn’t unwanted—perhaps uninvited, but not unwanted. He knew it. Oh, yes, he definitively wanted the woman beside him; and if his swelling phallus were any indication, it wasn’t just for chatting and socializing.
Matty had to be honest with himself, though. From the looks of her, she wasn’t used to roughing it, as it were. Luckily, his cabin was large—it was actually a two-story log house—but the electricity was bound to go out, and his generator would warm no more than his bathroom and bedroom. He didn’t dare tax it more than that. There was a fireplace in the den; he never used the living room; and the kitchen was equipped with both a modern range and a wood-burning stove for times such as these.
Upon reaching his spread, he lifted his unconscious guest from the truck and carried her inside. His hands seemed to have a mind of their own as they drew to her round buttocks as if her behind were a magnet. He fought the impulse to stroke and cup her cheeks, rubbing across their plumpness until she moaned awake.
But the reality was his body heat wasn’t going to be enough to save her.
Setting her on the settee in front of the massive fireplace in the den, Matty stood back to look at her. She had a beautiful face. Flawless, smooth sepia-colored skin had begun to take on an unhealthy pallor; and lips that at any other time probably could have been described as sensuous were taking on a decidedly blue tinge. He could see by the muscle movement in her cheeks that her teeth were starting to chatter. He had to get the sodden clothes off her now. Grabbing a thick blanket from the couch behind the settee, he bent down and peeled her boots and socks off her feet.
“Sorry, lady,” he muttered as he began to strip her as quickly as he could.
Matty would probably burn in hell for the thoughts about the fallen angel that rushed his brain while revealing each inch of flesh to his gaze as he went about his task. He tried not to notice, but how was a healthy, heterosexual adult male not supposed to notice the dainty, narrow feet and the bright-pink nail polish on each tiny toe? That particular shade of polish should have looked garish against the rich-brown tones of her skin, but it didn’t. In fact, those little toes appeared downright kissable. Slipping off the wide-leg linen slacks revealed shapely legs. Her calves were perfectly toned, smooth and soft to the touch. Thighs that were thick without being fat, were also smooth and toned. He forced himself not to look toward her crotch.
Matty shifted uncomfortably. He hadn’t stopped to take off the multiple layers of clothing he wore. Now the combination of those clothes, the fire at his back, and the sexy little package he was unwrapping had him sweating like a whore in church. Removing the ineffectual coat she had on was a bit more of a challenge, but he managed without jostling her too much. Underneath, she wore a silk wraparound shirt that was soaked. He had to lift her slightly to untie it in the back.
“Holy Mother!” He let out the soft exclamation as he looked down at his mystery woman.
Yeah. Mine. She belongs to me!
Pure white cups of lace pushed up her breasts that threatened to spill out of their confinements. His eyes wandered down to the very place he had sworn he wouldn’t look to witness lacy scrap covering her honey pot.
Sweet Lord, have mercy!
She was almost as smooth down there as she was on her legs. Blood raced to Matty’s cock, making it pound painfully. His hands jerked his scarf, overcoat, and jacket off his body. Suddenly the clothing was too damn hot—too hot by far. Before Matty knew what he was doing, his hand was rubbing his painful erection through his jeans.