“The perfect amount of tension, smoldering heat, unexpected twists, and a satisfying conclusion.” Sarah, Paranormal Peach reviews
Finn thinks Tom’s her enemy.
The truth is, he’s loved her for years.
Now that a winter storm's trapped them together, he finally has the chance to tell her the truth.
Funny how it takes a blizzard to melt all their secrets.
“Made my heart squeeze and my cheeks flush. Finn and Tom are 100% guaranteed to make. you. swoon.” Blair Leigh, author of What Comes After
Tempting Heat is a prequel novella that introduces you to the world of the Cinnamon Roll Alphas series. This standalone romance features a dirty-talking hero, a schedule-obsessed heroine, and only one bed. While Tempting Heat is a novella, the rest of the books in the series are standalone full-length novels with happily-ever-afters guaranteed.
“Caution: Don’t start reading this book at bedtime unless you want to stay up half the night and need a gallon of coffee the next morning.” Diane, Amazon reviewer
Finn Carey sagged against the door she’d just wrestled shut and let the overloaded shopping bags fall to her feet so she could fetch the phone buzzing in her pocket. She winced when she saw the face on the screen and took a steadying breath before answering.
“Hi, Mom. I just walked in the door.”
“Oh, thank God work let you out early. I hear it’s getting terrible out there, and it’s barely noon.” Halfway through the rush of words, her mother muted the Weather Channel report that had been blaring away in the background, although it didn’t silence the concern in her voice. “Was it bad out? Did you run into any trouble?”
“Not too bad and no trouble.” Finn pulled off her knit hat to dislodge the layer of snow that had settled there. In truth, it was terrible out, but she didn’t need to alarm her already overprotective mother.
“Do you have enough supplies to get you through the weekend if it gets worse? And warm clothes if you have to go out?”
“Please don’t worry, Mom. I’m safe inside and not going anywhere.” Even if she wanted to, the snow and wind had picked up so fiercely during her commute that she likely wouldn’t make it far if she ventured outside right now.
“Oh, I wish you’d move closer to me, Fiona.” Her mom barreled on as if Finn hadn’t spoken, launching into her favorite refrain. “Are you sure you don’t want to find a job downstate? I worry about you every day, all alone in Chicago. What if—”
“Alone? Jake lives four miles from me.” Finn kept her voice pleasant. It took effort.
“Oh, well, that’s different. Your brother’s so self-sufficient.”
As if Finn were any less self-sufficient than Jake. Both of Beth Carey’s children were methodical and organized, but Jake was older and male, which apparently made him impervious to blowing snow.
“I appreciate your concern, Mom, but you know I love living in Chicago.” She cradled the phone against her cheek to shrug out of her coat and hang it on the coatrack, then leaned against the door to kick off her snow-caked boots.
“But what if somebody breaks into your apartment and the police can’t get there because of the blizzard?”
She means well. She means well. She means well. Unfortunately, Finn’s usual Mom mantra wasn’t helping today. “Nobody’s breaking into my apartment.” She did her best to hide the exasperation she felt, but in the interest of self-sufficiency, it was time for her to end this call. “I gotta go. Please don’t worry about me, Mom. I love you. Bye!”
She disconnected and exhaled a steady stream of air, counting slowly in her head until the vein in her temple stopped throbbing. In truth, Finn was far more likely to be smothered by motherly concern than by one of the snowbanks already drifting waist-high against her apartment building.
A gust of wind rattled the living room windows, reminding her of the long, cold weekend she was facing in an apartment already prone to draftiness. Spying a note from her roommate on the kitchen table, she amended that assessment: a long, cold, lonely weekend in a drafty apartment.
Hey, sexy thang, Josie had written. Got called away on a last-minute work trip. Call me! XO
Finn cocked her head as she reread the note, which ended with Josie’s number scrawled at the bottom. Weird that her roommate had jotted down a number that Finn texted daily, but maybe she’d been in such a rush to beat the blizzard that she hadn’t been thinking straight. What a bummer too; it ruined Finn’s plan for them to use this snowed-in Thursday as an excuse for nothing but wine and binge-watching.
She shot off a quick text to Josie wishing her safe travels to her mystery destination, then turned to the bags she’d lugged home through the increasingly blustery snow. She conducted a quick inventory as she put away the groceries and determined that she had enough to sustain herself for several blizzards. Now all she needed to do was get into some loungewear and prepare herself for an afternoon of assuring Netflix that yes, she was still watching.
She walked past Josie’s closed bedroom door to her own room where she shucked her dress pants, silk blouse, and blazer and pulled on her robe to make the quick trip down the hall to the bathroom. A shower might help thaw out the icicles in her blood.
One luxurious sudsing later, she was toweled off and swathed in leggings, her softest T-shirt, and a fuzzy cardigan. She was braiding her wet black hair when her phone buzzed with a call from Josie.
“Hey, Finnie! You made it home okay?” An echoing clamor of voices in the background almost drowned out Josie’s words.
Finn headed toward the kitchen to get dinner started. “No problems except fighting the ravenous crowd for milk, bread, and eggs. Where are you?”
“Gotta defend those french toast supplies,” Josie laughed. “I’m temporarily stranded at the Denver airport on the way to Las Vegas.”
“Vegas, huh?” Finn paused in the middle of pulling spices down from the cabinet.
“Yep. The blizzard trapped Gil in Ontario, which means he can’t give the company presentation at the marketing association trade show on Saturday. He called this morning and gave me fifteen minutes to pack and haul ass to O’Hare to beat the snow.”
Fifteen minutes was laughably short for a clotheshorse like Josie; no wonder she’d been distracted while leaving the note.
“Sounds rough. I didn’t even hear you come in last night.” Finn stood on her tiptoes to grab the chili powder from the top shelf. “Was O’Hare a zoo?”
“Bananas. But I used my gentle persuasion on a few airline employees who managed to squeeze me onto the flights I needed.”
Finn grinned at the thought of her not-at-all-shy roommate steamrolling every employee who got in the way. “Well, enjoy Sin City, but know that I’m planning to drink all the wine I brought home to share.”
Josie gave an appreciative smack of her lips that was interrupted by the squawk of an intercom announcement. “Oh, that’s my flight! Better make sure they don’t give my seat away. Love you, byeeeee!”
Leave it to Josie to be bouncy in the middle of an airport hellscape. Shaking her head, Finn flipped on the radio so the increasingly dire weather reports could keep her company during dinner prep. She’d dumped the last of the ingredients into the slow cooker when something scuffed on the kitchen tile behind her.
Finn whirled around to see a disheveled brown-haired man standing six feet away, and as she opened her mouth to shriek, one thought floated through her mind: Mom’s going to carve “I told you so” on my tombstone.
Tom Castle had woken up disoriented and hungover as hell, and the screaming woman wasn’t helping. He squinted in the bright light of the kitchen, so harsh compared to the dark cave he’d just left, and addressed the blur in front of him.
“Whoa, sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
As his eyes adjusted, he realized the blur was short, skinny, and brandishing a knife in his direction. He took two quick steps back.
“You’re not Josie.”
He held his hands out in front of him in what he hoped was a soothing gesture and kept his voice calm and even. “Okay, listen, this is a misunderstanding. I just woke up, but give me a second, and I’ll get out of—”
If anything, the blur sounded even more hostile. But this time the hostility sounded… familiar. He risked a shuffle step forward and forced his bloodshot eyes to focus on the woman in front of him.
“Huckleberry?” he asked in amazement.
Huckleberry Finn. His lips shaped the old nickname without conscious thought, but the reminder of their high school American lit class did nothing to relax her guard. Instead, she spun around to grab a second knife with her free hand.
“What the fuck, Tom? Why are you in my apartment?”
Holy shit, Finn Carey was finally going to finish the job she’d wanted to do since the end of their senior year. They’d be finding pieces of him all over Cook County when the thaw hit.
Then his brain lurched to life and jangled a warning about how this must look to her. “Hey, I’m really sorry I scared you. I had no idea…” He cast his eyes around the small apartment, looking for any clues he’d missed the night before. Come to think of it, it was oppressively tidy enough to belong to an uptight control freak like Finn. “Josie’s your roommate, I take it?”
Comprehension dawned, and the fear on Finn’s face twisted into the narrow-eyed loathing he remembered from eight years ago. At least she set the edged weapons back on the counter. “And you’re one of Josie’s hookups.”
Even though she hadn’t asked a question, he scrubbed a hand down his face and answered anyway. “No, I’m not.” After a lifetime of shitty luck, he’d come to expect the worst, but ending up in Finn Carey’s apartment by pure happenstance might be the biggest fuck-you Fate had ever dealt him. “I walked her home from the bar last night. That’s it.”
She scoffed. “Oh, so you ‘chivalrously’”—Tom felt as though her air quotes were unnecessarily sarcastic—“escorted my drunk roommate home and, with no ulterior motives, ended up sleeping in her bed for hours and hours after she packed a bag and left the apartment that I happen to share with her?”
Even though it did all sound ridiculous, an echo of that old hurt roared to life in his chest. Of fucking course she didn’t trust that he had good intentions.
“That’s exactly what happened,” he snapped. “I passed out and woke up just now with my virtue intact.”
“So you had no idea she and I live together? This is all some cosmic coincidence?”
God, he was too undercaffeinated for this. “Don’t flatter yourself, Huck. I haven’t exactly been monitoring your whereabouts since high school.” True, mostly. “I was trying to be a good guy last night and apparently picked the wrong person to do it with.”
The skepticism on her face tipped his own hurt into anger, and he was suddenly desperate to leave before it morphed into sadness. He’d had enough of that already when it came to her. “Well, this has been fun. Give me five minutes and I’ll get out of your life.” Again.
Finn laughed. It wasn’t a nice laugh. “Good luck with that.”
She pointed to the windows, and he crossed the room to pull back a curtain.
“Shit,” he breathed. The snow they’d been predicting yesterday had hit hard. The street between the tall apartment buildings lining the block was untouched by a plow, and the sidewalks weren’t any better. The cars parked in front were little more than fluffy white mounds. Just his luck to heinously oversleep on the one day the meteorologists’ dire predictions didn’t turn out to be exaggerations.
“I just need to get home from… wherever we are. Any chance this is near Evanston?” He was grasping at straws, praying to the god of deeply unlucky graduate students that he’d somehow ended up miraculously close to his apartment.
Finn’s pretty face twisted into a sneer. “How do you not know where we are?”
“A little whiskey on top of a lot of sleep deprivation isn’t great for short-term memory,” he snapped, patience gone. She rolled her eyes, and like that it was eight years ago and he was sitting across from her in the cafeteria, drinking in every nuance of her expressive face.
“We’re in River North.” She spoke with exaggeratedly slow enunciation, as if he were too dim to understand the geography of the city he’d grown up in.
But the map of Chicago was inscribed on his brain, and Tom’s tiny bubble of hope popped. He was fit, but he wasn’t about to attempt a twenty-mile walk in this weather. He clenched his hands in frustration, trying to think.
“So I’ll get an Uber. Or a taxi.” But another peek out the window told him that was futile. Anything available would be in high demand, and none would be able to make it onto this snow-entombed street anyway. “Fuck. Okay then, where’s the nearest L station?”
That unamused laugh again. “It’s seven blocks away. I barely made it home ninety minutes ago, and the snow’s gotten worse since then.”
He stared at the patch of yellow linoleum stretching between them while he considered his options. On one hand was a long walk to the train in a blizzard. On the other hand was Finn’s icy, narrowed gaze.
Blizzard it was. He wasn’t sure he could survive another second of her obvious displeasure in his company.
“I’ll grab my things and get out of your way.”
Finn’s brows snapped together, but she didn’t say anything when he turned on his heel and ducked back into the room from whence he’d emerged. He cast one longing glance at the warm-looking bed with its enticingly tossed-back covers before sliding on his shoes and coat and slinging his bag over his shoulder. When he emerged, Finn had moved the knives to the sink, apparently deciding he was no longer a threat now that he was headed to his death on the snowy streets of Chicago.
“I think that note is for you.” She gestured at a sheet of paper on the table.
He glanced at it but left it where it was. Even if he was interested in spending more time with Josie, he’d never pocket another woman’s number in front of Finn. “Okay. I’ll… Well, I’ll see you never.” He zipped his coat to his chin and prayed it was up to the task. “Enjoy your blizzard.”
She offered him a tight smile. “Turn right when you leave the building. Two blocks, then go left another block, then right and it’s a straight shot.”
“Thanks.” Then he cut their excruciating encounter short by exiting the apartment and clattering down three flights of stairs to the black-and-white-tiled lobby. He tugged on his hat and gloves, then took a deep breath and pushed the exterior door open.
At first nothing happened. The door wouldn’t budge. He put his shoulder into it and gave it a good shove, feet slipping on the tile as he strained to find leverage. Slowly the door inched open, pushing against the mound of snow that had already drifted against it and unleashing a blast of arctic air across his face. When he’d cleared a wide-enough arc, he slipped through and sank up to his knees in the thick, fluffy stuff covering the sidewalk.
Fuck. The cold and wet immediately seeped into his jeans, socks, and shoes. How was there this much snow already? When he and Josie had made it to her apartment at close to four in the morning, it had only been spitting.
A fierce gust of wind whapped him full in the face then, spraying snow against the apartment and adding to the already enormous drifts.
He took a moment to get oriented and set out in what he hoped was the right direction, but after making it only a few feet, he found himself laboring to draw breath into his lungs. The heavy snow was almost impossible to move through, and he wasn’t sure he’d physically be able to make it the L station before succumbing to frostbite or exhaustion.
Fear cut through him, sharper than the wind, but he plowed ahead, pushing through the untouched snow. It crept under his coat sleeves, and the flakes landing on his cheeks and nose melted and trickled down his overheated face to pool inside his collar. The street itself was silent save the howling of the wind and his own labored breaths, and his blue puffer jacket was the only spot of color in this otherwise white, swirling world.
God, how long was this block? How close was he to the corner? How long would it take to reach the next street if he had to fight through drifts the whole way?
“Tom! Hey, Tom!”
At first, he thought he was imagining the faint sound of his name being tossed on the wind, but when it persisted, he forced himself to pause and search for the source. A dark shape leaned out of an upper window, partially obscured by the thick flakes in the air. It was Finn, her long braid a stiff banner in the wind as she shouted like a fairy-tale princess in a tower at the peasants on the street below.
“Come back up! I can’t let you die in a snowbank.” She pulled her head in, then popped it right back out. “Even if you deserve it!”
Make that a mean fairy-tale princess.
For a tenth of a second, Tom thought about waving her off and continuing on to the train, but that was obviously insane. His teeth were already chattering, and he hadn’t even cleared the end of her block yet. He’d changed his mind; dying of exposure was only slightly less preferable than returning to Finn’s apartment.
“Okay!” he hollered back, pivoting to follow the tracks he’d just made. Incredibly, they were already starting to fill in.
When he reached the door, she buzzed him in, and he wrestled the heavy beast back open, practically throwing himself to the tiles in gratitude that he was safe from the elements. He took a minute to catch his breath before dragging himself back up the stairs.
Her apartment door was ajar, and he rapped once before walking in and nudging it shut behind him.
She perched on one of the kitchen chairs, spine stiff. “There’s no way you were going to make it eight blocks.”
Tom leaned against the door and tried not to shiver at the sensation of wet denim clinging to his cold flesh. “No. Not likely,” he admitted, unable to stop the tremor that rolled through him as his icy socks squelched in his shoes.
Her mouth flattened. “Then I guess we’ll have to do our best to ignore each other until things clear up.”
He nodded, although it was more like uncoordinated jerking as his extremities tried to shut down from the cold. “Good thing we’ve had plenty of practice at that.” Her nostrils flared, but he was too frozen to celebrate landing a jab. “Listen, I know we haven’t spoken since… everything went down. But you’ve got my word that I haven’t turned into a murderer or an arsonist or a vegan or anything weird. I’m just a guy who overslept in a strange apartment on the worst possible day.”
She sighed and stood up, gesturing to the coatrack behind him. “Hang your coat up. I’m guessing you’d like a hot shower?”
He almost let out a sob. “Yes. That would be amazing.” He’d deal with his sodden clothes later. Right now he wanted to be enveloped by hot, steamy water.
She pointed to the bathroom. “If you give me a second, I’ll find you some clean towels.”
She might have allowed him back into her apartment, but her voice was as cold as the wind that had buffeted him outside. He didn’t care though; he was already moving across the small living room, hoping he’d be able to feel his toes again soon.