The Two Week Roommate, an all-new must-read, forced proximity, grumpy-sunshine standalone romance from USA Today bestselling author Roxie Noir, is available now!
We used to be best friends. Now we’re snowed in together.
There are probably worse things than being stuck in a remote cabin with the rugged-yet-grumpy forest ranger who saved my life in a blizzard. Getting mauled by a bear, for example, though I might prefer that to eating breakfast with Gideon Bell, the guy who nearly ruined my life when we were kids.
It was twenty years ago. We haven’t spoken since. Our families still hate each other, and our lives are completely different. I’m not sure we’ve got anything in common besides childhood memories.
But when it’s just the two of us for a couple of weeks, none of that really matters.
What matters is the way Gideon grumbles, but makes my tea exactly the way I like it. What matters is how he always gives me the spot on the couch closest to the fireplace. What matters is how he looks at me when he thinks I’m not paying attention.
And those childhood memories? He’s in all my favorites.
Up here, in the cabin, it’s easy to look past all that because it feels so good to kiss him. It’s easy to spend a wild night in front of the fireplace and wake up still wrapped together. But back in the real world, where everything that drove us apart is still alive and kicking? It’s a lot harder.
Can Gideon and I fix what broke twenty years ago, or does what happens in the cabin have to stay in the cabin?
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“Gideon,” Dale says as soon as I answer, no preamble. He sounds a little out of breath. “You’re out by Copper Hollow, right?”
“I’m not far,” I tell him.
“You come across that girl?”
I’m staring out the window, snow swirling as the blue-tinted darkness falls. Dread settles over me like a blanket.
“What girl?” I ask.
“The girl chained to a tree.”
I’m already by the stove, stepping into my still-wet boots, because—
“There’s a girl chained to a tree? What the fuck?”
“You didn’t come across her?”
“No,” I say, and my voice echoes off the wood-paneled interior of the Forest Service cabin that, up until now, felt pretty cozy. “Why the fuck is there a girl chained to a tree?”
“I think she’s protesting that new mine on Swayback Mountain. People are real mad about it but it’s right outside of the National Forest so there’s not—”
“She’s an adult?”
I take a deep breath and close my eyes for a minute, because when Dale said girl I was picturing a nine-year-old in a bad situation, not a grown woman who did this to herself. She’s probably not doing great right now, but still. At least she’s not a kid.
“I haven’t seen a woman chained to a tree, no,” I tell him, a little calmer as I grab my coat with one hand. “If I’d seen a woman chained to a tree in this weather, she wouldn’t be chained to a tree anymore.”
“Shit,” he mutters, and then I can hear him talking to someone in the background, snatches of conversation coming through. I put the satellite phone—which is just a regular smartphone connected to a small satellite receiver, I remember when a satellite phone required its own backpack—on speaker and lace my boots up. At least my socks are dry.
“Yeah, her friend hasn’t heard from her,” Dale says, and I can tell he’s trying to sound calm but he…doesn’t. “Everyone down here who’s any sort of emergency personnel is busy pulling people out of ditches or worse, do you think you could—”
“I’ll go find her,” I say, pulling the double knot on my right boot tight. “Send me the coordinates.”
Three minutes later I’ve got GPS coordinates as well as semi-detailed directions from Dale, if you count the creek where we had to take down the beaver dam in ’83 and I thought one of those things was going to gnaw my leg clean off as directions, and I’m heating up the Forest Service’s truck while folding the map to precisely the right spot. Already, it’s half-dark, the snow is swirling hypnotically in the headlights, and all the roads up here are barely dirt tracks anyway. They’re hard enough to find in full daylight when it’s not snowing.
For the record, I don’t want to be doing this. I was all set to heat up some dinner, maybe make some tea, wash every dish that the chipmunk touched, and then settle in with a book and go to bed by nine. That’s the whole point of volunteering for grouse observation duty for two weeks during Christmas: peace. Quiet. Solitude. As much as I don’t want that chipmunk living in the walls of the cabin, it didn’t ask me any pointed questions about whether I’m ever going to get married or come back to church. The chipmunk won’t passive-aggressively ask me how everyone in my household is doing and then deadname my brother Reid.
The road to High Meadow Mine is about three miles as the crow flies and about forty harrowing, white-knuckled minutes in the truck. There’s one point where I’m absolutely positive I’m about to fall ass over teakettle down an embankment, but somehow at the last second I remain on solid ground. Thank fuck for four-wheel drive, I guess.
The sky’s a deep purple when I finally make the last turn from a dirt road to a gravel road—yes, there’s a difference, there’s a major difference—and see about ten signs that read “NO TRESPASSING, PRIVATE PROPERTY, BEAUMONT MINERALS LAND, STAY OUT.” They glow as I drive past them, practically holding my breath and leaning forward over the steering wheel like a ninety-year-old with glaucoma. A little further and there are the hulking yellow machines, oddly pretty when they’re doused in snow like this, lined up along the side of the road.
I can’t say I disagree with this woman for not wanting Beaumont Minerals to mine here. Even though it’s about half a mile outside the national forest, it’s still pristine and pretty, the forest practically untouched. I just wish she hadn’t chained herself to a tree with a snowstorm coming, which might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
The gravel road ends abruptly: a few orange-and-white sawhorses across the road, and that’s it. Just trees. I stop the truck and look around, because it sure seems like no one’s here. If someone were, they’d have stood and waved or gotten my attention somehow, right?
Unless they were dead. Or incapacitated.
“Fuck,” I whisper to myself, pull my hat down, and get out of the truck, still running with the lights on. The engine and the wind in the trees are the only sounds for miles, even my footsteps dampened by the snow. If there were someone else here, they’d be making noise, but there’s nothing as I take a step past the barricade, almost into the trees.
God, this isn’t the wrong entrance, is it? I thought there was only the one, and I’m at the coordinates Dale gave me but I know technology is fallible sometimes. Everyone’s heard stories about a hiker in need of rescue whose GPS showed them on a ridge but they were actually ten feet to the right and fifty below in a ravine, waiting for help that wasn’t coming because—
There’s a soft rustle and I nearly jump out of my skin.
“Hello?” I shout, which I should have done several minutes ago, probably. It doesn’t always occur to me to talk.
“Uh, hi?” says a woman’s voice.
I turn so fast I nearly lose my footing and walk toward the voice, my shadow cutting dark, diffuse shapes across the trees when I walk in front of the headlights.
“I’m from the Forest Service,” I say, shielding my eyes against the falling snow as I scan the trees for her, still walking. “There’s a blizzard out here—” no shit, Gideon, “—and I need to get you to safety.”
The rustling gets more spirited, but she doesn’t answer. Finally, I see something bright blue between two trees, out on the fading edge of the headlights, and I step into the shadows.
A pod person straight out of a science fiction double feature stares back.
There’s a second where I honest-to-God believe it’s some sort of cryptid—this is deep woods, there are tales, this is how half of them begin—but then my eyes adjust and I realize it’s a woman in a sleeping bag, standing against a tree, a chain around her middle.
Then my eyes adjust more, and I look at her face, which is the only part of her I can see, and I blink some snow out of my eyes, and I look again, and—
The sleeping-bag-pod-person pauses for a moment, squirms a little, clears her throat, and says, “Gideon?”
See my review of The Two Week Roommate for more on Andi and Gideon.
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