Excerpt from Hard As Ice by Victoria Barbour
Tink. Tink. Tink.
It was funny how such a little sound could ricochet off one’s head so that it felt more like a mallet walloping thunk thunk thunk.
Daphne Scott scrunched her face in agony as she tried to tune out the sound that had permeated her slumber. How much time had passed since she’d laid her head down on the sofa to rest a little in her drunken state?
Her atypical condition paired perfectly with the events that had led to it. After all, the marriage of her bold, big brother, Campbell Scott to petite and perfect Elsie Walsh was anything but typical. From their whirlwind engagement and wedding on the same day to the impromptu concert by superstar musician Asher Corbin for the entire community of Heart’s Ease, population two hundred and thirty-three (thirty-four if you now added Cam to the mix), the day was a combination of all things unexpected. Which was why she, a self-styled big city gal and socialite, wasn’t all that shocked to find herself in the middle of a drinking contest with not one, but four women she’d never met until sometime in the wee hours of the seemingly never-ending party that was the wedding reception.
Through the pounding of her head, she recalled with horror the way her increased drinking had made her Scottish accent thicker. Of course, the more her new-found lady friends drank, the harder their Newfoundland dialect was to understand. To an outsider the conversation must have been unintelligible. Suffice it to say there was a lot of boasting about drinking, nationalities, and men.
At one point in the evening Daphne’s mother, who had a strict three dram of Scotch limit, had tried to get her daughter to follow her up the stairs of the luxurious Heart’s Ease Inn and go to sleep, but Daphne had proclaimed with a waggling finger, “I am thirty years old, Mum. You are not the boss of me.” Her mother might have protested if her husband hadn’t led her away.
She didn’t think anyone had noticed when she’d accepted the invitation of Elsie’s third cousin Violet for the small group to head back to her house for a night cap. Two hours later, as the sun rose above the wide harbour of Heart’s Ease, Daphne’s last thought before she fell asleep on Violet Walsh’s sofa was that she could indeed drink more than the girls.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
Damn it. She was going to have to open her eyes and put an end to the infernal racket. The evil sun beaming through a nearby window was also conspiring against her slumber. She blinked a little to try to focus, while her head immediately began to violently protest the light. She found the source of the noise in the kitchen, which was open to the living room. A Greek god was sitting at the table, stirring his cup of tea while looking at a tablet of some sort. It wasn’t the sort of thing she’d ever imagined Greek gods doing, but this one seemed to be quite relaxed.
She shifted on the sofa, aware that her dress had ridden well up past her knees. The god looked up.
“Sorry. I tried to be quiet,” he said. “You looked pretty solidly asleep there, so I thought I could grab a bit of breakfast without waking you.”
Daphne rubbed one hand over her eyes and down her face, trying to wake up.
“What time is it,” she said, shocked that her voice croaked. Just how much had she drunk the night before?
“A little past ten. You want a cup of tea?”
She stretched. “No thanks. I better find my way back to the inn before my parents call in the troops.”
“You want a ride?”
She felt like asking if he had a chariot pulled by Pegasus tucked out back, but figured he wouldn’t understand. This blond-haired, bluish-grey-eyed Adonis of a man looked as if he’d been chiseled on an urn somewhere.
“I think the walk would do me good,” she said, as she searched around for her coat and shoes. She couldn’t help notice that he was staring at her as she pulled on the four-inch heels. So what if she was five foot ten without shoes. She loved heels and didn’t care how tall they made her. They made her legs look good, and that was all that mattered.
“You won’t be walking far in those this morning.” There was nothing subtle about his slow survey of her body from toe to head. “Or in that dress.” He stood and grabbed a thick plaid jacket. It looked like something a lumberjack would wear. Not that she’d even seen a lumberjack, but she was a die-hard Monty Python fan.
She was about to demand why he thought her unable to walk when she looked outside. Snow covered the ground. She would swear that it hadn’t been snowing when she left the inn.
As he walked past her she realized he was taller than she’d initially thought. He towered over her. No one towered over her, not even Cam who was by all accounts pretty tall.
“Watch your step,” he said, heading outside. “It might be a little slippery.” He left the door open and disappeared from sight.
As Daphne reached the door she was assailed by the cold wind. The sun was shining, but the snow was dancing in little sweeping drifts as the wind blew. Her unidentified chauffeur was starting a large black pickup truck that looked as if it had seen better days. Her first step nearly landed her on her rear. Her saving grace was the door frame, which she just managed to grab.
“Jesus, I’m sorry,” he shouted as he got out of the truck. “Don’t move.” He hopped over the fence that separated the walkway from the parallel driveway. “You alright?”
She shivered, but whether it was from the cold or the thrill that shot through her arm when he touched her, she couldn’t be sure.
“Those shoes are not Heart’s Ease friendly,” he said as he ushered her to the truck. “You women and your fancy shoes.”
“Well, it’s good that I’m not going to be here any longer than I must, isn’t it,” she said, riled by his comment. She knew her voice was clipped.
“Woah, lady.” He raised his hands in the air. “I come in peace. I was just saying—”
“I know exactly what you were saying. Men always think whatever a woman wants must be frivolous.”
She waited for his response but he was silent. Instead he turned up the radio and backed out of the driveway.
Daphne felt like turning it down and saying more, but she didn’t have the wherewithal. She was tired, hungover, and now cold. There was no point getting into an argument with this man, regardless of how good looking he was. In fact, that was likely his problem. He wasn’t used to a woman talking back to him. Bet he was the sort that women just went along with because he was so damn delicious looking. Well, Daphne had known plenty of hot men in her life, and she’d never minced her words. She prided herself on speaking her mind and not bottling up her emotions. It was just a good mental health practice.
The drive from the house where she’d woken to the inn may have taken two minutes. If the town road hadn’t been covered in snow, she could have managed. The long driveway up the hill to the inn was clear of snow and the path to the door was immaculate.
“Thanks,” she said as got out of the truck.
“No problem. Enjoy your shoes.”
She stopped. Turned. Stared at him.
He had a wide grin on his face. And then he winked. “See ya around, Mary.”
“My name is Daphne.” Her hands were on her hips.
He leaned over to the passenger side and reached out to grab the door handle. God, his arms were long! “Watch your step, Mary.” And he closed the door.