Authors: Sarah Ballance
Tags: #Romance, #forced proximity, #mountains, #Series, #stranded, #Lovestruck, #romantic comedy, #fling, #Entangled, #category, #contemporary romance, #Chase Brothers, #Sarah Ballance, #winter, #Bet
The last thing they needed was each other.
Privacy and clean mountain air…that’s all Liam Chase—aka “Hot HVAC Guy”—needs. But when his sexy new client fells a tree on his truck, things go sideways. She’s the equally infamous “Runaway Bride.” If rumors spread about him stoking
fire, he’ll never get his pre-paparazzi life back.
With three disastrous relationships under her belt, it’s clear Claire Stevens’s judgment sucks. And what’s she’s feeling for America’s newest sex god? Obviously another hormone-fueled mistake. But when a winter storm leaves them stranded in her decrepit chalet with a chocolate-snatching raccoon, there’s something to be said for body heat.
Falling for him wasn’t the plan. But neither was their explosive chemistry…or the temptation to follow her heart one more time.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Ballance. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at
Lovestruck is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Tracy Montoya
Cover design by Heather Howland
Cover art from Big Stock Photo
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition September 2016
For my ever-so-adventurous husband, who has just been informed (along with everyone reading this) that he wants to take me skiing this winter.
There wasn’t a sound on earth more cringe-worthy than a ringing phone, unless it was someone telling Liam Chase the call was for him. Blame insta-fame or his smirking brothers, but the result was the same: Liam
phone calls. He had just leaned back in his creaky chair at Fusion Air, the HVAC company he owned with his brothers, when the office line rang. Again.
“It’s not for me,” he yelled. He sure as hell hoped not, anyway. Five entire weeks had passed since a college girl had snapped a photo of him wearing a sweat-soaked, filthy white tee while working on a heat pump. Apparently his somewhat irritated glare over being interrupted for a photo had presented as “bedroom eyes” because she’d uploaded it to some social network with the caption
HOT HVAC GUY
, followed by a dozen emojis and exclamation points. Cue the hysteria.
The photo had since been viewed over a million times, and he’d gotten hundreds of personal calls on the work line, to the great amusement of Sawyer, Ethan, and Crosby Chase. His mother, who ran the office, probably wouldn’t have been so good-humored about the ordeal if not for the genuine uptick in business, but Liam had pretty much had it.
Every time he thought the hysteria would die, someone else posted a so-called sighting and dredged it up all over again. He couldn’t go
without being recognized. Case in point: lately he’d signed more paper cups than the barista in his favorite coffee haunt. At first, the attention had been flattering, sort of, but five weeks was way too long, and the personal calls from girls who sounded like they were still in high school were creeping him out.
And if he heard
more joke about
… He’d naively corrected the first couple of women who’d made the reference—
I think you mean heat pump
—but then he’d noticed his brother, Sawyer, on the floor in unrestrained hysterics, and that had been the end of that.
Needless to say, any time the phone rang and one of the Chase men started snickering, Liam usually made himself scarce. Today wouldn’t have been an exception, but he’d just gotten comfortable in the chair. Unfortunately, Shaggy, the office mutt, didn’t even raise her head when Liam asked her to shut the door. Someone really needed to teach her that trick.
And how to bite Sawyer, who appeared in the doorway dividing the front and back offices. “You might want that one to be yours,” Sawyer said.
“Why?” Liam asked, instantly suspicious since his smirk-happy brother maintained a straight face.
Sawyer shrugged. “It’s a job upstate. Some woman in the Catskills with a mountain lodge thought she was getting screwed by the local guy’s estimate and asked if we’d send someone up.”
“She thought the local estimate was high, so her alternative is to call in a contractor from New York City?”
Sawyer grinned. “Yeah, I know. But she’s paying hourly plus mileage, so we’re not losing anything on the estimate. And she didn’t even specifically ask for Hot HVAC Guy, so I’m thinking you can go up there and enjoy a reprieve.”
“You actually want me to have a reprieve?” It was more likely Sawyer was setting him up. He’d probably arranged some kind of public meet and greet, knowing him. Although he wouldn’t bother sending Liam upstate for that.
, he’d probably set up in Liam’s apartment, giving half the city his address in the process.
“No,” Sawyer said, utterly serious. Which in itself was suspicious because he was hardly ever serious, at least off a job. “I want to be able to say you’ve left the city so the phone will stop ringing booty calls and give me some peace while I have office duty.”
“Ah.” Yeah, that sounded more like Sawyer. “Okay, I’m in. You got an address?”
Sawyer handed him a work order. “Pack a bag, bro. It’s an overnighter.”
Liam shot an uneasy look at his GPS. The address was in the ass-crack of nowhere, and the curvy mountain roads were treacherous in the snow. If this was another one of Sawyer’s pranks, Liam might actually have to kill him. Either that, or hit a ski resort while he was up there. He’d taken one look at the map and had packed his snowboard. Christmas was three weeks away. Business was light in December and mostly consisted of emergencies, so no one would miss him if he spent a couple days shredding the slopes. Anything to avoid what he hoped were the waning days of his unwanted Internet fame.
But first, he had to find this lodge.
He couldn’t imagine what kind of woman would live up here, miles of snow-packed roads between her and his last brush with civilization. Nor could he fathom what to expect of the building. Google street view had never been anywhere near the place, and even though it was supposed to be a guest lodge, he found no trace of it listed online. He hadn’t dug into property records, but as he crawled around yet another sharp bend on the icy road, he wished he had. Especially since his GPS had just announced he’d arrived at his destination, and he saw only evergreens weighted with snow.
He was going to kill Sawyer.
He inched forward. Ahead, the road widened. Maybe he could make a phone call—if he had reception, that was. He was about to pull out of the single set of tire tracks that left shallow grooves on the snow-packed road when he glanced up. He had, indeed, arrived.
His jaw dropped. The lodge was
. Surrounded by picturesque evergreens, it towered a solid three stories above the ground, its dormered roofline laden with postcard-perfect deposits of snow. Stone accent walls gave an almost out of place modern edge, but he had a feeling that stone predated the recent Craftsman trends in architecture. Huge windows crept to the eaves, but no light spilled through. Standing tall in the shade cast by evergreens, the lodge was dark and a little lonely, but he could easily see the potential for the place.
That, and a lot of work ahead. If the owner wanted a thorough estimate, he’d be lucky to get out of there before his long weekend was up.
There wasn’t a soul in sight, but it wasn’t like he expected a welcoming committee. He did, however, hear a muffled buzzing sound. Curious, he cut the engine of his hybrid truck and opened the door.
Once he stepped outside of the cab, slamming the door behind him, the buzz turned into a roar paired with a horrendous cracking sound. In the sudden silence that followed, he watched in disbelief as a huge evergreen broke from the trees lining the road and landed on his hood with a sickening crunch.
He blinked. Twice. There was still a tree on his brand new truck.
“Oh my gosh. Are you okay?”
He pivoted, dazed, in the direction of the voice to find a woman standing in the gap left in the row of trees that were still upright. She wore a blue knit hat and a matching puffy ski jacket. Tinted safety glasses hid her eyes, but long blond hair and full pink lips gave a cherubic impression that was immediately dashed by the chainsaw she wielded.
“What are you doing?” he asked tightly. Frankly, he was surprised any sound came out. Because there was a
on his truck. “You can’t drop a tree in the
“I didn’t,” she said, oddly defensive considering she’d nearly killed him. “You left the road a while back. This is my property.”
was the owner? He’d half-expected some crotchety old woman with a dozen cats. Instead, he got a gorgeous blonde with curves even thick layers of outerwear couldn’t hide. Figured, the first woman his age he’d met in weeks who likely didn’t know him as Hot HVAC Guy had just wrecked his brand new ride.
Sawyer was definitely dead.
In hindsight, Liam really should have investigated this situation a little better, but getting the hell out of the city had been his first priority. Insta-fame didn’t sound horrible until you experienced it. For weeks, not a single day passed without him causing some kind of scene just by existing. At first he’d kind of eaten it up, allowing dozens of selfies to happen—mostly women, but men, too—but that only made his fame more widespread, and by the time he figured out things were getting worse, it was too late.
His life had turned to utter shit, and he had absolutely no desire to ever experience any kind of notoriety again. At this point, if he won the lottery, he wouldn’t claim it. Fuck fame.
“You’re the owner?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, looking a little less defensive and a hell of a lot more flustered now. He wasn’t sure why. Even if he was going to lose his shit, he wasn’t going to do it on a woman who held a chainsaw and clearly knew how to use it. “Claire St— Henley.”
“Stuh Henley?” He didn’t remember that being on the work order, but he stopped short of rummaging through the paperwork he’d left on the front seat. Hell, he didn’t even know if his truck door would open now, though the door frame didn’t look bent. Most of the damage was on the hood. And under it. Just the driving parts. He sighed and forced a tight smile. He wasn’t sure why, other than he had what was apparently an impressively ingrained habit to be polite to clients.
“Henley.” She ditched the safety glasses, revealing a stunning pair of blue eyes. “No Stuh.”
“Liam Chase. Fusion Air.” He waited a moment, dreading the flare of recognition that had become a thing on the vast majority of the jobs he took. When it didn’t happen, he relaxed a notch…at least until he remembered she’d just smashed his truck. “Aren’t you supposed to yell
before you cut down a tree?”
Blue eyes flashed sparks, and not the good kind. “You didn’t hear the chainsaw, but you think you’re going to hear me yelling?”
portion of their meeting had passed. “I didn’t hear the chainsaw,” he said evenly, “because I was in my truck.”
“And I didn’t hear your truck. At all.”
“It’s a hybrid,” he said. “When the electric motor kicks in, it’s quiet.”
“Looks like it’ll be that way for a while now,” she said under her breath. “I’ll call a garage.”
He didn’t argue, or say a word, while she did exactly that. Minutes later, she seemed to have confirmation from some guy named Monk that he was on his way. She ended the call while he tried to figure out what was familiar about her voice.
“I appreciate you coming all the way up here,” she said, like there wasn’t a wrecked truck sitting between them. “The local estimate to get the heat operational was more than double what I expected. Small towns…that’s how it usually goes.”
He cast a pointed look at his truck and saw the bill for Fusion Air’s services triple. “Good to know.”
She followed his gaze. Her voice a bit wobbly, she said, “I’m really sorry about your truck. I wasn’t expecting you for another hour, and to be honest, the tree fell the wrong way. I shouldn’t be surprised the way everything has been going lately, but I’m absolutely mortified that you were dragged into it. I’ll cover the cost of repairs.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he heard himself saying. At least now she actually looked sorry, not that he wanted her to cry. And why did she sound so familiar? The name wasn’t, but there was something about her…
She left the chainsaw on the fresh stump and walked over to the hood of his truck. When she turned her head to the side and gingerly tested the weight of the tree, recognition hit him.
She was Claire Stevens, an NYC-based television reporter.
And a two-time runaway bride.
Probably the only person in New York City more unfortunately famous than he. The proverbial last woman on earth, as far as he was concerned, and he stood there thinking she was hot.
Despite the fact that she’d wrecked his truck.
And now he was stuck on the mountain with her and no visible means of escape.
He’d never been so screwed in his life.