Her Christmas Secret

Publisher: Cardinal Press, LLC

Formats: eBook, print 


ISBN: 978-1944777166


Is their new relationship strong enough to withstand the truth, or will she find herself with no one to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve?

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Her Christmas Secret

Sean Hughes likes being single—much to his family’s dismay. They want him to settle down…now. When he gives fun-loving snowboarder Zoe Flynn a ride to the slopes, Sean hatches a plan to throw off his matchmaking relatives. He asks Zoe to pose as his girlfriend at Thanksgiving dinner, which will take the pressure off him and make the evening more enjoyable all around.

Zoe agrees to be Sean’s fake girlfriend. Who wouldn’t want a free meal or a chance to hang out with the handsome mountain rescuer and his adorable husky? When an injury occurs, the two are forced to continue their one-night ruse. As Christmas approaches, make-believe turns into reality. But Zoe has a secret…a big one.

Is their new relationship strong enough to withstand the truth, or will she find herself with no one to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve?

Previously published as Christmas Magic on the Mountain.

Read an Excerpt

The familiar sound of the crunch of traction tires against packed snow filled the cab of Sean Hughes’s truck. He inhaled the crisp, pine-scented air and the smell of wet dog. Denali, his Siberian husky, panted on the seat next to him.

Winter on Mount Hood was their favorite time of year—boarding, climbing, and snowshoeing. Sean tapped his thumb on the steering wheel. Too bad Thanksgiving and Christmas had to get in the way of all that fun.

A snowplow heading west passed him.

No doubt the early morning road crews were working hard to clear the overnight snowfall from Highway 26. Portlanders would be driving up in throngs today to spend Thanksgiving on the slopes or eat turkey at Timberline Lodge’s Cascade dining room.

Sean wished he could be one of them.

He wanted a well-cooked dinner served by an obliging waitstaff at a restaurant where quiet conversation was de rigueur. That would be better than the chaotic holiday meal at his parents’ house where everyone poked their noses into everybody’s business. Especially his. No one ever listened to his “let’s eat dinner out” suggestion—not even when he offered to pay for all thirty-eight of them. Wait…make that thirty-nine. One of his cousins had given birth to another baby a couple of months ago.

“A good thing we don’t have to be at Mom and Dad’s until later.” Sean glanced at Denali. “I’d rather spend this bluebird day on the mountain than be stuck inside listening to people tell me what’s missing from my life is a wife.”

Denali nudged his arm with her nose.

Sean patted the dog’s head. “They don’t seem to understand you’re my number-one girl.”

Nothing against marriage per se, but he didn’t have the time to make a relationship work. He had too many other things going on in his life to make any woman a priority. In the past, he’d somehow given women the wrong idea about his commitment level, so now he only dated casually—much to his family’s dismay. If they started playing matchmaker again…

He took a deep breath. Counted backward from ten. “No worries. We’ll make the most of the time we have on our own this morning.”

Staring out the windshield, the dog barked.

At the base of the road leading up to Timberline Lodge stood a snowboarder. A large, overstuffed backpack sat at his feet along with a board.

Around here, no one thought twice about hitchhiking up to the ski area or giving a skier or snowboarder a lift. It was part of the town’s charm.

Sean remembered hitching rides up the hill from locals and strangers alike when he’d been a teenager. Back then, he’d worked all summer for his dad to pay for a season pass. He would pack a lunch since he couldn’t afford to buy a cup of hot chocolate, let alone food. Times and his circumstances had changed since then. But seeing the kid made Sean remember the joy and freedom of those days.

Flicking on his left turn signal, he tapped the brakes and crossed the highway. The image of the kid hoping for a ride made a great visual. He would mention that to the advertising firm his snowboard manufacturing company used. They were already discussing next season’s promo campaign.

He pulled off to the side of the road and rolled down the passenger window.

A burst of frigid air rushed in. Denali stuck her head out.

The snowboarder straightened. “Hi.”

Not a kid. A woman. Even better.

“Hey,” Sean greeted.

A wool beanie hid her hair. The fit of her jacket made him wonder what curves hid underneath.

“Beautiful dog,” she said.

“Thanks.” The woman was pretty herself with pink cheeks and glossed lips. Her orange, green, and black patterned outerwear coordinated with the graphics on her board. More unisex than feminine. Not one of his snowboards, but she gave off the vibe of being the type of rider more interested in fashion than in function. He didn’t mind. Sean had a soft spot for snow bunnies, especially ones who boarded. “Heading up for a taste of the fresh powder?”

“I hear it’s light and fluffy. My favorite kind.” Hopeful clear blue eyes fringed with thick lashes met his. “Have room for one more?”

She was young. Early twenties, maybe. But cute. Very cute. She’d be turning some heads on the slopes today the way she’d already turned his.

He shifted the truck’s gear stick into the park position. “I’ll get your stuff.”

Her face lit up. “Thanks, but I’ve got it.”

Independent. Sean liked that. Much better than the women who wanted him to do everything for them.

In the rearview mirror, he watched as she put her things into the back. He appreciated how careful she was to avoid his splitboard and the prototype bindings he’d been working on. She kicked the snow from her boots, climbed in the cab, and closed the door.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am you stopped.” After pulling off her mittens, she wiggled her fingers in front of the dashboard vents. “Oh, the heat feels so good.”

She smelled good. Citrusy like grapefruit. He wouldn’t mind seeing if she tasted as good as she smelled. “Been waiting long?”

“It felt like forever.” She fumbled with the seat belt until the buckle clicked into place. “But it was probably only twenty minutes or so. There isn’t as much traffic as I thought there’d be this morning.”

“Most people won’t head up until later.” He shifted gears, pressed on the gas pedal, and drove up the curving road to Timberline Lodge. “The lifts don’t open until nine.”

“That explains why.” She rubbed her hands together. “I’m Zoe.”

“Sean Hughes.” Walls of snow from the plow lined each side of the road. “This is Denali.”

“Nice to meet you both.”

Denali rubbed her muzzle against Zoe’s cheek.

“Off.” Sean’s gaze focused on Zoe’s high cheekbones. The dog obeyed. “She’s very friendly.”

“I see that.” Zoe glanced at the window behind them. “I noticed an OMSAR sticker on the window.”

“Oregon Mountain Search and Rescue.”

She fiddled with the mittens she’d dropped on her lap. “You guys are on TV a lot.”

“When something happens on the mountain, the media flocks to Timberline. Otherwise, they pretty much leave us alone.”

“I suppose bad things happen up there.”

“Sometimes.” He thought about fellow OMSAR member and good friend Nick Bishop who had died almost seven years ago while climbing on the Reid Headwall. “Accidents can happen to the best climbers.”

“I’d like to climb a mountain someday.”

“There isn’t much in this world that beats standing on a summit,” he said enthusiastically. “But getting to the top and home safely are the most important parts. You need to be prepared.”

With a nod, she rested her left hand on a contented Denali.

Sean noticed her bare ring finger. He’d bet she had a boyfriend. Still, awareness buzzed through him.

“Before I forget,” she said. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Same to you.” At least Thanksgiving was only one day. That made the holiday a hundred percent better than Christmas, when the chorus of “When are you settling down?” questions drowned out the carols. “You’re not from around here.”

She stiffened. “Why do you say that?”

“A local would know what time the lifts open.”

“Oh, right.”

Her cheeks remained pink, even though the temperature in the cab wasn’t cold. The women he went out with rarely blushed, but Sean found it charming.

“I got a ride up from Portland yesterday. Spent the night at the Hood Hamlet Hostel. I wanted to get an early start this morning.” She rubbed Denali. “Spending the day on the slopes before Thanksgiving dinner is a family tradition, but I may have started too early. I suppose getting up before the sun should have been a clue.”

“Are you meeting your family later?”

“No.” She stared out the window. “I’m on my own this year.”

Interesting. Maybe there wasn’t a boyfriend in the picture. At least not a serious one.

“Lucky you.” Sean negotiated the truck around a tight curve. “I wish I were on my own today.”

Zoe angled toward him. “But it’s Thanksgiving.”


She eyed him suspiciously. “The holidays are a time to spend with family.”

“I know,” he admitted. “That’s why I’ll be at my parents’ house this afternoon with more than three dozen extended family members. Picture total chaos with cooking in the kitchen, football blaring on the TV in the living room, kids running around screaming, and my uncle Marty snoring in the recliner. It’s so crazy you can’t even keep track of the football score.”

Lips parted, she leaned forward until the seat belt tightened across her. “It sounds wonderful to me.”

Zoe’s tone was wistful, a little sad. Maybe she wasn’t as keen on spending Thanksgiving by herself as he would be. Sean couldn’t deny his attraction. Truth was he wouldn’t mind spending time with her. “You want to come?”

Uncertainty filled her gaze. “I don’t know you or your family.”

“You want references? I can get ’em for you.”

“I know.”

He cocked his head inquiringly, not understanding what she meant.

“The OMSAR sticker,” she explained, not missing a beat. “And you gave me a lift. You must be used to rescuing damsels in distress.”

“Rescue is my specialty.” That earned him a smile. “So dinner?”