After an annus horribilis, the glittering lights of Manhattan are irresistible to English girl Carrie McKenzie. She's climbed the Empire State Building, but can't get a smile from her gorgeous neighbor! Until a tiny abandoned baby on her doorstep brings her to his door…. Cop Dan Cooper has an obligation to protect, and with Carrie out of her depth, he must come to her rescue. Surely two pairs of hands are better than one? Until she becomes a distraction, not just because of her tempting curves, but because of the pain in her eyes when she looks at the precious bundle in their charge….
The subway rattled into the station, the doors opened and Carrie felt herself swept along with the huddled masses on the platform, barely even looking up from her hunched position in her woefully thin coat. It had looked better on the internet. Really. It had.
She resisted the temptation to snuggle into the body in front of her as the carriage packed even tighter than normal. Just about every train in the City had ground to a halt after the quick deluge of snow.
The streets had gone from tired, grey and bustling, to a complete white-out with only vaguely recognisable shapes in a matter of hours.
An unprecedented freak snow storm they were calling it.
In the middle of New York.
The news reporters were having a field day – well, only the ones lucky enough to be in the studio. The ones out in the field? Not so much.
And Carrie appreciated why. Her winter coat wasn’t due to be delivered for another two weeks. She could die before then. Her fingers had lost all colour and sensation ten minutes ago. Thank goodness she didn’t have a dripping nose because at these temperatures it would freeze mid-way.
“They’ve stopped some of the buses,” muttered the woman next to her. “I’m going to have to make about three changes to get home tonight.”
An involuntary shiver stole down her spine. Please let the train get to the end of the line. This part of the subway didn’t stay underground the whole way, parts of it emerged into the elements and she could already see the thick white flakes of snow landing around them.
A year in New York had sounded great at the time. Magical even.
A chance to get away from her own annus horribilus.
A chance to escape everyone she knew, her history, and her demons.
The only thing she’d taken with her was her exemplary work record.
In the black fog that had been last year it had been her one consistently bright shining star.
She should have known as soon as her boss had invited her into his office and asked her to sit down, giving her that half-sympathetic half-cutthroat look. He’d cleared his throat, “Carrie, we need someone to go to New York and represent the London office, leading on the project team for the next year. I understand this has been difficult for you. But you were my first thought for the job. Of course, if it feels like too much – or the timing is wrong…,” his voice tailed off. The implication was clear. There were already two interns snapping at her heels anxious to trample her on the way past.
She’d bit her lip. “No. The timing is perfect. A new place will be just what I need. A new challenge. A chance for some time away.”
He’d nodded and extended his hand towards her. “Congratulations. Don’t worry about a thing. The firm has an apartment in Greenwich Village in the borough of Manhattan, it’s a nice safe area – easily commutable. You’ll like it there.”
She nodded numbly, trying not to run her tongue along her instantly dry lips. “How long until I have to go?”
He cleared his throat as if a little tickle had appeared. “Three weeks.” The words were followed by a hasty smile. “One of the partners will be leaving for business in Japan, he needs to brief you before he leaves.”
She tried hard not to let the horror of the time frame appear on her face as she stood up and straightened her skirt, “Three weeks will be fine. Perfectly manageable,” her voice was wavering and she could only hope he didn’t notice.
He stood up quickly, “Perfect Carrie. I’m sure you’ll do a wonderful job for us.”
The train pulled into another station and Carrie felt the shuffle of bodies around her as people edged even closer together to let the hoards of people on the platform board. It seemed as if the whole of New York city had been sent home early.
A cold hand brushed against hers and a woman gave her a tired smile. “They’ve closed Central Park – one of the trees collapsed under the weight of the snow. I’ve never heard of that before.” She rolled her eyes, “I’m just praying the school buses get home. Some of the roads are closed because they don’t have enough snow ploughs and the grit wasn’t due delivered for another two weeks.” Her face was flushed as she continued to talk. “I’ve never seen it so bad, have you? I bet we’re all snowed in for the next few days.”
Carrie gave a rueful shrug of her shoulders. “I’m not from around here, I’m from London. This is my first time in New York.”
The woman gave a little sigh. “Poor you. Well, welcome to the mad house.”
Carrie watched as the train pulled out of the station. It didn’t seem to pick up speed at all, just crawled along slowly. Was there snow on the tracks, or was it the weight of too many passengers, desperate to get home before the transport system shut down completely? Please just two more stops. Then she would be home.
Home. Was it home?
The apartment in West Village was gorgeous. Not quite a penthouse, but part of a Brownstone and well out of her budget. West Village was perfect. It was like some tucked-away part of London, full of gorgeous shops, coffee houses and restaurants. But it still wasn’t home.
Today, in the midst of this snow storm, she wanted to go home to the smell of soup bubbling on the stove. She wanted to go home to the sound of a bubble bath being run with candles lit around the edges. She wanted to go home somewhere with curtains pulled, a fire flickering and a warm glow.
Anything other than her own footsteps echoing across the wooden floor in the empty apartment, and knowing that the next time she’d talk to another human being it would be the man who ran the coffee stall across the street on the way to work the next morning.
She wrinkled her nose. It might not even come to that. The sky was darkening quickly. Maybe the woman next to her was right. Maybe they would end up snowed in? She might not speak to another human being for days.
She shifted the bag containing the laptop in her hands. She had enough work to last for days. The boss had been clear. Take enough to keep you busy – don’t worry about getting into the office. If the snow continued she couldn’t count on seeing any of her workmates.
The people in her apartment block nodded on the way past. But there had never been a conversation. Never a friendly greeting. Maybe they were just used to the apartment being used by business people, staying for a few weeks and then leaving again. It would hardly seem worthwhile to reach out and make friends.
A shiver crept down her spine and her mind started to race.
Did she have emergency supplies? Were there any already in the apartment? How would she feel being snowed-in in New York, where it felt as if she didn’t know a single person?
Sure, she had met people at work over the last two months. She’d even been for a few after-work drinks. But the office she worked in wasn’t a friendly sociable place. It was a fast-paced frenetic meet-the-deadline-before-you-die kind of place. She had colleagues, but she wasn’t too sure she had friends.
The train shuddered to a halt at 14th Street and the door opened. “Everybody out!”
Her head jerked up and the carriage collectively groaned.
“What?” “No way!” “What’s happening?”
A guard was next to the door. “This is the last stop folks. Snow on the tracks. All trains are stopping. Everybody out.”
Carrie glanced at the sign. 14th Street. One subway stop away from the apartment. She glanced down at her red suede ankle boots. She could kiss these babies goodbye. The ground outside was covered in thick, mucky slush. She didn’t even want to think about what they’d look like by the time she reached the apartment.
The crowd spilled out onto the platform and up towards the mezzanine level of the station on 14th Street. Carrie could hear panicked voices all around her, trying to plan alternative routes home. At least she knew she could walk from here, no matter how bad it was outside.
The sky had darkened rapidly, with thick grey clouds hanging overheard, continuing their deluge of snow.
Snow. It was such a pretty thing. The kind of thing you spent hours cutting out of paper as a kid, trying to make a snowflake. Then sticking on a blue piece of card and putting on the classroom wall or attaching a piece of string and hanging from the Christmas tree.
It didn’t look like this in the story books. Thick wads of snow piled at the edges of the street, blanketing the road and stopping all traffic. The whiteness gone, leaving mounds of grey, icy, sludge.
There was a creaking noise behind her and across the street, followed by a hoard of shouts. “Move! Quickly!”
In slow motion she watched as a large pile of snow slowly slid from a roof four storeys above the street. The people beneath were hurrying past, blissfully unaware of what was happening above their heads.
It was like a slow-moving action scene from a movie. All the inevitability of knowing what was about to happen without being able to intervene. Her breath caught in her throat. A woman in a red coat. A little boy. An elderly couple walking hand in hand. A few business men with their coat collars turned up, talking intently on their phones.
There was a flash of navy blue. The red coat and little boy were flung rapidly from the sidewalk into the middle of the empty street. The elderly couple pressed up against the glass shop window as some frantic shouts alerted the business men.
The snow fell, in a thick deafening thump. A cloud of powdered snow lifting into the air and a deluge of muddy splatters landing on her face.
Then, for a few seconds, there was silence. Complete silence.
It was broken first by the whimpers of a crying child – the little boy who had landed in the road. Seconds later chaos erupted. Onlookers dashed to the aid of the woman and small child, helping them to their feet and ushering them over to a nearby coffee shop. A few moments later someone guided the elderly couple from under the shelter of the shop’s awning where they had been protected from the worst of the deluge.
“Where the cop?” “What happened to the cop?”
A policeman. Was that who had dived to the rescue? Her eyes caught the flicker of the blue lights of the NYPD car parked on the street. It was such a common sight in New York that she’d stopped registering them.
Some frantic digging and a few choice expletives later and one of New York’s finest, along with one of the business men, emerged from the snow.
Someone jolted her from behind and her feet started to automatically move along the sludgy sidewalk. There was nothing she could do here.
Her own heart was pounding in her chest. Fat use she would be anyway. She didn’t have a single medical skill to offer, and the street was awash with people rushing to help. She could see the cop brushing snow angrily from his uniform. He looked vaguely familiar but she couldn’t place him. He was holding his wrist at a funny angle and looking frantically around, trying to account for all the people he had tried to save.
A tissue appeared under her nose. “Better give your face a wipe,” said another woman, gesturing towards her mud splattered coat, shoes and face.
Carrie turned towards the nearest shop window and did a double-take. She looked like something the cat had dragged in. “Thanks,” she muttered as she lifted the tissue to her face, smudging the mud further across her face. Her bright green coat was a right off. The dry-clean only label floated inside her mind. No dry-cleaning in the world could solve this mess.
She stared up at the darkening sky. It was time to go home. Whether it felt like home or not.
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