by Kenna White
Snow is falling around the Aspen cabin that Leigh Insley never has time to visit. As winter gathers closer she wonders if it might finally be time to sell her getaway retreat. It’s only a few hours from Denver, true, but her career as a corporate lawyer has left her little time to enjoy it, and the years have ticked by, almost unnoticed.
Snow and ice are part of Margo Tosch. She’s been on skis since she could strap them to her boots, and her love of the sport has taken her around the world. Now, as snowplow driver, ski instructor and shopkeeper, this Jill-of-all-trades has carved a life for herself and her daughter in the mountains she loves, where the isolation lets her keep her secrets to herself.
When their paths cross in the high-mountain air, city-dweller Leigh is certain she has nothing in common with this rustic mountain woman named Margo. But even the frostiest of hearts can be taken by surprise.
Bestselling author Kenna White warms the rugged mountains of Colorado with a smoldering love story.
Taken by Surprise — Finalist, Lesbian Romance.GCLS Goldie Awards
Taken by Surprise — Finalist, Traditional/Contemporary Romance.
R Lynne, November 2011: Kenna White is one of the mistresses of lesbian romance. She definitely knows how to write a love story that grips its readers from start to satisfying finish. Taken by Surprise does not disappoint her readers. In this story set in Aspen, with wonderful descriptions of both the charming town and the beautiful Rockies, White has given us two very loveable characters. ...A great fireside read, which lets you enjoy the mountains, beautiful women, and a great romance while snuggled in your chair.Terry's LesFic Review
Another enjoyable romance from Kenna. I love the two characters, Leigh and Margo, also Lindsey, Margo's daughter. I would have liked to know how life turned out for them all. A nice book to curl up with on a winter evening.
Leigh Insley stood over the box of chains, hugging her leather jacket over her chest as the wind-whipped snow swirled around her. The sub-freezing temperatures burned her lungs and made her nipples ache but she had no choice. Surely all her years of college and her one hundred forty-seven IQ meant she could install snow chains. She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and pressed the eight on her speed dial. Maybe Maureen would know. She knew everything else.
“Maureen? Is that you?” she said to the coughing voice on the other end of the line.
“Yes.” The woman sneezed then coughed again.
“Your cold sounds worse. What are you doing at the office? Go home. Rest.”
“I’d feel even worse if I was home. Mary’s coughing and sneezing all over the house.” Maureen sniffled then blew her nose. “Is the view in Aspen breathtaking?”
“I wouldn’t know. I’m not there yet.” Leigh flapped her knees together, hoping to warm them under the thin fabric of her dress slacks. “Do you know how to install snow chains?”
“Snow chains? Is it snowing? It’s beautiful here in Denver.”
“It’s been snowing since Glenwood Springs. I thought I could get to Aspen before it got too deep but it’s impossible to get any traction through this stuff.”
“I’m surprised you got a cell. I heard cell coverage in the mountains is impossible.”
“It comes and goes. Don’t be surprised if the call drops. But do you know how to install these things? There are no instructions in the box. Just greasy heavy chains.”
“I’m sorry but I have no idea. Mary does that stuff. Do you want me to ask someone in the office if they know how? Perry’s here. Let me get him.”
“No, not Perry. I doubt he knows what a tire chain is for. He’s from Florida.”
“Pull into a gas station and have a mechanic do it. Or call Triple A.”
“I’m stuck on the side of the road and couldn’t get through to Triple A.” Leigh shivered then stomped her feet to warm them. Why had she worn a business suit and dress boots into the mountains? It might be her signature professional attire but a fleece-lined jogging suit would have been smarter. And her stylish whiskey-colored leather driving gloves might match her jacket but they were all but useless against the frigid temperatures.
“Glenda wants to know if you will be back for the meeting with the zoning commission on the twelfth.”
“I told her yes but I’m not going to the table without resolution on the variance. Have Jeannie check on that.” A car passed, its snow chains ca-chunking against the pavement and a swirl of snow enveloping Leigh in its wake. “And tell Bev not to sign anything on the Calhoun merger until all parties have reviewed and signed off on the changes. I don’t want any surprises this time.” Leigh turned her back to the blast of snow off the back of a passing truck.
“Bev has been stuck in the U.K. since Monday. Some kind of transit strike. They can’t get to the airport.”
“Yes, Bev and Lisa. The taxi drivers won’t cross the picket lines. Bev is so mad she’s ready to strangle someone.” Maureen went silent.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Who, Maureen?” Leigh asked solemnly. If her instincts and the rumors around the office were right, Bev had a new girlfriend.
“Oh.” The perky brunette from the governor’s office who helped on a case last year. She was probably the reason Bev volunteered to work such long hours on that one. “How long have they…”
The call dropped before Leigh could finish her question. She thought about replacing the call but decided she didn’t need to know how long Bev and Lisa had been dating.
Bev Richards was gorgeous. She was also a knowledgeable and successful lawyer, dedicated to her work; the qualities Leigh found most appealing four years ago when Bev joined the law firm. Within a year they had gone from discussing cases across the conference table to discussing them over a glass of wine by a crackling fireplace. Bev was ten years Leigh’s junior, and her professional persona attracted Leigh like a kid to a toy store. Leigh’s only mistake was in confessing her attraction to Bev to her secretary. But Maureen, beyond muttering about affairs in the office, had shown surprising restraint in not mentioning it to anyone else in the firm. A long-time loyal employee, Maureen could be trusted. Even when the relationship with Bev faded, Maureen refrained from I told you so. She somehow sensed the heartache was still there just below the surface and delivered silent sympathy with the cup of coffee she brought to Leigh’s desk each morning.
Another truck slowed and honked. Leigh waved it around her then climbed back in her car and turned on the engine to warm up. She was too cold to wrestle with the chains and since she had no clue how to attach them, defrosting her nipples and knees sounded like a better idea. She turned the heater on high and cupped her hands around the vent on the dashboard.
“God, I look like the abominable snow monster,” she mumbled after a glance in the mirror. She brushed the snow from her hair and tried to push some shape back into her hair. As a child, her hair was blonde with adorable naturally curly ringlets. At forty-eight it was dishwater blonde with a hint of premature gray at the temples and lazy squiggles of curl that frizzed in the rain.
Within fifteen minutes snow covered over the windows, blocking her view but it was useless to apply the wipers. She wasn’t going anywhere. The last ten miles had been taken at a crawl, her tires slipping and spinning on the slick pavement. After a few more minutes with the heater she’d take another look at the chains. How hard could it be?
Just as the feeling was returning to her fingers and toes, her driver’s side door flew open, a pair of grease-stained jeans and a brown plaid flannel shirt all Leigh could see through a blast of blowing snow. The stench of diesel fuel and tobacco smoke invaded the car and her nostrils.
“Hey! What are you doing? Get out of here,” Leigh shrieked, grabbing for the door handle and shoving back at the flannelled body. One of the denim-covered legs blocked the door from closing. The blowing snow stung Leigh’s eyes and temporarily blinded her.
“What are you doing, lady? Trying to commit suicide?” the voice bellowed from somewhere in the blizzard. “You’re in the middle of the freaking road, lady!”
“I’m up against the guardrail. There’s plenty of room to get by. Now move.”
“This isn’t a parking lot.”
Leigh continued pulling at the door handle, repeatedly whacking the intruder in the leg with the car door. A gloved hand took hold of Leigh’s wrist and squeezed. “Look, mister,” Leigh said, snatching her arm away. “I don’t know what you want but if you don’t let go of my door I’m going to call the police.”
The gloved hand unhooked a cell phone from the waistband of the jeans and tossed it on Leigh’s lap.
“The number is nine-one-one. Tell the dispatcher Margo said you’re two miles south of the Quigley turnout, southbound.” The figure squatted next to the car and scowled into the open door.
Through the swirling snow Leigh could see brown eyes framed by dark eyebrows and high cheekbones. From the smell and the clothes, Leigh expected this to be a burly man with a toothpick in his mouth and a two-day old beard. But in spite of the thermal underwear visible at the neck of the tattered flannel shirt, this was, in fact, a woman. She appeared to be somewhere in her forties. She had a stocking cap on her head with a few curls poking out at the temples. Her face was speckled with soot but it didn’t hide a deep scowling crease between her eyebrows. “If you get a cell, let me know. I haven’t been able to get one for over an hour.”
“You’re not a man,” was all Leigh could say as she stared at her brown eyes.
“No. Not the last time I looked, I’m not.” She reached over Leigh’s legs and turned off the ignition.
“I’m using the heater, thank you very much.” Leigh gave her an irate scowl and turned it back on.
“Haven’t you ever heard of carbon monoxide poisoning?” She turned it off again and pulled the key out of the ignition. “Don’t you know you have to keep the tailpipe clear or the exhaust will back up in the car and kill you?”
“Yes, I know that. I’m not stupid. When the snow gets deeper I’ll clear it away.” Leigh pushed the woman back as she began to choke at her overwhelming stench.
“Did you get out and look to see if it was clear?” She nodded toward the back of the car.
“I know how deep it is. My exhaust pipe is not covered.”
The woman muttered something that sounded like skinny bitch as she reached in and grabbed Leigh by the arm.
“What are you doing?” Leigh asked as she was dragged from the car.
“I hate you snooty rich-bitch snow bunny socialites who sit around the ski lodge in your Fifth Avenue fur-trimmed parkas, sip cocktails and act like you own the place. You play the innocent damsel in distress so you don’t have to take responsibility for anything.”
“Who the hell do you think you are? Let go of my arm or I’ll have you arrested for assault. And I certainly am no rich-bitch snow bunny. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” Leigh tried to pull away but couldn’t break the woman’s grip.
“Show me where the exhaust pipe is, lady,” she demanded, escorting her to the back of the car.
Leigh felt a flush of embarrassment when she noticed snow had drifted up over the rear bumper, covering the license plate and halfway up the trunk of her white Lexus sedan.
“What happened? I don’t understand. I could see it fifteen minutes ago.” Leigh began frantically pawing at the snow.
“Fifteen minutes in these mountains is long enough for drifts to cover an entire car.”
The blowing snow and frigid temperatures didn’t seem to bother this grizzled mountain woman. She crossed her arms and watched Leigh burrowing down through the snow like a dog digging for a bone. “You’re going to get frostbite, lady.” She had a stubborn set to her jaw that Leigh found infuriating.
“First of all, my name isn’t lady. And secondly I happen to be wearing gloves.” She waved her hands then went back to digging. This woman with her frayed flannel and trucker stench wasn’t going to intimidate her.
“Yeah, I see your gloves. I bet they’re wet through, aren’t they?”
“How would you know?” When Leigh tossed a look over her shoulder, she caught the woman staring at her ass.
Eyes off the merchandise, Paul Bunyan. I’m not your style.
“Leather driving gloves are useless in the mountains,” Margo said, raising her gaze.
She was right. Leigh’s fingers were nearly numb from the cold. She shook her hands and patted them together to warm them before going back to digging for the exhaust pipe. It wasn’t until that moment that she noticed the huge snowplow parked several yards away, its motor still running, lights flashing and the blade raised like a giant guillotine ready to slice through whatever got in its way.
“Are you driving that?”
Margo turned and stared at the truck then proudly declared, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. I just didn’t expect…”
“You didn’t expect a woman to be driving a snowplow, right?” She gave Leigh’s body another scan.
“I’m just surprised to see a snowplow, that’s all.”
“I’ve got to get to work. You better get those snow chains on before it gets too deep.” She began retracing her tracks through the snow toward the snowplow.
“Have you ever installed tire chains before?” Leigh asked nonchalantly, trying not to sound incompetent.
“Many times. Why? Don’t you know how to put them on?” She started back for Leigh’s car.
“Oh, sure. No problem.” Leigh didn’t know why she said that.
“You’ve never installed snow chains before, have you?” Margo gave a patronizing chuckle.
“Sure I have.” Leigh moved closer to the rear tire like a mother hen protecting her chicks.
“You have not. At least not these chains on this car.”
“How would you possibly know?”
“First of all, your car is front wheel drive, not rear. They won’t do you any good back there. And these are chains for fourteen-inch wheels.” She pushed her toe against the label on the end of the box. “Your Lexus has seventeen’s.”
“Sure they’ll fit. They were in the trunk.”
“I’m telling you, lady, they are the wrong size.”
Leigh turned her head sideways to read the tire markings in the light from the snowplow’s headlights.
“Right here.” Margo rubbed her gloved thumb across the sidewall.
“Can’t you adjust the links or something?”
“No, they aren’t one size fits all. They are made to hug the tire and offer traction. Not dangle like earrings. You should have checked them before you headed into the mountains in the winter.”
“Well, I wouldn’t need them if you snowplow drivers did a better job of keeping the highway clear, now would I? What do you do? Wait till it’s six inches deep before starting to plow?”
“No, actually, we wait until it’s ass deep on a grizzly bear before we start. That’s how we measure it,” Margo said sarcastically. “Seems like a pricey car like this would have a pair of chains that fit.”
“I thought it did.” Leigh didn’t like looking stupid and especially in front of this Rocky Mountain hillbilly. But she also knew this woman and her repugnant aroma might be her only chance for rescue. “Cell service should be available in town, shouldn’t it?”
“Could you call Triple A and give them my location?” she asked as politely as she could, considering whom she was asking.
Margo crossed her flannelled arms and shook her head adamantly.
“Well, that’s pretty heartless. It’s not as if I’m asking you to tow my car. Just call and tell them where I am so they can send a tow truck. I’ll give you the toll-free number.”
Margo continued to shake her head.
“I’ll pay you. How much would you charge to make a phone call for me?”
“I’ll be glad to take your money but that isn’t going to get you a tow. Not tonight. The tow services have been tied up with stranded county and utility vehicles all afternoon. And I doubt they’d come out when technically you are illegal. The chain-up signs have been flashing since noon.”
“You mean I can’t get my car towed to Aspen at all?”
“Oh, it’ll be towed. The highway patrol will take care of that.”
“The highway patrol has a towing service?” Leigh brightened.
“Not the way you want. They’ll tow your car to the impound yard, charge you storage and give you a ticket for ignoring the chain-up law, illegal parking and for blocking traffic. You’re talking five or six hundred dollars, easy.”
“Six hundred dollars to tow my car?”
“Maybe more. And if someone hits your car you could be liable for that too.”
“A parked car is not liable. Parking ticket, yes. But it is not a moving violation, therefore not the proximate cause of the damage. Liability falls to the driver of the moving vehicle.”
“Are you sure?” Margo challenged.
“I’m sure. At least that’s the scuttlebutt around the fireplace at the ski lodge.” Leigh had no intention of admitting she was a lawyer. This woman didn’t need to know anything about her personal life. Leigh folded her collar up against her chin and held it there. “How long do you think it will be before the highway patrol comes along?”
“I have no idea. Are you planning on waiting here with your car?”
“I thought I would, yes.”
“Have you got a full tank of gas so you can run your heater? It’s going to be a long cold night. And remember, you can’t fall asleep. You’ll have to clear the snow away from the exhaust every ten minutes or so. You might want to keep a window cracked just in case. You should leave your flashers on too.”
Leigh watched as Margo headed back to the snowplow. She had a decision to make and make fast. Should she remain with her car, soon to be completely covered with snow, or ask for a ride? Which was safer? She had always heard staying with the car in a disaster was the right thing to do but she had also heard freezing to death wasn’t a nice way to go. She didn’t even like to apply a cold compress. And with less than a quarter tank of gas, she’d be frozen stiff by midnight. But did she really want to be trapped in the cab of a snowplow on a snowy night with this foul smelling and sarcastic woman?
“What would you charge for a ride into Aspen?” Leigh called just as Margo was about to climb in.
“I’m not supposed to pick up hitchhikers. They might be dangerous.”
She’s going to make me beg. I just know it.
“I’m not exactly a hitchhiker. I’m a stranded motorist.”
“Stranded motorist without forethought.”
“Okay. Yes. Without forethought.” She’s enjoying this, the jackass.
“Stranded motorist without a survival plan.”
Leigh looked up and down the highway one more time, hoping for someone else, anyone else she could coax a ride out of but there wasn’t a headlight in sight and it would be completely dark soon.
“Well, come on, if you’re coming.” Margo swung the door open then looked back at Leigh. “I’ve got thirty miles to plow before midnight. I need to get moving before this road gets away from me.”
Leigh collected her purse, tote bag and briefcase. She scribbled a note and left it under the wiper for the highway patrol to see then turned on the flashers, locked the car and headed for the passenger’s side of the snowplow.
“You have to get in on this side,” Margo called. “The passenger door lock is stuck. Can’t get it open.” She climbed down and held the door as Leigh struggled with her belongings up the three steps into the high cab. Leigh felt a strong arm boost her up as she teetered on the top step, about to lose her balance.
“Thank you,” Leigh said, sliding in across the filthy seat.
The floorboard was littered with discarded foam coffee cups, a smashed doughnut box, greasy rags and empty cigarette packs. A black plastic lunch box with a broken latch was wedged between the seat and a floor gearshift. An assortment of hand tools, candy wrappers and aerosol cans lined the dashboard.
“You can rake that stuff out of the way,” Margo said, settling into the driver’s seat and latching her seatbelt. She ground through the gears, found one she liked and released the clutch. The big truck lurched forward.
“Where’s the seatbelt on this side?” Leigh carefully picked through the trash tucked into the back of the seat cushion.
“There isn’t one on that side. Got ripped out, I guess.” She flipped a lever to lower the blade and began scraping the pavement even before Leigh got settled.
“Wow. Kind of a rough ride, isn’t it?” Leigh grabbed her tote bag with one hand and her purse with the other to keep them from sliding into the garbage pit on the floor.
“Yeah, it’s a kidney buster all right. I have to pee about every thirty minutes.” She shifted gears, constantly checking her mirrors and the edge of the road. “It’s the oldest truck in the fleet. They only bring the old ones out when we get slammed like this. It’s none of my business but where are you going to spend the night?”
“At my cabin on White River Road.”
“Whoa. How far up?”
“A mile or so.”
“White River Road won’t be plowed yet.”
“Isn’t that what this big truck is for, plowing?”
“Not this one. I don’t have the maneuverability and traction for hilly roads like that.”
“I’ll pay you a hundred dollars to take me to my cabin.”
Margo burst out laughing and said, “I was wondering how long it would be before you said something like that. There’s probably two feet of snow on White River Road. That’s rugged terrain up there. I can’t get this up there.”
“I made it last year in the snow. Of course it wasn’t in this car.”
“Let me guess, an SUV with all-wheel drive.”
“Yes, it was.” Leigh heaved a disgruntled sigh. “How far is the nearest hotel?”
“Aspen but I doubt you find any rooms available. This storm took a lot of people by surprise. It stranded a bunch of tourists who didn’t listen to the weather forecast. You might not find a room anywhere this side of Glenwood Springs.”
Margo sorted through the junk on the dashboard and pulled out a half-eaten roll of Lifesavers. “Want one?” she asked, flipping one up with her thumb.
“No, thank you.” Leigh wondered how long they had been there and what the fuzzy stuff was stuck to the wrapper.
Margo popped the Lifesaver in her mouth then tossed the roll back onto the dash where it rolled under the litter.
Leigh pulled out her cell phone and tried to make a call.
“Still no cell?” Margo held the red Lifesaver between her lips like a tiny tongue.
Keep your food in your mouth, why don’t you? That’s gross.
Margo kept a watchful eye on the road as the plow sliced through the deepening snow. It was a painfully slow process, one that had Leigh second-guessing her decision to accept a ride to town. The longer she sat cooped up in this rolling trash heap, the more the contents of her stomach threatened to come up.
“Do you mind if I crack a window?” she asked as her eyes began to water.
Leigh lowered the window a few inches and stuck her face through the opening. Breathing the cold air and blowing snow was better than tossing her cookies onto her shoes.
“Are you car sick?” Margo downshifted around a curve, swerving to miss a roadside marker. “Shit. When did they put that sign there?”
“No, I’m not car sick.” She took another deep breath then raised the window so it was only open a crack. “Pardon me for asking, but doesn’t the stench in here bother you? Or don’t you smell it?”
“Smell what? If you mean the cigarette smoke, that belongs to the other guy who drives this truck. I don’t smoke.” She swerved again then scowled into the rearview mirror.
“Never mind.” Leigh leaned her head toward the window, occasionally taking a cleansing breath of fresh air. She tried her phone again. “Oh, thank goodness,” she gasped in relief as her cell came to life. She opened a Web access page and searched for a hotel room in Aspen. She didn’t care how much it cost. Anything would do.
“Any vacancies?” Margo asked, looking over at what she was doing.
“It’s still searching.” Leigh couldn’t hide her disappointment.
“Not that I can find. You’d think there would be something.” She did the search again but again nothing showed up. “Damn, I just lost the signal.”
“I know a place you can probably stay if you don’t mind that it’s not a five-star hotel. It’s not fancy but it’ll be clean. It’s a little further than I’m supposed to go but what the heck. I need a bathroom and another cup of coffee anyway.”
“At this point, I don’t think the star rating makes much difference. Is it very far?”
“We should be there by ten o’clock.” Margo used her sleeve to wipe the condensation from the windshield.
“I didn’t realize plowing snow was such a slow methodical process. This is like watching an old person climb stairs.”
“You try pushing two tons of snow at a time and see how fast you go.”
“I just meant.”
“I know what you meant.” Margo gave her a smirk then went back to the business of slicing a path through the white night.
Leigh rode along in silence, listening to the drone of the engine and the metal blade scraping the pavement. The snowplow was the only vehicle on the road and it had been almost an hour since they passed another pair of headlights. Except for the nearly impassable road and the inconvenience of being stuck on the side of the road, the snow-covered night was gorgeous. Leigh closed her eyes and imagined sitting in her cabin by a crackling fire with the mountain serenity outside. Something else crept into her thoughts, something she was powerless to stop. Why had Bev taken Lisa to London? Had they been seeing each other last year as Leigh tried her best to save their relationship? Had they been sleeping together while Leigh attended countless meetings and dinners?
“Hey,” Margo said, giving her shoulder a gentle nudge. “Are you all right?”
Leigh opened her eyes and blinked back to reality.
“Are you okay? You look like you were having a bad dream.” Margo downshifted and rounded a corner.
“No, I wasn’t sleeping.”
Margo chuckled and said, “You sure were doing a lot of snoring for someone who wasn’t sleeping.”
“I wasn’t sleeping and I don’t snore,” Leigh said, collecting her dignity.
“Oh, right. I forgot. You women don’t snore.”
“Yeah.” Margo pulled to the curb and raised the blade. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” She left the engine running as she opened the door and climbed down.
They had entered the outskirts of Aspen where only a few modest homes lined the darkened street. Margo crossed to a small stone bungalow. The house was dark. Even the porch light was out. She stood on the porch, hunching against the blowing snow as she knocked repeatedly. Finally a light came on and the door opened. She stepped inside then reappeared a minute later and trotted back to the truck.
“All set,” she said, reaching in and grabbing Leigh’s tote bag. “I’ve got a place for you to stay.”
“I thought you meant a hotel,” Leigh said, tugging on the strap to reclaim her bag.
“Wendy said you can sleep on the couch. Watch your step. The snow is deep here.”
“I’m not sleeping on anyone’s couch.”
“Look, lady. I’m already behind schedule because of you. In exactly one minute I’m turning this rig around and heading back for Wingo. If you don’t want to stay here, use Wendy’s phone, call someone to take you someplace else but I don’t have time for this crap.”
“How am I supposed to get someone to come out in this? The snow is a foot deep.”
“And my job is to clear it, not taxi you around looking for a place to spend the night.” Margo slung the tote over her shoulder and glared up at her. “Now come on. Wendy’s waiting. She wants to go back to bed.”
“I don’t know these people.”
“Wendy Baldwin has lived in Aspen all her life. She’s sixty-four, single and babysits for a living. She doesn’t smoke or do drugs except for arthritis and high blood pressure medicine. She only drinks on Christmas and her birthday. She has a one-eyed cat named Herbert and is kind enough to offer her couch to wayward travelers who don’t install chains before heading out in a blizzard.”
“I can just guess what you said to her about me.”
“For cripes sake. Look, my dinner was a bologna sandwich. The defroster in this piece of crap truck only works when it feels like it, the spring in the seat has been stabbing me in the ass for forty miles and I’m not supposed to pick up stranded motorists. The hotel district is that way about five miles. So what’s it going to be? Wendy’s or the sidewalk?”
“You may know this person but I don’t.”
“Do you only stay at hotels where you know the owner?”
She had a point. It was all a matter of trust. And right now, at ten fifteen on a snowy night in Aspen, Colorado, did Leigh trust this Margo person enough to accept a night’s lodging with someone she recommended.
“You didn’t know me when you climbed into my truck. What’s wrong? Wendy’s house not fancy enough for you?” She looked over at the bungalow. “I’d take Wendy’s couch over a king-sized bed with room service any day.”
“I’m not a snob, you know,” she said, climbing down and following in Margo’s footsteps.
“Could have fooled me.”
A short squarish woman peeked around the edge of the door, holding a yellow bathrobe closed at the neck. Her hair was short, mostly white and disheveled. Crust had formed in the corner of her eyes telling Leigh she had already been asleep.
“Come in, come in,” she demanded. “You’re letting the heat out.”
“Wendy, this is Leigh.” Margo stepped aside for Leigh to enter.
“Hello, Leah.” She pulled Margo out of the way and closed the door.
“It’s Leigh,” Leigh said, extending a hand to the woman but she didn’t seem to notice. “Hello, Wendy.”
“Stomp your feet on the rug, both of you.”
“I can’t stay. I’ve got to get back to work.” Margo set Leigh’s tote bag on a nearby chair.
“You’re not leaving until you reach down the comforter from the shelf. So just troddle your little hiney right back there and get it.” Wendy turned Margo by the shoulders and pointed her toward the hall. “Pull down a pillow and the pink flowered sheets, too.”
Margo muttered something as she disappeared down the hall. She returned carrying an armload of bedding.
“Not that comforter. The one on the top shelf,” Wendy complained.
“This was on the top shelf.” She dumped the load on the couch.
Leigh stood by the door, watching and listening as Wendy and Margo bickered about the comforter and Margo’s need to get back on the road. In spite of the squabbling and occasional profanity, there was an unmistakable connection between the two women.
“Then just go on,” Wendy finally said, shooing her toward the door. “Go play with your truck. We don’t need you. And don’t slam the door. You knocked a plate off the shelf last week.”
“You’re sure a bossy bitch this evening,” Margo said as she grabbed the doorknob.
“Damn right I am. My knee is killing me and the garbage disposal backed up all over the kitchen floor. Now get out of here.”
As soon as Margo was out the door, Wendy turned to Leigh and smiled. “Now let’s get you settled, honey.” She unfolded a sheet with a snap and floated it over the couch, tucking and smoothing it neatly. “Where are you from, Leah?”
“Denver.” Leigh saw no reason to correct her name again. She obviously wasn’t listening.
“What are you doing in Aspen? Skiing?”
“Business.” Leigh draped her coat over her tote bag in the chair and went to help with the bedding.
“What kind of business? Are you one of those travel agents who schedule bus trips to ski resorts?”
“No. I’m not a travel agent. Let me finish this.” Leigh took the comforter.
“Would you?” Wendy caught herself as if her knee was about to give out. “The bathroom is down the hall. Towels are in the cabinet under the sink. Let me know if you’re going to take a shower in the morning.”
A shower must cost more, Leigh thought. “I’ll be up early. I have a conference call scheduled for seven thirty,” she said, slipping the pillow into the pillowcase.
“I’ve always wondered how they do that. Everyone talking at once. Well, don’t mind me. Sometimes I’m up and in my sewing room by six. I need to get the hem in Dallas Sopple’s drapes before noon.” She headed down the hall. “Good night and sweet dreams, Leah.”
“Good night and thank you for allowing me to stay with you.”
“You’re welcome, honey. Turn off the light when you’re through.”
Leigh heard the door close at the end of the hall. She was left in the living room lit by one low-watt table lamp. She made a quick trip to the bathroom then slipped out of her slacks and blouse. She’d have to sleep in her bra and panties since she didn’t pack any pajamas. She’d planned on spending the night in her own cabin in her own bedroom where she kept extra clothes. She snapped off the light and snuggled down beneath the comforter. She was almost asleep when she remembered there was at least one stranger down the hall, a woman who, for all Leigh knew, could be Jack the Ripper’s mother. She retrieved her blouse from the chair and slipped it back on, as if that would protect her.
Why do I let myself be talked into these things?