For the month of February the Champagne Book Group Blog will be doing something a little different. Four of your favorite authors have volunteered to share very special, exclusive, unpublished short stories. So enjoy the love and happy Valentine's Day from CBG.
"It'll be all right, Shamrock. We'll spend a memorable Valentine's Day and we'll see the kids soon. I promise."
An avalanche had closed the Trans-Canada Highway near Revelstoke, trapping Hunter on the wrong side of the snow dump, and an ice storm on the east coast had cancelled Rowan's connecting flight to Calgary. What should have been their first winter break as a family on their new ranch had turned into heartbreak.
"If I agree with you, can we go back home and cuddle in front of the fireplace?"
Deep laughter reverberated inside the SUV. "It's tempting, but no."
To cheer her up, Blythe had insisted on a road trip to a secret destination. After what felt like hours, he stopped and turned the engine off. A tender kiss brushed her lips then the blindfold loosened and fell onto her lap.
A snowy mountain covered with evergreen climbed into the clouds. In its fold rested a wooden building from where vapor mounted into the air.
"It's beautiful, Blythe. Where are we?"
"Banff." He reached on the backseat for their gym bags. "Come."
Her hand tucked into Blythe's glove and her bag slung over her shoulder, she strolled by his side. Teased by the wind, the snowflakes swirled in the cold air and prickled her cheeks. As they drew closer, voices and laughter leaped from the vapor, and a strong, acerbic odor tickled Riley's nose.
"Is that...sulfur?" As she identified the chemical compound, understanding dawned on her. "Hot Springs?"
In the changing room, Riley searched her bag. Blythe had replaced her top, shorts, and runners with a towel and the teal bikini she'd bought on their Icelandic honeymoon in November. The purchase had been for her husband's eyes only, not to parade in public.
Around her, female tourists donned old-fashioned bathing suits while chatting in foreign languages Riley didn't understand. To her relief, no one seemed to pay attention to her or her sexy attire.
A steamy tunnel sloping downward led to the thermal pool. As she advanced, the hot mineral water rose, encircling her ankles. Sporting blue and gray trunks, Blythe waited a few feet away.
He sought her hand, then her waist, pulling her into a loving embrace. "You're stunning."
The door opened, and the cold, Canadian winter assailed her bare skin.
"This is amazing, Blythe."
Riley sank to her neck into the water, and the blissful sigh escaping her lips warmed Blythe's heart. Valentine's Day was all about love and romance. Tears of sorrow didn't belong in her lovely green eyes.
He wrapped her in his arms and sat with her on his lap. A shield of vapor arched over their heads, transforming the falling snow into a warm mist. The tension of the day ebbed away as his wife relaxed against his chest. Leaning forward, he nibbled on her ear. Her wiggly response fueled his passion. "I love you, Shamrock."
At the mercy of strong wind gusts, fog patches drifted across the water, enveloping the bathers. Taking advantage of the low visibility, Blythe ventured covert caresses over her bikini.
"You're not behaving." She whispered against his neck, her fingers laced with his.
His skin tingled under her touch and he basked in the sensations she awoke. "You're impossible to resist."
Silent laughter rippled through her body. "Will we spend the night in Banff?"
Had his efforts to give her a special Valentine's gift failed, he would have entertained the option. "I wish, but we have a plane to catch."
"We're flying?" A hint of panic had crept into her voice. "Where?"
He bestowed a feathery kiss in the crook of her neck. "If I tell you, it won't be a surprise."
As Riley entered the Calgary airport, hope there might have been a last minute seat available for Rowan or Hunter surged, only to crash when Blythe presented her with a boarding pass.
"We're flying to Winnipeg tonight?"
"When Beth learned the kids couldn't come home until later this week, she invited us."
Blythe shared a close relationship with his sister Beth and her twin boys. That he'd want to spend a few days with them shouldn't have come as a shock.
"That's very sweet of her."
During the flight, Blythe regaled her with childhood stories, and as Riley joined in with tales of her own, the memories of the past alleviated the ache in her heart. She might not be with her children, but her children were still the best part of her. By the time the plane landed, she was eager to experience the magic of winter break through the eyes of two rambunctious eight-year-olds.
The smell of chocolate and cookie dough wafted into the vestibule, teasing Blythe's nose and empty stomach.
"I'm so glad you're here." Beth smothered him and Riley with a long hug. "Noah and Adam are in the kitchen making cookies with their two little cousins."
Eager to meet the visitors and taste their creation, Blythe pressed a hand to the small of his wife's back and directed her toward the clatters and laughter.
Riley's gorgeous eyes shone a darker shade of green. "With four cookie monsters in your kitchen, Beth, are you sure it's safe to enter?"
His sister looked at him with a knowing smile. Blythe owed her big for the many trips she made to the airport today.
"I promise I'll protect you from sticky fingers." As he teased his wife, Blythe nudged her along. "This way."
Riley stilled in the kitchen doorway.
A spatula clunked onto the floor, dropping chunks of cookie dough in its wake. His nephews squealed while Rowan and Hunter enveloped their mother in a bear hug.
Tears streamed down Riley's cheeks as she gazed lovingly at him over their children's shoulders. "I love you."
"Love you, too, Shamrock. Happy Valentine's Day."