Oh, for fucks sake! Could life get any shittier?
Katie hung the phone up gently despite the urge to slam the bloody thing across the room. Thanks to one tiny, little—okay, big, dangerous and out of control—snowstorm, which just happened to place itself squarely over the local airport, her big family reunion was completely and totally ruined.
Three days. The weatherman expected the storm to last three whole fucking days. Just long enough to destroy any hope of getting her family here in time for their yearly reunion. Katie sighed heavily as she watched The Weather Channel and listened to the commentator’s dire predictions.
The Mitchell family celebration had started as a party for her grandparent’s fortieth wedding anniversary nearly two decades ago and become a yearly tradition. Even after her grandparent’s deaths, every year, wherever the members of the Mitchell family were, whatever they were up to, they made certain to gather and celebrate. But this year Mother Nature had decided the big celebration just wasn’t going to happen.
Not here at least.
The only good piece of news—good for everyone who wasn’t her—was that the rest of the family was able to meet at her sister’s place and re-locate the traditional family dinner. Now if she could just hop a plane she’d be able to join them. Fucking snow!
The irony wasn’t lost on her. She’d watched the weather forecast closely for days, hoping for a dusting of snow. Everything looked so much prettier and more peaceful with a soft coating of the white stuff. She giggled a little hysterically as her mother’s favorite saying, “Be careful what you wish for,” bounced through her head. She’d wanted a white landscape, not a whiteout! She laughed humorlessly, the disturbing sound seeming much louder in the empty room.
She wandered listlessly through the house with absolutely no idea what to do. The last several days had been a mad rush of baking, decorating, shopping, and planning, but instead of a home full of people, she had only empty rooms and too much food.
Katie dropped onto the couch and scowled at the decoration taking pride of place as the table centerpiece. The elegant statuette of a woman playing a violin was an heirloom and the object of a most sacred family tradition. The beautiful piece was her grandfather’s wedding gift to his wife and had been her grandmother’s most prized possession. Her grandmother had always claimed it brought good fortune. As Katie gazed at the ceramic lady, the light from the fireplace caught it on a different angle, and the statuette glowed, almost looking lit from within. It truly was a beautiful piece.
At the end of dinner each year, the delicate decoration was carefully wrapped and given to whoever would host the next year’s festivities. Family legend said the exquisitely crafted decoration would bring good luck, harmony, and love to the host of each dinner. As silly as it seemed for a thirty-something, college-educated professional, Katie had believed in the statue’s power. She just hadn’t realized how much until everything went pear-shaped.
“So much for that nonsense,” she whispered to the empty room.
* * * * *
“How long?” Rick asked him as Daniel got close enough to hear over the noise of the crowd.
“Three days at least,” Daniel said, glancing around the airport. People dressed in all sorts of different outfits wandered the area. Some carried heavy coats and enough luggage to ground an airplane. Others wore clothes better suited to much warmer weather, suggesting their plans hadn’t included a three-day stay in the airport waiting lounge.
“We need to find a hotel room,” Rick said, wearing his usual, trademark smile.
Daniel’s irritation grew even more at his brother’s optimistic attitude. How could he be even the slightest bit happy in this situation? Trying not to grind his teeth to dust, Daniel nodded his agreement. They’d both planned for this to be their last trip “home.” Sign the sale papers for the family property, and then get the hell out of their hometown and never look back. Getting stuck at the airport hadn’t been in their plans.
Several hours later, the idea of finding a place to sleep—other than the airport lounge—looked mighty shaky, and Daniel’s temper was close to boiling point. After the umpteenth negative reply from yet another well-dressed hotel reception clerk wearing bright colors and a false smile, Daniel was starting to feel more than a little enraged.
“What about Mom and Dad’s old neighbors? Do you think Mrs. Jones would put us up for a couple of nights?”
Daniel snorted in disgust at his brother’s ridiculous suggestion. Despite his unsmiling face, Rick was obviously making a joke. He always managed to find the humor in every situation, but Daniel was in no mood for it. Hell, Mrs. Jones had hated them so much as teenagers she’d filed a police report at the smallest provocation. Fortunately, she’d hated just about everyone, so having a complaint lodged by Mrs. Jones had almost been a rite of passage in this town. How their mother had managed to maintain a friendship with the horrible old woman was still beyond Daniel’s understanding. But then, his mother had always been the peacemaker in their family.
“Do we know anyone else in town these days?” Rick’s question sounded almost ludicrous, considering they’d grown up here, but it did seem everyone they’d once known had left town.
Only one person came to mind, and she was probably the last person who would want to see them. She’d been the reason they’d left town as soon as the opportunity arose. In fact, Katie Mitchell was pretty much the reason neither Rick nor Daniel had ever found the woman and settled into domestic bliss. She was the one woman they’d both fallen for. Despite being twins, there had never been any similarities in their tastes in clothes, cars, sports, or women… Until Katie Mitchell.
Daniel could practically see the same thoughts buzzing through his brother’s mind, and it seemed they came to the same conclusion.
“I suppose she does owe us an apology,” Rick said in his usual laconic way. Daniel wasn’t so sure Katie would see it that way, but running off with their worst enemy and marrying the guy without even discussing it with her supposed two best friends warranted some sort of explanation—and probably a spanking—even if it was about ten years too late.
Daniel nodded his agreement. What the hell, they had nothing to lose at this point. The worst she could do was slam the door in their faces.
* * * * *
“Can I help you?”
Rick tried not to wince. Shit, wasn’t that a kick in the pants? She didn’t even recognize them, so it was a pretty sure bet she hadn’t spent the years since her divorce pining for him or Daniel.
“Katie?” Daniel asked as she looked at them both blankly. She nodded, but it was the type of slow, suspicious nod one offers when confronted with strangers.
Yep, this was going just great. Such an excellent idea to track her down. Next time he had an idea as stupid as this one, he really hoped someone—okay, Daniel—smacked him upside the head.
“You seriously don’t recognize us?” Rick’s natural humor tried to surface, but he couldn’t keep the exasperation from his voice.
“Sorry, I uhm… Oh, my God. Rick? Daniel?” The look of joy that crossed her face went a long way toward salving Rick’s pride. He was even starting to feel a little chuffed by her surprised delight…until the woman burst into tears.
It didn’t feel real. She’d been sitting on the sofa, feeling sad and sorry for herself, and basically having a full on pity party, and somehow the two men she’d been thinking about appeared on her doorstep. She’d noticed the similarities of the men at her door to the young men of her memory but had dismissed it as fevered imagination.
She didn’t realize she was actually crying until Daniel’s arms slid around her and pulled her against his chest. He ran a hand gently over her hair, soothing her as one would comfort a frightened child. She held on for a moment, but then embarrassment burned through her and she quickly pulled out of the too-comforting embrace.
“Oh, shit. Uhm, sorry. You must be freezing. Come in. Come in. Get warm.”
She beckoned them into the house, closed the door, and then stood in the foyer staring at them like a stupid dork. The only saving grace was that they didn’t seem to know what to say either.
“Can I get you anything? Do something for you? I mean, oh shit, I have no idea what I mean. Why are you here?”
Daniel couldn’t help it—he laughed. Despite the passage of years, Katie was still the most direct person he’d ever met. Her habit of blurting out whatever crossed her mind had caused all sorts of problems when they’d been teenagers. It was kind of nice to know that some things never changed.
She eyed him suspiciously as he tried to explain their presence.
“We came home to finalize Dad’s estate. We were supposed to leave today, but the airport’s closed, so we find ourselves seeking shelter from the storm.”
“Here?” she asked in a strangely high-pitched voice.
“If you have the room,” Rick said casually as he pulled her into his embrace. “Hello, beautiful,” he said and then kissed the top of her head. Daniel tried to tamp down the jealous feeling that spun through his head. He hadn’t felt this off balance since they were teenagers fighting over the same girl. The same girl who just happened to be wrapped in Rick’s arms at this very moment.
Hell, she’d only just opened the door. If this was a glimpse of what the next three days could be like, they might be better off sleeping in the airport. He was about to clear his throat when Katie pulled out of Rick’s embrace much the same way she’d launched out of Daniel’s arms. He felt pretty silly, but her identical response to his brother seemed to please him immensely.
They really were in trouble.
“Uhm, well, uhm, sure, I mean…” She glanced around the room nervously, as if looking for some help. Divine intervention, maybe? He resisted the urge to look up in search of lightning bolts. She took a deep breath and spoke more calmly. “Of course you can stay. I’ve even got rooms ready.”
Daniel raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to elaborate. She looked at his face and then rushed to explain. “It’s supposed to be my turn to host the family reunion dinner, but everyone has been re-routed by the storm, and they’re all meeting at my sister’s place. So basically I have room and food for fifteen and nobody actually coming.”
She said it matter-of-factly, as if it were no big deal, but Daniel could see the signs of strain around her eyes, see the sorrow she tried to hide. The reunion had always been very important to Katie, and to be alone at this time of year would be devastating. She’d always held family close to her heart.
Daniel barely resisted the urge to wrap her in his arms again, but her earlier reaction—and to a certain extent, his brother’s possible reaction—held him back. It was becoming pretty obvious that neither he nor Rick had managed to get over their best friend. Time and distance hadn’t lessened the attraction. If anything, it had matured into more adult wants and needs.
* * * * *
Three hours later, belly full of delicious casserole and fine wine, Rick sat back and watched the interplay between his brother and the woman who, surprisingly, still seemed to be their obsession. He hadn’t spoken of Katie Mitchell in more years than he cared to count, and if the storm hadn’t closed the airport, he probably would never have given her another thought. Well, not another thought he would’ve admitted to out loud.
But being here with Katie, watching her hand gestures as she spoke animatedly to his brother, brought back many, many memories—some good, some bad, some utterly devastating.
“Why did you marry him?” Fuck! The words were out of his mouth before he even considered asking the question. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to know the answer. His face warmed with embarrassment, but he merely shrugged when Daniel turned to him with a What the fuck? look on his face.
“I…uhm.” Katie seemed astounded by the question also but then blew out a deep breath, made certain she had his eye contact, and said the one thing guaranteed to change his life forever.
“Because I couldn’t choose between you two.”
© Rachel Clark
Author: Rachel Clark
Publisher: Cobblestone Press
When Katie fell for her two best friends, she couldn’t choose between them, so married someone else instead. Years later, after a marriage that threatened her self esteem, they return. Will she make the right choice this time?
Rick and Daniel hadn’t planned on ever seeing Katie again, but when a snow storm strands them they have no choice but to ask for her hospitality. What they didn’t expect was a confession that she’d always loved them both.
Can the three of them build a future together or will dark desires tear them apart once more?