A Late Thaw

By: Ana Blaze

Sometimes cool words hide warm hearts.

Barrett, Vermont is home to nearly as many goats as people. It’s the perfect picturesque spot to stop for cocoa after a ski trip or to buy a Christmas tree from a hunky farmer wearing snug jeans and a pair of well-worn boots. Kiley St. Claire isn’t there for either. She’s come home for one reason and one reason only: make enough money waiting tables at the local tourist trap to survive her final semester of graduate school. Of course she is going to have to see that Christmas tree farmer eventually. That’s fine; Kiley isn’t the same nerdy little girl he palled around with. Nope, she’s done crushing on Cole Thomas. Totally done.

Cole thought he was ready, but seeing Kiley again is a punch to the gut. She rejected him and ran away without explanation. He still couldn’t imagine a future with another woman. Now at least he’ll have a chance to say what he’s needed to say for years and then, just maybe, he’ll be ready to move on. He only wishes she didn’t look so damn good in her uniform.





Dedication

This one is for my Jennifer. I may not remember the day you first sat beside me, but I’m always glad you did.



Acknowledgements

Thank you first and always to my husband, without your love I wouldn’t be hopeful enough to write happy endings. Thank you to my family and friends for your enthusiastic support. Not all fathers-in-law will purchase a romance novel. I’m grateful that mine did and also grateful he decided not to give it a read.

I have two charming and talented beta-readers, Terri and Elizabeth. Their input is priceless. Thank you, ladies.

Big thanks goes to Andrea, my cheerful editor. I’m going to remove the frame and go in deep from now on.

Finally, I need to give a shout out to the entire Entranced Publishing family. I couldn’t have wished for a better group of authors and editors to stand beside.





Chapter One


COLE THOMAS HAD BEEN a late bloomer. One of the smallest boys in their middle school, he’d disappeared to his uncle’s ranch in Wyoming the summer before high school and had come back six inches taller, wearing a cowboy hat. Kiley St. Claire doubted the woman he was currently flirting with remembered that. It was practically ancient history.

She squinted as she tried to remember the woman’s name. Cole’s fangirl looked vaguely familiar under her over-processed blond hair and cheap but abundant makeup. She was probably one of Cole and Kiley’s former classmates. Amber maybe, or one of the Ashleys. She was pretty—whatever her name was—and she had a fantastic rack. More importantly, she wasn’t wearing a cheap Bavarian Miss costume and pigtails like Kiley was. If they were competing, the babe with the penchant for bleach and blue eye shadow would win. They weren’t, of course. Kiley was done crushing on Cole. It was obvious—had been for years—that he’d never see her as more than a friend.

She straightened the red bodice that made even her own modest chest look full, pulled the notepad from her already sticky apron, and marched over to their table. Her heels clicked along the scuffed and murky wood floor. No doubt it had originally been a beautiful walnut. Now it was covered with a layer of scum as old as she was and fit right in with the rest of the decor.

The entire bar was filled with heavy, dark wood tables and stools covered in faded maroon vinyl. Kept clean and under the right lighting it had probably once been genuinely attractive. Probably. If that had ever been the case it had stopped the day Kiley’s boss, the infamous Buddy, bought the building and started filling it with kitschy, vaguely German-themed knick-knacks and neon beer signs. Cole and the blonde were sitting near a display of Hummel knock-offs, one of which appeared to be mooning the patrons.

A table full of afternoon-drunk Frat guys signaled to Kiley. She held up a single finger in acknowledgement. They could use a couple minutes before their next round, and she had to do this, face Cole, before she lost her nerve. “Are you guys ready to order, or do you need another minute with the menus?”

“Kiley?” Cole’s dark eyes widened for a second before he started laughing. His shoulders shook, and he slapped the worn wooden tabletop. “This is…” He gestured toward her. “This…oh, you gotta give a turn.” He circled a finger in the air.