Sarah’s hit an age where she’s ready to give up on finding love. Widowed for several years, she’s had a few affairs, but nothing lasting. After a tragic one-hour stand on New Year’s Eve, she’s through looking…until Cooper Valley’s newest paramedic saves her life and takes her home with him.
Richard moved to Cooper Valley to escape the chilling memory of tragic loss. It’s not until a near-tragedy—when he rescues Sarah from a snow bank in the midst of a dangerous blizzard, when he brings her home and warms her body—that his own heart begins to thaw…and heal.
Sarah Bancroft sipped the sparkling wine and gazed around the decorated ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel. Red, white, and blue was the theme every year at the Blue Collar New Year’s Eve Ball. All proceeds from the fifty-dollar-a-head dinner went to the Cooper Valley Police and Fire Department charity funds—even though the ball wasn’t held in Cooper Valley.
No, Cooper Valley was too small to host the fundraiser. Hell, they didn’t even have a hotel there, unless the SleepyTime Motel could be considered worthy. So, here she was, one year older and…
She glanced at her best friend, Celeste, who sat next to her. Celeste looked ravishing in a midnight blue dress that hugged all her soft curves. But it wasn’t the dress that made the woman, it was the glitter of happiness in her baby blue eyes, and the wide grin that seemed permanently glued to her face. She’d finally found the love of her life. Detective Paul Jensen sat on the other side of Celeste, their fingers interlaced on top of the linen-covered table, their heads close together as they whispered God-only-knows-what to each other.
Though Sarah might envy the love her friend had found, she was also so happy for her friend she could burst. If anyone deserved happiness, it was Celeste.
Practically every policeman and firefighter from Cooper Valley attended the ball every year. Sarah and Celeste had attended every year, also, but usually together, going stag. They’d always sat together, drunk too much champagne, and pretty much acted like schoolgirls giggling over the handsome men in uniform.
This year, Celeste only had eyes for her lover—her new husband—and Sarah had a hard time finding anything to giggle about, or even smile about. She’d done what she and Celeste had done the past six years, ever since the death of Sarah’s husband. She thought it would still be fun to rent the luxury suite right here in the hotel to spend the night, but now she questioned herself…her sanity. What she wanted was to be home, in her bed, maybe with a good book and a hot toddy.
Letting her gaze move around the room once more, she picked out most of Cooper Valley’s heroes: the sheriff, his deputies, and Paul’s partner, Liam Taggart. Then there was the much larger group of firefighters. Some of them were on call, so they weren’t drinking. Others looked a little toasted—all devastatingly handsome in their blue uniforms. There were wives and girlfriends, too, decked out in sparkling, shimmering dresses. Then there was the rest of Cooper Valley who attended. Mostly members of the Better Business Bureau like herself. And there were quite a few nurses and doctors from the Cooper Valley Hospital. Celeste had been an ER nurse there for what seemed like forever.
Sarah’s attention snagged on a man in uniform she’d never seen before. He was tall and lean with wide shoulders and skin the color of espresso. Dark and rich. He wasn’t as young as most of the uniformed men in the room—she’d actually place him around her age of forty-seven. He stood at the bar by himself—well, not by himself, but he wasn’t talking to anyone around him. He sipped a cocktail and kept his focus on his glass. His uniform said he was a firefighter, but she was sure she’d met most of them. It was a small town after all, and having a best friend who worked in the ER, she’d been introduced at one time or another to just about everyone.
She leaned over slightly and nudged Celeste in the side with her elbow.
Celeste turned to her. “What?” Her eyes were glassy and her smile a little goofy from too much champagne.
Sarah couldn’t help but chuckle. “The black guy at the bar. Who is he?”
Celeste blinked a couple of times then grinned. “That’s Richard Davis.”
Paul leaned around Celeste and said, “He’s an ex-cop from L.A. Retired after twenty years, and now he’s a paramedic.”
“First full-fledged paramedic Cooper Valley FD has ever had on staff,” Celeste added. “Of course, the hospital ambulance service has paramedics, but now the fire department won’t have to wait around for them if medication is needed. Their first responders are great, but having him on staff will really help.”
Hmm. Police and paramedic. Couldn’t get more hero than that, now could he? She turned to ask Celeste another question about the handsome stranger, but she and Paul were in a tongue-dueling lip lock.
“Get a room,” she muttered, knowing full well the two of them already had a room. Just down the hall from hers, in fact.
There was one way to find out more about the guy. She stood up, picked her purse up from where it hung over the back of her chair, and headed across the room to the bar.
“Hi,” she said to Richard as she stopped next to him and motioned the bartender for a glass of champagne, which flowed free and freely all night.
Richard glanced up from his drink, gave a quick nod. “Hello.”
“Name’s Sarah Bancroft.” She held out her hand. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced.”
He stared at her hand for a moment, then grasped it in a firm but gentle shake. “Nice to meet you. Excuse me.” And then he was gone. Headed across the room and away from her.
Well, shit. Shit, shit, shit.
She sat down on the bar stool next to her and lifted her freshly filled glass. The man was simply rude. She deserved a little more consideration than that. It wasn’t as if he was in a hurry to meet someone. He’d been standing at the bar by himself for a full ten minutes before she came over. The least he could have done was a little small talk, even if he wasn’t the slightest bit interested.
She gave a soft groan and wanted to bury her face in her hands. She was getting old. Turning on the stool, she made a point of looking at the women in the room. Hell, even some of the old guys had wives nearly half her age.
She shook her head. Women her age didn’t inspire great lust in men. She should know that by now.
Well, that wasn’t even true, and that was the worst part. Her best friend in the world, same age as she was, had not only found great lust, but great love. And the guy was ten years their junior. She stared daggers at Celeste’s back for a couple of seconds, but then chided herself. She loved Celeste like a sister.
Sarah turned her head toward the man who’d slid onto the barstool next to her. He was handsome in a beach bum surfer dude kind of way. Looked a little out of place in this crowd, though he was dressed nice. “Hi.”
“You’re lookin’ a little lonely,” he said, then picked up the glass of bourbon the bartender had just poured for him.
She gave a little shrug. “Maybe a little.” Maybe she wouldn’t have to spend the night alone after all? He seemed interested, and he was in what she guessed was his late thirties, so it could be kind of fun.
He slugged back the alcohol and turned more fully toward her. “What say we blow this joint?”
Sarah raised an eyebrow and set her half-empty glass on the bar. “Yeah? What did you have in mind?”
He leaned closer to her and whispered. “Something to take away the loneliness, maybe?” He smelled of cologne that was just a little too sweet, but his words weren’t slurred, and his eyes were clear. He wasn’t drunk.
A slow smile curved her lips. He’d made his meaning clear. If she couldn’t find the love of her life, at least she wouldn’t ring in the New Year alone. “I have a room upstairs…if you’re interested.”
“Oh, I’m interested all right.” His voice was little more than a growl in her ear, and a shiver of excitement went down her spine.
“Come on, then,” she said and slid off the barstool.
He followed her through the maze of revelers into the lobby and to the elevator.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
Okay, first names only. That was fine. “I’m Sarah.” She pressed the call button.
They stood on opposite sides of the elevator as they rode it up to the tenth floor. No words were said as they walked down the wide hallway to her room. She inserted the key card and held the door open for him.
He stepped inside and glanced around the room, but as soon as the door clicked shut behind her, he was on her. His mouth on the side of her neck, his hands on her breasts, kneading them through her silk gown.
She dropped her purse and gripped his shoulders as a low moan escaped. Yes, this was exactly what she needed to forget her troubles for the night.
He pressed her into the hard wood of the door with his big body, and she shoved his navy suit jacket off his shoulders. He wasn’t as hard as she’d originally thought—not so much the surfer dude she’d imagined. Probably a desk jockey. He was kind of soft around the middle, she found, as she let her hands travel down his sides to his waistband.
She undid his belt, button, and zipper, and his pants fell to his ankles. He was hard and probed her belly with his erection. She heard seams rip as he shoved her dress off her shoulders, and she cringed. Damn, this dress cost a small fortune. She gave his shoulders a little shove, and got his mouth disconnected from her neck. What was that about? Vampire fantasies?
“Hold on a second,” she said softly as she reached behind her and unzipped the dress to try to stave off any more damage to the thin material.
His breathing was heavy, and his face was flushed. He pressed both palms to the door on either side of her head and stared down at her breasts. As soon as the dress dropped away, he was back at them with his hands.
She didn’t wear a bra—no need to being as small as she was—and that seemed to please him. He cupped her right breast and leaned down to suck the puckered nipple. She bit back a curse when he got a little too enthusiastic about it.
This guy obviously wasn’t schooled in the art of seduction.
She reached into his light blue boxers and wound her fingers around his cock. He wasn’t very long, but he was thick. He groaned against her chest and grabbed her ass in both hands. Since she wore three-inch stilettos and was as tall as he was, when he tried to lift her, it became even more awkward. She released his dick and grabbed his shoulders to keep from falling. For more balance, she wound her legs around his waist.
He turned them, his mouth never leaving her breast, and shuffled to the bed with his pants still around his ankles. Then he came down over her so hard the breath whooshed from her lungs.
“Ow, hey, careful,” she said when she could breathe.
“Sorry,” he muttered as he moved over to the other breast and sucked it into his mouth.
His cock probed her apex with hard, uncontrolled movements, and she gave up hope of getting off tonight. He was obviously too horny to worry about her needs.
Shit. One fuckup after another. Might as well get it over with. Maybe there was hope of getting out of this… “Do you have a condom?”
He moved off of her then, and she had an instant to imagine actual escape, but then he was back, rolling a rubber over his cock after shoving his boxers down to his ankles along with his slacks.
Maybe this whole younger man thing was not for her!
He jerked her panties down her legs, and it felt as though he took some skin with them, because he sure as hell wasn’t careful about it. Then he was on her again, squishing the breath from her lungs.
She threw her arms out to her sides as they lay sideways on the bed, spread her legs, and prayed she was wet enough from the little tiny bit of excitement she’d felt at first. It wasn’t his fault she wasn’t into it. He sure was.
One, two, three, four missed attempts until he found the right spot and surged into her.
Oh! That felt good. Maybe this was what she needed. It had been a really long time since a man had filled her up. But then he went and ruined it by grabbing her breasts and squeezing.
“Hey! Not so rough.”
He buried his face against her neck, his breath hot and moist, his hands clasped over her breasts, his forearms digging into her ribs, and rode her as if she were a damned… Well, she wouldn’t go there.
She lifted her legs, tried to get him to at least hit the right spot so she had some hope of coming, but he was too big, too heavy, and she could barely move. She gave up and wrapped her legs around his lower back, and waited.
He came with a low groan and quit moving. He couldn’t seem to catch his breath, and she wondered if this overweight thirty-something would have a damned heart attack in her bed, on top of her. Well, at least there was one paramedic and a dozen EMT’s in the building tonight. She dropped her legs from around him, and waited some more.
Finally, he lifted his head, then pushed up and off of her. He tugged off the condom, dropped it in the wastebasket next to the bed, and pulled up his pants.
He was leaving. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It was only eleven-thirty. Half an hour before the New Year. And she would still spend it alone.
A bigger fool was never made.
She lay there and watched him straighten his shirt, tuck it in, and do up his belt. Then he reached into his back pocket and withdrew his wallet. She frowned as he opened it and drew out a few bills.
“Two hundred cover it? I mean, you still have time to head back down and get another john before midnight.”
Her mouth dropped open as he set the four fifty-dollar bills on the nightstand.
“You should warn your johns that you’re a lot older than you look.” His gaze raked over her, and she fought to keep from covering herself. “At least you’re not that saggy and wrinkled.”
She opened her mouth to tell him to get the hell out and take his money with him, but no words came from her tight throat. None were needed, anyway, because he was out the door in seconds.
Sarah lay on that bed for long, long minutes, staring up at the textured ceiling, trying to figure out how the hell that could have happened. How could anyone think she was a call girl? A hooker? A whore? She owned the premier real estate business in Cooper Valley. She drove a Cadillac. She was a grandmother!
She sat up and stared at her reflection in the mirror on the dresser across the room. She wasn’t saggy. She barely had any wrinkles. Maybe her boobs weren’t as high as they’d been twenty years ago, but they still had shape. She worked out, ate well, had an active lifestyle.
“Well, fuck it.” She reached for the phone and dialed room service. She ordered two slices of chocolate cake and two glasses of milk. After she hung up, she got in the shower to wash away the stench of that asshole’s cologne, and when room service arrived just a few minutes before midnight, she gave him the two hundred bucks the jerk had left for her services.
She mixed two little bottles of Kahlua from the mini bar into her milk and took the tray to the bed. Fuck them all. Fuck men. She stuffed a big bite of cake into her mouth and washed it down with her spiked milk. She didn’t need a man. She was a professional woman with a wonderful son and daughter-in-law, and a grandson who was coming up on a year old. A man was not something she needed in her life.
She downed the milk, but three bites of the cake were all she could handle. She never ate cake. Grabbing the remote control off the nightstand, she turned on the television to see she’d just missed the big ball drop in Times Square.
Happy Fucking New Year.
That was when the tears hit. When the emptiness consumed her. She rolled to her side, gathered up a pillow to her chest, and sobbed. It had been a long time since she let the pain take over. Now was as good as any to let herself feel it, experience it.
She should have spent the evening with her son and daughter-in-law. At least then she wouldn’t have been alone.