Dinah’s Diner was the first place you saw coming into Edgewood, and the last place you passed leaving it. It was the unofficial hangout of the force, with good food that was fairly cheap, as long as you didn’t mind Dinah listening over your shoulder as calls came in over the radio. I was halfway through a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes when I got the call from dispatch with word of a car accident on Route Ten. No injuries, but the car was undriveable, from the sound of things, and the guy needed someone to come and pick him up.
I sighed and put my fork down. I was the only person in the diner tonight other than Dinah and her husband Troy, who doubled as the line cook. It was just seven-thirty, but with this weather, nobody else was dumb enough to be out and about. As Edgewood’s officer on call until tomorrow morning, it meant that this and whatever any other unlucky soul or drunk dumbass decided to do in the next twelve hours was all on me. Dinah, a plump redhead in her sixties wearing a handmade gingham apron over her Metallica T-shirt and jeans, patted me on the hand before pointedly filling my travel mug with coffee.
So much for catching up on my reading.
“What’s the name of the guy I’m off to rescue?” I asked over my radio as I set a twenty down on the table. Dinah scowled at me, but I put my plate on top of it and resolutely didn’t let her pull it out and bring me half of it back as change. She refilled my coffee cup in retaliation.
“Uh, hang on…looks like a Mr. Max Robertson.”
I’d just taken a sip of my fresh hot coffee, and hearing that name promptly sent it down the wrong tube. I coughed, trying not to swallow my tongue as I came to grips with what I was hearing. Max Robertson? Back in Edgewood? Or, you know, on the road five minutes outside of it. Shit, I hadn’t thought about him in…
Days, at least. It had been days. It wasn’t reasonable to think about your first crush any more often than that, and I was a reasonable guy.
Calm down. It might not even be the same Max Robertson. There were probably hundreds of them. Thousands.
Yeah, but how many of those thousands would bother heading here?
“Max Robertson?” Dinah put one hand on her hip as she frowned thoughtfully at the snow. “You think she means Maxfield Robertson? Max Senior’s boy?”
“Maybe,” I said, trying for non-committal. Judging from the look on her face, I hadn’t quite managed it.
“Wasn’t he best friends with your brother?”
“He still is, as far as I know.” I got up from the booth and grabbed my thick, puffy down jacket. “Hal and the girls go to visit him in the city once a year or so.”
“Has he been back to visit before this?”
“I don’t know.” My brother had never mentioned anything about Max coming here. But I’d only been back in town myself for about six months, and four months of that had been absolute chaos after Ariel left.
“Huh.” She looked at me. “You should bring him by for some supper.”
Oh boy. “I’m sure he’s got somewhere to be, Dinah. Probably Hal’s.”
She rolled her eyes. “Like Hal’ll have anything edible going at home. Face it, honey, your brother cooks from boxes. I’ll make enough for the boy to take with him. On the house, of course.”
“It’ll just take five minutes.”
I sighed. There was no gainsaying Dinah sometimes, especially when her ultimatums involved food. “I’ll see what he wants. He might not be hungry.”
“If it’s Max Jr., I know he’ll be hungry for my cooking.” She shooed me out the door, the bell clinging merrily as I walked out into the snow. Christ, it was coming down hard.
I blew once on my hands, then grabbed my gloves as I headed for my Jeep. After graduating from the police academy, once I was hired by Edgewood PD, they’d asked if I minded using my own car as my police vehicle. It was a small department, and vehicles that could get around in any weather were hard to afford. I didn’t mind, anything to help me pay it off faster, but I surreptitiously checked it for dirty napkins or drink containers before I left the diner parking lot.
It might not be the same guy. I clung to that thought as I drove down Route 10, keeping my eyes open for any sign of the car accident. After what had happened with Max—with his dad, more specifically—I don’t think anyone expected him to come back here, especially not with his father still living on the outskirts of town. Mayor Robertson had been a great guy: extroverted, garrulous, and a good money manager. Everybody had loved him, until he’d put his weaknesses on display in the worst way possible, getting behind the wheel while drunk and hitting another car coming home from a fundraiser. The girl driving the other car hadn’t made it.
It happened during Max and Hal’s senior year, back when I was just a freshman. The girl who died, Everly, had been a classmate of theirs. After the accident, Max had spent a week at our house and barely said a thing the whole time. I remembered his shouting match with his father in my parents’ driveway, and how his dad had forced him into the car. That was the last time I saw him, apart from Everly’s funeral. He and his mom left Edgewood right after that. Hal didn’t like to talk about it, so I hadn’t brought up Max more than once since then.
Visibility was crap, even with the Jeep’s floodlights. I drove slowly and looked out for anything that stood out among all the white. Aha. There, up on the right side of the road, just past the bridge. The car’s lights were out, but I could see the shadow of it, dark against the wall of snow it had crashed into. Damn. I hoped he really was uninjured, and not just in shock while he’d talked to 911.
I parked on the righthand shoulder, grabbed my flashlight and got out of the car. The silhouette of a man greeted me, resolving into a familiar face as I got the light up.
Oh, shit. It was him, it was Max “Don’t call me Maxfield” Robertson. Same dark blond hair, same oddly bright blue eyes—like someone had opened up a fresh can of aquamarine paint and infused it with sunshine. He’d always looked like a movie star to me, only he’d gone from teenybopper dreamboy to A-list icon. He was ridiculously handsome in pair of tight jeans and a dark, V-necked Henley. He also looked ridiculously cold—why the hell wasn’t he wearing a coat?
“Hi there, Officer,” he said, and fuck, yep, I hadn’t misremembered that voice in the ten years since I’d last seen him. Max was an average-sized guy, but his voice had broken low and stayed that way. “I’m really hoping that you’re my ride.”
It took me a second to realize that he hadn’t used my name. Could he not see my face? Did he not recognize me? Not the time, I muttered internally. “Yeah, that’s me,” I said after a moment, pausing to clear my throat. “Are you all right, sir?”
“Apart from some wounded pride and a kiss on the cheek from my airbag, I’m fine.” He glanced at the car. “It won’t start, otherwise I’d have moved it further off the road.”
I took a look at the car—a four-door BMW sedan—and decided it was okay as-is for now. None of it was sticking out into the lane, at least. “It’ll keep,” I said. “How did the crash happen?”
“I did a great job of dodging a deer, but a really crappy job of dodging a snowbank.” He rubbed his hands along his arms. “Can we talk more about it in your car? I don’t mean to push, but I’m freezing.”
Jeez, of course he was. “Sure thing,” I said. “Do you have anything with you that you want to bring, Mr. Robertson? A bag, maybe a coat and hat?”
His eyes shut for a moment. “Right. Yes, let me grab that.” He opened the back door, and I heard a zipper swoosh up and down for a moment. When he straightened up again, he had a backpack at his feet and was shrugging a thick leather jacket on over his shoulders. He looked a little sheepish. “I forgot all about it.”
Yeah, there had definitely been some shock happening here. I decided not to press, just nodded and led him back to the Jeep. His shoes slipped on the snow—he was in a pair of black, shiny loafers. Loafers, seriously. I grabbed his arm to help keep him upright, but let him get into the Jeep himself. “I’ll be right back,” I said. “Don’t drive off without me, okay?”
“Very trusting, Officer,” he replied, amusement lacing his voice despite his obvious cold and discomfort.
“Nah, you just look like the kind of guy who knows when he’s beat.”
Max laughed. “You’d be surprised.”
His laugh sent a shiver down my spine. I wanted to hear it again. All of a sudden, I was grateful to Dinah for offering up her diner. It would give me a little more time to spend with Max, and I wanted as much time as I could get. Hal would understand.
(C) Cari Z, Entangled Publishing, 2020. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Workaholic attorney Max Robertson is one meeting away from making partner at a big NYC firm when his best friend calls and guilts him into coming back home for Christmas. But there’s a reason he hasn’t been back to Edgewood for a decade–too many bad memories. The plan was to go for just one night, until a wild deer and a snow bank wrecked everything.
Former Army Sergeant Dominic “Nicky” Bell is the new guy on the Edgewood police force, so of course he drew the short straw and is stuck working the night shift. But his evening gets turned upside-down when he gets called out to a wreck in the snow—and it’s his one and only high school crush, looking even sexier than he did back then.
When they both end up stranded together at Dominic’s house, sparks start to fly and Max isn’t sure what to do. But everyone deserves a present this holiday season, right?
About Cari Z
Cari Z is a Colorado girl who loves snow and sunshine. She is back in America, finally, and loves it, despite having to relearn how to use a clutch. Writing consumes the free time that isn’t spent on a mat or playing with her husband, or both (wonderful when interests coincide like that), and she hopes you enjoy what she writes as much as she enjoys writing it.