Six brand new contemporary romance novellas by Janette Rallison, Heather B. Moore, Jenny Proctor, Annette Lyon, Heather Tullis, and Sarah M. Eden.

Deal Breaker

The last place Colette wants to be stranded is the snowed-in Denver airport, especially when her sister is enduring chemo treatments and needs Colette’s help back home. When Colette runs into another stranded passenger—none other than former college boyfriend Drew—she can’t believe how much he’s changed . . . and hasn’t changed. Drew is still the same amazing guy that Colette was foolish enough to blow off for someone else. By the time she’d realized her mistake all those years ago, Drew’s heart had been too broken to give her a second chance. Now Colette can only hope that she can work her way back into his heart.

 

Chapter One

Colette Bunker’s hopes to fly home that evening were being pounded with every icy snowflake that hit the airport window. Standing inside the warm terminal, she watched another airplane taxi toward her through the swirling snow and wondered how long air traffic control would allow planes to land in this February blizzard. Denver had probably not been the smartest place for her to transfer through today, considering the growing strength of the wind and the storm warning alerts coming through her phone. Was there a chance she would continue home to Kansas City before morning?

The doors closed behind the flight heading to L.A.— the flight she had gotten off of less than an hour ago, and now the plane was heading back there again. She kind of wished she was on it— looking out at the snow surrounding the Denver airport made L.A. seem pretty fantastic. She saw the plane pull out and start taxiing down the runway, and then the other plane that had arrived from Wichita pulled into the gate.

By the time people began streaming through the doors into the terminal, the snow had thickened significantly, so Colette could no longer see the end of the runway. This was not a good sign.

A deep male voice came over the loud speaker: “Attention passengers. Due to the rising storm, all incoming flights are being re-routed. Outgoing flights are being canceled or delayed.  Hopefully we’ll have more information for you soon. Thank you for your patience as we deal with the weather.”

“Perfect. Just what I need.” It had been a long week in L.A.— land of the perfect weather. One would think that being somewhere with clear skies and friendly beaches would have made her time in the city fly by, but Colette had spent the whole time wishing she were home with her sister, Sarah, who was suffering from chemo treatments for breast cancer.

It had been terrible timing to be out of town to train a west coast company’s accounting department, but since the training had been scheduled for six weeks and her schedule was full for the next couple of months, Colette hadn’t been able to get out of it.

She tasted the spearmint gum on her tongue, smelled the baby sitting behind her— apparently someone was due for a diaper change— and heard the chattering of unhappy voices surrounding her. Several people talked about renting a car to finish the drive home, others talked about getting a hotel room. Driving in this storm was definitely not on her to-do list no matter how badly she wanted to be home. The weather might be better once she cleared the valley, but crossing what in good weather was ten hours of open prairie by herself in a storm was not a great idea.

Colette really hoped it didn’t come down to that. Maybe the storm would let up in an hour or two, and she would still be able to find a way out of here. Positive thinking— it was what her sister kept repeating— some shaman of a natural doctor kept telling Sarah that positive thinking was half the battle. Though Colette didn’t really believe it, she was willing to support Sarah in whatever she needed to make the struggle easier.

“Attention passengers: cancellations are showing up on the schedule for flights that are leaving soon. Please contact a service representative for your airline to receive notifications about your flight.”

There was a communal groan from the crowd, and though her flight wasn’t scheduled to leave for over an hour, Colette had the funny feeling that a major delay, at least, was in the plans. She glanced at the people coming off the flight in the next gate over and wondered where that plane was supposed to be going next.

She sent a quick text to Sarah to let her know that she wouldn’t be arriving on schedule and to call when she was up to it. Next, Colette called the shuttle service she had used to let them know that her flight was likely delayed, but that she would let them know when she had specifics on her return. She looked up as the last of the passengers exited the plane, followed by the pilots.

She glanced back down at her phone, then her brain finally processed what she’d seen, and she looked up again at one of the final passengers.

Oh. My. That was Drew Beck. Her heart sped up while she studied him, not sure if she believed it. He walked in her direction, though his gaze was definitely elsewhere. He was six-foot-one and as lean as she remembered from college, though his face had softened a little. Had it really been more than a decade since she saw him last? His dirty blond hair was spiked up in front, and his brown eyes tracked across the crowd, passing right over her.

A couple seconds clicked by, and then his gaze moved back to focus on her. He stopped in the middle of the walkway, staring at her.

Emotions raced across Drew’s face: surprise, recognition, confusion, and then it was all wiped away as if he had no more feeling for her than anyone else in the room. Their gazes held and people streamed around him.

Unable to let it end there without at least trying to bridge the huge gap she had caused between them in college, Colette lifted a hand and waved.

That seemed to break him from his frozen state, and he walked up to her. “Hi, Colette. I, wow. You’re the last person I expected to see today.”

Ditto, like a hundred times over. “Yeah. Did you hear about the cancellations?” She didn’t know what to say to him, how to act, so she tried treating him like anyone she might have had a glancing acquaintance with in the past— though it had most definitely been more than that.

“Yes, they told us before we even started to get off the plane.”

“I’ve been here about an hour. I have, or rather I had a three-hour layover. It sounds like it’ll be a lot longer.”

He adjusted the gray carry-on over his shoulder. “Uh, yeah. It could be a while.”

Though it felt like her heart might explode from racing so hard, Colette sucked up her insecurities and asked, “So, since we’re going to be here a while, you want to grab some dinner and catch up?” She needed to ease into a discussion about the past, wondering if he regretted the way things had ended between them as much as she did. Not that she could come right out and ask him that, but she wished she could.

He hesitated, then nodded. “Okay, I could eat.” He waited while she slung her purse across her body and grabbed her carry-on’s handle.

They walked across the mosaic tile art, hooking a left at the enormous sculpture of a railroad track, a map of the earth, and some tall blue things— she had no idea what the sculptures were supposed to represent— to the junction where several terminals met.

“Are you heading on a trip or going home?” Colette asked after a strained moment.

“Heading out. My brother, Keith, is getting married.” Drew shifted to his other foot.

“He’s not in Kansas?” His family had lived in the Wichita area practically since the Mayflower landed in America. She’d liked Keith, though he’d been a scrawny high school kid when she’d last seen him.

“No, he and Stacey are in Oregon. I’m supposed to be his best man.”

“Oh no, that’s awful that you’re stuck here. I hope you can get there in time.”

“Yeah.”

After another strained moment, Colette asked another question, hoping he would thaw enough for a real conversation. “Where are you living?”

“Wichita, I’m teaching high school chemistry. How about you?”

Colette had wondered if he had returned there after school, but hadn’t heard. “You won’t believe it, but I’m living in a little town outside Kansas City.” It was worlds away from Milwaukee where she had grown up.

His surprise melted a little more reserve in his eyes and he leaned in. “Really? What brought you to the sunflower state?”

Relieved that the awkwardness was softening, Colette let her shoulders relax. This was still Drew— she may not know him now, but she had known him once, and he didn’t seem that different from before, at least not on the surface. “Two things— first, Sarah, you remember my sister, right?” When Drew nodded that he did, she continued, ”Her husband, Bill, started working there, and I wanted to be close to her; Bill helped me get hired at his company, which is where I still work six years later.”

“Anything I would have heard of?” They stepped off the escalators and entered the food court. The crowds were thick, since no flights were leaving anytime soon. They looked at the selections— pizza, burgers, Chinese, and Mexican restaurants circled the seating area— there was definitely nothing out of the ordinary. “Tacos?” he asked.

“They’re still the best.” She couldn’t help but remember all of the times they had gone on a late taco run to fuel their studying.

“Another thing that hasn’t changed about you,” Drew said while they worked down the line of restaurants.

When they stopped at the end of the line at Taco Bell, Colette asked, “What else do you think hasn’t changed about me?”

His gaze moved over her features. “I swear you don’t look like ten years have passed. Did you time travel or something?”

Colette chuckled, flattered. “You have a faulty memory, but I’ll forgive it this time. You might be surprised at some of the things that have changed about me.”

“Oh, are you married with five kids and vacation every winter in Maui?”

“Maui.” She sighed longingly. “Doesn’t that sound heavenly? But, no. No marriage, no kids, no Maui. Maybe this spring I’ll have to make that one happen, though.” If Sarah responded well to her treatments and was able to travel. Maybe Colette could get tickets for the two of them and Bill to enjoy something beautiful after such a hard, miserable winter.

“I’m surprised you haven’t married. What happened between you and Nick?” Drew looked over her shoulder rather than at her face, as if he didn’t want to see her expression when she responded.

Colette pulled a face, kicking herself for that particular decision for at least the thousandth time. “Nick was the biggest dating mistake I ever made.” She stopped short of admitting that she’d realized too late she’d screwed up choosing him over Drew.

“What happened? You were so in love with him once.” There was more than a hint of bitterness in his voice.

She bit her lip for a moment then squared her shoulders. “Look, could we table all of that for a little while?”

Drew nodded. “Maybe that would be best. I’m not sure it would make a difference to hash it out at this point anyway.”

Colette sighed, searched for the conversational thread before she had derailed it, and grasped onto it again. “I’ve dated several people since, three of them seriously. One actually made it all the way to an engagement, but thankfully I came to my senses before too late. So it’s just me.”

“No dogs or cats or anything?” he asked.

“I used to have guppies. Yeah, I know. Laugh all you like, but they were fun. I travel too much now, though.” She actually missed coming home to her fish at night and the sound of the bubbler filling the air while she drifted off to sleep.

Drew kept grinning. “You travel for work?”

“More than I’d like sometimes.”

They reached the front of the line and each ordered and paid, then slid to the side to wait for their tacos. A few minutes later, Drew found two seats at a bar where they could sit to eat.

“So, what is it you do?” Drew asked when they had each eaten part of their dinner.

“Ah, and this is the part you won’t believe. I’m a trainer. I teach classes on how to use my company’s accounting software.”

The taco he’d been about to bite into hung in the air while he stared. “Wait, like standing up in front of a class and teaching them. As in, public speaking? Mind. Blown.”

Colette laughed. It was almost like old times. She had forgotten how much she loved being in Drew’s company.

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