The Engagement Plot

By: Krista Phillips

CHAPTER ONE


Blizzard-like conditions are expected to last through the evening. Stay inside, folks. If you’re out there on the roads, well, just don’t be.”

Hanna Knight clicked the POWER button on the radio as she inched the Dodge Ram pickup down the snow-covered highway. Embarrass, Minnesota, was only a few miles farther. She should have never left the farm knowing a storm was brewing, but she’d thought she could beat it home.

Obviously not.

She’d driven in worse before, though.

Hanna tapped on the brakes and squinted to see through the white flakes that waged war on her windshield. Was that something in the ditch ahead?

As the truck neared, she made out a pair of red taillights. The closer she got, the clearer the back of the car became. A rental agency logo was barely visible on the back of the snow-drowned Lexus. Just her luck. She’d have to play good Samaritan to some moron who didn’t have enough sense to stay inside during a classic Northern Minnesota blizzard.

Be nice, Hanna. It wasn’t the moron’s fault the weather was grating on Hanna’s nerves.

As long as it wasn’t another reporter. Those were the only strangers she usually saw on the road to the farm lately. And even they were becoming rare, thank goodness.

On a normal day, she’d have headed on by, alerted her dad, and let him come back and help pull the car out. Picking up strangers on the side of the road, even (and maybe especially) stranded ones, wasn’t the safest activity in the world. But the snow was turning into blizzard conditions faster than she was comfortable with, and there might not be time.

Her pulse picked up speed as she guided the truck to the side and threw it into PARK. Hanna grabbed her pink stocking cap and slipped it over her head then checked the rearview mirror to make sure her blond hair wasn’t sticking out all over. If it was a reporter, no sense having another horrible picture show up in the grocery store checkout lanes.

The moment she thought it, guilt plowed into her conscience. Caring about her hair when a person could be scared and hurt? A year ago, she wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

Hanna grabbed the emergency kit from the glove box and her rifle from behind the seat—just in case—and hopped out of the truck. Icy wind cut against her body, and she tightened her muscles to keep from being blown over. Head down against the oncoming snow, she trudged around the front of the truck.

After she made sure the driver was safe, she’d give him or her a good talking-to for trying to drive in this weather. Probably him. This was something a guy would do.

She was a bit stupid for making the run to Ely when she knew bad weather was brewing, but that was different. She’d cut teeth on icicles during winter and had been driving in the snow since she was fifteen.

City Slicker, on the other hand, probably couldn’t say the same.

She shimmied down the ditch, ignoring the cold wet of the snow seeping into her jeans, and pounded her gloved fist on the tinted driver’s window. “Hello? You okay?”

No reply. Just great.

She reached for the ice-covered door handle, but it refused to budge. The car had been there at least a half hour by the looks of it, but minus twenty-degree weather could freeze a car pretty fast, and the person inside with it.

She set the emergency kit on top of the car, then, rifle in hand, ran back to the truck, sliding to a stop at the back, and grabbed a crowbar. When she reached the car again, she used the end of the bar to chip away the ice forming along the door and handle then tried to open it again. The black metal shifted then refused to budge.

Short of breaking a window, she had no clue what else to try. And the butt of her rifle through the window didn’t bode well for the driver.

Coffee. She’d been sipping a nice hot travel mug full of heaven’s liquid on the way back, and it was still over half full. Maybe it would melt the ice just enough, although it was a long shot.

Hanna trudged up the incline again and returned with the stainless-steel thermos. She poured the coffee slowly around the car door and handle, careful to avoid the glass so it didn’t shatter. Please, Jesus, let this work.

Bracing a foot against the car, she leveraged and pulled with all one-hundred-twenty-five pounds of her weight. Her efforts were rewarded when the door finally popped open, and she went sprawling into the snow. Ignoring the wetness clinging to the back of her blue jeans, she heaved herself from two feet of snow and bent down to assess the person huddled in the car.

“Sir, are you all right?”

The man had wrapped himself in a blanket—at least he’d done that right—so she couldn’t make out his features, but she did notice a slight nod of his head.

“We aren’t gonna get this car out of here tonight, so why don’t you get in the truck so you can warm up?”

The body shifted but didn’t get out. Probably from shock and cold. She shrugged off her coat, which she knew would already be warm, and threw it over him. The biting cold nipped at her skin through her oversized Vikings sweatshirt, but she was still much better off than the poor guy in front of her.

She reached in and grabbed his legs, swinging them out of the car and into the snow. His leather shoes were no match for the knee-deep snow drift. “I don’t have the muscles to carry you, but if you can walk, just lean on me, and we’ll do this together, okay?”

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