Ellie Sanders shivered as she got out of the shower, convinced she had goosebumps popping up on her goosebumps, the air was just so cold. Her teeth chattering as she reached for the bath sheet to wrap herself up, she could feel herself shuddering all the way to her toes. The wind was really howling outside, so the cabin wasn’t exactly warm, especially in mid-February. And the tiny space heaters were almost useless. And since she’d never learned how to light a fire, at least one that would stay lit, she knew she’d have to bundle up to try and keep warm till everyone else arrived.

But at least if the lights went out, which they kept threatening, with how they were flickering off and on, at least she had the light on her phone to see her way around, along with her book light, that she never went anywhere without, being such a voracious reader.

So, she knew she’d be fine. At least she hoped.

But some Valentine’s weekend this was turning out to be. She blew out a frustrated breath, as she reached for the hairdryer to blow out her long, unruly red hair that insisted on curling down her back in heavy waves, no matter how hard she tried to straighten it. Her brother Jack and his fiancée Mandy had planned a fun couple’s weekend at the family cabin, and since Ellie didn’t have a man in her life, her sister Carrie had invited her boyfriend John’s brother Charles, to join them, to even the numbers, undoubtedly so she wouldn’t feel like such a geek, seeing the rest of them paired off and all happy as could be.

Of course her sister swore that Charles would be perfect for her, since he’d just graduated with a master’s degree in English literature, which she assumed would mean he’d have his nose buried in a book for the entire weekend, and would barely even notice her. Lost in that depressing thought, she jumped when she heard her phone ping with a text.

When she picked it up, she saw it was her brother Jack: “Sorry, kiddo, but the roads are getting dangerous, so we’ve pulled off the highway and we’re spending the night in a motel. Stay warm, and we’ll try and get there as soon as it’s safe to travel, hopefully by morning.”

Ellie texted back: “No worries, I’m fine. Just make sure the roads are clear before you head out again.”

Once she’d dressed in a warm pink fleecy sweat suit, with wool socks and fuzzy pink slippers just to try and keep her feet from turning blue, she stared sighing at the daunting sight of the big, cold stone fireplace, and knew she’d better get busy trying to get a fire going, seeing as no one was coming to help her now.

Down on her hands and knees in front of the hearth, doing her damndest to get the stupid kindling to light with a barbecue lighter that refused to stay lit, she turned her head and froze when she thought she heard someone, or even worse, something banging on the front door. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end, knowing it couldn’t be her family, since they’d told her they weren’t coming tonight because of the storm, so she wondered who it could be, especially since it was hardly a night to be out for a casual drive.

Carefully tip-toeing across the room, with the fire-poker in her hand, she pulled back the curtain at the top of the door just enough to peek out the window, and she let out a gasp, her heart nearly jumping into her throat when she realized who it was. Holy crap it was Dex! Her brother’s best friend, who she thought was still on the other side of the world, living out his latest adventure. But when she tugged open the door, there he was; big and tall and just as gorgeous as ever. He burst inside bringing in a cold gust of air and a swirl of snow, before he grinned and slammed the door shut behind him, muttering, “Holy crap, what a storm.”

Once he’d shook the snow off himself, stomped his booted feet to get all he could off those, too, he tossed back the hood on his parka, flashed a heart-stopping dimpled smile and said, “Hey, kiddo, so how you managing on your own?”

Doing her best not to stammer, she was just so shocked to see him, and he looked so darn good, she said, “I didn’t even know you were coming. And how did you know I was up here on my own?”

He tugged off his gloves and unzipped his coat as he told her, “When your brother heard I was back from filming my latest gig, heli-skiing in New Zealand, he said I should come up and join you guys for the Valentine weekend. And I was on my way up, hitting nothing but one white out after and another, trying to decide if I should pull off the highway to look for somewhere to get out of the storm, when Jack texted to let me know that you’d come up early to try and warm the place up, so you were here all on your own. Then I decided to push through till I finally got here, just to be sure you were okay.”

Ellie slowly nodded her head, still stunned to find herself alone with her lifelong crush, never mind the fact that he’d risked his life to come and help her out. And as she stood blinking at him in a stupor, Dex let his gaze wander over her, surprised and delighted to discover once again how amazing she looked all grown up. Damn, little Ellie was sure no kid anymore; and was definitely a full grown woman. And just looking at her in her sexy pale pink body-hugging sweats with all that long thick red hair curling down her back, and no bra from what he could tell — seeing as her nipples were rock hard and poking at the fabric — unfortunately was also getting him hard.

Thinking back, as he doffed his outerwear, he smiled remembering the last time he’d spent some time with her. Before last summer, he’d only ever thought of her as a kid, seeing as he had at least twelve years on her. And being his buddy’s kid sister, no matter how gorgeous she was, he’d always had to force himself to remember that she was off limits. Though now that she was all grown up, he started to grin, wondering if the rules still applied, especially when she looked so smokin’ hot, that all he could think of was what she’d look like naked.

But finally last summer they’d really connected. He’d been out back of the cabin alone in the hot tub, trying to soothe his aching muscles, after nearly getting himself drowned, white water rafting in the Yukon, when Ellie had wandered out in a sexy looking pair of cut-off denims and a barely there little white bikini top, making his eyes flare. And no matter how hard he tried to avert his gaze, he just couldn’t stop staring, and remembered he’d also had to force himself to close his gaping mouth, she just looked so insanely hot. Perfect breasts, high and perky, with some really nice cleavage, and her ass had him wanting to sink his teeth in for a bite, it was so nicely rounded and toned, and her legs were just so tanned and smooth, they had him imaging how good they’d feel wrapped around his waist, as he clutched her ass and slid in deep. And all he could think of was getting her to join him in the tub, for a little fun in the water.

But she’d blushed at the thought and only agreed to sit on the edge and dangle her legs in to keep him company. And despite the fact she looked good enough to eat, they’d wound up talking for longer than they’d ever talked before. And he was delighted to discover that in addition to being easy on the eyes, she had a terrific sense of humor, a razor sharp wit, was amazingly bright, and he honestly couldn’t remember ever feeling so at ease with a woman, she was just so much fun and so cool to be with.

And when her sister had called her inside to help with dinner, Dex could still remember how disappointed he’d felt. Though he knew that nothing could happen between them, considering who she was, and her age. But the hour or so they’d talked alone together, never left him.


Noticing he was just standing holding his coat, Ellie finally remembered her manners and took it from him, while he bent and took his boots off at the door and put them on a tray to dry.

But when he came up behind her at the closet and breathed against her hair, “So how have you been doing on your own up here, Ellie?” All she could do was close her eyes and shiver right to her toes. God, his voice was just so deep and sexy, that he might as well have asked her if she wanted to get naked with him and get busy, he had her quivering so freaking hard.

Finally she got up the nerve to turn around and look him in the eye, and wowzers what a mistake that was, since the devilish glint in his eye was just so teasing, she already felt like she was in way over her head, despite the fact that he’d only just walked through the door. Good lord, the man was lethal, and no wonder she’d been secretly harboring a crush for him for as long as she could remember.

Of course knowing he was a born flirt, and that nearly every woman he encountered found him irresistible, judging from all the women she’d seen him posing with him online, she knew she shouldn’t feel too flattered, and imagined he was probably just having a little fun, toying with her. Being a world famous travel blogger, into exploring the world’s most far flung destinations while being filmed doing outrageous things, like braving the most extreme sports known to man and willing to try anything suggested to him, so it could be put online. She knew he was too far out of her league to even consider anything ever happening between them. She sighed, looking up into his eyes.

But still, a girl could dream.

Finally, she swallowed hard, anxiously licked her lips and tried to be practical, deciding to offer him something to eat. “If you’re hungry I made some chili and I got a nice loaf of crusty Italian bread to go with it, and it’s still warm, if you want a bowl.”

Seeing how flustered she looked Dex shook his head and explained, “No it’s okay. I got a burger when I stopped for gas, so I’m good.” Then he brushed a lock of hair from her forehead, almost laughing at the way she instantly shivered and told her, “But I think I’d better get to work on building us a fire, or we’ll be cold tonight.”

Once the lights flickered one last time and then went out, no doubt from the high winds that came with the storm, Ellie was so glad Dex had shown up, even if just to get the fire going. She knelt by the hearth and put on a flashlight so he could see what he was doing. And he was kind enough to even show her how it was done, down on his knees beside her, balling up a huge pile of newspaper and stacking it carefully in the hearth, before topping it with a good amount of kindling, and finally a couple of logs, just to get it going, explaining he’d add more wood later, once it caught. And then when he lit the paper the whole thing went whoosh, and voila, he had a real live fire going that she knew would warm the place up pretty quickly.

Soon, finding herself nice and toasty, curled up by the roaring fire, Ellie pulled a few pillows off the couch onto the hearthside rug, and watched Dex go fetch the bottles of liquor he’d brought, along with a couple of glasses.

Dex got on the floor beside her, handed her a glass of whisky, and smiling into her eyes, he said, “Happy Valentine’s day, Ellie.”

She blinked looking up at the big brass clock on the wall, then started to smile, realizing, he was right and it was just after midnight and the most romantic day of the year had actually arrived. She happily clinked her glass with his, deciding he was the perfect person to spend it with. But she was also pleased that he was starting to refer to her by her actual name and wasn’t calling her kiddo anymore, since she’d always hated being referred to as a kid, even if she was the youngest in the family.

Deciding things were just a little too cozy with gorgeous Ellie so close and looking just a little too enticing to resist, already finding himself captivated by her pretty smile, especially with her face bathed in a romantic firelit glow, Dex decided he needed a distraction before he gave into temptation and did something stupid like pull her in for a kiss. Glancing around the room he noticed one of the end tables had a lower shelf stacked with games, and when he spied a deck of cards, desperate for something to do that wouldn’t involve getting them naked, he grabbed them and asked her, “You ever play poker, Ellie?”

Ellie nearly choked on her drink, and had to fight hard to keep a straight face, since he would have no way of knowing that she’d earned a reputation as a poker shark in college, which kept her in spending money, at least until everyone figured out she couldn’t be beat and refused to play with her anymore. “Maybe once or twice,” she said, giving him a casual shrug. And as he took the cards out of the box, she asked, “But what are we playing for, because I don’t have any change.”

As Dex took a sip of whiskey, his gaze settled on the lushness of her lips that he knew would be sweet as honey. Then he grinned, as he murmured deep and low, “How about winner gets to choose?”

Ellie bit into her lip, playfully wiggling her eyebrows as some very naughty thoughts began to flood her brain. Then, taking full advantage of the fact his attention was focused on the cards, she raked in the sight of his incredibly ripped body clad in skin tight jeans and a body hugging black sweater, along with his carelessly tussled blond hair, that she’d always wanted to run her fingers through. Fighting the urge to lick her lips, she asked, “So, if I win, then you have to take something off, is that how it works?”

Dex blinked, not really sure he’d heard her right, he swallowed hard, and said, “Are you saying you want to play strip poker, Ellie?”

Hearing him saying it out loud had her wondering if she’d lost her mind, and she decided she’d better push her drink away before she blurted out anything else that was likely to get her into trouble. Knowing full well that once she got him naked, she wouldn’t even know what to do with him, never mind how disappointed he’d be when he realized she didn’t have a clue about sex. God, what was she thinking, flirting with a guy like him, who probably knew every trick in the book, and then some, that he’d no doubt invented, just to keep from getting bored in the sack.

As he shuffled the deck, feeling a little reckless, deciding to throw caution to the wind, since they were basically stranded alone in a raging storm, Dex said, “Tell you what, if I win a hand, I get to kiss you. And if you win, you get to do whatever you want with me.”

Shocked speechless, Ellie’s gaze widened, and she could actually feel her panties getting damp and her nipples growing hard just imagining all the fun stuff she’d love to try with him. But then her eyes popped when it occurred to her that he’d said he’d like to kiss her. Holy shit! Dex, the hottest man she’d ever laid eyes on, actually wanted to kiss her. Wow. She started to grin. Deciding maybe it wouldn’t hurt to let him win a hand or two, or even the first dozen or so, if it meant she’d finally get a kiss out of him, after lusting after him for as long as she could remember. And of course the longer she let him win, the more he’d have to keep kiss her. Which is what she’d call a win, win.

Once he’d dealt two hands for Five Card Draw, Ellie held hers as awkwardly as she could, anxiously biting into her lip, like she didn’t have a clue what to do. Finally, doing her best to look confused, she said, “So, remind me, Dex, what beats what again? I know twos and threes are probably not a good thing to have in my hand though, right?”

Dex chuckled, since she probably didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to give her hand away. Still, she looked so adorably confused, he was more than happy to explain the game to her. “Well, Ellie, that depends on how many you’ve got. Any card can be good if you’ve got enough of them.” Then he found the card in the card box that showed what hands were best and pushed it over so she could see the ranking of the cards. Then he said, “So, once you decide if your hand’s okay, I guess we should place our bets.”

She nodded and stared hard at her cards, and then back down at the card with the scoring explained, as though trying to figure if she had anything worth keeping. But seeing as she was staring at both a pair of aces and a pair of kings, what she really wanted to do was toss all her cards, just so he’d have an excuse to plant one on her when he won.

Then Dex grabbed a jar of red jellybeans off the table that she’d brought for something sweet to celebrate the day, deciding they could use them to wager just for fun. After pouring her out a little more than half of them, to give her more chances to bet, and then putting the rest in a pile for himself, he said, “So, what’s your wager, Ellie?”

When she picked up just two jelly beans and cautiously put them down between them, Dex nodded and said, “Okay, I’ll see your two beans and raise you three.” Then he said, “So, how many cards do you want?”

Ellie winced and asked, “Um, is five cards too many to ask for?”

Dex grinned, shaking his head. God, she was just so sweet that he hated to disappoint her, seeing as he was holding a pair of fives and a pair of nines, and only needed to discard a single card. After he’d dealt her five new cards, and she tossed aside her original hand, he spread his cards out and let her see his winning hand.

Ellie nodded and put down the mess she’d been dealt after she’d thrown away what would have beat his, with two aces and kings. Now stuck with just a ten, deuce, three, five and six, she was thrilled to have lost, even if she’d rigged it. “So, who won?” she asked him, batting her eyelashes and looking all innocent.

“Sorry honey, but two pair beats that mess you’ve got every time. But it’s still early, no worries. I’m sure you’ll catch on and win a few hands.” But then he smiled warmly into her eyes when he leaned across and took his prize, taking hold of her by the chin and pressing a chaste little kiss to her lips. Then his head snapped back and he blinked shaking his head, surprised to discover that even just the feel of her mouth pressed to his was pretty sweet no matter how lightly.

Smiling at delighted look in her big blue eyes, he handed her the deck, and told her, “Your deal, Ellie.”

As the game progressed, though she tried her hardest to lose, tossing away every good hand she got, so she’d get to enjoy a few more kisses, which she noticed kept getting longer and deeper with every touch of his lips, when she finally won a hand, she flashed him a very naughty grin as she tried to decide exactly what she’d like to do to him. And the anxious way he was swallowing and staring at her, she decided it might be fun to tease him a little, and see him with some of clothes off. “Um, seeing as I won this hand, I think those jeans of yours should go.”

Dex looked down at his jeans, wondering why, out of everything he was wearing, she had to pick his freaking jeans, since she’d know the instant he got them off how hard she’d managed to get him, just from sharing a couple of kisses. Still, a deal was a deal, so he got to his feet and kept his eyes on hers, smirking, as he took his sweet time popping the button on his jeans before he ever so slowly began to lower his fly, doing his damndest not to laugh out loud at the way her mouth was falling open and her eyes were going big as moons as his very pronounced erection began to gradually make itself known. And once he pushed his jeans down over his legs and tossed them aside, her chin nearly dropped to the floor once she got a good look at just how big and hard his deal was, straining to break free of his clingy black boxers.