Authors: Merrillee Whren
Despite the cold, he was working up a sweat under his coat, but his feet were freezing. He sure could use a good pair of boots. The wind howled around him, and the blowing snow stung his face and eyes. Straightening, he arched his back to get rid of the kinks caused by the constant bending.
When he turned to look back at the garage, he could barely see the path he’d shoveled. The snow was coming down so hard visibility was limited, and the wind was drifting the snow back across the path. Was he fighting a losing battle—with the snow and with his efforts to keep from falling for Juliane?
he wind continued to howl, and Juliane kept looking out the front window as Lukas battled against the blowing snow. The front porch light barely illuminated the area enough to see him. He appeared to be a dark figure all but lost in a cloud of white. She didn’t want to admit that Elise was right, but she didn’t have a choice.
Juliane turned from the window and stared at her sister. “I can’t let him keep shoveling that snow. He’s going to freeze.”
“Finally, you’re convinced that this is a losing battle.” Elise grabbed hold of Juliane’s arm. “Lukas is stuck here. He’s going to have to spend the night.”
That’s what I was afraid of.
Thankfully she hadn’t let the phrase slip out of her mouth. She didn’t want Elise to know what she was feeling. Not even for an instant did she want Elise to think she had an interest in Lukas, other than keeping the poor man from freezing to death, because she didn’t. Anyway, now that Elise had met Lukas, she’d clearly see that the man was out of Juliane’s league, and hopefully the teasing would stop.
Juliane glanced at the door. “I guess I’ll have to go out and get him.”
“And apologize for letting him go out in that storm.”
“He insisted. He’s a grown-up. I never forced him to go.”
Elise gave her an annoyed look. “Really, Juliane, did you think he was going to invite himself to stay?”
“Quit trying to make excuses.”
“I have to get my coat first.”
“Then go get it.”
Juliane left before she said something she would regret. As she retrieved her coat, she couldn’t believe they’d been so wrapped up in their planning that they hadn’t noticed the wind howling outside. Lukas could have left earlier, but now it was too late. He was never going to dig himself out tonight.
Juliane managed to smile as she returned to the living room. She tried to ignore Elise’s smug expression as she opened the door and stepped out onto the porch.
Juliane cupped her hands around her mouth. “Lukas! Lukas, quit shoveling and come into the house.” The wind blew the words right out of her mouth and left her gasping for breath. She called his name again, but he still kept shoveling. With the wind howling, he probably couldn’t hear. She had to go out to him.
Pulling the hood on her coat tight around her neck and face, she trudged through the snowbank. She kept her head down in order to keep the wind-driven snow from pelting her face. As she came up behind him, she called his name again. He jerked around, startling her and nearly causing her to lose her footing in the slippery snow. She grabbed hold of his arm to steady herself, and he held her up.
When she looked into his eyes, she swallowed hard while
her pulse raced. She almost slipped again. “You’ve got to come in. You’re going to freeze out here.”
“But I’ll never get home if I do.” He pointed to the driveway between his car and the garage. “The snow is already covering what I’ve shoveled.”
Juliane nodded. “That’s my whole point. You’ll never dig your car out until it quits snowing and blowing. I know you’re worried about your grandpa, but please come into the house.”
Lucas looked ready to argue, but finally nodded his agreement. “What do you want me to do with the shovel?”
“Just put it on the porch.” Understanding Lukas’s frustration, Juliane turned toward the house and trudged back through the snow.
Without another word Lukas followed. She knew she had to apologize, and she didn’t want to do it in front of Elise.
When they reached the porch, she turned. “Lukas, I’m sorry I ever let you come out here. I should have invited you to stay from the beginning.”
“All that work for nothing.” He looked back at the driveway and shook his head. “I’ll have to do it all over again in the morning.”
She grimaced. “I’m so, so sorry. You won’t have to do this again. I’ll have Dad send over the guy who plows out his driveway. He’ll get you out.”
“I don’t know how with my car still sitting there.” Lukas smiled wryly. “And you don’t have to keep apologizing. You didn’t force me to try to dig out my car. I’ll have to pray that Grandpa doesn’t lose his power.”
“I’ll pray, too, but I feel terrible that you’ve been working out here for nothing.” With Lukas’s smile making her heart lighter, she opened the door, then turned back to him. “Don’t worry about wiping your feet.”
“I’m not sure I can even feel my feet.” He slipped out of his shoes as soon as he stepped inside.
“Well, if it isn’t the Abominable Snowman.” Elise carried a dustpan and broom. “I’ll sweep up the snow. You guys get out of your coats.”
“Do I look that bad?” Lukas chuckled.
“Not bad, just snowy.”
“Let’s go into the kitchen. We can take off our coats and brush all the snow off in there.” Juliane hated that she was jealous of the way Elise could joke around with Lukas. She knew she didn’t have any business feeling that way for so many reasons—the most important being that she was determined to have no personal interest in him.
When they reached the kitchen, Juliane took off her coat and shook it, creating a mini snowstorm. She glanced over at Lukas, who was doing the same. His dark hair dampened by the snow, he looked more handsome than ever. Her heart melted into a puddle like the snow on her kitchen floor.
Some of the unmelted flakes in his hair sparkled in the light from the florescent fixture over the stove. Tempted to reach up and brush them away, Juliane swallowed hard. She turned away to keep from acting on the impulse.
She didn’t want to like this man. The idea of falling for him scared her silly. She wasn’t sure she wanted him under her roof for the night, especially with Elise, even if her sister was acting as a buffer. Having him here would only add to her confusion, but she didn’t have a choice.
Trying to put her thoughts on a different track, she grabbed a mop from the pantry and started to wipe up the melted snow. If only she could wipe images of Lukas from her mind as easily as she wiped up the little puddles.
Lukas reached for the mop. “Let me do that. I made most of the mess.”
“No, you should get out of those wet clothes before you catch cold or something.” Hoping to avoid any accidental contact, Juliane jerked the mop off to the side before he could take it.
Looking down he pointed at his feet. “You mean these soaked pants and socks?”
“I’d be glad to change, but what would I put on after I do that?” A question painted his features as he eyed her.
“Hold on.” Juliane laid the mop against the kitchen counter and headed out to the breezeway. Opening the door, she braced herself against the wind. “I think I have something—”
“That’ll fit me?” Lukas stuck his head out the door.
“Yes. Wait inside, and I’ll check this storage bin.”
“Okay.” He closed the door.
Shivering, Juliane lifted the lid of the bin and started rummaging through its contents. In a minute she returned to the kitchen in triumph, holding up a pair of men’s sweatpants. “See. I was pretty sure these were still in there.”
“They look like they should fit.” Taking in his expression, she tossed the pants to him. Was he wondering how she happened to have a pair of men’s sweatpants, or was she reading something into his look that wasn’t there? Should she explain?
“What are you two doing?” Elise wandered into the kitchen as a big gust of wind rattled the kitchen window.
“Finding something for Lukas to put on so he can get out of his wet clothes.” Juliane pointed to the sweatpants.
“Where’d you get those?” Elise wrinkled her brow.
“Uncle Dave left them here when he worked on my house.” Juliane watched Lukas to see his reaction, but his
expression didn’t change. She was being stupid. He didn’t care why she had the sweatpants.
“So where would you suggest I change?”
“Elise, show him where the bathroom is, and I’ll finish mopping up in here.” Juliane watched them leave the room, hoping to regain her equilibrium before either of them returned.
Once again she’d failed to push aside all the emotions being around Lukas evoked. She couldn’t rid herself of the same jittery feeling in the middle of her chest that she’d experienced when he’d handed her his coat earlier tonight.
What was she thinking—that he might be jealous because he thought those sweatpants belonged to a boyfriend? She scrubbed at the floor, wishing she could scrub all ridiculous thoughts about Lukas from her mind. Then she stopped and leaned on the mop. Where was she putting God in all of this?
Too many times lately, she’d left God out of the picture. Even after she’d told Lukas she would pray for his grandfather, she hadn’t done so. She bowed her head.
Lord, please forgive me and keep Ferd safe in the storm. Help me to rely on You.
Juliane looked up as Elise reappeared. “Is Lukas changing?”
“Yeah. Where are you planning to have him sleep?”
Juliane released a harsh breath. “That love seat in my office pulls out into a bed. I can make that up. What do you think?”
“Sounds okay to me as long as I’m not the one sleeping on the pullout bed.” Elise grinned.
“Well, he could sleep on the couch in the living room.”
Elise came over and put a hand on Juliane’s shoulder. “I was only kidding, Jules. The pullout is fine. Guys aren’t fussy.”
“If you say so.”
“I even found an extra large T-shirt in my things. I gave
that to him as well as a pair of those airline slippers that are one size fits all. I also told him to take a hot shower. I thought that might thaw him out.”
“I’m glad I put you in charge.”
“Thanks.” Elise picked up a couple of leftover cookies. She bit into one and held the other one out to Juliane. “Here, have another cookie.”
“No, thanks. I told you I don’t need any more.” Juliane put her hands on her hips. “And you didn’t need to point out the fact that I’m on the plump side.”
“When did I say you were plump?”
“You told Lukas I was watching my weight.”
“But I never used the words
Besides, you’re the one who brought it up.”
“No, I didn’t. I only said I didn’t want the cookies around.”
“Okay. I won’t mention anything remotely related to your eating habits or your weight again.” Elise held her hands up in surrender. “But it seems to me that you wouldn’t be so upset about the whole conversation if you didn’t have your eye on Lukas.”
“Not that again. Please don’t mention that, either.”
“You really should put me in charge of your love life.”
Juliane sighed. “Oh, please.”
“I’d be glad to do it.”
Juliane grabbed the dish towel off the nearby rack and swung it at Elise. “I’m serious, Elise.”
“Serious about Lukas? I can understand why. He’s a fine-looking man.”
Juliane swatted Elise with the towel again. “Quit teasing. I’m not interested.”
“Okay. I’ll quit teasing, but I have a serious suggestion. You should invite Lukas to go to my party with you.”
“Why do you keep trying to push us together?”
“Because I think you’re attracted to him, even if you deny it.”
Juliane drummed her fingers on the kitchen counter as she tried to think of some kind of comeback. “You invite him.”
“Not me. I’m through with men.”
Juliane’s eyebrows shot up. Elise was through with men? Since when? “Then why are you trying to foist him off on me? I might have the same feelings as you.”
“Okay. Whatever you say.”
Juliane knew Elise’s verbal agreement meant nothing. She was only placating her. Juliane was fairly certain Lukas would wind up at the party no matter what she said. She might as well prepare herself for it. But for now, it was time to turn the conversation back onto Elise.
“What about the guy you were dating when Mom, Dad and I took that cruise?”
“You mean Seth?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“History. The main reason I’m down on men. Period.”
“So if you’re down on men, why are you pushing Lukas at me?”
“Because, dear sister, I see how you look at him.”
“And how is that?”
“You are…I don’t know how to describe it exactly…maybe moonstruck.”
“If I appear to be that way, I have my reasons. What do I have to do to prove to you that you’re all wrong?”
“Nothing. Time will tell.”
“Don’t be so smug. I’m going to prove you wrong.” Even as the words rolled out of her mouth, Juliane knew she might have a hard time doing it. “I don’t want to argue about this anymore. Besides, what would Lukas think if he heard us?”
“He might think—”
“Don’t say it.” Juliane walked toward the living room. “I’m going to make up that pullout bed, then I’m going to bed myself. You can let Lukas know where he should sleep.”
“And where is that?”
Putting her hand over her heart, Juliane turned at the sound of Lukas’s voice. That jittery feeling hit her again, and she couldn’t speak.
“In the study.” Elise walked past Juliane, then turned and gave her another smug little smile. “She’ll show you where that is. Good night, you guys. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Staring at her sister, Juliane wanted to run after Elise and quietly plead for her to take care of Lukas, but Juliane knew that would be a futile request. Instead, she turned and tried to smile as she looked at Lukas, who was now clad in the gray sweatpants, a T-shirt proclaiming the wonders of Hawaii and ugly navy-blue airline slipper socks. Even in the crazy clothes he looked good.
“So do you approve?”
Juliane’s stomach did a flip-flop as she realized she’d been staring. “I guess they’re better than your wet clothes.”
“Hey, do you suppose I can throw my dirty stuff in your washing machine?”
Her heart racing, she went over to the set of bifold doors that hid the washer and dryer. This might be her chance to escape. “Everything you need is right behind these doors. Help yourself.”
“I’ll go make up the pullout bed for you.”
“Hey, don’t go to any bother. If you lay out the bedding, I can do it myself.”
“What kind of hostess would I be if I didn’t do it?”