Christmas Town’s city attorney Lincoln Vasser suspects the multi-million-dollar lawsuit threatening the town is a fraud, but he needs help proving it. Private Investigator Jax Marshall comes highly recommended, but when Lincoln hires her he can’t quite figure out why. Her laid-back attitude, questionable work ethic, and apparent unconcern for the urgency of the case rub him the wrong way. It doesn't make sense for him to be attracted to her.
Jax Marshall knows that taking a case for the arrogant Lincoln Vasser is a mistake. But when he makes her an offer much more tempting than money, she agrees. She soon wishes she hadn’t. The guy is demanding and uptight, and, worst of all, he keeps trying to tell her how to do her job! He's almost completely unlikable. Almost.
The morning had been a complete waste of time. At 6:30 am Lincoln had been at Jax’s office where he waited for her to arrive. After three hours he decided she must already be inside. Kicking himself for not checking to see if there was a back entrance, he’d gotten out of the car only to find a sign on the door that dispelled his notion. Office hours: vary daily. Today you can reach me between 5 am and 6 am and again after 6ish pm until around 8. Tomorrow I’ll be around from 7 am until 9:15. A pocket held business cards. He removed one and studied her contact information. The line printed along the bottom was a big fat lie: Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you!
Even with her questionable work ethic on his mind, the last person Lincoln expected to see waiting beside the lift line was Jax Marshall. He might not have recognized her in her ski gear except that she’d removed her helmet and the thick blond braid hanging down her back caught his eye. Slim-fitting black ski pants showed off her long legs and the violet and lavender printed jacket hinted at her curves. She bent at the waist to adjust her boot and something about the way she moved cemented her identity.
Lincoln skied over to her. “Jax?”
She glanced up but didn’t seem surprised to see him, taking her time snapping and re-snapping the latch on her boot before standing and gracing him with a dazzling smile. Her gaze connected with his and despite his annoyance he felt a hint of that same crackling awareness he had in his office. He’d never noticed Evelyn’s eyes being quite so green, but he thought they must be.
“Hey, Lincoln. How’s it going? Talk about a bluebird day, huh?” She swept one arm up in a half-circle. Lincoln squinted up at the sky and silently conceded it was indeed an intense shade of blue. “And how delicious is this snow? I love to ski!”
Everything about her radiated joy and for a few seconds he vacillated between envy and annoyance. When was the last time anything had generated that kind of happiness inside of him? It didn’t matter was the response that took way too long in forming. Not that it mattered, he didn’t have time for such a superfluous emotion anyway. This only served to heighten his frustration because how could she smile at a time like this much less gush about snow and skiing and the color of the sky?
“What are you doing here?” he demanded, a sharper than intended edge to his tone.
Dropping her chin, she gave her skis an obvious once-over before bringing her emerald-packed gaze back up to punch him with scathing curiosity.
“Baking Christmas cookies,” she finally replied, sarcasm infusing her tone. “Later, I’m cooking up a batch of fudge.”
He answered with his signature wilting glare before realizing the ineffectiveness of the gesture behind the lenses of his goggles. He wrestled them from his face and settled them atop his helmet.
He tried again. “It was a serious question.”
“Was it?” Her lips tightened, curling slightly at the corners like she was grappling with a laugh. “Well, what does it look like I’m doing? I’m skiing, same as you.”
“I’m here for a friend’s birthday party.”
Eyes narrowed, brow scrunching, she tilted her head to one side and studied him.
“Meaning,” he explained, “I have a good reason to be here.”
Her chin went up along with both brows.
“Instead of working,” he clarified.
Expression dimming, she said, “Wait a sec, are you implying that I shouldn’t be here? That it’s okay for you to be skiing today because you have a good reason, which is a friend’s birthday party, but I should be working? How old are you, by the way, thirteen? Will there be a sleepover, too?” She laughed at her joke.
He couldn’t blame her; it was funny, or it would be if it weren’t at his expense. Why had he said it that way and given her ammunition to mock him? Mocking was his thing. Granted, it was a habit he’d been trying to curtail in the last year since he’d taken the city attorney job. More to the point, since that stocking had come into his life and he’d bought into Kinley’s notion of fate and happiness and finding his purpose and tried to turn over a new leaf. Stupid leaf. He deserved her scorn. And he had implied exactly what she’d accused him of, which might be a little unfair on his part. He felt too warm and itchy beneath his layers.
But still, why couldn’t she comprehend the significance of this case? He inhaled a deep breath, letting the ice-cold air melt this fiery affirmation while it was still unspoken. “I just meant, I thought we agreed you were going to give my case top priority.”
“This again…” Her sentence trailed off with words he couldn’t decipher. Muttering, she reached down and snagged her helmet from the ground and then settled it on her head with a slap of one palm. With deft fingers, she latched the chin strap. For a few seconds she seemed distracted by something over Lincoln’s shoulder. He glanced behind him, didn’t see anything, and turned to find her securing goggles over her eyes.
Pulling on her gloves, she said, “And I thought you understood that I can’t devote any more time to your case than I already am. It is literally not possible.”
“Not when you’re spending the day skiing that’s for sure.”
She slipped her hands into the handles of her poles, “Look, Vasser, just because you’re paying me to do a job doesn’t mean you get to dictate how I do it. I promise you, I know what I’m doing. You’re an irritating control freak, are you aware of that?”
He ignored her question and asked one of his own, “What are you doing then? Because from where I’m standing I can’t see that it’s much of anything.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Her tone had a bite to it now and Lincoln couldn’t help but feel gratified, glad that he was finally getting through to her.
“What I mean is that you won’t answer your phone, you don’t return messages, text or email. And you’re never at your office. Who has office hours at the crack of dawn and in the middle of the night?”
“You stopped by my office.”
“Wow,” he said drily. “You are an amazing detective. You’re killing it.”
Her head was shaking, and Lincoln thought she might unleash her temper. Instead, she went with cool sarcasm, “I know. I am the best, and you are very, very lucky to have me.”
“Am I? Because from what I can tell you’re never working. You’re out who knows where—shopping, going to the tree lighting, looking at cats—I have no idea what that means but it sounds crucially important as does stuffing envelopes—and having lunch dates that include lingering over dessert. And now, here you are, skiing.”
“What are you even talking about?” She pushed her goggles back up on top of her helmet so that she could deliver the full force of her glare. Which, he had to admit, was formidable. He’d definitely managed to rile her.
She went on before he could respond, “The shoe shopping was for a wedding, and if you saw me at the tree lighting that means you were there, too, and—”
“I take my grandmother every year.”
“Well, good for you. I go with Evelyn. We met Lisa there and then we took care of some wedding details, not that any of this is your business.”
“Wedding details? For Lisa and John’s wedding?”
“Yes, same wedding I needed the shoes for. I’m a bridesmaid and Evelyn is the maid of honor. I’m also the photographer, so we headed over there to the carousel house afterward to check out the lighting and talk about what she wants. The envelopes were stuffed with invites also related to the wedding.”
“Hmm,” he said, refusing to feel placated because none of that changed the fact that she seemed to be doing everything but working on his case. “Why won’t you answer my messages or return my calls? And I heard you having lunch.”
“I don’t have time to answer your five-hundred phone calls and texts. If I answered the calls, returned the texts and emails of every client all the time, then that’s all I would have time to do. Instead, I streamline the process by compiling the information I gather into a report and meeting with my clients face to face. You agreed to this when you signed on as my client. It’s in the paperwork. I assume you read it?”
Lincoln didn’t want to admit that he had indeed read that fine print but had assumed it didn’t apply to him.
She continued before he could formulate a suitable way to dodge the question, “And, again, not that it’s any of your business, but I can’t remember the last time I had any date at all, much less a lunch one where I lingered over my dessert. I eat dessert. I might even savor it if I have time, but I don’t linger it. Unfortunately, I usually eat on the go. Often, when I’m—Wait, you heard me having lunch? How did you hear me having lunch?”
Lincoln had never met anyone with the ability to turn his words around on him and make him feel quite so ridiculous. As an attorney, he did it to people all the time. That was his job. He didn’t like being on the receiving end.
He pitched his tone to accusatory hoping to regain control of the conversation, “On the phone. You ordered two meals, including dessert.”
“Ah.” She nodded and answered calmly, “That’s right, I did.”
“Ha. I knew it. Must have been some date if you forgot about it.” He couldn’t shake the feeling of displeasure he’d had at the vision of her on a date. It was unsettling because it had nothing to do with her dodging work.
Her brows were pinched together in a combination of annoyance and confusion. “You really don’t know anything about me or my work, do you? I mean, I am astounded at the conclusions you’ve been jumping to. It’s a good thing you’re in law because you’d make a terrible detective.”
“No, I wouldn’t. I’d be an awesome detective,” he countered defensively, sounding more like a sulky teenager than an attorney.
“Sure you would, Inspector Clouseau, but what you heard was me ordering food for a stakeout on Dalton Frobisher’s house.”
“Dalton Frobisher? Our subject’s name is Toby.”
“I’m aware of that but Dalton Frobisher is Toby’s older brother. Toby’s last known address is his brother’s house. I spent three nights, and part of the days, camped outside it hoping I’d get a glimpse of Toby, Dalton, or Dalton’s girlfriend, Carly Denning.”
“Why would you—”
“Dalton and Carly both have criminal records and I have a strong suspicion they’re involved in this somehow.”
“Vasser, before you ask another insulting question, I don’t have time for this right now. I’m not here for a day of skiing or a birthday party.” Her tone was sardonic, and she punctuated the statement with an arch of one eyebrow.
Gripping her ski pole, she tapped the hand to her shoulder. “I am working. Right now. On your case. Both Carly and Dalton are currently employed here at Blue Spruce Resort. Toby worked here before the accident. He’s a well-known ski bum, or at least he was before the injury. I’m talking to their co-workers.”
Lincoln felt his face flush even in the frozen air. “Oh,” he muttered. “Well, maybe if you kept me better informed then I could—”
“And I will,” she enunciated, with a trace of condescension that he knew he deserved. “But right now, I need to get back to work. And I’m sure you want to get back to your party. You’re probably missing the pin the tail on the donkey game in the lodge as we speak. Oh, wait, they probably can’t start that without you to pin the tail on, huh?” And with that she expertly shoved off with one ski and slid gracefully into the single-rider queue.
Lincoln watched her join a group of two and the threesome smoothly loaded the lift. He stood there for a long time watching her chair float up above the hillside and trying to decide whether to trust her or fire her. Then there was this tiny inexplicable part of him that wanted to follow her. What was up with that?