Winter Heat by Kennedy Fox

Chapter One





SARAH





The fresh Vermont air is something special this time of year. As I walk to my rental car, I realize how much I’ve missed it. Inhaling a deep breath, I take in my surroundings and smile at the decorated wreaths on the light poles.

After six years of living in Chicago, it feels strange to be back home. My parents typically visit over Thanksgiving, but I had to work, so it would’ve been a wasted trip. Since we missed one big holiday together, I decided to fly home for the first time in six years since I have two weeks off for Christmas. My mom and dad love to participate in the town’s festivities, so I knew they wouldn’t want to miss out.

During the hour drive from the airport, I sing along with the Christmas classics on the radio. When I finally make it to Snow Port and cruise through downtown, my eyes light up at the holiday displays in the shops. Everything about this place screams cute snowy town, and Santa is basically their local hero. Growing up here was amazing, and I didn’t want to move, but my career choice made that decision for me. Being a news anchor meant going wherever a job took me, even if it was hundreds of miles away.

As much as the offer to work in a big city excited me, it meant leaving my parents and my first love behind. Cole Massen and I were in the same kindergarten class and started dating in high school, then through my college years. Everyone thought we’d get married, but after struggling to maintain our relationship over a long distance, we called it quits after six months.

I haven’t seen or talked to him in over five years, but he’s crossed my mind dozens of times.

There’s a good chance I’ll run into him, but I’m not sure if I’m fully prepared. My mom has kept me updated on everything about him and this town, not so subtly reminding me I can always move back and marry Cole. While she means well, real life doesn’t work like that. After all this time, we don’t know each other anymore.

“Sarah!” my mom screeches from the porch as I step out of the car. The driveway looks recently plowed, which means I just missed a snowstorm.

“Hi, Mom,” I greet with a beaming smile.

My dad walks toward me. “Hey, kiddo. Let me grab your bags.”

Though I’m twenty-eight, he’ll always call me that.

“Hey, Dad,” I say as he wraps me into a hug.

Mom follows and squeezes me next. “How was your flight, sweetie?”

“Just fine, smooth and safe.”

As the three of us walk toward the house, I realize how excited I am to be home. I grew up here, but since I moved away, they’ve been slowly updating things.

“You finally get to meet Golden,” Mom tells me as we step into the kitchen.

I snort. “I still can’t believe you named your Golden Retriever that.”

“Your mother’s idea,” Dad whispers, snickering.

“I’ve got coffee brewing and muffins in the oven,” Mom rattles on.

“You didn’t have to make a fuss over me,” I tell her, but she quickly waves me off.

“I’ll take your luggage to your room.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I smile at him, then look around the house. “Wow, it looks great in here.”

Kinda like Santa’s workshop threw up inside, but beautiful, nonetheless.

Golden rushes toward me, and I kneel. “Well hey, girl.” I pet her while she licks my face. She’s only a few years old and still full of energy.

Mom hands me a mug, and I go upstairs to unpack my bags before dinner. Though they’ve been remodeling, my bedroom looks like a time capsule. The first time I’d lived on my own was when I moved to Chicago. After I graduated at twenty-two, I worked a side job until I landed the news anchor position a year later.

“Hey, kiddo. Settled in okay?”

“Yeah, just fine. I can’t believe you guys kept my room the same.” I smile, looking at the lavender walls I painted when I was twelve.

“Your mother didn’t want to change anything. Thought it’d make you feel like we’d forgotten about you.”

I give him a sad smile. “Of course not. So many memories in this place, though.”

“I imagine so.” He grins, then thumbs over his shoulder. “I was told to let you know dinner’s ready.”

We walk downstairs and chat about all the things they have planned this Christmas. I’m actually looking forward to it and need a break from my hectic schedule back in Chicago.