Dead of Winter

By: Melissa Pearl & Anna Cruise

An Aspen Falls Novel






Acknowledgments





Writing a book is a huge undertaking with so many people involved behind the scenes. Thank you to Anna for being such a great partner to work with. I love you so much and am having a blast creating this Aspen Falls world with you.





Thank you to Rachael, Krisitn, Cassie, Lenore, and my amazing review and proofreading team. Thank you to my Songbirds & Playmakers, and to my readers who make each book so worthwhile. Thank you to Shayne for a beautiful cover.





Thank you to my supportive family—you keep me grounded, yet your love makes me fly.





And I can never write a book without thanking my savior. You are my reason, and I’m so grateful for your constant love.





xx

Melissa





For Rachael





A romantic suspense fan and one of the nicest people I know.

Thank you for everything. You are amazing.





1





Friday, February 16th

1:15pm





Rosie snatched her keys off the table, only just managing to grab the strap of her handbag before bolting out the door.

Her boots thumped and slipped on the old wooden stairwell as she rushed her descent.

Shit, she forgot her jacket! There was no way she could go back for it.

An irate roar from her apartment made her flinch, and she gripped the railing to stop herself from tumbling down the stairs.

The walls were closing in on her, the tiny doorway to freedom growing smaller with each step.

“Rosie!” Damien, her now absolutely ex-boyfriend, hollered from the doorway, injecting fear into her limbs.

With a little yelp, she jumped the last few steps and smacked into the door. The bolt was suddenly impossible to turn, her shaking fingers practically useless.

“Come on, Rosie, don’t lose it now.” Her urgent whisper was punctured by the breaths puffing out her nose. Her heart was racing so hard she thought it might run right out of her.

“Get back here!” Chester, the giant asshole who’d shown up at Damien’s apartment, roared again.

Thundering boots, twice the size of hers, were catching up quickly.

Biting her bottom lip, she wrenched the bolt sideways and nearly cried with relief as she swung it back and jumped into the freezing street.

The sun was bleak behind layers of white cloud. The street had never been more dreary and ominous, and the frigid air felt ten times colder than normal.

She shivered and ran for the alley where her car was parked.

The icy concrete was slippery, and she nearly landed on her ass as she skidded around the corner.

The winter air bit her skin, telling her she was an idiot for not grabbing her jacket.

It’s not like I had time!

Terror sliced through her as she relived that moment of utter shock when that towering giant loomed over her, his leering gaze assessing her body to see if she’d be doable.

She shuddered, slamming against her car and shoving the key into the lock.

“Rosie, don’t you dare take off!” Damien called from the window above, slamming his hand on the frame when she glanced up.

Their eyes locked for the briefest moment, and she poured as much fury into the glare as she could muster.

She couldn’t believe he’d done that to her.

Her boyfriend.

The guy she’d been sharing a bed with had offered her to someone else, like she was a piece of meat that could be passed around and sampled just so he could clear his debt.

A sob threatened to burst out of her as she jumped into the car, but it turned into a scream when she spotted Chester racing around the corner.

Blood dripped from the scratch marks on his face—red tears that made him look like a monster. His dark brown eyes were black with rage.

Turning the key, she gripped the wheel, begging her car to start without any drama. Like some kind of miracle, the engine roared to life and she tore out of the alley before Chester could reach her.

The giant gave chase but she floored it down the alley, taking out a couple of trash cans. She screamed as they flew behind her car, but kept her foot on the accelerator.

Making a sharp right, she careened onto the street, leaving a trail of horn blasts behind her.

Pushing through the intersection, she swerved around traffic, running the red light and wondering how the hell she made it through without causing an accident.

A glance in the rearview mirror told her the giant had either given up or was still lumbering down the alley.

“Shit,” she whispered. “Shit!”

She was huffing like she’d just run a marathon, adrenaline coursing through her as she swerved into the other lane and continued out of the city.

“Damn you, Brookvale,” she muttered with a scoff. “Stupid fucking town.”

She’d moved there only six months earlier and thought it was the start of a whole new chapter. It wasn’t the monstroplis of Minneapolis, but it was big enough to have a great nightlife and lots of job opportunities.

Growing up in the small town of Aspen Falls had nearly driven her nuts. All she’d wanted to do was graduate and hit the bright lights.

She’d started in Minneapolis with a heart full of hope, but the reality of adulthood hadn’t taken long to kick in.

College was harder than she thought it’d be, and it was so much easier to party into the night and forget about studying. She’d barely scraped through with a degree and then spent the next two years trying to score a job. No one told her that finding full-time employment would be so damn difficult. It didn’t help that she had no idea what she really wanted to do. Her degree was one of those “covers all the bases.” A liberal arts degree that meant she was overqualified for the menial jobs and under-qualified for anything decent.