Thaw (A Seasons of Love story)

Thaw by Elyse Springer
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-513-5
eBook release: 
Apr 24, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-514-2
Print release: 
Apr 24, 2017
Word count: 
55,100
Page count: 
222
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the Seasons of Love universe.

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Abigail is content with her quiet life as a librarian. But when she’s invited to a high-profile charity auction, she finds herself dancing with one of the most beautiful women she’s ever met. Abby’s sure she’ll never see her again, but then Gabrielle calls and asks her on a date. And soon after, another.

Supermodel Gabrielle Levesque has a reputation as the Ice Queen—cold and untouchable—except she warms up whenever she’s with Abby. Only Abby isn’t interested in the heat between them; she’s asexual, and she’s worried that admitting as much to Gabrielle might spell the end of their blooming romance.

They’re two different women from two very different worlds, but Abby knows she can love Gabrielle. Her passion for books, travel, and theater prove there’s more to the Ice Queen than meets the eye.  But they’ll have to overcome Abby’s fears—and Gabrielle’s own threatening secrets—in order to find their way to love.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

“Hold still.”

The order was tinged with fondness, and Abby forced herself to stop squirming.

“How do people do this every day?” she asked. “I thought cruel and unusual punishment was banned in this country.”

An exasperated sigh was all she got in response. Abby glanced up to see Sara watching her, mouth frowning but eyes soft. Abby immediately felt guilty for being so difficult; they weren’t really friends, and Sara was doing her a favor tonight.

“Sorry,” she said meekly.

Sara brushed her hair behind her ears and tilted her head, tapping an eyeliner pencil against her thigh as she waited. “I have to get ready for work in half an hour,” she said. “I’m going to leave you as-is if you don’t let me finish. You’ll look lopsided all night.”

It would have been a threat if Abby had been invested in the process in the first place. But she took a deep breath and settled down into silence again.

For a whole minute.

“Okay, nope. I’m drawing the line. You are not using that torture device on me.”

Sara peered down at the silver contraption in her hand. “It’s an eyelash curler.”

“It’s a medieval favorite of the Spanish Inquisition,” Abby responded.

Sara seemed to weigh her options for a moment, then clearly decided it wasn’t a battle worth waging. “Fine,” she said. “Lips, and then you’re done.”

Lips involved yet another pencil, and a lipstick that made Abby’s lips look huge. She made a kissy face at the mirror, taking in the stranger staring back at her. “I don’t think I’ve worn makeup like this since my high school prom.”

“You went to prom?” Sara’s voice rose in surprise.

“Yeah, of course I did,” Abby said, and so what if she sounded a bit petulant? She didn’t add that she’d only gone because she’d wanted to fit in, because her mother had made sad eyes in her direction whenever she thought Abby wasn’t watching, probably wondering what was wrong with her daughter who didn’t seem to belong.

Sara looked mildly ashamed. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to imply . . .”

“It’s fine.” Abby was used to it; mousy, bookish librarians weren’t expected to be social butterflies, after all.

“Let’s get you dressed.” Sara seemed intent on changing the subject, and Abby let her lead them to the bedroom, where several dresses lay across the hastily made bed. “I grabbed three out of my closet. You’re a couple of inches shorter than me, but it shouldn’t matter too much since you’ll be in heels.”

Ugh. “Don’t remind me,” Abby grimaced. She glanced down at the dresses, each one with more lace and sparkles than the one before it. Nothing in her own closet would compare. “I don’t know where to begin?”

Sara looked her over. “You can pull off something shorter, with legs like those,” she said. Abby flushed pink, and Sara laughed. “Come on, live a little. This is your one Cinderella moment. Getting dressed up, having a handsome date to the ball. Maybe you’ll find a Prince Charming.”

“I’m telling Nathan that you called him handsome,” Abby joked.

“I will deny it to my dying breath,” Sara returned easily. She picked up a black dress that had less actual fabric than some of Abby’s swim suits. “Try this one. And quickly, Nathan will be here with the car in fifteen.”

The dress was soft. Silky. The material clung against her skin and made her ultrasensitive to every draft in the small apartment. She studied herself in the mirror, beanpole skinny and freckles over her shoulders, and tried in vain to tug the dress down lower on her thighs.

Sara let out a low whistle. “Damn, girl,” she said. “If I wasn’t straight, I’d tap that.”

Abby blushed again. “It’s too short.”

“It’s perfect,” Sara insisted. “Shoes, quickly, and we’ll touch up makeup and hair and get you out of here right on schedule.”

The heels were black pumps, as sleek and fashionable as the dress. Abby took tottering baby-deer steps in them, trying to find her balance, while Sara fussed over her hair.

Abby’s phone buzzed on the dresser. She grabbed it and read the message. “Nathan’s five minutes out.”

Sara rocked back on her heels and smiled. “You’re going to blow them away tonight.”

“I’m still not sure why I’m going to this in the first place.”

“Because I couldn’t get out of working tonight, and Jason is in Philly on a business trip until Sunday.”

Her friend Nathan had stopped in at the library three days before, panicked and desperate. The charity auction was a big deal, and he was expected to go since the play he was currently starring in was a major contributor to the foundation. He was still reeling from the success of the play, and from his own leap into the spotlight, but he’d become a good friend to Abby—one of the few she had.

“I’m not sure I can do this on my own,” he’d said, leaning over the reception desk. “I’m no good with people.”

“Bull,” Abby had responded. “You’re great with people. You just aren’t good at being yourself with people. Put on a role, and you’re fine. Why isn’t Jason going to this thing with you? I thought champagne and suits would be right up his alley.”

Nathan had frowned. “Business trip. The office in Philadelphia is having some kind of big audit, and he’ll be there all weekend helping to get it sorted.” He’d turned those big blue eyes on her. “Will you be my date to the ball, Abigail?”

Abby had been weak. Weak and defenseless against Nathan’s charm and weapons-grade gaze. “Fine,” she said. “But there had better be some good quality booze at this thing, is all I’m saying.”

And now here she was, powdered and painted and in a dress that covered less skin than she was really comfortable with, feet already sore in the heels while she waited on the curb for the black car to pull up and a driver to come around and open the door for her.

She slid onto the cool leather seat next to Nathan.

“Holy shit, lady,” he said. “Look at you!”

Was blushing going to be a thing tonight? Abby’s cheeks grew hot. “You look pretty good yourself.”

The first time she’d met Nathan, he’d been dressed like a disheveled street kid. It had been blowing snow and ice outside, and he’d slipped into the library with no hat or gloves to warm up for a few minutes. Those blue eyes had been dim with pain then, and his shoulders had been slumped as though the weight of the world was pressing down on them.

Now, though, he was completely different. His back was straight, eyes bright, and lips twitching in a constant smile. He’d turned his life around, and it showed.

“I mean it, Nate,” she said quietly. “You look really good.”

His grin softened into something genuine. “I feel really good,” he said. “We’ve sold out the entire run, and they’re talking about adding more shows through the end of the year. And Jase and I . . . Things are really good.”

Abby touched his arm. “Good,” she echoed. “Now, tell me all about this fancy party that you’re dragging me to tonight.”

She let Nathan ramble on as the car navigated the evening traffic over the bridge into Manhattan. The party was also a silent auction, a way for the wealthiest echelon of New York City to upstage one another in a game of who-can-spend-the-most. That fact that it was for HIV/AIDS research was apparently irrelevant to them. “These guys don’t care about the disease. But we’re still going to raise a lot of money for a good cause.” Nathan smiled. “Plus, the food should be excellent, and there will be dancing.”

Abby wasn’t convinced, and gave Nathan a raised eyebrow.

“Did I mention that it’s open bar?” he added.

“Oh, thank goodness,” Abby breathed, laughing.

They spent the rest of the ride catching up. Nathan had been busy, his off-Broadway production of Rent getting rave reviews in the month since it had opened. They took turns filling each other in on their jobs and lives: Abby told him stories about weird people she’d encountered while working at the library, and then Nathan caught her up on his relationship with Jason.

Finally, the car slowed and pulled over, and she looked out the window to the lit-up building. “Let’s do this thing.”

The driver opened the door to help her out, and Abby miraculously made it onto the sidewalk without embarrassing herself. It was early April, but the spring evening was still cold enough that she shivered, wrapping her coat around her shoulders. Nathan joined her and offered her his elbow, escorting her into the gala.

Inside was almost blindingly bright, jewelry glimmering under chandeliers and waiters in starched shirts and black ties weaving effortlessly through the crowds. They checked their coats and Nathan led her in a beeline for the nearest waiter. He grabbed two flutes of champagne before they’d even paused to catch their breath and passed one over to Abby.

“I’m so glad you understand me,” Abby said, taking a sip.

“Trust me, I’m not sure I can do this without a little social lubrication either.” Nathan held his glass out to her. “Cheers, and thanks for being my date tonight.”

Abby clinked their glasses together, the sound tiny in the loud room. She went to take another sip, but her eyes caught on a figure in red across the room. A woman stood there, out of place in a sea of more neutral tones. She was clearly angry, gesturing tersely to the man standing in front of her. She looked . . . stunning. Radiant. Abby hadn’t realized that someone could be so furious and so beautiful at the same time.

The woman turned in her direction, and Abby glanced away quickly, taking a bigger gulp of her drink than she’d planned and coughing as the bubbles caught in her throat.

“Woah, easy,” Nathan said. “You all right?”

Abby blinked as her eyes watered, and she managed a smile. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Her eyes darted back over, but the woman in red had stormed off, leaving the man alone. She shifted her gaze back to Nathan, refocusing. “So, tell me more about the run extension for the play.”

 

Chapter Two

Parties were . . . not Abby’s thing. She wasn’t a fan of the noise, of socializing, or of getting dressed up for just a few short hours. But Nathan seemed to be enjoying himself, shaking hands with theater patrons and donors and taking compliments about his performance with a light blush and blinding smile.

“You seem like you’re completely bored,” someone said, stopping by her elbow with a glass of something amber held loosely between two fingers.

Abby looked around.

“Yeah, talking to you,” the guy said, sounding amused. “You came with Nathan, right? I saw you walk in together, but was too busy schmoozing with some bigwigs to come say hi.” He shifted the glass to his other hand and held his free hand out to shake. “I’m Tony, one of the directors for the Rent production.”

“Oh!” Abby shook his hand, flustered. “Sorry. Abigail. Nathan’s just a friend, we didn’t come together. Together together, I mean. Obviously I’m his plus-one tonight.” She clamped her lips shut, cheeks burning.

Tony laughed, seeming unfazed by her nervous rambling. “I figured. So what did he have to blackmail you with to get you to fill in tonight?”

“He just asked.”

“And you said yes? Clearly you had no idea what you were getting into.” Tony gestured around the room with his drink, then took a sip. “I hate these things. Sucking up to people with too much money, trying to get them to part with some of their trust fund to help people who are barely scraping by. Pasting on a smile and pretending like I’m enjoying my fifty-dollar plate consisting of an artistically placed green bean and a sliver of steak.”

Abby relaxed as Tony spoke. “I got two green beans.”

Tony put on a wounded look that would do any of his actors proud. “Two? I feel cheated. Where’s the event planner? I want to file a complaint.”

“At least the drinks are free,” Abby pointed out.

“The saving grace of the entire night,” Tony agreed easily. “So really, how bored are you? I think the only people who want to be here tonight are the rich folks with the big pocketbooks, and the rest of us just have to grin and bear it. Though Nathan seems like he’s managing to enjoy himself at least.” They both glanced over to where the blond hair peeked out from a crowd of older women who sparkled under the lights like they’d robbed a Tiffany’s.

Abby shrugged. “It’s all right. I like to people-watch. Make up stories in my head about them.”

Tony drained the last of his drink and set it down on an empty table. “Do you dance?” he asked suddenly. “I haven’t danced in ages. Come keep me company on the floor for a bit, and tell me stories about the people around us.”

Abby opened her mouth to protest, but he was already leading her out onto the dance floor, pausing once they’d stopped to twirl her effortlessly before settling a hand on her hip. She finally managed to say, “I don’t really know how to dance.”

“It’s easy.” Tony took her hand, pulling her closer, and then smiled reassuringly. “Just follow my lead. Nothing fancy.” He led them further into the crowd. “Tell me about those two. The older couple over there, him with the gray suit and her in the dark-blue dress.”

Following his gaze, Abby smiled. She’d been watching them before, both of them frail and white-haired. “They’ve been together for sixty years at least,” she said, the story already unraveling in her mind. “Both of them genuinely love theater, they fund as many projects as they can and go to shows twice a week. After the shows they have coffee and hold hands as they walk home.”

Tony was smiling, a hint of sadness in his eyes. “That’s the dream, isn’t it?” He shook his head, then nodded at a woman in painful-looking heels, hair piled up high on her head. She was dancing stiffly with a handsome young man. “How about them?”

Abby didn’t even need to think. “Marriage for convenience, not love,” she said. “She got a rock the size of the Hope Diamond out of it, and he gets a trophy wife. They’re only here to show off her new nose job and for him to brag about his recent investment payoffs. The sex is lousy, and they’ll divorce within two years.”

Tony turned them, dipping Abby playfully. She glanced over her shoulder, and spotted a flash of red. Surprise must have shown on her face, because Tony looked over to see what had caught her eye.

“Oh,” he said. “I know all about her. No need to create a fiction for that one.”

Abby watched the woman through the crowd of dancers. She was dancing with the same man that she’d been arguing with before, face blank and body stiff. He seemed to be enjoying himself though, hand sliding down her waist. “Tell me her story,” she said.

Tony spun them so they could both see the woman in red. “They call her the Ice Queen. Complete bitch, if you’ll pardon my language. But talented, and she knows it, which makes the attitude even harder to deal with. She’s been on and off stage for years, but rumor has it that she’s switched to modeling now.”

Abby could see why the nickname had stuck. She was like an iceberg: beautiful but probably deadly if you got too close. “I can see why she’d model,” she said instead.

Tony didn’t say anything for a second. When she turned back, he was watching her with a soft smile. “If I said that I’d rather look at you than watch her, how cheesy would you rate that?”

The blush was back in full force. “I’m . . .” Abby stared down at the floor. “I’m flattered?”

“You don’t sound too sure.”

Abby shook her head, biting her lip and shifting awkwardly in Tony’s arms.

“Can I take you out sometime?” The question surprised Abby. She wasn’t the type of woman who was asked out by handsome men at parties. But Tony sounded genuinely interested. Her body must have tensed, because he continued. “It’s just . . . you’re gorgeous, and funny, and Nathan talks about you and how you get really excited when you talk about a new book, and I’m intrigued. I’d like to learn more.”

Abby looked up, eyes wide. “I don’t . . . I’m not . . .” She bit her lip to stop herself from speaking further, and if the heat in her cheeks got any stronger she might actually combust.

“Hey, what are you saying to put a look like that on her face?” Nathan sailed in—to the rescue, Abby’s mind supplied—appearing at Tony’s shoulder with a grin. “Do you mind if I cut in? Janine is searching for you, said it’s important.”

Tony hesitated, as though he might object, but the importance of business with his codirector eventually won. He leaned forward, kissing Abby on the cheek. “Thanks,” he said. “For the dancing, and for the stories. Let me know if you’re interested in getting coffee sometime, all right?”

He passed Abby over to Nathan, and patted Nate on the shoulder before cutting through the crowd to find their other director. Abby’s shoulders relaxed, tension draining as Nathan took her in his arms.

“You all right?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She let Nathan lead her in silence for a second. “Tony asked me out.”

“I had a feeling that was the case.” Nathan tried turning her, laughing when they both stumbled a bit. “Sorry, I’m not as smooth as Tony is. Jason’s been attempting to teach me, but I usually follow. Why didn’t you just tell him that you’re not interested in guys?”

“What?” Abby stopped dead on the dance floor, and only Nathan’s hand on her hip got her moving again. She gaped at him.

Nathan seemed flustered. “Sorry,” he said. “I just assumed? I mean, I wasn’t sure, but I guessed, and . . . oh crap. Sorry. I know what they say when you assume.”

“No, it’s true. Mostly.” Abby studied the pattern on his tie to avoid looking directly at him. “For the most part, I’m more attracted to women than men, but I don’t really . . . date? Or anything. I’m not . . .”

“Hey, you don’t need to tell me. Whatever you’re comfortable with, all good. I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward place.”

Abby shook her head. “It’s all right,” she said. “I don’t usually talk about it. How’d you guess, though? About the women?”

Nathan laughed against her cheek. “It’s the way you watch people,” he said. “I can always tell when you find someone interesting, and you linger over the women longer than the men.”

“Oh.” Abby pulled back to look at him, but there was no judgment.

“Anyways, Tony’s going through his own shit right now, from what I’ve heard. I suspect he’s had a bit too much to drink tonight. Remind me someday to tell you about the first time we met.”

“Thanks.” Abby squeezed his arm and smiled. “For the rescue.”

Nathan wrapped her up in a hug right there in the middle of the dancers. “Of course.”

 

Chapter Three

The party was finally winding down, and the big clock on the wall said it was well past midnight. Time to turn into a pumpkin, Abby thought. She wriggled her toes in her shoes, wondering if she would ever get the feeling back in her feet.

Nathan was talking with some of the other actors across the room, and a few dancers still lingered on the floor, not quite ready to give up on the night and head home. Abby sighed, swallowed down a yawn, and dug her nails into her palms to avoid rubbing her eyes and smudging the makeup.

An arm wound around her own, startling her awake, and she looked over to see a flash of red before she was suddenly being turned. “Dance with me,” a woman’s voice said.

“Excuse me?” Abby tried to pull away, but the grip on her arm was firm. Then there was a soft body pressed against hers, and red. So much red, filling her vision.

The Ice Queen.

“Please, I’m begging you. Just for a moment.” The woman had an accent, barely noticeable beneath the clipped words. “I’ll pay you back for this. Just, I need you to dance with me. One song.”

Abby moved back far enough to study her abductor. It was the woman in the red dress, certainly, but she didn’t have the fierce radiance from before. Instead she seemed . . . tired. A little sad. Something in her eyes said that she might even be desperate, and Abby found herself swallowing her objections and nodding.

“Okay. Only for a few minutes though.”

The woman relaxed against her. “Thank you.”

They moved in silence for a while, bodies swaying to the music. The woman was warm, the smooth skin of her bare arms making Abby shiver when it brushed against her own. She tried to take in as much detail as possible: flawless skin a shade of brown that was clearly natural, not artificial, eyes so dark that they were almost black. Makeup highlighting features that were already stunning.

“You’re staring.” The woman shifted, and a hand brushed against the small of Abby’s back, touch light but sensual.

It was definitely a blushing night. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize. I think staring is the least of the payments you can demand from me right now.”

“Will you tell me why you’re so desperate for a dance?” Abby asked.

The woman turned her wordlessly, so Abby could see across the room. It took her only a second to spot the man glowering at them from one of the tables. She glanced away quickly, rotating the rest of the way around until the man was out of sight again.

“My manager,” the woman said.

“He doesn’t look at you like he’s just your manager.”

The woman gave a sharp smile, but there was no humor in it. “And so you see why I was so desperate to escape for a few minutes.”

“Oh.” And what else could she say?

“What’s your name, little rabbit?” The woman pulled Abby closer, brushing their cheeks together and speaking low words against Abby’s ear. “What should I call my rescuer this evening?”

“A-Abby,” she stuttered. She could feel Gabrielle against her, around her, warm and soft, and it made her shiver. “I mean. Abigail.”

The woman gave her another tiny smile, but this time it reached her eyes. “Abigail.” With that faint accent, the word sounded like a caress instead of just a name. “Thank you again. I do owe you.”

“What’s yours?”

“My name?” The woman seemed almost surprised to be asked that, as though it wasn’t a question she heard often. Abby remembered what Tony had said. “They call her the Ice Queen.” This was someone who had a reputation. Someone Abby would know if she really belonged here tonight. “Please call me Gabrielle.”

Her accent became more pronounced when she said her name, French to Abby’s untrained ear.

“And, ah,” Gabrielle said, “there we go.” She shifted away ever so slightly, and the air that rushed between them felt cold after being surrounded by such tenderness. Gabrielle turned Abby again, in time for Abby to see the glaring man get up and stalk off in the direction of the restroom. “He’s had too much to drink tonight. It was only a matter of time.”

As they finished the rotation, Abby twisted her head to watch the man vanish from the room. She glanced back at Gabrielle, opened her mouth to ask a question, then closed it.

Gabrielle appeared more alive than she had before, eyes bright and features relaxing, as though every inch between her and her manager gave her more energy. “And now, mon lapin, I’m afraid I need to leave you. Thank you for the dance.”

“Wait!” Gabrielle had taken a step back, but paused when Abby spoke. “You’re leaving?”

“I have a chance to make my escape. I’ll have to be quick, and hope I can get to the car before he returns. Sometimes it is better to retreat from battle than to continue fighting, but I am sure I will have my victory in the end.” She looked Abby over, taking her in from head to toe, and tapped a manicured finger against her lips. Then she smiled, sharp and calculating. “I believe I owe you a proper thank-you. Give me your number.”

Abby blinked. “I don’t have a pen.”

“I’ll remember it.”

And that was one Abby had heard before. A brush-off, a polite method of extending the fiction a bit longer until Gabrielle could go on her way and forget that she had ever met Abby and danced with her.

“Abigail.” Gabrielle’s eyes bored into Abby’s own with an intensity that made Abby’s mouth dry. She brushed a hand along Abby’s jaw, cupping it and holding her gaze. “I will remember. I swear it.”

Abby rattled off the number before she could stop herself.

Gabrielle gave her a real smile now, one that made her eyes shine and thawed her, if only for a second. “Thank you.” She took Abby’s hand, placing a kiss on the back of it like a scene from an old black-and-white film. “And now I really must go. Good night, Abigail.”

She turned, a flare of red silk and long black hair, and swept out the door, leaving Abby alone on the dance floor.

“What the hell just happened?” Abby muttered to herself.

She glanced around, half expecting everyone to be staring at her, or to see the entire place had transformed while she’d been absorbed in Gabrielle’s words and in her arms. But no one was looking at her, and no one seemed to have noticed the famous model dancing with a nobody librarian.

No, not no one. The man, Gabrielle’s manager, had just walked back into the room. He was glaring at Abby from the doorway. Abby swallowed, quickly exited the dance floor, and put as much distance between herself and the man as she could. She spotted Nathan sitting at a table with a couple of women from the play that Abby had met a handful of times before, and felt a rush of relief as she hurried to join them.

The two women seemed to take Abby’s appearance as a sign to stretch and say their good-byes. “It’s late,” one of them said. “You both have a good night. Nate, see you tomorrow afternoon at the theater.”

Nathan nodded and waved good-bye, then slid a glass of water over to Abby, who took it gratefully. “So. You and the Ice Queen, hmm?”

“Don’t call her that. Her name is Gabrielle.” Abby gripped the glass, the words more forceful than she’d intended. She took a gulp of the cold liquid, her body going hot with embarrassment.

Nathan seemed startled by her vehement response. “Sorry. I knew that. It’s just . . . she’s not a nice person, Abby. Beautiful and talented, but cruel. At least that’s what everyone says.”

Cruel? “She seemed a bit distant, sure. But not mean. We only danced and talked for a few minutes, but she was nice. Charming.”

“Just be careful.” Nathan didn’t seem convinced. “I’ve never met her before tonight, but the theater community passes gossip faster than a group of eighty-year-old yentas. Her name comes up a lot. And rarely in a good way.”

Abby nodded, but Nathan’s words didn’t make sense. She’d seen Gabrielle up close, had talked with her. And then the image from the first time she’d seen Gabrielle that evening flashed through her mind: a vengeful goddess, fury palpable. Abby shivered in the warm room. “Okay, I’ll be careful. But it’s not like I’ll ever see her again. This is your world, Nate, not mine.”

Nathan nodded. “Probably for the best. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I’m a big girl,” Abby said. “I can take care of myself.”

Nathan laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, I thought that about myself for a while. Just . . . let me care at least. You’re a friend, and I worry about you dancing and having feelings for a woman that’s earned a nickname like the Ice Queen.”

He had a point. “All right, I’ll be careful. You ready to go? It’s long past midnight, and our carriage awaits so I can turn back into a normal girl and get out of these princess clothes.”

Nathan stood easily, too much energy after such a late night. He helped Abby to her feet while he spoke. “Yeah, let’s blow this joint. I’m crashing at Sara’s tonight if you want to come over for cheap Merlot and slice-and-bake cookies.”

Abby thought about it for a moment. She hadn’t really had friends before Nathan had barged into her library and her life at the beginning of the year. Now she had Nathan, who texted her daily and stopped by to say hello whenever he was in the area to hang out with Sara. And she had Sara and Jason too, smiling and cheerful faces who were slowly moving from friends-of-friends to people she actually cared about.

But sometimes it was too much, and she needed her alone time. Right then, the thought of spending hours with Nathan and Sara, talking and probably watching movies, sounded exhausting. “I think I’m just going to head home. Does your driver mind dropping me off? And I’ll get Sara’s clothes back to her over the weekend.”

Nathan nodded. “Of course. It’s been a long night.”

Abby followed him out to the curb, waited while their hired car pulled up, and sank tiredly into the soft seats. A long night, yes, and also a weird one. Being asked out by Tony, dancing with Gabrielle. The angry man staring at her across the room, as though she’d conspired to let a prisoner escape from jail instead of dancing with a beautiful woman for a few brief moments.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Nathan asked as the car drove through the still-crowded Manhattan streets.

“Gotta offer at least a dollar. Inflation sucks.”

“They better be some good thoughts.” Nathan nudged her gently. “You had a strange look on your face just then.”

Abby thought about explaining. She thought about spilling the entire conversation with Gabrielle, telling him what had happened and how her manager seemed like the cruel one. But then she remembered how casually Nathan had thrown out that phrase, Ice Queen, and the desire to share dried up. “It’s nothing . . . Just tired. You mind if I doze a bit while we drive?”

Nathan pulled out his phone, probably to text Jason despite the late hour. “Nah, go for it. Feel free to use my shoulder, though Sara says it’s a pretty bony pillow.”

“Thanks.” Abby closed her eyes, and recalled the vision of red silk and black hair and eyes that held fire.

from Foreword

Thaw is passionate and raw, with a reminder that love isn’t the same for everyone.