"Please, Ted, don't go out tonight. The weather's awful and getting worse by the minute."
Ted stopped pacing and frowned. "No option. Big meeting at the bank."
"Friday night at seven?
Both Ted and Linda glanced up at their precocious nineteen-year-old daughter Britta. One year beyond high school graduation, she still lived with them. She glanced over the balcony, naked except for a pair of lacy panties.
Linda said, "Britta! Put some clothes on."
Britta pranced back to her room, returning with one of her father's starched white shirts over the panties.
"Hot date, Dad?"
Britta's jesting implication caused Linda's gaze to return to the pot on the stove. Ted didn't seem to mind.
"I have an important meeting at the bank, young lady."
"Even Gramps wouldn't call a meeting on a night like this."
"Your grandfather may own the bank, but he doesn't run it any longer. I'm president now. I call the meetings when I see fit."
"Whoa!" Britta squealed.
"Have you done your homework?"
"I graduated a year ago, Mom. Remember?"
"Just being facetious."
"I have a date tonight with Freddy."
"You can't go out in this awful weather. I won't allow it."
"I'm nineteen. I make my own decisions now. Remember?"
"As long as you live here you should at least listen to your mother."
"Dad, will you please tell her to stuff it?"
Ted glanced at his watch before replying. After winking at his daughter, he said, "Britta's a grown woman. Cut her a little slack."
"Thanks, Dad," Britta said, blowing him a kiss and disappearing into her room before Linda could protest.
Ted cracked the curtain and peeked out the window.
"Can you fix me a drink?" he said.
Linda swallowed her annoyance on the way to the liquor cabinet, pouring one for each of them. She touched his hand when she gave him the vodka.
"You know I don't sleep well when you're away."
Ted returned to the window, ignoring her distress. "How did the weather turn so bad, so fast? The sun was out when I left the office."
Drifting snow had already begun piling up against fences and houses. "Blue Norther," she said.
Ted saluted the snow with a raised glass. "Got that right,"
"See how bad it's getting? Please stay home tonight."
She returned to the kitchen without an answer. Linda was different from her daughter. Soft and silky smooth compared with Britta's lithe body and her all-over tan. Long, bottle-lightened hair draped her shoulders. Britta's hair was short and surfer girl blond. Britta was a chatterbox, Linda introverted to the point of angering her husband.
"At least eat something before you go."
Rattling ice in his glass, he just stared out the window. "Maybe. If the weather doesn't get any worse."
The ringing of Britta's cell phone interrupted their conversation, and she returned to the banister. "Guess I'm staying home tonight. Freddy's battery is dead."
"Good," Linda said. "At least I won't be all alone."
They all turned to look when someone knocked on the front door. Ted opened it, finding a tall stranger waiting in the doorway.
"Car broke down, and I lost my cell phone in the snow. Mind if I use your phone to call for help?"
"Let the poor man in and close the door," Linda called from the kitchen.
Moving aside, Ted watched him remove his gloves and blow his hands to warm them. The young man's clean-cut good looks calmed any distress Linda may have had as she took his coat and pointed to the kitchen.
"Warm yourself by the stove. You look half frozen."
Britta shattered her concentration when she hurried downstairs to see who was there.
"Now I'm glad Freddy has a dead battery," she said, staring at the handsome stranger.
Ted frowned. "Britta, put some clothes on."
Britta frowned but trotted back upstairs as Linda followed the man into the kitchen.
"Coffee or hot tea?"
Looking at her drink glass, he said, "I'd rather have what you're drinking."
Feeling an inexplicable attraction to him, she turned to the liquor cabinet to mix another drink.
"What do you drink?" she asked.
"Scotch, neat, if you have it."
"The phone is by the coffee pot," she said as she handed him the drink.
Without taking his eyes off her, he raised his glass in a silent toast. It brought an inexplicable flush to Linda's cheeks.
"Phone's dead," he said.
"Can't be," Linda said, concern replacing her facial flush. "Britta just had a call."
"On her cell phone," Ted said, walking up from behind.
Linda jumped. Regaining her composure, she called upstairs.
"Britta, is your phone working?"
"No bars. Sorry."
"Mine's not working either in this lousy weather," Ted said. "Guess you're out of luck. Sorry, we can't help."
Britta called from the banister. "Dad can take him into town. Invite the poor man to dinner, Mom."
"Pardon my rudeness. Will you have dinner with us?" Linda asked.
"Why not?" he said, his smile warming Linda's neck.
"Then make yourself comfy. My pot roast is almost ready."
The stranger smiled again. This time, Ted noticed how it flustered her. She turned away, averting his frown.
"How rude of me not to introduce ourselves. I'm Linda Stevenson, and this is my husband, Ted. The sassy young lady is my daughter, Britta."
For an awkward moment, the man continued staring at her as he squeezed her hand.
"I'm Dan Savage," he finally said.
"I'm going upstairs and try the weather band," Ted said.
"Well," Linda said. "Guess we'll soon find out about the highways. Dinner won't be long."
She smiled when she heard the rattling thump of logs added to the barren fireplace. Feeling almost guilty, she peeked through the door. As if he'd felt her gaze, Savage gave her a look that made her weak in the knees.
"Thought I'd heat things up," he said.
Before she could reply, Ted rushed down the stairs, bundled in coat and gloves.
"Can't wait for dinner. Got to go now. Storm's worsening by the minute. I'll drive you into town, Mr. Savage."
Dan Savage placed the last log in the fireplace and grabbed his coat hanging by the front door. Before he could button up, Britta rushed up from the basement.
"Wait, Daddy. We have a broken pipe downstairs."
Ted banged the door with his clenched fist. "You can't be serious."
"No need missing your appointment," Savage said. "I'm handy with things. I'll fix it for you."
"Fantastic! You go ahead, Dad," Britta said. "Mr. Savage can repair the pipe and then stay the night in the spare bedroom. You can give him a ride into town tomorrow."
Ted glare revealed his inner turmoil. After glancing at the cut of Savage's clothes and hair, he decided he was no ax murderer.
"Great. I'll take you into town tomorrow."
He kissed Britta's forehead, ignoring Linda's folded arms as he went out the front door without a backward glance.
"Show me the pipe," Savage said, interrupting the moment.
Britta led him to the basement. Despite Linda's concern, she experienced an almost forgotten flush of sexual excitement. The feeling embarrassed her as she returned to the kitchen.
Unable to shake her growing sexual fantasy for the young man, she fixed him another drink and took it to the basement. She almost dropped it when she saw his bare chest. Stripped to the waist, he was making final adjustments on an exposed pipe. Britta, sitting on the floor with her arms wrapped around her knees, was also watching Savage's every move.
"Thought you might need this," Linda said.
Sweat trickled down Savage's muscled rib cage. Unnerved by his physical presence, she had trouble averting her gaze.
"Thanks," he said.
Savage stood six inches taller than Linda, had a strong jaw, thick brown hair and probably fifteen years younger. After tipping back the glass, he touched the icy surface to his forehead.
"Fixed," he said.
"You are good!" Britta squealed, wrapping her slender arms around his neck.
Linda's face flushed, jealousy her only emotion as she watched Savage and Britta embrace.
"Follow me, Mr. Savage, I'll show you the guest bedroom. You can shower, and I'll find some of my husband's clothes."
"Call me Dan," he said, untangling from Britta and following Linda up the stairs, into the spare bedroom.
"Towels are in the cabinet. Take your time."
Linda waited in the kitchen for twenty minutes before selecting shirt and pants from her husband's closet. Returning to the guest bedroom, she tapped on the door and then entered without waiting for a reply.
Through the cracked bathroom door, she heard Savage humming a silly tune. She eased it open; senses sharpened as she stared into the steam-filled room, her eyes focusing on his hazy shape. Standing with his back to her, he stared in the mirror, shaving cream on his face and razor in his hand. She watched his naked backside until he stopped humming and turned around.
"See something you like?"
Linda's face flushed bright red. After dropping Ted's clothes to the floor, she hurried out of the bathroom.
"Dinner in ten minutes," she said.
Twenty minutes later, Savage joined her in the kitchen. Though Ted's shirt and pants were too small, he didn't seem to mind.
"Britta," she called. "Dinner is ready."
Wearing a sexy blouse and tight leather skirt, Britta danced into the dining room. "Where you from, Dan?" she asked.
"Here and there," he said, ladling corn from a bowl. "Mostly there."
Britta giggled, and Linda smiled. When they finished eating, Britta went upstairs, and Savage helped Linda with the dishes. They were soon together in the living room, basking in the warmth of the fireplace.
"Does your husband always have meetings on Friday night?"
Savage's question earned him a nervous titter from Linda. "I've wondered that myself."
Reclining on the couch, knees bent, she rested her head in her palms. The posture caused her skirt to ride up on her thighs. She straightened when she realized Savage was staring at her legs.
"Sorry," Savage said with a smile.
Linda's face was on fire, but it felt good and she realized she didn't want it to stop burning.
"Britta says he's having an affair," she said.
"Probably. I'll get you something to sleep in tonight."
"I usually sleep in the buff," he said
Linda ignored his comment and Savage stretched out on the couch as she hurried upstairs. He was grinning when she returned.
"You're bigger than Ted," she said, handing him the robe and pajamas.
He winked as he climbed the stairs to the bedroom. "Your husband has excellent taste. I can sleep naked if they don't fit."
Savage's words seared Linda's soul. Flushing with sexual warmth, she waited ten minutes. When he didn't return, she went to her bedroom, shutting the door but leaving it unlocked. Her body blazed as she squirmed beneath the sheets. She finally got out of bed and drew open the curtains.
The storm had more than arrived. She watched, perspiration beading her forehead as drifting snow piled up against the house. After returning to bed, she slipped into a restless dream, returning her to the shower scene:
A steamy mist filled the room as Savage reached for her hand. When he touched her breasts, she awoke, tangled in the sheets and needing a drink. Not bothering with robe and slippers, she arose to get one. On her way to the stairs, she found something amiss.
Ted's office door was open. Peering inside, she switched on the desk lamp. Papers lay scattered on the floor. His floor safe stood open and empty. With trembling fingertips to stifle a scream, she touched her open mouth.
When Linda discovered Ted's gun was missing, her hands began to tremble. She hurried to the guest bedroom and pushed open the door. She gasped when she heard the unmistakable sounds of lovemaking. Not only had the brazen stranger stolen their money, but he was raping her daughter. She reached for the light switch.
"Stop it now, you monster!"
Britta sat bolt upright, shock on her pretty face. Savage grinned.
"Mother, how could you?" Britta said.
"Get out of that bed," Linda yelled. "Now!"
Grabbing Britta's arm, she yanked her to the floor. Britta curled up in a ball to hide her nudity.
"Thief! How could you rob us and then rape my daughter?"
"You kidding me, lady? The little bitch loves it."
"You're a liar," she said, scratching and flailing with arms and fists as he blocked her blows. When he slapped her and shoved her against the wall, she sank to the floor, wiping tears from her eyes and blood from a split lip.
Britta sobbed, as she lay crumpled in a naked heap beside the bed. Savage wiped the blood from three parallel scratches on his face. Linda crawled across the floor to her daughter. When she tried to put her hands on her shoulders, Britta wrenched away.
"How could you do this to me?" she said.
"Britta, you don't understand. This man is a thief."
"You only want him for yourself," Britta said, her tears returning.
"That's not true."
"I hate you," Britta cried. "Just like Daddy hates you."
Slamming the door behind her, she ran out of the room leaving her mother alone to glare at the thief on the bed.
"I'm calling the police."
Savage laughed, and it chilled her. "Phone's dead. Remember?"
"It was you that cut the line." Savage didn't answer. "How did you know about the money and jewels we keep in the house?"
"Maybe you should ask Britta."
Linda froze. "What do you mean?"
"You think I just met her tonight? We've been going at it like cats in heat for a month. We're taking the money and blowing this burg."
"Am I? How do you think I managed the broken pipe in the basement?"
Feeling dizzy, Linda sank to the floor as he got dressed. She followed him out of the bedroom and down the stairs where Britta was waiting, suitcase packed. Savage grabbed his coat and opened the front door as the icy wind filled the hallway with blowing snow.
Linda grabbed Britta's elbow. "Where are you going?"
Britta shook loose from her grasp. "Away from you."
"What will I tell your father?"
Pivoting on her heels, Britta said, "Don't bother. He'll know why I left."
"Please stop," Linda begged as her daughter trudged through the snow.
Britta kept walking. Linda followed her into the brunt of the storm. When they reached a car parked on the street, Savage tossed the suitcase into the backseat. Linda grabbed Britta's arm, but she pulled away and climbed into the passenger seat, locking the door behind her. Banging on the window, Linda pleaded with her.
Savage tried cranking the engine until it became apparent the battery was dead. Britta led him to the garage. Minutes later, Linda's silver Mercedes screamed away through the misty darkness, Linda chasing, barefooted through the snow, after them.
Ted Stevenson returned next morning, easing his car into the driveway. In front of the house was a red Chevrolet, hood, and windows covered with snow, he hadn't noticed when he left. He also saw something else.
It was Linda, on her knees on the front porch dressed only in her sexy nightgown. Crystals of ice coating her body glistened like broken glass in the morning sunlight. One frozen hand clutched the door handle in a deadly embrace. Paralyzed by horror, Ted stared at her pallid face.
An ironic smile lay frozen on her lips. Her eyes seemed to move, but it was only a frosty reflection. Rushing upstairs to check on Britta, he abandoned her to death's eternity and the frozen kiss of the departed blue Norther.