Mistletoe and Mr. Right Page 1

Chapter 1

Someone had drawn a giant penis in the snow.

“At least it’s anatomically correct.” Newly minted Moose Springs, Alaska, property mogul Lana Montgomery tilted her head, considering the artwork carved so precisely into the mountainside.

“A snow angel might have been more appropriate.” Ben, her construction manager, scratched the back of his neck, trying and failing to keep a professional tone. “It is two weeks until Christmas.”

“Yes, but then the message might have been lost. At least the mistletoe is a nice touch.”

Nothing said screw you like an acre-wide penis pointed at your future construction site.

Ben exhaled a breath into the cold winter air as if trying to cover a snort. “The locals are consistent, I’ll give them that.”

The penis was causing problems, as penises tended to do. The artwork was the most recent in a long list of attempts by the Moose Springs locals to halt Lana’s luxury condominium project. At least the snow art was refreshingly different from her normal issues: an accountant stealing from the family company here, insufficient returns from an ill-advised investment there, and bad PR from someone in the family playing too hard with the Montgomery money just about everywhere.

A cheerful approach to life meant Lana was good at smoothing things over, but cheerfulness didn’t help the slight crow’s-feet at the corners of her eyes or the permanent stress line trying to carve itself into her forehead.

Thirty-two was too young to feel the weight of her responsibilities this heavily.

“I can get a snowcat out here to level this out,” Ben offered.

“Let’s leave it for a while.” Lana smiled congenially at her contractor. “Let them have their fun. Someone went to an awful lot of effort to put this here without being seen, and I’d hate to disappoint them. Plus, who knows what they might choose for the follow-up pièce de résistance?”

“They don’t get to you at all, do they?”

“I’m not completely immune to the attention.” Lana scooped a handful of snow into her gloved palm. “I’m also hoping it won’t take too much time before they stop being angry with me.”

“You did buy up the entire town,” Ben said with an amused look. “Folks in a place this small don’t take that sort of thing lightly.”

“Property owners hold a lot of political sway in Moose Springs. We can’t build a condominium on a mountainside without the town council’s approval.”

“And you wonder why they don’t like you.” Ben softened his teasing with a good-natured chuckle. “Don’t worry. As soon as the place gets built, they’ll get used to it…in a couple dozen generations or so.”

Montgomerys didn’t snort. At least they didn’t in public, but what happened on a penis-carved mountainside stayed on a penis-carved mountainside. “Be careful, Ben. Your optimism is showing.”

Ben barked out a laugh, then waved his hand for her to follow him. She lobbed the snowball toward the closest mistletoe leaf before heading back to her snowmobile. It slipped and slid on the loose powdery snow until she maneuvered into Ben’s tracks. They circled the mountainside property the Montgomery Group had purchased from Moose Springs Resort and then tightened the circle to where her eventual luxury condominiums would be built.

Key word: eventual.

At the top of today’s to-do list was checking on the construction site progress. As sites went, this one was sorely lacking. So far, they’d only driven tall stakes with bright orange plastic flags on the tops to mark the boundaries of what would soon become the riskiest venture Lana had ever started.

The condominiums were meant to lure the rich and powerful from all over the world into permanently sinking their wealth into the town of Moose Springs instead of simply arriving for a two-week ski vacation every other year. New residents would enjoy all the amenities of the resort with the permanence of a personal vacation home.

If Lana could get the darn place built.

As they reached the top of the site, highest on the mountainside, the town was at its best view. The lake below Moose Springs Resort had frozen over, now crisscrossed with tracks from snowmobiles and sledding children. Nestled in the bottom of the valley were tiny buildings set among thick stands of evergreen: the homes and businesses and people of Moose Springs. The lifeblood of this town.

Lana loved Moose Springs in a way she’d never loved anything before. It had stolen her heart and soul since her first visit as a young child, and she was determined to drive a stabilizing steel bar through the picturesque Alaskan town’s shaky, tourism-driven economy no matter what. But just because she believed in what she was doing didn’t mean the town did too.

Lana hadn’t given up hope she could get them on board with her plans, but as of yet, she had very little support in either the community or her holding company.

“Ask for forgiveness, not permission,” she said to herself as they slowed. Calling forward over the rumble of the engines, she asked Ben, “Are you sure we can’t break ground sooner?”

“Not unless we want to be digging through eight feet of snow.”

Lana’s work schedule limited her time in Moose Springs, but she was invested in doing this project right. For months, she and Ben had been up to their elbows in architect plans, zoning requirements, and a sleigh full of red tape. She’d hoped their progress would have been further by now.

“I thought construction during winter was common in Alaska,” Lana said.

“Yeah, if you need a roof replaced or a kitchen remodeled. Not this behemoth. Listen,” Ben said, “it’s not impossible, but the costs for site prep are going to skyrocket, and there’s not much we can do about getting material in until the access road gets widened and the gravel down. Ever tried to off-road a semi loaded with heavy equipment?”

“Point made. We wait until spring.” When Ben opened his mouth, Lana added, “Early spring. I’m getting this done as fast as humanly possible. And, Ben? When you start hiring day labor, supplement your crew with as many local hires as you can, please. It’ll save us on per diem.”

He gave her a knowing look but didn’t call Lana out on her decision. Her construction manager knew exactly why she wanted the locals to benefit from the jobs this project would provide.

She really did love Moose Springs. Which only made it worse knowing how much they hated her.

In the distance, a heavy cloud clung to the top of the highest peak, one usually obscured by the weather on less clear days than this.

“Mount Veil is looking particularly ominous today,” she mentioned, stalling because she would much rather stay outside with Ben then go back to her suite. Moose Springs Resort was a world-class luxury hotel offering absolutely anything she could possibly want, but an empty room got lonely. Besides, the snow-covered Alaskan mountains were always worth taking a moment to appreciate.

Ben glanced at the giant hovering in the distance. “Veil’s not Denali, but it’s one badass monster. You ever try to climb it?”

“I’m more of a snowmobile girl.” Lana patted the handle of her ride.

“If you’re going to be a resident of Moose Springs, you’re going to need to use the right lingo. This is a snow machine.”

“I’m not a resident,” she informed him. “I stay in the resort.”

“You own property, don’t you?”

“The company owns property, not me.”

Chicago, London, Singapore, the Virgin Islands…the Montgomery Group had their hands everywhere. But just because it was easier to stay at her family’s holdings didn’t mean she belonged in any of them. In the first thirty some years of her life, Lana had learned a lot from the company. Negotiating a million-dollar deal over cocktails was a normal Thursday for her. She could outmaneuver veteran CEOs while making a single martini double twist to perfection. But she’d never learned how to feel at home.

“Buying land doesn’t make you part of a town, Ben. I wish it were that easy.”

“Well, ma’am, either way, you had better get down to the town hall meeting.”

“Why is that?”

Ben grinned at her. “Because they’re still trying to figure out how to get rid of you.”

* * *

Most town hall meetings were held in, well, a town hall. But not Moose Springs.

In Moose Springs, town hall meetings were held in an abandoned barn on the far side of town, complete with snow piled up around the building to near impassability. If one wanted to get to the barn door closest to a parking spot, they better have some gumption and a sturdy pair of shoes.

Wading through knee-deep snow in high heels was never fun, so Lana changed into a cute but sturdy pair of boots she kept in the backseat for this very purpose.

When she reached the door, it stuck, so Lana put her weight behind her pull. Apparently, the barn had not only been decorated for the holidays on the outside, but it was also being used to store the town’s Christmas decorations. Someone had stacked a pile of three-foot-tall plastic Christmas elves against the other side of the door, because when it finally swung open, the elves saw their chance to make their escape. She jumped back to avoid the avalanche, ending up in a snowbank halfway to her now very cold knees. The closest elf was facedown in a boot hole, looking like it had officially given up on making it through the holidays with a semblance of dignity.

Through the open doorway, Lana could see that the inside of the barn had been turned into a makeshift town hall. Folding chairs filled what once had been a large area to store hay.

As everyone in the back few rows turned in their seats to stare at her out in the snow, Lana gave them an awkward wave.

“That was unexpected,” she said, trying to cover her embarrassment with cheerfulness.

“There’s another entrance on the other side,” someone muttered.

Well. That certainly would have been informative.

Rescuing half a dozen cheap plastic elves from a snowy death wasn’t the worst thing she’d ever done, although she would have appreciated a few less smirks aimed her way. Lana never had liked it when everyone looked at her when she stepped into a room. She was used to it, but she didn’t like it.

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