Chapter 5

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Emerson's fingers typed fast across the keyboard of her laptop responding to emails. She checked the status of her team's prioritized projects, fielded questions from partners, instructed her assistant to rearrange her schedule.

She thought about checking on Liam's assistant and the cupcake order then decided to let it go and let it be handled.

Then she reconsidered and asked her own assistant to follow through even though it was a personal task. Mixing business and personal wasn't a regular practice but given the circumstances, she made the exception.

She opened a data file on her computer and pulled some numbers she wanted to check against her team's conclusions—she hated numbers so she was diligent about double-checking. Pulling her legs up to stretch down the length of the couch, she crossed her feet at her ankles and dove into work as she usually did in the evenings after Archer went to sleep.

It was early still, but hard to tell time away from the schedule and routines with her family.

Glancing up to the high windows, only inky black could be seen with swirling white flakes making it look like it was raining stars. Night had arrived as fast as the storm and, with a heavy dose of guilt, her insides tugged between wanting to slow down the evening, to seep in the experience, and wanting to speed it up so she could get home and back to her purposeful life.

Time would tick away as it always did and she didn't need to worry about it, she reminded herself as she got back to work.

Occasional clanks came from the kitchen, echoing down the stone hallway from where Liam made dinner. Scents of marinade meandered along with an oath and a gruff dog bark here and there.

They were happy sounds, homely sounds. Looking up from her computer again, she wondered what it was like to live in such a grand and expansive castle. It should have been cold, dark, and empty given that one man lived alone in it. But it wasn't. Somehow it managed to be fun, warm, insularly cozy, and comfortable despite the winter storm that pounded outside.

At least enemies weren't pounding outside the walls of the castle, she mused.

And she knew, despite being snowed in against her desires, that she was exactly that—comfortable.

Not that Emerson wanted to notice any of this. She had her own home, her own family to be thinking about. Relaxing into the life she was snowed into was dangerous and guilt-ridden.

She sipped from her wine glass and reminded herself she didn't need to feel guilty; it wasn't her fault she was stuck in New Hampshire while her son and mom were in California.

It was Liam Wyatt's fault.

Back in a work zone, she fired off a detailed response to a restless client she considered high-touch. Likely not worth the revenue if one were to subtract the amount of time spent handholding, but the bottom line looked better and she'd gotten a gold star and a nice bonus. Payment for biting her tongue and exercising patience, the way she figured it.

And she thanked God for the payment as neither silence nor patience were strengths of hers.

When a bell rang through the castle, reverberating off of the tall slabs of stone, she was reminded of where she was—very far from home. Her own doorbell had been broken for the last few months and featured a pitiful sound that did more gurgling than ringing. Archer had volunteered that it sounded like a cat in a blender being blended in slow motion. The kid wasn't lacking for imagination.

As she heard voices echo, Emerson smoothed a hand over her mane of red out of habit and hoped she looked presentable.

Then a small glimmer of hope shined—if they got in, she could get out.

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