Stranded with The Hero by Hannah Jo Abbott

1

Nicole Simmons had been looking forward to this trip for months. She just knew it would be the perfect romantic getaway. Her imagination had run free with visions of the snow-capped mountains of Freedom, Colorado and cozy chats by the fire over mugs of warm coffee. And she was sure by the end of the trip, her boyfriend of three years would propose, and she would return home to North Carolina engaged and happy for Christmas.

Too bad Kyle hadn’t had the same ideas. When she found out he had been cheating on her, the trip was the last thing on Nicole's mind. Even now as she boarded the plane, she could still feel the shock of that day. Nicole sighed, thinking she should have known he didn’t have that many business trips. The harsh reality of the breakup had sent her into a funk of self-pity and forgetfulness.

That was her excuse for forgetting to cancel the resort reservation in time to get a refund.

That had to be it, since her entire job was remembering and organizing all the details of her boss’s life. As an executive assistant to the CEO of a business conglomerate, she spent her days organizing schedules, meetings, trips, and even meals and sometimes wardrobe options. Nicole had spent her career proving herself as she moved from a front desk receptionist to a low level assistant and grew to the top of the company.

She’d been very proud of herself and the job that allowed her to book and pay for ten days in the Colorado mountains at a lavish resort. Her boss had given her the side eye when she requested the time off, but she had strategically scheduled it around the company’s Thanksgiving holidays.

She pushed her long, dark blonde hair behind her shoulders before she placed her bag in the overhead compartment and took her seat on the plane. As long as she was paying for it, she might as well enjoy the trip herself. As she buckled her seatbelt and watched the stewardesses perform the safety presentation, she thought about how cautious and careful she’d been her whole life. Kyle had begged her more than once to go on an adventurous sort of trip--kayaking, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing. But she had been happy to go sit on a beach somewhere with a book, or take a long weekend in a quiet mountain cabin.

This trip will be different. I’ll try new things and have a little adventure. She could just picture how cute she would look in a little snow hat and boots getting ready to ski. Her stomach lurched the slightest bit at the thought of actually speeding down a hill. She swallowed hard and told herself she would do it. She had to. It was time for a change. And this trip was the perfect opportunity.

When the plane began to descend to make its landing, Nicole gripped the armrests until her knuckles turned white. She peeled her fingers back as they taxied to the gate. She exited the plane carrying her bag over her shoulder and waited for her suitcases loaded down with winter gear. Nicole had never been accused of being a light packer, and this trip was no different. She ignored the stares of other passengers as she pulled both of her large, bright pink floral print suitcases off the conveyor belt. She took one with each hand and began to roll them outside to hail a taxi.

The crisp air hit her in the face as the glass doors slid open to the sidewalk. She shivered, remembering the difference in temperatures between North Carolina and Colorado. As she stood there freezing, she racked her brain to think which suitcase held her big puffy coat with the fur trim that she had ordered online. Should she stop and dig it out? No, that would take too long. She would be fine once she got in the taxi. A smile spread wide across her face. Her adventure was just beginning.

* * *

Carson Leavy was countingthe hours until he would be off work. He loved his job as an EMT, but a non-stop, forty-eight hours on at the fire station was enough to make anybody want a nap on any given week. This particular shift had been a doozy already. He mentally counted the calls they had responded to that day: an elderly woman who slipped on the ice in her driveway, a car wreck with multiple serious injuries, several people stuck on an elevator in an old building. Carson sighed, but inwardly he smiled with pride. This was exactly what made him want to become an EMT, to help people who needed him.

He climbed off the ambulance from their latest call, carrying his gear. He stretched his neck back and forth, trying to work out the knots he always seemed to get on shift. His mom would say he worried too much and carried his stress on top of his shoulders. But Carson knew his job was important, and he made sure he was sharp and ready for whatever happened. That was the job to him. And he wouldn’t forget it.

Still, he was looking forward to his four days off. Technically, he only had one real day off before he would be on call at his part-time handyman job at Freedom Ridge Resort. But that part of his life was usually less stressful.

After he hung his gear in his assigned spot, he tried to act nonchalant as he watched to make sure the other guys on the crew did the same. Most of them took care of their stuff, but Carson didn’t want to be the one running for a call when one of them couldn’t find a glove because they didn’t put things back.

His buddy Aiden nodded as he passed him in the doorway. “Checked off my list, Dad,” he joked.

Carson patted him on the shoulder as he walked past. “I just like to make sure.” He walked inside and made his way to the kitchen. Coffee was what he needed right now--hot and strong coffee. He poured himself a cup and carried it as he walked to the back door of the fire house. He knew it was cold outside, but he stepped outside onto the patio. The cold hit him in the face, but it was worth it for the moment of peace and quiet.

He liked his crew, in fact, he considered them some of his best friends. But he still needed a break sometimes. Carson sipped the hot coffee and stared off into the distance. He could just see the tops of the mountains, and the sight calmed and steadied him.

Taking a deep breath, he let the cold mountain air fill his lungs and he closed his eyes. “This is the best,” he whispered. He had never known another home besides Freedom, Colorado, and as far as he was concerned, he never would.

The quiet moment was over when the alarm sounded, and he made his way inside as he listened to the voice of the dispatcher over the loudspeaker. Yep, he told himself as he dumped out the coffee in the sink, This is what I was made for.