Just Another Winter’s Tale – A sneak preview

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, Just Another Winter’s Tale. It is currently available to pre-order from Amazon, out for release on Sunday 1st November.  I’ve provided a sneak preview of the first few chapters at the base of this page.

Very excitingly, we have just finished recording the audiobook version of this and are hopeful that will also be released during November.

I have previously shared the cover of this book with you, but received one or two comments that it could be better. I have therefore scrapped the original cover and had a new cover designed.  Thank you for your honest feedback and I hope this hits the spot more effectively than the last.  It certainly works for me 🙂

fenellaashworth-30

Best enjoyed snuggled up under a blanket, in front of a roaring log fire, this is a happy, feel-good erotic romance, designed to put a smile on your face over the festive season.

It’s Christmas Eve and an unsuspecting Emily loses control of her car in a snowstorm. On the negative side, thanks to getting up close and personal with an Oak tree, Emily’s car looks to be a write off. On the positive side, she discovers her situation isn’t unique and quickly joins forces with Sam, accompanying him to a nearby village in search of food, comfort and shelter.

As the freezing snow piles up around the window ledges outside, safe within their warm, snug accommodation, two strangers quickly discover how things can hot up when desire is allowed to run its natural course. The next day, following a night of intense passion, they continue their journey onwards together. But will they manage to see their respective families on Christmas Day, or might more pressing physical needs hamper their progress?

The first few chapters of this book were originally published as a short story called Strangers in the Snow, but having enjoyed writing the characters so much, I decided to significantly extend their tale into a full length novel and this is the result.

 

Just Another Winter’s Tale by Fenella Ashworth

Chapter 1

The snow was falling so heavily that it had become almost hypnotic.  Coupled with the rapid, monotonous beat of the windscreen wipers which were fighting a losing battle to maintain visibility, Emily was impressed she was managing to make any progress at all.  Several miles previously, she’d been forced to leave the busy A-road she normally travelled along when visiting her parents, due to a multi-car accident.  From the number of blue flashing lights reflecting across the snowy surfaces at the scene, it had looked pretty serious, suggesting there was little chance of the route being cleared for several hours.

Emily had therefore taken the bold yet questionable decision of driving along the little-used, untreated back roads, in an attempt to keep moving.  Being relatively near to her final destination in the heart of West Sussex, and having grown up in the vicinity, it was a route she knew well.  This was a blessing given that the thick, swirling snow was now settling with a vengeance.  Under the white blanket, the exact positioning of the road surface became increasingly blurred, forcing a confused Emily to rely heavily upon local landmarks.  Hedgerows and tunnels of trees, now devoid of their thick summer foliage, became invaluable to assist her slow progress, under such difficult circumstances as these.

Crawling forwards, occasionally sliding on the slick surfaces, she passed a series of abandoned vehicles and felt her stomach roll with nervous apprehension.  One of them looked suspiciously like a Ferrari and she felt a flash of pride that her own bog-standard car was managing to outperform the expensive hot hatch.  Yet, with another seven miles still left to travel and the snow falling more heavily with every passing minute, much like the weather surrounding her, her chances of success were looking increasingly bleak.  Gulping down fast, shallow breaths, she continued resolutely onwards, her cold, clammy hands providing a stark contrast to the hot, red flush radiating from her face and neck.  It was physiological evidence, if any were seriously required, that driving in such poor weather conditions could be incredibly stressful.

Edging her way onwards, Emily found her mind starting to wander towards her family and the festive celebrations they had planned over the next few days.  Somehow, Christmas always made her feel lonelier than at any other time of year, despite having her nearest and dearest present.  Her favourite Christmas song proclaimed it was hard to be alone at this time of year, and never had that sentiment been truer.  The knowledge that everybody would be coupled up in their happy pairings; her parents, her brother John with his wife, her sister Jane and husband Dan.  Even the dog and cat were known to annually suspend hostilities and naturally migrate together beside the open fire, although theirs was always destined to be a rocky partnership.  Emily stood out as the only singleton in a mass of happy couples.  And it was so notcool for a woman in her mid-thirties to be jealous of the cat.

Her melancholy wasn’t helped by memories of what had taken place exactly three years ago, to the day.  Her long-term boyfriend, in his great wisdom, had chosen Christmas Eve as the most appropriate time to make his big announcement.  He no longer loved her and hadn’t done for some time, apparently.  And that, as they say, was that.  For the days and nights that had followed, Emily had played the song, ‘A Winter’s Tale’, almost obsessively on repeat.  It seemed to so completely describe the wretched situation she found herself in.  His thoughtless actions had even managed to tinge her favourite Christmas song with a dash of unbearable sadness…and that was unforgiveable.

A heartbroken Emily subsequently discovered that, with indecent haste, he had become engaged to an ex-girlfriend.  Before anyone could say “shotgun wedding”, they were married and excitedly preparing to welcome their first child into the world.  Although each new snippet of information hurt slightly less than the last, the news had still subjected her to actual physical pain, further hampering the recovery of her injured heart.

Despite it being a cliché though, time really was proving to be a great healer.  Indeed, deep down, Emily could now accept that they would never have been compatible in the long term.  Even while they were still together, she’d always experienced a nagging doubt, even though her brain worked strenuously to suppress it at the time.  Looking back, she remembered wondering whether it was really her that he wanted, or did he just want someone.  Certainly, the speed at which he could drop one girlfriend and obtain a replacement, suggested the latter scenario, and only added weight to her theory.  These days, she no longer wanted him back.  Indeed, with distance, she’d come to recognise that he had been insensitive and emotionally weak.  But although his spell over her was broken, the curse he’d cast over Christmas remained firmly in place.

Making her way carefully around another abandoned car, Emily fought off the melancholy she always felt when her unwelcome ex appeared in her thoughts.  In the past year, she had put a limited amount of effort into meeting someone new, in the hope of finding love again.  But was she really cut out for a life of dating apps?  Swiping left or right and being asked a barrage of personal, often intimate questions, whilst trying to fend off dick pics and unsolicited instant messages, were so not her idea of a good time.  Wasn’t there just somebody kind, sexy and decent out there?

Negotiating around a sharp corner, her skin crawled in memory of a recent date she’d had with a guy, following a brief conversation online.  It had quickly become apparent from the outset that theirs would never be a harmonious coupling.  Emily was searching for romance, connection, belonging and, dare she even admit it these days, love.  It swiftly became blatantly clear that he was looking for a one-off, no-strings attached, fuck-fest.  Needless to say, that night he’d gone home disappointed.  Despite being fed up with her single status, Emily struggled to believe that advertising yourself on the internet like some second-hand car was the way forward.  She’d recently shared her thoughts with her sister who, in her infinite wisdom, had tried to console her.

‘You’ll know when you find the one,’ her sister had advised, gushing with positivity.  ‘And it will happen, I promise.’  Easy for her to spew out such platitudes, Emily had noted at the time.  With a glorious husband, two apparently perfect children and a Labrador in tow, she was the epitome of contentment.  Besides, Emily wasn’t willing to just settle into another relationship now.  Next time, she wanted something extraordinary, or nothing at all.  She’d reached a time in her life where she wasn’t willing to mess about any longer.

‘Oh fuck!’ she cried out, as her car suddenly started to slide out of control.  Emily quickly discovered that cruising sideways down a steep incline provided a very effective distraction from chronic wistfulness.  Never able to remember whether you should turn your wheels into a skid, or out of it, she tried both options with minimal consequence, whilst her foot pressed down hard on the brake pedal.  Trapped in a metal box, skidding towards a very solid-looking, highly inconveniently placed line of trees, Emily squealed.  Her eyes automatically snapped shut, preparing for the inevitable impact and subsequent pain.

She’d heard of people’s lives flashing before their eyes, upon finding themselves in a near-death experience.  Of course she had.  What she hadn’t banked on was for her mind to take it upon itself to come up with such a random, eclectic and downright weird selection of memories.  The images started off sensibly enough; her parents with their arms wrapped around each other, laughing.  The epitome of the loving relationship which Emily herself secretly strived to achieve.  The movie reel quickly cut to a goldfish which she had won as an eight-year old at the local fair, repetitively circling in its plastic bag.  Next, a disco she’d attended, where her older sister had kissed a boy she’d had a secret crush on as a teen.  Finally, she was doing her university finals, watching the dust float languidly in the hot, sunlit air above her small, wooden desk.  Silently, she observed the names of students, stretching back over previous decades, deeply carved into the grainy surface.  And then, nothing but darkness.

‘That’s it?’ thought Emily, feeling ridiculously short-changed, just before her car came to an ultimate and untimely stop.  That bizarre and outrageously uninspiring set of memories was the best her brain could come up with, when faced with the threat of potential death?  Seconds later, accompanied by an explosive bang that ricocheted painfully through her skull, her car became intimately acquainted with an Oak tree as the engine cut out.  For a few silent seconds, she remained hunched over, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, both unable and unwilling to open her eyes.  Every muscle in her body was tightly constricted, while her pulse beat off the charts.

As she clenched and relaxed each of her limbs individually in turn, Emily was relieved not to feel any immediate injury.  Perhaps, she considered, the memories your brain selects are dependent upon the severity of the situation in which you find yourself?  One thing was for sure, though.  She needed to get out more and give her brain some higher quality fodder, should the worst ever happen again.  Life was short; she seriously needed to start living it.  With that thought at the forefront of her mind, Emily found the necessary courage to open her eyes.

‘Shit,’ she groaned, taking in the alarming sight before her.  A brief glance down confirmed no obvious injuries to her own body, but her car hadn’t been so lucky.  Rough, snow-covered bark belonging to the aforementioned Oak tree, loomed large in the driver’s side window, just inches from her face.  Meanwhile, the crumpled car bonnet and cracked windscreen bore evidence of the brunt of the impact.  Emily gazed forwards into the middle distance, observing the isolation and complete lack of nearby houses.  She couldn’t help but wonder what on earth she should do next.  Unexpectedly, a movement in the side mirror attracted her attention.  Before she knew what was happening, the passenger-side door was wrenched open and a large, masked man leapt into the seat beside her, accompanied by a frigid blast of arctic air and an eruption of snowflakes.

‘Don’t move!’ he demanded, closing the door behind himself.  Emily tried to scream, but an absence of sound escaped from her throat.  Instead, just a weak ‘eeeeeeee’ glided pathetically through the air, at a pitch not dissimilar to that of a whistling kettle.  With an effort that abysmal, realised Emily, the only creatures whose attention she was likely to attract were bats….or perhaps a Blue Whale, under very different environmental circumstances.

In terror, she slowly turned to face him.  He was dressed entirely in black, with the exception of a thin layer of snow which had collected across his broad shoulders.  A hood was secured tightly around his head whilst a scarf covered most of his face.  As a result, only the darkest pair of eyes that Emily had ever seen, remained on display.

‘My money’s in the glove compartment,’ she squeaked, nodding almost imperceptibly towards his knees.

‘That’s good to know…I guess,’ he replied, and despite her distress, Emily identified a hint of amusement in his tone.  Oh God, was she dealing with a complete psychopath? 

‘But right now,’ he continued.  ‘I’m concerned you might have whiplash, so don’t move.’

‘You’re…you’re here to help me?’ she stumbled.  ‘Not to steal from me?’

            ‘Steal from you?’ he chuckled.  ‘Who do you think I am?  Dick Turpin?  The most infamous of all the highwaymen…’  Emily felt very foolish.

‘Well, I’m pretty confident I don’t have whiplash…thank you,’ she replied, her good manners and upbringing forcing her to be polite to this stranger, who had appeared uninvited in her car, scared her half to death and now seemed to be laughing at her.  ‘I might be at risk of an early onset heart attack though,’ she added pointedly.

‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured.  ‘But you ought to be congratulated.  That was one hell of an impressive slide!’

‘Yeah…right up to the moment of impact,’ she agreed dryly.  ‘I didn’t see you.’

‘Well, when you passed me, you did have your eyes closed,’ he said teasingly.  ‘Plus, I took cover when I saw what was happening.  You can let go of the steering wheel now, by the way.’ 

Emily looked down to find her hands were still clamped tightly around it.  Concentrating hard, she carefully released each of her fingers from their fraught grip before stretching her quivering hands out flat and placing them purposefully into her lap.

‘My poor car,’ she sighed, gently shaking her head.

‘Ultimately, it’s only a car,’ the man pointed out.  ‘You’re okay.  That’s what matters.’

‘I guess,’ she agreed, breathing out a long, shaky sigh.

‘Do you need to telephone anyone?’ he asked kindly, recognising her clearly delicate emotional state.

‘Maybe I should,’ Emily agreed, grappling in her coat pocket for her mobile phone.  After hitting a few buttons, she dropped the device onto the dashboard. 

‘No signal?’ he asked.

‘No battery,’ she replied slightly sheepishly.  ‘I’m not the world’s most prepared traveller, even when extreme weather warnings have been issued for days in advance.’

‘Here,’ he said softly.  Unzipping one of his coat pockets, he pulled out an iPhone, unlocked it and handed it across.  ‘Feel free to use mine.’  Emily gazed down at the phone, surprised to be confronted with the screensaver image of a pirate – the man who was sitting next to her, she imagined, but it was impossible to tell.  He wore the requisite eye patch, bandana, huge fake bushy beard and a lopsided toy parrot perched on his shoulder.  Climbing all over him, while grinning inanely, were two young children.

‘You?’ she smiled.

‘For my sins,’ he nodded.

‘Thanks, but I won’t,’ Emily grimaced, handing the device back to its owner.  ‘Not until I’m safe.  I wouldn’t want my family to worry, or worse still, try and drive out in this crazy weather to rescue me.’

‘You’re safe right now,’ he said meaningfully.  Something in his tone made Emily look up at him properly for the first time and in that brief moment, their eyes locked.  With her stomach suddenly shifting into free-fall, she inhaled sharply, immediately retracting her gaze as though she’d been electrocuted.

‘You could call for a rescue service but I’ve already tried that for my car,’ he explained.  ‘Unsurprisingly, they’re inundated and prioritising emergencies, which thankfully we are not.’

‘Your car broke down too?’ queried Emily.

‘Yeah,’ he admitted with a nod, and this time Emily was confident of hearing amusement in his deep voice.  ‘Though in a far less spectacular fashion than yourself.  In comparison to you, I would describe myself as an amateur, at best.’

‘Where were you heading?’ she smiled.

‘Barlavington estate.  Family Christmas, you know?’  Emily sighed inwardly with pleasure.  He had such a lovely strong voice, full of expression and tone; like a comforting tune that she’d once known, but long forgotten.  He sounded reassuringly familiar.  It was a shame she could make out so little of the rest of him, dressed up for blizzard conditions as he was.  The only thing she knew for sure was that he was certainly tall.  His build was much more difficult to decipher, given all the layers of clothing he was wearing.  And unless he started unwrapping the various scarves from around his face, she had no idea what he looked like either.  ‘You?’ he prompted, breaking her daydream.

‘Me?  Oh…um…I’m heading to Sutton for the same reason,’ she replied.  ‘So just the next village along from you.  I normally stick to the main road, but there was an accident.’

‘Yeah, me too,’ he explained.  ‘I thought I’d take my chances with the back roads.’

‘And how’s that working out for you?’ grinned Emily, starting to see the humour in their situation.

‘Surprisingly well,’ he admitted.  Unsure exactly what he meant by that, Emily found herself temporarily silenced.  ‘Well,’ he continued.  ‘As much as I’m enjoying myself, we can’t stay here chatting much longer.  It’ll be dark shortly and my aunt’s house is still a couple of miles away on foot.  But at least it’s somewhere warm to spend the night, before trying to finish the journey tomorrow.’

‘Sounds like you’re all sorted,’ said Emily, feeling deflated.  She had no idea what her next step should be.  ‘Thank you very much for checking I was okay.  It was nice to meet you.’

‘So you don’t want to join me then?’ he asked in a teasing tone.  ‘You’re not up for a short hike?’

‘Join you?  Wouldn’t your aunt mind?’ she replied, her pulse ramping up a notch, accompanied by more than a frisson of excitement.

‘No, the more the merrier, as far as she’s always concerned,’ he explained.  ‘Have you got any outdoor gear?’

‘Yes, in the back of the car.’  He clearly didn’t consider her current clothing was appropriate for bleak midwinter and, begrudgingly, she knew he was right.  Unfastening her seatbelt with still shaking fingers, she gasped as he placed one of his gloved hands on hers.

‘No, you stay there,’ he instructed.  ‘I’m already dressed for this crazy weather.’  A freezing blast of air entered the car as he darted back outside.  As the door closed once more, all that remained of his presence was a faint whiff of delicious smelling aftershave and a melted puddle of snow on the floor.

Emily chanced a quick glance at herself in the rear view mirror and instantly regretted doing so; she wasn’t looking her best.  Although her bright blue eyes sparkled, they were surrounded by an unsurprisingly flushed and blotchy face.  Briefly, Emily ran her fingers through her long blonde hair before giving it up as a bad job; she was clearly fighting a losing battle.  Moments later, her white knight re-appeared, accompanied by walking boots and an assortment of thick, waterproof coats, hats, scarves and gloves.

‘Hey!  What are you talking about?’ he exclaimed, dumping the collection unceremoniously on his vacant seat.  ‘You’re a highly prepared traveller.  You’ve got clothing for every possible seasonal eventuality back there!’

‘It’s very kind of you to assume I’m organised,’ explained Emily, feeling a little foolish.  ‘But it’s actually just extreme laziness; I basically use my car to store all of my outdoor clothes.’

‘Right,’ he chuckled.  ‘Well, I’ll leave you to get changed.  Oh, do you have an overnight bag, by the way?  I couldn’t see one.’  Emily nodded towards a small rucksack on the back seat.  Having kicked off her flat shoes, she was struggling to pull a walking boot on; not an easy task in the presence of a steering wheel.  ‘Seriously?’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s it?’

‘Yeah, that’s it,’ she confirmed.  ‘I dropped all my family’s gifts off the other week, so I just needed a couple of changes of clothes and some toiletries.’

‘Wow…well, I’ll stick your bag into my rucksack to save you carrying it, if you like?’

‘Thank you, that’s really kind.’

‘No problem,’ he replied, grabbing her bag before doffing an imaginary cap.  ‘Oh, and don’t forget your purse is in the glove compartment…seeing as I never claimed it for my own,’ he laughed, closing the door once more.

Chapter 2

Emily spent the next couple of minutes fighting her way into her outdoor clothing, whilst occasionally glancing through the window to keep track of her masked companion.  Unable to open the driver’s door, due to the up close and personal presence of an Oak tree, she struggled across the centre console and exited via the passenger side.  Immediately, a blast of biting wind cut around her exposed face, thanks to the snow being blown almost diagonally across the white landscape.  A shudder of goosebumps passed across her shoulders and she hoped they wouldn’t have to be out in such unforgiving conditions for too long.  Stowing his phone in a side pocket, the man moved swiftly across to Emily and closed the door behind her.  He then held out his hand in an unexpectedly formal way.

‘Sam Whitehall,’ he announced through the layers of scarf which still covered his face.

‘Emily Jones,’ she replied, grasping his gloved hand with a grin whilst trying to prevent her teeth from chattering.  Now she could see why he was so well wrapped up and quickly pulled her own scarf tightly around her head.  It was beyond cold.

‘Lovely to meet you, Emily,’ he replied.  ‘Sorry not to have encountered you in more salubrious circumstances.  Shall we get going?’

‘Are you sure about this?  You don’t even know me.’

‘I know enough,’ he confirmed.  ‘More to the point, you don’t know me.  I could be a mad axe murderer.’

‘Where are your axes then,’ laughed Emily, turning to lock the door of her car, surprised when the central locking system still worked, despite the damage.

‘Damn,’ he chuckled, lifting his rucksack onto his back in preparation.  ‘I must have left them at home.’

‘If axe murdering is your profession, then you’re clearly not very good at it,’ she concluded.  ‘So I’ll take my chances.’

‘It doesn’t pay to be too confident,’ he teased and Emily could see laughter lines crinkling at the edges of his eyes. ‘After you,’ he added, holding out his arm in the direction they needed to travel.

‘Uh-oh.  That’s exactly what an axe murderer would say,’ observed Emily dryly.  She was rewarded by hearing his deep, infectious laugh.

They started to trudge forward through the treacherous weather.  A satisfying crunch accompanied each step underfoot as the snow continued to swirl around them making visibility increasingly difficult.  To make matters worse, Emily found it was also difficult to hear very well.  Her ears were encompassed under numerous woollen layers, from her attempts to block out the cold and the constant wind didn’t help much either.

‘Are you absolutely sure your aunt won’t mind me turning up too?’ she asked in a raised voice.

‘Positive,’ he bellowed back.  ‘I texted ahead.  It’s all fine.  She’s preparing the sleeping arrangements as we speak.’

‘I’m impressed,’ she replied.  ‘Your aunt must be pretty technologically savvy compared to my mum!’  That was an understatement.  Although her parents shared a Smartphone, the bulk of its functionality remained a mystery to them.  Suggesting they log onto the Facebook app would receive an identical response to asking them to reprogramme the Hubble Space Telescope.  As a result, the chances of them being aware of an incoming text, let alone replying to it, were exceptionally slim indeed.  And that assumed that their phone was switched on in the first place…which it very rarely was.  An inability to charge electrical devices was obviously a family failing, inherited through the generations.

‘My aunt has always been a very social being,’ Sam explained, over the wind and weather.  ‘And as the modern world enhances her potential to be even more social, she made a conscious decision to embrace technology.’

‘And will there be enough room in her house for me?’ queried Emily.

‘Definitely,’ he replied, apparently amused.

‘Does she live alone?’

‘She’s no longer married,’ he explained.  ‘But she’s got a housekeeper so fortunately she’s rarely alone.  She’s a real people person.  Seems to spend half of her time throwing parties and the other half planning them.  Christmas Eve is always the biggest though, so you’ve chosen exceptionally well.  Good job!’

‘She’s having a party?  Tonight?  Oh, I couldn’t possibly impose on her then.  It wouldn’t be fair.’

‘Nonsense,’ chuckled Sam.  ‘She’s already told me in no uncertain terms that she can’t wait to meet you.  She’ll be delighted.  And I was attending anyway, although my family won’t be able to make it now because of this weather.  Perhaps you can be my plus one?’ he suggested, swinging around to face her, whilst continuing to walk backwards.

‘Okay,’ agreed Emily as the look in his eyes caused her stomach to unexpectedly jolt.

After that, they progressed for some time in silence, heads bowed down against the driving wind, with gloved hands thrust deep inside their pockets.  As they entered a neighbouring village, Sam led them towards the cricket pavilion.  In the summer, this was a quintessential English village, with a shop, pub, duck pond, children’s play area and cricket pitch.  Right now though, it was a barren, white wasteland; any objects daring to rise out of the ground had been blasted with a vertical plastering of sticky snow.  Emily observed how the snow was always driven up the same exterior-facing surface, allowing her to identify the predominant wind direction…northerly, she assumed, given the glacial temperatures.

Under the protection of the cricket pavilion porch, Sam shrugged off his rucksack, pulled out a bottle of water and handed it across to Emily.  She accepted it gratefully, gulping down the liquid, surprised at how thirsty she’d become.

‘How are you doing?’ he asked kindly.

‘Cold but otherwise surprisingly well,’ she replied brightly, returning the bottle with thanks.  Sam pulled the scarf slightly away from his mouth, revealing a tantalising glimpse of what lay beneath.  As he drained the remainder of Emily’s bottle of water, she caught sight of his straight, white teeth, dark stubbled face and full, soft lips.  Despite the plummeting temperatures, she felt a streak of extreme warmth pass straight through her body.  Averting her eyes, to prevent her expression being read, a blushing Emily concentrated hard on her walking boots whilst scrunching up her numb toes within.

‘Here,’ he said, forcing Emily to look back up again, as he snapped a chocolate bar in two and passed half across to her.  As they were both wearing thick, bulky gloves, the transfer of such a small item proved awkward to achieve but, with some chuckling at their incredible incompetence, they eventually succeeded.  ‘I promise that we’ll soon have you somewhere safe and warm.  There’s nothing at all for you to worry about.’

Nodding with gratitude, Emily placed a square of the chocolate covered caramel into her mouth.  As the ice-cold morsel began to melt luxuriously across her tongue, she couldn’t remember ever tasting anything so sublime.

‘Mmmm,’ she murmured, eyes closed in bliss.  ‘Thank you.  That is so good.’

‘You’re more than welcome,’ he replied, his mouth twitching into a brief smile.  ‘Are you happy to take a short-cut through the forest?  It should reduce our journey time by about twenty minutes.’

‘Of course,’ grinned Emily, stamping her feet to maintain circulation.  ‘I trust you.’

‘And therein lies your first mistake,’ he jokingly replied.

The landscape was almost entirely white now and dusk was starting to descend with surprising haste.  As they walked, Emily observed how their route was bordered by thick, low hedges, laden with frosted, blood-red hawthorn berries and holly leaves; one of the few plants that remained green, within a mass of death and decay which mid-winter always conveyed.

Continuing along the path, they soon found themselves submerged in a dark, dense coniferous forest.  It was deathly quiet here, the evergreen trees packed so tightly that only the lightest sprinkling of dusty snow had so far been able to penetrate the shadowy depths.  And yet the temperature seemed to have dropped even further.  Emily felt a momentary waver in the high levels of confidence she’d shown, by accompanying Sam.  She quietly questioned whether her normally good instincts were continuing to serve her well.

‘Still cold?’ Sam asked, picking up a little on her apprehension.  Unable to voice any words, she simply nodded in response.  ‘I always find singing warms me up.  If you’ll join me?’ he requested.

‘Sure,’ she croaked, surprised at his suggestion.

Causing a sudden jolt of pleasure to travel up her spine, Sam began to sing in a soft, clear voice, filling Emily’s imagination with the aroma of chestnuts roasting over a gently crackling, open fire.  How was it possible that this man was making her feel an excitement for Christmas that she had barely felt since childhood?  And certainly not in the past few years.

Immediately recalling the lyrics, as though they were pre-programmed into her very being, she shyly joined in with him. 

Although hesitant at first, the two of them quickly relaxed.  They rattled off all manner of Christmas songs from ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ through to ‘I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus’.  The tunes were often accompanied by much guffawing, when they started to make up their own lyrics in the absence of knowing the correct ones, as well as adding in all manner of questionable vocal percussion.  Consequently, it felt like no time at all before they were passing out of the thick canopy of trees and back into the white, snowy wilderness.

Their singing naturally petered out as they trudged around the edge of a huge field which provided a much less intimate setting for vocal melodies, or lack thereof.  Indeed, it would have been drowned out by the unmistakable noise of squawking pheasants and distant shotguns filling the air.  Skirting beside a river, the looming silhouettes of Giant Hogweed could be seen rising out of the mist, before they turned a sharp corner to follow an alternative footpath which led them directly into a churchyard.  Too tired now to be spooked by the lopsided gravestones rising creepily out of the mist, Emily simply kept her head down and focussed on Sam’s boots, which marched just ahead of her along the narrow path.  It was all but dark by the time they wearily emerged into the main body of the village. 

Emily noticed that parts of the main road through the village had been cleared by helpful residents.  However, as the temperatures began to plummet once more, sheet ice had formed on the exposed sections, making it more dangerous than ever.  Therefore, instead of slipping and sliding her way along the icy road, Emily tucked in behind Sam and followed the channel that his footsteps had made through the deep snow.  It was a route which required more strenuous effort but, on the positive side, was less likely to see her fall arse over tit, and make a complete fool of herself.

As they fought their way onwards, Emily found her attention drawn to a huge, eighteenth century manor house, complete with lead-latticed windows and two smoking chimneys at either end of a long, bowing roof.  Every light was blazing and a low pulse of music echoed from an open downstairs window.  The place was a flurry of activity; the front door wide open, as caterers carrying various trays and boxes continuously made their way across the threshold.  Whoever lived there clearly had no respect for the electricity or heating bills.

‘Really well done.  We’ve made it,’ murmured Sam, sounding relieved.

‘Here?’ asked Emily, doing a double-take.  ‘This is your Aunt’s house?’

‘Yeah,’ confirmed Sam, gently dusting away the snow which had accumulated on her shoulders, before turning his attention towards his own.

‘I was assuming she was a little old lady, living in a flat perhaps,’ admitted Emily, her eyes wide with astonishment, as they made their way up the sweeping driveway.

‘She’ll love it, when she hears that,’ laughed Sam, pulling off his gloves to reveal large, strong hands with clean, neatly-trimmed nails.  Emily froze.  In that instant, all of her attention was directed towards him, as those same hands began to unwind the scarf wrapped around his face.  At last, she would see what he looked like.

‘Well…please don’t mention it then,’ she stuttered.

‘What’s it worth?’ he teased, leaving Emily all but speechless.  Was he flirting with her?

‘Darlings!’ cried a woman who appeared on the doorstep.  ‘You poor things!  How awful!  Come inside!’  Emily stared at her in disbelief; in her sixties, the woman that greeted them was tall, slender, elegant and incredibly attractive.  She was adorned with silk scarves, expensive jewellery and an expression of uninhibited delight, as though she knew a very great secret that she couldn’t wait to share.

‘Emily, this is my Aunt Rosamunde,’ introduced Sam proudly.  ‘Aunt, this is Emily Jones.’

‘Rose, to my friends,’ she explained, putting her arm around Emily and drawing her into the warmth of her home.  ‘Of which you already are.’  Emily found herself unsure of where to look.  Part of her wanted to soak up the interior of the amazing house into which she was now being led, but equally, she was desperate to find out what lay beneath Sam’s exterior layers of clothing. 

‘Oh, Sammie, Darling?  Before you get too comfortable…’ Rose added, glancing backwards.  Excruciatingly, her words made him pause in his partial state of undress, just as he was about to remove his hat and scarf.  ‘Please could you grab another wheelbarrow full of logs from the woodshed and put them in the boot room?  I’m sure we’ll run out otherwise.’

‘Only on the condition that you look after Emily, while I’m gone,’ he stated, before looking directly at Emily.  ‘If that’s okay with you, of course?’ he asked.  She nodded shyly in response, touched that he’d bothered to ask.

‘Of course I’m going to look after her!’ the older lady exclaimed.

‘Then, of course, I will get you some more logs, Auntie Rosie,’ he teased, walking once again into the cold evening and pulling his gloves back on.

‘Oh!  Get away with you, you cheeky boy!’ exclaimed Rose with a chuckle.  ‘He always calls me that whenever I accidentally revert back to his childhood nickname.  He knows full well it makes me sound like I’m a hundred years old,’ she explained, hanging up Emily’s dripping coat and leading her through to the kitchen.  Not unexpectedly, the kitchen was incredible; a huge room, with painted white walls, infilled with thick black beams and bordered by a selection of Welsh dressers and overflowing granite work surfaces.  Against one wall stood an enormous navy blue Aga throwing out a serious amount of much-welcome heat.  Meanwhile, the centre of the room was taken up with a scrubbed pine table and chairs which looked as though they had served the needs of several generations before.

‘Now, let’s get you defrosted.  How about a nice warming drink?’ asked Rose.

‘That would be wonderful,’ admitted a lightly shivering Emily, subtly making her way towards the Aga, to share some of its precious warmth.  ‘A coffee would be lovely if you have one.’  Almost unnoticed, one of the catering ladies who was silently floating around the room, flicked a switch to set the coffee machine into action and laid out two coffee cups, cream and sugar on the table.  Meanwhile, Rose had marched to the back of the room and was scrabbling around in a cupboard.

‘Or how about something a bit stronger?’ she asked, waving a bottle of Whiskey above her head, whilst wiggling her eyebrows in Emily’s direction.  ‘You could have an Irish coffee – best of both worlds?’ she suggested with a smile. Giggling, Emily shook her head.

‘Just a coffee would be great…for now,’ she added, receiving a nod of approval from her host. 

‘Of course, you’re right,’ agreed Rose, making her way back to the table and pouring out their coffees from the jug which had seamlessly been delivered.  Emily accepted the welcome beverage, wrapping her frozen hands around the cup and gratefully inhaling the steam.  ‘We should definitely pace ourselves.  My dear, late husband would have said just the same,’ she confessed, smiling fondly.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Emily sadly, as she received confirmation that Rose was indeed a widow.

‘Oh, my dear,’ she said warmly, laying her dainty hand over one of Emily’s and squeezing gently.  ‘I knew love in my lifetime.  True love…the kind that inspires people to write songs and write books and do all manner of other glorious things.  So I absolutely forbid you to feel sorry for me.’

‘How wonderful,’ murmured Emily, sighing with deep contentment.  ‘Would you tell me about him?’  And with great delight, Rose did just that.  As she launched into the story of how they first met, Emily provided a completely rapt audience, wanting no more in that instant, than to hear their true love story.

Sam returned a short while later, to find Emily and his aunt sitting cosily in the kitchen, holding hands, giggling outrageously and chatting ten to the dozen.  Neither of them had noticed his arrival, so with great pleasure he simply stood and observed the two women, between which an indisputable spark of friendship had already been ignited.

‘Darling!’ Rose exclaimed with delight.  With her concentration broken, Emily twisted around in her seat to be confronted by a sight that she knew was already being meticulously downloaded into her memory, to remain imprinted there for the rest of time.  Quite simply, the most gorgeous man she had ever set eyes on, was leaning against the oak-framed doorway watching them.  Utterly relaxed, with his arms folded, it was his wide smile, piercing dark eyes and perfectly messed up dark hair that immediately caught her attention.  Slowly, her eyes dared to drop down and devour the rest of him.  She processed every tiny detail, from his lithe body and strong forearms, right down to the thick navy blue socks he wore, stretched over his large feet.

Unable to drag her eyes away, Emily’s gaze tracked his progress as he loped across the room, to grab another mug from the cupboard.  Although she caught only a fleeting glimpse, unbelievably his back view seemed comparable to the front.  Gulping in disbelief, she looked across at Rose for support.  Her host seemed unusually quiet; half smiling, half grimacing, apparently incapable of speech.  Glancing down at the table, a horrified Emily realised she was tightly clenching Rose’s hand.  Too good-mannered to complain, relief flooded across the older lady’s face when the firm grip was eventually relinquished.

‘Sorry,’ whispered Emily.  Apologising had the added bonus of making her aware that, until that point, her mouth had been hanging open in utter shock.  Swiftly rectifying her vacant look, Emily clamped her mouth tightly shut and tried to breathe as calmly as possible through her nose.  There wasn’t anything she could do about her flushed face, but with any luck, that could be blamed on the extremes of temperature she’d been subjected to over the past few hours.

By this time, the man had joined them at the table and was pouring a steaming coffee into his own mug.  Emily subconsciously licked her lips as his mouth wrapped around the cup and swallowed with contentment.  The low groan he made, as that initial sip slid down his throat, caused a twinge to flutter across her tingling, already swollen pussy.  This man was beyond gorgeous.

Emily’s mind was whirring, unable to believe he might actually be Sam.  Surely this couldn’t be the man she’d spent the last two hours joking and chatting with, whilst methodically annihilating Nat King Cole’s back catalogue…could it?  She would never have mildly flirted and nonchalantly shared a chocolate bar in the snow with a man who looked like…well, THAT.  She shuffled slightly in her seat as a surge of blood pumped towards her abdomen.  And then his familiar tone filled the room and her question remained unanswered no longer.  God help her, it was definitely him.

‘It looks like you two are destined to be great friends,’ he observed wryly.  Neither of the two women responded; Emily because she was speechless, Rose because she was delightedly watching Emily’s reaction to the arrival of her favourite nephew.  ‘So, what’s the big joke?’ pressed Sam.  ‘You were laughing hysterically a moment ago and now there’s nothing but silence.  What’s up?’

Recognising the signs of Emily’s distress, Rose stepped in to help.  She had personally only observed a reaction like this once before in her life, decades earlier.  It was etched on her heart because it was the precious night that she had met and fallen in love with her beloved husband.

‘I was just sharing some stories about dear Arthur,’ explained Rose swiftly, but she had already lost her audience.

‘You’re trembling,’ observed Sam, looking kindly at Emily.  ‘Come on,’ he said, taking another swig of his beverage before standing up.  ‘I’ll show you to your room.  Then you can have a nice long bath and warm up again.’

With both of them gazing at her, as though waiting for her to take some form of action, Emily felt she had little choice but to follow Sam out of the kitchen.  She wasn’t entirely convinced the cold was responsible for making her tremble, but that wasn’t something Sam needed to know.  Instead, she allowed him to lead her through the house.  Together, they ascended the grand staircase before turning off a long corridor.

‘This is you,’ he explained, making his way into a large bedroom with a four-poster bed.  Her bag had already been delivered and placed in a wing-backed armchair.  ‘And the en suite is just through there,’ he added, pointing towards an adjoining bathroom. 

‘Wow, it’s amazing,’ she croaked, overwhelmed by such a beautiful room.  ‘Thank you so much.  Are there enough bathrooms for you to take a bath too?’

‘Why do you ask?’ he teased.  ‘Would you rather share?’

‘No!’ she gasped quickly.

‘Is everything okay, Emily?’ he asked with concern.  ‘You seem different compared to earlier… more tense?’

‘I’m fine.  Thanks,’ she said a little flustered.  Apart from the fact she’d surmised he had children and so probably a wife, it really wouldn’t do to let him know the overwhelming effect he was having on her body.

‘Okay, if you’re sure,’ he replied, clearly not convinced.  ‘Help yourself to whatever you need and I’ll see you downstairs when you’re ready.  And don’t rush…I know from experience that sometimes, only a long, luxurious bath will do when you’re chilled to the bone.  There’s tons of hot water… always is…so don’t hold back.  My aunt doesn’t know the meaning of the word economising!’  He was just closing the door behind him when a final thought occurred. 

‘Oh, and don’t forget to call your folks,’ he added, walking back into the room and handing his mobile phone to her.  ‘The four-digit keycode to unlock the screen is my age,’ he grinned.  ‘See if you can guess it.’

‘Seriously?’ she protested, temporarily knocked-out of her shyness.

‘Yep,’ he laughed.  ‘I’ll give you a clue.  The first two numbers are zero, zero.  Don’t forget to tell your parents you’re staying with a perfectly respectable lady.  Probably best not to mention her far from respectable nephew.’  With a wink that made Emily’s cheeks and neck flush, their eyes met lingeringly before Sam closed the door firmly behind himself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

FENELLA ASHWORTH

Fenella Ashworth is a British author of contemporary erotic fiction.  All of her stories are available from Amazon and free for those with Kindle Unlimited access.  Her bestselling novels are ‘To Love, Honour and Oh Pay’ and the Daniel Lawson series.
Fenella also releases stories on BooksieSilk, Booksie, Lush Stories and Literotica, and is often visible in the Literotica ‘Erotic Couplings’ Hall of Fame (Top Rated).
Please sign up to her newsletter for the latest news, and access to freebies, including a copy of the recently published ‘Bad girls go to Heaven’.

2 thoughts on “Just Another Winter’s Tale – A sneak preview

  1. Ohhh yeah, it’s better!
    (Xltn, really good!)
    Wishing you great success,
    -JAM

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    Like

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