John Shaw was feeling his age as he sat at the bar idly stirring his third drink of the night. So many beautiful women circled through the lobby as they arrived for the night’s big New Year’s Eve party at the Hôtel d’Amour, most of them on the arm of a handsome man. The ones who arrived solo barely even looked in his direction as they walked by.
John shook his head. He was only 45! He was still in his prime! He had piercing blue eyes and California good looks. Sure, his graying beard gave him more of a stern brunch daddy vibe than one of a dashing younger man. There must be at least one woman with a taste in older men somewhere in this place, right?
Besides his slimming chances of sharing a bed with someone that night, a woman on his arm would give him the perfect cover for the evening. He was helping run a counter-espionage test with MI6, and had three of the CIA’s best spies pretending to be a group of ultranationalist terrorists under his command. He needed to do his best to appear unassociated with his men.
His eyes darted around the bar area. In the entire hour and a half he’d been here, only one woman had stayed solo, sitting at a table near the enormous window facing out onto the ski slopes. Her back was to him, and though he’d tried to catch her reflection in the glass, she’d kept herself at the perfect angle to avoid being seen. Sensing his best chance of the evening, John grabbed his drink and made his way over to the window, taking a seat at the table next to her.
“It took you long enough to come over here,” the woman said in an all-too-familiar British accent. “I was beginning to think you’d lost your touch.”
He couldn’t believe it. Of all the women in this hotel, he had to make a run at Julia Davies, one of MI6’s best spies.
A.K.A., the former Mrs. John Shaw.
“Thought you might be here with someone,” he replied, keeping his surprise out of his voice. “Didn’t want to intrude.”
“I am here with someone,” she said with a slight chuckle.
“Running late, or did your beau get cold feet?”
“What does it matter to you?”
John shrugged. “Just curious why a beautiful woman was all alone on New Year’s Eve.”
“I’m not alone on New Year’s Eve.”
“So you claim.”
She gave him a smirk. “Behind you, by the door,” Julia whispered as she took a sip of her martini.
John surreptitiously glanced in the direction she indicated. Standing with his back turned to the bar was a broad gentleman with a firm jaw and dark brown hair. He wore a sharp black tuxedo and had a decidedly British air about him. “MI6’s finest, I suppose,” he whispered back, covering for himself by ogling a young brunette in a slinky gown passing by.
“Ah, so you’re here for work as well.”
“I might be here for fun. It’s nice to get away from time to time.”
“Your tux is wrinkled, indicating you changed into it on the train to Chamonix. Besides,” she said, flashing her phone screen at him. On it was the hotel’s guest registry, no doubt hacked into by some MI6 nerd back in England. “You don’t have a room.”
He grimaced. “Didn’t think I’d need one.”
Julia shook her head. “Looking to gain a friend tonight?” She looked him up and down, practically leering at him. “You can’t rely on your looks forever, John.”
“There’s always my boyish charm,” he replied, getting a laugh out of her. He smiled; he hadn’t heard her laugh in years. “What about you? Do you want to play the seductress forever?”
She thought for a moment, her gaze turning to the window. “Not forever, no. As long as I can get away with it, though, I will.”
She continued looking out the window. “Because I like it, John.” She turned to him with a pointed gaze. “Do you?”
Now it was his turn to give her a once-over. It was like she hadn’t aged a day, even though she was now just shy of 41. She took full advantage of the good genes her parents gave her. She had her wavy black hair in a loose up-do, her lips rouged the same color as her curve-hugging red gown. Her brown eyes sparkled in the dim candlelight like the elegant diamond solitaire necklace sitting just north of her still-pert breasts.
He had given her that necklace as a birthday present. A twinned pang of nostalgia and regret hit him in the stomach. It surprised him she still had it. Maybe she hadn’t regretted their marriage after all.
Or maybe she thought the necklace was pretty. Occam’s Razor: it wasn’t as complicated as he thought.
“I like it a lot,” he sighed. If he caught his double meaning, she didn’t show it.
They sat for a moment in contemplative silence, each slowly sipping their drinks to avoid getting as little alcohol in their systems as possible. It was hard to do their jobs while drunk, but one must look like they’re having a good time.
Was he having a good time? John wasn’t so sure anymore.
Julia’s back straightened and a daft smile appeared on her lips. She turned away from him and stood. “Richard!” she called out as the man from earlier approached and embraced her.
John felt a twinge of jealousy, but kept his eyes forward. Now he had to pretend he’d never met the amazing Julia Davies. Professional courtesy, and all that.
Professional courtesy felt like shit.
He chanced a glance over at them, and recognized the man as Richard Collingsworth. Collingsworth was the agent being tested in tonight’s game, to see if he could root out John’s men before they met up with a former KGB agent named Nikolay Andreevich Zavrazhin. While the real Zavrazhin was on the CIA’s Most Wanted list, Nick Wolf, John’s best agent, would play him tonight.
Julia kissed Collingsworth. “I’ve been waiting for you all night, love! What took you so long?”
“I had a phone call I had to take. Business back England.”
“Ooh, what kind of business?” Julia asked, doing her best impression of a bubble-headed Essex girl.
Collingsworth got very serious. “The personal kind.”
“Oh, don’t get mad, love!” Julia cooed, and John felt his stomach turn. “I just love hearing about your work! Men are always sexier when they show a little” — she pressed herself against him — “expertise.”
John barely avoided rolling his eyes.
“Come along, darling,” Collingsworth said, putting his arm around Julia’s waist. “Let’s get down to the party!”
John watched them leave with the nonchalance of a causal observer, but inside his mind was racing. Julia was too familiar with him even as a cover. Aside from the green-eyed monster rearing its ugly head, he knew Julia had a habit of getting too close to her agents, and this time she may be way too close.
John shook his head. He couldn’t worry about her tonight. There was a job to be done.
John Shaw was a distraction, and one she didn’t need tonight.
Julia stumbled into her chair after dancing a waltz with Collingsworth. She wasn’t tipsy from drink, but keeping her eye on John while she and Collins wheeled around the dance floor had made her a little dizzy. Collingsworth needed to pass this test tonight; She trained him for two years for one of the most prestigious spots in MI6’s field team. Now she knew Collingsworth was up against a formidable foe, and she worried two years will have been for nought.
She had to trust that John knew what he was doing. She knew from their past work together that she had no reason to worry. John was good at his job, perhaps a little too good, a little too by-the-book. Julia was a risk-taker, and that always bothered him.
Little else about her ever bothered him. She could always tell she had John by the balls, and part of her enjoyed it. The other part of her hated being tied to someone in a world where one wrong move could mean death. It had made her unwilling to take risks, and that endangered her job. She wasn’t ready to give up the spy life in her 30s. Now that she was firmly over 40, though?
It didn’t matter. He had to have moved on. She hoped to God he had moved on, found someone more stable than she was. Someone who could give him a firm hold on reality in a world of deception and duplicity. Someone that wasn’t her.
She just hoped she hadn’t crushed his heart to the point that he would rather get revenge than let her do her job.
“Someone catch your eye?” Collingsworth asked in a joking tone as he took a seat next to her at one of the tables lining the room.
“Just thinking about refreshing my drink,” she replied.
“Good. ‘Cause for a second there, I was worried you might be losing interest in me.”
“Lose interest in you?” She leaned closer to him. “My best pupil? Never.”
He turned his head so that their noses were just touching. “Good. I’d hate for someone to steal my limelight.”
She brushed her lips against his in a charade of intimacy. Her stomach turned at the thought that John might be watching. “Just thought I saw an old flame of mine,” she half-lied.
Collingsworth laughed. “You? Have old flames?”
Julia frowned. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, I, uh…” Collingsworth blabbered, stiffening up. “It’s just… You’re the Iron Maiden.”
“Is that how you all think of me?”
“Not all… Certainly not me…”
Julia smiled to hide the twisting pain in her chest. “I’m kidding, Richard. I’m well aware of my reputation in the agency.” Pure venom rolled through her veins at the idea that this was how others at MI6 saw her. Sure, she had made herself somewhat unapproachable, but that was just being professional. Wasn’t it?
She looked over at John, who caught her gaze. A frown appeared on his face and his posture stiffened up, as if he could sense the sour mood percolating under her surface and needed to fix it. He’d always been able to see right through her.
Did John think of her as the Iron Maiden, too?
“The Russian has entered the building,” Collingsworth muttered. Julia looked over at the grand stairway leading into the ballroom and recognized John’s old partner, Nick, descending into the party. She bit her lip to hide her smile; Nick was a grizzled old teddy bear of a man, but tonight he had the air of a Russian mobster. He oozed Cold War movie villain, and she could sense the chill of a cold-blooded killer radiating off of him. It was an impressive charade.
“You know the drill,” Julia said. “Ingratiate and incapacitate Zavrazhin and then get the money from the Americans.”
“Me?” Collingsworth asked, rather surprised. “What about you?”
“Tonight is your last test, Richard. I’m here as support only. Remember that this is a white test, so no blood and no dead bodies. You’ll need to find other ways to accomplish your mission.”
Collingsworth looked shaky, but nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
She slipped the gun into her clutch. “Now go. I’ll be watching.”
Collingsworth nodded again and headed for the bar. Julia sat back and took a long drink of her martini. It was going to be a long night.
All the pins were set, and now Collingsworth just needed to get a strike.
John had watched the younger man stride up to the bar and make friends with Nick Wolf’s alter ego, Zavrazhin. The two hit it off (all according to plan) and Nick started ordering shots of vodka in celebration (also according to plan). It was now up to Collingsworth to maintain his connection without being out-drunk by Nick, who was slamming back shots of water delivered by the barman as part of their set-up.
John looked over at Julia, who was more solemn than she had been earlier. He could tell she was ruminating about whatever Collingsworth had said to offend her rather than doing her job. He needed to snap her out of it before Collingsworth did something dumb to John’s men. He grabbed his tumbler of Johnny Walker Blue and walked through the bustling New Year’s Eve crowd to Julia’s table. “Mind if I have a seat?”
“You shouldn’t be over here,” Julia said without looking at him. “Richard’s already suspicious of you.”
John slipped into a chair one over from Julia. “Little Dick suspects me, huh? Wonder why.”
“Look, if you just came over to critique my work, you can save it for the report later. I’m busy.”
He frowned. “I came over here because it looked like you weren’t doing your job. Your head’s not in the game, Davies.” John looked back at the bar, where Collingsworth was slipping the bartender some Euros.
She sat back in her chair, leaning away from him. “What does that mean?”
“It means whatever Little Dick said to you earlier, you need to get over it ASAP, because my men will not go light on him.”
Julia glared at him, but then looked over at the bar. “Did he bribe the bartender to bring him water?” she asked, worrying her bottom lip.
“Only just now, when Nick turned away to give him a chance.”
The corner of her mouth quirked up in a half-smile as she looked at John. “You didn’t need to do that. You could have just let him fail.”
“I know the guy’s a little shaky right now. He’ll find his feet.”
Julia snorted. “He better, after all the time I put into him.”
John smirked. He relaxed into his seat and watched the dancers on the ballroom floor glide around to a lively foxtrot. He took a sip of his Scotch, enjoying the feel of the warm, smooth liquid sliding down his throat. It had been a while since he had a glass of Mr. Walker’s finest, and by God, he was going to enjoy it. Johnny Walker Blue always reminded him of their honeymoon. They stayed in one of this very hotel’s suites, abusing the room service in between bouts of wild lovemaking. It was one of the best weeks of his life.
Almost as if she could read his thoughts, she grabbed his drink, a jolt of electricity shooting up his arm from where their fingers met. His eyes followed the curve of her neck as she took a sip and swallowed, her eyes closed in pleasure. She lasciviously licked her lips, getting every drop of Scotch that might remain there. It was erotic as all hell, and he knew she was doing it to get a rise out of him.
It was working.
She placed the tumbler back in his hand, sending another jolt of electricity through him. “Thanks,” she purred.
“Your distractions won’t work on me, Davies,” he replied, leering at her.
“Why not? They’ve always worked on you before.”
“Besides,” she added. “I’m not trying to distract you.”
“Oh really? Trying to seduce me, then?”
She peered over at him and raked her gaze over his body. It heated him in ways he hadn’t felt in a long time. Sure, he’d had sex between the end of their marriage and now, but no one ever made him harder than she could with just one look.
Was she actually trying to seduce him?
What on Earth did Collingsworth say to her?
John raised an eyebrow, but shifted his attention to the bar when Julia looked that way, very concerned. Nick was leaning against the bar’s marble top, looking like he was very drunk, but for the fact that he had been drinking water all night. Collingsworth was nowhere to be seen. “I thought tonight was a white test,” he growled, thrusting himself up out of his chair so quickly that the couple at the next table over jumped in surprise.
Julia stood up. “It is!”
They made their way through the throng of celebrants to the bar. John slipped his arm around his compatriot’s normally sturdy frame and helped him to his feet.
“Sonofabitchdruggedme…” Nick slurred as he leaned against John.
John shot a look at Julia, who looked concerned. “What did he have access to?” John asked.
“He was in my room getting ready earlier. He could have grabbed my pills.”
John rolled his eyes. “What pills, Jules?”
“Sleeping pills!” she whispered.
“OK, buddy,” John announced, catching Nick’s weight as he slipped. “I think you’ve had a few too many. Time to get you up to your room, yeah?”
“I know, buddy. I know.” John was ready to kill the little punk too. In a white test, you were supposed to rely on your wits, not the tools of the trade. Guess Little Dick missed that day of training.
Julia wrapped her arm around Nick’s other side. “We’ll take him up to my room, just to be safe,” she said. The three of them limped their way through the crowd and up the grand staircase to the elevators.
John nodded. “We’ll have to check on the suite next.” Julia nodded. If Collingsworth had botched things on step one, who knows what he’d do to the American “terrorists” Nick was supposed to meet with.
Julia almost tripped as they dumped a barely conscious Nick Wolf into her hotel bed. She couldn’t believe things were going sideways so early in the evening. Richard was a capable agent; what could he be doing?
After they settled Nick into bed, she checked the bathroom for her medication. Sure enough, her bottle of sleeping pills was missing from her toiletry bag. She cursed under her breath. They’d need to monitor Nick to make sure he wasn’t overdosed.
When she returned to the main room, Nick was fast asleep and snoring. John was pacing near the door, no doubt anxious about his friend and subordinate. “Look,” she said, trying to make amends. She had distracted herself trying to prove she was more woman than “Iron Maiden,” and it had backfired.
John just shook his head. “It’s not your fault. Come on; we’ve got to check on the guys.”
Julia nodded, and together they made their way to the elevator and up to the top floor. There, the “terrorists” were sharing a suite ahead of their meeting with the now-indisposed “Russian.” As they entered the reception area in the center of the hotel, John slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her close.
He leaned in close enough that his breath tickled the shell of her ear. “Act like we’re lovers heading for our room,” he whispered. As if that was going to be hard to do; she could feel the heat radiating off of his body and into her bones.
“If you insist,” she whispered back. She pressed herself against him, luxuriating in the feel of her softness against his hard frame. She delighted in their contrasts: soft and hard, risky and rule-bound, femme fatale and nice guy. Before their marriage ended, she thought of these as opposites: oil and water that would never mix. Now, though, she realized they were complimentary all along.
As they approached the stairway up to the other set of suites, she slid her hand under his tuxedo jacket. Slowly, she raked her fingernails against the small of his back, a move that always put him right where she wanted him.
He sucked in a sharp breath. “Jesus, Jules.”
“You’re the one who wanted to be lovers,” she chided him, but she wasn’t kidding anyone. He had to know she wanted him.
“It’s supposed to be a ruse, Davies.”
She stopped him. “And what if it wasn’t?”
Standing on the steps, John regarded her for a moment, absentmindedly licking his lips. Julia swore she saw a flicker of desire in his eyes, but it was soon gone and replaced by icy determination. “We have work to do.”
They hurried up to the suites.
The hallway would have looked pristine to anyone not trained to look for the tiniest details, but Julia saw that something was very wrong. The carpet was swept in the opposite direction of the grain leading into the last suite in the hallway, the Belleville Suite. A small wine spill covered over a deeper crimson stain by the door to the suite, a door that wasn’t properly latched. All of it spelled trouble.
John grabbed an empty champagne bottle off of a room service trolley sitting outside the nearby Chaillot Suite, gripping it like a club. Julia took up position on the hinge side of the door and put her hand on the door knob while John readied himself on the opposite side of the jamb. They nodded at each other, and Julia slowly pushed the door open so they could quietly, cautiously, slip inside.
The first thing that greeted them was an unconscious blond man lying on the floor just inside the suite. Blood was dripping from a wound on his hairline, indicating that someone had walloped him good. “One of yours?” she whispered to John.
John nodded. They both stepped over the unconscious man and headed further into the suite. Just beyond the suite’s gathering area, behind a gorgeous green velvet chaise, was another blond man, unconscious, although Julia could not tell the means. John sighed, and she knew he was another one of his men.
What did Collingsworth think he was doing? She had been explicit with him about the requirements of this mission. This was his final test before becoming a solo agent. She had put so much effort into him, and this was how he was going to thank her?
She knew she shouldn’t have let John Shaw distract her, but now he was her best hope of corralling Collingsworth before he did even more international damage.
The sound of a vase crashing to the floor broke her out of her rumination. John motioned for her to follow him towards the master bedroom. Falling into formation with John felt so natural, just like it had when they were working together in the past. He took up the lead, and she watched their back as they made their way to the bedroom door.
John put his ear up against the door to listen for movement. Julia waited for his signal as she wondered what might be happening inside the bedroom. Her mind ran through countless possibilities, prepping herself for as many of them as she could. John held up two fingers, indicating that there were only two people in the room. She nodded in response and readied herself to act.
John threw the door open, surprising both men in the bedroom. Collingsworth reacted first, using his CIA opponent’s distraction to deliver a final blow. The CIA agent collapsed against the bed, sliding to the floor. Collingsworth pulled a pistol from a secret ankle harness and pointed it at the dazed operative. “Fucking CIA cunt!” He growled.
“Richard!” Julia called out. “Stop!”
Collingsworth looked at her, his stony stare freezing her in place. “I thought I had you two so wrapped up in each other that you wouldn’t be a problem. Guess I was wrong.”
“Put the gun down!” John ordered.
“Or what?” Collingsworth teased. “You’ll bean me with that champagne bottle?” He turned the gun on John. “I think not.”
“You’re outnumbered, Richard,” Julia cooed as she shifted towards Collingsworth. Collingsworth changed his aim from John’s chest to his head, and Julia stopped. “Even if you shoot one of us,” she said, “the other will be on you before you get a second shot off.”
“I don’t think so,” Collingsworth replied. “See, I’ve learned all about you, Julia Davies, including your previous marriage to a Mr. John Shaw, the same Mr. Shaw who was in the lobby bar this evening. I guess the Iron Maiden has a heart after all.
Shall we see if it still beats for Mr. Shaw?”
Julia looked at John, who had his laser-like stare focused on Collingsworth. She took another step forward. “John and I divorced a long time ago,” she said. “It’s over, for us and for you.”
John blinked and swallowed hard, and Collingsworth smiled cruelly. “Oh, dear, I believe you’ve hurt your dear ex-husband by saying that.”
She took another step forward, and Collingsworth turned the gun on her. “Stop right there,” he commanded, “or I’ll kill you and take my chances with your ex.”
Julia shook her head. “Why, Richard? Why are you doing this?”
Collingsworth smirked. “Look at you. So wrapped up in the success of your star pupil that you never suspected a thing. It’s cute, though I suspect it will be your demise.”
“You’re a better agent than I thought,” John spat. “Let me guess, someone heard about our little ruse tonight and paid you to betray your country.”
A self-satisfied grin broke across Collingsworth’s face. “Technically, I’m not betraying my country, Mr. Shaw. Britain will remain great, no thanks to you and your fake terrorists.”
The puzzle pieces clicked together in Julia’s mind. “Zavrazhin.”
Collingsworth’s eyes lit up. “Yes! Very good, my dear Julia! Comrade Zavrazhin was very surprised to find he had already booked a room at the famed Hôtel d’Amour this evening. It didn’t take long to find out the CIA was impersonating him, and that MI6 would be there in secret.”
“So you drugged the fake Zavrazhin and took the meeting yourself,” Julia snapped.
“And I made sure my handler was upset about her failing sex appeal. So upset, in fact, that she’d be sure to spend the night desperately flirting with her ex. Don’t forget that part.” He cocked the pistol.
“Unlucky for you that the Americans were also fake,” John said, acid dripping from his voice. “Game over, Little Dick.”
Collingsworth maintained his shit-eating grin, but the slight twitch in his eye let Julia know John had hit a nerve. “Yes, that is rather unfortunate. Comrade Zavrazhin will be rather displeased.
Unless I bring him your heads on a platter.”
“You’re still outnumbered 2-to-1,” Julia reminded him. “I wouldn’t count on those odds.”
“Then let’s make it fair, shall we?” Collingsworth pulled the trigger. John grunted as he collapsed to the floor.
“No!” Julia shouted, kneeling down beside John. John was gasping for air while she searched for a wound to hold closed. “Now you’ve done it! The gendarmes will be called!”
“I doubt it. Your boy there picked the most isolated suite on the premises. Everyone’s down at the party, and I checked just to be sure.”
She kept searching for any sign of blood, but couldn’t find any. John grabbed her hand and whispered, “Panama.”
Julia’s eyes went wide. Panama. Long, sweaty days on assignment. Hot, sensual nights when the work was done. The word conjured a whole mix of emotions in her.
But most importantly, it reminded her of their final standoff with a local strongman intent on trafficking sex slaves up into America. Mercenaries had shot John in the chest, and just like now, she had been attempting to triage his wounds.
When she discovered he had been wearing body armor, she she was so relieved. With John’s health secured, she had grabbed his side arm and took out the strongman and his two bodyguards before they could react.
Julia swept her hand up John’s side, looking for a hidden shoulder holster. When her fingers touched cold steel, she readied herself. “You monster!” She screeched at Collingsworth.
Collingsworth chuckled. “Any last words before I kill you too, Julia?”
Julia winked at John as she her hand settled around the gun’s grip. “You lose.”
In one smooth motion, Julia drew the gun, turned on her heels, and put two rounds into Collingsworth’s shoulder.
Collingsworth’s gun thudded into the carpet at his feet. He collapsed to his knees, weariness creasing his youthful face as he cradled his useless right arm. Julia stood and approached him. He looked up at her with a mix of awe and horror. “You bitch,” he gasped as blood stains spread across his white shirt.
“Just playing by the rules of the game, Richard.”
Collingsworth, overcome with pain, sunk to the floor.
John got to his feet and picked up Collingsworth’s pistol, emptying the remaining rounds onto the carpet before pocketing the gun. Julia sighed; they would need to call in back-up to take care of Collingsworth as well as help the downed CIA agents. And then there was the sheer amount of paperwork they’d need to do to account for what happened that night.
What a mess.
John stood at the employee entrance to the Hôtel d’Amour, looking up at the sky as the midnight fireworks exploded over the mountain ridgeline. Doctors from the French intelligence agencies were in the suite treating Nick and the guys for their various ailments. Julia watched a couple of medics load Collingsworth into the back of an ambulance.
Julia watched as the ambulance drove off, her arms wrapped around herself to ward off the alpine chill of the night. John took off his tuxedo jacket and walked over to her, wrapping it around her shoulders. She snuggled into its woolen warmth and leaned against him as he put his arm around her without thinking.
“What now?” She sighed, her breath swirling in the surrounding air.
“They’ll treat him at the hospital in Chamonix, and then he’ll have to face espionage charges back in England.”
“I meant about us,” she replied, looking up at him. The fireworks sparkled in her dark eyes, entrancing him.
“What about us?” He whispered. She smiled wickedly as she drew her fingernails over the small of his back. His stomach clenched as all the blood in his body began rushing towards his groin. “I see,” he shuddered out, whether from the cold or his arousal he could not tell.
“We could go back to my room and forget about this whole horrid night,” she said as she pressed her body against him, making as much contact as she could.
John sighed, his stomach churning over their encounter with Collingsworth. “Did you mean what you said to him? That we were over?”
The smile fell from her face. “Why would you ask about that?”
“I have to know.”
Julia thought for a moment. “We are over, John.”
His heart sank.
“But,” she continued, winding her arms around him. “That doesn’t mean we can’t have a new beginning.”
John closed his eyes and rested his forehead against hers. Her breath was hot against his face as he tried to gather his thoughts. “Why’d you wear that necklace tonight?”
She tilted her head, her lips just touching his. “Because I knew you’d be here,” she whispered.
He felt a jolt of electricity run through his entire body, energizing him as a huge grin broke out on his face. Without hesitation, he lowered his lips to hers, kissing her both for the first time in years and like it was yesterday. She sighed and returned the kiss, moulding herself to him in a fit perfected years ago. He knew he should be cautious about his heart around Julia Davies. For tonight, at least, he was ready to throw caution to the winds coming off the mountain peaks.
Several stories below them, a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” broke out from the ballroom’s open windows and echoed through the valley.