Title: The Road to Frosty Hollow
Author: R.J. Scott & Meredith Russell
Publisher: Love Lane Books
Release Date: December 21, 2016
Genre(s): Contemporary Christmas Romance
Reviewed by: Natosha
Nick and Cameron face old demons, and find new love, on a Christmas road trip.
Former Marine Nick Sheridan is at a crossroads. With his entire life ahead of him he struggles to find direction and his place in the world. Car sharing to get home for his sister’s Christmas wedding seems like a good idea at first. Spending the time with the man he kissed and left years before, maybe not so much.
Cameron Bennett lost most of his teenage years to cancer and he now lives every day to the fullest. He decides to drive from Seattle to Vermont for his best friend’s wedding and capture moments of it on film. He hadn’t planned on car sharing with the man who kissed him ten years ago, but somehow he ends up with a brooding Nick by his side.
Along the way, the men learn that sometimes life plans mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Love can be found in the most unexpected of ways, and facing your demons head on is sometimes the only way to live.
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“This is crazy, sis. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this road trip.”
Nick Sheridan sat on the end of the bed and stared at his luggage. He’d been pacing a line back and forth in front of his bedroom window for what felt like hours, but, was really only minutes, and his nerves were getting the better of him. He held his cell phone in front of him, set on speaker phone, waiting for the reassuring sound of his sister’s voice to fill the room.
“It’ll do you good. It’ll do you and Cameron both some good,” Kaitlin said.
Her voice held an edge of excitement. She was setting him up, and he knew it, and he was pretty sure she knew he knew it. Cameron Bennett was the last person Nick wanted to share a cross-country drive with, with his dimples, and his smile and his ability to make Nick forget how to speak.
With a sigh, he scratched a hand though his hair, teasing his bangs to spiky points. “Maybe.” He glanced around his bedroom. He was supposed to have packed everything into boxes ready for the move back home in the New Year, but surfaces were still scattered with mementos of his life and his closet remained full of his clothes.
Kaitlin asked, “What time did Cameron say he was getting there?”
Nick rested his phone on the bed and got to his feet. “Anytime now.” He crossed to the window. Lifting a slat in the blind, he looked out on the street below.
Kaitlin’s voice came from the bed behind him. “You remember what he looks like, right?”
How could he not remember Cameron Bennett? The man’s face was plastered all over his sister’s social media every time Cam happened to be in the same state as her: Cam and Kaitlin horseback riding along a treacherous mountain trail, or jumping out of a plane, or parasailing. The man took risks that made Nick worry, considering Kaitlin sometimes got involved too. Kaitlin and Cameron had been best friends since any of them could remember.
Not only that, but Cameron’s face was all wrapped up in memories of one stolen kiss and years of what ifs.
Not that he was admitting that to his sister. “Shut up,” he said, raising his voice to make sure she could hear him.
Kaitlin laughed. “It’s so easy to wind you up. But seriously, have some fun, live life, get all thinky about what you want to do.”
“Thinky?” Nick mouthed the word to the room and smiled. He had been thinking. In fact, he’d done nothing but thinking ever since he received the official invitation to Kaitlin’s wedding a few months ago.
Sitting on his dresser was the ivory-and-turquoise-decorated card. Nick eyed the names of his sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law, struck by a strange sense of loss. He rubbed at the feeling of emptiness in his stomach. When he had settled in Seattle two-and-a-half years ago, he’d thought that was it. Sure, there might have been a chance he would be called back to active duty, but Seattle had felt like home. He’d had a boyfriend and the promise of a career and finishing up school. It had been a fresh start. True, he and his family lived on opposite sides of the country, but that was okay; he had things to work through, and they didn’t need a screwed-up Marine in their lives.
Now, of course, the boyfriend was no more, the career was at a grinding halt, and he’d failed his last exam. Yeah, life’s great.
“Nick? You still there?”
Nick breathed in deeply and glanced over his shoulder at his phone. “I’m here.”
Now he was in need of another fresh start, and as far as he was concerned, running back to his hometown in Vermont was for the best. He needed the security of having his family around him, at least for a while until he got his head on straight.
Then why haven’t you packed yet?
“I have to go,” Kaitlin interrupted his thoughts. “I’ve got an appointment with the florist. Mom’s coming with me, so wish me luck.”
Their mom had taken to the role of mother of the bride like it was a military campaign. Kaitlin had even taken the drastic measure of phoning Nick one night, stressed, cursing, and insisting their mom should have signed up with him eight years ago. It was kind of nice she reached out to him, as though he was needed. “So, I’ll wish you a safe journey, big brother, and guess I’ll see you in three weeks. Text me, right? Text me a lot. Photos as well.”
Yeah, right. Photos of Cameron and his broad, stupid smile and his hazel eyes, standing next to Nick, the battered former Marine. Those were photos she’d love to share on her Facebook page. No way that was happening.
“Three weeks,” he confirmed.
Then he shook his head, even though no one could see him. That was a long time to be just him and Cameron. He yawned widely. He’d not slept properly last night; when he’d rolled over on his arm, discomfort had kept him awake.
“Like I said, it’ll be good for you. Just—” She paused for a moment. “—just enjoy the ride and see where it takes you.”
Nick chewed his lip. His life had been so regimented throughout his twenties, and though he was all for living in the moment and taking some chances, his default setting was survival and it was difficult to adjust. “I’ll try.”
“See that you do. Anyway, I have to go. Feel free to give Cam a big hug from me.” Her voice held a laugh as she teased him.
Shaking his head, he picked up his phone. “Later, sis.”
“You too.” He ended the call and pocketed his phone.
Blowing out a breath, he checked around the room. Everything he’d put on his list was packed in his case and large backpack. He had three weeks on the road and an undetermined amount of time with his folks for the wedding, Christmas, and into next year.
His cell phone chimed and he freed it once more from his pocket and eyed the details of the text message. It was from Cameron.
Getting gas. Be with you in ten.
OK, he typed.
He hesitated, wondering if he was supposed to say more. Billy, his ex, added smiley faces to all his texts, even when he was pissed. “I am so out of the loop,” he muttered. With a shrug, he hit Send; he didn’t want to give Cameron a weird message by using the wrong yellow faces.
“Okay,” he said to his room. “This is really happening.”
When Kaitlin had suggested he join Cameron on his road trip from Seattle to Vermont, Nick’s first instinct had been to say no.
He remembered a lot about Cameron; his illness as a kid that kept him in his room a lot, his stupidly cute hair, his thoughtful expressions. And the kiss. He recalled the kiss and Cameron pushing him away in great detail.
But they weren’t friends like Cameron and Kaitlin were. Being two years older than them meant Nick had always been a step ahead in the checkpoints of life—graduating, going away to college, dropping out to embark on a career in the military.
Not anymore. Hell, you’re going backward. It was as though his life had been unraveling over the last five months. His relationship had ended, he wasn’t happy at work, and he had no direction, no damn idea what to do with himself.
At least being a Marine gave you stability and focus.
It had given him other things too. He glanced down at the palm of his hand, then curled his fingers, brushing the faded scars that stretched down to his wrist. The memory of gunfire made his shoulders tense, and just for a moment he was back there, his patrol under attack, and jagged rocks shredding his hand as he scrambled for cover.
The idea to re-enlist had been a brief one, some knee-jerk reaction to change in his life. But he soon changed his mind; he had done his time, served his country. He wasn’t a career soldier. He needed something else. If only he could figure out what that was….
Shaking off the old memories, Nick took the few minutes he had to check over his luggage and the apartment. There was a feeling of unease as he picked up the wedding invitation. In three weeks he would be back in Vermont, back in Frosty Hollow. He hadn’t been home since Christmas two years ago, and that had been a flying visit.
The sound of the intercom buzzer interrupted his thoughts. Too late to change your mind now.
He paused at the receiver, his hand hovering over the speak button. The buzzer rang again and Nick took a breath. “Okay,” he said to himself, then pressed the button and spoke into the intercom. “I’ll be right down.”
After gathering his things, he checked the apartment one last time before heading downstairs. He pushed open the building door with his shoulder and backed outside, turning around to maneuver his belongings through the door with him.
“You need a hand?”
He stopped. The door swung shut behind him. “What?” It took him a moment to link the voice to the man standing at the bottom of the short flight of steps leading up to the apartment building. Tall and wide across the chest, with stubble and sunglasses pushed back in his hair, Cameron Bennett looked like a cross between a biker and a model, and he was every bit as gorgeous in person as Nick remembered. He looked a bit pale, white against the dark of his jacket, but hell, he looked good.
Cameron removed his shades, folded down the arms, and nodded toward Nick’s suitcase. “Your things. Do you need any help with them?”
Lifting his pack higher on his shoulder, Nick shook his head. “I’m good. Thanks.”
When Nick didn’t move, Cameron raised one of his neat eyebrows. “What?” he asked with a smile, shifting his weight onto his other leg and looking up at Nick expectantly. “I got something on my face?” His smile widened. The way Cameron’s lips curled made dimples appear in his face. Yep, there they were, the Dimples of Doom.
“What? No, sorry.” Nick lowered his head. “I just….” He looked Cameron up and down. Cameron Bennett all grown up. “I was trying to remember how long it’s been.” He picked up his suitcase and headed down to the sidewalk, where he met Cameron’s hazel eyes and waited for an answer.
“Nine or ten years, I guess.” Cameron walked behind him. “Senior year, wasn’t it? My senior year, anyway. You’d come home from college for the weekend, and Kaitlin had that Valentine’s party.”
Nick didn’t have to try to remember the party, ever since he’d agreed to this road trip he’d had the damn party on his mind. He didn’t want to talk about it, not after making a fool of himself with Cameron, thinking the other man actually wanted to kiss him. But Cameron was looking at him expectantly; waiting for an answer.
“Alice in Wonderland,” he said, finally. Kaitlin had roped him into decorating the house with strings of hearts and playing cards.
And he and Cameron had kissed. Don’t think about the kiss.
“I’m impressed you even remember. You were pretty drunk.” Cameron grinned. It didn’t look like Cameron recalled the kiss, or the awkwardness that followed it.
“A house full of Mad Hatters is enough to drive anyone to drink.” Nick offered; anything to stop thinking on things that should never have happened. The party had been the night after he’d come out to his parents and told them he was dropping out of college to enlist all in one go. Turned out him being gay wasn’t a problem to his parents. Signing up, however, they hadn’t taken too well. Not at first, anyway.
“So many sexy Cheshire Cats and slutty Alice’s,” Cameron mused.
Nick prodded Cameron in the back. “Hey, my sister was Alice. She wasn’t slutty.” He couldn’t help the defensiveness that stiffened his spine.
“Nicky, I’m kidding.”
Nicky. The name surprised him. He hadn’t been called that in years. Even his sister had dropped the cutesy version of his name.
If Cameron noticed Nick’s faltering steps, he didn’t make it evident. Instead he continued. “Seriously, I’m the last person to judge anyone for what they wear.” Cameron spun around, walking backward a few steps as he tugged at the front of the V-necked T-shirt he wore under a leather jacket. The action exposed more of his chest.
Nick noted the faint dusting of hair across the pale skin of Cameron’s chest and what looked like the edge of a tattoo.
“My name is Nick, not Nicky.”
Cameron nodded his understanding, and with a smile, he slid his shades back on and stepped out into the street.
They stopped by a functional black SUV with snow tires and Nick blinked to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. “Thought you were a muscle car fan? This isn’t quite what I imagined for your grand cross-country adventure.”
Cameron pulled open the driver side door and rested his arms on top of the frame. He shrugged as he looked over the roof of the black SUV, meeting Nick’s eyes. “Well, I had considered renting a Mustang, maybe. But then I remembered it’s December and we have snow.”
“Anyway, I know you like working with cars, but I didn’t want you having a busman’s holiday every time we broke down.”
“Thoughtful of you.” Nick was aiming for jokey, but he sounded more sarcastic than joking.
Cameron looked confused at the tone and he worried at his lip for a moment. “You can still change your mind, you know. I won’t be offended.”
“The road trip, three weeks with me. I know Kaitlin can be very persuasive when she wants to be.”
Shaking his head, Nick said, “She can be, but I want to do this.” He might have been quick to blame Kaitlin for the road trip, but he was really doing it for himself. “I promise you this is my decision.”
Cameron seemed to consider Nick’s words as he tapped the fingers of one hand on the back of the other. “Okay.” He pulled the door open a little farther. “Put your things in the back and we’ll get out of here.”
After loading his bags in the trunk, Nick slipped into the car and strapped himself in beside Cameron. “So, what’s the plan?”
“Sorry?” He raised an eyebrow.
“That’s where we’re headed, or at least we are, according to Kaitlin. It’s just over five hours from here.” Cameron reached behind the passenger seat and pulled out a map. “Figured we could drive a couple of hours, stop for something to eat at the halfway point, and then do the rest.”
“What the hell’s in Spokane?” Nick asked. “Kaitlin picked the place?”
Cameron looked sheepish. “She may have planned the whole trip. Well, I mean, I helped and all, but she was the one who came up with the itinerary.”
“Right. Okay.” Nick scratched behind his ear.
“Here.” Cameron opened the glove compartment and pulled out a notebook. Loose, folded sheets of paper stuck out from between the pages. “I printed off what we decided on.”
Nick folded back the corner of the little book, allowing the paper to flick across his thumb as he slowly released the pages. He rested it on top of the map across his thighs. “I know you asked me about wanting to do this, but are you okay with me being here?”
It seemed Kaitlin had a much bigger role in the trip than Nick first thought, but he wasn’t entirely sure about Cameron’s reasons for taking the cross-country trip. Apparently, it was some mix of a personal work project and self-evaluation of his life.
Cameron curled his hands around the steering wheel. “Trust me. You’d know if I didn’t want you here.” He briefly turned to look at Nick. “And you never know—we might actually have some fun.”
With a nod, Nick agreed, “Yeah, we might.”
“So,” Cameron said. “Ready?”
As I’ll ever be. “Sure. Let’s do it.”
After all, how bad could three weeks on the road with Cameron be?
Meredith Russell’s Bio
Meredith Russell lives in the heart of England. An avid fan of many story genres, she enjoys nothing less than a happy ending. She believes in heroes and romance and strives to reflect this in her writing. Sharing her imagination and passion for stories and characters is a dream Meredith is excited to turn into reality.
R.J. Scott’s Bio
My goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, that hint of a happily ever after.
I’ve has been writing since age six, when I was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies and the mixing bowl. You can’t tell a six year old not to lick the bowl!
I was told to write a story and two sides of paper about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born.
As an avid reader myself, I can be found reading anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror. However, my first real true love will always be the world of romance. I love my cowboys, bodyguards, firemen and billionaires (to name a few) and love to write dramatic and romantic stories of love and passion between these men. (Yum)
With over 90 titles to my name and counting, I am the author of the award winning book, The Christmas Throwaway, which was All Romance Ebooks best selling title of 2010.
I’m also known for the Texas series charting the lives of Riley and Jack, and the Sanctuary series following the work of the Sanctuary Foundation and the people it protects.
I’m always so thrilled to hear from readers, bloggers and other writers. Please contact via the following links below: