Recreational Therapist Ava Kennedy is in charge of Valentine’s Day festivities for shut-in patients at Honeysuckle Cove Children’s Hospital. When a winter storm threatens to derail planned events and steal the children’s joy, Ava calls on longtime friend and firefighter Nick Jones for rescue. The two have been close, platonic friends since kindergarten, but Ava soon finds her heart whirling like the drifting snowflakes outside her office window.
Nick Jones is skilled at extinguishing fires, so he doesn’t count on kindling a flame with lifelong friend Ava Kennedy. But he’s got a sweet spot for kids and women…especially when one particular woman—Ava—possesses a soft heart and laughter that draws like an electron magnet. Despite Nick’s valiant efforts to resist, he finds himself caught up in the attraction.
Will these friends’ new feelings weather the shifting tempest…or is this simply a passing storm?
Ava Kennedy paced Honeysuckle Cove Children’s Hospital’s fifth floor breakroom as she watched Channel 12 News run down the week’s forecast. Snow and more snow was on its way.
She grimaced. Not now…please.
“The weather’s not looking good, is it?” Tami crossed the room and slipped a dollar into a drink machine nestled in the corner. The petite pediatric nurse often recharged her energy with an afternoon caffeinated soda.
“No. Not at all.” Ava frowned as she used a remote to lower the TV’s volume. “And the worst of it looks like it’s going to hit on Saturday—same day the Valentine’s party is scheduled for the kids.”
“Ouch. That smarts.” Tami snagged her drink from the dispenser, snatched her lunch box from the community fridge, and slipped into a plastic chair at a round table near the window. “All the work you’ve done…the months of planning…it’s all in jeopardy.”
“It’s not my work I’m concerned about.” Ava sank into a seat across from Tami and glanced through an expanse of window glass to study the sky. The temperature that morning had felt mild and even now the heavens appeared a peaceful, angelic blue without so much as the slightest hint of clouds. Perhaps the meteorologist had miscalculated his snow forecast and the storm would skirt right past Honeysuckle Cove. She sighed as she sent up a silent prayer and returned her gaze to Tami. “It’s the kids I’m worried about. They’ll be crushed if the party has to be cancelled. Mr. Aster has already phoned me half-a-dozen times to remind me that he refuses to drive in heavy rain—let alone through a raging snowstorm.”
Mr. Aster was a hugely successful sixty-something local business owner with ageless energy and widely-acknowledged eccentricities. He also proved one of the most generous benefactors of Honeysuckle Cove Children’s Hospital. He’d lost a granddaughter in a snowboarding accident several years ago, and had recently helped to fund a state-of-the-art physical therapy wing in her memory. He had backed Ava’s suggestion of a holiday party for the shut-in kids on one condition—he and his wife wanted to play the lead roles of Mr. and Mrs. Cupid, complete with matching red velvet, heart-shaped sacks of toys filled with gifts for the children.
The costumes had been specially hand-crafted and the Asters had brought them by to show off to Ava. The matching set now hung in the small closet in her office, waiting to be worn. Posters had been plastered along the hospital corridors and on elevator doors, and the entire hospital staff had talked up the party with the kids who were undergoing long-term treatments. Those children would call the therapy wing home during the holiday. Even the local newspapers and TV stations had done their part to spread the word. Ava couldn’t let the kids and their families down.
“Yes, I’ve heard about Mr. Aster’s odd driving quirks.” Tami scooped hummus onto a cracker and took a nibble. “He’s a bit of a nervous Nellie since he and his wife got T-boned by that snow plow during last winter’s ice storm.”
“Luckily, no one was seriously injured. I can’t say I blame him for being a bit over-cautious. Even so…” Ava pouted. “I suppose it’s a moot point since Mrs. Aster has the flu. She couldn’t come near the children anyway. During his last phone call, Mr. Aster finally admitted they wouldn’t make the event. He told me to find someone to take both their places. But I’m not left with much time. When it rains, it pours.”
“More like when it flurries, it blizzards.” Tami giggled briefly at her own joke, until she realized from Ava’s daggered stare that she missed the humor in it. “I’m sorry, Ava.”
“Me, too. It’s too late to change our plans. And even if we could switch the event date, it would defeat the purpose of the party. It’s for the kids. On Valentine’s Day. While they’re shut in here. Away from family and friends.”
“Right. Well, that’s crummy.” Tami frowned. “You know I’d be more than happy to help with the festivities, but I drew the proverbial short straw this holiday so I’m pulling a double shift at the nurse’s station that day.”
“Oh, you’re sure to have your hands full doing that, especially with the storm bearing down.”
“Yes, but I’m settling in with double duty for a great cause.” She winked conspiratorially. “Fiona has a hot date. I think Isaac is going to pop The Big Question.”
Ava wasn’t surprised by this tidbit of news. Fiona, a pediatric nurse and Isaac, a fifth year resident had been dating for more than two years and proved the picture of love. Most of the hospital staff had been wagering on when the nuptials might occur.
“That’s exciting.” Ava was happy for them, yet she couldn’t help but feel a little pinprick of envy. Though she’d weathered her fair share of frogs, she had yet to find her prince charming. She feared she never would. “I hope their plans aren’t derailed by the storm.”
“Oh, I don’t think Old Man Winter himself could keep Isaac from sliding that engagement ring on Fiona’s finger. He’s been hinting about it for weeks now. She’s the one who’s been dragging her feet. She thinks he should finish his residency first.”
“Well, if they can manage to carry on through the storm then so can I.” Ava nodded with stiff determination. “Yes, it’s time to be proactive. I’m going to launch a backup plan.”
“Well, you are the planner extraordinaire so if anyone can pull it off, you can.” Tami’s laughter danced along the window glass. “But from the looks of that mess—” She motioned to the TV, where a snow-ridden 5-day forecast was plastered across the monitor “—you’re going to need to pull out every trick.”
“Right. So it’s imperative that I draft someone who has use of a four-wheel vehicle and exhibits mad driving skills in the snow.” Ava pulled a steno notepad and pen from her pocket. She flipped open the pad, quickly scrawled a few notes, and then paused to tap her chin with the pen as she considered further possibilities. “He’ll have to help me pick up toy donations the morning of the party—or possibly the evening before if the storm hits early. It would be a bonus if he’d also roll up his sleeves to help with last-minute decorations and lead a few of the activities. Mr. and Mrs. Aster had planned to spend the entire day here and I was really counting on their help.”
“That’s a tall order.” Tami polished off the last cracker and snapped shut the lid of the hummus. “Paul Bunyan sort of tall.”
“Perhaps…but not impossible.”
“Of course it’s not. Nothing’s impossible. But what about Cupid and his heart-shaped sack of toys? Will this Jack of all trades be able to take Mr. Aster’s place? And will you take Mrs. Aster’s place?”
“I can certainly fill in as far as Mrs. Aster goes, but Mr. Cupid…hmm, that’s the most important part.” Ava frowned thoughtfully. “Well, whoever agrees to help will just have to be a good sport when it comes to wearing the costume and handing out gifts. The kids have their hearts totally set on the visit, and I’m not going to let them down.”
“Speaking of Cupid, is that hunky firefighter friend of yours going to bring you lunch again today?”
“Hunky…firefighter?” Ava wracked her brain until a light finally dawned. “Oh, you mean Nick?”
“Yes…Mr. Tall, Dark and Blue-eyed. Emphasis on the blue eyes…and the hunky.” Tami popped the tab on her soda, drew a sip, and then fanned herself with dramatics worthy of an Oscar. “Yes, definitely hunky. He’s oh-so-easy on the eyes.”
Another page turner from Mary Manners, that doesn't make an early night possible. Based in a hospital during a severe storm, this story has a hunky firefighter and an adorable nurse as the main characters. Not to mention a very fetching outfit. (not saying who wears it... spoilers, don't ya know)