Snowbound – First Chapter

Chapter 1

Nancy Drew had opened her mouth to laugh just as another snowball went splat against her face. Through her frosty eyelashes she could see that her attacker was her roommate, Kara Verbeck. As Nancy was recovering, another snow missile flew over her right shoulder. It was launched by Eileen O’Connor, who lived in Nancy’s suite of rooms on the third floor of Thayer Hall.

“Die,” Nancy called out. In a flash she dropped her book bag into a snowbank, scooped up a chunk of snow, and charged Eileen. She managed to get part of it down Eileen’s neck before Eileen saw or heard her coming.

Nancy and her friend George Fayne laughed as Eileen brushed the snow off her dark blond hair.

“This isn’t fair,” George said. “I want to play, but I’ve got to get over to Will’s to help pack for our ski trip.”

“We have to get back, too,” Kara called out. “We’re leaving in one minute.”

Nancy waved good-bye to Eileen and Kara as she hurried along through the fresh, deep snow with George.

Wilder University had been buried under two feet of snow the night before, and more was on the way. For now, though, the sky was a bright blue, and the afternoon sun had turned the tired midwinter campus into a sparkling wonderland.

Glistening icicles clung to window ledges and fire escapes, turning dowdy dorms into crystal palaces. Even the benches and trash bins around campus had been transformed into pillowlike snow sculptures.

“It’s magic, Nancy,” George said. She spread out her arms and spun around. Her short, dark curls flew out from under her ski hat as her long legs high-stepped in place. “Anything can happen when the world is covered in snow — anything.”

“Well, then, let it happen,” Nancy cried, tossing George’s words back at her.

“Okay,” George replied. “Then come skiing with us this weekend, Nancy.”

“I’d love to,” Nancy said, “but — “

“The slopes of White Pass beckon,” George urged her. “Will and Andy and Reva really want you to come, too.”

“Don’t torture me,” Nancy protested. Will Blackfeather was George’s boyfriend, Andy Rodriguez was his roommate, and Reva Ross was Andy’s girlfriend and another of Nancy’s suitemates. “I’ve got mountains of work to plow through, George. No way can I go skiing.”

“Headlines?” George asked sympathetically.

“Yep. My personal time-eating machine,” Nancy admitted. Recently Nancy had landed a job as co-anchor of the university’s cable news show. It was a great job, but on top of her full course load, it meant that she had zero free time.

George’s face turned serious. “Nan, you need some downtime, too. Come on. I promise we’ll get you back early Sunday.”

Nancy walked even more briskly through the icy air. “Michael and I haven’t even come up with a lead story for next week’s show. We need something better than the snowstorm, and we need to get it together in the next two days.”

George’s eyes darkened. “And how is Mr. Pushy these days?”

Mr. Pushy was just one of the many nicknames Nancy’s friends had given her co-host, Michael Gianelli. Neither he nor Nancy had expected to have to share the anchor job, and from the beginning sparks had flown between them. Michael seemed to do everything possible to scoop Nancy on stories and then take all the credit for the work they did together.

“He’s just as maddening as ever,” Nancy replied with a sigh. “Good-looking, intelligent, witty — even funny — but infuriating.”

“Do you ever think of going back to reporting at the Wilder Times, Nan?” George asked. “Is Headlines really worth the hassle?”

“Dump my spot on the show, just because Michael Gianelli doesn’t want to work with me?” Nancy stopped in the snow and stared at George. “No way,” she blurted out. “That’s just what he wants.”

George held up her hands in defense. “Okay. Okay. Don’t get so touchy.” Under her breath she muttered, “What about what you want?”

“I heard that,” Nancy snapped. Then her tone softened. “Sorry,” she said, linking her elbow with George’s again. “The truth is, Headlines is exactly what I want to be doing — even with Michael Gianelli.”

“So, you must get something out of working together.” George’s tone of voice carried a hint of a challenge.

Nancy felt her face get hot. She suddenly felt flustered. “What do you mean?”

“Just what I said,” George replied. “You must enjoy something about working with him, or else you’d be back at the newspaper in an instant.”

“Yeah, well,” Nancy began sheepishly. “He’s a challenge. He turns every conversation into a competition.” She paused thoughtfully. “But I’m not exactly an innocent bystander. Every time I’m around Michael, I get this uncontrollable urge to squish his big ego. I find myself wanting to one-up him at every turn.”

“Well, you two work on camera,” George pointed out. “There’s chemistry between you on the set.”

“Chemistry?”

“Yeah,” George said. “At the end of the broadcast, when you talk about your upcoming stories, it looks like you guys are having a blast together.” George cast a sidelong hook at her friend. “I’ve heard rumors that you’re actually dating Michael Gianelli.”

Nancy felt a flash of anger and confusion. She’d heard the same rumors. She bobbed down to grab some snow. She packed it tight and hurled it toward a tree. Bull’s-eye.

“That’s for Michael Gianelli,” she cried triumphantly. “I have to run, George.” Nancy began to take the steps two at a time.

“Me, too,” George called to her. “Bye — and good luck this weekend.”

Nancy stopped at the top of the stairs and turned around. “Enjoy the magic.”

Nancy was eager to get over to the TV station but decided on a hot, relaxing shower first.

She was about to turn on the water when she heard the bathroom door open and two women walk in. She recognized the voices of Eileen and Kara — and they were talking about her.

“I don’t understand,” Kara said. “Why not tell Nancy about the Money Plane?”

“The last thing the game needs is for Nancy and Michael to decide it’s news,” Eileen explained.

“But it is news,” Kara said excitedly. “And the more people who know about it and join, the richer we’ll all get. Right?”

Nancy silently raised an eyebrow at what she’d heard. Money Plane? Riches?

Eileen raised her voice over the sound of running tap water. “The university doesn’t exactly approve of the Money Plane, which is part of the excitement. It’s all very hush-hush.”

“Okay,” Kara said suddenly. “How do I get in the game, exactly?”

“I don’t know exactly.” Eileen paused and then continued in a whisper. “There’s a meeting to night where Jean-Marc is going to explain everything. I was told we could join then. Just bring your hundred and fifty dollars and try to think of eight other people you can sign up.”

Jean-Marc Chenier was the only Jean-Marc Nancy knew of on campus. He was Holly Thornton’s good-looking boyfriend, and Holly Thornton was Eileen’s sorority sister.

“I know a few people who joined a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve already been paid twelve hundred dollars,” Eileen told Kara.

“Twelve hundred dollars,” Kara said dreamily. “Just tell me when and where.”

There was another pause before Nancy heard Eileen say, “Tonight at seven, up on the fifth-floor common area. Be early. It’s going to be crowded.”

Nancy heard the door open as Kara said, “I can’t wait,” and then they were gone.

When Nancy was certain she was alone, she turned on the shower and let the hot water pour over her shoulders.

Sounds like a definite story for Headlines, she thought. She hoped that Michael Gianelli hadn’t heard about it yet. It would be sweet — very sweet — to beat him to it.

“Okay, let’s get going,” Liz Bader said in a no nonsense voice. She flipped through the dresses hanging on the rack of the used clothing boutique. When a slim, black velvet gown appeared, she draped it over the arm of her roommate, Ginny Yuen.

Ginny stared at the rhinestone bow on the front. “I know you want me to cut loose and have a little fun. But a full-length gown with rhinestones?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Liz said. “Look beyond the dress. You chop it off at the hem. You take off the bow. Voila. A short, black, sexy dress for fifteen dollars.”

Ginny cocked her head and held the dress up for examination. “Mmmm. Maybe you’re right.”

Liz rushed over to sort through the used hand bags. “Of course I’m right.”

Ginny shrugged and held the dress up to face the mirror. It looked great — or would. Liz was right. She should get the dress and have a little fun. Ever since she’d broken up with Ray Johansson, she’d spent almost all of her time buried in her pre-med studies and volunteering at Weston Memorial Hospital. She was starting to feel as dry as sawdust inside.

“Work, work, work,” Liz chided her roommate.

“Yeah.” Ginny laughed. “But we’ll probably be snowed in on my one weekend off.”

“You may be right,” Liz agreed as they stepped outside. The wind whistled along the downtown storefronts, and the sky that had been bright when they entered the store was now blotted out by high, dark clouds. “It feels like more snow is on the way. But then, a blizzard’s the perfect backdrop for romance, too.”

“Ski boots, two pair. One size eight. One size twelve,” George said.

“Check,” her boyfriend, Will Blackfeather, replied.

“Lip balm, two sets of thermal underwear, two emergency space blankets.”

“Check, check, check. They’re on the bed.”

“Cash for cross-country permits, gas, food, and motel.”

Will’s head of dark hair appeared from behind the closet door. His sheepish grin showed his teeth very white against his tawny skin. “Cash?”

George put a hand on her hip and tried to look irritated. Will was the one assigned to money duty for the trip: figuring out a budget and hitting the cash machine before they left.

Just then the five o’clock weather report came on the radio, and George broke her pose to lunge for the volume control. “Here’s the weather report, Will.”

“The National Weather Service has issued a travel advisory for the general Weston area. A major storm front is moving in, and heavy snow, high winds, and dropping temperatures are expected in the early morning hours — especially in southwest Wisconsin and northern Illinois. I repeat…”

Frustrated, George turned the volume back down. They had planned to leave that night, before any more storms hit, but Andy’s car was in the garage for repairs and wouldn’t be ready until the next morning.

“No problem,” Will said. “Even if we don’t beat the storm, Andy’s four-by-four will get us up to Wisconsin.”

“It had better.” George felt a rush of pessimism take hold. “I’ve been so psyched to go skiing, I’ll just die if we wind up stranded here.”

“Lighten up, George,” Will said cautiously.

“All I’ve been doing for weeks is study, study, study,” George complained. “My brain is turning to mush, Will. I really need a break. I need to go skiing!”

Will tossed a pair of socks into his pack, then took George in his arms. He brushed a stray curl off her forehead. “It’s not as though we’re going all the way to the Rockies.”

George looked at him squarely. “Promise we’ll get there?”

Will tugged her close to him and in a slow-motion judo move laid her out gently on the floor. “You worry too much.”

“Do not.” George hooked an ankle around his leg and scrambled free. In an instant it was she who had him pinned to the floor.

“Do, too.” Will pulled her down and kissed her, sending shivers down to the tips of her toes.

They looked at each other and sighed before wrapping themselves up in another kiss. George suddenly felt all of her tension melt away. This was the man she loved.

“Mmmmm,” Will murmured into her ear. “Alone with you for an entire weekend.”

“We’ll be with Reva and Andy,” George reminded him, slipping her fingers through his long hair.

“Not at night,” he said, drawing her into a warm embrace. “Are you okay with this?” Will asked in a gentle voice.

“Um, yeah,” George replied, though she felt her body tense up. She and Will had slept together months before. They’d promised to stay faithful and always use protection. But after a recent pregnancy scare, George had said, “No more.”

At first Will hadn’t understood why she’d backed off. She hadn’t been pregnant, after all. But he hadn’t pressured her, and slowly he’d come to see that their relationship was more important to him than whether or not they were having sex.

“You’re going to be pretty hard to resist this weekend,” Will murmured, nibbling down the length of her neck.

The sensations George felt made her wonder if she might not be ready to go back to the way things had been.

“I am always hard to resist, Will Blackfeather. Remember that.” She took his face in her hands and guided his lips back to hers.

“Hey, there’s Stephanie.” Liz pointed her out as she and Ginny strolled up a snowplowed path between Rand Hall and the dorms across the campus lawn.

Ginny recognized their old suitemate Stephanie Baur, tall and cool in black stretch pants, fur boots, and a sleek white parka with fur trim that showed off her long dark hair to great advantage.

Liz cupped her hands over her mouth. “Hey, Stephanie.”

Stephanie hurried up to them, eyeing Ginny’s shopping bag. “Hi. Looks like you’ve been having fun.”

Ginny grinned. “How’s Jonathan’s business trip going? Is he calling you every night?”

Stephanie gave Ginny a mild smile. She and her husband, Berrigan’s department store floor manager Jonathan Bauer, lived in a small off-campus apartment. But Jonathan was in the middle of a business trip to Chicago, so Stephanie had returned to her old room in the dorm while he was away.

“Okay, she’s not talking,” Liz concluded as they walked past a group of cross-country skiers.

“There’s a big party tonight at the Norwegian House.” Stephanie gestured toward the skiers. “You’re supposed to come on skis.”

“Fun,” Ginny said.

“Yeah,” Stephanie went on, “everyone is psyched to party this weekend. The frat houses all have big fireside dances planned. There’s a bonfire party over at the lake. And someone in the dorm is talking about a polar bear swim contest.”

“Mmmm,” Ginny said, suddenly realizing that marriage hadn’t changed Stephanie’s party-animal personality one bit. “What are you up to this weekend?”

“I don’t know,” Stephanie said casually. “Little bit of this. Little bit of that.”

Ginny found herself staring at Stephanie’s confident expression. Even with her husband away, Stephanie acted as self-possessed as ever. She was one of the most independent people Ginny had ever met. She didn’t need Jonathan — or any guy — on her arm to have a good time.

And neither do I, Ginny told herself. I’ve got to get Ray out of my head and toughen up. Being a workaholic hasn’t helped me forget him. Maybe pretending I’m Stephanie would work.

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