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Liz Alden

Frosty Proximity (EBOOK)

Frosty Proximity (EBOOK)

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The snowstorm of the century is approaching, and my only hope of getting home for Christmas is my grumpy, rich, and definitely off limits client.

Main Tropes

  • Opposites Attract
  • Only One Bed

Synopsis

The snowstorm of the century is approaching, and my only hope of getting home for Christmas is my grumpy, rich, and definitely off limits client.

A closed airport, fifty miles of Swiss countryside, and the threat of record-breaking wind and snow stand between me and flying back to my family in New York. The family that labels my job as a personal stylist as “frivolous” and “shallow.”

My client, Peter, is working just as hard as I am to get me on that plane.

It seems he really doesn’t want me crashing his family’s Chanukah based on the tension in the air and the grunts he aims my way.

Grunts I should not find sexy.

But we may not have a choice. And when his family opens their warm, cozy home to me, I may realize that, beneath his frost, Peter makes me melt.

Intro into Chapter One

The nicest hotel room in Basel, Switzerland, has a view of the Rhine River, a tastefully decorated sitting room with Louis XV furniture, and a minibar.

A minibar that my friend and client, Clara, just told me to avail myself of.

“Bea?” I call toward the en suite bathroom, where my other friend is unpacking toiletries.

“Yeah?”

“Clara said to help ourselves to the bar.” I open the mini-fridge and peer in. Someone has removed and replaced some of the tiny bottles of liquor with full-sized champagne bottles. I pull out the first one and hold it up. “Do we want to open the expensive bottle of champagne?” I reach for the next one and read the label. “The really expensive bottle of champagne? Or . . . ” I set the two condensing bottles on the wet bar counter and pull out the third. “The really, really expensive bottle of champagne?”

Bea emerges from the bedroom and looks at the bottles before raising an eyebrow at me. “Nice try, but you are out of order.” She reorders the three bottles. “Least to most,” she says, pointing.

“My question still stands.”

She points to the middle one. “This is Clara’s favorite. Nash took her to the Champagne region last year for a tasting, and that was the winner.” Clara’s boyfriend is constantly taking her on amazing foodie trips. Even though I’ve known him longer than I’ve known Clara, there was never any spark between us, so I can be super happy for the two of them and only a smidge jealous because I want that with someone one day.

“Can you taste the difference between two brands of bubbly?”

“Nope.”

I pluck up the least expensive bottle. Bea grabs glasses, and soon, we’ve got two flutes of sparkling gold liquid in hand and are toasting each other.

“To the best clients in the world,” I say, raising my glass.

“To the best boss in the world,” Bea returns. We clink and sip, both of us letting out a sigh.

Sure, this isn’t our hotel suite, but we’re getting to enjoy it. Clara’s boyfriend, Nash, is Bea’s boss and my client. The two of them are attending a gala tonight. We’re here to help them—Bea to handle them during the event and me to get them ready for it.

I’ve been a personal stylist for Nash for years, ever since his career at Heartly, a social media company based on an algorithm that promotes positive vibes, took off and put him in the spotlight. He’s brilliant, but like most utterly brilliant men, he was clueless in the style department.

Enter me, Kara Dobreva, stylist extraordinaire.

When we first started working together, it was a wardrobe refresh—or, well, a wardrobe creation because I advised him to get rid of most of his stuff—and event-based styling. When Bea came on as his assistant, we quickly became friends. She is the one I work with to choose attire appropriate for his schedule, coordinate appointments for manicures, waxes, and fittings, and keep up with the latest trends, especially when he’s attending a public event with photographers.

Like this gala tonight. It’s for some charity with a mission I can’t recall, but Nash and Clara’s outfits hang in the bedroom's closet, pressed and fitted. My hair and makeup kits are in the bathroom, and the only things missing are Clara and Nash.

“What time do they get here again?” I ask.

Bea grins. “Are you wondering how long we have this suite to ourselves? They’ll be here in about an hour and a half.”

I slump onto the couch in the sitting room next to Bea. “This is the life. Can you believe we’re getting paid to be here?”

Bea laughs and crosses her legs, resting an elbow on the back of the couch. She’s already dressed for the event in all black, designed to fade into the background while Nash networks and, one hopes, has a good time. We both sip, and then Bea asks, “What are your Christmas plans? Headed back home, right?”

“Well, tomorrow I have the fitting day with Peter before he goes to observe Hanukkah with his family. So, I won’t be leaving as early as the rest of you.” Instead, I’ll be spending the morning having Peter try on clothes I’ve purchased for him as his personal shopper.

“Oh, right. You’ve been working with Peter since February?”

Peter is Heartly’s European equivalent of Nash. They’re both programmers who have advanced to management, although the office in Zurich that Peter works at is much smaller than their New York office.

“Yeah. We did two virtual wardrobe edits, where I cleared out a ton of his stuff, organized outfits, and ordered new clothes. This will be the first time we’ll work together in person.”

Bea squints. “Do you enjoy working with him? Any time I talk to him on the phone, it’s very . . .”

“Grunty?” I supply.

“Professional,” she corrects. “I know him and Nash are friends, but Peter has never been all that friendly to me.”

When I first met Peter virtually, he’d been a referral from Nash, and when we’d spoken over the phone, he’d been open to a thorough makeover.

I’d done my research and knew how he dressed. Nash had been your typical tech bro, and Peter was, too, but with a European twist. Clients send me pictures of styles they like and want to emulate, and I use that as a guide to develop their personal style. I’d also given him resources and verbiage to use when he went to the salon.

I sigh. “He’s hard to get a read on. I think he looks great, but does he agree?”

“I’m sure he does. You are so good at your job,” Bea assures me. “The manscaping alone was a vast improvement.”

Telling a guy to wax his unibrow isn’t rocket science. That’s what my family would remind me, which has some extra sting because my sister Daria is, literally, a rocket scientist.

Bea sits up. “Where’s all his stuff?” She looks around as if an entire collection of clothes is hiding in this suite. It’s big, but it’s not that big.

“It’s in my room with Nash and Clara’s luggage for their trip to the Alps.”

“If you have the same room I do, yours must be full.”

“I’m just glad hoop skirts aren’t in style. A single one would take up half my closet. But even if they were, Clara wouldn’t wear them.” I loved dressing Clara because she was all about the classics. The Jackie O of our generation, without the politics.

Bea relaxes back down on the couch. Her champagne flute is almost empty.

“Enough about my plans. What about you?”

Her southern drawl is charming as she responds. “What would really be ‘the life’ is getting to stay here for the holidays. What I wouldn’t give to be joining Nash and Clara in the Alps.”

“Hang on.” I mirror Bea’s pose, propping my chin up on my hand. “You’d rather spend the holiday with your boss and his adoptive family, which includes his boss, in a strange place instead of being with your family? I would say that I relate to this so hard, except your family is amazing.”

“My family and my ex.”

I groan. “Oh my god. I forgot that his family is besties with your family. You have to see him every year?”

“Yup. See, a Swiss chalet with my boss and his family sounds better than my Christmas plans.”

“Which are?”

“Tomorrow morning, I fly back to New York and drive to the same Podunk town we go to every year and rent a cabin big enough for our family plus his. And if I dare complain, then I get reminded that we never should have dated in the first place.”

“Oof.”

“Oof, is right. Hence the need for libations,” she says, raising her glass.

Bea and I drink our champagne and poke around the hotel room. The best part is definitely the view. When we first got here, the bellhop who helped with our bags—there were a lot of them on account of all the clothes—pointed out that if we angled ourselves just right and looked down the Rhine River, we could see France on the left side and Germany on the right.

Even though it’s December 21st, there’s no snow on the ground. Being in a cozy Swiss hotel in winter without snow on the ground is like being in France and not eating a baguette or being in New York and not going to the Statue of Liberty—which, in true New Yorker fashion, I’ve never done—and the forecast says that a ton of snow will arrive on Christmas Eve, but by then it’ll be too late.

I’ll be back home in the Bronx with my parents and three sisters, probably sitting in the living room of our apartment, drinking hot cider and listening to them play Agricola, an annoying strategy game that my family loves to play.

Neither Bea nor I top up our drinks, and an hour or so later, when Clara and Nash arrive, it’s a flurry of activity, wishing each other Merry Christmas and exchanging warm hugs.

“Kara!” Clara exclaims, wrapping her arms around me.

I respond in the same tone in the way we’ve done for years. “Clara!”

She looks like a winter princess with her faux-fur lined duster I picked out for her last year and cheeks rosy from the cold. Clara sheds the coat quickly in the warm room and takes off the matching hat, revealing dirty blonde hair that’s compressed against her scalp. She needs a shower—they both probably do—before I style her hair.

“Hey, Kara,” Nash says, pulling me in for a sideways hug. “Merry early Christmas.”

Nash is tall and lean, with warm brown skin from his Arabic parents, just a few shades darker than my olive tones. His Roman nose and thick, wavy hair make him more serious than he is. Nash is a complete goner for Clara and has been for years.

The hotel room door is still open, and Peter Toch steps into the room.

Seeing Peter for the first time in person is a combination of wow, that man is serious and damn, I’m good at my job. He’s wearing an outfit I put together for him, and now that I can see him in real life, little details stand out that I hadn’t noticed before, like how soft his hair is and how dark his eyes are.

The most striking thing about Peter is his jawline. When I first met with him virtually, one recommendation I made was to trim his facial hair back to stubble and show it off. It could cut glass—a nice stylist pun since he has a diamond-shaped face.

I squee a little inside, thinking about how I get to touch him over the next twenty-four hours.

In a totally professional sense, of course.

Peter is my client. Anything else would be inappropriate.

And, keeping with my totally appropriate thoughts, I offer him my hand. “Peter, great to meet in person.”

“Hello, Kara. It’s good to see you.” Peter is soft-spoken, with a mild accent. After talking with him, I had done a bunch of furious Googling since I knew nothing about Switzerland beyond cheese, chocolate, and banks.

He shakes my hand, his eyes serious, taking in the room. Peter lives in Zurich, which is an hour away, so I wonder if he’s ever stayed in Basel before. He’s got his own room, and when I tell him that his suit is there, he just nods again and then leaves while I’m distracted by a question from Clara.

I hope I’ll at least get to see him dressed before they leave.

Clara and I slip into our easy routine that we’ve perfected over many galas and charity dinners: she showers, washing her hair, and emerges from the bathroom in a robe to beckon me in. I blow dry, style, paint, and then help her wriggle into her dress and make sure she has whatever undergarments she needs. I have a stash of sheer tights if it’s going to be too cold, pasties if she’s worried about a nip slip, bobby pins, safety pins, nail polish, deodorant . . . anything Clara might need.

Of course, she doesn’t carry it. Bea does.

Nash dresses in an all-black suit with hunter-green accents. It is a Christmas-themed event, and Clara’s dress is the same hunter-green with accents of white.

It’s nostalgic for me to chat with Clara while we talk about her flight here. She used to fly in for an event from exotic destinations, and I’d hear about months of adventures.

Last year, around this time, Clara backed off on her traveling and moved in with Nash, turning her focus more toward inner-city experiences instead of globetrotting. Her blog, Worth Going, is now the platform she uses to explore the diaspora of New York. My parents, who emigrated our family to the US in the 1980s, even helped her out once, introducing her to some of the Bulgarian community in the city.

“How are your parents?” I ask after I’ve heard all about the flight connection in Paris.

“Good. Dad and Uncle D say hello and ask if you are sure you don’t want to crash our family Christmas?”

I laugh. Clara’s two dads—Craig and Rolf, whom Clara calls Uncle D—know how much being the black sheep of my family pains me. But if I didn’t come home for Christmas, I’d never hear the end of it.

“I’m sure. Besides, I may have to deal with my family, but that’s better than being the seventh wheel at a romantic Swiss chalet.”

Clara makes a face. “My niblings will be there.”

I give a rogue lock of hair a teasing tug before I pin it back into place. “I wish I could. Molly, Ricky, and Benny are way more well-behaved than my sisters’ kids.”

“Ah yes, the Dobreva grandchild hoard.”

Clara’s wry look makes me grin. My parents love being grandparents. But us Dobreva girls were always driven to excel at school and achieve the best in our careers, not necessarily to be the best parents, and my niblings are . . . a lot.

For my sisters, who have jobs at Lockheed Martin, Google, and Heartly, they rely a lot on my parents to babysit, and my parents spoil their grandchildren rotten.

Yup, my youngest sister, Tanya, works for Nash’s company. That’s how I got the job styling him, and she never lets me forget it.

“Trips like these are great because if I’m not in the city, I can’t babysit. Guess whose ‘flexible schedule’ and ‘frivolous job’ have her being voluntold to babysit?”

I put a safety pin in my mouth and nudge Clara’s arm up. She obediently raises it while I see if I can get the fabric tucked in a little further to get rid of a weird shadow at her hip.

When my mouth is free again, I finish my thought. “Kids are the worst.”

Clara glances over her shoulder at me, but something behind me catches her eye. “Well, well. Look how nicely Peter cleans up.”

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