A New Year’s Eve Song

A gust of frigid air swished down the jetway, pricking Melanie’s wind-burned cheeks. She wrapped her knitted scarf around her face until she could barely peek over the edge. Thank goodness for Great-Aunt Nadine’s hobby, creating items of warmth. Melanie had snuggled into them every day after skiing in Colorado’s winter wonderland. Her family’s annual trek from the Georgia Coast to the mountains always left her bittersweet—never quite ready to leave but longing for home.  

She loved the peace that embraced her as she soared over the snow, silence in the roar of the wind whipping by her. And this year, she’d needed to escape that song—the one her sister insisted on playing on repeat. How would she react if she knew the truth behind it?

            As people crammed closer together, Melanie tried to find peace. But after her flight was delayed, her grasp on patience was slipping from her frozen fingers, and now someone was holding up the boarding.

            Glancing out the window, she studied the snowflakes clinging to the plastic, each crystal an individual representation of God’s handiwork. She exhaled, inching forward with the line.

            “No problem, ma’am. Love meetin’ my fans.” His southern drawl, thick as molasses, stung Melanie’s ears. It could not be him.

            She rose on her toes, peering over the shoulder of the woman in front of her.

            “Hope y’all have a happy new year.” He passed an oxygen mask and a marker to the flight attendant, tossing her that irritatingly charming lopsided grin.

            Chase Hudson, country music’s newest superstar and the last man Melanie wanted to see.

“You just let me know if you need anything.” The flight attendant hugged the mask to her chest, waving the passengers down the aisle.

Heat attacked Melanie’s skin, but she couldn’t remove her disguise. Hopefully, he wouldn’t recognize her under her stocking cap and scarf.

Talk about bittersweet. A perfect way to describe hearing his number one hit on the radio. At least, no one knew her secret, and she intended to make sure that didn’t change.

            When a teenage girl held up her cell phone in front of Chase, Melanie squeezed behind him.

            “Sure thing, sweetheart. Glad you like my little—”

            Uh, oh—deafening silence met Melanie but no peace.

“Do you smell that?” A hand caught her wrist.

So close. She sighed, looking over her shoulder.

Chase’s sniffed the air. “Lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and the slightest hint of vanilla.” He lowered his gaze, holding her captive in those deep, brown eyes. “I’d know that scent anywhere.”

Her pulse raced, a bead of sweat sliding down her neck, but he didn’t deserve another second of her attention. “It’s very common.” She arched a brow. Try the produce section at any grocery store.” She tugged her arm lose and navigated down the aisle.

Finding her row, she slumped into her window seat and crouched low, training her focus on the suitcases riding up the conveyor belt into the belly of the jet.

Hurry up! Even the amazing Chase Hudson wouldn’t be allowed to saunter about the plane once they pulled away from the gate.

“Miss?”

Melanie lifted her focus. The flight attendant beamed. “Mr. Hudson asked me to invite you to join him in first class.”

“No thank you.”

“But—”

“I’m perfectly happy right here.”

“O-okay.”

“Are you sure, dear?” A woman dropped her large purse into the seat next to Melanie. “My granddaughter is sixteen and just loves that Chase Hudson. He seems like such a nice young man.”

Melanie groaned, turning toward the window. Of course, she’d thought the same thing when he’d stood on stage at the Fourth of July Sunshine Festival, strumming his guitar and singing a love song. He’d found her in the crowd and from that point on, she’d been his sole focus. How was she supposed to resist that kind of wooing? Afterward he’d rushed off the stage, guitar flung across his back. He’d invited her to watch the fireworks on the beach. Then in the beam of the St. Simons Lighthouse, they’d danced in the surf until the incoming tide met the rocks. He’d been a perfect gentleman, barely brushing her lips with a goodnight kiss.

She touched her lips, closing her eyes.

Guess it had been magical—millions of people loved the song. And what was most embarrassing was how it made her shiver when she secretly listened to it. Nothing could be more ridiculous than her irrational feelings for him—like some groupie.

“Hello ma’am, my name’s Chase Hudson.”

Melanie flipped her eyes open, shooting her gaze in his direction.

He held out his hand to her seatmate. “I was wonderin’ if you’d mind swappin’ seats with me. I’m up in first class.”

The woman nodded, fumbling with her bag as she stood.

“Thanks so much. My manager is up there, and he’s got you an autographed CD.”

“Th-thanks.” She tugged her phone from her pocket. “Could we take a quick picture? My granddaughter won’t believe this.”

“Sure.” He gathered her under his arm. “Melanie, do you mind?”

“Fine.” She took the phone and snapped the picture.

Chase dropped into the seat, his knees bumping the tray table.

“Comfortable?” Melanie punched her arms over her chest.

“How about I order us some Champagne?

“No thanks.” She jerked off her hat and reached for the air vent.

“We need to celebrate.”

“Can’t imagine why.”

“Our song just went platinum.”

“Look Chase, if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to leave the past in the past.”

“You’re so beautiful.” He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Do you know how often I dream of that night, of your eyes, your hair—” His focus fell on her lips. “Your—”

“Not going to work this time.” She shifted out of his reach. I’m not just some girl you can … you can …” She shook her head. “Forget it. We’re not doing this.”

“Why not?”

“It’s been over three years. You’ve had more than enough time.”

“You’re right, and I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you trying to contact me.” He rubbed his palms on his jeans. “Thought you weren’t interested in being with a redneck, country boy. You seemed so sophisticated, and your friends turned up their noses when I asked you out.”

“So you wrote a song about our night?”

“Only way I could keep it from ending.” He tugged her hand free, weaving his fingers with hers. “Once the song started moving up the charts, I thought about finding you, but I figured you’d be taken.”

“Oh.” She bit down on her lip, meeting his gaze.

“Are you?”

“No.” She shook her head. Her heart searched for a rhythm but kept missing the beat. “Guess I owe you an apology too.”

“Water under the bridge.” He squeezed her hand. “Unless you want to kiss and makeup.” He winked.

“And hear about it on the radio next month. No thank you.”

He chuckled. “Got it, but what about a real date?”

“I-I don’t know. I’m not interested in being on the front of a magazine.”

“I’m playing a private concert on Sea Island for New Year’s Eve, very small and very exclusive. Be my date, and I’ll try not to write about it, but I have to confess you inspire me more than anything else. Can’t seem to find that same kind of magic.”

Was he being sincere? She studied his expression. But he could have any woman he wanted, and he was choosing her. “Tell you what, I’ll be your date and you can even write about it, but—” She raised her finger.

“Anything.”

“I get to hear the song first.”

“Deal, but I sure hope there will be more than one.”

“Song?”

“Date.” He kissed her hand.

She giggled. Me too.