CHAPTER 1

Anchorage: 40°

Phoenix: 92°

Blame the Christmas tree. The artificial scotch pine filled Scarlett’s view every morning when the elevator doors opened on the downtown Anchorage Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. And every morning she scowled in its direction before following the cheery, ugly garland adorning the outer gray fabric walls of the cubicle city where she worked. The office redecorating was someone’s idea of a joke because the calendar clearly indicated October. The nineteenth to be exact, which also meant the Christmas project that consumed half the summer and much of the fall was a full month past her internship end date.

Exiting the elevator, she avoided eye contact as she made her way to her desk. With her head down, she could ignore the too-frequently expressed greetings of Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Some of her coworkers took her job way too seriously. They weren’t heading up the Get-Alaska-off-the-naughty-Christmas-spirit-list assignment. That would be her. The one with zero Christmas spirit.

She couldn’t blame her chilly mood entirely on the tree. Or on the tinselly garland either. Not even on the Christmas carols that her cubicle mate had been humming under her breath for a solid month. Just all of it together served to remind her of the previous Christmas.