Authors: Jamie Beck
ALSO BY JAMIE BECK
In the Cards
Worth the Wait
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Jamie Beck
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Laura Klynstra
To my brother, who remains one of my all-time favorite skiing partners, and who, like the hero in this story, always wears his heart on his sleeve.
Grey instructed his group of clients to double check their ski bindings and avalanche transceivers before approaching the edge of the snowy cornice.
“Only thing that beats a deep-powder day,” Trip began with a grin, “is a little après-ski action at On The Rocks. You in?”
Unlike his friend and employee, Grey’d had no time for women since he’d moved to Sterling Canyon in December to buy the backcountry ski-expedition business, Backtrax, from its founder. Detaching the skins from his skis and stuffing them into his backpack, he replied, “The only action I’ll be seeing tonight involves a shitload of paperwork.”
Trip smacked the side of Grey’s leg with his ski pole, his six-foot-three-inch frame casting a long shadow across the snow. “Hey, buzzkill, loosen up or this will be my one and only season working in this town.”
“Promises, promises,” Grey joked in a deadpan voice. “Seriously, I can’t chase women when I’ve got less than eight weeks to plan post-season climbing programs.”
“Oh man, you’re looking at this all wrong. The way I figure, we’ve got only that long to enjoy this little ski town while it’s still packed with women. Good-looking, fit women on vacation. Women who aren’t expecting a commitment. How ’bout you have some fun before you prematurely age.”
“I have fun.” Grey locked his bindings and zipped his jacket. “But I’ve sunk everything into buying this business.”
“Suit yourself, but don’t wait up for me.” Trip’s self-assured grin curled the corners of his mouth. “I’ll be snuggled up with a soft, warm body, preferably in one of the swanky hotels with quality bedding.”
“I won’t send out a search party.” Grey couldn’t help but chuckle, knowing Trip’s infamous charm and swagger would ensure his success. “Set your alarm, though. If the predicted storm doesn’t screw up our scheduled tours tomorrow, I need you ready to go by six thirty.”
“Hey, I welcome any excuse for an early-morning escape.” Trip glanced around the group and then over the cliff’s edge, into the Rock Creek coulee. “Looks like everyone’s set. You gonna lead?”
“You know it.” Grey’s entire body hummed in anticipation of the drop into the gulch.
The rush of adrenaline from cliff hucking always made up for the ninety-minute hike up the ridge to the twelve thousand five hundred-foot-high peak. Some might call it a sick addiction, but he’d been hooked since adolescence.
Only sex delivered a bigger bang.
“Yahoo!” he hollered as he shot into the canyon.
Champagne powder sprayed around him as he ripped down the steep slope under a fantastic bluebird sky. After several cuts to confirm stable conditions, he turned, stuck two fingers in his mouth and blew hard. Blankets of snow muffled his sharp whistle. He raised one pole over his head, giving his tour group an all-clear signal.
He’d witnessed nature’s finest while working as a ski instructor and backcountry guide at resorts from Utah to Alaska throughout the past thirteen years. But the out-of-bounds regions of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains ranked among the most starkly gorgeous—if not exactly death-defying—peaks he’d skied.
Few enjoyed his brand of freedom—flying downhill with the warm sun on his face and cool snow at his heels. Fewer got to live their dream. He traversed the remainder of the chute feeling like a lucky SOB despite the financial headaches awaiting him at the end of the day.
Three hours later, Grey collected the transceivers from the team, pocketed his three hundred bucks in tips, and headed into his office.
A perfect day.
Or it had been until now.
Grey dumped the transceivers in a plastic bin, stripped off his hunter-orange-and-black Gore-Tex outerwear, and collapsed into the desk chair. He flicked on the computer and stared at the nemesis threatening his aspirations—a spreadsheet. A seriously challenging nightmare for someone with dyslexia.
Numbers and text scrambled in the gray-white glare of the computer screen despite the intentionally enlarged font. His hand balled into a fist, but he stopped short of punching the keyboard, mostly because he couldn’t afford to waste seventy-five bucks on a new one.
Unfortunately, spreadsheets and insurance forms had become a permanent part of his life. Sighing, he stuffed another grape Tootsie Pop in his mouth and, after making a final entry, he then stowed his tips in the petty cash box.
Grey raked his hand through the heavy bangs hanging over his eyes. The vinyl office chair squeaked as he leaned back and stretched his legs. Smiling to himself, he scanned the small, windowless back office. Some might balk at the stark, dingy room, decorated with ugly metal file cabinets and a worn wooden desk with sticking drawers, but not Grey.
It may be ugly, but it was all his, thanks to an inheritance from his grandfather and the fortunate timing of meeting Bill Batton just when the man wanted to sell his business.
Now Grey owned a small commercial property, a bunch of equipment, and an exclusive U.S. Forest Service special-use permit to lead guided tours on certain acreage in the San Juan National Forest. Failure was
an option, and not just because he refused to prove his dad right by losing everything.
His stomach growled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten any real food since the two bananas he’d wolfed down hours earlier. He called in a take-out sushi order, grabbed his coat, and jumped on his mountain bike.
Overhead, the gray clouds swelled, obstructing the moonlight and stars. As he biked the several blocks to Plum Tree restaurant, he smelled the pungent mineral zing of the impending late-February blizzard.
Along the way, he surveyed the late-nineteenth-century, brick-and-clapboard Victorian buildings while navigating spotty patches of ice. The old silver-mining town, declared a historic district in its entirety, had grown into a premier winter-resort community since the early seventies. Despite its similarities to his hometown near Lake Tahoe, this resort didn’t suffocate him with sad memories.
Grey leaned his bike against an obliging tree and entered Plum Tree. While waiting for his order, he wandered over to the sushi bar to watch the
. The chef’s precision with the knife held Grey’s focus until a bright, feminine laugh—almost a giggle—snagged his attention.
He glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the enticing voice, to where a cute brunette was relaying a story to her friends. In a town filled with faded denim and muted, earth-tone pullovers, she stood out like a bowl of rainbow sherbet.
A neon-pink coat draped the back of her chair, and a snug canary-yellow sweater hugged her sweet curves. Her pin-straight hair, the color of milk chocolate, hung down to her shoulders. Dimples became more pronounced when she laughed. Her hands gestured wildly then covered her eyes as she shook her head in the middle of her story.
Her vitality stood out in the middle of the crowded restaurant, entrancing him. The energy she exuded reached across the room and tugged at his gut and his groin. He noticed little details like the absence of makeup and jewelry, though from a distance he couldn’t make out whether her eyes were blue or green. They were sparkling and round and faintly curled upward at their outer edges and—
—she just met his unflinching gaze.
Apparently stunned by his boldness, her doe-shaped eyes blinked three times in rapid succession.
Usually it took him a while to choose someone’s nickname, but this one leapt to mind before he’d even had a chance to introduce himself. In any case, she didn’t look away. Bambi might’ve been startled at first, but clearly she had confidence.
As if he weren’t turned on enough.
She’d already busted him gaping at her, so he might as well make the most of the opportunity. He held her stare and winked, feeling pretty good about the fact she hadn’t averted her eyes. Then her two friends turned toward him and he recognized
. Grounded before takeoff.
Kelsey had seemed like a normal girl when he’d met her last month. ’
’d been drinking with Trip that night. He must’ve been temporarily blinded by her sex appeal when he kissed her in the back of the pub before heading home alone.
Since then, she’d sent him several texts and somehow managed to regularly bump into him in town. Granted, in a town of barely twenty-two hundred full-time residents, bumping into folks wasn’t uncommon. Still, Kelsey screamed
Grey didn’t do needy.
Maybe the fact she appeared to be friends with Bambi was a sign. Getting Backtrax to thrive remained his priority. He couldn’t afford romantic complications, and despite her appeal, Bambi had
written all over her.
’s finished,” called the cashier.
Grey nodded at the table of attractive women with a half smile then quickly paid his tab and strode out the door. As he unlocked his bike, he stole a final peek through the window, but only caught a glimpse of Bambi’s back. The three girls were leaning into the center of the table, probably listening to Kelsey’s tales about him.
Yeah, no doubt she was cock-blocking him.
Grey shook off the sexual buzz still gripping his body and hopped on his bike. Yet Bambi’s vibrant laugh and animated face kept looping through his thoughts, tying him up in a way he hadn’t felt in more than a decade.
A lifetime ago.
Bittersweet memories doused his libido and diverted his thoughts. He hand-signaled a left at the intersection of South Coyote, vaguely registering the shouts coming from a group of pedestrians. When he saw the car careening toward him, he wrenched his handlebars toward the sidewalk.
The driver swerved, but the car’s rear fender struck the back wheel of Grey’s bike, flinging him into the air. A God-awful crashing sound from across the street punched the air before Grey hit the pavement. He landed in a twisted heap on the road, popping his knee.
Shock seized his muscles and thoughts.
Am I dead? Paralyzed?
He wiggled his toes and fingers. Sweet relief gushed through him despite feeling like his knee had snapped out of place. He winced before looking down at his leg, expecting to see blood and bone poking through his jeans. Even just that slight movement sent fifty knives slicing through his side.
Had he broken some ribs, too?
Distant shouts and icy snow slowly assaulted his senses. Between shallow breaths, he twisted his neck to search for the car, which was now wrapped around a metal lamppost on the opposite side of the street, steam rising from its engine. The crumpled vehicle didn’t bode well for the driver.
Several pedestrians began running toward him and the car. Some were calling 9-1-1. Others were snapping photos.
Pain, hunger, and chaos mingled together. A wave of nausea roiled in his stomach as he removed his cracked bike helmet. He closed his eyes to clear his light-headedness. Goddammit to hell, a knee injury meant big trouble for him and Backtrax. Grey stole a second look at the car, but still didn’t see the driver emerge.
Unbe-fucking-lievably bad luck—for both of them.
The prickly imprint of attraction lingered on Avery’s skin after the gorgeous man left the restaurant. No, not gorgeous. Sexy. An incredibly sexy man whose two-day stubble covered his jaw, surrounding sensual, full lips. Whose disheveled, walnut-colored hair called out to be touched. Whose gaze—intense, steely-gray eyes fringed with long lashes and hooded under straight brows—had burrowed inside her body, making her hot and restless.
He’d stared at her with open desire, but then ducked out after he’d won her full attention.
Was he a tourist? Would she ever see him again?
“That’s him, guys,”
Emma choked on her sake. “
the guy you’ve been crushing on lately?”
“Yes.” A wistful expression swept across Kelsey’s face. “Greyson Lowell. Yummy.”
Crud. Avery couldn’t even consider him if Kelsey called dibs. Kelsey, whom she loved dearly, but who also fell in and out of “love” with all the drama and duration of a winter snow squall.
“Remind me, because I forget. What’s his story?” Avery had stopped listening to Kelsey’s mooning over this guy weeks ago, unwilling to indulge her friend’s habit of pining after someone who didn’t appear to return her affection.
“He moved to town in December after he bought Backtrax. His friend Trip works for him and they have plans to expand into summer mountaineering so it becomes a year-round business.” Kelsey waved her hand. “I met them at On The Rocks one night after work last month. Grey kissed me in the back corner just before closing.”
“Ew, barroom PDA?” Avery scrunched up her nose. “Hmm, I could’ve sworn we’d all graduated from high school twelve years ago.”
“Kelsey, you ho!” Emma teased.
“Sadly, he didn’t give me the chance to be a ho. He left with Trip when the bar closed. But even drunk, he was a great kisser.”
’s eyelids fluttered. “Really
, and sweet, too. Unfortunately, he’s hard to nail down.” Kelsey frowned. “Trust me, I’ve tried every trick in the book.”