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Authors: Nell Harding

Fire and Ice

BOOK: Fire and Ice
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Fire and Ice
Harding's World of Romance [1]
Nell Harding
Nell Harding (2012)

Fire and Ice is a romantic comedy set in the Swiss Alps. Sparks fly when spirited chalet hostess Kate Finnigan slowly thaws her cold Swiss boss, Sebastien. Just when things heat up, he discovers that Kate is not who she says she is...

 

 

 

 

 

Fire and Ice

by Nell Harding

 

 

 

First Edition
Harding World of Romance, April 2012

Copyright
©2012
by Nell Harding

All rights
reserved under International Copyright Conventions.

 

Chapter One

 

The late afternoon snow was falling
thickly as Sebastien Pichard manoeuvred his Range Rover around the final curves
on the steep climb into Verbier.  A smooth blanket of white carpeted the fields
and lay thickly on tree branches and chalets roofs, softening edges and making
the world look fresh and new.

 It was exceptional to have this
much snow in the beginning of December and he had heard rumours that the ski
lifts would open early this year. Normally they weren’t scheduled to run
for another two weeks, but with such amazing skiing conditions, the resort had
decided to open next weekend to please the keen skiers who were impatient to
start their season.

He sighed. There would not be a
lot of time for skiing for his own pleasure this year, he reminded himself. He
wasn’t looking forward to this season at all. If only his brother hadn’t been
involved in that scandal last winter…He gritted his teeth and tried not to
think about the months ahead.

He shifted down to first gear as
he entered the lower part of the village. The flakes were getting bigger as
they swirled onto his windshield, making visibility tricky. He slowed to a
crawl.  The village was still fairly deserted compared to how it would be once
the resort opened, but there were a few people about as the winter crowd
started to move back up the mountain.

As he drove up the main street he
recognised Pierre-Antoine shovelling the sidewalk in front of his bar. Sebastien
rolled down the window and stuck out his head to call to him. At the same time,
the bus from the valley bottom pulled away from the post office just ahead,
having discharged its load of travellers. A surge of people carrying packs and
skis suddenly swarmed across the road and Sebastien braked carefully to let
them pass. Oblivious to the lone vehicle, they laughed and looked around them
as if everything belonged to them, Verbier, the snow, the season ahead.

Hell, it did, Sebastien thought
wryly, with a slight pang of envy. He thought of the winters of his youth spent
here on the mountain, the simplicity of big days of extreme skiing and cheerful
après-ski hours spent rehashing the day and planning the next one. Now it
seemed that business took up all his time and there were very few simple ski
days any more. This year the business had even crept into his weekends in
Verbier, thanks to Stefan.

He was about to put the Rover back
into gear when a final muffled figure detached itself from the shelter of the
post office to hurtle across the road with a shriek of joy. Sebastien caught
sight of a tangle of red hair and a flash of white teeth as a young woman launched
herself into the arms of a waiting friend.

The two women spun in a huge hug
and then the redhead broke free to twirl in the falling snow, her face upturned
and lit by the widest smile Sebastien had ever seen. It crinkled into green
eyes that sparkled with sheer happiness. The friend, a stunning blonde in
designer ski wear, shrugged her shoulders apologetically at Sebastien for the
forced wait, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off the spinning woman in front of
him.  Even in what looked like a home-knitted wool hat and a ski jacket from
the eighties, she caught his eye in a way that nobody else had in a long time.

The woman was radiant. She didn’t
have the chic elegance of her friend or of many of the women that moved in his
circle, but he had spent more than enough time in that world of attitude and
polished cool.

A costly divorce and his brother’s
high-maintenance girlfriends had taught him to be wary of the cold glitter and
glamour of society women. But this redhead in front of him had a smile that
shone at a hundred metres and a natural beauty that made him want to be on the
receiving end of one of those wide smiles, to make those green eyes sparkle.  

A pair of headlights came through
the snow behind him and Sebastien hastily broke out of his reverie to ease the
car back into first gear.  The roads were slippery enough that he didn’t want to
make people stop unnecessarily, especially since the early season snow would
catch some drivers unprepared. He was grateful for his winter tires as he
pulled slowly ahead, glancing in his rear-view mirror just to watch the
laughing woman now gesticulating enthusiastically to her friend.

The word “freshness” sprang to his
mind. That was what this woman represented. His friends and associates suddenly
seemed jaded compared to her, accustomed to this scene, blasé. He guessed that
she was in her late twenties, but she had the uncomplicated exuberance of a
child combined with the compelling presence of an attractive woman. He couldn’t
help wondering if she brought that same exuberance and spontaneity to
everything.

She must be new here, up for a
season to work in a bar or restaurant or ski shop, willing to work for low
wages, just for the chance to spend a winter in the Swiss Alps. Maybe he would
bump into her on the slopes or in a bar.

He took a deep breath and let it
out to bring himself back to reality. He didn’t have time to go chasing after
barmaids and the last thing his family needed was another scandal to jeopardise
their reputation. This was a season for work, not play, including the weekends.
Especially the weekends now. And his mistake in trusting a beautiful woman was
already costing him a small fortune every year.

He glanced at his watch and
snapped back into his usual efficiency mode. He had better hurry up if he
wanted to open the chalet and warm it before the new chalet hostess arrived. Getting
her set up was usually Stefan’s department and he was irritated to have to take
half a day out of his busy schedule to look after something which his brother
did so much more naturally. If he could combine this trip to Verbier with a
quick ski hike, the trip might be worth it, but he still had a few important
calls to make before business hours were over.

He ran his fingers distractedly
through his thick hair, making it stand up in dishevelled spikes. He caught a
glimpse of himself in the mirror and wondered if he should have shaved for this
meeting. He shrugged away the thought. The agency had promised that the woman
they were sending was very experienced and reliable. She probably knew her role
better than he did. Maybe he could just throw the keys at her and bolt.

He smiled wryly to himself. Like
it or not, he was going to have to get used to being the public face of Pichard
watches. It was time to face the limelight again, but this time he would be
smarter around the models and actresses. The chalet was now part of the
business. He felt a pang of regret as he pulled up the snowy driveway to the
family mountain hideaway. He was really not looking forward to this winter.

 

 

 

“I’m so glad you convinced me to
come!” Kate Finnigan exclaimed, shaking the snow from her woolly hat and long
red curls.

They had just walked into the
entry hall of the Residence Edelweiss, a chalet-shaped apartment complex in the
upper village. Kate looked around her in wonder. “The change of scene will do
me wonders. I can feel the mountain air working its magic already.”

“I’m glad you finally agreed to
come,” Emily Martin said warmly, kicking off her knee-length leather boots and
pushing open the door to her apartment. “Bienvenue to my humble chez moi.”

Kate stepped inside.  Her appreciative
gaze took in the simple but tastefully decorated flat and the snow-covered balcony
beyond. “I can’t believe you actually live here!” she said, admiring the view
over the wintery village. “I hope that Verbier is as good to me as it’s been to
you. You look as stunning as ever.”

Emily laughed and threw back her
sleek blond locks. “It’s all about playing the image game, Katie. Note the new
hair style. And I go by “Mimi” now, à la français. Makes me sound like I had
some sort of glamorous past.”

Kate smiled fondly at her old
friend. Mimi suited her. “You haven’t changed a bit. But I have to say I
wouldn’t have imagined that you’d wind up in the Swiss Alps of all places.”

Emily pretended to look surprised.
“Where did you imagine? Some quaint town back in Connemara?”

Her friend grinned. “I would have
placed money on Hollywood or the catwalks of Milan. Wasn’t that your dream back
in the drama club in college? Did you ever imagine you’d live in a ski resort?”

Mimi shook her head vehemently. “Never!
But I love it here. Besides, this isn’t any old ski resort. Verbier is one of
the trendiest ski spots in Europe, young and happening, with lots of chic and
glamour. ” She pretended to groom herself like a cat. “I found a niche for
little old moi. You don’t have to be a die-hard skier to enjoy it here.”

“Well that’s a relief, I can tell
you,” Kate said with an exaggerated sigh. “The only two doubts I had when I
read your email were about the skiing and the French. You were with me on that
ill-fated ski trip to Scotland, and you know what my French grades were like
back in secondary school.”

“You’ll pick up both of them over
the season,” Emily assured her. “You’ll have tonnes of free time. That’s what’s
so great with this job, apart from the fact that there is almost no actual work
involved.  And that I’ll be living just down the road.”

Kate eyed her sceptically. “You’re
sure there’s nothing more complicated to this “chalet hostess” job than making
breakfasts and serving the occasional drink ? Sounds a bit too easy to
believe.”

Emily tut-tutted condescendingly. “The
usual term is “chalet girl”, un-politically correct though that may be when
some of the women have been doing this for decades. But lots of wealthy
families only come up on weekends and don’t want their chalets sitting cold and
closed up all week. Some places expect you to cook or look after kids on the
weekends. But you’ve got one of the easy ones.”

Kate eyed her suspiciously. “And
why are you such an expert about this?”

“Because I did it myself for half
a season when I first arrived,” Mimi replied smugly. “The lifestyle suited me
just fine. I’d have taken this posting myself if I didn’t have my boutique to
run.”

It was easier to picture Mimi
running a fashion boutique than serving hot chocolate in an alpine kitchen. “I
still can’t believe I’ll be getting paid for this. Seems a bit dishonest
almost.” Kate chewed on the end of her thumb distractedly.

Emily laughed out loud. “Oh, they
can afford it, trust me. The family you’ll be working for is one of the old
watch-making families from Geneva. They’re famous in the understated Swiss
way. ”

Kate was surprised. “Is it the
same Pichard? I’ve seen their ads.”

 “There you go, the very same. If even
you’ve heard of them, you know they must be famous. ” Emily grinned
teasingly. “Father Pichard is officially in charge but his sons mostly run it
now, with Grandpa Pichard still making an appearance now and then.  Someone
will be up most weekends, probably with clients or models to entertain, and
you’ll be free the rest of the week to ski, or learn French. Or pick up some
hot snowboarder or ski bum.”

Kate’s eyes clouded darkly. “I
think I’ll pass on the ski bums. Look where the last bum left me, with nothing.”

Emily threw a comforting arm
around her friend. “You should have left London ages ago,” she said softly. “ It
was never the right place for you. Even before Mickey the Rat.”

Kate jutted her chin out
defensively. “I had my column to write. Still do, in fact, if I manage to make
the deadlines.”

“Oh, you will, no worries about
that. But the tea shop. You worked so hard for it and he threw it all away.”

Kate brushed quickly at her eyes. “That’s
the worst of it. I’m such a fool. I think I might even have forgiven him if
he’d had the courage to be honest about it. I lost more respect for him because
of his lying than for his gambling away all we had.”  

“You aren’t the fool, he is.” Mimi
said loyally. “He’s the one who really lost out. And how could you have guessed
he had a gambling problem? He hid it so well, with his charm and convincing
stories. He took advantage of your open, trusting nature.”

BOOK: Fire and Ice
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