Excerpt for On the Edge by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

On the Edge

A Blue Spruce Lodge Romance

Dani Collins

 

 

On the Edge

Copyright © 2018 Dani Collins

Smashwords Edition

The Tule Publishing Group, LLC

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-947636-89-7

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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Author’s Note

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Epilogue

The Blue Spruce Lodge series

Excerpt from From The Top

Other Romances from Dani Collins

About the Author

Dear Reader,

I’m so glad you’ve chosen to join Rolf and Glory at Blue Spruce Lodge!

When I began writing On The Edge, I knew I wanted Glory to be a romance writer, but in the closet about her aspiration. She’s the daughter of a famous romance author and manages her late mother’s literary estate to provide her father an income. However, along with family issues, she has personal baggage that makes her hesitant to show anyone her work. Worst of all, since her mother’s death, she’s been suffering writer’s block.

All of that changes when she arrives in Montana. She starts hearing voices again. It’s the first time her imaginary friends have spoken to her in a long while and becomes the path from grief toward the person she is meant to become.

If you’re wondering if this is how it is for a writer, I can only speak for myself, but yes. Sometimes characters show up out of the blue and it’s up to me to listen while they fill in the details that build out their story.

As I continued writing On The Edge, I realized it might be fun for readers to immerse themselves in Glory’s manuscript each time she sits down to write. I included what becomes her debut book, Blessed Winter, within the pages of On The Edge. It’s a book within a book. Kind of like a subplot, but it takes place in Tahoe with a hero she bases on Rolf.

Rolf is the iconic, romance alpha sitting arrogantly on his high horse, making her want him even as she hates him—exactly the sort of man a romance author loves to make fall hard for his heroine.

I hope you enjoy watching Rolf, the champion, go after a new type of ‘Glory,’ while Glory figures out how to write her own story, finding her hero in Rolf along the way.

Warmest regards,

Dani

Chapter One

Leave it to her father to be mysterious rather than give a straight answer.

As a child, Glory had thought Marvin Cormer was wonderfully exciting when he planned elaborate outings to surprise her. Riding in the car blindfolded had been a regular occurrence. He had loved to take her somewhere unexpected, like a sleepover at the aquarium. Other times, he veered off course for an impulsive tour of a cheese factory or insisted she try something unconventional off a menu, like sea anemone. Cost and time were never an issue if a unique experience was at hand.

As a grown woman, she understood why her mother had ground her teeth through those escapades. Glory empathized with every long-suffering moment that woman had gone through with him—she really did.

But she also knew it was futile to insist she was working and couldn’t accompany him on his latest adventure.

“You never used to be this way,” he argued.

“Uncomfortable with being kidnapped?”

“Obstinate. Withdrawn.”

“Are you serious?” She’d been so withdrawn as a child, her best friend had been her dad.

“You can’t bring her back by spending all your time on her career. Come. I’m giving you one of your own. Put your shoes on.”

All your time on her career. The remark put cracks in her molars, but also cramped her stomach with a combo of guilt and angst. She threw together a day bag, not bothering to ask where he was taking her, just gathered snack bars, some fruit and her water bottle. Then she made sure she had a toothbrush and moisturizer that doubled as sunscreen, added a scarf and a pair of mittens in case they went outside, then zipped her knee-high boots over her comfortably baggy cargo pants.

She brought her laptop, which she had slept with more times than was healthy, and took cues from the way her father layered up at the door. He was wearing one of his rumpled professor suits of wool pants and tweed blazer over a pale blue shirt and a paisley tie. He stepped into his ‘tramping’ boots and shrugged on a raincoat.

She grabbed her mother’s long raincoat and added the hat her mother had bought her online when it had become clear their dream of visiting Paris would not come to fruition. The hat was a half-size too big and slid down to Glory’s eyebrows, making her look extra frumpy with her kinky red hair sticking out around her shoulders like unraveled yarn.

She had showered this morning, but hadn’t worn makeup since the funeral. She’d rarely worn it since her first adolescent forays into blue eyeliner that had earned her snickers in the girls’ bathroom. The bereaved were allowed to look however hellish they wanted, she had decided. Besides, this field trip was being taken under duress. She refused to dress up for it like it was an occasion.

Her father’s coping strategy this last nine months had been the opposite. He was all about staying busy and finding reasons to leave the house. He had even attended Christmas parties with the faculty and old friends last month and had started taking an interest in the banking and her mother’s book sales, heading off to meetings with his accountant, which made Glory both nervous and defensive. She wanted him to look after his own checkbook, pay the bills and invest for his retirement, but she also liked feeling smart and necessary. Looking after her mother’s income, nurturing and massaging her backlist so it continued to earn, was her baby.

Her father thought she was hanging on to the past. Maybe there was some truth to that, but his nagging for her to ease up on work, to get out and cheer up, put her firmly in the place she’d occupied her entire life—divided loyalty. He didn’t want her feeling sad and missing her mother, but he couldn’t replace her. At the same time, she knew he loved her and she couldn’t break his heart by pulling away further than she already had.

So she relented. She got in the car with him and let him drive her to the airport.

“Please say we’re going somewhere hot.” Had she grabbed her bikini? She could use some sun.

He checked them in for a flight to Montana.

“No one goes to Montana for the day. In January.” This was a kidnapping.

Not to Billings or Helena or Bozeman, either. Glacier International Airport. Far as she could tell, the nearest town of any size was Kalispell. She looked it up on her phone while they waited to get through security.

Heli-tours seem to be a thing there, along with skiing and other winter sports. He knew better than to make her try ice fishing. A visit to some hot springs wouldn’t be terrible, though. She looked again for her bikini, but no dice. She’d have to buy one.

The weather report claimed it was sunny at the other end, if below freezing. Their flight would be able to land. She looked to the window. The planes were taking off just fine in Seattle’s January drizzle.

“Seems a long way to go for lunch.”

“All in good time, Glory, dear.” He knew she was nudging for clues.

They reached their gate and she sat down to petulantly open her laptop. He could drag her across state lines, but he couldn’t make her like it.

Her father began talking to the nearest person, as was his habit. In this case, it was a woman moving a stroller back and forth, trying to entertain her older son with the view of the planes.

Marvin soon learned she was taking her children to visit their grandparents. Glory smiled obediently when he waved at her in casual introduction, then tuned them out to stare at the blank page before her.

It was a metaphor for her life these days. Emptiness confronted her on so many levels. Her mother was gone. Her mother’s love, her voice, her advice, were all absent. The future was unwritten and it was up to Glory to write the next chapter. Would she write her own story? Or her mother’s?

Her mother had tried to talk to her a few times about what Glory would do after she was gone. Glory hadn’t wanted to think about it, let alone talk about it. She was running the business and that was enough for now.

Wasn’t it?

“—bought a lodge near Haven,” she heard her father say.

Glory’s brain did the skip and scrape of a needle on a vinyl record. She slapped her laptop closed. “What now?”

“Oh.” He turned with a rustle of his raincoat, mouth pursing sheepishly. Not in remorse for whatever insane thing he’d done—he’d bought a lodge?—but because he’d ruined the surprise. “I was saving that, wasn’t I?”

The P.A. announced boarding for passengers traveling with children. The woman took her leave, smiling awkwardly as she sensed clouds brewing. “See you at the other end, Marvin. Glory.”

Glory ignored her and said, “Dad.”

He tugged his earlobe while trying to eat his own smile. The rain had brought out the curl in his hair—the curl she had inherited, which was the bane of her existence. His gray frizz stuck out like silver clown fringe.

“I’m losing my touch, aren’t I?”

“You’re losing your mind. Why on earth are you thinking of buying a lodge? And please—” she held up her hand in a very real entreaty “—do not say you have already bought it.”

“We’re going to sign the papers today, then get a look at it.” His eyes were bright as a kid’s on Christmas morning.

The little whimper of agony her mother used to give emanated from Glory’s throat. “No, Dad. You look at it before you sign. That’s how things like this work.”

“Same, same.” His hands in his pockets lifted so the edges of his raincoat opened like a bird’s wings. It was the ruffle of settling in to hold steady on a precarious branch. “You’re going to love it.”

“I already hate it.” Vehemently. Questions were exploding in her head. “Is this supposed to be, like, a retirement investment? How are you even paying for it? How much is it?

“Yes! It’s an investment. Exactly.” He pulled his hand from his pocket to point at her. “The accountant said I should invest your mother’s money. I’m going to dump it into this.”

“He meant buy stocks or mutual funds or something. Don’t throw Mom’s money away on a hotel. They’re like restaurants. They fail all the time.” She felt sick. Genuinely nauseous.

“Not if you run them properly.”

“What do you know about running a lodge? From Seattle? Why Montana? Why not find something local you can manage by driving down the street?”

He started to give her the patronizing look that claimed she was sounding like her mother, sweating the details. The P.A. announced the business class boarding.

He brightened. “That’s us. I booked us into the front, since we can write it off.”

“Against what?”

“Our new venture.”

Your venture,” she corrected. “I’m not having anything to do with this.” Technically her mother’s fortune had been left to her husband. Glory was only a caretaker. A manager. The money belonged to her father and he could spend it any way he liked, which put a lot of pressure on her to make sure the books continued to sell because he loved to spend.

Her mother had worked really hard to build a career as a romance author, though. Glory knew how hard. She’d helped. No way did she want to see her father wipe out what could be a very nice retirement nest egg in one bird-brained swoop.

“This is for us, Glory. Something you and I will do.” Her father’s thick brows furrowed in confused hurt.

Guilt slithered through her. She knew her father hadn’t really understood how his daddy’s girl had grown out of his silly antics into a partnership with her mother. He hadn’t kicked up a fuss while her mother was so sick, but he wanted to reconnect. She knew that. And she loved him—she really did.

It wasn’t the same, though.

“Come along,” he said, jerking his head toward the preferred boarding line.

Glory could dig in her heels until she broke the earth’s crust, but it wouldn’t matter. He was going to Montana today and she already knew she was going, too. She was the responsible one in the relationship, same as her mother had been. If she let him go alone, for sure he would come back with a deed of title and an empty bank account.

She let herself be carried along like a leaf in a stream, only she was the babbling brook, hoping to dissuade him as they took their seats and he ordered champagne.

“It’s nine in the morning, Dad.”

“We’re celebrating.”

I’m not. Explain exactly what you think is going to happen.”

“You hear the way she talks to me?” He tried engaging the flight attendant who only smiled patiently and reached to shuffle something in an overhead compartment.

“Start at the beginning. Where did you hear about this…” Glory’s throat flexed as she fought a scream “…opportunity?”

“Let’s see. I stopped for a coffee on the way home a few weeks before Christmas.”

“The shop by the campus or the one that sells weed?”

“Does it matter?”

“Kind of think it might.” Her mother had been using medicinal marijuana while she was in chemo. Marvin had begun using it for stress and was continuing out of boredom, as far as Glory could tell. Glory leaned in with sudden alarm. “You know that federally—You’re not carrying are you?”

He sniffed with offense. “I’m an educated man.”

“Do not think that being a middle-aged white guy will keep you out of jail if you do something stupid.”

“Thank you, sweetheart,” he said to the flight attendant as their champagne was delivered. Then he offered to clink glasses with Glory. “To our new adventure.”

She held her glass back. “First tell me what it is. One of your colleagues wants you to go in on a fishing lodge?”

“No, no. I can’t think of anyone on the faculty with this sort of vision. No, this came through one of my students. Oh. Listen.” He made her sit through the safety talk as the plane taxied to the runway.

“Dad.” She nudged him when the flight attendant put away her props and buckled into her jump seat. “One of your students…?”

“Right. She had a young man with her. Trigg Johansson? Do you know the name? He’s a snowboarder. I’ve looked him up. He seems very talented, doing all the triple corks and what-not-all. I asked him if that means you need three bottles in you before you try one.”

“Hahaha.” Glory hated the trickster already. “And?” She sipped her champagne. She hadn’t intended to have any, but this escapade was starting to sound like something she would need to numb with heavy drinking.

“We talked for quite a long time. Very interesting young man. Travels all over the world. His father started Wikinger Sports.”

“Really?” Huh. She couldn’t tear that down. She wasn’t the type to swan around in over-priced name brand clothing, but she liked their yoga wear. Loved it, in fact. All of their clothing was really well engineered, if insanely expensive. She had tried on a teal running jacket last year from the sale rack, but had cheaped out, mostly because she didn’t intend to start running. Cardio made her barf, but she was still mad at herself for not snapping it up.

The clothing line was an afterthought, though. Wikinger had been founded on sports equipment from skis and skates to tennis rackets and hockey nets. Their balls were all certified for use by the various federations for world cup series and gold-medal matches. Their Viking-horned logo was on everything.

The plane quit bumping along and jerked to a halt, then pivoted.

“What was he doing in Seattle?” she asked.

“They’d been up to Whistler. He was heading back to Europe to see family and train. We got to talking about that. Where he trains, what’s involved.”

She wasn’t surprised in the least. Chatting up strangers, listening to their life history over a cup of coffee, was her father’s bliss point. The only thing better for him was telling her about someone new he had met and what he had learned. She was an animal behaviorist. Did you know bees can recognize human faces? So can crows.

He was in his element this morning, having her captive for his latest educational lecture.

“It’s quite a team effort. Chasing the snow, lugging fifty snowboards to New Zealand with trainers and coaches and the rest. Wikinger sponsors him, of course. He competes on the U.S. team—”

“Oh, so he’s a real athlete, not some guy who boards on the weekends.”

“He’s won medals in all the major games. His brother Rolf is a champion. He mostly trains in Europe, but his mother is American. He said his father had wanted to develop a training facility here in the U.S. with a proper ski school and the other bells and whistles that go along with that sort of thing. He bought a resort fifteen years ago.”

“In Montana,” she surmised and took another big sip as the plane’s engines ramped up.

“Exactly.” He snapped his fingers at her like she was the smartest kid in class. “Then an avalanche leveled the place.” He cut his hand across the air. “Sounds like that might have killed his father. He had a massive heart attack a few years later. I take it Trigg was quite young and things were in disarray for a time, until his older brother retired from skiing and took over the company. Trigg thinks it’s time to resurrect the idea. He said there were some moguls he’d have to get around. Those are the bumps that form in the snow—”

“Yeah, I know, Dad.” She rolled her eyes.

“It was a play on words.” He touched his nose. “He was referring to his brother, who I understand is a tough nut. I said, ‘What, he’s not on board?’” He nudged her, smirking with pride. “He got a kick out of that. Apparently, they have quite a rivalry over skis versus boards.”

Oh dear God. She looked upward for deliverance, but only caught a faceful of blowing air from the overhead vent. She took a deep swig of her champagne.

“I was so inspired by his determination, the way he goes after what he wants and everything he’s accomplished at such a young age.”

“It’s not really rags to riches, though, is it? I mean, I’m sure he puts in the time with training, but it sounds like his father’s company foots his bills. Success comes a little easier when you’re born with a stake in the industry.”

Her father frowned a scold. “This cynicism you’ve developed is the reason we both need a change.”

“I’m fine.” She drained her champagne.

The plane began rolling, picking up speed.

“I told him, ‘If only I were young again, I’d go after some things I had always wanted.’ Trigg said, ‘You’re not that old. What’s stopping you?’ That’s when I realized your mother wasn’t here.”

“Dad!” If he had smashed off the top of his glass and plunged the jagged stem into her neck, he couldn’t have hurt her more.

He made an impatient noise. “You’re taking that the wrong way. I’m only saying I lived my life a certain way because we were married. Now I can make different choices.”

She narrowed her eyes. “How different?”

The plane lifted off with a tiny bounce.

“Teaching was never my dream. Surely being your mother’s secretary was never yours.”

“Business manager,” she muttered, not admitting that the secret of what she really wanted to do was stuck in the middle of her chest, barely voiced inside her head.

She turned her face to watch the view of concrete and bare trees and the gray waters of Puget Sound grow indistinct as the plane ascended into the ceiling of clouds, disappearing behind a field of white.

Blank emptiness surrounded her.

“I told him I had always imagined myself running a bed and breakfast after I retired.”

“Okay. See? You never told me that.” Relief washed through her as she glimpsed a way out of several problems. She had been having mixed feelings about continuing to live with her father. She was overdue to start her own life, but he seemed to need her. This would be a perfect transition. “We could totally rent some rooms at the house. I could find my own place and we could redo my bedroom and Mom’s office. Put some ads online…”

He would have endless people to talk to and quit trying to engage her all the time.

“No one comes to Seattle to stay in the ’burbs. No, I want to go big or go home. Or rather, go to a big, new home. Hmm?”

She winced at the pun, but, Wait. He wasn’t suggesting a move to Montana?

She considered making a scene so the plane would have to turn around and she could be removed and—fingers crossed—incarcerated, rather than continue down this path of paternal madness.

“We’ll have another round, sweetheart.” He handed their empty glasses to the flight attendant as she appeared.

Glory didn’t bother telling him again that he had to quit calling women ‘sweetheart.’

“Okay.” Her patience was stretching thin, but she hung on to it. “Go back to how you were inspired by Trigg—” Seriously, what kind of name was that? “—and his pursuit of his dream to be a world champion or whatever. How does that turn into buying a lodge in Montana? Why there? You know what you should do? Look for someone selling a B & B that’s already established. I’d bet there’s something on Whidbey Island or up in the San Juans. That would be perfect. I could still visit you…”

“We’re doing this together, Glory.”

“No, Dad, we’re not. Whatever you’re planning is for you. I’ll look after myself.”

“You need a proper job. You keep saying the golden goose is not immortal. That you’ve mined your mother’s backlist as far as you can go.”

“Because I don’t want you to think the money will flow indefinitely! Not because I want you to find me a new job.” She pinched the bridge of her nose.

“You like people, same as me.”

“I don’t. I really don’t.”

“You’ve been holed up in your mother’s office so long, you don’t know what you like anymore. But you like to organize and get things done—”

“I do those things because you don’t.”

“I’m getting something done right now. And this is perfect for you, especially now you’re an expert on websites and such. You can take care of that side of things.”

“You mean run a business from a laptop, exactly as I’m already doing? What a career shift. What will you do?”

“Don’t underestimate the value of a good host.” He sat straighter in his seat.

“Don’t overestimate my love of admin tasks.”

The flight attendant turned up with their refills and Glory knocked hers back.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that drove Mom crazy. You know that, right?”

“Your mother. Not you,” he said pithily, as if he had any idea who she was these days.

Whose fault is that?

She sighed, not even sure she knew herself anymore.

“Look, if you want to do something together, fine. Let’s plan a vacation. Because I know for a fact that I don’t want to run a lodge in Montana.”

“What do you want? Hmm? You said you’re not going back to school. Are you anxious to pick up your career steaming milk at an espresso bar?”

Point to him. That’s where she had discovered her hatred of people.

“I can expand my V.A. work,” she mumbled. She already offered the kind of work she had done for her mother to other authors, but more as a favor to a select few. She didn’t love it.

“This way you won’t be a virtual assistant, you’ll be a real one. I’m not letting you waste the rest of your life hiding behind a screen.”

“I’m twenty-six, not six. How I live my life is not up to you.”

“That’s the point, isn’t it? You’re not living your life.”

She eyed him. Did he know how fearful she was that she was living in her mother’s shadow, stepping in Kathleen Cormer’s footprints instead of walking her own path?

Glory smoothed a fingertip along her eyebrow. She was desperate for someone to talk to, but she had no one. Her peers, the few friends she’d made in high school and college, had dropped away while she’d been ‘holed up’ with her mother. Those women had married and started families, moving on with their careers and lives, while Glory had stalled at ‘introverted adolescent.’ She hadn’t even achieved spinster librarian, having dropped out of university before starting her masters.

Her social circle was as virtual as her job, built online from fans and author friends of her mother’s. They were lovely people, but none were the sort of deep friendships she would feel comfortable leaning on.

Her father was no help. Her mother’s career had been a threat, something he tolerated, rather than supported. He came from a tree of academic snobs who hadn’t approved of his wife’s career as a romance author. When is she going to write a ‘real’ book, was their favorite refrain. Her mother’s family hadn’t approved of the marriage, which put Glory on her back foot defending her father every time she spoke with them.

The flight attendant offered another full glass of champagne.

“Thanks. Wait. Which one of us is driving?” Glory asked her father belatedly. “Are we renting a car or something?”

“They’re taking us in by helicopter.”

“Who?”

“The Johanssons. The avalanche that took out the lodge and the lifts also washed out the road during the melt that following spring. Insurance took forever to assess the damage. When they did, Wikinger took the payout and left things as they were. No fatalities. The hill was closed when it happened. I asked. Bit of a pity. A haunted lodge would add some appeal, don’t you think?”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Dad.” She slugged back another mouthful of bubbles. “Wait. Are you saying—Is this lodge not even on a main highway? It’s on a ski hill that no longer exists? Wow, when you said ‘dump’ Mom’s money, you meant like take it to a landfill, didn’t you? For an educated man, you’re falling for quite the snow job. Get it?”

“Maybe slow down.” He frowned at her half-empty glass. “The Johanssons are bringing the ski hill back online. The facility will be the draw with its elite trainers and such. Top-shelf athletes and their entourages will want to come to this resort. They’ll host world events. We’ll be the next Tahoe.”

Glory thought she might throw up a little bit. Even more than the purchase of a jalopy that he didn’t have the skill to rebuild, or the time-share it had taken her mother years to unload, this scheme had the potential to bankrupt him.

“Do you remember how long the bathroom reno took? Months. Do you think this ski hill is going to be up and running anytime soon? No. It will take years.”

“Exactly. And where will the workers stay as they come and go? There’s not much in Haven, which is the nearest town, and it’s fifty miles away. I’ve worked it out with Trigg. His brother doesn’t want to renovate and run the lodge—”

“Gee, I wonder why?”

“But he needs accommodation for his workmen. They won’t mind rough quarters and sawdust while we remodel. He’ll let rooms for the workers he brings in which will give us the cash flow for the renovations. We’ll have the place up to scratch for when the ski hill is operational and that’s a win-win.”

She shook her head. “I can’t even—No. When we get back to Seattle, we’re going straight to your doctor. I think your blood pressure meds are making you loopy.”

“When we get back to Seattle, I’m listing the house. I’ve already talked to Francis.”

Her mouth dropped open. Francis had been in treatment with her mom. She was a real estate agent.

“I wanted to let you have a last Christmas in the house, Glory, but you have to admit it was depressing as hell. It’s time we moved on.”

She couldn’t bear that look in his eyes. Her own filled. She felt six, without a voice as her parents made her leave her old school because her father had got something called ‘tenure’ and they had to move. She had never fit in at the new one and—

She gasped as something else hit her.

“Did you quit your job? Is that why you haven’t gone back since December? I knew you were supposed to have classes this week!”

Finally, he had the grace to look uncomfortable.

Her brain spun. Oh, she was mad, then. And scared. All she could see was her mother’s gaunt face, her bald head wrapped in her purple scarf. “I would leave everything to you, Glory. You know I would. You’ve more than earned it. But I don’t know how he’ll manage. You’d only wind up looking after him. This way, he has something to fall back on. It’s not all on you.”

But it was all on her. She already knew it was.

“What about your pension?” she asked her dad.

“It wasn’t much. Not worth another nine years of my life.”

“I’m not even speaking to you anymore.” She looked out the window, where the sun shone brilliantly over a blanket of fluffy clouds.

“To paraphrase someone who shall remain nameless, I am fifty-six, not six. I can do what I want.”

“Yes. You can. So why drag me into it?”

“Because you’re lost, Glory.” His voice was gentle and the hand that covered hers was firm and warm.

She wanted to snatch her hand away, but could only sit there, arm aching under his touch. She worked to hold her mouth tight, trying to keep her lips from trembling. Her throat was so constricted it radiated a relentless throb into her chest.

It wasn’t just grief. It was an absence of goals. Direction. She was lost.

“I’m fine,” she insisted, blindly keeping her gaze out the window. The white of the clouds was so bright, it made her eyes water.

“I want you to come with me.”

He wanted her to do the work for him. He needed her to. Marvin Cormer was an academic who could barely cook an egg. Glory had tried to show him how to pay the bills online. He was hopeless, forever asking her to input his grades and reprogram the PVR, somehow blowing up the printer on a regular basis.

Him, run a lodge? Not likely. He would run through her mother’s money and, as her mother had predicted, it would be on Glory to look after him.

She had to talk him out of this.

And somehow get him his job back, but she wouldn’t think about that right now.

Maybe she could reason with this Trigg dude. Explain he was taking advantage of a middle-aged man who might appear to possess all his faculties, but was actually going into a mid-life crisis brought on by the recent death of his wife.

We have reservations about this, she could say.

She smirked, tempted to tell her father that one.

She might have, if this was funny, but it wasn’t. What a nightmare.

The pilot came over the P.A. to announce they would begin their descent. The flight attendant took their glasses and Glory continued staring out the window, biting her nail. It was a childish habit she’d returned to when the treatments had stopped working and they’d all had to face facts.

Her ears popped. Beyond the window, the clouds began to dissipate like torn cotton. The earth below was coated in snow, sparkly and blinding with a few dark dots and lines. No city, just a sparsely populated town, a handful of low buildings and long, empty roads.

And there were the Rockies.

She cocked her head, telling herself she wasn’t that impressed. The Cascades were just as beautiful and they were right there, in Seattle’s back yard. Plus, Seattle had the ocean, not that she spent much time at the beach. There were an awful lot of critters on saltwater beaches. Stanky kelp and sand fleas. She never swam there, not quite trusting the waves, especially if they washed foam all over the shoreline. She was a freshwater gal.

Seattle stayed green pretty much year-round, though. This monochromatic scape of hills and valleys looked like a crumpled piece of newspaper.

The plane was landing in earnest, nose-diving her into this world she didn’t want to enter even for an afternoon.

The next Tahoe. Her father truly was a first-class dreamer.

The real Tahoe would be a good setting for a book, though. She bet there were all sorts of adorable cottages there with snow-covered gables. Inns that were overbooked for the holidays… Great place for a romance take on that classic Christmas story about no room at the inn. That would mean a pregnant heroine, which was always tricky, especially if there was a Christmas theme. She’d learned that from editing her mother’s books. Would the hero be the father? How could he not be?

What if he thought he was, but wasn’t? She could already hear the hero when he found out who the father was. “I never saw myself playing Joseph to some rock god’s baby…

The plane bumped down, shaking her back to reality.

She touched her throat, trying to steady a pulse that was suddenly pounding. Her spine felt prickly and her nostrils tingled as though scenting something sharp.

“What’s wrong?” her father asked.

“Nothing,” she murmured. Just that the voices—one voice—had come back. That hadn’t happened in ages. At least a year.

She sat very still as the plane taxied to the gate. She resisted the urge to explore her own mind like prodding a broken tooth with her tongue. Muses were shy—that much she knew. If hers was finally showing herself again, she didn’t want to scare her away.

Shhh.

But there was one other thing she knew. If she was able to write, there was no way she was moving to Montana to run a lodge with her father.

Chapter Two

As Glory staggered off the plane, the alcohol doubled down in her system, making her feet heavy and clumsy, as though she waded through molasses. Day drinking. Such a dumb idea.

They were immediately confronted by a smartly dressed young woman wearing a bright yellow safety vest. She held a sign that read ‘Cormer.’

“I’m Marvin Cormer. This is my daughter, Glory.”

The woman said her name, which Glory missed because she was searching her bag for a protein bar, hoping to belatedly sop up some of the booze in her stomach.

“I’ll take you to the helipad.” The woman used her I.D. to take them through an Authorized Only door and down to the tarmac where they climbed into a golf cart.

Glory held her hat on with one hand and gritted her teeth against the chill, but it was a quick trip to a group of half a dozen men standing near a helicopter.

Ugh. Yes. Definitely all men. Terrific. She flashed back to her brief summer job at a software development company. Male engineers who spoke the language had barely earned the notice of the enclave at the top. An admin clerk hired to plug data entry records for payroll had been nothing more than a coffee dispenser with legs.

She looked forward to being ignored. Better than being hit on, she supposed, wondering what that was like.

One of the men was the pilot, she assumed, since he waved a greeting at their driver like he knew her. He wore Top Gun sunglasses and an aviator jacket with an official-looking patch on the arm that said Basco something. He slipped into the helicopter as if he’d been waiting on their arrival.

Two other men glanced up from their phones. They were her father’s age, clean-shaven with iron-colored hair that was precision trimmed into business cuts. The tips of their bare ears were bright red from the cold. They both wore puffy jackets, but ones that looked so new the tags might have been putting that uncomfortable tension in their posture. They were used to suits and the indoors, she suspected. Accountants, maybe.

The other three were taller, all easily over six feet. The African-American wore a yellow safety jacket with reflective stripes down the arms and ‘N. Hart’ embroidered above his chest pocket. His breath fogged as he spoke to the man with his back to them.

Another peeled from the group to come toward them as the cart slowed. She didn’t look at him, unable to take her gaze from the back of that Viking in the dark blue jacket. Tails of brown hair poked from his snug black cap. He was really big with broad shoulders and thickly muscled thighs. He had a really nice butt in black jeans that perfectly cupped his cheeks, not drooping one iota.

She might not get out much, but she had an eye for detail when she did.

He didn’t turn as their cart stopped, staying focused on his conversation with Mr. Safety. His profile was like granite, but it was a really handsome profile of even features half-covered in neatly trimmed dark stubble.

She was definitely a bit drunk if she was getting horny for a stranger. She stepped from the cart and yanked tight the belt on her coat, subtly trying to pull herself together behind the screen of the cart.

Her father climbed from the side where the men stood and she heard the one who had approached say, “Marvin.”

“Trigg.”

The cart buzzed away, revealing her father shaking hands with a man who was really good-looking in a late-twenties hipster sort of way. He wore a slouched beanie that hid his hair and accented the sleek height of his cheekbones above a scruff of dark brown beard. His puffy blue jacket brought out the sharp blue of his eyes.

She waited for a glimmer of interest in Trigg, but her inner slut seemed to have imprinted on the alpha male still ignoring them. She kind of wished she’d worn makeup.

Trigg looked genuinely happy to see her father. He pulled him in for one of those hand-shake-plus-one-armed hugs that included a chest bump and slap across the back of the shoulders. Her father was not nearly young enough, nor gangster enough, to know how to reciprocate.

Her father gave Trigg a laughing pat on the back. He was a good sport, outgoing, earnest, and ridiculously likable. Plus, his tufts of absent-minded-professor hair made him completely nonthreatening. Of course, Trigg liked him. Everyone did.

He drew away to swing an open arm toward her. “My daughter, Glory.”

It was actually Gloria, for her grandmother, which she had always thought made her sound like the busybody neighbor in a nineteen-fifties sitcom. She didn’t care for it, but ‘Glory’ was way more illustrious than she could back up. Using her middle name had never been an option, though. It was her mother’s first name. When she absolutely had to introduce herself, she usually said, “Call me G.”

She didn’t say anything today. They weren’t going to know each other long enough for it to matter. She hung back, arms folded, offering Trigg only a faint, tight smile. I’m not outgoing. I don’t want to be here. I blame you for all of this.

She searched her mind for the best way to tell him the sale was off.

He was like a dog, oblivious to her lack of desire to be friends. He surged forward with his hand outstretched.

“Great to meet you.” He shook with enthusiasm, crushing her hand and rattling her arm bones out of their sockets. “Nice hat.” He seemed to laugh at her, sending her into a flashback to freshman year high school.

She pulled her hand free and caught her bag before it slid off her shoulder.

“Rolf,” he turned away to bark.

He seemed to be trying to catch the attention of the Viking. She noted the Wikinger logo on Rolf’s jacket collar and the turned-up fold of his hat. N. Hart flicked a sideways glance at them, but Rolf acknowledged nothing.

Okay. They all knew where the biggest dick in this circle jerk was.

“Verner,” one of the older men said, shaking her father’s hand. “We spoke on the phone.” He was actually a lawyer, she learned. Torsten was the accountant.

The pilot came out of the helicopter and asked if they’d like to board.

Rolf turned his head and said a crisp, “Yes,” clearly picking and choosing where he directed his attention.

His voice was deep, his tone thick with power. His eyes were dark brown as he flicked his gaze over her like a stone skipping off water.

“Marvin.” He stepped forward to shake her father’s hand once. Decisively. “Let’s finalize this.”

She didn’t try to pin down the subtle accent in his clipped words. German, she thought, while a zing of alarm was searing all the way to the soles of her feet. He was the guy she had to talk to. Fight with. Oh yikes, he was intimidating as hell.

Wait, she drew a breath to say.

Rolf’s gaze came back to her, stalling her breath and leaving her mouth in a moue as she formed the ‘w’ sound, making her tingle all over. Oh God, she was going to blush. Was blushing. Nooo.

“Glory.” Her father nudged her, making her realize everyone was looking at her. “Ladies first.” Don’t embarrass me in front of my friends, his tone urged.

Self-conscious and hot, she reacted on instinct. She let the pilot help her into the helicopter as though she was some kind of incompetent damsel.

The interior was quite the baller’s lounge with its three pairs of comfy armchairs in white leather, separated by a center aisle. She moved to the front, right behind the cockpit, and stowed her bag in the compartment under her seat.

Then she counted, because it didn’t look like there were enough seats.

The suits came in behind her, taking the two seats in the middle. Her father came in, but rather than join her at the front, he sat in the back across from Trigg. Finally, Rolf and Safety-jacket Hart came in.

Awareness crawled over her as Rolf approached. He was the full romance hero package with his warrior physique, his chartered helicopter, and his stony expression.

He brushed by her without acknowledgment and had to duck and shift sideways to get through the narrow door into the aptly named cockpit. She watched him squish himself into the copilot’s seat and put on earmuffs.

The door shut hard at the back of the helicopter, rocking the craft. N. Hart sat down in the seat across from her, sending her a curt nod—polite, but distant.

The pilot moved to stand in the door, addressing all of them.

“Welcome. I’m Serge, your pilot. I’m going to lock in and prepare for takeoff. A safety video will start shortly on the screens in front of you. If you have any questions or concerns, please press the call button over your head. We should be at the hill in about an hour. I have refreshments I’ll set out when we get there. In the meantime, you’ll find snacks in the trays under your armrest.”

He disappeared into the cockpit and closed the narrow door, leaving them with a flashy blonde assuring them from the screen that Dirk Basco’s charter company was dedicated to safety and customer service. As the video finished and the sunlight through the window flickered with the turn of the rotors, Glory glanced across the aisle.

“What happens if you push the call button? Does a genie appear? Because I don’t see a flight attendant.”

N. Hart’s mouth quirked and he shrugged. He was holding a rolled sheaf of papers and opened it to start reading.

Great. He thought she was coming on to him.

She noticed his papers had one of those little blue corners that notaries used to staple legal documents.

“What did you buy?” It came out of her champagne-lubricated mouth without a hint of filter.

He lifted his steady gaze to hers, not impolite or hostile, but not the least bit encouraging. “It’s a job offer. For project manager.” He reached across with his long arm for a brief one-pump shake. “Nathaniel Hart. Nate.”

“Glory—” Aaannd he’d already lost interest, sitting straight and offering no further conversation as he went back to reading.

She surreptitiously studied him. For research purposes. He was all kinds of intent and intense. Clean-shaven, but the way he smoothed the backs of his fingers under his jaw made her think he’d shaved for his job interview, which was kind of interesting and telling.

It was something Brock would do.

Who the hell was Brock? She didn’t know, but she inexplicably knew…

He didn’t give a damn how he looked, for the most part, but if he was trying to impress someone, especially a woman, his upbringing demanded he put his best foot forward. And his mother expected him to shave for family occasions, like Christmas.

Good thing he already had a shot of tequila in front of him, though. When Pandora finally appeared, she was undeniably pregnant. Fuck me. How pregnant? Easter-weekend pregnant?

What had Brock been doing in Tahoe at Easter? Spring skiing?

She would have to look up how long the season went. Maybe he was there for a family thing. Yeah, his parents had a cottage there. That would work, but he could also like to ski. Rangy, athletic heroes were sexy as hell. Maybe Tahoe was where his family had always gone while he was growing up. How old was he? How old was Pandora? Was that really the heroine? Kind of a ridiculous name, wasn’t it?

“—want to thank you for flying with us today,” the pilot’s voice cut into her thoughts. “I can see you’re all buckled up so we’ll take off. Please sit back and enjoy our tour of some of the prettiest peaks you’ll see in the Rockies…”

Glory clenched her fingers around the edge of her seat. Day drinking was starting to look like a great idea. Or, at least the source of some viable ideas.

She closed her eyes, trying not to push the process, but she needed to know. Who was Pandora?

Rolf glanced at the screen in the cockpit that showed the passengers. His brother was painting dreams with his hands to their new ‘partner.’ Marvin Cormer looked like a character from one of Grimm’s fairy tales, a book Trigg had begged Rolf to read him when he’d been young. Cormer’s daughter—it would be a stretch to call her Sleeping Beauty—appeared to have passed out.

What a scarecrow of a female with her electrified hair and unsmiling demeanor, following him with her eyes and giving off vibes of feminine interest.

He easily dismissed her. This was business and she wasn’t his type. She looked wholesome and needy, flat as an ironing board, and about as interesting.

Looks, money, and being a champion had earned him a lot of attention from an early age. He’d learned how to pick and choose his companions to avoid drama. He’d have to marry and have kids eventually, he supposed, since Trigg didn’t appear qualified to do either of those things, but he wasn’t in a hurry. He already had one failed marriage behind him, thanks to a focus on winning that made him a pathological asshole—or so he’d been informed on more than one occasion. But he was only thirty-six. There was time.

His gaze lingered on the woman again, unconvinced she and her father had the stamina to provide decent service to him and his workers while wrangling contractors and renovations, let alone stay in the black and come out the other end with a world-class lodging. His brief research online told him the old man taught something useless at a Seattle college. The woman sold her dead mother’s novels online. The books mostly had flowers and shirtless men on the covers.

To each his own, but it sounded like a niche market. He doubted there was much money in either of their careers.

Leave it to Trigg to find such an ill-equipped pair for the task. He’d given his kid brother one job, after he’d asked around a couple of years ago himself and discovered no one serious was willing to take the risk that Blue Spruce Lodge represented. Not until the ski hill was rebuilt and approved for service. If you build it, we will come, one smartass developer friend had said.

He didn’t want the risk. The hill was dicey enough that he’d kept putting Trigg off, but Trigg wouldn’t leave it alone. Rolf had finally told him that if he found someone to take on the lodge, he would get serious about rebuilding the hill.

Trigg had dropped the Cormers at his feet like a cat offering a half-chewed bird. Now he wouldn’t hear of anyone else but his buddy Marv running the place and Rolf wanted to wring the old man’s neck for winding Trigg up all over again. His kid brother was a loose cannon at the best of times and Rolf had a full plate running Wikinger.

Once his brother had had an accomplice in Cormer, however, he’d become the same obstinate little shit who had once said, “I hate skis. I want to board.”

In two years, Trigg would have full voting rights with his half of Wikinger, though. He could do an end-run with the board and start the redevelopment of Whiskey Jack without Rolf if he wanted to.

Rolf pinched his bottom lip, not sure if he wished this idiotic notion of his brother’s would fall through—he couldn’t believe he’d come this far as it was—or if he wanted it to succeed. Ski hills were as big a gamble as hotels. This one had been in financial trouble before the avalanche had wiped it out. That disaster had damned near taken Wikinger with it.

Rolf didn’t want to watch what he’d managed to pull back from the cornice tumble into the crevasse.

On the other hand, he was really fucking bored with boardrooms.

As they flew over untouched slopes above the tree line, his blood itched and his nostrils flared, already scenting the freezing air. He craved the burn in his muscles as he carved his way through that waist-deep powder. When was the last time he’d screwed around on the slopes for fun? Probably twenty years ago, before he’d won his first medal and decided he had to stay at the top. He visually picked his way through the alpine, hearing the shoosh of his skis in the otherwise silent world.

“In a moment, you’ll see the town of Haven,” Serge said over the P.A., talking to the passengers, but Rolf heard it through the radio in his earmuffs. Everyone on the screen looked out the windows to the ground below.

“Haven has a year-round population of about eight hundred. Before the closure of Whiskey Jack, it was closer to two thousand. A lot of the homes are empty now, or used as summer cottages. Some people still come for fishing and hunting season. Camping and hiking are popular, along with canoeing and ATVs, then cross-country skiing and snowmobiles in the winter, but it’s not what it was.”

The decay was evident in the weathered buildings, all tumbled together in the bottom of the valley with battered vehicles parked on the near-empty streets.

Serge clicked off the P.A. and spoke only to Rolf. “Still have a sled club, though. Mayor runs it. Stanley Heintz. He should be there when we land. Said he’d take a team up to clear the parking lot so I have a place to land.”

They left the village behind and continued up the valley, following the highway alongside the lake, then veering over what might have been a logging road or the original access road. It disappeared beneath a pile of debris and Serge climbed past it, veering in the other direction, over a smaller peak to where a wide bowl opened.

“Locals call this Afternoon Delight. It’s in the mountain shadow all morning mid-winter. Takes about four hours to climb up. If you time it right, you’re skiing down as the sun hits. Champagne powder for half a mile, then you’re in the trees.”

This was one of the reasons Rolf’s father had been persuaded to buy the struggling hill. This bowl had been approved for development, but the previous owners ran out of money. With fresh blood and cash from Wikinger, and an expansion of offerings, this place could have attracted more visitors and recovered to thrive. The avalanche had taken out the lifts, though. Before his father could decide how to react, he’d been thrown off a treadmill, clutching his chest.

Rolf’s first decision as his father’s successor had been to take the insurance money to keep the rest of Wikinger’s interests from folding under the weight of taking on the debt of the now dead resort. It had been the right thing to do at the time. Now he wondered why he’d pushed back on Trigg about redeveloping it. Money, of course, and he’d still been competing, not having the time. But the idea of mapping out new runs, choosing his own personal cuts to make the most of the terrain, had his balls tingling.

Serge circled over another untouched bowl, pointing out the extent of the hill’s license to expand, much of it even approved for housing. Rolf could talk a lot of shit about his father, but the old man had known a potential gold mine when he’d seen it.

Finally, Serge took them over the original hill, which bore little resemblance to a ski resort. Along with the lift lines, the pistes had been erased by fifteen years of nature’s resilience. The forest had come back in swathes of trees in strips of similar sizes, thick and tall in some areas, smaller and sparser over the few old trails that remained, then barely finding a toe-hold where the avalanche had gone through.

The risk was always there for another snow slide, but the first one had been negligence. The previous owners hadn’t been keeping up with managing the conditions. They’d been cutting corners, laying off staff and closing mid-season, hoping for a buyer. Since they weren’t running, they hadn’t seen the point in setting off charges to mitigate disaster.

Serge circled to show the equipment shed had taken the brunt of the avalanche along with the crumpled heap that Rolf thought was likely the former operations lodge. Judging by the mounds, there was still a debris field in what had likely been the public parking lot for the ski hill.

“There’s the lodge,” Serge said. A snow-covered roof appeared as he followed another wide, overgrown track. The trail had once connected the lodge to the base of the hill. It was wide enough for two lanes of vehicles, but would have made it possible for guests to ski from the lodge down to the lifts. They could ski all day, then follow a run from the top of the lift back to their accommodation when they were tired.

The three-story structure of yellowed stucco and thick brown beams overlooked a frozen pond. A handful of men stood next to their parked snowmobiles off to the side, near a snow-covered skeleton of a burned-out A-frame—old staff quarters, maybe. He assumed one of the men was the mayor. The rest must have come to help clear the landing site.

The snow was still dry enough the chopper blades kicked up a cloud as Serge set them down. The flakes caught the sun in glints and sparkles, then settled to reveal the front façade of Blue Spruce Lodge.


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