Read an Excerpt
As she rode up the chairlift, Kylie Wilson took a minute to take in the view. In front of her, dozens of ski runs snaked through the pine trees and a smattering of people carved their way down the slopes in perfect S formations. With a clear blue sky overhead, they couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for skiing. Especially considering it was the official opening week of Stone Summit, her boyfriend, Malcolm Stones’s, ski resort. He’d been working tirelessly for months to make the re-opening of the hill a success, but the one thing they hadn’t been able to control was the weather. Fortunately, Mother Nature had been very cooperative and had provided an abundance of white fluffy snow on the ski hill that was just up from the town of Cedar Springs.
“I can’t believe it’s finally happening, and we’ll be officially open after tonight.”
Kylie turned to look at Malcolm next to her on the chairlift. Even in his ski jacket and helmet, with goggles covering half his face, he was incredibly handsome. She smiled and leaned over to kiss him.
“It’s great,” she said. “And it looks like everyone’s having fun.”
It was true. The occasional strains of laughter floated up from the runs below to reach them on the chairlift. The town had been looking forward to the re-opening of the hill because for the people who lived in a mountain town, there was nothing more fun than spending weekends on the slopes. It had been sorely missed. To get everyone even more excited, in the week since Christmas, they’d had a “soft opening” where the townspeople of Cedar Springs had exclusive access to the ski hill. It had actually been Kylie’s idea. She’d suggested that in order to be successful, they’d need to have everyone in town on board, and the best way to do that was to make them a part of the experience.
So far, it had worked perfectly.
“Are you having a good time?”
Kylie nodded but glanced away so he couldn’t see her face. “I am.” She wanted to add that she was having fun now that they were on the chairlift, far away from all the chaos that was taking place in the offices down below. Sitting on the chairlift with Malcolm was the first time she’d been alone with her boyfriend in weeks; except for a few stolen moments on Christmas Day, he’d been working nonstop and sure, she understood that opening an entire ski hill took work, but still. She missed him. A lot.
“I’m glad we’re doing this,” Kylie added, referring to the fact that they were going to take their opening day ski together. And it almost hadn’t happened, as Malcolm came up with a million reasons why he couldn’t get away and if she hadn’t insisted, there was no doubt in her mind he’d still be in his office, working away on one thing or another. But the ski had been his idea. After all, they’d originally met at that very same ski hill many years before.
Of course, things had turned out differently back then. Kylie had ended up dating Malcolm’s twin brother, Marcus, and it wasn’t until a year ago when Malcolm surprised her with a secretive invitation to an exclusive tropical island that he declared his love for her, and Kylie realized it had always been Malcolm in her heart.
It was the type of happy-ever-after ending fairytales were made of, which is why everything should have been perfect between them. Should have. Kylie’s smile dimmed as she thought about all the times over the last few months that she’d questioned herself and even more troubling, when she’d questioned their relationship. But she wasn’t going to think about that now. Not when she was finally spending that time with Malcolm and they were together and happy. No. She shook her head hard. There was no time for those doubts now.
“I’m glad, too.” Malcolm put his gloved hand over hers and squeezed. “Are you ready?”
She nodded and he lifted the safety bar as their chair approached the top of the hill and the end of the lift. Easily they each skied off and onto the ridge under the Stone Summit trail marker sign.
“Let me take your picture.” Kylie sidestepped on her skis so she was in position and pulled her cellphone out of her pocket. She ignored all the text messages that had popped up on her screen. No doubt there were a ton of questions about the grand opening, New Year’s Eve party that night, but they could wait for a few minutes. “Smile.”
Malcolm was posed next to the sign that bore his name. She pushed the button to capture the picture. “Perfect.”
“Kylie, get in here and take one with me.”
“No.” She shook her head. “This is your day, Malcolm. Your hill.” She skied over to him.
“You’re being ridiculous.” He grabbed her and awkwardly pulled her toward him as much as he could with them both wearing skis. “Come on. You don’t even want to take a selfie?”
She laughed, because Malcolm hated selfies and always made fun of her for taking them. He thought they were self-indulgent and silly. “Really? You want a selfie?”
“No.” He took the phone from her and held it out in front of them. “But I want a picture with my girl. So come on.”
She couldn’t help herself; she giggled and tucked her head in next to his so he could take the shot. When he had finished, he handed back the phone and tugged his gloves back on.
“Are you ready for this?”
He looked so handsome in his ski jacket and pants. An athlete, in his element. In that moment, with both of them together, laughing, doing what they loved to do together, all of the building worries Kylie had been having melted away. It was perfect. “Let’s do it.”
Malcolm snapped his goggles into place. “Good, because I should get back. My phone is blowing up in my pocket.” He turned and pushed off with his poles to head down the slope. And just like that, Kylie’s good mood evaporated.
You’re being ridiculous, she told herself. He’s just busy with this right now; it’ll calm down again. Things will be back to normal again soon. But even as she told herself that, she knew it wasn’t true. Because Malcolm Stone was the type of man who was important. He made decisions, ran businesses, and created his own success. Kylie Wilson was the type of woman who still didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, and even if she did, she was too scared to do it. For God’s sake, she was twenty-five and still waitressing in the Grizzly Paw pub. A successful businessman and a waitress. It wasn’t the first time she’d struggled with the paradox of their relationship.
“Kylie,” Malcolm called to her from a little way down the run. “Are you coming?”
No time to worry about it now anyway. She tugged her goggles on and with a strong push, skied down the hill, catching up to him in no time. If there was one thing they were equal at, it was skiing skills. And even if it wasn’t much—it was something.
* * *
Taking time out to ski with Kylie had set him back, too far back. There was way too much to do before the party that would officially signify the re-opening of Stone Summit. Malcolm had been working too hard for too long to not see the grand opening through to a final and excellent completion. It was true that the runs had been open for the last week, but it would be official after tonight, and he needed everyone, especially the competing hills in nearby towns, to know that this time Stone Summit was around for the long haul.
They left their skis propped up outside the offices, which were housed in a log building next to the main ski lodge where the cafeteria and lounge were. There were some days that Malcolm wished he would have put his offices in the lounge. It would have been easier to handle the stress if he had closer proximity to a beer now and then, but it was probably for the best that they were in a separate building.
Kylie came in with him. She pulled her helmet off and shook her dark hair out so it fell over her shoulders. God, but she was beautiful, and with her cheeks pink from the cold air outside, she looked even more perfect. His little ski bunny. Spontaneously, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
“Thank you,” he said when he pulled away.
She laughed a little and blushed. “For what? A kiss? You know I can handle that.”
“No. But that was nice, too.” He brushed a strand of hair off her forehead. “For going skiing with me. The weather was perfect and the snow, and—”
“It was just nice spending time with you.” She stared straight into his eyes, challenging him. “You’ve been so busy lately, I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“I know.” Guilt flashed through him, but also a flicker of annoyance. Of course he’d been busy; he was trying to open a major ski resort, practically single-handedly. Did she not get that? If he was a little busier than normal, that was to be expected. Malcolm took a breath before saying anything else. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if they had an argument today. “Things will calm down again.”
She nodded, but for some reason, Malcolm didn’t believe that she was really okay with it.
“But for now, we’re just going to have to make the best of it, okay?” He tilted her chin up so she looked straight into his eyes. “And tonight we’ll ring in the New Year, okay?”
“It’s going to be a crazy party, Malcolm.” She shook her head gently. “There’ll be people everywhere and you’re going to have to—”
“Hey.” She stopped and stared at him again. “It doesn’t matter. Whatever craziness is going on, at the countdown, find me, okay? I want you by my side when the ball drops. I want yours to be the first face I see in the New Year and your lips to be the very first I kiss.”
She opened her mouth to object, and he laughed. “And the only lips I ever kiss,” he finished. She gave him a look, but he knew she wasn’t angry. “Promise me we’ll ring in the New Year together.”
“Of course.” He kissed her again, softly until she responded to him and he deepened the kiss, enjoying a thorough exploration of her mouth. One that was long overdue.
“I’d tell you to get a room, but I don’t think there are any available.”
Malcolm pulled away, somewhat reluctantly, to see Sandra in the doorway to the reception area. She held a stack of files, and had a smirk on her face.
“Sorry, Sandra.” Kylie slipped out of his grasp. “I was just saying goodbye.”
“Sure you were.” The older woman tsked, but there was laughter in her eyes, and Malcolm knew her well enough after working with her for almost the last year that she wasn’t in any way offended by their display of affection. In fact, knowing Sandra, she was probably happy to see the couple spending time together. She kept telling Malcolm he was working too much, and even though he knew it was true, there wasn’t any other option. Not if he wanted the resort to be successful. And he did. It had to be.
Malcolm turned to face Kylie, who’d moved back toward the door. “You’re leaving? I was hoping you’d be able to help the serving staff for tonight. I’m not sure they’re going to be okay with all the appetizers Jax has prepared, and I want to make sure they know what to hand out when, and how to circulate the room and—”
“I’m sure you don’t need Kylie to do that.” Sandra rushed into the room, dropped the folders on the desk and stood between himself and Kylie. “After all, Kylie is probably—”
“No.” Kylie put her hand on Sandra’s arm. Was it his imagination, or did she look upset? It had to be his imagination; just a moment ago she was melting in his arms, and…no. It was nothing. “It’s fine,” Kylie said. “I’m sure I could help them with a few tips or something.”
“If you could, that would be great.” His cellphone rang and the moment he answered it and heard the voice of Seth McBride, his general manager, on the line, all worries about Kylie evaporated. He had way more pressing issues to deal with. He turned to walk into his office so he could hear the latest report on the hill’s conditions, but before he did, he put his hand over the phone and turned back to Kylie. “So you’ll pop in and deal with the serving staff for me?”
She nodded, but she wasn’t smiling. “I’ll handle it.”
“Thanks, babe. You’re the best. I’ll see you later, okay?”
He didn’t wait for an answer, but headed to his desk to cross items off his list.
* * *
Logically, Kylie knew that whatever it was going on with Malcolm would pass. And really, she knew what it was. He was busy. Really busy. After all, he was an important businessman launching a ski resort. It was huge, really, and she was just being petty, feeling upset because he wasn’t being as attentive to her as she would like. She hated herself for letting it bother her, but it did.
After leaving Stone Summit, she’d gone back to her apartment to quickly change clothes and then head over the Grizzly Paw. She’d promised Samantha she’d work her shift despite the business of the day. Sam had told her not to worry about it, considering she was supposed to be helping Malcolm with the grand opening, but there was something normalizing about working in the pub. It was who she was. Even when she pretended to be a bigger deal than she was as Malcolm’s significant other, it was just that—pretending.
It only took her a few minutes to walk down the main street of Cedar Springs from her small basement suite apartment to the Grizzly Paw that sat at the end of the street, next to the frozen lake. Malcolm had tried to get her to move in with him, claiming he had a lot more room in his chalet-style house that had been built along with a few other executive homes on the ski hill, but she’d been resisting. Sure, his house was beautiful, and it made sense to live together because they spent so much free time together, but she couldn’t seem to let go of her little apartment. The excuse she used was that it was easy for her to get to and from work, especially when she closed the pub. It was often too late to get in her car and drive the short distance up the mountain, especially if the weather was bad.
Six months ago, she would have made the move in a heartbeat, but things had changed between them. It was subtle at first, but the more time that went on, and the busier Malcolm got, the more Kylie realized they were from different worlds. After all, he was a successful business owner. Wealthy and powerful, and she was…a waitress in a bar. And wasn’t that really the problem? She wasn’t good enough for him.
The feeling weighed on her the way it had been doing more and more, and she tried to shrug it off as she walked up the steps to the Paw. Before she opened the door, she took a moment to watch the ice skaters on the lake. It was one of her favorite things to do in the winter, and besides the Christmas festival, she hadn’t had a moment to get out there and skate. Maybe she could drag Malcolm out tomorrow, for the annual New Year’s Day party. It was a pretty low-key event, but usually her friends would gather and go skating and drink hot chocolate and just have a little fun as a way to celebrate the new year.
But she knew it wouldn’t happen. Malcolm would be way too busy to get away and she’d probably spend the day waiting for him to have time to get away. Maybe she’d just have to go on her own? With a sigh, she opened the door and stepped into the busy pub.
“Hey Kylie.” Archer greeted her from the bar, where he was pulling pints. Even though it was Samantha’s bar, Archer was the fixture behind the bar at the Paw or in the kitchen, cooking up his famous chili. “You know you didn’t have to come in today. It’s going to be slow what with the big party and all.”
Kylie nodded and stripped off her heavy jacket. “I know, but honestly? I wanted to come in.” Archer gave her a questioning look but she ignored it and went into the kitchen to hang up her jacket and put her purse away. She took an extra moment before she returned to the bar, hoping Archer would forget about the question he was obviously dying to ask.
“You going to tell me why you’re not up at the Summit?”
No such luck.
Kylie sighed. “I will be later.”
“When did you get so nosy?” It wasn’t like Archer to ask so many questions. That was Sam’s job. Archer usually kept his head down and made silent observations, but he rarely shared them. Not unless he thought it was really important.
“Not nosy,” he said with a shrug. “Just wondering.”
Kylie ignored him and tied her apron around her waist. She grabbed a tray ready to go take an order, but stopped when she realized there was only one table and Archer was setting those beers on a tray.
“I told you it would be slow today.” He grinned and went to deliver the drinks.
It was slow, and she knew it would be. Everyone in town was getting ready for the party up at the Summit later. Even Cynthia Giles, her best friend, who ran the general store, had closed down early to get ready. She’d tried to convince Kylie to take off with her and get her hair done at Shear Thing, but Kylie just wasn’t in to it. And what was worse, she felt guilty about it. She should be excited about the party; after all, it was Malcolm’s big day and she loved Malcolm. She dropped her head in her hands on the bar and rubbed at her temples.
She was being ridiculous. Just because her boyfriend was successful didn’t make her a failure. She needed to remember that. And he’d never once made her feel like she wasn’t good enough. That was all her.
Kylie’s head shot up and she ran a hand through her hair in an effort to pull herself together. “Of course. Why would you ask?”
Archer smirked. “Only because it’s New Year’s Eve. You should be getting ready for the biggest party of the year—one your boyfriend happens to be the guest of honor at—and you look like your dog just died.”
“He did.” Unwanted and totally unpredictable tears pricked at her eyelids. She hadn’t cried about Ranger, her old German Shepard in months. And Archer knew it. He raised an eyebrow at her. “Okay, it’s not Ranger I’m upset about.”
“It’s just that…” The truth was she couldn’t put a finger on why exactly she was upset. She had everything to be excited about, and nothing to cry about. Except the slight detail that the more successful Malcolm got, the more she felt she didn’t deserve him.
“Hey.” Archer held up his hand. “You certainly don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. In fact, I’ve had almost enough female emotional stuff in the last few weeks to last me awhile.”
Kylie smiled; she knew he was referring to Samantha and Trent’s recent wedding at Castle Mountain Lodge. Sam had been feeling the sting of all her friends moving on while she was being left behind, and she hadn’t been shy in venting to her best friends, Archer included. Trent had surprised Sam with the ceremony and as the closest thing to family that Sam had, Archer had actually walked her down the aisle. No doubt he was relieved to have a little peace as far as Sam was concerned.
“Don’t worry, Arch. I won’t start crying on your shoulder or anything. Quite honestly, everything’s fine.”
He gave her a look that let her know that he was fully aware that she was lying, but Kylie also knew that he was smart enough to leave it alone. And for that, she was grateful.
“Well, if you want to talk…”
Kylie forced a weak smile and got to work, washing tables and wrapping cutlery. There really wasn’t much to do and it only took an hour for the last of the customers to leave. Everyone in town was getting ready for the party. Guilt crept in because that was exactly what Kylie should have been doing, too. Malcolm had ordered her a gorgeous dress to wear. Not that he needed to; she had plenty of things in her closet. Okay, she didn’t. But she didn’t need her boyfriend buying her outfits. It was becoming a trend and Kylie didn’t like to feel like a kept lady. She didn’t need someone to buy her things and take care of her, and more and more that was what Malcolm was doing. It irked her. More than irked her. It pissed her off.
“Time to go,” Archer called from behind the bar and interrupted her thoughts, which was probably a good thing.
“It’s not closing time.” She grabbed up the rag she’d been using and joined him at the bar. “We’re still open for another hour.”
“You have noticed that you and I are the only ones here, right? It’s time to go, Kylie.” He took the rag out of her hand and tossed it into the sink before he squeezed her shoulder gently. “Come on. Let’s go to your boyfriend’s party.”
She had to swallow a groan, which only made her feel guiltier.
“And smile, Kylie. It’s a party. It’s supposed to be fun.”