SLACK FRIDAY: NOVEMBER 28, 2014
(Part 2, see Part 1 at this link)
are a multiplicity of great titles that are being put on special for
this promotion. I am splitting the features so that it is not
overwhelming so please check the blog over the next couple of weeks as I
feature them on different days! Please click on the book cover or
title to pre-order. (and don't forget, I get a small percentage if you
do purchase through that link, so thank you!)
Rocky Mountain Miracle
November 17, 2014
Cole Steele, a womanizer rumored to have killed his father, meets Maia
Armstrong, a veterinarian rumored to practice magic, the sizzling
romance could melt all the snow on his Wyoming ranch. And when an
injured horse brings them together, Cole can’t help but believe that
Maia casts spells on animals—and men. What else could explain the
burning passion he feels for her and the thawing of his heart just in
time for Christmas?
Cole Steele could
hear the screams coming from the room down the hall. He knew those
nightmares intimately, because the demons also visited him every time he
closed his own eyes. He was a grown man, hard and disciplined and well
able to drink his way through the night if necessary, but Jase was just a
young teenager. Guilt edged his anger as he made his way through the
dark to the boy’s room. He should have done something, to spare his half
brother the horrendous legacy of his own past.
truth, he hadn’t been in touch with his father for years. It hadn’t
occurred to him that his father would remarry a much younger woman and
produce another child, but he should have considered the possibility,
not just dropped off the face of the earth. Cole shoved open the bedroom
door. Jase was already fully awake, his eyes wide with the terror of
his memories. Something twisted hard and painfully in Cole’s chest.
here, Jase,” he announced unnecessarily. He wasn’t good at soothing the
boy. He had been born and bred in roughness and still had a difficult
time being gentle. Worse, Jase barely knew him. He was asking the
teenager to trust him in spite of his reputation and the rumors of
attempted murder flying freely through the town. It was no wonder the
boy regarded him with some suspicion.
“I hate Christmas. Can’t we just
make it go away?” Jase asked. He threw back the covers and paced across
the room, the same edgy tension in his teenage body that Cole had in
abundance as a grown man. Jase was tall and gangly, like a young colt,
all arms and legs, looking a bit like a scarecrow in flannel pajamas. He
had Cole’s dark hair, but his eyes must have been his mother’s, as they
were a deep, rich brown. Right now, his eyes were wide with terror, and
he turned away to hide his trembling.
Cole felt as if
he were looking at himself as a youngster, only Jase had poured himself
into books and Cole had become a hellion. Cole knew what it was like to
hide the bruises and the terror from the rest of the world. He had grown
up living in isolation and hiding, and he still lived that way, but he
would be damned if this boy would endure the same.
he shoot your dog for Christmas?” Cole asked bluntly. “That’s what he
did for me the last time I wanted to celebrate the holiday like my
friends. I haven’t ever wanted a Christmas since. He also beat the holy
hell out of me, but that was insignificant next to the dog.”
Jase faced him slowly. The horror was still all too stark in his eyes. “I had a cat.”
bet he said you weren’t tough enough and that only sissies needed pets
and Christmas. He wanted you to toughen up and be a man. Not get
attached to anything.”
Jase nodded, swallowing an obvious lump in his throat.
“He did a lot of things.”
have burn marks? Scars from cuts? He liked to whip me with a coat
hanger. And when I didn’t cry, he took to using other things.”
“I cried,” Jase admitted.
did too, at first. He was a mean son of bitch, Jase. I’m glad he’s
dead. He can’t touch you anymore. I’m not going to lie to you and tell
you the nightmares go away because I still have them. We both lived in
hell and he had too much money for anyone to want to believe us.” Cole
rubbed his hands through his thick black hair.
sick, Jase. I got out, changed my name thinking he’d never find me, and
stayed as far from him as I could possibly get. That’s no excuse. I
should have kept tabs on him. Maybe I could have gotten you away from
Jase shook his head. “He never would have let me go.”
“You know what they’re all saying, don’t you? They think I had something to do with his death.”
Jase nodded, his eyes suddenly wary. “I’ve heard. Why did you come back?”
was named your guardian in his will. It was the first I’d heard of you.
I didn’t know you existed until five months ago. I knew he must have
done the same thing to you and your mother that he did to me and mine. I
thought I could protect you, at least until you’re old enough to live
on your own. I figured I would be a better guardian than anyone else the
court might appoint or that our father had named if I didn’t accept.”
was creeping in through the huge plate-glass window. Cole watched the
sun come up. It was cold, and the ground outside was covered with
several feet of snow, turning the hills into a carpet of sparkling
crystals. “You hungry?”
“Are you cooking?”
managed a lazy shrug even though he really wanted to smash something.
It was always there, that volcano inside him, waiting to erupt. The
thought of his father, the time of year, it wasn’t all that difficult to
bring rage to the surface. “I thought we’d go into town and give them
all something more to gossip about.”
Jase met Cole’s
eyes squarely. “They say you killed the old man and that you’re planning
to kill me next. Sixty-four million dollars is a lot of money, twice as
much as thirty-two.”
“They do say that, don’t they?”
Cole said. “And don’t forget the ranch. It’s worth twice that easily,
maybe more with the oil and gas deposits. I haven’t actually checked
into how much yet. "His eyes had gone ice-cold, a piercing blue stare
that impaled the boy. “What do you say, Jase? Because in the end, you’re
the only one that counts as far as I’m concerned.”
was silent a long time. “I say I’m glad you came back. But I don’t
understand why he left us the money and the ranch when he hated us both
so much. It doesn’t make any sense.” He looked around the enormous room,
“I keep expecting him to show up in the
middle of the night. I’m afraid to open my eyes because I know he’s
standing over the bed, just waiting.”
“With that smile.” Cole’s voice was grim.
nodded, a small shudder betraying the fact that he wasn’t as calm as he
tried to seem. “With that smile.” He looked at Cole. “What do you do
when the nightmares come?” He punched his fist into his pillow. Once.
Twice. “I hate this time of year.”
Cole felt a sharp
pain in his chest and the familiar churning in his gut. His own hand
balled into a fist, but he tamped down the smoldering anger and hung on
to control for the boy’s sake. “I drink. I’m your guardian, so I have to
say that’s not allowed for you. At least not until you’re a hell of a
“Does it work?”
“No,” Cole said grimly. Honestly. “But it gets me through the night. Sometimes I go to the workout room or
the barn. I hung a heavy bag in both places, and I beat on them until
my hands hurt. Other times I take the wildest horse we have and go out
into the mountains. I run the hills, using the deer trails, anything to
make me so tired I can’t think anymore.”
“None of that
works either, does it?” Jase had tried physical activity as well, but he
was finding that talking quietly with his half-brother was helpful.
More helpful than anything else he’d tried. At least one person believed
him. And one person had gone through the same torment. It created a
bond in spite of the ugly rumors that surrounded his tough,
Cole shook his head.
“No, none of it works, but it gets you through the night. One night at a
time. He’s dead, Jase, and that’s all that matters.”
Jase took a deep breath. “Did you kill him?”
but I wish I had. I used to lie awake at night and plan how I’d do it.
That was before Mom died. Then I just wanted to get out.” Cole studied
the boy’s face. “Did you kill him?” He concentrated his gaze on the boy.
Every nuance. Every expression, the way he breathed. The flick of his
eyes. The trembling of his hands.
Jase shook his head. “I was too afraid of him.”
let his breath out slowly. He had stayed alive using his ability to
read others, and he was fairly certain that Jase was telling the truth.
Jase had been in the house when someone had shot Brett Steele right
there in his own office. He wanted to believe that the boy wasn’t
involved in Brett Steele’s death. Cole wasn’t certain how he would have
handled it if Jase had admitted he’d done it, and for a man in Cole’s
profession, that wasn’t a good thing.
“Cole, did he
kill your mother?” For the first time, Jase sounded like a child rather
than a fourteen-year-old trying to be a man. He sank down onto the bed,
his thin shoulders shaking. “I think he killed my mother. They said she
was drinking and drove off the bridge, but she never drank. Never. She
was afraid to drink. She wanted to know what was happening all the time.
You know what he was like, he’d be nice one minute and come after you
Brett Steele had been a sadistic man. It was
Cole’s belief that he had killed for the sheer rush of having the power
of life and death over anything, human or animal. He’d enjoyed
inflicting pain, and he had tortured his wives and children and every
one of his employees. The ranch was huge, a long way from help, and once
he had control over those living on his lands, he never relinquished
it. Cole knew he’d been lucky to escape.
possible. I think the old man was capable of paying everyone off from
coroners to police officers. He had too much money and power for anyone
to cross him. It would be easy enough for a medical examiner to look the
other way if there was enough money in bribes. And if that didn’t work,
there were always threats. We both know the old man didn’t make idle
threats; he’d carry them out.”
Jase met his brother’s stare directly. “He killed your mother, didn’t he?”
“Maybe. Probably.” Cole needed a drink. “Let’s go into town and get breakfast.”
Jase pulled a pair of jeans from the closet. They were neatly hung and
immaculately clean, just like everything else in the room.“Who do you
think killed him? If it wasn’t either of us, someone else had to have
“He made a lot of enemies. He destroyed
businesses and seduced as many of his friends’ wives as possible. And if
he killed anyone else, as I suspect he must have, someone could have
known and retaliated. He liked to hurt people, Jase. It was inevitable
that he would die a violent death.”
“Were you surprised he left you the money and guardianship over me?”
at first. But later I thought maybe it made sense. He wanted us to be
like him. He had me investigated and found I spent time in jail. I think
he believed I was exactly like him. And the only other choice of a
guardian he had was your uncle, and you know how much they despised one
Jase sighed.“Uncle Mike is just as crazy as
Dad was. All he talks about is sin and redemption. He thinks I need to
Cole swore, a long string of curses.
“That’s a load of crap, Jase. There’s nothing wrong with you.” He needed
to move, to ride something hard, it didn’t matter what it was. A horse,
a motorcycle, a woman, anything at all to take away the knots gathering
in his stomach. “Let’s get out of here.”
away from the boy, a cold anger lodged in his gut. He detested
Christmas, detested everything about it. No matter how much he didn’t
want the season to start, it always came. He woke up drenched in sweat,
vicious laughter ringing in his ears. He could fight the demons most of
the year, but not when Christmas songs played on the radio and in every
store he entered. Not when every
building and street displayed
decorations and people continually wished each other “Merry Christmas.”
He didn’t want that for Jase. He had to find a way to give the boy back
Counseling hadn’t helped either of them. When
no one believed a word you said, or worse, was bought off, you learned
to stop trusting people. If Cole never did another thing right in his
life, he was going to be the one person Jase would know he could always
trust. And he was going to make certain the boy didn’t turn out the way
he had. Or the way their father had.
The brothers walked through the sprawling ranch house. The floors were all gleaming wood, the ceilings open-beamed and high. Brett Steele had demanded the best of everything, and he got it. Cole couldn’t fault him on his taste.
“Cole,” Jase asked, “why were you in jail?”
didn’t break stride as he hurried through the spacious house. At times
he wanted to burn the thing down. There was no warmth in it, and as hard
as he’d tried to turn the showpiece into a home for Jase, it remained
cold and barren.
Outdoors it was biting cold. The frost
turned the hills and meadows into a world of sparkling crystal,
dazzling the eyes, but Cole simply ignored it, shoving his sunglasses
onto his face. He went past the huge garage that housed dozens of
cars—all toys Brett Steele had owned and rarely ever used—to go to his
“I shouldn’t have asked you,” Jase muttered, slamming the door with unnecessary force. “I hate questions.”
paused, the key in the ignition. He glanced at the boy’s flushed face.
“It isn’t that, Jase. I don’t mind you asking me anything. I made up my
mind I’d never lie to you about anything, and I’m not quite certain how
to explain the jail time. Give me a minute.”
nodded. “I don’t mind that you’ve been in jail, but it worries me
because Uncle Mike says he’s going to take you to court and get custody
of me. If I lived with him, I’d spend all my life on my knees, praying
for my soul. I’d rather run away.”
“He can’t get you
away from me,” Cole promised, his voice grim. There was a hard edge to
the set of his mouth. He turned his piercing blue gaze directly on his
young half brother. “The one thing I can promise is I’ll fight for you
until they kill me, Jase.” He was implacable, the deadly ruthless stamp
of determination clear on his face. “No one is going to take you away
from me. You got that?”
Jase visibly relaxed. He
nodded, a short jerky gesture as he tried to keep his emotions under
control. Cole wasn’t certain if that was good or bad. Maybe the boy
needed to cry his eyes out. Cole never had. He would never give his
father the satisfaction, even when the bastard had nearly killed him.
was a long way to the nearest town. There had been numerous guards at
the ranch when his father was alive, supposedly for security, but Cole
knew better. Brett had needed his own private world, a realm he could
rule with an iron fist. The first thing Cole had done was to fire all of
the ranch hands, the security force, and the housekeeper. If he could
have had them prosecuted for their participation in Brett’s sadistic
depravities, he would have. Jase needed to feel safe. And Cole needed to
feel as if he could provide the right atmosphere for the boy. They had
interviewed the new ranch hands together, and they were still looking
for a housekeeper.
“You, know, Jase, you never picked out one of the horses to use,” Cole said.
leaned forward to fiddle with the radio. The cab was flooded with a
country Christmas tune. Jase hastily went through the stations, but all
he could find was Christmas music and he finally gave up in
exasperation. “I don’t care which one I ride,” Jase said, and turned his
head to stare out the window at the passing scenery. His voice was
“You must have a preference,”
Cole persisted. “I’ve seen you bring the big bay, Celtic High, a carrot
every now and then.” The boy had spent a little time each day, brushing
the horse and whispering to it, but he never rode the bay. Jase’s
expression closed down instantly, his eyes wary. “I don’t care about any
of them,” he repeated.
Cole frowned as he slipped a CD
into the player. “You know what the old man was all about, don’t you,
Jase? He didn’t want his sons to feel affection or loyalty to anything
or anyone. Not our mothers, not friends, and not animals. He killed the
animals in front of us to teach us a lesson. He destroyed our
friendships to accomplish the same thing. He got rid of our mothers to
isolate us, to make us wholly dependent on him. He didn’t want you
ever to feel emotion, especially affection or love for anything or
anyone else. If he succeeded in doing that to you, he won. You can’t let
him win. Choose a horse and let yourself care for it. We’ll get a dog
if you want a dog, or another cat. Any kind of pet you want, but let
yourself feel something, and when our father visits you in your
nightmares, tell him to go to hell.”
“You didn’t do
that,” Jase pointed out. “You don’t have a dog. You haven’t had a dog in
all the years you’ve been away. And you never got married. I’ll bet you
never lived with a woman. You have one-night stands and that’s about it
because you won’t let anyone into your life.” It was a shrewd guess.
counted silently to ten. He was psychoanalyzing Jase, but he damned
well didn’t want the boy to turn the spotlight back on him. “It’s a hell
of a way to live, Jase. You don’t want to use me as a role model. I
know all the things you shouldn’t do and not many you should. But
cutting yourself off from every living thing takes its toll. Don’t let
him do that to you. Start small if you want. Just choose
one of the horses, and we’ll go riding together in the mornings.”
was silent, his face averted, but Cole knew he was weighing the matter
carefully. It meant trusting Cole further than perhaps Jase was willing
to go. Cole was a big question mark to everyone, Jase especially. Cole
couldn’t blame the boy. He knew what he was like. Tough and ruthless
with no backup in him. His reputation was that of a vicious, merciless
fighter, a man born and bred in violence. It wasn’t like he knew how to
make all the soft, kind gestures that the kid needed, but he could
“Just think about it,” he said to close the subject.
Time was on his side. If he could give Jase back his life, he would
forgive himself for not bringing the old man down as he should have done
years ago. Jase had had his mother, a woman with love and laughter in
her heart. More than likely Brett had killed her because he couldn’t
turn Jase away from her. Jase’s mother must have left some legacy of
Cole had no one. His mother had been just
the opposite of Jase’s. His mother had had a child because Brett
demanded she have one, but she went back to her model-thin figure and
cocaine as soon as possible, leaving her son in the hands of her brutal
husband. In the end, she’d died of an overdose. Cole had always
suspected his father had had something to do with her death. It was
interesting that Jase suspected the same thing of his own mother’s
A few snowflakes drifted down from the sky,
adding to the atmosphere of the season they both were trying so hard to
avoid. Jase kicked at the floorboard of the truck, a small sign of
aggression, then glanced apologetically at Cole.
“Maybe we should have opted for a workout instead,” Cole said.
always hungry,” Jase admitted. “We can work out after we eat. Who came
up with the idea of Christmas anyway? It’s a dumb idea, giving presents
out when it isn’t your birthday.And it can’t be good for the environment
to cut down all the trees.”
Cole stayed silent, letting the boy talk, grateful Jase was finally comfortable enough to talk to him at all.
loved Christmas. She used to sneak me little gifts. She’d hide them in
my room. He always had spies, though, and they’d tell him. He always
punished her, but she’d do it anyway. I knew she’d be punished, and she
knew it too, but she’d still sneak me presents.”
Jase rolled down the
window, letting the crisp, cold air into the truck. “She sang me
Christmas songs. And once, when he was away on a trip, we baked cookies
together. She loved it. We both knew the housekeeper would tell him, but
at the time, we didn’t care.”
Cole cleared his
throat. The idea of trying to celebrate Christmas made him ill, but the
kid wanted it. Maybe even needed it, but had no clue that was what his
nervous chatter was all about. Cole hoped he could pull it off. There
were no happy memories from his childhood to offset the things his
father had done.
“We tried to get away from him, but he always found us,” Jase continued.
dead, Jase,” Cole repeated. He took a deep breath and took the plunge,
feeling as if he was leaping off a steep cliff. “If we want to bring a
giant tree into his home and decorate it, we can. There’s not a damn
thing he can do about it.”
“He might have let her go if she hadn’t wanted to take me with her.”
heard the tears in the boy’s voice, but the kid didn’t shed them.
Silently he cursed, wishing for inspiration, for all the right things to
say. “Your mother was an extraordinary woman, Jase, and there aren’t
that many in the world. She cared about you, not the money or the
prestige of being Mrs. Brett Steele. She fought for you, and she tried
to give you a life in spite of the old man. I wish I’d had the chance to
Jase didn’t reply, but closed his eyes,
resting his head back against the seat. He could still remember the
sound of his mother’s voice. The way she smelled. Her smile. He rubbed
his head. Mostly he remembered the sound of her screams when his father
“I’ll think about the Christmas thing, Cole. I kind of like the idea of decorating the house when he always forbade it.”
didn’t reply. It had been a very long few weeks, but the Christmas
season was almost over. A couple more weeks, and he would have made it
through another December. If doing the Christmas thing could give the
kid back his life, Cole would find a way to get through it. The town was
fairly big and offered a variety of latenight and early-morning dining.
Cole chose a diner he was familiar with and parked the truck in the
parking lot. To his dismay, it was already filled with cars. Unfolding
his large frame, he slid from the truck, waiting for Jase to get out.
“You forgot your jacket,” he said.
“No, I didn’t. I hate the thing,” Jase said.
didn’t bother to ask him why.He already knew the answer and vowed to
buy the kid a whole new wardrobe immediately. He pushed open the door to
the diner, stepping back to allow Jase to enter first. Jase took two
steps into the entryway and stopped abruptly behind the high wall of
fake ivy. “They’re talking about you, Cole,” he whispered. “Let’s get
out of here.”
The voices were loud enough to carry
across the small restaurant. Cole stood still, his hand on the boy’s
shoulder to steady him. Jase would have to learn to live with gossip,
just as he’d learned to survive the nightmare he’d been born into.
wrong, Randy. Cole Steele murdered his father, and he’s going to murder
that boy. He wants the money. He never came around here to see that boy
until his daddy died.”
“He was in jail, Jim, he
couldn’t very well go visiting his relatives,” a second male voice
pointed out with a laugh. Cole recognized Randy Smythe from the local
agriculture store. Before he could decide whether to get Jase out of
there or show the boy just how hypocritical the local storeowners could
be, a third voice chimed in.
“You are so full of it,
Jim Begley,” a female voice interrupted the argument between the two
men. “You come in here every morning grousing about Cole Steele. He was
cleared as a suspect a long time ago and given guardianship of his half-brother, as he should have been. You’re angry because your bar buddies
lost their cushy jobs, so you’re helping to spread the malicious gossip
they started. The entire lot of you sound like a bunch of sour old
biddies.” The woman never raised her voice. In fact, it was soft and low
and harmonious. Cole felt the tone strumming inside of him, vibrating
and spreading heat. There was something magical in the voice, more
magical than the fact that she was sticking up for him.His fingers
tightened involuntarily on Jase’s shoulder. It was the first time he
could ever remember anyone sticking up for him.
“He was in jail, Maia,”
Jim Begley reiterated, his voice almost placating.
were a lot of people who didn’t belong there, Jim. And a lot people who
should have been in jail never were. That doesn’t mean anything. You’re
jealous of the man’s money and the fact that he has the reputation of
being able to get just about any woman he wants, and you can’t.” A roar
of laughter went up. Cole expected Begley to get angry with the woman,
but surprisingly, he didn’t.
“Aw, Maia, don’t go getting all mad at me.
You aren’t going to do anything, are you? You wouldn’t put a hex on
me, would you?”
The laughter rose and this
time the woman joined in. The sound of her voice was like music. Cole
had never had such a reaction to any woman, and he hadn’t even seen her.
just never know about me, now do you, Jim?” She teased, obviously not
angry with the man. “It’s Christmas, the best time of the year. Do you
think you could stop spreading rumors and just wait for the facts? Give
the man a chance. You all want his money. You all agree the town needs
him, yet you’re so quick to condemn him. Isn’t that the littlest bit
Cole was shocked that the woman could
wield so much power, driving her point home without ever raising her
voice. And strangely, they were all listening to her. Who was she, and
why were these usually rough men hanging on her every word, trying to
please her? He found himself very curious about a total stranger—a woman
“Okay, okay,” Jim said. “I surrender, Maia. I’ll never mention
Cole Steele again if that will make you happy. Just don’t get mad at
Maia laughed again. The carefree sound teased all
of Cole’s senses, made him very aware of his body and its needs. “I’ll
see you all later. I have work to do.”
Cole felt his
body tense. She was coming around the ivy to the entrance. Cole’s breath
caught in his throat. She was on the shorter side, but curvy, filling
out her jeans nicely. A sweater molded her breasts into a tempting
invitation. She had a wealth of dark, very straight hair, as shiny as a
raven’s wing, pulled into a careless ponytail. Her face was exotic, the
bone structure delicate, reminding him of a pixie.
swung her head back, her wide smile fading as she saw them standing
there. She stopped short, raising her eyes to Cole’s. He actually
hunched a little, feeling the impact in his belly. Little hammers began
to trip in his head, and his body reacted with an urgent and very
elemental demand. A man could drown in her eyes, get lost, or just plain
lose every demon he had. Her eyes were large, heavily lashed, and some
color other than blue, turquoise maybe, a mixture of blue and green that
was vivid and alive and so darned beautiful he ached inside just looking at her.
Jase nudged him in the ribs.
reacted immediately. “Sorry, ma’am.” But he didn’t move. “I’m Cole
Steele. This is my brother, Jase.” Jase jerked under his hand, reacting
to being acknowledged as a brother.
The woman nodded at Cole and flashed a smile at Jase as she stepped around them to push open the door.
“Holy cow,” Jase murmured. “Did you see that smile?” He glanced up at Cole. “Yeah, you saw it all right.”
“Was I staring?” Cole asked.
looked like you might have her for breakfast,” Jase answered. “You can
look really intimidating, Cole. Scary.” Cole almost followed the woman,
but at the boy’s comment he turned back. “Am I scary to you, Jase?”
The boy shrugged. “Sometimes. I’m getting used to you. I’ve never seen you smile. Ever.”
Cole raised his eyebrow. “I can’t remember actually smiling. Maybe I’ll have to practice. You can work with me.”
“Don’t you smile at women?”
“I don’t have to.”
Feehan is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of thirty novels,
including the Carpathians, the Ghostwalkers, the Leopard People, and the
Drake Sisters series. Her books have been published in multiple
languages and in many formats including palm pilot, audiobook, and
ebook. She has been featured in Time magazine and Newsweek, and lives in
Cobb, California. Please visit http://www.christinefeehan.com/.
December 15, 2014
third lighthearted romance in Colette Auclair’s award-winning Aspen
Valley series, Branded will take readers on a wild and dreamy ride
through the beautiful valleys and mountains of Colorado. Professional,
polite, and pearl-wearing, dressage rider and resort consultant Cordy
Sims is the last person anyone would expect to initiate a weekend of
debauchery. And yet, that’s exactly what she does after meeting a
handsome stranger at an Aspen resort. Agreeing that they’ll leave
personal details at the door, they indulge in a memorable weekend of
carnal recreation. On Sunday night, Cordy doesn’t want to leave this
charming, seductive man, but she must play by her own rules.
Monday, Cordy sits in a meeting at the ad agency that’s hired her as a
freelancer, and her professional and personal worlds collide. Turns out
agency owner Jack Cormier looks just as good in the boardroom as he did
in the bedroom. Forced to work together, Cordy and Jack can’t ignore the
chemistry that crackles between them, or the deeper feelings that have
developed. But secrets and scars from their pasts may prove too
formidable, even for a love that’s as powerful as it is unexpected.
Sometimes things aren’t what they seem, but it seemed to Cordy that indeed, there was a man in a
tuxedo riding down the chairlift in Aspen. And he was probably drunk, which meant she wanted nothing to do with him.
It was exactly six-thirty-two a.m. on May 16, four hours before the lifts opened. She stood there, panting
and staring. He was floating toward her, one arm slung along the back of the chair and a foot, also in
formal wear, perched on the seat. The bands of his unfurled bow tie fluttered in the breeze.
first morning in Aspen and already there’s a guy in a tuxedo. Talk
about a town living up to the hype. The app on her phone beeped, telling
her she’d logged five miles and could begin her cool-down. After this
run, she would officially begin her part-work, part-leisure long
weekend. She shook her head and started across the black-diamond run,
which without snow was steep but hardly treacherous. As usual, she
imagined how Marcas, her horse, would handle it—her dressage horse
wasn’t the world’s best trail horse, but she still wished he were here
with her. It would be fun to explore the mountains from his back. Maybe
she’d have him shipped to Colorado, if she ended up staying longer than a
“Damn!” the man said, bringing Cordy back
to the present. What, you just realized you were riding a ski lift the
wrong way? Cordy thought as she kept walking. She looked up the hill in
time to see a silver cylinder hit the grass. It bounced and tumbled down
the ski slope, winking in the sun. Remarkably, it stopped short,
wedging itself between two small nearby boulders with a muffled metallic
“Excuse me, darlin’,” yelled the man.
Darlin’? Cordy looked up. She was not this man’s darlin’, but she was the only one around.
“It seems my shaker and I have parted company. Could I trouble you to fetch it for me?”
He had a Southern accent. “Why do you have a martini shaker?”
“I was making martinis.”
Silly me. “On a ski lift?” He was passing overhead so she had to crane her neck to see him.
“Last evening. If you could just recover it, I’d be eternally grateful.” He half-turned to face her as he
“Where were you making martinis?”
“Top of the mountain.”
“For mountain goats?”
She thought he grinned. “Will you please get it for me? It has great sentimental value.”
She had to yell pretty loud now. “Then why’d you drop it?”
“Could you bring it to the hotel bar?”
He shouted something, but she couldn’t make it out. What an idiot, to drop a martini shaker. What
idiot to have a martini shaker on a chair lift. Still, it was an
interesting turn of events, and a good omen for this new chapter in her
life. Quirky. Not exciting, but unusual. She made her way down the slope
and plucked the shaker from the boulders. It was dimpled from its fl
ight, but she could make out the engraved initials JCL.
Who are you, JCL? “Guess I’ll fi nd out later today,” she muttered. “If he isn’t too drunk to remember.”
She looked down the mountain and saw that the man had neglected to jump off the lift and was headed back up.
He’s super drunk. She didn’t particularly want to have another shouted
conversation, so she jogged into the trees, out of earshot. Still, she
heard his voice.
“Take care of that shaker, darlin’!”
couldn’t remember if she’d ever been to a restaurant bar as it opened.
It made her feel so…pathetic. Occasionally she’d lingered over a late
brunch and been around when the dinner service began. But this? Nah.
It wasn’t every day you had to return a martini shaker to a man who shouted to you from a ski lift.
handsome man. Scratch that—a handsome drunk. He might not even make it
here. She’d have a cocktail and if he didn’t show by the time she’d
finished, she’d head back to her room, because she had better things to
do—those notes on the Pinnacle Resort weren’t going to write themselves.
the shaker on the bar, she picked up the cocktail menu. The
thirtysomething bartender materialized before her, a dime-sized portion
of a darkgreen tattoo peeking above his starched white collar. His
light-brown hair kept to itself, a disciplined wavy mass Cordy found
appealing. He angled his head and indicated the shaker.
“We’re a full-service resort. We have our own shakers, but if you insist . . .”
What? She followed his gaze. “Oh! I’m returning that.”
“So you’re the one.” He raised his chin.
didn’t steal it!” The bartender laughed and after a beat, Cordy felt
her cheeks relax. “Oh. You’re kidding.” Lighten up, Cordy! “What I mean
is, the owner is coming to get it.”
“Looks like a nice one. Would you like me to wipe it off for you?”
“No,” Cordy said quickly and too primly. She didn’t want to do that clumsy drunk guy any favors
because she felt put-upon as it was. It was her own fault—no one forced her to retrieve the shaker—but
resented him all the same. “It’s fine as is.” She was waiting for a
stranger for whom she’d done a favor. She should feel good; instead, she
felt . . . owed. May as well enjoy myself while I wait. And act like a
“real” guest. With that in mind, she went for decadent and ordered a
champagne cocktail. To counter her immediate guilt, she followed with a
respectable and nutritious Cobb salad. She gazed at the entrance to the
bar one more time, noting the dark-wood backdrop and the paintings and
fabrics in the oranges, reds, and purples of a mountain sunset. Then she
pulled out her leather notebook and Cross pen and began to write her
initial impressions of the Pinnacle Resort at Aspen.
minutes later, as her cocktail neared its logical conclusion (she was
an admittedly slow drinker) and her salad was gone, Cordy had mellowed. A
smattering of other customers had come in, which Cordy calculated was
average for fi ve o’clock on a Friday in the off-season.
The off-season. Her favorite phrase because it had given her a dream career that allowed her to make a
living, own and show a horse, and travel around the world. She had
become a go-to professional for how to make more money in the
off-season. She could look at a resort, no matter where it was, and come
up with ways to make hay when the sun didn’t shine, as it were. For
Cordy, it was akin to taking a meh horse and making it a wow horse. She
used to think anyone could see the off-season potential in a resort, but
she accepted that she had a knack, though she was still reluctant to
believe the hype heaped on her by happy clients. After working for a
company that ran several resorts around the world, she went out on her
own. Pinnacle was her first project as an independent contractor, but
the winter resort wasn’t her client. A small Aspen ad agency that was
trying to impress Pinnacle had hired her to overdeliver and wow them.
She was a surprise bonus, and her recommendation could be the tipping
Or that’s what the agency was banking on. She
thought they were overly optimistic, but they were paying her well, so
she’d give them their money’s worth.
She had already completed a page of bullet points after being at Pinnacle for less than twenty-four
hours. Not bad.
Was someone playing a piano? As Cordy looked around, a lock of shiny wheat-colored hair fell in front
her face. As she shoved it behind her ear, she saw a fresh champagne
cocktail in front of her. “Excuse me,” she called to the bartender, who
rushed over. “I didn’t order this.”
“It’s on the house, madam.” Did management know why she was here and was trying to impress her? As
though she were a secret shopper or something? “Really? Why?”
“A gentleman came by and bought you a drink.”
“That’s impossible. I don’t know anyone here.”
“Begging your pardon, but that’s what happened.”
“Who was it?”
“He didn’t say,” the bartender replied as he wiped the bar.
“Where is he? I ought to thank him.”
“What did he look like?”
The bartender filled his cheeks with air and puffed it out. “Dark hair. A little taller than me.” He
shrugged in defeat.
That didn’t help. If it was the martini guy, surely he would have taken the shaker.
The bartender spoke. “I’d say you have a secret admirer.”
“Right.” She said this merely to confirm she’d heard him because her attention was back on the
music. What is that song? I know that song. And where is the piano?
Oh no. No. No no no no no.
“Excuse me, again,” Cordy said. “But where’s the piano?” She struggled to sound polite and not distressed.
behind that tree,” he said, nodding toward an impressively leafy plant
in the middle of the room that stretched to the ceiling. Cordy threw
back a mouthful of her complimentary drink, dabbed her lips with her
napkin, and took a breath before striding to the hidden instrument.
The man’s hands were sure and efficient as they transformed the keys into a gorgeous melody. Playing
muscle memory for him; that much was obvious. He rocked gently to the
rhythm as though in a trance, oblivious to her or even that he was in
the middle of a restaurant. If she weren’t in such a strange mood, she
would have appreciated his talent and artistry. But the only thing she
wanted to do was stop him.
“Excuse me,” she said.
She stared for a moment, willing him to look at her. The mental energy she expended could have bent
several spoons, possibly a spatula. Or a shovel. He kept going, damn him. “Excuse me!” she said, louder
He looked at her. Mildly. And literally didn’t miss a beat.
was pretty sure it was the martini shaker guy. Of course. Because this
was inconvenient, too. Maybe he didn’t recognize her. After all, he’d
been flying overhead and three sheets to the wind when they’d met more
than ten hours earlier. She sighed, flicked her hands at him, and said,
“Could you maybe skip over this song and play something else?”
He shook his head and a few strands of pin-straight brown hair flopped into his eyes. “I’m sorry; I can’t
hear you. I’m playing the piano.”
God. She spoke louder. “Yes, I know. I was wondering if you could play a different song?” He continued
playing all those damned notes she hated, while conversing—of course he was—he was a professional,
what did she expect? It wasn’t even multitasking for him, it was his job to chat up diners while playing.
“This is a great song. Cole Porter. What do you have against Cole Porter?”
“This is part of my warm-up. I always play ‘So In Love.’ ”
It seemed he was embellishing the tune just to annoy her. The golden buzz from her vintage cocktail
had turned on her and was making her grumpy. He continued, “Have you ever heard the words?
They’re beautiful.” Then, to add musical insult to emotional injury, he started over and sang softly, so
only she could hear. Her own private concert from hell.
His voice was as smooth as a premium liqueur and his accent—Southern and lyrical—disappeared. Still,
hearing a declaration of a searing love come out of this man’s mouth only made her feel terrible. What
Cole Porter know? This kind of love doesn’t exist except in songs. I
should know. Her throat ached, her cheeks heated and, lo and behold, she
was about to cry. This wasn’t going to happen. She clamped down on her
unacceptable emotional response, leaned toward him, and said, “Please.”
She blurted, “I’ll give you a hundred dollars to stop.”
He kept playing. “You abhor it that much?”
She rolled her eyes. “A hundred bucks to do less. Come on.”
“Deal.” He finished with a flourish, held out his hand with its long, strong fingers, and raised his eyebrows at her.
“I don’t have that much cash on me.” She folded her arms under her breasts.
“You should have thought of that before you bribed me to stop.”
“I’ll leave it with the bartender.”
“George? He’s a confirmed kleptomaniac. I’ll never see a red cent.”
“I’ll leave you a check, then.”
“I’m sorry, darlin’, but traditionally speaking, bribes are cash only.” He whispered, “You don’t want
it to be traced.”
“It’s not a bribe. I made it worth your while to stop playing. Think of it as a tip.”
“Pourboires are usually given as an expression of appreciation.”
“Tips. Why did you want me to stop? That was a whole lot of hatred aimed at poor Mr. Porter’s classic.”
Cordy sniffed and looked at the far wall over Martini Boy’s head. “I’d rather not say.”
“All that hostility can’t be good for you. Why don’t we discuss it over a . . . champagne cocktail?”
knew her face betrayed her—her eyes widened, her eyebrows shot up, and
her mouth opened a little more than usual. There was a reason she wasn’t
a professional poker player or counterintelligence operative.
“No. Thank you. I should go.”
He tsked and shook his head. “I would’ve never taken you for a welsher.”
“I’m not—Don’t worry, you’ll get your money.”
His full lips kicked up at the corners, making him more appealing than she cared to admit. It was the
kind of appealing that made her want to stick around.
“As I see it, you owe me a hundred dollars and my martini shaker. Which I thank you for returning, by
way. It’s another reason I need to buy you a drink. In fact, I hardly
think a drink’s enough—after all, that shaker is very important to me. I
believe I owe you at least a dinner. Would you do me the honor of
having dinner with me this evening, Miss . . . ? It is Miss, correct?”
He didn’t need to know her name or her marital status. Not with that
appealing smile chipping away at her defenses. “That’s very generous of
you, but I don’t know you and you don’t know me. We don’t have to be
friends. I’m sure you have plenty of friends. I’ll give you your hundred
dollars, you can take your shaker—it’s right there on the bar, safe and
sound—and we’ll go our separate ways. It’s not necessary to have
dinner. It’s not necessary to have drinks or coffee or . . . anything.
We had an encounter, then a business transaction, and that’s all.
Besides, you can’t leave your shift—as you pointed out, you only just
started playing, and the cocktail crowd is going to want their Gershwin
as a backdrop for their scintillating conversations.”
She looked at the top of the upright. “Hey, where’s your brandy snifter? You’re good. A guy like
could make a lot of . . . pourboires.” She gazed at his face just in
time to see it brighten. He didn’t smile, but his lips twitched and his
eyes lighted. She was on a roll and it felt good. “After you’re done
with your Harry Connick, Jr. stint, surely you have a few martinis to
make, don’t you? Or do you only bartend on top of the mountain with your
friends the goats?”
He swiveled on the piano bench to face her.
“Honey, your drink’s getting warm, and that’s a tragedy.” He stood. He was taller than she’d predicted.
had six inches on her, easy. She didn’t like that she had to look up to
him now, after getting to look down at him this hole time. “Let’s go
rescue that drink,” he said, and turned her with a finger on her
shoulder. That finger then breezed the small of her back, propelling her
toward the bar. “And careful about speaking ill of mountain goats,” he
said as they walked. “They’re integral to the ecosystem here, they
please the tourists, and they’re remarkably rugged, graceful, nimble
creatures.” He pulled out her barstool for her. Cordy thought about
dismissing his gesture, but decided to finish her cocktail. He amused
her, and that was worth a few more minutes of her time. “I didn’t say
anything bad about goats. I called them your friends. What does that say
about you?” Plus he was easy on her eyes. He had great hair—the dark
brown of a horse’s deep bay coat, and glossy—with regular features, a
nose straight and assertive as a dressage whip, wide, dark eyes, full
lips…A woman could do worse. He was elegant, yes, but oh-so-unavoidably
masculine. A dangerous combination, but perfect for temporary scenery at
a bar in a ski resort in Aspen.
She sat. He stood. He sipped her drink. “Hey!” she said.
“Just as I feared. Too warm.” He beckoned the bartender.
“George, the lady is in dire need of another champagne cocktail, if you will. This one is tepid. And
I’ll have one as well.”
“It was fine,” Cordy said.
“No, it wasn’t. There’s nothing worse than warm champagne.”
“I can think of something worse.”
He sat, then looked at her, and his gaze was so focused, she felt there must be a red laser dot on her
Her pulse actually kicked up a notch. “And, pray tell, what would that
be?” This had to be what an impala felt like when it knew it couldn’t
outrun the lion.
“Come now, was I really that bad?”
“You weren’t exactly cooperative. You could’ve stopped when I asked the first time.”
“I assure you, under the right circumstances, with the right woman, I can be the very picture of cooperation.”
Cordy shifted on her barstool. Where was George with her cocktail? And why was Martini Boy with her
not at the piano? Normally she wouldn’t have asked, but her experience
with him had been anything but normal. “Don’t you need to get back to
the piano? People are starting to fidget.”
“They’ll manage,” he said, looking around the room. “Would you be so kind as to hand me my
shaker? I’d like to inspect it for damage.”
Cordy handed it to him and noted his clean, flat, broad nails rounding out his capable hands. She also
felt their fingers touch for a fraction of a second.
“Yeah, so, about that. What was up with that?”
“What was up with what?”
“You dropping it. If it means so much to you, shouldn’t you have been more careful?”
“People drop things all the time,” he said, turning the shaker as he examined it. “It’s an international
“Clumsy people drop things. You play the piano like a dream, so I’m guessing you’re not usually
clumsy. All that hand-eye coordination and everything.”
“You give me an immense amount of credit. I hear Van Cliburn had an embarrassing and expensive habit
of dropping crystal.”
Who was this guy who talked like he’d just stepped out of 1920? Cordy was slightly surprised he was in
color and not black-and-white like an old movie. Nobody really talked like this. He was putting on an act.
had to be. Well, two could play at this game. She was going to say
something out of character. Their drinks arrived and Cordy took a good
long sip. She furloughed her internal editor, the one who kept her
scrupulously polite, then looked at him.
“Why were you in a tux riding the ski lift the wrong way and carrying a martini shaker at six thirty in the
He grinned and took a few swallows of the water George had given them with the drinks, making her
wait. He set the glass down and licked his lips. “Earlier in the evening, I attended a party that demanded
“What kind of party?”
“A formal one.”
She beetled her brows at him. “It went on until sunrise? At your age? Were the cops involved? You
can tell me. After all, it’s not like we’ll see each other again.”
“Now that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.”
“Trust me, it’ll be fine.”
“Was it a wedding? Which would be unusual on a Thursday, but not unheard of.”
“Graduation? Bar mitzvah? Barn raising?”
“You’re not going to guess the occasion. Have you considered the possibility that I might just enjoy
“Oh!” Was this code? Was he telling her he was gay? Which would be great, because they could pal
and she wouldn’t have to worry about getting involved. She would never
have guessed, but these days, with straight metrosexuals around every
corner, her gaydar was unreliable.
“Oh?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Oh.”
“What does ‘oh’ mean?”
“ ‘Oh’ means ‘oh.’ ” She couldn’t tell him what she was thinking. Even her absent editor returned to keep her silent.
“ ‘Oh’ means ‘oh,’ huh? All right, then. Since you were so kind as to return my shaker, I’m not going to
press you for an answer.”
we’re even,” Cordy said, feeling positively cocky. “You didn’t answer
my question and I didn’t answer yours. Let’s just enjoy our drinks,
“Absolutely. Whatever you prefer.” He tipped his flute to clink with hers, sipped, then paused. “Hmm.”
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing. Just hmm.”
“You won’t tell me what ‘oh’ means, but you expect me to tell you what ‘hmm’ means?”
Cordy went for the chink in his armor. “It would be the gentlemanly thing to do.”
“If that’s what you think. I was thinking how it’s curious that a woman such as yourself is here alone.”
“What makes you think I’m alone?”
“That would be because you are.”
“You’re in a resort town, at a resort. Most guests come with at least one other person. In your case, I
would expect you to be here with a man. A significant other of some sort. Spouse, boyfriend, fiancé—”
“Don’t say that word.”
“Yes. Just . . . don’t. Or I’ll take that shaker and throw it off a cliff.” Cordy smoothed her hair behind
her ear and stared at the bubbles zipping to the surface of her drink. Why did he have to say that?
“I promise not to say ‘fiancé’ anymore. If you tell me why I can’t.”
She felt like Martini Boy was squeezing her windpipe.
can’t. Okay? It’s a . . . thing.” The words choked out. He must’ve
noticed because he nodded and didn’t argue. She wished she was one of
those people who could laugh and make light of it, but in this case, she
couldn’t. “Excuse me for a moment. I’ll be right back.” She reached
under the bar to snag her purse from the hook. Purse hooks under bars
were a godsend. More points for Pinnacle. Martini Boy
stood. More points for Martini Boy.
“Will you be back?” he asked, and sounded concerned.
She slid off the stool. “Yes. I need to use the restroom.”
By “use” she meant “regain my composure, then figure out what I want to do next and if it involves
Auclair has been a copywriter for more than twenty years. She’s ridden
and shown horses since she was ten and owns a lovely twenty-year-old
Thoroughbred mare. A 2012 Golden Heart finalist in the contemporary
romance category, Thrown was her first novel and Jumped was her second.
Please visit http://www.coletteauclair.com/.