Read an Excerpt
Chalet Girls, Book One
By Emily Franklin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2007 Emily Franklin
All rights reserved.
Don't believe what you see in the brochures.
"Bright blue skies, gleaming mounds of snow, days spent on the slopes, and nights spent enjoying the social atmosphere are just some of the reasons young people choose to find seasonal work at ski resorts," the blond, bubbly twentysomething tour administrator says. "By now you have your jobs assigned—cook, cleaner, ski guide, host, or—as the locals like to say as a general term—chalet girl. Don't go into this thinking it's all one long party— the job's tough. But it's worth it. After a season at Les Trois, your life will never be the same."
Melissa Forsythe looks out the tinted bus window and wonders if this is true—if her life will change. Before she zips up her bright red ski coat, she listens to the last words the administrator offers before she leaves the bus, clipboard in hand. "There's an old saying: Even if you don't have one when you arrive, you will leave here with a secret. Everyone does."
Melissa tucks this saying away, hoping her own secrets haven't followed her here, and gets ready for her first steps into the resort area of Les Trois—the Three Alps. She checks she has both of her gloves, and tumbles off the oversized tour bus. Outside, the air is frosty but sun-filled—and Melissa has a good feeling; the view is already better than last year at Courchevel—then again, she could never go back there.
Sliding her hands into her navy blue wool gloves, Melissa sucks in the chilly air and takes in her surroundings. To the left is the small village complete with restaurants, a world-renowned spa, bars, and clubs so elite they have no signs or names, and a luxury hotel. The Mountain Inn—winter home away from home for Olympic hopefuls and hot Europeans alike, Melissa thinks, remembering all the travel guides she read on the longhaul flight from Perth, Australia, to Paris, then the excruciating bus ride to Les Trois Alpes. Tucked into her backpack Melissa has the Global Guide to Ski Resorts in which Les Trois is described as the premier winter destination for those in the know. There are tons of mountain resorts—Montvale, aka "Las Vegas with snow," Mullee—nickname Bootee— Courchevel where Melissa worked last winter break and still blushes when she thinks of it, and so on. According to the guidebooks Melissa devoured at the travel agent's office, other places might have slightly better powder or access to more shopping, but Les Trois Alpes reigned supreme for class, calm, and cool refinement.
Turning to the right, Melissa holds her dark curls back from her face so she can check out the rest of the sights: A log structure too large to be called a cabin is set back from the roadway. Outside, various people—some whom Melissa recognizes from the bus ride— mill around in front near a sign marked REGISTRATION. In back of the log building is a parking lot with vans marked with Les Trois Alpes' signature fleur-de-lis; rumor has it that some girls finished the season with a tattoo of that design. Melissa cannot imagine having a working holiday go so well that she'd want to engrave herself with memories of it—but then again, she's the first to admit that you never know what can happen. Stick a bunch of hot holiday people in a remote area with nothing to do but ski and socialize, and anything's possible.
Towering over everything are the three alps themselves—enormous mountains covered in snaking ski trails and snow, ski lifts, and the skiers themselves who seem bug-tiny. Even though Christmas and New Year's are only three weeks away, the buildings are unadorned. No decked holly, no twinkling lights, no red bows or New Year's horns. No mistletoe. Maybe just as well, thinks Melissa, flashing back to her only past brush with mistletoe. Having survived a season, Melissa figures that a crew of her fellow workers will be put to the task of decorating tomorrow once they've settled in.
"It's so peaceful here," Melissa mutters, not totally aware she's said it out loud until she hears a small snort of laughter from behind. Normally bouncy and brimming with enthusiasm, Melissa takes a second to steady the image of Les Trois in her mind. She wants to remember it now, as it is, before her job starts, before the holiday season kicks into high gear, before all those secrets threaten to come loose.
"If you think it's peaceful, clearly you haven't been here long." The voice and the laugh-snort belong to Lily De Rothschild, all of five feet two inches with a mane of silver blond hair so thick and lustrous Melissa figures it must be fake; she stares at the length of it long enough to make Lily tuck it protectively under a knitted ski hat. Melissa takes her for a vacationer, not a worker—the girl's too pretty, too refined—too something.
Melissa slides her backpack from her shoulder, unzips the top, and grabs for the guidebook. "It says here." She points and reads aloud. "Wait—yeah, right here. 'Peaceful.'"
"So you're an Aussie," Lily says. "And an avid follower of the dreaded travel guide."
"Obviously," Melissa says, overdoing her accent on purpose. "And you're a Brit." Lily nods. "Anyway—listen: 'Set in an idyllic village with three glorious mountains as backdrop, Les Trois Alpes is a vision of serenity and simple chic.'" Melissa raises her eyebrows at the pixie blonde before her and closes the guide as though she's proved her point. "What's wrong with reading guides? They tell you a lot."
"Hasn't anyone ever told you not to believe everything you read?" Lily shivers slightly in the brisk wind and puts her small hands inside the pockets of her quilted black coat.
Melissa wonders what, exactly, this girl means. Of course she doesn't believe absolutely everything—but don't the photos that accompany the travel verbiage tell the truth? Online and in the books everyone at Les Trois is all smiles, kicking back around a roaring fire, hot chocolate in hand, or clinking champagne glasses on a balcony, or—Melissa's personal favorite—walking as a couple, hand-in-hand in the newly fallen snow.
"Well, everything looks great—just like in the books."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Lily says. "I have to run. See you around?"
Melissa nods. "Sure. I'm Melissa Forsythe, by the way." Lily nods at her but doesn't offer up a return introduction. "And you are ...?"
"Lily de—" She halts herself and stammers just slightly. "My real name's Lily, but most people just call me Dove."
Melissa looks at Lily's pale skin, the shape of her small face, her petite frame, and decides Dove is the perfect nickname for this girl. "I have to go register, anyway," Melissa says just in case Lily—Dove—is giving her the brush-off. "I'm here for the season."
"Oh, yeah? For what position?" Dove perks up and takes a step back toward Melissa. Melissa thinks that Dove is just being nice, inquiring after the help or something.
Melissa pauses for a second and Dove wonders if she'll have to consult her guidebook to have an answer. "I was hoping for Hostess ...," Melissa says but then remembers why she didn't get that role—at least not this year. "But they gave me Cook instead."
Dove's face stays completely neutral. Melissa gets the feeling that it would take a lot to break Dove's façade. More than just announcing a job placement, anyway. "Cook's not bad...."
"Yeah, if you actually know your way around a kitchen. Which I semi-do." Melissa hopes she hasn't made herself sound like a gourmet chef—she's anything but that. Sure she knows how to throw together a salad or make chili, but nothing gourmet. Not that she didn't stretch the truth just a tad on her application. The weight of her bags makes Melissa's shoulders ache and she starts to walk toward the registration building, hoping Dove will come, too. It would be nice to have someone to talk to. "But it's not like I'd qualify for Pack Leader...." Melissa looks up at the slopes and nods. She's not a novice, but not nearly as advanced as she'd have to be to get Pack Leader. Typically, that job went to the older girls, the ones in college or who'd been wintering at places like this their entire lives.
"Well, it could be worse," Dove says, her English accent clipping each word.
Oh, Melissa thinks, so maybe Dove is working here—maybe she's an ace skier and works as a private trail guide. Or maybe she's a cook, too. A few more steps and they'll reach the steps of the log building. They walk on the cleared pathway, the sunlight glinting off the snow-topped roof, their breath coming out in puffs of white. Melissa kicks the dirt and snow mixture from one of her boots with her opposite heel. She pictures being in the giant restaurant-style kitchen of the brochures with a white hat serving intricate dishes. "Cook might be one of the most demanding positions—that's what I hear, anyway—but it's a hell of a lot better than being the cleaner. That I just totally couldn't deal with ..."
All of a sudden, Dove stops walking forward and takes a step to the side. "Nice to meet you."
Melissa pauses just long enough that her bag topples off her shoulder and drops into a mound of snow. All around her she can hear a mixture of French and English, some German and Italian, too. "I wish I spoke more French. I only know a little...."
Dove doesn't feel that now's the time to say she's fluent, so she smiles without showing her teeth and takes another step away.
"Where're you going?" Melissa asks. "I thought you were registering, too?"
Dove shakes her head. As if they've just had tea, Dove politely sticks out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Melissa. I must go. Best wishes for settling in." Her voice sounds almost snooty to Melissa, who tries not to feel personally offended but has a habit of taking things the wrong way. True to her name, Dove flits off in a half run half walk. Melissa thinks she'll at least turn around to say good-bye, but she doesn't.
The front door of the log building is double wide and built to look hundreds of years old, or maybe it really is—it's hard to tell what's real and what's made-up here. Melissa watches two girls who chat and laugh and go inside, then a couple of nondescript guys in dark jackets, and then, right when she's about to go inside herself and register, she's pushed aside by a sharp elbow to the ribs.
"Ouch!" she says, flinching. When she looks up, a way-too-familiar face is smiling meanly back. "Celia Sinclair!" Melissa starts and then realizes she probably sounds like an idiot, a drooling fan. In her backpack near the travel guides are magazines in which Celia Sinclair is featured modeling everything from clothing to scented body balm—often without much more covering her than the balm itself.
"Aren't you clever," Celia says. "I've never been greeted with my own name before." Celia stares at Melissa again, and Melissa stares back with more gawk than she'd like—Celia, famous or not, just elbowed her out of the way, after all. But maybe it was an accidental bump. "Um, are you going to move?"
Fine, so she did it on purpose, Melissa thinks in disbelief. She feels dumb now and looks at her feet while she moves aside so Celia Sinclair, a child star who was actually successful in her transition from cute television kid to art house actress, can grace the log building's interior with her presence. Celia opens the heavy door, realizes the building is being used for staffing registration, shakes her head and leaves as though she's smelled something putrid. The door bangs closed, leaving Melissa, her bags, her hurt ribs, and dented ego outside in the cold. She'd read on the plane about celebrities vacationing at ski resorts, but she didn't think she'd bump into one. Hopefully, she's not in my chalet, Melissa thinks. Then again, it would provide an opportunity to serve her spoiled milk or something—if you were that kind of vindictive person—which I'm not. Melissa wonders if all the guests will be as rude as Celia Sinclair. The travel literature made it sound as if the staff and the guests were a team, working and playing together. Melissa sighs.
"If you're going to let every famous face here get the best of you, you're in for a long season." Leaning back onto the side of the log building is a guy in an orange and black ski jacket. If she had her glasses on, Melissa would be able to see his face better, but her glasses are in her bag and after the long flight she didn't want to put in her contacts. Because of the lack of visual clarity, Melissa looks at this guy—but registers the black and orange jacket more than his face.
"I'm not a total pushover, if that's what you're implying," Melissa says and moves her shoulders back so she doesn't appear to be slumping, even though she feels sluggish. It's been only ten minutes since the bus brakes squealed to a stop and she's already been cast off by a blond Brit named Dove and dissed by tabloid royalty. Maybe coming here was a mistake, she thinks, but at least I'm starting fresh. No one knows what went down last year—it was miles, mountains, and a year in the past. She's almost so distracted by her thoughts that she's surprised to hear the ski guy still talking to her.
"I would never imply anything—I don't even know you." He stands up from his leaning position and saunters over to Melissa. When he's close enough that she can make out his stunning features, she sees he's the kind of guy she'd read about in a magazine, not talk to up close. She instantly has to busy herself with a brochure in her bag to keep from staring at him too much. His face is slope-tanned, a different kind of color than beach-tanned, a bit ruddy with caramel-colored cheeks, and his smile makes Melissa feel as though she's missed a step. "Hey—I'm ..."
Shouts from near the parking lot interrupt his introduction. "JMB—come on! We're heading out!" Guys in matching orange and black coats wave to him.
Melissa sticks out her hand, determined not to miss this opportunity with the random hot tiger-coat guy. "JMB? Good to meet you."
"We didn't," he says, his voice serious. But then he gives her a grin that makes her fingers shake. "A meeting would mean exchanging names...."
"Oh, right." Melissa wishes there were a guidebook for handling talking to hot ski instructors. Or a guide to dealing with guys in general—it certainly would have helped last year. Then she figures there probably is a guide like that, but reading it—studying it even—wouldn't help her. She's just naturally tongue-tied—and not in the way so many of the girls got last season.
"See you?" JMB stares at her. His eyes are standard-issue blue at first, but when she looks more closely, Melissa sees flecks of green, a few dots of yellow in each. JMB, she thinks, is the kind of guy whom she could sum up with the word breathtaking if she wrote a guidebook describing him. And ... leaving, she realizes. JMB takes long strides toward the parking lot, no doubt to join his ski buddies in town.
"I'm Mesilla!" she shouts. As soon as the word is out of her mouth, she starts to crack up at herself.
"Fine. Now we've been properly introduced. Nice to meet you, Mesilla!" JMB shouts into a cupped hand. "I'll make sure to remember that."
Melissa can't believe her own verbal clumsiness. Mesilla? He thinks my name's Mesilla? But then, before she can dwell on that mistake too long, she's amazed at everything—the azure skies, the crisp air, the fact that this gorgeous random guy just talked to her out of the blue. Already Melissa can tell everything is changing—or about to.
From the nearby chimneys, smoke filters out in wispy lines, and the mountains above are majestic rather than ominous. She looks down at the brochure in her hands—the one sent by Les Trois staffing—"Whether you're at Les Trois Alpes for one season or many—you'll never forget it!" Maybe Dove was wrong, Melissa thinks, maybe you can believe what you read.CHAPTER 2
Attitude takes up space.
"Next!" The woman behind the registration desk points to the boy in front of Melissa and he takes his sweet time going to her. "Move that slowly on the job and you won't last a regular day, let alone the holiday rush."
The scene in the log cabin building—which Melissa now knows is called the Main House even though apparently no one lives in it—is a mess of suitcases and staff, some standing, some sprawled on their luggage. Some are leaving—and others, like Melissa, are just arriving and waiting for their placements. One couple is lip-locked to oblivion; another girl is in tears saying good-bye to her boyfriend.
Excerpted from Balancing Acts by Emily Franklin. Copyright © 2007 Emily Franklin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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