Read an Excerpt
Stunning twenty-five-year-old Jessica Harrington couldn't believe the beauty of the Aspen, Colorado, resort areas. She and her parents, Roman and Sahara, and her older sister, Jennifer, and her husband, Samuel Ellington, were actually spending the Christmas and New Year holidays in this wonderland. The other family members had been to Aspen several times, during different seasons of the year, but Jessica's acrophobia, her fear of heights, had kept her away.
Jessica had finally learned to conquer her fear of heights and close spaces. There was no place or tight space on earth she wouldn't now dare to venture to. Flying in an airplane had never been a problem for her. Driving up into the mountains and dealing with heights had been a major one, though, for as far back as she could remember. Just getting up on a six-foot ladder had once scared her silly.
The plush condominium/town house resort of Snow-mass was located in the heart of Snowmass Village at Aspen. Base elevation of Snowmass Mountain was 7,870 feet, with a vertical rise of 2,030 feet.
Not so long ago those were heights Jessica wouldn't have even considered taking on. Now, she couldn't be happier to have made the trip to this winter paradise. She could hardly wait for all the festive holiday events to begin.
The Harrington family was joining up with Roman's lifelong best friend, Jacque Chamberlain, his wife, Sandra, and their only son, twenty-six-year-old Weston. The two families would share separate three-bedroom town houses across the corridor from each other.
Jennifer and Samuel had leased a two-bedroom condo in the same resort, in the opposite building. A couple of other families were also joining thesmall group, good friends of the Chamberlains, who were not due to arrive in Aspen until the day after Christmas. The Carlyle and Holloway families and their two teenagers, a boy and girl, had also leased town houses at Snowmass.
Sahara stepped out on the balcony and lowered her arm around Jessica's shoulder. "Isn't it breathtaking way up here? Are you okay with the heights?"
Jessica reached up and patted her mother's hand. "I'm fine. It's a wonderful vision to behold. The stark whiteness is near blinding. Haven't decided to try skiing, though. That may be a little too much bravery for my first trip up such a high mountain. Sledding sounds more interesting to me as an alternative to skiing. I think it'll be fun."
"Everything we do will be fun. The Chamberlains should be here any minute. Are you nervous about seeing Weston? You guys haven't been together since your teens."
Jessica shrugged with nonchalance. "Nothing to be nervous about. He's probably the same nerdy guy he was back then. We never did see eye to eye. I don't expect a different outcome this trip."
"Oh, Jess, I hope you don't act nasty with him. Pulling hair is what most boys do at that age. Are you still holding the pigtail incident against him?"
"Incident, my foot! He nearly scalped me, pulling my hair so hard. But I don't hold it against him." Jessica sighed. "Hope I meet an interesting guy up here, but there won't be anything happening between Wes and me. That's Dad and Mr. Jacque's dream. Not ours. I'm only here out of all the guilt you guys made me feel about going away with my girlfriends for Christmas."
"Guilt was not our intent. That's nonsense. We've never been apart for Christmas. We're not starting now. Just concentrate on having a good time. Don't put restrictions on yourself. I'm going in to wake up Dad. He wants to be up and dressed when Jacque and Sandra arrive. Jenny and Sam will be over any minute. We'll all go to dinner once everyone gets here. Besides, you and Wes might find something in common. Who knows?" Sahara kissed her daughter's cheek before stepping back indoors.
"Fat chance," Jessica mumbled under her breath. The only thing she and Weston had in common was their intense dislike for each other. She hoped he had at least grown up some. His immaturity had gotten on her nerves the last time they'd seen each other in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Jessica shivered as a blast of cold air hit her head-on, her hazel eyes watering at the shock. "Wow!" She didn't waste another minute getting back inside where a warm fire roared in the stone fireplace. She hadn't been used to this type of cold weather where she grew up, although California did get lots of snow up in the mountainous areas.
The Christmas music playing on the CD player was so nice. Jessica loved Nat King Cole's mesmerizing voice. Her parents always played songs by him, Johnny Mathis and other singing greats during the holidays. This was the season her family practically lived for all year long. They had never visited a ski resort area at Christmastime because Jessica had only recently conquered her fear of heights. Seeing the beauty of the mountains had her repeatedly thanking God for what He had helped her accomplish.
While Jessica warmed her hands by the fire, rubbing them together vigorously, she enjoyed the blazing show of colors. The oranges, yellows, reds and warm blues helped to further light up the romance of the candle lit room. Her mother had set out most of the candles she'd brought along from home soon after they had checked into the resort. Sunset had occurred over thirty minutes ago.
The sound of a key being inserted into the door caused Jessica to jump involuntarily. She figured it had to be Jennifer and Sam. Sahara must have heard the key, too, because she had just come running into the room.
It always gave Jessica a warm feeling when her mother was affectionate with her and Jennifer. Neither of their parents had ever failed to show unconditional love for the girls. Sahara and Roman also thought of Samuel as a son, not just a son-in-law. They had wanted at least one male child, but they still felt incredibly blessed to have had such beautiful, healthy daughters.
Jessica had light hair and was fair-complexioned like her father. Jennifer had the same olive skin color and dark hair as her mother. Everyone knew they were sisters despite their hair and skin coloring. Two years apart in age, both Jessica and Jennifer had sparkling hazel eyes and full-dimpled smiles.
"Hey, Jess," Jennifer sang out, "how you doing with the heights so far?"
"So far so good. It hasn't bothered me yet."
"Then it probably won't." Samuel crossed the room and gave Jessica a warm hug. "Proud of you, sis."
"Thanks, Sam. I'm proud of me, too."
"We're all proud of you," Sahara said, smiling brightly at Jessica.
The hard knock on the door caused Jessica to speed from the room. This time she was sure it was the Chamberlains. She had intended to comb her hair and put on fresh makeup long before they had arrived. Her face felt naked and a tad raw. For sure, she would have to keep her face moisturized against the cold weather. Sunblock protection was also a must. The cold air outside had done more than freeze her tail off.
All the animated greetings could be heard from the bedroom where Jessica repaired her makeup. The love between her father and Jacque Chamberlain was amazing. The men had grown up on the same street in southern California and had been as close as brothers. Amos and Gardenia Harrington, Roman's parents, had treated Jacque like a son, making him very welcome in their home. Jacque's mother had been ill a good bit of his youth so he had spent a lot of time with the Harringtons. After she'd died when he was seventeen, they had taken him in. His father was a long-distance trucker and had lived on the road a good bit of the time, even more after his wife had died.
Roman and Jacque had also attended the same college and had ended up working in the same profession. The two men had made their fortunes in real estate and had high hopes of merging their two companies in the near future. They also still hoped that Jessica and Weston would one day merge their families in holy matrimony.
Jacque planned to move back to California from New York City within the next year or so. He had grown tired of the harsh winter weather and longed to be back under the extremely agreeable Southern California sun. He had only moved to New York because his wife had wanted to be near her parents. Sandra's wishes were his commands. Jacque had often said he lived to please his wife and only son, Weston.
After taking one last glance in the mirror, Jessica headed for the bedroom door. She couldn't wait to get through the trauma of seeing Weston. She hated that she had to be around him for the next ten days, but she'd do anything to make her parents happy. Anything but marry the man her father and his best friend had in mind for her. The two friends had always said their kids would marry. Jessica didn't even think Weston was marriage material, sure that he had grown up only to become all into himself.
Jessica was pulled into the warm embrace of Jacque and then Sandra before she had barely stepped into the room. She had seen them a couple of years ago, when they had visited in California. They were really nice people. Like her parents, they were big on doling out loads of love and affection.
Weston had the most stunned looked on his face as he stepped forward and brought Jessica to him for what he had planned on as a quick hug. Her warmth went straight through himand he ended up holding her longer than anticipated. His mouth felt bone-dry as he affectionately pecked her on the cheek. He couldn't believe this was the same person he used to taunt and rib unmercifully. Weston cringed when he thought of how he had nearly torn off her pigtail.
It had shocked Weston to see that Jessica was no longer the pudgy, clumsy, tomboyish teenager he remembered. The ugly duckling had turned into a magnificent swan, beautiful and graceful. He was so taken with her, but he had to hide it for fear of her shooting him down.
It wasn't as though Jessica and Weston had gotten along famously as children; he wasn't so sure they could be amicable as adults. The two of them thrown together every single day and evening for the next ten days would make it doubly hard for him to hide his wild attraction to her. Weston could only hope Jessica was as sweet as she was beautiful. Would wonders never cease!
Jessica clearly remembered Weston as a gangly, acne-faced, nerdy teenager, one who had possessed very little personality, if any at all. She nearly fainted when she first laid eyes on the drop-dead gorgeous, magnificent specimen he had turned into. It was then Jessica admitted that deep down inside she had always had a serious crush on Weston, though the feelings on his part had never been mutual.
Oh, how beautiful are those long lashes and dreamy eyes? She tried hard not to stare at him. It was obvious to her that the boy was in the gym on a regular basis. Muscles were bulging in all the right places on his rock-hard anatomy. When had he been blessed with such dark, softly piercing eyes and full, pouting lips? Her new attraction to him was as instant as his had been to her. His curly hair looked soft and silky, making her desperately want to drag her fingers recklessly through the strands.
Jessica tried hard to hide the tumultuous feelings inside her. She knew she would have constant thoughts of him whether they were together or apart. She knew for a fact she'd find it pretty hard to sleep at night with him right across the corridor. Thank goodness they weren't sleeping in the same town house. That had been suggested initially. Jessica had been the one to protest the arrangement vehemently, vowing not to make the trip to Aspen if she had to sleep in the same space with the nuisance of a boy she recalled all too well. Now she had to wonder.
As if Jessica and Weston were the only two people in the room, they had become oblivious of the other family members, until Roman had asked if everyone was ready to go to dinner. She was happy for the timely interruption. Her uncontrollable thoughts had taken her to places she had once dreamed of on a daily basis, pining away for one Weston Chamberlain. Her thoughts about him had been torrid ones. That hadn't changed.
In the car with her parents, Jessica suddenly felt so darn empty. It was as if someone had suddenly snatched away from her the warmth of intense sunlight that had nearly blinded her earlier. Her reaction to Weston was impossible. How could she feel like this about someone she didn't even like? Oh, she liked him, all right. Jessica hated admitting how strong her liking was for him. Jessica couldn't believe how silly she felt. The passage of time hadn't changed a thing.
At the restaurant, it really surprised Jessica when Weston sat down in the wingback chair next to hers at the long table. There were so many empty chairs he could have sat in, but he had opted for the one closest to her.
The others in the Harrington party were all milling about, pointing out their favorite points of interest. The restaurant had high, vaulted ceilings and a massive wood-burning stone and marble fireplace, a definite focal point from nearly every seat in the house. A large rustic bar also made an interesting topic of conversation. The latest tunes were piped in over a state-of-the-art audio system.
"So, Jessica, how've you been?
Long time no see for us." Too long, she thought, wishing she had some kind of control on her wretched emotions. She found it so hard to believe her heart was still going gaga over this man. "I know. Busy with work and all. Since we're both in real estate, you know how long the hours can be. Sometimes I overdo it. I always find one more thing to do before I go home. What's up with you?"
"Pretty much the same as it is with you. I stay busy at the job. Guess that's why I don't have much of a social life."
What was Weston trying to tell her, if anything? Did very little social life mean no steady girl? Jessica had to wonder. She didn't know how to respond to what he had said, so she said nothing. She wouldn't be surprised if women were lined up to go out with him. Weston was really that good-looking and he hadn't annoyed her once thus far.
As the rest of the party came and took seats at the table, Jessica and Weston's conversation was abruptly interrupted. This time she wasn't too relieved about the disruption, but she then figured they had lots of time to catch up on each other's lives. She was certainly eager to find out everything she could about the new and improved Weston.
A waiter and waitress came up as soon as everyone was settled down at the table. Menus were quickly passed around to each of the patrons. The waitress took the drink orders and then left the food orders up to the waiter. Teamwork was the obvious intent.
In a matter of minutes everyone at the table had ordered their meals.
Jessica was impressed by the quick service. She had been to restaurants with large groups of people, where it had seemed to take forever to get the orders taken. When she had looked around the place a moment ago, she saw there was no shortage of waiters and waitresses. Under-staffing was a big problem in a lot of restaurants, even the extremely popular ones. It was not a problem here at the illustrious Rustic House Restaurant.