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"So, Mr. PerryBryanwhat are your thoughts on chocolate?"
The question, and the throaty, velvety tones in which it was delivered, caught Bryan Perry, new assistant manager of the Elevation Hotel at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, off guard. He sat back in his chair behind his desk in the hotel offices and stretched his legs out in front of him. This voice was worth getting comfortable and savoring, even if the woman it belonged toone Angela Krizovadid ask strange questions. "I haven't thought much about chocolate," he answered.
"Then you haven't tasted my chocolates."
The sexy purr did things to his insides. Who was this goddess and how had he lived in Crested Butte for seven years without encountering her? "Are you offering samples?" The remark popped out before he could censor it. Thank God his manager, Carl Phelps, wasn't within hearing range. He'd probably see this mild flirtation as yet another reminder that Bryan, until recently a part-time night auditor and full-time ski bum, was not exactly management material.
"That could be arranged," Angela said smoothly. "We should probably get together anyway."
Bryan's heart sped up in anticipation. Being attracted to a woman based solely on her voice was a new experience for him, but anyone who sounded this sexy was bound to be the woman of his dreams. "I'd like that," he said, doing his best to imbue the words with some sex appeal of his own.
"I need to look over the ballroom, and we can discuss decorations and other refreshments for the fund-raiser," Angela said.
Right. The community theater fund-raiser. The whole reason behind this conversation. He sat up straight again, reality cooling his fantasies. "Good idea. What day works for you?" He pretended to study his desk planner, though all he really saw was the vision of a sultry blondeor brunette, he wasn't pickythat Angela's voice had conjured.
"How about tomorrow afternoon? I have a girl who works part-time in my shop then."
"Which shop is that?" he asked, partly to refresh his memory and partly to keep the woman on the line. That voice
"The Chocolate Moose. On Elk Avenue."
Bryan nodded. Crested Butte's main street was lined with candy-colored Victorian era and replica-Victorian buildings that catered to locals and tourists alike. Not having a big sweet tooth, he'd never been inside the Chocolate Moose. Now maybe that would change.
"I asked about chocolate because, while I know the hotel usually supplies the catering for these events, I want to provide a selection of desserts from my shop," Angela continued. "You can provide everything else, but I want to be in charge of chocolate."
Company policy, which Phelps had drummed into Bryan's head daily since his first hour on the job, stated that no outside food was to be brought into the hotel for special events. But hey, the woman was a chocolate specialist, and what Phelps didn't know "I'm sure that won't be a problem," Bryan said.
"Great. Why don't I meet you at the hotel tomorrow afternoon? About three o'clock?"
"Great. I'll look forward to it." Bryan was still smiling when he hung up the phone.
"You really need to lay off the 900 numbers during working hours, dude."
He looked up and suppressed a groan as his best friend, a snowboarder who went by a single name, Zephyr, sauntered into the office. Dressed in black-and-orange camo boarding pants and jacket, the ends of his blond dreadlocks damp from snow, Zephyr contrasted alarmingly with the pale mauve walls and elegant cherry furniture of the hotel offices. "I was talking with a client," Bryan said.
"A sexy, female client from the look on your face." Zephyr sat on the corner of Bryan's desk, shoving aside a stapler and a stack of memo pads to make room for his rear end. "I guess every job has its perks, even this one."
"Yeah, perks like a regular paycheck," Bryan said.
Zephyr snorted. "I guess I'm just not a regular paycheck kind of guy. I prefer to live more on the edge."
"That's because you have a girlfriend who supports you." Zephyr's girlfriend, Trish, owned a successful coffee shop on Elk Avenue.
"Hey, I contribute. Besides, Trish is the kind of woman who needs to take care of someone. I'm helping her fulfill her destiny."
Bryan grinned. "Who would have thought you'd be anyone's destiny?"
"So truth, dude, how's it going?" Zephyr looked around the office. "This looks like a really stuffy scene."
"It's not so bad," Bryan said. "And it feels good to finally be putting all that expensive education to work."
"A college education is never wasted. At least that's what I always tell my parents. Anyway, I never saw you as a management type. The whole all-work-and-no-play thing is such a drag."
"Hey, I'm still me," Bryan protested. "Just me who can afford to eat something better than ramen noodles five nights a week. And me with better clothes." He smoothed the lapels of the suit, for which he'd paid extra to have tailored to a custom fit.
"Clothes, but not style." Zephyr adjusted his parka. "Only a few of us really know how to wear clothes."
"Bryan, did you make those phone calls I asked you to make?"
Bryan straightened as Carl Phelps, the manager of the Elevation Hotel, entered the office. Carl stared at Zephyr, one eyebrow raised in question. "Is this a friend of yours?" he asked.
"He was just leaving." Bryan shoved Zephyr off the corner of the desk.
Zephyr landed on his feet and strode toward Carl, hand outstretched. "I'm Zephyr," he said. "I'm here scouting locations for my new cable television show, The Z Hour. Maybe you've heard of it?"
Carl slowly shook his head.
Zephyr did a three-sixty turn. "This place has possibilities. I could see setting up the cameras in the lobby, maybe doing a little feature."
Carl stared at Bryan over Zephyr's shoulder, silently telegraphing the question, Is this guy for real? Bryan managed a smile and a nod. Zephyr was real, all right; he just made his own reality.
"It was great to meet you." Zephyr grabbed Carl's hand and pumped it. "We'll talk later. I'll have my people call your people. We'll do lunch." He strolled out of the office, pausing to collect a mint from a bowl on the credenza by the door.
Bryan sank back in his chair, suppressing a grin. Nothing like a visit from Zephyr to liven up a dull afternoon.
"Did you take care of those phone calls?" Carl asked.
"Oh, yeah. Yes, sir." Bryan moved the stapler and memo pads back into place. "The contractor will be in to repair the dining room window on Monday, and I'm meeting with Ms. Krizova tomorrow afternoon about the community theater fund-raiser." A meeting that would no doubt be the highlight of his day. Maybe his week.
"Good." Carl sat in the chair across from Brian's desk. "You're doing a fine job." He glanced toward the door. "Was your friend serious? Does he really have a television show?"
"He does. It's sort of a talk show-local affairs thing he started this summer. So far it's been really successful." That was the thing about Zephyrhe looked and acted like a bum, but there was a real brain underneath that shaggy hair, and he had the personality to carry off anything.
Bryan was more reserved and lately, the take-life-as-it-comes philosophy hadn't been very satisfying. He was ready to go out and make things happen, hence the decision to trade in his ripped jeans and knit caps for a suit and tie and finally use the degree he'd earned seven years earlier. The day after attending his third wedding of the summer, he'd awakened in the morning and realized he was ready to grow up. He wanted the whole picturethe steady job, the house, the wife and kids, everything.
In some ways, it was the most radical thing he'd ever done. And one of the hardest.
"I suppose appearing on that kind of show could be good publicity," Carl said. "What do you think?"
Bryan considered the question. "It would be good," he said. "Zephyr pulls in a pretty diverse audience, plus the hotel could benefit from the exposure. It would help us seem more a part of the community, instead of some big corporate interloper." The Elevation was relatively new on the Crested Butte scene; Carl had arrived only a month before hiring Bryan.
"Exactly." Carl nodded. "You've got the instincts I was looking for when I hired you." He leaned back in his chair, hands folded on his stomach. "There were people here who had their doubts, considering your lack of experience, but I have a good sense for these things."
"I appreciate you giving me a chance," Bryan said. If only other people would be more willing to see him differently. He'd heard some of his friends had actually made bets on how long he'd last in this new lifestyle.
"This theater fund-raiser is exactly the sort of community function I hope we'll do more of," Carl continued. "I'm counting on you to see that it all goes smoothly."
"I'm looking forward to it." It didn't hurt that sultry-voiced Angela Krizova was his liaison with the theater group. She'd sounded young and sexy on the phone, and she had her own successful business. Zephyr might give him a hard time about being all work and no play, but Bryan wasn't opposed to mixing business with pleasure, especially where an appealing woman was concerned. Maybe Angela was the ideal woman for a young professional on his way up.
"Let me guess. You couldn't afford a beach vacation, so you decided to make your own."
Angela Krizova looked up from the work table behind the front counter of the Chocolate Moose at her friend from the Mountain Theatre, Tanya Bledso, who had just come in from the snowstorm raging outside. Angela adjusted the silk orchid she'd tucked behind her left ear, wiped her hands on her Hawaiian print apron, and gave a hula shimmy as she went to greet her friend. "If I can't get to paradise, then paradise can come to me," she said. "What do you think?"
Tanya unwound a pink woolen scarf from around her throat and looked around at the candy shop turned tropical escape. Jimmy Buffett crooned in the background and the four tables in front were covered in tropical-print fabric and strewn with silk flowers. A placard by the cash register announced a special on macadamia nut truffles, and the stuffed moose head on the back wall wore sunglasses and a colorful lei. With the heat turned up to seventy-five, condensation had formed on the front windows, obscuring the sight of winter.
"Nice," Tanya said at last. "Can I stay here until June?"
"Next week I may decide I feel like traveling to Scotland, but this week, it's Hawaii comes to Elk Avenue," Angela said. "Tell all your friends." She moved back behind the counter. "What can I get you?"
"I was going to ask for hot chocolate, but it seems inappropriate now." Tanya sat at one of the tables, her gloves, parka, scarf and hat piled in a chair beside her.
"How about a non-alcoholic chocolate colada and a couple of the chocolate gingersnaps I just pulled out of the oven?"
"Sounds heavenly. And fattening." Tanya made a face. "I'll try a small one."
"One more reason I'm glad I'm not a leading lady," Angela said as she dumped coconut milk, pineapple juice and chocolate syrup into a blender. "Nobody cares if the heroine's sidekick wears a size sixteen." Besides, if she'd been that concerned with being skinny, she wouldn't have started a business that required dealing with sugar, cream, butter and other luscious ingredients all day.
"You're the best sidekick I ever had," Tanya said. "You can act rings around some of the people I worked with in L.A."
"Can we print that in the playbill of the next Mountain Theatre production?" Angela splashed skim milk into the blender and added a scoop of ice. "Former Hollywood star says Crested Butte actress has talent."
"I wasn't a star." Tanya raised her voice to be heard over the roar of the blender. "That's why I came back to C.B. Annie and I were practically starving to death in L.A."
"I'm sure glad you came back." Angela poured the drink into a malt glass, added a cherry and a straw. "The theater has a whole new life since you showed up." And since the Mountain Theatre was a big part of her life, she was doubly grateful to Tanya for her role in revitalizing the troupe.
"I've had help," Tanya said. "Your idea to have a chocolate extravaganza for a fund-raiser was great." She accepted the drink and took a long pull at the straw. "Wow. You've got to put this on the menu for the fund-raiser. With rum. How's that coming, by the way?"
"This afternoon I spoke with a guy at the Elevation Hotel who's supposed to help coordinate everything." Angela smiled at the memory of the flirtatious conversation. When she'd contacted the hotel and been told the assistant manager would call her back she'd expected to hear from some older stuffed shirt, not a young-sounding, sexy guy.
"What's his name?"
"Bryan Perry." A name she wouldn't forget any time soon. "I don't know him." But she was definitely looking forward to meeting him. She wanted to see if the real man lived up to her telephone fantasies.
"You need to get out more," Tanya said. "Or see someone besides theater people."
"I like all kinds of people. It's just that between this shop and the theater, I don't have a lot of time." She sat across from Tanya and helped herself to one of the chocolate ginger-snaps. They were baked from a new recipe she'd developed, and if she did say so herself, they were delicious. "Do you know Bryan?" she asked.
"I know ofhim." Tanya reached for a cookie. "He's one of those guys this town is full ofgood-looking, fun and totally irresponsible."
Okay, she'd already pictured the cute and fun part, but irresponsible? "A guy like that is in charge of our fund-raiser at the hotel? That doesn't sound good."
"That is strange," Angela agreed. "I didn't even know he had a job. But he's a nice guy."
"Wait a minute." She studied Tanya more closely. "Have you dated him?"
Tanya shook her head. "Not me. Divorced women with kids do not attract party guys like that. But I've seen him around. I can't believe you haven't. You've been here, what, almost three years? And I've only been back in town a few months."
Angela nodded. "Yeah, but if he doesn't buy chocolate or hang out at the theater, he's not on my radar. Though maybe I should expand my horizons a little."
"This fund-raiser might be the excuse to get to know him better."
"Maybe." Flirting with a guy over the phone was a long way from starting a real relationshipsomething she'd successfully avoided for three years now.
"Not interested in settling down?" Tanya sighed. "I can't say it worked out all that well for me. Of course, I did get Annie out of the marriage. But she's about the only high point of an otherwise wasted seven years."