Semi-pro SBXer Luke Madison can't afford any distractions. He's chasing his dreams in Aspen, not realizing the dire consequences of his actions. Now, if Luke can't pull off a miracle, his family could lose everything, and there's no way he'll let that happen.
No pressure or anything.
Charlotte Brown is determined to become a doctor
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.55(d)|
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The first day at a ski resort was like a first date: a little scary and full of potential. It didn't matter if it was a resort you'd ridden a hundred times in winters past — the same questions always popped up. Would she be sweet or sassy? Would she give up her secrets nice and easy, or were you going to have to work for it? Would the day end well, or would you crash and burn?
Luke Madison's fingers tingled at the thought. He'd boarded these slopes for years, but more than that, he liked a challenge. Lived for them. This lady was going to treat him just fine.
He climbed out of his Jeep and sucked down a deep breath of mountain air. Snowmass rose majestically in front of him. All those trails, just begging to be owned. And he would own them. Every last one.
God, he loved Aspen in the winter.
He opened the tailgate of the Jeep and sat to change into his boots. His snowboard was freshly waxed and ready, gleaming in the winter sun. "Not much longer, gorgeous. You and me, all the way."
This was the year he and his board made history.
Ever since the X Games had dropped snowboardcross as one of its events, Luke's goal had changed to nationals, then the World Cup, and maybe the Olympics. He'd been training under everyone's nose for years, doing regionals and building up his reputation, but this was the year he jumped in with both feet. And he couldn't do that from Arizona State, where he was a junior. He had to do it here. At home.
Buttermilk resort had the highest-profile snowboardcross regional of the season this year, and all the big names were coming in to up their point totals before nationals. Lucky for Luke, Buttermilk resort was practically next door to his beloved Snowmass. Maybe it was fate, but he couldn't help but think the stars were aligning or something.
After winning a regional last spring, and another in southwest Colorado in December, Luke had finally qualified for the bigger events. And, God, he was ready to step up.
He yawned as he checked over his bindings. He'd driven all night to make it to the mountain by eight. He could've gone home to his parents' place, or even waited until daybreak to leave Tempe, but he needed a couple of good rides before he faced his family. They had no idea he'd already dropped out of school and planned to stay in Aspen to compete in the SBX circuit. Dealing with that would be pretty ugly, and he wasn't up for that mess this early in the morning. His news could wait. The mountain wanted him now.
Grinning, he hefted his board onto his shoulder, locked the Jeep, and headed for the gondola. He was going straight to the top. He needed a big rush, and only the Cirque — Snowmass's infamous black-diamond run at the top of the mountain — would do. That trail was the best the resort had to offer someone with excellent balance and a reckless personality.
He attached his lift pass to his zipper and jumped into the queue. Three spots ahead, two blondes about his age were checking him out. He smiled, wondering if he should do anything more about it. He was cordially required to have dinner with his family that night, and it'd undoubtedly turn into a shit storm, so why not line up something interesting for later?
One of the girls beckoned for him to join them, and he stepped out of line. Yes, the evening was definitely looking up.
"Luke? What are you doing here already?" a girl behind him asked.
Luke's stomach did a slow-motion somersault, and he let out a ragged breath. The girls he'd planned on joining were staring at someone over his shoulder, both of them pouting. Yeah, Zoey Miller had that effect. Even pretty girls knew Zoey was in another league entirely.
He turned, cursing his bad luck. Why was she here? "Hey Z, how's it hanging?"
She shook her head, and her blue eyes crinkled from her bemused smile. "I thought you were still on the road."
He walked away from the queue, Zoey in tow, knowing he had no chance with the two girls in line now. "The mountain was calling my name. I couldn't wait."
Zoey looked almost the same as she had last Christmas, but there was a subtle change. Now there was a glow about her, a confidence, that hadn't been there before. Zoey was beautiful, in a stop-traffic kind of way. Blond, blue eyed, with legs that stretched a mile, she looked like she'd stepped off the page of a magazine in her green ski gear and hot-pink cap. Her new confidence only added to it.
Luke's heart twisted.
The one who got away.
"So, uh, is Parker with you?" he asked, looking over Zoey's head for his younger brother.
"He needed something from the car, so he ran back." She brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "You want to ride with us today?"
Luke stiffened. No, he definitely did not want to ride with them. He'd convinced himself that betting Parker to see who could win Zoey's heart first had been all fun and games. He'd even been a little proud of the kid when he'd come out on top. Zoey was Parker's childhood best friend, after all. It made sense for the two of them to end up together.
At least, that's what Luke told himself.
"I'm going up to the ... uh ..." He froze. Crap. Zoey probably didn't need reminding of her disastrous run on the Cirque last year.
That had been Luke's fault, too.
"You know, you can say 'the Cirque' without me being all weird about it." Zoey patted his arm. It was the kind of pat sisters gave their brothers.
"Okay, then, I'm going up to the Cirque. I need a good freeride." That, and with snowboardcross season in full swing, he needed the practice, but he couldn't tell her that. Not yet.
"Then we'll take another run," Parker said, coming up behind Zoey. He wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her temple. "Grinder?"
"Ooh! Yes! That one's always fun." Zoey turned back to Luke, her eyes, shining. "Sure you don't want to come with?"
Luke watched his brother's reaction. Parker tried to hide it, but he clearly didn't want Luke anywhere near Zoey. And he had damn good reason. Still, that was going to make a complicated Christmas holiday even weirder, since the Millers and Madisons always celebrated together.
And when had the kid grown again? "No, I'm good. But, Parker ... you look taller."
"Grew an inch my first semester at Colorado State." Parker shrugged. He was leaner than Luke but now had almost three inches on his older brother. He had to be six-four.
Parker gave Luke a smug grin. "What, does it bother you?"
Luke gritted his teeth. Hell, yes,it does. "No. It was good seeing you, asshat. You, too, Zoey. I'm headed up."
He turned his back on them and headed to the gondola queue, wishing he'd gotten away before they'd shown up. After the disaster of last Christmas, he hadn't been mentally prepared to see them. Hopefully it wouldn't ruin his ride.
Luke stepped off the lift at the Cirque, staring down the mountain. The view was spectacular, begging to be taken in, but he'd come to work. He skated to the edge, adjusted his goggles, and looked down at the trail.
And just stood there, off-balance, nerves jangling, unable to force himself over the side.
He knew what it was — this was the scene of the crime, and he couldn't help flashing back to the moment Parker had come flying off the trail in a bitter snowstorm. Luke hadn't even been able to ask him what had happened before Parker had decked him — the first time — saying Ski Patrol was taking Zoey down on a stretcher and he was hurrying to meet them.
Luke clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to let go of the spike of adrenaline that ran through his veins whenever he thought about it. Seeing Zoey hurt had gotten into his head.
Damn it, he'd hoped things would be smooth when he came back home, that he'd be able to stand next to Zoey and not feel wound up. It had been a year already, for God's sake. He had enough to deal with later without his past sins biting him in the ass on his first run of the day.
"Bro, wake up!"
Luke shook himself, then turned. Two boarders who looked more like surfers with their long hair and wildly printed ski pants stood impatiently behind him. "Give me a sec."
"Dude. Let us drop in, yeah?" The guy didn't wait for an answer. He tipped over the side with a whoop of joy. His friend cheerfully flipped Luke off and followed.
Luke snorted a laugh. What douchebags. At one time — as early as last year — he'd been the biggest D-bag on Snowmass. At least he'd learned that much about himself. Still, standing frozen at a trailhead was embarrassing. He needed to let his swagger proceed him on the mountain, remind everyone that Luke Madison owned Snowmass.
Without being a douche, preferably.
Finally, he took a deep breath, hit his stopwatch, and plunged over the side. The track was gorgeous — he and the surfer dudes must've been the first ones up on the Cirque today — and the powder was perfect for cuts. But this wasn't a joyride — he was on the clock.
Luke made himself small, crouching to minimize his drag and maximize his speed. He kept focused on the line of the trail. That was key — the boarder who found the perfect line won heats.
He could hear one of the guys in front of him, his board swishing against the snow. Not fast enough. Luke let his knees go loose, absorbing the shock so his board would maintain good contact. The wind bit at his face, scouring his cheeks under his goggles.
Follow the line. His board tilted slightly, but Luke fought for control and stayed on course. Follow the line.
He zipped past the slower surfer, returning his middle finger, then leaned in hard on the next few turns to catch his buddy. The look on the guy's face was priceless, but it went by in a blink. Luke was fast as hell today, and it felt good.
Finally, the end of the trail came up. Luke crossed the boundary and skidded to a halt while checking his watch. Eight seconds over his personal best last year. That would do.
The first surfer stopped slightly down the hill from Luke. "Dude, that was some kind of something up there." He watched his friend come down and slide in next to him. "You're a rocket."
"You training for something?" his friend asked. "'Cause there's no other reason to ruin a sweet ride going down like a bullet, yeah?"
Luke nodded, trying to slow his heart rate. "There's a snowboardcross regional over at Buttermilk in early January. Working up my speed, trying to qualify for nationals."
"SBX? Righteous." The first surfer gave him a fist bump and started for the blue run that would take them back to the bottom of the mountain. His buddy followed.
Luke headed back to the Cirque lift. He needed more practice before he met his trainer tomorrow.
By one, Luke's legs had turned to jelly. He'd done plenty of time in the gym, and he had hit the resorts in northern Arizona with a few friends, but nothing compared to the double-black extremes on Snowmass. Nothing except an SBX course. Those would have you begging for your mama.
He stopped into the new café at the resort, looking for caffeine to steel himself for dinner at home. His entire body ached, like he'd tried to run a marathon on no training, but he felt more alive right now than he had for weeks. Months, really.
The café was crowded, and a harassed-looking server pointed him toward the bar when he told her he was on his own. It was a nice place ... part diner, part coffeehouse. It smelled like heaven: coffee, pastries, and bacon. Luke inhaled deeply in appreciation. He'd have to try it out again for breakfast when he came up in the morning.
And maybe for all his meals the next few weeks after his family found out why he was really in Aspen.
"This coffee is cold," the snotty teenage girl was saying, holding out her cup. "Fix it."
Charlotte Brown ground her teeth and took the cup, fighting the urge to explain that they were at a ski resort in the middle of freaking winter. Everything was cold. "I hate rich kids," she muttered under her breath as she stomped back to the service station by the kitchen.
"What was that?" Evangeline asked, grinning.
Charlotte leaned against the wall and stretched. "Some seventeen-year-old doesn't seem to understand that coffee gets cold if you nurse a single cup for an hour in a mountain resort café."
"There are some frightfully silly kids up here this week. Winter break." Evangeline rolled her eyes. "But they do tip. Most of the time."
"This one better." Charlotte refilled the coffee mug and placed it on a tray. "The things I do to pay for medical school."
"Hey, you forget I watched you take twenty-one hours spring semester of our junior year. Anyone who can get a 4.0 with that course load can handle a couple of snow bunnies," Evangeline said. She made a fist like Rosie the Riveter. "You can do it."
You can do it. That was Charlotte's mantra. When her mom had been diagnosed with MS six years ago, Charlotte had known then that she wanted to be a doctor. Some of Mom's doctors were great, and some had the bedside manner of surly robots. Charlotte would be one of the good ones — she knew firsthand what a difference a kind face and gentle tone made when giving bad news.
She'd graduated in August, but failing to score high enough on the MCAT twice had put a stop to starting medical school. Now, she was studying to take it one last time, hoping to pass, then apply to schools. In a way, she was glad for the break, because she was broke, and drowning in student debt for twenty years sounded worse than serving snobbish skiers coffee for a few months. Evangeline had convinced her to move to Aspen with her to work at her parents' new café. They let her live, rent-free, in the little apartment above the restaurant in exchange for opening up the kitchen at five in the morning to prep for the early rush. It wasn't easy work, but she'd socked away a thousand bucks in her first month.
"Your coffee," Charlotte said, all sweetness, to the girl. "Fresh and hot."
"It better be," the girl said, frowning.
Charlotte's chest burned. Bite your tongue. Not every person in the world is an asshole ... just this one. And going off on a customer was probably frowned upon.
Forcing herself to stay calm, Charlotte turned, planning to pick up her newest breakfast order, when she ran smack-dab into a guy. Like, literally bumped her nose against his chest. A very solid, hard, "I work out more than you do" chest.
The guy caught her shoulders. "Sorry. You okay?"
She stared up into a pair of gorgeous brown-green hazel eyes, set in a face that screamed I'm so pretty, models cry when they see me. Charlotte's jaw started to drop, but she caught herself and ground her teeth again, pissed at herself. She knew this kind of guy — had dated one even. Player. Capital P. Right down to the movie-star-sexy smile that offered her a good time. "Fine, thanks. Do you need a table?"
The guy pointed at the bar up front. "I'm on my own, so I'll sit there."
He glanced at her chest.
Irritated, Charlotte crossed her arms. So she wore a double-D bra — he didn't have to look.
He chuckled lightly. "I was checking out your name tag, Charlotte. That's all."
Heat flooded her cheeks. "Ah." She lowered her arms. "Well, make yourself at home. I'll be by with coffee shortly."
"Make sure it's hot, because it's not sometimes," the snotty girl behind her said. Then there was a gasp. "Are you Luke Madison?"
The guy made a slightly embarrassed face and stepped around Charlotte, effectively blocking her path between chairs to the kitchen. "Yes."
"Ooh, I watched you compete at Angel Fire last spring." The girl batted her eyelashes at him. "Hot stuff."
Oh, good Lord. Charlotte was done. She didn't need to observe the mating patterns of the young and hot. There were two orders up, and Mr. Beefcake was blocking her path. "Excuse me."
"Sorry." He gave Charlotte a quick apologetic grin, before nodding to the girl. "Have fun out there."
He made his way to the bar, and Charlotte caught the crestfallen expression on the girl's face. That nod had been so "you have fun now, kids," Cold Coffee Girl couldn't have been clearer on his lack of interest. Charlotte swallowed a laugh. There was a God after all, and She loved waitresses.
"How's the coffee, sweetie?" she asked.
"Fine," the girl snapped, turning back to her friends.
Vindicated, Charlotte checked on her tables, then went to the bar. She'd stalled, hoping Evangeline would take care of Luke, but she was busy with a twelve-top of middle-aged skiers. Good tips — she wouldn't leave them hanging for anyone, not even Mr. December on the Ski Hotties calendar.
Excerpted from "Crazy Love"
Copyright © 2018 Kendra C. Highley.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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