He stared at the kiss. Long. Hot. Sizzling. So damn sexy.
But just at the moment?
It was really a bit hard to take.
Sven Golden stood on a snowy field in front of Terrence Point’s new ski chalet and stared at Dante Knight and Kelley Dunham. Groaned. Right now, the ‘new since Christmas Eve’ couple were all over each other, under the big angel sculpture in front of Snowy Peaks.
Considering the two had finally become a couple after more than four years of deep, unrequited longing for each other, it was understandable. And normally, Sven would’ve been thrilled for them. Especially with Valentine’s Day arriving in less than two short weeks? He’d be all for it.
But the two blows he’d just been dealt crystallized the mess his own life was in.
His voice caught as he confided to Jake, the golden retriever pup, who was quivering from excitement at his side, trying to sit. Basic obedience training, with all its joys. “Look at them. Out in public. Sucking each other’s lips off. Like animals.”
The hastily-delivered protest from his tiny charge caught his attention and shook him out of his self-pity. He bent and drew the dog close for a cuddle, despite the bulky ski jacket he was wearing in the sub-zero, mountain-side temperatures. “Sorry, little buddy,” he soothed. “But come on. Look at them!”
In answer, Jake licked his face heartily, and he laughed, fending off sweet swipes of damp puppy tongue. “Ok, gotcha. Lots of kisses available right here. Right?”
The puppy always managed to get him in a good mood. It wasn’t the first time he was glad he’d been partnered with the awkward, still clumsy, yet heart-melting future avalanche dog. Only a few months old, the puppy was responding well to the basic training that would soon flow into getting him proficient in the important work of an avvy dog. And at home at Sven’s cabin high up on Terrence Point Mountain? Well, that was another story, but Sven was working on his behaviour there, too.
He drew the pup close once more, then hearing good-natured laughter, forced his gaze to the team of ski patrollers, off to the right. The men and women in the red jackets with the white crosses on them were coming on duty, but despite the ribbing, he knew how serious and focused they were on their work, underneath it all.
Damn, he missed them. Being a part of them.
The Canadian Ski Patrol served all across the vast country of Canada, and was the largest volunteer-based, certified first responder organization in the nation. He’d loved being part of the group, until the need for cash had led him into this weird gig with the newest, just-opened ski chalet in their area, Snowy Peaks.
Oh hell. Say it like it is, Golden. Things were a shit-storm right now. The fact that Jake pretty much glued himself to his side accounted for any of the happiness he’d felt lately. For a man that was usually six feet plus of cheer and good humor most of the time, that was a sad state.
His mind flashed to the text he’d received, just that morning.
Holy shit. She got married, bro!
And no one had to tell him who the ‘she’ was.
Beautiful, sleek, stunning Tara Lynn Jeffries. The woman he’d gone through ski patrol advanced refresher training with, only one year ago. They’d clicked, had an immediate connection and then, a blisteringly hot time, off the slopes.
They were perfect for each other. She was witty, drop-dead gorgeous. Athletic, slim. Ambitious.
And him? He didn’t see it, but everyone called him a golden boy, and not just because of his last name, they said.
Well, he was blond. Definitely athletic. Ski patrol members had to stay in top shape, and he exulted in his work-outs, pushing himself to the max, building those pecs and deltoids. That meant regular gym time at the SP gym, weights in his cabin. Daily cardio on the slope. It all played into it.
And Tara Lynn?
She was perfect for a man who wanted to go somewhere in life. Do things. Big things. Change life for the better for everyone he could, while enjoying the good things that life had to offer.
But she’d left as quickly as she’d come. After only a few months of emailing back and forth, with sexy love emojis and stellar phone sex, the only contact he had with her was when he stalked her on her immensely popular YouTube skiing channel.
Longing. He knew all about it.
Now, she’d gone off and married some duke in a little known European country. Probably had their own damn ski chalet too.
His gaze flitted back to Dante. Oh, crap. Now he was just holding Kelley.
“Freakin’ frostbites, look at them,” he muttered to Jake. “The way they gaze at each other, finish each other’s sentences. Act like they’re fighting half the time, but you know they’re just flexing their muscles, showing the world how they can totally be themselves with each other, while behind the scenes they can’t wait to tear each other’s clothes off.” He groaned again. “I hate it.”
He knew, in fact, that the two had just had quite the reunion. After his life-changing accident—which Dante kept under wraps—the man had ended up, snow-bound, at Kelley’s grandparents’ cabin, right before Christmas, with nowhere else to go. Kelley had been hermitting, coming off the loss of a career she loved, and worse—being dumped by a jerk of an ex-fiancé. She’d fought the feelings she still had for Dante, and fought them brutally. Stuck together and forced into close confinement, they’d had to face all their issues, and not so surprisingly at all—the relationship had caught fire. They’d had a torrid Christmas, and now, they were finally solid. Back where they both belonged. Together.
He was happy for them. Immensely. Even though he’d made a play for Kelley himself, when the two of them had been on the outs, and despite their best efforts, it had gone nowhere.
Kelley wanted Dante who wanted Kelley. One of those perfect equations, once they both realized it. Checkmark in the YEAH column. Only it reminded him, all the more, of what he didn’t have. Especially with that hot kiss, out in public. Obviously Jake understood, because he nudged Sven’s fingers. Tucked his tiny muzzle into the crook of his hand.
The second blow had fallen quickly too.
This nonsense with Williams, the owner of the chalet, reneging on their work agreement. He stiffened. Not cool, man. Not cool. And worse…
“Hey, Sven!” Kelley caught sight of him, waved wildly. She grabbed her man and pulled him toward Sven eagerly.
Memories intruded, made him smile. “You know, boy, just a few short weeks ago, I offered her a night. When I knew I needed to get over Tara Lynn. Plus, you know, the old boy scout thing. Always be helpful.” He stifled a chuckle, his normal good mood reasserting itself. Hell, he still wanted to be mad.
But Kelley’s heart had been all wrapped up in the man she was now glued to. And to top it all off, when they’d finally kissed briefly—he’d totally felt like her brother.
And now there she was, all vivid and bright and glowing. Yep. No doubt about it.
Love was disgusting.
Suddenly, the last few years of Sven’s life coalesced in front of him. Tara Lynn. Before her, the ladies he’d enjoyed, the partying after a hard day’s work. The work at western Canada’s numerous ski resorts had given him an opening into the world of so many exotic, beautiful and interesting women. So many skiers, hardcore, and bunnies. All of them. And it all seemed, abruptly, in vain.
Except for the fact that he’d kept many of the women as good friends—hell, Jenny Wu had written him only that morning inviting him to her wedding—he was in the mood to consider it all a waste.
Then this thing with Tara Lynn? That’d clinched it.
Yep. His heart was flatter than a Valentine’s Day pancake.
Suddenly, they were both there, in front of him. Looking so damn happy.
Kelley, all red-cheeked and beaming. Dante, with an aura of deep peace about the man. As if he’d finally found his love.
Because he had.
Sven mustered a greeting. “Hey guys! Looking good!”
“Sure, sure,” Kelley teased. “We’re half frozen and we only came down because we heard you guys were doing some kind of Valentine’s Day thing this year. Plus, I heard a wild rumor. Can’t be true. That you…you…” She seemed to make up her mind just to go for it, and spout the outlandish thing she’d heard. “You’re in charge of it?”
Abruptly, his ill mood was back.
“We’re short-staffed,” he pushed the very real upset down. “Then the owner emailed me and appointed me as MC for the whole freaking day.” He groaned audibly. “Plus Activity Leader for the lodge. I’m already busy enough as temporary assistant manager, while he finds a steady person.”
Dante, who was his neighbor high up on Terrence Point, and who was also becoming one of his best friends, speared him with a look. “You know why he chose you for that gig, right? The management thing?”
Sven stared at Dante. “Drawing a blank here, bro.”
“You’re military. You got the leadership thing down pat. Of course he’d pick you.”
“Not just that, but since he brought you on, hasn’t teamwork improved? Initiative, staff loyalty? Fun, in general?” Kelley flicked snow-covered lashes at him. “I mean, he was having issues from the moment he opened, right? So hire a reservist who knows what the hell he’s doing.” She tapped her toque-covered head. “Guy’s not stupid.”
“Well, it’s a shitstorm in a snow-cone for me. And he’s constantly reneging on our deal. I haven’t been with the patrol one day since I took over.”
“What?” Kelley, her arm solidly through Dante’s, frowned. “That doesn’t make sense. The deal was you’d be doing that management thing half and half with your patrol bit, right? You need to keep that up. I know the others can take care of the day to day. But what if there’s an unusual circumstance, calling for more experience? Or worse…what if there’s an avalanche?”
“Yeah. Or some idiot poaching? You’ve got plenty to do whether or not there’s extreme weather. What about all the prevention duties?”
Sven bristled. They were right. He was doing none of the activities that seasoned professionals carried out all winter long. Assessing the snowpack. Marking hazards. Deciding where avalanches needed to be started in controlled areas to ensure a hapless skier or a backcountry traveller who went off normal routes wouldn’t end up triggering a death-dealing slide.
There was a real technology and art to it, something he knew well, having worked in ski patrol for years. It all played into the fact that their area had had no deaths for many years in a row now.
It was a matter of personal pride to him.
Sven glared. “Tell that to the new owner. And between you and me and the ski-lift? We’re short-staffed with the paid patrol team, too. I should be with them.”
His phone dinged. He pulled it out of his pocket, read the text, and frowned. Great. The crap was hitting in real-time now, in front of his friends. “Oh, and now this? This just takes the cake.”
“What?” Kelley asked.
“He’s hired me an assistant. From Toronto, and not a skier. New to the area, unfamiliar with everything. Now, isn’t that great.” He shook his head with irritation.
“Oh. Well, hey. That could just be the answer to your dilemma.” Dante rubbed the outside of his right leg, something he did regularly since the life-changing accident over a year ago.
“How do you figure?”
Dante shrugged, and a bit of the hockey brat—he’d been a worldwide sports star until the accident took him away permanently—showed in him.
“Seriously? If I don’t want to do something— or at least this is how I operated in the old days—I’d just pawn it off on my assistant. Play it that way,” he urged. “Tell him or her you’re too busy with more important things, hand them a list, and you’re golden. Literally.” Dante grinned. “Then get gone and do what you want to do.”
I gotta meet Keara next, in Chapter 2.
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