By Jill Shalvis
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UNEXPECTED AND UNDENIABLE . . .
Bailey Moore has an agenda: skiing in the Rockies, exploring castles in Europe, ballroom dancing in Argentina. Now that she has a second lease on life, she’s determined not to miss a thing. What she doesn’t realize is that item #1 comes with a six-foot-one ski god hot enough to melt a polar ice cap. She doesn’t want to miss out on him either, but Hudson Kincaid isn’t the type of guy to love and let go. And as gorgeous as Cedar Ridge is, she’s not planning to stick around.
As head of ski patrol at his family’s resort, Hud thinks he’s seen it all. But never has he run into someone like Bailey. She might look delicate, but her attitude is all firecracker. And her infectious joy touches something deep within him that he’s been missing far too long. Now he’ll just have to convince Bailey to take a chance on her biggest adventure yet . . . something rare and all kinds of wonderful.
“Shalvis writes with humor, heart, and sizzling heat!” — Carly Phillips, New York Times bestselling author
“Fall in love with Jill Shalvis! She’s my go-to read for humor and heart.” — Susan Mallery, New York Times bestselling author
“Clever, steamy, and fun! Jill Shalvis will make you laugh and fall in love.” — Rachel Gibson, New York Times bestselling author
Table of Contents
A Preview of Nobody But You
A Preview of Second Chance Summer
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The wind whistled through the high Colorado Rocky Mountain peaks, stirring up a dusting of snow as light as the powdered sugar on the donut that Hudson Kincaid was stuffing into his face as he rode the ski lift.
Breakfast of champions, and in three minutes when he hit the top of Cedar Ridge, he'd have the adrenaline rush to go with it. As head of ski patrol, he'd already had his daily before-the-asscrack-of-dawn debriefing with his crew. They'd set up the fencing and ropes to keep skiers in the proper runs and safe. They'd checked all the sleds to make sure their equipment was in working order.
Now he had time for one quick run before they ran rescue drills for a few hours, and then he was on to a board meeting—aka fight with his siblings. One run, ten glorious minutes to himself, and he was going to make it Devil's Face, the most challenging on the mountain.
Go big or go home. That was the Kincaid way.
Just then the radio at his hip chirped news about a report of someone in trouble at the top of Devil's Face, and Hud shook his head.
So much for a few minutes to himself.
Ah, well, it was the life, his life, and he'd chosen it. At the top of the lift, he hit the snow at a fast clip. He'd seen a lot here on their mountain and even more on his monthly shifts as a cop in town. It was safe to say that not much surprised him anymore.
So when three minutes later he found a girl sitting just off center at the top of Devil's Face, her skis haphazardly stuck into the snow at her side, he didn't even blink.
Her down jacket was sunshine yellow, her helmet cherry red. She sat with her legs pulled up to her chest, her chin on her knees, wearing ski boots as neon green as neon green could get and staring contemplatively at the heart-stopping view in front of her.
Hud stopped a few feet away so as to not startle her, but she didn't budge. He looked around to make sure this was the person of interest. Sharp, majestic snow-covered peaks in a three-hundred-sixty-degree vista. Pine-scented air so pure that at this altitude it hurt to breathe. There was no one else up here. They were on top of the world.
Not smart on her part. The weather had been particularly volatile lately. Right now it was clear as a bell and a crisp thirty degrees, but that could change in a blink. High winds were forecasted, as was another foot of snow by midnight. But even if a storm wasn't due to move in, no one should ski alone. And especially no one should ski alone on Devil's Face, a thirty-five-hundred-foot vertical run that required a great deal of skill and in return promised dizzying speeds. There was a low margin for error up here where one little mistake could mean a trip to the ER.
Even Hud didn't ski alone. He had staff all over this place—a few of them at the ski patrol outpost only a few hundred yards away, another group at the ski lift he'd just left, even more patrolling the resort boundaries—all of them connected to each other by constant radio contact.
"Hey," he called out. "You okay?"
Hud glided on his skis the last few feet between them and touched her shoulder.
She jerked and craned her neck, at the same time pulling off her helmet and yanking out her earbuds. Tinny music burst out from them loud enough to make him wonder if she still had any hearing at all.
"Sorry," she said. "Did you say something?"
Not a girl but a woman, and without her helmet, Hud realized he'd actually seen her before. Earlier that morning she'd been in the parking lot, sitting on the back bumper of her car and pulling on her ski boots, all while singing along with the radio to the new Ed Sheeran song. He couldn't tell now behind her dark sunglasses, but he knew she had eyes the color of today's azure sky and that she shouldn't give up her day job to become a singer because she couldn't hold a tune. "I asked if you're okay," he said.
She removed her sunglasses and gave him a sassy look that said the question was ridiculous.
She'd worn a tight ski cap beneath her helmet, also cherry red, with no hair visible and enough layers of clothing that she was utterly shapeless. But that didn't matter. Her bright eyes sparkled with something that looked a whole lot like the best kind of trouble.
He'd been running ski patrol for years now and had been a cop for long enough that he was good at reading people, often before they said a word. It was all in the posture, in the little tells, he'd learned.
Such as all the layers she wore. Yes it was winter, and yes it was the Rocky Mountains, but thirty degrees was downright balmy compared with last week's mid-teens. Most likely she wasn't from around here.
And then there was the slightly unsure posture that said she was at least a little bit out of her element and knew it. Her utter lack of wariness told him something else, too, that probably wherever she'd come from, it hadn't been a big city.
None of which explained why she was sitting alone on one of the toughest mountains in the country. Maybe… dumped by a boyfriend after a fight on the lift? Separated from a pack of girlfriends and just taking a quick break? Hell, despite appearances, maybe she was some kind of a daredevil out here on a bet or whim.
Or maybe she was simply a nut job. As he knew, nut jobs came in all shapes and sizes, even mysterious cuties with heart-stopping eyes. "So are you?" he asked. "Okay?"
Her smile faded some. "Do I not look okay?"
Hud had a sister and a mom, so he recognized a trick question when he heard one and knew better than to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Instead, he swept his gaze over her but saw no visible injuries. Then again, he couldn't see much given all the layers. "You're not hurt."
"No, that's not the problem." She paused. "I guess you're probably wondering what is the problem."
"Little bit," he admitted.
She rolled her eyes. "Did you know that people who don't understand ski maps, or maps at all, shouldn't ski alone?"
"No one should ski alone," he said, but then her words sank in and he pulled off his sunglasses and stared at her in incredulous disbelief. "Are you saying you're on Devil's Face, the most challenging run on this mountain, because you misread the ski map?"
She bit her lip and tried to hide a rueful smile, which didn't matter because her expressive eyes gave her away. "I realize this is going to make me look bad," she said, "but yes. Yes, I'm here because I misread the map. If you must know the truth, I had it upside down."
Upside down. Jesus. "We color-code the things, you know. Even upside down, green is still for beginners, blue for intermediate—"
"Well, I know that much!"
"This run is black—a double-diamond expert," he said. "It's marked all over the place." He pointed to a sign three feet away.
CAUTION: DOUBLE DIAMOND. EXPERTS ONLY!
"I saw that," she said. "Hence my thinking position because trust me, I wasn't about to be stupid on top of stupid."
He let out a low laugh. "Good to know."
"And you should also know that I'm not a complete beginner. I've taken ski lessons before, at Breckenridge." She grimaced. "Though it's been a while."
"How long is a while?"
She bit her lower lip. "Longer than I want to admit. I thought it'd be like getting on a bike. Turns out, not so much. But if it helps, I realized my mistake right away and I really was just taking in the view. I mean, look at it…" She gestured to the gorgeous scenery in front of her, the stuff of postcards and wishes and dreams. "It's mind-boggling, don't you think?"
The wonder in her gaze mesmerized him. A little surprised at himself, he turned to take in the view with her, trying to see it through her eyes. The towering peaks had a way of putting things into perspective and reminding you that you weren't the biggest and baddest. A blanket of fresh snow stretched as far as the eye could see, glistening wherever the sun hit it like it'd been dusted with diamonds.
She was right when she said it was mind-boggling. He tried to never take this place for granted, but the truth was that he did. Interesting that it'd taken a pretty stranger to shake him out of his routine and make him notice his surroundings. He turned his head and met her gaze. Yeah. He was definitely noticing his surroundings.
She smiled into his eyes. "I figured after I got my fill of the view, I'd just head back to the ski lift and ask if I could ride it down. No harm, no foul, right? But then came problem number two."
"Which is…?" he asked when she didn't continue.
"I broke my binding, and while I've got lots of stuff in all these pockets, I'm not packing any tools. I think I just need a screwdriver or something. I thought I'd locate a ski patroller."
"I am ski patrol," he said.
Looking surprised, she ran her gaze up and down the length of him. Usually when a woman did such a thing it was with a light of lust in her eyes, but she didn't seem overly impressed.
He looked down at himself. "I'm not in my patrol jacket," he said. "I was hot from putting up the fencing…" Why the hell was he defending himself? Shaking his head, he removed his skis and walked to hers. He laid out the one she pointed to and took a look. Yep, she'd broken a binding. "The hinge failed," he said.
She crouched next to him and the scent of her soap or perfume came to him, a light, sexy scent that made him turn his head and look at her.
But what held his interest were those baby blues. They were wide and fathomless, and he found himself utterly unable to look away.
As if maybe she was every bit as transfixed as he, she blinked slowly. "Can we fix it?"
We? "I could rig it enough to get you down the mountain if I had a piece of wire." He pulled out his radio. "I'll just call for—"
"Oh, I've got it." She rose and pulled a small notebook from one of her pockets. Attached to it was a paper clip. She pulled it loose and waved it proudly. "I've a piece of wire right here, see?"
"Nice." He took the paperclip, straightened it, then used it to thread through the binding and twisted it in place. During the entire two minutes this took, she remained hunkered at his side, leaning over his arm, her soft, warm breath against his neck, taking in everything he did.
She sucked in a breath. "You're…"
When she didn't finish the sentence, he turned his head and watched her gaze drop to his mouth, which was only a few inches from hers.
"Handy," she finished softly.
She smiled. "Stubborn? Annoying?"
"Set to go," he said.
She laughed and he smiled. "I'll help you back to the lift," he said.
"Oh, I'm good now, thanks to you." Rising, she nudged her ski into place so that she could secure her boot into it. She struggled with that for a minute, unable to snap her ski in, the effort causing her arms to tremble a little bit.
Hud started forward but she stopped him with a raised hand and he checked himself.
Ski number two took her longer because she had a balance problem. He lasted until she started to fall over and then all bets were off. Again he moved toward her but at the last second she managed to catch herself on her pole. When she finally clicked that second ski in, she lifted her head and flashed him a triumphant smile, like she'd just climbed a mountain.
"Got it!" she said, beaming, swiping at her brow like maybe she was sweating now. "See? I'm good."
"You were right about the stubborn," he said. "But not the annoying."
"Well, you haven't given me enough time." And with another flashing smile, she pushed off on her poles.
In the wrong direction.
Hud caught her by the back of her jacket. Even with all those layers, she was surprisingly light. Light enough that he could easily spin her around and face her in the right direction, which was a hundred and eighty degrees from where she'd started.
She laughed and damn, she really did have a great laugh, one that invited a man right in to laugh along with her. "Right," she said, patting him on the chest. "Thanks. Now I'm good."
At his hip, his radio was buzzing. His guys were checking in, getting ready for their high-and low-angle rope rescue drills. Hud was supposed to run the exercise, but he wanted to make sure the woman got safely on the lift first.
"Sounds like you have to go," she said.
"I do." But when he didn't move, her brows went up. "You're cute," she said. "But you do know that even an intelligent person can screw up reading a map, right? That despite whatever it looks like, I really don't need a keeper."
Wait a minute. Did she just call him cute? He'd never once in his life been called cute.
Taking in his expression she laughed, like he was funny. "It was a compliment," she said.
Not in his book. His radio crackled again. Dispatch this time, making sure he'd located the "troubled" skier. "I've got her," he confirmed, eyes narrowed in on the skier in question. "It's handled."
The dispatcher went on to fill him in on two other incidents. Hud told her how to deal with them both and then replaced the radio on his hip.
"Okay," his wayward skier said. "I stand corrected. You're not cute. You're kinda badass with all that bossy 'tude. Happy now?"
Happy? More like dizzy. "Let's just get you to the lift," he said. Calm. Authoritative. The same tone that people usually listened and responded to.
"I'm good now," she said, and with a wave pushed off on her poles, thankfully heading directly toward the ski lift.
Not surprisingly, she wasn't all that steady. This was because she kept her knees locked instead of bending them, incorrectly putting her weight on the backs of her skis. Whoever had given her those lessons at Breckenridge should be fired.
But she hadn't asked him for tips. And he no longer worked at the ski school.
She'd be fun to teach, though. The thought came unbidden and he shrugged it off. All he cared about was that she was on the right path now, leaving him free to take Devil's Face hard and fast the way he'd wanted.
Except… Her helmet lay in the snow at his feet, forgotten. He had no idea how anyone could forget the eye-popping cherry-red thing against the white snow, but she had.
And so had he, when he rarely forgot anything. It was those pretty eyes, that sweet yet mischievous laugh, both distracting as hell. "Hey," he called after her. "Your helmet."
But she must have put her earbuds back in because she didn't stop or turn back.
Hud scooped up the helmet and, giving Devil's Face one last longing look, headed toward the lift as well, catching up with her halfway there.
She'd stopped and had her weight braced on her poles. Bent over a little bit, she was huffing and puffing, out of breath. They were at well over eight thousand feet and altitude could be a bitch. It affected everyone differently, but breathlessness was the most common side effect.
Although an uncomfortable and worrisome thought came to him that maybe it wasn't the altitude at all. When he'd lifted her before, she'd been light, almost… frail. People didn't realize it took a lot of strength and stamina to ski, and he was nearly positive she didn't have either. He put a hand on her shoulder.
She whirled to face him, saw the helmet dangling off his finger, and pulled out an earbud with an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I think the altitude's getting to me. I really should've gotten some caffeine down me before facing the mountain." She slid on the helmet. "Thanks, Prince Charming."
"You know, Cinderella," she said. "The prince had her slipper and you had my helmet… Never mind," she said with a pat to his arm when he just stared at her. "Ignore me. Probably I should've put far more practical things on my list than skiing in the Rockies."
And then before he could ask her what the hell she was talking about now, she'd tightened the strap beneath her chin, put her hands back into the handholds at the top of her ski poles, and pushed off.
He watched her head for the lift that would carry her back to safety, thinking two things. One, he really hoped she knew how to stop. And two, she was definitely a nut, but possibly the prettiest, most bewildering nut he'd ever met in his entire life.
Bailey Moore considered it a win-win when she got herself situated on the lift without breaking another binding, falling on her face, or making a fool of herself. Especially since her concentration had been shot thanks to the mountain hottie she'd just skied away from.
Don't you dare look back, she told herself firmly. There's absolutely no reason to. Not a single one…
She totally looked back.
And there he was on his skis like they were an extension of his own body, as if the rugged badass mountains behind him had nothing on him.
He was watching her as well, or so she assumed since his dark lenses were aimed her way. She waved at him.
He didn't wave back but the very corners of his mouth turned up. Then he planted his poles, executed a lithe jump to turn his skis in the other direction, and skied off with an effortless motion that Bailey knew she could never in a million years of lessons hope to replicate. It was… well, incredibly sexy.
But as Bailey also knew, the sexy ones weren't the keepers. For the most part, they'd never been disappointed or hurt by love or life, and as a woman who'd faced it all at one time or another, she had no patience for the weak, shallow, or clueless.
And actually, she had no patience for this line of thinking at all. She had other things to concentrate on. Laughing a little at herself, she turned her head to take in the top of the peak as the lift carried her away from it. It had been the top, the very tippy top, and the stunning view suddenly made her glad for her map incident.
She'd never seen anything like it. Most anywhere you stood in Colorado, you were surrounded by mountains—towering, rugged, intimidating alpine peaks that you had to tip your head back to see and that always seemed to frame the entire world.
Not on Devil's Face. For the first time, she'd been the highest point, and everything below her—the world—was at her feet. And as someone who until very recently had never been in control of her own destiny, it staggered her.
In a really great way.
The lift hit a snag and jerked. Bailey gasped and grabbed the steel bar in front of her for all she was worth. With nothing below her but thick pines and an endless blanket of snow, she could do nothing else. There wasn't a building in sight, not even the comforting view of the base lodge.
When the lift jerked again, her hand ached from the tight grip, but she didn't let go. If she was going down, she was going down holding the sissy bar all the way. And wouldn't that be pretty effing ironic if after all she'd been through, she was about to expire right here, now, alone on a mountain?
And if by some miracle she didn't die from the fall, her mother would kill her.
But miraculously the lift held firm and she lived to breathe another day. Ten minutes later she glided off without so much as a hitch. Perfect execution, she thought proudly and looked around, really wishing Mountain Hottie could see her now, that anyone she knew could see her.
But nope, just her.
She'd grown up in a tiny mountain town just south of Denver, about two hours from here and though just about everyone she knew was a big skier, she was not. She'd been concentrating on other things. Today, the wind hitting her face, the sun warming her cheeks, and the feeling of being in control—for once—had all given her a small taste of what she'd wanted for herself. And after her business meeting, she hoped for a bigger taste.
Beaming, she straightened on her skis and glanced over at the base lodge. She could see the entire north-facing wall. Unlike the rest of the building, which was sided with wood and glass, gorgeous and rustic looking, the north wall was smooth stucco. Easier to maintain than wood, but plain looking and, frankly, boring.
She'd been hired by the resort's publicist to paint a mural there.
Painting was important to her, very important. She earned a living as a graphic designer, but painting reminded her of her grandma, whom she still missed so very much. One of her earliest memories was of sitting on a stool in her grandma's studio with the sketch her grandma had given her to paint. Sort of a paint-by-numbers but personalized.
Don't worry about staying inside the lines, Bailey darling… Just go for it.
That's what Bailey intended to do.
Excited, she skied—okay, plowed—her way to the lodge. Luckily it was only a hundred yards or so and relatively flat, but that meant she had to use her poles. By the time she made it to the stairs of the lodge, she was sweating and shaky. When she finally managed to release her boots from her skis, she dropped to her knees to gasp in air. Probably she should add an exercise regime to her list.
Hand to her pounding heart, she panted for air and changed her mind. Maybe she was grateful no one could see her right now. That's when she lifted her head and… came face-to-face with Mountain Hottie. Of course, because heaven forbid she run into him two minutes ago when she'd been on her skis and looking good.
How he'd beaten her down the mountain, on his own power no less, she hadn't the foggiest. "Hey," she said, trying to act like she wasn't breathing like a locomotive on its last legs. Or dripping sweat. Staggering to her feet, she casually leaned over her poles, surreptitiously trying to catch her breath.
"Hey," he said. Not breathing like a locomotive. Not sweating. In fact, not out of breath or exerted at all, the bastard. "The binding held."
"You wouldn't have let me go if you'd thought it wouldn't," she managed.
"True." He paused. "You going to yell at me again if I want to know if you're okay?"
She managed a snort. "I didn't yell at you."
His mouth quirked a little as he stood there all wind-tousled perfection, clearly yanking her chain in his own oddly stoic way.
And in her own not stoic way, she kind of liked it. She straightened. "For the future, I'm always okay," she said. "So you don't have to ask me that question again."
"It's my job."
Oh. Right. Ski patrol.
"Want to tell me why you're so touchy about being asked if you're okay?"
Nope. She really didn't. It was a trigger for her, not surprising given how many times over the past ten years those three simple words—are you okay—had been asked of her. Now when someone brought it up, what she really heard was all the pity the words usually conveyed.
And she hated pity with the same level of loathing she saved for all creepy-crawlies, kale, and men in open-toed shoes of any kind. "Let's just say it annoys the crap out of me."
"Duly noted," he said. "Next time I'll query you about the weather. Or if you've had a real ski lesson yet."
Look at that, Man of Few Words did have a sense of humor. And she liked that. A lot. She liked him for some odd reason, not that that was going anywhere. "You have a name?"
"Hudson Kincaid. You?"
"Bailey Moore," she said as his radio went off. Without taking his eyes from her, he cocked his head and listened, then turned down the volume. "I've got to go."
Good. Maybe when he was gone she could stop making a fool of herself.
He started to turn away but then stopped and gave her one more long look. "Stay off the top."
"Sir, yes sir," she said, and saluted him.
Another smile threatened the corners of his mouth. "If only I thought you meant that," he said, and then he was gone.
Bailey let out a slow, shaky breath. What had just happened? It'd been so long since she'd had any sort of interaction she wasn't exactly sure.
Liar. That was flirtation and you started it.
And she'd liked it.
But man, she was rusty. Sir, yes sir? Seriously, she needed some practice being normal.
She struggled a few minutes to gather up her skis and poles into one of the long lines of ski stands.
It took a few more minutes to pull off her helmet and figure out how to lock it to her skis. Man, this sport looked so much easier on TV. Everyone always appeared to glide so effortlessly down the mountain and then carried their skis on their shoulders like it was no big deal. It really was deceiving. Still, she was challenging herself and that felt… well, amazing. She glanced at her phone to check the time and was gratified to see she was half an hour early for her meeting. She'd use it to feed the beast, which had been grumbling loudly all morning.
The cafeteria wasn't crowded, most likely due to it being a weekday. Bailey loaded a tray and sat down in a secluded corner of the place, cozied between a half wall and a huge wall of windows where she could see the incredible view.
You almost, nearly, sort of skied down that, she thought with pride. She could also see that huge blank wall, as it was one of the walls designating the outside eating area. It was protected from the elements by being half dug into the hill behind it and also a huge extended patio roof. She stared at that wall, trying to envision her mural on it.
It was going to be amazing.
She was stuffing her face, nearly moaning with pleasure because the food was incredibly good, when her phone buzzed an incoming text. Her meeting place had been changed to another address in town.
It took her nearly half an hour just to turn in her rental skis and get to her car. By the time she drove into Cedar Ridge from the ski resort, she was already ten minutes late, but even that didn't dampen her excitement.
Hud jerked awake when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He blinked the boardroom into focus and also his siblings' faces, ranging from amused to pissed off. "Shit," he muttered.
"Yep," his sister Kenna agreed from her place across the table where, if he went by the jelly beans layered all over him, she'd been tossing them at him as he snoozed. "You fell asleep," she said. "When you opened your mouth and started snoring, I wanted to go for a bull's-eye but Gray wouldn't let me. He was afraid you'd choke."
Gray, the oldest Kincaid sibling and ruler of their universe—at least in his own mind—shrugged at Hud. "No one here wanted to take over ski patrol," he said, "so your premature death would've been annoying. We boring you?"
- "Fall in love with Jill Shalvis! She's my go-to read for humor and heart."—Susan Mallery, New York Times bestselling author
- "Clever, steamy, and fun! Jill Shalvis will make you laugh and fall in love."—Rachel Gibson, New York Times bestselling author
- "[S]cores big with a delicate love story and red-hot passion. Fans of smalltown contemporaries will savor this delicious and heartwarming story, a refreshingly realistic romance between two great characters."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Once in a Lifetime
- "Charming and engaging... Shalvis's fans will devour the two friends' introspective and passionate journey to love."—Publishers Weekly on Always on My Mind
- "Engaging writing, characters that walk straight into your heart, and a town you can't wait to revisit make this touching, hilarious tale another heart-warmer worthy of Shalvis' popular series."—Library Journal on It Had to Be You
- "Shalvis makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me sigh with pure pleasure."—Susan Andersen, New York Times bestselling author of Playing Dirty
- "Count on Jill Shalvis for a witty, steamy, unputdownable love story."—Robyn Carr, New York Times bestselling author of Harvest Moon
- "Shalvis writes with humor, heart, and sizzling heat!"—Carly Phillips, New York Times Bestselling Author
- On Sale
- Dec 22, 2015
- Page Count
- 368 pages