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Authors: Christie Butler

Apres Ski

BOOK: Apres Ski
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Après Ski

Christie
Butler

 

Chelsea, a starving artist who
works a ski lift to pay the rent, is dismayed to find she has fallen for a good
friend—a friend who happens to be the biggest player in town. Jud is gorgeous
and sexy, but she also sees the man inside and finds him irresistible. Chelsea
is ready for a man in her life to create enough heat to start the spring thaw.
Can she outshine his many admirers and convince him to give her a chance?

Jud is a proud member of ski patrol
but he’s been biding his time until he achieves his dream of working at a big
publishing house. A lover of women, he never wanted to keep one around for
long. Until now. Chelsea’s smart and thoughtful and suddenly he finds her sexy
as hell. Done with his womanizing ways, he wants only one woman, naked and in
his arms. And he has to work quickly, before the season ends.

 

A
Romantica®
contemporary erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave

 

Après Ski
Christie Butler

 

Chapter One

 

Chelsea Ryan watched the chairs sway forward and back as the
gears ground to a halt. This was the second time in the past few minutes that
she’d had to hold the lift. Even inside the cabin, she could feel the
frustration of the colorfully clad skiers who were eager to hit the slopes
rather than sit suspended above them.

The snow on the lift chair unload ramp was slick today and
Chelsea waited while a pile of fallen skiers cleared the area. Fortunately,
they all were able to stand and ski off on their own power. Double-checking to
make sure the area was all clear, from out of the corner of her eye she saw an
impressive male form expertly
schussing
down a chute and coming to a
stop just outside.

As she restarted the lift, she tried to quiet the
butterflies in her stomach. The man was a member of ski patrol and he was
currently popping his boots out of his bindings before coming inside.

Judson Tate. The mere thought of him sent shivers down her
spine. When she was actually in the same room with him her mouth went dry and
she was either struck mute or she turned into a blithering idiot. Even after
knowing him for over a year, her reaction was always the same.

Of course he was gorgeous—the embodiment of tall, dark and
handsome. He was also very kind and caring—admirable qualities in a mountain
rescuer. Then, to top it all off, he was also artistic and smart. The total
package was irresistible to her. Unfortunately, he was irresistible to every
other woman on the planet as well.

Chelsea didn’t consider herself to be unattractive, but
compared to the beautiful women who threw themselves at Jud on a daily basis,
well, she certainly wasn’t on their level. She’d been to enough bars and
parties with Jud to know that he frequently went home with one of those women,
but not one of them had ever lasted very long.

And what chance did she have with him? There was absolutely
nothing spectacular about her. Sure she was fit, she’d always been athletic.
But Jud’s conquests tended to have full curves, not lean muscle.

Behind her the door burst open, causing her to jump even
though she’d been expecting it. She kept her eyes focused firmly on the lift as
she heard him trudge in.

“Hey, how’s my favorite liftie?” His voice was deep and
mellow, and Chelsea could feel it in every cell of her body.

“Okay. You having a good day?”

“Yeah, it’s been pretty quiet. Colder than shit though.”

“At least the sun’s shining.” She smiled, keeping her gaze
on the lift.

“Thanks for the report, Pollyanna.” He laughed, pulling up a
chair to sit beside her. “This hot chocolate?” He picked up her thermos.

“Yep, help yourself.” She was happy to have to watch the
action outside, because if she looked at him, he would see she’d turned six
shades of red.

“Oh, this is good.” He blew across the top of the cocoa to
cool it down.

“So did you just stop in for some of my hot chocolate?”

“Partly,” he said. “Also to let my fingers and toes thaw
out.” He stretched out his legs, heavy boots thudding on the floor.

Of course he wasn’t here to see her.
Get a grip, Chelsea.

“Do you have plans for tonight?” he asked.

Her heart suddenly pounding, she took a second to clear her
throat. “Laundry.”

Jud laughed. “Well you can go without your panties tomorrow.
A bunch of us are going out for some beers in Avon. Why don’t you come along?”

She nearly choked at his “panties” comment.
Why don’t I
come along?
Well, because she didn’t want to go out with the guys. She
didn’t want to
be
one of the guys. And she certainly didn’t want to
watch him walk out the door with another woman on his arm. Again. “I don’t
know, I have to work tomorrow.”

“So do I. It doesn’t have to be a late night.”

Trying to sit still, she was in turmoil inside. She nibbled
at her lower lip. “I don’t know, Jud.” He placed a hand on her knee and her
flesh burned.

“C’mon, Chelsea. Just a couple of beers. I’m not staying
late either.”

She took a second to glance at him and give him a serious
eye roll.

“What? I’m serious.”

“Uh-huh.” She tried to act as if she was deliberating
although her defiance was no match for his charm and persuasion. Judson Tate
was inviting her out for drinks and there wasn’t a chance in hell she would say
no. “What bar?”

“Silver Dollar. Seven thirty.”

“Okay. Now get out of here and go rescue some people.”

 

Jud smiled as he closed the door behind him. But seriously,
what was the girl’s problem? He wasn’t unaware of the effect that he had on
women, but hell, to Chelsea Ryan he might as well be a plank of wood. He’d
never had to work so hard to turn a woman’s head.

Women loved him and he loved women, all sorts of
women—blonde or brunette or redhead, tall or short, thin or voluptuous,
homebody or party girl—all of them. There was always something about a woman
that he found attractive, at least for a while.

But that was the thing—he was ready for a long-term
relationship. He wasn’t getting any younger, and a grown-up couldn’t spend his
time living from ski season to ski season. He’d been doing some freelance
editing and work was picking up. He was ready to switch to full-time and his
days in ski country were numbered.

Before he left though, he wanted to make some romantic
headway with a certain young woman. He’d met Chelsea about a year ago and
they’d been friends ever since. The thing was, lately he’d been having some
distinctly “un-friendly” feelings for her. In a good way.

She wasn’t a raving beauty but he found her utterly
sexy—from her silky brown locks and pale-green eyes to her tight little butt
and perky breasts. She had a brain too. She wasn’t an aimless ski bum who lived
for snow and parties.

Jud snapped his boots into his bindings with determination.
As he reached for his poles, his walkie crackled to life.

“Jud, what’s your twenty?” It was Roger, a fellow ski
patrol.

“I’m at the top of sixteen,” he spoke into his radio. “Over.”

Roger chuckled. “How’s the ‘view’ there? Over.”

Smart-ass.
“Spectacular. Over.”

“Meet me at the top of three. I need provisions. Over.”

Jud laughed. He was hungry too. “Roger that, Roger. See you
in fifteen. Over.”

At the peak, he covered the short distance from the lift to
the restaurant and once again removed his skis, planting them in a snowdrift.
He unbuckled his boots and clip-clopped across the deck, the awkward
maneuvering in the heavy ski boots now second nature to him.

Inside, he found Roger talking to two women. He recognized
one of them but didn’t know her name. The other woman he knew quite well. He’d
had a “relationship” with Kayla Hines a few months ago and he had the feeling
that she’d like to resurrect the past. He liked Kayla fine, but he had no
desire to revisit their time together.

Jud caught Roger’s eye and stepped in line to order lunch,
the smells from the grill making his stomach rumble.

Roger trudged over to join him. “I invited Kayla and Josie
to join us tonight.”

Jud ordered a burger and then frowned at his buddy. “Great.”

Roger leaned in and spoke in a low voice. “Yeah, I know
about you and Kayla. But if I have to avoid socializing with any woman you’ve
fucked, well, let’s just say that doesn’t give me a lot to work with.”

Jud grumbled at him, then waited for his food in silence.
They grabbed an open table in the corner of the dining room and peeled off
their gear before sitting down to eat. Jud had a mouthful of hamburger when
Roger finally spoke.

“Any luck with Chelsea?”

Jud nodded while he chewed and swallowed. “She said she’d be
there.”

“Cool. I like Chelsea. Try not to tear her heart out.”

Jud raised an eyebrow. “Regardless of what you might think,
I don’t set out to hurt women. In fact, I go out of my way
not
to hurt
them. Besides, if I’m lucky enough to get Chelsea, I might just keep her.”

“Say what? You taking yourself off the market?”

Jud shrugged.

“Hallelujah. Maybe the rest of us schmoes will have a chance
now.”

Laughing, Jud said, “Good luck.”

“Hey, is Chelsea bringing that cute little roommate of
hers?”

“The one who manages that bookstore? Maybe, I don’t know.”

“Huh,” Roger said. “Maybe we’ll both get lucky.”

“I tell ya, man, I’d be happy if she’d show any interest in
me at all.”

“Welcome to my world.” Roger chuckled as he finished off his
burger. “What are you gonna do?”

Jud shook his head. It had been a long time since he’d had
to work to attract a woman. “Any suggestions?”

“Well, I know this may sound crazy, but why don’t you just
talk to her? Say ‘Hey, Chelsea. How come you’re not falling into my arms like
every other woman on the planet?’”

“Yeah? Fuck you.” Jud’s gaze drifted out the window to the
gorgeous sun and blinding snow.

Just talk to her? Huh.

* * * * *

“Are you sure it’s going to be okay if I come?”

Chelsea took a last look in the mirror and decided her
appearance was as good as it was going to get. She usually didn’t wear makeup
but tonight she went with mascara, blush and a little lip gloss. She wanted to
avoid looking too freakish or unnatural. But she wanted people—at least
a
person—to know she’d made an effort.

She found Megan out in the living room. “Of course it’s
okay. It’s just a bunch of people from work. And hey, this is America. You can
go to any bar you want to.” She twirled in a circle, displaying her outfit of
fitted V-neck sweater and skinny jeans. “Do you think I look okay?”

“You’ll knock his socks off,” Megan said with a wink and a
smile.

“Hmm.” Her roommate was the only one who knew of her secret
passion for Judson Tate. She couldn’t have found a better person to live with,
and not just because Megan’s parents owned their condo and charged her a
ridiculously low rental fee. Megan Kraft was sweet and low-key and, maybe most
importantly, she didn’t work for the ski company. Megan managed this cute
little bookstore in the village. It was nice to have a friend with different
interests. “Oh, and Roger’s going to be there.”

“You mean Roger Houston?” Megan’s pretty blue eyes lit up as
she laughed.

Chelsea laughed with her, covering her mouth and miming a
radio. “Roger, Houston.” Megan giggled with her. “I can’t believe that’s
actually his name.”

“I know. It’s hilarious, but he’s kinda cute in an unusual
geeky sorta way.” Megan grinned at her. “What do you think, Chels? Should I go
for it?”

“Absolutely.” Chelsea smiled and grabbed her coat, heading
for the door. She was envious of Megan and her forthright nature. When there
was something she wanted, she just forged ahead, unafraid of failure. Chelsea
wished she had some of Megan’s determination—wished she could go for it with
Jud. The only problem was that she was
so
not Jud’s type. What if she
threw herself at him and he turned her down? That would certainly queer their
friendship and she didn’t want to lose that.

Twenty minutes later they walked into the Silver Dollar, a
typical saloon in the Rockies—western motif with a bar running the entire
length of one wall, twenty or so tables in the main room and a separate area
with three pool tables. The lighting was dim and seventies rock emanated from
the sound system.

Chelsea glanced around, seeing several people that she knew.
Unfortunately, she didn’t see one who was tall, dark and handsome.

“Chelsea!”

At the back, she saw Kayla Hines standing up and waving her
hand. “Oh great,” she said to Megan. “I should’ve known she’d be here.”

“Don’t worry,” Megan said. “You told me she and Jud were
history.”

“Uh-huh.” Chelsea knew that Kayla still carried a torch for
Jud. What sane woman wouldn’t? Still, she smiled as she and Megan made their
way back to Kayla’s table.

When they were nearly there, a large, warm hand grabbed her
arm. She turned around to see Jud smiling at her. He wore a cream-colored cable-knit
sweater and jeans with hiking boots—not the cowboy variety. That made her like
him all the more, if that was possible. She was not a woman who loved the whole
cowboy scene, and she was turned off by any man wearing the boots and hat and
belt buckle.

“Hey, Chelsea,” Jud said. “I’m glad you could make it. I was
sure you were gonna flake on me.”

“How could I possibly flake on
you
,the great
Judson Tate?” She smiled, proud of her lame attempt at razzing him. “Jud, you
remember my roommate, Megan?”

“Of course. It’s good to see you, Megan.” Jud looked over to
the billiard tables. “Roger and I are relieving some guys of their well-earned
cash. We’re on a streak so I have to keep going, but can I get you a drink?”

“Uh, we were going to join Kayla. It looks like they have a
pitcher.”

“Oh sure.” Jud glanced at Kayla’s table. Uneasily, she
thought. “Well, I’ll come find you when we lose.”

“Okay.” Chelsea turned away from him but he stopped her.

“Wait for me, okay?”

’Til hell freezes over.
“Yeah, sure.”

His gorgeous lips curled into a huge grin and he strolled
off to the pool tables, his jeans comfortably hugging his hips and ass.

Megan elbowed her in the ribs. “I think you’re in there,
Chels.”

Rolling her eyes, Chelsea nodded toward the pool tables. “It
looks like your boy’s here too.” Roger was lining up a shot and, after
pocketing a ball, he looked in their direction with a smile. He wore a
long-sleeve T-shirt and jeans over cowboy boots, his square metal belt buckle
reflecting light.

Megan smiled back, holding his gaze for a long moment. “I’m
gonna get me a cowboy tonight.” She turned back to Chelsea and they both
laughed. “Let’s go, I need a little liquid courage.”

BOOK: Apres Ski
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