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Authors: Christie Butler

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BOOK: Apres Ski
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Kayla rose to greet them, surprising Chelsea with a quick
hug. Kayla was petite but she had large breasts that were prominently on
display in her black leather vest. Her jeans looked painted on and her hair was
a color of blonde that existed only in a bottle.

“I’m so happy you’re here!” Kayla told her. “Do you know
Josie? She just started a couple weeks ago.”

“No, we’ve never met.” Chelsea held out her hand and Josie
gave it a quick squeeze. In contrast to Kayla, Josie was tall and fuller
figured, with short red hair cut in a pixie style. She looked like a skier,
whereas Kayla was the only woman Chelsea knew in the village who didn’t like to
ski. Kayla was in Vail for the mountain men.

“This is my friend Megan.” Chelsea watched the two of them
check out Megan and her exotic black hair cut in a sleek bob. Megan loved the
mountain life but looked like she’d be more at home in a modern art gallery.

“Sit down and have a beer.” Kayla signaled to the waitress
who brought over two more glasses. “So, Megan,” she said. “Where are you
visiting from?”

Megan shot a quick glance at Chelsea before answering. “I’m
not. I live here.”

A big “O” formed on Kayla’s glossy red lips. “I’m sorry.”

“Megan doesn’t work for the ski company,” Chelsea said. “She
manages Bookplate in the village.”

“Really?” Josie asked. “I love that place. I’m such a
reading nerd—the first thing I did when I moved here was scope out the
bookstores.”

“That’s so cool,” Kayla said. “I’ll have to come and check
it out.”

Chelsea doubted whether Kayla had ever opened a book, at
least since
The Cat in
the Hat
. Josie and Megan were quickly
absorbed in a discussion about novels, so she turned her attention to Kayla. “I
haven’t seen you in a while. What have you been up to?”

With a flip of her overprocessed hair, Kayla shrugged. “The
usual—working and partying. How about you? Are you seeing anyone now?”

For as long as she’d known Kayla, Chelsea had never really
been “seeing anyone” and she suspected that Kayla was well aware of that. Was
she wondering about her interaction with Jud? “No, no one special,” she said.
No
one at all
, but Kayla didn’t need to know that. “How about you?”

Kayla waved a beautifully manicured hand. “I’ve mostly been
playing around. I’m not looking for anything serious.”

Bullshit.
Nodding thoughtfully, Chelsea said, “Good
for you.” Kayla always played around, but Chelsea was convinced she was looking
for a ring.

Kayla leaned in and lowered her voice. “I saw you talking to
Jud. He’s super hot, right?”

Here we go.
“I suppose so.” She glanced over at Jud
and found that he was smiling at her. Her tummy did a flip-flop.

“You suppose so? Are you kidding?” Kayla laughed. “So
there’s nothing going on between the two of you?”

“What? Oh no, we’re just friends,” Chelsea told her. “You
used to go out with him, didn’t you?” Inside her head, she’d added impolite
quotes around “go out”.

“Yeah, we were pretty serious for a while. I’ve actually
been thinking about giving him another chance.”

Chelsea suppressed a laugh. “Really?” At her side, she felt
Megan tuning back in to their conversation. She must have been listening with
one ear.

“What are you guys talking about?” Megan asked.

“I was telling Chelsea about my time with Judson Tate.”
Kayla waggled her brows.

“Yes.” Chelsea stared at Megan, trying to stay calm. “She’s
thinking about getting back together with him.”

“No shit? He seems like such a sweetheart and he’s soooo
gorgeous. Why’d you ever break up with him in the first place?”

God bless Megan.
Chelsea knew her roommate was just
baiting Kayla. Who did the girl think she was kidding? It was pretty much
common knowledge that she and Jud had just hooked up and that it wasn’t some
serious romance.

“Oh, you know—we were both busy and he wanted to spend a lot
of his free time with his buddies.” Kayla shrugged.

Chelsea thought Jud probably wanted to spend his free time
with other women, but she kept her opinion to herself.

“I can tell you one thing though,” Kayla went on. “It wasn’t
because of the sex. We were crazy hot in the sack.”

Chelsea nearly did a spit take with her beer but she held it
together. What the hell was wrong with this chick? She’d never seen a more
self-absorbed woman.

“Well, tell us. I want to hear all the details,” Megan said
with glee.

Her sip of beer finally going down, Chelsea lightly kicked
her friend’s foot under the table. When she saw Kayla grin and lean in, she
wanted to flee. But in a sick, masochistic way, she was compelled to listen.

“The first time we were together, he went down on me.” Kayla
shivered. “And I mean he went down on me for like, an hour.”

“Oh my God,” Megan said. “And he didn’t whine or complain?”

Chelsea laughed along with the other women but she felt a
little uncomfortable. As much as she wanted to be with Jud, she really didn’t
want to live it vicariously through Kayla.

“No, he loved it,” Kayla said. “And the fucking… Oh. My.
God. His cock is huge.”

Beneath the table, Megan squeezed Chelsea’s knee, even as
she laughed along with the other two women. Chelsea was incapable of speech,
but not Megan.

“I can see why you want to get back together with him.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Kayla said. “We’ll see.”

All it took was one look at Kayla Hines to see that Chelsea
didn’t stand a chance with Jud.
What was I thinking?
If Kayla was going
to make a move on him, Chelsea might as well call it a night. He wouldn’t
choose her over a blonde goddess who was a dream in bed. She couldn’t compete
with that. More than anything, she didn’t want to hear any more details from
Kayla. She excused herself to go the restroom, leaving a tableful of giggling
women behind.

Chapter Two

 

After emptying her bladder, Chelsea took a look in the
mirror. She could freshen up her lip gloss, but why?
Damn it.
She’d
developed real feelings for Jud and it hurt to think that Kayla was going to
get in her way—effortlessly, at that. Hot tears sprang to her eyes and she took
a deep breath. Grabbing a tissue, she dabbed at her lashes. She would not do
this—get all twisted inside out by a man.

There was a knock at the door and she jumped. “Just a
second,” she called out. One last glance in the mirror showed that her
waterproof mascara had held. She opened the door to find a young cowgirl
anxious to use the facilities. Chelsea smiled at her and stepped aside.

Out in the main room, she saw one of her fellow lifties at
the bar.
Thank God.
Anything to save her from Kayla. She crept up behind
her friend. “Hey, Josh.”

“Hey, Chels. What’s up?” Josh was a classic snowboarding
dude, complete with long, unkempt sunstreaked hair and easygoing attitude. His
tan was so deep, his skin looked almost dirty.

“Just having a few beers with some friends.”

“That’s cool.” Josh tossed some bills on the bar and grabbed
his pitcher. “I’m here with Smitty and Rocket. Come hang with us.”

“Yeah, sure.” Happy to stay away from Kayla, she followed
Josh to a small table up front. The three of them were basically
inseparable—living together, working together and partying together. They even
looked alike—a little scruffy, disheveled. In their early twenties, they were a
few years younger than Chelsea and she definitely felt like a big sister to
them. They were good-looking kids with an easy cockiness, but she’d never heard
one of them speak a disagreeable word. Why would they? Life was good for
them—another run, another beer, another hook-up. Chelsea envied their
aimlessness.

“Good to see ya, Chels,” Rocket said. “What’s goin’ on? You
hardly ever come out.” He poured a beer and slid it over to her.

She shrugged. “Nothing on TV tonight.”

He laughed. “Good one.”

He thinks I’m kidding.
She listened as the guys
chattered, only occasionally glancing at Jud to see if Kayla had made her move.
Still at the pool table, he appeared to be involved in a game, so Chelsea let
herself relax and enjoy her beer, her friends. Time flew by as her three coworkers
entertained her—being with them was so fun, so easy.

Then she tensed, feeling a warm hand on her back. She knew
who it was before Josh even said anything.

“Yo, J.T.” Josh lifted his hand to bump knuckles with Jud.
“You been cleanin’ up over there?”

“A little.” Jud smiled as he pulled up a chair to sit next
to Chelsea. “I think you guys are up next.”

“Finally,” Josh said.

“No shit,” Rocket chipped in. “Hey, J.T., how’s the dude who
starfished down the back bowl this afternoon?”

“Fucked up his knee but he’ll be okay.” Jud took a swallow
of beer and turned to Chelsea. “Guy hit a patch of ice and went cartwheeling
down a chute. He’s lucky he didn’t hit a tree.”

Her heart was racing, but not because of Jud’s story.
Chelsea tried to calm herself. Just one look from Judson Tate and her body felt
as though it was on fire.
I have it bad.
“Wow. How old was the guy?”

“Twenty-two. He’s gonna need surgery but he’ll probably be
back on skis next season.” Jud’s eyes turned from warm and compassionate to hot
and sexy, and they were trained directly at her.

Chelsea’s insides melted and heat pooled in her middle. Jud
stirred up emotions and sensations that were entirely foreign to her. She
needed to be careful or she’d be putty in his hands—and she was starting to get
the feeling that there was a slight possibility that maybe he
did
want
her in his hands. Unfortunately, Judson Tate’s reputation preceded him. She
knew that he’d been with plenty of women, but she wasn’t particularly bothered
by that.

Her big fear was that she would give herself to him—her body
and her heart—and then turn out to be just another notch on his bedpost. It
would be difficult to bear but she knew she wasn’t likely to deny him. She
wanted a man in her life, and Jud was that man. For however long he’d have her.

Blushing at his scrutiny, she asked, “So how is the editing
business?”

He raised a brow. “Busy. Busier every day.” He waited while
Josh and his buddies took off for the pool table, leaving the two of them
alone. “I’m thinking about doing it full-time, Chels.”

“Really? But you love ski patrol.”

“I know, but it’s a young man’s job. I’m not a kid anymore.”
Before her eyes, the oozing sex appeal receded ever so slightly and her friend
had returned. Her incredibly handsome friend.

“You’re young. What are you, thirty-one?”

“Yeah.” He smiled. “Don’t get me wrong, I love being here,
skiing for a living, helping people. But it was never the plan to do it
forever.”

Chelsea nodded even as her chest tightened. She liked her
job too, but it would be a different place with Jud gone. He was one of the
reasons she loved coming in to work in the morning. She knew that he was
getting some good editing work lately—including Cameron Wood’s latest best-seller,
and it was clear that the world of writing was where his heart lay. She was
just selfish enough to hope he wouldn’t leave too soon, that she could have a
little bit of time with him.

“I know,” she said. “I’m happy for you that you’re achieving
your dream.”

“Yeah, and what about you? I saw one of your paintings at
that little gallery in the village.”

She waved a hand, dismissing his comment. Having a lifelong
love of art, she’d been painting since she was twelve. Landscapes and still
lifes were her favorite subjects, and living in the Rockies provided plenty of
inspiration. She’d sold several of her works, mostly on consignment at a local
gallery. But it certainly wasn’t enough to provide her a living wage. “I’m
doing all right, but you know the art world. I’ll never be appreciated until
I’m dead.” She grinned at him.

He placed a hand on her forearm, his voice deepening. “I’m
appreciating you right now.”

Chelsea shivered, hoping he meant that in more ways than
one. “That’s very sweet of you to say.”

“I’m not just being sweet. I mean it. You’ve got some real
talent. Your paintings are beautiful.” He slid his hand down her arm to grasp
her fingers. “I hate it when you put yourself down, Chels. You should be
proud.”

Ears burning, she looked down to where their hands were
joined. His thumb stroked her palm and she felt it throughout her body. She
craved his touch, his kiss. And she was afraid to look at him for fear of
giving herself away.

A rumbling laugh reached her as Jud released her hand and
used his fingers to raise her chin. “You’re so shy, Chels. I love it.” His eyes
sparkling at her, Mr. Sexy was back. She was doomed.

She had no speech, so she took a sip of her beer to fill the
void. When she looked at him again, his gaze burned into her. Her heart
fluttered in her chest and beat in her ears. Nervous, she nibbled on her lip
and saw that his eyes moved to study her mouth.
What do I do? What do I say?
Fortunately he saved her.

“Listen, Chelsea. There’s been something I’ve wanted to do
for a while, but I wasn’t sure I’d have a chance with you.”

She swallowed and waited.

He actually looked nervous. “Uh, if you don’t have any plans
for Friday night, I’d like to take you out for dinner.”

Not believing her ears, she took a moment to absorb what
he’d just said. She cleared her throat and said, “Uh, no…” She took another sip
of beer to wet her mouth and looked back into Jud’s dejected eyes. Then she
realized what she’d said. “I mean, no, I don’t have plans. I’d love to go to
dinner with you.”

“Good. That’s good.” Jud smiled and his beautiful blue eyes
sparkled at her.

Inhaling deeply, Chelsea took tried to absorb the fact that
Judson Tate had just asked her out. She allowed herself a brief moment of
delirious joy before moving on to a fear of disappointing him. No way did she
compare to the women he’d previously dated.

“I have a confession to make,” Jud said. “I’m not all that
fond of hot chocolate.”

Chelsea’s jaw dropped in mock astonishment, then she
laughed. “Me either.”

Laughing with her, Jud leaned in just a tiny bit. Maybe she
imagined it because she so desperately wanted to taste him. Her heart pounded
as his gaze dropped briefly to her lips and then back up again.
He
is
going to kiss me.

“Chelsea, there you are!”

The voice was unmistakable. Reluctantly, Chelsea tore her
gaze away from Jud and turned to see Kayla with a satisfied grin on her face.

“Hi, Jud.” Kayla’s grin turned into a come-hither smile as
she sauntered closer to her prey for the evening.

Jud nodded a greeting but said nothing.

Her smile faltering slightly, Kayla looked at Chelsea. “I
think you need to check on your friend. She’s really drunk and making out with
Roger.”

Across the room, Megan was seated on a barstool and Roger
had her pushed up against the wall, his tongue in her throat. Chelsea wanted to
laugh at Kayla’s horrified look. Megan could hold her liquor pretty well and
she was most likely appearing a little drunker than she was in order to throw
herself at Roger.

Checking her watch, Chelsea pushed away from the table to
stand. “I need to get going, Jud. But I should check on Megan first.”

“Sure. I’ll come with you.”

“Thanks, Kayla.” Chelsea walked away feeling daggers in her
back. She and Jud stopped a couple of feet from Megan and Roger and waited
while they groped each other. Her face heated again as she pictured herself and
Jud doing exactly the same thing.

“Dude!” Jud said after a moment.

Roger jumped and pulled his lips from Megan. He raised an
eyebrow and stared at Jud.

Chelsea took the opportunity to move in close to Megan. “You
okay?”

“I’m great.” Megan winked at her and Chelsea knew that she
had her wits about her.

“Listen, I need to go. Are you ready or do you want to
stay?”

Megan pouted. “I’m having fun. I’m not really ready to go
yet.”

“I can give you a ride home.” Roger’s voice was a hilarious
mix of persuasion and desperation.

“That’d be great. Thanks, Roger.” Megan smiled at Chelsea.
“I’ve got a ride. I’ll be fine, Chels.”

Chelsea looked at Jud, unsure whether she should trust
Roger. She didn’t want to be a nag, but she felt it was her responsibility not
to leave her roommate in a vulnerable or unsafe situation.

Giving her a subtle nod, Jud turned to his buddy. “Be
careful, man.”

“No problem. I’ll get Megan home safe.”

Deciding that Roger looked and sounded appropriately sober,
Chelsea nodded. “See ya, Megan.”

“Bye, Chels.” Megan and Roger were kissing again before
Chelsea had the chance to turn away.

“You okay to drive?” Jud asked as Chelsea retrieved her
coat.

“Sure. I’ve only had two beers and I didn’t finish either
one.”

“Okay.” He swung his arm out in front of him. “After you.”

As she turned to look at him, she saw that Kayla was staring
at them and she no longer had a smile on her face.

“Are you leaving too?” she asked.

“No, I’m walking you to your car.” Jud placed a hand on her
back, guiding her out.

“You don’t have to do that.”

He frowned at her. “Of course I do. What kind of guy lets a
woman leave a bar to walk alone to her car?”

If Chelsea hadn’t already been half in love with Jud, that
would have done it for her.
Is there no end to the man’s awesome attributes?
She was warmed from head to toe and various delicious areas in between.

She smiled and moved toward the door. “Aren’t you going to
be cold without your coat?”

“Nah, I’ll be fine.”

Outside, the air felt heavy despite the altitude. Chelsea
looked up and saw no stars in the night sky. “Nasty-looking clouds, huh?”

“I hear it’s supposed to snow tomorrow.” Jud shoved his
hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Might be a big storm.”

Chelsea sighed. “Could be a busy day.”

It was a cold night and still Chelsea could feel the warmth
of the big man beside her. She felt as though she was floating instead of
walking, giddy with the realization that she actually had a date with Judson
Tate—the man who was first a friend and was now the sexy object of her
affection.

They reached her SUV all too soon. “Here I am,” she said,
clicking her keyless remote. Jud reached past her to open the door. Chelsea was
reluctant to get inside.

“Go on. Start it up and get warm,” he said.

“Damn, I’m sorry. You must be freezing.” She hopped into the
driver’s seat and turned the ignition, cranking up the heat.

Jud stood inside the open door of the SUV. “You like Italian
food, right?”

Chelsea rolled her eyes. “You know I do. I’ll eat
anything—just no sushi and no—”

“Indian, I know. You hate curry.”

“I do hate curry.” Grinning like a fool, she was thrilled
that he knew that detail about her.

“Isn’t there a new Italian place in Edwards?”

“Yeah, it’s just a few blocks from Megan’s condo. I’ve heard
great things about it.”

“Cool, we’ll go there for dinner Friday. I’ll pick you up
around six thirty?” He shivered, the steam from his breath dissipating.

“Perfect. Jud, you’re freezing. Why don’t you hop in and get
warm and I’ll drop you off at the door?” She laughed as he ran around the front
end and opened the passenger door.

“Should have worn my coat,” he said, pulling the door closed
behind him.

Chelsea rubbed her chin. “Hmm. I think I suggested that,
didn’t I?”

“Yeah, yeah. Drive, woman.”

It took only a moment to drive the block and a half back to
the bar. Chelsea put the car in park and turned in her seat to face Jud. “Here
you go, Mr. Tate.”

BOOK: Apres Ski
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