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Authors: Christie Butler

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BOOK: Apres Ski
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“I
do
live here, ya know.”

Smiling, Megan sat next to her on the couch. “I just figured
I’d lost you to Jud forever. That I was going to have to find a new roommate.”

“Don’t work on replacing me just yet.” Her voice cracked at
the end.

Megan placed her hand on Chelsea’s arm. “Sweetie, what’s
wrong?”

It all came to a head, and the feelings of uncertainty that
had been plaguing her since leaving Jud’s erupted into tears.
Damn it.
She swiped at the tears with her fingers and took a series of deep breaths. To
her credit, Megan didn’t push. She merely waited for Chelsea to regain control
of herself.

“Sorry, Megs. I didn’t mean to wig out on you.”

Megan waved her away. “What happened? I thought you and Jud
were doing great.”

“We were. We
are
. God, this is so stupid. Things are
fine between us and I’m crying like a baby.”

“If things are fine, why are you crying?”

“I don’t know, I just…” She dabbed at her eyes with the
backs of her fingers. “Jud and me being together has always been this crazy
fantasy. Now it’s real, and all I can think about is what a player Jud is, all
of his women—”

“Hey, wait a minute. That’s the past—”

“The extensive past.”

“Well, maybe he’s ready to settle down. It has been known to
happen. Even Warren Beatty eventually got married.”

“Yeah, when he was like sixty years old.”

Megan laughed. “C’mon, Chels. Have a little faith. Look at
all the pieces of fluff he’s been involved with—Kayla for God’s sake? You’re a
woman of…of…substance. The kind of woman a guy settles down with. Can you
imagine a guy like Jud wanting to spend his life with a ditz like Kayla?”

“I guess not.” Chelsea smiled despite herself. “But can a
guy like Jud settle down with anyone?”

“Of course, and if he’s going to settle down with anyone, it
should be with you.”

“Is that right?”

“Well, yeah. You have so many of the same interests—skiing,
books, movies, art, hiking, biking, music, food, sex… Need I go on? I mean
you’re perfect for each other. He
has
to see that.”

“Okay, if you say so.” Chelsea thought Megan was right. All
she could do was hope that Jud saw it the same way. “Now I just need to
convince him to give up his dreams and stay in Colorado.”

Megan smiled sympathetically and stood, holding out her
hand. “C’mon, let’s whip up some dinner. I’m starved.”

* * * * *

The scent of oil paint and turpentine was starting to make
her dizzy. After dinner, Chelsea had sequestered herself in a small spare room
that Megan let her use as a studio. It was too cold to open a window, so she
decided to hang it up for the night.

Taking a last look at her work in progress, she smiled. It
was a rendition of a photo she’d taken of Jud at the end of last season. Every
year on the day the lifts closed, the ski patrol put on a show, displaying
their talent on fiberglass sticks.

Camera at the ready, Chelsea was lucky to get a shot of Jud
catching some big air and back-scratching. It was an awesome shot, and it was
turning into an awesome painting.

Flicking off the lights and closing the door on the fumes,
she made her way to the kitchen for a drink of water. She was tired, but it was
a good tired. Making some headway with her painting—there was such a sense of
accomplishment, a job well done.

The clock glowing on the microwave told her she had some time
to catch up with the latest thriller she’d been reading before she needed to
get to sleep. She quickly washed her face, brushed her teeth, and then dove
under the covers with her book. She read for a few minutes, then gave up, not
being able to get into it.

Staring at her cell on the bedside table, she sighed. Before
she could talk herself out of it, she grabbed it and speed-dialed Jud. It rang
several times and she thought it was going to go to voicemail but he finally
picked up.

“Hey, Chels.” He sounded happy to hear from her. He also
sounded like he was at a bar.

“Hi. I’m not disturbing you, am I?”

“No, not at all. What’s up?” The background noise seemed to
be quieting. He was probably going outside.

“I was getting ready for bed and it made me think of you,”
she said.

“Yeah?” He laughed. “I can be there in about five minutes.”

“No, no. That’s fine. I need some actual sleep tonight.
Besides, it sounds like you’re having a good time.”

“I met Rog for some pizza and there’s basketball on the TV,
but I’ll dump him in a second if you just say the word.”

Chelsea laughed. “Did you not just hear me say that I needed
some sleep?” She could hear him sigh dramatically.

“Okay. So you just called me to torture me with images of
you in bed?”

“That wasn’t my intention, but that’s a nice payoff. I
called because I wanted to hear your voice.”

“Hmm. I’m happy you called, Chelsea.”

Chills shot through her. “I’m gonna say good night. Go have
a good time.”

“All right. Meet me for lunch tomorrow?”

“Sounds good.”

“Good night, Chels. Sweet dreams.”

“Good night, Jud.” She ended the call and placed her phone
on the bedside table before shutting off the light. She was glad she’d called,
and she was mostly successful pushing from her mind images of Jud at a bar,
surrounded by adoring women.

Chapter Eight

 

The mouthwatering aroma of burgers cooking on a grill filled
the air. Chelsea dug her edges in deep and sent a spray of snow over the ski
rack as she came around to a quick stop. For the rest of her life, she would
associate that delicious scent with the snowy mountains and skiing down a run
on a glorious sunny day.

She popped her boots out of the bindings and stored her
skis, hanging the poles over the tips. As she made her way to the restaurant,
she removed her gloves and clipped them to her jacket.

Jud had called her this morning and told her where to meet
him for lunch, and she was actually feeling a bit nervous. This would be their
first face-to-face encounter since the weekend sex-o-rama. Would it be awkward?
Or worse, would Jud be over it? Would he take one look at her and wonder what
the hell he was doing hanging out with a chick like her?

She was about to find out. Pushing the door open, she left
the bright sunshine and lifted her sunglasses to rest atop her head. Just after
noon, the place was crowded—from ski bums to snow bunnies to Eurotrash to
families with rambunctious children. She walked past the food line and out to
the dining area, trying to look inconspicuous as she searched for a Greek god
in a ski patrol outfit.

Scanning the tables, she didn’t see him anywhere. She
reached inside her jacket to retrieve her phone and froze when large hands
settled on her shoulders. Even through her jacket, she felt the heat. Jud’s
breath was warm against her ear.

“Hungry?”

You have no idea.
Chelsea spun around to face him.
She smiled and it was easy, unforced. The total opposite of awkward. His eyes
sparkled at her as he leaned down for a quick peck on the lips.

When he spoke, his voice was low. “I really want to pin you
against the wall and kiss the hell out of you, but it wouldn’t be very
professional.”

Sparks of heat shot through her as she imagined him doing
just that. Eyes wide, she said, “I understand. You gotta have some respect for
the uniform.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “If I didn’t know better, I’d
think you were giving me some shit.”

“Moi? Never.”

“Uh-huh.” He smiled at her. “How’s your day?”

“Okay. They stuck me down at the base again.”

Jud winced. “With all the bunnies.”

“And how. Damn, it’s crowded today. You have a busy morning?”

“Not a single call. I’ve been bored out of my mind.”

“Poor baby.” She jerked her head toward the food line.
“C’mon, let’s go. I’m starving.”

“Why don’t you go find a place to sit and I’ll get the
food?”

“Okay. Get me the bread bowl with whichever soup looks the
best.” She turned to walk off and then stopped. “And something chocolate.”

“You got it.”

Chelsea watched him move away, admiring his form—which was
damn fine, even in the puffy outerwear. She swiveled around and made her way to
the dining room, her step lighter and more confident. All of her anxiety had
been for naught.

Spotting some people vacating a corner table, she made a
beeline for it. She removed her jacket and draped it over a chair, turning
around to find that someone had joined her.

“Hi, Chelsea.”

Damn.
“Hey, Kayla. What’s up?”

Kayla leaned across the table slightly, a mischievous smile
on her face. “Did I just see you and Jud kissing? Last week you said you
weren’t seeing anyone.”

“At the time, I wasn’t.” Averse to conflict, Chelsea’s mouth
went dry.

“Uh-huh. So you and Jud are together?”

Not knowing the exact answer to that question, and certainly
not caring to share it with Kayla, Chelsea merely smiled.

“You’ve got your hands full with Jud. Isn’t he a little out
of your league?”

Chelsea wanted to wipe the skeptical smile from Kayla’s
lips. “Don’t you have some work to do, Kayla?”

“I’ve got a minute.”

“Great,” Chelsea mumbled under her breath, avoiding Kayla’s
look of appraisal.

“You’re certainly not his usual type. Maybe Jud’s going
through a ‘Plain Jane’ phase.”

Chelsea hoped she’d hidden her flinch. As much as she was
hurt by Kayla’s words, she was now getting angry. She tried to shrug
carelessly. “Maybe. Or maybe he’s moving out of his ‘Inane Slut’ phase.”

Kayla’s mouth dropped open and then she clamped it shut. Her
voice got lower as she leaned in closer. “Don’t think you’re so special,
Chelsea. Jud has some crazy sexual needs, and you’ll never be able to satisfy
him. He
wants
a slut in the bedroom.”

Feeling her face heat, Chelsea remained silent. She wanted
to tell Kayla that she’d already satisfied Jud, that maybe he treated Kayla
like a slut in the bedroom because that’s what she was.

But she couldn’t say either of those things. She didn’t want
to escalate their little chat into a screaming match and, amazingly, she was
actually starting to feel sorry for Kayla. It was possible that Jud was ready
to move on from women with little more to offer than big boobs and a
willingness to spread their legs.

Having said that, Chelsea knew she hadn’t wasted much time
spreading her legs for him, but she’d had feelings for him for a long while.
Maybe there was some truth in what Megan had told her—Chelsea had some
substance to her. Maybe that’s exactly what Jud was looking for.

“Go back to work, Kayla.” Chelsea smiled. “You’re ruining my
appetite.”

Kayla pushed her chair away from the table and stalked off
in a huff, nearly running into Jud.

Chelsea watched her stop to talk to him. Jud said a few
words to her and then walked past her. Chelsea caught his gaze and he rolled
his eyes.

Reaching her, he set the tray of food down between them and
sat to join her. “I got you the chicken and wild rice.”

“Oh, yum.” Chelsea rubbed her palms together as Jud served
her. She noticed that he’d gone with the grilled chicken sandwich. “No tortilla
soup for you today?”

He gave her a look. “I thought I’d better skip the black
beans today. You are staying at my place tonight, aren’t you?”

She grinned. “O-kay. Thanks for skipping the tortilla soup.”

They ate a few bites in silence before Jud spoke again. “I
saw you talking to the wicked witch. What did she want?”

Chelsea shrugged. “Not much. She was just giving me some
tips.”

Jud paused mid-bite. “Tips on what?” Despite the fact that
he looked a little nervous, he still exuded raw magnetism. He would always have
that effect on her.

“Never mind. Eat your protein. You’ll need it later.” She
delicately ran her tongue around her lips.

He growled at her and she could feel it between her legs.

Raw magnetism.

* * * * *

It was a typical Colorado mountain night—clear and cold,
dry. Jud and Chelsea strolled through the village after a light dinner of
sushi, doing some window shopping and trying to pretend that they were
interested in something other than rushing back to Jud’s place, to his bed.

Despite their bulky ski gloves, they tried holding hands,
occasionally bumping into each other, pausing for a quick kiss.

Right then, at that very moment in time, Chelsea was happy.
Delirious. She made a conscious effort to push aside all of her
insecurities—about Jud and his past, about Jud and his future far away from
her. Right then, there was nothing more she wanted in life.

They came up on the Bergen Gallery, an art store that had
sold some of Chelsea’s works. She grabbed Jud’s arm. “Let’s go in.”

“What?” Jud frowned at her. “This dump?”

Chelsea punched him on the arm. “Very funny.” She moved past
him and pulled the door open, the dinging of a bell announcing their entrance.
The space was divided into two sections, the front room larger, walls crowded
with works of art. The back room housed an office and the most expensive
pieces.

A stunning redhead strolled out from the back room. She wore
jeans and a sweater, with knee-high fur boots and several silver necklaces.
“Chelsea!”

“Hi, Mara.” Chelsea rushed forward to greet her, allowing
herself to be hugged. She really wasn’t much of a social hugger, but this woman
supported Chelsea, happily selling her paintings. It was a small price to pay
to get her work out there.

“I’m so glad you’re here.” Mara grasped her hands. “I have
some great news.”

“Yeah? What is it?”

“A man came in today and bought that mountain sunrise
painting of yours!”

Chelsea wanted to jump with glee. “That’s so great!”

“You haven’t even heard the great part yet.” Mara paused for
effect, crossing her arms under her generous breasts. “He’s from L.A., some
movie producer with lots of rich contacts. He wanted to know when I received
some more works from this ‘amazing artist’.”

“Oh, my God.” Chelsea hadn’t thought she could be more
excited, but she found that she was wrong.

“I know, right? Anyway, I gave him your card. I hope that’s
all right.”

“Mara, of course it is. That’s incredible!” She turned to
look at Jud and his grin was nearly as big as hers. “I’m sorry, Mara. This is
Jud Tate.”

Mara nodded. “We’ve met.”

Jud smiled at Mara. “Nice to see you again.”

Glancing between the two of them, Chelsea tried to decide
exactly how well acquainted Jud and Mara were. Jud must have picked up on her
thoughts.

“I met Mara when I bought your painting,” he explained.

That makes sense.
Chelsea nodded, letting it go. If
she and Jud were going to be together, she had to trust him, take him at his
word. And even if Jud had slept with Mara, it was in the past.
Let it go.

“He’s got a very good eye,” Mara was saying.

Chelsea smirked at him. “Yes, that he does.” She said
goodbye to Mara, telling her she’d be in touch.

Outside, Jud wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled
her close. “Looks like you’re gonna be a star. Congratulations.”

She shrugged, trying to temper her excitement. “One painting
sold to a big-time movie producer does not make me a star.”

“Yeah, but c’mon. Lots of people will see that painting.
It’s L.A.—a whole new market for you.”

“I know, I know. I just don’t want to get my hopes up too
high. It makes it that much worse when it doesn’t happen.”

“Okay, I hear you.” Jud squeezed her to his side. “But,
Chels. This is a big break for you. You’re a great artist and you deserve great
things. You
should
be excited. Be proud of yourself.”

His words warmed her heart, broke down her defenses. She
stopped short and turned to face him, bouncing on her toes. “Okay, you’re
right. I’m gonna be a star!”

* * * * *

“Ya know, for a second there I thought maybe you and Mara
had… Uh…” Chelsea hung up her coat and looked at Jud.

“No kidding? Why’d you think that?” He found a bottle of
wine and poured two glasses, waiting for her response.

“Well, when you’d said you’d met before…”

Handing her a glass of wine, Jud smiled. “You just assumed
that I’d slept with her. How else would I know a woman?” He made his way to the
living room and sat on the couch, putting his feet up on the coffee table. He
thought that she had the grace to look at least a little uncomfortable when she
joined him.

“Don’t be mad. But c’mon, I’ve watched you operate for quite
some time now. I’ve yet to see a woman resist your charms.”

On one level, Jud knew she was right, but it still rankled.
“Maybe we should work out some kind of sign—ya know, I could tug on my ear when
we run into a woman I’ve had sex with before.”

Chelsea sucked in a breath through her teeth. “But then
you’d have some awfully sore ears.”

He sighed and dropped his head back to rest on the couch. He
supposed he’d made his bed—pun intended—and he should lie in it. But a guy had
a right to change, didn’t he? He’d finally found a woman he could settle down
with. Now he just had to find a way to convince
her
that he was ready.
Getting angry wasn’t going to help, so he took a moment and breathed deeply.
“Okay, so you know about my past history. But it’s the past, it’s done.” He sat
up and looked at her. “I’ve moved on. I have no unresolved feelings, either
emotional or physical, about any woman I’ve been with. We can’t just hole up
here and avoid seeing other people. You have to let it go.”

She sighed, then nodded. “That’s just what I’ve been telling
myself. I don’t know, maybe I was letting Kayla get to me today.”

“Kayla? What the hell did she say?”

Taking a deep breath, she looked away when she spoke. “Oh,
that you were out of my league, that you had some wild needs, and that I’d
never be able to satisfy you.”

“Jesus.” He grabbed her hands. “Look at me, Chelsea.” When
she turned to him, her eyes were moist. His chest tightened at the sight.
“Don’t listen to Kayla. She’s mad at me and just being vindictive.”

“She still wants to be with you.”

“I’m sorry, Chels. I’m sorry she upset you.” Jud swallowed,
trying to keep his annoyance at bay. Kayla had best make herself scarce for a
while—he had some choice words for her that would be better left unsaid.

Chelsea nodded, but she still looked rattled.

Cupping her cheek, Jud bent to kiss her. Her lips trembled
beneath his and he tilted his head to deepen the kiss. With his thumb on her
chin, he pulled her mouth open and licked inside it. Finally, she kissed him
back, her tongue dueling with his. Her mouth was warm and tasted of wine, sweet
and hypnotic.

He wrapped his arms around her, one hand moving south and
the other up to the back of her head, holding her firmly against him as he
explored her mouth. She clutched his shoulders before moving her hands up to
run her fingers through his hair. His scalp tingled at her touch.

Already, he was hard. The thought that Chelsea couldn’t
satisfy him was laughable. He was the one who should be worried. He didn’t want
to disappoint her.

BOOK: Apres Ski
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