Authors: J.H. Croix
Christmas on the Last Frontier
A Last Frontier Lodge Novel
By J.H. Croix
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 J.H. Croix
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781518682254
This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher with the exception of brief quotations included in critical articles and reviews.
DBC…you made me believe in my dreams.
Sign up for my newsletter for information on new releases!
Diamond Creek Alaska Novels
Last Frontier Lodge Novels
Catamount Lion Shifters
Marley Adams walked up the old ski trail, taking in the view around her. The air held a bite of winter though fall had yet to entirely pass. Cresting the top of the trail where an abandoned ski lift sat, she turned and looked behind her. Her breath caught in her throat. Kachemak Bay lay sparkling in the sun. Mountains rose behind it on the far shore, snow-tipped and bright. She was home. Home was Diamond Creek, Alaska, a fishing village and tourist mecca in Southcentral Alaska. Breathtaking views, wildlife galore, and a tight-knit community of independent, hardy souls. The place she couldn’t wait to get away from once she graduated high school. Today, she let her heart soak it in, the one and only place that ever felt like home.
She breathed in the bracing autumn air, scented with spruce and the hint of snow to come. The ground danced with color. Most of fall in Alaska happened underfoot as the landscape was heavily forested with evergreens. She turned around and eyed the ski lift. The lift swayed and creaked in the breeze. It felt like a lifetime ago when her parents had brought her up here with her sister to ski when they were little girls. The exhilaration of rushing down the bunny slope and tumbling into the soft net at the bottom was vivid in her memory. Sometime during her childhood, the ski lodge had closed and stayed empty all the years since.
Curiosity drew her to walk up to the tiny building by the lift. She wiped her arm over the smudged window and peered inside. A woodstove sat in the corner and a bench along one wall. A first aid kit was on the floor and a discarded jacket on the bench.
“Excuse me, are you aware you’re trespassing?”
Marley leapt away from the window with a squeak, whirling around to find a man leaning against the corner of the building. The man in question had short brown hair, gray eyes, sharp features, and a body that looked as if it had been sculpted in stone. Even though it was chilly enough for her to wear a lightweight jacket, he wore nothing over the t-shirt that hugged his muscled chest and arms. His legs were rock-hard and encased in sleek running pants. He looked as if he was out for a run. His gray eyes held hers. They were bright gray, as if they held lightning inside. His energy was potent masculinity. He didn’t seem unfriendly, but neither did he appear welcoming. Against all reason, her body hummed at the sight of him. He was just…pure man.
“You startled me,” she finally replied.
The man arched a brow and remained silent.
“Um, I hiked up the old ski trail. I didn’t know that was a problem. We used to do it all the time when I was growing up.”
The man nodded slowly. His gray eyes left her and traveled around the view, landing back on the small building he leaned against. “Right. Should have guessed that,” he finally said.
Marley had never seen this man and though she’d lived away from Diamond Creek for over a decade, she came home for visits every year and knew most of the locals. If she didn’t know them, her parents did. As far as she knew, no one had lived at Last Frontier Lodge for years. Residents still lamented its closure.
“Are you from around here?” she finally asked.
The man’s mouth tightened. If she’d known him, she might have thought sadness flashed through his eyes.
“Depends on how you define that.”
“I grew up in Diamond Creek. I used to ski here when I was a little girl. I haven’t lived in town for a while, but last I knew, this place was closed and empty.” She took a breath, gathering her courage. Her heart raced wildly, and she struggled to keep her composure. Whoever this man was, he had a hell of an effect on her. She couldn’t even think clearly enough to introduce herself. “I’m Marley Adams. I live down the road from here,” she finally said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the little cabin on her parents’ property where she’d recently moved.
Those gray eyes landed on her again. For a minute, she thought he wasn’t going to respond. He cleared his throat. “I’m Gage Hamilton. My grandparents used to own this place. I was born in Diamond Creek, but my parents moved away when I was little. My, uh…” He paused and closed his eyes, grimacing slightly. When he opened his eyes again, she knew for sure what she saw was sadness. “…grandmother died recently and left the lodge to me and my younger siblings. I always loved it here when we came to visit, so I moved here. I’m planning to fix the place up and reopen, hopefully this winter.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry about your grandmother,” Marley said, uncertain what else to offer.
Gage nodded tightly. “Thanks. I was pretty close to her. Still getting used to the fact that she’s gone.”
Marley nodded, curiosity swirling inside, but she sensed now wasn’t the time to ask the many questions as she had. “It’s great you’re planning to reopen the ski lodge. People still talk about it back when it was open. Aside from staying busy with locals, this place was hopping all winter long with tourists.”
“That’s what I’m hoping for.” He paused and glanced at her again, his eyes softer. “I didn’t mean to sound harsh when I asked about the trespassing thing. I came up for a run and didn’t know who you were, so…”
“Oh, it’s okay. You should know plenty of locals hike up here and use the old trails for cross-country skiing. It’s not like people don’t know someone else owns it, it’s just no one’s been here for so long, people figure it’s okay.”
Gage nodded slowly. “I was thinking maybe I should make some kind of announcement, but I haven’t quite sorted out the details yet.”
“Oh. Well, as soon as word travels that you’re here and plan to reopen, you might want to be ready for lots of people showing up to say hi,” she said wryly. “Diamond Creek’s a small town. This is big news.”
Gage smiled, and Marley thought she might swoon. Dear God, he had a dangerous smile. When he wasn’t smiling, he had that whole, smoldering sexy and kind of intimidating vibe—just enough to keep her body in check. When he smiled, her body spun like a top inside—heat and electricity swirling. His eyes crinkled at the corners, the gray brightening and his mouth softening.
Get a grip, Marley. You’ve known this man for less than five minutes.
If she let her body talk, all she could think about was what it would feel like to run her hands over his body, which was nothing short of a miracle. Though if she touched him, she’d likely melt on the spot.
Gage cleared his throat. “So, how far away do you live from here?”
“About a quarter mile down the road from the entrance to the lodge. My parents own about ten acres adjacent to the lodge. Their house is further down the road. I moved into a small cabin they used to rent out to tourists in the summer. It’s tiny, but it’s got everything I need.”
Gage nodded. “Well, feel free to walk around here as much as you want. I suppose I’d better come up with some kind of plan to handle the locals hikers, huh?”
Marley shrugged. “People won’t expect to be able to do whatever they want once you get this place up and running. So you needn’t worry. You might want to notify the town hall and maybe put a notice up in the paper. Otherwise, someone being helpful might call the police if they don’t know who you are and see you around the property.”
Gage threw his head back with a laugh. Her stomach burst full of butterflies. She shook her head and forced herself to look away.
“I’ll take it as a good sign that I have to worry about that.” Gage followed her gaze out over the bay. “Well, I’m gonna keep running. Sounds like I’ll see you around.”
She nodded. “I’m sure you will. If you need anything, just stop by. You can see my place from the entrance to the lodge. It’s the little cabin with a red roof sitting on the hill nearby.”
Gage grinned. “I’ve seen it. Well, I’m off. Enjoy your walk,” he said with a quick wave before he took off running. He went around the ski lift and turned up onto the next trail nearby—a much steeper and more advanced trail—and proceeded to run up at a steady pace. Marley had never run up that trail, but she knew without a doubt it would be grueling. He ran without his pace changing. No wonder he was in such good shape. She finally turned away and began her descent, the view stretching before her.
For the first time in months, she obsessed about something other than the crash and burn of her grand plans to make something of herself. Gage filled her mind—his rock hard body, his sensual mouth…and whoever he was behind his guarded nature.
Gage pushed himself up the trail, his legs finally beginning to tire when he reached the top and paused beside another ski lift. He turned and looked behind him. He could see Marley walking down the trail below. He’d seen her long before she paused at the small building between trails. He’d only been at the ski lodge for a week, but he’d already memorized the pattern of trails and had been cutting across between two trails when he heard her walking. He’d paused in the edge of the woods and watched her. Her auburn hair glinted in the sun. Curiosity drew him to approach her. Why he felt the need to start off by confronting her about trespassing was beyond him. He shook his head. Not exactly the best way to introduce himself to his new neighbor.
From a distance, he’d thought she was beautiful. Up close, she took his breath away. Her wavy auburn hair was paired with forest green eyes, a pert nose, and a sensual mobile mouth—so kissable, he’d had to restrain himself. To make his body tread the edge of embarrassing himself, her body was flat out beautiful—curvy and athletic at once. She’d worn a green fleece jacket zipped halfway, which revealed a thin cotton shirt pulled tight across her breasts, her nipples peaked in the chilly air. From there, her waist dipped then curved into lush hips and strong legs hugged by her fitted leggings. She’d seemed entirely oblivious to the effect she had on him. Wearing his form-fitting running clothes had forced him to rein his body in and required so much attention, he knew he’d come across as a little too brusque. As he watched her walk down the trail, her auburn hair caught in the wind, flying wild behind her.
. He turned the name over in his mind. It suited her though he couldn’t say why since he barely knew her. He watched her until she rounded a curve in the trail and vanished from sight. With a sigh, he glanced around. The building beside this stopping point for the ski lift was also in dire need of a new coat of paint. He turned in a circle. The vantage point up here offered a three hundred and sixty degree view. Kachemak Bay lay glittering under the sun in one direction, Cook Inlet could be seen beyond that with Mount Augustine, a volcano, rising in the waters. In the other direction lay Mount Illiamna, another volcano. Southcentral Alaska lay within the Ring of Fire, an area within the Pacific basin where over seventy-five percent of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes lay. As a little boy, Gage had loved this detail about his birthplace.