Authors: Julie Ortolon
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Love Stories, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Contemporary romance, #Uncles, #Galveston Island (Tex.), #award-winning author, #Texas author, #USA award-winning author, #Pirate treasure, #Galveston Island, #Corpus Christi Bay (Tex.)
"Is that really so bad?" Maddy asked. "Considering you have no sense of direction ---as in absolutely zip ---it's only natural that strange places terrify you. But it's nothing to be ashamed of."
"It is if I let it rule my life." Amy raised her chin, determination on every round curve of her face. "Look at Christine. She's afraid of heights, but every Christmas back in college she went to Colorado with her family and got on a lift so she could ski."
"Actually…" Christine looked back and forth between them. "I didn't."
"What do you mean, you didn't?" Maddy frowned at her. "You brought back pictures of those ski trips, so we know you went."
"Okay, truth." She sat forward. "When I was growing up, I was so determined to outdo my brother at something, I forced myself to ride the chairlift even though I nearly fainted every time. As soon as I started college, though, I figured out some inventive ways to spend those family vacations in the ski lodge. Hence pictures, but no actual skiing."
"Inventive ways like what?" Amy leaned forward, clearly intrigued.
"A couple of years I faked altitude sickness. The problem there was I did such a good job, Dad wanted to check me into the hospital. So the next year I showed up at the airport wearing one of those big black boots, claiming I had a stress fracture. But Dad kept wanting to examine my foot. After that, I just insisted I was too busy and didn't even go."
"You're kidding." Amy looked as stunned as Maddy felt. "But I thought you liked to ski."
"I do!" Christine exhaled in a burst of self-disgust. "It's getting to the top of the mountain that I don't like. Although, in my defense, those lifts are nothing more than a bench dangling about a mile off the ground, and they take approximately three years to get from the bottom to the top. The real bitch, though, is I'm a good skier. Damned good. I think I really could best Robby in that one thing if I weren't afraid of the dang chairlift."
"Wow." Maddy stared at her. "I had no idea your phobia was that bad."
"Well, now you know." With a touch of drama, Christine dropped her head onto her arm on the table. "I'm a total wimp."
"No, you're not." Maddy laughed. "Look at all you've accomplished. You save lives, for heaven's sake. Who cares if you're afraid of heights?"
"I care." Christine lifted her head. "Amy's right. It's okay to be afraid, but it's not okay to let fear keep you from something you want to do."
"Exactly." Amy nodded eagerly. "Which is why I think you should go skiing again and figure out a way to conquer the chairlift."
Christine laughed. "I'll make a deal with you, Amy. I'll go skiing again if you take one of those nanny assignments."
"Oh, no." Amy shook her head, her eyes round behind her glasses. "I couldn't possibly leave the office to someone else that long. Could I?"
"I don't know." Christine raised a brow. "But talk's cheap."
"Yes, but…" Amy chewed her lip as she considered the idea.
"I will if you will." Christine smiled.
Maddy looked from one to the other. "You know, I think y'all should do it. In fact, make it a bet with a time limit. Agree that one year from today whoever hasn't met their challenge has to treat the other to a fab lunch somewhere fun."
"You really think we should?" Excitement lit up Amy's face.
"Absolutely," Maddy said. "The bet gives you incentive. Amy, when you get scared about heading off to someplace you've never been before, just think about Christine and how your bravery is nudging her to do something she really wants to do. The same for you, Christine. When you balk at getting on the lift, just think of Amy and how you're encouraging her to see someplace new."
"You know" ---Christine nodded ---"I think that might actually help. I'd crawl over hot coals for either one of you, so why not face my fear of heights? What about you, Amy? Are you game?"
"Oh, goodness." Amy patted her heart. "You're serious, aren't you?"
"I really think I am." Christine smiled. "Yeah. Let's do it."
Resolve spread over Amy's face, followed by delight. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but okay!"
"All right, then." Christine held out her hand. "Deal!" After they shook, Christine turned to Maddy. "So what about you? What will you do?"
"Me?" Maddy froze.
"Yes, you." Christine snorted. "If we have to do something scary, so do you. What's it going to be?"
"I know." Amy held up a hand at shoulder height. "You have to get your artwork into a gallery."
"Within the next year?" Maddy scoffed. "I'm not nearly ready for that. Although… there is one thing I've been thinking about ---"
Maddy hesitated, wondering if she had the nerve to even tell them about the letter, much less act on it.
"Let me put it this way." Christine gave her a sweet smile. "Either you join the challenge or it's off. I'll never downhill, Amy will never travel, and it will all be your fault."
"Oh gee, thanks." Maddy smirked at her. "I appreciate the lack of pressure."
"Hey, what are friends for?" Christine batted her lashes.
"Okay." Maddy took a deep breath. "I got a job offer in the mail a few days ago." Retrieving her macrame purse, she dug out the letter. Her hands shook as she laid it on the table. "Do y'all remember me talking about Mama Fraser?"
Christine and Amy exchanged a look and shook their heads no.
"You know, the Frasers?" Maddy prompted. "The foster parents who adopted Joe when he was sixteen?"
"Joe?" Christine's eyebrows went up. "As in your high school sweetheart, Joe? The sexy bad boy who rocked your world, then asked you to marry him? That Joe?"
Maddy nodded, her heart racing. "That's the one. Even though Mama Fraser was really mad at me for breaking Joe's heart, she's kept in touch. After Colonel Fraser died, she moved back to New Mexico, and now she runs a summer camp for girls near Santa Fe. And she's…well, she's asked me to come work for her."
Both friends stared at her with wide eyes.
"Aren't you a little old to be a camp counselor?" Christine asked.
"I'd be one of the coordinators," Maddy explained. "I'd have my own living quarters and I'd supervise the arts and crafts activities. It's only for the summer, but it sounds like fun."
"Not to mention that Santa Fe is one of the art capitals of the world," Christine pointed out. "Maybe you could get your work into one of the galleries out there."
"In Santa Fe? I doubt it!" Maddy laughed nervously. "My portfolio of current work isn't nearly strong enough, but Mama Fraser says I'd have plenty of free time to paint in the evenings."
"It sounds perfect," Amy said. "You should do it."
Maddy grimaced. "There's only one problem."
"What's that?" Christine asked.
"Joe," Maddy said as if it should be obvious. "I don't know how I feel about seeing him again."
"Didn't you tell us he's career Army? In the Rangers or something?" Christine asked. "With everything going on in the world, I doubt he's even in the country."
"Actually…" Maddy smoothed the envelope. "He was wounded two years ago and had to leave the Rangers. He works for his mom now as the camp director. So… if I take the job, I'll be, you know, working for him. Seeing him. Every day."
"Would that be hard?" Concern lined Amy's face.
Maddy huffed out a breath. "We didn't exactly part on friendly terms. For all I know, he still hates my guts and never wants to see me again."
Amy's frown deepened. "If that were true, why would he have his mother offer you a job?"
"You know ..." Christine sipped more coffee. "That bothers me. I mean, how dorky is it to get your mom to fix you up with an ex-girlfriend?"
"Joe doesn't know. Mama Fraser says she didn't want to tell him until after she had my answer, in case I turned her down. Which suggests to me he's still angry over my rejection."
"Or that his mother knows he wants to see you," Amy said, "and she doesn't want him to be disappointed if you say no."
"The important thing here," Christine said, "is do
want to see
"I don't know." Maddy rubbed her forehead. "I'd really like to take the job. It would be a nice bridge between the last ten years and whatever it is I'm going to do with the rest of my life. And it would help Mama Fraser, who sounds a little desperate to fill the position."
"Plus" ---Christine wiggled her brows ---"you'd get to spend the summer with an old flame. From what you've said, things were pretty hot between you two."
"Christine…" Maddy laughed nervously. "I'm not going to Santa Fe so I can have wild sex all summer with Joe Fraser in front of a camp full of young girls and his mother."
"Why not?" Christine sat back with her cup of coffee. "Sounds good to me. Well, the wild sex part, not the camp full of girls and the mother. I know how ill Nigel was those last years, so I can imagine how long it's been since you had any sex, much less wild sex."
"Forever." Maddy felt her body heat at the mere thought of sex with Joe. Saying he rocked her world was putting it mildly. He'd set it on fire. "But that is totally beside the point. I just want Joe and me to get along. Who knows, maybe this is a chance for us to put the past to rest."
"Either that or rekindle it." Christine grinned.
"You just want a vicarious thrill since you aren't getting any either," Maddy said.
"Only because I made you two promise not to let me date anyone who didn't meet your approval," Christine grumbled.
"With good reason, considering your track record with men." Flustered, Maddy turned to Amy. "What do you think I should do?"
Amy folded her hands on the table. "I think you should do it, for yourself, not as part of this challenge. As you said, it would get you out of the house. As an added benefit, maybe you can make peace with Joe so you can be friends.
"If you do it, though" ---Amy took hold of Maddy's hand ---"you have to promise to show your work to some of the galleries while you're in Santa Fe. And keep at it until you get one of them to take you on."
"Gee." Maddy tried to laugh. "Facing an old boyfriend who probably hates me isn't enough?"
Amy's eyes narrowed behind her glasses. "Not if I have to risk getting lost in some strange place and Christine has to conquer the ski lift."
Panic crawled up Maddy's throat. "I think the challenges are a tad uneven here."
"Like hell!" Christine set her coffee down. "You just have to get one gallery to take on your work, and considering how good you are, that should be a piece of cake. I'm committing to spending Christmas with my whole family in Colorado."
"Who said anything about the family?" Maddy frowned at her. "You could go on your own."
"No, if I'm going to do it, I'll kill two birds with one stone. Conquer the lift ... and annihilate my brother on the slopes. Preferably in front of my father."
"A noble cause." Maddy laughed.
"You, on the other hand, are going to go to Santa Fe, have hot sex with your old flame, and jump-start your art career. Agreed?"
Maddy laughed. "Are you making sex part of the bet?"
"No…" ---Christine grinned ---"But we expect a full report. And photographic proof that Joe is as hot-looking as you claim."
Amy snorted into her cappuccino, then had to wipe froth from her nose.
Maddy mulled it over. "I just have to get one gallery to take on a piece of my work, correct?"
"Correct," Christine said.
"Can it be on consignment?"
Christine looked to Amy, who nodded. "Okay, on consignment. Is it a deal?"
Maddy took a deep breath. "I know I'm going to regret this ---"
"I'll take that as a yes." Christine held up her coffee. "So here's to us, and facing down fear. May this be the start of a perfect life for all of us."
Maddy's stomach did a somersault as their three cups clinked. "For all of us."
Read excerpts of Just Perfect and Too Perfect at
where you can learn more about Julie Ortolon and her heartwarming, contemporary romance novels at
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