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Authors: Emily Franklin

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BOOK: Slippery Slopes
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I’m not an old maid,
Melissa thinks, wrinkling her brow. “Look at it this way,” Melissa says. “Last week you dealt with crap from toddlers as the nanny; this week you’ll only have to deal with real crap….”

“That’s disgusting.” Charlie sits up and rubs her eyes. “While you guys were out having fun last night, I was here polishing the brass by the fireplace.”

Melissa wrinkles her nose. “I wouldn’t say we were having fun, exactly….”

Charlie jumps out of bed, landing with a thud on the cold floor. “I thought everything was supposed to be festive this time of year. Stockings, menorahs, trees, lights.”

“Festive, yes. Fun, no.” Melissa recalls Gabe and his mouth-to-mouth, and the way James gave her nothing but silence. “It’s not like we get to have a holiday of our own, you know.”

“Holidays are what you make them.” Charlie smiles, making her freckled cheeks wide. “Did I hear rumors of you and a certain ski guy?” Charlie runs her fingers through her tousled strawberry-blond hair and instantly looks put together. Melissa wishes she had those kinds of looks. Not movie-star gorgeous, just honestly lovely.

“What rumors were those?” Melissa blushes. “I’m not usually the kind of person who has rumors spread about them.”

Charlie shrugs and slithers into straight-legged pants and a turtleneck. “Maybe you’re not the kind of girl you think you are.” She pulls her socks on. “I’d love to stand here and gossip all day but I have two mudrooms to clean and you—Miss Host—have to go entertain the masses. After all, people want their Christmas days jam-packed with fun and food.”

Melissa nods. “Hey, I was so crazed last night I didn’t even think to check the guest log. Who do we have the pleasure of hosting?”

Charlie’s face shows a massive grin as she gestures with her broom. “Correction—
you
have the pleasure of hosting. Apparently, some didn’t like their luxury hotel rooms and wanted to check out life in the chalets.” Charlie bows as though the guests are entering the room.

Melissa starts out and then turns back. “But who are they? Aside from disgruntled ex-hotel guests?”

Charlie taps Melissa on the shoulders like she’s a fairy godmother and her broom is the wand. “That dubious honor goes to the ski team. That’s why I was asking about any unsubstantiated rumors.” She pauses and grabs the dustpan. “All those guys are staying here.”

I won’t freak out, I won’t freak out, I won’t trip over the bearskin rug and fall on my ass. I will not offer the guests champagne and spill it on myself. I will not humiliate myself like I usually do.
Melissa surveys the large living room, knowing that though it’s empty right now, in two minutes it will be filled with this week’s guests. Her guests. Including one guy she kissed, Gabe, and the guy she wishes she did, James.
I won’t mess up, even if I have to pretend I know what I’m doing.
She puts her face to the window, looking out at the path that leads to the chalet.

“Anyone there?” Dove calls from the kitchen.

“Not yet.” Melissa checks that the doorbell works, and then goes to find Dove. “Could I be more nervous?”

“Yes, in that you could actively be fainting or vomiting.” Dove slides a sheet of croissants into the oven and checks her watch. “Five minutes and the breakfast buffet will be served. I’m making a traditional Christmas pudding for later—it’s de rigueur for Les Trois.” She pauses, remembering holiday meals at the resort as a child. “They always serve it warm with brandy butter.”

“Sounds incredible.” Melissa shakes her head in awe. “How’d you get all this done so fast?” She opens and closes the pantry doors, taking in all of the newly purchased goods, the organized way that Dove has prepared a gourmet spread.
It took me ages to find my way around the kitchen. Let’s hope hosting comes more easily.
“Was that the doorbell?”

Dove rolls her eyes. “No, that’s your imagination playing tricks on you.”

“Well, it wasn’t my imagination last night when Gabe and some girl were going at it under the mistletoe.” Melissa reaches for a cranberry scone but then stops herself, knowing if she eats it now she’ll just get crumbs everywhere and look less presentable.

“Are you jealous?” Dove spreads out layers of crumble cake onto sterling silver trays, readying the food for the guests, wishing that her own night had gone differently.

“I’m not jealous. It’s not like I want Gabe….” She shrugs and doesn’t mention whom she does want. “Except we did have fun. There was this whole other side to him, like when he and I were on the mountaintop…. He was sweet, romantic.”

Dove shakes her head and wipes her floury hands on her apron. “I’m beginning to think that guys just don’t change. No matter what.” She considers something. “Girls, too. Look at Claire. Evil then; same thing now. Only better hair.”

Melissa winces. Bad enough to have unresolved feelings for someone—worse when they clearly like someone else. “I can’t believe they’re all going to be here.” Melissa shows her hands to Dove so she can view their shaking.

Dove hands Melissa a double-sized bottle of champagne. “By
them
I’m guessing you mean him, right?” Dove gestures with her chin to the living room.

Melissa turns, gripping the champagne bottle as James unzips his coat, drops a heavy duffel on the ground, and looks right at her.

4

D
OVE RUSHES THROUGH THE
last of her lunch preparations so she can try and catch a shuttle van into town. Despite the holiday, the shopkeepers have open hours, never wanting to turn away the extra cash flow of splurging vacationers.

“I’ve had it,” she says to Charlie. “I’ve decided my whole life right now is maybes.” Charlie licks her pointer finger and slides it along the last tray she has to wash, scooping up scone crumbs, and waits for Dove to go on. “Sorry—I know we don’t exactly know each other very well.”

Charlie smiles. “I know enough to say good luck.” She takes one more fingerful of crumbs before sliding the tray into the soapy water. “And yum—if the crumbs are this good, I can only imagine what the actual pastries taste like.” With no dishwasher, cleaning up from meals takes ages, but Charlie doesn’t seem bothered.
In fact,
Dove thinks,
nothing seems to bother her. I wish I had that kind of calm personality.

“Thanks. Next time I’ll save you one.” Dove unties her apron and attempts to hear what’s being said in the dining room.

Charlie watches her. “Listening for anything in particular?”

Dove shakes her head. “No. Well, maybe. See? Here I am with
maybe
again.” She helps Charlie by sponging off the counter, thinking about seeing Max last night, how thinking of him with Claire makes her physically ill, and how now that she never asked Max to stay, the thought of him leaving makes her feel sick, too. “What do you do when nothing in life makes sense?” Dove sighs. “Maybe I’ll be with Max, maybe I’ll be with William, maybe I’ll stay here, maybe I’ll go to Nevis. My brain cannot bear the indecision any longer.” Dove clutches her head like she’s in a migraine ad.
I wish I were on the beach right now. With William beside me and a fruity drink in my hand, with nothing to do but be with him. The countdown has begun.

With her hands covered in soapsuds, Charlie gestures at Dove, sending blobs of slippery soap onto the floor. “Wait a second. Maybe you’ll think I’m sounding oversimplified here, but what exactly do you want?”

These words make Dove stand still.
How do I explain it? What exactly do I want? And why is choosing so hard for me?
“You know what it is? I feel like every decision I make changes everything—all those tiny moments when you leave the house and miss the bus, or take this job or that …”

“Or like this guy or that …”

Dove smirks. “All of those add up. And what if I make the wrong choice?”

Charlie empties the sink of soapy water, adjusts the faucet to the right temperature, and then sticks her whole head underneath. A minute later she swings up, splattering Dove and the counters with her wet head. “So much better than the no-water-pressure shower downstairs.” She takes a kitchen towel and pats her hair dry. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as the wrong choice. Look at me. I was living in L.A., going nowhere as a nanny to people whose job it is to fill the pages of the tabloids. I take a kid for a walk, blah blah blah, and now I’m here.”

“Washing dishes and cleaning loos?”

Charlie swats Dove with the towel. “Fine. So maybe my job prospects haven’t changed dramatically, but I’ve saved lots in tips, collected tons of contacts on every continent, every country, every state—and I figure when the time’s right, I’ll move on.”

“So you take each day as it comes?”

Charlie twists her thick wet hair up into a messy bun and nods. “When it comes to life, my philosophy is, Whatever is meant to be will happen.”

Dove thinks about Max’s intense stare, the way his hands felt on her back the last time they’d kissed. Then she switches to sunny William, his laid-back attitude and gentle good looks that make her feel lighted from the inside. “And what about love?”

For the first time, Charlie’s face responds without looking upbeat and unfazed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Dove says, wiping the counter again and trying not to slide on the wet floor, “if you’re able to just relax about where your life’s headed, what does that say about your approach to love?”

Charlie’s blue eyes narrow and her freckled face pales slightly. “Love’s different. I firmly believe that if there’s something—someone—you want in this life, you have to seek them out.” She pauses. From the dining room, they can hear Melissa’s voice rising as she tells a story. Only certain words are audible—
snow, ski lift, fell down, mess.
A big eruption of laughter filters through, causing Charlie’s eyes to light up.

Dove studies her. “What?”

Charlie blushes, the pink coming though her thickly freckled skin. “Promise you won’t say?” Dove agrees. “Did you hear that laugh, his laugh? That’s what I mean.” Charlie eyes the door, anxious to peer through it.

“Wait—now you’re the one who isn’t making sense.” Dove checks her watch.

“I like someone.” Charlie grins.

Dove waits for her to say more.
If I get into town soon, I can see about any price changes in the West Indies tickets. And if there’s any way to leave before New Year’s

maybe even sooner. What if I could get on a plane tomorrow and be with William? Maybe that’s the trick to choices

just doing something before your mind takes over.

Charlie takes a deep breath. “When I was nannying last week, I saw this guy at one of those clubs. One with a snow theme, or whatever.”

“And?” Dove raises her eyebrows, making her whole small face look expectant. More laughter from the other room makes her smile.
Good for you, Melissa. Even though she must be so nervous with Gabe and James and all their skiing buddies in there, she’s holding her own. For now.

“And I’ve seen those movies, and read those books where a person feels they’re destined to be with someone.” Charlie undoes the messy knot of hair and her strawberry locks cascade in wet waves. “And that’s how I feel about someone.”

Dove’s curiosity gets the better of her. “Okay, who is this man of great mystery?”

Charlie drags Dove by her collar over to the doorway. They open the swinging door just a crack and peer through. “Him,” Charlie whispers. “James.”

“She what?” Melissa stomps the snow off her boot and holds the door open for Dove. In town, the cafés are busy with people scarfing down lattes before their morning ski runs, the shops swarming with pre-holiday shoppers. Melissa has all of ten minutes before she has to head to Dolly’s to shop for prizes for the Luxury Scavenger Hunt and masks for the Winter Wonderland Ball.

“She likes James. What can I say?” Dove pays for a small coffee, hesitant to part with even a few coins after trying so hard to save her money. The travel agency was jammed when she went in, and they’d asked her to look online if she wanted to change her travel dates.

Melissa sticks her tongue out and finishes her coffee in three big sips. “I like Charlie, I do. But she was there when Gabe and James and I …” Melissa remembers the scene unfolding during Changeover Day—Harley leaving for the islands, James finding out about Melissa and Gabe’s hookup before Melissa could even explain that she’d liked James first. “So what is she planning on doing?”

Dove shrugs. “Don’t know. I mean, from the sound of it, she’s pretty determined to get your man.”

Melissa kicks Dove under the small café table. “He’s not my man.”

“But you want him to be….”

Melissa wipes her mouth on a small waxy paper napkin. “Listen, I’m shirking hosting as it is—I have to run. Between the scavenger hunt tonight and the ball coming up, I don’t know what to get to first.”

Dove counts on her fingers. “One, scavenger hunt is lame and no one goes. Don’t waste your efforts. Two, the ball is a big deal and people want something original. Three, you come first, so don’t forget to deal with what you want, too.”

“And you?”

“I have to find a computer and see if I can get to William sooner than planned.”

“I wish I had one to lend you, but …” Melissa thinks. “Any public terminals?”

Dove shakes her head, momentarily sidelined. Then she gets it. “I know—Matron. She has that massive wall of them in her office.”

Melissa looks at Dove like she’s gone crazy. “Um, yeah, in her private, off-limits office.” She stands up, clears her cup and saucer, and warns Dove. “Don’t let love send you packing. And by that I mean, Don’t get busted. I need you here.”

5

D
OLLY’S WAREHOUSE HULKS INTO
the white sky, the brick exterior set back from the street and filled to the brim with trinkets and treasures. Once inside, Melissa takes a form and miniature pencil, along with her budget notes, and begins searching for ideas for the ball.
If Dove says the scavenger hunt isn’t a big deal, fine. We can just give coupons for prizes, or bags of candy

something small. But the Winter Wonderland Ball is something else.

Pictures from balls past lined the walls of the Main House. Dating back to the 1920s, the balls had been major affairs, complete with horse-drawn carriages, exquisite dresses, and themes that rivaled Hollywood award shows. Three years ago the whole resort had been turned into Venice, Italy, with the snow colored blue to look like water and sleds made to look like gondolas. The year after that had been Snowflake, with a three-ring circus of events, each one more elaborate than the last. But last year’s event is the one that Melissa can’t shake off.
How can I compete with a murder mystery party that was so intricately planned that international papers were convinced the death was real and picked the story up, only to
have it turned into a movie? The girl who’d planned that was whisked off to Los Angeles to come up with other ideas for films.

BOOK: Slippery Slopes
2.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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