Authors: Emily Franklin
Gabe reaches for her again but accepts the shrug-off and hands her the comfort of her jacket. “Look, if it’s any consolation, I think you were …”
“I don’t need your consolations, okay?” She licks her dry lips and studies him. “What’re you even doing here, anyway?”
Of course James didn’t come, just Gabe.
Now it’s Gabe’s turn to blush, which he does only slightly, then takes a deep breath. “Ski team code—if you see the injury, you accompany the injured. Done deal.”
“And you stay with them? Me, I mean?” Melissa’s side hurts, her whole body aches, and her mind begins to race with everything she needs to get done. “Oh, man. I’m doomed. How can I host when I’m among the wounded?”
“Okay. In answer to the first question—yes, I stayed. Not just because it’s code. But because …” Gabe turns away from Melissa, looking out to the otherwise empty infirmary. “Because I’m sorry. As you know by now, I have this reputation—”
“Deserved,” Melissa interrupts.
“Can I finish?” Gabe cracks his knuckles, biding time. “I acted like a jerk last week. Maybe that’s too mild a word. Fill in with any insult you see fit. And I just wanted you to know that—I didn’t mean to. I didn’t …”
Melissa watches Gabe fumble, feeling both glad
(he deserves a fumble or two)
and sorry for him
(he looks like a kicked puppy).
“Why did you?” Wondering if this makes sense, she elaborates. “I mean, what happened between us, exactly? And why?”
Gabe covers his mouth with his hand, thinking, and then nods. “So—I’m kind of a self-admitted sleaze, you know?” A laugh escapes, but not funny, more pathetic. “And last year—when you liked me, I’d never really had that. Not the way you did. So when the team got transferred here, and boom, there you were … I just thought—Maybe it’d be a chance to—”
“Something like that.” Gabe waves the air with his arms. “Obviously, that failed. I don’t know why I do it, really. When we were together …” His green eyes lock hers. “Don’t for a second think I was pretending.”
Melissa feels just the smallest amount of relief there. It’s one thing to be wooed, but worse if you think the guy’s lying. “So why do you do it, the womanizing thing? Being a player—roping innocent Australians into your dreadful schemes?” Melissa blushes again, thinking of how she fell for it—being with him on the mountain-top, naming stars and thinking they could be an actual couple. “I wish I hadn’t been so naïve.”
Gabe shakes his head. “No—don’t say that. It’s one of your good qualities.” He holds open the door and Melissa wobbles out, trying to protect her bruised ribs and the rest of her body—heart included—as she navigates the hall.
Outside, in the parking lot that sits between the Main House and the Infirmary, Gabe waits for her. His boots scrape the pavement. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah.” She feels it, too. Not only because the pain will ease up and somehow she’ll deal with being the slowest host, the host who is unable to ski, but because when someone screws you over and admits to it, you’re afforded a certain amount of relief. “Thanks for waiting with me.” She pauses. “Even if you’re still a bit of an ass.”
Gabe grins. “I can’t refute that.” He starts to walk her toward the chalet. “You coming?” She shakes her head.
“I gotta go into town. Stuff to take care of. Think any of the chalet guests will mind if I keep up my disappearing act?” She likes how
go into town
sounds mysterious, even though the job at hand is just planning for the ball.
“I’m happy to cover for you—say you’re sleeping off the fall or whatever. You sure you’re up for going anywhere?” His voice is doubtful.
She reassures him. “I’ll be fine. Really. I can take care of myself, believe it or not.”
“Oh, I believe it.” Gabe slips something out of his back pocket, walks the few paces toward her, and hands it over. Their fingers touch in the exchange, both of them registering the small truce that has passed between them. “Before I forget—I have an invitation for you.”
“Lucky me.” Melissa smiles at him, accepts the envelope, and watches him walk up the path to the house before tearing open the sealed envelope. Addressed with just her name on the front, the invite is thick, cream colored, and set with dark green embossed writing:
What kind of party is this? I can’t tell anyone about it?
Melissa wonders as she makes her way to one of the Trois vans. And where exactly is Isle Du Mont? Isle means “island”—why would there be an island here? Melissa carefully slides the invite back into the envelope, wondering who else is invited, and since she’s clearly not allowed to ask, what the code of silence means in terms of getting time off. How can I disappear for a night with no good reason? From her pocket she pulls the copy of a master key that works all of the vans, and opens the driver’s-side door. First things first. I’ll deal with the Winter Wonderland Ball as fast as I can, then head back in time for dinner and some sort of hosting tonight. As she turns the key in the ignition, Melissa wonders what’s happening back at the chalet, if Dove is acting as chef and host, or if—and Melissa winces with this—Charlie has stepped into the role of showing the guests a good time. Like a good driver, Melissa adjusts her rearview mirror, checks that her seat belt is fastened, and though she notices it, doesn’t pay much attention to the lumpy mass way in the backseat. Someone’s laundry bags? Sleeping bags? An orange jacket? She shrugs—people were always leaving their belongings in the van—and heads, bruised, into town.
OU DID WHAT?” DOVE
shouts while trying to balance a tray with eight pints of Stella Artois on one hand while gripping a magnum of champagne in the other.
Charlie grins at her. Dressed in a black unitard that zips up the back, Charlie’s outfit leaves little to the imagination. With cheeks flushed from the fireside heat, she leans over the bar and yells to Dove. “While you were off doing God knows what, I think I might have reached my goal.” Charlie gives a meaningful glance up to the chalet’s balcony, where James rests on his elbows, looking down at the growing party scene.
For Melissa’s sake, I hope she doesn’t mean what I think she means,
Dove thinks as she swerves in front of the bar with the tray. After leaving Matron’s room, she’d come back to the chalet to find a party just beginning, with Charlie as the host. Now the soiree has grown to earthquake size, with Charlie at its epicenter, flitting this way and that trying to maintain some sense of order, while Dove slaves away making appetizers, whipping up dips of crème fraîche and chives, creating finger foods, and slinging the alcohol to calm the masses.
“What about you?” Charlie raises her eyebrows to Dove, relieving her of the champagne magnum as she’s about to head upstairs toward James.
“What about me?” Dove asks, handing out the pints of beer and flashing back to Max, his hair slick with cold water, his hands shaking just like they did the first time he’d kissed her. “I’m just doing my job.”
It’s not that Charlie’s evil or anything, just entirely focused on one goal: getting James. She’s the kind of girl you can’t ever really get to know, because the minute the object of her affection is around, she’ll drop you.
“Well, keep me posted on the gruesome details!” Charlie heads for the stairs, checking first to see if James is looking at her, which is unclear. He’s still up in the balcony, but unlike in movies, when someone’s far above you, it’s not always easy to tell what they’re looking at. “I’m off to try and interest a certain person in a tour of the guest rooms.” She holds up the magnum like a trophy. “With this as the bait.”
I doubt that’s the only bait,
Dove thinks, sizing up Charlie’s body in her slinky catsuit.
At least she’s still technically in uniform, at least color-wise.
She gestures to her with the last of the beers and then takes a drink herself, wiping the condensation on her slim-fitting black trousers.
I deserve it, after all,
Filling in for everyone while Melissa convalesces and Charlie social butterflies
herself toward love, or at least …
A look of concern washes over Dove’s face when she thinks about Melissa and the fall, but from the way Charlie explained it, Melissa was being more than looked after. In fact, Charlie had been the one to encourage Gabe to ride along with the mountain patrol and stay with Melissa at the Infirmary.
“Hello,” one of the guests slurs to Dove. In a tight orange T-shirt, Dove thinks the guy looks like a traffic cone, and she flinches when he tugs at one of the belt loops on her pants. “You’re that bird girl.”
“Excuse me?” Dove stifles a laugh. She doesn’t want to offend the guy—after all, he’s a guest—but his state of inebriation hardly gives him credibility.
“You know,” Traffic Cone nods, his words mushing together. “The bird’s name …”
“Oh yeah. I’m Dove.” She points to herself, pulling on her cropped hair out of habit.
“You’re the one she said used to have money or something, right?” He gives her a drunken leer and smiles. “Why would a good-looking girl like you go dropping a fortune behind?” He wobbles on one foot and for a second Dove thinks he might face plant into the carpet, which would suit her very well.
What an ass. Who brings up someone’s personal finances? And more importantly, how
does he know?
“It’s really none of your concern.” Dove gives him her case-closed expression and sips again at the beer.
It could be worse; the Christmas carols could be playing on a continual
loop, like they are in the rest of the buildings. If I hear “Joy to the World” one more time, I just might have to scream.
“Aren’t you supposed to pay for that?” A voice interrupts the party’s hazy hum. Appearing behind Traffic Cone Guy is an even-less-welcome sight.
“Claire. I should have known.”
I just might have to scream, anyway.
Dove feels out of place in her work uniform, and wishes she didn’t care.
Sure, I’m off having adventures, following my own path and heart while Claire is stuck back at school in our old life, but still
it would be nice not to have any doubts. Particularly since Claire seems to have the ability to see right through any exterior I might have and into my core.
Claire turns to the drunk Traffic Cone. “She’s working here, you see. Really she oughtn’t be consuming the beverages.”
“Your friend’s got a point.” Traffic Cone nods.
She’s not my friend. Not by a long shot.
“Actually, as per the instructional guide handed out to all employees of Les Trois, section four, clause two states that, quote, ‘While engaged in duties including but not limited to socializing, event chairing, and entertaining, or while off-hours, one may partake of the food and drink provided by the resort in a limited and mature fashion.’” Dove holds her beer in one hand, a bemused and steely eyed look on her face. “So you see, Claire, that not only am I allowed to be doing what I’m doing …” She takes a dramatic sip from the glass and licks the foam from her top lip while Claire and Traffic Cone stare. “I’m doing it in a mature way, which is more than I can say for you. Either of you.”
Pleased with herself, Dove scrambles back to the kitchen to let out a sigh of relief. With her back to the party and her face toward the oven, she removes yet another tray of baked Brie and sighs.
I might not have reached William today, and I might not have changed my plane ticket to Nevis, but at long last I held my own with my nemesis. And that’s something.
“That was quite a rebuttal,” Max says from the doorway. Long since dried off, he’s the essence of rugged coziness in a red fleece and jeans. He’s so tall he fills up the entire doorframe, and yet again catches Dove off guard.
As soon as she sees him, she tries to talk herself out of her gut reaction.
He’s incredible. If he marched in here and demanded I break up with William, what would I do? Agree.
With a large amount of blushing, Dove stares at the red fleece and the body in it and realizes she’s already pictured herself wearing only that fleece. It would be long, like a dress on her, and she could curl up with Max, fireside, and—
“So, did you reach your”—Max stumbles over the word—“boyfriend?”
Dove returns to reality, where Max is getting it on with Claire, and William is a continent away, miles of ocean between them.
If I say no, I’ll only appear weak and desperate. Why should I admit to being out of touch with William while Max has his own fling with Claws right in the living room?
“Yeah.” Dove forces a smile. “Everything’s cool.” She searches Max’s face for signs of disappointment but doesn’t see any. “A week from now I’ll be slathering on the SPF and …”
“Sounds like you have it all figured out.” Max puts a hand on her shoulder and gives her a warm smile.
I guess he is fine with it. Fine with me leaving, going after William, with never finishing whatever we started.
Dove knows she has to ask Max something but can’t quite bring herself to do so. “What are your New Year’s plans?”
Max removes his hand and shrugs, looking past Dove into the swell of partygoers. Dove fights the urge to follow his gaze. “Oh, you know, I’m not even sure how long I’m even staying here.” He pauses and points to the ceiling. “As you’re aware, I’m not staying right here, at The Tops, and being in the hotel isn’t quite the same.”