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"Well paced, well-written, a romantic delight." -Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author The Garner brothers are poster boys for the ski resort town of Glory Junction, California. But as much as they love outdoor thrills, they know how to create indoor thrills, too . . . Colt Garner thrives on adrenaline. As Glory Junction’s police chief and the co-owner of Garner Adventure, he knows where to find danger and excitement. Unfortunately his new neighbor, fussy, transplanted city girl Delaney Scott, is anything but a thrill, even if she is as gorgeously curved as a killer ski slope. They have nothing in common but a shared driveway they’re arguing over . . . and a mutual attraction neither of them can fight. Starting over was not in designer Delaney’s plans. But now that her rotten ex has walked away with the rights to her brand, she needs to reinvent herself, and fast. It’s not easy with bold, brash Colt next door, too handsome for his own good, and, she’s sure, too unreliable for hers. But as small town life throws them together again and again, Colt and Delaney find that simple romance may be the most exhilarating gamble of all . . .
Release date: July 25, 2017
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 336
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He turned on his side, took one look at the time, and muttered, “Shit.” In his slightly inebriated state, he must’ve set the alarm wrong the night before and was now running late for a meeting with the mayor, who more than likely wanted to fire him.
Warm sunlight streamed through his window, making him shield his eyes with the back of his hand. Another hot August day in Glory Junction, California. Which meant record numbers of people would flood the town over the weekend to raft on the Glory River, waterski on Lake Paiute, and hike the Sierra mountains. In the winter, the tourists came for the snow. The town boasted five ski resorts, and from Main Street you could see chairlifts and gondolas going up and down the mountainsides. St. Moritz of the West is what some people called it, but the town hadn’t always been this affluent. When Colt’s parents had settled here it had been home to ranchers and ski bums and a haven for back-to-the-land hippies.
But it hadn’t taken long for the rest of the world to discover the hamlet, only three and a half hours northeast of San Francisco and seven hours from Los Angeles. Professional athletes came for the world-class skiing, rock climbing, and river rapids. Tech moguls and celebrities for the cachet and property values of a picturesque ski town in the Mother Lode. It even had a private airport so part-timers could fly in for quick stays at their lake houses or ski-in condos.
The growth was great for his family, who owned and operated Garner Adventure, an extreme-sport and tour company. But as chief of the Glory Junction Police Department, not so much. Most days he was understaffed for the barrage of tourists and weekenders. Still, he wouldn’t trade the job for anything.
Colt finally found the radio knob and shut the music off. Every time he heard the song it reopened old wounds. Wounds he wanted permanently scabbed over. The phone rang, further reminding him that he needed to get out of bed, pronto. He checked the caller ID and answered.
“I’m running late,” he said by way of greeting. “What’s up?”
“Good show last night.” His usually workaholic brother, TJ, along with the rest of his family, had sat through three sets. It meant a lot to Colt, especially TJ, who had his hands full running Garner Adventure.
“Not bad, considering how rusty I am.” It was the first time he’d had a gig in months. Between getting called out on police emergencies and being asked to pick up the slack at his family’s company, Colt was lucky if he got a full night’s sleep, let alone have the time to play music.
“You didn’t sound rusty to me,” TJ said. “What are you doing Sunday?”
It was Colt’s only day off. “Sleeping.”
“We had a last minute guide cancellation and I was wondering if you had a couple of hours to lead a river-rafting tour. Before you say no, it’s a bachelorette party. Bikinis.”
Colt didn’t care if the women were naked, he wanted his day off. “I thought you were hiring more guides.”
TJ let out a breath. “We did. We’re still having trouble keeping up with the amount of business we’re getting.”
“Working on it. So, can you do it? Come on, I went to your show. That’s three hours I’ll never get back.”
Colt swung his feet off the bed and scrubbed his hand through his hair. “Yeah, all right.” He’d fit it in somehow. “I hope you can afford the three hours for my funeral when I die of sleep deprivation. Maybe do a eulogy, if it’s not too much trouble for you. I’ve got a meeting with Pond, so gotta go.” Colt hung up before his younger brother could rope him into something else.
In the kitchen, he started a pot of coffee and headed for a quick shower. His uniform, the only clean one left in the closet, could’ve used a good pressing, but he put it on anyway, along with his gun belt and badge. Colt filled a mug with caffeine. If he could’ve mainlined it, he would’ve.
His cell vibrated in his pocket, making him jump, and he sloshed the coffee over the rim of his cup and all over his shirt.
He grabbed a dish towel and futilely tried to clean himself. Giving up, he stuck his chest over the sink and turned on the sprayer. As he dripped onto the kitchen floor, he checked the missed call. Win, the youngest of his three brothers. He thought about changing his shirt, caught sight of the clock, and grabbed another towel from the drawer to blot himself dry the best he could. A fresh shirt and Win would have to wait. As it was, he was cutting it too close for comfort.
On the way out the door, Colt snagged his keys, put on his aviators, and jogged down his back porch stairs. If he avoided Main Street, he might be able to get to city hall on time.
“Dammit.” His neighbor’s car blocked his cruiser. Again.
The two of them shared an easement road that forked off onto their respective driveways and garages. Like most of the homes in Glory Junction, his was on a hillside with a driveway so steep it should’ve been illegal. And because his house was on a small lot, there was no place to turn around. Street parking didn’t exist on account of there being no curbs, just an occasional dirt shoulder barely wide enough for a Smart car. So Colt liked to park on the shoulder of the easement for quick access to his vehicle. There wasn’t room for two cars, yet she continually parked there anyway.
He crossed over to her ostentatious mini mansion, climbed the front porch, and knocked on the door. Colt knew she was home. Yet it took her so long to answer, he considered going inside, justifying it as a welfare check.
She finally came out in exercise clothes that looked too nice to work out in. The top was some kind of wraparound thing that dipped low, giving him a nice view of her cleavage. He tried really hard not to look, but failed miserably. He chalked it up to being a degenerate and not to the fact that she had a spectacular rack. She was doing some leering of her own, her eyes roving over his chest.
“What happened to your shirt?” she asked.
He glanced down to see what she was talking about. Oh yeah, the coffee.
Colt cocked his head at her Tesla. “I thought we talked about the parking situation . . . how a lot of times I need to get out of here in a hurry.”
“And I thought I explained to you that I need to be close to the outlet to plug in my car.”
“Don’t you have one in your garage or near your garage?” The house had a security system that rivaled most banks’. Colt figured the builder hadn’t skimped on electrical outlets.
“I told you this already. Clearly you weren’t listening. It’s the only two-hundred-forty-volt outlet. It was installed on a fifty-amp circuit breaker. They’re not like your run-of-the-mill house outlets.”
Thanks for the lesson on electrical capacity, he wanted to say, but didn’t have time to argue with her. “Delaney, work with me here, okay? I’ve got to be somewhere.”
“What, are they having a special on donuts at Tart Me Up?”
He rolled his eyes. “Clever. Because I never heard that one before.”
She glanced at her watch and sighed. “Fine. But you do realize that you only have the easement because I allow it. It’s my land.”
“The easement has been on the books longer than either of us has lived here.” Before she and her husband bought the property and tore down the perfectly fine house that occupied it to build the Palace of Versailles.
“I can change that.” She squinted her blue eyes at him, then turned and went inside, giving him a good look at her spandex ass.
This time, he forced himself not to stare, raising his gaze to take in her black hair, which made him think of the song “Galway Girl” and laugh to himself. He was in no danger of losing his heart to Delaney Scott, not like the guy in the song. She might be beautiful but she was a royal pain in the butt. Besides, the last time he’d fallen for one of Glory Junction’s resident celebrities . . . Well, let’s just say he wouldn’t be doing it again. Ever. Not if he wanted to survive. Because while some men drank their blues away, he binged on BASE jumping, parachute skiing, cave diving, and other death-defying sports.
A few minutes later, she returned with keys. He followed Delaney and waited while she unplugged her car. At this rate, Colt was in danger of missing his meeting altogether. The mayor would assume that he was being insubordinate. Ordinarily, he couldn’t care less what the mayor thought. Colt’s job had always been nonpolitical. He’d served under two different mayors and had been largely left alone to run the department as he’d seen fit. But the Honorable Carter Pond had a thing for micromanaging—and promptness.
Maybe Colt was being paranoid—his brothers certainly thought so—but Pond seemed to be gunning for him. So strolling in twenty minutes after their scheduled meeting wasn’t going to help his cause. Not one bit.
“I’m probably missing a conference call right now,” she said, her voice clipped.
“I’m sorry.” He probably should’ve left it at that, but couldn’t help adding, “You wouldn’t have, if you hadn’t blocked me in.”
“You shouldn’t have parked so close to my house and outlet.”
“You have a driveway. Just use it.”
“So do you.”
They sounded like two little kids bickering in the sandbox. Most days, Colt was an easygoing guy. Sometimes, downright congenial. But the day had gotten off to a bad beginning—starting with the damned song—and he figured it was only going downhill from here. “We need to figure this out,” he said, not wanting to fight with her anymore. “But I don’t have time to do it now.”
Colt got in his cruiser and watched through his rearview mirror as she pulled the Tesla up her drive. Difficult woman. Why she’d moved to the mountains full time was beyond him. She was a big-deal fashion designer from LA. His sister-in-law, Hannah, carried some of her stuff at Glorious Gifts on Main Street. Delaney’s husband, according to town gossip, was no longer in the picture. Which was too bad because when he was, they rarely, if ever, came up, just letting that big house of theirs sit empty. And quiet.
Colt pulled out and drove to city hall. By the time he parked he was fifteen minutes late. By the time he made it to the mayor’s office, Pond was good and pissed off.
“Glad you could show up, Chief,” he said with derision.
“Sorry I’m late ... small emergency.” It wasn’t exactly a lie.
“With your family’s business?” Pond motioned for Colt to take a seat. “You seem to spend a lot of time there.”
Colt did, but never on the city’s dime. “It had nothing to do with Garner Adventure.”
Pond got up and came around his desk. He was tan and fit and Hannah said he had hair plugs. Colt wouldn’t know, but could tell the mayor put a lot of time into his appearance. Unlike the past two mayors, who wore khakis or jeans and boots, Pond opted for Italian suits and loafers. They probably went better with his Porsche. He turned a lot of heads in town, that was for sure.
To Colt, the mayor reeked of midlife crisis.
“You want a drink?” Pond reached into a mini fridge against the wall where old photographs of the town hung.
Colt was surprised he hadn’t taken them down. Carter Pond was a relative newcomer. He’d moved to Glory Junction from Silicon Valley seven years ago. Word on the street was he’d made a mint selling his start-up before the dot-com bust. He certainly lived like a fat cat with his sprawling estate and a membership at Glory Junction’s only country club. Though Colt was always suspicious of people who flashed their money a little too loudly. In any event, the mayor tended to ignore anything in Glory Junction that was BC—Before Carter.
“No thanks,” Colt said, and pointedly gazed at his watch, wanting the mayor to get to the point of this meeting. Colt had things to do.
Pond pulled out a bottle of designer water. That’s what Colt called it. Fancy bottle, hefty price tag, same damn water as the tap. He hoped the city wasn’t footing the bill for it. The mayor sat back down—Colt suspected he wanted the big, mahogany desk between them—and took a drag of the water.
“What happened to your uniform?”
Colt’s shirt had dried, but the coffee had left a noticeable stain. “I collided with a cup of coffee.”
The mayor laughed. “Was that the emergency?”
Nope. His black-haired, blue-eyed, curvy-as-sin neighbor had been his emergency. She and her Tesla. “It was a busy morning.”
“Hmm,” the mayor muttered, then took another swig of his expensive water. “I wanted to talk job performance.”
“Yours or mine?” Colt asked, unable to help himself.
The mayor feigned a belly laugh. Colt knew Carter thought his comment was anything but funny.
“I want good things for this town, Colt. I want to take Glory Junction into the future ... reinvent our reputation as a small, quaint town to something more relevant. I want us to have a place at the table.”
Colt nodded, thinking to himself: What the hell does that even mean? A place at the table. What table? He supposed it was a euphemism for making Glory Junction a top tourism attraction, even though it already was. Pond wanted to pretend that commerce in the town was failing so he could take credit for turning it around.
“For far too long, Glory Junction has operated like a back-road campground when what it should be is an international destination resort. I want to make that happen.”
It had been happening long before Pond became mayor. The Four Seasons and Glory Junction’s other luxury hotels had been doing fine for years. During ski season they were booked solid. And going by Garner Adventure’s stats—and its overworked guides—summers here were quickly becoming just as popular.
“The problem, Colt,” the mayor continued, “is you’re stuck in the past.”
“How’s that?” Colt asked, trying to read what the mayor was working up to. No question Pond had an endgame. Colt just didn’t know what it was yet.
The mayor drained the rest of his water and squeezed the bottle until it made a crinkling noise. “You’re too close to the residents, which is understandable since you grew up here. But to build a brighter future we need to make the town more tourist friendly . . . more welcoming.”
Colt assumed that was code for loosening the rules for anyone with a reservation. “Why don’t you cut to the chase here, Carter? I’ve got a town to patrol.”
“Do you know how many traffic tickets you issued last year?”
Colt didn’t know the number off the top of his head, but for a town this size with as many visitors as it got, it wasn’t unprecedented. “What’s your point?” he asked, even though he knew damned well what the mayor’s point was.
“My point is a tourist charged with a hefty fine for violating the speed limit isn’t a happy tourist.”
“You do know that the city benefits financially from these fines, right?” It’s not why Colt’s officers gave tickets, but if the mayor was worried about losing revenue ...
“Not as much as the city benefits from the tax base of its businesses.”
“Are you asking me to look the other way when an out-of-towner drives sixty in a twenty-five-mile-an-hour zone or when a drunken tourist up from the city causes a fight at Old Glory?” Because it had been known to happen. “What about the locals? Is it business as usual for them? I figure since we’re not going to protect them, we may as well look the other way when they speed or steal or trespass, too. Does that work for you?”
“Cut the sarcasm, Colt. You’re on thin ice as it is. All I’m saying is we all need to do our part, be on the same page.”
Colt didn’t want any part of Pond’s page, but he held his tongue. Managing up had never been his strongpoint, but he loved this town and continuing to pop off to the mayor wouldn’t serve anyone. People here needed someone to watch their backs and that definitely wasn’t Carter. The mayor wanted to turn Glory Junction into goddamned Disneyland. Even Colt’s family, who profited from the town’s tourism trade, didn’t want to see that. And Colt’s job was to keep everyone safe, not just the people with the biggest wallets.
“We through here?” Colt started to get up.
“Yep, we sure are.”
Colt found his way out of Pond’s office, through the long corridor of city hall, to the exit, barely able to corral his temper. The mayor was actually asking him to obstruct justice so Glory Junction could have a place at the “table.” Translation: Carter Pond wanted the world to think he’d taken Glory Junction from a modest, dusty town to a thriving ski village at the safety expense of Colt’s family, friends, and neighbors—the people he’d known his whole life.
Jolted from his thoughts, Colt looked up from the sidewalk to see his brother Josh. “What are you doing here?”
“Last I looked, I lived here,” Josh said.
“I meant city hall.” Josh, like the rest of the family, worked at Garner Adventure on Main Street, a few blocks away. And his and Hannah’s Victorian was on the other side of town.
Josh pointed at a four-story office building that used to be a kitschy western motel. “My new physical therapist.”
“How’s the leg?” His brother’s limp had become less pronounced since Christmas, when he’d returned from Afghanistan.
An IED explosion had killed three and injured seven soldiers in his squad. Josh and another army ranger had managed to carry the survivors to safety. But his brother’s leg had been torn and mangled so badly that doctors had wanted to amputate. One of the surgeons had stitched together enough of Josh’s blood vessels to save the leg long enough to get him to Germany. There, they’d reconnected his bones with plates and rods and mended his wounds with muscle and skin from other parts of his body.
His little brother was a walking miracle of science, which none of them took for granted. Colt credited a lot of Josh’s recovery to Hannah. She’d kicked his ass when he’d first returned, angry at the world. They’d gotten married in June and Colt had never seen his brother happier.
“Good,” Josh answered. “The goal is to be rock climbing by next summer.” In the meantime, Josh was leading the inner-tube cave tours and had taken a few groups down the Glory River. “What’s going on in city hall?” he asked.
“I had a meeting with Pond. The guy’s a douche bag ... put me in a foul mood.”
Colt did a quick scan of the street. There were big ears in Glory Junction. As if on cue, Rita Tucker, one of the town’s biggest busybodies and a member of the city council, waved from across the street. “We’ll talk later; I’ve got to get to the office.”
“You up for a beer tonight with the brothers?”
“I don’t know how late I’ll be.” Friday nights in Glory Junction could get busy and he’d been out late the night before.
“Text if you can make it. If not, no worries.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Colt bit back a yawn.
“I better get going.” Josh started to walk away, then called over his shoulder, “Hey, Colt, wash your shirt.”
At the police station, he found a spare uniform top in his coat closet, stripped the stained shirt, and shrugged into the fresh one.
Carrie Jo, his receptionist, barged in without knocking. “You want me to drop that off at the cleaners?”
Colt had been in the same graduating class with her in high school. Back then she’d been head cheerleader, homecoming queen, and whatever other crap the popular girls did. Instead of going to college, she’d married an investment banker. Last year, she’d caught him cheating on her and had left him. She had zero job skills but Colt hired her anyway. Best thing he ever did because as his gatekeeper, Carrie Jo had turned out to be adept at keeping the crazies away.
“Sure.” He sat down at his desk to check his messages. Unlike Pond’s desk, it was your standard city-issued L-shaped metal number. “While you’re there, if you wouldn’t mind picking up my clean uniforms I’d greatly appreciate it. And if you grab me one of those breakfast sandwiches at Tart Me Up I’ll love you forever. Get one for you too. You fly, I’ll buy.”
“No sandwiches for me, I’m back on Paleo.” She’d packed on fifty pounds since high school.
“Just exercise and you’ll be fine. You look great, Carrie Jo.”
“If I look so great why don’t you ever set me up with anyone?” She balled up his stained shirt and sank into his sofa, waiting for an answer.
“I would if I knew any single guys.”
“Uh . . . you have two single brothers. Both gorgeous. Both employed.”
“Uh-uh. Win nails anything in a skirt and TJ’s a workaholic. You deserve better.”
“What about you?” she challenged.
Wouldn’t Pond love that, Colt thought. Dating a subordinate. “One of us would have to quit. But yeah, I’m good with that.” He winked at her.
“You’re such a liar, but I love you anyway. I want to have a baby, Colt.”
He held up his hands. “Don’t look at me.”
“Denny wouldn’t have cheated on me if I’d still been a size four and I’d have a child by now.”
“That’s bullshit, Carrie Jo, and you know it. Denny was an insecure prick. His cheating had nothing to do with you. Why don’t you try online dating? I hear people have good luck with it.”
“Why don’t you?”
“I wasn’t the one complaining about the state of my love life.”
“You should be. Lisa was a bitch and every single woman in Glory Junction hopes you’ll finally get over her and pick one of them.”
As much as he liked to shoot the shit with Carrie Jo, that particular topic was off limits. Being the police chief required discretion where women were concerned. And now with the mayor breathing down his neck—“You’re too close to the residents ”—Colt couldn’t afford to be gossiped about.
“I need to get some work done, Carrie Jo.”
“What about your neighbor . . . Delaney Scott? She’s beautiful, talented, and rich.”
“She’s also annoying as hell.”
“Is she still blocking your access road?”
“Yep. Work, Carrie Jo, I’ve gotta work.”
“Can we make out first?”
“Bye, Carrie Jo.”
“You’re no fun.”
Nope. He sure the hell wasn’t. Who had time for fun?
Delaney sat on the phone fuming. “How can that be? How can he get to keep my name? It’s mine. It’s on my birth certificate, for God’s sake.”
“The judge was firm,” her lawyer said. “Robert gets the name and the clothing company. You get the shoe and handbag business, the homes, and the warehouse.”
“I don’t care about the homes or the warehouse, I want my name back. Besides the fact that it’s the name my parents gave me, it’s my brand, Liz. It’s the name I built the lines on.”
“I know, Delaney, and if you want me to appeal the decision, I will. But I’m not going to lie to you; Robert’s got you over a barrel. Everything was in his name. The company, the licenses, the studio, and the contracts. On paper, you’re nothing more than a fashion designer who worked for Delaney Scott. You got bad legal advice.”
“I got no legal advice.” Just Robert’s. “I was a starry-eyed kid when we started Delaney Scott. I ran the creative side and Robert ran the business end. I didn’t pay attention to whose name was on what. I never thought Robert and I would break up.” Stupid me thought love was forever.
“I’m sorry, Delaney. I did everything I could do. My advice: move on, rebuild in a big way, and remember that success is the best revenge.”
After the call, Delaney went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. What she really needed was a shot or two (or three) of tequila. The last year had been like a surreal dream, watching everything in her life disintegrate. First her marriage and then her company. Maybe she hadn’t worked hard enough on the former, but the business had taken everything she had and then some. All a labor of love. From the moment she’d been accepted to Parsons School of Design, Delaney had plotted her career trajectory, never veering from her goal of being a top designer. An internship at Marc Jacobs led to a design position at Donna Karan and her future seemed to write itself.
She’d met Robert, a bright and rising content marketing manager, at Donna Karan. At their first meeting she spilled red wine on his four-thousand-dollar suit and proceeded to tell him why his campaign for Donna’s new lingerie line was all wrong. The next day he sent her a dozen red Ecuadorian roses, claiming to find pushy women hot, and she fell a little bit in love. They got married a year later and it was Robert who convinced her to leave her six-figure job at Donna Karan and go out on her own. He supported her while she worked on her designs and created her first eponymous couture line, which the trades reviewed glowingly. That’s when Robert quit his job to run the burgeoning Delaney Scott fashion company.
Two years later, they launched a ready-to-wear line, Delaney Scott Every Day. Then came the handbags and the shoes, which turned out to be a significant business on its own. And now, her only business, which came with a small team of designers and salespeople and a warehouse supervisor, who was temporarily overseeing the order shipments until Delaney could hire a fashion house manager to maintain the operation. Right now, she had to develop a new line of clothing from scratch. Unfortunately, in the last year, she hadn’t been able to focus. Her designs were flat and uninspired. Just a lot of the same old, same old.
She’d moved into the Glory Junction house full time nine months ago to take cover after the divorce and ensuing court battle and to get her joo joo back. Too many people in LA wanted to gloat over her failed marriage or use it to their advantage. The fashion industry could be very opportunistic, which was a nice way of putting it. And Glory Junction was such a pretty, happy place with its surrounding mountains, rivers, lakes, and charming downtown, a combination of the old West and an Aspen-style ski town. The area attracted some of the world’s most famous skiers, avid rock climbers, and mountain bikers. For Delaney, who wasn’t much of a sports enthusiast, the town offered . . .
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