FALLING FAST, FALLING HARD Everyone wants a piece of Jaden Alexander. Ever since the famous "Snowboarding Cowboy" took a near-fatal spill on live television, he's been hounded by the media. Every reporter in the country wants an exclusive interview with the chiseled Olympic heartthrob. But only one of them has the easygoing charm-and breathtaking beauty-to knock Jaden off balance . . . Kate Livingston isn't looking for a scoop. As senior editor for Adrenaline Junkie magazine, she's testing out camping gear on the Colorado Trail when Jaden's rescue dog Bella seeks refuge in her tent. Before she knows it, Kate is face to face with the world's sexiest snow-riding cowboy-and the biggest opportunity of her career. But getting close to Jaden isn't just about her job, and for the first time ever Kate has no idea how this story will end.
Release date: July 17, 2018
Publisher: Forever Yours
Print pages: 106
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Rocky Mountain Cowboy
In a small town like Topaz Falls, Colorado, the grocery store was the last place you’d want to go if you didn’t want to be noticed. But when your diet consisted mainly of Honey Nut Cheerios and you’d run out of milk, you had no choice but to show up at Frank’s Market in full disguise.
Jaden Alexander pulled his blue Colorado-flag stocking cap farther down his forehead so that it met the top of his Oakleys. Not that the sunglasses were inconspicuous. They were a custom design, made exclusively for him when the company had courted him for sponsorship six years ago after he’d made his Olympic debut. No one else would know that, though. To other people, he hoped he looked like just another ski bum who moonlighted as a bartender or waiter during the off-season. With any luck, no one in town would realize that J.J. Alexander—dubbed the Snowboarding Cowboy by the media—had come home.
The door still chimed when he walked in, the same way it had when he’d done the weekly grocery run for his grandma twelve years ago. In fact, it looked like Frank hadn’t changed much of anything. The same depressing fluorescent lights still hummed overhead, casting bright spots onto the dirty linoleum tiles. He passed by the three checkout stations, where two bored cashiers stood hunched behind their registers, fingers pecking away on their phones.
One of them looked familiar enough that a shot of panic hit Jaden in the chest. But the woman didn’t even look up as he slipped into the nearest aisle, so maybe he was just being paranoid. Death threats on Twitter would do that to a guy. Ever since the accident, going out in public wasn’t exactly his favorite thing to do. He’d been ambushed by photographers, reporters, and fans who’d written him off, and he was not in the mood to deal with any public showdowns tonight.
“J.J. Alexander? That you?”
Anyone else and he would’ve shaken his head and kept right on walking, but he knew the voice behind him. He’d never get away with walking on past without a word. He turned around, and right there at the end of the aisle stood Levi, Lance, and Lucas Cortez. Back in high school, Jaden had bummed around with Levi until Cash Greer passed away. After that, Levi had gone to Oklahoma to train as a bull rider, and Jaden had finally been accepted to train with the U.S. ski and snowboard team.
“Holy shit, man.” Levi sauntered over the way a bull rider would—all swagger. “I didn’t know you were back in town.”
“Hey, Levi.” Jaden forced his jaw to loosen and nodded at each of the brothers in turn. “Lucas. Lance.” Now, those three had changed in twelve years. They’d all cleaned up. Still cowboys in their ragged jeans and boots, but each of the brothers was clean-shaven and more groomed than he’d ever seen him. Wasn’t a coincidence that they all had rings on their left fingers now too. Jaden slipped his sunglasses onto his forehead, grateful the store seemed empty, so they shouldn’t attract too much attention.
“Actually, I’m not back.” His voice had changed since the accident. These days he had to fight for a conversational tenor instead of slipping into defensive mode. “Not permanently anyway. I’m only here to consult on the new terrain park at the resort.” The Wilder family had been looking to expand their ski hill outside of Topaz Falls for a few years now. He’d never been a fan of the Wilder family—no one in town was—but the job had offered him an opportunity to lie low for a while.
“Heard that’s gonna be quite the addition up there,” Levi said. “I also heard your grandma sold the ranch a few years back. You got a place to stay?”
“I rented a place on the mountain.” He didn’t acknowledge that bit about his grandma. Hated to think of her stuck in that facility in Denver. He hadn’t had a choice, though, once the dementia started. She’d taken care of him—raised him—seeing as how his dad had been a loser and his mom a free spirit who’d rather live the gypsy lifestyle than hang out with her kid.
Four years ago, the roles reversed, and he was the one taking care of Grams. Back then he couldn’t do much for her. He was too busy splitting his time between Park City and Alaska, chasing the snow so he could stay in shape. After she’d started wandering off, he’d moved her into the best facility in Denver and dropped in a couple of times a month to visit, even though she no longer knew him.
“Sorry to interrupt, but I need backup.” Lance moseyed over. As the eldest Cortez brother, he was serious and stern. He used to scare the shit out of Jaden when they were kids, but from the looks of things, he’d mellowed out. “Jessa didn’t tell me there were a thousand different kinds of tampons. I have no clue what to get. Any ideas?”
Uhhh…Jaden looked around, realizing for the first time they were in that aisle. The one he never stepped foot in. On purpose anyway.
“There’s regular, super, super-plus…” Lucas shook his head as he examined the products stacked on the shelves. “I thought we were buying tampons, not gasoline.”
The brothers laughed, and even with the anxiety squirming around his heart, Jaden cracked a smile. “So this is what happens when you get hitched, huh?” Oh how things had changed. Used to be, on a Friday night, he and Levi would drive up to the hot springs on the Cortez’s property, share a few beers, have a bonfire, and get to at least second base with whatever girl looked good that night. Now these three spent their Friday nights shopping for woman-stuff.
Levi glared at his eldest brother like he wanted to string him up by his toenails. “We were out for a beer when Lance’s wife called with an”—he raised his hands for air quotes—“emergency.”
“She was in tears,” Lance said defensively. “And quit bullshitting us. If Cass had called, you’d be doing the same thing right now.”
That seemed to shut Levi up.
Lucas looked at his brothers with humor in his eyes. “Naomi loves me too much to put me through that.”
“Yeah?” Levi shot Jaden a sly grin. “That why she sent you to the store for hemorrhoid cream after Char was born?”
And that was Jaden’s cue. There were some things you couldn’t unhear, and he definitely didn’t want to know anything about having babies and hemorrhoids. “Well, it was good to see you guys. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
He made a move to slip past and leave them all behind, but Levi walked with him. “Hold up. How’re things going?”
The familiar anxiety slipped those cold fingers around Jaden’s heart and squeezed. He’d been conditioned. Anytime someone looked at him like that—used that overly sympathetic tone of voice—he wanted to turn and bolt before they could bring up the accident. “Things are fine,” he lied. Things had fallen apart after that race. In his life and in his head. Three months later, he still didn’t know how to put it all back together.
“I saw the crash on TV.”
Yeah, Levi along with the rest of the world. If they hadn’t witnessed it during live coverage of the race, they’d seen it in the extensive news analysis afterward.
“You all healed up?”
Did it matter? “Pretty much. I’ve got a few pins in my arm, but who doesn’t?” The joke fell flat, and the anxiety squeezed harder, shrinking his heart in its suffocating grasp.
“Haven’t heard much about the other guy in a few months.” Questions lurked in Levi’s tone and in his eyes. Jaden could see them surfacing.
Had he done it on purpose? Had Jaden intentionally taken out his biggest competition on that last turn when it looked like he wasn’t going to win the gold? Everyone had already made up their own answers, so why did it matter what he said?
Breathe. Keep breathing. Never thought he’d have to remind himself to do things like that. “Beckett is still in a rehab facility.” Scarred and broken. Still trying to relearn how to walk…
“Damn. Sorry to hear it.”
Jaden already knew sorry wasn’t enough. Not for Kipp Beckett, not for the reporters, not for the officials. Not for fans of the sport. Not even for himself.
“For what it’s worth, I didn’t think you did it on purpose.” Levi was trying to be supportive, but the fact that he said it at all meant he’d thought about the possibility. Same as everyone else.
“I didn’t,” Jaden said simply. “I wouldn’t.” In the replays, it might’ve looked like he’d lunged into Beckett—who’d been his rival in the snowboard-cross event since they’d both started out—but the truth was that he’d caught an edge and it had thrown off his balance. He couldn’t recover. He couldn’t stop the momentum that pitched him into Beckett, that sent them both careening through the barriers, cartwheeling and spinning until the world went silent. When the snow had settled, Jaden had gotten up, and Kipp Beckett hadn’t. His body lay twisted at an angle, and he was unconscious, maybe dead.
Shock had numbed Jaden to the fact that his arm was badly fractured. He’d fallen to his knees next to Beckett before officials had raced in and forced him away. The papers and news shows and magazines all said Jaden was sneering as the medics tended to him. He wasn’t. He was crying.
“I would’ve taken the silver.” If no one else b. . .
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