Every family has its secrets... and its rebel.
Deep in the Cascade mountains, the Rockwell family has been running historic Rocky Peak Lodge for generations. But now, that legacy is at risk of disappearing forever.
Kai, always the rebel, would rather risk his life as a rescue paramedic than deal with his impossibly stubborn father, “Mad Max” Rockwell. Only one thing could bring him home—a real threat to his family. Especially in the form of a beautiful woman.
Nurse Nicole Davidson never pictured herself as a spy. All she wants is security for her disabled sister. Get some inside intel for a friend's investment group while working for surly Max? She can do that. Until the outrageously sexy Kai Rockwell shows up and sets everything on fire—most especially her.
Equally determined, equally passionate about protecting their families, Kai and Nicole don't know if they should be enemies or lovers—or both. All they know is they can't resist each other...no matter the price.
Release date: September 4, 2018
Print pages: 282
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When it came to battles and standoffs and confrontations of all kinds, Kai Rockwell was a pro. Blowouts with his dad happened all the time, but not like this one. He still felt the fury streaking through his system like lightning, practically crackling out of his fingertips.
He was so out of here. Done. No more.
Barely seeing what he was doing, he stuffed random items of clothing into his duffel bag. He’d grab the essentials, the cash he’d been saving, his ID, his iPod, and he’d hit the road. In four months he’d be eighteen, a legal adult. Why wait?
He wasn’t sure which had come first during their fight—Dad kicking him out or him yelling that he was leaving. Maybe it had all happened in the same moment because on one thing, they completely agreed. Kai and Mad Max Rockwell could no longer live in the same house. No matter how big it was.
He’d be fine on his own. He passed for twenty-one all the time; just ask the bartenders in the towns outside of Rocky Peak. Everyone here knew him as one of the Rockwells of Rocky Peak Lodge, but outside this dot on the map, he rarely even got carded. He’d get a job, maybe travel around. He had friends outside of the Cascades—guys who came to work at the lodge during ski season. He could couch surf while he figured out what he wanted to do.
This was going to be awesome. No more getting reamed by Dad over every little thing. No more shouting matches freaking out everyone within a half-mile radius.
"Kai? What’s going on?”
And…no more brothers and sisters.
His throat closed up tight. He zipped up the duffel and swung around to see all four of his siblings standing in the doorway of his bedroom.
Shit. Fury at his father was one thing. But he and his siblings had stuck together like lost puppies in a storm during the past year and a half. Leaving them—he might as well rip his heart out and feed it to Gracie’s pet gerbil.
“Are you going camping?” Gracie, the youngest, stuck her thumb in her mouth, which meant she was stressed. Her other hand tugged at her curls—which she did when she was really stressed. For some reason she was wearing swimming goggles propped on her head, even though it was still ski season.
“No, sweetheart. Not this time.”
He couldn’t quite break it to her that Dad had kicked him out. Or that he’d kicked himself out. Or both.
“You’re leaving,” said Isabelle accusingly. “Abandoning us.”
Trust Izzy to cut right to the heart of things. And to exaggerate. She was both a truth teller and a drama queen, and he could never figure out how she pulled off that combo.
“Lighten up, Izz. It’s either me or Dad, and he’s kind of got a family to raise here. You don’t want me making your salami sandwiches. There was that whole moldy mustard incident, remember?” Using humor to get through crap was a signature Rockwell trait.
But it didn’t work on Isabelle. She just folded her arms and glared at him with those emerald eyes of hers. All the Rockwells had some version of green eyes, ranging from hazel-brown to deep smoky heather, in the case of Jake. But Izzy’s were the only pure green.
“Come on, I’d be leaving soon anyway, I’m just a little ahead of schedule.”
Jake, Isabelle’s twin, looked to be fighting back tears. He’d always been the more soft-hearted of the twins. The kind one, while Isabelle was the fierce one. “Come on, Kai. You can work it out, like always. You know how Dad is. He stomps around and swears, kind of like a bull, but it doesn’t last.”
“If he’s the bull, then I’m the black fly on the bull’s as—butt.”
Kai shifted course just in time. Gracie had a way of picking up on things, like a little satellite dish. Tomorrow she might be prancing around telling everyone about bull’s asses.
“I’m done trying to work it out. Last time we tried I thought he’d pop a blood vessel, or my eardrums would burst with all his yelling. Don’t you guys want some peace and quiet around here?”
“But why can’t you just…not fight with him?” Griffin, the next in line after Kai, still wore his outdoor workout gear, black polar fleece with reflective strips. He lived for adrenaline. Nothing else seemed to matter much to him. “Do what I do. Run or ski or do pushups until your arms fall off.”
Kai shrugged. “Doesn’t work for me. I just get angrier. It’s just the way I am.”
“Natural-born rebel, that’s what Mom always used to say,” said Isabelle.
His throat tightened again at the mention of their mother. If he left Rocky Peak, maybe he wouldn’t see her everywhere he looked. Maybe he’d no longer think about those last moments with her in the car.
Looking away from his siblings, his glance landed on a framed photo of the five of them posing in front of Rocky Peak Lodge, with the spectacular Cascades outlined behind them. Every Christmas, Dad brought in a photographer to take a new picture for the next year’s brochure.
“You kids are the best advertising I’ve got,” he’d always say. “God, I made some good-looking kids. Smile, baby Rockwells. Smile big.”
Kai’s smile, in the latest photo, was more of a bloody-murder glare.
He grabbed the photo, frame and all, and stuck it in his messenger bag. His expression would remind him of why he’d left, in case he got homesick.
“Where are you going to go?” asked Griffin, almost casually, as if it didn’t matter much to him. Kai didn’t buy that for a second. He and Griff were tight, and his leaving was going to hurt Griff the most. If it was the other way around, Kai would feel the same way. But he wouldn’t stop him. A guy had to do what a guy had to do.
“Somewhere warm, for now. Those snow shovels can kiss my as—butt.”
“What’s an as-butt?” asked Gracie through her thumb. “You keep saying as-butt.”
Jake snorted and bent down to snuggle with Gracie. He was her favorite. “Don’t listen to him. He’s clearly lost his mind. Who doesn’t love shoveling snow?”
“What about college?” Isabelle asked. “What about taking over the lodge when Dad gets too old?”
“Yeah, that is never happening. No way in hell am I ever doing that. This place can die in an avalanche for all I care.” His heart twisted at his own words. Leaving Rocky Peak Lodge—creaky, quirky, historic, beloved—was like cutting off a body part. He couldn’t feel it, he had to just do it.
“I’ll be fine. I don’t want you guys to worry.”
“And Dad?” Griffin’s jaw worked. He and Kai were different in so many ways. Kai was more fiery on the surface, while Griff kept his emotions banked deep inside. “What do we tell him?”
"Tell Dad—” He broke off, unable to finish the sentence. He didn’t know what to say to his father. All he knew was he had to get out. “Tell him I’m sorry, I guess,” he finally said.
He was sorry for a lot of things. For the accident. For his out-of-control emotions. For his rebel-ness.
“Yeah, well, he’s never going to believe that.” Isabelle’s flat statement broke the tension of the moment, and they all laughed.
Kai looked around at his siblings, memorizing their faces. The Rockwell kids were a pack of goofy, stubborn, fun, crazy survivors. God, he was going to miss them.
Impulsively, he gathered them all into a kind of group hug. Gracie clung to his legs. Isabelle was sniffing back tears. Jake got very quiet and Griffin squeezed Kai’s shoulder. For a moment they all stood like that, like pieces of a kaleidoscope about to be scattered into a new pattern.
“We’ll be together soon,” he assured them—or maybe himself. “And if any of you ever need anything, you know I’ll be back in a flash, no matter what Dad says.”
“Don’t worry about us,” Griffin said. He sounded more mature than he had even a minute ago. As if he were already assuming the role of oldest and most responsible.
“And don’t you guys worry about me. I saw this coming a long time ago. I got this.”
Kai stepped back from the circle of his siblings. Gracie was sniffling, on the verge of bursting into tears. Her goggles had gotten knocked askew by the hug, so he straightened them.
“Come on, don’t be sad, guys. We’re Rockwells. What do we do when everything sucks?”
“I’m gonna go with punch someone,” said Isabelle, going for sassy. “Preferably you, Kai, but I guess I’ll have to find a replacement.”
“Don’t look at me,” Jake told her. “Remember our twin armistice agreement?”
“Yeah, we might have to renegotiate that one.”
“What’s renegoshate?” asked Gracie. Griffin grinned and picked her up so she sat in the crook of his arm. Gracie had always been small for her age.
“It means lots of twin arguments,” he told her. “You know how long those last. Long enough for the two of us to get an ice cream cone, or five.”
Gracie clapped her hands at the mention of her favorite thing in the world.
At the sight of her delighted pixie face, Kai fisted his hands to hold back the pain. Taking Gracie to the lodge’s restaurant for a double scoop of Rocky Peak Nugget was his favorite thing.
When would he get the chance to do that again?
This would have been so much easier if his siblings hadn’t nabbed him before he slipped out of the lodge. Goodbyes sucked.
“Gotta hit the road,” he told them in a breezy tone. “This family meeting is officially adjourned. And since none of you got the right answer, I’ll say it myself. When life sucks, Rockwells laugh their as—” He broke off with a glance at Gracie. ”We laugh our as-butts off. Don’t forget it.”
They all stared at him, reality sinking in. Not a single hint of laughter to be heard.
So he had to dig deep. Slinging the duffel over his shoulder, he duck-walked toward the door. He made it as goofy and ridiculous as possible.
Gracie giggled, then Isabelle. A half smile tugged at Griffin’s mouth, while Jake chuckled. Kai ducked around the doorjamb, then poked his head back to make a face at his brothers and sisters. They were all smiling now, and Isabelle broke out in another giggle. She’d get them all laughing soon. Jake would help, because the two of them always backed each other up. Griffin would step into the big brother part, in his own distracted way. And Gracie —don’t think about Gracie. Don’t think about how much I’m going to miss my baby sister.
He’d made his choice, and he wasn’t going to change his mind now. He had to leave Rocky Peak. Had to leave the lodge, these mountains, the only home he’d ever known. Most of all, he had to get the hell away from his father before someone got hurt.
He’d just have to paper over the hole he was ripping in his heart. Follow the Rockwell family motto, the one passed down through generations just like the lodge. The one that he and his siblings lived by. Laugh your ass off, so you don’t cry.
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