A second chance at the one thing his billions can't buy...
As a trauma surgeon, Isabelle Rockwell has devoted her life to helping others. Her life is too crazy for romance...despite a powerful attraction to a stranger during an unexpected layover in Italy. But there's no time to obsess over the mystery man. Recurring dreams of her mother are calling her home to the family lodge in the mountains, where a surprise guest is staying for the holidays—who else but her airport hottie!
Battling a takeover, billionaire Lyle Guero has been asked by his board of directors to lay low. What better place than Rocky Peak Lodge, his latest silent investment, home to the woman who's haunted his thoughts since Rome? Independent, fascinating, equally career-focused, she's the perfect temporary distraction.
But he didn't count on the holiday spirit, the zany Rockwell family, or the danger lurking in the snowy shadows of the Cascades.
How far will two renegade hearts go for a chance at love?
Release date: December 4, 2018
Print pages: 292
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“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the more you try to ignore an attractive but unavailable man, the more often you run into him.”
Isabelle Rockwell had a habit of talking to herself while skiing, especially on cross country runs where no one could hear her. And especially on her favorite trail that wended twenty-five miles through the pristine forests surrounding Rocky Peak Lodge. Skiing was her favorite way to work things out in her head; she’d been skiing-and-ranting since she was a little girl.
“Sorry for the rewrite, Jane Austen, but times have changed. Welcome to the twenty-first century. Some things are great here, like medicine and so forth. Thank God I’m a doctor now and not back in your day. But other things have gotten a lot more complicated, such as male-female relationships. Or lack thereof, as the case may be.”
She reached a short downhill stretch with a ledge that doubled as a jump. She put her soliloquy on pause while she launched herself down the mini-slope and soared over the bump. Landing in a spray of snow, she let out a whoop of joy.
She loved everything about skiing—the burn in her leg muscles, the cold air against her face, the fresh scent of snow, the sense of being the only moving thing in the winter forest, the thin line between control and disaster.
Her life in a nutshell, come to think of it.
Trauma surgeons were all about trying to maintain some kind of control in a world ripped apart by disaster. And honestly, she used up all her control in the professional side of her life, standing over an operating table. That left nothing for her personal life, which tended toward the disaster side of the line.
“Jane, these days it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man of good fortune must be in want of a hookup with no consequences, after which he completely disappears. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s the way things are in this century.”
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She clicked the button to activate her iPhone earbuds.
“Are you talking to yourself in the woods again?”
Her twin brother Jake’s voice flowed from her earbuds into her nervous system, almost automatically making her smile. “You can hear me all the way at the Last Chance while you’re drying the bar glasses?"
“How did you know—never mind.”
They both laughed. Their twin connection surfaced in weird ways. Even when they’d lived thousands of miles away from each other, they often knew exactly what the other was doing at any random moment. It didn’t always happen, but often enough that she’d long ago decided that science couldn’t explain everything.
Medical degree be damned.
“I have to talk to someone since my workaholic brother refuses to take an afternoon off to ski with his long-lost sister.”
“You have two other brothers and a sister, so cut the guilt trip. Not to mention two new future sisters-in-law.”
“And there’s the problem. Do you think Kai and Griffin have any time for skiing when they can snuggle with their sweeties?”
“What about Gracie?”
“You know Gracie. She’ll spot an abandoned bird’s nest or something and decide to sketch it for the next two hours. Then she’ll remember that she left some ice cream out on the counter and it’s probably completely melted away so she’ll ski back, except it will be in the wrong direction and by the time I track her down she’ll have run into a lost guest and be listening to his entire life story.”
Jake was chuckling on the other end of the phone. “Why don’t you just admit the truth. None of us can keep up with you on skis so you’d rather ski alone anyway.”
“This is true.” That was the thing about a twin. You could admit your flaws easily because they already knew all of them.
“I heard Lyle Guero’s pretty good on skis.”
Isabelle reached an uphill section of the trail and shifted into a herringbone stride. Her thighs burned from the effort. Man, she was out of shape. “Hm.”
“Hm? That’s all you have to say? Isabelle Ann Rockwell, who always has something to say about everything, can’t come up with anything other than ‘hm’?”
“I told you that topic is off-limits.”
“He’s not a topic, he’s a person. A person who rescued the lodge from bankruptcy. And a person who happens to be staying at the lodge.”
“Yes, and whose fault is that?”
“Fault? Don’t you mean ‘stroke of genius’?”
Panting, Isabelle reached the top of the hill. She took a moment to catch her breath as she took in the panorama of snow and spruce and brilliant blue sky. “What’s he doing here, anyway? He’s a billionaire.”
“Yup. He’s Lyle fucking Guero.”
“Why do people put it that way?”
“Because he’s a badass billionaire and it suits him?”
She took off her hat and wiped sweat off her forehead. “Okay then. As a badass billionaire, he could buy his own lodge and live there all by himself along with a staff of thousands. So why is he here?”
“Why don’t you ask him? Don’t tell me you’re shy, because I’ve known you since you were thirty-six seconds old. You wouldn’t know ‘shy’ if it showed up with a severed artery.”
“That is just a really weird way to put it.”
But her brother had a point. Shy, no. She’d always been the bolder and fiercer twin, while Jake was more charming and easygoing. She used to get into fights that Jake would then patch up with his diplomatic skills—or with his baseball card collection. He’d spent his childhood cleaning up her messes.
He was the perfect bartender because he put people at their ease. Not like Isabelle, who had more of a hackle-raising effect.
“It’s better if me and Lyle just keep our distance,” she told Jake as she pushed off with her ski poles again. “I told you we had a thing, it was short and meaningless and over and forgotten. Now he’s here for some strange reason I can’t figure out, and I’m doing my best to avoid him.”
“Because. Just because.” Great, now she sounded like her eleven-year-old self struggling to explain why she’d mouthed off to a teacher. Again. “Because it’s too risky.”
“Risky? How do you mean?”
“What if I say the wrong thing and he decides the Rockwell legacy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? What if he pulls his funding?”
“That’s crazy. He wouldn’t do that.”
“So now you’re the expert on Lyle Guero?”
“As his bartender, I’ve gotten to know him pretty well.”
Isabelle stopped at a fallen tree branch so she could move it off the trail. Very few tourists skied this far from the lodge, but it was better to be safe than sorry. “No one knows Lyle Guero well.”
That sounded sad, but she knew it was true. She certainly didn’t know him well, but she’d seen enough of his life in the time she’d spent with him to know that he was extremely private. He had to be, with his billions and his status in the world.
“Point taken. Okay, enough about our angel investor. Have you found Mom’s journal yet?”
“No. I haven’t had much chance to look. The construction crew is always around. Family members everywhere I turn.”
She could practically see Jake’s shrug. “Oh well. I don’t know what you expect to find in it anyway. If you’re looking for words of wisdom, you could check in with your friendly neighborhood bartender.”
“Fat chance. Ooh, there you go, I got you a name for the next branch of your pub.”
“Yeah. No. Do people even say that anymore?” Glasses clinked at the other end of the line. “Gotta go, Iz. Talk to you later. Come down to the pub.”
“I will,” she promised.
And she would. As soon as she figured out when Lyle Guero wasn’t going to be there.
“Lyle tends to come by around seven, hangs out for an hour or so. Never drinks more than a glass. Coast is clear after eight.”
“You’re so annoying.”
“Love you too.”
The call ended. Isabelle pulled off her earbuds and stuffed them in her pocket with her phone. The rest of this ski she’d be on her own, just the way she liked it. Just her and the swish of her skis on the untouched snow, the touch of ice on her cheeks, the brush of pine branches against her jacket as she hurtled past.
As a member of Doctors Without Borders, she’d been working in mostly hot countries the past few years, the Sudan being the most recent. Desert terrain, not a ski slope to be found. Occasionally she treated herself to a trip to the Alps just so she could find a ski slope and some peace of mind. On one of those trips, her flight had been delayed, leaving her stranded in Rome for a night.
Along with Lyle Guero.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that two strangers stranded in an airport have no choice but to close down the airport bar and spend the rest of the night flirting,” she murmured out loud. “There’s one more for you, Jane. Shocker, huh? I’m sorry if this offends your British sensibilities, but it can’t be helped. You’re lucky you’re dead and don’t have to worry about modern romance.”
A fork in the trail loomed up ahead. One direction led back to Rocky Peak lodge, the other toward Majestic Lodge, which had ski lifts and access to black diamond downhill runs. As a girl, she used to ski all the way to Majestic and sneak onto the chair lift. She knew all the secret access points and backcountry shortcuts. And she hadn’t been on a downhill run since that last trip when she’d met Lyle…
“Goddamn it, get out of my head,” she muttered out loud. “It was one night. It’s not worth thinking about after all this time. Here’s the problem, Jane.” She pictured the author, in her tidy sun bonnet, turning a quizzical look her way. “I’m a doctor. I have a medical degree and I put it to use saving victims of heartless wars in poverty-stricken countries that don’t have good medical care. I’m passionate about what I do and I’m extremely good at it. I care about the world. I care about people. I have amazing friends, a crazy but generally acceptable family, and I have better things to think about than some random billionaire who just happens to be unbelievably attractive and also rather enigmatic and funny and…”
Midway through the fork in the trail, something slammed into her. Something big and hard and very male. She lost her balance and windmilled her arms to keep from toppling over. One of her ski poles whipped against the man who’d just skied into her, making him grunt.
“What the—” Big hands grabbed her before she tilted too far off her center. Their skis tangled together, making it even harder to regain her balance. His were the fiendishly expensive G3 Zenoxide Carbon 105’s, which she’d been ogling in the last edition of Backcountry Magazine. Odd the details you noticed when you were in the midst of crashing.
Finally she gave up the fight to remain standing and chose the best way to reach the ground—she plopped her butt down in the snow. Snow sprayed against her face and into her half-open mouth.
The other skier didn’t crash, which she found highly irritating. Instead he crouched down next to her. Almost afraid to confirm her initial suspicions, she looked up at him.
Yup, Lyle Guero. Wide broad shoulders, a boxer’s build, rough good looks with an edge, those deep gray eyes, the nose that had been broken at least once, the scent of leather and money and sexy man.
Shit. Lyle Guero, the man she’d been trying to avoid since he’d gotten here, and the man she’d been talking about—out loud!—just a few seconds ago.
He hadn’t heard all that, had he?
“Do you always talk to yourself when you ski?” he asked.
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