The smart and sexy Garner brothers have turned Glory Junction into California’s hottest extreme sports town—and a thrilling adventure of the heart is always part of the deal . . . The savvy CEO behind his family’s outdoor sporting empire, TJ Garner has his choice of women. But the only one he wants is way out of bounds. Deb Bennett has been his brother Win’s on and off girl since they were teenagers. And Deb’s still waiting for Win to quit fooling around and realize she’s The One . . . Deb carves the ski slopes and rides the rapids like a champion—it’s getting her every day life in order that’s the real challenge. When she turns to Win’s big brother for financial advice, TJ spontaneously offers the hard-working waitress an executive job at Garner Adventure. To Deb’s surprise, the job is a blast—and so is working for TJ. She always knew he was a heartthrob, just like all the Garners, but he’s charming and attentive too. Of course, given the choice between him and Win there’s no contest—or is there? . . . Praise for Need You “Well paced, well-written, a romantic delight!” —Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author
Release date: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 337
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
In two hours, he had to make payroll, a chore that had been put on the back burner because he was too busy putting out fires. A website that continued to crash, tour guides who were no-shows, and a new retail operation that couldn’t seem to achieve liftoff.
That was the irony of his life; he ran Garner Adventure, his family’s extreme-sports tour company, but never went outside. He’d taken over as CEO from his dad five years ago so he and his three brothers could start running the business and his parents, who’d founded the company in the 1970s, could semiretire. This wasn’t exactly the life he had envisioned all those years ago when he’d been trying out for the U.S. Olympic team.
The phone beeped with a call from the front desk. “Hey, Darcy, what’s up?”
“We’ve got a situation.”
When didn’t they? “What’s it this time?”
“One of the members of Win’s mountain biking tour took a tumble into a thirty-foot ravine on Glory Mountain.”
Damn. “Is he okay?”
“They’re trying to get him out, but he may have broken his collarbone.”
Ah, Jesus. “Win called 9-1-1, right?” TJ’s oldest brother, Colt, was Glory Junction’s police chief. He was clutch in a disaster. Win, his youngest brother, not so much.
“Yes. But the cyclist is a lawyer.”
Not good. “Is he threatening to sue?” He reached for his cell phone to check for texts from Win, hoping that by now he had everything under control and TJ could go back to the exciting world of payroll. But there was nothing.
“Yep,” Darcy replied.
He let out a sigh. “All right, I’ll go up there to see what I can do.”
“That might be good,” Darcy said and signed off.
He grabbed his down jacket and gloves, texted Win for his GPS coordinates, and loaded his bike into the back of his Range Rover.
“Hello, friend,” he said, gripping the handlebars. “It’s been a while.” And now he was talking to inanimate objects. Boy, did he need a vacation.
Halfway to Glory Mountain, his phone pinged with a text. It was Win with his latitude and longitude. He tried to call him for an update, but boy wonder wasn’t answering, so he sent an emoji of a phone and texted, Call me, hose bag.
Two minutes later, he got No can do.
Things must be pretty bad if Win couldn’t talk. But who knows, he could’ve been superbusy updating his Tinder account.
TJ shot off another one. Accessible by vehicle?
Y was the only reply, which TJ took for a yes.
He turned on his GPS and let it lead the way. Upon reaching his destination, he shook his head. WTF, Win, you couldn’t have just told me it was the trailhead? He parked in a clearing by a large pine tree next to his eldest brother’s police cruiser. A fire truck and an ambulance sat closer to the edge of the cliff, where a crowd of cyclists peered down at the gorge below.
TJ got out of his truck and Colt, who was huddled with the fire chief at the skirt of the mountain, waved him over.
“Where is he?”
Colt and the chief both pointed over the ledge. TJ moved closer and looked down, where a blue porta-potty lay on its side, wedged between two trees, the plastic door smashed to hell.
“Ah, jeez.” TJ scrubbed his hand over his face. “Don’t tell me.”
“Yep,” Colt said and perched over the edge for a closer look.
“Dude.” Win came over from where he was standing with the crowd, holding his phone in the air. “He’s threatening to own us by tomorrow.”
TJ blew out a breath. The morning had just jumped five points on the Richter scale of suck. “I thought he wiped out on his bike.” At least that was what he’d assumed. “And Darcy said he fell thirty feet down.” By his estimation, it was no more than twelve.
“I don’t know where she got that,” Colt said. “But he’s all yours.”
TJ crouched in the dirt to get a better visual. “He’s still down there?”
“Yep. Inside the john. We can all say a prayer of thanks that the thing was empty.”
TJ got up and looked at Win. “How did this happen?”
“I have no idea. He went off to take a leak before we started the ride and the next thing I knew, the porta-potty was rolling down the mountain.”
The fire chief picked a piece of yellow Danger tape off the ground near where the porta-potty once sat and waved it at them. TJ and Colt exchanged glances.
“Now why on earth would someone use something that’s been red-tagged?” The chief kicked the dirt where part of the mountainside had crumbled.
It was early February and they’d already gotten a truckload of snow, which was normal for California’s Sierra Nevada. But after five years of punishing drought and a spate of wildfires, they were experiencing mudslides and erosion. In Malibu, five hundred miles away, houses slid into the ocean. Here, it was porta-potties into ravines.
TJ watched the firefighters make their way down the craggy mountainside with a stretcher and a brace. “His collarbone is busted?”
“I doubt it.” Colt rolled his eyes. “He’s been screaming at Win on his phone for the last twenty minutes about how he’s going to sue us fifty ways from Sunday. Either he has a high threshold for pain or he’s full of crap.”
“Really? Toilet jokes?” TJ shook his head. “Why would anyone leave an empty porta-potty on an eroded mountainside?” The trailhead was maintained by the county.
“I suspect it wasn’t eroded when they left it; then they discovered it was a hazard after the last storm and red-tagged it. They were probably just waiting for the sanitation company to pick it up.” Colt toed a mound of snow that had turned to slush. “Until a couple of days ago, the road to the park was impassable.”
TJ turned to Win. “What’s his name?”
He began to hike down the same trail the firefighters had used, trying to avoid patches of ice and snow.
“What are you doing?” the fire chief called.
“I want to talk to him, make sure he’s okay.” This was what he did now, fix problems. Fifteen years ago, he’d had different plans, ones that involved whooshing down a pristine, snow-covered mountain, not following the trail of a fallen porta-potty. Thank God it was empty.
“Let my guys handle it, TJ.”
“Nah,” Colt said and stifled a laugh. “You should absolutely go down there. Work your magic, little brother. I’ll go ahead and stay up here. Just whistle if you need police assistance.”
TJ flipped his brother the bird and continued to make his way down the hill. Someone had to deal with this and Colt probably wasn’t the right guy for the job. Even though he owned an equal share of Garner Adventure and was their go-to guy in an emergency, Colt wasn’t what you would call a diplomat. Josh, two years younger than TJ, was a little more tactful than Colt but had physical therapy this morning. And Win . . . well, if their client had been a woman, their baby brother would’ve been their guy.
By the time TJ made it to the porta-potty, the firefighters had already managed to get Stanley on a stretcher and were checking his vitals. Someone needed to zip Stan’s fly.
“Mr. Royce”—TJ stood to the side so as not to get in the way—“TJ Garner. You okay?” Yeah, stupid question.
“It took you people long enough to get here. I could be dead right now.”
“We’re doing everything we can, sir.” TJ sat on the ground while Shane, one of the firefighters and a buddy from high school, checked Royce for fractures, cuts, and bruises. “Anyone you want me to call, Mr. Royce?”
Stanley whipped his head around and shot TJ a dirty look. At least his neck was okay. “What kind of operation are you people running here?”
TJ examined the overturned outhouse, which still had large pieces of yellow tape stuck to it, and was tempted to say an operation where 99.9 percent of their clients were smart enough not to use a portable john with the word danger posted all over it. In the end, he figured Stanley had been humiliated enough without TJ telling him he was a moron.
“Hang tight, Mr. Royce. I know it’s . . . uh . . . uncomfortable.” Sometimes bad things happen to good people? There really were no words for this sort of thing. “Whatever we can do—”
“Oh, you’ll do plenty. When I’m through with you people you won’t have a pot to piss in.” Interesting choice of words given the situation, TJ thought to himself.
“How’s your collarbone?” It wasn’t swollen, which was a good sign. And by the way Shane and the other firefighter were jostling him around, they probably didn’t think it was broken.
“I’m in agony,” he said. “I may have spinal injuries.”
Shane gave an imperceptible shake of his head. Stan was milking this for all it was worth. TJ looked up at Colt, still standing at the top of the embankment, giving him a big, thumbs-up sign. In return, and out of Royce’s line of vision, TJ made a gun with his fingers and pretended to shoot himself in the head.
“We’re going to get you some excellent medical care, sir.”
“Here? I doubt it. I’ll be using my own physicians.” Royce kept yelling about how they were all idiots and how he was going to die from norovirus.
TJ got a text from Colt. A smiley face emoji and Keep up the good work.
He fired back, Not helping, asshole, and slid his phone into his jacket pocket.
Usually, he was very adept at finessing disgruntled clients—not that they had many—but Stanley continued to berate TJ, Garner Adventure, the firefighters, and anyone else he could think of.
TJ threw out, “How about I reserve you a suite at the Four Seasons?” Maybe a night in a luxury hotel would calm Royce down.
“You think you can buy me off with a hotel room?” Stanley barked. “Ha. That’s just the beginning of what you’ll get me.”
“So, I’ll take that as a yes.” TJ tried to sound conciliatory.
Stan continued to make threats and TJ figured he may as well be productive rather than sit around listening to Royce bitch and moan. So he climbed back up the mountain and started making arrangements, leaving the firefighters to finish dealing with Stan.
Win pulled TJ aside. “Is he okay?”
“According to him, he’s dying from norovirus as we speak.”
Win shook his head. “He couldn’t have just gone behind a freaking tree?”
TJ shrugged and glanced at the members of Win’s group, many of whom were taking pictures of Stanley on the stretcher with their cell phones. “Why don’t you get the ride started? No reason to ruin the tour.”
“Sure, but is he still going to sue us?”
“He says he is, but who knows?” It’s not like the guy had a legal leg to stand on, but if he was really an attorney, he could tie them up in court long enough to cost GA a pretty penny. “For now, let’s just focus on getting him to a doctor.”
Over the next ten minutes, TJ made calls, including to the Four Seasons for a reservation.
“Hey, TJ.” Shane came up alongside him. “Royce doesn’t appear to have any significant injuries. But we’re taking him to Sierra General just in case.”
That was good because TJ wanted a full medical work-up. Garner Adventure was all about safety and having its clients leave in the same shape they came. “I appreciate that, Shane. Someone will meet him at the hospital to take him to the hotel after his checkup. I’ll get his bike.”
“All right,” Shane said and grinned. People would be talking about this for weeks to come. That’s the way it was in a small town.
Colt wandered over and TJ said, “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
“Slow crime day.” Colt’s mouth tipped up because, as usual, he was full of it. Glory Junction might not be San Francisco or Los Angeles, but there was plenty to keep him busy. “He’s got nothing to sue over. By tomorrow he’ll be apologizing for ignoring the Danger tape.”
TJ hoped so because he had enough to deal with, including GA’s new retail division, his brainchild despite resistance from his three brothers. Selling adventure clothes wasn’t exactly in their wheelhouse, but Colt’s fiancée was a world-famous fashion designer who was doing a sports line specially for GA. And Josh’s wife owned Glorious Gifts on Main Street and had a ton of retail experience. And Win . . . if he wore the clothes, women would line up to buy them for their husbands or boyfriends. With those kinds of resources, he figured they should diversify, even if it was a calculated risk. And if it failed . . . he’d have a lot of explaining to do.
“At least it’s a nice day,” TJ said. Even though it was forty degrees out, the sun had slipped past the clouds and beamed through the canopy of branches. With all the snow they’d gotten—always a boon for business—it was nice to have a break from it.
The area was an adventurer’s paradise, so even when the snowpack was low, there were rocks to climb, rivers to raft, lakes to kayak, mountains to hike, and acres of unparalleled trails to ride. People from all over the world flocked to the small town to get their extreme sports on.
“It is that,” Colt said, looking up at the sky.
TJ glanced over at his truck and considered pulling out his bike. He’d already missed the payroll deadline. Sorely tempted as he was, responsibility won out as it always did these days. He’d left his skis and the dreams that went with them on these slopes a long time ago. Better to move forward because he sure as hell couldn’t go back.
The next morning, Darcy called in sick and texted TJ that she’d already put in a doughnut order at the Morning Glory Diner. Because he was the first one in, picking them up for the meeting would now fall to him. His family’s love of doughnuts was epic. Sometimes he thought it was the only reason they came to the meetings.
At least he’d missed the breakfast rush at the diner. The tables were mostly empty except for the back, where Deb Bennett was hunched over a sheet of paper. He usually tried to avoid her. But in a town this small and with her being best friends with his sister-in-law Hannah, it was near impossible; Deb was everywhere he was.
The thing was, he was head over heels for her and probably had been since the beginning of time. Or when her parents had first started cleaning Garner Adventure’s offices twenty years ago. But Deb had chosen Win. The two had been inseparable since the ninth grade, and while they were split up now, it was widely understood that was temporary and that they would eventually wind up together. That was why he stayed away.
But today, curiosity won out over good sense.
He strolled over to catch a glimpse of what Deb was looking at so intently.
“Not my shift,” she said without glancing up. “Talk to Ricki.”
“What’re you working on?”
She lifted her head, big brown eyes taking him in and a spot of pink in her cheeks. And he felt that familiar ache.
“Oh, hey, I didn’t know it was you.”
He pointed at what he could now see was a spreadsheet. “What’ve you got there?”
“My screwed-up life.” Flustered, she gathered up the paper and shoved it in her purse.
“Why’s it screwed up?”
“I just have a lot of bills,” she said and looked away.
Against his better judgment, he grabbed a chair at her table. “Want me to take a look at it?”
“Uh-uh. It’s embarrassing.”
His eyes locked on hers. “Nah, come on.”
She shook her head. “It’s just . . . someone like you wouldn’t understand.”
“Someone like me?” he repeated. They hardly talked anymore, and when they did it was about how many inches of snow Royal Slope got or which kayak was better for racing. So what did she know about him?
Deb let out a breath, blowing a strand of dark hair out of her eyes. “Someone who’s Mr. Responsible. Someone who has it together and looks down his nose at us mere mortals.”
Way to make him sound like he had an iron rod up his ass. A guy could have his finances together and still not be judgmental. She sounded like his brothers.
“Come on, Deb, when have I ever looked down my nose at anyone?” He leaned across the table and pointed at her bag. “You do know what I do for a living, right? I could probably help you.”
“Your choice.” He got up and focused his attention on the counter to see if his doughnuts were ready.
Felix, the owner, waved him over and started filling a white bakery box with crullers.
“If you change your mind, you know where to find me,” he said, got his box, and paid at the cash register, sneaking one last look at Deb, who was digging in her purse and didn’t seem to notice that he’d walked away.
As he left the diner, he wondered for the millionth time why he even bothered.
Deb pulled the spreadsheet back out of her purse the moment TJ left. Her shift started in fifteen minutes and she still hadn’t figured out how she was going to pay for a new car transmission and at the same time make all her bills and next month’s rent. She had no savings and was one paycheck away from being homeless. At least her heap of a car could second as shelter.
Felix leased her the one-bedroom apartment above the diner. It was the size of a garage, perpetually smelled like french fries, and had a view of a Dumpster. Besides being all she could afford, there’d been a time when it had served its purpose—just a place to lay her head at night.
But in two weeks she was turning the big 3-0 and was finally taking stock of her life, which to the casual observer could be described as a derailed train. Or just a train to nowhere. Because while everyone else she knew spent adulthood focusing on things like careers, starting families, and buying real estate, she’d worked at a dead-end job, drowning in debt to help her parents tread water.
They’d worn their fingers to the bone to save a floundering janitorial company, only to wind up broke.
And though she gave them everything she could, it wasn’t enough. She couldn’t get enough traction to make a difference. She’d attended the local community college but, instead of transferring to a four-year university, ended up waiting tables to keep a roof over all their heads. But now it was time to get serious—or about time. Last spring, she’d applied and been accepted to the University of Nevada, Reno, where she’d hoped to get a degree in community health sciences and specialize in kinesiology. The one true talent she had, one even she had confidence in, was athleticism. But after finding out the cost, she’d had to put the idea on hold until she figured out how to afford it.
Though it was nice of TJ to offer to help, having him sort through her messy finances would be the final mortification in her already loser life. It was bad enough that her parents used to clean the Garners’ toilets. And, unlike her, TJ was the great American success story.
He’d gone to the prestigious Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and had returned to their hometown to turn his parents’ small enterprise into one of the top adventure companies in the western United States. He was smart, entrepreneurial, and ambitious. And once upon a time, he had been her everything. The boy she’d dreamed of someday marrying. And while she was prone to being impractical, she wasn’t stupid. It hadn’t taken her long to figure out that TJ was way above her station.
And he proved it every time he saw her: by walking in the opposite direction.
She focused on the spreadsheet and pondered her options. She could try to sell the car and buy a newer one. But who in their right mind would purchase a fourteen-year-old Honda Accord with more than two hundred thousand miles on the odometer and a slipping transmission? No one, that’s who.
She could charge the repair if not for the fact that her credit cards were maxed out and no legitimate bank in the world would lend to her, not even for a student loan. That ship had sailed along with her FICO scores years ago. Her only solution was to leave the car in its present condition until she could come up with cash. At least work was only a flight of stairs away from her home.
“Bennett,” Felix bellowed. “You’re up.”
She glanced at the clock as she shoved the spreadsheet in her bag. Time to sling hash for the lunch crowd.
The week’s snowfall had brought busloads of skiers to the mountains, which meant the restaurant would be busy. Until recently, the Morning Glory had mostly attracted locals. Tourists tended to eat their meals at the resorts. But more and more of them had discovered the fifties-style diner—complete with black-and-white-check floors and red-vinyl upholstery—with its down-home menu, kid-friendly atmosphere, and moderate prices. The restaurant’s popularity had also grown with the population. Lots of well-heeled folks from the city were now buying or building weekend homes in Glory Junction.
It was great for tips, but still not enough to dig herself and her parents out of debt and properly support all of them.
The next hour passed in a blur. One of the servers had called in sick, leaving Deb half the restaurant to serve. Around one, Win and a couple of his buddies came in and grabbed a booth in her section.
“Ricki, will you take Win’s table?”
Deb just wasn’t up to seeing him today. Win ignored her half the time anyway. He was always friendly, generous with his smiles, and if he really wanted to throw her a bone, he’d generically compliment her: “Looking good, Bennett.” The attention he gave her was on par with what you would give your neighbor’s Irish setter. Lately, instead of feeling hurt by his indifference, she was okay with it. This was disconcerting because he was supposed to be The One.
While TJ had been completely out of reach—captain of the varsity ski team, president of the student council, valedictorian, and an Olympic hopeful—Win, an underachiever like her, had seemed like a more realistic fit. They’d been hot and heavy in high school. Her first boyfriend. But when Win went off to college, their different paths killed the relationship. When he came back full time, they’d started up again only to break up a year later. Ever since then, it had been on and off so many times Deb had lost count. Nowadays it was off, even though everyone believed they were destined to be together.
Unfortunately, she’d also convinced herself that they were the perfect match for way too long. But not anymore. Now, he just felt like another debt on her books and a constant reminder of how much she’d settled in life.
Ricki grabbed four menus. “Take my table on ten.” She hitched her head at a group of nice-looking men. “You’re welcome.”
They were up from the city. Deb could tell because they had that Financial District thing going on. Clean-shaven, expensive skiwear, and one of them was reading the Wall Street Journal on his iPad. Guys like them were usually good tippers.
“What can I get you?” Deb grabbed her order pad from the pocket of her apron.
One of the men brazenly looked her up and down. “What’s good?” he asked, continuing to leer at her like she was a juicy piece of prime rib.
“Everything,” she said, antsy to move on. She didn’t like the vibe he was sending off.
“Well, that’s not very helpful. Why don’t you take a load off and tell us about what you like best?” The one giving her the once-over scooted down on the bench to make room.
Ugh. Deb would’ve been better off waiting on Win’s table after all.
She pasted on a smile. “Sorry, can’t. See all these tables of people?” She waved her hand at the rest of the dining room. “They’re waiting for me to take their orders.”
“But we got you first.” He patted the space next to him. “Come on, you can sit for a minute.”
“Steve,” one of the others said, his eyes imploring.
Yeah, Steve, bugger off. She held the gaze of Steve’s friend. “You know what you want?”
“I’ll take the tuna melt and a side of fries.”
“I’ll stick with water.”
She went around the table until she came back to Steve. “What’ll it be?”
“I thought I made myself clear on what I want.” This time, he rested his hand on her thigh.
The guy had to be kidding. It was the middle of the day, the place was packed with families, the restaurant could double for the freaking set of Happy Days, and Steve here wanted to play grab-ass with the waitress. Not wanting to make a scene, she inched enough to the left that his hand fell away.
She stared him down.
“I’ll have the double cheeseburger and the steak fries,” he finally said. “What are you doing after work?” he asked, flashing an unctuous smile that said, I’ve got twenty-five roofies in my pocket.
Nothing with you. “I’m busy.” She started to walk away when she felt that hand on her leg again. She whirled around. “You don’t want to do that.”
“Why? You a master in Krav Maga?” He laughed and his hands inched higher.
“Come on, Steve,” his buddy said, but Steve was too much of a dickwad to listen.
He was strong and he pulled her against the bench seat until the corner of it dug into h. . .
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