Elle gestured down the lane at the cabin coming into view. “Gray’s friend, Henry, just opened the lodge where we’re getting married.”
The trees cleared as the lodge came into view, the ever-present mountains the perfect backdrop. With a wraparound wood porch, an A-framed roof, stone chimneys, and large windows to showcase the view, I wasn’t sure what the right word for it was—impressive.
Everything faded—the dream job I’d applied for and the decision to take the Series 7 test—gave way to serenity. The feeling that there was something bigger and more important than what was going on in my life settled in my chest, spreading outward to my limbs, relaxing me.
Elle parked. “This will be the perfect escape for you.”
Sharp twinges pierced my heart like pins on a pincushion. At first, I thought I’d be bored taking off for a week and a half. Now, it didn’t seem long enough.
I opened the passenger side door, my boots crunching on the snow, the crisp air held the promise of more. Working as a clerk on the New York Stock Exchange, I was overdue for a reset. I was afraid to take time off, worried someone else would take over my position. Standing in front of the lodge, it was hard to care about what I’d left behind in New York. It was impossible to consider anything but what was in front of me.
“Henry,” Elle said as a man stepped down the porch steps, his arms outspread to welcome her.
After a brief hug, Elle pulled back, gesturing to me. “This is my friend, Kelsey Turner.”
“New York Kelsey.” His gravelly voice reverberated in my chest.
I stepped forward, my hand extended, trying to remember what Elle said about him. All I could remember was that he was Gray’s college friend who convinced him to move here and work at the vet clinic. “That’s right. It’s so nice to meet you.”
“Henry Rigby.” His gloved hand encased mine, his grip strong. Sandy blond hair, blue eyes, tan weather-roughened skin, and a scruff-lined chin as if he didn’t have the time or inclination to shave. He was rugged, the opposite of the men I’d met in New York. Where I’d been relaxed a second ago, everything suddenly sparked to life. My skin tingled with awareness, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. What was it about him?
“Henry is Gray’s friend from college, and the reason Gray moved here.” Elle curled a hand around his arm, her expression affectionate.
“Well then, we’re destined to be friends.” I was thrilled Elle met Gray. They were so good for each other.
Henry’s lips tipped into a smile, his eyes intent on me.
Looking away from the heat of his gaze, I said, “This place is beautiful. It’s a great location.”
“Thanks. We already had the cabins on my parents’ property. I wanted to renovate them, put them up for rent. Gray had other ideas.” Henry exchanged a smile with Elle.
“Gray convinced Henry to build the lodge, thinking some guests would prefer more luxurious accommodations.”
Henry turned to me, his expression earnest. “I want people to see what makes Telluride special. It’s not the town itself, the shops, or restaurants; it’s the mountains.”
Him. The word popped into my head without further thought. There were the mountains, the snow that seemed to hush the world around it, the crunch of the snow signaling life, and the tall pines. It all paled in comparison to this one man, his eyes swimming with the intensity of his dreams, his visions for the lodge, and his hopes for the guests.
“Telluride has its share of bed and breakfasts and inns. We’re hoping visitors will prefer the ranch feel. You can ride horses, hike, snowmobile, and ski or snowboard on the mountain.”
Elle’s voice brought me back to the conversation. My skin heated despite the cool air.
Henry’s cheeks were pink. “Elle’s wedding will be our first big event.”
“I can’t wait to see everything.” I meant the town, the countryside, and Elle’s wedding, but I also wanted to get to know Henry. Was he content here in Telluride? Did he have another career before opening the lodge?
“Let’s get you checked in.” Henry led the way inside, stopping at the reception counter.
The interior was wood—the floors, walls, and beams—a large stone fireplace the centerpiece of one wall. Drawn to the large windows and the view at the back of the house, I wandered further into the room.
“I knew you’d love it here.” Elle’s voice came from behind me.
“Thanks for pushing me to come,” I said over my shoulder. Ever since Elle reached out to me a few months ago, we’d kept in touch. When she told me she was engaged and getting married, I was happy for her even though her goals seemed so out of reach―something happening to someone else, far from my reality. Now that I was here, Elle’s hand covering her still-flat belly, the gorgeous Colorado landscape filling my vision, I was curious. Was I happy with my life? Did I want more than a challenging career?
“We’ll clear out the furniture and have the wedding here.” Henry gestured around the room.
Without the furniture, the room was large enough for a small wedding party. Both Gray and Elle had small families, so there was no need for a big wedding.
“It’s perfect.” The only thing better would be to get married outside.
As if she’d read my mind, she added, “The weather’s too unpredictable this time of year to plan something outside. I’m happy with the snow in the background.”
“Your photographer could take some photographs outside. Is there a deck or a porch?”
Henry stood slightly behind Elle, observing us, his hands stuffed into his worn jeans. “There is.”
Elle looked from Henry to me. “I’m hoping you could work with Henry on some of the details for the wedding.”
Her tone was hesitant even though we’d discussed me coming early to assist.
My heart rate picked up. She hadn’t mentioned working with Henry. Smiling to cover my nerves, I said, “I’m happy to help.”
Being in her first trimester, Elle was exhausted.
Henry’s smile stiffened.
Was he worried about working with me? Or did he not want to plan a wedding?
“Great. I’ll let you get settled in. We can talk about the wedding later. I’m ready for a nap myself.” Elle hugged me, whispering in my ear. “I’m so relieved you’re here.”
With one last squeeze, Elle walked away, leaving me alone with Henry.
“I’ll take you on the tour.” Henry led the way through the dining room to a wood-paneled kitchen with stainless steel appliances and wood countertops. “These are all custom-made to give the place a lodge-feel.”
“You accomplished that.” The wood gave it a cozy feel despite the stainless steel.
Next, he showed me a smaller room with book-filled shelves on every wall, oversized leather couches, and a cozy rug that covered the wood floors.
I sighed, the remaining tension leaving my body, making me feel light-headed. “A study. I can see myself reading while watching the snow fall outside the window.”
And drinking hot chocolate with a blanket thrown over my lap… When was the last time I had a chance to sit and enjoy a book? I’d barely been able to concentrate on anything on the plane, I was so used to jumping from one thing to the next. Maybe this vacation would force me to slow down.
Henry stood in the doorway to the room. “That’s the idea.”
I turned to consider him. “Do you read?”
He nodded. “I do.”
Something about that admission warmed my heart more than the fire burning in every room of his lodge.
A picture frame on the wall caught my eye. Moving closer to get a better look, there was a tire swing hanging from the large tree, a barn off to the side, and horses grazing by the fence.
Henry moved closer, standing by my shoulder. “That’s the farmhouse I grew up in. It’s on the other end of the property.”
I looked at him, his face full of fondness for his family home.
“I can’t even imagine growing up in a place like this.” Idyllic was the word that came to mind. I wondered if his family gathered for meals each morning and night. Did he have siblings he played with?
I swallowed those questions down. Getting to know him better would only make leaving this amazing place harder than it had to be. “I’ve never ridden a horse.”
I turned, inches separating us, his presence taking up all the air in the room.
“It’s not the right season, but I can take you snowmobiling or skiing.” His hazel eyes sparked with something. Was he interested in me? Or was he merely being nice since I was Elle’s friend?
“I’d love that.” My stomach clenched at the idea of spending more time with Henry. I liked his voice and his calm demeanor. Here, there was no rushing around or schedules to keep. It was relaxed. It was a feeling I could easily get addicted to.
He cleared his throat, taking a step back. “You’re probably exhausted. I’ll take you to your room.”
Grabbing my bags, he led the way up wide stairs to the second floor. “There’s a game room with a pool table in the basement. I can take you down there later.”
The long hallway held rooms on either side. I would have preferred staying in a cabin but they were booked until the wedding guests arrived. “Where do you live?”
“My apartment is on the top floor. I wish I had enough cabins so you could stay in one, but I’m still expanding.” He pushed open the last door on the left. The windows showcased the view from the back of the house, large trees giving way to mountains.
I stepped closer to the window, the mountains never failing to draw me in. “This is perfect. I’ll have this snapshot in my head to remember when I return to the city.”
“I wasn’t sure you’d like it here being a city girl and all.” His tone was light and teasing.
Amused, I turned to face him.
His lips curled into a sheepish smile. “I couldn’t resist.”
“I’m from California, remember? I grew up on the beach.” What I remembered from my childhood was a loneliness that seeped into my bones so deep, it became part of me.
He considered me. “You knew Elle when you were kids.”
“Yeah. We lost touch when she signed on to do the reality show. The producers only wanted her to hang out with her castmates.” I relaxed my expression so he wouldn’t suspect how much that had hurt.
“That’s too bad.”
I smiled to cover the hurt. “I’m just happy we were able to reconnect.”
I wasn’t sure why I was confiding in him. He was this solid, quiet presence that made me want to unload my worries.
“Let me know if you want to do anything specific. I can take you bike riding or snowmobiling.”
I wanted to hear all about his plans for the lodge, but something else he said caught my attention. “Bike riding in the snow?”
“Yeah, the bikes have large tires.” He demonstrated the size with his hands.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I agreed to come. I wasn’t big on taking risks or adventures, but now that I was here, I wanted to immerse myself in Telluride. “That sounds fun. I want the full experience.”
Henry’s eyes darkened, making me think of other experiences. His lips on mine, his hands in my hair and elsewhere. I wasn’t here for a guy.
“You’ll get it. I’ll make sure of it.” He nodded before turning to leave.
The risk-averse side of me worried how adventurous he was. I’d learned the hard way to take the safe path, never straying from my lane. It wasn’t worth it.
Alone, I turned to the window, reveling in the view. I could stay forever and it wouldn’t be long enough. I’d always loved the beach, but this? The land, the trees, and the mountains were unlike anything I’d seen before.
In New York, my job was everything, and I thought I was happy with that. The adrenaline rush I got from my fast-paced job was all I needed.
Here, I wanted more. I wanted an adventure.
Buy the special edition box set on sale!
Binge read the first three books in The Aloha Series. Try Easy: Vacation Romance, Love Triangle Try Me: Fake Relationship Try Right: Friends to Lovers, Celebrity Romance
She's everything I don't want. But she might just be everything I need. When I move home to rebuild my family's defunct summer camp in my brother's honor, I thought the biggest thorn in my side would be my a-hole neighbor, who's suing me over an old property line issue. Then I meet the employee he sent to spy on me: a gorgeous, sexy, and brilliant big-city lawyer who I meet when she catches me taking a stress-relieving dip in the lake. In the nude.