Free FallJill Shalvis
“I thought maybe I had imagined it,” Logan said
“Imagined…?” Lily’s jacket was unzipped to her breastbone, with only a thermal silk undershirt beneath.
“This.” With a light touch he put his bare finger to the pulse racing at the base of her throat.
All she could hear was the thump, thump, thumping of her heart beating too fast in her ears. Her clothes felt too tight—or maybe that was her own skin. A heavy anticipation filled the cold air and she tried to tell herself it was something she’d felt often. Had acted on often.
But today, with this man, it felt startlingly, shockingly different.
She took some comfort in the fact his own pulse, beating at his throat, was no steadier than hers. “This…what?” she asked.
Something flashed in his eyes. “I’m not sure I can put it into words without being graphic.”
Her body let out a shiver and, honest to God, her knees wobbled. “I see.”
He leaned so close that visions of them ripping off each other’s clothes danced in her head and all she wanted was his mouth to touch hers. “So, what are we going to do about…this?”
The mountain and ski lodge in Free Fall is fictitious, but it’s a setting near and dear to my heart. I wrote this story during the summer, and every time I described the snow and the skiing, I yearned for winter and to be back out on the slopes! So I hope I made it come alive for you.
This is my last Harlequin Temptation novel, and I'll miss the line so much! Look for me in the Harlequin Blaze line if you get a chance. In the meantime, hope you enjoy Free Fall, and happy reading.
Books by Jill Shalvis
861—A PRINCE OF A GUY
878—HER PERFECT STRANGER
885—FOR THE LOVE OF NICK
910—ROUGHING IT WITH RYAN*
914—TANGLING WITH TY*
918—MESSING WITH MAC*
962—BACK IN THE BEDROOM
63—NAUGHTY BUT NICE
5—NATURAL BLOND INSTINCTS
HARLEQUIN SINGLE TITLE
THE STREET WHERE SHE LIVES
“SO WHICH ONE OF YOU SEXY hotshots is the best man?”
Search-and-rescue expert Logan White looked up in surprise as his entire team pointed to him.
The nurse asking the question flashed him a hundred-watt smile. “You? Well, then, sugar, it’s your lucky night.” And she ripped the light blue scrubs right off her body.
Logan, a man who’d seen and done it all and who’d thought himself unshockable, nearly swallowed his tongue. Beneath the scrubs, the nurse wore a cherry-red thong with matching pasties strategically placed over her nipples.
His best friend, Wyatt Stone—the reason for the bachelor party going on around them—grinned at him. “A little something from me to you, man. Thanks for being the greatest best man and best friend a guy could ask for.” He hoisted his beer in a toast as their friends, normally as serious and intense as their profession demanded, laughed and hooted and hollered like a group of frat boys on spring break.
Just last night the lot of them had been rappelling down the side of a mountain in a vicious rainstorm, searching for a lost teen who’d gotten separated from her hiking group. Logan had flown the mission, and when the winds had kicked up, things had gotten so tense, so damned dangerous in the ravines above the river on a black, black night, that he’d been only half convinced he could help them all out to safety.
Now they sat in the swank private suite of a downtown hotel, surrounded by posh, elegant furniture and a fully stocked bar with the large-screen TV playing the latest basketball game, acting like a pack of dogs, howling at the three nurses who’d come into the room looking for someone to “make feel better.” It was hard to reconcile, especially since he’d been working so hard he could barely remember what it was like to just breathe.
Logan had expected the strippers—hell, he’d helped pay for them. But the women in hospital scrubs—a uniform he saw daily—had thrown him off. The now nearly naked bleached blonde smiled when her two accomplices, also stripping out of their uniforms, hit Play on their portable CD player. Loud, pulsing dance music filled the air.
The woman standing in front of Logan began to move to the beat. She was twenty-one, maybe twenty-two, making him feel ancient at thirty-one, and he turned to Wyatt. “She should be dancing for you—Oof.”
Teetering in her red five-inch stilettos, she plopped herself in his lap. With a shrieking laugh, she straddled his thighs, hers wide open as she wriggled and squirmed, writhing and arching to the thumping music, grinding her crotch to his, eventually getting the sought-for reaction from him, albeit a purely physical one.
Her arms encircled his neck as she thrust her large, expensive-looking breasts in his face. “Ready for your present, best man?”
She wriggled some more, and the corner of a small envelope peeked out from the front of her thong. “Just for you,” she purred, continuing to shimmy and shake. Her breasts threatened to give him a black eye. “Take the prize, hot stuff.”
With a wince—hot stuff?—he pulled the envelope out of her thong and discovered she wasn’t a bleached blonde but the real thing. And then felt like a pervert.
It was a relief to focus on tearing open the envelope. The card inside was a certificate for a seven-night stay at a Lake Tahoe resort. Logan just stared at it. Sure, he loved to ski, but he didn’t feel the need to go away. Why would he, when he did and saw things on a daily basis that most other people wouldn’t even dream of: climbing mountains, flying helicopters and rappelling out of them. Lake Tahoe couldn’t possibly dish up anything to compare.
“Wyatt, this is too much. You and Leah should use this yourselves—”
“Oh, no. We’re off to a warmer climate, thank you very much, where little to no clothing is required. This Tahoe trip is yours, buddy, for all you’ve done for me.”
He was referring to how Logan had saved his life, and Leah’s, as well, only a few months back. But Logan didn’t want to be paid for that. That was what he did. It was who he was.
The stripper in his lap was still working the beat, and he gently set her off him. “I don’t need a week off. I don’t have a week off.”
“What are you talking about?” Wyatt laughed. “We work for ourselves. You want a week, you take a week.”
Yes, they worked for themselves. Mostly. He and Wyatt co-owned the helicopter he’d flown last night. They supported their joint helicopter habit with paying jobs—Wyatt flew for the local TV and radio stations, and Logan flew a couple of local millionaires around at their whim during their business day. But they also worked volunteer for the SAR team, both men living for and loving the times they were called to fly search and rescue.
“It’s not that simple,” he protested now. “I have jobs scheduled, and with you going on your honeymoon, I’ll need to be available to fly for SA
“So wait until I get back. But you’re going. You need to get away, every bit as much as I do.” Their eyes met, and all the things they’d done and seen shimmered between them.
The stripper Logan had set aside shifted her attention to Wyatt, who sat back, easygoing and smiling at her slow, sensuous movements. But Logan knew his partner extremely well. Wyatt’s thoughts were elsewhere. Probably with Leah, who he’d be marrying tomorrow.
Marrying. Logan shuddered. He had no idea why in the world Wyatt would want to screw up a good relationship with marriage.
He watched his old friend draw the stripper’s attention away from himself and onto two of their oldest buddies, who eagerly lapped up everything she dished out, and he had to admit that if any couple could make it in the crazy, dangerous world he and these guys all lived in, Wyatt and Leah could. They had a rare, beautiful, deep connection—one Logan had never really experienced himself.
“Maybe you’ll meet a hot ski bunny,” Wyatt said, and waggled his eyebrows.
“A hot ski bunny.” Logan had to laugh. “Is that what you think I need?”
“You need something, starting with a week off. Take the trip,” Wyatt said quietly. “I have a feeling about it.”
“A feeling? Hell. You fall like a brick for a woman and now you’re thinking like one.”
“Okay, how about this—you worked every single day last month, and I think the month before that, too. If you haven’t been at the mercy of a Trump wannabe, you’ve been risking life and limb for perfect strangers. It’s a bad equation that equals burnout.”
Logan looked at the strippers, and—unmoved by their gyrations—he admitted that Wyatt had a point. Burnout was lurking, flickering at the edges of his mind. He needed to get away, and skiing his brains out on Wyatt’s dime sounded…good. Damn good. “Fine, but if you have to come drag me back, it’s your own fault.”
“Duly noted, man. Duly noted. Just make sure to cut loose and have fun.”
Yeah. Logan figured if he really tried, he might manage to do just that.
Lake Tahoe, California
“LILY ROSE? YOU KNOW IT’S payday, right?”
Oh, for God’s sake. Lily Harmon’s head was going to blow right off her shoulders. Truly. If she didn’t get a moment of peace in her immediate future, she couldn’t be held responsible for what came next.
Knowing that, and her own limited patience, she drew a deep, calming breath, turned away from her ski locker and smiled blankly at her older sister, Gwyneth. “Really? It’s payday?”
Gwyneth’s mouth fell open. “You did forget.”
“Nah. I just like watching you grow gray hair before my eyes.”
Gwyneth was thirty-five to Lily’s twenty-five, and not a single day went by that she didn’t fling around the extra wisdom that those ten years supposedly granted her. “I was just trying to help.”
“You can save your breath.” Lily dug back into her locker. “I have the general manager job down.”
“Look, if you feel the need to waste some of your own time, go find someone else to waste it on. And, sheesh, while you’re at it, try to relax a little.” Lily pulled her red ski-patrol jacket over her head, then buckled on the small fanny pack that held all her essentials—not a brush or lip gloss or anything that Gwyneth’s pack might have contained, but a first-aid kit, a screwdriver for fixing bindings and other various handy items.
“How about the statistic reports?” Gwyneth said. “Did you get my memo—” She broke off at the look of steel in Lily’s eyes. “Right. You’re fine.”
“You know what you need instead of that anal accounting job, Gwynnie? Someone to boss around. Have some kids. Then you can bicker with them all day and turn into Mom.” Lily jammed on her helmet and eyed her snowboard and skis. Board, she decided. She stomped into her boots and snatched the board, and then glanced at Gwyneth, who was still standing there looking like the substitute teacher whose class had all ditched on her.
Shaking her head, Lily walked out of the ski-locker area and into the open lodge, where a handful of guests milled around in various stages of ski-gear dress. She moved past the huge stone fireplace where the roaring fire she herself had started at the crack of dawn this morning was still going strong. The comfy chairs and sofas in deep, inviting colors, strategically placed to capture the warmth of the flames, were filled with guests; some talking, laughing, some taking in the ambience of the cabin walls that were dotted with photos from the lodge’s past hundred years.
The scene always brought a smile to her face—a smile that faded when she realized that Gwyneth had caught up with her and was back to checking off items on her ever-present clipboard. “We’re having bear problems in the trash again.”
“What? After you authorized the purchase of the correct boxes with the suggested latches that the bears can’t get into?” Lily silently predicted that her sister would miss the sarcasm.
“Yes, but now the bears aren’t the only ones who can’t get into the trash. Our guests can’t, either, and they don’t understand that we actually get a lot of bears waking up all winter long. So now the bears are simply hanging out by the bins, waiting for the guests to leave the trash on the ground beside the bins.”
Yep. No sense of humor at all. “I’ve already ordered more Do Not Feed The Bears Or Else Lose Your Life signs, along with better directions for getting into the trash bins. It’s not rocket science, so I’m sure our guests will figure it out with the help of the extra pictures.”
Gwyneth’s mouth tightened. “Also, it’s end of month. The payables and receivables need to be—”
“Right. I’ve got a calendar.”
“Okay, but also there’s the—”
“Good Lord.” Lily tipped her head back to take in the huge wood beams running the length of the large lodge that she’d been walking through all of her life. Then she turned to her sister. “Look at me, Gwyneth. Do I look like I give a crap that you’re chasing after me and listing all my responsibilities, as if I was a five-year-old?”
Gwyneth’s lips all but disappeared now. “No. No, you don’t.”
“Good. So maybe you could try not to give a crap if once in a while I do things my way. What do you think?”
Gwyneth slowly let the clipboard down to her side. “I’m not trying to nag. I just want to see Bay Moon under control.”
Bay Moon Resort was a big, fancy name for a place that wasn’t really big or fancy but just right. They had fifteen guest rooms, a full-service cafeteria, a bar, a gift shop and a ski-rental shop. They also had a reputation for being one hell of a gathering spot, attracting so many repeat visitors on their mountain and in their lodge every year that getting into the place had become tough enough for the Lake Tahoe brochures to give them the coveted “exclusive” title.
Lily didn’t think of the place as exclusive so much as…home. Gwyneth didn’t feel the same way, nor did their middle sister, Sara. That’s because Gwyneth and Sara had lived with their parents in town while Lily, the problem child, had been sent here after a series of “unfortunate incidents” involving some admittedly bad choices on her part. She’d come to Grandma and Grandpa’s resort at age sixteen, as slave labor for “straightening out.”
And boy howdy, how she’d gotten straightened out. It hadn’t been her grandpa’s lightning temper or her grandma’s lectures, either, though both had probably contributed. It had been the mountain itself that gave her a sense of peace and the strength to just be herself. “Bay Moon is completely under control.” She stopped before the huge double wooden doors that would lead her into the glorious Sierra winter and right to the ski lifts that were her own personal wonderland. Before she’d even graduated high school, she’d been an emergency medical technician and certified professional ski patroller—nothing but a disguise on her part, really, one that had allowed her to work as ski patrol on the slopes she loved with all her heart.
Until she’d been give
n the general manager position.
She was still an EMT, still a certified patroller, only now things were different, more complicated, and she didn’t get out as often as she’d like. In fact, she hardly got out at all.
“Lily Rose, I’m trying to talk to you.”
“No, you’re trying to drive me crazy.” She pressed her temples to keep her brains from exploding. “And you’re doing a fine job, too. I’m asking you to back off.”
“How can I do that? If I didn’t stand on top of you, you wouldn’t get anything done.”
Lily gaped at that. Gwyneth still, after all this time, truly believed it was the nagging that made Lily tick. She could tear her hair out over that, but the truth was, there had been a time when she’d have needed someone on top of her. She’d sneaked out regularly. She’d pulled pranks, such as running the snowmaking machines in July or filling the water tap in the cafeteria with green food coloring, freaking out guests and employees alike. She’d even stolen a vehicle—if you could call it stealing to borrow a snowcat to go four-wheeling beneath a midnight moon…
She’d been a handful, no doubt, but damn it, she’d paid the price. Her family never looked at her and saw a grown-up—even now, they still saw her as that wild child.
She could deal with that. She was dealing with that. “You know I’ve been running this place since Grandma died last year, and without any major snafus.”
Gwyneth crossed her arms. “You say that as though you’ve never screwed up.”
“Right.” Lily had to laugh. “How could I deny it when we both know you remember each and every long-ago transgression?”
Gwyneth sighed. “This isn’t about your past. Wild or otherwise.”
The hell it wasn’t. But she absolutely didn’t want to get her sister going on the subject because it usually took Gwyneth a good long time to list every single indiscretion of Lily’s errant youth. Far too long to be standing still on a rocking January morning when a foot of fresh powder was calling her name. “Tell you what. Let’s call a truce.”