Never venture out of bounds without a buddy--preferably two.
Dara's past four incredible years have been lived to the fullest. Along with her best friends, Kane and Jack, she's left no local wilderness unexplored, no ski slope unchallenged. Yet lately she wonders why they've never seen her as more than a buddy with breasts. When--or if--either man will cross that unspoken line.
It's a line Kane eyes harder every day. Since high school, he and Jack have shared everything. A condo, vacations--and their best girl. Kane's ready to get serious about his wilderness school and outfitter business, and that includes putting down roots. Preferably with Dara.
Wary of the men who've recently been sniffing around Dara, Jack has a growing sense that he or Kane better make a move soon, or they're going to lose out on their perfect match. Question is, who does she prefer...and who's going to bring their easygoing trio to an end?
Overhearing the boys arguing over her, Dara's floored--and torn. Choose between them? No way. Drastic measures are called for, a plan for their annual holiday getaway that will clarify her feelings once and for all--or lose everything in a sexual storm of whiteout proportions.
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November 30, 2010
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Excerpt from Falling, Freestyle by Vivian Arend
Alpine Responsibility Code
Rule #1--Always stay in control...
The bright yellow safety marker passed behind them as Dara leaned back on the solid wood boards of the chairlift, easing her skis onto the rests. She relaxed and drew in a deep breath of icy air, turning her face toward the sun to soak in its warmth. Heat radiated off the bodies on either side of her. Jack and Kane--her best friends in their ski-crazy town.
"Which run do you two want to hit next?" Kane elbowed Dara in the ribs, his bright blue eyes flashing with amusement. Dark curls stuck out from the edges of his helmet to frame his boyish good looks. "You warmed up enough yet for something other than the bunny hills?"
The man was merciless. "Screw you. Just because I don't like starting the day with double black doesn't mean it's a bunny hill. And I kick your butt when we ski trees, so chill."
"She's got you there," Jack taunted. His blond hair was hidden under a woolen toque with long braided ties hanging down on either side of his face. Combined with the rest of his features, the image reminded her of ancient Viking barbarians--beautiful, strong.
Kane winked at her. "Bull. I just like to watch the lines you take. It's the only chance I get to admire your incredible talent since I spend the rest of the time with you on my backside."
Dara laughed, tucking herself a little farther into the shelter of Jack's broad body as their chairlift crested the first major rise. He adjusted his position to completely shield her from the wind.
She was so grateful their local ski hill had a couple of triple chairs. The twelve-minute ride to the mountaintop was never as long, or as cold, when both her guys were there. The ride up was a chance to take a break from the wild downhill rush of swooshing through knee-deep powder, snow flying in her wake. She snuggled in tighter against Jack, nudging the walkie-talkie in his pocket out of her way. While his rule that they each carry one as a backup for if they ever got separated was smart, she didn't need it poking her in the back.
The chair rattled over another of the tall towers, setting them swinging slightly. They'd all arranged to play hooky from their evil day jobs to take advantage of the lesser crowds midweek. A bad day skiing beat a good day at work anytime. Kane made a satisfied noise, then turned his grin her direction, obviously as pleased as she was with their impromptu Wednesday getaway. "Your pick, Dara, which run will it be?"
"Diamond Drill. I want to hit the jump."
Jack swore. "Already? You don't need to prove anything to Kane. He's just being an ass, teasing you about being a bunny."
She had to laugh. "I know he's an ass, that's not why I want to do it." She wiggled her brows at him. "I think you're the one who's a bit of a chicken. That jump still freaks you out, doesn't it?"
Kane laid a gloved hand on her shoulder. "Don't you worry, darling. You want to sail off into the wild blue yonder, I'll be there to catch you."
The banter continued back and forth until they reached the top of the lift. They slipped off and glided to the side where Jack and Dara waited for Kane to buckle on his snowboard. The first runs of the day were always magical. The cloud-free sky allowed the sun to flash blindingly bright off the fresh powder, individual snow crystals sparkling everywhere she looked. With clean uncut snow to track up, the thrill of exhilaration made being out of doors in the freezing weather worth it. Of course, getting to spend the day with her two best buds added to the pleasure.
Four years ago they'd found her struggling to bring her personal items into the apartment unit before a blizzard buried her. They had worked together to carry in all the boxes and bags stuffed into her ancient Volvo, ordered a pizza, and they'd been the three musketeers ever since.
Not only could they keep up with her on the slopes, they were a hoot in the ski lodge. After their time together, they had developed rituals and routines that made her smile. Simple things, like they always brought their own lunches, but splurged and shared the biggest plate of fries the cafeteria made. Hot chocolate from a thermos, and a cold brew or two when they got home. Yeah, life was good and Dara couldn't imagine any way it could possibly get better.
Well, except having the two of them actually notice she was a girl. That would be nice.
Dara glanced between them--Jack adjusting his goggles to cover his chocolate brown eyes, Kane waving lazily to another local sliding past. Yup--they were the best friends she'd ever had, and if there was a tiny piece inside her that longed for more, well...
There was too much at stake to risk changing their current state of affairs.
Kane whooped as he rose to his feet, propelling himself straight down the hill to pick up enough speed before cutting across the slope to the run they wanted to take. Dara smiled at Jack and they took off after him, their poles and skis making it easier to maneuver at the top of the run. Jack telemarked, with a ski and boot combination that left his heels unattached, forcing him to bend low on each turn. His strong legs moved rhythmically as he bounced between the upper moguls.
Dara was the ordinary one, with her freestyle skis and poles. She didn't have the stamina to spend the whole day doing lunges, like Jack would as he telemarked, and the one time she'd tried snowboarding she'd spent more time on her ass than on the hill.
Kane shrieked with laughter as he raced down the hill and Dara joined in, letting out her own cry of delight. She flew past Jack as she accelerated around the corner and headed toward the jump. The only time she'd seen Jack completely lose his eternal cool was the day he crashed, rolling limbs askew for a good twenty-five meters before coming to a stop at the base of a tree. Luckily nothing had been broken, but Jack still freaked every time she headed for it. She crouched in preparation, then extended her knees at the apex of the jump and let herself soar into the air. She flung her arms to the side to rotate herself in a three-hundred-sixty-degree circle. The dark green of the trees and the blue of the sky blurred together as she spun, the snow-covered ground a million miles away--for all of four seconds--before it rushed to meet her. She absorbed the impact of the landing, catching her balance with her legs wide apart.
Awesome. She let out a howl and Kane answered back from below. One more swoosh and she slid to a stop at his feet, spraying him with a wash of fine snow crystals.
"Holy crap, girl, that was the most height I've ever seen you get on that jump. Some day you might even be as good as me."
Dara punched Kane in the arm and they turned to watch Jack. He wove his way toward them, stopping with an extra bit of flair and coating them both with snow. "Okay, I'm officially pumped for our holiday. Three back-to-back days of skiing? Watching you two is going to put me into cardiac arrest."
Kane gestured down the hill. "Then go first so you don't have to see it, because it's only going to get better from here on."
They spent the next hour assaulting the fresh snow, the crowds slowly growing as people realized the weather had turned for the better. When they stomped into the lodge for lunch, Dara took a side trip for a bathroom break.
Yeah, Jack and Kane were the perfect ski partners, kayak buddies and best friends for watching movies and kicking back but...damn.
Dara stared into the mirror. Ordinary stared back. She was nothing like the women they dated. She was solid and plain, and tended to let other people speak for her far more often than she should. She even had a freaky dusting of freckles across her nose that made people who described her use words like "cute" and "wholesome".
Well, she doubted most people who were considered "cute" spent a day on the hill with her friends before returning home to a vibrator. The last in a long line of toys she'd burnt out in an attempt to tame all the wild fantasies streaking through her mind every time she thought about the guys.
And she was sure those "wholesome" girls would never daydream about what Jack and Kane looked like in the shower when they'd all head home after the day's excursions were done. The worst part was she didn't have to imagine much, not after dozens of trips together where the guys both stripped to nothing but boxers when it got hot. To say nothing about the time they went swimming in the buff. Not that she'd been looking.
Ripped bodies, great attitudes. Kane and Jack had been best friends since forever...and that was the kicker. There was no way she wanted to screw up their friendship, not only with her, but with each other. The kind of loyalty they'd shared over the years was precious. Getting involved with either of them would be a recipe for disaster. She patted her face with water. Nope--she could satisfy herself with her fingers and her rubbery friends, and keep her relationship with the guys clean and clear.
Her pocket vibrated and she straightened with a jerk. It took her a second to figure out it was her walkie-talkie--the guys must be looking for her. She should have just told them to go ahead and grab the fries. The hard plastic slipped in her wet hands and she nearly dropped the thing. In her mad scramble to catch it, she hit listen instead of talk.
Jack's voice rose to her ears, and he sounded pissed off. "Shut up. This isn't the time or the place for this discussion. You really want to mess with what we've got?"
"You know as well as I do that someday she's going to find someone she likes, and we'll be out of luck. You want to sit around and wait until then?"
Dara listened for a minute before she realized the guys didn't know she was on the line. She reached for the call button when her name caught her ear.
"If Dara wanted to get involved with either of us, she would have done something by now."
"You think so?" Kane's deep voice drawled. "I think since we're always together, there's not much chance for the girl to express interest in one of us. Like she's going to come on to me when you're around. She's too polite."
Dara picked her jaw off the floor and glanced around the bathroom in shock, hoping no one else was listening. One stall door was closed, so she turned down the volume and held the receiver tight to her ear. She should turn it off, she really should, but she couldn't resist eavesdropping a little longer.
"What's the solution? You going to step back and let me show her who's the better guy?" Jack's husky voice sent a shiver racing over Dara's skin.
Kane laughed. "Here's where this conversation stalls every time. This is why neither of us is with Dara. We both think we'd be good with her, and that she'd be a good match for either of us."
Jack swore softly. "So why are we discussing this? The day we met her we agreed to keep our hands off."
"I'm saying maybe we need to change our rules. Frankly, I'm getting to the point I'd rather see her with you than with anyone else."
"Likewise, dickwad, but your timing sucks. With the ski trip we've got planned, I think we should just keep the status quo for now and change the dynamics when we get back. I'd hate to upset our getaway if...well if anything does happen. We've had this in--"
Loud crackling noise filled the speaker, nearly deafening Dara. Their voices faded, then cut out completely. One of the guys must have moved the receiver and accidentally clicked off the send button.
She leaned back on the wall and fought to catch her breath. Holy cow. They were both interested in her. It was every woman's fantasy to have guys like Jack and Kane interested in her except...
There was no way on earth she could choose between them.
Every memory she had of Jack was wrapped up with thoughts of Kane. All the things she loved about Kane were connected by experiences with Jack.
Jack was her solid rock. Sturdy and dependable, even though he looked like he'd be at home pillaging a village. He fixed her shower, helped her with her computer and brought her chocolates when she got into a funk. They discussed books and movies, and somehow he instinctively knew when she needed a hug. His smile made her darkest day bright.
In comparison, Kane was her laughing buddy, rioting out with his loud mannerisms and boisterous good humour. He wasn't embarrassed to be caught sniffling during the chick flicks she forced them to watch. She never knew what to expect from the practical joker, except she trusted him to always be on her side.
As she made her way up the stairs to the cafeteria, her mind continued to race a million miles an hour, going down roads better not imagined. Like wondering again what Jack would be like in bed. Cautious? No, thorough, maybe forceful even. Kane, on the other hand, would be the type she could laugh with while they fooled around.
Damn. She shook her head and pushed through the cafeteria doors, clomping in her heavy boots toward their usual table. The swelling volume of voices drowned out her thoughts.
She should confess she'd heard their conversation, but what could she say without it being really awkward? In fact, doing anything about what she'd overheard seemed completely impossible.
If she knew which man she wanted to get involved with, it would be simpler. With her affections spread so evenly between them, that option was eliminated. In fact she couldn't imagine being with one and not the other.
Being with both of them? Together. Oh Lord, yes. As if she hadn't fantasized about that a million times as well.
Her face flushed hotter. The erotic books she'd read returned to her, and suddenly she wondered if she was brave enough to go through with the idea flashing through her brain. Their annual pre-Christmas ski trip away to another resort, just the three of them, was fast approaching. If she opened the door just a crack, what would they think of spending time getting to know her better--both of them?
Maybe if she introduced the concept of a m?nage as a fantasy, asked them to help her out. She'd be able to see if there was a difference in the way her heart and body felt--see if she was more drawn to one than the other. In the meantime she'd be experiencing a dream come true.
If she could convince them to give it a try.
She stepped next to the table and they both turned their full attention her way. Darkness and light met her, in their eyes, their hair. Something inside her belly tingled with anticipation, and this time she let it build instead of beating it into submission.
Wanting them both wasn't wrong, she was sure of it. Wanting them both, together...that seemed more risqu?.
"I thought you'd fallen in and drowned." Jack grinned and pushed the plate of fries toward her. "I saved some from the bottomless pit over there."
"I'm a growing boy. I need to keep my strength up." Kane slid to the side to give Dara room to join him. He had one leg on either side of the bench and as she nestled in she realized just how intimate the position was, her hip inches from his groin.
She choked down the fries, her gaze flicking from one to the other as they laughed and joked. Her guys, their faces glowing with health and energy. Drool-worthy Jack. Invigorating Kane. Daydream inducing--together or apart.
Something clicked inside and she took a deep breath.
They wanted to change the status quo? So be it, but she would be the one calling the shots. She had a few weeks to get everything in place, then come hell or high water she was going to make the most outrageous thing she'd ever dreamed of a reality.