In Too Deep
BOOK 3 in the Blue Spruce Lodge
The family he didn’t know he needed…
At her wit’s end with her twelve-year-old niece, Wren Snow takes the manager’s job at Blue Spruce Lodge so Sky can get to know her father, Trigg Johanssen—a tycoon snowboarder with a playboy reputation.
Gold-medalist Trigg Johanssen is furious she kept Sky a secret, but quits competition to focus on his newly discovered daughter only to have his chemistry with Wren complicate their attempts to co-parent.
When outside forces threaten the ski resort he’s rebuilding, a marriage of convenience seems like the answer. It would give his daughter the life she deserves, but is it too much for a heartbroken woman still nursing past hurts?
"How long have you known that I’m Sky’s father?"
— Trigg, In Too Deep
When I was writing From The Top, I had Trigg confide in Nate that he’d had a teen pregnancy scare.
Wait a minute, I thought almost immediately. What if that scare had actually turned into a baby? One who turns up to throw the extremely confident and very confirmed bachelor, Trigg, into a tailspin?
Writing In Too Deep was almost too fun. Trigg seriously doesn’t know how to be a father of a child of any age, let alone a girl hitting adolescence. Sky is a handful at the best of times and here comes pre-teen drama in spades!
What I didn’t know until I’d written the ending of From The Top was what kind of heroine Trigg was getting. All I knew was that the girl who’d been pregnant had had a father who forced her to go through with the pregnancy.
Somehow Wren appeared as that girl’s sister. She’s mousy and way too young to be raising a twelve-year-old, but so resilient and determined to do right by her sister’s kid. Trigg is a handful in his own way and she needed to be tough enough to stand up to him, which she does. And he falls for her. Hard. And Sky is not happy.
In some ways, this is a love triangle with all three of them figuring out their role in this family they’re forming. I hope you enjoy it!
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In Too Deep
“I hate you.” Skylar’s voice was soaked in pubescent drama. “That word isn’t strong enough. Hate.”
“Well, maybe if you’d actually attended school, you would have a broader vocabulary.” Wren Snow didn’t even look at her niece as the tree-lined road that had wound up from the highway opened into the parking lot.
Blue Spruce Lodge loomed before them.
You’re ugly. It was the sort of comeback Sky had been throwing at her so often lately, Wren almost said it on reflex. She was more mature than that, though. She’d been way more mature than Sky at twelve, not a bitter pill like this. No, she had put on her good-girl clothes, kept her grades up, never stayed out past eight, and malevolently plotted ways to murder people in their sleep.
That’s how you got through the growing pains of adolescence, not by eviscerating the one person who gave a damn about you.
“There’s nothing even here!” Sky switched from hatred to panic and back to accusation. “Are you in the right place? ‘cause there was no mall in that town and you said there was a ski hill here. This is, like, the place people come to get killed in a horror movie.”
“I think the ski hill is…” Wren parked in a spot near the entrance that faced the lodge. She looked around, saw a handful of cars and a lane cast in shadow by the trees off the far end of the parking lot. “Nearby.”
All she could really see was the lodge—which wasn’t ugly. It was too big to be quaint, but it was charming in a Bavarian, gingerbread fairy tale way. The style was dated, but the exterior was a welcoming, buttercup yellow with blue trim. It was the kind of place she would come for a girls’ getaway if she had girlfriends, money and time.
“Oh my gawd.” Sky folded her arms and sank deeper into her seat. “Why would you even do this to me? I’m not doing it.”
“Skylar.” Wren squeezed the steering wheel and reached for the patience that was a thin, thin blanket. Tattered and worn and more holes than substance.
She tried not to be moved by the brightness coming into Sky’s eyes, or the pearly knobs where the girl’s knuckle bones gleamed on her tight fists, or the way Sky held her mouth in a flat line while her chin crinkled up beneath it.
The anger Skylar was throwing at her was a front. Inside she was terrified. Wren had been sick to her stomach for a month, ever since she had come here pretending she wanted a job and spilled beans that weren’t the magic kind. More like worms out of a can. They were everywhere. Still squiggling.
Was she doing the right thing? She had no idea. She was twenty-four, way too young to be a parent to a kid this age, but Sky wouldn’t stop asking for this. Who is my Dad? Why doesn’t he want me? It didn’t matter how much that made Wren feel threatened, taken for granted, inadequate or unwanted. This had to happen.
“It’s six months. If it doesn’t work out, we go back to Utah for Christmas.” That’s why she had come here under the guise of interviewing for a job—so she could get a look at Sky’s father and walk away if it didn’t feel right.
Was this what ‘right’ felt like? No. But it felt necessary. Inevitable. Like the hard work needed to drag a sofa up a flight of stairs before you could sit on it and rest. Or like devoting yourself to your sister’s kid even though you were a kid yourself.
“I’m not going to school here,” Sky declared.
It was the third of June. Wren had pulled Sky out of school to make this move, partly to help out the lodge by arriving as soon as possible, partly thinking there was no point waiting for the end of the year since Sky wasn’t going to school in Utah, either.
Wren knew better than to have the go-to-school battle until she had to, though. Skylar had to complete and pass online courses before they would know what grade to enroll her in.
Maybe she would decide she liked home schooling and it would be a non-issue.
Hahaha. Seriously, if people knew what kind of comedian lurked inside this girl-next-door exterior, Wren bet she would have her own HBO special.
Biting back a sigh, Wren faced the battle she did have to have—getting the tween out of the car and into their new ‘home.’
Taking the keys—because she wouldn’t put it past Sky to steal her hatchback, drive it to California, and join a cult—Wren climbed from the car. She stretched, even though they hadn’t been driving that long. They’d stayed Friday and Saturday in Butte, sharing a friend’s pull-out couch. Before that, she’d spent weeks of late nights packing or divesting everything they owned. It had been hard to pare down to necessities, but it was an exit strategy of sorts. If this didn’t work out, they didn’t have to go back to Utah. The world was their oyster.
Wren drew a deep breath of the clean mountain air, closing her eyes and letting the sunshine bathe her face. Construction noises sounded in the distance. Birdsong overlaid it with the pulse of rap music and a sudden, sharp whistle.
She opened her eyes and Oh. She started to flush with self-conscious heat even before she fully registered that Trigg Johanssen was coming out of the lane and walking toward her. Her brain said, Hot man alert, then she recognized him and a fresher, more startling rush of sexual awareness went through her.
Déjà vu all over again. Damn it.
When she had arrived here in May, he had been sitting in a small, open-topped ATV kind of vehicle right here where she was standing. He’d been talking to another man who’d given her a friendly nod.
She might have said, “Hi.” She honestly couldn’t remember because her brain had been exploding.
Trigg had given her a wolfish look that she had felt in the pit of her belly. She had recognized him, having stalked him online, but even as she had met his gaze with hysterical disbelief, her girl-parts had scanned the mouth-watering selection and ordered the full buffet.
That’s why she had chickened out on speaking to him directly. She had gone inside, ears ringing with her pounding heart. He’d been gone when she walked outside again.
By then, she had secured a tentative job offer and the knowledge that her life would never be the same.
She had dreaded seeing him after that. Not just because she’d seen first hand that he was a player. Of course he was a player. He had knocked up her sister when he was seventeen. He probably had a whole flock of Skylars out there.
But who could blame Mandy or any of the women he’d conquered? He was built like a god and moved like a cat, as though he knew how to use each of his muscles exactly as intended. He wore jeans and a T-shirt today with light stubble the same color as his dark brows. His hair had been in a man-bun the last time she saw him. Today it was shaved into business on the sides, rumpled bed-head on top. His eyes were a sharp, mountain-lake blue, his smile flat and tense. Forced.
That vaguely hostile, hard expression made her heart slip and judder while her limbs felt loose and lubricated.
The way he had smiled at her the first time had been very inviting and approving.
The second time, when they’d all met in a lawyer’s office for twenty minutes, he’d worn a suit and hadn’t smiled at all.
She wasn’t able to find a smile right now. She was standing here like a virgin on her wedding night, throat dry, waiting for him to come to her.
Something nudged her in the crotch, scaring the shit out of her.
“Oh my God!” She jerked back and clipped her hip on the driver’s side. Pain streaked through her pelvic bone while she scrabbled for balance by grasping at the warm roof of the car.
“Murphy. Sit.” Trigg stopped behind her taillight and snapped his fingers by his thigh.
The dog let his haunches drop, but stayed in front of her, tail swirling like an electric beater, sweeping through bits of gravel on the concrete. His pink tongue lolled out of his black-lipped mouth and he cocked his head at her. His ears and face were black, but he had a white stripe that came down between his eyes. The stripe ended in speckles above his black nose. There were more speckles on his white chest and legs. Border Collie and Heeler maybe, with Labrador eyes that offered eternal love.
“Quite the welcoming committee.” She quit rubbing her hip and smoothed her hand down the short, silky fur on his hard head.
“We usually charge extra for that, but since you’re a VIP…” Trigg shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. She could tell they were curled into fists. The mask of tension across his face bore an eerie resemblance to the one stonewalling in the passenger seat of her car.
His gaze took in her jeans and T-shirt, both clean this morning. Her sneakers could use an update, but keeping Sky in extra-curriculars had taken most of her disposable cash the last few years. Anything to keep that kid out of trouble—not that it had worked.
Would this work? Would Sky magically turn into a polite, well-adjusted, academic teenager with ambitions beyond smoking cigarettes behind the mall?
Probably not, but Wren had to try. This was her last resort. See what I did there? Because the lodge was situated so deep in the mountains of Montana it felt like they were at the end of the earth. Last. Resort. Get it, Judd Apatow? Why aren’t you calling me?
“Is…?” He sidled his gaze to the car.
“Nervous, I guess.” She knew exactly what she was doing with that dropped glove.
The passenger door flung open and Sky stood up to send her a how-dare-you glare across the roof of the hatchback.
At the sound, Murphy shot around the car, through the shrubs. Sky jolted with surprise and bent out of sight.
Wren looked back at Trigg and caught him giving the fit of her jeans an assessment. She waited for his gaze to come back and scowled a, Really?
She didn’t care how hot he was. This wasn’t the time. Plus, he had had sex with her sister. His kid was right there. Remember? Sailor?
His mouth curled at one corner. “The dog slobbered on your leg.”
She looked down. Fantastic.
Trigg didn’t apologize for Murphy’s lack of manners. If he started, he’d never stop. Besides, he could barely form words these days that weren’t every shade of blue.
He’d had a month to get used to the idea that he had a kid, but he was still trying to wrap his brain around the reality of it. A daughter. He was nowhere near ready for kids. He had a million other things to accomplish before ‘settling down.’ And man, did he hate that expression. Settle down. It made him feel trapped just thinking it.
She wasn’t a baby, either. Not a toddler or a tyke. A freaking twelve-year-old girl.
Why did she have to be a girl? Not that he thought it was more manly to produce a son. It was just too mind-bending to be the father of a girl with a face like an angel who was starting to grow into a woman’s body. From the time he’d been Sky’s age, when his balls had dropped and his stinger stood up, he’d been nothing but a bumbler to a flower. He loved girls and they loved him back.
Did he objectify them? He didn’t think so. Not on purpose. He was capable of platonic friendships. He trained and worked alongside women without harassing them. But flirting and charming were his go-to methods of communication. It wasn’t so much that he was forever on the prowl as making sure they knew he’d be receptive. If that meant he saw a lot of action, well that was a win-win, wasn’t it?
That’s what he’d been thinking the day he’d seen Wren arrive to interview. She’d stared him down as she walked past and if Nate’s granddad hadn’t needed help, Trigg would have shown her his medal collection upstairs.
He still thought Wren was cute as hell in a wholesome, mousy way. She wasn’t blond or bubbly the way he recalled Mandy to be. Wren was a solemn brunette with a ponytail. Little wisps fell across her forehead and drew curved lines to her cheeks. Her mouth was a plump, round pout, her eyes dark brown. Her skin was gorgeous, like powder in the high country. The rest of her was neatly packaged on a five-five frame, feminine without being voluptuous. Cute.
She was nowhere near as harmless as she looked, though. Nope. She’d been planting a bomb that day. One that had started ticking that evening and went off a couple weeks later when the DNA results came back. It had blown off his legs, forcing him to retire from competing. He was livid about that and knew he should blame his own dick, but blaming her felt infinitely better.
Would retiring be worth it? How could it be? His mother might have aspired to cookie-cutter fantasies when he’d been a kid, but they weren’t that kind of family. You sure as shit didn’t find your bliss by settling in any manner, especially by settling down.
“Is this your dog?” Sky stood up.
He realized he was staring at Wren’s thighs again while she used a tissue to try to swipe the streak off her jeans.
“Yeah.” He looked to Sky over the roof of the car and felt like the ground shifted. Her eyes were weirdly familiar. That was the first thing he’d noticed about her. It was like looking at old photos of his mom, when she’d been a stewardess. There was something in Sky’s chin, too. It was strong, like his dad’s had been.
“What’s his name?”
“Murphy.” King of the wingmen.
“I didn’t know you had a dog.” She looked at Wren as if this was information she should have been given.
“I didn’t know, either.”
“You want some help bringing in your things?” Trigg asked.
“Sure.” Wren came toward him, faltered, waited for him to step back even though there was plenty of room to get by.
Sexual awareness tingled through him.
Women reacted to him. He knew it and liked it. But this was not the time or place for his libido to twitch awake. He ignored the stir, dragged his gaze off her ass—which was sweet as a valentine and deserved to be admired if not fondled and stroked—and glared resentfully across the parking lot.
Wren opened the hatch, caught whatever nearly tumbled out, and glanced at him warily. The small space was stuffed with luggage, boxes, a bag full of bedding and a milk crate full of gaming stuff.
Trigg waited while she took the laptop bag then grabbed the two biggest bags.
Sky sent her aunt a glower as she reached into the backseat and shouldered a rainbow colored backpack. She hugged a pillow and followed them on scuffling feet.
A handful of guests were in the lobby and dining room, but the lunch rush hadn’t started and the lodge only had one floor open to guests. By this time next year, the resort he was developing with his brother would have summer activities like mountain bike trails and maybe a zip line. For now, most of the guests were contractors hired to construct buildings and install lifts. A lot of them arrived Monday and checked out on Friday, which made for quiet weekends.
Lina, one of the lodge employees, was behind the coffee bar. She eyed Wren as they passed, checking out the new manager.
The manager’s suite was on the ground floor. Aside from the penthouse his brother Rolf was finishing for himself and Glory on the top floor, this was the only room with a kitchenette. There was also a small table with two chairs and his mother had crammed a loveseat against the wall, facing the TV on the dresser.
As Trigg closed the door behind them, the one into the manager’s office opened. Marvin came in beaming a smile brighter than the first day of summer. “You’ve arrived.”
Trigg’s mother had given Marvin quite the make-over in the last few months. Gone was the disheveled professor Trigg had met two years ago. He’d been replaced by a hotelier in a bespoke suit. Trigg liked the old fart either way—even though he was banging his mom.
Trigg had still been absorbing that the sixty-something pair were shacking up like teenagers when news of his blessed event with Sky had come along. Then there’d been a crisis with the resort and his abrupt retirement from the snowboard circuit. Trigg liked to think he rode the bumps like a pro, but he had a lot to deal with these days.
“Wren, it’s good to see you again.” Marvin shook her hand, warm and fatherly. “You must be Sky. I’m Marvin Cormer. Welcome to Blue Spruce Lodge.”
“Mr. Cormer owns Blue Spruce Lodge. He’s my new boss,” Wren explained to Sky.
“Marvin, please,” Marvin insisted. “I want you to feel at home. We’re one big happy family here.”
And people called him a dreamer, Trigg thought.
“Is this, like, a handicapped room or something?” Sky eyed the extra-wide door, brow quirking with pained dismay.
“We made this wheelchair accessible last month. It still needs to be fitted with a roll-in shower and lower sinks. We’ll remove this door into the manager’s office, too.”
Sky shifted her attention to the twin beds with a narrow night table between them. “I don’t get my own room?”
“It’s fine.” Wren smiled benignly.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions on how best to accommodate you,” Marvin said, clasping his hands in front of him and smiling his magnanimous smile.
They had, in fact, talked this shit to death. Deciding where Sky and Wren would sleep was the tip of the iceberg. How Sky’s existence affected Wikinger, which was the family corporation, and Whiskey Jack, the unfinished resort, along with Rolf and Glory’s upcoming wedding, had all been lengthy negotiations. Even whether to give Wren the manager job had been a freaking referendum. When his mother had started setting hard limits on whether she would be called ‘grandma,’ Trigg had folded and walked away.
“We’ll work out alternate arrangements if you decide to stay into the new year,” Marvin said. “The lodge is fully booked for the wedding next month—”
“Who’s getting married?” Sky looked up from petting Murphy.
“My brother,” Trigg said.
“To my daughter,” Marvin added, shirt expanding with his swell of pride. “July fourth.”
It was a dumb day for a wedding. A Wednesday. But Glory wanted it and Rolf had backed her up. Trigg had since figured out it was the anniversary of their first shag. Glory was a romantic while Rolf was keeping his anniversary dates easy to remember.
“Hmmph.” Sky’s interest evaporated. “I thought it was, like, a celebrity or something, since they booked the whole hotel.”
Nice one, kid. Trigg made a mental note to repeat that to Rolf, the four-time gold medalist marrying the bestselling romance author.
“Several guests are quite famous. You can talk to your—” Marvin cleared his throat. “Um, Vivien, that is, Trigg’s mother.” Marvin glanced at Trigg the way Murphy had when he’d got his paw caught in his own collar.
“Mom thinks it should be Sky’s decision whether to tell people what’s going on.” Trigg squeezed the knotted muscles in the back of his neck, then gave the back of his head a quick scratch. It was freshly cut and still felt bristly and unfamiliar. Fucking meetings with the board. He and Rolf had been called on the carpet for firing Basco Construction, as if Wikinger wasn’t their company to run as they saw fit. Theirs to protect, when they discovered a fox in the henhouse.
He brushed aside worrying about that right now, dropping his hand to his side.
“Mom said it’s a lot to get used to and we don’t need staff asking questions. That’s why we’re not all here to greet you. Mom thought that would be overwhelming. She wants you to come up for lunch where you can meet and talk in private.”
Mom wanted the home court advantage.
“That’s thoughtful. Thank you.” Wren turned a smile on Sky that said, Isn’t that nice?
Trigg didn’t know the definition of ‘baleful,’ but had a feeling that was what Sky sent back.
He wished he knew more about how all this had come about. Between shock and rearranging his life, Trigg hadn’t communicated much with Wren. Their lawyers had handled most of it and they’d only emailed about logistics.
He wanted to know, Why now? Why not years ago, when Mandy had died? Why hadn’t Mandy contacted him when she decided to have Sky? Wren had been on her own with Sky since she was nineteen. That must have been hard as hell.
Even so, Wren had been adamant that she wanted a job so she could continue supporting herself and her niece. That’s what the visit to the lawyer had been. A brief introduction of father and daughter along with signing paperwork that basically said Trigg could set aside his entire fortune for Sky if he wanted to, but Wren kept full custody. She would only accept a nominal monthly amount for child support.
Wren had been prepared to stay in Utah if Trigg didn’t want to get involved. She also offered to find work in Haven, which was the town closest to the resort.
Sky wanted to get to know her dad, though. If Trigg had continued training and competing, he would have been gone more than he was here. Even working to rebuild the hill with Rolf was a lot of demanding hours. If Sky wanted to get to know him, living here at the lodge was their best opportunity.
Did he want to get to know her? From what Wren had said to Marvin last month, Sky had been ‘acting out.’ How? Did Wren expect him to turn into a dad and sort that shit? Because she was barking up the wrong tree. He didn’t know anything about being a parent and he’d been a hellion of a son.
He supposed he did want to know more about both of them, but this entire situation was so far beyond anything he knew how to deal with, something in him had locked down and wouldn’t budge. He’d seen Rolf do this a thousand times and wanted to punch him every time, but here he was, digging in with all his strength, unable to soften, reach out, or bend. His ability to communicate had devolved into primitive grunts and barely restrained aggression.
“Vivien is organizing the wedding. She can tell you about the guest list.” Marvin circled back to the topic that consumed everyone these days. Forget trying to build a resort or the fact Trigg had a kid. Did anyone have a color suggestion for the candle in the centerpieces?
“We’re in room one-twenty,” Marvin continued. “I’ll let Vivien know you’re here. But first, may I help with luggage?”
“That would be great. Thanks.” Wren offered Marvin what looked like her first natural smile, jangled her keys and walked out.
Leaving Trigg alone with his kid.
Skylar didn’t look at her ‘dad.’ She kept petting Murphy.
None of this was what she had expected. Auntie Wren had said so many times that there were no take-backs if she met her father. It was such a stupid thing to say, but she was starting to realize what she meant. She had cried last night, before Auntie Wren came to bed, and didn’t know why. She thought it was because she missed her friends in Utah, but she didn’t really care about them. She had just needed to cry, even though she should be happy to know who her dad was.
Auntie Wren should have told her who he was a long time ago. She had always said that he was a guy who her mom had met at a ski hill one time. They were teenagers and had sex and it only took once. Remember that.
Ugh. Lecture me some more. Please.
But Auntie Wren wouldn’t tell her his name. Sky figured it was because Auntie Wren knew Sky would find him online and message him. Instead, Auntie Wren had pulled some sneaky bullshit last month and left Sky with Aunt Lydia while she came here for a job interview. Then she waited until they were home to say, Your dad lives in Montana. I got a job there so we can live there and you can get to know him.
Then it turned out her dad was super rich and a famous snowboarder. So, yeah, of course Sky said she wanted to come live in his hotel and ski for free. Who wouldn’t?
But that’s not how this was. She met her dad in some boring lawyer office that had been worse than a library, it was so quiet and filled with stuck-up people wearing glasses. Her dad wasn’t lovey-dovey. He didn’t say how happy he was that he had a kid. He looked serious and unthrilled. Auntie Wren had been all calm and nicey-nice the way Sky had seen her when Sky came to the dentist office for a cleaning and heard a patient stand at the counter and rip Auntie Wren a new one about their bill. She never got mad or talked back. It was so gross to watch.
As soon as they left the lawyer’s office, Sky had said she changed her mind and didn’t want to do this.
I just signed the papers, Auntie Wren said. I’ve already given up the apartment and quit my job.
Sky still felt sick about it.
At least he had Murphy. He was acting like he loved her on sight.
“What kind of dog is he?”
“No idea. He showed up beside my truck without a collar, looking hungry.”
She glanced at him. He looked like a robot. The terminator kind.
“Auntie Wren wouldn’t let us get a pet, except once we had a goldfish. It died the same weekend. She can’t even keep a houseplant alive. She brought a poinsettia home from her work and it shriveled up right away.”
“She seems to have kept you alive.”
She scowled. Was he taking her side?
How could this be her dad? He wasn’t much older than Tony, the guy who worked at the cellphone store in the mall. He had said she was pretty and asked how old she was. She had lied and said fourteen.
She had always known her dad was a year younger than her mom, but she had still pictured he would look like other dads, with a beer-belly and going gray or bald. More like Marvin.
It was extra weird because even without knowing he was her dad, she had watched him on TV, doing tricks and jumps on his snowboard. She had thought Auntie Wren had a crush, taping to make sure she didn’t miss him. After Auntie Wren told her who he was, Sky had looked him up and seen millions of photos and videos online. She’d listened to him talk about alley-oop and chicken salad and watched him sing the anthem on the podium. She had read about him being accused of smoking pot and there were a million comments from women who wanted to marry him and gay guys who wished he was bi.
Trigg Johanssen wasn’t any guy. He was a super star she had never expected to meet. And he was her father. She didn’t know what to say to him.
She would if Auntie Wren hadn’t kept him a secret. Why? Auntie Wren kept saying it was because Sky hadn’t really asked about him, but that wasn’t true. Sky had asked all the time. She didn’t remember her mom and always wished she knew her dad.
Auntie Wren had made excuses.
The door opened and Auntie Wren came back with Marvin. They dropped a bunch more of stuff on the table and the end of the bed.
That was another thing. Why had Auntie Wren sold all the furniture? Not that Sky’s bed had been great. Everything had been second-hand, but Auntie Wren said if they wanted a fresh start after this, it would be a real fresh start.
“We can manage the rest,” Wren said.
“I’ll let Vivien know you’ll be up soon,” Marvin said.
He looked like a guy who would play an undertaker in a movie. Not a creepy one. The kind who tells a kid a secret about how the soul stays to listen to the music so their mom isn’t really gone and everything will be okay.
“I’ll meet you up there,” he said as he left with Marvin. Was she supposed to call him ‘Trigg?’ What kind of name was that, anyway? German? That’s what his dad had been. His brother’s name was even weirder. Rolf. Gag. Barf. Vomit.
The door closed and Auntie Wren let out a big breath.
“I want my mom’s diary,” Sky said. “The real one. Not the baby one.”
“It’s in my things. I’ll find it as I unpack.” She opened her suitcase on the bed, then opened a drawer.
“You know exactly where it is. I know when you’re lying to me.”
“Skylar. I said I would give it to you once we got here and I will. But we’re supposed to meet…” She waved at the ceiling. “Can you wait until after lunch?”
“I know what you’re doing. You’re always telling me to ignore peer pressure and be careful guys don’t take advantage of me, then you manipulate me.”
“And you always say my name like that—Skylar—when you want me to shut up and do as I’m told.”
Auntie Wren paused in dropping clothes into the drawer. “Very perceptive. That’s exactly what I want.”
“Well, fuck that.” A jolt of power went through her. She had said ‘shit’ and ‘damn’ in front of Auntie Wren, but not that one. Oh, it felt good!
Auntie Wren didn’t even blink. She only reached for another armload of clothes. “I don’t care if you swear at me, but if you swear at other people around here, you’re going to look like a spoiled brat. Your choice.”
Skylar folded her arms. “Which is basically calling me a spoiled brat for swearing at you. I’m not stupid. Quit treating me like I am.”
“Sky—” She cut it off and swung around to face her. “You are twelve years old. That sucks. I remember how much it sucks—”
Sky groaned at the ceiling. “Back in my day…”
“But this is what grown up life is. This is why I put off telling you who he was. This doesn’t get undone. It stays exactly this uncomfortable until you figure out how to deal with it.”
“You didn’t want me to have a choice. You were afraid I would like him better than you and I do.”
Auntie Wren never got super mad. She got snappy sometimes and could lecture a person into a coma, but she never yelled and fought back. When she was actually mad, she put on that face. That blank nothing of a face and turned away to continue doing whatever she was doing. It was so annoying.
“I’m glad you like him. You must be eager to meet the rest of your family, too,” Auntie Wren said.
Sky wanted to yank her ponytail. Hard. Give it the biggest, hardest shake with all her strength. “I hate you so much.”
“That’s unfortunate because I love you.”
Is that all you got? That’s what Wren wanted to say.
Wren had grown a thick skin back when she was Sky’s age, surrounded by a clique of sixth graders who thought she was a bookworm freak who dressed funny. You smell like a basement. Do you even know what a TV is?
She had learned very young that it was best not to engage. Pretending you didn’t exist had been her best and only survival strategy. She still employed it.
Sky’s bitchy remarks stung, though. She used to be so full of love. She would tell Wren all the time that she loved her, out of the blue even. From two-years-old to eight, Sky had been a delight. They’d been best friends—which said everything about Wren’s upbringing that at sixteen, her best friend had been her four-year-old niece, but still. So much love.
Things had started to get rocky when Wren had moved them out of her parents’ house. Sky didn’t seem to remember how tense things were there. All Sky remembered was that she’d had to change schools and it was Wren’s fault.
By the time Sky turned ten, Wren had been going to the school to meet with the principal about bullying behavior. It hadn’t shocked her that Sky was not the victim. Having been on the receiving end of that kind of thing made it all the more mortifying and difficult to accept. The school had been zero help, blaming Wren.
Is this really the best arrangement? You seem awfully young to be raising a girl this age.
They’d changed schools again.
That had coincided with Sky plumping up as puberty loomed. She’d been miserable and horribly down on herself. She started volleyball and other sports, made a few decent friends and slimmed down, more from a growth spurt than exercise, and had seemed happier for about a minute.
Then her quest for independence had started. She had expressed it in all the most challenging ways—cutting class, refusing to turn in assignments, hanging out with boys who were way too old for her. Like, illegal old. She’d only had two periods and barely had boobs, but guys in their twenties had started circling her—drug-dealing, predatory bastards.
Wren had been at the end of her rope when she had stalked Trigg again and saw there was a job opening at the lodge. Coming here last month, she had been desperate for anything, anything, to provide a glimmer of hope.
Of course, she was the villain again. Of course, she was. She had been at fault since Sky’s conception. Why didn’t you know she left your room? You were supposed to be each other’s chaperone.
No more ski camps or other field trips after that.
But whatever. For the most part, Wren was as honest with her niece as was appropriate for her age. This was what life was—messy and hard. It was something you survived until it killed you. Sometimes there was cake to trick you into thinking the fight was worth it.
Would Vivien have cake? Please have cake, Wren silently pleaded as they went back to the lobby and climbed the carpeted stairs. Sunlight poured through the tall windows to add shine to the polished mahogany rails. Paintings on the wall showed landscapes that looked a lot like the surrounding area, but they were in unnatural colors of pink trees and orange mountains.
“Someone does drugs,” Sky commented.
They were strange, but interesting and compelling. This whole lodge was that way—it looked like a high-end hotel, but it had a warm, quirky vibe that drew her in and made her want to spend more time here.
When Wren had come last month, she hadn’t had any intention of actually working here. She had night-managed a small motel while getting her training for the dental office and knew this work was thankless.
Blue Spruce Lodge was different, though. It catered to upscale guests on vacation, not tired travelers looking for a cheap bed on their way through. The serene location in the wilderness beat the heck out of living in the city, working with patients who resented the cost of care they genuinely needed. In another life, she might have sought a job like this.
You didn’t want me to have a choice.
Sky’s accusation was way off base, yet managed to score a line against Wren’s heart anyway. Wren had never felt like she had much choice. When she had taken risks, they’d been big, heavy decisions that had overturned whatever safety and security she had managed to attain for herself. Or they’d been in Sky’s interest, not her own.
And yes, maybe that helped her justify keeping Sky to herself, rather than sharing her with the DNA that had fathered her. So what? She’d given Sky a pretty good life, not that Sky appreciated it.
She knocked on the door of room one-twenty.
Marvin welcomed them with a smile.
Trigg was there, standing by the window in the small living-dining area, arms crossed. His back was the inverted triangle that weakened every woman’s knees in biological response to male strength. He had a really nice butt in jeans that cupped his muscled cheeks rather than drooping off his ass the way so many men wore them. They made his strong thighs look like tree-trunks. Solid and touch-worthy.
Not that she wanted to caress his thighs. She was stress-ovulating or something. Deprivation had her in its grip. She hardly ever dated, especially lately. She was a normal woman who sometimes reacted to hot men. A late bloomer with a backlog of oats begging to be sewn. That’s all.
He turned and she averted her gaze to the saloon doors in an archway that partially hid the bedroom, but she felt his gaze linger on her cheeks. Her active imagination had her fearing he had read her thoughts and she grew hot. Blushed.
“This is nice,” she said, forcing herself to scan the suite. It didn’t feel like a hotel in here. It was homey with family photos and furniture that looked like it had been chosen with care, nothing made in bulk. It smelled like potpourri and exotic food.
A woman of sixty-something rose from the loveseat and smiled, but in a way that was a polite welcome to strangers, not like a grandma whose favorite grandchild had just arrived.
Not that Wren knew what that looked like, but she had hoped for something like it for Sky.
“Vivien.” Marvin set his hand behind the woman’s shoulder. “This is Skylar and her aunt, Wren.”
Vivien’s handshake was a firm grasp in a cool, but ultra-soft hand. She wore flashy rings that Wren imagined were real gemstones, not costume. Her hair was white-blond and cut in a sophisticated, wind-swept style that perfectly framed her elegantly made-up face. She was tall and trim and wore crisp navy blue slacks with a coral sweater that had a neckline low enough to reveal the chain of intricate links and sparkling stones hanging into her cleavage.
She didn’t look like anyone’s grandmother. She looked like she edited a fashion magazine. Wren had the feeling that was exactly what she intended.
“This has been such a surprise. But a good one,” Vivien said.
What an obvious prevarication.
Vivien kept most of her focus on Sky. Her sharp blue eyes took in Sky’s sullen expression, her sloppy hoodie with the home-made thumb-holes in the cuffs, and the jeans with the mechanically distressed thread-bare patches down the tops of her thighs.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Wren said, nudging Sky.
“Hi,” Sky mumbled.
Vivien’s smile didn’t falter, but what little warmth that had existed in her smile frosted over with dismay.
Wren glanced at Trigg, hoping for intervention or guidance.
She caught him looking straight at her. His gaze skipped away when hers met his.
Her heart swooped in the same direction, bouncing off the window like a bird, then sat there stunned. Why? She didn’t care if he was looking at her or what he was thinking.
What had he been thinking?
The dog slobbered on your leg.
Ugh. She wasn’t going there again.
Even so, the heat of sexual awareness trickled through her in a relentless stream, heavily laced with annoyance at herself for feeling like this.
“Let’s sit,” Vivien invited. “The chef is test-driving menu items for the wedding. You can tell me what you think. There’s a lot to talk about, but where to start?”
“Indeed.” Marvin held Vivien’s chair.
Trigg moved to hold a chair for Wren, which had never been done for her. It made her felt awkward and clumsy.
Sky sent her a WTF look as she went to the chairs on the far side of the table and pulled one out for herself. After a brief pause where Trigg seemed to weigh his options, he took the seat next to Wren’s.
“Glory wants us to start without her,” Marvin said. “She’ll join us as soon as she can. She wants to walk down to the base with you.”
They knew what they were doing after lunch, then. Wren didn’t look at Sky, but felt her glare like an infrared lamp set an inch off her face.
The food was intricate and intriguing. There were little ramekins with a couple of bites of chicken, a julienne of red pepper and a leaf of cilantro. Also pastry shells with a fat prawn on top of some kind of slaw, salmon mousse piped onto black crackers, stuffed cherry tomatoes—seriously, who had time to stuff something that small with a dollop of cream cheese? Fine for a half-dozen people, but there would be two hundred at the wedding. Was the chef serious?
She helped herself to one of everything, even the sushi roll made with purple rice.
“Skylar, we’ve been discussing ways to keep you amused this summer while your aunt and, uh, Trigg are working,” Marvin said. “What sorts of things do you enjoy?”
Sky shrugged. “The mall.”
“Sky has make-up classes she’ll be doing online,” Wren said.
Sky widened her eyes, appalled.
What? Wren sent back. It’s true.
Trigg’s arm brushed hers, making a zing go through her sharp enough that Wren jerked away. He was a lefty and she was righty. Their elbows were dueling.
Now his sleeve of tattoos drew her attention. They were nature scenes with waterfalls and evergreen trees and mountains. He smelled like fresh air and earth and cedar with a hint of something even more elemental. Something masculine and potent.
She so didn’t want to be this attuned to him, but couldn’t help it when the only sound was everyone trying to swallow tension. She would probably feel the heat off his body if she wasn’t throwing off her own premature hot flash of anxiety.
“These are excellent,” Wren said of a crab cake, trying to force normalcy. “All of this food is really beautiful.”
Sky was cautiously nibbling the point off a samosa. She had one spiral sandwich on her plate and a look of mistrust on her face.
“Jacques arrived a week ago to stay through the wedding and elevate our menu for the summer. We’re hoping he’ll stay into the winter. We have two very competent cooks, but the lunch and evening fare needs to meet the expectations of the clientele we intend to attract.”
“I can’t imagine what a job it’s been to plan such a big wedding.”
“Amid ongoing renovations,” Marvin interjected.
“At the time, we thought July would be Trigg’s only opportunity to attend. Rolf and Glory didn’t want to wait, either. Rolf is Trigg’s older brother,” Vivien informed Sky.
Sky met Vivien’s direct gaze. “I know.”
They held the stare. And held it.
Wren said, “Marvin mentioned you’re not expecting Sky to call you ‘Grandma.’ What would you prefer?”
“Vivien.” Vivien cut a cherry tomato in half and left one side on her plate while she ate the other. “Of course.”
“And…?” Wren looked at Trigg. Damn, he was close. His shoulders and chest and bare biceps filled up her vision, eclipsing Marvin and everything else on that side of the room. Everything, really. He was a lot of powerful man sitting there reeking sex appeal all over the place.
“Trigg?” he suggested, voice dry, and held her gaze long enough for it to make her chest feel tight.
What a freaking nightmare. She jerked her gaze back to Sky.
Sky flicked her gaze to each face in turn, then looked at her mostly untouched plate.
Wren bit back a sigh. Sky didn’t have her ability to withstand hostile undercurrents strong as a riptide. That was a good thing. The only way to develop the muscles to endure this level of examination and judgment was to spend years living it.
She felt sorry for her niece anyway. I tried to spare you, she telegraphed.
“This is quite a change from being a dental receptionist,” Vivien remarked. “Are you looking forward to something new?” Vivien slid a morsel of chicken into her mouth.
Wren knew when she was being weighed and measured and found lacking. Her passive aggressive streak gathered itself. Two of the dentists in her office had cried when she left. The one she detested had offered to double her salary. She made herself reliable and indispensible out of spite and she never let anyone see her suffer.
“The work isn’t that different. Both clients want their experience to be painless and professional. I’ll do my part to facilitate that.” She turned to Marvin. “I read online that the resort will be a training facility for elite athletes, but I wasn’t clear on whether you owned the lodge before the Johanssens began rebuilding it?”
His gray brows were bushy and expressive, an entertainment all on their own as they quirked into delight at being pulled into the conversation.
“Trigg brought me aboard. Glory and I lived in Seattle. My wife had recently passed when I met Trigg. He said he had plans for this hill, but needed someone to take on the lodge. I had always wanted to run a bed and breakfast. Glory and I came out a year ago January. We’ve come a long way since, haven’t we?”
Trigg responded with a little snort under his breath.
“I came out last summer,” Vivien said. “I thought this was a whim on the boys’ part, but realized they were putting down roots so I took up residence as well.”
Boys? The man beside her was going to tear through his skin like a werewolf, he was so much compacted virility and testosterone.
“I hadn’t worked in years,” Vivien continued. “But I’ve discovered how nice it is to stay busy and contribute.” She smiled at Marvin. “It turns out we make a good team.”
“We do.” Marvin returned her smile with one that was tender and sincere and self-conscious, which was a sweet way of revealing exactly how deep his feelings went.
Vivien’s expression remained more composed, which made Wren wonder how such a nice man had wound up with such a prickly woman, but her heart went, Awww anyway.
Sky caught her eye with a half-lidded, Can we go, stare.
Wren dropped her gaze to Sky’s plate. Eat.
Scrambled footsteps sounded right before there was a knock on the exterior door. It opened before Marvin had set his hands next to his plate to rise.
“No, you have to stay outside,” a woman said as she weaseled through the crack. “Sit. Stay.” She finished her slither and closed the door with a big exhale.
Wren recognized Glory from her author photo, but rather than wearing coiffed spirals of reddish-blond hair, she wore it in a thick ponytail of frizz at the nape of her neck. She wasn’t wearing make up and wrinkled her freckled nose as she spoke to Trigg.
“I thought you’d be finished eating so I brought him to walk with us.”
“We’re almost done.” Trigg’s plate was empty and Wren only had a couple of bites left. Sky’s was still mostly untouched.
“Hi. I’m Glory.” She came across with a big smile and offered her hand.
Wren stood to shake. “Wren. My niece, Sky.”
Sky didn’t get up. She only lifted her eyes. “Hi.”
Glory took that in without reaction and pulled out the chair next to Sky. “I’m sorry I took so long. I have to get my word count in or I’ll be writing on my honeymoon. That won’t go over well at all.” She skimmed her gaze over the food and popped a cherry tomato into her mouth, then bit into a samosa and set it on her plate. “This all looks great, Vivien.” She set a plastic container with a lid next to her plate. “I promised I’d deliver some for the big guy. Don’t even,” she said with a warning point at Trigg.
He lifted negligent brows. “Has to keep up his strength. I get it.”
Glory rolled her eyes and started loading the container. “Are you two settling in okay? Sorry about the twin beds. Once we get the wedding over with, we can figure out something better. The staff housing should be finished by the wedding—has to be,” she corrected. “It’ll be bedrooms with a communal kitchen and living room, but if you decide that works better for you— Do you not like those?” Glory pointed at the sandwich on Sky’s plate. “Tell me now because I’m not paying for food that people won’t eat.”
“You’re the only person not paying for this wedding.”
“Trigg,” Vivien scolded.
Glory narrowed her eyes at him, but didn’t seem offended. She made a face of remorse at Wren. “I’ll apologize now for the wedding. Coming here has to be such a big deal for you both. Things would be chaotic enough if it was just a new job. Or just a renovation. The wedding puts it over the top. We’re consumed. I would have eloped. Dad’s the one who insisted on a big wedding.”
“I have one daughter. I want to give you away.”
“The surprise is that anyone would take you,” Trigg drawled. “Rolf’s never backed down from a challenge, though.”
Glory opened her mouth and leaned in, but thought better of whatever she’d been about to say.
“Yes?” Trigg prompted.
“Nothing,” she said sweetly. “Is everyone done? I’m dying for a walk and Rolf has already texted he’s ready to eat his own arm.”
Glory wasn’t biting these days and it was starting to piss him off. It was like she felt sorry for him or something. Like she didn’t think he could handle a few sharp retorts. It was actually worse than if she had made some comeback about his failure as a father, which was what Trigg expected.
He would prefer to get the ribbing over with, actually, but his mother wanted to keep all of this under the rug. He supposed that was the fair thing for Sky, but it was one more thing that grated, putting him in a surly mood.
Which had everyone giving him a wide berth.
They left through the exterior door. His mom and Marvin stayed back. Being outside didn’t make Trigg feel any less claustrophobic, though.
Glory led them to the stairs that descended from the back of the building. When they reached the bottom, Murphy bounded across from the staff housing. The building was a hive, doors and windows open, music playing over the sound of power saws and drills. Half the crew was with Roadside Renovations, the company renovating the lodge. Some of the lodge’s housekeeping and other staff had been promised a cut-rate on rent if they helped with painting and other finishing work, though. The place gave off a frat-house vibe that was very much Trigg’s usual jam.
Except he was too pissy to party. Too many things on his mind. This was real. His daughter was here, right beside him.
Glory pointed out the path that went around the pond. “You can also go up that slope and get over to the ski hill, but make sure you talk to the guys before you go, in case they’re falling trees or something.”
The women went single-file ahead of him down the path below the deck that overlooked the pond. Glory was in the lead and waited for Wren and Sky to come even with her before starting down the lane to the base. Trigg whistled Murphy to his side.
“I read your book,” Wren said to Glory. “I felt like a stalker since I got it purely out of curiosity about the lodge, but I really liked it. The free one of your mom’s was good, too. I haven’t had much time to read since, with the move and everything.”
“I have tons you can borrow. What do you like, Sky?”
Glory left a space of silence to invite her to say more. She didn’t.
“Well, there’s a shelf in the lobby that I’ve stocked for guests. You’ll find some Young Adult there. Help yourself.”
Wren said, “Thank you.”
Glory let herself fall back a half step so she could send Trigg a raised-brow look behind Wren and Sky’s back.
Trigg twitched a shoulder, not knowing what to make of them, either. His mom had her work cut out for her, teaching that girl her manners. He didn’t know what Wren did with herself all day, letting Sky get away with that attitude. He’d always been a provocative little shit, but his mother always made sure he knew when to clean it up.
“Where’s your stick. Get your stick,” Glory said to Murphy.
The dog shot into the bushes.
“Hey, Sky. I realize you’re too young to get a job, but I have to assemble the welcome baskets for all the rooms for the wedding,” Glory said. “If you want to help, I’ll pay you.”
Sky’s bony shoulder came up a half inch.
Trigg wanted to say, Come on. Smarten up.
Wren said, “Getting her school year finished is the priority, but if she has time outside of that, it would be great for her to make some pocket money.”
Sky swung a glower at Wren.
Wren had a look on her face he couldn’t interpret. Not stony or angry or taking control or smug. Kind of trance-like. He almost wanted to play poker with her, but feared he’d lose his shirt.
Strip poker. With her. Yeah.
Glory shoulder-checked him, startling him out of his fantasy. “Did you hear what I just said? That I would pay her.”
“What a hero, paying slave wages for child labor.”
She kept her attention on him, smiling with rueful sympathy, making him want to shoulder-check her into the ditch.
“I never had a sister, but if I did, I would want her to be nothing like you,” Trigg said.
Glory let him have that one, too. Come on. Fight me.
A truck passed them, forcing them to single-file along the edge of the lane. A minute later, they reached the base. What had been an overgrown clearing with a pile of avalanche debris eighteen months ago was now the heart of Whiskey Jack Ski Resort. Four buildings were in progress along with one of the lift lines.
“Busy place for a Sunday,” Wren commented.
“We had to fire our contractor last month. Took some time to hire all the new ones. We’re working weekends to make up for lost time.” And the board was shitting bricks, screaming at them to pump the brakes on all of this.
“If you see anything with the name Basco Construction on it, a truck or a hardhat or an invoice, anything, make sure to tell one of the guys right away,” Glory said. “The police haven’t been able to prove it, but it looks like he’s behind a bunch of vandalism and thefts.”
“Why? To make more work for himself?”
“Hard to say what his motive was, since he denies it,” Glory said, “But his helicopter pilot was selling the stolen equipment. He said his boss told him to do it and Rolf immediately pulled the pin on working with him. Rolf is hiring anyone who wants to burn their bridges with Basco, but he’s had to bring in out-of-towners to fill in gaps. People are tense. Which is exactly what we need with everything else going on.” Glory blew out an exasperated breath.
Wren glanced at him as though measuring how much of his tension was attributed to that mess. About a fifth, he wanted to say. The rest was all her and her niece.
“The board is pushing Rolf to cut our losses and sell the mountain,” he said instead.
“The board represents the shareholders in Wikinger,” Glory explained. “Rolf is the president and Rolf and Trigg own it, but the board can vote to remove Rolf if they think he’s not running things in the shareholders’ best interest.”
“Profit,” Trigg clarified. “No fu—freaking vision.” He caught himself at the last second.
Wren bit the corner of her mouth.
Trigg whistled Murphy to heel and they crossed toward the office trailer, which was bursting at the seams as they continued to man-up without having enough desks or space. He had moved in with Rolf which was like putting a pair of Siamese fighting fish in the same bowl, but he hated when Rolf made decisions without his input. This way he was there for all the conversations, big or small.
Beneath the open-sided tent that had been their office last year, a foreman was looking over drawings with the operator hired to clear and level what would be their lower parking lot.
Inside the trailer, Chivonne, their Project Coordinator, was setting out safety vests and orientation supplies for the college students starting as general labor in the morning.
Nate, their Project Manager, put in twelve-to-sixteen hour days most of the week, but Sundays belonged to his son, so his desk was empty.
Was Trigg supposed to spend weekends with Sky now, he wondered?
“Chivonne, this is Wren,” Glory said. “Our new manager at the lodge. This is her niece, Skylar. We’re showing them what’s going on here before Wren starts tomorrow.”
Glory had agreed a cover story was the sensitive way to proceed. Rolf wanted to wait for better timing to inform the board that Trigg’s past was catching up to him, given they’d birthed a cow when their star athlete announced he was quitting his sport right before the World Cup, where he inevitably drew a huge, positive spotlight onto Wikinger.
The board loved their celebrity owners. The pressure to sell this land had eased right off when both Rolf and Trigg had swept the podiums in Vancouver, three Olympics ago. Sales of Wikinger equipment had skyrocketed and the board had fully expected that streak to continue indefinitely. Or at least until Trigg suffered a career-ending injury.
Instead, he had quit in his prime, ostensibly to help with the hill construction, which did nothing for their enthusiasm for this project. Things were going to get really tricky when he tarnished the company name with the real reason—his teen pregnancy scandal.
Trigg had never given a damn what anyone thought of him, but supposed the current secrecy was better than being labeled a deadbeat Dad who hadn’t been considered good enough to even know he had a kid.
What fresh hell is this?
Sky trailed behind the adults from the main area into a smaller room crowded with two desks and crap everywhere. She glanced over the machine parts and file folders and tools and dirty boots and rolled up drawings and loose computer cables. The windows were closed except for one that held an air conditioner that was rattling and blowing cold air. The air was still stuffy, especially when Trigg reached past her to close the door.
This day was starting to feel like one of those dumb field trips where you rode a school bus for two hours so you could learn how they churned butter in the olden days. She was bored and wished the dog had come in, but he had gone to an oversized pillow in the main room. The one person who looked remotely cool and close to her age had said she was leaving to check something called ‘the operations building.’
A man as big as Trigg, maybe bigger, stood up from behind his desk. Uncle Barf. She had seen photos and videos of him. In most of them, he was talking German. They both had stubbly beards, but his hair was darker than Trigg’s, his eyes brown instead of blue. Auntie Wren had said that him and Trigg had the same dad, but Rolf’s mom had died, then his dad married Vivien.
Sky hadn’t liked Vivien and got the feeling it was mutual. She seemed really judgy. At least she didn’t want to be called, ‘Grandma,’ or worse, ‘Nana.’ Whenever Auntie Wren used to take her to have lunch with Nana, Sky had had to use super good manners and kiss her cheek and act like it was every kid’s dream to get a picture book of bible stories written for a five-year-old.
“Danke,” Rolf said when Glory handed him the container of food. He set it on the edge of his desk and shook Auntie Wren’s hand. Once. “Nice to meet you,” he said in a voice that sounded like he ordered men in the army. He held out his hand to her.
Sky knew she was going to get a lecture about how rude she was being. She didn’t care. She didn’t want to be here, but something in the way Barf put out his hand and looked her in the eye made her put out hers.
She wasn’t prepared for how firmly he would shake it. Her hand felt squished and she felt a snap in her shoulder. Not painful, but a lot like when she bumped her funny bone. She cradled her elbow and glared at him when he let go, then couldn’t hold his stare and looked away first. She decided she hated him, too.
She had lied to Auntie Wren when she had said she liked Trigg better. She liked his dog. That was the only thing she liked about him or any of this. Glory reminded her of Marvin, like she was being extra nice because she felt sorry for her, which made Sky not like her much, either.
She wouldn’t be staying. When she had told Tony at the mall that she had to move, he had said, No, you don’t. She wished she had listened, but Auntie Wren had bribed her with her mom’s diary. Sky was dying to read it. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe because Auntie Wren had tried saying, When you’re older. Like it was a restricted movie. That made her think it was full of family secrets or sex.
Maybe she just wanted to know more about her mom. Did Auntie Wren ever think of that?
Trigg was pointing at a poster on the wall, talking about the ski hill. It was a map of the mountains and he was showing where they were putting all the buildings and chairlifts. Blah, blah, whatever.
“We’re trying to purchase this old gravel pit and put a road in from town. It would cut the drive by thirty minutes and give us better access to the new parking lot. The owner has been refusing offers for years, most of them from Dirk Basco. We’re hoping that our firing him plays in our favor.”
“Why does he want it? For the gravel?” Auntie Wren asked, like anyone in the world gave a care.
“He wants to develop this whole hillside with housing.”
Sky was glad she heard that bit about the shorter path to town, though. She had mostly been listening to Rolf and Glory behind her. They were talking in low voices about the food and how late he was going to work and that Glory was going into town tomorrow if he needed her to pick up anything.
Sky suddenly realized Auntie Wren and Trigg were staring at her.
“What?” she asked.
“There was a program at school the last few years.” Auntie Wren seemed to be answering for her. “She went to a local hill every second Wednesday. You wound up trying both, didn’t you? Skiing and snowboarding.”
Is that what he’d asked her? She shrugged. “Yeah.”
“And?” Trigg asked.
Sky looked to Auntie Wren, not sure what he was asking.
“Don’t put her on the spot like that,” Glory said. “Whichever one you like better is fine, Sky.”
She knew that, but if she had to choose, “Skiing,” she said.
She had hated waiting for her friends when she’d been on skis and they’d been boarding. She had tried snowboarding, but she hated having to clip and unclip every time they rode the chairlift. She wanted to get off and go. Not that she’d ever been allowed to. Stay with the group. Stay on the green runs. Like she was a kindergartner and had to hold onto a rope. So annoying.
A female voice came through a radio on the desk. “Rolf?”
He picked it up and pressed a button. “Go for Rolf.”
“Electrician is heading into your office. Are you free to come over?”
“Be there in five.” He set down the radio and said to Trigg, “Planning the outlets. You’re tied up the rest of the day?”
“I’ll do mine tomorrow,” Trigg said.
“Please.” Auntie Wren held up a hand. “Don’t let us keep you. We’ll settle in. Adjust to the altitude.”
“I’ll walk them back, give them a tour of the lodge,” Glory said, going on tiptoe to give Rolf a kiss.
Sky averted her eyes, more interested in the map, but ugh. It sounded like someone sucking an ice cube.
“Take the dog,” Trigg said as Glory headed toward the door.
She rolled her eyes and opened the door. Murphy stood up from his mat. When she patted her thigh, Murphy hurried out with them.
The door closed and Trigg let out his breath. He took his safety vest off the hook and shrugged into it while Rolf did the same.
Rolf wasn’t a big talker, but the fact he took his time clipping on his radio, then opened his lunch to peruse what Glory had brought him, annoyed Trigg.
“Well?” he prompted. For some damned reason he needed to know what his brother thought of them.
“Marvin was right. She has Vivien’s eyes.”
“I hope Wren works out because Glory is stretched as thin as we are.”
“Yeah, yeah, and don’t sleep with her. I got that memo.” He was too angry with her to want her in his bed, heart-shaped ass notwithstanding.
Rolf bit into a samosa. Eyed Trigg.
Trigg braced himself. Rolf gave him shit all the time. But from the moment Trigg had stood in this room two weeks ago and told his brother he had a kid, Rolf had kept his opinions to himself. Mostly he asked questions. Are you sure she’s yours? Does the aunt want a piece of Wikinger? What are you going to do?
All legitimate questions, but no browbeating, which was out of character. Rolf never held back with him. If he was angry, if he thought Trigg had fucked up, he damned well made sure Trigg knew it.
Today, it seemed, he finally had an opinion.
“What?” Trigg said flatly.
Rolf shrugged. “Seems to me you had one job. Keep her off the poles.”
“Really?” Trigg didn’t care if Sky preferred skis over boarding. Much. Okay, it galled him. Especially because it pleased this smug bastard. “Don’t quit your day job.”
Rolf’s mouth twitched.
Trigg tried to knock Rolf’s lunch out of his hand as they left. Rolf blocked him with an elbow, but Trigg’s mood came up a notch.