One Perfect Night (The Sullivans #8.5)


by Bella Andre

Chapter One

Lake Tahoe, California

As the chair lift climbed higher and higher, Colbie Michaels tried to ignore the way her heart beat faster and faster with every foot the lift cleared. If only she could find a way to stop thinking about how long a fall it would be if the chain holding up the chair lift snapped and she and her best friend plummeted to the snow below.

"Earth to Colbie."

Mia Sullivan’s voice finally made it through to her brain, as did the fact that her friend’s legs swinging back and forth were making the whole chair rock.

"Sorry, I’ll stop," Mia said, clearly reading her mind. "I know how you are about heights. I should never have let you ride the lift."

"You know I had to do this." At the moment Colbie could barely remember why she’d been so hell-bent on riding the chair lift, just that it had something to do with challenging herself and facing her fears down one by one. In any case, it didn’t really matter what her reasons were anymore...she couldn’t exactly get off now, could she? "I’m doing okay up here," she lied.

Her friend looked down at her white knuckles where she was gripping the arm rest for dear life with both hands. "No, you’re not. Tell me what I can do to help and I’ll do it."

Before Colbie could answer, the lift came to a crashing halt. "What’s happening? Is it broken? Are they going to have to airlift us off of here?"

Mia couldn’t keep from rolling her eyes. "I’m sure it’s just someone needing a little extra time getting on or off."

But Colbie barely heard her friend’s answer, because she was having trouble breathing and all she could hear was her heart pounding in her ears. Even though she knew better than to look down, she couldn’t stop herself from taking a quick peek.

Mia poked her leg—hard—to get her attention. "Stop freaking out."

The uncharacteristically stern tone of her friend’s voice momentarily broke through the scene-by-scene playback of her life flashing before her eyes.

"Right." Colbie gasped in a lungful of air. "Good idea."

Mia grinned. "Pretty good dominatrix voice, don’t you think?"

Colbie’s eyebrows went up. "Is that what that was?"

Her friend nodded, looking tremendously pleased with herself. "I would make a great domme, wouldn’t I?"

"The best," she agreed with her first real smile since getting on the lift. No one else could have done as good a job of distracting her. Only her best friend.

As the only girl in a family with four boys, Mia Sullivan had learned to speak up early in life to make sure she didn’t get lost in the shuffle of fists and stinky socks and football helmets. Colbie had been lucky enough to grow up only a block away from the Sullivan house, a rambling Craftsman on the shores of Lake Washington. She’d spent half her childhood with the Sullivans, and might even have had a teeny-tiny crush on each of Mia’s brothers growing up.

Then again, who hadn’t?

Other people might make fun of Colbie’s fear of heights, but not the woman she’d been friends with for more than twenty years. She still remembered the first time she’d seen Mia. They’d been five years old and brand-new kindergarteners. Everyone else in Mrs. Tillman’s class had been suitably nervous about being away from home for the first time and having to sit still on the braided rug in a circle and follow instructions and practice writing their names. But worst of all had been recess, because what if she never made any friends?

The playground had been full of kids, not only the ones from her class, but even bigger ones from the first, second, and third grades, too. She was just about to turn and bolt back into the relative safety of the classroom and Mrs. Tillman, when Mia Sullivan stepped in front of her.

Where Colbie’s mother had brushed her hair until it shone and had carefully laid out a new skirt and sweater for the first day of school, Mia’s long hair was tied into two messy pigtails and her mismatched clothes were every color of the rainbow. The other girl was missing one of her front teeth and her grin seemed even wider for it.

"Hi, I’m Mia. I like your name. Colbie is cool. Want to be friends?"

A dozen simple words had been all it took to lift the heavy weight from Colbie’s chest. Before she had time to do anything but smile back, Mia had grabbed her hand and they went running across the playground, off on the first of what would be hundreds of adventures together over the years.

"Oooh, look at that," Mia said as she pointed at a tall, broad-shouldered guy skiing down the mountain. "I wouldn’t mind getting cozy by the fire with him later."

"What part of our girls’ weekend do you think he’d like better?" Colbie teased. "The manicure or the hair-highlighting session? Or maybe he would be up for trying the new no-mess waxing kit Janet brought."

For the past five years, on the first weekend in February, Colbie and her three closest friends met somewhere in the U.S. This year, they’d rented a house in Lake Tahoe, California, for their girls-only weekend. There was only one hard and fast rule: no men were allowed, not even hot hookups.

"If he likes any of those things," Mia said with a grimace, "I’m out. Besides, he probably wouldn’t want to sit around admiring engagement rings, either."

Their friends Janet and Ellen both were wearing new engagement rings and if Colbie was anything but happy for them, she refused to admit it to herself. Just because she’d caught her last boyfriend locked in the missionary position with the woman he’d sworn was "just a good friend from work" on New Year’s Eve, didn’t give her license to spill sour milk all over her friends’ happiness.

"You could have told them about Rob and what a scumbag he turned out to be, you know."

Only Mia knew what had happened with Colbie’s ex-boyfriend. "I didn’t want our celebration to turn into a pity party." She worked to shake away the image of her ex in bed with another woman. "Besides, I refuse to let him ruin my vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world." Especially after he’d ruined her New Year’s so thoroughly.

Intent on relaxing her too-tight stomach muscles, she took a deep breath and looked out at the truly spectacular view from her seat high above Lake Tahoe. It really was a winter wonderland. The sky was blue, the air smelled crisp and clean, the fresh snow from the night before was soft and fluffy on the branches of trees. Even before the small jet had touched down at the Lake Tahoe airport two days ago, Colbie’s first sight of the partially frozen lake had taken her breath away.

Plus, there was nothing better than spending time with people who knew her almost better than she knew herself. Yesterday they’d gone out snowshoeing during the day and then spent the night drinking too much and laughing more than she’d laughed since their vacation last year.

Between the gorgeous view and a few deep belly-breaths, she finally started to relax. But as the chair moved closer to the top of the mountain, she knew she didn’t have a prayer of relaxing all the way.

She was mere minutes away from having to face her next challenge: skiing down the hill...and getting to the bottom in one piece. In other sports, like tennis and swimming, she was perfectly coordinated, but as soon as she stuck skis to her feet, they went haywire.

She knew Mia was going to offer to hang back with her once they got off the lift, but Colbie couldn’t stand the thought of getting in the way of her friend’s fun, especially when Mia was a black-diamond girl all the way. Last year they’d all agreed to meet in San Diego for sand and sun, something they didn’t get nearly enough of in Seattle. This year she’d been perfectly happy to let the skiing fanatics like Mia decide the location.

"Thanks for joining me on the lift," she said to Mia, "but I refuse to let you babysit me for the rest of the day. As soon as we get to the top, you’re going to go ski to your heart’s content."

Her friend raised an eyebrow. "Look who’s using the dominatrix voice now."

Mia was one of the prettiest women she’d ever met, but Colbie would always see her as that little girl with the messy pigtails and the missing tooth. "Don’t make me get out my whip," she teased.

"Yes, ma’am," her friend said with a jaunty salute that shook their seat a little too much for Colbie’s peace of mind.

She held her breath as the chair scooted closer to the landing at the top of the hill. Forcing her hands to unclench from the bar she’d been holding on to for dear life, she tipped up her skis and hopped off the seat in unison with Mia. A moment later, her friend had slipped on her goggles and was waving goodbye as she gracefully skied away, heading over to the other side of the mountain where all of the terrifyingly difficult runs were.

Mia made it look so easy. Snow was soft, right? How much damage could Colbie do to herself on one little mountain? Maybe this time, she decided, everything would go fine. And for a moment, as her skis actually went in the direction she pointed them, sliding easily through the fresh snow, it seemed like it would.

Until a small child suddenly came careening toward her.

Assuming the little girl with the flying pigtails was as out of control as Colbie was about to be herself when she headed down the hill, she knew she had to at least try to save the child.

Wobbling on her skis, she dropped her poles and reached out for the girl to try to catch her. Seeing this, the little girl simply laughed and scooted effortlessly out of her reach.

At which point Colbie wibble-wobbled all the way over on her skis...and landed flat on her face with a barely muffled splat.

The fresh snow was shockingly cold on her cheeks and chin and forehead. Scratch that—it was freezing every inch of her face that wasn’t covered, including her earlobes and the spot on her neck where her scarf must have gaped open when she fell.

Knowing she needed to get out of the way of the next skier, she tried to get up on her hands and knees, but the snow was too soft and the one ski that had stayed on kept going deeper into the snow, twisting her ankle something fierce.

Yup, no question about it. She was stuck.

A fleeting thought passed through Colbie’s mind that the only thing that would make the situation worse was if some hot, single guy that she could have had a soul-deep love affair with in another reality found her with her butt up in the air and snow plastered to her face.

But even she didn’t have luck that bad. Or at least she didn’t think she did, until a few seconds later when she heard a deep, slightly rough voice say, "Are you okay?"

Chapter Two

She lifted her head up and to the side, trying to put a face to the sinfully sexy voice, but there were too many ice crystals on her eyelashes for her to see much more than a blurry face and dark hair.

And then he was saying, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you,” and his big, strong hands were coming around her waist, lifting her up out of the snow. She made the mistake of trying to help her rescuer, but all that ended up doing was to make him fall, too.

Together they rolled a few feet in the snow, their skis popping off, until they finally came to a stop.

Colbie’s back was to the snow and the stranger’s weight was heavy on top of her. But oddly, after she caught her breath, she realized she wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable. Her head was cradled by the stranger’s chest and he was holding her so tightly she could hear his heart beating through his partially open ski jacket. Her arms were wrapped around his neck and her legs were entwined with his.

Mmm, she thought as a low moan slipped from her throat. She loved this feeling of being so close with a man, to hard muscles and heat that radiated all the way through her chilled body.

She looked practical on the surface, but at her core, Colbie was a true sensualist. She loved the finest silks and lace against her skin and happily spent way too much on the perfect, evocative scent. It had always been her dream to open a store that sold luxury products for women...but in the same way that she’d rarely been able to justify such luxuries for herself, she’d also never been able to justify giving up a good job to chase a dream. Not until last month, when in the wake of the disaster with her ex, she’d finally decided to take charge of her life and had signed the lease for her new store: Indulgence.