"I don't know why I let you talk me into this," Brady Crawford muttered as his black hiking boots purposefully ate up the distance between the parking lot and Colorado's Gunnison Airport terminal.
"Because you like to do favors for your old man," Ethan Crawford returned with a twitch of his lips that almost qualified as a smile.
Brady glanced at the man beside him as they kept step around the circular drive. At age sixty-five, his father was getting older, but was far from old. He was as vital and strong as he'd ever been. "A favor is one thing. Disrupting our peace is another. You know how I hate publicity, reporters and hangers-on."
"It wasn't too long ago you took the publicity and reporters in stride."
The stiff December wind buffeted Brady with as much force as his memories sometimes did. "That was nine years ago, Dad. I like the seclusion of the mountains, the guests who come to the lodge because they want quiet and solitude. Having a movie star there doesn't lend well to the atmosphere. Especially if she decides to promote the lodge to other movie stars."
"Have you even heard a peep out of Theadora? She's been hiding in her cabin since she arrived yesterday."
Brady's boot scrunched a snow mound on the walk. "Yeah, well, this lady we're picking up today might change all that. I'm sure she's not meeting with Theadora out of the goodness of her heart. If she's a makeup artist, she probably wants to go places in Hollywood. Theadora might be simply a stepping stone for her."
"Theadora's been a recluse for too long. If this Abigail Fox can get her to go out in public without her veil, I'll pay the woman's fee myself and introduce her to anyone in Hollywood I know."
Brady knew his father's friendship with the world-famous Theadora Lorimar went way back. Once upon a time Ethan had been her chauffeur. When he began his own limousine service, he'd left her employ, but they'd remained friends. Theadora had never treated Ethan as a servant. Brady suspected his father felt more than friendship for Theadora but had never felt himself to be her equal.
Brady stuffed his gloved hands into his pockets. Theadora's accident had changed everything for the two old friends. For the past few years, ever since her accident, she'd refused to see Ethan when he wanted to fly back to Beverly Hills for a visit. She had cut herself off from everyone--until a few weeks ago, when she'd called and asked Ethan if they had a vacancy at the lodge for the holidays for her and a young woman who would try to teach her to cover her facial scars with makeup.
Brady knew about scars--emotional rather than physical ones. They were tough and stubborn and sometimes you could cover them up, but they never disappeared entirely. He was afraid Abigail Fox was more interested in making money and a name for herself than in helping Theadora. His years in Hollywood as a stuntman had taught him people had ulterior motives, not selflessness in mind.
Inside the terminal there was hustle and bustle--guests flying in to ski at Mount Crested Butte Resort, others to explore the quaint town of Crested Butte, students from Western College in Gunnison flying home for the holidays. Christmas didn't mean much to Brady now. It hadn't for a long time, even though he and his staff decorated the lodge, hung wreaths on the cabin doors and served an elegant Christmas dinner. He supervised the activities; he didn't get involved in them.
Flipping his sunglasses to the top of his head, he checked his watch and then the arrival time on the board for Abigail Fox's flight from Texas. He headed toward the gate, his father beside him. "You didn't have to come to town with me today. I could have picked up the supplies and Ms. Fox myself."
Ethan lifted his black Stetson from his head and ran his hand through his gray hair. "I wanted to spend time with Theadora. But with that damn veil between us..." He paused and shook his head. "I haven't seen her for three years and she still won't let me see her." Replacing his hat and shrugging, he concluded, "You can always use a hand with those cartons of canned goods. Truth is, I didn't want to give you the chance to chase Ms. Fox away."
"I wouldn't do that. This means too much to you and Theadora."
"To Theadora," Ethan corrected.
Brady shook his head. Stubborn. Like father, like son. Ethan had convinced himself long ago that he and Theadora could never be more than friends. Just as Brady had convinced himself that Pine Hollow Lodge on the outskirts of Crested Butte was where he belonged.
Passengers were disembarking as he and his father reached the waiting area. Brady didn't know what to expect, but when he saw the woman coming toward him, he didn't have any doubt as to who Abigail Fox was.
The deep purple coat trimmed in turquoise was too elegant for the Gunnison Airport where jeans and ski parkas were normal sights. Her silk-clad legs were long with curves that made his gut clench until he got to her feet; then he almost burst out laughing. Spiked heels
He hadn't seen spiked heels on a woman in years. Even Theadora had had the good sense to wear sturdy boots. His grin almost turned into a rumble of laughter when he realized Ms. Fox was struggling with a garment bag over her left shoulder, a large suitcase in her right hand and a rectangular case the size of a weekender in her left. The garment bag's strap had slipped down her arm.
Closing the distance between them in a few long strides, he reached for the large suitcase. "Let me take that for you."
She'd been shifting her luggage on his first perusal, and her head had been bowed. Now, she lifted her gaze to his. Her eyes were the most beautiful shade of blue. He'd seen wildflowers that color when he'd gone hiking in the summer. Her hair was a combination of burnished copper and amber. It wasn't curly, but waved around her face as if it was caressing her, and then fell to her shoulders. She wasn't model-beautiful, but something about her eyes drew his to them again. There was a gentleness there, or was it vulnerability? Or maybe it was a shadow of something running too deep to be named.
Then she blinked, and he relegated his analysis to sheer whimsy. Her lips lifted in a tentative smile. "Mr. Crawford?"
Her smile put a dimple at both corners of her mouth--a very lovely mouth. Brady's stomach clenched again and the desire to return her smile burned into desire of another kind. He simply nodded and reached for her suitcase. "I'll take that for you." As he lifted it, he could feel her gaze on him and he looked up.
Caught looking, she admitted with a shy smile, "I expected someone older. Miss Lorimar said..."
Brady gestured toward his father standing a few feet away. Ethan walked toward them with a grin and a twinkle in his gray eyes. He extended his hand to her. "Ethan Crawford. This is my son, Brady. We're partners."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Crawford."
"Ethan. We don't stand on formality at Pine Hollow."
"She's not going to stand at all if she doesn't ditch those shoes. I'll have to carry her to the Jeep."
Abigail Fox looked taken aback for a moment, but then her chin lifted and defiance lit her eyes. The frost in her voice nipped his nose. "My boots are in the bottom of my garment bag, Mr. Crawford. I had a business appointment before my flight and dressed accordingly. In case you're interested, I also have a ski outfit, cords and sweaters in my suitcase, so I'm prepared for a Colorado Christmas."
Brady couldn't remember the last time someone had stood up to him and scored points. He should be mildly embarrassed or at least annoyed, but he wasn't. He felt the urge to smile and tried to suppress it. "What about long underwear?"
Abigail felt the heat crawl up her neck. She didn't let go of her temper like that, not usually. But she was tired, downright weary of five years of a nonstop pace that was her own choosing. She'd come to Pine Hollow Lodge not only to help Theadora Lorimar but to take a much-needed vacation. She hadn't counted on running smack-dab into an attractive, black-bearded mountain man with green eyes as deep and stormy as an angry sea.