Authors: Lexxie Couper
Tags: #Book - Erotica Series
For Jess Dee, even though she can’t stand vegemite sandwiches.
And Heidi, who dared me to do it.
Joseph Hudson tossed his snowboard aside, threw his goggles over his shoulder and swung a fist at his best mate.
His knuckles, covered as they were by tri-layer insulated gloves, weren’t anywhere near as hard as they would have been if he’d been having this fight back home in Australia. They were, however, still hard enough to produce a satisfying crunch when they hit Robert I-dare-you Thorton’s jaw.
“You right bloody wanker,” Joseph stormed, watching his life-long friend, business partner and travelling companion stagger backward over the firmly compacted snow. “You told me the helicopter was going to pick us up before sunset.”
Robert let out a snorting chuckle, rubbing at his jaw even as he struggled to stay on his feet. That his snowboard was still attached to his left boot wasn’t making the job easier. “Yeah, yeah.” He laughed, his wide grin almost hidden by his own gloved hand. “Sunset
Joseph took a step toward him, the urge to kill him was stronger than it had ever been. Stronger than the time Rob had dared him to hijack the principal’s mini back in their senior year of high school and leave it atop the barbeque pit at the top of the local lookout point. Stronger than the time Rob had dared him to run buck-naked across the cricket pitch during the regional grand final game with the word “Howzat?” scrawled in bright red lipstick on his backside. How was he to know Mrs. Woodcomb’s mini was a rare collectors car on the verge of being bought by a museum for a very,
generous price? How was he to know the national manager of the camping-and-outdoor equipment store Joseph worked at was the umpire of the cricket match that day?
Thanks to Robert bloody Thorton, over the twenty-six years spanning their friendship Joseph had been suspended, sacked, jailed, robbed, handcuffed to a stripper pretending to be a cop, handcuffed to a cop who sure as hell
a stripper, left stranded on a public beach without a stitch of clothing and almost married to a Russian buy-a-bride at the ripe old age of sixteen. None of those incidents however, could have resulted in Joseph’s untimely demise like this one could.
He ground his teeth, removed his bright orange helmet and dragged his fingers through his hair as he did so. “Fuck a duck, Rob,” he muttered, shaking his head. “We could die up here tonight. Do you have any idea how bloody cold the Rockies get at night? In the winter? We don’t even have a bloody tent!”
“I saw you pitching a tent over that hot little number back in the lodge this morning, Hudo. The same one who caught your eye last night.” Rob grinned wide enough to flash the dimple in his right cheek, an action guaranteed to make any woman forgive him anything. Joseph however, was not a woman. Not even close.
He yanked his gloves from his hands, storming towards his best mate. “Right,” he growled, “that’s it. I’m gonna kill you.”
Rob burst out laughing, holding his still-gloved hands up, palms outward—the closest Joseph would get to an apology. “Uncle, uncle.”
Joseph rolled his eyes and raked his fingers, already starting to tingle from the bitter chill on the winter air, through his hair again. As frustratingly annoying as the tall, lanky professional nuisance could be, Rob knew when he’d pushed too far. Now was one of those times. He’d always been this way. Since day one of kindergarten, Rob had been the instigator, the provoker, challenging Joseph to push himself beyond the boring safety of his conservative, politically correct, cotton-wool, upper-class upbringing. All Rob needed to do was utter the words, “I dare you” and Joseph was a cooked goose. Trouble always followed those words. Trouble and a world of fun.
If it wasn’t for “I dare you”, Joseph never would have started Hudo’s Outdoor Equipment Online at the bright-eyed and bushytailed age of twenty.
If it wasn’t for “I dare you”, he’d never have taken his small online store to the next street-front level.
If it wasn’t for Rob and his “I dare you”, Joseph would probably still be sitting in Hudo’s Outdoor Equipment’s office beside the fridge in his kitchen, wondering where most of his ambition had gone.
“I dare you” had seen them both fly out of Australia to the US to take on the Rockies’ ski slopes without any preparation at all except to pack their snowboards and equipment—and, in Rob’s case, practically a whole backpack of condoms. By the time they’d landed in Colorado, Rob’s blog had received over one hundred comments from women in the US offering to show them the best places to have fun on the snow. Something about those comments told Joseph snowboarding wasn’t exactly the fun they had in mind.
“I dare you” had seem him singing Men At Work’s “Down Under”, the unofficial Australian national anthem, last night in the bar after just two hours in the country, standing atop a not-so-stable table with his Aussie-flag boxers on full and prominent display.
So here you are, Joseph, CEO of Hudo’s Outdoor Equipment,
Businessman of the Year, stuck on the side of a mountain in the Rockies with Hudo’s Marketing Director and all round professional partier and no one back in Australia knows where either of you are. Excellent.
That thought, sarcastic as it was, made Joseph snort. He let out a sigh and looked around for his discarded gloves. “Okay, Thorton,” he threw over his shoulder. “I know you’re not a complete moron. What’s your plan? Where are we staying tonight?”
Rob’s dimple flashed again. “In the hut, Hudo. In the hut.”
Joseph raised his eyebrows. The pristine snow surrounding them, barely marred by tree or rock let alone fellow snowboarders or skiers, didn’t lead him to feel any more relieved. He turned back to Rob. “Hut?”
“Okay, I’ll give. Where the bloody hell is this hut?”
Rob didn’t try to hide his grin as he dropped his gaze to the slim compass embedded in the nose of his snowboard—a new device he was trialing for Hudo’s Outdoor Equipment. Joseph may be pissed at him, but he’d stopped at one punch. By Rob’s reckoning, that meant Joe had already forgiven him and was about to throw himself into the challenge, albeit begrudgingly, but along for the ride all the same.
Rob studied the small compass, noting the direction it told him was true north. Lifting his head, he gave Joe a wide smirk. “The hut is about forty minutes that way.” He pointed northwest. “As long as you stop belly-aching, we should be settled in and knocking back the first beer before sunset.”
Joseph cocked an eyebrow. “Belly-aching? Hey, I’ve got a right to complain. You may enjoy sleeping starkers in the middle of the Rockies, but I left my favorite boxers back at the lodge. And for the record, I still can’t believe you’re carrying a six-pack in your backpack.”
Rob laughed. Joe’s favorite boxers—a silk pair with an image of the Incredible Hulk printed on the backside—were tucked safely in amongst Rob’s own long johns. “Yeah, yeah,” he reached down and released the mechanism on his snowboard’s binding harness. “You think I’m going to look at your bony arse?”
“No,” Joe shot back. “I’m just worried you’re going to go into a steep spiral of depression when you realize my nuts are bigger than yours.”
Rob threw back his head and laughed. The sound bounced off the pristine white snow-covered hills around them. “I’ve seen ’em, remember, mate.” He patted the front of his padded ski trousers. “
made of brass.” He snatched his snowboard from the ground and hoisted it up onto his shoulder. “C’mon. I’m thirsty and the beer is getting warm.”
Joseph snorted. “Of course it is. The fact we’re tromping through a bloody fridge doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?”
Rob flashed his teeth at his best friend. “You know I like my beer cold.”
He set off, the crunch of the untouched snow beneath his feet like music from heaven. Growing up in Australia meant two things to Rob. Surf and snow. He and Joseph had spent their childhood either on the waves or the ski slopes. The trouble was, with the planet increasingly getting hotter every year, the Australian snow fields were fast dwindling to snow patches. He pulled at the backpack slung over his shoulder. There wasn’t anything like going on an adventure with his best mate, especially not at the moment.
When the call of the snow had hit him in the belly in the middle of a sweltering Aussie summer day while he and Joseph were in the most boring meeting Rob had ever had the misfortune to be in, he’d dared Joe to jump a 747. Six hours later they were settled into their first-class seats, beers in hand, watching Sydney become a tiny grey smudge thirty-thousand feet below them. Thirty-two hours after that and here they were. In Colorado. On the slopes.
Away from it all.
The hut—a rescuers cabin nestled in the trees at the lowest point of Knife Ridge in Wolf Creek Ski Resort, was the perfect place to force Joe to unwind. And to give him the bad news.
Don’t think about that yet, Robbo. Get a few beers into him and
think about it.
Pulling an icy breath, he shot his best mate a quick look. The man was born for this. Not sitting behind a desk, no matter how expensive the desk was. What was going to happen to him when Rob was gone? Who was going to tear his ass from the chair and make him live his life?
Stop it. Not now.
“You sound out of breath, Hudo,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Too many days and nights power networking?”
“Ha ha.” Joseph rolled his eyes. “I hear you puffing just as much as me. Too many nights partying, mate?”
Rob grinned at him again. “Yeah, that’d be it. And once again, I draw attention to the sexy thing back at the lodge. She was in the bar last night, sitting all alone after you left. She watched you leave, y’know. You could’ve been partying as well, if you hadn’t needed to send off that email.”
“Hey, I didn’t break the rule.” Joseph adjusted his snowboard under his arm, giving Rob an affronted look. Rob’s “rule”—that no one was supposed to know where they were—existed for one reason only—to keep Joseph from working when he should be having fun. “I didn’t mention where we were. I did however, approve your latest marketing push for the Chinese market, so shut up or I’ll cut your expenses.”
“Whoa, hit a man where it hurts, why don’t you?”
Joseph shook his head, the corners of his mouth curling. “Where it hurts with you mate, is in your pants.”
Rob puffed up his chest. “Can’t argue with the truth.”
Joseph shook his head again. “Idiot.”
They continued farther, Rob checking the compass every few minutes. The undulating hills around them began to grow a little more unpredictable, dropping suddenly here, rising abruptly there. More trees—limbs stooped low under the weight of heavy snow—jutted up from the blinding whiteness, breaking what was otherwise a perfect blanket. He frowned, turning his head a little so Joseph wouldn’t see. Okay, at this point he should be able to see the hut—at least the top of the hut’s roof—somewhere before him.
But he couldn’t. There was nothing. Just trees, snow, rocks and more snow.
“Did I tell you the Japanese consortium made another offer before we left?” Joseph said suddenly, and Rob started before forcing his face into a relaxed smile.
“No. How much this time?”
Joseph let out a sigh. “A stupid amount. Enough to make me think I’m an idiot for saying no.”
Rob paused, giving his best mate a serious look. “Why
you saying no? How many blokes our age get the chance to say, hey, I don’t have to work another day in my life?”
Joseph shook his head, an unreadable tension forming at the edges of his brown eyes. “If I sell up, who is going to keep you under control? Or living the unleashed life you’ve grown accustom to?”
A sharp stab of something very close to pain sank into Rob’s chest, and he turned away and began the trek to the so-far unseen hut. “I’ll be right. I’m super hot, super smart, I have a degree from Sydney Uni—with honors—and every marketing idea I come up with makes the company more money than God. Who’s going to try and control
“You forgot to add super humble to that list,” Joseph pointed out behind him.
“And super thirsty,” Rob shouted, trudging faster through the snow. Where the bloody hell was this bloody hut?
The crunching of snow under boots told Rob his friend had started walking again. “Hmm. Well, it’s a mute point anyway,” Joe said, his voice carrying over the still silence of the mountain. “I’m not selling and you’re not going anywhere.”
Rob squeezed his eyes shut for a quick second, his fists bunching tight.
God, I wish you were right, mate.
The dark thought slithered through his head like a snake and he quickened his pace, searching the never-ending whiteness before him for signs of the rescue cabin.
“Where the bloody hell is this hut of yours, Thorton?” Joseph muttered. “Even I’d kill for a beer right now if it didn’t mean freezing my nuts off out here.”
“Wait your hurry,” Rob shot over his shoulder, a knot of unease beginning to form in his gut. “I know you’re just impatient to get your gear off.”