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Chapter One


Late April

Man, is this weather ever going to stop? I used to think that the snow was beautiful and that being out plowing while the rest of the world is sleeping was like owning the town. But the sunshine comes later and later every year and by April, the cold, dark nights aren’t as inviting as they were in January. That’s Colorado for you. No cut off for the white stuff. The funny thing is, if I were to own this town and be crowned king of the mountain, I would be supplanting my cousins, and it’s a better fantasy than reality.

I’m perfectly content to know that the vast area of land we have here in Rugged Mountain is owned by Henry, Maddox, and Julie. Their parents took the risks and turned this place into something for generations to come. My dad was happy to take a back seat to their ambitions. I guess I learned from the best.

After my typical four-hour night plowing, I’m rewarded with the best view in the house, a gorgeous sunrise over the top of the mountain, and spotless roads. It’s in these moments that I feel like I could keep doing this job, despite my better judgment.

As I pull the truck back into the barn at the edge of town, I can see my cousin Henry coming up with a cup of coffee. Henry and I have always had a special bond. While we both come from families with plenty of brothers and sisters, we shared a first-born connection that gives us a common experience.

Whether it’s breaking up fights, managing siblings, or keeping our sisters out of trouble, being the eldest sibling in the family is a lifelong commitment. That should really be talked about more.

“The roads look as beautiful as ever,” Henry says with a smile. “Someone could eat off of them.”

“Especially if they are looking for something extra salty.” Oh God, how many times have we both said the same conversation? I swear, sometimes I think the two of us are just robots repeatedly telling the same jokes for all eternity. “What’s new and exciting?”

“Nothing really. I just wanted to see how you’re doing. Maddox and I are planning to get together, and I was hoping you’d come.” He smiles like he already knows my answer. “Just think about it. I can’t remember the last one you attended. And before you say it, I know you work nights. That’s why we made it an evening event.” He chuckles to himself. “I hope you appreciate the lengths I’ve gone to make sure you can come.”

I flash him a sarcastic grin and nod, then take a sip of my coffee. I get the need to be close to people, I do. My pattern has gotten especially predictable lately, and I could use a bit of excitement. “So, when is it?”

Henry laughs. “What days are you free?”

I smile another halfhearted grin. I see your game, Mr. Baxter. “I checked my calendar… and it turns out that I’m busy for the rest of the year.”

“Seriously, Alex? You know you don’t have to be exactly like your dad, right?”

Ouch. That’s a low blow. If it was anyone else, I would cuss him out and storm off. Lucky for Henry, I know it’s coming from a good place.

“I know, Henry. Trust that I know. But the season’s changing and I’m out of here by the end of the week. You know that I have my summer job at Mountain Ridge Resort. It turns out I need a paycheck year round.”

“It’s that time already? Damn, man, I was really hoping it wasn’t so soon.” He turns and we start walking up the street. I can sense he’s worried. In his shoes, I might be too. I know I give my family reason to be anxious, but I am who I am. I like to be left alone.

“Alex, we’ll miss you. The family will always be here for you,” he says as he reaches out his hand.

“Thanks, cousin. I know.” I let out a heavy sigh. “When the time comes for me to settle down, I will. For right now, it’s playing in the snow in the winter and camp during the summer.” We both laugh as we know the joke to follow. “That’s me, forever young.”

“Oh, I know you are,” Henry says with a smile, “but even Rod Stewart settled down, eventually.”

“He sure did… like a thousand times.”

I know exactly what Henry’s doing. Weird, loner cousin equals sad and depressed. And if you can’t get the loner to come to your party, why not try and find him a woman? That will fix everything.

“Henry, I’m fine… really. You guys worry too much. Everything happens, when it happens. My wonderful father, who you so graciously interjected into our conversation earlier, had women left and right for decades… and we both know how that turned out.” I give my cousin a sincere look. “I’m not my father, okay? When the right opportunity comes along, I’ll take it. Until then… forever young.

Henry nods and takes the rest of his coffee to go. I wave goodbye and I can’t help wondering if he believed any of the words I just said, because I don’t.




Hi friends,

I'm hard at work on the next Rugged Mountain Ink series and I couldn't be more excited! Check out these covers... GAHHHH! I can't get enough! More to come soon!

Love and Hugs to you all! I'm off to the post office to mail some signed copies!

Thank you for all the love. <3

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