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Finding You (Colorado High Peaks Book 1) by Artemis Anders (1)

Summer

They say weddings are happy occasions, and this is one of the happiest I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been to a lot.

Hannah, my good friend, is curled up on the couch with Cain, giggling at some comment he made, probably something dirty and crude. Just the kind of thing that would make Hannah laugh. Her pretty white dress is tucked under her long legs, her feet are bare and showing off French-manicured toes, and her face is happier than I’ve ever seen it.

Dinner is over and everyone is milling around Cain’s old rustic cabin or lounging on his balcony, enjoying the late summertime air and maybe a little too much alcohol. I feel the cool breeze drifting over to me, bringing the scent of ponderosa pine and clean Colorado mountain air.

There’s laughter from the guys, and I glance over to see Teagan’s husband Aaron with his military cut, Diana’s partner Asher with his tattoos, and Flynn, a military buddy of Cain’s who’s gotten louder and funnier as he’s gotten drunker. There’s fun over here with the girls, too, as Teagan tells us about their dog Patton’s crazy antics and Diana recounts how much her son Jesse is turning out like his father. But I can’t help stealing another glance at Hannah and Cain, marveling at how much in love they are, and how far they’ve come…

I wish I could get me some of that. But at the rate I’m going, it’s never going to happen. Because I’m a total failure when it comes to men.

“Summer,” comes a voice.

I snap back to attention, realizing that Teagan and Diana are staring at me. Someone must have spoken to me, and I was so busy gazing at those two lovebirds and brooding about my own failures that I didn’t notice.

“Sorry,” I say, feeling bad for ignoring them, or making them feel like I was. “I was…” I trail off, unsure how it will sound.

“Staring at the happy couple?” Diana offers, her big brown eyes sparkling with humor.

“Yeah,” I admit. “I can’t help myself.”

“I hear you,” Teagan says. “I don’t know if it’s just how gorgeous Hannah looks in that white dress, or how gratifying it feels to win the unofficial yet very real bet that we made years ago, that she wouldn’t be caught dead in a wedding dress.” She offers up a smile that’s half cute and half smug.

I laugh, and so does Diana. I lower my voice to a whisper. “Is it wrong to be super happy for her but also totally envious?”

Both women shake their heads.

“Of course not, sweetie,” Diana says. “Everybody wants that, and the people who say they don’t are full of shit.”

“You’ll find someone,” Teagan adds. “Flynn was right about you during dinner… you’re so pretty and such a great person. I’ve been around you enough to know.”

“And you have that Colorado mountain girl thing going,” Diana adds. “Guys love that.”

I sigh, taking another sip of wine, letting myself get a little tipsier. “That’s so sweet. Thank you. But that seems to be my problem. Guys tell me I’m pretty and so outdoorsy and such a great girl… right before they stop calling.” I hesitate, wondering if that sounds rude. “Don’t get me wrong,” I add quickly. “That’s super nice of you to say and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.”

“That’s not ungrateful,” Diana says. “Those are great qualities, but no one wants to hear them as a way to soften the blow of getting dumped.”

I nod. Exactly.

“Hannah told me some guy actually accused you of being too nice,” Teagan says, brushing a strand of pink-streaked hair away from her face.

I sigh again. Yeah. Greg. That was last year, but that comment still haunts me.

Teagan goes on. “I struggled with that, too, especially with my ex-husband. Being too nice can backfire.”

I light up at this. “How? I mean, I can understand if the niceness comes off fake, but I’m not fake. The way I treat people—the way I treat guys—it’s real and it’s the way I’d want to be treated.”

“That’s good,” Diana says, sipping her red wine. “But nobody’s perfect or always nice. If you don’t stand by what you believe in or stick up for yourself, guys won’t respect you.”

I consider that. Do I stand up for what I believe in? I think I do. I voice my opinion about things that matter to me, like not littering on the trails and wanting a guy to pick up the damned phone instead of just texting me. I admit I’m not a big fan of arguing or fighting—too many horrible memories from my past—but don’t most people hate conflict?

“What sort of problems did you have with these guys?” Teagan asks.

I tell them about the last few guys I dated. How one told me how amazing I was and then just disappeared, another would only text me when a phone call seemed necessary, while another kept wanting me to come to his place in Summit County instead of coming to mine once in a while. “I’m fine with texting… for basic stuff like making plans or just to say hi. But it’s not a substitute for a phone call or actually getting together. If I haven’t seen a guy in a week, then a text doesn’t seem like enough.”

“It’s not enough,” Teagan says.

Diana nods. “When a guy isn’t giving you what you want, you have to ask for it. And if he still won’t give it to you, it’s time to walk.”

“Just like that?” I say. “Isn’t that kind of demanding?”

“Not if what you’re asking for is important to you,” Diana says.

I sigh. I know they’re right, but I don’t know what to do about it. “I just… I want what Hannah and Cain have… what you guys have… and I feel like I’m stuck in this rut that I can’t get out of.”

“You know what that means…” Diana says, smiling.

“What?” I ask, and even Teagan looks to Diana in curiosity.

“It’s time for a Man Fast.”

I raise my eyebrows at that. I’m a nutritionist and wellness coach, so I’m always advising clients to cut out certain foods to see if they feel better. But fasting completely? That seems a little drastic. “So you’re saying I should cut men out of my diet for a while?”

The girls laugh. Hey, I can’t keep a man, but I can be funny sometimes.

“Don’t you mean she needs to cut out sausage from her diet?” Teagan quips to Diana.

We laugh at this too, and the guys glance over at us, probably knowing instinctively that we’re talking about the male sex.

“Exactly,” Diana goes on, pointing her finger in that way she does when she’s making a point. “No dating and no sex for three months. Think of it as pressing the reset button on your love life. And you know what else? Practice talking to men just for fun. Pay attention and see if there are times when they’re doing or saying things you don’t like. Speak up and watch what happens. You’ll have nothing to lose because you aren’t dating them anyway.”

I ponder that. I’m not so sure I see the point of sparring with men just for fun, but the Man Fast reboot thing has possibilities. At the very least, it allows me to avoid disappointment for three months. Plus, Diana’s a psychologist. It can’t hurt to try her suggestions. “Okay, Doctor Fiorelli. Man Fast it is. I’ll be out there on the trails or hitting the crags, chatting it up with guys… and saying no if they ask me out.”

“Yes,” Diana says. “Keep ’em in the Friend Zone. And… practice being honest with them. It’s a good opportunity to try changing how you interact with men.”

“Okay,” I say. “From this moment until late November, I’m off men.”

There. It’s done. I’ve just agreed to this crazy idea.

Honestly, I don’t see what can come of it. I might feel better and forget about past mistakes for a while, but after the fast ends the same old problems will probably resurface. But… if I’ve learned anything in my thirty years, not trying something new because you can’t see how it will turn out is just a lame excuse.

I would know. I ask my clients to make changes in their diet and lifestyle on a regular basis, and many of them resist because they’re skeptical. When they finally take the leap and try, the entire purpose of my advice becomes clearer. So, I’ll take Diana’s advice and try this Man Fast thing. I’ve failed when it comes to men, but I won’t be some stubborn girl who won’t try something knew.

Hell, I climb steep rocks with nothing but a rope and a small metal device to save my butt if I slip and fall, for crying out loud. I think I can handle this.

Besides, at this point, I have little to lose.

It’s Thursday evening and a woman with perfectly blown-out dark hair sits on my office loveseat, her fit legs crossed. My client, Annabelle Harvey. I glance at the clock on the wall behind her, watching the digital display turn from 5:10 to 5:11. We ran over time, as is often the case with Annabelle.

I nervously speak up again. “We do need to wrap up, Annabelle. I’m meeting my sister soon. I’m sorry about that!” I add, not wanting to offend her.

“Oh! Of course,” she says, like it’s the first time I’ve mentioned it. But it’s not. I said something very similar just a few minutes before five. Annabelle makes a few more comments about how yoga changed her life before she stands up, tossing her leather handbag over her shoulder and smoothing her Patagonia sundress. “Thanks again, Summer! You’ve been such a big help to me, and those magnesium supplements make such a difference! It’s so stressful right now with the kids and my business, and everything else.”

“You’re always welcome,” I say, gratified for the praise.

I opened my business almost a year ago, and I love more than anything to know that my clients are benefitting from it. Not to mention that if they’re happy, they’ll tell their friends about me. I could certainly use more clients. I have room in my schedule, and my bank statements have made it clear that the money I saved up to sustain me while I got my business off the ground has dwindled to dangerously low levels.

True, I could have stayed at my job as an accountant and enjoyed the regular pay and the good benefits. But the truth is, I hated working in an office. I’m not an office, cubicle, wear-appropriate-but-uncomfortable-suits kind of person. And I didn’t like that I wasn’t helping people in my work.

Not that accounting isn’t important or necessary, but it wasn’t how I wanted to contribute. I love people—I love helping them be happier and healthier—so I pursued nutrition and wellness.

Annabelle turns to leave, and I feel a dread fall upon me. She’s forgotten again, and now I have to do the thing I hate most.

“We need to deal with payment…” I say, cringing.

I hate asking for money. I wish people would just remember to pay. When I hire someone for any job, the first thing I do is pay them. That’s why they’re working for me, right? To make an actual living?

A look of embarrassment and discomfort passes over her face. “Oh, yes. Of course.” She digs out her credit card, but hesitates before handing it to me. “Is there any way you can cut me a deal this time? This was a bad week for my business, and you can imagine how tough it is being a single mom…” She looks at me with pleading eyes.

I waffle. On the one hand, I’m already charging really low rates to bring in new clients. But on the other, I can identify with running a business and struggling to bring in money. And I know for a fact that being a single mom is hard. “Sure,” I say. I offer her a thirty percent discount. I don’t want to go that low, but last time I tried twenty percent and she talked me down, so it seems easier to just offer that again.

She nods, her smile widening. “Thank you so much, Summer. I really appreciate you working with me on this. I promise I’ll spread the word about you to all my friends.”

“I appreciate that, Annabelle.”

See, that’s the point. If you take care of your clients and give them deals, they’ll send you more clients. It means less money now, but more business and more money later. I wave goodbye to Annabelle and sit down at my desk to check my billing. I still have a sizable outstanding bill from Barbara Stanton, who keeps promising that she’ll stick a check in the mail. I sigh, printing out another request for payment. Her third.

I drop the notice into the office building mail with a sigh.

Being self-employed has its benefits, but it isn’t easy trying to find new clients and urging forgetful clients to pay. And the cost of medical insurance? Holy shit, that was a shock. I never even go to the doctor other than for annual preventative care, so it feels like such a waste of money. At the same time, going without it seems irresponsible. What if I fall climbing or break my leg skiing this winter? Then I’m screwed.

I glance outside my window, which has a nice view of the ponderosa pine trees and the hills in the distance. There’s a deer in the grove of trees, munching away on some grass. And you know what that deer is telling me? To go outside and get some outdoor therapy.

I smile, my mood perking up. It’s Thursday, it’s sunny and there’s still daylight left, and I have a weekend of fun to look forward to. My sister Laurel and I have tickets to see DJ Phantom, electronic music extraordinaire. I’m more of a folk and bluegrass girl, but I’ve heard this guy knows how to put on a show and his music is amazing, nothing like that pounding techno stuff that gives me a headache. Plus, the concert’s at Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is probably the most amazing place ever to see a band. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages, and so has Laurel. She digs this Phantom guy even more than I do, and it’s the perfect way to end our summer.

I grab my phone and call Laurel.

“Hey, sis,” Laurel says in her strong, throaty voice.

“Let’s go play outside.”

Laurel snickers at the reference. Mom would tell us to “go play outside” when Dad got in one of his bad moods, which happened often. During those years, we learned that playing outside, even if it was raining or a blizzard or one of those frigid zero-degree days, was far better than being inside and risking that we’d anger Dad.

“It’s too late for rock climbing,” Laurel says. “The days are getting shorter and we won’t have enough light by the time we get up there.”

“That’s fine. How about a hike?”

“Cottonwood Meadow? It’s close by and we haven’t done that one lately…”

“Sounds good,” I say.

Laurel pauses. “Did you check your email?” she says, her tone switching to an unhappy one.

“Not since lunch. Why?”

“The DJ Phantom concert? The one we’ve looked forward to for weeks? It’s fucking cancelled.”

Disappointment crashes upon me. “Seriously?”

“Yeah!” she cries. “Just like that! Apparently the asshole cancelled the rest of his U.S. tour. That’s like ten more shows. No reason, no explanation, no nothing!”

“So that’s it? We’re out all that money?”

“No… they say we’ll get a refund. But that’s not the point! I’ve been wanting to see this guy for years and I keep missing him, and now this.”

“Sorry, sis,” I say. I’m bummed too, but maybe not as much as Laurel is, given my financial situation. I could use that refund.

Laurel chuffs. “Well, we gotta roll if we’re gonna make it before dark. Plus, I’m meeting Joey later.”

Joey. My sister’s fuck buddy, the one she hooks up with now and again because she can’t be bothered with relationships.

“Okay. Meet you at Cottonwood Meadow trailhead in twenty.”

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