Carry Your Heart (After Forever Series) by Audrey Bell
Genre: Contemporary New Adult
Date of Publication: May 7, 2013
Word Count: 73,000
Champion skier Pippa Baker lost everything in the avalanche: her boyfriend, his best friend, and her will to win. After a year of grief, she returns to competition.
She finds more than buried memories and steep slopes in Utah. She finds Hunter Dawson, a heartbreaking daredevil with the gold medals to prove it. And she finds that his reputation doesn’t stop her from falling hard, and that her heart might not be as broken as she once believed.
But, Hunter has scars and memories too—scars that make him believe falling in love might hurt too much, scars that make him run.
Pippa knows how much love hurts when it’s gone. Will she stop herself before she’s in too deep? Or will she let herself fall?
“I’m going to grab a drink,” I say, badly wanting something to ease the nerves and excitement of being back here. The last time I saw most of these faces was at Ryan’s funeral. I shake that unpleasant, searing memory. Parker had been a pallbearer. Joe had practically collapsed outside of the church. I shudder. Center myself in the present.
You’re in a bar. Almost a year later.
I look around for a bartender, and find Laurel instead.
“Hey!” she slurs enthusiastically.
“Lucky break today, huh?” she asks.
“Yep. You okay?”
She rolls her eyes. “Fine. I was so fucking pissed.”
“It happens to everyone,” I say with a shrug.
“Not to me,” she tosses her hair. “So, you’re like back or whatever? For real?”
I nod. “I’m back.”
Hunter leans further on the counter and looks down, past Laurel to me. “How’d you do?” he asks. His eyes are locked intensely on mine. It’s a gaze that I can’t hold for long.
“Third,” I say.
“Not bad,” he smiles mischievously. “Told you I’d pray for you.”
Laurel shakes her head as if she’s noticed that Hunter and I are talking for the first time. “Oh. Hunter, this is Pippa.”
“Hey,” I say.
“We know each other,” Hunter says automatically.
“How?” she demands.
“We were on the same plane here,” Hunter says. He watches me. He answers Laurel’s question, but his eyes don’t leave me. “Philly, can I get you a drink?”
“Ah…” I glance at him and at the bartender and at Laurel.
“Her name is Pippa,” Laurel says.
“What do you like?”
“Gin and tonic.”
He grins. “Country club girl, huh?”
Laurel looks at him and scowls. “Hunter, don’t leave without me. I’m going to say hi to all of my friends.”
She disappears over to Brooke and a few of the men’s Alpine skiers. I watch her, curiously, while a few of the male skiers let their eyes roam over me. They’re not checking me out. It’s more of a haunted look. Like, I’m the ghost of a bad memory they try to forget everyday.
They were the ones who were Danny and Ryan’s best friends. The guys they grew up with, fought with, all of that stuff.
And I’m the girl who somehow didn’t die when both of their buddies did. I swallow. I know they can’t look at me without thinking of them. I know that’s true for so many people here.
“Hey,” Hunter says softly, getting my attention. He has a beer and my drink.
He pushes the glass towards me and leaves a twenty-dollar bill on the bar.
He steps closer, sits down on a stool near me, and leans close, so I can feel the heat of his body and smell his aftershave. I like being near him. It’s warm. It feels dangerous.
“So are you always this happy with third place?” he teases.
“No. Not usually.”
He nods. “Better than second.” He rubs his chin. “Someone once told me that there’s nothing worse than fourth place, because you’re the best person not to get a medal. But I don’t think that’s true. I think second is the worst.”
I nod. “You finish second a lot?”
He laughs. “Nah. I finish first or I don’t finish at all.”
“Used to,” he nods. “Not anymore. I do some freestyle stuff, half-pipe.” He smiles. “I actually started snowboarding because I hated racing—when I skied. When I was a little kid.” He bites his lip and cocks his head. “But, I like to compete. Plus, I wasn’t any good on skis.”
“I doubt that’s true.”
“No, it is…” he shakes his head. “I raced your ex-boyfriend for a while. Danny?”
I nod. “Oh, yeah?”
“Back in middle school. Ryan, too. Ryan was fucking good. Everyone always told us to try and do it like Ryan.”
I flutter my eyelashes briefly, remembering how quick and graceful Ryan was. Even my dad, who knew little about competitive skiing, said so when he watched him race.
“The Snow Cat.”
“Ryan the Snow Cat. That’s what Danny called him—always landed on his feet.”
Hunter nods. “You don’t want to talk about this.” He moves a little closer.
“We can talk about it.” I don’t mind telling Hunter about them—he barely knew them and he seems barely curious.
“But you don’t want to.” His hair is combed back, in soft dark waves, and his eyes are big, green and glassy. The color of celery. He lifts the dark Budweiser bottle to his mouth and takes a long sip of beer. God, he looks good.
He wipes the back of his mouth with one hand, a lazy, athletic gesture that makes me look at lips, soft and…shit, Pippa, you cannot be doing this right now.
I finish half of my drink in one swallow.
“Yeah,” I say. “Nervous.”
He raises an eyebrow. I wish I could do that. “Yeah? Do I make you nervous, Pippa?”
I blush. Stupid admission. Yes. “You’ve decided to call me Pippa?”
He smiles. “I feel weird buying someone named Phil drinks.”
“Ah, got it.”
He leaned forward onto his arms. I smell the alcohol on his breath; he’s more than a little bit tipsy at this point. “So, did you feel it change?”
“I didn’t feel anything change.”
“When you finished third,” he bites his lip and slides even closer to me. He leans and whispers in my ear. “You know, nobody feels sorry for you anymore. Now that they think you might be in the way again.”
I look back, over the people I know, and then up at Hunter. “Everyone here is an adult. We all want the same thing. We know that.”
He laughs. “You think Laurel’s going to go quietly if you keep beating her?” He shakes his head. “I saw you go today. You weren’t even trying. If I could see that, then I’m sure everyone else could”
“I was trying.”
“Not like you used to.”
“You never saw me ski before, so…”
“I know what playing scared looks like. Trust me. I was that guy for a long time,” he nods. He looks down at the bar.
“What’s your point?”
“Nothing.” He shrugs: “You seem like a cool girl. And I know what it’s like. One year I was the down on his luck kid and everyone was happy to see me win. The next year, I was just the competition. And I couldn’t figure out why people I thought were friends weren’t my friends anymore. Things change when you win. When it’s you, you’re the last person to realize what’s happening.”
I nod. “Oh, and you’re just looking out for me?”
“You don’t have to believe me.”
“No,” I say. I step back. “I never said I didn’t believe you. Thanks, I guess.”
“Laurel hates your fucking guts, by the way.”
“Yeah. So I’ve heard.”
He shrugs, not saying anything back to me.
“So, what’s your deal with her? She’s your girlfriend?”
He takes a long sip of beer, buying a little more time. He swallows and smirks. “I guess it depends on whether you want to come home with me.”
A flush rushes to my face. I didn’t think I seemed that easy. Or like I wanted him that badly. “Excuse me?”
“Do you want to come home with me?”
I stare at him. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not that much,” he shrugs. “Interested?”
“No,” I say indignantly.
“Yeah, then, sure. I guess she’s my girlfriend.” I stare at him for a few seconds.
“What? Changed your mind?” he asks wickedly.
“No.” I shake my head. “Have fun.”
“I’ll try, Philly.” It really doesn’t seem like he cares that I’ve said no, and he definitely doesn’t care if I’m pissed off. But I am pissed off—both by the question and by the fact that he’s leaving with Laurel so soon after asking me if I wanted to go home with him.
About the Author:
Audrey Bell lives in New York City, where she indulges her SoulCycle addiction and expresses her passionate hatred of the 6 Train. You can find her reading in Central Park, overcaffeinating at Starbucks, or trying to kidnap her neighbors’ Maltese puppy. She loves hearing from readers. Check out her blog at audreybellbooks.blogspot.com.