Falling, Freestyle

Xtreme Adventures - 1


Vivian Arend 

For all those people who have a friends-to-lovers story. I think it’s a great way to set up a lasting relationship.

And to my hubby, who’s my friend first, last and everything in between.

Chapter One

Alpine Responsibility Code

Rule #1—Always stay in control…

The bright yellow safety marker passed behind them as Dara leaned back on the solid wood boards of the chairlift, easing her skis onto the rests. She relaxed and drew in a deep breath of icy air, turning her face toward the sun to soak in its warmth. Heat radiated off the bodies on either side of her. Jack and Kane—her best friends in their ski-crazy town.

“Which run do you two want to hit next?” Kane elbowed Dara in the ribs, his bright blue eyes flashing with amusement. Dark curls stuck out from the edges of his helmet to frame his boyish good looks. “You warmed up enough yet for something other than the bunny hills?”

The man was merciless. “Screw you. Just because I don’t like starting the day with double black doesn’t mean it’s a bunny hill. And I kick your butt when we ski trees, so chill.”

“She’s got you there,” Jack taunted. His blond hair was hidden under a woolen toque with long braided ties hanging down on either side of his face. Combined with the rest of his features, the image reminded her of ancient Viking barbarians—beautiful, strong.


Kane winked at her. “Bull. I just like to watch the lines you take. It’s the only chance I get to admire your incredible talent since I spend the rest of the time with you on my backside.”

Dara laughed, tucking herself a little farther into the shelter of Jack’s broad body as their chairlift crested the first major rise. He adjusted his position to completely shield her from the wind.

She was so grateful their local ski hill had a couple of triple chairs. The twelve-minute ride to the mountaintop was never as long, or as cold, when both her guys were there. The ride up was a chance to take a break from the wild downhill rush of swooshing through knee-deep powder, snow flying in her wake. She snuggled in tighter against Jack, nudging the walkie-talkie in his pocket out of her way. While his rule that they each carry one as a backup for if they ever got separated was smart, she didn’t need it poking her in the back.

The chair rattled over another of the tall towers, setting them swinging slightly. They’d all arranged to play hooky from their evil day jobs to take advantage of the lesser crowds midweek. A bad day skiing beat a good day at work anytime. Kane made a satisfied noise, then turned his grin her direction, obviously as pleased as she was with their impromptu Wednesday getaway. “Your pick, Dara, which run will it be?”

“Diamond Drill. I want to hit the jump.”

Jack swore. “Already? You don’t need to prove anything to Kane. He’s just being an ass, teasing you about being a bunny.”

She had to laugh. “I know he’s a shit, that’s not why I want to do it.” She wiggled her brows at him. “I think you’re the one who’s a bit of a chicken. That jump still freaks you out, doesn’t it?”

Kane laid a gloved hand on her shoulder. “Don’t you worry, darling. You want to sail off into the wild blue yonder, I’ll be there to catch you.”

The banter continued back and forth until they reached the top of the lift. They slipped off and glided to the side where Jack and Dara waited for Kane to buckle on his snowboard. The first runs of the day were always magical. The cloud-free sky allowed the sun to flash blindingly bright off the fresh powder, individual snow crystals sparkling everywhere she looked. With clean uncut snow to track up, the thrill of exhilaration made being out of doors in the freezing weather worth it. Of course, getting to spend the day with her two best buds added to the pleasure.

Four years ago they’d found her struggling to bring her personal items into the apartment unit before a blizzard buried her. They had worked together to carry in all the boxes and bags stuffed into her ancient Volvo, ordered a pizza, and they’d been the three musketeers ever since.

Not only could they keep up with her on the slopes, they were a hoot in the ski lodge. After their time together, they had developed rituals and routines that made her smile. Simple things, like they always brought their own lunches, but splurged and shared the biggest plate of fries the cafeteria made. Hot chocolate from a thermos, and a cold brew or two when they got home. Yeah, life was good and Dara couldn’t imagine any way it could possibly get better.

Well, except having the two of them actually notice she was a girl. That would be nice.

Dara glanced between them—Jack adjusting his goggles to cover his chocolate brown eyes, Kane waving lazily to another local sliding past. Yup—they were the best friends she’d ever had, and if there was a tiny piece inside her that longed for more, well…

There was too much at stake to risk changing their current state of affairs.

Kane whooped as he rose to his feet, propelling himself straight down the hill to pick up enough speed before cutting across the slope to the run they wanted to take. Dara smiled at Jack and they took off after him, their poles and skis making it easier to maneuver at the top of the run. Jack telemarked, with a ski and boot combination that left his heels unattached, forcing him to bend low on each turn. His strong legs moved rhythmically as he bounced between the upper moguls.

Dara was the ordinary one, with her freestyle skis and poles. She didn’t have the stamina to spend the whole day doing lunges, like Jack would as he telemarked, and the one time she’d tried snowboarding she’d spent more time on her ass than on the hill.

Kane shrieked with laughter as he raced down the hill and Dara joined in, letting out her own cry of delight. She flew past Jack as she accelerated around the corner and headed toward the jump. The only time she’d seen Jack completely lose his eternal cool was the day he crashed, rolling limbs askew for a good twenty-five meters before coming to a stop at the base of a tree. Luckily nothing had been broken, but Jack still freaked every time she headed for it. She crouched in preparation, then extended her knees at the apex of the jump and let herself soar into the air. She flung her arms to the side to rotate herself in a three-hundred-sixty-degree circle. The dark green of the trees and the blue of the sky blurred together as she spun, the snow-covered ground a million miles away—for all of four seconds—before it rushed to meet her. She absorbed the impact of the landing, catching her balance with her legs wide apart.

Awesome. She let out a howl and Kane answered back from below. One more swoosh and she slid to a stop at his feet, spraying him with a wash of fine snow crystals.

“Holy crap, girl, that was the most height I’ve ever seen you get on that jump. Some day you might even be as good as me.”

Dara punched Kane in the arm and they turned to watch Jack. He wove his way toward them, stopping with an extra bit of flair and coating them both with snow. “Okay, I’m officially pumped for our holiday. Three back-to-back days of skiing? Watching you two is going to put me into cardiac arrest.”

Kane gestured down the hill. “Then go first so you don’t have to see it, because it’s only going to get better from here on.”

They spent the next hour assaulting the fresh snow, the crowds slowly growing as people realized the weather had turned for the better. When they stomped into the lodge for lunch, Dara took a side trip for a bathroom break.

Yeah, Jack and Kane were the perfect ski partners, kayak buddies and best friends for watching movies and kicking back but…damn.

Dara stared into the mirror. Ordinary stared back. She was nothing like the women they dated. She was solid and plain, and tended to let other people speak for her far more often than she should. She even had a freaky dusting of freckles across her nose that made people who described her use words like “cute” and “wholesome”.

Well, she doubted most people who were considered “cute” spent a day on the hill with her friends before returning home to a vibrator. The last in a long line of toys she’d burnt out in an attempt to tame all the wild fantasies streaking through her mind every time she thought about the guys.

And she was sure those “wholesome” girls would never daydream about what Jack and Kane looked like in the shower when they’d all head home after the day’s excursions were done. The worst part was she didn’t have to imagine much, not after dozens of trips together where the guys both stripped to nothing but boxers when it got hot. To say nothing about the time they went swimming in the buff. Not that she’d been looking.


Ripped bodies, great attitudes. Kane and Jack had been best friends since forever…and that was the kicker. There was no way she wanted to screw up their friendship, not only with her, but with each other. The kind of loyalty they’d shared over the years was precious. Getting involved with either of them would be a recipe for disaster. She patted her face with water. Nope—she could satisfy herself with her fingers and her rubbery friends, and keep her relationship with the guys clean and clear.

Her pocket vibrated and she straightened with a jerk. It took her a second to figure out it was her walkie-talkie—the guys must be looking for her. She should have just told them to go ahead and grab the fries. The hard plastic slipped in her wet hands and she nearly dropped the thing. In her mad scramble to catch it, she hit listen instead of talk.