Want You More

Mile High #3

November 28th

There’s plenty of gorgeous winding trails leading to Gracely, Colorado. And making your way around this rugged Rocky Mountain town is how you start over, fix your mistakes—and find the one person who’ll always have your back . . .
 
Will Evans works hard, plays harder—but never gets in too deep. He’ll do anything to keep his family’s Mile High Adventures business on track and help Gracely recover. One too many betrayals taught this handsome guide to avoid commitment as expertly as he negotiates difficult trails and treacherous rivers. But now it’s impossible for him to play it cool with the one woman he lost—and never forgot.

Nothing is going to keep Tori Appleby from starting over right. After a career-ending personal and professional mistake, she’s back to save the company she helped start. She needs Gracely’s healing small-town charm—and the caring and help she’s only found with the Evans family. But she doesn’t need Will trying for a second chance. Or to risk her heart one more time.

Will won’t commit, and Tori has a life to rebuild. But to move on, they’ll have to give in to the irresistible heat between them . . .

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Other Books In The Series:

Book One

Book Two

 

 

 

 

 

 


Excerpt

Chapter One

Tori Appleby had fallen in love with Gracely, Colorado, almost the moment her Jeep had driven over the boundary. It was gorgeous, for starters. Settled into a valley where mountains bracketed either side, craggy, snow-peaked sentries that seemed to look out over the tiny Colorado town.

She’d felt . . . protected. Which was overly fanciful and unlike her, but she’d liked it just the same. She’d lived in a lot of beautiful places, and they all held different pieces of her heart. From a never-ending wheat field in Kansas, to the poshest resort in Vail or Telluride, she’d always found ways to appreciate the land around her.

When you were alone, it was all you had.

But Gracely was special. Back in college, when the Evans brothers and Sam Goodall had been her best friends, when they’d planned a future business endeavor together, Brandon and Will had spoken of Gracely like it was the center of the universe. They’d given it a reverence Tori hadn’t believed, even back then when she’d been a little softer, a little more naïve.

But they were right. Some seven years later, separated from the little family she’d built after leaving her own, she’d come to Gracely and found it could be the center of the world.

If only that center didn’t include Will Evans, the biggest mistake of her entire life. Which was saying a lot.

Today, Tori had parked at the east end of town, taking a meandering walk around Gracely in an effort to find a place to live so she could get out of Sam’s hair. More because Sam’s hermit cabin in the woods didn’t offer the amenities she would have preferred. Like a microwave.

Parking on the east end meant quite a walk to the one and only apartment complex, but she needed that kind of movement, that expending of energy. Because she’d decided to stay, which meant somehow, some way she had to forget about everything with Will and a past she’d let dictate her life for far too long.

Sarge obediently trotted at her side as she walked at a brisk pace, her German shepherd keeping up with her easily despite his age. Her pet the one constant of the past decade.

Before she reached the apartment complex that had been her destination, Tori got distracted by a row of shoved-together houses, many with for sale or for rent signs.

The morning Brandon had gotten back from his honeymoon, he’d handed her a check and called it a signing bonus for agreeing to work at Mile High Adventures. She knew it was bullshit and charity, but she hadn’t had a choice.

She needed a place to live that wasn’t Sam’s, and she needed to feed herself and her dog. It required money, and she was about out. Two months of unemployment had completely depleted her savings, meager as it had been since she’d been focused on sending money home to her parents before Toby had ruined her.

Still, no matter how damn weird it was to be here, with Brandon and Sam offering her a job with Mile High Adventures no questions asked, and Will acting like he wished she’d never been born, she’d come to a realization in the past few weeks of haunting Gracely.

She belonged here. Gracely was perfect. Mile High was exactly what she’d dreamed it could be when she’d been in college with the boys.

She stood at the corner of two streets, one that would lead to the apartment complexes once she walked past the row of houses.

The first house was a cute little green structure. It was one of the few houses without a sign in the yard. It struck Tori as sad that so many people were giving up on this pretty little mountain town. Clearly, this was something of a mass exodus with so many signs.

Of course, if there were this many houses for sale or lease maybe a house was financially feasible? She’d never had a house before, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to buy one right this very second, but it would be nice to have somewhere kind of isolated and her own instead of another bland apartment where she had to listen to people stomp around all day or complain about her having a dog.

She walked down the street. The house next to the green one on the corner was a pretty buttery yellow. Normally, Tori would’ve had no interest in it. Girly, sunshiny colorful stuff just wasn’t in her wheelhouse. But something about this house had her stopping and staring.

Maybe sunny cheerfulness was out of character, but what if it was exactly the kind of thing she needed? Even though joining Mile High had been the plan all those years ago, returning to that plan didn’t mean this wasn’t a fresh start. Far away from Toby and his lies and his reputation-ruining scandal.

She could start over in Gracely. Yes, it would mean dealing with some of her past, a past she really had begun to think would never have to be dealt with, but the minute she’d been fired and turned down for every ski instructing job in the area, she’d known that she had to come here. Facing the past was pretty much the only road to take.

As a teenager, she’d run away from one family. It had been necessary as her brother’s violence had started to center on her, and so she’d always known she couldn’t go back. She tried to pay off her parents’ debts, but that was all it was ever going to be.

But she’d created a family with Brandon, Will, and Sam all those years ago, and this was a family rift she could fix. She could deal with it now that time had matured her and completely eradicated her problematic feelings for Will. Completely.

“Hello!”

Tori turned toward the cheery feminine voice that rang out. A young blond woman was coming out of the green house next door.

“Hi,” Tori offered carefully, wondering if the woman thought she was a burglar or something. “I was looking at the ‘for lease’ sign there in the yard.” She pointed at it.

“It’s a great house. At least I think it is. Ours is great and we’ve been here quite a few months now, and the people who were living there were like this cute little couple who took such good care of everything.”

“Oh, well, thanks,” Tori returned as the woman approached. “I . . . guess I’ll check it out.”

The woman stuck her hand out between them. “I’m Cora.”

There was something a little familiar about the woman, but Tori couldn’t place it. She took the woman’s outstretched hand and shook it. “Hi, I’m Tori.”

Cora cocked her head. “Oh. Tori. I know you!”

“You do?”

“You were at the wedding. My sister is Lilly. You know, she married Brandon and you were there. An old friend of the Mile High boys, right?”

Tori tried to smile, though she was uncomfortable with the connection. She’d only met Lilly briefly, and she’d seemed nice enough, the perfect woman to stand up to Brandon’s bulldozer tendencies, but leasing a house was supposed to give her a break from all those old connections.

“Anyway, this is a great house and I’m a great neighbor. You can even ask Lilly.” The woman’s wide smile faded a little. “Well, don’t ask her too many questions. Lilly has very high standards.”

Tori usually found over exuberance obnoxious, but something about the honesty in Cora’s retraction was endearing.

A boy, probably not quite a teenager, flew out of the house Cora had come out of. Tori remembered him from the wedding. A blur of edgy energy combined with a kind of surly exterior that reminded Tori a lot of herself when she was a kid.

“Mom! Where’s my Xbox controller?”

Cora rolled her eyes, looking far too young to have a son that old. “Duty calls,” she said brightly. “But if you do end up leasing it, stop by and let me know. It’s hard to find friends around my age here.” She started walking back toward her house. “And now that Lilly’s married to Brandon, it’s just me and Micah.”

Tori had never been very good at making female friendships. She tended to be too abrasive and suspicious of women who knew how to dress or fix their hair. Growing up with brothers and a poverty-stricken mother on a farm and then in a trailer park, she’d never quite acquired the art of femininity. But something about Cora and her cheerful prettiness wasn’t off-putting at all.

“Yeah, I’ll look into it. It was nice to meet you.”

Cora waved and disappeared inside with her son. Tori took a step back to examine the house. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and typed the address into her notes.

It would be nice to have friends. It would be nice to have a connection and a house and all the good things a new start could be made out of.

For nearly the first time since she’d stepped foot into Gracely knowing a showdown with Will was imminent, she smiled without an ounce of sarcastic gleam behind it.

***

Will Evans knew that getting drunk didn’t solve problems, but it certainly diffused the messy tangle of emotions currently existing in his chest.

Tori was here to stay. To stay.

Will squinted out into the thick pine forest that lined the back of Mile High Adventures. The dusky green, murky and thick, reflected his mood.

He’d much rather be in his own cabin, but hell if he could swallow Brandon and Lilly’s lovefest. He was happy for them. More power to them. In his current mood, he’d rather gouge his eyeballs out than have to witness them.

Damn, but he had to get himself together. He had convinced everyone he was a good-time guy, and he’d barely been cognizant of doing it. Until the past few weeks, when everything seemed to be unraveling, including his usual façade.

He’d been an ass. To just about everyone. His brother, his new sister-in-law, his best friend, his half sister. Hell, he’d been a prick to Skeet, Mile High’s grizzled, old secretary.

Will was in bad shape, and he didn’t know how to fix it.

The door to the porch opened, and Will didn’t have to guess it was his brother. Brandon was too quick to speak for it to be anyone else.

“I won’t let you turn into an alcoholic, if that’s your plan.”

Will took a deep breath. He didn’t want to be an asshole to Brandon. Or anyone. “Don’t you have a pregnant wife to flutter around?” Oops.

“I do, and I’d much prefer to be doing just that, but everyone is worried about you.”

It was new. People being worried about him. It was uncomfortable, all in all. He much preferred everyone thinking he was fine. He liked people coming to him for a laugh or a joke or a fun night on the town.

“And you drew the short stick, eh? Pull up a chair. I’ll drink to your—”

“Will.”

Will stopped, if only because he hadn’t heard that kind of grave note to his brother’s voice since Brandon had delivered the news Dad had died.

“I need you,” Brandon said simply. Baldly. In a way that had Will squirming in his seat. “I need you healthy and whole. A lot of changes are happening, and Gracely is still dying, and we are, in fact, its only hope that I can see. Mile High needs all of you.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Will you be? Because you seem to be hitting the bottom of those bottles a little too much for anyone’s comfort lately.”

“You want me to stop drinking? Fine, I will.” He held out the bottle, and when Brandon took it, Will did his best to shrug. Yeah, he’d been drinking too much lately, though he was an adult and that was his choice to make, but if Brandon wanted to play moral police, Will would let him. No skin off his nose.

“I know you don’t want to talk about it, but if this is all about Tori, you need to tell me.”

All of Will’s attempts to be unaffected fluttered away like ash in the wind. That’s what he felt like, actually. His marriage was over. His brother was happily married and procreating. Mile High was doing well, and maybe that hadn’t trickled down to Gracely yet, but it would.

And Tori was back.

“Don’t worry about me. Don’t worry about . . . her.”

“You’re not hearing me. If it’s about her, you need to tell me.”

“Why?” Will demanded, all that edginess leaking into his tone no matter how much he tried to bury it.

“Because I will tell her to leave.”

Will whipped his gaze to his twin brother. “You outvoted me,” he said, pushing down the clawing temper trying to free itself. Brandon and Sam had decided they wanted Tori back and Will had been outvoted.

“I will change my vote if it brings my brother back.”

Will swallowed. Hell, wasn’t that tempting? Say the word and she’d be gone. He could go back to pretending that night seven years ago had never happened. That Tori had never happened.

But somehow it wasn’t a relief, in the least. It settled all wrong in his gut. “You don’t want to do that,” he managed to say, though it sounded far more strangled than he wanted it to.

“I don’t, no. But I can get her a job somewhere else. I can give her money to leave. If you simply cannot coexist with her, then I will fix it.”

“You can’t fix everything, Brandon.”

“Yeah, so I’m learning.” Brandon let out a long-suffering sigh, and Will had to admit for a newlywed the guy looked tired. And not for the right reasons. “But I do have some control over this.”

Will looked back out at the quickly darkening mountain forest in front of him. “You outvoted me,” he repeated, because, well, because it had hurt. Even if that hurt was his own damn fault for not explaining things to Sam and Brandon. But who would want to relive ancient history? He certainly didn’t.

“I thought whatever happened between you two . . . Look, I thought if you got over your initial reluctance you’d be fine, but she starts tomorrow. She’s been around for a few weeks, and you are decidedly not fine. I would love to include Tori in Mile High, but you rank, brother. So, if you need her gone, I’ll do the dirty work.”

Because Brandon never hesitated to stand up and do the work. Will might not always agree with what the work should be, but he’d always, always admired his brother for a whole myriad of things. That being one of them. Not that he’d ever told Brandon.

It would be wrong to take him up on this. Not because he thought Tori belonged here. By his way of thinking, she’d made it very clear she didn’t. That she’d desert all of them if things didn’t go her way.

Something tightened in his gut. A familiar old something he’d spent a lot of years ignoring. Refusing to identify.

“Lilly’s having twins.”

That jerked Will out of any past feelings. “Twins.”

Brandon raked his fingers through his hair. “Yes, twins. She had some bleeding, so we went in and . . . Anyway, found two in there. Then they started in on about all the risks and terrible things that could happen and I . . .  I can’t control any of that. Even if I could wrap her up in Bubble Wrap and tie her to a bed, she wouldn’t let me. So, I . . . I need you one hundred percent, because God knows I’m not going to be for the next six plus months.”

Will’s chest tightened, at a million things. Concern for his brother, for his sister-in-law, for his future nieces or nephews. An odd, blanketing grief that he’d never had a chance to have that kind of worry, because Courtney had ended their chance before . . .

“I need to know you’re present. I need to know you won’t snipe at Sam and Hayley. That you won’t dump on Tori. That—”

“I’ll handle it.”

“I need—”

Will stood, forcing every last swirling emotion inside of him down and away. He clapped Brandon on the shoulders and gave him a little shake. “I’ve got it. You can trust me. I’ve been off a little, I get it, but consider it fixed. I’ve got your back.”

Brandon let out a sigh of relief, and Will realized Brandon wasn’t just exhausted, he was sick with worry.

“Mom had us just fine. Lilly’s made of sterner stuff. She’ll be a freaking Wonder Woman.”

“Do you not recall Mom’s dramatic renderings of you being in the NICU for months?”

Will managed a smile, a real one, for the first time in weeks, he thought. “And look at me now.”

Brandon was quiet for a while, too long, studying Will with that all-too-assessing hazel gaze.

“And Tori?”

Will tried not to tense, but he probably failed. “I was caught off guard, and I’ll admit I’ve been wallowing in it. But . . .  I can put all that in the past.” For Brandon, he’d do anything.

“You sure?”

“Positive. Go home to Lilly. Do whatever you need to do. You can count on me. You can trust me with Mile High.”

Brandon let out another sigh, something shuddering that had his shoulders slumping. Will wasn’t sure he remembered ever seeing his brother quite like this. There’d been a grimness to him when he’d figured out Dad had been cutting corners at Evans Mining Company, an exhausted certainty when Dad had died and Brandon had had to clean that all up.

Brandon had been shoulders-back determination since he’d gotten it in his head that Mile High Adventures could save Gracely from its near ghost town status. He’d been humorously felled by Lilly Preston earlier this spring.

But Will had never seen him wilt under all the pressure.

This was why you didn’t go falling in love and shit. All it did was make your life harder, scarier, and far more full of hurts.

“Thanks,” Brandon said, giving him a little back thump, which was about as close to a hug as they ever got.

Will watched Brandon go, back to the family he was building. Will stood on the porch of Mile High Adventures, which was his future. He’d do whatever it took to make sure it kept succeeding.

Even if that meant forgetting everything that had ever happened with Tori Appleby. One way or another.