Ben, the asshole, was laughing his ass off at him as he stood and shivered. It was cold in New York, sure, but these were the Pocono Mountains. There was shit like snow and ice, and not one female in a bikini anywhere in sight. “You could have gone to Bermuda.”
“Shit,” Steve snarled. He loved the dickhead like a brother, but some days he seriously thought about fratricide. “Someone took my timeshare in Florida.” And he’d had plans for Christmas in Disney. Plans involving a sweet blonde he’d been trying to get in bed for months.
Ben was lucky Steve loved him or he’d never have agreed to give that up.
Ben grimaced. “Someone had some serious ass to kiss, which is why someone gave you an entire month’s stay free at the lodge. At Christmas, I might add.”
“Bullshit,” he coughed into his fist. He was there as Ben’s best man, no matter what bribery Ben had promised Steve in exchange for the timeshare.
Steve couldn’t wait to watch his best friend finally marry the man of his dreams, even if it wasn’t legal yet in the grand state of Pennsylvania. Ben had gotten his special someone, and for that alone, Steve was willing to freeze his body parts off.
Hell, Ben Malone had loved Dave Maldonado for years. If it hadn’t been for the way Ben’s father had fucked with his head, he was certain Ben would have made his move the minute the kid turned eighteen. But a brutal, alcoholic father had made him wary, and he’d made some assumptions that cost him years with Dave. Now that Ben’s head was out of his ass, he and Dave were disgustingly happy together. Steve hadn’t ever seen his friend as content as he had been the last six months, and he’d grown up not far from the lodge. They’d gone to the same schools, but Dave had been a few years behind them. Steve had only known about Dave because of Dave’s obvious crush on Ben, and Ben’s reluctance to accept him.
Most of the kids from the Red Wolf Lodge had pretty much stuck to themselves back then, socializing in their own little groups. He barely remembered most of them, and then only to glance at. Ben had made an exception where Steve was concerned, causing all sorts of problems in his great love affair with Dave, who’d thought Ben had a thing for Steve.
Speaking of which… “Where’s Dave?” He thought about taking off the parka, but the door behind him opened once more, the cold breeze making him shiver. It might be warmer in the lodge, but until he was thoroughly melted he wasn’t giving up his favorite coat.
He glanced over at his friend and grinned. Yup. There it was. That huge, sappy smile that made Steve want to smile too. Ben deserved this, deserved to have the happiness he’d denied himself for far too long. “He’s working with Rick today. Something about a huge wedding disaster.”
Dave was the event coordinator for Red Wolf Lodge, while Ben was the money man. Rick Lowell was the owner, taking over for his grandfather when the old man retired. Rick had taken a place that had been slipping into obscurity and had turned it into a thriving business. He might never be as big as some of the other, more commercial places, but Red Wolf Lodge was becoming known for its good food, relaxed attitude and friendly, homey atmosphere.
Steve had loved the place the first time he set foot in it, back when it had been run by Rick Lowell’s grandfather. Ben had brought him up the mountain after school one day, and the lodge had wowed him from the very first.
His welcome had been less warm, and after that time Ben warned him that no one at the lodge could see them together. At first he’d thought it was because Ben was ashamed of him. Instead, he’d soon come to realize that Ben was ashamed of them. The only two people who knew about his friendship with Benny were Rick Lowell and David Maldonado, neither of whom spoke a word about his presence to any adult. In fact, Dave had probably saved his life when the adults came after Ben. Dave had held his tongue, sending the adults a different way, keeping Steve and Ben’s relationship a secret from the ones who would have hurt Ben for simply having a friend who wasn’t a part of the lodge.
As odd as it had been, he’d never really questioned it. It was just the way things were. The lodge people weren’t the friendliest, and everyone who grew up in the area was aware they didn’t care for outsiders. How old man Lowell had managed to hold on to the place for so long, no one knew. But now, with Rick in charge, it had become a thriving, friendly place Steve was happy to visit.
Ben deserved every happiness Steve could give him, if only for they way Ben had defied them all just to remain Steve’s best friend. Steve still felt bad that Dave had misunderstood his relationship with Ben all those years ago, though Dave had nothing to worry about. Steve definitely had a thing for the fairer sex, frequently and with gusto whenever he had a willing partner.
“I think they’re just hiding from Belle and Chela. The two of them have some idea about Christmas that they’re trying to avoid like the plague.”
He’d heard plenty about both women over the last six months. He grinned, checking around the lobby for the women Ben had described as Psycho Barbie and her sidekick, Señorita Lobito. He knew enough Spanish to know Ben called Graciela “Chela” Mendoza a little wolf. Both women had nicknames that made him almost terrified of meeting them. At the same time, it was clear Ben considered the women family from the fond way he spoke of them. “What kind of idea?”
“I’m not sure. I ran when I heard the word thong.”
Steve choked on a laugh. Okay, now he had to meet the woman brave enough to marry Rick Lowell.
Rick was good people in Steve’s book. If the man had come to him for a loan to work on the lodge, Steve wouldn’t have hesitated for even a second to give him whatever he asked for. The guy might look scary as hell, but there was a core of honor and strength in Rick Lowell that anyone who got to know him could see.
Steve took off his parka and picked up one of his bags, the one with his precious computer in it. He’d send someone else out into the cold for the rest. “When do I get to meet the infamous Belle?”
Ben grimaced, pointing to a tiny, exquisite blonde woman marching their way. “Right now.” She was leaning on a sturdy, utilitarian cane, her steps swift but careful. Her limp was noticeable, and Steve remembered Ben telling him that Belle had broken her hip saving a friend from a runaway car.
Ben took a step back from the blonde with the huge green eyes and pouty, Cupid’s-bow lips. “Hi, Belle.”
“Don’t hi me, you traitor.” The blonde stopped in front of them with a vacuous smile. Her head tilted to the side, sending waves of blonde curls over her shoulder. God, she really was like a miniature Barbie doll, complete with the rack and teeny waist. In the sweetest, most inane tone he’d ever heard, Belle asked, “Where’s Rick?”
Ben gulped, squaring his shoulders as if he were facing a firing squad rather than the world’s most fuckable doll. If Steve hadn’t known better, he’d have sworn the guy was ready to run for his life. “I refuse to answer on the grounds that I might be eviscerated.”
Belle’s perfectly shaped brows rose slowly. “Ben?”
Steve looked sharply at his friend. Was his voice actually shaking?
She smiled sweetly. “Who are you more afraid of?”
Ben actually paled. “Rick and Dave are in the solarium.”
Belle patted Ben’s arm. “There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
The woman’s expression transformed from blonde bimbo to friendly and animated. The green eyes that turned on Steve were sharp, assessing. This woman was no bimbo, no matter what role she played. “Who’s your friend?”
Ben jolted. “Belle, this is Steven Hoode. Steve, this is Rick’s wife, Belle.”
Steve picked up Belle’s hand and kissed the back of it. “Charmed.”
Belle laughed, the sound low and wicked. “Oh, you’re a bad boy, aren’t you?”
Steve grinned. He’d never try and steal Rick’s girl, but God, she was a pretty one. Too bad Rick had gotten to her first. “Trust me, I’m a very good boy.”
She pulled her hand gently from his. “You’re going to be trouble.”
Ben shook his head. “At least he’s honest about it.”
Belle turned her head at the sound of her name. “Shit. Chela. I’m in trouble.” She waved airily, but her gazed remained on whoever had spoken. “Later, guys.”
Steve blinked. There was someone scarier than the woman who’d just terrorized Ben into throwing his boyfriend under the bus? This woman he had to meet. He glanced over to where Belle was headed to see…
He swallowed hard.
And he’d thought Belle was good-looking.
Little Steve uncurled from its fetal position to wave hello at the pretty brunette motioning Belle over. Dark, rich hair, the color of really good coffee, was pulled back into a ponytail, the tip of which brushed her shoulder blades. He couldn’t see what color her eyes were, but he was willing to bet they’d be the same rich brown as her hair. Her skin tone was warm, bronzed even in winter. Full, red-tinted lips were quirked up in a smile as she shook her head at the petite blonde headed her way. She was about the same height as Belle, her curves not as obvious, but there was something about her that drew his gaze.
Steve blinked at the tissue Ben held out. “What’s this for?”
Steve rolled his eyes, but he took the tissue. His nose was starting to run from the cold outside. “Who’s that?”
Ben crossed his arms over his chest as Steve blew his nose. “Graciela Mendoza, aka Señorita Lobito.”
“Graciela.” It was a name as pretty as its owner. He got a good look at her pert backside as she turned away with Belle, heading for the fireplace. Man, that woman filled out a pair of jeans like no one he’d ever seen before. That was Little Miss Wolf? “Tell me about her.”
Ben shook his head. “Steve.”
He put his arm around Ben’s shoulder. “Dude. You owe me.” He shivered from the cold as another group of skiers walked through the huge glass doors. “You so owe me.”
“She’s like a sister to me.”
“And you’re like a brother to me.”
Ben closed his eyes. “That just makes this wrong on so many levels.”
Steve chuckled, but his attention was still mostly on Graciela. The woman was waving her arms around as she talked to Belle, her expressions full of animation, her body moving to a beat only she could hear. He wanted that animation, that passion, turned in his direction.
He bet she’d be wild in bed.
“Are you listening to me?”
A quick glance in their direction proved him right. She did have dark eyes. “Nope.”
“Aw, c’mon, Ben. Don’t you trust me with your sister?”
The look on Ben’s face was priceless. It was worth freezing his balls off just to see that.