EXCERPT: A Little Too Late - Author Devney Perry

09/13/2022

EXCERPT: A Little Too Late

Enjoy this preview to A Little Too Wild by Sarina Bowen. This is a standalone in the Madigan Mountain series. The other books are A Little Too Close by Rebecca Yarros and A Little Too Wild by Devney Perry.

Chapter One: Cheerful Mountain Goats

Reed

There’s snow on the ground in Colorado. It must be fresh, because it’s still white and fluffy, and it coats every pine bough at the side of the road.

I haven’t seen snow in a while. And I haven’t seen snow on this road in ten years.

“Reed?” my assistant’s voice prompts. “Are you still there?”

“Yeah, sorry. Go ahead. I’m listening.” Sort of.

“What do you want me to do about the lunch tomorrow with those friends from Stanford?” Sheila asks as I coast down the two-lane highway in my rental SUV.

“Just postpone it.” The curve of the road is so familiar, even after all this time. It’s trippy.

“You postponed that lunch already,” she points out. “So I’m going to tell them to go ahead without you. That reservation at Four Palms shouldn’t go to waste.”

“Then why did you even bother asking me?”

“I thought I’d give you the chance to do the right thing.”

I roll my eyes. Sheila is a pain in my ass, but I’ll be lost when she goes back for her MBA next year.

She knows it, too, which is problematic.

“Next up—Prashant is concerned that Deevers hasn’t signed the paperwork for this new round of funding.”

“Deevers will sign. He’s a contemplative guy. Likes to sit a moment with big decisions. Give him a couple more days before you nudge.”

“All right. Last thing,” Sheila chirps as I slow down in anticipation of the final turn. “I’m not telling Harper that you have to cancel Friday’s dinner. You have to call her yourself.”

Fuck. “Uh… I’d forgotten about that dinner. Couldn’t you just…”

“Reed Madigan!” Sheila yells. “Don’t even finish that sentence. Just man up and call her. And if you forget, just know you’ll be walking to Starbucks yourself for two weeks after you return.”

“Two weeks, huh? That’s hardcore.” Honestly, I could just fire Sheila and find an assistant who’ll robotically do whatever I need. But I’m not going to, and we both know it. “I’ll call Harper,” I grumble.

“Okay, boss. That’s about all I need from you. What are you doing in Colorado, anyway? Is this some top-secret investment?”

“No. Just some personal stuff to take care of.”

“Personal stuff?” she asks, her young voice going high with disbelief. “You have a personal life?”

“Shut up.”

She laughs.

“My father decided to sell the family business.” I try to keep the irritation out of my voice, but it isn’t easy. I’m the only one in the family with an MBA. But did my father consult me? No way. He just dropped an email bomb into my inbox yesterday. In four lines of text, he let my two brothers and me know that A) he’d gotten remarried and B) he’s planning to sell the mountain property that’s been in our family for several generations.

I’m really not sure how I feel about it.

“What kind of family business?” Sheila asks.

“It’s a ski resort.”

Sheila says nothing for a moment, and I wonder if the call got dropped. That happens a lot in the mountains. But then she gasps. “Wait, really? Do you mean Madigan Mountain?”

“That’s the one. Doesn’t make you Sherlock Holmes, though, seeing as it’s named after us.”

God, you’re a freak,” Sheila says suddenly.

“Hey—haven’t we talked about boundaries?”

“Oh, please. There’s such a thing as respecting boundaries. And then there’s you. I’ve been keeping your calendar for two years, and you never mentioned your family owns the coolest boutique ski mountain in the country. I’ve never even booked you on a flight to Colorado before this morning. I didn’t even know you were from there.”

I don’t try to argue, because she’s right—it’s weird that I never go home, and that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this place. But if she knew what hell it had become after my mother died, she’d understand.

“I mean, you went skiing at Whistler last year. That condo you rented was two thousand bucks a night, Reed. Why?

“It’s complicated,” I grumble.

“What? You’re breaking up.”

“It’s complicated! You’ll lose me in a second.” The narrow mountain road passes between two tall ledges of rock.

“I c… hear… at all. BUT CALL HARPER DAMMIT!”

The phone makes those two high-pitched beeps that tell you the call has been dropped. Sheila naturally got the last word. Of course she did.

I put on my blinker and prepare to take the turn onto Old Mine Road. That’s when I spot the sign. Two Miles to Madigan Mountain. But it’s not the low-profile, carved wooden sign that used to stand here at the roadside. This one is new and bright and about three times larger than the old one.

And I hate it on sight.

A car behind me leans on the horn, and I realize I’m stopping traffic. So I make the final, familiar turn onto the steep and twisty road to my family’s resort. The SUV downshifts as I begin the climb. There are rocky outcroppings on either side, alternating with stands of tall pines. It’s only November, but the forest floor is white with snow.

Hell, this road is still as familiar as my own hand. The sight of it puts an ache right into the center of my chest. It’s like heartburn, I guess—inconvenient, but ultimately survivable.

I hadn’t planned to reschedule my whole life in order to suddenly fly to Colorado and face down my past, and the higher the car climbs, the worse this idea gets. Even though the windows of the SUV are rolled up all the way, I could swear I smell the scent of pine, and I hear the snap the needles make underfoot when you walk through these woods.

Almost a hundred years ago, my great-grandfather bought this spot at the end of a challenging old logging road. He passed it on to my grandfather, who build one of the first ski resorts in the Rockies.

The location is a challenge, though. When it snows, the road is difficult to plow. In weekend traffic, if someone takes a turn too fast and skids, the resulting fender bender can stop the flow of cars for hours while the tow truck does its job hauling the unfortunate victim away.

That’s why Madigan Mountain never became a sprawling international destination, like Aspen or Whistler. Our vibe was—and still is, I guess—a smaller, family ski mountain. Our customers like it that way. The regulars often book next year’s vacation before they’ve even left the premises.

It’s heartbreakingly easy to picture my mom waving them off with a happy smile. “See you next year!”

Even that brief memory stings. She’s been gone more than a decade, and it still hurts me. That’s why my brothers and I avoid this place.

And it’s not like my dad ever gave his three sons a good reason to visit. After Mom’s death, he became a surly beast. We all fled. Ain’t nobody got time for his bitterness.

But here I am anyway. Dad may be a decent hotelier, but he wouldn’t know a financing contract if it bit him in his grumpy ass. I’m here to make sure he doesn’t get fleeced.

You could argue that Dad’s finances are none of my business. After all, I’ve already made my own tidy fortune. But I have two younger brothers. Weston is a military pilot, and Crew is busy being famous. His daredevil ass could literally be on any continent right now, as long as there’s snow there. He doesn’t like to check in or return phone calls. Who knows if he even saw Dad’s crazy email?

I haven’t always been a great brother. After my mom died, I didn’t stick around for Weston and Crew. I hightailed it back to Middlebury College in Vermont. After graduation, I settled in Silicon Valley, where I made a career for myself with a Stanford MBA and a lot of ambition.

So I’m showing up because they can’t. Or won’t, in Crew’s case. I need to hear what the hell Dad is thinking. I need to know if he’s serious about selling a property that’s been in our family all this time.

It’s also the place where my mother is buried. If nothing else, I can put flowers on her grave one last time.

The road makes a final turn, and the resort comes into view. I find myself slowing down to take a good look.

The sprawling resort footprint hasn’t changed much in decades. The stone lodge my grandfather constructed in the fifties is connected to a three-story hotel that was added on later. That original lodge holds the hotel lobby, restaurants, and offices. And there are fifty rooms in the hotel.

The resort follows a half moon shape, with most buildings facing the mountain. Slanted, late afternoon sunlight paints the snowy peaks a golden color. Down the slope is the big wooden ski lodge my grandfather built in the eighties. That’s where the day skiers go to rent their skis, book a lesson, or buy a bowl of chili.

And in the other direction—behind the hotel, and beyond my current view—there’s a spa, a heated pool, and a couple of hot tubs. There’s an outdoor pavilion where weddings are held during the warmer months.

All the buildings have peaked roofs and about a million shutters painted a color called Heritage Red. The summer after eighth grade, I painted a bunch of those damn shutters myself. For weeks, my hands were splattered with Heritage Red, and so were my shoes. But a guy has to earn money somehow, and there was a sweet pair of Rossignol skis that I just had to have.

The rest of the resort spreads farther along the mountain’s base. The foothills are dotted with fifty or so condo units that my family sold in the nineties. They have red shutters, too, which gives everything a unified appearance.

I’m a little stunned by how gorgeous everything is. I’d honestly forgotten just how striking the rugged mountain range looks against the blue sky. The resort looks well kept, too. The shutters are as fresh as ever. The gravel parking lot is well graded and carefully plowed.

My father had been such a wreck after my mother died that I wasn’t sure what to expect. If the place had crumbled to the ground, I wouldn’t have been shocked.

There are no indications of crumbling, though. Two new signs direct visitors to Skier Parking or Hotel Check-In. Each sign features a cheerful mountain goat—on the first, he’s driving a SUV with skis mounted on top, and on the other, he’s carrying a backpack toward the lodge.

I stare at these signs a little longer than necessary, because there’s something vaguely familiar about the art. I can’t quite put my finger on why.

But I’m not here to see the sights, so I pull up to the hotel. A young man hurries outside to greet me. He’s wearing a Madigan Mountain jacket in a snappy design. That’s new, too.

“Checking in, sir?” he asks.

“Uh, yes.” I haven’t given much thought to where I’ll sleep tonight. When your family owns a ski resort, you don’t have to plan ahead. It’s only November, so there’s no way the place is booked.

I suppose I could sleep in my old bedroom if I have to. Although my father just got remarried to a stranger, so I don’t know if that’s my best option.

“Name, sir?” the young man asks. He holds out his hand for my rental car key.

I let out a snort and toss him the fob. “The name is Reed Madigan. Thanks, pal.”

He makes the catch in spite of the shocked look on his face. “Whoa, really?”

But I’m already turning my back and headed for the door to the lodge. My father had better be in his office. We’ve got some talking to do.

* * *

Ava

How about trivia night at the Broken Prong? I text to my girlfriends. It’s been a few weeks since we made the other tables cry.

I don’t have a babysitter, Callie replies. Could we do drinks at my place? I’ll make frosé.

Sure, I reply immediately.

I’m sorry! Callie says. I know it’s more fun to get off the mountain!

She isn’t wrong. I spend entirely too many hours on this property. I haven’t had a real vacation in years. That’s the first thing I’m going to do when the sale of Madigan Mountain goes through—book a trip somewhere and put my two-week vacation on the calendar. It doesn’t matter where, just as long as I’m not responsible for calling a plumber if a pipe breaks or soothing a finicky guest when all the spa appointments are booked up.

In the meantime, Tuesday night is always girls’ night, no exceptions. And it wouldn’t be the same without Callie. Don’t worry about it, I assure her. We always have fun. What can I bring?

How about brownies? Callie suggests.

Then our friend Raven chimes in. I love Ava’s brownies! And so do my hips. I’m down for frozen pink wine at Callie’s.

“Ava!” my boss calls from the inner office. “Can you make my keys sing? I can’t find them!”

“Yep!” I yell back. “Hang on.” I wake up my computer and pull up the app I use to keep Mark Madigan organized. I hit a big orange button on the screen, and a moment later I hear the telltale chime of the hotelier’s keys in the other room.

“Found ’em!” he yells.

Of course he did. I pick up my hot chocolate mug and drain the last of my afternoon treat. In the text thread, Raven has sent us a funny gif of a woman drinking wine from a fishbowl. So I’m grinning down at my phone when a deep voice says. “Excuse me, is he in there?”

Before I can even look up, my heart skips a beat. That voice. It’s straight from my past. And by the time I turn my head to find him in the doorway, I’m already trembling.

Holy crap.

Holy.

Crap.

Reed Madigan is standing there. Right there on the carpet in front of my desk. I’m so startled that my hot chocolate mug slips out of my hands. It hits the slate coaster on my desk hard, and at a bad angle. And then my favorite mug—my lucky mug—makes an unholy cracking noise, before splitting into two pieces right in front of me.

Oh my God. Now I don’t even know where to look—at the ooze of chocolate spreading toward my keyboard? Or up into the startled eyes of the only man I’ve ever loved.

Ava?” Reed says slowly. Like he can’t believe his eyes, either. “What the hell are you doing here?”

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