EXCERPT: A Little Too Wild - Author Devney Perry

09/13/2022

EXCERPT: A Little Too Wild

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

CHAPTER ONE

Crew

“The plane is crashing. I gotta go.”

“Crew.” I could practically hear Sydney’s eyes roll on the other end of our phone call. “Stop being overdramatic.”

“What if it really was crashing? And your last words to me were an insult?”

“You’re not even on a plane,” she barked as the whirl of my wheels on the highway’s pavement hummed in the background. “Focus.”

No, I didn’t want to focus. I wanted to skip the lecture she’d started five minutes ago, then turn my army-green G-Wagon around and drive back to Utah.

“You need to be back in Park City on Monday for that photo shoot with GNU.”

“I know.” This was the fifth time she’d reminded me about that photo shoot. “I’ll be back in time.”

“You cannot be late. They are flying in from Washington just for this shoot.”

Also something she’d told me five times. “Don’t worry. I’ll be there. Trust me.” The last place in the world I wanted to be this weekend was Colorado.

“This trip couldn’t fall at a worse time.” Sydney sighed. “This sponsorship is huge. I don’t want to risk anything happening to screw it up.”

“Relax, Syd. It’ll be fine. I’ll be there Monday.”

“Is this trip one hundred percent necessary?”

“What would you like me to do? Skip my brother’s wedding?”

“Yes.”

I chuckled. “You are ruthless.”

“Which is why you love me.”

“True.”

Sydney had been my agent for the past three years and had made it her personal mission in life to make me, Crew Madigan, the face of snowboarding in America. So far, she’d done a hell of a job.

Her ruthlessness padded my bank account. As well as her own.

This Mercedes was my latest purchase, thanks to my recent sponsorship contracts. Syd had spent her commission on the same model, but in black.

“I’ll see you Monday.” There was no chance I’d linger in Colorado. My only obligation was the actual wedding tonight, and first thing tomorrow morning, I’d be on the road.

“Expect a phone call on Monday morning,” Sydney said. “Early. I don’t trust you to set your alarm.”

“One time, Syd. I was late for one photo shoot.”

She’d scheduled it for six in the morning because the photographer had wanted a sunrise shot, and when I’d set the hotel alarm the night before, I’d accidentally chosen p.m., not a.m.

Though Syd loved to rub that in my face, the shoot itself had worked out fine. The photographer was cool, and instead of worrying about a morning shoot, we’d just spent the day together, freestyling the Big Sky slopes in Montana.

With nothing staged or faked, the photos he’d taken had been epic. He’d captured a picture of me as I’d come off a cliff and bent for a grab, the afternoon sky at my back with mountain ranges and clouds in the distance.

That photo had landed on the cover of Snowboarder Magazine.

“Be on time, Crew.”

“I cross my heart.”

“And hope to die if you disappoint me.”

Why did I always feel like saluting Sydney at the end of a phone call? “See ya.”

She hung up without a goodbye.

I sighed, shifting my grip on the wheel. The drive from Park City was seven hours, and with every passing minute, the throb behind my temples intensified. For the past hundred miles, I’d begun to squirm.

Nagging as it was, at least Sydney’s call had been a brief distraction from the anxiety rattling through my bones. I had been in knots for weeks, dreading this trip.

Why couldn’t Reed have gotten married in Hawaii or Cabo?

My stomach churned as I neared the outskirts of Penny Ridge. For twelve years, I’d avoided returning to my hometown. Over a decade. After all that time, shouldn’t this be easier? After the life and career I’d built, shouldn’t twelve years have dulled the painful memories of home?

I was no longer the eighteen-year-old kid who’d run away from anything and everything in his life. Except as the speed limit dropped, the town coming into view, it was like being blasted into the past.

My heart beat too fast as I approached a sign with an arrow that hadn’t been there when I’d left.

Madigan Mountain

A new access point to my family’s ski resort. The entrance to a place I would have happily avoided until the end of my days.

The turnoff to town approached, so I slowed, hit my turn signal and pulled off the highway to Main Street. Buildings with red-brick faces sprouted up on both sides of the road, like walls—or jail-cell bars.

Another sign came into view, this one familiar and built into the median of the road.

Welcome to Penny Ridge

Located seventy miles from Denver along the ridgeline from Keystone, Penny Ridge had been my family’s home for generations. But the day I’d left town, I hadn’t looked back once. Not for friends. Not even for family.

As a professional snowboarder, there was no way to entirely avoid Colorado, not with its famed ski slopes and resorts. But I’d limited my time in the state, spending the bulk of it at alternative mountains.

Park City had become home. Montana was a favorite vacation destination. So were Canada, New Zealand and Japan. I’d travel anywhere in the world, especially if it meant distance from Penny Ridge.

Maybe I should have skipped my brother’s wedding. Except I hadn’t seen Reed in years. Hell, I hadn’t even met his fiancée. Weston and I hadn’t caught up lately either, and the only time I’d seen his fiancée, Callie, had been over FaceTime.

When both of my brothers had called about the wedding, asking me to come, I’d had a hard time finding an excuse not to show.

There was a suit in the back seat, pressed and ready for tonight’s ceremony and reception. My overnight bag was packed with a single change of clothes, limited toiletries and nothing more. I’d do this wedding, make an appearance, then disappear from Penny Ridge for another decade. Maybe two.

As I drove down Main, I took in the changes as I rolled down the blocks. Flip’s Gold and Silver was now Black Diamond Coffee. The Dive Bar was gone, replaced with a craft brewery. Mom’s favorite bookstore was a Helly Hansen franchise.

The coffee shop and brewery, she would have loved. The demise of her bookstore, not so much.

Her ghost walked these sidewalks. Mom haunted this town, these streets.

Tomorrow. I only had to stick this out through tomorrow. Then I’d get out of Penny Ridge.

People meandered the sidewalks. Half of the parking spaces were taken. It was fairly quiet this afternoon, something I suspected would change when the resort opened for the season next weekend. Then downtown would be clamoring with tourists.

As much as I longed to retreat to the highway, I headed for the winding Old Mine Road and started up the mountain.

My ears popped as I climbed and weaved past towering evergreens. With the new access point, I doubted this old road got as much traffic as it had in years past. Probably a good thing. It was too narrow for decent shuttles, and on icy days, the drive down could be treacherous.

Mom had always hated this road in the winter, given the sharp drop-off. She’d love that Reed had put in a safer road.

My oldest brother had been working hard for the past two years to expand Madigan Mountain. The new access road. More terrain. New residential and commercial properties. Not that I’d seen any of it firsthand, but Weston had told me that it was becoming a next-level resort. He’d even moved home last year to help Reed by starting a heliskiing operation.

They had more plans, some of which they’d shared, but whatever they had in store for the mountain was not my problem. I was here for one night and one night only.

I turned one final corner and the lodge and hotel came into view. The mountain stood tall and proud at its back.

It looked the same. It looked different.

It was home. Yet it wasn’t.

“I don’t want to be here,” I muttered as I drove past the parking lots.

The signage was new, branded with mountain goats. Beyond the hotel, a condo development hugged the mountain base. The new chairlift stretched toward the summit, leading to new runs that snaked white through the trees. And past the lodge, in a forest clearing, was a helipad. Weston’s helicopter was likely stowed in the adjacent hangar.

I pulled into a parking spot outside the hotel and hopped out, breathing the mountain air as I stretched my legs. It smelled like my childhood, snow and pine and sunshine. It smelled like good memories. And bad.

With my bag looped over a shoulder and my suit bag draped over an arm, I walked toward the hotel’s stone entrance. My grandfather had constructed this wooden A-frame in the fifties as the original ski lodge. Years later, a new lodge had been built and this had become the lobby to the connected three-story hotel.

At least with all the changes Reed had made lately, he’d left the red shutters on the windows. Mom had loved those shutters.

I dropped my eyes to the sidewalk. The less I took in, the better. The more I looked around, the more I saw Mom.

“Good afternoon, sir.” The bellhop opened the door, waving me inside.

The lobby smelled like vanilla and cedar. Tall, gleaming windows along the far wall gave guests a sweeping view of the mountain. As a kid, my brothers would chase me around the lobby in the summers, when there weren’t many guests and my parents were busy. The long-time front desk clerk, Mona, would snap at us whenever we got too loud. But Mom would always laugh it off, telling her we were simply testing the acoustics, then shooing us outside to play.

More memories.

“Excuse me.”

A man walked past me, snapping me out of my stupor. I unglued my feet from the floor and walked toward the front desk, passing a couple as they came out of the bar. The woman was dressed in a black gown. The man was in a gray suit. Each was carrying a cocktail.

They were most likely going to the wedding. There was a good chance Dad was in the bar, holding a tumbler of his favorite whiskey, and since that reunion was one I’d delay for as long as possible, I headed for the reception desk.

“Good afternoon, sir.” The clerk smiled, her eyes flaring slightly. She was young. Pretty. Blond hair with big hazel eyes. If this were any other resort, any other mountain, maybe I’d let her flirt. Maybe I’d get an extra key to my room and hand it over with an invitation.

But I was leaving first thing in the morning and had no time to play with my brothers’ employees.

“Crew Madigan,” I said. “Checking in.”

“Madigan. Oh, um, of course.” She stood taller, a flush creeping into her cheeks as she focused on the computer’s screen. “You’re in a suite, staying for two nights.”

“No, just the one.” I dug out my wallet from my jeans pocket, fishing out a credit card.

“There’s no charge, Mr. Madigan.” Reed’s doing, no doubt. “You’re on the third floor. Room 312. It’s the Vista Suite. How many keys would you like?”

“Also just the one.” This trip wasn’t pleasure. It wasn’t business either. It was family.

She worked quickly to get me my key card, sliding it across the counter. “Can I help you with anything else?”

“No, thanks.” With a nod, I walked away, heading straight for the elevators and the third floor.

The hallway greeted me with fresh paint, clean carpets and the scent of laundry soap. These hallways used to be racetracks for us. Reed, Weston and I had played hide-and-seek throughout the hotel until the time I’d hidden in a storage closet for an hour. By the time Weston had found me, every staff member and my parents had been in a panic.

That was back when Dad had actually cared about his kids’ whereabouts. When he’d been more than the cold, heartless widower who’d forgotten his three sons had just lost their mother.

I unlocked the door to my suite, letting it close behind me as I strode into the living room, plopping my things on the leather sofa.

The updates from the hallway extended into the rooms, making them feel up-to-date with that rustic ski resort vibe. It was a nice room, with a fireplace and sprawling view of the mountain. Perfect for one night and one night only.

I unzipped my bag, wanting to take a quick shower to wash off the road trip before the wedding started in an hour. But the moment I had my toiletry case in the bathroom, a knock came at the door.

Probably someone with the last name Madigan. Hopefully a brother, not a father. I checked the peephole, grinning at the man wearing a black suit on the other side.

“Hey,” I said, opening the door.

“Hi.” Weston smiled, pulling me into a hug and slapping me on the back. “About time you got here. I was starting to worry you weren’t going to show.”

“Tempting, but I figured you’d bust my ass, so here I am.”

“How are you?” he asked, coming inside.

I shrugged. “All right. It’s good to see you.”

“Yeah.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “You too.”

Weston was two years older, and when our family had fallen apart after Mom’s death, he’d been the one to see me through the darkest days. Instead of moving away to start his own life, he’d stayed in Penny Ridge until I’d graduated high school. He’d made sure that a fourteen-year-old kid hadn’t drowned in his grief.

He’d done what Dad should have.

Those four years, I couldn’t repay him for that. For all he’d done. I wasn’t here because Reed had called, even though it was his wedding.

I’d come because Weston had asked me to.

Not that I didn’t love Reed. But our relationship was different. After Mom, he’d gone away to college. He’d left us behind. For those first few years, I’d blamed Reed for abandoning us. But over time, that resentment had faded.

We’d all been devastated. We’d all needed to escape.

But unlike my brothers, I had no intention of returning home.

“You look good,” I told Weston as we moved into the living room, each taking a chair in the sitting area next to the windows that overlooked the mountain.

He seemed . . . lighter. Happy. There was a twinkle in his brown eyes.

“I am good,” he said. “Glad you’re here. Nice to talk to you face-to-face for a change.”

Conversation between us had been limited over the years. He’d been busy with his career in the military. I’d been consumed with professional sports.

Mostly, we’d talked via voicemail. The last time I’d actually seen him in person had been three years ago. Our travel schedules had coincided and we’d met for dinner in the Seattle airport.

“How do you like living here?” I asked.

“It’s been good. Retirement took a bit of an adjustment but I’ve managed to keep myself out of trouble.”

“Saw a helipad on my way in.”

He grinned. “This expansion has been amazing. The new terrain is insane. We’ve got decent snow already too. The base is solid. If you want to go up tomorrow—”

“Can’t.” I cut him off before he could talk me into it. “I’ve got to get back to Park City. There’s a sponsor flying in for a meeting.”

“Oh.” His smile faltered. “Thought we’d get you for a couple days at least.”

“Not this time.” Not any time. “Besides, I didn’t bring a board,” I lied.

I didn’t go anywhere in the winter without a snowboard, not that I’d be tempted to ride here. The memories . . .

The hotel, the lodge, the town were bad enough. I wasn’t sure I could handle being on the mountain.

“We do have snowboards here,” Weston said. “A whole rental shop full of them, in fact.”

“Next time.” There would be no next time.

Weston studied my face, undoubtedly spotting the lie. Once upon a time, he’d been both brother and keeper. When I’d told a bullshit lie to do something stupid, like go to a party or skip school to ride, those lies had gone to Weston, not my father.

Disappointment clouded his gaze as he dropped it to the floor before standing. “I’d better let you get ready. And I need to go pick up Callie and Sutton.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting them.”

“Yeah.” His face softened. “They’re excited to meet you too. Just to warn you, Sutton is going to ask you for your autograph. She found one of your old Olympic posters at a shop downtown. She wants to take it to school next week to show her friends.”

“I’ll sign whatever she wants.”

“Appreciate it.” Weston clapped me on the shoulder again, his version of another hug. “See you in a bit? I’ll save you a seat.”

“Sounds great.” I forced another smile, then waited for him to leave before I returned to the bathroom, taking a long look in the mirror.

Damn, I didn’t want to be here. But it was just one night.

I’d congratulate Reed and meet Ava. I’d meet Weston’s fiancée, Callie, and her daughter, Sutton. I’d ignore my father and his new wife, Melody. Then come dawn . . .

“I’m getting the hell off this mountain.”

After a quick shower, I styled my hair and dressed in my black suit. With my shoulders squared, I headed to the main floor, following a stream of people through the lobby.

“Crew.”

I turned at my name. Reed crossed the space, wearing a tux and an ear-to-ear grin. “Hey.”

“Thanks for being here.” He closed the space between us, pulling me into a hug, holding me so tight it took me off guard.

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” He gulped, then fussed with the boutonniere pinned to his lapel.

“Nervous?” I asked.

“Yes. No. I just want everything to go smoothly. But I’m more than ready to make Ava my wife. And I’m glad you could be here.”

“Me too.” It was even slightly true. For Reed, I was glad to be here. “You’d better go. I’ll be here afterward. We’ll catch up. Have a drink.”

“There’s a lot to talk about.” He laughed. “So I’ll hold you to that drink.”

He strode past me for the entrance to the ballrooms, greeting people as he walked.

I followed, in no rush. I fell in line with the other guests, shuffling into the ballrooms, taking in more of the changes. Structurally, the hotel was exactly as I remembered. But with the updated décor and style, it rivaled larger, glitzier Colorado resorts.

A new crystal chandelier illuminated the foyer between the ballrooms. The old industrial tile had been removed and replaced with a plush burgundy carpet. The elk and moose mounts had been swapped for wall art.

The line filtered through double doors to a room decked out in flowers and glimmering lights. An aisle, flanked by two sections of white chairs, led to an arched altar adorned with greenery and roses.

Reed stood chatting with Pastor Jennings, the man who’d busted me at thirteen for making out with his daughter at a middle school dance.

Familiar faces jumped out from all directions, including one that wasn’t all that different from my own.

Dad stood not far from Reed, laughing with the woman on his arm. She was tall and thin. Pretty, with a big smile and graying blond hair.

It wasn’t fair that she was here. Mom should have been here on her oldest son’s wedding day.

I clenched my teeth, my molars grinding, as a hand smacked my back.

“Hey, man.”

“River.” I relaxed instantly, letting my best friend from high school pull me into a quick hug. “How are you?”

“Can’t complain.”

River was one of the few people in Penny Ridge I’d kept in touch with over the years. Mostly because he was good about texting and had met me a few times to ride.

We’d both grown up with dreams of professional snowboarding. While I’d gone on to become a world champion, his career had fizzled. But there’d been trips when I’d invited him along. River was always good at providing levity in heavy moments and irritating the shit out of Sydney and my manager.

“What’s new?” I asked.

“Not much. Looking forward to another season. Think this is gonna be my year.”

It wasn’t. But I didn’t have the heart to break it to River that he just wasn’t good enough. Maybe he could have been, but he didn’t have the discipline to hone his skill and take it to the next level.

“I’m sure it is,” I lied. “Did you come with a date?”

“Nah. I’m here with my sister.”

“Raven’s here?”

“Yeah.” River searched the crowd. “She’s around here somewhere.”

But before he could find her, another man appeared at my side. “Crew.”

Fuck. So much for avoidance. “Dad.”

“How are you, son? Glad to see you.”

I nodded, holding his gaze for a moment. He looked . . . different. Maybe because he was missing his standard scowl.

“Oh, hello!” The woman he’d been standing with earlier swept past him, coming straight into my space for a hug. “Crew, I’m Melody. It is so good to finally meet you.”

“Uh . . .” I looked down at her, then to Dad, who just beamed at his new wife.

“You must sit with us,” Melody said. “The front row is for family.”

Family. That word felt like a knife to my spine spoken from a woman who hadn’t been around when my real family had disintegrated.

“Actually, I’m sitting with River.” I took my friend’s elbow, practically shoving him out of the line. “Nice to meet you.”

Melody’s smile faltered.

Dad put his arm around her shoulders, hauling her into his side. He bent to murmur something in her ear, but I didn’t stick around.

I pushed River along toward the middle of the groom’s section.

“Take it you haven’t talked to your old man lately?” River asked.

“No.” And I didn’t plan on changing that tonight.

“I got you. I’ll run interference.”

“Appreciated.”

River knew all about what had happened in high school. He’d had my back then and still had it now.

We lingered beside the aisle, standing between huddles of people all chatting before the ceremony started.

A swish of black hair caught my eye. I did a double take and the air was sucked out of my lungs.

Raven.

River’s sister had always been pretty. When I’d left here, she’d been a sophomore. Twelve years later, she’d grown into a woman who wasn’t pretty.

She was devastating.

Long, silky hair fell nearly to her waist. A handful of freckles dusted her nose. Her soft lips were painted a sultry red. A sleeveless, black dress hugged her lithe body.

The dress had a swath of leather around her torso, giving it a sexy edge. That and the slit that ran up her thigh. She had mile-long legs accentuated with a pair of strappy heels.

Goddamn. She was stunning.

Then again, she’d always snagged my attention.

There wasn’t much that River didn’t know about me. Mostly because we’d been friends for so long, but also because he’d been my confidant in high school.

But not once had I let it show how much I’d crushed on his sister.

“Raven.” He jerked up his chin, waving her over.

“Oh, there you are.” She smiled at him, then turned to me, flashing me those arctic-blue eyes framed by sooty lashes. “Oh.” Her smile dropped. “Hey, Crew.”

“Hey, Raven.”

“I’m going to go find a seat,” she told River.

“’Kay. I’m sitting with Crew.”

Without another word, she walked away, taking a chair on the bride’s side of the room.

Twelve years and all I got was a Hey, Crew.

Why did that surprise me? Raven had never seemed even slightly interested. The only girl at Penny Ridge High I’d wanted was the only girl who couldn’t have cared less. I was a world champion, an Olympian, and she still stared straight through me.

Maybe some things around here had changed. But not enough.

I needed to get the fuck off Madigan Mountain.

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