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    Chapter One

    Lake Tahoe, California

    As the chair lift climbed higher and higher, Colbie Michaels tried to ignore the way her heart beat faster and faster with every foot the lift cleared. If only she could find a way to stop thinking about how long a fall it would be if the chain holding up the chair lift snapped and she and her best friend plummeted to the snow below.

    "Earth to Colbie."

    Mia Sullivan’s voice finally made it through to her brain, as did the fact that her friend’s legs swinging back and forth were making the whole chair rock.

    "Sorry, I’ll stop," Mia said, clearly reading her mind. "I know how you are about heights. I should never have let you ride the lift."

    "You know I had to do this." At the moment Colbie could barely remember why she’d been so hell-bent on riding the chair lift, just that it had something to do with challenging herself and facing her fears down one by one. In any case, it didn’t really matter what her reasons were anymore...she couldn’t exactly get off now, could she? "I’m doing okay up here," she lied.

    Her friend looked down at her white knuckles where she was gripping the arm rest for dear life with both hands. "No, you’re not. Tell me what I can do to help and I’ll do it."

    Before Colbie could answer, the lift came to a crashing halt. "What’s happening? Is it broken? Are they going to have to airlift us off of here?"

    Mia couldn’t keep from rolling her eyes. "I’m sure it’s just someone needing a little extra time getting on or off."

    But Colbie barely heard her friend’s answer, because she was having trouble breathing and all she could hear was her heart pounding in her ears. Even though she knew better than to look down, she couldn’t stop herself from taking a quick peek.

    Mia poked her leg—hard—to get her attention. "Stop freaking out."

    The uncharacteristically stern tone of her friend’s voice momentarily broke through the scene-by-scene playback of her life flashing before her eyes.

    "Right." Colbie gasped in a lungful of air. "Good idea."

    Mia grinned. "Pretty good dominatrix voice, don’t you think?"

    Colbie’s eyebrows went up. "Is that what that was?"

    Her friend nodded, looking tremendously pleased with herself. "I would make a great domme, wouldn’t I?"

    "The best," she agreed with her first real smile since getting on the lift. No one else could have done as good a job of distracting her. Only her best friend.

    As the only girl in a family with four boys, Mia Sullivan had learned to speak up early in life to make sure she didn’t get lost in the shuffle of fists and stinky socks and football helmets. Colbie had been lucky enough to grow up only a block away from the Sullivan house, a rambling Craftsman on the shores of Lake Washington. She’d spent half her childhood with the Sullivans, and might even have had a teeny-tiny crush on each of Mia’s brothers growing up.

    Then again, who hadn’t?

    Other people might make fun of Colbie’s fear of heights, but not the woman she’d been friends with for more than twenty years. She still remembered the first time she’d seen Mia. They’d been five years old and brand-new kindergarteners. Everyone else in Mrs. Tillman’s class had been suitably nervous about being away from home for the first time and having to sit still on the braided rug in a circle and follow instructions and practice writing their names. But worst of all had been recess, because what if she never made any friends?

    The playground had been full of kids, not only the ones from her class, but even bigger ones from the first, second, and third grades, too. She was just about to turn and bolt back into the relative safety of the classroom and Mrs. Tillman, when Mia Sullivan stepped in front of her.

    Where Colbie’s mother had brushed her hair until it shone and had carefully laid out a new skirt and sweater for the first day of school, Mia’s long hair was tied into two messy pigtails and her mismatched clothes were every color of the rainbow. The other girl was missing one of her front teeth and her grin seemed even wider for it.

    "Hi, I’m Mia. I like your name. Colbie is cool. Want to be friends?"

    A dozen simple words had been all it took to lift the heavy weight from Colbie’s chest. Before she had time to do anything but smile back, Mia had grabbed her hand and they went running across the playground, off on the first of what would be hundreds of adventures together over the years.

    "Oooh, look at that," Mia said as she pointed at a tall, broad-shouldered guy skiing down the mountain. "I wouldn’t mind getting cozy by the fire with him later."

    "What part of our girls’ weekend do you think he’d like better?" Colbie teased. "The manicure or the hair-highlighting session? Or maybe he would be up for trying the new no-mess waxing kit Janet brought."

    For the past five years, on the first weekend in February, Colbie and her three closest friends met somewhere in the U.S. This year, they’d rented a house in Lake Tahoe, California, for their girls-only weekend. There was only one hard and fast rule: no men were allowed, not even hot hookups.

    "If he likes any of those things," Mia said with a grimace, "I’m out. Besides, he probably wouldn’t want to sit around admiring engagement rings, either."

    Their friends Janet and Ellen both were wearing new engagement rings and if Colbie was anything but happy for them, she refused to admit it to herself. Just because she’d caught her last boyfriend locked in the missionary position with the woman he’d sworn was "just a good friend from work" on New Year’s Eve, didn’t give her license to spill sour milk all over her friends’ happiness.

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