A full-length, stand-alone romance.
When snowboard queen Kaitlin Bouvier gets a weird text from her friend Tyler—who has been missing for months—she tracks him to Iceland, where a volcano is threatening to blow any second. She’s been in love with Tyler since childhood and the two shared a few very steamy nights last summer in Italy, giving Kaitlin hope that there might be a real chance for them.
Unfortunately, Tyler is as elusive as the wind. When the volcano does erupt, Kaitlin is trapped in Reykjavik with a group of young travelers who each have their own reasons for being on the road, including the very sexy, very smart grad student Gabe Walsh, who teaches her how hot her blood can boil. She tells herself he’s just a diversion—there’s no way their crazy lives can work.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I finally find Tyler in Reykjavik, glowering and hung over at a café before dawn, which is much later than you’d think. As the sun slides sullenly just above the horizon, washing the snow and sky and cliffs and water varying shades of purple, I pause in the doorway, wondering if I should just let him go ahead and die of a broken heart. He’s broken enough of them himself, it only seems fair.
But he doesn’t do it on purpose. He’s just so effortlessly, unnaturally, uncommonly beautiful. Just now, sitting by the window, the light catches the elegant bones of his brow and cheekbones, dances over the curve of that exaggeratedly sexy mouth. I sigh to myself, remembering with a shiver how it felt to finally kiss that mouth for that stolen week in Italy.
I am an idiot for this guy. Why am I even here? I should be training. I was training, actually, when out of the blue, I got a weird text from him, the first I’d had in months, since he disappeared off the face of the earth after a very bad breakup.
He does not appear to be recovering. His hair is too long, his clothes rumpled, a haggardness around his cheeks that I remember from another bad stretch a few years back.
I shake my head. He has more talent in more directions, more brains, more everything than anyone, and here he sits, wasting it. God, it irritates me!
As if he hears my thoughts, he looks over and sees me standing there, hands in my pockets. I take a breath and head across the room. He watches me all the way, warily, but I think I see some relief there. “Kaitlin,” he says in a rough voice, standing to give me a hug. His next words are buried in my neck, the scruff of his unshaved whiskers abrasive against my skin. “What the hell are you doing here?”
He smells so good, so Tyler, and it does to me what it always does—sets my skin on fire, melts my heart, and I grab him closer, relief and fury and desire all flowing through me. “When you call, I will answer, Rabbit.”
A choked laugh erupts from his throat. “That was crazy. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
He holds me, his chin on my shoulder. Unbidden comes a vision of his skin against mine, his hands, his mouth—
I force the memories away. What he needs is a friend. That’s why I’m here.
Three days ago
On the platform outside the Reykjavik airport, in the absolute darkness of eight in the morning, a guy asks me, “Is this the bus into Reykjavik?”
I’m pulling on another layer of Patagonia and have to get my head free before I can answer. And then I’m slightly stunned. Star-stuck, even.
Because the guy asking is…amazing. Hot, super sizzlingly hot, but in a way I’ve rarely seen anywhere outside a magazine or the movies. Tall, long limbed, broad-shouldered, things I always like. His hair is very dark, curling out from beneath his green stocking cap.
But it’s his face that slams my solar plexus. A face taken right out of an Italian Renaissance painting, the full lips and luminous dark eyes and white cheeks, which I know because my mom and I practically lived at the Met when I was a kid. “Um, what?” I ask brilliantly.
“Is this the bus to Reykjavik?” he asks again, and he has a voice to match his face. Deep and resonant, the kind of voice that is made for reading things aloud or hosting radio shows that feature smart people talking about important things.
“I think so,” I say, and flap my hands, then tuck them under my arms, forcing myself to look away. I probably seem like a dork, staring like that, but I’m rattled and injured and had a huge fight with my mother before I left. The dark near-zero January cold is depressing. A bunch of us huddle under the greenish lights with our bodies hunched, greasy and bedraggled from flying all night from everywhere.
Who comes to Iceland in the middle of the winter? I wonder, looking around. I’m here to track down my lost—figuratively and literally—friend Tyler Smith, who texted me two days ago and scared the hell out of me. I intend to make sure he gets home, using whatever methods required, even if that means tying him up and dragging his body behind me.
Enough already. His heart is broken, yeah yeah yeah. You’d think he was the first person who ever suffered from the condition.
But I don’t know why these other people are here, when it is dark and sullen and a volcano is threatening to blow any minute. Maybe they think it’s exciting. I’m nervous, but Tyler texted me, over anyone else, and I take that seriously.
“Where’re you from?” the guy asks. That voice tumbles over my shoulders, down my spine.
I yank my hat off and shake out my hair, which is probably flat and wild at once, which is the usual state when I get off a long flight. I wince at the tug on my bruised shoulder, looking up. Way up. Dude is tall. “Hard question to answer,” I say. “Mostly New York, I guess.”
“American, anyway,” he says, giving me a half smile. “Like me.”
I take in his parka and hat—good gear. Not the sleek, slim clothing of athletes, but get-down-in-Antarctica stuff. He’s only sporting a bit of scruff, not a bushy lumberjack beard like half the guys on the planet have right now. Which means I can actually see his jaw, strong and hard cut, and that great mouth, sensual and somehow full of resolve.
“What are you here for?” I ask.
“Tourist or what?”
“Grad student. Geophysics. I’m doing my thesis here with—” he breaks off, shakes his head. “Never mind. A professor I admire.”
Hot and smart. Not a combination you find every day. But before I can come up with something interesting to say, a gust of wind, sharp as ice daggers, slams into us. It’s so fierce that it knocks the whole group of us a little sideways. I stumble and reach for his arm instinctively. A couple of girls bend into each other. One swears. “Holy shit, it’s cold.”
“No such thing as cold,” my new friend says, “only bad gear.”
I laugh. “That’s my line.”
“Yeah, you look like you know your way around the cold.”
I nod and cock my thumb toward my chest. “Snowboarder. Not as interesting as geophysicist, but I own it.”
“Are you here to ride?”
“No. I had a fall a couple of days ago. Sprained my wrist.” I hold it up, showing the bandage wrapped around the left. It doesn’t bother me nearly as much as my shoulder, or a bruised hip that is, even now, aching way down deep. I’m hoping I won’t miss the X Games in a couple of weeks.
“So what does bring you here?”
I think about the weird texts from Tyler, the whole, long tangled history of us. “It’s complicated.”
His eyes glitter. “A guy, then.”
“A friend.” I don’t know why I say this, as if to clarify something he didn’t even ask, but I find myself adding, “We’ve known each other since we were kids, and he’s suffering a serious broken heart, and I—” I take a breath, shake my head. “I wanted to check on him.”
He nods, hands deep in his pockets. “I’m Gabe,” he says, and holds out his hand. It’s kind of weirdly formal, but maybe that’s how they do things in grad school. In my world, a fist bump does the trick.
But I yank my hand out of my pocket, tear off a glove, and grasp his, only realizing as his long fingers engulf mine how idiotically eager that must have seemed. “I’m Kaitlin.”
“Nice to meet you.” He doesn’t let go, and I don’t try to yank away, and it seems like it goes on way too long. I notice that his lashes are thick and long, that his lower lip is as ripe as watermelon. He holds my hand like it’s something important, gently but with intent, and I feel the heat of his palm against mine as a whispery electric sensation. I let go, stepping back firmly. His smile flashes. “Maybe we can have a beer or something while you’re here, Kaitlin. Hang out.”
“Yeah, I’m not really here for long. But thanks.”
“Too bad.” His gaze is steady on my face, flickers down to my mouth. It occurs to me that this creature Michelangelo might have painted is interested in me. Not something that happens to me a lot. Or like, ever.
He’s probably just interested in all women. With a face like that, girls must fling themselves at him constantly. Unfortunately, flirting is not something I’ve had much luck learning. Haven’t had time.
I look over my shoulder, irritated with my lack of banter. Shift from foot to foot, pull my glove back on. Any second, I’m going to start humming under my breath, which my sister says is like a dog panting—I do it to calm myself down.
When the buses start lumbering up to the curb, I’m relieved. We all edge toward the promise of warmth and comfort. “Do you know how long it takes to get to Reykjavik?” I ask him. He’s standing a step closer than he was before.
“Awhile. I always fall asleep, but this bus takes us to the main bus station in town, then other buses take you to your hotel.”
I cock my head. “So, you knew this was the bus to Reykjavik?”
“Maybe.” He shrugs, eyes on my face, really looking at me. A little smile touches that lush mouth. “Original, huh?”
And for the first time, I let myself smile. “You wanted to talk to me.”
Again, I feel silly, like I’m staring too hard at him. “Cool.” I say, and immediately think it’s totally lame. Geez, Bouvier, you’re acting like you’re twelve.
“Look,” he says, and pulls out a business card, “maybe you won’t have time, but I’ve been living here for a couple of years. I’d love to show you around a little.”
The card is in my hand before I can really object, then we’re lining up to board the bus and I tuck it in my pocket. The inside pocket of my coat, zipped in, even though I know there won’t be time. I have to be in Austria in two days.
Before that, there is the challenge of getting Tyler home, or at least headed somewhere someone can keep an eye on him.
I look up to see that Gabe has noticed me putting the card inside my coat, and gives me a slow, easy, sexy grin. Guys like this ignore me. That he isn’t makes me a little giddy. For one minute, a sense of possibility blows through me, light and cool and easy, as if I am some normal person, as if I don’t have a bizarre schedule that means I’m on the road approximately 500 days per year, that I’m wrapped up in a very specific world with very specific demands.
Not to mention I’ve barely managed to get myself over the long, long, long, mostly unrequited, thing with Tyler.
Instead, I’m just a girl. He’s just a guy. We met at the bus station at the Reykjavik airport, I imagine myself saying to some future person who doesn’t know our story.
Get a grip, Bouvier.
Then I am on the steps into the bus, remembering all that makes my life both fantastic and challenging. I flop into a seat and lean back in the comfort and warmth, watching people file down the aisle. Gabe stepped aside to let some girls go ahead and I don’t see him now. He’s probably too thin under that coat. He’s probably boring and geeky. Who becomes a geophysicist, anyway?
Staring out the window, I feel my mood crash, suddenly sure this trip is a gigantic mistake. My mother called it “a fool’s errand,” and she was probably right. I’d flown home for a surprise visit, during which my mother and I had an epic fight. When the text from Tyler, so weird and lost, came in, I stormed back out and got on the next plane. Now I’m grumpy and hungry, that unpleasant mix that makes up jet lag, and I’m feeling guilty about the time I’m taking away from training.
A big alcohol-soaked body falls into the seat beside me. A blast of his breath, scented with gin and travel, poisons the air in front of me. “Hello,” a guy says in a heavy Russian accent. “I can sit here, okay?”
“No, actually,” I say, trying to hold my nose so I don’t have to smell him. “My boyfriend is just—” I look desperately for Gabe and see him just stepping into the aisle. “Right there.” I wave at him brightly. “Over here, Gabe!”
“Sorry,” the Russian says, gusting bad breath over me as he struggles to his feet.
Gabe slaps the guy on the shoulder. “No worries, man.” He drops down beside me, then tugs off his hat. Black curls tumble around his face, and in the low light from the overheads, I can see a scar along the edge of his right nostril that runs upward in a pale, thin line over the bridge of his nose and cuts through his left eyebrow. With a wink, he says, “Hey, honey.”
“Thank you.” I give his arm a squeeze, and lean in to murmur, “That guy’s been drinking hard since St. Petersburg.”
“You’re good now.” He slumps low in the seat, his long legs bumping the seat in front of him, and covers his face with his hat. “Night.”
“Night,” I say, smiling, and rub my sore wrist. The bandage has tightened a bit, and I unwind it gently, rubbing a thumb over the pattern the fabric has pressed into the skin. It’s still pretty swollen—and when I test bending it—sore. The course was icy and a couple of girls had already wiped out, but I thought I was all that and went for it anyway.
On the speakers, playing quietly is an ABBA song, Take a Chance on Me. It’s a happy tune, and I find myself humming along.
Gabe looks at me. It’s strangely intense, those dark eyes so liquid and rich.
“Sorry,” I say. “Bad habit. I’ll quit.”
“I like it,” he says, sitting up. “Come with me for a minute.” He takes my hand, firmly. “I have an idea.”
“Take a chance,” he says and grabs my pack from the rack overhead. “This one?”
I nod, holding my aching wrist close to my waist. “But I—”
“You can get right back on the bus if you want, but hear me out.”
The driver is climbing up the steps. “Wait!” Gabe calls. “We’re on the wrong bus.”
The driver stands aside, waves us off and back out into the dark morning. I don’t know why I’m letting him tug me behind him but there’s something shimmery in the air, urging me along.
Standing on the sidewalk again, the sound of buses grunting around us, I look up. “What are we doing?”
His luminous eyes capture me, draw me closer. “Let’s go to the Blue Lagoon. Buses go right there and they can take you back to your hotel later.”
“No.” I shake my head. “Really, I don’t have much time, and I was up all night and I’m super tired.”
“You can sleep on the bus, and you’ll be in your hotel in time for tea.”
“Before it gets dark.”
The bus I bought a ticket for is pulling away. I frown up at him. “Look, thanks for saving me from the stinky Russian, but I really—”
“If you’re only here for a day or two, the Blue Lagoon is something you should see. Go from here, it’s a lot faster than going all the way back to town and then out again.”
Hot springs sound like heaven for my sore, aching body. But—
He must see that I’m wavering. “The other thing is, it won’t be crowded, and it will be amazing when the sun comes up, and—” he gestures toward my leg “they have massage therapists. I see you limping.” He grins, as if the argument is too great to resist. “What d’you say?”
The healing aspect sounds great, but if I am honest, it’s the magnetic lure of his bottomless dark eyes, the shine of his hair beneath the lights, his self-assured smile. I want to know more about him.
I want to kiss him.
The thought is startling and strange, so not me. I’m the girl who has stayed focused on her sport, who was a virgin until she was eighteen, who has still only ever had sex with two people. “I don’t have a bathing suit.”
“You can rent one.” A gust of wind blows his hair around, tossing it into his eyes. He takes his hat out of his pocket and yanks it down. “It’s a place you should see now. There’s a luxury hotel going in and it’ll be changed.”
“A luxury hotel?”
“Tourism is the ticket here these days,” he says. “Big money.”
I think of ski resorts all over the world. It happens everywhere. As if to nudge me along, my hip aches from the way I’m standing. The echo of the fight I had with my mother runs along the back of my brain, and I’m just worn down.
Besides. Those lips. “Okay. Let’s go to the hot springs.”
“Good.” He takes my left hand in his gently, pulls the bandage from the pocket where I shoved it, and competently rewraps it. “Let’s get our tickets. My treat.”
He’s a graduate student. “Dude, my parents are philanthropists. They can pay for this.” One last time, since my mother has promised to cut me off if I don’t bend to her will.
He just shakes his head, smiling. “No, I insist.”
The easy smile, the comfort he feels in himself, is something I haven’t seen in guys much, and I like it. For a second, I pause, wondering if I should just walk away right now before anything can get started, before it becomes complicated and exhausting. I like my life just fine the way it is.
But it’s not like I’m running off to a chapel to get married. I’m going to the hot springs, then I’m coming back to Reykjavik to find Tyler. By then, my injuries will be healed enough that I can get back to the slopes. I let him take my hand to pull me toward the terminal. “Okay. Your treat.”
On the bus to The Blue Lagoon, we settle in with bottles of water. I lean back, genuinely exhausted. The seat is comfortable and deep and I tuck my hoodie against the window as the bus starts to move. Next to me, Gabe has done the same thing, crossed his arms, pulled his buff up over his lower face, and closed his eyes.
And I don’t know about him, but I’m asleep in seconds. The next thing I know he’s rubbing my knee gently. “Kaitlin. We’re here.”
Blinking, fuzzy, I sit up. “It’s still dark. How long were we on the road?”
“Only about twenty minutes. It’s going to be dark for another hour or so. Do you want to get some coffee and a pastry or something before we head to the pools?”
“That sounds really good.”
We troop with the other people getting off the bus down a long sidewalk bordered by walls of snow. Giant walls, over my head. As far as I can see, there is only snow and lava fields. And darkness. Why do people make so much of this place?
“It’s nearly ten and the sun still isn’t up.” I say to Gabe, who has gestured for me to go first into the cafeteria-style cafe. I fall in line behind a family speaking a language I don’t know. A little boy peers over his father’s shoulder at me, his eyes big and bright and deep hazel.
“It takes some getting used to.” He yanks the hat off yet again and stuffs it in his pocket, unzips his coat. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in good light. His face is no less extraordinary. It’s not perfect—the nose is aggressive and his mouth is wide—but the balance of large dark eyes to long lines of bone, cheekbone to jaw to chin, the angle of the scar, is so beautiful I can hardly look away. His mouth is lush like those old paintings, and it is the most kissable mouth I have ever seen. The idea of pressing my lips into them sends a spray of red sparks through my body.
“Is it the scar?” he asks.
“What?” I raise my gaze to his eyes.
He smiles slowly and uses a finger to trace a line down the scar, and I realize that he’s teasing me, that he knows I was looking at his mouth. Which makes me do it again. “I fell out of a tree house,” he says. “Landed face-first on a rock. Broke my nose and dented my skull over my eye.”
“How old were you?”
“Holy cow. That could have killed you.”
He shrugs. “Not really. Kids are tough.”
“Your mother must have had hysterics.”
“It was my dad who fainted.”
I laugh. “Really?”
“He did.” He points gently and I turn around in front of the case full of sandwiches, pastries, eggs, yogurt, fruit. My belly instantly says egg, yogurt, ham sandwich. I gather them and Gabe gives me a funny look. I think he’s noticing the amount of food. “Um, I kind of have a big appetite.” I don’t really want to get into the whole snowboarding thing right this second. I mean, I told him I was a snowboarder, but I know from experience that people assume you do it recreationally.
My pursuit is a bit more serious.
“It’s not that,” he says, and reaches for exactly the same things I chose.
He nods and we make our way through the drinks cases. I pick up more water and some chocolate milk. When I arrive at the cash register, he has the same things. He lifts a brow. “Don’t you want some coffee or something?”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“No kidding.” His mouth tilts sideways. “Me, either. I don’t even think it smells good, which most people seem to think it does.”
“Really?” I can’t help grinning. “I think it smells like poo.”
His irises shine as he looks down at me. A rustling sensation moves down the back of my neck as powerfully as if he touched me. He leans closer, his voice rumbly. “Clearly we’re soulmates.”
I roll my eyes. “Clearly.”
We’ve reached the register and an ice queen beauty with her hair pulled back severely from her face adds the numbers. I reach into my pocket for the kronas I picked up at JFK.
“No,” he says, touching my arm, and shoving euros into the girl’s hand. “My treat.”
“I don’t mind buying my food.”
He pushes my hand away. “My treat.”
We settle at a table that looks out to the hot springs, a vast body of steaming water. It’s dark, the water barely visible. Still no sign of the sun, but there are a lot of stars. They spray across the sky in wide, sparkly swaths, almost washing out the sky in place. “Good grief. I’ve never seen so many stars.”
“You should see what it’s like away from all the cities, on some of the volcanoes. It’s crazy. Northern lights wash them out, but you know, not such a bad thing.” As he talks, he’s shrugging out of his heavy coat.
He is not too skinny. At all. A thermal Henley clings to broad shoulders and chest and lean belly, showing off the fact he’s in really good condition.
He’s devouring his sandwich and I haven’t even taken off my coat. Get it together, Bouvier, I think. It’s probably the Vicodin they gave me for my injuries making me a goof. With my usual briskness, I yank my hat off and shrug out of my coat, and I pay the price. The wrist wakes up and bleats. My shoulder roars. For a second, I just hold my arm close to my waist, letting it calm down. In a minute it does.
“Bad fall, was it?” he asks.
“I’ve had worse.” It would have been my choice to eat the sandwich first, too, but I’m not going to be exactly the same. Instead, I choose the egg and the milk. “Working on some new moves.” I shrug. “It happens.”
His grin tilts on one side. “Not to me.”
“You ride? Ski?”
“Surf. Grew up in Hawaii.”
“Hawaii.” I lean in. “That must have been pretty cool. That’s where you got the volcano bug, huh?”
“Definitely. My dad was really into them, so we spent a lot of time exploring.”
“Is your dad a scientist, too?”
“No, he’s a science teacher. He just loves volcanoes and turned me on to them.”
I think about the baking soda and vinegar papier-mâché volcanoes from elementary school. “Well, who doesn’t love a volcano?”
“I know, right?”
Wiping my fingers on a napkin, I rip open the sandwich. “I bet he totally loves it that this is your job.”
“Oh, yeah. But I love it, too. I mean, what could be a cooler job?”
I lift a shoulder. “Well, riding doesn’t suck.”
He gives me a quizzical look. “Snowboarding is your job?”
“Yep.” The sandwich is ham, which is not my favorite, but I don’t care. It’s food. “Not that my mother approves.”
He looks a little less enchanted with me.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Geophysicist? Not serious enough for you?”
For a long minute, he takes my measure. “I can tell you’re smart. It just doesn’t seem like the choice of a smart person.”
“Oh, ho! A snob, huh?” A prick of disappointment pierces the little balloon of happiness I’ve been feeling. I’m tempted to lower my eyes, look at my sandwich, but I force myself to hold his gaze.
“Maybe I am,” he says. “I guess I didn’t realize it until now. Maybe I just don’t know very much about it.”
“Maybe not.” I sigh and put the sandwich down, hearing the echo of the fight I had with my mother. “But I’m not really in the mood to explain it to a muggle.” I stand up. “Thanks for talking me into coming here, but I’m just going to get my massage now and be frivolous.”
“Hey, hey,” he says, standing with me. “I’m sorry. Clearly, I hit a nerve.”
I sigh. “Yeah, and I’m tired of defending my choices.” Not giving him another opening, I head for the door. Maybe I’m being a bitch, but I’m still stinging from my mother’s ultimatum and I’m not about to put up with more crap from some random dude I just met.
Too bad. Guys always seem to be jerks in some way or another, but this one seemed really interesting. I glance over my shoulder, and he’s watching me, face serious. For one tiny split second, I let myself take another sweet glimpse of that mouth, then resolutely turn away.