by Gerri Hill
A Christmas wedding in Colorado? A two-week celebration with family and friends? Who does that?
Photojournalist Reagan Bryant has just returned from six month stint in Afghanistan. Haunted by the tragedy that ended her last assignment, she’s searching for some peace—something to end the guilt and chase the trauma away. Two weeks at the resort hotel owned by her future sister-in-law’s father seems like the perfect escape.
Shelby Sutton doesn’t trust women. They always seem more interested in her father’s money than in her. But at her sister’s request, she vows to make friends with Reagan, a woman whose sad and haunted eyes are nearly impossible to ignore.
The Lesbian Reading Room
Chasing a Brighter Blue is an excellent example of the best sort of lesfic romance–light and easy to read, but engaging and three-dimensional. Definitely one for the re-read pile.
More praise for Gerri Hill
Eight Goldie Awards for Contemporary Romances and Thrillers!
Lambda Book Report: Gerri Hill dazzles!
Lesbian Fiction Reviews: She has a way with drawing the characters so that I can easily relate to them and understand why they make the choices they make, whether I agree with them or not.
“Isn’t Christmas the most wonderful time of the year?”
Shelby Sutton slipped out of her coat and shook the snow from her hair. “Yes, it is. Only I wouldn’t have picked it for a wedding,” she said as she sat down at the bar. “There’s a freakin’ blizzard going on.”
“It’s not a blizzard. They said we won’t get much more than an inch or two. Denver’s getting slammed though. Aren’t you glad we’re not still there?”
“Well, there’s that,” she said dryly. “But it’s winter, Steph. It’s cold. Not wedding weather.”
“Josh and I met at a Christmas party two years ago,” her sister reminded her. “And he proposed last Christmas.”
“Right. So get married in July like normal people do.”
Stephanie stared at her with a quick shake of her head. “You love the snow, Shelby. Quit complaining.”
“I love to ski. I don’t love to drive in it.” Shelby held her hand up, signaling Zach, the bartender. He was there in an instant. One of the perks of the family owning the hotel was getting prompt service. “Gin and tonic,” she said. She glanced at Steph. “You?”
“Wine. Red. A merlot is fine. And you should have flown up with us yesterday before the storm hit.”
“You know I don’t like flying with Dad in that little tin can he calls a plane,” she said.
“That’s an excuse,” Stephanie said. “I know you had a date. What was her name?”
Shelby slowly shook her head as she recalled her dinner date last night. “Jenna. And it was a disaster.”
“Blind date again?”
“Yes. I can’t understand why Brooke thought we would hit it off. We had nothing in common and struggled most of the night to keep the conversation going.” She nodded her thanks at the bartender. “To top it off, she wanted to sleep with me. Can you believe that?”
“They always want to sleep with you. Who could blame her? You’re gorgeous. Blond hair and blue eyes, I’m sure you’re every lesbian’s dream. You’re also apparently every man’s dream. You get hit on more than I do.”
“Well, if I’m every lesbian’s dream then, why am I still single at thirty?”
“Because you’re looking for perfection and you’re not going to find it. Besides, you’re too suspicious. You think they’re only after the family money.”
Shelby nodded. “You’re right on both counts.” She held her glass up in a toast and touched it to Stephanie’s wineglass. “To my baby sister. May you and Josh be blissfully happy.”
“Thank you. This is going to be a wonderful two weeks. I’m so glad you’re sharing it with me.”
Shelby poked the lime wedge down with the tiny straw. Yes, nearly two weeks at the family hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Nearly two weeks of wedding planning, parties and Christmas activities. Stephanie had always loved Christmas, loved the lights and decorations, loved gaudy trees and lots of gifts. Shelby was usually indifferent to the holiday, even today. She rarely bothered to put up a tree. If she wanted to soak in the Christmas spirit, she could always go to Stephanie’s house, where every room was adorned with something. It was as if a slew of Christmas elves had invaded the place and redecorated at will.
“So a Christmas wedding and a beach honeymoon. Hardly seems fair to the rest of us who have to stay behind,” she said.
“You’re not going to Hawaii with us,” Stephanie said with a laugh. “You have to stay in Denver and run the office.”
“Don’t remind me.”
It was a late Tuesday afternoon, eleven days before Christmas, and the bar was filling with people and laughter. Shelby recognized one of her cousins whom she hadn’t seen in years.
“Is that Holly? You invited everyone for the whole two weeks?”
“It was Mother’s idea. And not everyone. Just family. Most of them aren’t coming until next week though. Even they aren’t crazy enough to spend two weeks here.”
“Mother only wants to show off the hotel and gloat that she married money,” she said. “You’d think she’d be over that by now.”
“I know. Her excuse is that it’ll be a big family Christmas party, even though we hardly ever see our cousins. Oh, and Josh’s sister is supposed to come for the whole two weeks too,” Stephanie said. “And about her. We need a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
Stephanie leaned closer. “Something’s happened and Josh doesn’t know what. Her name is Reagan. She’s a photojournalist. She’s not here in the States much. Most recently in Afghanistan. Before that, I think she spent a whole year in Colombia.”
“Who does she work for?”
“I think she freelances. But Josh says she’s really talented.” Stephanie smiled. “Of course, he could be biased. Anyway, she showed up about two weeks ago, out of the blue.”
“At her parents’ farm in Nebraska. Her mother called Josh, said Reagan was acting really weird—depressed, reclusive. Josh said she was always very outgoing and friendly, never depressed. So they wanted him to come there, but we had so much going on with getting ready for the wedding,” she said with a wave of her hand. “He called her, but he said she was not herself at all. So something’s going on with her.”
“And you want me to do what? Babysit?”
“She’s a little old for that. She’s your age, if not older.” Stephanie shrugged. “I’ve only seen her twice and both times, she was very nice. Pleasant to be around.”
“Maybe her boyfriend broke up with her,” she said. And wouldn’t that be fun—consoling a straight woman.
“I’m fairly certain that’s not the case,” Stephanie said pointedly. “You both have the same taste in dates, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, great. She’s gay?” Shelby pointed her finger at Stephanie. “I swear, if you’re trying to set me up with Josh’s sister, I’ll kill you.”
“Of course not. She’s not your type, anyway. She’s…well, really out.”
Shelby frowned. “And I’m not?”
“You don’t go out of your way to advertise it. She’s kinda…manly. It’s very obvious she’s a lesbian, unlike you.”
“Manly? You mean butch?”
“Whatever you want to call it,” she said with a shake of her head. “But can you try to make friends with her? Maybe find out what’s going on with her? They’re really worried and I don’t want anything to spoil the wedding.”
Shelby sighed. “Okay. I’ll try to make friends with her. But it doesn’t sound like we have anything in common.”
Stephanie squeezed her arm. “Thank you. I assume she’s coming up tomorrow with her parents. They’re staying outside of Denver tonight, waiting until the storm passes.”
Shelby sighed again. “Okay. Can’t wait,” she said with a fake smile.
“You’re the best.” She glanced at her watch. “I need to go meet the florist. You want to come with me? It shouldn’t take long.”
Shelby shook her head. “I think I’ll stay in the bar. Come find me when you’re done. We’ll have dinner in town somewhere.” she offered.
Stephanie stood. “Trying to sneak away from Mother? You know she’s already got every meal planned. Why else would she bring in her own chefs?”
“I know. And I hate that.”
“Josh hates it too.” She bent down and hugged her quickly. “I’ll be back.”
She nodded when Zach pointed at her empty glass. Two weeks of being pampered by the hotel staff would spoil her by the time she got back to Denver. She and Stephanie had been working for her father ever since they’d finished college. He owned three hotel resorts in Colorado and the corporate office was still in Denver. Lately, her mother had been hinting at moving the operation to Aspen since her father spent so much time there. So far, her father had resisted. For that, Shelby was thankful. Not that she didn’t like Aspen—she did. Only she couldn’t see herself living there full-time. It was far too pretentious for her taste. If anywhere, here at Estes Park would be her choice. She loved it here. But she knew her mother would never go for that. Estes Park was too tame, too…normal.
The massive mirror behind the bar reflected the activity behind her and she watched as a woman approached the bar. She was attractive, her dark hair cut short in a boyish style. As if feeling her watching, the woman glanced at her, their gazes meeting in the mirror. Their eyes held for a long moment, and Shelby was shocked by the profound sadness she saw in the woman’s dark eyes. As if trying to chase the sadness away, Shelby offered a slow smile. The woman’s handsome face lightened some as she returned the smile. Shelby finally pulled her eyes away, wondering at the haunted look on the stranger’s face. To her surprise, the woman walked over.
“Is this chair taken?”
Shelby glanced at it, as well as at the other three empty chairs along the bar. She shook her head. “No.”
“Thanks,” the woman said as she sat down. She motioned for the bartender. “Scotch on the rocks,” she said. She turned to Shelby. “Your eyes are…incredibly blue.” She paused only a few seconds. “Your room or mine?”
Shelby stared at her, shocked. “Wow. You just dive right in, don’t you? No foreplay?”
The woman’s eyes held hers. “Once we’re naked, I’ll give you so much foreplay you’ll be begging me for release.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Again and again. I promise.”
As Shelby stared into her haunted, dark brown eyes, she felt a tremor travel over her body, landing squarely between her thighs. Oh…wow.
She cleared her throat before speaking, hoping her voice didn’t fail her. “I think you have set the record for the quickest come-on I’ve ever had,” she said.
The woman laughed quickly, showing off even, white teeth, although the smile never reached her eyes. “I doubt that.” Her smile faded altogether. “So? How about it?”
Shelby shook her head quickly. “No. I don’t pick up strangers in a bar.”
The woman nodded as she sipped from her drink. “I don’t blame you, I guess. I wouldn’t be great company anyway.”
Shelby felt oddly disappointed that the woman had given up so quickly. Not that she had any intention of taking her up on her offer, of course. Because she never slept with strangers. That thought amused her. She tried to remember the last time she had slept with someone. Was it Katherine? God, that had to have been over a year ago.
She looked past the woman, seeing Stephanie returning.
“As usual, Mother had the flower arrangements already set up. I was allowed to pick a few colors.” Stephanie turned to the woman, her eyes widening. “Oh, you’ve already met. Great.”
Shelby frowned. “What? Who?”
Stephanie looked between them. “Oh, God. Were you hitting on my sister?”
Shelby narrowed her eyes at the woman. “Who are you?”
“This is Josh’s sister,” Stephanie explained.
The woman arched an eyebrow as she held her hand out. “Reagan Bryant,” she said.
Shelby blew out her breath. “Josh’s sister,” she murmured. She took the offered hand and squeezed it quickly. “Shelby Sutton. Stephanie’s sister.”
The woman’s eyes shadowed even more. “Well, don’t I feel like an ass.”
Stephanie sat down beside her. “You really were hitting on her?” She laughed. “That’s too funny.”
Shelby turned and glared at her, causing Stephanie’s smile to fade.
“So when did you get in?” Stephanie asked. “I thought you were coming with your parents.”
Reagan shrugged. “I’ve been in Denver the last few days. I came up early to beat the storm,” she said. “Got here about six this morning.”
“Does Josh know you’re here already? He didn’t say anything to me.”
“No. I crashed when I got here. I haven’t seen him yet.” She sipped from her drink. “Have my parents gotten in?”
Stephanie shook her head. “They’re coming up tomorrow.”
“I hear your father offered to fly down to the farm and pick them up,” Reagan said.
Stephanie laughed. “Yes. I think he thought he could land the plane in a cornfield or something.”
Shelby knew that Josh’s parents still had a working farm in Nebraska, but she could not picture this woman—Reagan—in that setting. She could see her on a horse, maybe working on a cattle ranch in the mountains somewhere. But not on a farm. She was attractive in a nearly handsome way. Taller than most women but not overly so—she appeared to be lean and rugged, strong and agile. But no way would she have used Stephanie’s description of “manly.” She was too attractive, too pretty for that.
Stephanie elbowed her. “You’re staring,” she whispered.
Shelby pulled her eyes away but not before she caught the sad smile on Reagan’s face. “I should apologize for earlier,” Reagan said. “I had no idea you were Stephanie’s sister.”
Shelby nodded. “No problem.” She shoved her empty glass away and looked at Stephanie. “I’m going to go shower. Dinner still on or did Mother demand our presence?”
“She didn’t mention it,” Stephanie said. “Let me find Josh and we’ll sneak away. We can walk and take in the sights.”
Shelby nodded again. “That’s fine.” She turned to Reagan, debating on whether to invite her or not. It would be rude not to include her, but something told her not to issue an invite. “Drinks are on the house,” she said instead. She turned to Zach, motioning to Reagan, and he gave a quick nod.
“Well, thanks.” Reagan held her glass up. “I’ll try not to abuse it.” She smiled slightly. “Enjoy your dinner, Shelby.”
“You should come with us,” Stephanie offered. “You and Josh haven’t seen each other in months. I’m sure he’ll want to visit.”
Leave it to Stephanie not to be rude. And of course, Reagan accepted the invitation.
“I’d love to join you. Thank you for asking.”
Reagan sounded sincere, making Shelby regret her earlier snub. She was supposed to make friends with her after all.