by E. J. Noyes
Stacey Evans wants only one thing: to be the best alpine ski racer she can be. Everything else—like her sweet and ultra-supportive best friend, and hot-but-vapid girlfriend—is just a bonus. Fresh from a medal at her first Olympics, Stacey knows she can only get better and is firmly focused on the future, and totally not thinking about how she’s kind of a little in love with that sweet, ultra-supportive best friend…
Gemma Archer has had a crush on Stacey from the moment she first saw her, but being her best friend is so amazing that she’s almost managed to push that crush aside. Almost. But even if Gemma finds the courage to tell Stacey how she really feels, there’s a mountain of obstacles to overcome—like the fact that Gemma’s stepmom is Stacey’s coach (awkward) and Gemma will be going away to college in a few months. And most importantly…what if admitting how she feels ruins the best friendship she’s ever had?
Schuss brings back two beloved supporting characters from E. J. Noyes’ bestselling, award-winning novel Gold.
GCLS Goldie Awards
Schuss — Finalist, New Adult Fiction.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"As well as being the first New Adult novel I’ve written, this is also the first friends-to-lovers trope book that I’ve created. It was an interesting concept to have two characters who were already so close as friends and so intimate with each other on that level (and also totally in love with each other in secret), but without any actual romance to begin with. Figuring out how to turn not-together into together is one of my favourite parts of writing romance, and in this case, I felt like half the hard work was already done for me. I didn’t have to convince these characters that they were perfect for each other—they already knew that. I just had to convince them to be brave enough to admit they had alllll the feelings.
One of the best things about writing Schuss, aside from spending time with characters I adore, was getting to revisit the amazingness of skiing and alpine ski racing. I LOVE skiing. There, I said it. And while I don’t think my grand declaration is news to many, it should come with a caveat—I love skiing, but I didn’t start until I was an adult who was very aware that it hurts when you hurt yourself, which means I’m decent but I’m not outstanding, and I’m often afraid. But…I still Love-with-a-capital-L skiing. I look forward to every single turn, every minute on the mountain, even if I’m wondering if this particular run will give me a case of the mental wobblies."
—E. J. Noyes
The Lesbian Review
E. J. Noyes has done it again! She’s created a book that allows you into the minds of the characters and lets you immerse yourself in the setting, so you gladly get lost in the world and have no need for rescue.
Les Bereading - ... E. J. Noyes has this way of writing characters that you get completely absorbed into. When we were left with the Gemma and Stacey cliffhanger in Gold, I was hoping we’d get their story and it was phenomenal.
Ashlee G. - Schuss is a follow-up to the story told in Gold, one of my favorites by E. J. Noyes… This was a great excuse to re-read Gold and get to know Gemma in a new light now that she's a bit older. These two are very mature for their age but also still growing up which made for some interesting interactions. I really loved revisiting Cate and Aspen and seeing them act as parental figures for both Gemma and Stacey. Throwing in Stacey's successful career as an alpine ski racer kept me entertained as she navigated the training, races, and her blossoming celebrity. I always love books by E. J. Noyes but this one was special in allowing us to get a glimpse of the future of some of our favorite characters and I'll be first in line if there are any more additions to the mix.
Karen C. - Another work of art by one of the most brilliant authors in the genre. I am not normally a fan of YA/NA, but I totally enjoyed the relationship between Stacey and Gemma. They each have been in love with each other forever but were afraid of ruining their friendship. I absolutely adored reliving my senior year in high school with Gemma, following along on Stacey's training journey, catching up with The Moms, and The Talk.
Queer A. Reviews - E. J. Noyes gives the readers a look back into Aspen and Cate’s life which is a bonus because they are two characters who readers are sure to still be asking questions about. Getting a glimpse into their way of parenting Gemma, and even Aspen’s role as Stacey’s coach opened the story up to be visible from more than the two young women’s perspectives. Schuss is a beautiful follow-up to Gold, and choosing to base it on Gemma and Stacey was genius.
Laura G. - E. J. Noyes is one of my favorite authors. One of the many things I love about her writing is how effortlessly she moves between genres so I shouldn't have been surprised that she gave us a YA/NA novel that I became totally invested in. Gold is one of my favorite books and I loved getting to see Cate and Aspen again and seeing how happy they still are. It's clear to both of them how deep Gemma and Stacy's feelings go, and they are there for the girls as they try to navigate all of the feelings they have swirling around.
E. J.'s books are usually incredibly hot but I enjoyed this book that was much more about the emotions that two young women feel and the fear that comes from those feelings. Schuss is sweet and filled with so much heart and I absolutely adored it.
Letícia U. - You can't go wrong with E. J. Noyes, and I really like that she risked writing a younger relationship. She depicted the characters really well and in a credible way. They were both really mature for their age, but I guess that makes sense giving their family relationship and the mature themes they have to deal with, with Stacey being a pro-athlete and all. I believed in them!
This is a fell good read with a bit of a slow-burn (I couldn't go through the pages fast enough until they finally kissed). I loved it!
Betty H. - This is an absolutely charming first-love, new-adult romance between characters that I had already bonded with. Seeing how they have grown and matured in the four years is a treat and watching the two struggle with their feelings for each other just melted my heart.… Schuss could be read as a standalone novel, but honestly, I think you should read both books together. They are wonderful stories, and I highly recommend them.
“That is so unfair!” I sounded like a bratty kid, and was surprised I hadn’t crossed my arms over my chest and stomped my foot.
Aspen’s expression was sympathetic. “I know you’re upset about it, Stacey, but that’s the way it is.” My coach’s calmness was infuriating. In the face of that calm matter-of-factness, my annoyance always vaporized.
“But—” I protested weakly.
“But nothing. In the last five months, as well as the Winter Olympics and the U.S. Team spring speed camp, you’ve had nine competitions, and podiums at every event.” As she spoke, she ticked off the locations on her fingers, as if it might strengthen her point. “Lake Louise, St. Moritz, Val d’Isere, Aspen/Highlands, Cortina, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Crans Montana, Lenzerheide, Courchevel/Meribel. Add in Beijing in February, and speed camp at Mammoth Mountain last week, and it’s no wonder you literally fell asleep leaning on your car after training today. I had to grab you before you faceplanted.”
“That’s just Nap-o-matic taking care of things. No big deal.” Some friends on the alpine ski racing circuit had dubbed me Nap-o-matic because I could, and did, sleep anywhere and at any time and in any position.
Aspen’s face was the epitome of Mhmm, exactly. “You’re exhausted and Nap-o-matic has been working overtime. So, we’re skipping the Downhill at Mammoth next week, and you’re having from tomorrow through Tuesday off training too. You can come back refreshed and ready to go hardcore with spring race training and the push into our off-season training.”
“But…” It was even weaker this time.
“But you don’t need more World Cup points this year, especially not from the one remaining race we had planned. This season’s globes have already been decided. You need to rest and reset both your body and your mind. You need to take a break from traveling. You need to look forward to future seasons, to the next two Olympics, if not the next three, look at protecting your career and not over-racing yourself. When you get tired, you lose focus and mistakes creep in. When mistakes creep in…” Her eyebrows rose as if she was just thinking about finishing that sentence.
My coach knew this better than anyone. I couldn’t really argue with her logic, and tried a different tack. “Did my parents make you do this?” It was tradition to go to Mammoth for my last race of the season. The fact I’d won the Downhill there the last three years in a row didn’t hurt.
“Of course not. You’re twenty, Stace. An adult. Legally at least.” Aspen grinned, and I returned it. She gripped my shoulders, jiggling me side to side. “You know your parents want you to succeed and have fun and stay safe, but you also know they don’t tell us how we train and compete. You’re not being punished, so calm down. It’s four days off training. You know, a vacation? Not even a vacation, just a tiny break.”
Most people on the circuit took a vacation mid-to-late April, heading somewhere tropical to defrost once the globes—the crystal-ball trophies handed out not only to the season’s highest points earners in each alpine racing discipline, but also the highest overall point scorer on both the men’s and women’s circuits—were handed out and all the “important” races were done. Not me. I was a winter person through and through, and lying inactive on a beach was close to my definition of torture.
So I’d take some chill time skiing wherever I could, as well as hiking and mountain biking with my best friend, Gemma. That was enough relaxation for me. Why go somewhere else when there was still snow on the ground? Nearly all the mountains would close to the public on May 1st, just over two weeks away, and there were no guarantees that the snow would hold, or that we’d get a top-up dump so we could make good on the “If there’s enough snow, select U.S. Alpine Ski Team members can train at Copper Mountain past official closing” clause thing. I huffed out a sound that I hoped conveyed that I wasn’t happy. It sounded more like I had asthma.
“A break will give you time to enjoy some normality.” Aspen glanced around. “Maybe you could finally unpack these moving boxes and buy some more furniture? Make things a little more homey? Settle in for real?”
Settle in… Late last year, I’d bitten the bullet and officially moved out of home and into a rental. Kind of. The four-bedroom house my parents owned in Edwards, Colorado, close to the mountains where I trained most often—Copper Mountain, Beaver Creek, and Golden Peak—was used to generate Airbnb income. Was. Now it generated a much smaller rental income from me. And to twist the knife, Mom and Dad had put all the furniture into storage, saying they wanted to give me plenty of space to store all my skiing gear and set up my home gym. Like a couch and coffee table and dining table were going to get in the way of gear storage.
Knowing my parents, emptying out the house was less about “giving me space,” and more about teaching me to be an adult by…making me buy a bunch of furniture. But I was adulting, in a very baby-steps kind of way. I’d moved in and promptly forgotten about shit like furniture and unpacking, more focused on training, and traveling around the world chasing points and a spot on the US Winter Olympic Team for Beijing 2022. My house had the necessities of course, but ninety percent of my belongings were still in boxes.
“Boring,” I muttered, still stuck in petulant-kid mode.
“Boring but necessary. I don’t want you living like a hobo. It makes me look bad,” she joked.
“I set up my gear room, and the gym with the simulator,” I pointed out. “I even put up my posters. That’s making it homey.” Because who wouldn’t want alpine race legends Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety and Bode Miller watching them train?
Aspen looked over to Brick like she was passing him the baton. Aspen, Steven “Brick” Mabrick—my agent and also Aspen’s former agent from when she was a pro—and I were standing around my breakfast bar. I’d thought it weird he was waiting for me when I’d arrived home, and also weird that Aspen had insisted on coming around after my afternoon gym session when I’d already seen her that morning. Now I knew. This was an ambush.
Brick pushed away from the breakfast bar. “Yeah, but you need to buy some furniture, kid. Or did you forget you’ve got that interview with Amanda Debnam next Friday? It’s too late for me to move it to a studio location, so you need to at least get some chairs or something for you two to sit on. Aspen’s right, you living like a hobo makes us look bad.”
Shit. I totally had forgotten about the interview. I raised my hands. “Okay, okay, fine. I’ll go buy some furniture and finish unpacking. But I’m still registering my strong disagreement to you pulling the plug on the season.”
Aspen sighed a sigh I knew well—the sigh of I know how you feel, but I’m still the boss. “Come on, Stace. Stop and think for a minute and you’ll see this is the best thing right now. You’ve given it everything this season and then more from the reserve tank. It’s time to rest.”
I looked between the two of them, unsurprised by their complete lack of contrition. “You guys are so mean.”
“We know,” they said in unison, both of them smiling.
This was a familiar routine, one we’d been through before. I never wanted to back down. I would race every day if I could, and was constantly being pulled back by my team and reminded of the importance of balance, and in particular—resting body and mind.
Aspen tugged me close for a side-on hug. “You’ve kicked ass this season and we’re all so proud of you.” She pulled out her ace card. “Now it’s time to practice what you preach and look after your physical and mental health ready for next season.”
She was right. Umph. I knew how important body-brain balance was for racing, and a few years ago, I’d partnered with the organization Smooth Tracks to promote the importance of mental health in athletes.
Aspen Archer also knew all about the importance of caring for your mental health. She was at the top of her game, gold-medal favorite, multi-Olympic medal winner already, when she crashed out of the Vancouver Olympics and shattered her leg, yet again. Only this time, it was serious enough for her to decide she couldn’t go through another year of recovery and rehabilitation. So, she’d retired. Not long after she became my coach, Aspen told me she’d been trying to out-ski her fear for years but it’d finally caught her. I knew her personal experience was why she was so insistent that I take care of myself both on and off the mountain. She was the best coach I’d ever had and not just in the “make me a better ski racer” way. I knew I could talk to her about anything, and I trusted her with my life. Literally.
I reached up to pat between Aspen’s shoulder blades. “I know, I know. But it’s still unfair.”
“Your objection is noted. Take these four days to rest. Just cardio and light strength training if you must, okay?”
“Okay.” Oh, I must.
“Light,” she warned, with a teasing finger wag.
“Light,” I agreed as I saluted. I’d be a good Stacey and do as she said, and probably spend some zen time skiing off-piste or in the backcountry. She hadn’t said I wasn’t allowed to ski, just no training, and cruising around the mountain wasn’t strenuous on body or mind. It was the opposite, setting me firmly in the chill zone.
“But I’m gonna kick your butt at Copper on Wednesday, so rest up good.”
I grinned at the thought of all that work. “Can’t wait.”
After Aspen and Brick left, I spent an hour unpacking a few boxes of clothes. There, I was practically moved in. So what if I still didn’t have a coffee or kitchen table or entertainment unit or anything in my bedroom aside from the bed and bedside table I’d brought with me. I was just about to call Naomi, my friend and fellow U.S. Alpine Ski Team member, to tell her I wouldn’t be seeing her in California next week, when I heard the unmistakable sound of tires on gravel on the turnaround out front.
I peeked through the blinds, my bad mood falling away instantly when I saw the green Subaru Forester. Gemma. My best friend, and one of the few people I felt truly comfortable being myself around. Gem was Aspen’s stepdaughter, so we’d met right after Aspen became my head coach at the end of 2017, and had fallen into the easiest, most comfortable friendship.
I didn’t have many friends, because the friends I’d had as a teenager had fallen away after high school. Sure, I had people on the race circuit that I could have unforced, friendly conversations with during races, people I cheered for and enjoyed spending time with when I was away, but I wouldn’t call any of them if I had a problem. I could probably classify Naomi as a good friend, but our friendship wasn’t what I’d call deep.
But Gemma? She’d help me bury a body, and vice versa.
Gem slammed her car door—which would have given her away as my visitor even if I hadn’t peeked to see who it was—and walked carefully up the path to my front door. I pulled the door open before she could press the doorbell, and without a word opened my arms to her.
Gemma fell into the hug, pressing her face against the front of my shoulder as she squeezed me. “Hey,” she mumbled against my hoodie. I felt her deep inhalation a second before her body softened with relaxation.
Wrapping my arms around her waist, I picked her up, holding her tightly against me as I spun her around. “Hey yourself,” I said before setting her down again. Hugging Gemma always made me feel safe. Having her there made everything okay.
Gem pulled back, and I just caught the expression in her huge, light-blue eyes before she managed to hide it. She looked at me that exact same way every single time I saw her, but it hadn’t taken her long to figure out a way to mask it after that millisecond of giving herself away. She looked at me like I was the best thing she’d seen all day. She looked at me like she wanted to say something, but was too frightened to let it out. She looked at me like she wanted to kiss me.
And if I wasn’t so freaking scared of ruining the best friendship I’d ever had, and one of my most important non-family relationships, then I’d probably have just grabbed her already and kissed her. Also, not to mention the fact she was my coach’s daughter, which could make things weird for all of us. I hadn’t always felt this desperation to kiss her…and more than just kiss her. Early in our friendship, when we were both in high school, I’d been aware that she seemed to have a crush on me, and had just ignored it—without being mean about it, of course. But somewhere in the last two years, it’d dawned on me that I not only loved her as a friend, but that I kinda loved her as more than that. Tricky tricky.
“You’re on spring break now, right?” I asked. When she nodded, I added, “So you can come weekday skiing with me a few times?”
That brightened her like nothing else, even though we skied together as much as my training and racing schedule allowed. “Absolutely.” Gem pulled off her wool hat, and her curly blond hair made a break for it. “Will Bree come too?” She tried to sound casual, but the forced neutrality of her expression told me she felt anything but.
“Doubtful.” My girlfriend tolerated skiing but was more invested in her acting stuff and circle of friends at CU Boulder, two hours-ish drive away.
“So it’ll just be you and me. The dream team.”
“Yup.” I carefully tucked a piece of hair that was trying to get into her mouth back behind her ear. “I didn’t think I’d see you today.”
“Aspen said you might need someone to talk to. I thought something bad had happened, but…” Gem’s eyebrows creased together, highlighting the little concentration line between them. “You just look…murderous, not sad.”
“I am sad, but annoyed is winning out. I got totally blindsided. Aspen says we’re done competing for the season, and I have to take four days off training. I mean, it was only Mammoth next week left on my race calendar. Just one more race. But nooo, I need to rest.” I huffed, and tried to stuff down my annoyance. I didn’t want to waste my time with Gem by being a grumpy ass.
“Shit,” Gem commiserated. “Sorry, Stace, that really sucks.” Ever loyal to Aspen, even as she remained loyal to me, she added, “I’m sure she’s just thinking of what’s best for you.” After pulling off her boots and leaving them lined up neatly on the rack, she shucked out of her coat and carefully hung it and her camera bag on one of the coat hooks. Gem rarely went anywhere without her digital SLR, and I couldn’t count how many times I’d stood around while she’d photographed or filmed something on a hike.
“I know. But it’s still shitty.”
“It really is,” she agreed. Then Gem grinned, squeezing my arms. “But, at least you’ll be around to keep me company for the first days of my spring break. Aaaaand, I know it’s selfish, but I really wanted to get some more footage of you training and if you raced at Mammoth then we might have run out of time, and good snow for me to film you on. So…win?” Gem fluttered her eyelashes at me. She did that a lot whenever she was trying to get me to agree to something—which I always did, without needing any persuasion.
I’d agreed to “star” in a short film to add to Gem’s portfolio and was a little nervous about the final product. Not because I thought she wouldn’t do a fantastic job, but because I was worried I might do something stupid and ruin her footage. She’d already applied to her colleges, so it wouldn’t mess that up. But it’d be there when she was ready to apply to her dream institution after college—the American Film Institute in LA. The thought of her living in California, or New York or Boston or Chicago or wherever she’d go for college and beyond made me feel kinda sick. We spent time apart when I was out of state or overseas racing, but she was always right here when I came home, and college would change that. Of course I was super proud of my best friend, and wanted her to chase her dreams to the end of the earth. But selfishly, I also wanted her nearby.
Smiling, I agreed, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s a win.” Determined to mope no more, I changed the subject to one of my favorites. Food. “You hungry?” When she nodded, I pulled open the fridge. Without asking or being asked, Gem grabbed a cutting board, extracted bread from my pantry, and slathered slices with mayo. I handled ham and turkey while she dealt with salad and cheese. Double meat for me, ham only for Gem.
“How much more stuff do you need?” I asked. “Raw footage stuff I mean.” She’d already filmed me training on snow—start drills, ski drills, GoPro footage from my PoV (or, more accurately, my helmet’s PoV), drone footage, more drills.
“Can you give me a session at the gym? Maybe another on-snow training session, or even just some non-training skiing? And I still need you to record some voiceover too.”
“Yup, no worries, can do. Tell Aspen I’m cool with whenever you want to film my on-snow training.”
“Thanks, Stace. The more I have, the more I can work with. I’m trying something different with this one, making it kinda unscripted, just seeing how I’m feeling the footage and stuff, and how it wants to come together.” She passed me the mayo knife to lick clean.
“You know,” I said around licks, “you could just give up your dream of making documentaries for Nat Geo and make ski movies instead. Come with me on the racing circuit and I’ll give you my best side every day. Promise.”
Gem’s laugh was short, but she packed a whole lot of mirthful disbelief into it. “Surrrre. I’ll just follow you around forever and film everything you’re doing, like a 24/7 Stacey Evans reality show.”
“Sounds awesome.” I stole a slice of tomato from her, blowing her a kiss when she mock-scowled. “Are we doing a formal interview, or…?”
“Nah. Unless you want to?”
I shrugged. “It’s your thing, Gemmy Gem. I’ll do whatever you want.”
She paused for a moment, her mouth twisted into its thinking expression. “Okay. Let’s just do question-answer to lead you into giving me some soundbites. You’ve done enough media stuff since Beijing.”
Enough media stuff since Beijing was an understatement. Winning a bronze medal was amazing, but it came with a whole lot of media commitments. I loved talking to people, but answering the same questions over and over was super draining.
Gemma continued, “And if I don’t get what I need from just us talking then we can record you doing some cool lines like ‘I have no fear’ or ‘I am Stacey Evans, Olympic bronze medalist and winner of World Cup races, and I am the greatest speed skier in the world!’ or ‘I love skiing!’ or…something.” She’d adopted a deeper voice to put forth her ideas about what I could say for her video project. “And then we’ll have Aspen saying ‘Stacey Evans is the best skier I’ve ever coached, except for my daughter, Gemma, who will never be a ski racer so she doesn’t really count.’”
I snort-laughed. “Yeah, you really need to work on those lines. And I’m definitely not the greatest speed skier in the world.”
“Ye-etttt,” she singsonged.
“Ever if Aspen and Brick have their way.” It was a really unfair thing to say about the people who had my back at every turn, and I regretted it instantly. “You know what I mean,” I mumbled.
She bumped me with her shoulder. “They’re just looking out for you. That’s what coaches and trainers and managers are supposed to do, right?”
“Right.” I sliced my sandwiches into rectangles, and Gem’s into triangles.
She grabbed her plate and sat opposite me at the breakfast bar. “And I know you’re mad, but I kinda agree with them. You’ve kicked ass this season and I don’t want you getting hurt because you’re exhausted.”
“You’re too sweet,” I said.
“No, I mean it. If you get hurt, then this film project will go to shit.” She smiled around her mouthful of sandwich to show me she was kidding. Mostly. “You went to the freakin’ Olympics, Stace, and you won a medal there. At your first Olympics. You’ve stood on the podium for all of your World Cup races this season. You’ve got nothing more to prove to anyone right now. Not ever.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s just…I want people to be proud of me. I just wanted a little more this season, and I know I could have gotten more from myself.”
Her smile started slowly, but quickly turned bright, brilliant. “Of course you could have. And we are proud of you. I’m proud of you and I love you just as you are.”
I forced myself to smile goofily when all I wanted to do was climb over the breakfast bar and hug her. “Do you love me enough to brave furniture shopping with me? I’ve got a journalist coming round Friday to do an interview.”
“It’s because I love you that I’ll go, because if I don’t, you’ll end up buying the ugliest stuff and it’ll be all over television for the whole country to see.”