Pub: October 7, 2014
Simon & Schuster Books for Young ReadersPre-Order
Brit Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.
Britt is forced to guide the men off the mountain, and knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there…and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.
But nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?
Black Ice is New York Times bestselling author Becca Fitzpatrick’s riveting romantic thriller set against the treacherous backdrop of the mountains of Wyoming. Falling in love should never be this dangerous…
from Chapter One
Ten minutes later, I was in the store, filling a cup with Blue Raspberry Slurpee. I drank some off the top and refilled it. Willie Hennessey, who was working the register, gave me the evil eye.
“Good grief,” he said. “Help yourself, why don’t you?”
“Since you offered,” I said cheerfully, and stuck the straw between my lips once more before refilling.
“I’m supposed to keep law and order in here.”
“Two little sips, Willie. Nobody’s going bankrupt over two sips. When did you become such a crank?”
“Since you started pilfering Slurpee and pretending you can’t operate the gas pump so I have to come out and fill your tank for you. Every time you pull in, I want to kick myself.”
I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t want my hands smelling like gas. And you are particularly good at pumping gas, Willie,” I added with a flattering smile.
“Practice makes perfect,” he muttered.
I padded barefoot through the aisles looking for Twizzlers and Cheez-Its, thinking that if Willie didn’t like pumping my gas he really should get another job, when the front door chimed. I didn’t even hear footsteps before a pair of warm, calloused hands slipped over my eyes from behind.
His familiar soapy smell seemed to freeze me. I prayed he couldn’t feel my face heat up under his touch. For the longest moment, I couldn’t find my voice. It seemed to shrink inside me, bouncing painfully down my throat.
“Give me a clue,” I said, hoping I sounded bored. Or mildly annoyed. Anything but hurt.
“Short. Fat. Obnoxious overbite.” His smooth, teasing voice after all these months. It sounded familiar and foreign at the same time. Feeling him so close made me dizzy from nerves. I was afraid I’d start yelling at him, right here in the 7-Eleven. If I let him get too close, I was afraid I might not yell at him. And I wanted to yell—I’d spent eight months practicing what I’d say and I was ready to let it out.
“In that case, I’ll have to go with . . . Calvin Versteeg.” I sounded carelessly polite. I was sure of it. And I couldn’t think of a bigger relief.
Cal came around me and leaned an elbow on the aisle’s endcap. He gave me a wolfish smile. He had nailed the whole devilishly charming thing years ago. I’d been a sucker for it back then, but I was stronger now.
Ignoring his handsome face, I gave him a bored once-over. By the looks of it, he’d let his pillow style his hair this morning. It was longer than I remembered. On the hottest days of track practice, when sweat dripped off the tips, his hair had turned the color of tree bark. The memory made something inside me ache. I shoved aside my nostalgia and eyed Calvin with cool detachment. “What do you want?”
Without asking, he bent my Slurpee straw sideways and helped himself. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Tell me about this camping trip.”
I yanked my Slurpee out of his reach. “Backpacking trip.” I felt it was important to make the distinction. Anyone could camp. Backpacking required skill and moxie.
“Got everything you need?” he went on.
“And a few wants, too.” I shrugged. “Hey, a girl needs her lip gloss.”
“Let’s be honest. Korbie will never let you leave the cabin. She’s terrified of fresh air. And you can’t say no to her.” He tapped his head wisely. “I know you girls.”
I gave him a look of indignation. “We’re backpacking for one full week. Our route is forty miles long.” So maybe it was a teensy exaggeration. In fact, Korbie had agreed to no more than two miles of hiking per day, and had insisted we hike in circles around Idlewilde, in case we needed quick access to amenities or cable TV. While I’d never truly expected to backpack the entire week, I had planned to leave Korbie and Bear at the cabin for a day and trek off on my own. I wanted to put my training to the test. Obviously now that Calvin was joining us, he was going to find out about our true plans soon enough, but at the moment my biggest priority was impressing him. I was sick of him forever insinuating that he had no reason to take me seriously. I could always deal with any flak he might give me later by insisting that I’d wanted to backpack the whole week and Korbie was holding me back—Calvin wouldn’t find that excuse far-fetched.
“You do know that several of the hiking trails are still covered in snow, right? And the lodges haven’t opened for the season, so people are sparse. Even the Jenny Lake Ranger Station is closed. Your safety is your own responsibility—they don’t guarantee rescue.”
I gazed at him with round eyes. “You don’t say! I’m not going into this completely in the dark, Calvin,” I snapped. “I’ve got it covered. We’ll be fine.”
He rubbed his mouth, hiding a smile, his thoughts perfectly clear.
“You really don’t think I can do it,” I said, trying not to sound stung.
“I just think the two of you will have more fun if you go to Lava Hot Springs. You can soak in the mineral pools.”
“I’ve been training for this trip all year,” I argued. “You don’t know how hard I’ve worked, because you haven’t been around. You haven’t seen me in eight months. I’m not the same girl you left behind. You don’t know me anymore.”
“Point made,” he said, flipping up his palms to show it was an innocent suggestion. “But why Idlewilde? There’s nothing to do up there. You and Korbie will be bored after the first night.”
I didn’t know why Calvin was so set on dissuading me. He loved Idlewilde. And he knew as well as I did that there was plenty to do there. Then it hit me. This wasn’t about me or Idlewilde. He didn’t want to have to tag along. He didn’t want to spend time with me. If he got me to drop the trip, his dad wouldn’t force him to join us, and he’d get his spring break back.
Digesting this painful realization, I cleared my throat. “How much are your parents paying you to tag along?”
He made a big deal of looking me over in mock critical evaluation. “Clearly not enough.”
So that’s how we were going to play this. A little meaningless flirtation here, a little banter there. In my imagination, I took a black marker and drew a big X through Calvin’s name.
“Just so we’re clear, I argued against having you come. You and me together again? Talk about uncomfortable.” It had sounded better in my head. Hanging between us now, the words sounded jealous and petty and mean—exactly like an ex-girlfriend would sound. I didn’t want him to know I was still hurting. Not when he was all smiles and winks.
“That so? Well, this chaperone just cut your curfew by an hour,” he jested.
I nodded beyond the store’s plate-glass window toward the four-wheel-drive BMW X5 parked outside. “Yours?” I guessed. “Yet another gift from your parents, or do you actually do more than chase girls at Stanford, such as hold down a respectable job?”
“My job is chasing girls.” An odious grin. “But I wouldn’t call it respectable.”
“No serious girlfriend, then?” I couldn’t bring myself to look at him, but I felt immense pride over my oh-so-casual tone. I told myself I didn’t care about his answer one way or another. In fact, if he’d moved on, it was yet another flashing green light telling me I was free to do the same.
He poked me. “Why? You got a boyfriend?”
“Yeah, right.” He snorted. “Korbie would have told me.”
I stood my ground, arching my eyebrows smugly. “Believe it or not, there are some things Korbie doesn’t tell you.”
His eyebrows furrowed. “Who is he?” he asked warily, and I could tell he was thinking about buying my story.
The best way to remedy a lie is not to tell another lie. But I did anyway.
“You don’t know him. He’s new in town.”
He shook his head. “Too convenient. I don’t believe you.” But his tone suggested he might.
I felt an overpowering urge to prove to him that I had moved on—with or without closure, and in this case, without. And not only that, but that I’d moved on to a much, much better guy. While Calvin was busy being an oily womanizer in California, I was not—I repeat, not—moping around and pining over old photographs of him.
“That’s him. See for yourself,” I said without thinking.
Calvin’s eyes followed my gesture outside to the red Volkswagen Jetta parked at the nearest gas pump. The guy pumping gas into the Jetta was a couple years older than me. His brown hair was cropped, and it showed off the striking symmetry of his face. With the sun at his back, shadows marked the depressions beneath his cheekbones. I couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but I hoped they were brown. For no other reason than that Calvin’s were a deep, lush green. The guy had straight, sculpted shoulders that made me think swimmer, and I had never seen him before.
“That guy? Saw him on my way in. Plates are Wyoming.” Calvin sounded unconvinced.
“Like I said, new in town.”
“He’s older than you.”
I looked at him meaningfully. “And?”
The door chimed and my fake boyfriend strolled inside. He was even better-looking up close. And his eyes were most definitely brown—a weathered brown that reminded me of driftwood. He reached into his back pocket for his wallet, and I grabbed Calvin’s arm and hauled him behind a shelf stacked with Fig Newtons and Oreos.
“What are we doing?” Calvin asked, staring at me like I’d sprouted two heads.
“I don’t want him to see me,” I whispered.
“Because he’s not really your boyfriend, right?”
“That’s not it. It’s—”
Where was a third lie when I needed it?
Cal smiled devilishly, and the next thing I knew, he had shaken off my hand and was ambling toward the front counter. I trapped a groan between my teeth and watched, peering between the two top shelves.
“Hey,” Calvin said affably to the guy, who wore a buffalo-check flannel shirt, jeans, and hiking boots.
With barely a glance up, the guy tipped his head in acknowledgment.
“I hear you’re dating my ex,” Calvin said, and there was something undeniably wicked in his tone. He was giving me a taste of my own medicine, and he knew it.
Calvin’s remark drew the full attention of the guy. He studied Calvin curiously, and I felt my cheeks grow even hotter.
“You know, your girlfriend,” Calvin prodded. “Hiding behind the cookies over there.”
He was pointing at me.
I straightened, my head surfacing above the top shelf. I smoothed my shirt and opened my mouth, but there were no words. No words at all.
The guy looked beyond Calvin to me. Our gazes locked briefly, and I mouthed a humiliated I can explain. . . . But I couldn’t.
Then something unexpected happened. The guy looked squarely at Calvin, and said in an easy, unruffled voice, “Yeah. My girlfriend. Britt.”
I flinched. He knew my name?
Calvin appeared similarly startled. “Oh. Hey. Sorry, man. I thought—” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Calvin Versteeg,” he stammered awkwardly. “Britt’s . . . ex.”
Mason eyed Calvin’s outstretched hand but didn’t take it. He placed three twenties on the counter for Willie Hennessey. Then he crossed to me and kissed my cheek. It was a no-frills kiss, but my pulse thrummed just the same. He smiled, and it was a warm, sexy smile. “I see you haven’t gotten over your Slurpee addiction, Britt.”
Slowly I smiled back. If he was game for this, then so was I. “I saw you pull in, and needed something to cool me off.” I fanned myself while gazing up at him adoringly.
His eyes crinkled at the edges. I was pretty sure he was laughing on the inside.
I said, “You should stop by my house later, Mason, because I bought a new lip gloss that could use a test run. . . .”
“Ah. Kissing game?” he said without missing a beat.
I shot a covert glance at Calvin to gauge how he was handling the flirting. Much to my enjoyment, he looked like he’d caught a mouthful of lemon peel.
“You know me—always spicing things up,” I returned silkily.
Calvin cleared his throat and folded his arms over his chest. “Shouldn’t you be heading out, Britt? You really should get to the cabin before dark.”
Something undecipherable clouded Mason’s eyes. “Going camping?” he asked me.
“Backpacking,” I corrected. “In Wyoming—the Tetons. I was going to tell you, but . . .” Ack! What possible reason could I come up with for not telling my boyfriend about this trip? So close to pulling this off, and I was going to blow it.
“But it seemed unimportant, since I’m heading out of town too, and we won’t be able to spend the week together anyway,” Mason finished easily.
I met his eyes again. Good-looking, quick on his feet, game for anything—even pretending to be the boyfriend of a girl he’d never met—and a frighteningly good liar. Who was this guy? “Yes, exactly,” I murmured.
Calvin cocked his head at me. “When we were together, did I ever take off for a week without telling you?”
You took off for eight months, I thought snidely. And broke up with me on the most important night of my life. Jesus said forgive, but there’s always room for an exception.
I said to Mason, “By the way, Daddy wants to have you over for dinner next week.”
Calvin made a strangled noise. Once, when he’d brought me home five minutes after curfew, we’d pulled into the driveway to see my dad standing on the porch tapping a golf driver in his palm. He’d marched over and smacked it against Calvin’s black Ford F-150, leaving a nice round crater. “Next time you bring her home late, I’ll aim for the headlights,” he’d said. “Don’t be stupid enough to need three warnings.”
He hadn’t meant it, not really. Since I was the baby of the family and the only girl, my dad had a grouchy streak when it came to the boys I dated. But actually, my dad was a lovable old bear. Still, Calvin never broke curfew again.
And never once had he been allowed to come to dinner.
“Tell your dad I could use a few more fly-fishing tips,” Mason said, continuing to hold up our charade. Miraculously, he’d also correctly guessed my dad’s favorite sport. This entire encounter was starting to feel . . . eerie. “Oh, and one more thing, Britt.” He combed his hand through my hair, pushing it off my shoulder. I held perfectly still, his touch freezing my breath inside me. “Be safe. Mountains are dangerous this time of year.”
I gawked with amazement at him until he pulled out of the gas station and drove off.
He knew my name. He’d saved my butt. He knew my name.
Granted, it was printed across the chest of my purple orchestra-camp tee, but Calvin hadn’t noticed that.
“I thought you were lying,” Calvin told me, looking stupefied.
I handed Willie a five for my Slurpee and pocketed the change. “As satisfying as this conversation has been,” I told Calvin, “I should probably go do something more productive. Like key that Bimmer of yours. It’s too pretty.”
“Just like me?” He waggled his brows hopefully.
I filled my cheeks with Slurpee, miming that I intended to spit it at him. He jumped clear and, to my satisfaction, erased his cocky grin at long last.
“See you tonight at Idlewilde,” Calvin called after me as I pushed out of the store.
By way of answer, I gave him a thumbs-up.
My middle finger would have been too obvious.
As I passed Calvin’s BMW in the parking lot, I noticed the doors were unlocked. I glanced back to make sure he wasn’t watching, then made a split-second decision. Climbing through the passenger door, I knocked his rearview mirror out of alignment, dribbled Slurpee on the floor mats, and stole his vintage CD collection from the glove box. It was a petty thing to do, but it made me feel a smidge better.
I’d give the CDs back tonight—after I’d scratched a few of his favorites.
A few hours later, Korbie and I were on the road. Calvin had taken off before us, and I had Korbie to blame. When I’d rung her doorbell, she had been packing yet another bag, languidly pulling shirts from her closet and handpicking lipsticks from her cosmetics case. I’d sat on her bed, trying to speed things up by stuffing everything into the bag.
I’d really hoped to beat Calvin to Idlewilde. Now he’d get first dibs on a bedroom, and his stuff would be spread around the cabin by the time we arrived. Knowing him, he’d lock up behind himself and force us to knock, like guests. Which was infuriating, since this was our trip, not his.
Korbie and I had the top down, to enjoy the warmth of the valley before the cold mountain air hit. We had the music cranked. Korbie had made a mixtape for the trip, and we were listening to that song from the—seventies? eighties?—that went, “Get outta my dreams, get into my car.” Calvin’s smug face was still floating around in the back of my mind, and it was bothering me. I firmly believed in the adage “Fake it till you make it,” so I pasted on a smile and giggled as Korbie tried to hit the high notes.
After a quick stop for more Red Bull, we left behind the horse pastures and green farmlands, with tidy rows of corn seedlings whizzing by in a blur, and climbed to higher elevation. The road narrowed, lodgepole pines and quaking aspens crowding up against the shoulders. The air rushing through my hair felt cool and clean. White and blue wildflowers burst from the ground, and the world smelled sharp and earthy. I bumped my sunglasses higher on my nose and grinned. My first trip without my dad or my big brother, Ian. No way was I going to let Calvin spoil it. I wasn’t going to let him ruin my mood on the drive, and I wasn’t going to let him ruin my week in the mountains. Screw him. Screw him, and have fun. It seemed like a good mantra for the week.
The sky was such a dazzling blue it hurt my eyes, the sun glinting off the windshield as we came around a bend. I blinked to sharpen my vision, and then I saw them. The white glacial horns of the Teton Range jutting up in the distance. Sharp, vertical peaks soared into the sky like snow-tipped pyramids. The view was mesmerizing and overwhelming—the sheer vastness of trees, slopes, and sky.
Korbie leaned out the window with her iPhone to take the best shot. “I had a dream last night about that girl who was killed by drifters in the mountains last summer,” she said.
“The white-water rafting guide?” Macie O’Keeffe. I remembered her name from the news. She was really smart and had a full ride to Georgetown. She disappeared sometime around Labor Day.
“Aren’t you freaked out something like that could happen to us?”
“No,” I said sensibly. “She went missing really far from where we’ll be. And there was no proof that drifters killed her. That’s just what everyone assumes. Maybe she got lost. Anyway, it’s too early for drifters to be camping by the river. Plus, we’ll be up in the mountains, where the drifters don’t go.”
“Yeah, but it’s kind of creepy.”
“It happened last summer. And it was only one girl.”
“Yeah? What about Lauren Huntsman, the socialite who was on every news channel last year?” Korbie argued.
“Korbie. Stop it. Seriously. Do you know how many thousands of people come to the mountains and make it home safely?”
“Lauren disappeared very close to where we’ll be,” Korbie insisted.
“She disappeared from Jackson Hole, miles from where we’ll be. And she was drunk. They think she waded into a lake and drowned.”
“On the news they said people saw her leave the bar with a cowboy in a black Stetson.”
“One person saw that. And they never found the cowboy. He probably doesn’t exist. If we were in any danger, my dad wouldn’t have let me come.”
“I guess,” Korbie said, sounding unconvinced. Thankfully, a few minutes later she seemed to have shed her apprehension. “T minus two hours and we’ll be roasting marshmallows at Idlewilde!” she cheered at the blue dome of sky.
The Versteegs had owned Idlewilde as long as I could remember. It was more of a lodge than a cabin in the woods. Three stone chimneys jutted from a gabled rooftop. Idlewilde had six bedrooms—seven if you counted the sofa bed in the basement next to the foosball and pool tables—a wraparound deck, a stunning bank of south-facing windows, and nooks and crannies galore. While the Versteegs occasionally spent Christmas at Idlewilde—Mr. Versteeg had his pilot’s license and had bought a single-engine helicopter to get up the mountain, since most roads were snow-packed and closed until springtime—they used it almost exclusively as a summer home, and had installed an apron of lawn with a hot tub, badminton court, and fire pit nestled between lounge chairs.
Two Christmases ago, I’d spent my vacation at Idlewilde with Korbie’s family, but not this past Christmas. Calvin had gone to the home of one of his college roommates for the holiday, and Korbie and her parents had gone skiing in Colorado, leaving Idlewilde vacant. I’d never visited Idlewilde without Mr. and Mrs. Versteeg. I couldn’t picture it without Mr. Versteeg’s watchful eye following us like a shadow.
This time, it was just us kids. No adults and no rules. A year ago, being alone with Calvin for a week would have seemed forbidden and dangerous, a secret fantasy come true. Now I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say to him when we bumped into each other in the hallway. I wondered if he was dreading this as much as I was. At least our first awkward run-in was out of the way.
“Do you have any gum?” Korbie asked, and before I could stop her, she opened my glove box and Calvin’s CD collection tumbled out. She picked it up and eyed it quizzically. “Isn’t this my brother’s?”
I’d been caught; might as well own it. “I took it from his car this morning at the gas station. He was being a jerk. I was totally justified. Don’t worry, I’ll give it back.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with the whole Calvin thing?” Korbie asked, clearly finding it strange that I’d stolen his CDs. “He’s just a butt-face to me, but I keep reminding myself that you guys were, like, together. Or whatever. We can talk about it as much as you want—just don’t bring up kissing. The thought of anyone swapping spit with my brother, especially you, is vomit-inducing.” She shoved her finger down her throat for emphasis.
“Totally over him.” What a big fat lie. I was not over Calvin. The fake boyfriend I felt compelled to make up proved it. Before this morning, I really believed I’d moved on, but when I saw Cal, my repressed emotions had boiled to the surface. I hated that I still felt something for him, even if it was intense negative emotion. I hated that I was still giving him power to hurt me. I had so many bad memories inextricably linked to Calvin. Did Korbie not remember that he broke up with me the night of homecoming? I had a dress and dinner reservations at Ruby Tuesday, and I’d paid my and Calvin’s portion of the limo rental. And I was up for homecoming queen! I had dreamed countless times of what it would feel like to stand on the football field wearing a crown, beaming as the crowd clapped and cheered, and how it would feel afterward, dancing in Calvin’s arms.
We’d planned to meet at my house at eight, and when eight thirty rolled around with still no Cal, I actually worried he’d been in an accident. I knew his flight wasn’t delayed—I’d tracked its progress online. The rest of our group had left in the limo, and I was on the brink of tears.
And then the phone rang. Calvin hadn’t even left California. He’d waited until the last minute to call, and he didn’t bother to fake an apologetic tone. In a smooth, unconcerned voice, he told me he wasn’t coming.
“You waited until now to tell me?” I exclaimed.
“I’ve had a lot on my mind.”
“This is so typical. You haven’t called me in weeks. You haven’t returned any of my calls in days.” Calvin wasn’t the same person since leaving for college. It was like he got a taste of freedom, and everything changed. I was no longer a priority.
“I should have known you’d do something like this,” I snapped. I was trying so hard not to cry. He wasn’t coming. I didn’t have a date for homecoming.
“You’re monitoring the frequency of my calls? I’m not sure how I feel about that, Britt.”
“Seriously? You’re making me out to be the creep? Do you know how much you’re letting me down right now?”
“You’re exactly like my dad, always whining that I’m not good enough,” he said defensively.
“You’re an asshole!”
“Maybe we shouldn’t be in a relationship,” he said stiffly.
“Maybe we shouldn’t!”
The worst part was, I could hear loud music and sports broadcasts in the background. He was in a bar. I’d placed so many expectations on this night, and he was getting drunk. I slammed the phone down and burst into tears.
These memories were starting to make me grumpy. I really wished I didn’t have to talk about Calvin. It was chipping away at my determination to keep a positive attitude. It would be much easier to fake happy if I didn’t have to waste energy convincing the whole world that I was peachy, just peachy.
“It’s not going to be weird with him around?” Korbie pressed.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
She narrowed her eyes speculatively. “You’re not going to use this opportunity to hook up with him again, are you?”
“Gross. Please never ask me that again.” But the thought had occurred to me. It totally had. What if Calvin made a pass at me? It wasn’t hard to imagine. Korbie and Bear would be all over each other. Which left Calvin and me. It wouldn’t surprise me if he tried something. Which meant I had to decide right now if I was going to let him.
Maybe, if I thought he’d really moved on, I could forget about him. But the way he’d looked at me at the 7-Eleven? When I was flirting with Mason? If that wasn’t regret, I didn’t know what was.
But this time, I decided, I was going to make him work for my attention. He’d humiliated me, and he had a lot of making up for it to do. I wouldn’t take him back until he’d sufficiently suffered. A little groveling with a cherry on top. Calvin knew I wasn’t a cheater, which would work to my advantage. I’d have some fun with him and then dump him, claiming guilt over cheating on my fake boyfriend.
You know what they say about payback? Pretty soon, Calvin was going to know too.
You’ve just read an excerpt from Black Ice.
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