“Make sure she pronounces his last name correctly. True-x, not True-oh. The x is not silent, for God’s sake.” Cam, Dylan’s personal assistant, told the older woman. Dylan was doing a television interview, and by the look on the older woman’s face, Dylan was sure she knew by now that his last name was pronounced True-x. Although, in Cam’s defense, Dylan was also aware that there were people who pronounced it the latter.
“I know it’s Truex. I’ve personally followed Mr. Truex’s rise to fame and fortune for the past few years. I get it.”
Cam nodded and motioned for Dylan to sit on the large boulder on set. They weren’t actually going to be outside filming. It was a set made to look as if they were. It wasn’t exactly summer weather yet. In fact, there was a storm supposed to be moving in tonight over the mountains and Dylan could only think of other places he’d rather be than where he was.
The interview was set to air in another month—just in time for the weather to clear—and show people what types of fitness activities they could do outside. A small clip for the morning show. The producer was a friend of his dad’s so Dylan had no problem doing the ten-minute spot, answering a few questions and showing viewers some quick outdoor repetitions.
“Alright, we’re going to record in five—”
Someone smoothed a make-up brush over Dylan’s face, blotting away moisture, and he straightened his posture, ready for the cameras to roll and even more ready to get back home and hit the gym.
* * *
Dylan finished his last repetition and set the barbells back onto the rack and wiped the sweat away from his forehead. Wanting to quit, he forced himself to a couple reps of box jumps before he called it a day.
He held his phone out, being sure to line up his six-pack and sweat-drenched face—even his close-cropped brown hair—within the screen of his phone before snapping a photo. Not liking an errant misplaced hair from his beard from the first one, he snapped a second selfie and immediately posted it to social media. Nothing beats a day at the gym. #dirtygains. #guyswholift. #workforit. Then the other standard tags that were associated with his fitness empire.
He smiled at the immediate onslaught of comments and likes that blew up his feed before he stowed his phone back into his shorts pocket and headed for the shower. Dylan had no problem smiling for the camera or convincing people to follow his workout regimen. He’d recently released a fitness program tailored to women, thanks to Jillian’s mouthy sister Arabella, and to give her credit, it was on fire.
Problem was, Dylan was beyond burnt out.
Not from working out per se. Okay, kinda. Working out was in his blood. It was a part of him as much as his heart was a part of him. His body and his mind thrived on the endorphins he got from being at the gym. He didn’t need a break from the gym, he needed a break from reality. What he was burnt out on was his celebrity status. What happened to the good old days of going to the gym and enjoying his workout? Now, he was such big news that everyone expected him to go to the gym, post all this positive crap and look toward him for inspiration.
The pressure was slowly killing him.
His doctor warned him that at thirty-five, his probability of having a stress-related heart attack was well-above the average for his age. Going so far as to putting him on medication. But how could he stop his life? This was his empire. Not only that, he loved the inspiration he gave people. Likes and comments were second nature even if he was exhausted. Yes, his friends gave him crap about his conceitedness, but hey.
Every woman wanted him.
Some men too.
The women went wild when he posted a pic of his v-line aka iliac furrow. The tight external oblique’s of his lower half near his hips that formed the shape of a V. Some men claimed they had it. But Dylan, he had it. It was pronounced and firm and deep. And led to bigger things. #VLine or sometimes just #TheV sent women into overdrive. So much so that even he couldn’t believe what kind of comments he was reading, left on his posts by horny-ass women.
He shed his shorts, briefly allowing his fingertips to tread over the prominent muscle before he stepped into the scalding shower. Celeb status wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Sure, it had its moments where the food, booze and women came easily. In the beginning that was all he looked forward to along with the attention. He loved the attention.
Enjoying the gym made it that much easier for him. He was blessed. He got that. He knew the majority of his followers struggled with their weight and commitments to working out. He understood that for them it was a large part of their life—a daily struggle—to lose weight or to feel and be fit.
He knew they were vying to look like him. Which was why all the social media crap was important. It was a large part of his career. It was separate from the videos. It was part of what made his career. Dylan Truex with the Blue Verified checkmark? Hells yeah.
Sure, his biggest fitness program to date was his Work For It 60 day challenge where he offered daily tips and videos sent straight to a person’s inbox. Subscribers also received the complete series on DVD to work out with from home. If they opted out of the DVD, they were able to stream everything straight from their smart phone with his members-only area. Most people his age and younger opted for the streaming.
Dylan gently pounded his head against the tile inside the shower as the scalding water dripped down his back. Social media was his life. His platform. His entire world. How could he ever have a break?
As he scrubbed the bar of soap all over his body, a light bulb went off in his head. Estes Park, Colorado. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? He actually had Regina—Dylan’s good friend Michael Vilander’s grandmother—to thank for that as she mentioned in passing yesterday that she was taking her friends Lance and Vance to the Stanley. That reminded him of when about a year ago he’d rented out an amazing condo that sat along the river just a few miles west of downtown Estes and he’d never felt more relaxed since starting his fitness empire.
He hadn’t been alone then. He’d rented it with his friends Justin Hollinsworth and Zander Morgan. They’d spent Memorial Day weekend fishing and drinking like most bachelors did. Cole and Michael had rented the cabin next to them when they were also bachelors—which they no longer were. A pity for them.
Dylan swore it was in the sugar cookies Michael’s grandmother, Regina, made for them. Every time one of his friends ate one, they ended up in bed for two weeks with a lady and then next thing he knew, they were a solidified couple. He steered clear of those cookies, tempting as they were. That was the last thing he needed. Talk about stress levels. A woman for good? That’d surely kill him.
Excited about the Estes Park getaway, Dylan shut the shower off in haste. His mind was made up. He was renting out that condo and staying in Estes for two weeks. Hell, maybe three. He wasn’t so far away from Denver that he couldn’t come back in case of an emergency. But he was far enough away to simply chill.
All by himself.
He sent a text to Justin asking for the contact info for the condo. He’d have Cam book it for him so no one would know where he’d be for the next few weeks. With all of his loose ends tied up and his mind sold on the idea, Dylan began to pack for the mountains.
Coat. Gloves. Hat. Boots. Snow pants. Regular pants. Plenty of sweat-wicking shirts as well as all his shirts that kept the heat in. He packed all his toiletries. He was good to go.
The second Justin sent him the contact info, he dialed Cam, who answered on the first ring. He always did.
“Cam. I need you to do something for me,” Dylan said in a hurry.
“Anything,” Cam replied.
“I just sent you the contact info. Can you book the condo for two weeks for me? I need to go off the grid for a while.”
“What do you mean go off the grid?” Panic turned Cam’s generally smooth voice into a screeching one. “Like no contact whatsoever? Or do you mean just a vacation and you can still post shit?”
“I need a break. A vacation. I can’t make any promises, but I’ll post when I can. You can handle everything while I’m gone, right? I don’t have shows that I’m set to record in the next month. You should be good.” Dylan reassured Cam because one, Cam always needed reassuring—he was an excellent assistant and worried constantly—and two, this was the best time to do this if he really wanted to get away. Just after the holidays Estes Park would be empty.
“You have to promise me I’ll be able to contact you in case I need anything. And where the hell is this cabin?” Cam asked.
“It’s not a cabin. That sounds so…woodsy. It’s a condo. On the river. In Estes Park.” Dylan heard Cam’s sigh of relief at knowing Dylan wasn’t going that far off the grid.
“Alright. Estes Park is manageable.” Dylan could hear the tapping sounds coming from Cam’s phone. “The temp there right now is a high of thirty. It’s going to be below eighteen degrees tonight. Feels like six,” Cam rambled. “Snow is in the forecast. An eighty percent chance of snow in the next two hours. You realize that little river you’re talking about has a good chance of being frozen, right?”
Dylan threw in a few hand and foot warmers he managed to scrounge from a junk drawer in his kitchen.
“Can you manage to get a snow mobile delivered to me up there? I want the fastest they got. It’ll be fine. Who knows? Maybe once I stock up on food and drink, I won’t have to go anywhere. Which is exactly what I need. Oh, and throw in some attire—goggles—shit like that with the snow mobile.”
Dylan ran back into his room, rummaging through drawers looking for his stocking cap. Spotting the camouflage print, he picked it up. Perfect. An N was etched onto the front. It stood for his favorite college football team. He tried it on. Still fit and a glance at his dresser mirror, confirmed he still looked good in it.
He didn’t normally wear anything on his head, so he was grateful the stocking cap still fit. Just one less thing he’d have to get on his drive up the mountains.
“Snowmobile. Sure. Dylan, I don’t like this. I prefer you stay somewhere that has a reliable internet connection. Dude, what if there’s a snow storm and you get stuck there?” Cam asked in a serious tone.
Dylan chuckled. “Then I’d say my goal to take a break would be complete. And it works perfectly with the bet that is harder than it sounds to keep. One more week left.” Making a no-sex-for-eight-months bet with his friend Cole Carrington wasn’t the smartest thing he’d ever done. If Dylan won, Cole had to pay up. Fifty Grand. And vise-versa. Not if, when. When Dylan won. He sighed. “Look, I need this. You know what the doctor said. I have to figure out a way to de-stress.” Because there was no way he was telling his assistant, hell, anyone, that he was burnt out too. That he couldn’t for the life of him produce another great idea to keep Dirty Gains fresh. So yeah, de-stressing. Just go with it. He liked the tale he was spinning. The longer it stayed with him, the better it was spun and the more he was liking his fabled story.
“Dylan, you can de-stress in Denver where there are real gyms – your gyms. Running paths. Christ, snow plows. You don’t have to go into the mountains.”
While he didn’t agree with Cam’s point on staying in Denver, he did need a gym. He couldn’t go more than a day without hitting the gym, let alone for two weeks. It was best to assume there wasn’t any workout equipment in the condo, and with that assumption, Dylan went into his home gym and pulled a few dumbbells off the racks, setting them next to his suitcase.
He grabbed a large kettle bell, a yoga mat—not that he did yoga, but it was always nice not to slide around the floor depending on what he was working on—a jump rope and his resistance band and body bar.
“Estes isn’t some backwards hillbilly town, Cam. I’m sure there are plenty of snowplows. And I do have to go to the mountains. I need to get away. I’m packing a portable gym right now. Call the condo owners and text me back with the details, will ya?”
Cam let out a frustrated groan. “Yeah, I’ll text you the details.”
“Thanks, Cam. I can always count on you.” Dylan ended the call and started throwing stuff into his truck, confident that the condo would be open and ready for his arrival.
When Cam’s text confirmed it, Dylan headed out of Lower Downtown and onto the interstate with one destination in mind.
* * *
An hour and a half later amidst the quickly falling snow—grateful that he managed to make it before the impending storm set in and he couldn’t get there—Dylan pulled his white truck into the cozy two-bedroom condo community along the Big Thompson River. The radio confirmed on his drive up that the severe storm was set to hit the foothills of Boulder, going high into Rocky Mountain National Park tonight. Which would include Estes Park and every single town and road it took him to get there. With not much weight in the back of his truck, he was more than happy to get off the roads. Especially driving through those curves. Blizzard or not, he was always impressed when he got this close to the mountains. But being surrounded by them made that stress in his chest less…achy.
The condominium complex was gated and consisted of four brown clusters of units that were staggered so each condo afforded a view of the river as well as the open view from the north of the mountains directly across the street. He parked his truck and hopped out. He inhaled a deep breath of the cold mountain air, letting the bitter cold fill his lungs. He wasn’t at all bothered by the large snowflakes that were coming down faster than they had been twenty minutes ago. He felt good.
Damn. He couldn’t have thought of a better idea if it bit him in the ass. He grabbed his two duffel bags first and headed to his new pad. Pine Lake. Each condo had their own individual names instead of the standard numbers, and he liked the way Pine Lake held a promise of his new life for the next two weeks. The promise of less stress. The promise of no crazy women stalkers that wanted to do things to his body that made even him blush. Ahh. It held the promise of solitude. And hope. Hope that he could figure out what else he could do with Dirty Gains because athletic wear, gyms, and fitness programs just weren’t enough.
He tapped in the code that allowed him entry into the condo. Stomping his shoes onto the doormat, he flung the door open and came face to face with a woman wielding a piece of wood over her head.
“What the hell?” Dylan said, as he stepped back to double-check the condo name.
“What are you doing?” the woman screamed. Her eyes searched around him and outside like she was expecting an entire home invasion team.
“I’m Dylan. I’m checking in. Are you the cleaning staff? There’s no need to be hostile.”
“I’m not the cleaning staff! How’d you get in here?” She held the small piece of log above her head, like at any moment she might whack him with it. “And this isn’t hostile!”
Dylan widened his eyes. “Can you set the log down, please? I promise, I’m harmless.” His eyes roamed over the little blonde wood-wielding woman. Boy, that was a mouthful. She was kinda cute. What’d he do? Was she the only woman on the planet who didn’t recognize that he was Dylan Truex?
“No. I’m calling the police. Stay there!” she demanded, but she moved the log in front of her no longer holding it in such a threatening manner.
“The cops? No way! What the hell for? This is my condo. I just rented it out for the next few weeks. God, I’m not breaking and entering, I promise. Can we discuss this like rational adults? How do you think I knew the code?” He watched her slowly process what he was saying. He couldn’t help but notice her perky little breasts that rose and fell with each intake of breath she took. She was wearing a large, thin sweatshirt that fell off one shoulder that read I was worth the wait and those black skin-tight leggings that all women wore. Wow.
He gave her his best Dylan Truex smile.
She still didn’t recognize him. Her eyes darted around. Where was this woman from? “Please?” he said.
At that single word, the woman’s shoulders relaxed, and she cocked her head to the side, really studying him for the first time since he’d opened the door. Her eyes traveled over his bulky coat and jeans and then back up to his face. He was annoyed that his winter apparel was covering the finer aspects of his body. But he thought he saw the recognition in her eyes.
She squinted her eyes, scrutinizing him. “Fine. You look pretty harmless. Who robs a house in the middle of the afternoon anyway? Take your shoes off and come in. We can figure this out like rational adults. Don’t make me regret this.”
He gave her another famous smile. When she didn’t react, Dylan slid his shoes off and dropped his duffel bags near the door. He figured it was best to get straight to the point because as cute as this stranger was, he needed his two weeks of solace. “So when did you say that you’re checking out? Today?”
She put her hand to her hip and glanced around the room. That was when he noticed that she had pretty much taken over the entire first floor of the condo. Clothes lay strewn about the familiar brown suede couch. A computer was sitting on the dining table along with a bunch of haphazard papers and pens. A pair of pink and black snow boots lay in the doorway where he stood. A small amount of fruit and empty plastic containers lay strewn about on the kitchen counters.
She clearly wasn’t planning on going anywhere.
At least not today.
Dylan’s stomach twisted around.
This was not what he was looking forward to. He wanted his alone time.
“Do I look like I plan on going anywhere?” She read his thoughts. Her hand was still on her hips, her gaze cast on him like he was an intruder.
“No, it doesn’t look like you’re going anywhere right now. I rented this place out,” he said more forcefully. “I have the confirmation number right here.”
Dylan swiped his phone to bring up Cam’s email. Sure enough, he found the confirmation number and dates that Cam sent him along with the security codes to get through the gates and into Pine Lake.
“I have a confirmation number too. And dates,” she said curtly.
She turned around and headed into the living area. Sassy, that one. He had no choice but to follow. He quickly took the room in. Still looked the same. Bookshelves covered the far wall—but were still bookless—and he never understood who would have bookshelves and never put at least one book on display. But he also didn’t understand why they hadn’t used the entire cathedral wall and built the shelves all the way up either. He would have taken the shelves to the top. A fire blazed in the hearth, emitting warmth that made the drive up that much more tolerable. He immediately unzipped his coat, wanting to feel the heat seep into his bones.
He set his coat on the couch, and she turned back and met him in the center of the room – blocking his path to the fireplace. She held out her phone to him.
“Here. See. I have another two and a half weeks.” She showed him her messages.
He read the dates. Shit. How could this happen?
“I can call the owners. I booked directly with them.” She had the phone to her ear in a nanosecond, and Dylan folded his arms across his chest as he waited. He listened to her phone as it rang and rang into seemingly endless oblivion. Finally, a woman’s voice came on the phone.
“This is Nancy. If you’ve reached this recording after the morning of January third, then I am officially on vacation. I will try to answer any messages when I am able to and will get back to you if and when I can use my cell phone. Thanks, doll.”
“Nancy. This is Lina Armstrong, and I rented one of your condos in Estes Park for four weeks, but there’s a problem. Somehow it got double-booked—” A loud beeping sound cut Lina off. Lina gave her phone the stink eye.
Well, great. If the condo owner was unavailable, there was clearly no point in texting Cam to ask him what the hell.
Her name was Lina Armstrong. Why did that ring a bell? It was like a small reminder in the back of his mind. Niggling at him like an errant fly. Lina. Lina. Lina. Lina Armstrong. Like he hadn’t met her—he would have remembered—but knew he’d heard about her.
“I can’t fucking believe this!” she said as she clutched her phone and shook her fists in the air. “So she’s just gone? She double-booked us and now she’s gone?”
“Looks like you’re going to have to find another place to stay. So sorry,” Dylan said.
Lina’s neck straightened and her eyes widened. “Oh, hell no. I’m already here. You can take your little dufflebags and go right back out the door you came in. I paid up front. I’m not ready to leave this place. It’s my happy place.”
“No. I paid for this place already. I need to be here. I have to be here,” Dylan said with more desperation in his voice than he cared to admit. It was going to become his happy place.
He started pacing around the room, and as he did, he saw the entire world was turning white before his eyes. Nothing could be identified beyond the small square of white concrete that made up the back patio of the condo. The mountains were gone. There was no street. No river to be seen. The nice wooden chairs that sat facing the river were covered in so much snow that all Dylan could make out were the imprinted lines of where the snow fell through the cracks from the slats. Complete whiteout. He stopped and turned toward Lina, who he still couldn’t believe hadn’t recognized him as Dylan Truex, Fitness King of Dirty Gains. Hadn’t she ever heard of the Work For It fitness program? Hello? Ringing any bells?
“It’s a whiteout.” She read his thoughts again. “You better get going before you get stuck on the road. Or worse, drive into a ditch or a ravine.”
Dylan shook his head. “I’m not leaving. There’s no way in hell either one of us can leave at this point. It’s not safe.” Dylan rubbed his hand across his beard. If he had to—which looked likely—he could put up with the hot little blonde for a night or, worst case scenario, two.