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Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2018 Pelaam



ISBN: 978-1-77339-714-6


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: Melissa Hosack



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



THE BREATH OF LIFE


Pelaam


Copyright © 2018


Chapter One


From his window seat on the airplane Alex looked out over the snow and mountains beneath him and smiled. Soon the plane would land, and then he and Jackson had two whole weeks of skiing and snowboarding to enjoy.

These fields were always among the first to open for winter sports. This year Alex and Jackson were skiing in Europe, and then spending Christmas at home in New Zealand.

I can hardly wait to get there. I don’t want to waste a moment we could be out on the mountains.

Back home, Alex had already enjoyed the winter months visiting Mount Ruapehu for his and Jackson’s skiing and snowboarding fix. Now that it was spring back in New Zealand, they’d decided to live it up here, at the first of the European ski slopes to open, to round off their skiing year.

This summer, we’re going to hit the beaches rather than snowfields. Do our boarding on surf instead of snow and ice.

Are we nearly there?” Jackson’s drowsy voice came as a surprise, and Alex glanced over at him. His friend hated flying and always took a pill to ensure he slept for most of any flight they took.

“I thought you were still out cold. Yes. We’re nearly there. Just think of pristine ski runs, après ski hot drinks. It’s going to be awesome, bro.”

Yeah. Awesome.” Jackson yawned widely, then closed his eyes again.

Not that Jackson dropping back to sleep bothered Alex. In his own mind’s eye, he was already powering down the first slopes of a northern hemisphere winter. His only decision was whether he should ski first or snowboard.

I love both equally. Ah, decisions, decisions.

More than once Alex had been called an adrenaline junkie. Perhaps it was true. He did love the speed and the rush he got when racing down the slopes. He relished flying foxes and white-water rides for the same reason.

But then when you had a regular nine-to five admin job, you needed to grab at every opportunity for excitement live offered. Or at least, that was Alex’s way of looking at things. Stuck in an office Monday to Friday, then hit the weekend running.

Or in this case, the slopes.

Since Jackson wasn’t going to chat any time soon, Alex leaned forward and peered out of the window again. The plane had dropped altitude as it neared its destination, and now the snowy countryside was coming more clearly into view.

From the airport to the hotel, a good night’s sleep, and hit the slopes running as early as possible in the morning. Totally awesome.

Alex glanced at Jackson and smiled. His friend would be a totally different man tomorrow. Outgoing, gregarious, a master of small talk and patter. Quite the opposite of Alex himself. But their difference in personality didn’t affect their friendship, or their shared enjoyment of outdoor sports.

Alex couldn’t help but jiggle his legs, safe in the knowledge Jackson wouldn’t even notice.

This is going to be an awesome two weeks.



Chapter Two


Their luggage collected, Alex and Jackson took the courtesy taxi to their hotel. Jackson led the way to the reception desk while Alex took a moment to study the hotel layout. It was nice enough in a modern, slightly sterile way. Then Jackson’s angry voice caught Alex’s attention, and he hurried over to find out the problem.

You’re kidding me.” Jackson threw up his hands. “Where are we going to stay for the two weeks we’re here? Alex, the hotel has somehow double booked our room, and it’s already occupied. I don’t fucking believe this.”

While Jackson stomped away, Alex moved in, just as angry as his friend, but it wasn’t the fault of the young man at the desk. Yelling at him was only going to be counterproductive. Alex wanted someone to help then, not be glad to see the back of them.

Look.” Alex offered his best smile. “I know this isn’t your fault, you’re just the guy on the day. But we’ve paid for a two-week holiday and to stay in this hotel. Someone here stuffed up, so we need someone here to put it right. If our room has been double booked, what can be done about it?”

It is all right.” The receptionist scrabbled to pick up an envelope. “We have somewhere else for you to stay. Here is also close to the slopes. Permit me to call them and they will send transport.”

At their cost?” Alex asked, suspicious that they’d be hit with costs they couldn’t afford. He leaned forward on the counter and the receptionist nodded.

But of course. They have also offered to include free breakfasts, and you each have a room of your own. No extra costs.”

None? At all?” That seemed a little over-generous and Alex didn’t want to find there were hidden costs somewhere.

No, no.” The receptionist shook his head. “It’s a smaller establishment, but very exclusive. And although they are normally full, there are two rooms they are willing to offer, to help us out. We are very grateful to them.”

If we’re not expected to pay anything, and we get our own rooms, I don’t see a problem.” Alex glanced at Jackson who’d been behind him, listening. He nodded.

The receptionist grinned. “Good. Good. Now, please, go through to our bar. Leave your bags here. As soon as the transport arrives, I will come for you.” He scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it to Alex. “The first drinks are complimentary.”

Thanks.” Alex took the slip of paper, and Jackson walked alongside him as they headed through to the hotel bar as the receptionist directed. Alex handed it to the bar man. “Spiced rum and coke for me and a vodka and lemonade.”

When the drinks were pushed across to him, Alex took them to where Jackson was now sitting in a huge armchair beside a roaring fire. The smell of the pine as it burned made Alex smile, despite his annoyance. With only two weeks, Alex didn’t want to waste any of their precious time holding onto a bad mood.

Alex set the drinks down and shivered at the cool sensation that tickled down his spine.

Someone walk over your grave, bro?” Jackson looked up at him with a smile, but Alex’s attention quickly diverted to a man standing outside looking in at them. There was no reason for him to catch Alex’s attention. Except … his hat.

The wide-brimmed hat reminded him of Gandalf’s, except it wasn’t so pointed, whether through age or design, the point angled downward. In fact, the man himself reminded him of Gandalf with his long hair and beard. Then, in a flurry of snow, he was gone.

Wazzup?” Jackson twisted around. “See someone you know?”

No.” Alex sat down, picked up his drink, and took a healthy swallow. He shook his head. Spooked by some old guy passing the window. I can just imagine the laugh Jackson would get. If I was dumb enough to tell him. “No, just looking at the snow, anticipating doing down the slopes.”

Jackson picked up his drink and raised it in salute. “Here’s to a great two weeks.”

I’ll drink to that.” Alex raised his glass and they chinked them together before settling back to take a drink.

We’ll need to reassess what slope we start on.” Alex set his drink down. “I’m not sure which will be closer to this other hotel. You, know, I don’t remember seeing another place when picking where to stay. But then again, the receptionist said it was exclusive, so I wouldn’t have even given it a glance.”

So long as the place isn’t falling down, I don’t suppose it matters. If we don’t like it, we come straight back here and kick up a stink.” Jackson sat back. “We’ll milk this mistake for all it’s worth.”

I suppose so.” Alex looked around. A prickling sensation at the nape of his neck made him feel watched, but no one appeared to be taking any notice of them. He shrugged and took another drink. He was just unsettled from the long flight and discovering the mix up over hotels. What he needed was rest, a decent meal, and a good night’s sleep.


Chapter Three


Just as Alex set down his second drink, the receptionist scurried through to the bar, a wide smile in place. “Gentlemen, your transport is here.”

“I’ll pay for the drinks.” Alex stood, rummaging in a pocket for his wallet.

Already taken care of, sir, and your luggage is loaded. This way, if you please.

Alex followed behind Jackson, still glancing around. As he stepped out of the hotel, he stopped and stared. The transport wasn’t a car or van. Instead, there was an open two-horse sleigh.

“There are blankets if the journey is cold. It’s not too far, maybe thirty minutes or so. Thank you, sirs.” The receptionist hurried back inside before Alex could think of a reply.

Cool. This’ll be fun.” Jackson nudged Alex, then boarded the sleigh with a grin and a wave.

With a smile, Alex followed. He really liked the idea of riding in the sleigh, and since the only thing that would have concerned him was Jackson grumbling all the way, his friend’s own excitement made everything just perfect.

Clambering aboard, Alex wrestled playfully with Jackson over the blankets before they settled to enjoy the ride.

To Alex’s delight, the ride was exhilarating. He imagined that for a more romantic ride, the driver would take his time, but in this instance the driver kept the horses to a fast trot. The wind whipped at his face, but Alex didn’t care. This was an unexpected treat and he enjoyed every minute.

Thirty minutes later, Alex saw a large, three-story chalet in the distance, set partway up a mountain slope. If that was their destination, then it was an isolated place to stay, but the hotel looked very picturesque with its pale pink walls and dark wood standing out against the snow.

Hope it’s as nice on the inside as on the outside.” Jackson leaned in close. “This looks as though we’re close to a few good ski fields.”

It does. I like it.” Alex nodded. “I’ve checked on my cell phone. There are some good skiing fields that’ll be perfect for snowboarding, too, and even Nordic walking trails here.”

Don’t fancy the walking. But the rest sounds good, and it looks a nice enough place to stay in. Hope it has hot pools and saunas.”

Mmm, nice to relax in after a day on the slopes.” Alex closed his eyes. There was nothing more enjoyable than a day out on the fields and returning to a hot tub or a heated swimming pool before getting ready for dinner.

Yeah. I’m glad we don’t have to share a room. I was definitely not sharing a bed with you. What if I get lucky?” Jackson laughed at Alex’s look of mock outrage.

What if I get lucky?” Alex countered, but wasn’t surprised at Jackson’s smirk.

You don’t do casual. Don’t worry. If I had gotten lucky, I’d have made sure we went to their room. Now I don’t have to worry at all.”

“Just take care. Yes, I am a worrywart and no, I don’t care if I sound like your mother.”

I know you are and I wouldn’t change you for the world. It’s good to know you care.” Jackson patted Alex’s knee. “And I will take care.”

Jackson’s smile gave Alex a warm glow. It was nice to feel appreciated. And, of course, his friend was right. Alex really didn’t do casual. He enjoyed dating but avoided the one-night stand. Alex was also quick to end a relationship if he felt it was going nowhere.

The driver stopped the sleigh right outside the hotel, indicating for Alex and Jackson to go inside as a porter hurried out to take their cases.


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