It wasn’t my first limo ride. As the wife of one of the wealthiest men in Denver, I had ridden in countless limos to countless charity events, galas, and to Centennial Airport, where my husband’s private plane was hangared. However, this was my first limo ride since I’d become the ex-wife of one of the wealthiest men in Denver.
A light snow started falling when we left the city, but as soon as we turned onto Route 82 heading toward Aspen, the snowfall increased to almost a whiteout. I tried to stay calm, but worries about the weather, the divorce, life after Kevin, and the prospect of spending Christmas alone were whirling to a tornadic level in my brain. I sucked in a deep breath, but the thin mountain air only added to the headache that throbbed behind my temples. I pressed the driver’s call button, and the center window silently lowered.
“Yes, Miss Ingalls, may I help you?”
“Is the road icy…uh, Mr.?” Shit, I couldn’t remember his name, which made me feel awful. He’d been so nice when he’d picked me up and pointed out all the features and functions of the sleek white stretch limo. He even poured me a glass of white wine, and I’d been too distracted to even pay attention when he introduced himself. It had been difficult to focus ever since I’d found out about Kevin and his girlfriend.
The driver glanced at me in the rearview mirror and smiled. “Jimmy,” he reminded me gently. “It will probably get much worse tonight, but right now, it’s not bad. We’ve been following a snowplow since we left Glenwood Springs. Don’t worry; I’m a very good driver. All you have to do is relax. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“No, thank you. I’m on my second glass. It helps.”
“I agree. I’ve got a bottle up here, too.”
I felt my eyes widen in horror.
Jimmy laughed. “Just joking.” He held up a thermal mug. “Straight black coffee. It will be about another hour. You have a control panel right next to my call button where you can dim the lights and the windows electronically. Just sit back and rest your eyes.”
“In case I fall asleep, would you give me a wake-up call when we’re fifteen minutes out, Jimmy?”
“Absolutely. Don’t worry; you will arrive safely. I guarantee it.” The center window glided upward.
I tried to get comfortable. The long couch-like seats were amazingly soft, covered in buttery leather and plump with foam. There were four television sets, all on different stations, but the sound was turned down. A full bar was built into the wall by the door. A fruit-and-cheese tray sat untouched on the small table in front of me, but I was too nervous to eat. I slipped my feet out of the painful four-inch stilettos and buried my toes in the plush carpet. I was having second thoughts about not wearing boots, slacks and a sweater instead of a long-sleeved Armani wool dress. I had actually left directly from the court date that ended my life as Mrs. Kevin Kern.
My attorney, Michael, had set everything up for this trip and practically forced me into the limo. I would rather have crawled into bed and spent the weekend eating ice cream and feeling sorry for myself. To be honest, I wasn’t grieving for the loss of Kevin or my status as a society wife. It was more of a profound sadness that the marriage had failed. I had thought Kevin was my one and only, my happily ever after, even though he was almost twenty years older than I was and had already gone through three wives. Our marriage had started well, all hearts and flowers, but after only five years, his attention had drifted. I always suspected there were other women, but when he told me he had fallen for a twenty-year-old University of Colorado coed, I had been shocked. Jeez, I was only twenty-eight and already too old for him? The jerk!
It took me a few seconds to figure out which of the remotes was for the music, the TVs and the lights, but finally, I was able to turn off the TVs, select some peaceful New Age music and lower the lights to a warm glow. I finished off the glass of wine then pulled a velvety blanket over me and snuggled into the corner of the couch.
The snow swirled around outside, tapping against the windows and enveloping the vehicle in a snug cocoon. I hadn’t slept much for the past six months and didn’t think I would be able to nap now, but I closed my eyes and tried to will my body to relax. Lulled by the wine and gentle motion of the limo, my mind had finally shut down and let me sleep.
“Miss Ingalls? Good afternoon, Miss Ingalls.” Jimmy’s deep voice gradually broke into my consciousness.
“Are we there?” I sat up and blinked, trying to remember why I was in a limo.
“We just turned off the main road. In five miles, we’ll reach the resort’s front gates. A couple more miles after that, and we’re there.”
I looked around and saw nothing outside my windows but wilderness. “My God… How do people ever find this place?”
The driver laughed.
“What’s so funny?” It seemed like a logical question.
“Our guests are…exclusive. Mr. Ryan will explain.”
“Must be some website.”
“We only take referrals.”
I was growing more intrigued by the moment. Michael had told me to expect to be amazed and impressed. Other than that, I had no idea what the Breathless Resort and Spa was all about. I strained to see out the windows and was surprised that it was still daylight. The snow had let up slightly, so I could see the wall of evergreens on each side of the vehicle. Snow frosted the tops of the heavy, dark-green limbs, and crystal icicles hung below them. “It’s beautiful.”
“Welcome to my office,” Jimmy said with a smile. “We’ve gotten three or four inches, so far, and more predicted in the next few days. It looks like we’ll have a white Christmas.”
I had no comment. The mention of Christmas thrust me back into my funk. This year, Christmas was going to be just another day of the week, nothing special. Jimmy turned his focus back to the road, and I took advantage of the next few miles to freshen my makeup and comb my long dark brown hair and twist it back into a neat bun. I stared critically at my face in the small mirror of my compact. Big blue eyes, full red lips, high cheekbones, all features Kevin had once been proud to show off to his clients. But six years had added a maturity he apparently didn’t admire, because the bimbo he was with now was barely legal. I sighed and snapped the compact shut. Who was I trying to impress? I might be staying at a luxury hotel, but I would probably spend the next four days curled in a ball on the bed, drinking wine out of the minibar and watching pay-per-view movies.
The limo stopped. In front of us, there was an elaborate black wrought-iron double gate decorated with intricate filigree and a bronze sign that simply said Breathless Resort—Private. A matching eight-foot-tall fence stretched into the woods in both directions, leaving no doubt that uninvited visitors weren’t welcome.
Jimmy held out a magnetic card to a reader until a green light blinked, and the two gates rolled open. He drove through the opening and onto a narrow, winding driveway. I glanced back in time to see the big gates slide closed behind us. I adjusted the window tint to zero and searched the road ahead, anxious for my first sight of the resort. I was familiar with Aspen because Kevin and I had spent the past five Christmases in his chalet at the base of the ski slopes. But I had never heard so much as a whisper about the Breathless Resort and Spa, which seemed odd. If there was one thing Aspen regulars liked to do, it was to drop names of designers and special places, the more expensive and exclusive, the better.
The thought of not being at the Aspen house distracted me. I would miss going out in the woods with one of the caretakers and selecting a twenty-foot-tall tree for the den. Of course, Kevin had gotten that house in the settlement, as well as the one in Cherry Creek, the plane, and all the vehicles except my BMW SUV. I’d received a generous cash settlement and a penthouse loft in One Wynkoop Plaza in LoDo, a trendy spot in Denver that had been brought back to life by the opening of Coors Field. But it was too big for just me, and the building fees were ridiculous, so I’d probably end up selling the loft. But that was something I could worry about after the first of the year.
Breathe…relax…breathe…relax, I repeated, giving myself a mental shake. It wasn’t like my heart was broken. Being in a loveless marriage had crushed my self-esteem, especially when it was apparently so easy for him to dump me for a new model. Breathe…relax…
“Some days, the deer and elk are so thick through here that I have to drive really slow, especially at night. They like to jump out in the road and just stop,” Jimmy told me, as if he was aware of my distress and was trying to change the subject.
I smiled at his effort and tried to pick out the shape of an animal in the woods. “They’re probably bedded down until the snow stops.” Watching the wildlife around Aspen had always been one of my favorite pastimes. “I’ll bet you get some cougars and bears through here, too, don’t you?”
Jimmy nodded. “We’re pretty secluded, so the animals feel comfortable here. Last year, we even had a few moose spend the summer in the meadow. You’ll be able to hear the wolves and coyotes at night.”
“Better than hearing traffic and horns blasting,” I commented.
“We’re close now.”
Jimmy guided the car around a final curve, and all other thoughts left my mind as a sprawling stone-and-wood structure filled the horizon. The magnificent four-story building seemed to rise out of the mountaintop it was built upon. A copper roof, weathered to a warm green, with dozens of gables jutting out and at least as many chimneys, was almost covered in snow. If it weren’t for the warm lights dotting the front wall, the whole building would have blended into its background like a mythical castle. Tall, bare-limbed Aspen trees surrounded it, their white bark looking like uniformed sentries guarding the resort.
Jimmy stopped short of the resort’s grand three-story-high portico and turned to look back at me. “What do you think? It’s pretty spectacular, isn’t it?”
“I’ve stayed in five-star resorts before, but this place is incredible. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before.”
“I’m not surprised. Our clientele values our exclusivity. I guarantee this is one vacation you’ll never forget.”
It was a big promise. My expectations weren’t overly high, but I was looking forward to being pampered for a few days before returning to harsh reality.
“The most important person here is Nicole Cramer, our concierge. She’ll get you settled in and tend to your every need. As she will tell you, there’s nothing that can’t be delivered by room service.”
Good, because I planned on taking all my meals in my room.
Jimmy rolled slowly through the arched opening of the portico and stopped in front of the tall etched-glass double doors. The snow drifted leisurely down as the light breeze took it around the protection of the tall wood-beam-supported portico roof, but the driveway was dry due to the radiant heaters hanging overhead. A tall, muscular young man wearing a red uniform long-sleeved jacket with black trim and black dress pants and shoes approached the rear door of the limo.
The man opened the door and extended his hand inside the car to assist me in exiting the vehicle. “Good afternoon, Miss Ingalls, and welcome. My name is Nathan.”
I slipped my feet back into the Jimmy Choo heels, put on my expensive fake-fur coat and took his hand. The warmth of the heaters chased away the chill as I stepped out of the limo. It had taken us almost four hours to make the trip, and it felt good to stretch my legs. “Thank you, Nathan. Do I detect a Bahamian accent…or maybe Bermudian?”
Nathan’s eyes twinkled at the recognition of his heritage. “Very good ear, Miss Ingalls. I’m from Greencastle, South Eleuthera Island, in the Bahamas. Come with me, please. Let’s get you indoors.” He pulled one of the doors open and held it for me.
I walked into the resort’s circular foyer. The concierge desk was in a nook on the left, and there was a door to the right leading to an office with a brass plaque on the door engraved with the name Blake Ryan. The foyer opened into a great room with stone walls, a vaulted post-and-beam ceiling and skylights in the metal roof. A floating staircase curled its way to the top floor, accented with heavy wooden planks for steps and intricate wrought-iron railings with outlines of mountain peaks, elk, deer, bears, and pine trees. A large chandelier decorated with elk and mule-deer antlers hung in the center, and there were small spotlights on the walls casting irregular and interesting shadows up the rocks. A huge Christmas tree that put any tree I ever had to shame dominated the wall of windows across the back. The tree was decorated in thousands of twinkling white lights and hundreds of colorful ornaments and filled the room with the fresh scent of the forest.
There were singles, pairs, and small groups of people sitting in front of a fireplace that was so tall, a person could stand up inside. But today, a crackling fire filled the space and warmed the room, adding to the delicious woodsy fragrance. Several comfortable-looking sofas of various sizes were arranged to accommodate different dynamics, so no one felt uncomfortable sitting alone, reading, or even napping. There were no children, only adults chatting, laughing, and enjoying their beverages served in elegant stemware.
“Miss Ingalls, this is Blake Ryan, owner of the Breathless Resort.”
Blake reached out, took my hand and kissed the back of it in a charmingly old-fashioned greeting. “Miss Ingalls, welcome to Breathless. My apologies for not greeting you at your limo today. I was on the phone with your attorney, Michael. He wanted my assurance that you would be well taken care of during your stay.”
I was captivated by the warm curl of the man’s Irish brogue and his striking attractiveness. It dawned on me that I was standing as silent as a post, staring at him, and I felt myself blush as I hurried to answer, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Ryan. Jimmy took excellent care of me.”
“I discovered Jimmy’s talents when I owned race cars. He drove in several Grands Prix for me and knows how to handle slick streets.” He nodded toward Nathan. “Thank you, Nathan. I’ll take Miss Ingalls from here.”
Nathan gave me a smile and stepped backward. “Enjoy your stay. If there’s anything I can do for you, just ask.” He turned and walked out the front door.
“Your attorney has made sure all your expenses are fully paid, so feel free to take advantage of our many activities. Let me introduce you to Nicole. Her job is to make your stay the best weekend of your life. Everything and anything you desire is on our room-service menu. Our kitchen and bar are open twenty-four hours a day for your convenience.” He led the way to the concierge area that consisted of a carved wooden desk in front of a curved wall of bookcases.
A beautiful woman in her early twenties stood as we approached. Her eyes were bright and friendly, and her chestnut-colored hair flowed over one shoulder like liquid copper.
“Nicole, this is Miss Samantha Ingalls.” He looked back at me. “I will leave you in Nicole’s capable hands for now. Perhaps I’ll see you later for drinks in the lounge. It’s our pleasure to have you as our guest.” Blake gave me a warm smile that curled my toes before he headed toward the bar.
“Please sit down, and I’ll explain our facilities,” Nicole said.
I settled onto one of the plump armchairs in front of the desk, and Nicole also sat down. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
“I really enjoyed the white wine that was in the limo. Do you have anything similar at the bar?”
She nodded and picked up the phone. “I’ll check with Joshua, our senior bartender. He’s been here at Breathless since day one. He and Blake go back a long way.” Nicole raised her index finger as Joshua answered. “Good afternoon, Joshua. Miss Ingalls has arrived, and she would like another glass of the white wine that you stock in Jimmy’s limo.” She listened for a moment. “Yes, that would be super. I’m sure she’ll appreciate that. Bye.”
“Way back?” I asked, picking up on the earlier part of the conversation. I was curious about the mysterious Blake Ryan.
“Yeah. Before Blake made his billions selling his dot-com company and built this place.”
“How long has the resort been open?”
“This is our fifth year.”
“You opened in the middle of the recession?” That fact amazed me. Colorado businesses had suffered badly during that time, with many of them shutting down rather than starting up.
“People needed our services then more than ever.” Nicole leveled a serious look at me. “The resort is named Breathless for two reasons. The obvious one is the altitude. We’re at over eleven thousand feet, so the air is a little thin. But also, because this is a place where people can relax and catch their breath as they try something…or someone…new.” She gave me a wink, so quick it could have been a blink before continuing. “Most of our customers are going through a bad breakup or a traumatic situation when they arrive here. The recession caused a lot of dramatic events in people’s lives. We were able to help them accept their situation, find a way to change it, and bring them happiness at a time when they needed some good news.”
I sighed. If only it were that easy. At least this seemed like a nice place to hide out and lick my wounds for a few days.
“Joshua will be sending two glasses of your favorite wine for us and will also put a bottle in your room for you to enjoy later.”
“What did Michael tell you about Breathless, Samantha? Is it okay to call you Samantha?”
“Of course it is. But Michael didn’t tell me much except that I should relax and let you guys take care of me.”
“That’s exactly what we plan to do.” She nodded in agreement. “Michael had some suggestions based on what he knew of your marriage and your ex-husband.”
“I should have seen it coming. I feel really stupid that I thought marriage was forever.”
Nicole pushed a leather-covered binder across her desk to me. “Hopefully, what we offer here will enable you to get back to your life, improved and with access to resources that will change your outlook for the better. Not much of what we do here is structured, schedule-wise.” She opened the notebook and began to point to various items as she flipped through the pages. “As you can see, we have experts and activities, depending on weather, that cover everything from career counseling to legal advice, property and real estate advice, ballroom dancing, financial advice, and gourmet cooking lessons, for example. In the warmer months, we have hiking and horseback riding, and this time of year, you can ski, ice-skate, or go on a sleigh ride. Anything you want, anytime you want to do it. Remember, everything is included. And no tipping is allowed. Our staff is extremely well paid.”
I couldn’t help but be impressed. “All this in three days? I’ll never get any sleep.”
“If you want, we can work it all in.” Nicole smiled. “No one has ever done everything. We’ve had guests stay in their rooms all day and night, spending their time on Facebook and sleeping…among other things. You don’t strike me as someone who wouldn’t take advantage of at least some of our activities. You know what they say about getting right back up on that horse after you’ve fallen off.”
I nodded. “You’re right, of course. I’ve got to get my life back on track, or better yet, a different track.”
There was a soft knock on the wall behind me.
“Come on in.” Nicole motioned with her hand.
A man entered with a tray containing two wineglasses and a full bottle of the white wine I had had in the limo.
“Good afternoon, Miss Ingalls. I’m Joshua. I’m glad you approved of my choice of wine.” He smiled as he set the tray on the desk. He carefully poured both glasses and then handed one to me and the second to Nicole. “I’ll leave this for you.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Joshua.” I couldn’t help but stare at his light blue eyes, tousled brown hair and square jaw. Was it possible that the men here were particularly handsome, or was I just so horny that they all looked delicious? I had a feeling I’d be spending a lot of time in the bar. “And thanks for the wine.”
“You’re very welcome. Anything else?” He looked first at me, then at Nicole.
“Thank you, Joshua,” Nicole answered.
He flashed me another grin, then left.
Nicole waited for Joshua to exit before resuming our conversation. “Here’s to you and a restful and revealing time, Samantha,” she said as she held her glass up in the air.
I agreed. “Here, here!” We took a drink.
Nicole set her glass down on the desk. “Look over this list, tomorrow morning, or even tonight, if you’d like, and let’s sit down and figure out what will be the best use of your time.” She glanced at her computer screen. “Your luggage is already in your room. I’m sure you want to freshen up before dinner. Please follow me, and I’ll take you to the Fantasy Suite.”
“The Fantasy Suite?” I echoed. That sounded a little more intense than I had expected. “Why do they call it that?”
“We try to match our guests up to suites that will fit their needs…and desires.”
“I didn’t realize I had a fantasy.”
“Your attorney specifically requested that suite,” Nicole explained. “He said you’ve had a rough time and you needed to open your mind and your heart.”
I couldn’t remember ever expressing a fantasy to my attorney, but at this point, I just wanted to get to my room and take a long, hot bath. I followed Nicole through the great room to a small bank of two elevators off to the left. One elevator sat waiting with its door open, and the two of us stepped inside. Nicole punched the number three, and the door closed.
Exhaustion was starting to hit me, and I was barely aware of the elevator moving until it stopped and the door opened. Nicole continued down an ornately decorated hallway to a room on the back side of the building. “This is a corner room with views to the north and the west, so you can sit in the hot tub on your private deck and enjoy spectacular sunsets.”
“With everyone watching? That must be cozy.”
“The glass is one-way, so you can see out, but no one can see in. Privacy is our number-one concern here.” Nicole pulled an old-fashioned key out of her pocket and fit it into the keyhole. “Blake doesn’t believe in the plastic key cards,” she explained as she opened the door and swung it wide. Then she held the metal key out to me. “There are maps of the hotel and the entire property in your welcome book. Feel free to explore any of the public areas or ask for a tour. On the front page of your book is a list of all the staff’s extensions. Again, we are here for your pleasure. Don’t hesitate to contact us for anything at any time.”
I took the key that was still warm from Nicole’s hand. It was bright brass and had a gold chain threaded through the largest loop of the bow. I couldn’t remember the last hotel I had stayed in that used metal keys. It was another charming twist to this interesting and unique place.
Nicole stayed outside but waited until I was inside the room. “People usually start the cocktail hour around seven, and dinner follows that, but you’re on your own schedule.”
“Thank you. I’ll see how I feel after I get settled. Thanks for your help.”
Nicole smiled. “It’s truly my pleasure.”
I started to shut the door, but Nicole stopped it with her hand.
“Oh, I almost forgot. Erika, our masseuse, will be coming to your room at five o’clock. She’s amazing. After your trip, I’m sure you’ll enjoy a nice massage.”
I hesitated. I didn’t know what I wanted to do this evening, but the thought of a massage was tempting. It had been several months since I’d had a massage. My muscles were probably all twisted into knots from the tension of the divorce. It would be a good start to my vacation. “That sounds really nice. Thanks.”
“Tell her what you like. And remember, no tipping. Enjoy.”