Into the Mist (Into the Mist #1) - P. C. Cast

CHAPTER

1

“HOLY SHIT! BRIGHT and cold is so confusing.” Mercury Rhodes dug in her purse for her sunglasses, which she found—predictably—at the very bottom of the bag. She fished them out, frowning at the lint from balled-up, unused tissues that always lurked in her purse, and blew across the lenses before she shoved them on her face.

She was joined by her best friend, Stella Carver, who—also predictably—had her shades perched perfectly on her nose. Stella pulled up the faux fur collar on her 1920s flapper-style car coat and took a sip of her mimosa. “Oh please, Acorn. We’ve been at Timberline for five days, and this is what—your third conference here?”

Mercury raised a brow. “Fourth. And don’t call me Acorn.”

“Fourth. Whatever. You’re not used to the bright mixed with cold yet? And by the by, I like your dad’s nickname for you, and ten plus years of best friendship allows me Acorn privileges.”

“Fine. Call me Acorn. And, no, I think it’ll always be weird to me that I can get a sunburn and frostbite at the same time. More importantly, where’d you get the mimosa?”

“Ram’s Head Bar made me a to-go flute. Aren’t they sweet?” Stella tilted her mirrored sunglasses down. Her glacier-blue eyes sparkled mischievously as she batted her eyelashes in mock innocence.

Mercury snorted. “You’re an Oklahoma public schoolteacher, so I know they’re”—Mercury air-quoted the word—“not being sweet because you’re an over-tipper.”

“You know I always tip a solid twenty percent. Bad tippers have no soul.” Stella’s full lips curled up into a cat-licking-cream grin. “But there are more ways to show appreciation than with money.”

“So, you hooked up with that infant last night?”

Stella clutched her fake pearls. “Dusty is thirty and a half. An absolutely legal adult.”

“You’re forty-five and a half. That’s a fifteen-year difference.”

Stella shrugged. “Numbers. Mere numbers.”

Mercury rolled her hazel eyes. “Fifteen years. And please. His name couldn’t actually be Dusty Rose. With all that long hair and those tattoos, he’s textbook romance hero cliché.”

Stella tossed back her mane of blonde and silver-streaked curls. “Oh, honey, who cares about a decade or so? Look at this fabulous ass.” She wiggled her shapely butt. “Does it say I’m too old? Not hardly. And with his skills, who the hell cares what his name is?”

“You’re not talking about his ability to mix a perfect cocktail, are you?”

“Huh? Did you say cock?”

A man rushed past them, jostling Stella’s arm so that she spilled half of her mimosa on the wide concrete stairs that stretched from the entrance of Timberline Lodge to the parking lot of the Oregon ski resort. “Come on!” he blustered. “Get that SUV pulled around so we can load the luggage! We need to get going so we’re at the Portland airport an hour and a half before flight time!”

“Jesus H. Christ!” Stella glared at the man. “Watch where you’re going, Mr. Hale!”

Richard Hale glanced over his shoulder at the two women. “Ladies, fun and games are over. The rest of the teachers are already waiting with the luggage around the side of the lodge.” He gestured dramatically at the driver of the nearby Escalade, who began to swing the vehicle past them to follow the side road that led to the bellhop station. Then Richard Hale faced the two women, his look of disapproval focused on Stella’s half-empty mimosa. “Ms. Carver, is that really necessary?”

“Yes. Completely.”

His sigh was long suffering. “Well, you’re waiting at the wrong place. No wonder Coach Davis was confused and pulled up here.” Hale paused, and when neither woman responded, he ran his hand through his short, thinning blond hair. “Well, come on. Follow me to where you’re supposed to be.” He marched down the stairs after the rental SUV.

“Principals make my ass hurt,” said Mercury as she combed her fingers through her wavy hair.

Stella chugged the last of her mimosa and threw the plastic flute into a nearby waste can. “Preaching to the choir, my friend. Better follow him before he has a stroke.” She hooked her arm through Mercury’s and whispered, “And you know he has high blood pressure, soooo …” She let the last word linger and waggled her eyebrows.

Mercury barked a laugh. “Ha! Don’t all principals have high blood pressure?”

“Probably.” Stella shrugged. “Most of ’em can’t even handle a classroom, yet they’re promoted.” She rolled her eyes. “Mediocrity is so much easier to control than free-thinking excellence, but they put mediocrity in charge of those of us who are free-thinking and excellent—hence the high blood pressure issue.”

“Preach, sister!” Mercury lowered