Authors: Hailey Abbott
Chelsea McCormick flew through the air, the cool water of…
All thoughts of surprises and her father flew out of…
Chelsea hurried from her family’s chalet-style house along the short…
Chelsea checked her watch—nearly midnight—and zipped up her fleece-lined warm-up…
I am not freaking out on the inside, Chelsea told…
Stop horsing around back there!” Chelsea yelled from the back…
What’s so great about Sara anyway? Chelsea asked herself as…
Chelsea was high on life during dinner that night. She’d…
You don’t need to be so scared of the water,”…
Could they have picked a nicer day to hold the…
Chelsea stood with her hands on her hips and stared…
What. Is. Going. On. Here.” Anger blazed in Mark McCormick’s…
In Chelsea’s dream, she was jumping on a trampoline in…
Everything was blurry when she surfaced a moment later. She…
Chelsea’s mom maneuvered her Camry up the resort’s long, curved…
Chelsea was going to kill the McCullough boys. From the…
All right, Nina, let’s go back to shore,” Chelsea instructed…
Chelsea checked her watch for the millionth time in the…
Slow down!” Chelsea screamed, hanging on to the towrope for…
Chelsea could hardly believe she was actually going to the…
The buzzing in Chelsea’s ears grew to a dull roar…
The aggressively blue skies and cheery yellow sun the next…
Chelsea sat tensely on the contestants’ bench, sweat pouring down…
Chelsea had never felt so worn down. Every step of…
There was always something bittersweet about the last day of…
helsea McCormick flew through the air, the cool water of Lake Tahoe stretching endlessly on either side of her. Grasping the boat’s towrope with both hands, she squinted in the afternoon sunlight and shifted her hips, hopping from side to side over the boat’s wake. As she gathered speed, she took a deep breath and jumped high into the air, grabbing the board between her legs. The lake was a blue blur below her.
For a long, luxurious moment, Chelsea was flying. The Northern California mountains looked like a smudged pastel drawing in the distance. There was nothing in the world she loved more than the heady, soaring feeling of being suspended over the water’s surface. She
never felt so much like a rebel as she did when she was defying the laws of gravity.
As her board touched down on the other side of the wake, Chelsea let a triumphant grin spread across her face. Everything felt right. Summer was beginning and she was in her favorite place in the world: out in the middle of the lake, wearing her favorite faded blue wetsuit and skimming her green Gator board along the frothy white surface of the wake.
Chelsea thought for the zillionth time how much happier she felt out on the water than on land. Here, she was a wild, graceful creature who could push her body to do even the most difficult feats. But back on land she felt like a too-tall, too-clunky, too-boyish behemoth who towered over all the other girls.
“You done back there?” her dad, Mark McCormick, called from the driver’s seat of the boat.
“Never!” Chelsea shouted back at the top of her lungs.
Her dad gave her an apologetic look and pointed at the big waterproof watch on his wrist.
“All right.” Chelsea sighed. She knew her dad had to prepare for summer staff orientation at Glitterlake Resort, the sprawling lakeside lodge and recreation complex he owned with her mom, and she’d already kept him out on the water for nearly two hours. Chelsea pulled herself back to the boat using the towrope and
collapsed on the seat next to her dad. She ripped off her tinted goggles and squeezed the excess water out of her short brown ponytail.
“You looked good out there, Champ,” her dad said, squeezing her shoulder.
“Yeah?” She smiled at the nickname he’d called her ever since she insisted on challenging the boys around the resort to tree-climbing contests when she was five. “How was my stance when I landed that jump? It felt a little wobbly.”
“Looked pretty darn amazing,” her dad said. “And if it was a little shaky, it was probably my fault for not lining up the wake better for you. But you can land anything, Champ.”
He looked at her, grinning eagerly. She knew what he was thinking about: the Challenge. It was all that was on either of their minds ever since they’d learned that Glitterlake was hosting this year’s Northwest Extreme Watersports Challenge.
Chelsea stretched her legs out over the boat’s fiberglass floor, basking in the afternoon sun as they sped toward shore. Off in the distance, the resort’s large windows glinted in the sunlight. From where she was sitting, the main lodge looked like an eagle resting on the crest of the hill—the lobby, dining hall, and reception rooms forming its body, and the east and west sections of guest rooms extending out on either side of it like
wings. Gravel paths wound down from the main lodge to the clusters of cabins and waterfront tennis courts. Chelsea knew that behind the main lodge were the state-of-the-art indoor pool and spa, as well as her family’s own comfortable home. Back beyond that, down another long gravel path nestled in the trees and tucked safely away at the foot of Pine Mountain, were the staff barracks, which, at that very moment, were probably filling with the last of the summer staffers, who’d be dumping their duffel bags on whatever remaining bunks they could find and noisily chattering about how their winters had gone.
The boat was rapidly approaching the docks adjoining the sandy beach that in just a few short days would be crowded with vacationing honeymooners and families. Now that Chelsea was sitting, she could feel the knots in her thighs from so much physical exertion, and she couldn’t wait to get onto the dock and stretch. Maybe she’d even pop into Glitterlake’s forty-jet Jacuzzi before the summer staff orientation meeting.
“Well, I know you’re tougher on yourself than anyone, Chels,” her father inserted into their comfortable silence. “But I just know you’ve got this summer’s Challenge in the bag. I can feel it in my gut.” He leaned back a little in his seat, slowing the engine as they got closer to the dock.
Chelsea’s heartbeat doubled just thinking about it.
The Challenge was held at a different lake each summer, and the day she’d discovered that it was coming to Glitterlake was the most exciting of Chelsea’s life. She’d been the first wakeboarder to send in her registration fee, and had spent all winter training and learning new tricks on her snowboard at Sierra Mountain. Not that snowboarding was nearly as rewarding to her as wakeboarding, but she had to stay in shape somehow, and Lake Tahoe was way too cold to brave in the winter.
“I’ll be on the water every day until I’m ready.” Chelsea heard the determination in her own voice.
Her dad smiled as he straightened out the boat. “That’s what I like to hear,” he said, turning off the engine and hopping easily onto the dock. He tied off the boat as Chelsea leapt out and began stretching her tight arms over her head.
“Okay, hon,” her dad said, turning to head in the direction of the lodge. “I’ll see you at the meeting later. Oh, and Champ?” He turned back to face her.
“Yeah?” Chelsea looked up and stopped stretching.
“I’ve got a couple of surprises I think you’ll be happy about, so don’t be late.” She could see the huge smile her dad was trying to play down.
“Dad, wait! Do I get a hint?” Chelsea called, but he’d already started jaunting up the path.
She heard him laugh. “Then it wouldn’t be a surprise!” he called back.
“I guess so,” Chelsea said, her dad’s smile now spreading to her own face. She really had the best dad ever. And there was no way she was going to let him down at the Challenge—even if it meant becoming a slave to her board. After all, she could think of worse things than that!
Chelsea was reaching down to her toes and taking deep breaths to relax her legs when she heard a shuffle, followed by, “Hey.” Chelsea looked up and her heart dropped into her stomach.
There stood Todd Heron, the resort’s reigning wakeboarding instructor, who also happened to be her crush of the past three years.
ll thoughts of surprises and her father flew out of her mind as Chelsea stared at Todd, unable to think of what to say. Those slightly crooked, strangely bright white teeth. That messy, I-live-on-the-water look to his light brown hair. The strong shoulders and arms. Oh yes, and that telltale smirk. It was Todd, all right. He hadn’t changed a bit. But Chelsea had. She was his height now. And being able to see straight into his lake-blue eyes was suddenly extremely distracting.
Chelsea blushed at the awkward silence. She knew she had it bad.
“Earth to Chels,” Todd was saying, waving his hand in front of her face. “Swallow too much lake water?”
Chelsea found herself laughing harder than she had when Justin Timberlake hosted
Saturday Night Live.
“Long time no see,” he said, coming toward her with his arms outstretched.
“Hey, man, I’m all wet,” she said, laughing again nervously and shrinking back. She was sure that the last thing Todd wanted was a big water stain on the front of his faded hunter green Abercrombie tee.
“I can see that,” Todd smirked. “How’s the water?”
“Brilliant, as always,” Chelsea replied, trying not to let her eyes linger on him too long. It was weird feeling this nervous around him. She’d always liked him, but he used to be so easy to be around.
“You looked pretty decent out there,” Todd said, kicking at a splinter in the dock.
“Thanks. I didn’t realize you’d seen me practicing.” Warmth flooded her chest at the compliment. Todd was notoriously tough, saving his praise only for when it was really deserved. “I’ve been snowboarding my butt off all winter.”
“Well, it shows,” Todd assured her. “But the ending was a little wobbly on that last jump.”
The critique was so typically Todd. “Think you could have done better?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at him.
“Is that a challenge?” He grinned. “Because you’re not the only one who’s been boarding her ass off all winter, you know. They could barely scrape me off the half-pipe back in Utah once all the snow melted.”
“We’ll see how you do on your first run,” Chelsea retorted.
“Yeah?” Todd patted the large duffel bag hanging off his shoulder. “I’ve got a wetsuit right here if you want to put your money where your mouth is.”
“I’m already wearing mine,” Chelsea pointed out. She watched as Todd’s eyes traveled down the length of her body, and she suddenly wished she hadn’t said anything. There was no doubt that the suit molded to all the wrong parts of her long, lean frame, making her legs look scrawny and her boobs totally flat.
“Then I’ll be right back,” he said, slinging the duffel bag higher on his shoulder and heading toward the lakeside bathhouse. “And then let’s get out on the water and you can show me what you’ve got.”
As she waited for him to emerge, Chelsea couldn’t tell if her heady, eager feeling of adrenaline was from the thought of another run behind the boat or from seeing Todd again. Of course, if it weren’t for Todd, she might never have picked up wakeboarding in the first place. She’d been all about the skiing—on water and snow—until the hot new wakeboard instructor showed up at Glitterlake the summer she was fourteen and made her think that having both feet strapped into a single board might not be the worst idea after all—especially if he were there to make sure she stayed upright, his broad golden hands guiding her firmly as he barked instructions into
her ear over the motor’s roar. She honestly hadn’t counted on falling so deeply in love with the sport itself…or on being so good at it. Before long she was trying jumps and grips that even Todd had trouble with. And, even though he had never come right out and said it, Chelsea was pretty sure that tough, competitive Todd wasn’t wild about being upstaged by a girl.
“I can’t wait to hit this lake,” Todd said, swaggering out of the bathhouse in his wetsuit. Even though it came down to his ankles and zipped all the way up his neck, Chelsea’s knees went weaker than after she’d landed her first 360. The suit’s stretchy material clung to his body, hugging his chest and broad shoulders.
Todd hopped gracefully into the boat and extended his hand to help Chelsea off the dock. Normally there was no way she would let a guy think she needed his help to do
, but the chance to touch Todd was too tempting. She rested her palm in his and felt the strength in his arm as he escorted her onto the gently bobbing craft.
As Todd leaned over to untie the rope from its slip, Chelsea slid into the driver’s seat and started up the motor, feeling the boat sputter to life underneath her.
“So how was your winter?” Todd asked as she drove them out onto the water. “Do anything fun besides board your butt off?”
Chelsea gulped inwardly. The truth was, she hadn’t—
in between spending every afternoon on the slopes and helping her parents out around the resort, she didn’t have much of a life. But there was no way she was going to let Todd know that. “There’s nothing more fun than boarding,” she challenged instead.
Todd’s sky blue eyes crinkled up at the corners when he laughed. “I concur,” he said. “That’s basically all I did, too. But, unlike you, I didn’t have that pesky little thing called ‘school’ interrupting me.”
“I’m so jealous,” Chelsea sighed. Sitting in a classroom all day felt like torture when she could see the snowy peaks of Sierra Mountain sparkling in the distance. “School shouldn’t be in the daytime. All that light goes to waste. I could make much better use of it out on the water.”
“Well, someday you, too, could become a professional board bum,” Todd joked, reaching out and pushing playfully at her shoulder. The contact made her insides turn to syrup, and a thought suddenly occurred to her. Was Todd…could he be…flirting with her? Was he teasing her because he could tell that she liked him? Or was it something more? Chelsea wondered if by some miracle he was starting to see her as someone in his league—someone more than just a wakeboarding student. Was it possible that Todd could think of her as a
…like, the kind of girl he could flirt with?
Chelsea slowed down as they reached the middle of
the lake and let Todd climb out behind the boat. Even with his face half-covered in goggles, he was still the single hottest guy she had ever seen. “Well, feast your eyes on this,” he said before sliding into the water, sending all her hopes and dreams about him seeing her as more than just the competition swirling down the drain.
Oh, I will,
Chelsea thought, amused by how true his words really were.
She sped up the boat, watching the long white wake stretch out behind in the many rearview mirrors positioned to give the driver the optimal view of the rider behind. She was so used to the way he moved—they’d been practicing together for years, and she’d memorized the way his body worked.
She watched as Todd gathered momentum, swinging his body from side to side. She could tell from the way he was riding nearly fifteen feet outside of the wake that he was planning a big jump. Coming back into the wake, Todd stood up tall on his board and flipped suddenly into a double back roll, turning all the way upside down in the air. Chelsea winced as she realized he was underrotating, giving the towrope too much slack so that he didn’t get enough of the natural speed of the boat. She sped up slightly, hoping to make the rope taut enough for him to land the trick successfully, but it was too late. Without the natural momentum of the boat’s speed, Todd couldn’t get all the way around. He skidded
to a halt on his butt several feet outside the wake. Even over the motor’s roar, Chelsea could hear him cursing.
She slowed down long enough for him to regain his footing and then took off again, watching his body language grow bolder and his moves more confident. She could tell he was going to try the double back roll again—and this time he was going to nail it. Sure enough, Todd’s body flew through the air in a set of perfect cartwheels, his strong legs flexed high over his head. He landed expertly and flashed Chelsea a triumphant smile before using the towrope to pull himself back toward the boat.
“Well, how was it?” he asked, climbing into the boat and shaking the water droplets out of his hair.
“You looked great!” She decided not to mention the butt-skid—even though she knew
would have mentioned it if their roles had been reversed.
“Man, it’s good to be back here. I missed this place.” Todd stretched his arms over his head so that his soaked wetsuit settled into the crevices between his hip and stomach muscles. He let his arms swing back to his sides and smiled down at her. “You ready to let me drive for a while?”
Chelsea stood up to give him the driver’s seat. As she did, the boat rocked below them and Todd automatically reached out to steady her. She drew closer to him, her heart pounding as the boat’s rocking gently subsided.
Todd’s face was so close to hers that she could count the drops of lake water on his eyelashes. They stood that way in silence for a moment until he abruptly let go and slid into the driver’s seat.
“Let’s see what you can do,” he said, casually resting an elbow on the wheel.
Chelsea smirked. “Oh, I’ll bring it,” she said, looking straight into his eyes.
Her heart still hammering, she slipped her feet into the bindings of her board and strapped it on nice and tight before sliding out into the water. Even though her body was tired from riding less than an hour before, she was determined to show him just how much she’d improved over the winter. After a few grabs, she felt confident enough to try a roll of her own. Taking a deep breath and heading way outside the wake, Chelsea launched herself into what had to be the most perfect double back roll in the history of wakeboarding. She landed well wide of the wake, her knees and feet rock-steady beneath her. She was about to do a little happy-dance when she caught a glimpse of Todd’s frowning face in the rearview mirror. Chelsea’s triumphant smile faltered and then disappeared. Was he upset that she’d landed the same trick he’d just messed up on, and on her first try? She suddenly felt the effort of the day’s two practice sessions seeping through her tired muscles. She signaled him to slow down and dragged herself back
into the boat. She sank into the passenger’s seat and unclipped her bindings. Todd’s forehead was still lined with a scowl, and his shoulders hunched over the wheel.
“Nice job out there,” he said, looking straight ahead. She could feel the tension.
“Thanks,” she replied, her heart sinking at the dreaded note of envy in his voice. She
she’d looked great on the water. And she also knew that that just might be the problem.