I wrote the novella Christmas Stalkings for my readers who couldn’t get enough of Brad and Val. It was also a way for me to “get back into” the Bullet universe before writing the fifth book, Slash and Burn. It also appeared in a multi-author anthology first (Mistletoe & Kisses), and I added another scene or two to the final version before publication.
Many of my readers have called Bullet 4.5 a “mix” of the Bullet and Nicki Sosebee series, a commentary on the feel of the book. There’s a little intrigue and mystery and a lot of danger in those pages, and that’s why. But enough of my chatting. Let’s get to the good part! 🙂
Val, Brad, and the kids decide to take a short but needed winter vacation to get away from it all and enjoy each other’s company, but one thing is stopping them from relaxing like they should. Since fronting her new band Val Hella, Val has discovered the darker side of fame—she has a stalker, one who seems intent upon stepping up his game to get what he wants, and the ruin of their vacation becomes the least of their worries.
Chapter Two of Christmas Stalkings (Bullet 4.5)
I STILL WASN’T used to being treated like royalty. It was so not me and yet…there it was. We had valet parking, but first a couple of bellhops loaded up two rolling carts with all the shit we just had to bring with us. Sure, clothing for a week. Makeup and toiletries. Toys for the kids. Diapers for Hayley. Presents for our pretend Christmas. But had Brad and I really needed to bring our guitars and a laptop? All our shit looked decadent next to Gracie’s two small pieces of luggage.
Instead of being punished for going overboard, we had people fawning all over us. It didn’t hurt that Brad was loose with the cash. Before we headed inside, I looked at the surroundings. My God, what a beautiful place. The hotel itself was amazing, with perfectly sculptured plant life that I knew must have been gorgeous during the spring, summer, and even fall, but now it was all buried under snow. The hotel itself was beautiful, with modern architecture that made me think of the Swiss Alps. Even though I’d never been to that part of Europe, I had a definite image in my mind of what might be reminiscent of that place, and this hotel captured those sorts of details, all while feeling quite modern. And the stonework—from the paths that I could see to the raised flowerbeds that were all created using stone—took my breath away.
But nature itself rivaled what man had built. The evergreens stood proudly under a fresh coat of snow and the mountains hulked over our insignificance. The skies were gray, telling me we’d arrived just in time. I would be surprised if we didn’t get more snow here overnight. Part of me was excited, because I knew my kids would love it. We’d have to do a lot outside when the sun was out. I wondered if the resort would frown on us if we built a snowman in the middle of their planned beauty.
Of course, I’d been feeling the money ever since we’d passed Silverthorne. The ski resorts along I-70 catered to the rich—or, at least, the upper middle class who wanted to feel like one of the top tier—and it was evident. Vail had a huge golf course, for starters, but there was a feel in the air that I couldn’t deny. It wasn’t like other ski areas I was familiar with in Colorado, ones where regular people—people like me—frequented. They loved skiing, and they’d spend money on the gear and the trip, but it was one of those things—they’d gather up their buddies and go for the day, heading back at night and then planning their next trip. These places felt like they weren’t just about skiing. They were about a literal home away from home, and I would realize that even more once I was able to check out the village just a little way farther up the hill.
Gracie, the kids, and I sat on plush furniture in the lobby while Brad checked us in at the desk. Poor Gracie looked exhausted. Her long blonde hair—always curly and a bit unruly but absolutely gorgeous—was piled on her head in an informal bun, and her makeup was flawless as always, but her green eyes belied her fatigue. I hoped she’d had a great time the night before, and I planned not to press her into heavy-duty service today. It wasn’t that we needed her hardcore anyway, but having her along wasn’t a bad idea. She could help here and there, and I would be grateful for that. No, the times we would really need her would be when Val Hella would tour in a few months. We’d hired her when we finally decided to move forward with having me start a band. Rather than have a “babysitter,” it made more sense to have someone with some expertise in child care and someone who was dedicated to our children and ours alone. Brad paid her well, and she was basically on call whenever we needed her. She didn’t live with us, although we did have a small room for her at our house for those nights when we’d need her to sleep over for whatever reason. The woman had become a godsend, and our kids loved her. She’d been a great decision, and I was thrilled that she was looking forward to going on tour with Val Hella, because I hadn’t felt this fulfilled in a long time. I felt like I was finally responding to the call of destiny.
And, honestly, Gracie helped ease the sense of guilt I felt. I wanted to be the best mother I could, and part of me felt like the only way to do that was by spending every waking moment with my children, doting on them constantly, just like my mother had seemed to when I was growing up. I knew it wasn’t true, but I also didn’t want to feel like I was foisting my responsibilities upon someone else.
Fortunately, as I said, my kids loved Gracie, and she felt to them like she was part of the family, like she belonged, and they didn’t resent me for the times I had to practice or record…and so I knew they wouldn’t mind the couple of hours here and there I’d need to take the stage or go to a radio interview or a signing before a concert. When I wasn’t doing those things that made me feel whole, I would spend time with them, and I would give them my all.
Once the staff had wheeled up all our stuff and unloaded the carts, Brad tipped them and I took in our lodging. It was amazing. It was like an apartment. A kitchen (with a small alcove that housed a small washer and dryer) with the appliances you’d expect—a fridge, microwave, stove and oven, dishwasher, can opener, and toaster, as well as dishes, silverware, glasses, cooking utensils, and pots. There was a dining room table in that small space, but it was surrounded by a bar and stools. Just past it was a living room with two sofas, a beautiful fireplace, a widescreen TV, a bookshelf loaded with novels and board games, and a huge window. Chris ran in front of me and I followed him, and the two of us discovered a small balcony just off the living room. Once more, the view was amazing and breathtaking. If the weather had been mild, I could have imagined spending time on that balcony, but the air was beyond crisp. It was freezing cold, and I’d appreciate the view from inside. One bedroom was to the left. It had two queen-sized beds and led to the bathroom that could also be accessed from the entryway next to the kitchen. The bedroom on the right size also had two beds as well as a bathroom, but that bathroom was only accessible through the bedroom. There was also a huge closet on the way to the bathroom.
Both bedrooms had televisions as well and we had cable or could order movies. I smiled. I thought this could be a nice vacation.
Gracie said, “If you guys want, the kids and I can share one room and you can have the other.”
Brad smiled and looked at me. “I knew there was a reason I liked this girl.”
I laughed. “If you really want to, Gracie.” I looked at Chris. “You and Hayley want to share a bed in Gracie’s room?”
He smiled. “Yeah! Gracie always lets us watch movies to fall asleep.” I frowned. I didn’t know that it was the best idea, but I supposed it wasn’t too bad. Most of the time his bedtime was at home with Brad and me. Once in a while wouldn’t be bad.
“One time, we watched Goonies and sometimes we watch stuff like Frozen.”
“Well, no wonder you’re excited. I guess we’ll let you stay with Gracie while we’re here.”
Chris gave me that precocious grin he often sported when he felt like he’d been smart, and he picked up his suitcase and walked it into the bedroom on the left. Gracie giggled. “I’ll unpack the kids’ stuff into the dresser and closet in my room then, I guess.” She started walking toward the room but stopped and turned around. “Oh, wait. Is there something you need me to do first?”
“Nope. We’ll unpack the presents and stuff later. I think it’ll be nice to get everything out of here and put away.”
Brad walked out of the bedroom and said, “Here’s the plan, ladies. Once we’re unpacked, we’ll walk up to the village and grab a bite to eat. Are you all hungry?”
I nodded. Gracie said, “I’m famished…and I think I can finally eat now.”
“We’ll wander around a bit until we see somewhere that looks good.”
“Since we have this kitchen, would you mind if we also found a store somewhere and bought some food? That way we can make a few meals here, but maybe we could keep a few snacks on hand.”
“Fine by me.”
Gracie said, “I’ll let you know when I’m done over here.” I heard Chris with Hayley in Gracie’s room. He could get her laughing so hard that she’d lose her breath, and she was to that point. I laughed just hearing it, and I was still smiling as I began toting luggage into the bedroom with Brad.
I took a suitcase over to the closet and began hanging up a few blouses. The jeans and tees and underwear I’d throw into a drawer, but I had a few things that needed to be hung. I was glad to know there was a dryer too, because I might have to use it to unwrinkle a blouse or two.
I felt Brad behind me. The plush carpet hadn’t given him away but his body heat did. He wrapped his arms around my waist and nuzzled my neck, kissing the skin lightly. “Feeling a little relaxed now?”
I smiled and turned in his arms to face him. “It’s beautiful here.”
“Anything for you, gorgeous.”
I kissed him and then asked, “What are you wanting to eat tonight?”
“No idea. That’s why I figured we’d walk around some and see what sounds good.”
“We should have brought Hayley’s stroller.”
“Nah. It’s good for her to walk, Val.”
“Yeah, I know that and you know that, but when she gets tired…”
“I’ll carry her. You know I’ll always carry my little princess.”
I laughed. “Yeah, she’s got daddy wrapped around her little finger.”
He kissed my forehead. “So does her mama.”
My lips met his as my fingers wound into his dark hair. He’d been right. This little Christmas vacation was the perfect idea—just what the doctor ordered.
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