“Where did you even come from?” I ask, looking around. Until we get to the employee lodge, there’s nothing out here at all. Just snow and trees and rocky cliffs.
“I’ve been hiking.” He walks about fifty feet away and picks up the snowboard he obviously dropped on his rush to rescue me.
“With a snowboard?” I ask, incredulously.
“It’s kind of a long story.”
“Yeah, well, it looks like you’ve got time to tell it to me.” I take the board from him. “Come on. Let’s go back to my room so I can clean you up.”
“You don’t have to do that.” He doesn’t move. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m fine. You’re the one who looks half frozen.” I glance down at his clothes, realize they’re wet and covered in ice in a bunch of places. “Hey, what happened to you anyway?”
Those wild sapphire eyes of his jump to mine. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’re soaking wet. Did you fall?”
The left corner of his mouth lifts up in that crooked smile I can’t help appreciating. “Something like that.”
“Well, hurry up then. You’re going to freeze to death out here.” Even snowboarding pants can’t protect him completely from all that ice.
“It’s fine. I’m cool.”
“No shit you’re cool. That’s why your teeth are chattering.”
The crooked smile becomes a full-blown grin. “You think you’re pretty smart, huh, Ophelia?”
I think of Harvey. Of the mess I helped make back in New Orleans. Of the way standing too close to Z makes my breath catch even though I know better. “Smart’s not the first adjective that comes to mind. Now, let’s get going before you turn into a Popsicle.”
When he still makes no move to follow me, I move closer. Wrap an arm around his waist. God, he really is freezing.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” His way-too-cold hands reach up to cup my face in a way-too-familiar gesture. After the way we left things Friday night, it should piss me off—I don’t like being touched at the best of times—but somehow it doesn’t. The concern I can see in his eyes makes me feel good. Safe, even, and I haven’t felt like that in more months than I can count.
“I’m fine,” I tell him one more time, and this time it feels like the truth. “You got here before he could do anything but annoy me.” I push against Z’s waist to propel him forward, and this time he actually moves with me. “Thanks for the rescue, by the way.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a rescue.”
“Oh, yeah? What would you call it, then?”
“A helping hand. You were holding your own pretty damn well. Besides, I’m not exactly the type to rescue damsels in distress.”
I’m not so sure about that.
He stopped for me at the bus stop, then drove all the way up to the employee housing, out of his way, just to make sure I was safe.
He stopped when we were going at it, when no other guy would have, just because he realized I wasn’t into what we were doing.
And now this. He pulled Harvey off me. He stood between us. He made sure, before he did anything, that I was okay. Much as I’d like to agree with his assessment of himself, much as it would make things easier, I have to admit he feels a little bit like a hero to me. Which only makes all the shit that’s gone down between us seem even stranger.
We don’t say anything else until we get back to the lodge. I don’t know what to say, and I guess Z doesn’t, either. Nothing that’s happened in our messed-up relationship so far could have prepared me for the fact that he’d be the guy stepping up to stop me from being raped.
“Take your pants off,” I say as the door to my room closes behind us.
He turns to me with a teasing look. “Aren’t you at least going to buy me dinner first? I’m not the kind of guy to just get naked.”
I roll my eyes even as I reach for an extra blanket from the cupboard next to my bed and toss it to him. “You’re exactly that kind of guy, as Friday night proved. And as charming as the thought of you naked is, I was thinking more along the lines of preventing hypothermia rather than having my wicked way with you.”
“So you say, but we both know the truth.” He snaps the blanket in the air a couple of times to unfold it. “Not that I mind.”
“And here I was afraid of offending your delicate sensibilities.”
He laughs, loud and long. As he does, the sensitive, worried guy from earlier fades away, only to be replaced by the cocky bastard that most of the world sees when they look at him. The transformation should annoy me, but strangely it doesn’t. Not when he smiles at me and says, “I like you.”
“I like you, too,” I answer brusquely, determined not to let him see how off-kilter being around him makes me feel. “Now get changed.”
“If you insist.” He reaches for the tie at the top of his pants and undoes it.
“Stop!” I screech, whirling around to face the wall away from him. “What is it with you and taking your clothes off in front of people? There’s a bathroom right through that door.” I point blindly.
He chuckles. “What’s the big deal? It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Besides, nothing’s showing. It’s way too cold for me to go commando.”
I don’t answer him, just groan and cover my eyes with my hands. Now that I’m not trying to have sex with him to get rid of him, I can’t believe he’s stripping in my room. Right in front of me. This is what I get for trying to return the favor he did me.
A half-naked Z in my bedroom.
My stomach flips a couple of hundred times at the thought, and unlike outside with Harvey, it’s not such a terrible feeling. Which just makes the whole situation feel worse. Remi hasn’t been dead quite a year yet, and here I am thinking about Z naked. Not just about having sex with him for expediency’s sake, but about kissing him, touching him, letting him touch me.
He’s everything I don’t want in a guy, everything I know to stay away from, and yet I’m standing here wondering what I’m missing by staring at the wall and not at him.
Just goes to show how screwed up my judgment really is.
“You can look now. The wet clothes are off.”
I realize my mistake as soon as I turn around. Z didn’t tell me that he was covered, only that the wet clothes were gone. And they are. But the blanket I gave him is crumpled on the floor at his feet and he’s standing there, watching me, wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs and gray socks with a small hole over his right baby toe.
For long seconds I can do nothing but stare. He should look ridiculous with his socks all slumped down like that and his toe poking through, but he doesn’t. Instead, he’s gorgeous. All long and lean and bronzed and muscled. And hot. So f**king hot I can feel my entire body catching fire at the sight of him. The quivering in my stomach moves lower and it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to touch him. Or, better yet, lick him.
He’s got his snakebites in this afternoon, and suddenly I want to know what the little silver balls will feel like against my lips when I kiss him. If I kiss him. Which I won’t. I’m done with adrenaline junkies just asking to get killed. And even if I wasn’t, the glimpses I’ve seen of him—of the scars on his body and the ones that lurk beneath his pretty-boy facade—scare the hell out of me. So that’s it. I’m grateful for what he did, but I’m done. Finished. I’ll dry his clothes, but then he has to go.
“Give me your stuff,” I tell him in the most I’m-so-not-impressed-with-your-beautiful-body voice I can manage. Of course, it’d probably be more convincing if I could catch my breath. “I’ll run down and put everything in the dryer.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I kind of do. It seems ungracious to let you freeze to death after you kept me from turning into another statistic.”
“Hey. That as**ole wasn’t going to hurt you. I wouldn’t have let him.”
Instead of wrapping up in the blanket I gave him earlier, he reaches for the tangle of blankets on my unmade bed, pulls the top one off, and winds it around himself. Then he buries his face in it and pulls a deep breath in through his nose. My whole body goes hot when I figure out what he’s doing. He picked that blanket so he could smell me on it, so he’d be wrapped in my scent.
The thought does all kinds of crazy things to me, gives me all kinds of feels I just don’t want. It’s all I can do to keep from ripping it off him again. But then I’d be faced with that chest and those abs and all those gorgeous tattoos.
At this point, I don’t know what would be worse.
The smirk on his face tells me he knows exactly what I’m thinking. Of course he does. How could he not when girls drop at his feet wherever he goes?
Forcing my sudden attack of lust back down to wherever it came from, I gather up his clothes and a couple of dollars in quarters and run them down to the employee laundry room. When I get back, he’s standing in front of my bookshelf, my battered copy of Catcher in the Rye in his hands.
Why am I not surprised? Of course he’s a Holden Caulfield fan.
“You like this book?” he asks, his voice so casual that I know he’s really interested in the answer.
“Yeah. Do you?”
He shrugs. “I’ve never read it.”
“Not even junior year in high school?” I ask, surprised. I thought rich boys like him were all about fancy schools.
“I was never much of a student. By the time I was fifteen, I’d been kicked out of every major private school in Park City and Salt Lake City.”
Now that doesn’t surprise me at all. “You’d probably like that book, then.”
He glances at the innocuous red-and-white cover. “Oh, yeah? Why’s that?”
“The main character, Holden Caulfield, gets kicked out of a bunch of schools, too. He’s pretty much one of the best antiheroes ever written.” I move into my tiny little kitchen, which is really just a minifridge, a microwave, and the Keurig Remi bought me for Christmas last year. “You want some coffee or hot chocolate or something?”
I gesture to the little carousel I’ve got that holds all the different K-cups, but he’s too interested in the blurb on the back of the book to notice. “You can borrow that if you want,” I tell him.
Immediately he puts it down. “No, that’s okay.”
“You sure? It’s a great story. With that book, Salinger proved—long before U.S. pop culture figured it out—that antiheroes actually make the best heroes.”
Now he looks at the book like it’s a king cobra that’s got him in its sights. “I’m good. I’ve never been much of a reader.”
“I didn’t used to be, either.” I pop my favorite kind of coffee into the Keurig, then hit brew. If he doesn’t like it, he should have told me what he wanted.
“Really? With a name like Ophelia, I kind of thought you’d be all about reading.”
Because I can sense the tension in him, I go with the change of topic. “Nope. Not really.”
“So, what changed?” he asks. At my blank look, he continues, “To get you reading? You’ve got a lot of books here.”
I think about those long weeks in the hospital, the longer weeks lying on the sofa at home, just waiting to get stronger. Just waiting for the pain to go away. It never did.
“It’s a long story.”
His usually cocky smile is gone, and in its place is an intensity that takes my breath away. “Seems like we have a lot of those between us, don’t we?”