On my way to the bathroom, I plug my phone into my stereo and hit some random playlist, and by the time the chorus for Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” comes on, I’m feeling pretty good. After all, there’s no reason to be upset. I wanted to sleep with Z to feel something and to get rid of the whole pressure that came with Remi being the only guy I’d ever slept with. I did that, and had a really good time, too. I have nothing to complain about.
And if I repeat those words often enough, I might actually believe them.
Refusing to go there again, I focus on exfoliating my skin. Shaving my currently nonexistent leg hair. Conditioning the hell out of my curls. Anything and everything but what it felt like to be held and kissed and loved by Z.
My eyes are closed, my head bent back under the water to rinse the last of the conditioner from my hair, when I hear the shower curtain being pulled back. I scream loud and long even as I reach for the only weapon I have—a bottle of conditioner—and prepare to brain the intruder with it.
“Whoa! Hey!” Z throws his hands up in front of him to protect himself from my imminent attack. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Z?” The conditioner falls from my hand into the tub with a thump. “What are you doing here?”
“I brought you breakfast. I thought we could eat together.”
“Oh. Right. Breakfast.” I stare at him for long seconds, trying to assimilate this very unexpected development. “You went out to get breakfast.”
He looks confused for a second, but then the smile fades from his face. “You thought I left.”
“You did leave.” I state the obvious, even as I turn the water off and reach for the towel I draped over the curtain rod.
“I told you I’d be back in a little while.”
He steps back into my room as I climb out of the tub. The bathroom’s about the size of a postage stamp and the only way for two of us to be in it at the same time—if one of us isn’t in the shower—requires us to be a lot closer than we currently are.
“I must have been out of it. I don’t remember you saying anything.”
He nods, his face blank even as his eyes search mine. “Do you want me to leave?”
“No!” The answer comes out fast, before I even have a chance to think about it. It’s a little bit embarrassing how fast, considering all that crap I was just telling myself in the shower. “I mean, breakfast sounds good. I’m hungry.”
Z’s smile is back and for the first time I realize it’s not the smile I’m used to. Not the little half smirk, half grin he gives the world. No, this smile lights up his face. It creases his cheeks and the skin around his eyes. It’s a real smile, I realize with a mixture of discomfort and delight. For the first time since I met him—other than in bed last night—I think I’m getting to see the real Z. The one only Luc and Ash and Cam ever get to see.
“Good. You get dressed and I’ll make coffee.” He drops a quick kiss on my forehead before turning away.
I watch him walk away, my eyes glued to his very fine ass even as I wonder who actually looks that good in a pair of thick snowboarding pants. The answer is no one. No one, that is, except Z Michaels.
Though I dragged out my shower forever, I race through getting ready. I don’t know how long Z is planning on staying—probably not long—and I don’t want to miss a minute of the time I can spend with him. I know it’s a bad idea, know I’ll be disappointed if I put any hope at all into this thing between Z and me.
Which is stupid, I tell myself as I scramble into a pair of leggings and a fluffy green oversized sweater. It’s not like I want anything from him except breakfast. It’s just that it might be kind of nice to be his friend. I don’t have any, and he doesn’t have many.…
I don’t know. It’s just that there seems to be a lot more to him than what he lets people see. I want to know what’s there.
By the time I get a little bit of makeup on and my hair dried with a diffuser—which takes forever—Z has breakfast laid out on my tiny table. Chocolate croissants; breakfast sandwiches with egg, cheese, and bacon; fresh winter fruit salad.
“That’s a lot of food,” I tell him, eyes wide.
“I didn’t know what you’d like, so I got a few different things. Plus, I eat a lot, so …” He ends with a shrug.
“Right.” Sudden comprehension dawns. “The snowboarding thing.”
“Yeah. The snowboarding thing.”
I grab one of the plates he put on the table, heap it high with fruit and a big chocolate croissant, then grab a fork and my coffee before crossing to the bed.
“You want to eat there?” he asks, eyebrows raised.
“Don’t you know? There’s nothing better than breakfast in bed.”
“Nothing? Damn. Obviously I did something wrong last night.”
“Fishing for compliments is so unattractive,” I tell him with a grin. “Especially when you know just how right you did everything last night.”
“Oh, yeah?” He grabs a plate, shovels an astonishing amount of food onto it. “You think I did everything right?”
“I did come like nine times.” I watch as he settles next to me on the bed. “And then you brought me chocolate for breakfast. I’m not sure what more of a job performance review you want.”
“The chocolate’s the key, huh?”
“I’m not going to lie. It helps.”
“I’ll remember that.” He leans forward, presses soft kisses across my jaw and down my throat. “And for the record, you came ten times.”
That startles a laugh out of me. “You kept track? Wow, Z, you’re a real romantic.”
He arches a brow at me. “In some circles, ten orgasms could be considered romantic.”
“In some circles, one orgasm could be considered romantic.”
“Well, then I’m ahead of the game.”
“Which is exactly how you like it.”
“Damn straight,” he says with a nod. “But if you want, we could go for eleven, just to make sure.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “How come I think eleven is actually code for twenty?”
“Because you’re a smart girl.” He reaches over and rubs his thumb firmly over my nipple. Heat streaks through me, and I arch into his touch, despite myself. “And a sexy one.”
My breath catches in my throat as he puts our plates on the floor before sliding his hand over my stomach and into my leggings. Still, I manage to ask, “You think I’m sexy?”
“Now who’s fishing for compliments?” he whispers as he strokes gentle circles around my clit.
The boy knows what he’s doing—God, does he know what he’s doing—and it only takes a minute or two before I’m trembling over the edge of orgasm number eleven.
“And for the record,” he whispers against my lips in between long, drugging kisses, “I think you’re very sexy. I also think you did everything right last night, too.”
I roll my eyes, nip at his lower lip. “Well, obviously.”
He laughs. “That’s some ego you’ve got going on there.”
“Not really,” I say as I shift to kneel between his knees. “After all, you’re still here, aren’t you? I figure that’s all the performance review I need.”
“Yeah.” He turns serious fast. “I’m still here.”
“In case I didn’t say it earlier, I’m really glad you are.” I tug his pants down below his knees. “And since you are …” I deliver a long, lingering lick to his very aroused cock, then suck it deep into my mouth.
He doesn’t say anything else for a while, but then again, neither do I.
“I’m not doing it.”
“Come on, Ophelia. Just try.”
“I don’t need to try.” I cross my arms over my chest and look anywhere but at Z. “It’s not going to happen.”
“Yes, it is.”
I make a frustrated sound deep in my throat. “Just because we had sex a few times doesn’t mean you have the right to tell me what to do.”
“No,” he agrees. “But the fact that I beat the hell out of an as**ole who was trying to rape you in the woods yesterday does. It’s not safe for you to keep doing that walk between the lodge and your room. Especially not at night.”
“I didn’t ask for your help.”
“That’s part of the problem, isn’t it?” He leans back against the car, shoves his hands in his pockets even as he crosses his long legs in front of him. “You don’t know how to ask for help.”
“I ask when I need it.”
“You need it now.” He pulls his right hand from his pocket, and clutched in his fingers is the key to his Range Rover. He presses it into my hand. “Get in the driver’s seat, Ophelia.”
“It looks like we’re going to be here awhile, then.”
“No, you’re going to be here awhile. I’m walking to the bus. I want to go shopping.” I talk big, but I don’t move. It’s like I’m frozen in place, the key he gave me burning my palm as surely as if he’d handed me a live flame.
“I told you I’d take you shopping. But I want to give you a driving lesson first.”
“I know how to drive. In fact, I’m probably a better driver than you are.” Remi spent months, years, making sure I could handle a car in any eventuality. It was his big condition before he ever let me behind the wheel to drag-race.
“Of course you know how to drive. But you’re from New Orleans. When’s the last time you drove on ice or snow?” When I don’t answer, he continues. “Yeah. That’s what I thought. But you can’t hide from it forever. You live in one of the biggest snow towns in the freakin’ country. You need to know how to deal with the weather.”
“I am dealing with it.”
“No, you’re running away from it. But that stops now.”
Our eyes lock and I glare at him, pissed that he sees through my smokescreen and even more pissed that he’s forcing the issue. Who knew that Z, who spends most of his life coasting from one party to the next, could dig his heels in so adamantly? But he has, and I have a feeling we’ll be here all day if I don’t give in to him.
I’m almost willing to do it, to just stand here and wait for hell to freeze over or Z to give up. But at the same time, there’s a part of me that knows he’s right. That I can’t spend my whole life avoiding driving. The snow and ice have given me an excuse so far, but at some point … at some point I’m just going to have to do it.
That point might as well be now, especially since Z is currently doing his impression of the immovable-object-meets-unstoppable-force paradox. Either way, I’m smart enough to know I’m screwed.
“Fine,” I tell him, stomping around the car to the driver’s side. “I’ll do it.” But if he starts to crow about getting me do to what he wants or if he acts arrogant in any other way, I am so out of here.
However, Z is surprisingly low-key when he slides into the passenger side, almost as if he knows how ready to bolt I am. And maybe he does. He figured out about the driving thing when no one else has yet, not even my mom or friends back home. Which means he’s looking a lot closer than I thought he was, seeing so much more of me than I thought I was revealing.
“Driving on snow is not that much different from driving in rain,” he tells me after we’ve both put our seat belts on. “In rain you worry about hydroplaning. In snow you worry about the same thing, especially since there actually is that layer of water between the car and the road. So, to compensate for it, you have to learn to use the car’s own forward momentum instead of pressing on the gas all the time.”