How easy they would be if I just stop fighting.
I’m tired. I’m so goddamn tired of fighting. And I don’t have to be. I could just stop right here. Right now.
I’ve told myself a million times that if I could just curl up and die, I would. I’ve held my father’s gun to my head, boarded down the most dangerous slopes I could find, driven way too fast down deserted roads on the ice in my SUV or on my bike. I’ve spent years playing Russian roulette with my life, doing the stupidest shit imaginable in an effort to just wipe myself out without actually committing suicide. Without taking the selfish way out.
So maybe this is it. Maybe all that shit has finally caught up to me and this is my moment. The one f**king situation I just can’t escape from.
It seems so easy, so perfect.
Especially since I don’t really have to do anything. I could just hang here a little while, let gravity do its thing. Nobody would know. Nobody but me, and I’m sure as shit not telling anyone.
My hand slips a little more, and I let it. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, will myself to just let go.
But Ophelia’s face flashes in front of my eyes, and my fingers refuse to budge. And I can’t make them. Can’t will them to no matter how much I want to. Suicide is a coward’s way out, and that’s one thing—maybe the only thing—I’m not. I’m an asshole, a loser, a careless, reckless freak who doesn’t give two shits about himself or anyone else, but I am not a coward.
Besides, killing myself is way too easy, and if there’s one thing I don’t deserve, it’s to get off easy. Not when April never had that option.
An image of her—of my sweet, adorable little sister in her powder-pink dress and tap shoes—dances in front of my eyes, so real that I swear I could touch it. But it’s just a mirage, just a hope that will never be realized, and I shove it down deep inside me, where it can fester some more.
My fingers are cramping up, and I know that in a minute, two at the outside, the choice is going to be out of my hands. Literally.
Fuck it. I reach out my left hand, skim it quickly over the rocks. I finally find a little indention about two feet above my head. It’s not much, but it’s slanted down and I can get fairly decent purchase with three of my fingers. So that’s what I do as I bend my knees and pull my feet up a few inches to try and find a place to rest them, too.
I encounter a tiny shelf a few inches to my right, put my foot on it, and push up as hard as I can. Then I reach up, find another handhold, and pull. Hands, feet. Hands, feet.
I do this three more times before I get to the top of the cliff. I pull myself over and collapse on the snow-covered ground. I turn my head, draw deep breaths into my lungs as the adrenaline finally stops rocketing through my veins, then roll over and stare up at the sky.
I start to laugh, deep, painful bellows—out of relief or agony or pure, unadulterated hysteria—I don’t know. But once I start, I can’t stop.
I don’t know how long I lie there staring up at the night sky, laughing my f**king ass off.
Long enough for the cold wet of the snow to seep through my jeans and sink into my bones.
Long enough for the stars to slowly fade away as the red and violet tendrils of dawn streak slowly across the sky.
More than long enough for thoughts of Ophelia to sneak back into my consciousness. An image of her, empty coffee cup in hand and green eyes sparking with triumph, flashes through my mind, and I stop laughing. Start wondering.
What’s she doing right now?
What’s she thinking about?
Then I snort at my own stupidity. It’s barely four-thirty in the morning. She’s sleeping, tucked up nice and snug and cozy in her bed. Another image works its way into my brain, this one of Ophelia in a sexy little nightie curled up under the covers. Or, better yet, sprawled across the bed, legs open and nightgown creeping up her thighs so I can see … everything.
Her blond hair spread out across the pillow.
Her creamy skin flushed pink with heat.
Her perfect tits straining against the tight lace of her gown while her pu—
Lust slams into me with all the finesse of a snowplow at high speed. In an instant I’m rock hard and ready, hands shaking with the force of the need ripping through me.
What the fuck?
I’m half frozen and minutes out of one of the deadliest situations I’ve ever been in, and still I want this girl so badly that I can barely breathe with it. I’ve had her—over and over and over again, I’ve had her—and still I’m tied up in knots because of her. Still I’m jonesing for more. There are a thousand girls out there I can tap with no more than a smile. What is it about Ophelia that makes me want her so bad?
Correction—what makes me want to f**k her so bad? Wanting her … that’s a whole different story, and one I refuse to have any part of. Not when it’s so easy for her to kick me out of her life.
A wolf howls in the distance, a long, sad, lonely sound that chills me in a way the frozen ground never could. I sit up, slowly push my shivering body to its feet, and begin to walk. With dawn slowly rising around me, it’s easy to see where the new trail—and climb—have taken me. I’m on Lost Canyon property, less than a mile from the first ski lift and the employee lodge.
I wonder if Ophelia really is sleeping or if she’s wide awake, too.
Once the thought enters my head, I can’t shake it. And even though I deliberately turn in the other direction, I find myself circling back round toward the lodge. Back toward her. It’s like there’s a string around my waist, one that draws me to her even when I want to be anywhere else.
I start to fight it, to turn around and go somewhere else, but in the end I’m standing in the hallway outside her door—someone must have left the outside door propped open for a midnight booty call who never showed—telling myself to walk away. To just walk away.
I don’t know how long I stand there, thinking, waiting, trying to figure out the right thing to do. Walk away or knock. Knock or walk away.
And in the end I do exactly what I always knew I would do, exactly what I have to do to stay sane.
I turn and walk away.
It’s a little after four-thirty in the morning when I finish folding the last of my laundry and start the long trek back up to my room with my laundry basket in front of my face. This is the perfect time to wash clothes—everyone’s asleep and I had all the machines to myself—but at the same time, it’s going to be a long day. The two hours of sleep I managed to grab aren’t going to do me much good come afternoon rush at the coffee bar.
I’m on the stairs, on the landing halfway between the second floor and the third, laundry basket in front of my face, when I bump into a solid wall of … something. For a second I freak out as images of Harvey flip through my head at lightning speed. But before I can do more than register my fear, two strong, cold hands reach out and grab my shoulders to steady me. And though I still can’t see who it is, I can tell from the way he’s touching me that it’s Z in front of me.
“Hey, Ophelia. You okay?” The heavy basket is gently removed from my arms and I find myself staring into the concerned blue of Z’s midnight eyes.
“I’m fine,” I tell him. Which is true, as long as you don’t count the fact that my heart is beating like a metronome on high. It’s as though being this close to him actually causes my body to completely wig out.
“You sure?” He’s got the basket balanced in one hand and the other wraps around my elbow as he guides me up the last of the stairs. “I didn’t hurt you?”
I smile at him. “I’m good, Z.”
He came. He came. I can’t believe he came. I can’t believe he came. Even though I didn’t want him to, even though I told him I needed space. He came anyway.
The words are a happy mantra inside me as we walk the short distance down the hallway to my door. He came. He came. He came.
When we get to my room, we pause awkwardly while I fumble my key out of my sweatpants pocket. Once I get the door opened, he hands me my basket and takes a few steps back, like he can’t get out of here fast enough.
That’s when it occurs to me that maybe he’s not here for me. Maybe he was leaving one of the other girls’ rooms and I just happened to be coming up the stairs at the worst possible time. Maybe I ran into him because he was here, having sex, with somebody else.
Just the thought makes me sick. So sick that it’s all I can do not to burst into tears before I can even fumble the door shut. But I’ve cried enough over this guy. Cried more over him in the last week than I have over Remi in the last eleven months. There’s something wrong there, and it’s about time I put it to rights. About time I stop worrying about Z Michaels and start worrying about me.
Except now that I look at him, really look at him, he doesn’t look like he’s just crawled out of anyone’s bed. He’s dripping wet and shivering so badly that I can almost hear his teeth knocking together from where I’m standing.
I drop the basket inside the door of my apartment, then reach for him. “What happened to you?” I demand, pulling him inside and locking the door behind him. For the first time, I register just how cold his body is.
“Nothing?” I ask, brow raised. “Is that why you look like you’re one very small step away from hypothermia?”
I walk over to the thermostat, turn it up to eighty. Then I come back and fumble his jacket off his shoulders. “You need to get out of your clothes. They’re soaking wet.”
He smiles at me as I pull his T-shirt up and over his head. It’s nowhere near as wet as his jeans and jacket, but still, he can’t stay in it. Not when he’s halfway to frostbite already.
“It seems I spend half my time getting you out of your clothes,” I tell him, tossing the shirt onto a nearby chair before starting on his belt buckle. He tries to fumble it off himself, but his fingers are so cold that they aren’t cooperating. “If you’re so anxious to be naked around me, you should just ask. It’ll save you a hell of a lot of wear and tear on your body.”
He grins, and it’s the same here-let-me-help-you-out-of-your-panties grin that he first leveled at me. It works way better now than it did the night we met.
“Where’s the fun in that?” he asks around his chattering teeth.
I raise a brow at him. “I thought you had plenty of fun the last two nights.”
He strips off his jeans with a little help from me, then pulls me flush against him. “I did. Want to go for three?”
“What I want,” I tell him as I shove him toward the bathroom clad only in his boxer shorts, “is for you to take a hot shower. Get warmed up and then we’ll talk.”
“I’d get warmer faster if you took a shower with me.”
“Maybe you would,” I tell him, “but I’m going to take the time to once again throw your clothes in the dryer.”
“I’ve already seen you naked, you know.”
“I know. But whether or not you see me naked again is totally up to my discretion, and at this point I haven’t made up my mind.”
“Come closer,” he tells me with a wicked look that even his chattering teeth can’t dilute. “I bet I could convince you.”
I bet he could, too, which is exactly why I’m staying on this side of the apartment.
I reach into the laundry basket and toss him a warm, fresh towel. He catches it gratefully and holds it against his chest as he shivers. Poor baby.
“Go take that shower,” I order him. “We’ll talk more when you get out.”
While Z is dousing himself with the hottest water the human body can take, I run down and—for the second time this week—throw his clothes in the dryer. Then I go back upstairs and try to figure out what I can feed the guy. After that kind of exposure, he needs calories and lots of them. Unfortunately, my very limited pantry doesn’t have much. And what it does have is pretty much chick food—some apples, half a box of cereal, some peanut butter. Nothing, I’m sure, that would appeal to a twenty-one-year-old male athlete.