He didn’t think she could do it.
Audrey held out her hand, her pulse racing. “You’re on. If I win, you leave. If you win, we go skinny-dipping.”
Reese clasped his hand in hers and they shook on it.
Damn it, she was going to lose. This was not fair.
Of all days for this bet to happen, today was by far the worst. Daphne woke up early that morning, sullen and dizzy. Audrey had lingered around her for a time, bringing blankets and drinks when needed. She didn’t mind helping, though she was curious why Reese moved in and out of the cabin and there was no sign of Cade, who normally was attentive when Daphne was awake.
When lunch had rolled around and Cade hadn’t made an appearance, Audrey innocently asked, “Is Cade sleeping in?”
“Oh, he went to town for some more supplies,” Daphne said. “He left super early this morning. I needed more cigarettes and Reese suggested more groceries.”
Audrey’s eyes narrowed. She glanced over at Reese. “Did he now?”
“Huh,” was all Reese said, but that know-it-all grin was on his mouth. He kicked his feet up on the coffee table and wiggled his eyebrows at Audrey.
That jerk. He’d known all along that Cade wasn’t around, and he’d still made that stinking bet with her. She hated him. She really and truly hated him.
He’d planned this simply to get her to go skinny-dipping with him. “When will Cade be back?” she asked, keeping her voice as casual as she could.
Daphne shrugged, giving her a cross look. “Why do you care?”
Not for the first time, Audrey wished that her beloved twin wasn’t going through the cranky pants portion of withdrawal. “I’m sure he’ll be back in time for your pill,” Audrey told her. Considering that Daphne took it around dinnertime each night, it made sense.
Daphne rubbed her face, groaning. “Can’t get here fast enough.”
In that, they were in perfect agreement.
The afternoon passed in a whirlwind of tension for Audrey. She read her book, finished it, then paced the living room as Daphne napped fitfully upstairs. She’d have gone with Daphne except that Daphne had finally been irritated enough with Audrey’s fussing to kick her out of the room and locked the door. Well, that suited Audrey just fine, she thought. She can clean up her own vomit. She read one of her books instead, sat on the back porch, and watched the sun sink far too close to the horizon for her own tastes.
Reese, meanwhile, chopped wood. He’d removed his shirt and, despite the fact that it was winter and somewhat brisk outside, he was covered in sweat as he placed a log on a stump and then sliced it neatly in half with the axe.
She told herself that the light on the porch was the best, and that was why she was out there. It wasn’t because Reese was half-naked and his muscles gleamed with sweat. Certainly not.
But when he tired of chopping wood and went upstairs to shower, Audrey was left alone to her own devices. She headed into the bathroom downstairs and studied her reflection thoughtfully. She’d have a limited window of time in which to kiss Cade when he got back. She had to make it happen. Had to. She was not skinny-dipping. Maybe she needed to put on some makeup and fix her hair in something other than a tight bun.
She pulled the tie out of her hair and let it fall around her shoulders. Reese had seemed to appreciate her hair soft and loose. And while she didn’t care what Reese thought about how she looked, he seemed to be a good judge of what men found attractive. Hell, he dated all kinds of women. If Reese thought she was sexy with her hair down, Cade surely would, right?
Audrey ran the brush through her hair, finger-combing the loose curls and waves that her bun had made. Her hair was shiny and soft, the natural red a pale but pleasant orangey gold. Would he find her attractive? She retrieved her purse from the living room and pulled out her cosmetics bag. Nude lipstick, nude eyeshadow, and concealer for her under-eye circles. Nothing to make her into a gorgeous woman who needed to be kissed. With a sigh, she tossed the makeup back into her purse . . . and glanced at Daphne’s battered makeup bag.
A short time later, she wore false eyelashes, her eyes were lined and smoky with kohl, and her lips were glossy with a slick, kissable gloss that made her lips look plump and juicy. Her freckles were toned down by a bit of powder, and the waves of her hair made her look soft and touchable.
Not bad. She didn’t look much like the normal Audrey, but Cade tended to ignore the normal Audrey. He saw her as a bland but beloved friend. She fluttered her lashes at the mirror. With those on, she had to admit that she looked a bit more like her twin—albeit a fat, freckled version of the wispy, frail Daphne.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Audrey hesitated, staring at her reflection.
The front door banged shut and she gasped. Cade was back. She turned and whirled out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.
He arrived with a few bags of groceries in his arms, looking a bit exhausted himself. Cade smiled at the sight of her and gestured at the groceries. “Hey, Aud. Help me bring these in?”
“Of course.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him and smiled. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
Cade gave her a smile in return. “Me, too. It’s good to see your lovely face.”
Well, if that wasn’t encouraging, she didn’t know what was. Blushing with pleasure at the compliment, Audrey headed down the stairs to Cade’s car and began to help him bring in the groceries. Their arms piled high with bags, Audrey was distracted and almost ran into Reese as she entered the cabin again.
Reese took the bags from her hands and then stopped at the sight of her.
“Is there a problem?” she whispered, keeping the smile on her face as Cade glanced over at them.
His face darkened into a bit of a scowl as he studied her hair and then her face. “Pulling out the big guns, I see.”
“That’s right,” she said sweetly. “And the sun’s not down yet. So even though you cheated, I still intend on winning. Get ready to leave.”
Reese grunted and said nothing.
They put away the groceries in silence. Reese seemed to be stewing over the fact that she’d done her makeup and hair. Cade seemed preoccupied, and Audrey, well, Audrey was trying to figure out the best way to seduce her oldest friend in the space of an hour.
For some reason, it made her nervous. And reluctant. Loving Cade from afar was safe. No one’s feelings were hurt when the other party didn’t know you were interested. Her confession to him would change everything.
But it was either that, or skinny-dip with his best friend.
“How’s Daphne doing?” Cade asked quietly. “Is she sleeping?”
“She’s very cranky,” Audrey said with a soft smile. “But she’s going to be okay, I think.”
“She’s had a rough week,” Cade said, concern in his voice. He seemed distracted and oddly enough, exhausted, as if he’d spent the last few nights up with Daphne at the sacrifice of his own sleep.
Which, Audrey supposed, he had. He was such a good friend to their family. Was it any wonder that she loved him? Audrey reached out and clasped his hand, squeezing it. “Thank you for being here for us.”
Cade looked surprised at her touch, and then he squeezed her hand back, the gentle smile crossing his face. “Of course. I said I’d always be here for Daphne, and I am. She knows she can count on me.”
“We both can,” Audrey told him, smiling up at his gorgeous, classically handsome features. He didn’t look like Reese. Reese, whose face was handsome through sheer force of his personality. Reese, who looked like he’d be more comfortable at home in a boxing ring than in a business suit. Cade was beautiful like a statue. Reese was sexy like a force of nature.
“Move it or lose it,” Reese said in her ear, shoving past to get to the fridge with the last of the groceries. Startled at Reese’s callousness, Audrey almost scowled. He shot her a black look and indicated that she should let him past.
Audrey brushed up against Cade, letting her breasts push against his chest. To her surprise—and chagrin—Cade automatically moved back, ever the gentleman.
“Cade, can I talk to you privately for a minute?” Audrey pitched her voice to a husky, sexy timbre.
“I thought I would go check on Daphne,” Cade said, gesturing at the stairs.
“This won’t take long,” she told him, touching his arm. “Please? It’s important. I’d like to talk to you . . . somewhere where we can be alone.” She turned and gave Reese a dirty look.
“Of course.” Cade gestured courteously toward the door. “Is the porch all right?”
“The porch is terrific,” she told him, heading in that direction. She cast a triumphant look at Reese, who seemed to be scowling at her. He hadn’t thought she could do it, she thought smugly. She was about to prove him wrong. Just you wait, Reese Durham. The player’s about to be played.
Audrey stepped out onto the porch and waited for Cade to join her. He did a moment later, brows knitting together with concern as he shut the door behind him. “Is everything all right?”
She nodded and walked to the railing, gazing out over the beautiful scene before her. There was no snow despite the chilly weather, and the mountains were purple in the distance, the trees like green velvet against the orange and purple sky.
It was sunset, so she didn’t have much time to waste. Audrey automatically glanced back at the lodge and noticed Reese gazing out the window in the kitchen at her. All right then. She just had to push through and make this happen.
Cade was watching her with a curious look. “Did you want to talk about something, Audrey?”
She turned, resting her bottom against the railing of the porch and clung to one of the wood posts. “Come here, Cade.” When he looked hesitant, she added, “I’d like to keep our voices down so as not to disturb the others.”
He nodded, his hands going to his pockets as he strolled toward her. When he was within grabbing distance, he tilted his head and studied her. “Good enough?”
“Good enough,” she agreed.
“So what’s this about?” His expression looked bleak for a moment. “It’s Daphne, isn’t it?”
“No, no,” she told him hastily. “Nothing as bad as that.”
“I’m worried about her,” he told Audrey. “She’s recovering but she’s not happy about it. This is something she has to want for herself. It’s not enough for us to want it for her. It’s like she doesn’t care.”
“I’m sure she cares,” Audrey said, trying not to feel impatient. If he was going to talk about her twin and her health issues, she’d never wrangle that kiss out of him. “That wasn’t why I called you out here.”
“Oh?” Cade ran a hand over his jaw, and she noticed that he still hadn’t shaved. He seemed distracted, too. This was the most not together she’d ever seen Cade, and it threw her. Was he truly that concerned for Daphne? She was doing fine. She was throwing up less today and was able to keep some dry toast down. Give it another week or so and she’d be just fine. “What is it, then?”
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