What’s Inside? Approximately 80 pages featuring ex-lovers reunited, a workplace romance, ski patrol doing avalanche control, and smokin’ hot sex.
The wooden door of the ski patrol shack slammed into the wall. A gust of cold air and snow, and a tiny, powerful tornado, swept into the room. The door slammed shut, but the tornado kept coming.
“What is your deal, Max?” Sophie’s ski boots thudded on the plywood floor as she crossed the sparsely furnished room. Voice hard. Eyes flashing. All the fury of a goddess scorned aimed straight at me.
Shit. I crossed my ankles like my family jewels needed protecting—not that anything could save me from Sophie’s well-justified wrath.
“What do you mean, Soph?” I kept my face and tone innocent. I hadn’t wanted this damn job. Knowing she would be working for me would’ve been the nail in that coffin. Too bad I didn’t find out until my first day.
“You know good and damn well what I mean.” She pushed her way into my personal space. So close I could see the darker lines in her light blue irises. So close it made it damn hard for me to think about anything other than the taste of her mouth. Except maybe how it felt to have her naked and in my personal space two years ago. Before we worked together. Before we lived two doors down from each other in employee housing.
Before I became her boss.
I really didn’t need the reminder of those eight, incredible weeks we’d spent together, or the stiffy responding to the images in my head. Not when I wanted to think clearly.
Anger radiated off her like the sun’s heat radiates off the snow—hot, and able to burn you in minutes. If I wasn’t leaning my hip against the battered wood table, I would’ve taken a step back. Instead, I worked not to cross my arms. Setting up physical defenses wouldn’t help me here.
“Sam said he hired me because he wanted someone who was Mountain Travel and Rescue certified.” She put her hands on her hips and glared at me. “It’s been almost three months, and all I’m doing, every day, is sweeping easy groomers, working first aid, and repairing fences.”
“Standard procedure. You learn the mountain and the team before we send you out on serious rescues or avalanche mitigation work.” I picked up a clipboard of paperwork I didn’t need to look at and stared at the top page.
I never expected my strategy to work over the long haul. Not after she left a sweet job patrolling at Blue Sky to work for Emerald Mountain. I just didn’t know what else to do, and I had to do something.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Bullshit. Troy started when I did, and he’s been throwing bombs and ski cutting with Ryan for six weeks.” Her lips pursed. “No wonder you don’t have any other woman on Patrol.”
“Not true. Brit’s on maternity leave right now, but she’s slated to come back next season.”
“And do you let her do anything other than repair fences?” She raised her eyebrows and stared me down, shoulders back, arms crossed.
“Of course. Brit does every job on the mountain.” I put on my friendliest smile. “All ’trollers do, after a few months on the job.”
Memories of Anna in a full body brace made my chest tighten, but at least they also shrunk my growing hard-on.
“You know, Max, I never took you for a misogynist. Guess we all can be wrong sometimes.”
“Wow! Sophie Tremore admits to being wrong. Even if it’s at my expense, I’m impressed.” I wracked my brain for the best way to handle this. Deflecting with humor would only work for, oh, about half a minute.
At least if she thought I was a misogynist, she wouldn’t figure out I still had feelings for her. That I’d been keeping my distance because I was afraid those feelings would cloud my judgment. And that I’d been keeping her on easy jobs because an irrational, selfish voice deep inside me screamed, Protect her. Keep her safe.
So stupid. Our jobs were inherently dangerous—something we all knew and accepted. When you work with explosives and avalanches and heavy sleds in tough terrain… Well, eventually someone is going to get hurt. Nature of the business.
Sophie had more training and experience than half the patrollers on staff. I trusted her with my life. I just didn’t trust myself with hers. I knew I couldn’t protect her any more than I could protect Anna. Still, I needed to try, for the sake of my sanity.
At the same time, I needed to keep her happily employed here. With Brit out and Joey injured, if we lost one more ski patroller, keeping the mountain open wouldn’t be easy.
“Actually, I’m glad you brought it up. I planned to set you up with a training partner for avy control this week, I just hadn’t sorted out the details yet.”
Every inch of her froze except her face. A series of unreadable thoughts flickered across it.
“Okay. Great.” Her shoulders dropped a fraction. So did the steel hard glint in her big, blue eyes. “When, and with who?”
Shit. Great questions. All the senior staff was already paired off, and I needed to make this happen asap. I wracked my brain for an option that made sense. Only one came to mind, and I had a feeling I would regret it, but I had to do something. “Me. Tomorrow.”
Her eyes narrowed. When Sophie’s eyes went slitty, it did not bode well.
Stupid idea, Max, my inner voice sneered. I know, but I don’t have another one, I told it, and steeled myself for Sophie’s response.
“So now you’re going to have me chained to a desk doing paperwork?” Her hardened voice slammed into me. “No thanks. I’d rather stick to the groomers until I find another job.”
I stood up tall and pressed my hand over my heart. “I promise we’ll get out on the slopes every day. I just want to make sure you know this mountain and our protocols before I set you loose. I can’t have any of my ’trollers getting hurt.” That had to be the first true statement I’d made since she walked through the door.
“Fine.” Her tone softened, but her eyes stayed narrow. “When do we start?”
“Five thirty a.m.”
“See you then.” She crossed the room, opened the door, and turned to face me. Swirling snow and the gray glow of the storm framed her tiny body. Her expression remained unreadable. “Thanks, Max.”
The door slammed behind her, and I wanted to heave a sigh of relief. Except now I was even more worried.