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She put her head on her knees, trying to block out the rest of the world. But the cold from the rock crept through her ski pants and kept her alert. The sound of skis drew near.
To make the moment worse, she heard the voice that at breakfast had raised the hairs on the back of her neck. “Hey, anything I can do to help?”
She should’ve asked Jill to join her. They might’ve grown closer, and Jill would’ve kept the losers away. She’d have to call her tonight. Without lifting her head, Grace mumbled,
“Just go away.”
Silence answered her. He was right next to her. She sighed and looked up. Royce’s eyes expressed concern. It’d be easier to ignore if his goggles were on, but they hung around his neck.
He said, “You must be pretty good to do this run.”
The compliment was a relief after the constant badgering from Doug. She found herself saying, “It’s one of my favorites.”
“How often do you ski?”
She didn’t know if it was her sudden sense of loneliness or his easy manner, but she found herself responding with personal information. “Several times every winter. That’s why I live in Denver.”
“If I lived here, I’d ski all winter too.”
Naturally. Her perfect man except that he’d axed her. “Why are you wasting your time on me? I don’t want anything to do with you.”
“Because you’re smart and beautiful. And you already know what I do. Revealing my job is a huge turn off to women.”
Smart and beautiful. She heard the smart part often, but never beautiful. He was playing at something. “Gee, what a surprise. I’d think you’d keep it a secret.”
“I don’t like to keep secrets from people I care about.”
Her insides squirmed. She wouldn’t be able to hold up much longer under the assault of his smooth talk and good looks. This had to be some sort of weird game. He couldn’t really mean these things. “I don’t care about you. Could you just start your run already?”
“I’d rather you went first so I don’t have to worry about you sitting up here all dejected. ”
She had to get rid of this guy. There was no way he was going to seduce her. She needed to take control. An idea popped into her mind, and she spoke before she considered it. “How about we race to the bottom of the hill? If I win, you leave the ski resort so I can finish my weekend in peace.”
He gave her a measuring look and then turned towards the trail. She looked over at it too. Trees capped with snow crowded the hill, creating several divergent paths. Her favorite path had more moguls than the others, but fewer trees.
After a moment he said, “Sure. But if I win, you have to go to dinner with me tonight—with an open mind.”
She had to admire his persistence. But dinner with him would be too much time with the enemy. She knew these slopes better than an out of towner, even if he was a great skier. She’d win. She said, “I can’t guarantee the open mind, but otherwise, deal.”
She clipped her skis back on and pushed herself over to the top of the trail. He skied up to her, and she heard him sigh.
He said, “Full disclosure: I grew up here and raced down this hill all the time in high school. You can call off the bet if you want.”
What was his deal? She’d never expect someone like him to admit anything out of a sense of fairness. But she needed to beat him. It would make her feel better about the layoff. She put her goggles on and said, “High school was a long time ago. Let’s go.”
He grinned. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Charged with new energy from the bet, she crouched down and put her goggles on. A moment of hesitation slipped in when she looked over at him. He’d gone to an awful lot of trouble to get her on a date. He could have any woman in the resort with his looks and, she had to admit, charm.
She tightened her grip on her poles and shoved aside any warming up to him. With a job like his, trying to get her to go out with him was probably some sort of sick conquest game he played. She’d beat his ass down the slopes and send him home. She shouted, “Ready.”
He looked straight ahead.
He turned to her, and she saw him wink behind his goggles.
He was so good looking. Bastard. “Go!”