The stunning winter wonderland panorama was dotted with impossibly tall evergreens flocked with snow and the pristine hills glistening in the morning sun. It was so quiet, I could almost imagine we were alone in the world. That was precisely the kind of thought that freaked me out sometimes. But not today. Today the idea seemed…promising. Maybe even cleansing, like a new start.
“It’s beautiful,” I said reverently.
“This is one of the reasons I like coming out here early. The light is so brilliant. It looks like a postcard or the photo in the dictionary next to the word ‘hope.’ ”
“That’s a nice thought.”
We shared a smile; then he adjusted his goggles and inclined his head meaningfully. “Ready?”
“Yeah, but…you go first.”
“C’mere.” Liam crooked his finger.
I shuffled forward until I stood beside him with our skis pointing in the opposite direction, expecting him to impart some advice about the terrain or maybe remind me how to stop. Both might have been helpful, actually.
“What is it?”
“Hold on to my sleeve. Stay still. That’s perfect.” He stroked my chin before leaning in to press his lips to mine. “You taste like cherry ChapStick. I like.”
I grinned. “Thanks. So do you.”
He kissed me again, twisting his tongue with mine and leaving me breathless. “Mmm. I’m making it my personal quest to make sure you get down this mountain safely and that you have fun doing it.”
“Good luck with that,” I sighed, aware that my voice had taken on a dreamy quality.
“I don’t need luck. I’m an expert,” he bragged playfully. “I’m going to give you a couple of tips. Listen up.”
“Bend your knees and stay loose.”
“Like this?” I bent my knees and wiggled my arms like a rubber band.
Liam chuckled. “Something like that. We’re gonna take it slow, moving from side to side, making wide turns. I’ll go first. Follow me and remember to keep your gaze forward.”
“As opposed to?”
“Looking at your skis. You don’t look at your feet when you’re walking, so don’t look at your skis when you’re skiing. It’ll fuck with your balance. Ready?”
“Yeah.” I licked my lips and nodded.
Liam glided smoothly down the incline, veering sharply to the right. He stopped with a flourish, sending a plume of powdery snow skyward before raising his poles triumphantly. I snickered at the silly display. He made it seem fun and relatively easy. All right, then. I could do this.
I grasped my poles in a vise grip and dug into the snow, propelling myself forward. I aimed my skis in Liam’s general direction and honestly, it felt pretty damn good. I was in control, a cool breeze on my face, and a light wind at my back. Best of all, I appeared to be closing in on my correct destination. A hot guy was waiting for me in front of a huge pine tree with—
I couldn’t stop. I picked up speed and barreled forward, trying to remember his advice. Knees bent. Check. Don’t look at your skis. Check. Stay loose…
Nope. Not possible.
I was wound so tight my head felt like it might pop off. Every muscle in my body was rigid as I zoomed closer to Liam…and the tree. It occurred to me as my life began to flash in front of my eyes that if I turned downhill, I could avoid the tree and move in the right direction. I might not have control of my skis, but Liam seemed to know what he was doing. No doubt he’d catch up easily and offer tips on how not to kill myself along the way. A comical vision of him doing circles around me while I tumbled into a giant snowball flashed in my head.
And that might have been when things went sideways.