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Authors: Emily Franklin

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BOOK: Slippery Slopes
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Her breath comes out in white puffs, small clouds pluming into the air.
He made me laugh and just knowing I lost my chance with him makes me

“Hey, you, Melissa Forsythe,” Gabe taunts. “Dare you to go first.”

“I might be a lot of things,” she says jokingly, “but stupid isn’t one of them. You’re mad if you think I’m testing that thing out.” Melissa uses her pole to unwrap the heavy rope from the tree trunk, her pulse speeding at the thought of actually swinging on it.

James swishes over, with Charlie following closely behind. “No way I’m going on that,” she says. She looks adorable in James’ gloves, her form-fitting ski outfit, her hair bright against the navy blue of her parka.

Melissa looks at her roommate and at James.
They make a good couple, actually. She’s perky and pretty, and he’s everything.
She imagines snapping a photo of them and how they’d look like a couple in a catalogue. With a sinking feeling she realizes she’d never look as perfect as that.

Without warning, Gabe drops his poles, climbs backward to get some leverage, and then in one quick motion gives a yelp. “Whoo—check it oooouuutt!” he yells as he grabs the rope swing, propels himself through the cold air, does a 360 in the air, and lands perfectly.

“You idiot!” James says, half kidding and half not. “Why risk wrecking your knee before the race?”

Gabe smiles, out of breath, excited from the buzz of jumping. “You gotta live, man. Can’t hang on to every hope and dream.”

He means it in a laid-back skier’s way, but Melissa reads between the lines.
He’s right. I mean, I can’t cling
t
o a vision of being with James forever. It’ll only keep me from ever moving on. After all, I’m making new strides all the time. I didn’t know how to cook, learned the basics, and was a chef last week. I’m semisocially incompetent, and here I am leading professional skiers down a secret trail.

“I’m next!” Melissa shouts. She makes her way backward the way Gabe did, with the other skiers smiling at her. Only James gives her a look of disbelief.

“Mesilla …” he says before correcting himself.
Mesilla’s
been the name he thought was hers. Part of the reason for the whole confusion last week. He’d told Gabe he liked a girl named Mesilla; Gabe had written it off at first, but once Gabe learned it was the same Melissa he’d hooked up with, he hadn’t told either James or Melissa. “Melissa, this might not be the best idea.”

This stings Melissa like a sharp wind on her face. “Gabe tested it out,” she says, throwing his name into the mix just out of a need to protect herself. “If he can do it, so can I.”

James sends a pleading look to Charlie, who tries to stop her. “Melissa, maybe James is right. I mean, he and Gabe know a hell of a lot more about skiing than …”

Melissa’s stomach turns over at the thought that Charlie is stepping up for James.
They’re even acting like a couple, communicating with looks, those unspoken words that suggest a deep connection.
If anything, having Charlie doubt her only makes Melissa more determined. “It’s no big thing. Back home, I surf killer waves in waters where shark attacks aren’t uncommon. I think I can handle this.” And without further exchanges or stopping to reconsider, Melissa drops her poles, flings herself forward with all her might, speeding right to the rope swing.
You can do this,
she
thinks. Just reach for the knot, hang on, and go for it. It’s all about being strong and letting go of the past, reaching for the future, and

Melissa feels her hands grip the rope just like they’re supposed to. With her thigh muscles tensed, her legs leave the ground, her skis wobbling in the air.
I’m doing it!
She grins wildly, laughing.
And I’m not even scared, even though I’m way up high.
She looks down at the spectators—Gabe clapping, Gabriella and her friend Camilla shouting things in Italian, Pierre looking bored, and Charlie with her … with her arms around James. In the split second that Melissa sees this, is witness to James returning the touch, her grip on the rope loosens just enough that right at the very peak of swinging out, Melissa feels herself falling out of control.

Dove and Melissa—

Don’t know if you got my first postcard, but disregard everything in it. Life here isn’t exactly what I pictured. Sure, there are beaches, but let’s just say
I’ve been put in the dog’s quarters while the rest of the family is living large in the largest resort house you’ve ever seen. (Can you say five pools?)

But life isn’t all bad … The social scene is mellow-cool, with beach bonfires, private soirees,
and beautiful sandy boys just waiting to be SPFd. If I get a day (or, um, an hour) off, I know where I’m headed….

Hope mountain life is decent—I do miss the slopes.

Yours in bikini land,

Harley

6

D
OVE’S ENTIRE BODY FEELS
as though it will explode with fear as the door to Matron’s office swings open without a knock.
I’ll just start crying,
she figures,
that might work. Pull the old having a breakdown, needed solace, and so forth.
Then she pictures Matron’s stern face and knows that plan will never work.

“Look, I’m really sorry but I …” Dove brushes the wisps of hair that frame the sides of her face, biting her top lip as the door opens all the way.

But rather than Matron’s puckered face, she is instead confronted by a completely drenched and rather annoyed-looking Max. In a blue half-zip striped sweatshirt and jeans, he stands dripping onto the carpet. As if it’s not at all bizarre that he’s sopping wet and in Matron’s office with a startled Dove, Max wipes a rivulet off his nose and tilts his head to the side in greeting.

“Bit of a problem with a frozen pipe.” Max’s voice is normal, as though nothing’s happened. “The problem being that it burst. On me.”

On you alone or on you and Claire?
Just thinking about Claire and her ravenlike sheen, her cruel smile, is enough to make Dove fume. “Sorry you’re wet,” she says, but rather than having it come out angry, she can’t help but laugh. “You look ridiculous.”

“Thanks.” Max grins at her, his eyes cast downward, wanting to convey more emotion than just humor. He gestures wildly at Dove, intentionally flicking beads of water at her. “That—that is why I’m here. Reporting problems to Madam Matron, as it were.” He raises his eyebrow and flicks again. “And what, may I ask, brings you here?” His forehead wrinkles. “How’d you get in?

Dove swivels in Matron’s desk chair, pretending she never even touched the computer. “I’m just leaving, actually. Tried to come in here for … just to …” The computer screen doesn’t fade right away, though, so Max stares at the password and then at Dove.

“Ah, right. If memory serves, you no longer have a laptop.”

Dove gives him a hard look.
That’s not all I don’t have. I might not have had William if I’d asked you to stay,
she thinks but doesn’t utter. “No—poor little me. Without modern forms of communication.”

“All the modern ones suck, anyway. People should go back to writing letters, and then we’d see where things really stood.”

Dove shakes him off. “Meaning what?”

“Meaning …” Max clenches his hands, which are red and cold from the freezing water. He starts to shiver. He smiles at her but then the grin fades. “Who were you trying to e-mail?”

Defensive, Dove stands up, trying to leave the office and Max behind. “I’m late for cooking. I have to go.” She can not only see but feel him shake, his sweatshirt sending tiny rivers of water down his wrists. Dove fights the instinct to hold him, to try and warm him up.

“Les Trois.”

Dove stops. “What?”
Maybe the water has frozen his brain

obviously we’re at Les Trois, but what does that have to do with anything?

“The password.” Max’s eyes flash, but his voice remains steady. “I happened to be here when Matron threw a bit of a computer fit last week.” Max’s lips are ringed with blue, the shaking now infecting his whole body. “I don’t know who you needed to get in touch with …” Max gives Dove a look that lets her know he’s completely aware of what she was going to do online. “… But you must really have wanted to—you know—to break in here and all.”

“I didn’t break in.” Dove feels a lump rising in her throat.
Am I upset about being caught? Or upset that Max knows about William?
“And just so you know, I wasn’t e-mailing. I was just trying to change my …”

Max shakes his head and holds up his palms like a traffic cop. “You don’t have to explain.” Dove feels frozen, knowing if she immediately types in the password she’ll send a direct message to Max, but if she doesn’t, she’ll miss her chance to switch her plane ticket, to redirect the downward spiral holiday week has sent her way. “So?”

“So.” Dove wishes she had the guts to make a move one way or the other. “You need a blanket. Or at the very least, a hot shower.” For a second, she wonders if this sounds flirty rather than like concern for his well-being, then she decides he probably doesn’t care. That Claire will be more than happy to lather him up if need be. From down in the village, the church bells sound into the winter air, sending noise that undulates around the buildings, up toward the mountains.

“I’m so late.” Dove looks at the clock behind Max’s head. “So, so late.”

“Me, too,” Max says, his voice softer and slightly shaky.

“For what?” Dove flashes to any number of things Max could be late for: shopping with Claire as she gives her parent’s charge card a beating, ice skating with her on the large pond, or perhaps writing about her in his thick leather journal.

“For this.” Max puts his cold hands on the back of Dove’s neck, where both the chill and the touch send her reeling. He’s about to kiss her; in fact, he’s leaning down, in a pre-kiss position and she isn’t stopping him, when Matron appears.

Furious, her voice is shrill. “What in heaven’s name is happening here? You’ve ruined the rugs—it’s worse than snow damage.” She furrows her brow at Max. “And you, Miss de Rothschild, aren’t you meant to be in the middle of a proper lunch?”

Dove hasn’t heard her last name used in a long time. She glances at Max, who is paralyzed from the interrupted kiss, his dropping body temperature, and from Matron’s demanding presence. “I’m on my way now. Of course I made paninis in advance—roasted pepper with three cheeses, prosciutto and fig….” Dove rattles on about the food while disappearing out the door.

Only after she gets outside and starts to run toward the chalet does she realize she, too, is shaking. Shaking, and with neither a changed plane ticket nor a kiss to show for it.

The quiet in the room is interrupted only by a steady-paced but quiet beeping.
Am I dreaming?
Startled, Melissa bolts upright, thinking that the beeping sound is her alarm clock informing her it’s time yet again to be a host for the masses. But when she sits up and checks out her surroundings, the first thing that hits her is the stinging pain in her side.

“Ah …” She doubles over, clutching her rib cage.

“You broke two of ’em,” Gabe Schroeder says. Late-afternoon sunlight streams from the window, casting a glow onto his silvery blond hair.

Melissa looks around. White curtains, white walls, white linoleum floors—like a version of heaven, except that Gabe Schroeder is sitting next to her. Once she sees the white jacket flapping toward her, she gets it. “The Infirmary? What the—” Then she remembers the dare, the rope swing, trying to look cool while Charlie got too close for comfort to James.

A doctor wearing an expensive striped tie, pressed khakis, and a French blue button-down walks toward the cot where Melissa lies. Covering her, though she is dressed, is a white sheet.
At least Gabe didn’t see me naked. At least I’m not in one of those awful tie-in-the-back robes.

“Miss Forsythe.” The doctor gives her a standard look of concern crossed with a hopeful smile. “You had quite a tumble.” Melissa blushes, thinking of the rope, how it slipped from her hands. His accent is thick, and Melissa strains to understand him. “You’ll be fine.” He hands her some over-the-counter pain medication and a tiny cup of water and warns her to be careful on the slopes.

The doctor gives her the go-ahead to leave. As he walks away, Melissa looks at Gabe and thinks,
I should be just as careful off the slopes.

“Diagnosis: two broken ribs and one very bruised ego.” Gabe’s hand grips the metal bars on the side of her bed. “Not to mention an unrequited crush.”

And just what am I supposed to say to that?
“Speak for yourself—my ego’s just fine, thanks.” Melissa feels herself blush but ignores it. Gathering her strength she tries to move, and semisucceeds. “And what would you know about my love life, anyway?”

Gabe shakes his head. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” He leans forward, looking closely at Melissa’s face. “Just—I didn’t think it was coincidence that you let go of that rope right when the hottie nanny grabbed James.”

Melissa’s throat tightens, her breath quickening. “First of all, Charlie’s not a nanny. She’s a cleaner now.” Melissa wishes this small fact made her feel better, but the truth is that Charlie could be scrubbing toilets or making filet mignon or playing with rich toddlers, and the only part that Melissa would mind is the thought of James liking her. “And second of all, I dropped that rope because it was hard. Admittedly, it was a stupid trick.” She leaves it at that. “Ow.”

Gabe watches her touch the sore ribs. “The doctor said you could spend the night if you wanted.”

“No way.” Melissa sits up, then prepares to stand.

Gabe rises from the folding chair to give Melissa a hand. She refuses. “The doctor said spend the night. Or maybe he said you sure put up a fight—I don’t know. The guy’s Bavarian, so it was hard to understand….”

This prompts a grin from Melissa. She steadies herself on the edge of the bed, swings her legs over the side, and stands up, wobbly.
Oh my god, pain. Pain. And also

more pain.
She blushes again, knowing Gabe’s right and her ego is way bruised. “Fine. My ego might be dented, but at least I gave it a shot.”

BOOK: Slippery Slopes
8.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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