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Maybe there would be a medical emergency? Maybe, if she got lucky, someone would have a heart attack and she’d be called down to town. Deanna Gordon shook her head and mentally scolded herself. No. That wasn’t okay. It was never okay to wish someone ill health. Even if it would be a good excuse to get her off the ski hill and away from Marcus Stone, who currently walked toward her, his snowboard casually hefted over his shoulder and looking so damn sexy that it interfered with Deanna’s ability to think straight.
If she could just think of something—anything—to get out of the afternoon snowboarding lesson from Marcus. She just couldn’t seem to make her brain work fast enough to come up with a plausible explanation for blowing off the very generous gift from Seth McBride and her old friend Cynthia Giles. Ever since she returned to Cedar Springs about a month ago, she’d been their doctor and had been the one to officially declare Cynthia pregnant. Being able to see one of her oldest friends through such a special experience was definitely one of the perks of being a doctor in her hometown. It may be the only perk that she could think of. And there were definitely drawbacks, and the biggest one stood in front of her with a killer smile and a look in his eyes that had never before failed to make her stomach flip.
“Ready to do this?”
It was too late. She couldn’t think of a damn thing to say to get her out of it. Not without looking like a total bitch, anyway. “Absolutely.” She gave him her sweetest smile. Maybe if she faked her way through the afternoon, it would go faster. Besides, if she remembered correctly, she wasn’t the only one who was affected by spending time in close proximity together. The way she remembered it, their connection had been very much a mutual thing.
“You got a rental board?” Marcus bent down to pick up her snowboard from where it rested at her feet. “What happened to yours?”
“How do you know it’s not mine?”
“Your board used to have those big pink flowers all over it.” He smiled when he spoke, and damned if it didn’t send thrills right through her. She wasn’t supposed to be so affected by him.
“That was years ago.” She grabbed the board from him. “How do you remember that?”
“I remember a lot of things.”
His words were laced with the memories of long ago, and judging by the intensity of his eyes, those memories were just as real for him as they were for her. Only she wasn’t naive enough to think that Marcus had spent any of the two years since they’d last seen each other lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, and remembering exactly what it felt to lie together and feel the heat from his body wrapped around her. Not that she had. Not in months, anyway. And there was no way he needed to know that.
“Well, I hope I remember how to snowboard.” She put as much flippancy into her voice as she could manage. Deanna was determined to keep the situation as light as possible. There was no need to bring any feelings or memories into play. In fact, it was probably for the best if she could just repress all of those feelings. No. It was definitely for the best.
“I’m sure it’ll all come back to you.” Marcus dropped his board to the snow and stepped in. “And there’s only one way to find out.” He strapped his boot into the binding, and Deanna followed suit. There was no point prolonging the torture. Besides, the sooner she got it over with, the better. “Ready?” he asked after a moment and Deanna simply nodded.
Thankfully, they were joined on the chairlift by two skiers who were visiting on a ski holiday and with it being their first trip to Stone Summit, they had plenty of questions to keep Marcus busy for the ride up the mountain. Despite the fact that she was saved from making conversation with him, Deanna was distinctly aware of his strong thigh pressed up against hers and she could feel the heat even through her thick snow pants.
“Ready for this?” Marcus looked over at her as they approached the top of the chairlift; she nodded and bit down on her bottom lip. Getting off the chair was always her least favorite part. She’d fallen one time and caused a bit of a jam-up of people, and although it had only happened once, the whole situation had been so mortifying, she always got nervous when it came to disembark. No matter how many times she’d done it successfully. “You’ll be fine.” He put his hand on her leg.
It was so unexpected, Deanna jerked her head up and stared at him right as their boards hit the snow-covered ramp at the top of the lift. Before she knew what was happening, Marcus took her hand to guide her off the chair and down the ramp. The entire time her board slid beneath her, all she could think of was that Marcus was touching her, and how nothing good could come from it.
* * *
The heat from her hand, even through the thick glove, singed Marcus to the core. It had been two and a half years. Long enough that the woman shouldn’t have that kind of effect on him. He took a second to compose himself, thankful that Deanna wasn’t looking at him. After he’d let go of her hand, she’d sat in the snow and had focused on strapping her boot into the board ever since. She definitely gave it more attention than was necessary, but he wasn’t going to say anything; he needed the time to pull himself together. He knew it was a bad idea to take Deanna Gordon out snowboarding. No, it was flat out a bad idea for him to be alone with her in any capacity. And even if it didn’t make any sense, and even if he knew logically that those old feelings should have burned out long ago, it was clear they hadn’t. Hell, he’d only held her hand, and through a glove nonetheless. His body should not react the way it was. He shouldn’t have the intense urge to grab her and pull her tight to him so she could feel for herself that his body still remembered hers.
But he couldn’t. He’d lost that right a long time ago. Not that he’d even had it. Not really.
Marcus dropped down next to her in the snow and strapped his own boot into his board. “Okay.” He straightened up. “Are you ready to do this?” He knew his face was a carefully composed mask. He wouldn’t give anything away.
“Let’s start on an easy run, just until it comes back to you. Sound good?”
She nodded again.
“So remember, just point your board down and relax your body. I think you’ll be surprised with how much it remembers.” She still didn’t say anything, but nodded her agreement. “Are you good, Dee?” He slipped easily into the use of her nickname. “You’re not saying much.”
She looked away and stared down over the hill. “I’m good. I got this.”
He smiled and resisted the urge to reach out and touch her again. She’d always been so determined. It was one of the things that had attracted him to her in the first place. He’d never seen such a driven woman. When she set her mind to something, she went after it. It had been hot as hell back then, when she had just graduated from medical school and was home for a break, and it was even hotter now. “Then let’s do this.” He pushed up off the snow.
Because he was the teacher, he waited until Deanna headed down the hill. He watched as she started off shaky and unsure but in only a few turns, she settled in and carved through the snow as if it had only been a few days instead of years since she’d been on a board. He grinned and with a jump, set off down the mountain to catch up with her.
They finished the easy run with no drama and when Deanna pulled the goggles off her face onto her helmet, her broad, beautiful smile took over her face. “That was amazing. I totally remembered how to do it.”
Marcus laughed. “Of course you did. Once a boarder, always a boarder. And the next one’s going to be even better.”
“Next one? Are we doing it again?” She clapped her gloved hands like a little girl.
“Of course. This lesson isn’t over yet.” He bent and freed one foot from the board and she did the same. When he stood again, he watched her for a second.
“Are you ready?” Deanna swung her head around and caught him staring at her. “What?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Should we go?” He’d made himself vulnerable to her once before and she’d broken his heart. He’d be dammed if he was going to let it happen again. He’d never believed in love at first sight; hell, Marcus had never believed in love. But when he met Deanna, it was instant. Their time together had been short, but it had been intense and the only real feelings he’d ever had for a woman. Not that it mattered; she’d rejected him and completely broken his heart, turning tail and returning to Toronto without so much as a second glance. As if he’d meant nothing to her. And he hadn’t been able to say a word about it, because at that time, Marcus hadn’t exactly been available to be with another woman, let alone fall in love with one. He’d been dating Kylie Wilson, who now happened to be happily engaged to his twin brother, Malcolm.
He wasn’t proud of his past, or the fact that he’d been a terrible boyfriend to Kylie. It wasn’t a secret that Marcus had cheated on Kylie—a lot—and generally treated her terribly. That was ancient history, and Kylie had long since forgiven him. But what was a secret was that one of those people he’d cheated on her with had been Deanna. No one in town knew that they’d been together, and he’d hated keeping it a secret, but not nearly as much as Deanna had. He’d known at the time it was killing her to lie to her family and friends, but he’d pushed to keep it quiet until the night he put it all on the line and told her he was in love with her and he wanted to be with her.
He was so sure she’d meet him the next day so together they could go tell Kylie the truth, and finally be free to be together. He’d been up all night planning how they could make things work together: her and her medical career, and him with his dreams to be a professional snowboarder. It seemed impossible, but he knew it wasn’t. He’d never felt so full of hope and possibility—he’d been madly in love.
But she never showed up at his apartment the way they’d planned. He’d waited for hours, called her, left messages before he finally discovered she’d left and gone back to Toronto. She never even said good-bye and he was crushed. A few days later, the offer came to join the pro snowboarding circuit, and Marcus had left town, too, vowing never to let himself be so vulnerable again. And he hadn’t.
“You look like you’re thinking about something,” Deanna pushed. “Everything okay?”
Marcus put a smile on his face and gave her a wink. “Perfectly.” He pushed his way into the chairlift line.
Whatever had happened between them, it had happened a long time ago in a complete different world and as far as he was concerned, Deanna was just another piece of ass from his past. At least that’s what he was going to keep telling himself. At least until he started to believe it.
* * *
She’d managed to work all her nerves out during the first run, and Deanna was surprised how quickly boarding came back to her. More than that, she was surprised by how much she enjoyed it. The thrill of the cold air on her face as she pushed her body to perform was exhilarating.
“I forgot how awesome this was!” Deanna called behind her as she moved down the hill.
Marcus caught up to her easily and sprayed her with snow as he carved close to her and passed her.
She could only hear his laughter as he went by, and she pushed even harder to catch him although there was no way she could. But Marcus slowed, a move she knew he’d done on purpose, and they finished the run together, coming to a stop in front of the lodge.
“That was fantastic,” Deanna said through deep breaths as she tried to control her breathing. “But man, I’m out of shape.”
“I think your shape looks pretty fantastic.”
She snapped her head up to see his eyes glittering with mischief. After the initial sparks between them—or at least, on her end—she’d managed to compartmentalize any of her leftover feelings for Marcus and enjoy herself despite them. Not that her body wasn’t completely aware of his proximity when they rode up the chair together, or when he guided her with a hand on her lower back as they made their way through the line. No, her body was totally aware of him, but the only way she knew to survive being close to Marcus was to bottle up every single one of those feelings, the same way she had years ago. And that’s just what she did. So far it had worked pretty well. But that was when she’d had snowboarding to distract her. Now that they stood only inches apart, with no boards between them, Deanna suddenly wasn’t so sure how to behave. What was the etiquette for such a situation?
“So,” she started, “I guess I should—”
They both turned at the voice. Deanna’s stomach flipped while her heart soared. “Kylie?” She was going to run over to her old friend, but stopped herself only seconds before she remembered her boots were still strapped into the board. She quickly bent and released herself but by the time she had, Kylie had joined them. Deanna wrapped her friend into a bear hug. Catching up through social media and email just wasn’t the same and they really hadn’t had much time to chat at Kylie’s party a few weeks ago—not that Deanna had made the time. She felt guilty about avoiding her, but despite the fact that it had been years since she’d betrayed her by sneaking around with Marcus, and Kylie was now happier than ever with Malcolm, the guilt had only gotten worse. She hated herself for what she’d done all those years ago; it didn’t matter that Kylie had never found out. In fact, that little detail probably only made it worse.
“I thought you were gone at nursing school,” Deanna said. “What are you doing here?”
Kylie laughed and looked over her shoulder at Malcolm, who just joined them. “Malcolm has an elaborate schedule that gets me back here as much as possible. I swear, it’s like I never left.”
“Well, I’ll take it while we can.” Malcolm wrapped his arm around Kylie and pulled her close. “Classes have only just started. Pretty soon my little student here will be too busy studying to come visit me.”
Kylie smacked him lightly in the chest. “Stop it. I’ll never be too busy for you.” She gave him a sweet look that ended in a passionate kiss. Deanna glanced at Marcus, and they exchanged a quick look.
“We have to go have coffee or something,” Kylie said to her when she was done smooching her fiancé. “We can steal Cynthia away, too, and get all caught up on everything. I’m so glad you’re back in town.”
“I’m not really back.”
“Well, you’re more back than I am these days.” Kylie laughed. “Seriously, I feel like going to nursing school came at the worst time ever. With Cynthia’s baby and now you being back, it’s—”
“The perfect time.” Malcolm interrupted her with a smile and a quick kiss on the forehead. “You’re going to be the best nurse ever, and there would never be a good time to go away.”
“It’s true,” Marcus chimed in. “Besides, we’ll keep Malcolm plenty busy while you’re away.”
Kylie glanced between the two brothers and shook her head. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” She looked toward Deanna. “You’re going to have to help me out.”
“Me?” Deanna’s hand flew to her chest. “How can I help you?”
“Keep this one out of trouble,” she pointed to Marcus and shook her head, “and far away from my man.”
“What?” Deanna took a step back. “Why would I be able to keep him out of trouble?” She didn’t dare risk a glance at Marcus, afraid of what simply looking at him would give away. “I don’t know any—”
Kylie’s laughter cut her off. “You know how he can be.”
A completely irrational fear rose up in Deanna. Kylie couldn’t possibly know that of course, Deanna knew exactly how Marcus could be because he’d been that way with her. No. She couldn’t know, but if she did…Deanna glanced around; the proper words for what should be a completely simple situation totally eluded her.
Ironically, Marcus saved her. “Of course she knows how I can be,” he said. “Or should I say, how I used to be. A man can change, Kylie. I’m no longer the troublemaker you seem to think I am.” He gave her such a charming smile, even Deanna was fooled by his words.
“You know I love you, Marcus.” Kylie beamed at him. “And all that’s ancient history. I’m on to bigger and better things these days.”
It was much later, after Deanna and Kylie made promises to get together for coffee or drinks, and Deanna had returned her equipment and drove down the mountain to her childhood home, that Kylie’s words played on repeat in her head. That’s ancient history.
Was it? Would Kylie forgive her for betraying her friendship all those years ago when she risked everything to follow her instincts on a love that she’d ultimately walked away from?