Dare, Book 1
Joseph Hudson tossed his snowboard aside, threw his goggles over his shoulder and swung a fist at his best mate.
His knuckles, covered as they were by tri-layer insulated gloves, weren’t anywhere near as hard as they would have been if he’d been having this fight back home in Australia. They were, however, still hard enough to produce a satisfying crunch when they hit Robert I-dare-you Thorton’s jaw.
“You right bloody wanker,” Joseph stormed, watching his life-long friend, business partner and travelling companion stagger backward over the firmly compacted snow. “You told me the helicopter was going to pick us up before sunset.”
Robert let out a snorting chuckle, rubbing at his jaw even as he struggled to stay on his feet. That his snowboard was still attached to his left boot wasn’t making the job easier. “Yeah, yeah.” He laughed, his wide grin almost hidden by his own gloved hand. “Sunset tomorrow, Hudo.”
Joseph took a step toward him, the urge to kill him was stronger than it had ever been. Stronger than the time Rob had dared him to hijack the principal’s mini back in their senior year of high school and leave it atop the barbeque pit at the top of the local lookout point. Stronger than the time Rob had dared him to run buck-naked across the cricket pitch during the regional grand final game with the word “Howzat?” scrawled in bright red lipstick on his backside. How was he to know Mrs. Woodcomb’s mini was a rare collectors’ car on the verge of being bought by a museum for a very, very generous price? How was he to know the national manager of the camping-and-outdoor equipment store Joseph worked at was the umpire of the cricket match that day?
Thanks to Robert bloody Thorton, over the twenty-six years spanning their friendship Joseph had been suspended, sacked, jailed, robbed, handcuffed to a stripper pretending to be a cop, handcuffed to a cop who sure as hell wasn’t a stripper, left stranded on a public beach without a stitch of clothing and almost married to a Russian buy-a-bride at the ripe old age of sixteen. None of those incidents however, could have resulted in Joseph’s untimely demise like this one could.
He ground his teeth, removed his bright orange helmet and dragged his fingers through his hair as he did so. “Fuck a duck, Rob,” he muttered, shaking his head. “We could die up here tonight. Do you have any idea how bloody cold the Rockies get at night? In the winter? We don’t even have a bloody tent!”
“I saw you pitching a tent over that hot little number back in the lodge this morning, Hudo. The same one who caught your eye last night.” Rob grinned wide enough to flash the dimple in his right cheek, an action guaranteed to make any woman forgive him anything. Joseph however, was not a woman. Not even close.
He yanked his gloves from his hands, storming towards his best mate. “Right,” he growled, “that’s it. I’m gonna kill you.”
Rob burst out laughing, holding his still-gloved hands up, palms outward—the closest Joseph would get to an apology. “Uncle, uncle.”
Joseph rolled his eyes and raked his fingers, already starting to tingle from the bitter chill on the winter air, through his hair again. As frustratingly annoying as the tall, lanky professional nuisance could be, Rob knew when he’d pushed too far. Now was one of those times. He’d always been this way. Since day one of kindergarten, Rob had been the instigator, the provoker, challenging Joseph to push himself beyond the boring safety of his conservative, politically correct, cotton-wool, upper-class upbringing. All Rob needed to do was utter the words, “I dare you” and Joseph was a cooked goose. Trouble always followed those words. Trouble and a world of fun.
If it wasn’t for “I dare you”, Joseph never would have started Hudo’s Outdoor Equipment Online at the bright-eyed and bushytailed age of twenty.
If it wasn’t for “I dare you”, he’d never have taken his small online store to the next street-front level.
If it wasn’t for Rob and his “I dare you”, Joseph would probably still be sitting in Hudo’s Outdoor Equipment’s office beside the fridge in his kitchen, wondering where most of his ambition had gone.
“I dare you” had seen them both fly out of Australia to the US to take on the Rockies’ ski slopes without any preparation at all except to pack their snowboards and equipment—and, in Rob’s case, practically a whole backpack of condoms. By the time they’d landed in Colorado, Rob’s blog had received over one hundred comments from women in the US offering to show them the best places to have fun on the snow. Something about those comments told Joseph snowboarding wasn’t exactly the fun they had in mind.
“I dare you” had seem him singing Men At Work’s “Down Under”, the unofficial Australian national anthem, last night in the bar after just two hours in the country, standing atop a not-so-stable table with his Aussie-flag boxers on full and prominent display.
So here you are, Joseph, CEO of Hudo’s Outdoor Equipment, Time Australia’s Businessman of the Year, stuck on the side of a mountain in the Rockies with Hudo’s Marketing Director and all round professional partier and no one back in Australia knows where either of you are. Excellent.
That thought, sarcastic as it was, made Joseph snort. He let out a sigh and looked around for his discarded gloves. “Okay, Thorton,” he threw over his shoulder. “I know you’re not a complete moron. What’s your plan? Where are we staying tonight?”
Rob’s dimple flashed again. “In the hut, Hudo. In the hut.”
Joseph raised his eyebrows. The pristine snow surrounding them, barely marred by tree or rock let alone fellow snowboarders or skiers, didn’t lead him to feel any more relieved. He turned back to Rob. “Hut?”
“Okay, I’ll give. Where the bloody hell is this hut?”
Rob didn’t try to hide his grin as he dropped his gaze to the slim compass embedded in the nose of his snowboard—a new device he was trialing for Hudo’s Outdoor Equipment. Joseph may be pissed at him, but he’d stopped at one punch. By Rob’s reckoning, that meant Joe had already forgiven him and was about to throw himself into the challenge, albeit begrudgingly, but along for the ride all the same.
Rob studied the small compass, noting the direction it told him was true north. Lifting his head, he gave Joe a wide smirk. “The hut is about forty minutes that way.” He pointed northwest. “As long as you stop belly-aching, we should be settled in and knocking back the first beer before sunset.”
Joseph cocked an eyebrow. “Belly-aching? Hey, I’ve got a right to complain. You may enjoy sleeping starkers in the middle of the Rockies, but I left my favorite boxers back at the lodge. And for the record, I still can’t believe you’re carrying a six-pack in your backpack.”
Rob laughed. Joe’s favorite boxers—a silk pair with an image of the Incredible Hulk printed on the backside—were tucked safely in amongst Rob’s own long johns. “Yeah, yeah,” he reached down and released the mechanism on his snowboard’s binding harness. “You think I’m going to look at your bony arse?”
“No,” Joe shot back. “I’m just worried you’re going to go into a steep spiral of depression when you realize my nuts are bigger than yours.”
Rob threw back his head and laughed. The sound bounced off the pristine white snow-covered hills around them. “I’ve seen ’em, remember, mate.” He patted the front of his padded ski trousers. “These are bigger and made of brass.” He snatched his snowboard from the ground and hoisted it up onto his shoulder. “C’mon. I’m thirsty and the beer is getting warm.”
Joseph snorted. “Of course it is. The fact we’re tromping through a bloody fridge doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?”
Rob flashed his teeth at his best friend. “You know I like my beer cold.”
He set off, the crunch of the untouched snow beneath his feet like music from heaven. Growing up in Australia meant two things to Rob. Surf and snow. He and Joseph had spent their childhood either on the waves or the ski slopes. The trouble was, with the planet increasingly getting hotter every year, the Australian snow fields were fast dwindling to snow patches. He pulled at the backpack slung over his shoulder. There wasn’t anything like going on an adventure with his best mate, especially not at the moment.
When the call of the snow had hit him in the belly in the middle of a sweltering Aussie summer day while he and Joseph were in the most boring meeting Rob had ever had the misfortune to be in, he’d dared Joe to jump a 747. Six hours later they were settled into their first-class seats, beers in hand, watching Sydney become a tiny grey smudge thirty-thousand feet below them. Thirty-two hours after that and here they were. In Colorado. On the slopes.
Away from it all.
The hut—a rescuers cabin nestled in the trees at the lowest point of Knife Ridge in Wolf Creek Ski Resort, was the perfect place to force Joe to unwind. And to give him the bad news.
Don’t think about that yet, Robbo. Get a few beers into him and then think about it.
Pulling an icy breath, he shot his best mate a quick look. The man was born for this. Not sitting behind a desk, no matter how expensive the desk was. What was going to happen to him when Rob was gone? Who was going to tear his ass from the chair and make him live his life?
Stop it. Not now.
“You sound out of breath, Hudo,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Too many days and nights power networking?”
“Ha ha.” Joseph rolled his eyes. “I hear you puffing just as much as me. Too many nights partying, mate?”
Rob grinned at him again. “Yeah, that’d be it. And once again, I draw attention to the sexy thing back at the lodge. She was in the bar last night, sitting all alone after you left. She watched you leave, y’know. You could’ve been partying as well, if you hadn’t needed to send off that email.”
“Hey, I didn’t break the rule.” Joseph adjusted his snowboard under his arm, giving Rob an affronted look. Rob’s “rule”—that no one was supposed to know where they were—existed for one reason only—to keep Joseph from working when he should be having fun. “I didn’t mention where we were. I did however, approve your latest marketing push for the Chinese market, so shut up or I’ll cut your expenses.”
“Whoa, hit a man where it hurts, why don’t you?”
Joseph shook his head, the corners of his mouth curling. “Where it hurts with you mate, is in your pants.”
Rob puffed up his chest. “Can’t argue with the truth.”
Joseph shook his head again. “Idiot.”
They continued farther, Rob checking the compass every few minutes. The undulating hills around them began to grow a little more unpredictable, dropping suddenly here, rising abruptly there. More trees—limbs stooped low under the weight of heavy snow—jutted up from the blinding whiteness, breaking what was otherwise a perfect blanket. He frowned, turning his head a little so Joseph wouldn’t see. Okay, at this point he should be able to see the hut—at least the top of the hut’s roof—somewhere before him.
But he couldn’t. There was nothing. Just trees, snow, rocks and more snow.
“Did I tell you the Japanese consortium made another offer before we left?” Joseph said suddenly, and Rob started before forcing his face into a relaxed smile.
“No. How much this time?”
Joseph let out a sigh. “A stupid amount. Enough to make me think I’m an idiot for saying no.”
Rob paused, giving his best mate a serious look. “Why are you saying no? How many blokes our age get the chance to say, hey, I don’t have to work another day in my life?”
Joseph shook his head, an unreadable tension forming at the edges of his brown eyes. “If I sell up, who is going to keep you under control? Or living the unleashed life you’ve grown accustom to?”
A sharp stab of something very close to pain sank into Rob’s chest, and he turned away and began the trek to the so-far unseen hut. “I’ll be right. I’m super-hot, super-smart, I have a degree from Sydney Uni—with honors—and every marketing idea I come up with makes the company more money than God. Who’s going to try and control that brilliance?”
“You forgot to add super-humble to that list,” Joseph pointed out behind him.
“And super-thirsty,” Rob shouted, trudging faster through the snow. Where the bloody hell was this bloody hut?
The crunching of snow under boots told Rob his friend had started walking again. “Hmm. Well, it’s a moot point anyway,” Joe said, his voice carrying over the still silence of the mountain. “I’m not selling and you’re not going anywhere.”
Rob squeezed his eyes shut for a quick second, his fists bunching tight. God, I wish you were right, mate.
The dark thought slithered through his head like a snake and he quickened his pace, searching the never-ending whiteness before him for signs of the rescue cabin.
“Where the bloody hell is this hut of yours, Thorton?” Joseph muttered. “Even I’d kill for a beer right now if it didn’t mean freezing my nuts off out here.”
“Wait your hurry,” Rob shot over his shoulder, a knot of unease beginning to form in his gut. “I know you’re just impatient to get your gear off.”
Something icy cold and rather hard smacked into the back of his head and he turned to see Joseph swipe his snow-dusted hands against the back of his thighs.
“A snowball?” He raised his eyebrows. “Really? I thought I was meant to be the immature one?”
Joseph shrugged, a smirk playing with his lips. “Wasn’t me.”
With a laugh, Rob turned back to the hut-less bloody hills and began walking again, doing his best to ignore the knot of unease twisting tighter in his gut.
Twenty minutes later, he clenched his fists and bit back a curse. Fuck it. He had to do the unthinkable.
He stopped walking, stabbed the nose of his snowboard into the snow beside his boot and gave Joseph a level look. “I think we’re lost.”
Joseph stared at him, his expression not even flinching. “I coulda told you that fifteen minutes ago.”
“Funny bastard.” Rob scanned the snow, squinting at the sun and its way-too-fast decline behind the hill to the west. “I’m serious. I think the compass on the snowboard is faulty.”
“Guess we better not stock it then.”
Joseph’s casual reply made Rob bite back another curse. He’d expected another punch. What this laidback attitude from Joseph meant was his best mate was going to make his life a living hell later. When he’d calmed down. “It shouldn’t be far,” he offered, scanning the area around them again and pointing a little to the left. “Unless the compass is totally fucked up, it should be somewhere in this direction.”
“Or it could be on the other side of the ridge.”
He gave Joe a sheepish sideward glance. “That would suck, wouldn’t it?”
“C’mon.” Joseph started walking again, his footfalls like gunshots in the icy air. “There’s no way the gods of lunatics would let you perish on a mountain in the US. Who’d they worship if that happened?”
“Ha ha. You really missed your true calling, Hudo. You shoulda been a comedian.”
Rob picked up his board and hurried to catch up with his best mate, casting the sinking sun a less-than-impressed look. Night would be on them soon. When that happened, the temperature would plummet. There were other less-appealing ways to die, but being turned into an icicle on the side of a bloody mountain was right up there with the worst. How the hell had he gotten this so wrong?
“Remind me to send an email to the manufacturers of that compass when we get back home,” he said to Joseph’s back.
The words tasted odd on Rob’s tongue. Like chalk dust and stagnant air.
You’re not planning on going back home, are you?
“Y’know,” Joseph called over his shoulder, “I think I might write one as well.”
Rob couldn’t help himself. He laughed. Joseph may be the kid who needed a push to experience life, but when it came to business, he didn’t mess around. An email from Joseph Hudson pretty much spelt the end of any outdoor equipment supplier foolish enough to promote a product not ready for the market. Just like that.
“If it helps, you can have my beer.”
“Won’t say no.”
Rob laughed again. If they survived the night, he’d buy Joe a whole bloody brewery.
Anna McCarthy lowered her binoculars and shook her head. Australians. What were they thinking?
She returned the glasses to her backpack, adjusted the straps on her stocks and pushed herself forward. The sun would be completely behind the horizon in less than fifteen minutes, which gave her less than ten to get to the two men wandering aimlessly at the base of Knife Ridge Chutes and get them into Wolf Creek rescue cabin number four.
After that, she’d spend a good fifteen minutes giving them a damn good lecture on mountain safety before charging them with reckless endangerment and presenting them with a hefty fine. Tourists, she’d learnt from experience, only learnt their lesson when their hip pockets were injured. And by the look of the equipment these two men were decked out in, the latest and greatest and very most expensive, their hip pockets could afford the pain.
Gliding through the terrain, she kept her stare locked on their dark shapes, each one a tall black streak of stupidity against the stark white snow.
The wind bit at her face, even through her protective gear, and she growled low in her throat. Australians. Thought they knew everything.
She’d noticed them at the bar last night, their accents drawing more than just her attention. By the time the tallest one with the sandy-blond hair and hawkish nose had finished his off-key rendition of that song from Kangaroo Jack and left, just about every woman in the bar had been gathered around their table.
Dodging a low-hanging branch, she stabbed her stocks into the snow, hurrying her speed. As far as she could tell, none of the fawning women had gotten lucky, much to their chagrin. The tall one, Joseph, she thought she’d heard his friend call him, hadn’t come back to the bar, and his friend had followed only a few hours—and beers and dances with said fawning women—later. Alone.
So is that why you’ve followed them for most of the day? They didn’t pick up anyone last night?
She grunted at the ridiculous notion, swerving a cluster of jagged boulders as she forced herself faster over the snow. No, she’d followed them most of the day because she’d heard the friend—Rob? Bob?—mention to one of his many admirers they were going to heli-jump onto Knife Ridge Chutes and planned to stay overnight in the unused Wolf Creek rescue cabin.
The trouble was he hadn’t informed her. And as the local ranger in charge of controlling Wolf Creek’s slopes and ski runs, anyone planning on spending the night on the side of Knife Ridge, no matter how gorgeous and well-equipped and obviously daring-do, had to tell her of those plans.
And something about them had told her they were going to get themselves into trouble.
Maybe it was the devilish glint in Rob/Bob’s way-too-sexy blue eyes? Or the dimple in his cheek? Or the way Joseph moved his hips on the table dancing to that annoyingly catchy song? Or the way your pussy fluttered and squeezed and got all warm and prickly when Joseph looked at you this morning in the lodge. Or the way you woke up covered in sweat after dreaming about them both undressing you with their teeth while their hands—
She cut the embarrassing thought dead before her face could get any hotter. She hadn’t had a wet dream since she was a teenager, and she sure as hell didn’t have one last night. She didn’t. And no, none of those reasons were why she now followed the Australian men. She’d followed them because her gut had told her they’d need her, and she always listened to her gut. Not her pussy.
“Oh, shut up,” she muttered with a savage thrust of her stocks. The push flung her past the last of the blanketed trees and, with another quick dig, she propelled herself closer to the two men. Close enough to hear them singing—singing of all things—some weird version of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top” with the word “top” replaced by “hut”.
She ground her teeth and slid to a halt behind them, showering them both in snow, not even remotely interested in hiding her anger. “What the hell do you two morons think you’re doing?”
They spun to stare at her, their faces—flushed by the icy chill on the air—registered their shock.
Before they could say anything, she poked a finger at them, her stock dangling from her wrist to bang against her right knee. “Do you have any idea how dangerous what you are doing is? How stupid?”
The tall one—Joseph—gaped at her, his eyes locked on her face. “Err…”
“What my mate means to say—” Rob/Bob began, that evil dimple she’d seen last night flashing into existence on his right cheek.
“Is he’s a moron?” Anna snapped, cutting him off. The dimple was doing all sorts of unnerving things to her anger. And all sorts of unnerving things to her sex, damn it.
“Actually, I’m really very smart.”
The statement, falling from Joseph’s lips in a hurried jumble of accented words, seemed to surprise him. He blinked. And his friend burst out laughing. “Bloody hell, Hudo.” Rob/Bob smacked a fist into his friend’s shoulder, blue eyes twinkling. “It’s a good thing you’re loaded.”
Anna frowned at them both. She had no idea what Rob/Bob had just said—loaded? Surely Joseph wasn’t drunk on the mountain?—but whatever it was, it made Joseph glare at him. “Put a sock in it, Thorton,” he growled.
Hudo? Thorton? Singing when they should be scared stiff they were going to freeze to death? Laughing in the face of her anger? Who were these people?
Still chuckling, Rob/Bob turned back to her and fixed her with a direct blue stare. “We kinda fucked up, thanks to a wonky compass. You wouldn’t happen to know where the number four hut is, would you?”
Keeping a tight grip on her anger, Anna fixed him back with her own level glare. “I do. And if you promise not to sing anymore, I’ll take you there.”
Much to her dismay, Joseph started laughing. Much to her horror, her pussy started to flutter. Really quickly. And insistently.
Oh, Anna, don’t go getting turned on by two Australian idiots.
“Any chance we can persuade you to stay overnight with us?” Rob/Bob grinned, dimple still there. “I promise Hudo here won’t sing again.”
“Shut the hell up, Rob,” Joseph growled. “You sing worse than me.”
Anna felt like she was watching a game of tennis. She couldn’t stop moving her stare from one to the other. They couldn’t be for real. She was dreaming this. She’d fallen asleep thinking about how they’d need saving and this is the scenario her psyche had come up with: two gorgeous, sexy-assed Australians asking her to stay overnight in the deserted, unused rescue cabin with them. All three of them locked up together, with nothing to do all night except—
“Shouldn’t we be getting a move on?” Rob’s deep voice, complete with that sinful Australian accent that made her pulse quicken, jerked her out of her confused trance.
She blinked, giving them both another hard stare, hoping like hell her cheeks weren’t as red as she thought they were. “Follow me,” she snarled, snatching at the grips of her stocks and pushing herself away from them. “And try not to get lost.”
For an answer, Rob laughed.
“You’re a fine one to laugh, Thorton,” she heard Joseph say, his accent just as sinful as Rob’s, “you’re the one that got us in this predicament to begin with.”
“And you can thank me later, mate,” Rob replied.
For reasons Anna couldn’t understand, her pulse kicked up a notch. And her sex grew damp.
Oh, Anna. You know where this is leading, don’t you?
She pushed her way through the snow and trees, leading the two men to the rescue cabin on the northwest side of the valley. she had to admit their snowboarding skills were quite impressive. Better than their navigational skills, that was for certain. Much better than their singing skills, even if their accents were sexy as hell. The pit of her belly knotted and she scowled, doing her upmost not to think about staying overnight with them. She didn’t have to stay. None of them did. If she got to the cabin quickly enough, she could contact base and tell them to send up a chopper. They’d be back in the lodge, no doubt singing on tables again, before midnight.
And that’s what you’re going to do, isn’t it? That is, because that’s the right thing to do. The sane thing. Not calling the chopper, not going back down the mountain, that’s the wrong thing to do. Staying overnight in the hut with them, that’s just plain…
“Silly,” she muttered, rounding a grove of pine. The grove of pine. The grove beside which sat—
“The hut!” Rob cried, his enthusiastic cheer making Anna’s nipples pinch into hard little points. “See, Hudo? I wasn’t that far off.”
Joseph chuckled. “Yeah, you’re a regular Saint Bernard.”
The warm, happy sound made Anna’s nipples pinch harder, and she bit back an exasperated groan. God help her, she wasn’t just getting turned on by their accents, she was almost coming thanks to their foolhardy attitude to getting lost.
She tilted her hips, preparing to swing around to face them, when Rob swooshed past, his tall, lean body looking deliciously confident on his snowboard. He cut to a halt at the door of the rescue cabin and flashed his dimple at her again. “So,” he said, blue eyes shrouded in shadows cast by the almost sleeping sun, “you going to join us inside?”
Anna narrowed her eyes at him, refusing to acknowledge the eager throb between her thighs. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you two are in? How much this rescue is going to cost you? I can lay charges. I could—”
“Have the best night of your life,” Rob finished with a grin.
Behind her, she heard Joseph moan. Low and almost inaudible, but a moan all the same. One filled with…hope?
She turned her head and looked at him over her shoulder, the memory of her dream flooding through her. No, it wasn’t just her dream making her body thrum with an inexplicable, hungry urgency. It was the way Joseph had looked singing on the table—like all the happiness in life, all the joy and fun, had somehow been poured into this one man. It was the memory of how her lips had curled into a smile watching him. It was the disappointment she’d felt when he’d left the bar before she could get the chance to muster up the courage to introduce herself. Not to mention the relief she’d experienced when he’d left the bar alone.
His eyes moved to her, their cookie-brown depths asking a question her body knew the answer to, even if her head didn’t.
“I dare you.” The three words passed Rob’s lips with silken devilment, and her pussy contracted in eager want. She stared at him, her heart racing, thumping in her throat with such force she could barely draw breath. Two men, two Australians. Both somehow the embodiment of every fantasy she’d never known. Both dangerously gorgeous, both sinfully sexy. Both capable of making her almost orgasm just by speaking, let alone what they could do with their hands. Two men. One mountain. One momentous dare.
Without saying a thing, she bent down and unlatched her boots, disconnecting them from her skis.
Her blood roaring in her ears, she crossed to the cabin’s door and searched for the key to its lock in the top pocket of her jacket. Her fingers brushed her breast through the thermal material of the garment and she hitched in a gasp, the jolts of pleasure darting through her body at the completely un-sensual contact making her head spin.
She withdrew her hand, her fingers gripping the key tightly, her breath stuck in her throat.
You’re really doing this, Anna? Really really?
She slipped the key into the lock and, closing her eyes for a split second, pushed the door open.
* * * *
Joseph watched the woman from the lodge step through the doorway into the hut. He stood frozen, not from the sinking temperature of the winter air, but from sheer, dumbstruck cowardice.
He’d never had one before. Rob had. More than once Rob had ended up in a bed that wasn’t his own with two women. Tonight wasn’t two women though. Tonight was him, Rob and a woman he’d been attracted to the second he’d seen her in the lodge last night.
He couldn’t do it.
He slid his stare to his best mate. Rob leant one shoulder against the doorjamb, studying him. He knew there’d be no contact between them both. Without saying it, there wasn’t any doubt about that. They were both strictly hetero, even if they did love each other as only mates could. And he’d been starkers around Rob too many times to be hung up about what his friend thought of him standing so near without any clothes on. But this…
Is it really Rob you’re worried about, Hudson?
No, it wasn’t. He’d never been one for one-night stands. Sex was too…too—fuck—too personal. It was a connection of more than just body. What if he couldn’t…what if it didn’t…
A jerking spasm in his pants made him snort out a quick laugh. Okay, that answered that question. He was as hard as ever. His dick strained against the lining of his snow pants with such insistent force he was surprised it didn’t tear the material. He’d sported an erection almost as hard this morning in the cafeteria just watching the woman now inside the hut. The thought he might actually touch her, hold her, make love to…
He drew in another breath, his lungs burning as icy air streamed into his body. His balls rose high and he knew they were firm and swollen. Ready.
Bloody hell, he wished he was back in Australia. Listening to the company’s insurance director drone on again.
No, you don’t.
He stared at his best mate, mouth dry.
Rob cocked an eyebrow. “Do I need to say it, Hudo?”
He shook his head. “Don’t.”
For a moment, he could almost see the words “I dare you” forming on his friend’s lips. And then a strange stillness passed over Rob’s face, an unreadable light flickered in his eyes and he nodded. A single, simple nod. “Okay. But don’t do this for me, Joseph,” he said, his voice uncharacteristically serious. “Do it for you.”
Joseph frowned, the words puzzling him. Since when had Robert Thorton ever backed down from laying down a dare? What was going on here? What was going on with Rob?
Before he could say anything, Rob gave him one of his patented grins, dimple creasing into existence on his cheek, and swiveled on his shoulder until he disappeared into the hut.
Joseph studied the doorway, dragging his hands over his face and through his hair. He pulled in a deep, slow breath. “Fuck it,” he muttered. “It’s getting cold out here anyway.”
Two steps into the cabin and he realized something wasn’t going the way he suspected.
“Shit, shit, shit.” The woman—damn, he really needed to get her name—was stamping her foot beside the tall and ancient heater in the centre of the surprisingly large cabin. She swung her foot, the toe of her boot connecting with the steel heater with a solid thunk.
He shot Rob a quick look, raising an eyebrow in a silent question.
Rob laughed, obviously enjoying himself. But then again, when didn’t Rob enjoy himself. The bloke was a walking advertisement for being high on life. “It seems we can’t get the heat on.” He paused. “Well, not this way anyway.”
The woman stopped her baleful glare of the uncooperative heater and turned it on Rob. “I’m about two seconds from radioing Wolf Creek command and having you taken away in cuffs, you know that, don’t you?”
Rob laughed again, zipped up his jacket and tugged his beanie from his pocket. “How ’bout I go get some wood.”
Joseph snorted before he could stop himself, the expression on Rob’s face telling him the wood his mate most eagerly sought had nothing to do with trees.
Bloody hell, Hudson. You got the mind of a teenager at the moment.
He watched his friend leave, the bang of the door closing a sudden and daunting reminder he was alone in the cabin with a woman who made his dick harder than…well, harder than wood. He shuffled his feet, feeling ridiculously stupid. “Err…”
“The emergency gas reserves seem to have evaporated,” she said, flicking her eyes at the heater beside him. “Which means the pilot light won’t ignite.”
He nodded, wishing to hell he could think of something intelligent to say. For Pete’s sake, he owned Australia’s most successful camping and outdoor equipment and supply business. He should be able to talk about pilot lights and gas heaters until the cows came home.
“Tell me, when did you two decide it would be a good idea to come to America to go snowboarding?”
He smiled at the abrupt and almost caustic question. Leaning his board against the wall, he slid his sleeve up his arm and looked at his watch. “About thirty-eight hours ago.”
She laughed, the first real joyful sound he’d heard from her since she’d arrived out of nowhere and led them to safety. “Thirty-eight hours.”
“Yep. We touched down and checked in last night.”
She shook her head, tugged her gloves from her hands and stuffed them into her jacket pocket. “Which tells me one or both of you has lots and lots of money. More money than sense, I’d guess.”
Joseph gave her a puzzled frown. “Why do you say that?”
“It’s peak ski season. Every room in every accommodation from here to Utah is booked out. Unless you’ve got serious dollars, there’s no way you’re getting a room with just thirty-eight-hours’ notice.”
“Is it a problem one or both of us is loaded?”
A dawning smile stretched her lips, and his cock, still rigid in the confines of his snow pants, gave a little spasm. Damn, that was a gorgeous smile. The corners of her mouth curled first, creasing the sides of her lips just a little, before her teeth—perfectly white and even—came into view, followed by a tiny little crease just between her eyes. Eyes, he hadn’t failed to notice, a very piercing, very sexy shade of grey.
“Ahh,” she said, nodding as she moved away from the cold heater toward a bench under the shuttered window on the far wall. “That explains what loaded means.” She leant her butt against the bench and folded her arms over her breasts. Joseph felt his cock jerk again. Such a simple action, but it made him horny as a bloody dog. What would it feel like to place his hands on her breasts and cup them? Squeeze them gently?
“So, you’re the one with the money.”
Her question, delivered in the form of a statement, sent a rush of warmth to his face. He hated talking about his money. True, he had a lot of it, a bloody lot of it, but it didn’t define him.
“And Rob is the one without the sense,” she finished, the smile on her lips curling wider. She titled her head to the side, crossing her ankles in front of her. “Yeah, I can see that.”
Despite himself, Joseph grinned. His cock lurched again in his trousers, enjoying their tête-à-tête almost as much as he was. He liked her dry wit. And her accent. A drawling caress of vowels and consonants that made him wish she’d say his name.
“I guess I should ask your name,” he said, removing his own gloves and shoving them into his back pocket. “I should at least know who to address the thank you card to.”
She laughed again, and Joseph decided there and then he could seriously become addicted to the soft, throaty sound. “Anna McCarthy. Your local saver of lost Australian lunatics, yeah, that’s me.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “All Australian lunatics? Do you get many here?”
Her direct grey gaze leveled on his face, a small smile playing with her lips. Lips he wanted to kiss. Soon. Real soon. “No, you’re my first. But depending how it goes tonight, I might have to find some more to save.”
A low growl rumbled in Joseph’s chest at the idea of Anna McCarthy saving any other Australians but himself. “Hmm,” he said, “I think you’ll find saving Aussies is an exhausting, sweaty business.”
She cocked her own eyebrow, the finely arched line of dark blonde hair moving up her forehead with smooth ease. “Is it now? Then perhaps I should take it slow to start with? Saving too hard and too quickly at this altitude could be hazardous to my health, is that what you’re saying?”
Pulse pounding in his ear, dick so hard he thought it was about to explode, he held her gaze with his own. “Too hard and too fast definitely not the way to begin. Slowly, steadily. An exploration of the terrain, followed by a well-executed penetration of the area, that’s the way to begin when saving an Aussie.”
Her lips parted and Joseph could see the ragged way she drew breath into her body. “Then after the beginning it gets hard?”
He unzipped his jacket and shucked it off, placing it on the seat beside him as he took a step closer to her. “It’s already hard. Very hard.”
She swallowed. “Hard is good. I’m always up for a challenge. It’s why I like saving Aussies so much.”
“Glad to hear that,” Rob said, stepping into the cabin and swinging the door shut behind him. He looked at them both over the armful of broken branches and twigs he held against his chest. “Wait. We’re talking about sex, aren’t we?”
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