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Break the Ice by Piper Rayne (1)

Chapter One

Sometimes you just know whether a person is worth committing your time to without ever exchanging a word. It could be the briefest encounter or strictly observational. Do they say thank you to a cashier when receiving their change? Hold the door open for the person behind them? Do they take a penny from the jar or add a penny?

People can be shitty. I’m not going to dive into my horrible childhood or how I probably had it rougher than most. I hate pity more than I hate the Swiss. Relax, the snowboarders, not the actual Swiss people.

Back to my point—people who say they get duped or mislead by someone just aren’t as bright at dissecting people’s non-verbal cues. Take for instance the first time I met Skylar Walsh.

I was at a bar with my new teammates Grady and Dax. Each of them checked her out when she walked through the door alongside a few other skiers. The team was at a promo event and being the new kid around the circuit, I didn’t know a lot of people.

“Ugh, Demi Harrison.” Dax downed the rest of his beer. “I’m surprised she’d lower her standards and come here.”

The bar was a rundown ski bar meant for warming the blood in your veins with mass amounts of alcohol. Everything was made of wood and the place was dim, but I kind of liked it. It was a homey place.

“She’s cute,” I said about the girl with long auburn hair piled up on her head and green eyes that seemed to glow when she talked to her friends. Truth was, she wasn’t just cute, she was hot. But it wasn’t Demi who caught my eye first. The brunette at her side with a million-dollar, welcoming smile that felt like the hot summer sun piercing my heart.

“Dax approached her once...didn’t go well.” Grady leans back in his seat, his usual scowl on display. I’m not even sure I’ve seen the guy smile since I met him two months ago. I heard his friend, Brandon Salter, had an accident and fucked Grady’s psyche up. I’ve learned enough from my past to keep my mouth shut. This wasn’t my first rodeo being the new kid. You wait for people to invite you into their drama, you don’t go searching for it.

“What about the girl who’s with her?” I asked and neither of them said anything.

“Skylar Walsh,” Grady finally said. “Skier.” He tipped his drink back, motioning to the bartender to bring him another.

I took their silence afterward to mean she didn’t have a reputation, which was more than intriguing to me. I watched her as I sat with my new friends. She had a contagious smile on her face, her hands moving a mile a minute while she told them some story that made the girls’ heads tip back in laughter. She didn’t hog the attention, and when her friend said something she listened, her one hand constantly touching her friend’s forearm. Her eyes weren’t glued to her phone, but instead, her undivided attention was fixed to whatever her friends were saying.

The waitress came by, and like her friends, she said hello, used the waitress’ name, gave her order and said thank you. She said thank you when the waitress set down her drink, too, with eye contact. In this day and age, that was almost unheard of. But that’s not what drew me to her.

We continued to drink, well, Grady and I. Dax had been up and down chatting with a few guys and girls. I swear the guy knew everyone. Well, Grady did too, but unlike Skylar, he grunted when people said hi and patted him on the back with what always looked like sympathy in their eyes.

When Skylar and Demi left the bar and it was still wicked cold outside. The wind had kept us from boarding all day. They bundled up, zipping their jackets up to their noses and putting on hats and gloves before leaving. Demi walked out first, holding the door open for Skylar. Skylar walked through as small of an opening as she could and then pressed on the door to get it closed quicker so a rush of cold air wouldn’t hit the patrons of the bar.

I was floored. Maybe it’s nothing to some people, too minute to notice, but to me, that said something about what type of person she was. I’ve met a lot of creeps, even more bitches in my life. Skylar Walsh was as nice and considerate as they come and wouldn’t fuck me over. I ignored the tightness in my pants, ignored the beauty she laid bare for everyone to see because I was sure she wasn’t a girl you could mix sex and friendship with, and at this point, a trustworthy friend was ten times better than a random one-night stand.

Now, as I sit on her couch four years later, I wonder where that Skylar went.

She pops her head in a minute later and tosses a bottle of water across the room to me. I’m going to ignore the fact that I think she may have been aiming at my head. “Where did my nice nurse go?” I ask, my ass on the couch, my feet on an ottoman, my arm in a sling with some newly inserted pins to keep my bones company.

“Nice nurse left when you turned into a wimpy self-entitled whiner. Man up, Myers.” She sits back down at the kitchen table in front of her laptop.

I’m staying at her parents’ place in Chicago while my arm heals. They’re in Arizona, thank goodness. I love them, they treat me like a son, but after the Classics, I need a little space from family time.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I did break my arm—saving your ass. Is a little compassion too much to ask?”

She narrows her eyes and pulls her long dark hair into a messy ponytail, tucking the strands too short to fit in the elastic behind her ears. This go-to move tells me she’s taking off her gloves and we’re about to go a few rounds. Unable to do anything fun and being secluded with her in her childhood home isn’t what I’d planned after the Classics and I’m getting a little stir crazy.

“So, you’d rather I broke my arm?”

I should’ve just watched a movie.

“A measly thank you isn’t hard.”

Her hands move up in the air, she mumbles something to herself and then her hands ball up into fists. “I’m not going to baby you, Beck. I brought you to my parents’ house to recoup after your surgery because I love you and you’re my friend. Don’t make me regret my decision.” Without even waiting for me to respond, she directs all her attention back to her computer and the damn applications to grad school that are more important than me.

Where did that sweet girl who shut the door so strangers wouldn’t get cold go?

“Maybe I should just go to a hotel.” I pretend to sit up, wiggling my way up since I only have the use of one arm.

An annoyed stream of obscenities floats out of her mouth.

“You should be happy your nieces aren’t here.”

She grabs her computer, walks over to the couch and sits down next to me, her sock covered feet landing next to mine. I bump my foot with hers. Nothing. I do it again. She side glances me. Third time is the charm and when she looks over, she’s fighting a smile.

“Sorry, I do appreciate you playing nursemaid.” I swing my good arm around her shoulders.

She lightly jabs me in the stomach. “I know it’s hard on you.”

That’s why Skylar and I get along so well. A girlfriend would’ve pretended to be upset forever just so I had to have flowers delivered or something. Shit rolls off Skylar’s back as fast as it does mine. Life is way too short to let crap like that eat away at you.

“Don’t use the hotel thing again.” Her dark eyes narrow.

I chuckle, pulling her closer and kissing the top of her head. “How are the applications going?”

She shrugs.

“What about skiing?” I ask.

I thought Skylar was like me. We’d try to stay on the US ski and snowboarding team until we broke something unfixable or we didn’t make it one year. Now she’s talking about grad school. The kicker being she’s looking at coming back to Chicago permanently. She’d go from being a mile away from me to what? Thousands, I guess. Math and geography are not my strong suit. Flipping through the air after flying off a ramp and landing on my feet? I’m an honor roll student.

She chews on the inside of her cheek. “I’m not sure I have another four years of training and committing to the sport on that level in me. Plus, age isn’t on my side.”

“You’re twenty-five,” I deadpan.

Her fingers type away. Skylar was different than most of us. She got her college degree while still skiing, which shows how much more of a go-getter she is than yours truly.

High school was enough for me and I tend to not think about my future. Think of it as an extra present you get when you’re a foster kid—no time is guaranteed so you’re just happy when you get through the day. It really is a one day at a time existence.

“You’re practically a baby, Sky.”

Her eyes are still fixed on the computer and I can see that I’ve lost her attention as she prepares for the future.

For me, the future is like dark clouds looming in my peripheral vision while there are still blue skies above. It’s there and I know it’s coming, but sometimes I close my eyes and let the sun shine down on me. Ignorance really is bliss, so whoever came up with that quote should be challenging Bill Gates for the smartest guy in the world title. I’m sure there are smarter guys than Bill Gates, but the hell if I know their names.

Skylar probably does.

“What did you say?” She looks over at me briefly before her gaze moves back to the computer screen.

Is that a rumble of thunder I hear in the distance?