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"Go for it."
He put all his weight into pushing them, skidding in his boots and tripping, landing on his belly in the snow as Sara and Molly hurtled down the hill.
He watched, half laughing at himself, half at them when they hit a dip, got some air and tumbled over and over in the snow, finally landing in a brilliant pouf of white, unmoving.
His heart hit his throat as his face froze. Oh God. They weren't moving. "Mol?" he shouted, leaping to his feet. "Sara?"
As that single second of panic passed, he realized a tumble like that couldn't cause any real damage. Heading down the hill, he heard a giggle and a quick "shhh" and knew they were up to something. Stealthily he bent, scooped up a mitt of snow, and molded it in his glove. You're going to pay for that, she'd warned, and he couldn't help the feral smile that curved his lips. If it was a fight she was spoiling for, she'd get it.
"Ambush!" went up the cry! Molly sprang to life, leaping from her position, hurling a snowball and hitting him square in the chest. "I'm not tugging her up there this time, Elliot! Coward!"
Sara's laughter bubbled over the thin, cold air as he laughed freely. "That all you got, Shaeffer?" He took aim and let his own fly. Then ran over the snow, boots squeaking, to catch her around the waist, preventing her next throw. Instead she twisted, crushing the snowball and squishing it squarely in his face, rubbing it in and giving him a washing.
Quicker than he thought possible, he grabbed her wrist, hooked a boot behind her foot and tripped her, pushing her into the snow and landing on top of her heaving chest. He sat up, straddling her, and stared down into her face which had gone utterly blank with surprise.
"Don't ..." she warned him, her words a shaky stutter in the cold afternoon.
His voice was soft, deadly. "Don't what? Don't wash your face? Don't start what you can't finish, Molly m'girl." His lips were teasing, his eyes flashing fun as he raised a snow-filled hand menacingly.
Her eyes changed from shock to fear. Not of his strength, of that he was sure. But because she was realizing, as he did, that she still mattered. Discovering there was still so much between them, and he was torn between knowing this should be the end and the increasing realization that it felt like a beginning. It wasn't what he'd wanted and she'd made it clear it wasn't what she wanted either. But there it was, and he had no idea what to do with it.
He let the snow in his hand flutter back to the ground as his smile faded. He was used to being in control of situations, and knowing this one was rapidly getting out of hand only added to his confusion. It was far easier to be angry at her. "That was a stupid, childish trick, and you know it." His voice was silk lined with steel. "That sled popped up in the air and I saw Sara fall out first. She's so small ... For a moment, my heart stopped."
"It was only a joke," she answered, her voice small and childish in response to his criticism, her jaw jutting out defensively. Sara grabbed the rope to the toboggan and tried to turn it over to clean it off.
He clapped a black glove to his forehead in exasperation. "What am I going to do with you, Molly?"
She didn't answer but stared up at him with wide eyes. He became acutely aware of the intimacy of their position as he sat squarely on her hips.
He braced a hand on each side of her head, dropped his gaze to her mouth and followed with his lips.
Hers were cold on the outside in contrast to the warmth of her mouth, and he poured everything into that punishing kiss-his anger, his hurt, his confusion of what was happening between them now. Her hand rested on his left thigh as he pressed more weight into her, feeling all the pressure points where their bodies were connected. This couldn't go anywhere, it couldn't. He had to stop it, now. They'd only get hurt again, the voice of reason intruded. But his heart spoke louder, and for once, he listened. He took the kiss deeper, darker.
Molly had known by the look in his eyes what was coming, but she hadn't been prepared by the force, the passion, the anger that poured from him into her. She didn't know what was happening to her lately, only that they kept hurting each other without even intending to. She rested her hand on his thigh, desperately trying to keep up with him as his body pinned her to the hard, snowy ground and his mouth translated his frustration.
Seconds ticked by and his lips gentled, prodding instead of punishing, deep, soul-searing contact that spoke to her more clearly than his words ever could. He didn't hate her. He cared. Cared more than she wanted to admit to herself. Not only cared ... but had probably never stopped. All that was said, and more, as they kissed in the icy snow.
She gently pushed against his shoulder and their mouths parted a few inches, their breath creating frosty clouds, a white nimbus around their faces.
In another week, she'd be returning to her life as a corporate lawyer. They still didn't have a future, but they did have a past to finish.
Molly turned her head to the side and saw Sara standing watching them, her lips formed in a perfect 'O'. One hand held the rope to the toboggan, the other outstretched, pointing towards them.
"You kissed Aunt Molly," she whispered.
Molly's face heated. Goodness, she'd completely forgotten about Sara standing there, and what a show they'd put on, making out in the snow. Certainly not something appropriate for a three-year-old!
Her gaze shifted to Jason and he was blushing as furiously as she was. He pushed back, swung his leg over Molly so he was kneeling beside her.
"Well now, I guess I did." His self-deprecating laugh rippled over the freezing air. "You guys gave me quite a scare."
"Molly and Jason up a tree," Sara began the chant, her eyes alight with impish glee. "K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes ..."
"Where did you ever learn that?" Molly demanded, scrambling to a seated position, stopping the song before Sara got any further.
"In daycare," Sara explained nonchalantly. "Cody kissed Katie and Brianna taught it to me."
Jason cleared his throat while Molly fought to keep a straight face. "Honey, Jason and I have known each other a long time. He was worried we were hurt, that's all."
Sara hopped around, obviously enjoying the moment. "When you get a boo-boo, you get a bandaid," she explained.
"And a kiss better, right?" Jason lunged forward and scooped the pink bundle into his lap. "You hurt anywhere, muffin?"
"Maybe here." She lifted an elbow, which Jason dutifully kissed.
"And here." She touched her nose, and Molly choked out a laugh as the tot fairly simpered.
"You're a flirt," Jason confirmed, but kissed the tip of her nose anyway. "Let's get this sled up the hill, what do you say?"
"Okay. I'm ridin'."
Excerpted from Almost a Family by Donna Alward Copyright © 2007 by Donna Alward. Excerpted by permission.
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