Then Luke offered her a dream job designing his house. But how could she work so closely with the millionaire after their liaison in France? She agreed on one condition: that their relationship would be strictly business!
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MIRANDA paused and looked behind her, then she slowly turned a full circle. This was a big mistake because the slow beat of panic which had been curling inside her stomach for the past hour mushroomed into full-blown fear as she was forced to contemplate her complete isolation. She had no idea where she was. She had no idea where she was going. All sense of direction had been lost as she had skied rapidly away from the avalanche straight into a blizzard that was now making forward progress laborious and uncertain. And, to make matters worse, dusk was beginning to permeate the great white amphitheatre which had always seemed so gloriously free and now appeared terrifyingly hostile.
She whimpered and found that she was having to make an effort to remind herself that she was an expert skier, had been doing it for twenty-two of her twenty-five years. She could more than handle the challenge of the black runs. With the snow whipping like pellets against the parts of her face which were exposed, and restricting any clear view that might help her to get her bearings, she would have to move slowly and keep her fingers crossed that she was going in the right direction.
Anger gave way to self-pity and she skied slowly towards a small cluster of fir trees which offered the only visual relief from the naked, virgin-white landscape, barely visible now as the light continued to fade.
She was lost, alone, terrified and quite possibly on course for a date with the Grim Reaper, and all because Freddie, her so-called boyfriend, couldn't keep his immature, wandering hands to himself. Not content with having had her there with him, he'd simply had to explore the voluptuous charm of the Italian eighteen-year-old girl who had been assigned to their chalet. And worse, had got caught doing it.
How dared he?
Miranda leaned against the trunk of a tree and closed her eyes. She had to take a few deep breaths to contain her rage or else she would scream at the top of her lungs and, with her luck, probably set off another avalanche. Her woollen hat was soaked from the snow. She should never have worn it. She should have stuck on her faithful, waterproof headgear instead of a flimsy hat simply because it matched the rest of her skiing outfit. Now she could feel the dampness permeating through to her head. As far as everything else was concerned, she was well-protected with all the requisite layers of clothing, including thick, waterproof gloves. But how long would she be able to remain stationary before the cold began sinking its teeth through the layers in search of flesh? She squinted into the dying light and dimly made out a thickish cluster of trees, a dense little patch that would be more protection for her should an overnight stay outdoors become necessary.
Miranda groaned. Why kid herself that she was miraculously going to find her way back to the chalet where Freddie and their fifteen-strong group were right now probably cracking open their first bottle and contemplating what to have for supper? Would they even have missed her? Or, if they had, would they have assumed that she was miserably lost and perilously close to despair in the middle of nowhereland? They were all first-class skiers and they would probably be unaware of the minor avalanche that had thrown her so badly off course. Doubtless Freddie would have made a story about their argument, reducing his despicable behaviour to the level of some boyish jollity that had been misconstrued by a jealous girlfriend and her absence would be put down to a minor blip. Quite possibly they would assume that she had needed to cool off and had taken herself off to one of the hotels in a huff. Her platinum credit card would have gained her entry into any of the hotels further down the slope if she felt she needed time out and they all knew that she travelled with it in her inside jacket pocket.
"Just in case a fabulous shop happens to beckon unexpectedly!" she had always joked.
Fat lot of good a credit card was going to do for her now.
She wearily adjusted her skies and headed towards the vanishing clump of trees, moving at a snail's pace down the steep slope, making sure that desperation didn't propel her to do anything stupid. With luck, the trees would block out the blizzard or at least keep it at bay and, if she huddled into a ball in the centre of them, she might just be able to last out the night. With even greater luck she might find shelter in one of the animal sheds that were dotted around here and there but she wouldn't let any optimism blind her to the stark reality that she might just find more trees.
The vast white terrain was now almost completely swamped in darkness. If she hadn't been so focused on making it to the trees while she could still see them, she might not have stumbled and fallen over the projecting stump, rolling powerlessly down the slope. One of her skies dislodged automatically, the other clung to her foot; and when she finally came to a slow halt and tried to stand, the pain shot through her ankle like an explosion.
The lost ski, which would be essential for her to get out of this mess, was nowhere to be seen. The fast-falling snow had buried it like a matchstick and there was no time to instigate a hunt.
Miranda felt panic turn her bones to water and she gritted her teeth, forcing herself down the last few metres towards the trees, dragging her useless foot and using her ski poles like crutches.
She had been right. The blizzard, at least, was kept at bay by the denseness of the trees. She forced herself forward and was about to pause for a rest when she saw a flicker of light. When she angled her body for a better view, the light disappeared; but then, back in the original position, it reappeared. Something bright through the trees.
She could feel her eyes getting heavy and made herself stand back up, lifting her damaged leg as though she was just about to begin a game of hopscotch. The pain was excruciating, but far less so when there was no weight applied.
If she ever made it back home in one piece, then she would turn her life around. No more flitting from one fun spot to another in search of thrills. No more frantic social life—paid for by her wealthy daddy—in the company of other young, rich, restless friends from similarly wealthy backgrounds. And no more Freddie. That went without saying. In fact no more men. And definitely no more rich, spoiled brats.
The light was getting more constant now. Miranda was virtually crying from the anticipation of finding it. The trees had become shapeless black towers and she had to weave her way painfully around them until, without warning, they cleared and the source of the light became apparent.
Not an animal shed but a cabin. Fairly small, with the typically pointed roof and, more importantly, inhabited. The curtains were drawn against the darkness but the light inside promised occupation. Help. She gave a deep-throated sob and dragged her way to the door, collapsing in exhaustion after one loud bang.
Which meant that her first view of her rescuer, her saviour, was of his feet. Or rather of his brown, weathered loafers. When he spoke his voice seemed to come from a long way off. A nice voice, she thought distractedly, deep. She lacked the energy to raise her head to inspect the face that went with the voice. She closed her eyes on a sigh and felt him lift her up and carry her into the blissful warmth of the cabin, kicking shut the door behind him.
It felt unbelievably good to be out of the cold. So good, in fact, that she wondered whether she was dreaming and whether, in a minute, she would open her eyes only to find that she was huddled under a tree fending off the same blizzard and any hopes of rescue, cabins, flickering lights and warmth were the delusions of a wandering mind.
Which was why she kept her eyes closed as she was deposited gently on a sofa that felt broad and comfortable enough to be a bed.
"Who," the voice said from above her, "the hell are you and what are you doing here?"
Less of a question and more of a demand for an immediate explanation. Miranda opened her eyes and found herself staring upwards at the harsh angles of an aggressively dominant face and at narrowed cobalt-blue eyes that were staring back at her with a mixture of suspicion and hostility.
He was wearing a baggy and very faded dark blue and white striped tee shirt and a pair of loose grey jogging pants that, like the shirt, seemed to have seen better days many moons before.
She forgot the pain in the ankle in the face of this overwhelming show of rudeness.
Never before in her life had any man ever reacted to her like this before! True, she probably wasn't looking her best right at this very moment, but still. She felt her mouth droop into a petulant scowl which only made her unwelcome saviour narrow his fierce eyes even more.
"Are you going to answer me?" he demanded harshly. Miranda sat forward and then winced as the pain shot straight from her ankle to the remainder of her body. "My foot!"
The man's eyes travelled from her face to her foot and for a second she thought that he might ignore her expression of pain, but he didn't. He removed his hands from his pockets and bent over to slowly ease her foot out of her ski boot; then he muttered something that sounded very much like an expletive as he saw her swelling ankle.
"What happened?" His long fingers were pressing against various parts of her burning, painful skin. They were cool and skilful and, combined with the relief of not being skewered by those dangerously blue eyes, she sank back against the arm of the sofa and stared upwards at the lofty ceiling.
"I was skiing and I fell," Miranda said in a small voice and he muttered another impatient oath under his breath. "I'm sorry," she felt compelled to add defensively.
"Keep still. I'll be back in a moment." She watched his departing back and only felt herself relax when he was no longer in sight.
Trust her to stumble helplessly into a man, the first ever, who intimidated her. He was too tall, too powerfully built, too raw and far too grim. She wondered whether he had disappeared to find something to help her or whether he had simply gone in search of a map so that he could point her in the direction of the nearest other place of occupation and thereby save himself the inconvenience of having her around.
"I don't think it's broken," he said, emerging with a box in his hand. "Badly sprained but not broken. How long have you been travelling on it?"
"About half an hour." Miranda frowned. "I think. Look, you don't have to do this," she said as he opened the box and began unravelling a strip of bandage. "I'm capable of seeing to my own ankle."
"You mean like you're capable of skiing without injuring yourself? You bloody beginners should stick to the nursery slopes instead of thinking you can ski off-piste because it's more exciting." He ripped the bandage with his teeth and began stretching it around her ankle, working very slowly and expertly.
"I am not a beginner," she said coldly. "I happen to be an extremely good skier."
The man briefly looked at her with cool disbelief before returning to his task, and Miranda clamped her teeth together firmly. He might have the manners of a warthog but she would not sink to his level. For a start, whether she liked it or not, she was now dependent on him, at least until she could make a phone call and get someone to come and fetch her. She was also too well-mannered to breeze past the normal rules of common courtesy the way he obviously had no qualms about doing.
"How do you know it's not broken?" she asked and he glanced at her again.
"Because I just do," he said curtly. "You're a doctor, then, I take it?" 'No, I'm not." 'Then, who and what are you?"
He didn't answer. Instead he finished with her ankle while she continued to simmer with growing irritation at his attitude. And when he had finished he stood up and strolled towards the chair closest to the fire.
"Are you going to answer me?" She pulled off the wool-len hat and her long blonde hair spilled over the arm of the sofa like a sheet of cream silk.
"Let's get one thing straight. You're in my house and I'll ask the questions. Got it?"
Miranda stared at him open-mouthed. "When I'm finished asking the questions and I'm satisfied with the answers, you can go and have a bath and get into some of my clothes."
His arrogance hit her like a sledgehammer and left her speechless.
"First of all, tell me just how you happened to be skiing here. Have you any idea how dangerous the vertical slopes to this place are?"
"I—I got caught in an avalanche..." 'Where?" 'Where...what?" 'Where was this avalanche?" 'Near our Val d'Isère resort, as it happens. I...had a bit of an argument with my boyfriend...and...I went skiing to take my mind off things which was when the avalanche happened. Not a very big one but big enough to throw me off course..."
"Bloody irresponsible woman," he muttered scathingly. Miranda ignored the interruption. If she had been in possession of her limbs, she would have stormed out of his damned cabin even if the alternative had meant a night on a slope. Unfortunately the option was not available and she bit back her anger. "Before I could get my bearings, I found myself stuck in a blizzard and, after a while, I didn't have a clue where I was. I—I saw a clump of trees and decided that I'd be better off there if the worse happened and I had to spend the night outside. I was so desperate to get there that I didn't see where I was going and I fell over a protruding stump of tree and sprained my ankle. I then saw the light from your cabin and hobbled over."
"So no one knows where you are."
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