Welcome to the Snow and Ice Games where competition is not the only thing that is heating up! The second book in bestselling Tamsen Parker's romance series continues with two competitive teammates.
Miles Palmer has dominated the downhill slalom in every Snow and Ice Games he’s competed in. Double gold, double gold, double gold, and he’s confident he can round out his career and his trophy case with two more medals in his last appearance at the games. The only thing that could stop him? Crash Delaney.
Crash is a young upstart who came out of nowhere and shocked the downhill world with his swagger and untraditional style. As a kid, Crash didn’t have the resources to learn how to race properly, but he begged, borrowed, and stole equipment, and went to any competition he could thumb a ride to. Now the only thing between him and his dreams coming true is his childhood hero, the man whose posters have graced his walls since before he’d ridden in his first chairlift.
Miles and Crash are technically teammates, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they fight. The veteran and the nobody have both got big things riding on this race, and neither can afford any distractions. Especially not each other.
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Six Weeks Before the Opening Ceremony
"I'm not here to be a goddamn babysitter."
"Yeah, well, neither am I. And he's your fault." Ted jabs a finger closer to my face than I care for. I don't flinch, but I do wrinkle my nose.
Okay, he has me there. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to try to get out of this. If anyone else on the team were around, I wouldn't, because I set an example. It's what I do as the most senior member of the team — hell as one of the most senior members of the entirety of Team USA, never mind just the small corner that is downhill. But I've known Ted a long time and we have an arrangement: I can speak to him as frankly as I'd like in private, as long as we present a united front in public. We've had a while to perfect this arrangement, and it works well.
Except when he's driving me crazy. I'm far more comfortable being the one who drives him crazy. Aren't athletes supposed to be the temperamental ones?
I try to look puppy dog–innocent, but just like you can always tell when the damn dog ate the shoe, I'm sure he can see right through me. But still, I say, "I wouldn't go that far."
Ted's eyes bulge wide. "I would. I wasn't going to take him because he's too much of a wild card, but you were all, 'He's unpolished, but he's a phenomenal raw talent. Think what you could do with that.'"
His Miles impression is getting better all the time, and I don't know whether to be impressed or throw something in his self-satisfied face. I suppose both isn't out of the question. "Yes, and the key word was you. Not me. I just ski. That's the only thing I'm good for. And to be fair, you have done a great job with the kid. He's improved his times, his technique is heading toward better, he shows up —"
Ted gives me a dark look. I was going to say "on time," but would've had to add too many qualifiers so instead, I extend a defensive finger, daring him to argue. "He does show up now."
"Yeah, but this is the Snow and Ice Games we're talking about, not some bunny slope competition where everyone gets a participation trophy. At this level, we pretty much expect you'll not only show up but that you do it on time and ready — to train, or do press, or do whatever it is that you're supposed to be doing, and this kid ..." Ted shakes his head and blows a frustrated breath out of his mouth, his cheeks puffing with the effort. "When he shows up and when he listens, he's great, but otherwise ..."
Yeah, I know. Crash Delaney is a royal pain in my ass.
"I guess what I'm saying is that I've got six other skiers I have to deal with, and I don't have time for this shit. So you can step up and take responsibility for him, or I'm saying to hell with it and trading him in for Sully."
Sully? Ugh, Sully. Brett Sullivan is a perfectly respectable skier. He's also perfectly dull. No style, no flair, no oomph. The guy somehow manages to make hurtling down a mountain at eighty miles per hour look boring, which is a talent in itself, but not one I'd ever want. He's technically good, but god is he ever like the Red Delicious of downhill. Mealy and bland.
"Ted. You know Sully's —"
Ted interrupts me with a hand up. "What I know is that Sully is reliable, consistent, and he's decent with the press. I know he doesn't set the place on fire and he's never going to end up on the cover of any magazines. But he's not going to embarrass us. He shows up on time, works hard, and takes instruction well. All things being equal, he's never going to beat Crash on the slopes, but things aren't equal. Crash is a maverick, which is all well and good on his best days, but on his worst I'm lucky if the kid can find the damn mountain. I can't take that chance during the SIGs, because the committee will have my ass. So it's up to you, Palmer. Either he's yours or he's out. Your call, because I'm not making it."
I hate it when Ted does this. This is what he gets paid the big bucks for: making the tough calls. But I guess when you're as old as I am and have been doing this for longer than some of your teammates have been alive — Christ, that's disheartening — you ought to have figured out your priorities. What comes first for me, what always has, is the good of the team. The good of the sport, the good of the Games, and in my own small way — because I'm never going to be a politician or join the military or really contribute to society at large in any other way — the good of my country.
Of course the calculations are more complicated than that. I never wanted to be a coach, and this is why. Not only would considering this shit be the right thing to do, it would also be my job. Also, athletes are temperamental, I don't want a piece of that. Right now, though, I still have to make my call about Crash because Ted is making me. Bastard.
Will managing Crash be so consuming I tank my own chances at medaling? Will his presence on the team mess with other people's mojo? Will he set a bad example that some of the younger, more impressionable team members will be inclined to follow? Will his idiotic behavior and frankly poor personal grooming habits present an unfavorable picture of alpine skiing to the world?
Or will his unconventional style and rags-to-riches story be inspiring to kids who don't think they can afford to ski? Maybe win us back some of the youth who would've switched to snowboarding because it's "cooler"? I know he's a better bet for a medal than Sully.
My brain isn't going to be of much use here, because there are as many tally marks in the pro column as there are in the con. So I tell my rational self to take a hike and for once I listen to my gut off the slopes. After all, that's what's gotten me down mountains in one piece for twenty-eight years and with six gold medals around my neck to boot. I hope I don't live to regret it.
Plus, while my gut has feelings about this, my heart has more. So many feelings, and my skier's heart, the athlete and showman's heart, beats only for one man right now. One irresponsible, shaggy-haired, walking disaster of a man.
"Don't move Sully up. I'll deal with Crash. I know he's supposed to be bunking with Hollingsworth, but now he's rooming with me. You tell him I'm not going to take any shit and he better listen to every word I say because I can have his ass kicked back to Utah or Wyoming or Montana or whatever snow pile he climbed out of." I am so, so going to regret this.
I am regretting this so hard.
Skiing on a team only vaguely resembles skiing, and anything that doesn't have me on my skis makes me want to pack up and go home. Or smoke. Jesus could I use a joint. Actually, if everyone around me could take a few hits, I wouldn't even need to. They're the ones who need to chill out. It's like they never learned skiing is supposed to be fun. They've made it their mission to make it boring as fuck. Maybe faster, yeah, which is cool, but still.
I'm not supposed to be here.
In a larger sense, it was a stupid idea to try out, it was stupider to accept the offer to be on the team, and stupidest to agree to Coach Miller's ridiculous conditions for getting to keep my place on the SIG roster.
In a smaller sense, I'm not supposed to be in my room at the village right now, chilling on my single bed. I'm supposed to be getting made up and mic'd for more press. My stomach pitches at the thought. Press. Lights. Cameras. Me saying stupid shit. And Miles Palmer is so going to have my ass for this. ... Which, if Miles Palmer actually wanted to have my ass? He'd be welcome to it. My ass, my mouth, my dick; anything he wanted, anytime he wanted it.
My devotion to Miles Palmer started out as pure and chaste hero worship. And since then has become ... something else. Which is probably because when it started, I was a kid and he was a gold medal–winning SIG athlete. I had a poster of him on my wall that I ripped out of a magazine at the gas station in town because I couldn't afford the actual magazine. Also a cardboard portrait I cut off the front of a box of Wheaties after begging my mom for the box for weeks, tearing my hair out in the grocery store when she refused at first because they might sell the last box and my life would be over. Over. The worst part was I had to actually eat the Wheaties because no way were my parents spending money on a cardboard box. Gross, but worth it to have another picture of my idol.
At some point, it started being less like hero worship, and more like the bikini girls that were up on most of my friends' walls. Because the man is ... hot. Like drool-worthy, boner-inspiring hot. Not to mention a badass on the slopes. I copied his technique as best I could on my own, but clearly didn't do a great job because he crits my runs like I fall down the mountain instead of skiing. I have to admit his suggestions have been helpful, even if he can be kind of a killjoy when he's delivering them.
I still want to hook up with the guy worse than I've ever wanted anything in my life, but it's become abundantly clear he thinks I'm a jackass. Which is fair. Because I'm being a jackass. Not that thinking someone's a jackass is always grounds for not fucking them, but I bet it is for squeaky-clean Miles Palmer. I would not be surprised if the man were saving himself for marriage or at least his true love, so a scruffy-ass screw-up who ticks him off on the regular isn't going to tempt him.
Checking my cell, I see Miles has called, texted, and emailed me. Coach Miller and my other teammates have done the same, and it sets my stomach to churning even more.
If I leave this second, I'll be in time for the whole interview, which means too damn soon. So I wait, and wait, and wait, until the messages stop coming, and I know I'm going to get reamed out by Coach Miller and Miles. There's going to be yelling. And lots of snappy dudes telling me I'm the worst. Angry faces, fingers wagging, and my favorite: people telling me I'm wasting my potential.
That's it. The movie I've got playing in my head is good enough to finally bring up the contents of my stomach. I book it to the bathroom so Prince Palmer, His Royal Highness of All the Damn Things, won't have another offense to yell at me for, and pay homage to the porcelain god.
Lunch and bile in the shiny new bowl — I've heard some of the other athletes saying the village is a hole, but this is the nicest place I've ever lived, everything's brand spanking new — I flush and wash up, because whatever my teammates think of me, I have some standards.
Now. Now I can go and not humiliate myself. Scratch that. Not humiliate myself as much.
Finally. Finally the kid shows up. The lights have been glaring in my eyes for half an hour and I've been taking questions actively for the last ten minutes. Does Crash think this is a press buffet? Show up whenever, talk as much as you want and then leave with a shitty tip on the table? Because it's not. It's really not, and his attitude is seriously grinding my gears.
I've tried all the things I know to get him to meet his obligations. I've talked to him like a grown-up: Crash, here are your responsibilities. Like a laid-back teammate: Dude, I know it's not fun, but you've just gotta show up. It's the price we pay, you know? Like a school principal: Young man, if you don't start showing up on time, there will be consequences which will be recorded in your permanent record. Like a bad cop: Dammit, kid. What the fuck is your problem? Get your ass to these things on time, or I swear to god ...
I'm out of tactics, and so is Ted. We are desperate. Maybe we've aimed too high, assumed Crash has a certain maturity level and we're flat-out wrong? Maybe we should be going with a sticker chart or a piece of candy every time he does something he's supposed to do? Hell, I would go farther than that if I had to. Whatever the kid wants, as long as he just starts showing up.
Once he's sidled up the side of the room chock-full of sports magazine reporters, flashing his ID when people give him dirty looks, he takes a seat at the end of the folding card table that's been set up for us. He slouches in his chair, and I hope the photographers aren't capturing this, because what the hell is that headline going to look like? Also, he doesn't look so good.
His hair's as reasonable as it ever is, which is to say not very, but his skin is kind of a sickly pale, and his eyes are red. But unless he somehow snuck out and snuck back in again last night without me noticing — unlikely — he's not hungover.
Then there's an elbow nudging me from the left. I shoot Anderson a look, because he's got enough room he shouldn't be invading my space, but his eyebrows shoot up and he does one of those not-so-slick moves where he's allegedly scratching his nose, but really he's pointing to a woman who's standing amidst the sea of cameras, recorders, notebooks, and harried looking reporters.
Shit. I missed a goddamn question because of Crash. It's one thing for him to screw things up for himself — one thing I'm still disgruntled about — but it's another to mess things up for other people by distracting them.
"Yes, sorry, didn't catch that?"
Ted glares at me from under his brows, his arms crossed and if there weren't so many people here, I'd flip him off. God forbid I not be perfect for a minute. The reporter offers me a tight, don't-waste-my-time smile. "Actually, I had two?"
"What's it like to be the only black athlete on the American SIG alpine team?"
I'm not a big fan of this question. It gets asked all the time, and I generally try to handle it with grace, but today, I'm fresh out. "I don't know. I've always been the only black guy on the alpine team, so I have nothing to compare it to. Second question?"
She blinks at me, but when she realizes that's all she's going to get, she forges ahead. Some nonsense about the new advances the Austrians have made with their suits and whether that's going to affect our chances at the podium.
I lean slightly forward to take advantage of the microphone, and answer. "I'm not worried. If it's competition-legal, then there's no way our engineers and designers aren't taking advantage of those techniques, too. As far as I'm concerned, the alpine events are ours to lose." I shoot a glance at Crash to make sure he's listening, because I want him to hear me. "We have the science, we've got the potential, we're doing the work, and all we need to do is show up and give the performance of our lives."
Even though my blood had been boiling, there hadn't been time after the latest presser to tear Crash's limbs off and beat him with them. We had to book it over to the slopes for one of the few times we'll get practice runs before the event, but now ...
We're all showered off, towels around our waists in a shiny new locker room that hasn't been in existence long enough to have acquired that deep-rooted sweaty-man stench. The towels are still a bright white and there's no peeling paint from the humidity of the showers, no mildew in the freshly grouted tile floors. It's not luxurious, but it's pleasant.
Having a good workout and having been doused in hot water should've taken some of the edge off my frustration with Crash, dulled it into prickly irritation or annoyance, made me able to be more rational when dealing with him. Unfortunately, there's something about Crash Delaney that has crawled under my skin and won't let go. Everything about him — except the way he makes his way through a course — makes me absolutely fucking crazy.
Including the way he's skulking around the locker room and dawdling. He was first into the showers, last out. Can the man not do anything quickly except ski? He's like an arthritic sloth that ate too many pot brownies. I should probably wait until my temper cools off, but I don't have that kind of time on my hands. Apparently he's got all the time in the world, though, because he's toying with his phone before he notices me approaching and drops it.
"You were late. Again."
"Yeah, sorry." But he doesn't look sorry. I know what contrition looks like, and this isn't it. His shifty eyes are more pleading to get this over with, as if he'd say anything he has to to make it stop already. Which cranks up the heat on my anger again, and maybe makes it spill over. Little bit.
"What the hell is your problem?"
He flinches at my tone and my volume, and a small, primal part of me finds a sadistic satisfaction in it. "Nothing is wrong with me. I'm doing the best I —"
"Fuck you, man. You are doing no such thing."
Excerpted from "Seduction on the Slopes"
Copyright © 2018 Tamsen Parker.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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