Stefan Renaldo’s ski trip to Steamboat Springs was supposed to be a fun vacation with friends. Instead, he ends up alone and injured on the mountain. Even as Stefan fears he’s going to die of exposure, he sees something that must surely be the product of his pain-addled mind. A dragon. He wakes in a warm bed and being cared for by Kazeem, a sexy recluse. Needing surgery on his leg, he can’t stay. In the hospital, Stefan hears from his friends how crazy possessive and aggressive his rescuer is. While fleeing seems like a good idea, why can’t he get the mountain man out of his mind?
Barking a laugh, Stefan shook his head. “Yeah, that’s totally not the same thing.” His brows furrowed as he glanced up the hill. “Think Cory and Riley are gonna wait for us?”
Kristof snorted, his dark eyes twinkling. “For us to wait to get off the lift? Sure.” Then he waggled his brows. “But to get to the hill? Not a chance. Ya’ll know it’s the only way you can beat me.”
Narrowing his eyes, Stefan felt his natural competitiveness kick in. He smirked at his friend. “Oh, you know we’re not going to let you win that bet.”
A cocky grin on his face, Kristof responded, “Oh, you guys couldn’t stop me even if you had an army.”
Stefan opened his mouth to respond with another good-natured barb, but just then they reached the top. Kristof used Stefan’s distractedness to hop off the lift first and push away. Growling under his breath at falling for his friend’s antics, Stefan jumped off the lift and hustled after him.
Farther away, Stefan spotted Cory and Riley at the top of the hill. Just as Kristof predicted, the pair waved, then disappeared down the slope. Realizing he was in last, Stefan slipped his goggles over his eyes and picked up his pace.
Reaching the hill, Stefan paused just an instant for another skier in front of him. He spotted Kristof thirty feet down the hill already. Cory and Riley were just disappearing around a bend.
Pushing off, Stefan started down the hill. He crouched low and moved his skis in rhythmic pumps, picking up speed. Tucking his poles under his arms, he leaned left and cut the corner, gaining on Kristof.
Stefan saw the turn for the run they wanted coming swiftly toward him. He cut sharply to the left again, hoping to close the distance just a little bit more. Just because he’d never managed to catch Kristof in the past didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try.
Seeing an open stretch, Stefan pointed his skis downhill and tucked. He sped up even more, flying down the hill. His heart hammered in his chest as trees whipped by him.
Just as Stefan began to ease out of his position and slow himself down, he heard a shout close behind him and to his right. He glanced backward just in time to see a guy skid out of control and careen right toward him. At Stefan’s rate of speed, he couldn’t get out of the way in time.
The man’s skis slid across the back of Stefan’s own. Stefan felt a flailing limb smack him in the shoulder as a pole not his own slid between his legs, tripping him. In the next instant, the guy toppled backward and away from him, but the damage was done.
Stefan attempted to regain control. He arched backward and flailed his arms. His right leg lifted from the snow, and his body swayed. A second later, he felt branches smack into his body as he barreled between trees.
Groaning, Stefan let his body go loose and sank into the thick snow, his shoulder coming to rest against a tree. He shook his head, trying to stop the mild ringing. Rubbing over his arms, he sighed deeply.
Stefan couldn’t remember the last time he’d wiped out quite so spectacularly.
“Guess I’m gonna lose that bet,” Stefan grumbled as he pushed to his feet and peered around at where he’d landed. Taking in the slope of the area, he mentally pulled up a memory of the ski slope he’d been on. “Does it curve left or right?”
If it curved left, Stefan might still be able to get back in the race. He could trek cross-country just a little and catch the slope at the turn. Deciding to take a chance, Stefan started out.
Stefan swished between trees, doing his best to stay on top of the deeper snow. After a few minutes, he thought he heard the shouts of skiers and the swish of blades up ahead, and excitement built inside him. He pushed harder, picking up speed through the line of trees.
His grin of excitement turned into a wash of fear as the ground disappeared up ahead. He threw out his arms, trying to catch a tree and stop himself, but he failed. The snow sloped sharply, and seconds later, Stefan tumbled down the rocky, snowy cliff-face.
When Stefan’s ski caught between rocks, it twisted his leg at an odd angle. The weight of his body caused him to continue falling, yanking his foot. He heard the crack at the same time fire spiked through his limb, unlike anything he’d felt in a long damn time.
Even the pain that shot through his shoulder when it slammed into a rock at the bottom of whatever cliff Stefan had fallen down didn’t compare to the agony coursing through his leg. Lying in the snow, Stefan focused on breathing. Black spots hovered at the edges of his vision, and he knew it wouldn’t take much to pass out.
Stefan also knew that would be a very, very bad thing.
I pass out, I die.
I’m not ready to die.
Stefan took in another deep breath, then slowly let it out. He peered around, moving his neck in small increments. When that didn’t hurt, he eased to a sitting position.
He immediately regretted it. Bile rose up in his throat as the shift of his hips jostled his leg. He spotted the bloom of red expanding on the outside of his lower right leg.
“Oh my god,” Stefan whimpered, his heart feeling as if it skipped a beat in his chest.
Closing his eyes, Stefan breathed slow and deep. He focused on calming his racing pulse and easing his spinning head. When he managed to get the roar of the blood pounding through his head under control, he heard something else instead.
The crunch of snow beneath feet.
Fear and hope spiked through him in equal measure. Fear because he knew blood drew wild animals. Hope that people were already looking for him, and he’d been found.
Stefan opened his eyes and slowly looked in the direction of the noise. His jaw sagged open, and he blinked once, twice, not believing what he saw.