After Hours with Her Ex Maureen Child The prodigal ex-husband returns—as the boss—in this novel by USA TODAY bestselling author Maureen ChildAfter two long years, Sam Wyatt is home. He has big plans for his family’s ski resort. But first he must face those he left behind—including the ex-wife he has never forgotten.Lacy Sills-Wyatt has barely recovered from Sam’s desertion. Now he's her boss! How can she work with him every day? And how can she keep from falling for him all over again? The answer is: she can’t. But when Lacy learns Sam has ulterior motives for rekindling their romance, she’s not sure she can forgive him…not even with an unexpected pregnancy to consider! “No, Sam. You don’t get to stand there and pretend to know me.” “I do know you, Lacy,” he argued, coming around the desk. “We were married.” “Were being the operative word,” she reminded him. “You don’t know me anymore. I’ve changed.” “I can see that. But the basics are the same. You still smell like lilacs. You still wear your hair in that thick braid I used to love to undo and spill across your shoulders…” Lacy’s stomach did a fast, jittery spin and her heartbeat leaped into a gallop. How was it fair that he could still make her body come alive with a few soft words and a heated look? Why hadn’t the need for him drowned in the sea of hurt and anger that had enveloped her when he’d left? After Hours with Her Ex Maureen Child www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) MAUREEN CHILD writes for the Mills & Boon Desire™ line and can’t imagine a better job. A seven-time finalist for the prestigious Romance Writers of America RITA Award, Maureen is the author of more than one hundred romance novels. Her books regularly appear on bestseller lists and have won several awards, including a Prism Award, a National Readers’ Choice Award, a Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence and a Golden Quill Award. One of her books, The Soul Collector, was made into a CBS TV movie starring Melissa Gilbert, Bruce Greenwood and Ossie Davis. If you look closely, in the last five minutes of the movie you’ll spot Maureen, who was an extra in the last scene. Maureen believes that laughter goes hand in hand with love, so her stories are always filled with humor. The many letters she receives assure her that her readers love to laugh as much as she does. Maureen Child is a native Californian but has recently moved to the mountains of Utah. To La Ferrovia in Ogden, Utah Thanks for the best calzones ever Contents Cover (#u2ee5fd12-3e7f-5920-9fdd-dcabf4e24cbb) Introduction (#u4a5ccee1-2d22-5770-a557-466104416a59) Title Page (#ub1b19ac5-e419-5ed7-bfc5-91a4b94e7abb) About the Author (#u93468a90-d1dd-5eb0-9186-1481cce42664) Dedication (#u47823ace-5d65-54aa-8698-da329e935065) One (#ulink_d88ea3bb-2bca-55f9-9590-a429e2258e37) Two (#ulink_0f1d039c-7fc0-51ae-99d6-3678a0d9e5ed) Three (#ulink_bb0931e9-4d2a-5211-9699-904d433736ce) Four (#litres_trial_promo) Five (#litres_trial_promo) Six (#litres_trial_promo) Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) Extract (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) One (#ulink_a0c5586d-06a3-5f11-bec3-943395d5c1b9) “You actually can go home again,” Sam Wyatt murmured as he stared at the main lodge of his family’s resort. “The question is, will anyone be happy to see you.” But then, why should they be? He’d left Snow Vista, Utah, two years before, when his twin brother had died. And in walking away, he’d left his family to pick up the pieces strewn in the wake of Jack’s death. Guilt had forced Sam to leave. Had kept him away. And now, a different kind of guilt had brought him home again. Maybe it was time, he told himself. Time to face the ghosts that haunted this mountain. The lodge looked the same. Rough-hewn logs, gray, weathered shingles and a wide front porch studded with Adirondack chairs fitted with jewel-toned cushions. The building itself was three stories; the Wyatt family had added that third level as family quarters just a few years ago. Guest rooms crowded the bottom two floors and there were a few cabins on the property as well, offering privacy along with a view that simply couldn’t be beat. Mostly, though, the tourists who came to ski at Snow Vista stayed in hotels a mile or so down the mountain. The Wyatt resort couldn’t hold them all. A few years ago, Sam and his twin, Jack, had laid out plans for expanding the lodge, adding cabins and building the Wyatt holdings into the go-to place in the Utah mountains. Sam’s parents, Bob and Connie, had been eager to expand, but from the looks of it, any idea of expansion had stopped when Sam left the mountain. But then, a lot of things had stopped, hadn’t they? His grip tightened on his duffel bag, and briefly Sam wished to hell he could as easily get ahold of the thoughts racing maniacally through his mind. Coming home wouldn’t be easy. But the decision was made. Time to face the past. “Sam!” The voice calling his name was familiar. His sister, Kristi, headed right for him, walking in long brisk strides. She wore an electric blue parka and ski pants tucked into black boots trimmed with black fur at the tops. Her big blue eyes were flashing—and not in welcome. But hell, he told himself, he hadn’t been expecting a parade, had he? “Hi, Kristi.” “Hi?” She walked right up to him, tilted her head back and met his gaze with narrowed eyes. “That’s the best you’ve got? ‘Hi, Kristi’? After two years?” He met her anger with cool acceptance. Sam had known what he would face when he came home and there was no time like the present to jump in and get some of it over with. “What would you like me to say?” She snorted. “It’s a little late to be asking me what I want, isn’t it? If you cared, you would have asked before you left in the first place.” Hard to argue that point. And his sister’s expression told him it would be pointless to try even if he could. Remembering the way Kristi had once looked up to him and Jack, Sam realized it wasn’t easy to accept that her hero worship phase was over. Of course, he’d pushed that phase over a cliff himself. But this wasn’t why he’d come home. He wasn’t going to rehash old decisions. He’d done what he had to do back then, just as he was doing today. “Back then, I would have told you not to go,” Kristi was saying and as she stared up at him, Sam saw a film of tears cover her eyes. She blinked quickly, though, as if determined to keep those tears at bay—for which he was grateful. “You left us. Just walked away. Like none of us mattered to you anymore...” He blew out a breath, dropped his duffel bag and shoved both hands through his hair. “Of course you mattered. All of you did. Do.” “Easy to say, isn’t it, Sam?” Would it do any good to explain that he had thought about calling home all the time? No, he told himself. Because he hadn’t called. Hadn’t been in touch at all—except for a couple of postcards letting them know where he happened to be at the time—until his mother had found a way to track him down in Switzerland last week. He still wasn’t sure how she’d found him. But Connie Wyatt was a force to be reckoned with when she had a goal in mind. Probably, she had called every hotel in the city until she’d tracked him down. “Look, I’m not getting into this with you. Not right now anyway. Not until I’ve seen Dad.” He paused, then asked, “How is he?” A flicker of fear darted across her eyes, then was swept away in a fresh surge of anger. “Alive. And the doctor says he’s going to be fine. It’s just sad that all it took to get you to come home was Dad having a heart attack.” This was going great. Then it seemed her fury drained away as her voice dropped and her gaze shifted from him to the mountain. “It was scary. Mom was a rock, like always, but it was scary. Hearing that it was a warning made it a little better but now it feels like...” Her words trailed off, but Sam could have finished that sentence for her. A warning simply meant that the family was now watching Bob as if he were a live grenade, waiting to see if he’d explode. Probably driving his father nuts. “Anyway,” she said, her voice snapping back to knifelike sharpness. “If you’re expecting a big welcome, you’re in for a disappointment. We’re too busy to care.” “That’s fine by me,” he said, though damned if it didn’t bother him to have his little sister be so dismissive. “I’m not here looking for forgiveness.” “Why are you here, then?” He looked into his sister’s eyes. “Because this is where I’m needed.” “You were needed two years ago, too,” she said, and he heard the hurt in her voice this time. “Kristi...” She shook her head, plastered a hard smile on her face and said, “I’ve got a lesson in a few minutes. I’ll talk to you later. If you’re still here.” With that, she turned and left, headed for one of the bunny runs where inexperienced skiers got their first introduction to the sport. Kristi had been one of the instructors here since she was fourteen. All of the Wyatt kids had grown up on skis, and teaching newbies had been part of the family business. When she disappeared into the crowd, Sam turned for the main lodge. Well, he’d known when he decided to come home that it wasn’t going to be easy. But then, nothing in the past two years had been easy, had it? Head down, strides long, he walked toward home a lot slower than he had left it. * * * The lodge was as he remembered it. When he left, the renovations had been almost finished, and now the place looked as though the changes had settled in and claimed their place. The front windows were wider; there were dozens of leather club chairs gathered in conversational groups and huddled in front of the stone hearth where a fire burned brightly. It might be cold outside, with the wind and snow, but here in the lodge, there was warmth and welcome. He wondered if any of that would extend to him. He waved to Patrick Hennessey, manning the reception desk, then skirted past the stairs and around the corner to the private elevator to the third floor. Sam took a breath, flipped open the numerical code box and punched in the four numbers he knew so well, half expecting the family to have changed the code after he left. They hadn’t, though, and the door shushed open for him to step inside. They’d installed the elevator a few years ago when they added the third story. This way, none of their guests accidentally gained access to the family’s space and the Wyatt’s kept their privacy. The short ride ended, the door swished open and Sam was suddenly standing in the family room. He had time for one brief glance around the familiar surroundings. Framed family photos hung on the cream-colored walls alongside professional shots of the mountain in winter and springtime. Gleaming tables held handcrafted lamps and the low wood table set between twin burgundy leather sofas displayed a selection of magazines and books. Windows framed a wide view of the resort and a river-stone hearth on one wall boasted a fire that crackled and leaped with heat and light. But it was the two people in the room who caught and held his attention. His mother was curled up in her favorite, floral upholstered chair, an open book on her lap. And his father, Sam saw with a sigh of relief, was sitting in his oversize leather club chair, his booted feet resting on a matching hassock. The flat-screen TV hanging over the fireplace was turned to an old Western movie. On the long flight from Switzerland and during the time spent traveling from the airport to the lodge, all Sam had been able to think about was his father having a heart attack. Sure, he’d been told that Bob Wyatt was all right and had been released from the hospital. But he hadn’t really allowed himself to believe it until now. Seeing the big man where he belonged, looking as rugged and larger than life as usual, eased that last, cold knot in the pit of Sam’s stomach. “Sam!” Connie Wyatt tossed her book onto a side table, jumped to her feet and raced across the room to him. She threaded her arms around him and held on tightly, as if preventing him from vanishing again. “Sam, you’re here.” She tipped her head back to smile up at him. “It’s so good to see you.” He smiled back at her and realized how much he’d missed her and the rest of the family. For two years, Sam had been a gypsy, traveling from one country to another, chasing the next experience. He’d lived out of the duffel bag he still held tightly and hadn’t looked any further ahead than the next airport or train connection. He’d done some skiing of course. Sam didn’t compete professionally anymore, but he couldn’t go too long without hitting the slopes. Skiing was in his blood, even when he spent most of his time building his business. Designing ski runs at some of the top resort destinations in the world. The skiwear company he and Jack had begun was thriving as well, and between those two businesses, he’d managed to keep busy enough to not do much thinking. Now he was here, meeting his father’s studying gaze over the top of his mother’s head. It was both surreal and right. With a deliberate move, he dropped the duffel bag, then wrapped both arms around his much-shorter mother and gave her a hard hug. “Hi, Mom.” She pushed back, gave his chest a playful slap and shook her head. “I can’t believe you’re really here. You must be hungry. I’ll go fix you something—” “You don’t have to do that,” he said, knowing nothing could stop her. Connie Wyatt treated all difficult situations as a reason to feed people. “Won’t be a minute,” she said, then shot her husband a quick glance. “I’ll bring us all some coffee, too. You stay in that chair, mister.” Bob Wyatt waved one hand at his wife, but kept his gaze fixed on his son. As Connie rushed out of the room and headed for the family kitchen, Sam walked over to his father and took a seat on the footstool in front of him. “Dad. You look good.” Scowling, the older man brushed his gray-streaked hair back from his forehead and narrowed the green eyes he’d bequeathed to his sons. “I’m fine. Doctor says it wasn’t anything. Just too much stress.” Stress. Because he’d lost one son, had another disappear on him and was forced to do most of the running of the family resort himself. Guilt Sam didn’t want to acknowledge pinged him again as he realized that leaving the way he did had left everyone scrambling. Frowning more deeply, his father looked over to the doorway where his wife had disappeared. “Your mother’s bound and determined to make me an invalid, though.” “You scared her,” Sam said. “Hell, you scared me.” His father watched him for several long minutes before saying, “Well now, you did some scaring of your own a couple years ago. Taking off, not letting us know where you were or how you were...” Sam took a breath and blew it out. And there was the guilt again, settling back onto his shoulders like an unwelcome guest. It had been with him so long now, Sam thought he would probably never get rid of it entirely. “Couple of postcards just weren’t enough, son.” “I couldn’t call,” Sam said, and knew it sounded cowardly. “Couldn’t hear your voices. Couldn’t—hell, Dad. I was a damn mess.” “You weren’t the only one hurting, Sam.” “I know that,” he said, and felt a flicker of shame. “I do. But losing Jack...” Sam scowled at the memory as if that action alone could push it so far out of sight he’d never have to look at it again. “He was your twin,” Bob mused. “But he was our child. Just as you and Kristi are.” There it was. Sam had to accept that he’d caused his parents more pain at a time when they had already had more than enough loss to deal with. But back then, there had seemed to Sam to be only one answer. “I had to go.” One short sentence that encapsulated the myriad emotions that had driven him from his home, his family. “I know that.” His father’s gaze was steady and there was understanding there as well as sorrow. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I understand. Still, you’re back now. For how long?” He’d been expecting that question. The problem was, he didn’t have an answer for it yet. Sam ducked his head briefly, then looked at his father again. “I don’t know.” “Well,” the older man said sadly, “that’s honest at least.” “I can tell you,” Sam assured him, “that this time I’ll let you know before I leave. I can promise not to disappear again.” Nodding, his father said, “Then I guess that’ll have to do. For now.” He paused and asked, “Have you seen...anyone else yet?” “No. Just Kristi.” Sam stiffened. There were still minefields to step through. Hard feelings and pain to be faced. There was no way out but through. As hard as it was to face his family, he’d chosen to see them first, because what was still to come would be far more difficult. “Well then,” his father spoke up, “you should know that—” The elevator swished open. Sam turned to face whoever was arriving and instantly went still as stone. He hardly heard his father complete the sentence that had been interrupted. “—Lacy’s on her way over here.” Lacy Sills. She stood just inside the room, clutching at a basket of muffins that filled the room with a tantalizing scent. Sam’s heart gave one hard lurch in his chest. She looked good. Too damn good. She stood five foot eight and her long blond hair hung in a single thick braid over her left shoulder. Her navy blue coat was unbuttoned to reveal a heavy, fisherman’s knit, forest-green sweater over her black jeans. Her boots were black, too, and came to her knees. Her features were the same: a generous mouth; a straight, small nose; and blue eyes the color of deep summer. She didn’t smile. Didn’t speak. And didn’t have to. In a split second, blood rushed from his head to his lap and just like that, he was hard as a rock. Lacy had always had that effect on him. That’s why he’d married her. * * * Lacy couldn’t move. Couldn’t seem to draw a breath past the tight knot of emotion lodged in her throat. Her heartbeat was too fast and she felt a head rush, as if she’d had one too many glasses of wine. She should have called first. Should have made sure the Wyatts were alone here at the lodge. But then, her mind argued, why should she? It wasn’t as if she’d expected to see Sam sitting there opposite his father. And now that she had, she was determined to hide her reaction to him. After all, she wasn’t the one who’d walked out on her family. Her life. She’d done nothing to be ashamed of. Except of course, for missing him. Her insides were jumping, her pulse raced and an all too familiar swirl of desire spun in the pit of her stomach. How was it possible that she could still feel so much for a man who had tossed her aside without a second thought? When Sam left, she had gone through so many different stages of grief, she had thought she’d never come out the other side of it all. But she had. Finally. How was it fair that he was here again when she was just getting her life back? “Hello, Lacy.” His voice was the deep rumble of an avalanche forming and she knew that, to her, it held the same threat of destruction. He was watching her out of grass-green eyes she had once gotten lost in. And he looked so darn good. Why did he have to look so good? By all rights, he should be covered in boils and blisters as punishment for what he’d done. Silence stretched out until it became a presence in the room. She had to speak. She couldn’t just stand there. Couldn’t let him know what it cost her to meet his gaze. “Hello, Sam,” she finally managed to say. “It’s been a while.” Two years. Two years of no word except for a few lousy postcards sent to his parents. He’d never contacted Lacy. Never let her know he was sorry. That he missed her. That he wished he hadn’t gone. Nothing. She’d spent countless nights worrying about whether he was alive or dead. Wondering why she should care either way. Wondering when the pain of betrayal and abandonment would stop. “Lacy.” Bob Wyatt spoke up and held out one hand toward her. In welcome? Or in the hope that she wouldn’t bolt? Lacy’s spine went poker straight. She wouldn’t run. This mountain was her home. She wouldn’t be chased away by the very man who had run from everything he’d loved. “Did you bake me something?” Bob asked. “Smells good enough to eat.” Grateful for the older man’s attempt to help her through this oh-so-weird situation, Lacy gave him a smile as she took a deep, steadying breath. In the past two years, she had spent a lot of nights figuring out how she would handle herself when she first saw Sam again. Now it was time to put all of those mental exercises into practice. She would be cool, calm. She would never let on that simply looking at him made everything inside her weep for what they’d lost. And blast it, she would never let him know just how badly he’d broken her heart. Forcing a smile she didn’t quite feel, she headed across the room, looking only at Bob, her father-in-law. That’s how she thought of him still, despite the divorce that Sam had demanded. Bob and Connie Wyatt had been family to Lacy since she was a girl, and she wasn’t about to let that end just because their son was a low-down miserable excuse for a man. “I did bake, just for you,” she said, setting the basket in Bob’s lap and bending down to plant a quick kiss on the older man’s forehead. “Your favorite, cranberry-orange.” Bob took a whiff, sighed and gave her a grin. “Girl, you are a wonder in the kitchen.” “And you are a sucker for sugar,” she teased. “Guilty as charged.” He glanced from her to Sam. “Why don’t you sit down, visit for a while? Connie went off to get some snacks. Join us.” They used to all gather together in this room and there was laughter and talking and a bond she had thought was stronger than anything. Those times were gone, though. Besides, with Sam sitting there watching her, Lacy’s stomach twisted, making even the thought of food a hideous one to contemplate. Now, a gigantic glass of wine, on the other hand, was a distinct possibility. “No, but thanks. I’ve got to get out to the bunny run. I’ve got lessons stacked up for the next couple of hours.” “If you’re sure...” Bob’s tone told her he knew exactly why she was leaving and the compassion in his eyes let her know he understood. Oh, if he started being sympathetic, this could get ugly fast and she wasn’t about to let a single tear drop anywhere in the vicinity of Sam Wyatt. She’d already done enough crying over him to last a lifetime. Blast if she’d put on a personal show for him! “I’m sure,” she said quickly. “But I’ll come back tomorrow to check on you.” “That’d be good,” Bob told her and gave her hand a pat. Lacy didn’t even look at Sam as she turned for the elevator. Frankly, she wasn’t sure what she might do or say if she met those green eyes again. Better to just go about her life—teaching little kids and their scared mamas to ski. Then she’d go home, have that massive glass of wine, watch some silly chick flick and cry to release all of the tears now clogging her throat. Right now, though, all she wanted was to get out of there as quickly as she could. But she should have known her tactic wouldn’t work. “Lacy, wait.” Sam was right behind her—she heard his footsteps on the wood floor—but she didn’t stop. Didn’t dare. She made it to the elevator and stabbed at the button. But even as the door slid open, Sam’s hand fell onto her shoulder. That one touch sent heat slicing through her and she hissed in a breath in an attempt to keep that heat from spreading. Deliberately, she dipped down, escaping his touch, then stepped into the elevator. Sam slapped one hand onto the elevator door to keep it open as he leaned toward her. “Damn it, Lacy, we have to talk.” “Why?” she countered. “Because you say so? No, Sam. We have nothing to talk about.” “I’m—” Her head snapped up and she glared at him. “And so help me, if you say ‘I’m sorry,’ I will find a way to make sure you are.” “You’re not making this easy,” he remarked. “Oh, you mean like you did, two years ago?” Despite her fury, she kept her voice a low hiss. She didn’t want to upset Bob. God, she hadn’t wanted to get into this at all. She never wanted to talk about the day Sam had handed her divorce papers and then left the mountain—and her—behind. Deliberately keeping her gaze fixed to his, she punched the button for the lobby. “I have to work. Let go of the door.” “You’re going to have to talk to me at some point.” She reached up, pulled his fingers off the cold steel and as the door closed quietly, she assured him, “No, Sam. I really don’t.” Two (#ulink_24a34ff9-2ac4-5a8c-9f00-6550b7d360ea) Thank God, Lacy thought, for the class of toddlers she was teaching. It kept her so busy she didn’t have time to think about Sam. Or about what it might mean having him back home. But because her mind was occupied didn’t mean that her body hadn’t gone into a sort of sense memory celebration. Even her skin seemed to recall what it felt like when Sam touched her. And every square inch of her buzzed with anticipation. “Are you sure it’s safe to teach her how to ski so soon?” A woman with worried brown eyes looked from Lacy to her three-year-old daughter, struggling to stay upright on a pair of tiny skis. “Absolutely,” Lacy answered, pushing thoughts of Sam to the back of her mind, where she hoped they would stay. If her body was looking forward to being with Sam again, it would just have to deal with disappointment. “My father started me off at two. When you begin this young, there’s no fear. Only a sense of adventure.” The woman laughed a little. “That I understand.” Her gaze lifted to the top of the lift at the mountain’s summit. “I’ve got plenty of fear, but my husband loves skiing so...” Lacy smiled as she watched her assistant help a little boy up from where he’d toppled over into the soft, powdery snow. “You’ll love it. I promise.” “Hope so,” she said wistfully. “Right now, Mike’s up there somewhere—” she pointed at the top of the mountain “—with his brother. He’s going to watch Kaylee while I have my lesson this afternoon.” “Kristi Wyatt’s teaching your class,” Lacy told her. “And she’s wonderful. You’ll enjoy it. Really.” The woman’s gaze swung back to her. “The Wyatt family. My husband used to come here on ski trips just to watch the Wyatt brothers ski.” Lacy’s smile felt a little stiff, but she gave herself points for keeping it in place. “A lot of people did.” “It was just tragic what happened to Jack Wyatt.” The woman wasn’t the first person to bring up the past, and no doubt she wouldn’t be the last, either. Even two years after Jack’s death, his fans still came to Snow Vista in a sort of pilgrimage. He hadn’t been forgotten. Neither had Sam. In the skiing world, the Wyatt twins had been, and always would be, rock stars. The woman’s eyes were kind, sympathetic and yet, curious. Of course she was. Everyone remembered Jack Wyatt, champion skier, and everyone knew how Jack’s story had ended. What they didn’t know was what that pain had done to the family left behind. Two years ago, it had been all Lacy could think about. She’d driven herself half-crazy asking herself the kind of what-if questions that had no answers, only possibilities. And those possibilities had haunted her. Had kept her awake at night, alone in her bed. She’d wondered and cried and wondered again until her emotions were wrung out and she was left with only a sad reality staring her in the face. Jack had died, but it was the people he’d left behind who had suffered. “Yes,” Lacy agreed, feeling her oh-so-tight smile slipping away. “It was.” And tragic that the ripple effect of what happened to Jack had slammed its way through the Wyatt family like an avalanche, wiping out everything in its path. While the kids practiced and Lacy’s assistant supervised, the woman continued in a hushed voice. “My husband keeps up with everything even mildly related to the skiing world. He said that Jack’s twin, Sam, left Snow Vista after his brother’s death.” God, how could Lacy get out of this conversation? “Yes, he did.” “Apparently, he left competitive skiing and he’s some kind of amazing ski resort designer now and he’s got a line of ski equipment and he’s apparently spent the last couple of years dating royalty in Europe.” Lacy’s heart gave one vicious tug and she took a deep breath, hoping to keep all the emotions churning inside her locked away. It wasn’t easy. After all, though Sam hadn’t contacted the family except for the occasional postcard, he was a high-profile athlete with a tragic past who got more than his share of media attention. So it hadn’t been difficult to keep up with what he’d been doing the past couple of years. Lacy knew all about his businesses and how he’d put his name on everything from goggles to ski poles. He was rich, famous and gorgeous. Of course the media was all over him. So naturally, Lacy had been treated to paparazzi photos of Sam escorting beautiful women to glamorous events—and yes, he had been photographed with a dark-haired, skinny countess who looked as though she hadn’t had a regular meal in ten years. But it didn’t matter what he did, because Sam was Lacy’s ex-husband. So they could both date whomever they wanted to. Not that she had dated much—or any for that matter. But she could if she wanted to and that’s what mattered. “Do you actually know the Wyatts?” the woman asked, then stopped and caught herself. “Silly question. Of course you do. You work for them.” True. And up until two years ago, Lacy had been one of them. But that was another life and this was the one she had to focus on. “Yes, I do,” Lacy said, forcing another smile she didn’t feel. “And speaking of work, I should really get to today’s lessons.” Then she walked to join her assistant Andi and the group of kids who demanded nothing but her time. * * * Sam waited for hours. He kept an eye on Lacy’s classes and marveled that she could be so patient—not just with the kids but with the hovering parents who seemed to have an opinion on everything that happened. She hadn’t changed, he thought with some small satisfaction. She was still patient, reasonable. But then, Lacy had always been the calm one. The cool head that invariably had smoothed over any trouble that rose up between Sam and Jack. He and his twin had argued over everything, and damned if Sam didn’t still miss it. A twinge pulled at his heart and he ignored it as he had for the past two years. Memories clamored in the back of his mind and he ignored them, as well. He’d spent too much time burying all reminders of the pain that had chased him away from his home. Muttering under his breath, he shoved one hand through his hair and focused on the woman he hadn’t been able to forget. She hadn’t changed, he thought again and found that intriguing as well as comforting. The stir of need and desire inside him thickened into a hot flow like lava through his veins. That hadn’t changed, either. “Okay, that’s it for today,” Lacy was saying and the sound of her voice rippled along his spine like a touch. Sam shook his head to clear it of any thoughts that would get in the way of the conversation he was about to have and then he waited. “Parents,” Lacy called out with a smile, “thanks for trusting us with your children. And if you want to sign up for another lesson, just see my assistant Andi and she’ll take care of it.” Andi was new, Sam thought, barely glancing at the young woman with the bright red hair and a face full of freckles. His concentration was fixed on Lacy. As if she felt his focused stare, she lifted her head and met his gaze over the heads of the kids gathered around her. She tore her gaze from his, smiled and laughed with the kids, and then slowly made her way to him. He watched every step. Her long legs looked great in black jeans and the heavy sweater she wore clung to a figure he remembered all too well. Despite the snow covering the ground and the surrounding pines, the sun shone brilliantly out of a bright blue sky, making the air warm in spite of the snow. Lacy flipped her long blond braid over her shoulder to lie down the center of her back and never slowed her steps until she was right in front of him. “Sam.” “Lacy, we need to talk.” “I already told you we have nothing to say to each other.” She tried to brush past him, but he caught her arm in a firm grip and kept her at his side. Her gaze snapped to his hand and made her meaning clear. He didn’t care. If anything, he tightened his hold on her. “Time to clear the air,” he said softly, mindful of the fact that there was a huge crowd ebbing and flowing around them. “That’s funny coming from you,” she countered. “I don’t remember you wanting to talk two years ago. All I remember is seeing you walk away. Oh, yeah. And I remember divorce papers arriving two weeks later. You didn’t want to talk then. Why all of a sudden are you feeling chatty?” He stared at her, a little stunned at her response. Not that it wasn’t justified; it was only that the Lacy he remembered never would have said any of it. She was always so controlled. So...soft. “You’ve changed some,” he mused. “If you mean I speak for myself now, then yes. I have changed. Enough that I don’t want to go back to who I was then—easily breakable.” He clenched his jaw at the accusation that he had been the one to break her. Sam could admit that he’d handled everything badly two years ago, but if she was so damaged, how was she standing there glaring at him? “Looks to me like you recovered nicely,” he pointed out. “No thanks to you.” She glanced around, as if to make sure no one could overhear them. “You’re right about that,” he acknowledged. “But we still have to talk.” Staring into his eyes now, she said, “Because you say so? Sorry, Sam. Not how it works. You can’t disappear for two years, then drop back in and expect me to roll over and do whatever it is you want.” Her voice was cool, and her eyes were anything but. He could see sparks of indignation in those blue depths that surprised him. The new attitude also came with a temper. But then, she had every right to be furious. She was still going to listen to him. “Lacy,” he ground out, “I’m here now. We’ll have to see each other every day.” “Not if I can help it,” she countered, and the flash in her eyes went bright. Around them, the day went on. Couples walked hand in hand. Parents herded children and squeals of excitement sliced through the air. Up on the mountain, skiers in a rainbow of brightly colored parkas raced down the slopes. Here, though, Sam was facing a challenge of a different kind. She’d been in his thoughts and dreams for two years. Soft, sweet, trusting. Yet this new side of Lacy appealed to him, too. He liked the fire sparking in her eyes, even if it was threatening to engulf him. When she tugged to get free of his grip, he let her go, but his fingertips burned as if he’d been holding on to a live electrical wire. “Lacy, you work for me—” “I work for your father,” she corrected. “You work for the Wyatts,” he reminded her. “I’m a Wyatt.” Her head snapped up and those furious blue eyes narrowed to slits. “And you’re the one Wyatt I want nothing to do with.” “Lacy?” Kristi’s voice came from right behind him and Sam bit back an oath. His sister had lousy timing was his first thought, then he realized that she was interrupting on purpose. As if riding to Lacy’s rescue. “Hi, Kristi.” Lacy gave her a smile and blatantly ignored Sam’s presence. “You need something?” “Actually, yeah.” Kristi gave her brother one long, hard look, then turned back to Lacy. “If you’re not busy, I’d like to go over some of the plans for next weekend’s End of Season ski party.” “I’m not busy at all.” Lacy gave Sam a meaningful look. “We were done here, right?” If he said no, he’d have two angry women to face. If he said yes, Lacy would believe that he was willing to step away from the confrontation they needed to have—which he wasn’t. Yeah, two years ago he’d walked away. But he was back now and they were both going to have to find a way to deal with it. For however long he was here. “For now,” he finally said, and saw the shimmer of relief in Lacy’s eyes. It would be short-lived, though, because the two of them weren’t finished. After Lacy and Kristi left, Sam wandered the resort, familiarizing himself with it all. He could have drawn the place from memory—from the bunny runs to the slalom courses to the small snack shops. And yet, after being gone for two years, Sam was looking at the place through new eyes. He’d been making some changes to the resort, beginning the expansion he’d once dreamed of, when Jack died. Then, like a light switch flipping off, his dreams for the place had winked out of existence. Sam frowned and stared up at the top of the mountain. There were other resorts in Utah. Big ones, small ones, each of them drawing away a slice of tourism skiing that Snow Vista should be able to claim. While he looked around, his mind worked. They needed more cabins for guests. Maybe another inn, separate from the hotel. A restaurant at the summit. Something that offered more substantial fare than hot dogs and popcorn. And for serious skiers, they needed to open a run on the backside of the mountain where the slope was sheer and there were enough trees and jumps to make for a dangerous—and exciting—run. God knew he had more than enough money to invest in Snow Vista. All it would take was his father’s approval, and why the hell wouldn’t he go for it? With work and some inventive publicity, Sam could turn Snow Vista into the premier ski resort in the country. But to make all of these changes would mean that he’d have to stay. To dig his heels in and reclaim the life that he’d once walked away from. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that. Or that he could. He wasn’t the same man who had left here two years ago. He’d changed as much as Lacy had. Maybe more. Staying here would mean accepting everything he’d once run from. It would mean living with Jack’s ghost. Seeing him on every ski run. Hearing his laugh on the wind. Sam’s gaze fixed on a lone skier making his way down the mountain. Snow flared up from the sides of his skis and as he bent low to pick up speed, Sam could almost feel the guy’s exhilaration. Sam had grown up on that mountain and just seeing it again was easing all of the rough edges on his soul that he’d been carrying around for two years. It wouldn’t be easy, but he belonged here. A part of him always would. And just like that, he knew that he would stay. At least as long as it took to make all of the changes he’d once dreamed of making to his family’s resort. The first step on that journey was laying it out for his father. * * * “And you want to oversee all of this yourself?” “Yeah,” Sam said, leaning back in one of the leather chairs in the family great room. “I do. We can make Snow Vista the place everyone wants to come.” “You’ve only been back a couple hours.” Bob’s eyes narrowed on his son. “You’re not taking much more time over this decision than you did with the one to leave.” Sam shifted in his chair. He’d made his choice. He just needed to convince his father that it was the right one. “You sure you want to do this?” The decision had come easily. Quickly, even though he’d barely arrived. Maybe he should take some time. Settle in. Determine if this was what he really wanted to do. But even as he considered it, he dismissed it. Looking at his father, Sam realized that his first concern—the worry that had brought him home—had been eased. His dad was in no danger. His health wasn’t deteriorating. But still, the old man would have to rest up, take it easy, which meant that Sam was needed here. At least for the time being. And if he didn’t involve himself in the family resort, what the hell would he do with himself while he was here? He scrubbed one hand across the back of his neck. If he got right to work he could have most of the changes made and completed within a few months. By then, his dad should be up and feeling himself again and Sam could... “Yeah, Dad. I’m sure I want to do it. If I get started right away, most of it can be finished within a few months.” “I remember you and Jack sitting up half the night with drawings and notebooks, planning out what you were going to do to the place.” His father sighed heavily and Sam could feel his pain. But then his father nodded, tapped the fingers of his right hand against his knee. “You’ll supervise it all? Take charge?” “I will.” Heat swarmed through the room, rushing from the hearth where a fire burned with licks and hisses of flames. “So this means you’re staying?” His father’s gaze was wise and steady and somehow way too perceptive. “I’ll stay. Until I’ve got everything done anyway.” That was all he could promise. All he could swear to. “Could take months.” “To finish everything? I figure at least six,” Sam agreed. His father shifted his gaze to stare out the window at the sprawling view of the Salt Lake Valley. “I shouldn’t let you put your money on the line,” he finally said quietly. “You’ve got your own life now.” “I’m still a Wyatt,” Sam said easily. Bob slowly turned his head to look at his son. “Glad to hear you remember that.” Guilt poked at Sam again and he didn’t care for it. Hell, until two years ago, guilt had never been a part of his life, but since then, it had been his constant companion. “I remember.” “Took you long enough,” his father said softly. “We missed you here.” “I know, Dad.” He leaned forward, braced his elbows on his knees and let his hands hang in front of him. “But I had to go. Had to get away from—” “Us.” Sam’s head snapped up and his gaze fixed on his father’s face, wreathed in sorrow. “No, Dad. I wasn’t trying to get away from the family. I was trying to lose myself.” “Not real smart,” the older man mused, “since you took you with you when you left.” “Yeah,” Sam muttered, jumping to his feet and pacing. His father’s point made perfect sense when said out loud like that. But two years ago, Sam hadn’t been willing or able to listen to anyone. He hadn’t wanted advice. Or sympathy. He’d only wanted space. Between himself and everything that reminded him he was alive and his twin was dead. He stalked back and forth across the wide floor until he finally came to a stop in front of the man sitting quietly, watching him. “At the time, it seemed like the only thing to do. After Jack...” He shook his head and bit back words that were useless. Didn’t matter now why he’d done what he had. Hearing him say that he regretted his choices wouldn’t change the fact that he had walked out on the people who loved him. Needed him. But they, none of them, could understand what it had meant when his twin—the other half of himself—had died. His dad nodded glumly. “Losing Jack took a huge chunk out of this family. Tore us all to pieces, you more than the rest of us, I’m guessing. But putting all that aside, I need to know, Sam. If you start something here, I need to know you’ll stay to see it through.” “I give you my word, Dad. I’ll stay till it’s done.” “That’s good enough for me,” his father said, and pushed out of his chair. Standing, he offered his hand to Sam and when they shook on it, Bob Wyatt smiled and said, “You’ll have to work with our resort manager to get this up and running.” Sam nodded. Their resort manager had been with the Wyatts for twenty years. “Dave Mendez. I’ll see him tomorrow.” “Guess you haven’t heard yet. Dave retired last year.” “What?” Surprised, Sam asked, “Well who replaced him?” His father gave him a wide grin. “Lacy Sills.” * * * First thing the next morning, Lacy was sipping a latte as she opened the door to her office. She nearly choked on the swallow of hot milk and espresso. Gasping for air, she slapped one hand on her chest and glared at the man sitting behind her desk. “What’re you doing here?” Sam took his time looking up from the sheaf of papers in front of him. “I’m going over the reports for the hotel, the cabins and the snack bar. Haven’t gotten to the ski runs yet, but I will.” “Why?” She managed one word, her fingers tightening on the paper cup in her hand. God, it was a wonder she could think, let alone talk. Her head was fuzzed out and her brain hadn’t quite clicked into top gear. It was all Kristi’s fault, Lacy told herself. Sam’s sister had come over to Lacy’s cabin the night before, carrying two bottles of wine and a huge platter of brownies. At the time it had seemed like a great idea. Getting a little drunk with her oldest friend. Talking trash about the man who was such a central part in both of their lives. Sam. It always came down to Sam, she thought and wished to heaven she had a clear enough head to be on top of this situation. But, she thought sadly, even without a hangover, she wouldn’t be at her best facing the man who had shattered her heart. It was still hard for her to believe that he’d come back. Even harder to know what to do about it. The safest thing, she knew, would be to keep her distance. To avoid him as much as possible and to remind herself often that no doubt he’d be leaving again. He had left, he said at the time, because he hadn’t been able to face living with the memories of Jack. Nothing had changed. Which meant that Sam wouldn’t stay. And Lacy would do whatever she had to, to keep from being broken again. “When I left,” Sam said quietly, “we had just started making changes around here.” “Yes, I remember.” She edged farther into the office, but the room on the first floor of the Wyatt lodge was a small one and every step she took brought her closer to him. “We finished the reno to the lodge, but once that was done, we put off most of the rest. Your folks just weren’t...” Her voice trailed off. The Wyatts hadn’t been in the mood to change anything after Jack’s death changed everything. “Well, while I’m here, we’re going to tackle the rest of the plans.” While he was here. That was plain enough, Lacy thought. He was making himself perfectly clear. “You talked to your dad about this?” “Yeah.” Sam folded his hands atop his flat abdomen and watched her. “He’s good with it so we’re going to get moving as quickly as possible.” “On what exactly?” “For starters,” he said, sitting forward again and picking up a single piece of paper, “we’re going to expand the snack bar at the top of the lift. I want a real restaurant up there. Something that will draw people in, make them linger for a while.” “A restaurant.” She thought of the spot he meant and had to admit it was a good idea. Hot dogs and popcorn only appealed to so many people. “That’s a big start.” “No point in staying small, is there?” “I suppose not,” she said, leaning back against the wall, clutching her latte cup hard enough she was surprised she hadn’t crushed it in her fist. “What else?” “We’ll be building more cabins,” he told her. “People like the privacy of their own space.” “They do.” “Glad you agree,” he said with a sharp nod. “Is there more?” she asked. “Plenty,” he said and waved one hand at the chair in front of the desk. “Sit down and we’ll talk about it.” A spurt of anger shot through her. He had commandeered her office and her desk and now she was being relegated to the visitor’s chair. A subtle move for power? Shaking her head, she dropped into the seat and looked at the man sitting opposite her. He was watching her as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. “We’re going to be working together on this, Lacy,” he said quietly. “I hope that’s not going to be a problem.” “I can do my job, Sam,” she assured him. “So can I, Lacy,” he said. “The question is, can we do the job together?” Three (#ulink_df685dbe-913f-5341-992a-79f5e7ade65a) It went wrong right from the jump. For the next hour, they butted heads continuously until Lacy had a headache the size of Idaho. “You closed the intermediate run on the east side of the mountain,” he said, glancing up from the reports. “I want that opened up again.” “We can’t open it until next season,” Lacy said, pausing for a sip of the latte that had gone cold over the past hour. He dropped a pen onto the desk top. “And why’s that?” She met his almost-accusatory stare with cool indifference. “We had a storm come through late December. Tore down a few pines and dropped a foot and a half of snow.” She crossed her legs and held her latte between her palms. “The pines are blocking the run and we can’t get a crew in there to clear it out because the snow in the pass is too deep.” He frowned. “You waited too long to send in a crew.” At the insinuation of incompetence in his voice, she stood up and stared down at him. “I waited until the storm passed,” she argued. “Once we got a look at the damage and I factored in the risks to the guys of clearing it, I closed that run.” Leaning back in his chair, he met her gaze. “So you ran the rest of the season on half power.” “We did fine,” she said tightly. “Check the numbers.” “I have.” Almost lazily, he stood so that he loomed over her, forcing her to lift her gaze. “You didn’t do badly...” “Thanks so much.” Sarcasm dripped from every word. “It would have been a better season with that run open.” “Well yeah,” she said, setting her latte cup onto her desk. “But we don’t always get what we want, do we?” His eyes narrowed and she gave herself a mental pat on the back for that well-aimed barb. Before Sam had walked out on her and everyone else, she couldn’t remember a time when she’d lost her temper. Now that he was back, though, the anger she used to keep tamped down kept bubbling up. “Leaving that alone for the moment,” he said, “the revenue from the snack bar isn’t as high as it used to be.” She shrugged. This was not news to her. “Not that many people are interested in hot dogs, really. Most people go for a real lunch in town.” “Which is why building a restaurant at the summit is important,” he said. She hated that he was right. “I agree.” A half smile curved his mouth briefly and her stomach gave a quick twist in response. It was involuntary, she consoled herself. Sam smiled; she quivered. Didn’t mean she had to let him know. “If we can agree on one thing, there may be more.” “Don’t count on it,” she warned. He tipped his head to one side and stared at her. “I don’t remember you being so stubborn. Or having a temper.” “I learned how to stand up for myself while you were gone, Sam,” she told him, lifting her chin to emphasize her feelings on this. “I won’t smile and nod just because Sam Wyatt says something. When I disagree, you’ll know it.” Nodding, he said, “I think I like the new Lacy as much as I did the old one. You’re a strong woman. Always have been, whether you ever chose to show it or not.” “No,” Lacy said softly. “You don’t get to do that, Sam. You don’t get to stand there and pretend to know me.” “I do know you, Lacy,” he argued, coming around the desk. “We were married.” “Were being the operative word in that sentence,” she reminded him, and took two steps back. “You don’t know me anymore. I’ve changed.” “I can see that. But the basics are the same,” he said, closing the distance between them again. “You still smell like lilacs. You still wear your hair in that thick braid I used to love to undo and spill across your shoulders...” Lacy’s stomach did a fast, jittery spin and her heartbeat leaped into a gallop. How was it fair that he could still make her body come alive with a few soft words and a heated look? Why hadn’t the need for him drowned in the sea of hurt and anger that had enveloped her when he left? “Stop it.” “Why?” He shook his head and kept coming, one long, slow step after another. “You’re still beautiful. And I like the way temper makes your eyes flash.” The office just wasn’t big enough for this, Lacy told herself, and crowded around behind the desk, trying to keep the solid piece of furniture between them. She didn’t trust herself around him. Never had been able to. From the time she was a girl, she had wanted Sam and that feeling had never left her. Not even when he’d broken her heart by abandoning her. “You don’t have the right to talk to me like that now. You left, Sam. And I moved on.” Liar, her mind screamed. She hadn’t moved on. How could she? Sam Wyatt was the love of her life. He was the only man she had ever wanted. The only one she still wanted, damn it. But he wasn’t going to know that. Because she had trusted him. More than anyone in her life, she had trusted him and he’d left her without a backward glance. The pain of that hadn’t faded. He narrowed his gaze on her. “There’s someone else?” She laughed, but the sharp edge of it scraped her throat. “Why do you sound so surprised? You’ve been gone two years, Sam. Did you think I’d enter a convent or something? That I’d throw myself on our torn-up marriage certificate and vow to never love another man?” His jaw tightened, the muscle there twitching as he ground his teeth together. “Who is he?” She sucked in a gulp of air. “None of your business.” “I hate that. But yeah, it’s not,” he agreed, moving closer. So close that Lacy couldn’t draw a breath without taking the scent of him—his shampoo, the barest hint of a foresty cologne—deep into her lungs. He looked the same. He felt the same. But nothing was the same. Lacy felt the swirl of need she always associated with Sam. No other man affected her as he did. No other man had ever tempted her into believing in forever. And look how that had turned out. “Sam.” The window was at her back, the glass cold through her sweater and still doing nothing to chill the heat that pulsed inside her. “Who is he, Lacy?” He reached up and fingered the end of her braid. “Do I know him?” “No,” she muttered, looking for a way out and not finding one. She could slip to the side, but he’d only move with her. Too close. She took another breath. “Why does it matter, Sam? Why would you care?” “Like I said, we were married once,” he said as if he had to remind her. “We’re not now,” she told him flatly. “No,” he said, then lifted his fingers to tip up her chin, drawing her gaze to meet his. “Your eyes are still so damn blue.” His whisper shivered inside her. His touch sent bolts of heat jolting through her and Lacy took another breath to steady herself and instead was swamped by his scent, filling her, fogging her mind, awakening memories she’d worked so hard to bury. “Do you taste the same?” he wondered softly, and lowered his head to hers. She should stop him, she knew, and yet, she didn’t. Couldn’t. His mouth came down on hers and everything fell away but for what he could make her feel. Lacy’s heart pounded like a drum. Her body ached; her mind swirled with the pleasure, the passion that she’d only ever found with Sam. It was reaction, she told herself. That was all. It was the ache of her bones, the pain in her heart, finally being assuaged by the man who had caused it all in the first place. He pulled her in tightly to him and for a brief, amazing moment, she allowed herself to feel the joy in being pressed against his hard, muscled chest again. To experience his arms wrap around her, enfolding her. To part her lips for his tongue and know the wild rush of sensation sweeping through her. It was all there. Two years and all it took was a single kiss to remind her of everything they’d once shared, they’d once known. Her body leaned into him even as her mind was screaming at her to stop. She burned and in the flames, felt the heat sear every nerve ending. That was finally enough, after what felt like a small eternity, to make her listen to that small, rational internal voice. Pulling away from him, Lacy shook her head and said, “No. No more. I won’t do it.” “We just did.” Her head snapped up, furious with him, but more so with herself. How could she be so stupid? He’d abandoned her and he’s back on the mountain for a single day and she’s kissing him? God, it was humiliating. “That was a mistake.” “Not from where I’m standing,” Sam said, but she was pleased to see he looked as shaken as she felt. Small consolation, but she’d take it. The office suddenly seemed claustrophobic. She had to get out. Get into the open where she could think again, where she could force herself to remember all of the pain she’d been through because of him. “You can’t touch me again, Sam,” Lacy said, and it cost her, because her body was still buzzing as if she’d brushed up against a live wire. “I won’t let you.” Frowning, he asked, “Loyal to the new guy, huh?” “No,” she told him flatly, “this is about me. And about protecting myself.” “From me?” He actually looked astonished. “You really think you need protection from me?” Could he really not understand this? “You once asked me to trust you. To believe that you loved me and you’d never leave.” His features went taut, his eyes shuttered. She felt him closing himself down, but she couldn’t stop now. “But you lied. You did leave.” His eyes flashed once—with hurt or shame, she didn’t know, couldn’t tell. “You think I planned to leave, Lacy? You think it was something I wanted?” “How would I know?” she countered, anger and hurt clawing at her insides. “You didn’t talk to me, Sam. You shut me out. And then you walked away. You hurt me once, Sam. I won’t let you do it again. So you really need to back off.” “I’m here now, Lacy. And there’s no way I’m backing off. This is still my home.” “But I’m not yours,” she told him, accepting the pain of those words. “Not anymore.” He took a breath, blew it out and scrubbed one hand across the back of his neck. The familiarity of that gesture tugged at her. “I thought of you,” he admitted, fixing his gaze to hers as his voice dropped to a low throb that seemed to rumble along her spine. “I missed you.” Equal parts pleasure and pain tore at her heart. The taste of him was still on her mouth, flavoring every breath. Her senses were so full she felt as if she might explode. So she held tight to the pain and let the pleasure slide away. “It’s your own fault you missed me, Sam. You’re the one who left.” “I did what I had to do at the time.” “And screw anyone else,” she added for him. Pushing one hand through his hair, he finally took a step back, giving Lacy the breathing room she so badly needed. “That’s what it looked like, I guess.” “That’s what it was, Sam,” she told him, and took the opportunity to slip out and move around until the desk once again stood between them like a solid barrier. “You left us all. Me. Your parents. Your sister. You walked away from your home and left the rest of us to pick up the pieces.” “I couldn’t do it.” He whirled around to face her, green eyes flashing like a forest burning. “You need to hear me say it? That I couldn’t take it? That Jack died and I lost it? Fine. There.” He slapped both hands onto the desk and glared at her. “That make it better for you? Easier?” Overwhelmed with fury, Lacy thought she actually saw red. So many emotions surged inside her, she could hardly separate them. Lacy felt the crash and slam of the feelings she’d tried to bury two years ago as they rushed to the surface, demanding to be acknowledged. “Better? Really?” Her voice was hard, but low. She wouldn’t shout. Wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing just how deeply his words had cut her. “You think it can get better? My husband left me with all the casualness of tossing out an old shirt.” “I didn’t—” “Don’t even try to argue,” she interrupted him before he could. “I won’t.” He fisted his hands on the desktop, then carefully, deliberately, released them again. “I can’t explain it to myself, so how could I explain it to you or anyone else? Yeah, I left and maybe that was wrong.” “Maybe?” “But I’m back now.” Lacy shook her head and swallowed the rest of her temper. Clashing with him was no way to prove to Sam that she was over him. She would not get pulled into a Wyatt family drama. She wasn’t one of them anymore. Sam returning had nothing to do with her. In spite of the heat inside her, the yearning gnawing at her, she knew she had to protect herself. “You didn’t come back for me, Sam. So let’s not pretend different, okay?” “What if I had?” he whispered, gaze locked with hers. “It wouldn’t matter,” she told him, and hoped to heaven he believed her. “What we had is done and gone.” He studied her for a long minute. Seconds ticked past, counting off with every heartbeat. Tension coiled and bristled in the air between them. “I think,” he said at last, “we just proved that what we had isn’t completely gone.” “That doesn’t count.” Surprised, he snorted, and laughter glinted in his eyes for a split second. “Oh, it counts. But we’ll let it go for now.” She released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Ridiculous to feel both relieved and irritated all at once. How easily he turned what he was feeling on and off. How easily he had walked away from his life. From her. “Back to business, then,” he said, voice cool, dispassionate, as if that soul-shaking kiss hadn’t happened. “Yesterday, you and Kristi were talking about the End of Season party.” “Yes. The plans are finalized.” Fine. Business she could do. She had been running the Wyatt resort for the past year and she’d done a damn good job. Let him go over the records and he would see for himself that she hadn’t curled up and died just because he left. Lacy had a life she loved, a job she was good at. She was happy, damn it. Coming around the desk, she ignored him and hit a few keys on the computer to pull up the file. “You can see for yourself, everything’s in motion and right on schedule.” She moved out of the way as he stepped in to glance at the monitor. Scrolling down, he gave the figures there a quick look, then shifted his gaze to hers. “Looks fine. But end of season’s usually not until March. Why are we closing the slopes early?” Lacy was on familiar ground here and she relaxed a little as she explained, “There hasn’t been any significant snowfall since early January. Weather’s been cold enough to keep the snowpack in good shape, but we’re getting icy now. Our guests expect the best powder in the world—” “Yeah,” he said wryly, “I know.” Of course he knew. He had, just like Lacy, grown up skiing the very slopes they were discussing now. He’d built a life, a profession, a reputation on skiing. “Right. Then you should appreciate why we’re doing the official closing early.” Lacy walked around the desk until it stood between them again. She sighed and said, “Numbers have been falling off lately. People know there’s no fresh snow, so they’re not in a rush to come up the mountain. “Throwing the End of Season party early will bring them up here. The hotel’s already booked and we just have two of the cabins left empty...” “One,” he said, interrupting the flow of words while he continued to scan the plans for the party. “One what?” “One cabin’s empty.” He shrugged. “I moved my stuff into Cabin 6.” A sinking sensation opened up in the pit of her stomach. Cabin 6 was close to her house. Way too close. And he knew that. So had he chosen that cabin purposely? “I thought you’d be staying in the family quarters at the lodge.” He shook his head. “No. The cabin will suit me. I need the space.” “Fine,” she said shortly, determined not to let it matter where he stayed. “Anyway, locals will still come ski whether we’re ‘officially’ closed or not. We’ll keep the lifts running and if we get more snow, then others will come, too. But holding the party early gives us publicity that could keep tourists coming in until the snow melts.” “It’s a good idea.” He said it grudgingly and Lacy scowled at him. “You sound surprised.” “I’m not,” he said, then dropped into the desk chair. “You know this place as well as I do. You were a good choice to run the resort. Why would I be surprised that you’re good at your job?” Was there a compliment in there? “I want to go over the rest of the records, then, since you’re the manager now, I’ll want to talk tomorrow about the plans for the resort.” “Fine,” she said, headed for the door. “I’ll see you here tomorrow, then.” “That’ll work.” She opened the door and stopped when he spoke again. “And Lacy...” She looked over her shoulder at him. His eyes met hers. “We’re not done. We’ll never be done.” There was nothing she could say to that, so she left, closing the door softly behind her. * * * That kiss stayed with him for hours. For two years, he’d lived without her. It hadn’t been easy, especially at first. But the grief and rage and guilt had colored everything then and he’d buried her memory in the swamp of other emotions. He’d convinced himself she was fine because the reality was too brutal. She’d come to haunt him at night of course. His sleep was crowded with her image, with her scent, with her taste. And now he’d had a taste of her again and his system was on fire. Need crouched inside him, clawing at his guts, tearing at what was left of his heart. He’d loved her back then. But love hadn’t been enough to survive his own pain. Now there was desire, rich and thick and tormenting him in ways he hadn’t felt since the last time he’d seen Lacy Sills. She’d said she had a new man. Who the hell was touching her? Who heard her whisper of breath when she climaxed? Who felt her small, strong hands sliding up and down his skin? It was making Sam crazy just thinking about it. And yet, he couldn’t seem to stop, either. Yeah, none of it was rational. He didn’t care. When he’d headed home, his only thought had been for his father. Worry had driven every action. He hadn’t stopped to think what it would be like to be near Lacy again. To face her and what he’d done by leaving. His heart told him he was a bastard, but his brain kept reminding him that he’d had to leave. That he might have made even more of a mess of things if he’d stayed. Now he was here, for at least a few months. How was he going to make it without touching her? Answer—he wouldn’t. The truth was, he was going to touch her. As soon and as often as possible. Her response to his kiss told him that whether she wanted to admit it or not, she wanted him, too. So to hell with the new guy, whoever he was. Sam turned in the chair and looked out at the night. The lights glittering in the Salt Lake Valley below smudged the horizon with a glow that dimmed the stars. His gaze shifted, sweeping across the resort, where lights were golden, tossing puddled yellow illumination on the snow. It was pristine, beautiful, and he’d missed the place. Acknowledging it was hard, but Sam knew that coming back here eased something inside him that had been drawn tight as a bowstring for two years. Coming home hadn’t been easy. He’d spent the past two years trying to convince himself that he’d never come back. Now that he was here, though, there were ghosts to face, the past to confront and, mostly, there was the need to make a kind of peace with Lacy. But then, he thought as he stood and walked out of the office, maybe it wasn’t peace he was after with her. * * * For the next few days, Lacy avoided him at every turn and Sam let her get away with it. There was time to settle what was between them. He didn’t have to rush, and besides, if he made her that nervous, drawing out the tension would only make her more on edge. And that could only work to his benefit. Lacy cool and calm wasn’t what he wanted. The temper she’d developed intrigued him and made him think of how passionate she had always been in bed. Together, they had been combustible. He wanted that back. He glanced at her and almost smiled at the deliberate distance she kept. As if it would help. As if it could cool the fires burning between them. The day was cold and clear and the snow-covered ground at the summit crunched underfoot as they walked toward the site for the restaurant he was planning. Tearing his gaze from Lacy momentarily, Sam studied the snack shop that had been there since before he was born. Small and filled with tradition, it had outlived its purpose. These days, most people wanted healthy food, not hot dogs smothered in mustard and chili. “What’re you thinking?” Lacy looked up at him, clearly still irritated that he’d dragged her away from the inn to come up here and look around. He glanced at her. “That I want a chili dog.” For a split second, the ice in her eyes drained away. “You always did love Mike’s chili.” “I’ve been all over the world and never found anything like it.” “Not surprising,” Lacy answered. “I think he puts rocket fuel in that stuff.” Sam grinned and she gave him a smile in return that surprised and pleased him. A cold wind rushed across the mountaintop and lifted her blond braid off her shoulder. Her cheeks were pink, her blue eyes glittering and she looked so good it was all he could do not to grab her. But even as he thought it, her smile faded. “I think we’ll keep the snack shack for old time’s sake,” he said, forcing himself to look away from her and back out over the grounds where he would build the new restaurant. “But the new place, I’d like it to go over there,” he pointed, “so the pines can ring the back of it. We’ll have a deck out there, too, a garden area, and the trees will provide some shade, as well.” She looked where he pointed and nodded. “It’s a good spot. But a wood deck requires a lot of upkeep. What about flagstone?” Sam thought about it. “Good idea. Easier to clean, too. I called Dennis Barclay’s construction company last night and he’s going to come up tomorrow, make some measurements, draw up some plans so we can go to the city and line up the permits.” “Dennis does good work.” She made a note on her iPad. “Franklin stone could lay the gravel paths and the flagstone. They’ve got a yard in Ogden with samples.” “Good idea. We can check that out once we get the permits and an architect’s drawing on the restaurant.” “Right.” Her voice was cool, clipped. “We used Nancy Frampton’s firm for the addition to the inn.” “I remember.” He nodded. “She’s good. Okay, I’ll call and talk to her tomorrow. Tell her what we want up here.” She made another note and he almost chuckled. She was so damn determined to keep him at arm’s length. To pretend that what they’d shared in the office last night hadn’t really happened. And he was willing to let that pretense go on. For a while. “As long as you’re making notes, write down that we want to get some ideas for where to build an addition to the inn. I want it close enough to the main lodge that it’s still a part of us. But separate, too. Maybe joined by a covered walkway so even during storms, people can go back and forth.” “That’d work.” She stopped, paused and said, “You know, a year ago, we put in a restaurant-grade stove, oven and fridge in the main lodge kitchen. We’re equipped to provide more than breakfast and lunch now.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/maureen-child/after-hours-with-her-ex/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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