The Mountain Man's Secret Twins(6)

By: Alexa Ross & Holly Rayner

Kenzie leaned back against the couch, gazing up at the low ceiling, which was cracked from the freezing winters and the bright summers, the wood stretched. Grateful for the fire, she cuddled against the back of the couch, her mind whirring with how nice and handsome Bryce was.

Even after dating Austin for two years, she couldn’t remember feeling that instant attraction, that sizzling in her gut that told her she felt something. Something important. Something that mattered. Rather, Austin had been convenient, at the office in which she worked every single day, flashing that smile at her and convincing her, after several months of working side by side, to go out for a drink with him. Starved for love and feeling lustful, she’d agreed.

Now she regretted it. She remembered thinking she was falling for him in ways she couldn’t have dreamed of before, but she’d convinced herself of that. Obviously.

After nearly an hour, Kenzie allowed herself to drift off to sleep, visions of Bryce still filling her mind. She had fleeting dreams about him, about them walking through the snowy woods together, hand in hand. There was such a warmth to him, a strength to him, that assured her everything would be all right. They didn’t have to speak. They could just gaze into one another’s eyes in this other dream world and feel the tension, the spark, that their presence together created.

Kenzie awoke early in the morning and dropped another log on the fire, watching as sparks burst into the air. She shivered, rubbing her hands together, and then dropped her feet into her boots. She brought a bucket from the kitchen and gathered up some snow, anxious for something to drink. Holding the bucket over the fire, she watched as the snow melted into glittering water, and then she drank gratefully. Her scratchy throat felt cool and clean, and her mind was free from thoughts of Austin and Tori.

Realizing she was absolutely starving, having eaten nothing since the previous day’s bite of burger, she moved to her car and drove down the mountain, toward the small town. Stretching her fingers over the steering wheel, she imagined finding Bryce at the diner, tucking into pancakes and drinking coffee slowly, contemplating whatever weight he felt from the world. Perhaps the moment she entered, she would cause him to smile.

The tiny town held no more than 1,000 people. It was a strip consisting of the grocery store, the diner, the pub, and a liquor store, a single paved road running down the center. A few people stood outside the diner, smoking cigarettes and kicking the snow. With the nearest city an hour away, Kenzie couldn’t imagine who lived here on purpose. Surely there weren’t enough people to sustain the place long term.

She parked her car outside the diner, not bothering to lock it, and wandered into the small establishment, which looked like it had last been decorated in 1955. She grinned at the waitress, a stout woman in her late 40s with a bad blond dye job. “Hi, honey. Sit wherever you like. You want me to grab you a cup of coffee?”

“Please,” Kenzie said, taking a seat at the second booth, which had a good view of the mountains. Just two other couples were in the diner, both of them aging, eating toast slowly and allowing the crumbs to build up on the plastic table. They didn’t speak, but it wasn’t awkward. They’d get to conversation later, in time. There was always time.

Kenzie ordered a stack of blueberry pancakes, feeling giddy and childlike. She sipped her coffee after adding too much sugar and grinned to herself, looking forward to the ski slopes ahead. She hadn’t skied in nearly three years, when she’d gone with a few girls she’d met in downtown Concord. Then, she’d been uneasy, rickety on girlish knees. Perhaps today, as a 25-year-old, newly single woman, she would stand tall with her eyes toward the horizon and her skis racing over the fine snow.

She paid just four dollars, giving the woman a 100 percent tip, and then drove slowly toward the ski resort, growing more fatigued with each passing minute. The pancakes seemed to reaffirm that she’d had a difficult previous day, and that her sleep—although warm—had been fitful. Her eyelids began to droop as she waited in line to rent a ski lift pass. When her lips moved to speak to the attendant, she knew she was mumbling.

She forced herself up the mountain, though, knowing the slicing winds would wake her. At the top, standing near several pine trees, she gazed out over the slopes at the dots of dark trees surrounding her and the numerous, multi-colored coats whipping down the hill in front of her, each of the wearers seemingly pros. She leaned forward, feeling tentative, and felt her skis tilt over the edge. In an instant, she was going full speed, the wind biting into her soft cheeks and her brown ponytail whipping behind her.

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