Those full lips of his pursed thoughtfully. “Honestly?”
“Yeah.” Business management might sound lame to some people, but there were a lot of stable careers in that and money to be made. Especially for someone like Kyler, who had the connections needed to start his own business, which according to the last time I’d talked to his mom, was following in her footsteps. I really tried not to think about that, because it meant that once we graduated, I’d stay in Maryland to get my doctorate, and Kyler would start traveling, like his mom. After spending more than half my life with him within arm’s length, I wasn’t sure how I’d handle the separation.
It sort of struck me then, my sudden inability to ignore my wild monkey lust for him and my feelings that were stronger than friendship. We’d be separated sooner rather than later. Knots filled my stomach.
His eyes met mine, expression suddenly seriously. “I don’t know.”
Truth was, Kyler had the luxury of changing his mind this late in the game. His family had enough money that he could hold off graduating. He could go back and get another degree. He could do nothing. My parents were nowhere near as wealthy as his. My dad ran his own insurance office and mom taught at the local private school, so there’d been a college fund for me, but if I decided to change my mind now or take a few years off before grad school, my parents would kick my ass from here to home and back again.
“What do you want to do?” I asked, but I already had a suspicion.
“Travel the world as a millionaire playboy?”
He flashed a quick grin. “Seriously?”
“Restoring old bars and shit? I don’t know about that. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad job.”
“No, it’s not. But?”
The light in the ceiling flickered as the wind gusted. He smiled, and I released the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. “You know how my minor is in biology, right? And I’ve been adding a lot of math classes in?”
“Yeah,” I said, relaxing into him. He seemed to be okay with that, because he shifted so that my head was against his chest and his arms were clasped around me. “I just figured something was wrong with your brain for taking those classes.”
He laughed. “Nah, my brain functions normally, most of the time.” There was a pause, and then he said, “I was thinking about going to vet school after graduating.”
My eyes fell shut as my heart did this stupid squeeze-floating thing. Kyler’s biggest soft spot had always been animals. Once, in the third grade, he’d found a pigeon outside on the playground. Its wing had been broken, and left alone, it would have surely died. He’d kicked a fit, and I mean, refusing to sit at his desk and everything, until the teacher dug up a small box.
Kyler had marched out onto the playground and scooped up the little bird. He’d also made his mom take it to the vet. A pigeon—a creature that no one else would’ve given a crap about. He’d become my hero in that moment.
“Syd?” There was uncertainty in his voice, like he thought I might think giving up a career where he could make millions for one where the main payback would be helping animals was insane.
I inhaled a shaky breath as I snuggled closer. I couldn’t have Kyler the way I wanted him. I knew that, accepted that. The drunken version of me didn’t, obviously, but still, I was proud to call him a friend. “I think it’s a great idea.”
“You do?” He sounded surprised.
I smiled. “I think it’s wonderful. It’s something you feel passionate about. You should do it.”
Kyler didn’t respond, but I felt some tension seep out of him. Something I hadn’t really noticed until then. Maybe that’s what he needed. Affirmation.
As we sat there in the silence, watching the flames create dancing shadows along the wood walls, I realized something else in that moment. Even though I knew that all we ever would have between us was friendship, I loved him.
I would always love Kyler Quinn.
I was so screwed.
We were going to lose power. The wind was going crazy outside, beating at the house and the power lines. Why no one had thought about running those suckers underground was beyond me.
Lights flickered on and off for the entire evening. Around nine, the snow started coming down so fast and thick, I couldn’t see anything outside the windows. The white stuff blanketed the limbs on the pines, weighing them down. I’d gone to bed hours ago, but couldn’t sleep. My mind was obsessing over everything—me molesting Kyler, the killer snowmobile, and how long we were going to be stuck here. The wind wasn’t helping. It sounded like the house was going to cave in on me.
Frustrated, I turned away from the window and tightened the quilt I had wrapped around my shoulders. I crept out into the hallway, not wanting to wake Kyler.
I made it halfway down the hall before I heard a door creak open. “Syd?”
Sighing, I turned around and nearly started drooling. Kyler stood in the bedroom doorway, shirtless in pajama pants. His stomach… why did his stomach have to look like that? All rippled and hard and stuff…
“Syd?” He stepped out, closing the door behind him. “Are you okay?”
“Aren’t you cold?” I sort of wanted to smack myself after saying that.
He grinned. “I wasn’t until I got out of bed.”
“Good point.” I shifted my weight, feeling like a turd. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s okay.” He sauntered over to me, all hundred-percent male, and I kind of hated him for that. “You can’t sleep?”
I shook my head as I stifled a yawn. “The wind, it sounds like it’s ripping the entire—”
A loud crack interrupted and caused me to jump. From the window at the end of the hall, the sky lit up with a shower of sparks, and then the entire house rumbled for several seconds. Overhead, the hallway light flickered twice, and then went out, plunging the hall into complete darkness.
“Shit,” Kyler said, and I felt his hand on my back. “I think the power just got knocked out. The backup generator should kick on.”
I blinked, trying to get my eyes to adjust, but I could only make out his silhouette. The lights hadn’t come back on, but I could hear something gearing up, like a low-level hum. Air was blowing out of the vents in the hall, nowhere near the power before, and didn’t curb the cold sneaking into the house.
He cursed again. “Stay here.”
“I’m so not moving.”
I heard him walk back toward the window. “Well, triple shit. One of the pines just came down, hitting the power lines.” He turned, aggravated. “The backup will only run in emergency-mode—heat at a minimal, enough to keep pipes from freezing and the fridge—stuff like that.” He was back in front of me again, his breath warm against my forehead. “Go back into the bedroom while I check downstairs and make sure everything’s okay.”
“Okay.” Nervous, I tightened my hold on the blanket. My heart was pounding fast. “Do…do you have to go?”
His hand was on my back again. “I’ll just be a few minutes.”
“Sorry, but all I can think about are those people who were stranded in the snow and had to eat one another.”
Kyler laughed deeply. “Baby, that was like in the eighteen-hundreds or something. We’ll be fine. I’ll be right back.”
“You’re not going to be saying that when I start chewing on your leg like a zombie.” But I put my hand on the wall, using it as a guide to the room while he moved through the darkness like a damn cat.
Once inside the bedroom, I scurried over to the window. Snow fell in gusts, but with it covering everything, the entire ground glowed in the dim moonlight to my dark-adjusted eyes. A giant pine had snapped in half, a black silhouette against the snow. I shivered. Being stranded sucked bad enough, but having only backup power with the snowstorm of the century now just gearing up? I think God just smited us.
I headed back to the bed and climbed under the covers, tucking them under my chin. I lay on my side, watching the door. When I heard his footsteps a few minutes later, I tensed.
He carried a candle and its soft glow cast shadows over his cheekbones. Placing it on the nightstand, he sat beside me. “I’m sorry about this.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Coming up here every year is my idea. You could be home, but now you’re stuck up here, worrying that we’re going to start eating each other.”
I laughed softly. “I really don’t think we’ll start eating each other.”
“Well, I hope if you do, you don’t start with my face. I’m told it’s my most valuable asset.” I could hear the grin in his voice and it made me smile. “But it’s going to get cold, Syd.”
“I know, but it’s not your fault. I like coming up here.”
He was silent for a moment. “You know, I never understood why. You don’t even like to ski or do anything like that.”
I chewed on my lower lip. “I like to spend time with you—with everyone.” My cheeks heated. “I just like doing this with everyone.”
Kyler reached over and in the dim light, he found the strand of hair against my cheek and tucked it back. “I’m glad you came.”
I got all kinds of warm at hearing that. “Only because you’d be all alone right now.”
He laughed deeply, and then cut a look toward the window as the wind screamed. “Nah, that’s not the only reason.”
Now my heart was doing jumping jacks.
Kyler picked up the edge of the blanket. “Scoot over.”
My eyes popped wide. “What?”
“It’s going to get cold in here, and I know you’re not sleeping because of the wind. I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep.” He paused. “And besides, without a shirt, I am freezing my ass off right now.”
“Okay.” I stuttered that word like an idiot as I scooted over. Then I rolled over onto my other side, because I was sure I couldn’t face him in bed.
He slid under the covers, and even though a few inches separated our bodies, I could feel him. Totally weird, but my entire back warmed and the urge to wiggle back and really feel him was hard to ignore.
“You’re okay with this?” His voice sounded like it was right in my ear. “I guess I should’ve asked that before I told you to move over, huh?”
“Yes,” I whispered. “I’m okay with this.”
“Good.” He settled onto his side, and I knew he was facing me. We were spooning! But we weren’t touching, so I guess that didn’t count. “Because I think this bed is way more comfortable than mine, and I kind of don’t want to leave.”
I really didn’t want him to leave. This was like heaven to me. I closed my eyes, soaking up his nearness like he was my own personal sun.
“Do you remember doing this when we were kids?” he asked.