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🪓 Are you ready for an adventure with a mountain man?

Henry was quiet on the drive home from the bar. I hoped he wasn’t regretting offering to help with the wedding.

He parked, leading the way through the lodge. It was inviting and cozy, exactly how guests want to feel on vacation.

I unlocked the door to my room, pushing it open. I turned to tell Henry goodnight, my breath hitching when he grasped the top of the door frame, leaning forward as if he wasn’t ready for the night to end. His eyes searched mine. “Are you adventurous?”

“Not anymore—I mean, not really.” With good reason. I chewed my lip wondering if I could trust him. “But I want to be.”

His eyes softened. “You’re in good hands with me.”

I wanted to wrap my arms around his waist and melt into him. I wanted to rely on someone other than myself. Trusting anyone wouldn’t be easy, but I had to start somewhere. “Okay.”

His lips tipped up at the corners. “Yeah? You trust me to take care of you?”

I slapped my hand on his stomach to lighten the moment― the cotton of his shirt was soft, but his abs underneath were hard. I wanted to push up his shirt, exploring the ridges and valleys with my fingers, then with my tongue. Smiling, I tried to cover my reaction to him. “Elle trusts you, so you must be a good guy.”

“I am.” His expression was uncertain.

Had he done something he wasn’t proud of?

My mind drifted back to that party Elle mentioned, the one I tried hard to forget even as the reminder of not being able to count on but myself pushed me to be stronger.

“I haven’t discussed this with Gray, or anyone really, but I’d like to offer adventure tours for my guests.”

Standing this close to him, his unique scent—soap and pine—surrounded me. “You’d be the tour guide?”

“I’d prefer that over planning weddings.”

I tapped a finger on my chin before giving him an impish grin. “Let me guess, I’m going to be your guinea pig.”

He tipped his head to the side considering me. “I would describe you as the beautiful volunteer.”

“You think I’m beautiful?” My voice tipped up at the end, full of hope as if I were sixteen and this was the first boy I wanted to kiss me.

He lowered his hands from the door frame, the knuckles of one hand grazing my cheek. “You’re even more beautiful with your cheeks red from the cold and your eyes full of wonder when you look at the mountains. I want to introduce you to more of Telluride.”

Had I been beautiful in New York? Or was this place bringing it out in me? I wasn’t prepared to be attracted to anyone, much less Elle and Gray’s friend. Desperate to change the subject, I asked, “Do you have any specific adventures in mind?”

“We could take a helicopter ride to see the waterfall, go bike riding in the snow, Nordic skiing in the valley, or snowmobiling to a ghost town.” His eyes filled with excitement as he listed the options.

“All of those sound great, but I don’t want to take you away from what you need to do here.” Anticipation flowed through my body, something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

“Like I said, you’re doing me a favor. Let’s call it research for my adventure tours.”

I stepped back, severing the moment we’d shared. “I’m happy to help.”

He rested a hand on the doorframe. “I’ll figure out which adventure we’ll do tomorrow and text you a time. I’ll need your number.”

I pulled my phone out of my purse, handing it to him to enter his information. When his phone buzzed with an incoming text, he said, “There. Now you have mine.”

Exchanging numbers felt like we were embarking on something bigger than just being Elle and Gray’s friends. There was a thrumming of desire and anticipation skidding across my skin. When was the last time I was this excited about anything? And it wasn’t just the promise of adventure—it was Henry.

His eyes focused on me with an intensity I’d never experienced from anyone before. “You might not think of yourself as adventurous, but you are. Maybe you never realized it or maybe you pushed it down so far you don’t recognize it, but I’m going bring out that side of you—the side that craves it.”

A shiver went through my body at the promise in his words. I was carefree when I was younger, a product of my parents’ free-range style. One scare shocked that part of me out of my system. I’d reinvented myself as someone who followed the rules and took all necessary precautions. I hoped I was making the right move with Henry, trusting him to take care of me at the same time, trusting myself not to act on my attraction to him.

Bitter rivals never tasted so sweet.

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