“My apologies, mates, but if spoiling my Grace with a trip to the hair salon makes her smile, I’m happy to do it.” Jacob shrugs but doesn’t look in the least bit embarrassed.
I take a deep breath to clear my head, then feel Jill’s small hand on my arm. “Zack?”
“Hey, sugar.” I turn to smile at her, and my heart stills in my chest at the happy grin on her gorgeous face. Her blue eyes are big and bright, and she bites that luscious lower lip of hers as she slips her arm through mine and presses her round breast to my arm.
Fuck, I love her tits.
“What are you guys talking about?”
“Women,” I reply honestly and tweak her nose with my fingertip.
“Oh good, I came at the right time.” She laughs and leans her cheek against my upper arm.
“Actually,” Jacob begins as he checks his watch, “it looks like things are about to start.”
The night-skiing lights on the mountain go out, leaving the small ski village in utter darkness. Suddenly, music begins to play from a DJ booth near the ski lift. As Rihanna sings, asking someone to stay, an MC takes a mike.
“Welcome to the annual torchlight parade! In just a few moments you’ll be able to see the skiers come down the mountain with their red torches. There will also be a fireworks show, courtesy of Jacob Paxton, the generous sponsor of this event!”
A round of applause is heard, then the music volume goes up and we all gather around the railing, watching the dark hill.
I pull Jill in front of me and wrap my arms around her shoulders. She holds on to my arms and leans against my chest. I plant my lips in her hair and breathe her in, her scent, her warmth, mentally counting the hours until I can scoop her up and carry her down to our room and bury myself inside her for the night, forgetting about everything but her.
“Look!” Jill points to the top of the hill, where we can barely see a warm red glow as the skiers begin to ski down the mountain.
They ski down in a crisscross pattern at a relatively slow pace. When the skiers in the front reach the halfway mark down the mountain, the fireworks begin.
And this is the part I’ve been dreading all night. Jill looks up at me to watch my face. I kiss her forehead and murmur, “I’m fine.”
And I will be.
But while everyone around me enjoys the fireworks display, it’s a private hell for me. The sounds, the bursts of light, are all too reminiscent of warfare, and I’ve seen enough of that to last me a fucking lifetime.
If I never saw fireworks again, it would be too soon.
I keep my eyes trained on the lights of the pyrotechnics. It helps if I can keep my eyes on them, rather than just hearing the loud boom, wondering where it’s coming from. I let go of Jill and brace my hands on the railing before her, still caging her in, but now I’m able to tighten my fists without her knowing.
I bury my nose in Jill’s hair, take a long, deep breath, and pray that it’s almost over.
The skiers are almost all down the mountain now, and the fireworks are coming faster and bigger now, signaling the finale.
Thank fucking Christ.
Finally, the last burst of light is ignited and the crowd roars with excited yells and applause. Some of the spectators will file into the few bars up here on the mountain, while still more will drive down to town and party it up down there.
“That was beautiful!” Cara exclaims. “Why have I never come up here to watch this before?”
“Locals rarely experience all of the fun things in a tourist town,” Max reminds her.
“True,” Lo agrees. “We should do more of them.”
Jill turns in my arms and wraps herself around my torso, hugging me tightly, rubbing her small hands up and down my back soothingly.
“Are you okay?” she murmurs softly.
I kiss her forehead tenderly and take a deep breath of the fresh mountain air. “I’m fine, baby.”
She can feel the tension rolling through me and frowns up at me, but I shake my head and kiss her lips gently. “I’m okay. We’ll talk later, okay? Just enjoy the party.”
She studies me for a moment and then nods.
“I’ll go get us a couple of drinks,” I offer.
“Perfect, thank you.” She smiles widely as I walk into the kitchen to grab two fresh drinks. Jacob went all out for this small party. If I hadn’t met him, I would think it was just to impress us all, but I have a feeling it was purely for the convenience of having the food prepared, and staff on hand to help so he and Grace could enjoy their guests.
I can respect that.
When I walk back out to the balcony, I hear Jill’s laughter tickling the air, and my dick immediately hardens. Jesus, I have it bad. Just the sound of her voice turns me on. I survey the small crowd and find Jill and Max, their heads together, laughing loudly. Max wraps his arm around her shoulders and pulls her into his side in a half hug, and that’s it. The lack of sleep, the stress from the day, the fireworks, and now seeing Max with his hands on my woman all just push me over the edge.
I stalk over to Jill, glaring at my friend, and hand her her drink.
“Are you ready to go back to the room?” My voice is hard and distant. Jill’s eyes widen before she glares at me and props her hands on her hips.
“No, I’m not.”
“I think it’s time we have a talk, Jilly.”
Max shakes his head and mutters under his breath. “Zack.” His voice is low so he doesn’t draw attention from the others. “We were just talking about—”
“I don’t care,” I reply calmly, but fist my hands at my sides. “This really isn’t about you, Max.”
The other man shrugs and pats Jill on the back before walking away.
“What is wrong with you tonight?” Jill’s face is worried now, and I don’t know how to soothe her. Fuck, I’m just a jumbled mess, and I know that I’m done being in this crowd of people, and I need to get her out of here.
“I’d like to leave now, please.”
“Babe, are you . . .?”
“Let’s go, Jilly.”
She shrugs and we say our good-byes to our hosts and friends. Josh stares at me with questions in his eyes, but I just shrug and keep walking.
The walk to the room is quiet and tense. The valet delivered our overnight bags to the room while we were upstairs. When I close the door behind me and lock the dead bolt, Jill immediately turns on me.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“Just drop it, Jill.”