Julian headed down the ski slope at full speed, his scarf blowing in the wind. The cool air felt good against his face, numbing his skin. He always loved skiing for the fast, almost sublime nature of the sport, but now he realized what an escape it could be as well, a way to get away from his troubles and pretend all was right with the world. And my, what troubles he had! Lately, what ailed him could all be labeled with one word: Rebecca. How he despised the wench for blackmailing him into this loveless sham of a marriage. Oh well, at least his Eve was spared the heartache of their past coming out. He owed her that, after he had hurt her so profoundly all those years ago. He would do anything now to protect her, to see that she was happy. He just wished it didn’t hurt so much to see her lovely face around town and realize he could not have her. If only he could turn back the clock!

Eve bent down lower to pick up more speed on the slope. It was only an intermediate hill, and in her heyday of skiing, she had whizzed down the advanced trails with the best of them. She knew her mind was not on it today, however, and had told TC to go ahead and tackle the harder slopes; she would stick with the milder ones for once. As she picked up speed, Eve’s mind wandered to the person she couldn’t stop thinking about lately, the man who had wormed his way back into her heart and her life: Julian. Her heart pounded faster when she said his name in her head. The hold he had over her! It was incomprehensible. But it was real, and there was nothing she could do about it. She loved him; that she was sure of, and to think of all he had done for her lately…well, it just made her love him all the more. Her mind flashed to the wedding she had witnessed just days before. Julian had looked so sad standing up at the altar, and then all of a sudden his face had lit up in a broad smile. She knew he was thinking of her right then, imagining her as his bride. How it moved her to realize that…to understand just how much he loved her. He would do anything for her, even saddle himself to that witch Rebecca. If only there had been some alternative!

Tears filled Eve’s eyes, momentarily blinding her as she came to a fork in the trail. She didn’t see the skier coming off of the other path and plowed right into him before he could do anything to get out of the way. Their bodies collided at the base of the fork, the impact sending them both flying, skis and poles going everywhere.

“Damn! You need to watch where you are going,” Julian said, shaking the snow off of him as he used his pole that was within hand’s reach to pull himself up to a standing position. “I could have been killed.”

“I’m sorry,” Eve said, tears filling her eyes even more. She was half dazed from the collision, and had not realized that it was Julian she had run into (literally) on the trail. She was feeling about aimlessly for her poles when Julian moved on over closer for a better look. Even with her hair tucked underneath her toboggan, and her purple-tinted goggles covering a good portion of her face, Julian knew that the woman sitting there on the side of the hill, unable to get up, was the same woman who owned his heart.

“Eve!” he cried, rushing over to her side as quickly as his skis would allow him. “Are you all right?” he asked, bending down to check on her, a worried look on his face.

“Julian!” she exclaimed. “Is that really you?”

“Yes, Eve, are you hurt? You were going really fast when we hit. Didn’t you see me there?”

“No, Julian, I couldn’t see anything,” she admitted, sniffling. “I was crying. I couldn’t help myself…”

“There, there now, everything’s going to be OK,” Julian said in a sweet, soothing voice, realizing what must have the love of his life so upset. “There is no need to cry. I want you to be happy, remember? If you tell me you are sad, then I’ll know I did all of this for nothing,” he joked, trying to get her to crack a grin.

“Oh, Julian!” she said, smiling slightly at his efforts to cheer her up. “I just…” she began to break down again, causing Julian to lay his pole in the snow and plop down beside her.

“Listen to me, Eve,” he began, trying to calm her shattered nerves. “I am going to be fine. There is no need to cry. We Cranes are a tough lot. We can handle anything. I lasted through more than twenty years with Ivy, didn’t I? And all for what, a business deal? This marriage to Rebecca serves a much better purpose – to protect the woman I love. I am at peace with my decision, Eve. I need you to be as well.” He reached over and removed her goggles, followed by one of his gloves, so that he could wipe her tears away with his hand.

“I just hate that you have to go through all this for me,” Eve revealed, reaching over to lift up Julian’s mask so that she could look into his eyes. She then placed her hand on his cheek. “I love you, Julian, so much. The last thing I want is for you to suffer. It hurts me so much to see you in pain.”

“I can handle it,” Julian responded, reaching up to place his hand on top of hers. “Let me do this, Eve…let me make up for all the pain I caused you so many years ago. It can’t begin to come close to doing that, I know, but I want to at least try to right some of the wrongs of the past. Can you understand that?”

She nodded, wiping away some more of her tears. Sniffling, she looked up into his eyes and managed a slight smile. “I will be beholden to you forever, Julian, for your sacrifice. I love you so much.” She threw her arms around his neck on those last words and hugged him tightly.

Julian hugged her back, clamping his eyes shut to make the moment even more personal to them. It was as if for those few minutes, the world only consisted of two people, him and Eve, and he wanted to make that time last as long as he could.

Finally pulling back, Julian looked into her eyes and grinned. “Why don’t I get you back to the lodge and get a warm cup of cocoa in you? I think that would make you feel a whole lot better.”

Eve returned his smile. “That sounds wonderful, Julian.”

He pulled himself up to a standing position first, and then retrieved Eve’s poles and skis for her. Both of her skis had popped off in the collision earlier. After Eve secured her boots onto her skis once more, Julian helped her up, and the two made their way slowly down the hill together, staying side by side the whole way down.