Yearning for the Snow Bunny
MALLORY ARMSTRONG watched as Tevyn Moore floated his way through the ski lodge disco, stopping to dance with everyone on the floor.
Tevyn—shoulder-length curly blond hair flying, lithe, powerful athlete’s body gyrating—had a smile and a booty bump for everybody he passed, and they, male and female, usually had a casual touch or a grope or an out-and-out caress saved for him.
He didn’t seem to mind.
Mallory had managed Tevyn’s money and his snowboarding competitions for the last five years, and he knew being touched was the last thing on Tevyn’s bitch list. The boy was careless and free with that amazing body of his, and Mallory… Mallory just had to watch him, wondering who he’d find in the boy’s bed tomorrow.
It was infuriating—even more so because Tevyn wasn’t careless with protection or feckless with people’s hearts. He worked in a physical profession. For God’s sake, he did terrifying, death-defying things on a narrow plank of fiberglass, and he did them so well people paid him to wear hats with their logos on them. Someone whose stress was all physical was going to have physical ways to work that stress out.
Sex was as good a way as any, as far as Mallory could remember.
His last boyfriend had left him two years ago because, in his words, competing with Tevyn was too rough on the ego.
Mallory had sputtered then and protested. He was ten years older than Tevyn and was not planning to get involved with the boy. Tevyn was a client, one of a dozen who needed Mallory to manage their finances while they traveled to earn their money.
But Keith had laughed harshly and told him to save the excuses for the tabloids. Tevyn Moore dominated Mallory’s schedule, his business, his life.
Well, he did dominate Mal’s business. It was just that the boy was more than spectacularly talented on the slopes; he was also charismatic and business savvy. He couldn’t so much as do a practice loop for fun without someone pushing him to sell their lip balm or skiing socks or even hair product. Tevyn knew enough to know he didn’t want his name on a shitty product, but he didn’t want to offend any potential sponsor, even one he had no intention of backing. If only Mal’s other clients had the savvy to say no in such a way that they didn’t offend anybody. Mallory didn’t mind being Tevyn’s fall guy; that was his job.
But Tevyn had learned to lean on him for matters that weren’t financial—and that was a harder job altogether.
“Look at you!” Tevyn called from the dance floor, groin to groin with a young woman wearing basically a tank top that went down to midthigh and vinyl boots that met it at the same place. Mallory could tell she wasn’t wearing any underwear under that thing, nor a bra neither, and her movements were as seductive and as rhythmic as Tevyn’s.
“Look at me what?” Mallory called back from his perch at a high table near the edge, feeling awkward. He’d taken a helicopter out from the city in his three-piece suit and his loafers. He had sturdy boots and parkas and sweaters at home, of course—he visited Tevyn a lot when he was traveling—but Tevyn had been in the Sierras near Donner Pass for a private competition, and Mallory had taken the copter straight from his office. Damien Ward, his pilot, had been worried about a storm headed toward the ski resort and had told Mal that if they left tomorrow, they wouldn’t be able to land.
“Look at you all serious!” Tevyn laughed, peeling away from the blonde in the uber-tank so gracefully it would have been impossible for her to take exception. “C’mon, Mal—it’s an after-party! Find a guy and get down!”
Mallory grimaced at him over his scotch and soda. “Tev, I’m here for something serious. I need to talk to you.”
Tevyn rolled his eyes. “Always serious with you, Mr. Finance Man. C’mon—I won today! I mean Shaun White wasn’t here, but you gotta admit, that was some righteous air!”
Mallory had seen the half-pipe playback from the bar. He had dozens of clients, many of them high-end athletes and dancers, but God, only Tevyn could lodge his heart so solidly in his mouth. Up and over, twisting wildly in the air, he defied gravity with every jump. Mal had seen what happened to athletes who guessed wrong, landed wrong. Seeing Tevyn in the air terrified him.
“Righteous,” he said weakly. “You were brilliant, Tev. As always.”
Tevyn smiled prettily and fluffed his hair out of his eyes. “Then what’s the problem? C’mon and celebrate with us!”
Mallory let out a wistful breath, wishing just this once he could go dance. Tevyn invited him every time, and every time Mal dismissed his flirting for Tev being Tev.
But God, to be moving next to that fine, strong body, watching Tevyn laugh like he had no cares in the world when Mallory knew that wasn’t true—only once, he’d like to be the person with Tev’s hands on his hips, the recipient of that billion-watt smile.
But not this ti—
Tevyn tugged at his hand unexpectedly, and Mal found himself face-to-face with his company’s best, brightest, most problematic client.
Tevyn wasn’t that tall; many athletes weren’t. He raised himself enough to put his lips by Mallory’s ear and spoke under the relentless drive beat of the discotheque.
“Dance first, money man. Talk serious shit later!”
Tevyn smelled like soap from the shower and like sweat from dancing, and, oddly enough, like wool. He wore a fine-gauge multicolored sweater over a white T-shirt and black yoga pants. Mallory knew for a fact Tevyn’s grandmother had knitted the sweater. She knitted Tevyn one every year, right before competition season got fierce. Even Mallory had one, although Mallory’s was plain blue, while Tevyn’s tended to be in rainbow-hued colorways as opposed to plain colors.
Without thinking about it, Mallory found his hands on Tevyn’s shoulders as they moved to the music, his thumbs absently stroking the fineness of Tevyn’s sweater.
God, he didn’t want to have this conversation with Tevyn anyway. Who wanted to tell someone that they had to make grown-up decisions because their grandmother was dying?
Tevyn grinned up at him, moving fluidly to the music, and for a moment, Mallory let his guard down.
Oh, this boy was pretty. He was pretty and graceful and so full of life. Five years ago Missy Moore, Tevyn’s grandmother, had looked Mallory up on the computer, trying to find the best person to help a phenom manage his personal assets so the money would last long after his duration in a demanding sport. Tevyn wanted to go to college, she said. He wanted to own property in the mountains, because he’d grown up with her in a tiny town near the base of the Rockies in Colorado and would always want a tie to nature. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to win championships forever. They both wanted him to be comfortable when he was done.
It sounded so simple—it was Mallory’s job as a financial advisor in a nutshell. Another high-profile client on his roster. Hooray!
But things, it turned out, were so much more complicated than that.
Missy had been keeping up a good front for Tevyn, especially in the early days as Mallory had managed their assets and helped her keep her place in Colorado. But the truth was, her health was failing, and her memory was getting worse and worse.
Tevyn had hired nurses for her, and companions, and had pretty much worked Mallory’s ass off to make sure she had anything she needed.
But as her health—both mental and physical—declined, Mallory realized he was the only person either of them trusted enough to say the hard thing, make the hard decision.
And now, dammit, it was time.
Besides the dreadful cost of Missy’s care, which she had repeatedly insisted she didn’t want Tevyn to pay for, although she had no money herself, the fact was, it wasn’t safe anymore.
Tevyn knew about her spill off the porch and had even talked to her in the hospital. But Mallory had been there as they’d x-rayed her hip and had seen the congestion in her heart and lungs. He’d heard the doctors talking about the long recovery in the senior center, and he’d heard the words congestive failure and quick decline.
Missy wasn’t going to be able to return to her home in Colorado.
Mallory was fuzzy on what had happened to Tevyn’s parents. He knew from Tevyn’s name that his father hadn’t been a factor and his mother seemed to be a phantom. But whatever the history, Tevyn’s only family wasn’t going to make it through another competition season, and Tevyn needed to decide what to do.
And he also needed to see his grandmother one more time because they loved each other, and that was going to be the hardest part of all.
Mallory allowed Tevyn to pull him close with the familiarity of long acquaintanceship, and to lead their bodies into a lazy, awkward gyration. He ignored the heat and the pleasant smell of sweat radiating from Tevyn’s body and concentrated on not stepping on his feet—and on the flushed crescents at Tevyn’s cheeks as he tried to pretend he probably didn’t have two of those of his own.
“You dance like a tree,” Tevyn chided. Unexpectedly, he thrust his hand under Mallory’s suit jacket and slid it around to Mallory’s back. With a yank, he pulled Mallory’s dress shirt out of his slacks before sliding his hand… his warm hand, rough and sure, right there. Right on the tender bare skin along his spine.
For an entire ten seconds, Mallory’s body relaxed into that touch, and as he melted, Tevyn moved a little closer, hips swiveling to the music.
“Oh my—Tev!” Mallory gasped, trying to pull away. Tev wasn’t having any of it, though.
“Relax,” Tevyn ordered, winking. “Come on, Mal, you weren’t this tense five years ago!”
Mallory thought about it, muscles easing unconsciously as he remembered Tevyn walking into his office, not quite twenty, Missy by his side. Tevyn had been wearing jeans and one of these sweaters, and had cracked a joke about finding a way to snowboard high enough to wave in the window of Mallory’s San Francisco skyscraper office building.
Mallory—who had a lot of divas on his client list because he and his business partner, Charlie, really only took high-end athletes in with the rest of a diverse roster—had been charmed. He’d commented on Tevyn’s sweater respectfully. His own mother had knitted, and he still wore the hats and gloves she’d made him.
He’d looked at Tevyn and seen someone young and promising, and, judging by the solicitous way he helped his grandmother sit down and got her a glass of water, more considerate than his usual clients.
Of course he’d relaxed.
Tevyn had just been so disarming.
And Tevyn hadn’t changed at all in the five years since. He’d racked up four World Championships and three Olympic medals as well as a number of X Games victories and wins at countless smaller venues, but that charm, that joy, that bone-deep kindness hadn’t faded in the least.
Mallory had been the one who’d changed.
In the second year, right before the Olympic Games, Tevyn had fallen and sprained his wrist. Mallory had been there—he wasn’t always, but it was the Olympics, and hey, an excuse to go see cute guys perform amazing feats, right? But he’d been there as Tevyn had asked the doctor, very politely, the faintest hint of Colorado twang in his voice, to wrap his wrist tight so they could put a cast on it after the Olympic Games. The cast might alter his center of balance, he’d explained, and he really didn’t want to fall on his head.
Every moment of the next three days, right up until Tevyn had stood on the podium, had been fraught with tension after that. Maybe because Mallory knew—not many other people did—and Mallory could see how much pain Tevyn had been in, had seen him push himself, cold sweat beading on his brow on the trip up the hill. Mallory had been the one to call Missy and reassure her that he was okay.
He’d lied because he knew the one unforgivable thing would be to get in the way of Tevyn making the next run.
Tevyn had medaled in three events, one of them a gold.
And then, when he’d gotten off the final podium, he’d gone to his group of supporters—Mallory among them—and asked, in a small voice, if they could help him get somewhere private. He needed to throw up.
Mallory had held his head, had called the doctor to give him an injection for the pain, had sat with him as he’d gotten X-rays, finally, and a cast.
All of the partying, the celebration, the camaraderie of the Olympics that year had washed right over the two of them as Tevyn dealt with the consequences of giving his body some hard use.
He’d been falling asleep, only half-lucid under painkillers, Mallory by his bed, when he’d said it.
“Don’t much like pain. Winning’s nice, though.”
“You just let us know when the pain’s too much, ’kay, Tev?” It was possibly the most fiscally reckless thing Mallory had ever said. Tevyn Moore was making him a lot of money, damaging his body for cash.
“Not the pain that’s too much,” Tevyn said. “It’s the winning. Gotta find another rush, Mal. What’s gonna beat this? Jumping off a cliff?”
“Don’t you dare!” Mallory’s heart hadn’t been this cold since his mother passed away.
“Naw…. Missy would never forgive me.”
“Maybe,” Mal had offered, knowing how Tevyn lived his life, “you could try… I don’t know. A relationship? Having someone next to you when you come down off the mountain?” He thought wistfully of his own history of mediocre relationships. He’d been with Keith at the time, had been making plans, but a part of him knew it was doomed. College, his job—nothing had ever been able to remove Mal’s nose from the grindstone. Would certainly be nice if there was someone waiting for him when he came down from his ivory tower, right?
Tevyn had snorted. “What girl’s gonna follow me around the world?” he asked. “What guy? People got their own lives, Mal. I’m just lucky I got you.”
I would follow you to the edge of the galaxy just to watch you make a 720 off the Crab Nebula.
The thought, whimsical and unbidden, must have been beamed into Mallory’s head by aliens. Mallory Armstrong didn’t do poetry. He didn’t do devotion. In spite of his mother’s best efforts at theater and song, he didn’t write Dr. Seuss books and only attended musical theater.
But that thought—that Mallory could devote his soul to this money-making freestyle wanderer—had sat in his chest even as Tevyn had drifted off.
That thought was true.
No no no no no—Mallory was ten years older. Tevyn was a client. And Mal was… stolid. Rooted. He was concrete when Tevyn was air. How awful would it be to make a pass at air and fall into the ether?
Mal didn’t understand how Tevyn did it every day of his life.
So Mal had buried that thought deep, deep into the bottom of his chest. Tevyn didn’t need his pathetic old-man crush, right? Tevyn needed Mallory to be grounded. The sensible one. The one who minded his finances and helped him manage his increasingly needy grandmother.
So Mallory had resolved to be that guy for Tevyn, and it was a good resolution.
But he hadn’t relaxed, not once, around Tevyn Simmons Moore since.
Until now. Tevyn’s touch along his back was electric, and the music thudded seductively, and Mallory was so damned worried about Missy.
His body eased, melted, leaned into Tevyn’s, swayed with the beat.
He became entranced by the solid graceful muscular presence that was Tevyn Moore.
Tevyn grinned at him, obviously delighted. “There we go! Wow, Mallory—had no idea you were such a good dancer!”
It was on the tip of Mal’s tongue to say “I’m not!” and to back away. But this might be the last moment they’d have before Tevyn’s life got really hard, and suddenly Mallory didn’t want to squander it.
“Lots of hidden qualities about me,” he said, swiveling his hips. “I’m a deep well of mystery.”
Tevyn’s laughter, his heat, all of it seeped into Mal’s body, warming him, relaxing him. God, he might have to let Tevyn Moore out of his life, but he could certainly enjoy him now!
The drive beat ended abruptly, and the DJ called everybody to relax as the evening wound down. Mal stiffened as the music grew soft and sensual, but Tevyn cocked his head.
“Afraid of a slow dance?” He winked, and Mal’s brain shorted out.
“Like a hug,” Tevyn said, and because Mal was six foot tall and Tevyn was barely five eight, it was the most natural thing in the world for Tevyn to lean against his chest, and Mal to wrap his arms around Tevyn’s shoulders.
Gah! He felt so good. And this was so wrong.
“Tevyn,” Mal began hopelessly, not sure he could say this.
“Stop.” Tevyn kept his head against Mal’s chest, and the world imploded to only the two of them. “I know, Mal,” he said, just loud enough for his voice to carry to Mallory and nobody else. “She’s dying, and she can’t go home. Her doctor called right after the ceremony.”
Mal grunted, his arms tightening through no conscious thought. “I’m sorry. I—”
“You wanted to be the one to tell me.” Tevyn sighed. “So kind. I thought… you know. We could have a dance before we went home tomorrow. That’s all.”
Mal’s arms tightened even more. “Okay. One dance. I understand.”
“No, you don’t.” Tevyn snuggled a little closer. “But maybe someday you will.”