Snow Kissed (Page 2)

Snow Kissed (Woodlands #1.5)(2)
Author: Jen Frederick

Why, oh why, couldn’t they have taken us to Bora Bora?

When the sun came up, after a night of horrific sleep, I decided that I didn’t care if the others got mad that I was pushy or not – I was going to make a damn fire. Patty seemed to have woken up with the same motto, and the two of us chatted and joked while we tried to get things going.

No sooner had we made a small fire than we put on a pot of water to boil (the pot the only thing they’d left at our campsite for us other than a team flag), than Clarissa came running up with a gaily wrapped Christmas present. "Santa’s elves left us a gift!"

"Really?" I asked drily. "You think it was Santa’s elves? Really?"

Clarissa froze at the sound of my sarcasm, and her lower lip began to quiver. Cameramen zoomed in, clearly smelling a fight.

"Oh, goddamn it," I muttered to myself.

"Be nice, Lunatic," Owen said in that ridiculous alpha-male voice of us. "We’re here on the Christmas show, and Clarissa’s just in the swing of things. It’s not her fault you woke up on the wrong side of the bed."

"Oh, was there a bed?" I snarked, in a pissy mood after he’d called me ‘lunatic’ instead of my real name. "I must have missed it after that great night of sleep in our glorious shelter."

"Shh, Luna," Patty said in a soft voice. "Be nice."

I thought I was being pretty nice, all things considering. But I just shrugged and looked over at Clarissa, who was still staring at me with big, wounded eyes. "So what’s in the box?"

Owen hugged Clarissa’s shoulders. "It’s okay. Why don’t you show us?"

She tugged at the big ornate bow and pulled off the lid, peeking inside. Then, she lifted the object into the air. It was a gigantic puzzle piece that had "Challenge in One Hour" written on the front.

"What do you think it could be?" Clarissa asked.

Really? Patty shot me an incredulous look as well. Was Clarissa that stupid or just playing dumb?

I watched as Owen took the piece from Clarissa’s hand and studied it. "Clearly it’s some kind of puzzle." He looked at all of us. "Anyone in the group an expert at puzzles?"

I raised my hand.

Owen ignored it. "Okay, well, if no one objects, I think I’ll take charge in the puzzle challenge. I’m pretty good at them."

I put down my hand and rolled my eyes.

"But…Luna had her hand up," Patty said in a questioning voice.

"I know," Owen said. "But no one likes Luna."

This time when I put my hand up, I extended my middle finger at Owen.

"See?" he said.

TWO

Can I vote someone off already? Because the Boston Princess is getting on my last nerve. You’d think a girl as cute as her would know when to shut her damn yap. – Owen MacIntosh, Day 2, Endurance Island: Alaska

"IT’S A PUZZLE CHALLENGE ALL right," I murmured as the red team stepped onto the mat. I made sure I was at the front, which wasn’t hard, considering I was a short girl.

"Your powers of observation are astounding, Luna," Owen said. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

I wanted to shoot him the bird again, but the cameras were zooming in on us. So I just put my hands on my h*ps and ignored him, trying to suss out the puzzle. There were large wooden blocks in weird Tetris shapes scattered all over the snow, stuffed into Christmas stockings and painted the color of each team. I immediately started mentally figuring stuff out. There were 3D puzzle pieces all over the snow, and at the far end of the challenge area, there was an enormous wall that Chip stood atop of. We’d clearly have to put together a ladder of some kind to get to him.

Piece of cake. "This should be wicked easy," I told Patty, who stood to my side.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, Chip put on his microphone, a Santa hat, and then proceeded to tell us the same thing. The first team to build their ladder and get to the top of the platform next to him would win a prize. He gestured at a gigantic wrapped present that sat under a Christmas tree.

"There are a hundred puzzle pieces for each team," Chip told us, and I mentally filed that information away. "I’ll give you a moment to strategize." Chip then pulled out a mirror, checking his hair.

"So I think what we need –," I began.

"No one cares, Luna," Owen said. He turned to the team, who gave him attentive looks. No one was looking in my direction at all. Assholes. I crossed my arms over my chest tightly and leaned in so I could hear what Owen was saying.

"What we need to do," he said, "is have our strongest runners go into the field and grab puzzle pieces and bring them back. The faster we get them, the better, so if you’re slow, you need to work on the puzzle."

That would have been exactly what I’d suggested, if he’d have let me finish a thought.

Patty raised her hand. "I’ll work on the puzzle. I’m not the greatest at running."

Owen looked over at me. "Clarissa’s got long legs, so she can run. Not Luna, though." He looked over at me. "She’s short, and the snow is deep, so she should work on the puzzle, too."

I bristled. "I’m not that short, a**hole. The snow isn’t five feet deep. I can run."

"We don’t want to have to wait on you, Luna," he said in an irritated voice. "Just do this, all right? The other four of us will get puzzle pieces."

"Fine, whatever," I said.

Clarissa giggled. "She said ‘whatevah.’"

I was really going to kill her. Maybe I could choke her with a puzzle piece. Mentally, I imagined stuffing those Christmas stockings into Clarissa’s pouty, collagen-injected mouth.

"Is everyone ready?" Chip asked, and all teams turned toward him, the time for strategy over. The host raised his arm in the air. Then, he swung it down in a sharp angle. "GO!"

We sprang into action. I gritted my teeth as I ran through the snow. It wasn’t that f**king deep. Owen was just all caught up in his own power. Fucking turd.

It was a good call to have Patty do the puzzle, though. She struggled even through the ankle deep snow, and I ended up helping her keep her balance a few times as we made it to the far side. Then we were there, at the base of the platform, and turned around to wait.

The field was full of people running around, grabbing stockings and hauling puzzle pieces. I looked for red team members as they ran about. Within a moment or two, Owen had so many pieces in his arms that he looked as if he was going to drop one. Instead, he jogged over to where we were and flung the armful at us, then ran off into the snow again. I gritted my teeth to keep my temper as I picked them up. Blowing up at Owen wouldn’t solve anything. I got to work on the puzzle, instead, hauling the pieces out of the stockings so we could see how they would fit together.

Clarissa came up, offered us one puzzle piece as if it was a gift, and then ran back out into the snow.

That, I decided, was Owen’s fault. He’d picked her to run, and probably hadn’t anticipated that she’d suck at it. Not that Clarissa would have been any good at puzzles, either. I picked up two pieces. "Come on, Patty. Let’s see what we’ve got here."

There was a pattern on one side of some of the blocks, so we started with trying to lock the patterned pieces together. Eventually, we had a step. Using that step, I pushed it against the wall and began to calculate. "It looks like there will be three more steps after this one," I told Patty. "So I bet there’s three more patterns." I looked over and the other teams were listening closely, comparing their blocks to ours. Damn it. I leaned in closer to Patty. "We should sort them into piles and then we can construct each step from there."

Patty nodded, and we set to work making piles of blocks. Sure enough, this one had a candy-cane stripe pattern, this one had holly leaves, and the next one had a geometric snowflake design. We organized pieces as the red team dropped them in, and worked on fitting the steps together as we went.

I noticed the other team watching us closely and nudged our stacks closer together. "We can’t make it look like we know what we’re doing," I murmured to Patty. "Or they’ll catch on." From the looks of things, the other teams still hadn’t figured out that there were different patterns.

Patty nodded and shoved the holly leaf pile into the candy cane pile, making sure that the pieces were all in the same bunch, but still separated. The candy cane pieces were on the right side of the pile, and the holly leaf ones on the left. We’d know which stack to pick up from, even though it all looked like a jumble.

Clarissa came up, dropped another piece – her fourth – and collapsed on the completed step. "I’m exhausted. It’s hard running through all that snow."

"Me too," said Pat-The-Guy. He took a page out of her book and sat down next to her. "There’s hardly anything left, anyhow."

"Are you guys serious?" Patty said. "This isn’t all the pieces and you’re giving up?"

"Owen and Gary are still out there," Clarissa said, panting. "They’ll bring the rest."

But a few moments later, Gary dropped over to the platform and gave a dramatic collapse, even as Patty and I fitted our pieces together, working on another step.

Then, Owen dropped in, throwing down six more pieces and putting his hands on his knees, panting.

"Is that all of them?" Patty asked.

I counted quickly, adding the pieces that Owen had brought. "Ninety eight. There’s still two more somewhere out there."

Owen gestured at me and Patty. "You go. We’ll work on the puzzle."

My brows drew together. "Excuse me?"

He straightened, wiping his brow. "It’s only two pieces. You two go get them, and we’ll work on the puzzle while you do. It’s clear you’re not getting very far." He gave me a disapproving look, as if this was somehow my fault.

Patty gamely trotted out into the snow, searching for a red puzzle piece.

I didn’t. Fuck that noise. We’d been working hard on the puzzle part of things. So I narrowed my eyes at him. "I’ll have you know that we have a method–"

"There’s no time to argue," he snapped, and grabbed the puzzle pieces out of my hands. "Will you just go already?"

I wanted to snap at him, to argue the point, but the others were staring at me like I was the problem, not Owen. So I bit back my comments and tromped off into the snow, looking for a goddamn puzzle piece.

I found it several minutes later, half buried under a pile of churned snow. It had clearly been stepped on repeatedly and was soggy and muddy. Hauling it, I began to make my way back to the platform, puffing hard. Running through the snow was difficult as hell, but I would never tell that jerk Owen that.

When I got back to the platform, though, I lost control of my temper at the sight of Owen and Clarissa trying to fit together a holly leaf piece with a candy cane piece. "What the f**k are you guys doing?"

Our teammates turned around and looked at me like I was crazy.

I shoved my way forward, flipping puzzle pieces, and groaned. Patty and I had carefully piled them into a semblance of order, but the order had been destroyed by a few minutes of grabby hands that didn’t know what they were doing. There was no order to things now. None whatsoever. "You shouldn’t have sent us out to find the pieces," I snapped at Owen. "We could have been here finishing our steps!"

"Really?" He said. "It didn’t look like you were doing too great a job of that."

I turned and glared at him. "There was a method," I snarled, and jerked the candy cane piece out of his hands, shoving a holly piece at him instead. "Which you would have noticed if you didn’t have the brains of a caveman."

"Jeez," Clarissa said in a wounded voice. "You’re being kind of mean, Luna."

"Let’s just work, okay?" I said, furious. I began to re-sort pieces as Patty trotted up and delivered the last piece. "Now that we have everything, we can finish."

A bell chimed. "Yellow team wins!"

I jerked up, looking at the far end of the platform. Sure enough, while I’d been out merrily tromping through the snow, searching for a trampled piece of puzzle, the yellow team had surged ahead and won. They were at the top of the platform, hugging and screaming and bouncing with joy.

Assholes.

I threw down my piece in disgust.

THE WALK BACK TO OUR BEACH-SIDE encampment told me a lot. Patty was silent, and when I looked over at her, I’d catch her surreptitiously wiping away tears. Poor Patty. She probably blamed herself.

The rest of the team talked a little, but no one talked to me. That suited me fine – I was in a black mood after losing the challenge. I didn’t like to lose. So I brought up the rear of our small group and ignored them as much as they ignored me.

When we got back to camp, I headed for the now-dead fire and began to layer new wood into the fire pit. First on the agenda, something to drink.

Clarissa watched me work for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. "I think I’m going to take a walk down the beach."

"I’ll join you," Gary said.

They disappeared. Yeah, I could guess what they were going to do. Anyone that had seen a single episode of Endurance Island knew that people got up and went on walks together because they were plotting.