The view from the summit was breathtaking: a panorama of snowcapped peaks, their age-smoothed contours attesting to how long this landscape had existed.
"The Polish explorer Paul Strzelecki named the mountain for Thaddeus Kosciusko, the Polish freedom fighter and American War of Independence General, because he thought that standing on this peak gave you an idea what freedom should be," Stuart explained. "I can never stand here without thinking about Strzelecki himself. His story's the saddest thing I've ever heard."
"Oh," Allison said, surprised by his admission and knowing nothing of Strzelecki beyond a vague memory from school.
"He fell in love with a seventeen-year-old Polish heiress, Alexandrina Turno, his beloved "Adyna," but her father had money troubles and was saving her for a wealthy suitor, which Strzelecki certainly wasn't at the time. Lacking her father's consent, they eloped, but he caught them before they'd covered twenty kilometers. The ensuing scandal drove Strzelecki out of Poland. Although he wrote to her for the rest of their lives, even sent her a pressed wildflower from this very mountain, they never met again until she was sixty and he visited her in Switzerland."
The tale of blighted love put Allison's experience into perspective. She looked out on the view with entirely different eyes, trying to imagine the young Pole's thoughts as he placed a beautiful flower between the leaves of his journal. Her eyes filled with tears of sympathy, and she turned into Stuart's embrace.
He held her as they stood by the stone cairn that marked the summit until she looked up into his eyes. For a long moment, they simply stared at each other, and then he kissed her.
Nothing prepared Allison for the storm of sensations that burst inwards from the touch of his lips on hers. Their contact was the only reality. Her past, her future, her physical being were shattered, pulverized to microcosmic dust and blown to the four corners of the universe in an instant before coalescing again into a rage of desire demanding instant gratification. She�d have torn off their clothes and made love in the snow without a thought, but he wouldn't allow it.
"Wait," he said. "Making love in the snow is vastly over-rated. We deserve better."
Thwarted, she insisted on unzipping their jackets as they kissed and kissed again, their bodies thrusting to occupy the same space on the skidoo seat, her hunger for him growing until it dwarfed anything Allison remembered and she persisted in her attempt to undress him.
"When we get back to the Lodge," he bargained.
"You'd better make this thing fly, once we start," she threatened.
Fortunately, they heard his ranger friend long before they saw him and had time to seat themselves more conventionally on the skidoo before he reached them. He didn't stop, just raised his hand in acknowledgement before turning to lead the way back to Perisher, motoring far enough ahead of them to be unaware of the play of Allison's hands below Stuart's parka and Stuart's urgent whispers to control herself.
It was all so utterly crazy that Allison was certain that even one jarring note would have destroyed the mood and left them feeling merely embarrassed, but the jarring note never came, leaving them free to enjoy a teenage fantasy of simple physical lust as they followed in the wake of the ranger's ski-doo.
They parted company with the ranger, and Stuart heeded her threat. The skidoo was airborne as much as on the surface as he cut cross-country to speed their arrival. Allison hung on, finally distracted from teasing him by the wildness of the ride. He broadsided the machine to a stop at the Lodge's garage, and they raced to his bedroom, shedding their clothing as they went.