Christmas In the Rink
“Washed up Olympic hopeful looking for part time mechanic's job.”
Not quite the glamorous life Conner Weddington envisioned during those countless hours of high school skating practices; but after his mother’s untimely death on Christmas Day, Conner joined the Army and left everything behind, including the father who despised his dreams, and his beautiful skate partner, Chaney Mitchum.
Chaney Mitchum understands why Conner left, but he stole her Olympic aspirations along with her heart. She's never matched that graceful rhythm with another partner, so with her dreams squelched and an adorable niece who requires her attention, Chaney fills her days with diapers and students, not pleasure skating or romance.
Now that Conner's back in town, will he reclaim the joy he once felt about Christmas and faith? Can Chaney and Conner rediscover their poetic elegance on the ice?
Conner Weddington navigated the tow truck through the chaos that littered Highway 15, the only major road running north and south through Evergreen Peak, Colorado. Cars tipped, hood first, into the ditches on both sides of the road, and some were just plain stuck where they stopped, unable to go any further because of the slick ice and blinding snowfall.
Didn’t they know that ice was best enjoyed in the rink, and not on the highway? What was so all-fired important that these people had to be out on the roads and not safely ensconced in warm houses?
And now he had to be out in it. Working.
Maybe he was the stupid one. Digging thoughtless clods out of a killer snowstorm wasn’t exactly how he’d pictured his first day on the job. Not that he ever imagined he’d be back in Evergreen Peak. Or camping out in his father’s house while he sifted through fifty years’ worth of…junk.
Conner snorted and then ground his teeth while his boot hovered just above the brake. The truck cruised along on its own speed. With the heat blasting his face, he scanned the vehicles for the dark blue compact the auto club had called him to rescue. It wasn’t easy to make out colors through the wet, heavy snowflakes that reduced his visibility not much farther than the truck’s massive hood, virtually blinding him. He leaned forward, studying the car off to the right.
There. That had to be her.
He assessed the situation before maneuvering the big truck onto the side of the road, babied it to a stop, and stomped out. “Not too smart driving in this mess,” he muttered, the fierce wind stealing his words as soon as they escaped his mouth, but he didn’t care.
“You’re right. I’m so sorry, but I couldn’t leave work until my last student was picked up. And now I’m afraid I won’t be able to pick up my niece from daycare.” Worry came through loud and clear in her voice.
He hadn’t seen her get out of the car, but he didn’t regret his words. He glanced at the tiny slip of a woman. The top of her head probably didn’t reach his chest. With arms hugging her chest and teeth clacking together, the heavy jacket apparently did little to prevent the arctic wind from chilling her bones. His gaze landed briefly on her face. She reminded him of…
The frigid air he sucked in burned all the way to his lungs. Chaney Mitchum? No. That couldn’t be her. God, You wouldn’t do that to me, would You?
His gaze devoured the hair that cascaded over her shoulders in waves below the cherry red beret, before moving on to her eyes. Long lashes lifted from pink cheeks to reveal wide jade jewels. The oddly familiar puffiness rimmed the bottom lashes.
His jaw dropped, and his stomach plunged to his steel-toed boots. It had to be her. And he sure wasn’t thrilled about Chaney seeing him like this. He’d only planned to light in this town long enough to pack up his stuff and take care of business before heading back out, leaving a “For Sale” sign in his dad’s yard.
Ironic that his old partner would be practically the first person he’d run into. Not that Evergreen Peak was that big. He’d just hoped to…what? Blend in with the tourists? He gave his head a little shake. He should have known better.
So Chaney Mitchum was a teacher now, and an aunt. He tucked that knowledge away and rubbed greasy, grimy hands down his cargo pants, turning his back on her to hoist the shovel out of the bed. Digging out her car was the best option. He didn’t relish the idea of rubbing shoulders with her all the way into town. She’d ask too many questions. Questions he wasn’t ready to answer.
“You’re going to shovel it out? Not tow it?” she asked, as if she doubted his decision.
Well, she wouldn’t be the first.
“We’ll give it a try. Might work.” He firmed his jaw and got busy shoveling around the back end, farthest away from her. Maybe she wouldn’t recognize him. He wasn’t the guy she’d known back in high school, and definitely not wearing the same glamorous uniform.
Boots crunched through the snow, coming to a stop behind him.
He should have known. He huffed, but not from effort.
“Thank you for coming out in this.”
He didn’t turn around, just kept heaving snow out from around the car and tossing it towards the ditch.
“Yeah. No problem.” If it had been anybody else, it would have been. But Chaney? Definitely not. He owed her at least this much. So much more, truthfully, but—
With the shovel in midair, he twisted his head over a shoulder and stole another look. She hadn’t changed. She was still as breathtakingly beautiful as ever. He finished digging out the worst of it and turned back around, extending a palm to collect the key.
“I must have only been driving ten miles an hour. I tried so careful not to get stuck.” Chaney’s teeth were still chattering as she pressed the key in his palm. This time, she glanced full on at his face. Her brows arched, and then narrowed, her head tilting to the side just a bit, studying him.
He gulped, flicking his head towards the disabled car. “No worries. It doesn’t look too bad. I think we’ll have you out of here…” his voice faded at her gasp.
Her jaw dropped, her gloved hand fluttered to hover in front of her mouth, and shock registered in her green eyes.
So stunning, they’d always brought to mind a grassy meadow in spring.
“Conner?” Her voice came out barely above a whisper, and if it hadn’t been for the wind switching directions, he’d never have heard it. “Conner Weddington?”
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