Welcome to the Snow and Ice Games where competition is not the only thing that is heating up! The fifth book in bestselling Tamsen Parker's romance series concludes with a pairs figure skating couple sharing the ice... and close quarters.
At the last Snow and Ice Games, Jubilee Buford and her husband and partner Stephen Wallace were on top of the pairs figure skating world. The newlyweds won gold and their future looked bright. But just months after she thought her world couldn’t get any more perfect, Jubilee lost everything. After a scrapped attempt at a solo career, her coach found her a new partner and new possibilities in Beckett Hughes.
Beckett’s had a hard time finding a partner to compete with. Someone who’s as aggressive as he is, someone who’s given up as much of their life as he has for success. He finally found a fit with Jubilee two years ago. She’s not much fun to skate with, but Beckett doesn’t need fun; he needs precision and effort and there Jubilee delivers.
When a housing mix-up in the Snow and Ice village forces them to room with each other, they’re suddenly compelled to recognize each other’s human side. And as Jubilee and Beckett start to see each other as people instead of robots on skates, they discover that they’ve got chemistry between the sheets as well as on the ice. But the flames between them in the bedroom might melt any chance they have at medaling, and that outcome is not acceptable to either one, or the country that’s counting on them to bring home the gold and the glory.
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These are not the nicest accommodations I've ever had. To be fair, last time I was at the Snow and Ice Games, Stephen and I stayed at a hotel outside the village. No dorm rooms they attempt to dress up by calling them suites for us, but a cozy hotel room that felt far away from the hubbub even though it was close to the center of the action. We rationalized the astronomical expense because we didn't get to take a honeymoon. Sapporo was it, in more ways than one.
I blink back the tears that well up at the thought. If I'm going to get all weepy every time something here reminds of Stephen, it's going to be a long damn month. At least I've got this suite to myself and don't have to have one of the other girls mother-hen clucking at me, or Sabrina shooting eye daggers of death in my direction while I try not to lose my goddamn mind. Nor do I have to worry about waking them up with my bad dreams. Those had all but vanished a year ago, but I've started having them more often since we've been getting closer to the SIGs. Makes sense, in a really unfortunate way, but it doesn't matter. Dreams or no dreams, I'll compete.
Skating. That's what I'm here for. Skating with Beckett.
I haul my suitcase up onto my bed and start laying my things away in the dresser drawers. Beckett is almost my ideal partner. Tall, strong, well-muscled, and attractive enough, he looks quite dashing on the ice. Also, he works his ass off, and doesn't want to be friends with me. Perfect. Because I don't want to be friends with anyone.
Those men Daphne had paraded in front of me, after I had recovered from the injuries I got during my last practice with Stephen, and then tried to go solo and failed miserably — those men were the worst. With some of the men who showed up at my practice rink, it was clear why they didn't have partners of my caliber already. It was because they sucked. Others wanted to Oh, honey me on and off the rink, and that was not happening. Then there was that slimy, turd-faced, sorry excuse for a person, Todd Everhardt. Good athlete, but had clearly been more interested in getting into my leotards than into the SIGs, which was gross. Yes, Stephen had been gone for almost two years by then, but that wasn't the point. There was no freaking way I was going to fill the gaping hole he'd left in my life with a dipshit like Todd.
And because pairs figure skating is a really fucking small world, we ended up playing a bit of musical partners. Sabrina Lemay and Beckett had split up after not qualifying for the last SIGs and he bounced around a bit before settling with me. I don't know what Sabrina was thinking, because Beckett would be a great partner for basically anyone. But there will be no take-backsies, because Beckett is mine. And now Sabrina and Todd are skating together.
I've heard less than flattering things about her, though never from Beckett, and regardless, that could not be less my problem. Sabrina and I know each other, used to be cordial when we would see each other, but now she looks at me like she wishes something heavy would fall on my head. She was never a favorite of mine, but it's not my fault she was stupid enough to let Beckett go. Can't blame a girl for snapping up what she discarded and then making damn good use of it. Him. Beckett and I earned the first berth here, and Sabrina and Todd barely made it. They've been ass-kissing the press since they got on the roster like they're the favorites. Whatever, guys. If that's what you need to tell yourselves.
I give an angry shove to the top drawer where I've tucked my socks and underthings, narrowly avoiding slamming my finger in it, and wouldn't that be great. The show must go on and all that, but it's going to be hard enough getting through our programs without a broken finger.
I'm grateful Daphne found me Beckett. Though I'd never say it to his face, because I basically avoid saying anything to him that isn't strictly necessary, he's good. Very good. He allows me to be the best skater I can be, and he stays in his goddamn lane: skating and nothing else.
The SIG village. After failing to qualify last time around with Sabrina, I thought I might never get to see the inside of this place. Not that the buildings themselves are special, but there's a magic in the air that you can only find at the SIGs. A humming of energy I could well have never gotten to experience, and a warping of time and space that everyone who's been here before talks about. It's like summer camp for grownups, except we're all top-notch athletes competing in the biggest events of our lives, and it's cold. Other than that, I have to think they're similar. The SIG snow globe, they call it. And I've heard that after the events are over, whatever happens in the snow globe stays in the snow globe. I can't freaking wait.
Skating comes first though, so here I am. Finally. Thanks in no small part to Jubilation Lee Buford. Her name's a little ill-fitting, since I've hardly ever seen her crack a smile anywhere but on the ice and that's purely for show, but what the fuck do I care if her parents had a hard-on for her being a beauty queen or something? She ended up the baddestass pairs skater I know. So I'll call her whatever she wants, including Jubilee.
The village is at once exactly what I expected and totally different. There are tons of people milling around, including a multitude of the fairer sex, and goddamn are they fair. More like hot as hell — hello there, Ms. Finland — and could snap most men like a twig — looking at you, Lady South Korea who I think is a speed skater. And a lot of them will be looking to get lucky by the end of the month. I can help you with that, ladies. Beckett Hughes, at your service.
Some people don't fuck until after their events, which I get, but I am not one of those people. No, man. With this many fine specimens crammed into just a few square miles and being a monk the rest of the time because there's no other woman in my life these days except Jubilee, I am so ready to get laid.
Some people fuck their partners, but I learned the hard way that's not a good idea. If I thought Sabrina had felt like she owned me before we started sleeping together — because she financed most of our training, which is pretty common in pairs because dudes are at a premium — she got even worse after we started being partners in the sack as well as out of it. Until we didn't make the SIGs last time around, which she decided was my fault, and then she kicked me to the curb like I was useless.
Even if I had time outside the relentless training schedule Jubilee sets for us, I haven't had much luck with women outside of the rink, either. Just a different set of problems. Jealousy over how much time I spent with my partner and how much money I spend on equipment and training and travel to competitions, expressed as questions about when I was going to get a real job and start a family, or, my very favorite, questioning my sexuality because of what I do for a living. That had been Felicia's M.O. when we were together. Yeah, a lot of the guys in figure skating are into dudes, and that's cool. It doesn't bother me when people assume I am. What ticked me off was mostly that she meant it as an insult.
So many reasons to stick to casual but safe sex. So, so many.
As I stroll through the village with my duffel bag over my shoulder, I take it all in. By all, I mean mostly the ladies because I've finally got a chance for some no-strings-attached sex, but yeah, some other stuff too. The accommodations that look like big ski lodges, the huge dining hall, a massive gym because they know we're all going to work out. A lot of the teams have private gyms, but not all, and this one's open 24/7. You know, for those times at 3A.M. when you just really need to lift.
The mountains around here, though, those I could get used to. Not like the Sierra Nevada of home, and not like the molehills they think are mountains in Boston where I've spent the past few years with Jubilee. It's pretty here, but goddamn the air is thin. Good thing we've got time to get adjusted. Not that I'm winded or anything, but no way would I be able to put in as hard a workout here as I would back east.
I find the lodge where I'll be staying and skip the elevator, going for the stairwell instead. I'm on the fifth floor, and my sneakers squeak on the cement as I jog up the stairs. The hallways and the exterior may be nice enough, but clearly they don't expect anyone important to be going up these.
The corridor is surprisingly long, but I finally make it down to my room, which is a corner unit. Sweet. Hopefully more views of the mountains, though just as likely more views into other athletes' windows, which if they look anything like the sampling I walked past downstairs, that would also be fine. Maybe a little mutual peep show, eh?
I shove my keycard in the lock, and the light turns green. Won't lie, I could use a sit-down after that plane ride, especially since Jubilee's scheduled us out the ass between workouts, ice time, press junkets, and other nonsense. I just want to skate. Bring a medal home for my mantel. Be a champion. But she knows what she's doing, and it's not worth arguing with her. Not if I value my life. She's like an avalanche. No, that's not right. She's not that fast or that loud. Maybe more like a glacier. Slow and silent, but just as deadly. If you know what's good for you, you do not fuck with Jubilee Buford.
I'm shaking my head thinking about my frosty partner as I step over the threshold, and who should be standing there in the middle of the room, pulling her foot behind her until it's above her head, practicing her form for a Biellmann spin, but Miss Snowflake herself. What the actual fuck?
"What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" Beckett's got that look on his face that makes me want to call him Captain Obvious. Damn good skater, but the brightest bulb in the box he's not.
"This is my room. See?" I gesture around to the things that make that perfectly obvious. My skates lined up in the corner, my costumes hanging in the closet, my lucky pillow on my bed, and my Kindle on the nightstand. Not like I'll actually have time to read, but sometimes glancing at a couple of pages helps me fall asleep at night. Gives me just enough of something else to focus on besides the stress of competition and missing Stephen like crazy.
I put my hands on my hips, daring Beckett to argue with me. He might be as much of a fusspot on the ice as I am, which is great. A driven, pedantic stickler? Yes, please. We're very well-matched in that regard, because even in a sport where everyone's a perfectionist, Beckett and I eat, sleep, and breathe flawlessness in a way that's too much for anyone else. On the ice, yes, but off the ice, he tends to be more flexible than I am. More naturally personable, carefree. We're for damn sure not on the ice now. This is my refuge from the competition, and from everything that reminds me so much of Stephen.
It's not that Denver is so similar to Sapporo, or really alike in any except the most basic ways that all SIG towns are, but god, it still feels like I have a ghost on my arm everywhere I go. Sometimes it's nice to have that voice whispering in my ear — it can be the only thing that gets me through the day or a really rough practice, but sometimes it just ... hurts.
And here's Beckett, looking around like he's never been in a girl's room before. I know that's not true because he has a good time with women when we're on the road. It makes me want to hide my more personal items nonetheless. I don't think he's been dating since he moved to Boston to skate with me, but he has a reputation as a ladies' man and I'm not any fucking lady. I'm his partner and I really don't need him seeing anything but my hard on-ice edges.
"Yeah, well, this is my room too. This is the room they assigned me. My keycard opened the door."
He waves a crumpled letter he's pulled from his duffel bag at me, and I don't want to touch that. Who the fuck knows where it's been. It does, however, have the distinctive SIG seal on it, and I can't deny that his keycard did, in fact, unlock the door. But fuck if he's staying here. I may be willing to cut a bitch who tries to snatch him away to skate with, but otherwise, the rest of the word can have him.
"Maybe it's the room they assigned you, but they're going to assign you a different one."
I try not to be a precious princess — can't be with the kind of bruises I get on the regular or the way I sweat every damn day — but occasionally my inner diva comes out, and this is going to be one of those times.
I am not going to be able to make it through this month without crying at least a few times, and Beckett doesn't need to know I have feelings. He also doesn't need to know about my fuzzy bunny slippers or my cutesy pajamas or my sleeping mask with the eyelashes on it. I don't know that they help keep the dreams of Stephen away, and I don't know that I'd want them to, but the whole fluffy, adorable package makes going to bed more appealing. Let me indulge in those silly, comforting things without being mocked by the man I have to be handled by eight hours a day. All he needs to know is that I can skate.
Before he can protest, I yank my cell out of my pocket and call our coach, Daphne. She'll fix this. She fixes everything.
Daphne doesn't even bother with a hello because she never does. Knows I won't either. "You finished feathering your nest?" "Yes, I am, and now I've got a cuckoo here."
"Hey, who are you calling a —"
I shush Beckett verbally and with a death stare, which makes his eyes pop wide.
"What do you mean a cuckoo? There's someone else there?"
I pace away from Beckett's open mouth. "Yes. Beckett is here with a working keycard and a letter that says this is his room. I don't know what the hell happened, and I don't care. Just get this fixed, Daphne. I don't give a shit how. I'll wait for your call."
It's times like these I'm sad that landlines aren't a thing anymore. A handset crashing into its cradle would've been so satisfying, and yet all I can do is press my screen hard. Not enough of an outlet for my displeasure, not at all. When I turn back to Beckett with my arms crossed, he's just staring.
"Did you just call me a cuckoo?"
"Yes, I did."
"Well that seems harsh." Oh, pouty Beckett. This is new. I wouldn't say I like it, but it is entertaining. He's like a puppy who didn't get a treat after performing its latest trick. With his curly, fluffy mop of blond hair, he'd be a goldendoodle or something. "You don't need to call me crazy and stupid. At least not to my face."
I roll my eyes because I can't even help it. Whoever Beckett's tutors were while he was coming up through the skating world did not do a good enough job. "I wasn't calling you crazy or stupid. I was calling you a parasite. Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds' nests, and when their eggs hatch, the babies roll the nest owners' eggs out. Little bastards."
"I don't think a parasite is much better than stupid."
"It's not, but it's more accurate."
Beckett's blond brows scrunch in the middle, and I want to tell him to knock it off, because makeup can only hide creases that are so deep. Also, I've already expended more energy on this than I'd care to and I'm done. I'd like to get back to stretching. Maybe he could go hang out in one of the common lounges until this gets worked out? Or the gym? The village bar? Basically anywhere but here because I'd like some peace and quiet in which to get my emotionally fragile state under control.
"Anyway, don't bother unpacking. I'm sure Daphne will be calling back any minute to straighten this out. And there's no need for you —"
Looking me straight in the eye, Beckett drops his duffel in the middle of the floor and plops himself on the second bed.
"— to settle in." Fucker.
"Look, I've just spent a bunch of hours in transit. I wasn't flying first class like you, so it wasn't pleasant. All I want is to —"
"No. No. Beckett Donovan Hughes, I swear on all that is holy if you lie on that bed —"
Then he does it. Swings his long, powerful, denim-clad legs up onto the bed, and drops his curl-covered head back onto the pillows. And then has the nerve to sigh like he just kicked back on a lounge chair by a pool at some tropical resort. Oh hell no.
Excerpted from "On The Brink of Passion"
Copyright © 2018 Tamsen Parker.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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