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Authors: Shelly Ellis

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BOOK: Another Woman's Man
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Chapter 11

“S
ize eight, please?” Dawn said tiredly as she walked toward the counter.

The redhead in the brown golf shirt nodded before turning her back to Dawn in search of size eight ice skates. Dawn stood by patiently as the woman scanned the rows upon rows of skates stacked on the shelves behind the counter.

Decades ago, Dawn had owned a pair of skates—some pretty cute ones, in fact. They were white with Day-Glo pink laces and petite pompoms on the front. Back then, she and Cynthia (who she still wasn't talking to, by the way) would regularly go to the ice-skating rink outside of Chesterton, though admittedly they went there less to skate than to hang out with friends and flirt with boys. But Dawn hadn't set foot in any rink in
years,
which was why she still didn't understand why Xavier insisted she co-chaperone this little field trip with him.

“You realize that I haven't skated since Bobby Brown was skinny and everyone had beepers instead of iPhones, right?” she had asked Xavier a week ago when he told her that he was taking several kids from the community center to the local rink and wanted her to go with them.

Xavier had laughed. “You can't help but keep reminding me how old you are, can you? It's become like a reflex.”

She had shrugged in response. “I'm simply saying that it's been a while.”

“Point taken. But you don't have to skate. I need you there to help make sure no one breaks a leg and no one disappears.”

“But there
has
to be someone better for this than me!” she had insisted. “I swear, Xavier, I think you have me confused with Mary Poppins or something. I agreed to teach the art class, but a day at the ice rink with twenty or so teenagers sounds like my perfect idea of hell on earth! Get one of the other volunteers to do it!”

“It won't be
that
bad,” he had argued. “Look, I'd go ask someone else, but all the other volunteers are either busy or even older than
you
and will probably bust a hip out there on the ice. It'll only take a couple of hours at most. You might actually enjoy yourself, you know.”

She highly doubted that.

Dawn didn't know why she had said yes.
Temporary insanity, perhaps?
Either way, after a few more minutes of Xavier's pleading, Dawn had agreed to co-chaperone, which was how she now found herself tugging on a pair of worn skates while more than two dozen rowdy teenagers ran past her on the rubber-matted floor, all pushing to get on the ice.

“So are you going out there?” Xavier asked.

Dawn had finished tying her laces. She turned to find him standing over her shoulder, smiling down at her.

Of course he looked slim, trim, and handsome as usual. He was wearing dark jeans and a gray fitted sweater that was a few shades darker than his eyes. His curly hair was casually ruffled. The black skates he was wearing were his own.

“Not if I can help it,” Dawn muttered dryly, watching the children as they zipped and stumbled around the rink. “I'm here to sit on the sidelines, remember? I'll hop in there if someone needs me. Besides, I'm not that good a skater anyway.”

“I can skate with you, if you'd like,” he volunteered. “You know, guide you around the rink until you get the hang of it again.”

She shook her head and tugged her wool jacket tighter around her, adjusting the jacket belt. “That's OK. I'm fine here.”

“Come on! I won't even charge you for the lesson.”

Dawn glanced at him again. He had extended his hand to her in invitation.

She was half tempted to take him up on the offer, but a voice in her head said that was a bad idea. Though Dawn could grudgingly admit that Cynthia had hit the nail on the head when she figured out that Dawn had a thing for “Mr. Sexy Young Lawyer,” that didn't mean Dawn was going to act on it. She didn't care what Cynthia said! She would never take her sister's man! Unfortunately, having him hold her as he tried to teach her how to ice-skate was a bit much for her nerves and hormones to bear. It would probably make her question her resolve.

“Go ahead without me,” she said casually, waving him away. “Like I said, I'm fine right here.”


I'll
skate with you, Mr. Hughes!” a voice piped.

Xavier and Dawn turned.

Dawn instantly recognized the young woman standing next to Xavier who had volunteered to skate with him. She was one of the girls in Dawn's art class: a thirteen-year-old named Nikki who had the body of a woman ten years older, wore a heavy layer of eye shadow and lip gloss, and had most of the boys in Dawn's art class salivating over her.

Dawn suspected that Nikki had a bit of a crush on Xavier. The light-skinned, teenaged temptress was certainly looking rather dewy-eyed at the moment. She was smiling adoringly at Xavier like angel wings had sprouted from his back and a halo dangled over his head.

He grinned at Nikki. “Thanks for the offer, Nick. I'm okay with skating alone. I was just offering to skate with Miss Gibbons because she said she doesn't know how to. She's out of practice.”

“She doesn't know how to skate?” Nikki exclaimed, wrinkling her nose in disgust. She then eyed Dawn derisively. “Everybody knows how to skate! I mean, even
I
learned how to skate when I was like . . . five years old!”

“Well then, neither of you should have any problems out there,” Dawn said while rising from her bench. “Meanwhile, I'll watch. Have fun!”

Xavier looked as if he was going to say something more, but Dawn waved and walked off, wobbling slightly on her skates.

Dawn wasn't sure if it was her imagination, but Nikki had been throwing her a tremendous amount of shade. It was kind of amusing in a way. Dawn had gotten the snake eye before from grown women, but this was the first time she had gotten it from a thirteen-year-old.

Don't worry about me, Nikki,
Dawn thought as she made her way to a relatively quiet section on the perimeter of the rink.
I'm not even in the running with Xavier. That one is already taken, honey.

Dawn finally found an inconspicuous spot and sat down again. She gazed at the scene in front of her, watching the children whip around in circles or stumble on the ice. After about fifteen minutes, she was lost in boredom.

I should have brought a book with me,
she thought.
This is going to be a long damn day.

She glanced beside her and saw another girl sitting on one of the benches. The girl was staring listlessly at the other children on the rink with her knobby shoulders hunched. She picked at the hem of her pink wool sweater, pulling at the loose string. Dawn definitely recognized this girl. Her name was Tanisha and she was one of the more talented artists in Dawn's class. She also seemed rather quiet and withdrawn. While most of the kids would huddle together, laughing and talking before and after class, Tanisha seemed to prefer being on her own.

In some ways, how withdrawn she was reminded Dawn a lot of her niece, Clarissa. Though Clarissa had since broken out of her shell since entering college, she had been a very soft-spoken girl for many years.

“You're not going to skate?” Dawn called to Tanisha.

The petite, dark-skinned girl seemed to snap out of her daydream. She turned and squinted at Dawn through her thick glasses. She shook her head. “Nah, I don't . . . I don't really like skating,” she mumbled.

Dawn got up from her bench and took shaky steps toward Tanisha. She sat down beside her and grinned. “Me neither,” she confided. “But you're here. There's a rink. Might as well take advantage of it! I'm sure Mr. Hughes would want you to.”

Tanisha shook her head again. “That's OK.”

The two fell into awkward silence. Dawn's first impulse was to get up and return to her bench. It was obvious Tanisha wanted to be alone. But another part of her insisted it wasn't right that Tanisha was sitting all by herself in an ice-skating rink while the other children enjoyed themselves. It was rather sad, actually.

“Well, I'll go out there . . . if you'll go out there,” Dawn heard herself saying.

Tanisha stared up at her in surprise.

“I mean, we could even go out there together,” Dawn continued, trying to sound casual. “We can go around the rink once. Call it a day. At least, we could say we did it, and,” she leaned toward Tanisha, whispering conspiratorially, “it'll get Mr. Hughes off our backs. He's really into ‘participation.' ”

She gave a droll roll of her eyes that made Tanisha giggle.

“So what do you say?” Dawn asked. “One go-round, then we head back here?”

Tanisha hesitated, seeming to contemplate Dawn's offer. She bit her lower lip as she thought. Finally, to Dawn's shock, Tanisha nodded.

“OK, we can go around once,” Tanisha said.

A minute later the two stepped hand-in-hand onto the ice. As Dawn stumbled forward slightly, she laughed at herself.
Lord, I'm worse than I thought!

“Man,” Tanisha said, tugging Dawn's hand to keep her from falling, “you aren't very good at this, are you, Miss Gibbons?”

Dawn was laughing too hard to be offended. “No, not really.”

“I can show you how to do it . . . if you want. You're trying to walk on your blades and that won't work. You've gotta push off.” Tanisha let go of Dawn's hand and glided forward to demonstrate. “See?”

Dawn smiled. “I didn't catch that. Do it again.”

Tanisha glided another few feet. “Got it now?”

The two made it a third of the way around the rink before Dawn stopped.

“I'm only slowing you down,” Dawn said, waving her off. “Go ahead without me.”

“You sure?” Tanisha seemed to really be into it now. She was even doing occasional figure eights. “I don't mind if you aren't that good, Miss Gibbons.”

Dawn chuckled. “No, go ahead. Have fun!”

“Well, O . . . OK,” Tanisha said. She gave one last glance at Dawn. Dawn waved at her. Tanisha waved back before skating off, confidently sailing across the ice with her braids flying behind her. Tanisha slowed down slightly when another girl yelled to her and asked if Tanisha could show her how to do a figure eight. Tanisha obliged her.

Dawn beamed with pride as she watched Tanisha. She wasn't usually sentimental, but she felt a warmness swell inside her chest knowing that she had helped the young girl overcome her timidity.

Maybe Xavier was right. She wasn't such a bad teacher after all!

“Good job, Gibbons!” she heard Xavier shout.

Dawn turned and gazed across the rink. He grinned at her and gave her the thumbs-up.

“Thanks!” she shouted back, cupping her hands around her mouth like a megaphone. “But I didn't really do any—
Ack!

Dawn's words were cut short when she was shoved forward. She almost landed face first on the ice, and only managed to break her fall by landing on her knees and forearms instead. Crashing that hard still hurt like hell.

She looked up in bewilderment to see what Mack truck had hit her. Instead, she saw Nikki sail by, mocking her with an innocent smile.

“Sorry, Miss Gibbons,” sang the busty teenager ever so sweetly while skating backward. “I guess I slipped. My mistake.”

Mistake? That wasn't a goddamn mistake!

Dawn gritted her teeth as she watched the young woman skate away. Nikki's hips swayed as her fiendish giggles filled the air.

“You little bitch!” Dawn wanted to shout. But she bit back those words. She didn't want any of the other children to hear her.

So much for that warm, fuzzy feeling
, she thought. Now, instead, Dawn was blazing with anger.

She pushed herself to all fours and tried to rise to her feet, but wasn't having much success.

“You all right?” Xavier asked, coming to a smooth stop beside her.

Dawn nodded and blew her hair out of her eyes. “Yeah, I'm fine. Just had a little . . . accident. Remind me never to underestimate thirteen-year-olds.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Forget it. Help me up, please?”

She held a hand to him, but instead of taking it, he hooked his arms under her armpits and pulled her to her feet in one swift motion. She yelped in surprise again as she seemed to levitate in the air for a few seconds. When he gingerly set her back down, she winced and breathed in sharply.

“What's wrong?” he asked, frowning with concern.

“My goddamn ankle!” Dawn looked down at her feet. “The left one. I guess I twisted it when I fell.” She put weight on it, and the dull throbbing in the joint turned to a spiky pain. “Shit! Ow, that hurts!”

Xavier wrapped an arm around her waist and tugged her toward him. “Lean against me. I'll take you back so we can have a look at it. Hopefully, it's only a light sprain.”

Dawn's face flushed with heat. She wasn't sure what was more overwhelming: the pain in her ankle or the liquid fire that surged over her body now that Xavier was holding her so close. She politely pulled away from him.

“No . . . no, I'm fine. I can make it,” Dawn insisted, trying to mask her grimace. “You keep skating. Worry about the kids. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself.”

She started to limp off, but he caught her by the arm.

“Look, either you let me help you off the ice,” he said softly, “or I embarrass the hell out of you by picking you up and carrying you off.”

Dawn smirked. “Sure you would.”

She turned back around but he didn't let go of her arm.

“Don't think I will?” he challenged. “Try me.”

She stared at him in disbelief. He wasn't smiling. He actually looked serious. “You . . . you wouldn't dare!”

“I told you I would, and I meant it. We both know you wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me.
I'm
the one who begged you to come to the rink in the first place. So if you're injured, it's
my
fault. Let me take a look at your ankle. It probably isn't that bad, but I'd rather see for myself.”

BOOK: Another Woman's Man
5.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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