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Authors: Joanne Rock

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Last Chance Christmas

BOOK: Last Chance Christmas
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Last Chance Christmas

Joanne Rock

 

 

Last Chance Christmas

©Copyright 2015 Joanne Rock

Kindle Edition

The Tule Publishing Group, LLC

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-943963-70-6

Dedication

Merry Christmas, Dean!

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Dear Reader

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Excerpt from How to Lose a Groom in 10 Days

The Runaway Bride Series

About the Author

Dear Reader,

I love writing sports heroes, and J.C. Royce is no different. There’s something compelling about a man who won’t give up when the odds are stacked against him, who grits out victory in spite of pain, injury and exhaustion.

For this story, I had fun imagining the downtime for a professional athlete too. I like to think the sports hero who works hard knows the importance of cutting loose sometimes. J.C. puts as much effort into having fun and spending time with family as he does supporting his team and improving their chances to win.

If you’ve never visited northern Vermont, I hope this book will encourage you to explore this quiet, beautiful corner of the world. Having spent many winters in the Adirondack Mountains myself, I always appreciate a trip across Lake Champlain in the winter to ski, shop and play in this winter wonderland. Even if you’re not much of an athlete, it’s fun to sled down the hills and drink hot cocoa afterward to warm up. And if you haven’t built a snowman lately, trust me, it’s time!

Happy Holidays,

Joanne Rock

Chapter One


O
n a cold
winter’s night that was so deep…

Foolish women got their crutches stuck in snowbanks.

Shea Walker tugged the rubber-tipped metal from the crusted pile of snow edging her parents’ driveway in front of the house where she’d grown up. A house she hadn’t visited in too many years even though the small ski resort town of Cloud Spin, Vermont was situated in the Green Mountains less than six hours from New York City where Shea made her home.

Well, six hours if it wasn’t snowing.

The last hour of tonight’s drive—just a week before Christmas—had taken twice as long as it should have. But she’d been following a plow doing thirty miles an hour up the interstate. And since she still had some anxiety issues leftover after a delivery truck had sideswiped her compact car on the West Side Highway three weeks before, she’d had no desire to pass. Fracturing her left leg and two ribs had incapacitated her more than she’d guessed they might, especially since the leg fracture required surgical repair.

And if that wasn’t the ho-ho-happiest way to spend the holiday season, she had called in sick to work only to learn she’d lost her dream job as a fashion buyer for a high-end department store in Manhattan. The company was filing bankruptcy in the New Year and promised they’d be in touch after they got their finances worked out. Although if she was still out of work by that time, she’d have a whole lot more trouble than just the loss of her frequent flier miles to worry about.

She tipped her face up into the moonlight, letting the snowflakes fall on her skin, trying hard to be in the moment and not worry about everything she’d left behind. She had made the impulsive drive up here to try and mend her strained relationship with her parents—an idea she’d gotten from listening to a radio call-in show while she’d been coming out of the anesthesia. One of her book club friends had been sitting with her since Shea hadn’t even told her parents about the accident. As the talk show host wound up his calls for the evening, he talked about the need to heal broken relationships before moving forward in life.

Maybe it had been the influence of the drugs or the hospital’s cheery, piped-in holiday music, but Shea had decided then and there to sublet her apartment for a couple of weeks to make some extra cash, and take a trip up north for the holidays to see her family. What if she’d been striking out in all her other personal relationships for years because she couldn’t even manage a good rapport with her own parents?

Now, she peered up at their painted brick, Colonial home and wondered why her mother didn’t have the front yard lights on. It wasn’t even eight o’clock, which was early even for her parents to shut down for the night. Not only were there no exterior lights. There were also no holiday lights glowing. The streetlamp was out and lacked the usual Christmas wreath with a red plaid bow.

No lamps burned inside either.

Thunking along the driveway on the crutches, she turned into the flagstone path that wound past the snow-covered flower beds and up the steps to a narrow landing. Balancing carefully on her good foot as she leaned an elbow on the doorjamb, she knocked on the door and promptly started digging through her purse for her spare key. There might be some tensions between her and her family, but nothing dire enough to warrant anyone reclaiming her house key. Shea had kept it on her keychain since she’d left home at eighteen.

But as she fumbled with it in the dark, she knew it didn’t even fit into the lock, damn it. At some point they’d installed a whole new steel door complete with wrought iron knocker and sidelights with windows into the inky interior, an upgrade from the simple wooden entrance of her youth.

Cold and cursing herself for an idiot, she slumped against the frigid brick. Her parents had obviously gone out and who knew when they’d be home. She should have called first rather than making a sentimental journey through the blizzard, spurred on by a radio show, a smidgen of misplaced holiday spirit, and a need to patch things up with family.

And morphine.

She blamed that too, even though she was perfectly clearheaded and off the pain killers now. But when the surgery drugs had first worn off, the hospital staff had kept her floating on a wave of “pain management” that had brought her back to happier times in Cloud Spin. Back to frozen winters spent skiing and skating. Back to the nights she’d chased her old teenage crush around the ice, desperate for him to notice her—until that one amazing night when he
did
. Her mind had wandered back to midnight hot cocoa parties behind her house where her father flooded a level meadow for a homemade ice rink that brought pond hockey players from all over town…

Straightening herself and her crutches, she mentally kicked herself for not thinking of it sooner. What if she was up here feeling sorry for herself while her hockey coach father, his sports crazy older brothers, and half the town’s skating goons were having a blast down on that popular outdoor rink even now?

Unsure how to navigate the hill that led down to the ice, she steered the crutches down the steps and wobbled her way onto the flagstone path again to follow it around the behind the house where maybe she’d at least hear voices. Or see some light in the distance.

Breathing in the crisp, snowy night, she felt a moment’s holiday cheer again. She could be cupping a thermos of hot cocoa any minute now, happily installed by the outdoor bonfire.

“Who’s there?” a male voice shouted from directly behind the house, startling her so much she mis-planted one of the crutches.

Pitching sideways, she half-fell into a snow-covered boxwood hedge, straining her broken ribs as a motion-detector light blazed on overhead.

“Ow!” With a yelp, she caught herself against a downspout for the gutters, more worried that she was going to undo all her healing than she was about the possibility of facing a murderer in the backyard. Her parents’ house had always been a popular gathering spot. “It’s Shea.”

Chances were good it was someone coming up from the ice to get a snow shovel or a spare pair of skates out of the garage.

Except no one responded to her. All was quiet for a long moment while the sound of her harsh breathing filled the quiet night. A little shiver of worry squiggled up the back of her neck. When heavy boots crunched through the snow nearby, she swallowed hard and gripped one of her crutches tighter. If it was someone bent on hurting her, she would bean him in the head without hesitation.

A big, powerful presence neared, his shadow falling over her moments before his face became visible in a swath of moonlight and the flickering fluorescent glow of the motion-detection light.

“Shea?” The man’s voice was hoarse, probably from the cold and not the same kind of shock to the system that she was feeling.

Because the man in her backyard had been the teenage love of her life. The same man who’d broken her heart when he abandoned her without a backward glance ten years ago to become a hockey superstar.

“Hello, J.C.” She bit out the words with as much icy indifference as she could muster since she hadn’t parted on good terms with the man who chose hockey over her. “Did you lose your way to your team’s private plane? Or perhaps confuse my parents’ house with the site of a celebrity fundraiser?” She attempted to stand tall since wounded pride didn’t take kindly to slouching in the boxwood hedge. “As you can see, there are no adoring fans here.” She wished she didn’t look like a woman who’d driven six hundred miles in the snow. After surgery. “Only me.”

“What happened to you?” He seemed to have ignored her whole diatribe, his blue eyes narrowing as he took in her crutches and the fracture boot that kept her left ankle immobilized.

A colorful poncho with a southwestern motif covered her midsection where her rib belt held the rest of her battered form together.

“I might ask you the same question since only a serious injury would keep you from your team in the middle of the season.” She’d stopped following his career after the first few years when he’d broken record after record, thriving in the sport that meant more to him than she had.

She heard things, certainly. Like that he’d married. And, more recently, divorced. But she’d quit pausing on his games when she cycled through the television stations when looking for shows to watch. Although she still might have a “behind the scenes” interview with him saved on her DVR somewhere. Because he was seriously hot, all past history and broken heart aside, and that interview had been a special about his intense workout regimen.

And she did not need to remember those sweaty and sexy images right now.

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