Authors: Boroughs PublishingGroup
Tags: #romance, #love, #christmas, #football, #snow, #cabin, #kitten, #mountains, #second chances
Four years ago, NHL defenseman Blake Daniels lost his
entire family in a floatplane crash. This Christmas a snowstorm and
a small gray kitten will lead him to life, love and a whole new
shot at happiness
Love at First
NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales,
business establishments or persons, living or dead, is
coincidental. Boroughs Publishing Group does not have any control
over and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party
websites, blogs or critiques or their content.
: A CHRISTMAS
Copyright © 2012
reserved. Unless specifically noted, no part of this publication
may be reproduced, scanned, stored in a retrieval system or
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photocopying, recording, or otherwise, known or hereinafter
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Participation in the piracy of copyrighted materials violates the
edition created by Maureen Cutajar
For Jessica and Sue. You’ll always have the wonderful memories.
Over time the love of friends and family will help lessen the pain
of your loss.
For all my readers who believe in the
healing power of Christmas.
Chapter 1—Blue Christmas
Merry effing Christmas
Blake Daniels plunked his butt down on the
front steps of his rustic cedar home, elbows on his thighs, hands
clasped in front of him. He didn’t give a shit that the six inches
of snow and ice on the steps froze his ass through his jeans. The
snow might be pretty, but it was terribly out of place here in the
San Juan Islands and he was determined to ignore it.
Yeah. Bah, humbug.
Once, Christmas had been his favorite time
of year, a time to celebrate with family and count his many
Now it was a mixture of melancholy
memories and painful realities.
Blake stared at the surprisingly wintry
scene around him. Heavy snow bent the boughs on the cedar trees
nearby. Christmas lights twinkled cheerfully on his neighbors’
homes. Every once in a while laughter from inside the closest house
echoed off the water and drifted up the hill, but that only made
his chest clench with pain. In the distance, Madrona Channel
churned with water so black and angry a Washington State ferry
bound for the ferry landing rocked and rolled. He’d bet his best
pair of skates they would shut down the ferries for the night after
The storm added to his dark mood. He
couldn’t explain why he tortured himself every year by returning to
this house. Maybe he kept hoping he’d find what he’d lost. Maybe it
was good old-fashioned denial. Maybe he was just plain nuts.
Early this morning he’d walked onto the San
Juan Island ferry in Anacortes, Washington, to spend his Christmas
the same way he’d spent the last four: by himself on this remote
island with just ghosts for company. Not real ghosts, but
recollections from his past. The scent of his mother’s gingerbread
cookies in the oven. Christmas music played by his sister on the
piano near the window. A college football game on in the den. His
father and youngest brother arguing over whether or not the
Seahawks would make the playoffs. His older brother building a
raging fire in the fireplace. They were all things he’d taken for
granted, assumed they’d always be there. If only he’d taken that
same Christmas Eve flight four years ago, he wouldn’t be the one
left alone to pick up the pieces. He’d be in a watery grave with
his parents and siblings, none the wiser and a whole lot more
peaceful. There were worse ways to go, like dying a slow death
inside every day while going through the motions of a life he no
longer knew how to live.
For as long as he could remember, his family
had flown from all parts of the country to spend the holidays at
their vacation home on Orcas Island here in the San Juans. Then
came the fatal night their chartered floatplane crashed into the
frigid waters of the Straits of Juan De Fuca. His sister had texted
him at takeoff to let him know they were in the air and would see
him soon. A few hours later, completely unaware of the tragedy,
Blake arrived and wondered where the hell everyone was.
It had been snowing then, too. He’d texted
his sister first. No response. He’d called her cell and actually
got through, but the phone went straight to voicemail. Next, he
tried both brothers and his sister-in-law. Same result. His parents
didn’t have cell phones. To quote his dad, they’d lived without
them for sixty-plus years and didn’t need them now. Frustrated and
wondering if they were playing one hell of a joke on him, he’d
called the floatplane company. He hadn’t expected an answer and
didn’t get one, but he left a message with contact info. He then
spent a sleepless night pacing. With no internet access, no
late-night ferry service and spotty cell phone reception, he
couldn’t do much but wait for morning. Staring at the snow.
A county sheriff knocked on his door at six
a.m. One look at the man’s face and Blake knew. He just
. Two days later he’d walked onto the ice and played
hockey because only on the ice could he possibly forget.
Only, he couldn’t forget. Even though hockey
was all he had left, he couldn’t get his game back. He bounced from
NHL team to NHL team. Coaches scratched their heads, frustrated at
how to get through to him, how to get back the player they’d
drafted. Teammates avoided him as if he’d caught some contagious
disease. Friends expected him to recover and move on. But how does
a guy move on from something like that?
Now he didn’t even have hockey. L.A., his
third team in a year, had cut him a week ago, and so had his
limelight-seeking girlfriend. He’d never been a huge star, but he’d
been a good defenseman, the guy a team could depend on to replace a
starter, a steady, straight guy who avoided the limelight and just
did his job. Yeah, that’d been him. The guy who’d rather read books
on the team plane than play cards or video games, rather have a
quiet meal than go out and get drunk, the guy who’d longed for a
nice girl rather than a groupie—until everything changed four years
ago. Lately he’d bounced from meaningless relationship to
meaningless relationship. His latest girlfriend Candy—that name
should’ve been a clue—had dumped him like yesterday’s bread for an
So far, not one team had contacted his agent
to pick him up. At thirty-four he should have a few good years
left, but he’d lost his edge and run out of second chances. He was
tired of forcing a desire that didn’t exist, too. In some ways,
walking away from the game would be a relief, but what the fuck was
he going to do with the rest of his sorry-assed life? He’d never
contemplated his future without hockey any more than he’d
contemplated it without his boisterous family.
Blake stared at his size-thirteen feet and
heaved a big sigh. The weight of the grief he’d denied for four
years settled on his shoulders like a concrete yoke. Snow fell
softly around him. He buried his face in his hands and listened to
Blake lifted his head and looked around. The
snow muffled most sound, but he heard it again, a pathetic little
cry like that of a cat or a kitten.
Standing, he held the railing so he wouldn’t
crash down on his ass on the icy steps. He scanned the snow-covered
yard but only saw one set of footprints leading to the cabin. His
“Kitty? Kitty?” Blake stood absolutely
A tiny gray kitten appeared, dragging a
useless leg, its hair matted and caked with ice crystals and snow.
Malnourished and shivering, it managed few more steps toward him
before collapsing in a pitiful heap.
A life-long animal lover, Blake was on the
kitten in two strides. He cradled the kitten in his arms, amazed
the poor creature was still alive. The kitten gazed up at him with
eyes yellower than a sunflower, and a small piece of Blake’s heart
He carried the freezing animal inside the
warm three-story cabin, wrapped it in a blanket and sat down on the
fireplace hearth. He ran his large hands over the kitten’s
protruding ribs, feeling for injuries. The leg hung lifeless. Blake
touched it gingerly. The kitten mewed and licked his hand just once
with a sandpaper tongue.
“What happened to you, little guy?”
The lump in the kitten’s leg indicated an
old break which had improperly healed, but Blake was no animal
doctor. Hell, he couldn’t even heal his own sorry-assed life.
Despite the sad shape the thing was in, a
rough purr vibrated in its stomach. The sound seemed to indicate
the kitten’s desire to live, and that desire struck Blake like a
slap in the face. While it fought to survive, he’d given up
* * * * *
Sarah Whitney stared out the vet clinic
window at the snow sticking to the ground and getting deeper by the
minute. It rarely snowed in the San Juan Islands, and when it did,
the snow never piled up. Not to this extent. Heck, she doubted the
county even owned one snow plow. In all her years here, she
couldn’t ever recall a snowstorm like this. Not even the infamous
Christmas Eve storm four years ago.
Walking to the door, she flipped the OPEN
sign to CLOSED. She’d sent her only employee home hours ago. She
should’ve followed. Instead she’d hung around, just in case of an
emergency, but not one customer had walked in her door all
afternoon. Everyone was hunkered down in their cozy homes in front
of their fireplaces, celebrating Christmas Eve with friends and
family. Except her.
Cyrus, her St. Bernard cross and the clinic
mascot, opened one eye from his location on his dog bed. She
whistled at him. With a sigh, he heaved himself to his feet and
The phone rang, and she crossed the room to
answer it. “Island Vet.” Cyrus sat down in the middle of the floor,
not interested in expending more energy than absolutely
“Hey, where the hell are you?”
Sarah smiled. “Closing up shop.”
“Good, then come on over. We’ve got a
boatload, and we’ll be drinking lots of liquid good cheer and
singing off-key Christmas carols.” Her best friend Cari and Cari’s
husband Kyle lived down at the marina on an old fifty-footer.