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Authors: Emma Harrison

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Snow Queen

BOOK: Snow Queen
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Emma Harrison
Snow Queen

For Brady

Contents

Chapter 1

“Where’s the snow? I was promised snow.”

Chapter 2

Ow! Okay, that one’s gonna leave a mark,” Aubrey said…

Chapter 3

Gorgeous Boy was laughing at her. He was standing over…

Chapter 4

The Chamberlain Ski Resort and Spa was built into the…

Chapter 5

“I’m sorry, but could it be any more obvious that…

Chapter 6

The dressing room backstage was a long, wide, low-ceilinged space…

Chapter 7

“On my own, pretending he’s beside me,’” Aubrey sang, staring…

Chapter 8

Thursday morning, Aubrey was up before the sun and out…

Chapter 9

Aubrey moved through her dance steps with robotic stiffness on…

Chapter 10

“This is going to be our most fabulous winter carnival…

Chapter 11

“That’s it. I have to drop out of the pageant,”…

Chapter 12

That afternoon the sky was blanketed with gray clouds. Gray…

Chapter 13

“I can’t believe he didn’t show up. Not even for…

Chapter 14

It seemed as if everyone in Vermont had shown up…

Chapter 15

“If everyone would please be seated for a moment, we…

Chapter 16

“I’m going to kill Charlie!” Christie said, pacing back and…

Chapter 17

“Miss Aubrey Mills, escorted by Mr. Grayson Chamberlain!”

Chapter 18

Aubrey didn’t sleep at all that night. And not because…

Chapter 19

Aubrey stood in the wings in her street hockey gear—black…

Chapter 20

“All right, ladies, the scores have been tabulated,” Grayson said,…

 

“W
here’s the snow? I was promised snow.”

Aubrey Mills stared out the window of the Spotted Owl Inn’s white shuttle van as it climbed the mountain just outside Darling, Vermont. She saw lots of things. She saw piles of dead brown leaves. She saw acres of bare, spindly trees mixed in with tons of gorgeous evergreens. She saw a bright sun and a clear blue sky so cloud free it was blinding. What she did not see was snow.

“This
is
Vermont, right? There’s supposed to be snow.”

In the front seat, Aubrey’s best friend, Christie Howell, laughed with her cousin Charlie, who was behind the wheel of the creaky old van.

“Not
always
,” Christie replied, turning around in her seat so that Aubrey could see her teasing
smile. “They do have seasons here, you know.”

Christie’s black hair was pulled back in a tight French braid, which showed off her jet-black eyes and perfect complexion. Along with her red snow jacket, she wore a cozy-looking white scarf with matching mittens and earmuffs. She had donned all of this the second they had stepped off the plane from Fort Lauderdale. Aubrey, meanwhile, was freezing her butt off in a pink zipped hoodie and Tampa Bay Lightning baseball cap. She had realized it was going to be cold in the Northeast, but having never been out of Florida, she hadn’t known exactly what that cold was going to feel like. And it felt biting, like a million tiny pinpricks all over her skin. Why hadn’t anyone told her to carry her new winter coat onto the plane like Christie had? She was sure that cuddling into the thick, down puffer jacket would have been like heaven on earth right about now, but unfortunately it was still balled up at the bottom of her suitcase at the rear of the van.

Aubrey rolled her big blue eyes. Her seat let out a loud squeak as Charlie drove over a bump, and the spring beneath her poked her in the
butt. “Yeah, right. Not in August, maybe, but it’s February. So where’s the snow?”

Charlie turned the van in to a wide driveway. The painted wooden sign stuck in the ground at the curb read
SPOTTED OWL INN, JUST UP THE HILL
.

“It’s been a pretty flake-free winter,” Charlie said, glancing at Aubrey in the rearview mirror. “But it’s in the forecast for the end of the week.”

“And in the meantime, all the slopes have snow machines,” Christie added.

Aubrey huffed and slumped down in her seat, sliding left to get her butt cheek free of the offending spring. “I did not sign on for man-made snow.”

Normally, Aubrey wasn’t one for pouting, but she had never seen snow in her life except on animated Christmas specials and broadcasts of the Winter X Games. Every year, Christie spent two weeks in February up here in Vermont at her grandparents’ inn, and every year she came back with stories of snowball fights and sledding down hills and racing snowmobiles. All her life, Aubrey had been jealous of Christie’s close relationship with snow, and she had always wanted
to see Vermont and its white, wintry vistas. So this year, her junior year, she had begged her parents for months to let her tack an extra week onto her February break—just like Christie always did—so that she could come along, and her parents had agreed. All Aubrey had to do was keep her room clean (a major imposition), get straight B’s or higher (she usually did this anyway), and promise to visit her own grandparents when she returned (always boring, but doable). And now, here she was in Vermont—finally—and no snow.

“Speaking of snow, Charlie, how are your boarding skills coming along?” Christie asked.

Charlie took one hand off the wheel and shoved up the sleeve of his bright-yellow jacket. There was a long, jagged scrape from his elbow to his wrist, which was just starting to scab up.

“Does that answer your question?” he asked with a wry smile.

“Ew! Cover it up!” Christie said, grimacing and turning toward the window.

“Whoa! How’d you get that?” Aubrey asked, sitting forward.

“Slid off the course and over about thirty
yards of rocky terrain,” Charlie replied with a hint of pride. “You should see the one on my leg.”

“No thank you!” Christie said, holding up her hands in surrender. “I’m sorry I asked. Maybe you should stick to skiing.”

“Never. I will master the snowboard if it kills me,” Charlie joked.

Charlie’s parents, Christie’s aunt and uncle, had moved to his mother’s homeland of Norway when he’d graduated from high school, but Charlie had come to stay with his grandparents. He was twenty years old and was taking business classes at the local community college while learning how to run the inn—a job he would take over one day when his grandparents retired. Aubrey had learned all of this on the plane ride from Florida, but Christie hadn’t mentioned his snowboarding obsession. Aubrey had to admire his determination. Not everyone would get right back up on a snowboard after sustaining injuries like that.

Charlie pulled the van around a bend and Aubrey got her first look at the famous Spotted Owl Inn. She had heard so many stories about
it over the years it may as well have been a fairy-tale castle, and the sight of it caused a little catch of excitement in her chest, even without the snow. The huge lemonade porch, dotted with rocking chairs of all shapes and sizes; the double fieldstone chimneys puffing smoke into the sky; ski slopes—white strips of man-made powder stark against all the brown—rising up behind the wide, colonial-style structure as the ski lifts whisked pairs of skiers skyward. Aubrey pressed her forehead against the scratched window to take it all in. She was here. She was finally here.

“Welcome to the Spotted Owl,” Charlie said, putting the van in park. It bucked forward and let out a loud wail as he did so, as if it was slowly dying from the effort. “Hope you ladies enjoy your stay.”

Aubrey and Christie squealed with excitement and jumped out of the van, the rusty door hinges groaning. As Charlie unloaded their bags from the back, Aubrey took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and got a fragrant whiff of the wood burning in the fireplaces, too. When she let the air go, it made a big puff of steam
in front of her face. Her breath had never done that before, and she laughed giddily, feeling like a little kid. What other new cold-weather oddities was she going to experience in the next two weeks?

“Christie, it’s exactly like you said,” Aubrey mused. “So beautiful.”

“Isn’t it, though?” Christie sighed.

The beeping sound of a truck backing up caught Aubrey’s attention, and she walked around the front of the van to see what was going on. Down a small hill and across the road was a wide-open field where dozens of trucks were either parked or maneuvering into place. Half of them were flatbeds carrying pieces of carnival rides—big bulb lights, Ferris wheel seats, gears, and colorful placards and signs advertising hot chocolate and deep-fried Oreos. Apparently preparations for the winter carnival had already begun. The carnival was a huge event thrown each year by Christie and Charlie’s grandparents to raise money for the inn and its yearly renovations. The weeklong festival included rides, shows, contests, and crazy amounts of food. It was a favorite event of locals and tourists alike,
and the Spotted Owl was always booked solid for the week of the carnival.

“Where do they hold the hockey shot contest?” Aubrey asked excitedly. The only female on her school’s roller-hockey team, she was planning on signing up for the event as soon as possible. The hockey goal would be covered by a board, which would have five holes cut out of it—one at the bottom center and one at each corner. The idea was to hit all five holes using fewer than ten pucks. Aubrey had been practicing for weeks on the asphalt back home and wanted to hit the ice as soon as possible so she could check her skills on the new surface.

“See that pond way out there at the back of the field?” Christie said, standing on her toes and pointing at a wide patch of frozen water. “That’s the spot.”

“I can’t wait to try out my new ice skates,” Aubrey said, grinning. She had never been on ice skates before, but she figured they couldn’t be all that different from Rollerblades. And she was a natural on her Rollerblades. A stiff wind blew Aubrey’s long, straight, strawberry-blond hair back from her face and she zipped her
hooded sweatshirt all the way up to her chin. “Do they always set up this early? I thought the carnival didn’t start till next week.”

“It takes a while to get everything ready. I told you, the thing is huge,” Christie replied.

Aubrey watched as a guy directing one of the trucks to back up seemed to forget what he was doing and almost got himself run over. She kept one eye on him and the other on Christie and Charlie.

“Yeah, and it’s going to be bigger than ever this year,” Charlie said, joining them. He had Aubrey’s backpack slung over one shoulder and one of Christie’s many totes on the other. He nudged Christie with his elbow. “Rose says you guys already signed up for the pa—”

“So, Charlie, how’s Daniela?” Christie interrupted rather loudly. “Are you guys handling the long-distance thing okay?”

Aubrey tore her eyes from the near miss on the field and glanced at the two cousins. She marveled again at how very different they looked, Christie tiny and slight with her dark eyes, dark hair, and Korean features and Charlie with his blond hair, freckles, and broad build.
Their fathers were brothers, and Charlie’s dad had married a Norwegian ski instructor, while Christie’s father had married Christie’s mother, who was Korean. Aubrey would have loved for her family to be that international, but alas, every single one of her relatives was as auburn-haired and pale as she was. Which was not good for a family that lived exclusively in Florida. The sunblock costs alone were staggering.

“Yeah. We’re dealing,” Charlie said, appearing confused by the sudden change of topic. “My girlfriend’s studying abroad in Russia for the semester,” he explained to Aubrey. “Come on. Let’s get all this stuff inside.”

As they turned to go, a large, modern, black bus with tinted windows rolled along the road down below. The words
CHAMBERLAIN SKI RESORT AND SPA
were emblazoned across the side in gold script. Christie and Charlie suddenly looked sour.

“Okay, what is this resort and spa thing?” Aubrey asked, wresting her suitcase from Charlie’s grip. He was a tad weighed down by Christie’s many bags, and Aubrey had never been one to make other people carry her stuff.
“I saw at least five billboards for that place on the way here.”

“It’s just this hotel on the other side of town,” Christie said, waving a hand. “It opened about ten years ago and totally ramped up the tourism in town. Which is a good thing,” she added, almost defensively.

“Yeah, Rose and Jim were worried about it when it was first being built, but it’s actually brought in more business,” Charlie explained as they approached the steps to the porch. “We get a lot of their overflow, plus all the people who prefer quaint and friendly to ostentatious and bitchy.”

“Charlie!” Christie admonished.

“What? You know they make their employees suck on lemons all day so they’ll be perpetually pissy,” he joked. “That’s why their faces are all pinched.” He sucked in his cheeks and pursed his lips in an unattractive way.

Aubrey laughed, but Christie sighed. “You’re so negative,” Christie said.

“She thinks I’m funny,” Charlie replied, pointing at Aubrey as he backed through the wooden door with Christie’s things.

He held the door for Aubrey and Christie. They had barely stepped foot inside the cozy lobby, when they heard a shout.

“Christie!”

Aubrey was so startled by the volume she jumped. An older man and woman came bursting out from behind the reservation desk and rushed to wrap Christie up in their arms.

“Beware. They get a little crazy with grandkids they haven’t seen in a while,” Charlie warned.

“I see that,” Aubrey replied.

She watched as Christie and her grandmother jumped up and down in each other’s arms. These people were grandparents? Impossible. They were way too spry and cool looking to be grandparents. Rose Howell had short blond hair and wore a turtleneck sweater and jeans over hiking boots, while her husband, Jim, was tall, solidly built, and clad in a plaid flannel shirt and cords. Aubrey had seen pictures of the Howells before, but she had expected them to have aged somewhat. Instead they looked like they had given up the whole aging business at fifty-five—and maybe started going backward. Meanwhile,
Aubrey’s grandparents were hanging out in a retirement villa in Palm Beach, wearing tacky polyester and griping about Drew Carey taking over
The Price Is Right
.

“Maybe I should bring them up here next year. Maybe the fresh mountain air makes people all peppy
, Aubrey mused.

“Rose, Jim, this is my best friend, Aubrey,” Christie said as she leaned into her grandfather’s side, his arm clenched around her shoulders.

“Nice to finally meet you, Aubrey,” he said.

Aubrey put her suitcase down so that she could shake hands with him. His grip was warm and strong and steady. “Nice to meet you, too.”

“We hear nothing but ‘Aubrey’ this and ‘Aubrey’ that,” Rose added, giving her a hug.

“Thanks. I’ve heard a lot about you, too, Mr. and Mrs. Howell,” Aubrey said.

“Oh, please. Call us Rose and Jim,” Rose said with a wave. “Everyone does.”

“Okay, Rose and Jim,” Aubrey said happily. Her own grandparents demanded to be called “sir” and “ma’am.” Yeah. She really needed to get them to Vermont.

“I should get this stuff upstairs,” Charlie said.

“Don’t forget to put them in room ten this time,” Rose said.

“Got it,” Charlie replied, disappearing up the stairs.

“Wait, why ten?” Christie asked, her brow furrowing. “Did you guys book someone in my room?”

Rose and Jim exchanged a look. “No, hon. You know we’d never give away fifteen if we knew you were coming,” Rose said. “It has the nicest view in the place,” she explained to Aubrey.

“We had to shut down a few of the rooms out back because of some issues with the pipes,” Jim said.

“But those are the best rooms. That can’t be good for business. Especially with the carnival next week,” Christie said worriedly.

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