The first time I met Winter Marks, I almost took her out with my Jeep.
To be fair, she came out of nowhere.
I flirted with her, and she flipped me off and disappeared into the woods on her bike.
But she left me a souvenir: a single hockey skate.
Seemed to me that divine intervention shouldn’t be ignored.
She was my icy Cinderella and I would be her Prince Not-So-Charming.
Winter was more than just a sassy, badass hockey-playing hottie.
She’s stuck in a prison of a life. And I’m the perfect escape.
Neither of us expected to fall.
Or for the truth to shatter us.
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“I’m heading to the arena.” I grab an apple from the fruit bowl and kiss my mom on the cheek.
She glances at the clock on the stove. “I thought you didn’t have practice with Adele until ten.”
“I don’t. Just getting in some solo ice time.” I take a bite out of the apple while I fill my travel mug with coffee.
“Don’t forget we have a free skate tonight,” Dad says as he slathers butter on toast.
“Looking forward to it.” I put the lid on my coffee and head for the door.
“An apple won’t cut it for breakfast, Randall. You need protein!” Mom calls after me.
“I’ve got bars in my bag. See you at the rink!” I shove my feet into my slides, grab the keys to my Jeep, and bust my ass out the door before my mom tries to sit me down for a seven-course meal. Skating on an overly full stomach isn’t my favorite.
A minute later, I’m pulling out of the driveway and onto the packed-gravel road, stones spitting from beneath my tires. I slow down at the T-intersection, glancing in both directions before I pull onto the main road that leads to town. As I accelerate, a person on a bike comes shooting out of the wooded trail that runs perpendicular to the road. I hit the brakes and the tires squeal, leaving rubber behind me.
My heart is in my throat as I make eye contact with the girl on the bike. She’s wearing a helmet, thank God. Her eyes are wide with shock as she attempts to course correct, and her lips form the word fuck as she turns the handlebars. I’m sure we’re about to collide, but she manages the turn, though she nearly skids out as she avoids slamming into the side of my Jeep.
“The fuck, dude?” She grabs the edge of my door to steady herself. “It’s called a goddamn stop sign for a reason, not a fucking pause-and-keep-on-rolling sign.”
In the brief moment when our faces are less than half a foot apart, I notice a lot of things—the first being that she’s smoking hot, in an unconventional way. Her face is all angles and sharp lines, and her eyes are the color of a stormy sky, but her lips are full and pouty, softening her features, and her chin tapers, giving her face a heart shape. There’s a jagged horizontal scar in the center of her chin, and freckles dot the bridge of her nose. Her long, dark hair is pulled back in a braid that hangs nearly to her waist, and there’s a hockey bag strapped to the back of her bike.
“Your reaction time is incredible,” I say, like an idiot.
“Seriously? You’re lucky I didn’t dent your Jeep, asshole.”
The last thing I should do is smile, but I can’t help it. “Damn. You’re gorgeous, with a sharp tongue, and you play hockey? This is divine intervention. You’re basically the woman of my dreams.”
She looks at me like I have two heads, then purses her lips and pushes off the side of the Jeep. She rounds the hood while firing the bird at the windshield. “I hope you don’t fuck like you drive,” she yells.
As she navigates the steep slope that leads to the trail on the opposite side of the road, her back tire skids on the fresh gravel and she goes down.
“Shit.” I flick on my hazard lights, pull onto the soft shoulder, and hop out of the Jeep. By the time I reach the bumper, she’s already back on her bike, disappearing into the forest. But not before I notice the Boones logo on the back of her shirt. It’s a local bakery that makes the most amazing fried apple fritter rings. Everyone I know is addicted to them, including me.
A skid mark from her tires mars the gravel where she wiped out, and something glints from the wildflowers that line the road. I crouch to get a better look. It’s a hockey skate with MARKS Sharpied on the tongue.
I pick it up and smile. Looks like I’m making a pit stop before I hit the ice.
Cinderella on Blades
I make it to Boones with ten minutes to spare, which is good because my elbow is bleeding and so is my knee, and the back of my right thigh has some serious road rash.
This morning has been a clusterfuck of epic proportions. It started with the timer going off on the toaster oven and waking my dad. He’s an asshole on a good day, let alone when he’s woken up by something other than his alarm. My usefulness as a human being was called into question. Not the ideal way to start things off.
I lock up my bike and lug my hockey bag into Boones through the back entrance. I feel bad about storing it in the break room, because it takes up so much space, but leaving it outside is begging for it to be stolen.
I key in my employee number to unlock the back door, and it dings, signaling my arrival. A petite, auburn-haired girl pokes her head through the door that connects the kitchen to the bakery. “Hey! You must be Winter.”
I nod. “That’s me.” I started last week, but now that I’m finished training, I no longer need to be scheduled with Tracey Lynn, the manager and daughter of the owner.
“I’m Rose.” She pops a pink bubble as her gaze moves over me, pausing at the hockey bag slung over my shoulder. It’s hard to miss since it’s huge and weighs a good fifty pounds. Her eyes widen when she gets to my bloody knee. “Oh shit. You’re bleeding.” She rolls her eyes. “Which I’m sure you already know. Are you okay? What happened?”
“I’m fine. Some douche in a Jeep almost ran me over.” And then tried to flirt with me. I point to my knee. “Just gonna clean this up real quick and I’ll be right out.”
“Want me to put your hockey bag in the staff room?” she offers.
“It’s heavy,” I warn.
“I’m stronger than I look.” She flexes a thin arm, her biceps popping.
“Thanks. I swear I’m not always this much of a hot mess.” I set the bag on the floor and pull on the handle, but it only comes out halfway. “One of the wheels is broken.”
“You’re fine. It’s quiet right now.” She makes a face when she gets a load of the road rash on my leg. “Yeesh. That looks rough.”
“I’ve had worse. I’ll just be a minute.” I grab the first aid kit from the wall and rush to the bathroom, calling a quick hello to Scottie, who works in the kitchen prepping the apples for fritters, and salads and sandwiches for the lunch rush.
It doesn’t take long to clean and dress the cut on my knee. The road rash is red and ugly, but not a big deal. My elbow could be worse. As a hockey player, I’m used to bruises, scrapes, and even stitches, but starting my shift bleeding isn’t exactly appealing to customers. I slap on bandages to cover the worst of it and push through the door to the bakery at 7:58.
Rose is leaning against the counter, phone in one hand and a coffee in the other, snapping selfies, if I had to guess. Her auburn hair is pulled through the snapback of a red Boones ball cap and twisted into a bun that’s covered with a hairnet.
“Sorry about that. I’m ready to get to work. What can I do?” I run my damp palms over my thighs. I’m all adrenaline this morning.
“Tracey Lynn won’t be in for two more hours, so you can take the eager beaver down a couple of notches.” She drags her eyes away from her phone and motions to the espresso machine. “Make yourself a coffee, or a latte, or a cappuccino. Take a breath. Maybe give yourself a minute to get over almost getting hit by a Jeep.”
The regular drip coffee is free for us, so I pour myself a cup and add a healthy dose of cream and two sugar packets. “It’s been a weird morning.”
The bell on the door tinkles, signaling a new customer. I set my coffee on the counter and turn around.
Standing in a beam of sunlight is the Jeep-driving douche. I didn’t have much of a chance to appreciate his appearance while I was trying not to collide with the side of his vehicle, but he’s hot…and vaguely familiar for reasons I can’t put my finger on.
Now that I can see all of him, it’s hella hard not to admire the view. He’s tall and lean, with dark hair—shaved at the sides, the top long enough to pull back with a hot pink spiral hair tie. His short beard is neatly groomed, and his whiskey-brown eyes are framed with thick lashes the rich girls on the lake pay money for. But it’s the sleeve running the length of his right arm, a vibrant burst of watercolor flowers, that really commands attention. His left arm has more artwork that ends at his elbow. That’s a lot of hours under a needle. On a scale of one to spontaneous orgasm, he’s a bean-flicking dream.
“Oh fuck,” I mutter.
Rose glances from me to the guy. Her eyes light up. “Oh. No way. Is he the douche who almost hit you?”
This is going to get super awkward in a hurry. “Maybe.”
“Oh, this is gonna be awesome. I wish I had popcorn.” She spins to face the hot douche. “BJ. So wild, we were just talking about you.”
My stomach sinks and twists as realization dawns. “Oh my God, you know him?”
“Hey, Rose. Enjoying your summer punishment?” His eyes move over me on a slow, assessing sweep.
“It just got a million times better.” She slings her arm over my shoulder, which must be awkward for her, since she’s a good four inches shorter than me. “I’d like to introduce you to Winter, who you apparently tried to run over this morning.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say he tried to run me over.” Why am I defending this guy? “He just failed to obey basic traffic laws, and I nearly launched myself through his driver’s side window.” Ah, there’s my barbed tongue.
One side of his mouth quirks up in an annoyingly attractive half-smile. “Your reaction time is a turn-on.”
Rose throws her head back and laughs. “Oh, this is magic.”
I cross my arms, determined not to be affected by the pretty. “Almost taking out a woman with your custom-paint-job Jeep turns you on?”
“Not in the slightest. The fact that you had to have been going twenty-five miles an hour, managed to stop without going over your handlebars, and still gave me shit for not paying attention to the road is a turn-on.” He rubs his bottom lip with his thumb. “And I did stop to see if you were okay, but you seemed to be in a hurry.”
“I didn’t want to be late for work.”
“This is like watching verbal foreplay, and I’m here for it.” Rose hops up on the counter and crosses her legs.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“You are totally not fine.” Rose jumps down and spins me around. My braid whips out and slaps her arm. “Look at this!” I assume she’s pointing at the road rash, which happens to be located just below where my shorts end.
BJ sucks in a breath.
“And that’s not even the worst of it!” Rose declares.
I turn around. “I’m really fine. It looks worse than it is.”
“That’s not going to feel good when you’re on the ice later,” he murmurs.
I frown. “How do you know I’m going to be on the ice later?”
“You had a hockey bag strapped to your bike.”
“Right. Yeah.” Logic implies that his assumption is accurate, but my hockey bag is currently full of dirty clothes I’m taking to the laundromat after my shift. “A couple of scrapes will hardly slow me down.”
A full smile spreads across his face, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, all it does is make him hotter. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
“Oh. Oh yes. I know what’s coming! This is so happening.” Rose claps enthusiastically.
I give her a look. She’s a weird one for sure. She just grins and moves over to the fritter fryer to drop a few in the oil, making it hiss and bubble.
“There’s a free skate at the arena tonight,” BJ says.
I frown. “The new one or the old one?” It’s been around several years, but locals still call it the new arena to differentiate it from the one built more than fifty years ago.
“The new one.”
“I didn’t see it posted.” I always keep tabs on the free skates. They advertise them at the local library on the community board. I was there yesterday, and the next one isn’t supposed to be until tomorrow, but I’ll be working so I can’t make it.
“We have the ice from seven to nine.”
Rose siphons out the fritters and drops them into the cinnamon-sugar bowl, coating them before she puts them in a paper-lined box.
Two hours of free ice time is a dream. And the new arena is amazing. “I’m supposed to play pick-up at the old arena later.”
“Might be tough with one skate,” BJ says.
“What?” Rose passes me the box of fritters, and I hand them to BJ.
He drops a ten-dollar bill on the counter and steps back.
“I think you might have lost one of yours. You should check your bag, make sure you have both.” He moves toward the entrance. “If you’re missing one, you know where you can find it. Hopefully I’ll see you later tonight. Rink three. Seven o’clock.”
“Wait, what?” I don’t even know what’s happening.
He pushes through the door. “It was nice to meet you, Winter. I’m sorry about earlier.”
I hold up the ten. A six-pack costs eight bucks. “What about your change?”
“It’s cool. Keep it.”
The door closes, and I watch him pass the front window and hop into his Jeep. I’m still stunned. “What the hell just happened?”
“BJ happened.” Rose sips her coffee.
“I need to check something.” I rush to the back room to look in my hockey bag. If I had enough time, I’d planned to get my skates sharpened this afternoon. I rummage through the contents and come up with only one skate. He was telling the truth.
I return to the front of the store, where Rose is back to looking at her phone.
“I think he might be holding my skate hostage.”
She pockets her phone. “Seems like something BJ would do. I can probably get it back for you if you don’t want to come to free skate, but I’m going, and it’s loads of fun. Half the time they use the first hour for a free skate, and if there are enough players, they have a game of pick-up after.”
“Really?” An hour of ice time and a game of pick-up for free. At the new arena.
Rose’s eyes are lit up like a kid at Christmas. “You’re coming, aren’t you?”
“Maybe.” It’s an opportunity I’m not sure I want to pass up. “What’s BJ’s deal? How do you know each other?”
She gives me a curious look. “Our families have been friends my whole life. He’s a relentless flirt, but a good guy.”
“So take all the nonsense about me being the woman of his dreams with a bucket of salt?” I mutter.
Rose shrugs. “Hard to say. BJ isn’t the type to throw around words if they don’t mean anything.”
The bell over the door tinkles again, and a group of summer teens comes in. It gets busy after that, so I don’t have a whole lot of opportunity to ask Rose questions. I’m too focused on making fritters. It stays steady all the way through until the end of her shift at noon. We exchange phone numbers before she leaves, and she offers to pick me up if I’m serious about coming to this free skate.
I’m still on the fence as to whether it’s a good idea, but I’m leaning toward going. Free is hard to pass up.