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Authors: Jaci Burton

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BOOK: Melting the Ice
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She liked the hard time part, and as long as they weren’t hitting on her, which they weren’t, she was fine with it.

Actually, they were a great group of guys, all missing their families as much as she missed hers. Most of them had stayed in the city for Thanksgiving because their families lived too far away to visit.

“We’re getting short on gravy,” Carolina said to Lakeesha Divant, the director of the mission.

“I’m on it,” she said. The woman was like a general, shouting orders to some of her staffers.

Carolina had been in awe from the moment they’d walked into the mission this morning. Everything had been set up and ready to go, the food had been prepped the night before, so all they had to do was start serving when they opened the doors. It saddened Carolina to see that even at seven thirty in the morning a line had already formed outside.

People were homeless and hungry, and they knew today would be a good day for a full, hot meal. Of course the mission provided a hot meal every day, but there would be a big crowd on Thanksgiving, and the regulars wanted to be sure to get in line early.

“Here’s a refill on the gravy.” A big burly guy brought the container out.

“Thanks, Jim.” She’d familiarized herself with all the staff this morning, making it a point to get to know everyone who worked there. Some of them were formerly homeless themselves, and now were thrilled to have jobs working at the mission. Lakeesha made them work hard at it, too, and they were all grateful to be earning their keep.

“Just workin’ up an appetite for that great lunch we’re all gonna eat later.”

Carolina grinned. “My stomach is already growling.”

She served for another couple hours, until the crowd began to thin around one thirty.

“Not even one complaint,” Drew said, who’d come up behind her. He’d spent most of his time in the kitchen, so she hadn’t seen much of him other than when he helped Jim with restocking.

She moved out of the way as another of the staff took her place. “Why would I complain?” she asked as she untied and removed her apron and swiped a loose hair from her eyes.

“You worked hard today.”

“It was worth it. Just look at how happy everyone is.”

“Yeah. For some of them, it’s the only meal they’ll eat today.”

She hated thinking that.

“And I’m hungry, so how about we eat?” he asked.

She nodded. “I’ve been smelling that delicious food for hours. I’m ready to grab a plate.”

They did, and found a seat with Lakeesha and a group of older men who made room for them at their table.

“These are our veterans,” Lakeesha said, introducing her and Drew to Ronald, Oscar, Lewis, and Bailey.

“It’s a pleasure to meet all of you,” Carolina said. “Thank you for your service.”

“Ma’am,” Ronald said. “Thanks for serving up the meal today. It’s mighty good.”

“I think you can thank Lakeesha and her staff for all of the work that went into preparing the meal. I just helped serve.”

“But without all of you who give up your Thanksgiving, we’d never be able to do all this,” Lakeesha said with a smile. “And our people would have to wait in even longer lines. So thank you.”

Carolina looked over the men, unable to imagine what they’d been through in their lifetimes. “I can’t think of a finer group to spend Thanksgiving with.”

“Me, too,” Drew said, then asked them all when and where they served. The men launched into a discussion of their military service, and while Carolina ate, they fascinated her with war stories, some from Vietnam, some from the Gulf. She noted they avoided anything unpleasant, preferring instead to share positive, fun stories about brotherhood and good times shared.

She didn’t blame them. She was sure there was plenty of unpleasantness that stayed with them at all times. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be living on the street. Today was a day to share happiness and fond memories, and she was delighted to be part of it.

After a while the men, and Lakeesha, wandered off, leaving just her and Drew at the table.

“Where are the other guys?” she asked, looking around.

“They took off. They ate during an earlier shift and they’re going to congregate at Avery’s place to watch football.”

She arched a brow. “And you didn’t go with them? I thought that was a guy thing to do on Thanksgiving Day.”

“I brought you here. I’ll see you home.”

Again with the acting like a gentleman thing. She didn’t know what to make of him. “You didn’t have to do that. I can make my own way back home.”

“I’d never abandon you like that, Carolina.” At her look, he said, “Not this time.”

“No, really. Feel free to abandon me. I’m fine with it.”

He gave her a look, then a sly smile. “Not a chance.”

“You know I have to work today.”

“I thought we’d hang out.”

He really was relentless. “I said I’d help out here at the mission today. Now I’m going home to work.”

“Today’s a day to relax and have some fun.”

She rolled her eyes and stood, then walked away from him. He’d taken up her entire evening earlier in the week, setting her behind on her deadlines. She’d given up going home for the holiday so she could catch up. No way she’d allow him to monopolize her entire day.

If she wasn’t going to be with her family, she was going to get some work done, not play around with Drew.

After she said good-bye to Lakeesha and her staff, she walked outside. Drew had once again picked her up this morning in a private car, claiming a taxi on Thanksgiving Day would be nearly impossible. The car was still waiting for them.

“I can’t believe you made the driver wait,” she said as she slipped inside.

“I didn’t make him wait. He came inside and had turkey dinner. Didn’t you see him?”

Actually, she hadn’t, but then again she’d been busy all morning.

She leaned back, tired and feeling more like she needed a nap. She wasn’t sure how she was going to get through the afternoon.

Her eyelids had actually started to drift closed when the car came to an abrupt stop. Jerking her eyes open, she realized they weren’t anywhere near her apartment.

“This is Rockefeller Center.”

He grinned. “Yeah. Thought we’d do something fun before I dropped you off. You did work hard this morning.”

“No, I need to work hard this afternoon.”

The driver opened the door and Drew stepped out, holding out his hand. “Plenty of time for that.”

“You go have fun. I’ll go home and work.”

“Carolina. Come on. An hour. Then I’ll take you back home.”

“Drew. Absolutely not. I have things to do.”

“But it’s Thanksgiving.”

“I don’t care if it’s the end of the world. I have a deadline.”

He shook his head. “You really need to set some parameters and take some downtime.”

“Good-bye, Drew.” She reached for the door handle.

He squatted down in front of the car door, giving her an incredible view of his amazing thighs encased in denim. Strong and muscled, just like the rest of him.

“Would it help if I told you that this detour is at your mom’s suggestion?”

She paused. “What?”

“Gray and I talked last night, and when he found out I hadn’t gone home for Thanksgiving, and that you were going to serve meals for the homeless with me, he said he was grateful you weren’t going to be alone for the holiday. I guess your mother was nearby, because she got on the phone with me after that.”

Carolina would believe that. “And she said what?”

“She asked me if I wouldn’t mind forcing you to go out and have some fun today, and I quote, ‘instead of letting her imprison herself in her apartment for the duration of the holiday.’”

That did sound like her mother. “She worries too much. I love my work.”

“I’m sure you do. But the thing is, I promised her I would. And you know how formidable your mom can be. You don’t really want me to tell her I let her down, do you?”

Carolina frowned. “That sounds an awful lot like blackmail, Drew.”

“It does, doesn’t it? So let’s go.” He took her hand and pulled her out of the car.

As they walked along, she looked up at him. “This is why you’re not with your friends watching football.”


“Because of some sense of obligation you feel toward my brother and my mother.”

“Oh. No, that’s not it.”

“I can assure you, Drew, that you don’t have to feel obligated. I’d even lie.”

He stopped and turned to her. “You’d lie to your own mother?”

“To make this deadline? Yes. So we can go back to the car now, and your conscience would be clear. You can hang out with your friends, and I’ll go to work.”

She pivoted, but Drew grasped her arm. “Not so fast.”

She wanted to scream out her frustration. “What? Surely you haven’t suddenly dredged up some long-lost Boy Scout sense of honor, have you?”

“No. But I did promise your mother. And besides, I agree with her. Gray and your mom both told me you’ve been working nonstop on launching your line for the past two years, even before you quit working for whatever-his-name-is designer.”

“David Faber.”

“Yeah, him. So is that true?”

She stopped, enjoying the feel of warm sunshine on her face, despite the chilly day. “Mostly.”

“That probably explains why you’re so cranky.”

Her jaw dropped. “I’m cranky?”

“Sure you are. Because you’re working all the time and you don’t remember how to go out and have fun.”

She wanted to kick him right in the balls. “I know how to have fun. I have fun all the time.”

He led her up the stairs. “Yeah? What was the last fun thing you did?”

“I . . .” She stopped and thought. “I shopped for fabric.”

He shook his head. “That’s work-related. Something not related to your job. When was the last time you went to a club, or a movie, or to a friend’s party? Or went out on a date.”

She opened her mouth to give him an answer, then realized one didn’t immediately come to mind. Okay, so she had been focusing a lot on work. But that was by choice, and sacrifices had to be made when the prize was her own fashion line. “I can’t remember.”

“Uh-huh. That’s what I thought. And that’s why you’re cranky. You probably haven’t gotten laid in at least a year.”

She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation with him. Besides, it was more like a year and a half, but she was not admitting that, especially not to Drew, the hot stud who probably got laid four times a week. “That’s so not true.”

He gave her a wry grin that spoke volumes about how he didn’t believe her.

Damn him.

She thought they were going to stop at a bistro for some coffee and conversation, so when he took her to the ice rink, she stopped and tugged her hand from his.

“Oh, I don’t think so.”

“Why not? It’ll be fun.”

“Yeah, for you. You skate for a living. I haven’t skated in a very long time.”

“Come on. It’s like riding a bike. You never forget how.”

“Wanna bet?”

“You’re chicken.”

“I’m also not twelve. That ploy isn’t going to work on me, Drew.”

“Fine. You hang here. I’ll skate.”

Oh, sure. And he’d be mobbed by all the attractive women currently skating on the rink, and it would be college all over again.

No way.

“Okay, I’ll do this. But no laughing when I fall on my ass.”

“I don’t intend to let you fall on your ass.”

She followed him inside and they rented skates. The teenager working the counter recognized Drew immediately.

“You’re Drew Hogan from the Travelers.”

Drew gave the kid a wide smile. “I am.” Drew looked at the kid’s name tag. “And you’re Justin.”

Justin grinned. “So cool. And you’re going to skate here?”

“I am.” Drew paid and Justin reverently handed over the skates to Drew like they were a prized trophy.

Carolina rolled her eyes.

They headed to a locker and she took off her boots, grateful that she’d worn jeans today. Maybe they’d cushion her fall.

The walk on the carpeted area seemed easy enough, but she hadn’t been lying to Drew when she’d told him it had been a really long time since she’d skated.

He took her hand and led her to the entrance of the rink.

“So how long has it been?”

She tried to recall the last time. She’d gone with a group of friends to a park rink. “Three years, maybe?”

“Not that long.”

She slanted him a look. “An eternity.”

He laughed. “We’ll start out slow.”

He stepped out onto the ice first, then flipped around and held his hands out.

She hesitated.

“I promise I won’t let you fall, Carolina.”

She was being ridiculous and she knew it. As she surveyed the rather thick crowd of skaters, several people slipped and fell, then laughed, got up, and tried again.

She had no idea why she was being such a baby about this.

Maybe because she’d humiliated herself once in front of Drew by getting drunk and throwing herself at him.

The ice was his home. This was where he was the most comfortable. The last thing she wanted to do was appear to be a novice.

Which she absolutely was.

She should have just stayed in the damn car.

Instead, she gripped his hands and took a tentative slide onto the ice. Her ankles wobbled and she fought for balance.

Drew was right there, wrapping his arm around her to hold her upright. “Take a deep breath and relax. I’ve got you. You’re not gonna fall. Just listen to the sound of my voice.”

Still holding on to her, he moved in front of her and tipped her chin up. “Don’t look down at your skates. That’ll screw up your balance. Look straight ahead. And don’t forget, there’s no way you’ll fall, as long as I’m holding you, so just enjoy this, okay?”

He finished off with a confident smile. She nodded. “Okay.”

“Then let’s skate.”

His calm assurance helped her focus. He moved beside her, his arm securely wrapped around her as he slowly skated forward while she tried to remember how to skate instead of walk.

In the beginning, Drew mainly dragged her along, but she realized she was never going to get proficient at this if she didn’t at least try, so she moved her skates forward, and it all started coming back to her. It helped that Drew had a strong hold on her.

BOOK: Melting the Ice
7.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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