A Risk worth Taking
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by Teresa Morgan
Description: Loving Chad Matthews was Nikki Nolan's one great gamble. She lost. Now an accountant, she prefers numbers to a man's empty promises. When John Henderson literally knocks her off her skates, Nikki's anger doesn't stand a chance against his charismatic charm. John Henderson swears he's a changed man. The lure of womanizing that caused an international incident at last year's World Championships is gone. He'll have to prove he's serious, not just to Nikki, but to the entire figure skating community. Then, yet another scandal threatens to destroy their love.
eBook Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc., 2003 Wings ePress
eBookwise Release Date: August 2004
13 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [403 KB]
Reading time: 257-359 min.
"Who is he?" Nikki Nolan tried not to stare at the newcomer. His double Axel traveled easily twice the distance of hers. Nikki stepped onto the ice and pushed off to begin her warm-up. Ice so-so; a little hard for her liking. Her skates needed sharpening.
Suzanne waved and shook her finger. "You're late," she called from her position in the hockey box. "I was getting worried."
Nikki sent her a sheepish look and hoped the antacids she'd taken would cool the fire burning holes in her stomach. "Only seven minutes."
"So let me know, next time."
Nikki swooped around and went to deposit her skate bag and water bottle in the hockey box. "I'm a big girl, Suzanne."
"Haven't you heard? There's a sicko on the loose! Some poor woman was murdered last night. And she lived just a mile from your condo."
Nikki executed an instant hockey stop and turned back to Suzanne. "I--I didn't know. I haven't read a newspaper or listened to the news in three days."
Suzanne frowned. "You're working too much overtime."
Nikki pushed off to begin her warm up and looked up as the stranger passed, then lapped her in a matter of seconds. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him. The man moved like the Concorde. Before you knew he was coming, he was gone, leaving a whoosh of air behind him strong enough to knock you off your skates. Clad in a white T-shirt and black Lycra cycling pants, the development of his arms, chest, and thighs betrayed long hours of hard work on the ice and in the weight room. Who is he?
Nikki had just finished warming up when Wendy and Amanda--two seventh-graders--caught her watching the newcomer and dissolved into giggles. Nikki shrugged and began testing her legs on double jumps. Then, she worked a few fast spins.
She skated to the other end of the rink to give herself time for the dizziness to fade. Nikki watched as the newcomer set up a triple flip into the far corner. I should know him, she thought as he added an effortless triple toe loop to the end of the flip.
A few minutes later, he stopped for a swallow of water. As Nikki approached his position at the boards, he looked up and smiled. A few inches too short to be considered tall, dark and handsome, he wasn't quite drop-dead gorgeous, but he came close.
Then, he winked.
And well he knew it, too. Nikki flushed and added speed so she could work her favorite combination. Triple loop, double loop. Today it was perfect. Years ago, she'd landed the triple loop-triple loop combination. Unfortunately, that time was no more and probably never would be again. For today, she was satisfied. Her next goal would be to reclaim her nemesis, the triple flip. She paused at the boards for a few swallows of water.
Suzanne joined her, then grimaced as the stranger landed a triple Lutz, fell full length, and slid across the ice. "He told me he just had his blades sharpened." Suzanne said.
Who is he? Nikki didn't want to ask. Who among their top-ranked skaters would be crazy enough to test newly sharpened blades with triple jumps?
"We haven't had anyone of his level around this rink since Chad." Suzanne turned and cued the music for Amanda's run-through.
At the mention of Chad's name, Nikki's gaze strayed to the banner that hung at the opposite end of the rink: Home of Chad Matthews, World Silver Medalist. What she didn't need was close proximity to another world-class skater. Never again. It'd taken her years to get over the first one.
When her cell phone rang, Nikki groaned.
Suzanne grimaced. "Can't they leave you alone for more than half an hour at a time?"
Nikki stepped into the hockey box and pulled her cell phone out of her skate bag.
Winston Smith's nasal whine grated on her nerves. "Nikki, we have deadlines. Frank expects everything to be ready first thing tomorrow morning."
Her stomach burned again. "Everything will be ready. Now get off my back."
"If Connie needs something, she'll call. I'm skating, Winston."
The newcomer's footwork sequence moved like lightening down the length of the ice. His feet weren't just happy, they were delirious with joy.
"You have responsibilities, Nikki. Things that won't wait."
She forced her attention back to Winston's irritating whine. The man had roots in the deep South. Once she'd sat in the office next to his and listened to him speak of his home in Charleston, South Carolina. His eloquent description of the area, its history and culture, had brought tears to her eyes. His tones had been lyrical, almost melodic. Nikki smiled. He'd spoken about the battle of Fort Sumter as though he'd been one of those soldiers and endured the hardships. Now, his voice made her cringe.
"The only thing that won't wait, Winston, is you. My areas of responsibility are under control. Now, go away."
"Don't you hang up on me, girl--"
Nikki hung up on him and buried the phone in the bottom of her skate bag beneath a sweaty towel.
"You're working too hard, Nikki," Suzanne said. "How's your stomach?"
Staring down, Nikki dug at the ice's edge with her toe pick. "Cranky. The boss issued more reduction in force notices last week. A few more of our most gifted scientists have already left. Winston's assistant, too. Winston seems to have taken it as a personal insult to his importance."
Suzanne made a face. "I'll bet you even dream about that mess at work."
Nikki massaged her neck. She did. Now, without Winston's assistant, her workload could only increase. How much longer could she stand it? Her stomach burned constantly. In another few weeks, she'd have a full-fledged bleeding ulcer. She knew. She'd had them before.
Every week, the pressure increased. Do more, faster, with fewer dollars and fewer people. The Foundation was understaffed and underbudgeted, already. If another of the government or private grants that funded their medical research lapsed, dozens of people would be out of jobs. Their research into spinal cord regeneration would grind to a halt.
Only she, her boss, and their top scientists knew they were too close to a major breakthrough to stop now. It was possible that within a year they'd be able to give victims of paralysis real hope.