Here’s your free short story – it features characters from my novel Strictly on Ice. Enjoy!
Anna headed on to the ice. The studio’s rink normally shimmered with multicoloured spotlights and echoed with the whoops of an excitable audience, but this morning the ice was silent and hers alone. A few people scurried in the shadows, busy with their tasks to prepare for the next live show, but no one glanced her way.
Anna still couldn’t believe it was her fifth season of Sport Star to Skate Star. The past five years had been filled with drama, fun, injuries, and the occasional moment of glory, and she had loved all of it. As she readied herself for her warm-up, she caught a glimpse of her fellow pro-skater, Glenn. The dashing Canadian was heading towards the exit, an arm around his sport star skating partner, Yasmine. They paused to share a kiss, and when Glenn looked up he caught Anna’s eye, flashing her a cheeky grin as he realised that he and Yasmine had been seen. Anna winked at him with a quiet chuckle. Their secret was safe with her.
It wasn’t unusual for the pairs on the show to get together – sometimes secretly, sometimes briefly, and sometimes for the long haul. Anna had been single for six years and in her heart she always hoped to skate with someone she had real chemistry with, dreaming that perhaps the next love match might be hers. But it never was. The first year she was partnered with 65-year-old Rory Henderson. The next season was with skier Joseph Moore, who was gay. Then boxer David Knox, who was happily married. Last year was a total disaster, when she had been paired with the most obnoxious person she had ever met, footballer Kieron Hadley, who was voted out in the first week. She didn’t have high hopes for this year either. Leo Gawthrope was lovely, but the basketball player was only 19 and acted far younger. She had some good years on the show, even won a few times, but never walked away with the prize she craved – someone to share her life with.
Anna sighed and put her wireless headphones in her ears. She began skating to the music, losing herself in the moves, forgetting about her non-existent love life. She didn’t notice a shimmer of grey smoke that seeped into the air and veiled the glittering disco balls that hung above the rink. She didn’t hear the fire alarm over her music, and she didn’t see the people hurrying towards the exit.
She was floating around the ice joyfully, lost in wistful daydreams of a love match on the show, when a pair of muscular arms wrapped around her waist.
“Hey!” she shrieked indignantly, yanking out an ear bud and wriggling free. She spun round and was shocked to see a fireman gesticulating at her wildly.
“Are you deaf?! Can’t you hear the fire alarm?” he shouted.
She gasped as she finally heard the alarm resounding through the studio, and saw the fog of smoke that shrouded the studio lights.
“Come with me!” He grabbed her and began dragging her to the exit.
As they reached the edge of the rink she bent down to fiddle with her boots. “My skates!”
The fireman didn’t wait for her fumbling fingers to loosen the carefully knotted laces. He scooped her up and carried her with all the grace of a sack of potatoes, slung over his shoulder, while she gritted her teeth at the indignity of being carted out of the building in such a way.
The cold air outside the studio hit her with a chilling blast and her rescuer set her down. She stooped down to remove her skates and shivered as the bitter air permeated her workout gear and her socks.
“Here, you must be freezing,” the fireman said, his gruffness gone now that they were out of danger. He removed his large tan-coloured fireman coat and draped it over her shoulders where it enveloped her, heavy and warm. Anna snuggled into it gratefully.
“What’s happening?” she asked him.
“We’re just finding out now. It doesn’t look too serious, but we’ve got to make sure everyone is safe.” He pulled off his helmet, revealing thick, dark hair that was slightly ruffled, and Anna couldn’t help but notice his eyes, grey like the smoke they had just escaped, and gleaming even in the dim winter light.
“You look so familiar!” she exclaimed, and studied his features, trying to work out who he reminded her of. “Are you Rory Henderson’s son?” she gasped, as she realised who he resembled.
The fireman grinned. “That’s me, Liam Henderson.” He reached out and shook Anna’s hand. “It was brilliant watching you teach my dad to skate a few years ago. I’m sorry I never made it to the live shows to cheer him on, but I work shifts so I could never make it.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Anna said warmly. Rory had often talked about his son, with great pride, and it was nice to put a face to the name. Especially such a handsome face, she thought, studying his features from under her eyelashes.
“So, how are things going with Leo?” he asked.
She looked at with surprise. “Leo is lovely. I guess you still watch the show then?”
“I watch it every year, just to see you really.” He looked at the ground, stubbing the tarmac with the toe of his boot. “I always cheer you on to win.”
She bit her lip with pleasure at the compliment and at the sweet, sheepish smile he gave her. “Thanks.”
Liam looked over as one of his crew came out of the building, waving his arms.
“Hold on,” he said, walking away swiftly. Anna watched him chat with his colleague and he headed back to her with a grin on his face. “Turns out someone had left a breakfast toastie in the microwave with the foil on,” Liam said, looking amused.
Anna giggled. “Oh no! I hope the microwave is ok.”
Liam chuckled and she liked the husky quality to his voice. “Sadly, I don’t think the toastie survived.”
They laughed together and a few people turned to look at them as they started to filter back into the building. Liam glanced towards the fire engine where his crew were convening. “I better be going,” he said, with a slight sigh.
She nodded, feeling a stab of disappointment that he had to go. “Thanks for saving me from the microwave,” she said.
As he turned to leave, he hesitated, then swung back to her. He spoke quickly, the words rushing out as though he were nervous, his slate-grey eyes flitting from her face to his boots and back again. “Hey, I know you’re really busy with the show, but maybe sometime, when you’re free, you might like to go for dinner? With me, I mean?” he asked, stumbling over his words.
Anna felt a flash of delight at his bashful attempt to ask her out. “I’d love to,” she said, trying to play it cool and not look as pleased as she felt, but she couldn’t keep a happy smile from playing on her lips.
They exchanged numbers and Anna watched Liam walk away, admiring his powerful 6ft 5in physique. As he reached the fire engine he turned back and caught her staring. He grinned at her, and she headed back to the studio with a smile that lingered on her face all day.
Perhaps her chances of finding love through the show weren’t so impossible after all…