Just a taste of “Rekindled”

Just a taste of “Rekindled”

Just in time for the start of baseball season…

Rekindled

Chapter One

Gemma Norwood shivered in her sweatshirt and glanced at the lake. The winter wind whipped blasts of icy cold air in stinging, tingling shots. Four years of living in Los Angeles had softened her tolerance of the harsh New York winter in the Catskill Mountains. Snow-dusted pine trees and calm waters set up a picture-perfect backdrop to the excited chatter and colorful bathing suits of the dozens and dozens of people milling around the embankment.

Beside her, Jocelyn pointed a gloved finger to the snow covering parts of the ground and gave an exaggerated shiver. “What idiot decided that jumping into a lake at the end of January would be a smart idea?”

“Well, actually, you did.” She laughed and dodged her best friend’s swat. The foreign laugh was something she hadn’t experienced in a long time. Life wasn’t funny while a career, and a dream, floundered like a fish suffocating on dry land. Twenty-four hours ago, she’d stood staring at palm trees, wondering if she’d ever see the West Coast again. Hopefully, a dip in the nearly frozen water would shock an answer into her system.

Murmuring about hypothermia and frostbitten toes, Jocelyn stamped her fur-lined boots against the ground. “My dad and brother decided this would be a good thing. If it were up to me, we’d hold a bake sale instead.”

Gemma sidestepped two little girls twirling in circles, giggling over the chance to wear their bathing suits in the middle of winter. “Your charity will raise a lot of money this way.”

“I’m thrilled about that part, but I’ll leave the jumping in the lake part to you crazy people. I’ll stick with my duties of organizing the event, helping out with pre-plunge participant check-in, and handing out hot drinks at the refreshment stand after the plunge.”

“I’m happy to help you pass out the hot chocolate.”

Amid banners promoting Hudson Contractors’ Caring Home Repair Fund, people were jumping around in creative attempts to keep warm. But there weren’t any signs of Mr. Hudson or his first-born son.

“Are your dad and brother here?” Straining to keep her voice casual, she peeled her sweatshirt over her head. Goosebumps seemed to pop out on top of goosebumps. The warm temperatures of L.A. had never seemed so far away.

“Dad’s probably checking to see if the mic’s working for his speech. He’s bummed about not jumping in the water this year. The cold weather is too hard on him.” Jocelyn’s smile dimmed. “Ever since his heart attack, he just doesn’t have the same stamina.”

The heart attack and triple bypass surgery that followed had taken a toll on Jocelyn’s entire family. Gemma squeezed her hand. From three thousand miles away, she hadn’t been able to offer more than prayers and a sympathetic ear. “What about your brother?”

In the whirlwind rush of packing her bags and arranging for the dog’s travel and flying home to Hunter’s Peak, she deliberately hadn’t asked Jocelyn about Adam, preferring to put off the conversation for as long as possible. A decision she now regretted. If he showed up, she’d have to rely on her acting skills to help her get through the encounter.

“Adam is supposed to be here but I don’t see him. You know, I just realized something. The first time we held the plunge was the first time you two met.” Jocelyn’s voice took on the extra-cheerful tone she always used when talking to Gemma about Adam. Being her ex-boyfriend’s sister could have meant an awkward end to their friendship, but Jocelyn seemed just as determined as Gemma to maintain their relationship. And when she occasionally hinted at trying to get them back together, Gemma ignored her and changed the subject.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m doing this for me. Not anyone else.” Her hands shook as she shimmied out of her yoga pants. She dreaded seeing Adam now that she’d reached her lowest point. Her stomach clenched, and she searched the crowd. No sign of him. A deep breath eased her nerves.

Jocelyn glanced at her and shivered. “This isn’t exactly the welcome home I’d choose, but to each her own.”

She needed to do it. Maybe it was stupid. Maybe she would regret it. But maybe, just maybe, she’d get her wish and figure out what to do next.

She handed the shirt and pants to Jocelyn, and they slowly shuffled into the crowd of people waiting for the Polar Plunge to begin.

“Do you think someone will recognize you and ask for an autograph?” Cradling the clothes and a few towels, Jocelyn tugged her hat tighter onto her head.

“I doubt it.” Four years of landing bit parts in B-movies didn’t translate into a large fan base. Heck, it hardly translated into any fan base. And while four years of catering countless parties had improved her culinary skills and paid the bills, it didn’t guarantee loyalty.

Frosty chaos? Yeah, that was her life for the past three days. A job lost. A rejection from the last production company she could find. Both had dumped a bucket of icy water onto her acting dream and thrown her into a tailspin. Admitting her exhaustion, frustration, and fear to her parents resulted in a plane ticket home. They didn’t care if she had her name in bright lights, but she sure did.

Jocelyn’s dad, wearing a Hudson Contractors jacket, stepped onto a wooden platform on the shore. The crowd’s noise lowered to murmurs as he gave a speech about the charity. When he finished, Jocelyn nudged Gemma’s arm. “I’ll wait for you by the fence near the parking lot. Don’t turn into an icicle out there.”

An air horn’s wail blared. The crowd surged and swept Gemma to the water’s edge. She forged ahead, splashing into the lake. Frigid water slapped her skin. Some enterprising soul dove into the water headfirst. His belly flop sent a swell of water over Gemma’s chest and chin.

Sucking in a breath, she stiffened her muscles. She had known it would be cold, but she wasn’t prepared for the frigid temperature. She should have been. She’d done this before. But back then, she’d had Adam’s hand to hold. And being in love with him made the entire world seem warmer, safer, more comfortable.

But that ended when he boarded a plane bound for major-league baseball in Northern California and left her behind.

Teeth chattering, body shaking, she fought the bone-numbing chill seizing her system. The stark cold was a sharp reminder of her lonely reality. All around her, people grabbed onto each other. Shrieks and screams accompanied laughter. Someone shouted an idea to swim across the lake. The couple next to her shook their heads and headed back to shore. Chill turned to an ache. Her toes hurt, her legs hurt, but she kept moving, determined to stay in the water just a little longer.

When the water level reached her chest, she turned back. Her foot slipped on a rock, and she pitched forward. Water rose up to meet her and closed over her head. It flowed into her nose and into her mouth. The shock of cold seized her muscles. She sank further. Heart pounding, she kicked out and felt for the lake floor. She pushed up and broke the surface, sputtering and coughing.

A large hand curled around her elbow. “Are you all right?”

The rough gravel of his voice, sharp and sexy, pumped fresh adrenaline into her system. Continuing to cough, she regained her balance and looked up the muscled torso and into the face of Adam Hudson. His firm mouth, straight nose, and intense brown eyes were just as she’d remembered.

The small scar running through his left eyebrow hadn’t been there before. He’d earned the mark eight months ago, but not being a part of his life meant she didn’t have the right to check up on him.

News of Adam Hudson, starting pitcher for the Sacramento Storm, getting hit by a line-drive that fractured his skull, had made national news and scared her enough to drive six hours up I-5 North to see him for herself. Heavily medicated, he hadn’t known she was there. And the cool blonde who slipped into the room when Gemma stepped out, solidified the notion that Adam had moved on. In the months that followed, the only way she’d been able to keep informed of his recovery had been phone calls with Jocelyn or scouring sports news sites.

His brows lifted, and his fingers loosened and then tightened their hold. “Gemma.”

The surprise in his voice cut through her discomfort. They stood in the crowded water, staring at each other. A rush of memories crashed into her like a tidal wave. Emotions jumbled together—longing, regret, wanting, need.

“Are you hurt?” He stooped, and his gaze searched her face. His other hand gently tapped against her back.

“I’m okay.” She stammered through trembling lips and coughed a few more times. Why did he have to find her at such a disadvantage? So much for her plan to appear cool and collected if they met.

“What are you doing here?”

“F-f-f-freezing.” Attempting a smile was difficult when frozen cheeks and frozen lips wouldn’t cooperate.

Something passed over Adam’s features, too quickly for her to name it. “Your lips are blue. Come on, mermaid, time to get out of the water.” His hand gripped hers, and he led her through the crowded water to the shore.

Feet like blocks of ice couldn’t feel the lake floor. She curled her hand more securely in his and followed his lead, saying a silent prayer that she wouldn’t slip under again.

When they reached dry land, his grip remained firm around her fingers. “Where’s your towel?”

“Jocelyn’s holding my stuff.” Her arms trembled. Shaking fingers formed fists in a useless attempt to keep warm. “She was supposed to wait for me by the fence, but I don’t see her.”

People darted around them, scrambling into dry clothes while a few brave souls ventured back into the icy waters. She pulled her arms in close to her body. She’d forgotten how painful the cold could be.

“You can use mine. Come on.” He pulled her through the throng and over to a grassy patch of land spotlighted by sunlight. After rummaging in his gym bag, he handed her a towel. “My sister didn’t tell me you were in town.”

“I arrived last night.”

“I thought your parents were in Florida this time of year.”

“They are.”

For a moment, they locked eyes and the chaos and noise surrounding them faded. He didn’t smile, just watched her with a neutral expression. “They usually have someone rent their house when they’re away.”

She nodded and wrapped the towel around her waist. Was he happy to see her? Angry? Anything? “I’m staying with Jocelyn.”

His mouth hardened. “How long are you staying?”

“I haven’t decided.” Clutching the towel tighter, she took a step back and drew in a deep breath to ease the tightness in her chest.

Goosebumps dotted his skin. “Let’s get you dry, and then some hot chocolate. You’ll warm up.”

“What about you? Your lips are blue, too.”

“I’ll be fine.” He rubbed his hand through thick, dark brown hair, dripping rivulets of water down his skin. His response echoed their last conversation, when they’d ended their relationship. If he remembered it, he didn’t let on. Instead, he pulled another towel from his bag and draped it around her shoulders. “I’ll look for my sister. Wait here.”

Gemma watched Adam stride into the crowd and rubbed the towel over her skin. The shock of the water was nothing compared to the shock of seeing him again. In all the ways she imagined they’d meet again, a sputtering half-rescue in an icy lake hadn’t made the list. But he’d been more than civil, he’d been kind. Maybe they could end up being friends.

The hollow feeling in her gut eased but didn’t disappear. Being this close to him again only reinforced how much she’d missed him over the last four years.

She wrapped the towel more securely around her body and stamped her feet and wiggled her toes, willing warmth to return. Workout clothes hung out of his open gym bag. She longed to pull on the socks and sweats.

Within a few minutes, Jocelyn and Adam strode toward her. Heat glittered in Adam’s eyes. A smile beamed across Jocelyn’s face. With a flourish, she held out Gemma’s clothes. “Sorry, I was helping set up the refreshments.”

Gemma tugged her sweatshirt over her torso, then wriggled out of her bikini top. With her towel wrapped around her waist, taking off the bottoms was nearly impossible, but she managed to slip them off and shimmy into her pants and sneakers without giving anyone a glimpse of something they shouldn’t see.

“No coat?” Adam stood in front of her, dressed in sweats and a jacket. His fingers brushed hers when she handed him the towels.

She shrugged and pretended the barb of heat hadn’t jolted her senses. “I gave away a lot of stuff before I moved to L.A. I didn’t anticipate needing a wool coat anymore.”

His gaze fixed on her chest and a muscle in his jaw jumped. “You kept my shirt.”

She glanced at the scarlet logo of his minor league baseball team emblazoned across the fabric. Heat flooded her cheeks. Keeping his sweatshirt after the breakup was one thing, but now he knew that she’d kept it. No way would she mention how many times she’d worn it or slept in it over the last four years. Why, why, why, did she have to wear it today?

What could she say? Before she could open her mouth, Adam unzipped his coat and placed it over her shoulders. She shook her head. “I can’t take your jacket.”

“Wear it. You’re still shivering.” His mouth finally lifted into a half smile. “Don’t fight me, or I’ll sic Jocelyn on you.”

“Just wear it, Gem. Adam’s tolerance of the cold is as tough as his head is hard. Let’s get some hot chocolate. I have to run back to help, so I’ll see you there.” Jocelyn turned away and broke into a jog.

Gemma gripped the coat against her body and turned to Adam. Warmth seeped into her system. “Thanks.”

People swarmed around them. He gestured in the direction his sister had ran. “Let’s get there before they run out.”

Walking side by side brought back a rush of memories of their first meeting at the plunge. She glanced sideways at Adam. Was he thinking about that, too?

Two little boys cut in front of her. She stopped short and Adam’s arm jerked out, blocking her from impact. His arm grazed her shoulder. Barely touching, but she could feel it. His chocolate brown gaze met hers. The spark of electricity that had always crackled between them flared to life so quickly, her breath caught in her lungs.

No. Not now. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Murmuring her thanks, she lowered her gaze and stepped away.

They reached the refreshments. His jacket smelled like him, a familiar mix of soap and cologne. Surrounded by warmth, Gemma gathered her courage. So much needed to be said. When they both had hot chocolate in hand, she faced him. “I’m sorry about your accident.”

He lifted his brow. “Thanks. I survived.”

“I’m glad you’re okay now.”

His eyes hardened, and he stared at the lake. “There’s a difference between surviving and being okay.”

 

Available on Amazon.

Thanks for reading!

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New York State of Mind

New York State of Mind

IheartNY

 

I grew up in Philadelphia but have always had a fascination with New York City. Maybe it’s because of the glamorous and gritty shots of the city in movies and television, (everything from An Affair to Remember, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Serendipity, NYPD Blue, and of course, Sex in the City). Maybe it’s because the first time I bet on a Super Bowl (as a 5-year-old), I picked the New York Giants, and they won. (My winnings? A quarter). It’s the same with my New York Rangers. I’ve loved them from the first time I watched Mark Messier and Mike Richter in a game where they played my other favorite team, my hometown Flyers. Rivals, you say? Rebel, I reply.

So, whenever I have the chance to go exploring in the city, I jump on it.

The architecture is stunning, and the city is teeming with history and culture. You’ll find something interesting everywhere you look. Every time I go, I check out something new, but here are a few of my favorites.

 

The NY Public Library – I love the marble lions guarding outside (named ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude). But the carvings and statues inside are well-worth the trip. You can even get married here.

new-york-public-library-lions

Central Park – 843 acres in the heart of Manhattan. My favorite place for a picnic. And they have a castle.

aerial-view-of-central-park-nyc

 

The Plaza Hotel – Quite a storied-history. Movies have been filmed here, books were written and or set here (F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented the hotel and penned The Great Gatsby), the list of guests and residents is very impressive and ranges from dignitaries to architects.

ThePlazaHotel

 

The Empire State Building – Meeting at the observation deck, on the 86th floor, was a romantic notion in An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle. I’ve done it a few times and once traveled up another sixteen floors to the Top Deck (102nd floor). Talk about a bird’s eye-view!

empirestatebldg

 

Grand Central Terminal – The history of how it evolved is fascinating.

Grand_Central_Station

 

The High Line – A “rails to trails” park, it’s an elevated former New York Central Railroad spur which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan. The park extends from Gansevoort Street in the meat-packing district, through Chelsea, to 34th Street.16-High_Line_Aerial_1

 

I love the museums and exhibits throughout the city. I’m not a foodie at all, so the restaurants are wasted on me. I try to eat pretty health-consciously, and my favorite meal so far has been lunch at a tiny café a few blocks away from Central Park north, a Greek yogurt and fruit parfait, drizzled with a bit of honey, and a cup of strong coffee.

By train or car, the trip from Philly to NYC takes about two hours. That’s nothing compared to some of the road trips I’ve done. Ten hours to Maine? Sure. Seven hours to Buffalo? No problem. Eight hours to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame? Bring it on. Now, that trip is a post for another day…

What are your favorite parts of NYC? Any recommendations on what I should do next?

– Susan