Pulling off my ice skates, I glare at Garrick.
“There’s no time to waste,” Garrick splutters. “You need to get back on the ice.”
“I’ve been skating for hours. I’m tired and I have plans with my sister.”
“Damn it, Ember! Don’t you want to win?” He runs a hand through his hair in frustration. I’m always annoying my coach. It doesn’t take much. “Just because you’re the world champion, you think you can slow down?”
“No. Of course not. But—”
“But nothing. You either want to win or you don’t.”
“Garrick,” I try for patience, “my entire body hurts. I’ve been skating since six this morning.”
“Besides, I promised Aithne that I’d give her a tour of the brewery.”
“What does she want to do that for?” Garrick asks in disbelief. “She can’t even drink.”
He has a point. My heavily pregnant sister can’t enjoy the benefits of visiting the Silver Steins Brewery. But she and her mate Angelos seem quite keen to take a look around. Not to mention, Celio, my new mate, also wants a tour. He seems quite interested in my other three mates’ work at the brewery.
Not really knowing how to answer Garrick’s question, I just shrug my shoulders.
“You haven’t been spending anywhere near enough time on the ice, ever since—”
“Garrick, enough.” I refuse to let him finish that sentence. I won’t allow him to blame Celio, my newest mate, for my supposed distraction. Not that I think I’ve been especially distracted. Well… Not that distracted.
I’ve skated almost every day since meeting Celio. Nothing has changed. Well… At least not on the ice.
My life has been completely turned upside down, but on the ice, everything has stayed exactly the same.
“You’re unfocused. Distracted. You obviously don't want to be here. And it shows in your skating.”
He’s right. Though I’m loathed to admit it.
It’s getting harder to dedicate so much time and energy to skating when I really just want to stay in my bed with my four mates. All day. All night. Of course, logically, I know it’s not really possible. Life doesn’t stop just because you’re horny.
Although I’m not just horny. The way I crave my mates is more than just desire. It’s more consuming than infatuation. Stronger than the compulsion of the strongest love spell or potion. More important than my need to eat or drink. More essential than the air I breathe.
It’s next to impossible to concentrate on anything else. Even the things I love most. Even skating which, until not that long ago, I’d have described as a lifelong obsession.
“I’m sorry that I’ve been distracted,” I mutter as I sit down to take off my skates.
“You have a competition in two days. Have you forgotten?” His arms are folded across his chest as he peers down at me, his expression stern.
My temper flares and I feel my palms heating up, my kitsune fire coursing throughout my body, just waiting to be unleashed.
“Of course, I haven’t forgotten.” I want to remind him that it’s just a small competition. It’s not exactly the Winter Olympics or the World Championships. Just a local competition, but that won’t go down well. He’ll be furious. Every competition is a big competition for Garrick. You have to treat it that way if you want to win.
Instead, I try to reassure him. “I’ll be back first thing tomorrow morning, and I promise to take it more seriously. You’re right. I’ve been unfocused. I’ll fix it.”
With a sigh, he says, “You better.”
For a second, I actually think he’s finished and I feel myself relax slightly but then he continues, “You are the best skater I’ve ever worked with, but even the best can end their career prematurely if they don’t respect the ice. If they don’t put in the time required.”
“I’ll do better.”
Garrick nods his head. “Perhaps I should just start training Avery.”
I laugh softly. “She’d like that. But she’s still too young.”
“She could never be too young if she’s serious about wanting to skate.”
“I think she is.”
“She wants to be just like her new mom.” He gives me a blinding smile and I remember why I love my coach so much. He pushes me, often to the point of exhaustion, but he always has my best interests at heart. He wants me to win, but more than that, he wants me to reach my own potential.
“She’ll be a superb figure skater. She’s got better balance than I had at twice her age.”
“She’s a natural,” Garrick agrees as I pack away my skates. “Six tomorrow morning, Ember. No excuses.”
“Absolutely. I’ll see you then.” I give him a quick hug before flinging my bag onto my shoulder and heading out towards my car without so much as a backward glance at the ice rink.
Town is surprisingly quiet as I drive home. It’s already getting dark, the sun dropping below the line of buildings on Main Street. I really don’t know what Garrick was complaining about. I’ve spent the whole day on the rink. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to want to spend the evening with my family.
It hasn’t even been a month since I first met Celio. And even though it didn’t take five minutes for Celio to find a place in my little family and my bed, it’s still all very new. A honeymoon phase, I suppose.
And as if that isn’t enough reason to be distracted. Celio’s brother, Angelos, just so happens to be mated to my long-lost sister, Aithne. Until a month ago, I didn’t even know that I had a sister.
Is it really so unreasonable to want to spend a little time with her? I understand Garrick. I know that he only wants me to succeed, but I’m beginning to think there might be more important things in this world than ice skating. Not that I’d say that out loud. It’s utter sacrilege.
As I park, I notice my sister’s car across the lot and can’t resist smiling. When I first met Aithne, I had been hesitant to get too close to her. Before meeting the Sterling brothers, I’d never known what it was like to have a family and so increasing the size of that family had been a terrifying prospect.
But it had proved impossible to keep my distance from her. Or, to be more precise, my sister would make an amazing stalker. She’d popped round for breakfast, invited herself to join us for dinner and practically hounded me at the ice rink until I was used to having her around.
It didn’t matter how much I tried to push her away; she seemed to just hold on tighter.
Letting myself into the house, I was unsurprised when a small human thrust herself into my arms. “MOMMY!”
Kissing Avery’s head, I lift her into my weary arms. My body aches all over, but I do my best to ignore the pain and focus on the warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart. I love being Avery’s mom.
“Daddy says I have to spend the night at Granny’s house,” she grumbles.
“I thought you liked staying at Granny and Granddad’s house.” I give her an encouraging smile.
“I do but—” She pauses and her lower lip wobbles.
“What’s wrong, darling?” I ask gently.
“I-I’ve missed you.” My heart almost breaks at her sad, little voice.
“I’ve not been home enough, have I?” I frown. This is what Garrick doesn’t understand. My life isn’t just my own now. I’m no longer an orphan that can spend every waking moment on the ice. My life belongs to Avery. And it belongs to my mates, Dominick, Holden, Klaus and now Celio.
And it doesn’t stop there. There are countless people who lay claim to my time now, including my new sister and my friends. And that list is only going to grow if Avery and my mates have their way. They’re hellbent on growing our family.
Apparently, my mates won’t be happy until I’m barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.