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What do you do when the woman of your dreams refuses to believe that you are in love with her? That's Martin St Claire's dilemma in FALLING FOR YOU, a December 2004 release. Stephanie Thomas has no idea why a hunky sports hero with an 18-room estate and a Porsche wants with a single mom who lives in a cracker box housing development and drives a ten-year old used car. While she tries to figure out if he is her prince or just her imagination on overdrive, what ensues is a romantic comedy of errors with a Cinderella twist involving a pair of black strappy sandals and an ice skate.
Excerpt from FALLING FOR YOU....
A man in tennis shoes slid to a stop next to the Skate Guard. “Is she all right?”
“I think she whacked her ankle against the boards when she fell.”
“Is she here with anyone?”
Martin St. Claire turned to the source of voice. “Hey, Mike. What are you doing here? Your team doesn’t have a game until Monday.”
“She’s my mom, Mr. St. Claire.”
“Oh.” The kid looked positively destroyed. “What happened?”
“She wanted to try skating. I wanted her to take a lesson first, but no, she had to do it her way. Now look,” he pointed down at his mother, who was now lying back on the ice, “she looks like she’s trying to make frozen snow angels.”
“What happened?” Marty repeated. He saw the young man’s mouth thin into a frown.
Mike shook his head. “Went down harder than Nancy Kerrigan.” He saw Marty’s forehead crease and answered the question before it was asked. “1994 Olympic recap on ESPN.”
Marty nodded and turned his attention back to Stephanie. He dropped to one knee. “Can she tell us her name?”
“Probably. I think it’s her ankle more than her head.”
“Do you think she can sit up?”
Stephanie cracked open one eye. “Why don’t you ask me? It’s not polite to talk about someone in the third person when they’re right in front of you. Well, sort of in front. More like straight down and to the left. And to answer your question, no. When I try to sit up, my ankle really hurts, so you’ll have to come down here if you want to talk.”
“Sorry.” Marty took off his jacket and gently lifted her head before sliding it underneath. “I know you’re uncomfortable, but you’ll hang to hand in there for a few minutes. The squad’s been called and should be here soon.”
“Sounds like you’ve had some practice at this,” Stephanie asked, turning her head toward him.
“More than you can guess. The insurance company has had to handle a few more claims projected lately and unless…” He stopped speaking when his gaze met hers feeling as though someone had sprayed liquid nitrogen on him, freezing him to the spot. Her eyes were the palest shade of blue he had ever seen, the color reminding him of the offensive zone line in a hockey rink showing through the layer of ice covering it. He somehow tore his gaze away from those eyes with their fringe of dark lashes to focus on the woman owning them.
Looking at the bigger picture didn’t help him much at all. His senses began to react as though on autopilot. Sight took action first, focusing on her dark auburn hair and the way it contrasted sharply with the grayish white ice beneath it, giving him an edgy, aware kind of feeling. The light scent of her perfume somehow cut through the cold and hit his nose like an opposing player charging the net.
“Unless what?” he heard her say.
Hearing responded next, tuning into the rich timbre of her voice and masking all the normal sounds of the ice rink. Her pleasing tone resonated through him like the sound of a finely tuned violin string vibrating through the air.
“What I meant was that I’m usually not this…” Almost against his will, he touched her shoulder, his hand seeming to tingle as though he had come in contact with a low voltage wire. It had never happened before, but for some reason four of his five senses had all converged on this woman at once. “This scattered and…” Any shred of reason he had left suddenly launched an attack of its own and the urge to kiss her hit him like a 90-mile an hour slap shot hits the back of the net. “Whoa,” he muttered in reaction, “Five out of five and….”
“Do you ever actually finish a sentence?” he heard her say over the jolt of all his basic instincts firing at once.
Still amazed at his reaction to the woman lying at his feet, he removed his hand from her shoulder and looked at it briefly before looking back at her. “On occasion. I apologize. How do you feel?”
“Wet and cold,” Stephanie said.
Marty reached for the blanket another rink employee had retrieved from a ground level office. He shook it open and covered her.
“That’s not what’s wet and cold.” She started to sit up.
“Stop trying to do that,” he cautioned, a protective instinct causing him to touch her arm, “You could have a concussion and not even realize it.” Warmth again flickered on his skin. He looked from his hand to her eyes and saw surprise and wondered if she felt it too. He managed a half-smile.
Stephanie smiled back at him. “I suppose so. I do get a little sick to my stomach when I try to get up.”
“All the more reason not to.” He looked over his shoulder in response to the sound of the oversized rink door being pulled open. “The squad’s here.”
“Move aside,” one of two EMTs called out, weaving through the skaters still on the ice. Marty stood and moved out of the way when one dropped a back brace onto the ice next to Stephanie. “Don’t get up,” he ordered. What happened?”
“She fell,” Mike volunteered.
The EMT fastened a cervical collar around Stephanie’s neck. “Do you know your name?” one of the EMT asked, shining a light first in one of her eyes and then the other.
“Of course I do. It’s Stephanie Thomas.”
“And what day is it?”
“So far, so good.”
“I told you. I’m fine,” Stephanie insisted as the EMT slid a backboard under her and strapped it around her. “I don’t need to be trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. I just need to get home.”
“Well, you can’t go home. Not just yet,” Marty cut in. “You need to get checked out.” He felt his mouth kick up in a grin.
“What are you smiling at?” Stephanie asked when she noticed.
“I’m sorry, but you do look a little like Hannibal Lechter.” He tried to suppress it, but the grin grew wider. He covered his mouth with his hand. A fall was no laughing matter even though, from past experience, it appeared as though Stephanie Thomas would probably be all right.
“Keep that up and I’ll bite your face,” she warned, noticing his losing attempt to keep from grinning.
“Miss Thomas, can you move your arms and legs? Any pain here or here?” the EMT examining her asked.
“Yes, first question, no, second. I’m fine,” she insisted.
“You really can’t make that determination,” Marty chimed in. “You said yourself that you feel a little sick when you try to get up.”’
“Could be the hot-dog I had at the refreshment stand.”
“Could be a lot of things.”
“Whatever it is, I can take care of myself.”
“I hope better than you can skate,” Marty said with a decided spark of bravado in his voice.
“What are you, a comedian in the off-season?”
“No, nervous chitchat I suppose. Sorry,” Marty conceded before stepping back but keeping his gaze on her face.
Cripes, this man-woman thing was giving him an itch he wanted to scratch. Any woman who could make him sit up and take notice in a situation like this could be dangerous. Interesting dangerous that was. Maybe even worth checking out more closely dangerous, especially since he hadn’t reacted this strongly to any woman in years. But to read anything into all the eye contact and spunky bantering seemed out of place right now.
Stephanie blew out a long breath of air as Marty helped the EMT hoist her up onto a waiting stretcher. “Who are you anyway?” she asked him, “and why all the questions?”
“I’m Martin St. Claire. I own the place.”
She studied his face as he walked alongside her. “Oh, right. The hockey player.”
“Ex-hockey player,” Marty corrected. “I’m retired.”
“I should have recognized you. But looking at you from down on the ice, you look different than you do on the poster on the wall of my son’s room.”
Marty pointed to his lips. “No mouthpiece or cage across my face.”
Stephanie laughed. “And you said I looked like Hannibal Lechter.” He laughed, and this time, she liked the sound.
S he studied him as he walked along side the stretcher. Martin St. Claire. How many times had she heard that name from her son? A million, at least. At around five hundred thousand, she thought she conjured up a pretty good picture of what Martin St. Claire must look like. But this Martin St. Claire wasn’t anything like she’d imagined; not as big, not as brooding. From the stories and descriptions, and way her son talked about him, she had pictured a tough, thuggish jock with missing front teeth and a burly body. Instead, she was staring up at a six foot toned and tapered hunk, with hair the color of a field of wheat and a pair of dark, spicy brown eyes that looked like trouble to her.
There were many times she wouldn’t have minded meeting an attractive man like him, but this wasn’t one of them. She had a headache the size of Alaska, a condition much too distracting to have fully functioning female hormones kick in properly. She did, however, feel a jolt of something as a few wayward ones took notice when her gaze met Marty’s incredible eyes as he loomed over her on the way out of the arena.
“Are you feeling dizzy or something?” Marty asked. “You look a little funny. You’re not going to do something that requires a bucket, are you?”
"No," Stephanie assured. She must have been staring at his face like some sort of crazy woman, but she could explain that away. She was obviously unhinged by the knot on her head and not in her right mind. She looked at his broad shoulders to avoid staring at his handsome face. “Sorry we had to meet like this. I’ve heard so much about you and your hockey career from my son. He has an autographed puck in a plastic protector on his dresser.”
Mike elbowed his way to his mother’s side. “Is she going to be all right?” he asked.
“We’re not doctors,” one of the EMT’s replied.
“C’mon. She’s my mom. I need to know.”
“At least tell him something,” Marty broke in.
The EMT’s looked at each other. One nodded his permission. “She should be fine. Vitals are good, she’s awake and alert, reflexes check out. She’ll get a thorough examine at the hospital to confirm it, but after a few hours she should be good to go.”
Mike visibly relaxed. “Thanks.” He bent down, his mouth near his mother’s ear. “Okay, now that I know you’re okay, I’ll let that plastic puck remark pass,” he whispered, “but remember, the paramedics on TV always say ‘try not to talk right now” to their patients. So don’t.”
“Michael,” Stephanie said from behind a smile made up of clenched teeth, “You’re being a brat.”
“I don’t want Mr. St. Claire to think I’m a nerdy loser. Work with me.” Michael straightened and looked at Marty. “She really needs quiet.” He turned back to his mother and patted her shoulder. “I really am worried about you moving around so much, so shhh. Lie still. Chill, okay?”
“Before I ‘chill’, no pun intended, I just would like to know what happens next,” Stephanie said. “I am not too happy about having to spend the next few hours in a truss.”
Marty furrowed his brow with the change in the tone of her voice. “Don’t worry, my insurance will take care of the hospital. And please tell me you’re not thinking about suing me already,” he suddenly added. “You just woke up.”
“I wasn’t unconscious,” Stephanie corrected.
“Your eyes were closed when I first got to the ice.”
“I was thinking.”
“About suing me?”
“Not until now.”
He saw her blue eyes flash. “You’re angry.”
“You think? I could be having a major medical infarction here and you’re worried about a lawsuit!”
“What kind of medical infarction?”
“You know what, Hockey Boy,” Stephanie said closing her eyes, “I think I’m just going to let you worry about that one.”
Mike put his body between Marty and his mother. “Hockey Boy? Mom, that is so not cool.”
Stephanie opened her eyes in response to her son’s voice. “Nothing about this day has been cool. I have a headache, my stomach is tossing lunch around, and my jeans have frozen to my backside like a wet tongue on a metal pole.”
Mike saw another smile slash across Marty’s face. “Aw, geeze.” He turned back toward the rink as the zamboni rumbled by on the ice. “Maybe I can get that thing to run over me and put me out of my misery.”
Marty put the heels of his palms on his eyes and pushed hard. What in the world was wrong with him? Having to agree with Mike, the unexpected appearance of his candid male instincts was definitely so ‘not cool’. But as he watched the stretcher get loaded into a waiting ambulance, Marty could not help but admit that Stephanie Thomas had piqued his interest. She sure was cute when she was angry. Hell, he decided, she was beautiful. Normally he gravitated to blonds, but with those striking ice blue eyes of hers and auburn hair sassy like her verve, he could make an exception in this case.
He felt a grin grow on his lips. Okay, he decided, he’d analyze the situation. He liked the dance of humor he saw in her eyes, and the way her smile kicked up a notice when she thought she was getting the better of him. Under other circumstances, meeting a woman like Stephanie had potential.
He called himself a few unflattering names for thinking about her in anything but concerned terms as he headed toward his car. However as much as he hated to admit it, it may be a deep-seated sense of responsibility that had him heading to the hospital, but it would be an innate desire to learn more about Stephanie Thomas that would keep him there after he sure she was okay.