Title: CLEAR AS ICE
Author: Penelope Marzec
Genre: Christian Romance
When Ethan's prayers for his mother's life go unanswered, he abandons his faith, tossing it out with his mother's Christmas ornaments. The loss of his hope leaves him empty and he begins to shy away from relationships, but when his dog Rufus, a rescue from a shelter, develops a fondness for a woman skating on the frozen lake behind his house, he's annoyed. Not only does he resent her using his pond, he doesn't understand her fear of dogs. Haylie, once an Olympic figure skater, is afraid of more than just Ethan's dog. She lives in constant fear due to threats from a stalker, but one day Ethan's dog chases the danger away, so Haylie decides to try to lose her fear of dogs...But then the stalker's plans expand to include revenge toward Ethan as well. If they are to remain safe and live to see a happily-ever-after, Haylie and Ethan must put aside differences and learn to trust each other. This Christmas season promises to be the most challenging and the most meaningful of their lives.
“Hey! Miss! Could you grab Rufus’s collar for me?” he called out.
“Does he bite?” she shouted out the question. It echoed in the air. She guessed what the answer would be. The owner of the dog who bit her when she was young claimed her dog never bit anyone. But he bit her.
“Of course not!” The minute the words were out of his mouth, both of his feet went out from under him and he landed flat on his back.
Shocked into action, Hailey pulled the phone from her pocket and skated toward him. When she reached him, he was staring up at the sky with eyes as blue as the heaven above. She’d never seen a man with eyes of such an intense color. She gazed in surprise for a moment until he turned his head toward her.
“Sir, should I call 911?” she asked.
“No.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Please don’t. I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Are you hurt? Did you hit your head?”
He opened his eyes and held up a leash. “Would you please fetch Rufus? He won’t hurt you. I promise.”
“What if he’s injured? Wounded animals bite.”
The man’s mouth turned down in a frown. “You’re afraid of dogs.”
“Yes,” she admitted.
He sighed, rolled over, and gingerly managed to get to his feet.
“Don’t run,” she advised. “Walk slowly.”
“Did you see which way he went?”
“He slid that way.” She pointed in the general direction. “There’s another little cove there with lots of marsh reeds.”
“Would you mind accompanying me in case I fall again.” His penetrating blue eyes gazed into hers.
She swallowed hard. Tall and handsome, the man’s chiseled features spoke of strength, but a touch of gentleness lingered around his mouth. Usually, meeting any stranger would put her on edge, but this man did not cause that reaction in her. Had he hypnotized her with his eyes?
She switched her gaze to the distant marsh reeds. “Actually, I was afraid I would fall when I came out here. It’s been a while since I’ve been skating.”
“You seemed to be doing fine.” He took firm but cautious steps on the ice.
“Were you watching me?” Her pulse began to race with anxiety. She’d skated in front of thousands of people in countless arenas, but this was different. This man could be some sort of stalker—like the one who drove her half crazy. She sensed someone was watching her and she was right. It was him!
“Rufus was watching you.” He shrugged his shoulders. “He barked and insisted I come to the window. I watched for a minute until I remembered I forgot to put out the garbage can for pickup. When I opened the door, Rufus ran out. I guess he really wanted to meet you.”
“Oh.” She whispered. Her suspicions were groundless. Once, countless adoring fans cheered for her. Now the only one intrigued with her was a dog. “I hope he’s okay.”
“Me, too.” With a somber note in his voice, he continued. “I need that dog far more than he needs me.”
Haylie couldn’t understand why anyone would need a pet. Pets involved a great deal of time and expense. She never owned a pet—of any kind. Not even a goldfish. Her parents’ biggest expense was her and all that expense came to nothing. Guilt remained heavy on her shoulders.
“I got bit once—right on my lip. The scar is here.” She stopped skating and pointed to it.
His very cold finger touched her lip. Despite his icy skin, a little spark ignited inside her. “Plastic surgery?”
“Yes,” she admitted, a little shaken with the odd sensation coursing through her. Her coach had recommended the surgery. Everything needed to be perfect. Her face, her hair, her outfits, her routine. The pressure was constant. She didn’t miss that at all. But she missed skating. Without it, even on sunny days, clouds hovered in her thoughts.
As they rounded the corner, they spotted Rufus. He cried and struggled weakly to right himself.
Guilt pricked her conscience. Still, dogs couldn’t be trusted due to their large teeth. Some men couldn’t be trusted either, but the majority of them were as ordinary as her dad. At least, that’s what the counselor tried to drum into her head.
“Probably hypothermia.” The man knelt beside his dog, whipped off his coat, wrapped the dog in it, and hoisted the animal in his arms.
“Hey,” Haylie warned. “You’ll be an icicle in minutes.”
“He’s disoriented. I’ll get him to the vet right away.”
“I’m really sorry.” There wasn’t much more she could say.
“Please stay with me until I get to solid ground.”
“Of course.” It was the least she could do. “By the way, there’s an easier path through the gully to get up the hill.”
“Thanks. I’ll try that. Rufus weighs sixty pounds.”
“Should a dog weigh that much?” The memory of all the treats she’d been denied in order to compete never left her.
“It depends on the breed.”
“I never owned a pet. They’re expensive and time consuming.” With her rigorous schedule, she never had time for anything except skating. Yet, she was the one who wanted it. She enjoyed the competition—then.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a physical therapist.”
“Even a physical therapist has the time and money for a pet.”
She clenched her teeth to prevent herself from blurting out her life story. This was her new beginning. While circumstances forced it upon her, despite the obstacles she managed to succeed. She struggled for calm. He didn’t realize all she endured.
When they reached the gully, she stopped. “I need to change back into my shoes, but I’ll pray for Rufus’s recovery.”
“That won’t do any good,” he muttered as he hurried up the path with his burden.
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Share a holiday family tradition:
Every Christmas Eve, after Mass, our family would drive around to look at the holiday lights—sometimes big displays and sometimes just the local homes in town.
Afterwards, everyone was allowed to open one special gift, which was always a new set of pajamas. Then everyone went to bed to dream of the other gifts they would receive in the morning while sleeping in their new, warm pajamas.
Why is your featured book perfect to get readers in the holiday mood:
Haylie loves ice, snow, and Christmas--but not dogs. Ethan’s dog Rufus loves Haylie, but Ethan has given up on Christmas. However, Rufus knows how to fix things. Anyone who loves dogs and Christmas will enjoy this story.
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Runs December 1 – 31
Drawing will be held on January 4.
Penelope Marzec grew up along the Jersey shore. She started reading romances at a young age and fell hopelessly in love with happy endings. Two of her inspirational romances won EPIC’s eBook Award and another was a finalist in that contest. Her paranormal, Irons in the Fire, was a nominee for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award. Visit her website at penelopemarzec.com for more information.
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