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Authors: Stephanie Burkhart

Gifts

BOOK: Gifts
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Gifts

 

Stephanie
Burkhart 

Gifts

Presented by
Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery

Copyright © 2013 Stephanie Burkhart

All Rights Reserved

Cover Art Copyright © 2013
Katrina Gillian

Design Consultant
Laura Shinn

 

Licensing Notes

All rights reserved under U.S. and International copyright law.
This ebook is licensed only for the private use of the purchaser. May not be copied, scanned, digitally reproduced, or printed for re-sale, may not be uploaded on shareware or free sites, or used in any other manner without the express written permission of the author and/or publisher. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.

Gifts
is a work of fiction. Though actual locations may be mentioned, they are used in a fictitious manner and the events and occurrences were invented in the mind and imagination of the author except for the inclusion of actual historical facts. Similarities of characters or names used within to any person – past, present, or future – are coincidental except where actual historical characters are purposely interwoven.

Dedication

For my boys, Andrew and Joseph

* * * * * * *

Gifts

Figure skating is in
Christian Jansen's blood. When he trips on uneven ice and drops his partner, Chris breaks his arm. Now he's looking for a second chance.

Famke deVries lost her skating coach four months ago. Needing to connect with her roots, she returns to Amsterdam and agrees to be
Christian's new skating partner.

Christian
and Famke connect on a deep level, understanding each other's losses, but will their chemistry off the ice interfere with their goal to go to the Olympics?

Chapter One

Christian Jansen had no idea what to expect. He jammed his hands into his jeans pockets and stared out the wide glass windows of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport waiting for her – Famke deVries.

Her plane from New York taxied toward the gate. He drew in a breath, hoping to calm his nerves. The last time he saw her was four years ago when she was sixteen and went to study in the States. Famke loved ice skating as much as he did.

Skating was in his blood. Ever since he was two and had received his first pair of skates from his father, he wanted to represent his country at the Olympics. His heart constricted at how he'd almost ruined his dream. Famke offered him a second chance. He couldn't blow it.

The gate extended toward the plane's door.
Christian closed his eyes briefly, trying to push the unbidden memory of that awful day away – the day his blade caught on uneven ice. Christian was a pairs figure skater. He stumbled and dropped his partner whom he had in an overhead lift. Her blade sliced his forearm. Katrien reached for him, missed, and her blade struck his temple. He couldn't remember what happened next – he'd lost consciousness. Later, he woke up in the hospital to a sprained ankle, a broken arm, and a deep scar on his face. It took weeks for him to heal and several more weeks of physical therapy to gain his strength and form back. In that time, Katrien left him to work with another skater.

Christian
had doubts, fears even, about getting back on the ice, but he believed he had recovered in body – and spirit – and he wanted another chance on the ice.

"Look, they're getting off the plane." Famke's brother,
Stephen, put his hand on Christian's shoulder and smiled.

The knot in
Christian's stomach tightened, but he managed a polite grin. Stephen had been Christian's best friend since they were six.

Chris
nervously rubbed his hands together. Here he was waiting for his new skating partner and he had nothing to show for his appreciation. He glanced at his friend. "I'll be right back."

"She'll be here any minute."

"I know." Christian spun around and trotted toward the nearest gift shop. Unfortunately, he didn't find any flowers. There were books, shirts, shot glasses, postcards – and chocolate. Next to flowers, a good piece of chocolate could make any woman smile. He picked through the boxes. There was white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, nuts and chocolate, and there in the corner he found his favorite – Mozart Kugel. A slow grin grew across his face as he dreamed about eating a piece. Mozart Kugel was a chocolate ball with a pistachio and marzipan filling. Still smiling, he paid for the box and headed toward the gate.

Passengers hurried out into the airport. Famke stood next to her brother chatting easily with him.

Christian froze. His pulse quickened. He remembered how at sixteen, she appeared slender and almost mousy with her black-framed glasses and short brown hair, but now she'd changed. She looked every bit a confident young woman with a dazzling smile and a sparkle of excitement in her soulful green eyes.

He raked his gaze over her. She was tall, he'd guess 5'8'', but he was 6'2'' and her height would complement his well on the ice. Her hair was long now, a rich walnut color with tight curls that had been teased into place. Her eyes sparkled like emeralds. In that moment, he was very grateful she accepted his offer to be his new skating partner. He stuck one hand behind his back and crossed his fingers. Famke had grown into a stunning young woman, but if they didn't find the professional chemistry they needed on the ice, they didn't stand a chance to be selected for the Netherlands Olympic team.

Chapter Two

Famke grabbed her bag from the overhead bin and shuffled into the aisle. Her stomach knotted with anxiety, and it was all she could do to keep from biting her nails.

She had owned a pair of skates since she was three. Ice skating invigorated her soul and gave her a personal sense that she could accomplish anything. She'd always done well in competitions as a young girl. Last year, she had competed in the World Figure Skating Championships. She wouldn't have had the chance if she hadn't gone to the United States to live and train with Ingrid Dayton, a world-class figure skater.

Living abroad gave Famke a confidence she never had before. Her coach,
Ingrid, was an accomplished skater, medaling in several competitions and earning a bronze in the Olympics eight years ago. Ingrid encouraged her to wear contacts, perm her hair, and taught her how to wear makeup. Ingrid had been Famke's best friend, mentor, and big sister all in one.

Losing
Ingrid in a traffic accident four months ago left Famke with a heavy heart. The passion she felt for the sport diminished, so when her brother called and told her that his friend, Christian Jansen, was looking for a pairs figure skating partner, she'd been intrigued enough to explore the possibility. In all honesty, the offer of skating with a partner and the chance of going to the Olympics to represent her country had shaken off her sadness. Ingrid would have encouraged Famke to explore the opportunity. Following her heart, Famke returned home to Amsterdam.

Stephen
waited for her near the doorway where the gate met the boarding area. She rushed into his arms and they exchanged a warm hug. He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked her over.

"My, you have changed!" he exclaimed.

She smiled. "You have, too."

"How's the weather in New York?"

"As chilly as it is here." She adjusted her backpack on her shoulders so it was tighter. "Where's Chris?"

"He ran off."

"Where to?"

"That way."
Stephen turned and pointed.

Famke stared in the direction her brother indicated.
Christian stood near a gift shop, holding a box. She poked her tongue against her cheek and drew in a breath. Growing up, Stephen and Christian were inseparable. Chris had always been tall, but slim, with a wild haircut and a very pale complexion. He was still tall, but now he filled out his clothes well with his muscular frame and broad shoulders. His hair was golden-yellow, but he'd found a cut that framed his face to perfection. She spied a scar on his temple, and despite the imperfection, it gave him a very masculine appearance.

Oh, dear.
Christian Jansen had become a very handsome man.

He approached, his gait emphasizing the force of his thighs and the slimness of his hips. She prayed a man that good looking wasn't vain and self-absorbed. She couldn't work with anyone who was like that.

Christian stopped and held out his box. "Hi. I bought you a gift."

She pointed to her chest, a bit surprised. "For me?"

"I hope you like Mozart Kugel."

Her hand slid over his as she reached for the box, and a reassuring warmth pulsed up her arm. "I love
Mozart Kugel. Thanks."

His eyes sparkled. "You're welcome."

"Do you have any bags to claim?" asked Stephen.

"I've got one." She broke open the box and offered
Stephen a piece.

"No, thanks." He gestured toward the walkway and they strolled off, Famke between the men.

"I want to say thank you for agreeing to become my partner. I appreciate it." Christian's voice resonated with seriousness.

"How could I refuse?" She kept her voice light, not wanting to recall her weightier thoughts, and offered him a piece of chocolate. He took one.

They walked down the stairs and stopped next to the claim area.

"The spare room is now your room," said
Stephen. "If anything, we might need to do some food shopping."

"Is the bakery on the corner still in business?" she asked. "I love their bread with baked ham and cheese."

He grinned. "It is."

"How's Papa?"

"He has good days and bad days. Once you get settled in, we can visit him," replied Stephen.

Famke nodded. Their father suffered from Alzheimer's and
Stephen had to put him in a care facility. It had been hard for Stephen to deal with their father's condition on his own, but she knew from their talks that Christian had been a good, supportive friend to her brother.

The baggage terminal clanked to life and bags began to pop out of the chute. Famke studied the luggage and when her floral print bag slid onto the rack, she stepped forward to grab it.

Christian beat her. "I'll get it."

"You're fast," she said.

He offered her a small, endearing smile. "I have to be to keep up with you."

"Oh?"

"I have to be fast to keep up with my partner on the ice. I have to anticipate your moves and trust your instincts."

"
Chris, save it for the rink." Stephen motioned toward the exit.

"When do we hit the ice?" she asked.

"My coach is Maks Graaf and he's offered to coach us as a team. We can meet him tomorrow, if it's not too early for you." Chris opened the terminal door for her while continuing to pull her bag behind him.

"All right."

"Chris dreams about lifts and death spirals in his sleep," quipped Stephen.

"Hey, so do I!" she retorted.

"Then we're off to a good start," Chris said with a grin.

A blast of cold air struck Famke's cheeks as soon as they stepped outside. She adjusted her scarf and followed her brother to his car.
Stephen worked as an accountant for a local firm. The job paid well. It was steady and it allowed him to care for their father, but her brother had given up most of his hobbies, his time now dedicated to working, sleeping, or their father's care. Famke vowed to help ease Stephen's burden.

They piled into the car and
Stephen paid the parking fee. Famke turned toward the back seat to look at Chris. "Where do you live?"

"I have an apartment across from your brother's building."

"How's your mother?" she asked.

"She's still in Enschede."

"Good." If she remembered correctly, Chris' mother was a widow and lived in the country.

"Do we have a date to perform before the Ice Skating Federation?"

"We'll talk to Maks tomorrow. He's got to file the paperwork before the fifth."

Famke pursed her lips. Chris seemed so sweet
, and no man had ever shown her his appreciation with a box of chocolates before. Her heart hoped they would be a good match on the ice, especially since she'd never skated as a member of a pairs team.

Chris
' gaze drifted outside the window. Had something else caught his attention? His expression grew serious. She glanced outside. They were near a canal. Famke spied a young woman bundled up in a winter coat walking briskly down the street, her long, red hair tumbling over her shoulders. Did she remind Chris of someone? He jerked his gaze away from the woman and rubbed his hands together. Was he trying to shake off an unpleasant memory? The scar on his temple lightly pulsed. Something was bothering him. Unsure of what to say, she fidgeted in her seat and closed her eyes. Her own body ached from the flight and she couldn't deny she was looking forward to a warm bath and nice meal. She opened her eyes.

Glancing in the rear view mirror, she spied a deep sadness in
Chris' expression. A part of her longed to discover what the source of his unhappiness was and the other part told her not to cross professional boundaries. If they were going to be partners, it wasn't wise to step over that line.

Stephen
turned onto a street in the Noord district of Amsterdam where he lived. The apartment buildings were about five stories tall, but weren't very wide. Stephen drove his compact car into a parking structure near his building. "We're here."

"I need a nice long bath and a bite to eat." Famke stepped out and shut her door.

"Chris, can you take her to the apartment? I'll run to the store for some food."

"Sure."
Chris opened the trunk and grabbed her bag.

"I can take it." She gestured for the bag, but
Chris waved her off.

"I've got it." He paused. "I always insist on carrying a lady's bags."

"But, Chris—"

"And
you
are a lady," he said.

Smiling, Famke nodded, discovering a small dimple in his cheek when he smiled so warmly.

"All right, lead the way."

Chris
tugged the bag behind him and they took the elevator to the ground floor. They crossed the street, found Stephen's building, went inside, and traveled to the fourth floor. Chris stopped and fumbled for the keys.

"You have an extra set?" she asked.

"It's for times like these or if Stephen forgets something. It's just him, after all. It's good to have a backup."

Famke couldn't argue with that logic.

Chris entered the apartment and flicked on the light. They stepped into a living room area. Most of the furniture reminded her of pine wood. Wrought iron finishes and windmill portraits gave the room personality, but it needed a woman's touch. Chris walked down the hall and placed Famke's bag in a bedroom. She followed him and peered over his shoulder, placing one hand on his waist. He was all muscle. She wasn't sure why she reached out to touch him, but she had a sense he'd been trying to shake off a lingering sadness since he saw the red-haired woman on the street.

"This is your room," he said softly.

She glanced up at his soulful, hazel eyes, convinced a certain melancholy haunted him. "Thank you," she said.

"You're welcome." His voice was quiet.

"You're not having second thoughts, are you?" she asked.

"No." He turned to face her. "Have you skated pairs before?"

"No, but I'm game to try it."

He opened his palm up. "Put your hand in mine."

"Why?"

"Please."

Something was in the tone of his voice, something which implied he was looking for her trust, but there was also a hint of doubt. She slid her hand over his palm and he grasped her fingers, his grip firm, strong, and steady.

"Squeeze me back," he said, staring at her with such intensity, her heart tripped.

"All right." Her fingers clasped his.

"Good. Our grips need to be similar so when I lift you, you trust me."

Slowly, she released him. "All right."

He took a step back and offered her a small smile. "Maks and I use the Westergasfabriek ice rink." He reached into his pocket and handed her a business card. "Can you meet us there at two? It's the only time we could book for tomorrow."

"I'll be there."

He awkwardly gestured toward the hall. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Famke escorted him to the main door. She'd been brought up to always see a guest off when they left.

Chris
paused in the doorframe and jammed his hands into his pockets. "Good night."

"Good night," she replied.

He departed and she closed the door. Drifting into the kitchen, Famke inspected her brother's cabinets, but her thoughts lingered on Chris. Something troubled him. But would trying to discover what it was cross the boundary of professionalism she wanted to keep?

BOOK: Gifts
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ads

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