Meet Dorian, Pierce, Sebastian and Adam, four brothers who own the largest privately held company in the world: Marchand Global. Obscenely rich and equally handsome, the Marchand brothers have everything any man could ever want – except love.
Despite the fact that she’s attending the Winter Olympics to research a Cutting Edge rip-off for the Heartmark Channel, curvy screenwriter Lydia Trainor doesn’t know jack about figure skating. She does know she’s far too ordinary to be anything more than a fling to the absurdly hot Olympian she meets at a club – but after a horrendous breakup, she could use a fling too.
Pierce Marchand, billionaire and elite figure skater, needs something to drown out thoughts of his ex and provide relief from the stress of proving that he’s in Pyeongchang thanks to his talent, not his trust fund. He decides Lydia is pretty enough to be a pleasurable distraction without actually being distracting – until their electric chemistry obliterates his control and leaves him wanting much more.
Suddenly Pierce can’t help but think that the easiest way to get his mind off of Lydia and back on the ice is to keep her in his arms…
In figure skating parlance there are jumps called axels, lutzes, flips – even though they are manifestly no such thing – toes (?), and salchows, and thus far Lydia Trainor is completely unable to discern any difference between them. It’s not that she’s not trying; she takes her work seriously, even when that work is writing a Cutting Edge rip-off for the Heartmark Channel. She’s watched what feels like every gold medal figure skating routine on YouTube, some of them so many times that she can quote the announcers by heart, and has read enough to know much of the difference comes from the position of the feet or something. But despite squinting at HD figure skating videos until her eyeballs ache, every single jump still looks the same to her.
On her laptop screen yet another pair is about to take the ice, a petite blonde and her taller, darker partner.
“‘Nadia Volkova and Benediktas Miller,’” she murmurs a split second before the announcer says the same. Of all the routines she’s watched, she keeps coming back to this one, although she’s not sure if that’s because something about them reminds her of the characters she’s as yet only half created, or because Volkova looks uncomfortably like Emilie Fowler and Lydia likes to torture herself.
Speaking of, a quick minimization of her browser window reveals a blank Final Draft document and the devastating truth that her screenplay has not spontaneously written itself. She stares at the screen, the accusatory blinking of the cursor, and switches back to YouTube.
“‘Side by side triple loops, perfect unison, incredible – ’”
“Lyds, for the love of god,” RuJu moans, swaddled in all the available blankets on her bed in the athlete accommodations of the Olympic Village. “It’s almost 11 p.m. and I have to be up early for practice. Can you please just… not?”
Lydia glances out the window, where the late afternoon light is casting a pleasing glow over the snowy hills. It’s Golden Hour, the time when the lighting is absolutely perfect for filming, and incidentally nowhere near 11 p.m.
“It’s four, RuJu,” she corrects, then dodges the pillow that comes hurtling towards her in response.
“It’s 11 p.m. yesterday in Los Angeles, and you know it.”
She does know it, but only because pictures of her director ex-fiancé and the starlet he left her for walking the red carpet hit the internet two hours ago. RuJu would be irritated if she mentioned this – she is under strict instructions to avoid all awards show coverage – so she opts not to.
“You can’t give in to jetlag,” Lydia counsels, as though she knows what she’s talking about, before returning her attention to her blank screen and blinking cursor. “Stay awake until 8 or 9 p.m. local time and then you’re set.”
RuJu sits up in bed with an aggrieved expression on her plain face. Her dark curly hair is a tangled mess around her head, which Lydia opts not to mention.
“Look, just because your sleep schedule is so fucked up that you don’t even experience jetlag – ”
“Pacific Standard Time has me permanently jetlagged. I’m a writer so it’s encouraged.”
“Whatever,” RuJu huffs, throwing herself back down into her nest of pillows and blankets. “Go away. I regret inviting you. I regret knowing you. I most especially regret being related to you.”
“That’s fair,” Lydia answers, after careful consideration of all the facts. She regrets knowing herself at this point. She closes her laptop with a decisive snap – the only decisive action she’s taken all day, really – and shoves it into its protective sleeve as though it’s done her a personal wrong. Which it kind of has, re: screenplay refusing to write itself.
“Aw, Lyds, I was only teasing.”
Lydia smiles wryly. “I know. But I need to escape. All of these videos are making me dizzy and I’m not getting any work done anyway. Might as well go looking for some trouble, or at least some coffee.”
“’Kay,” RuJu says on a yawn. “Just don’t forget about curfew. We got lucky that I don’t have a roommate but you are definitely not supposed to be here. So, you know… Don’t get caught.”
“I’ll do my best,” she says, though privately she has doubts about how likely it is that she can remain under the radar for the entirety of the games. With her wide hips and general squishiness she doesn’t exactly look like an athlete – although neither does RuJu, but she’s a curler so that’s to be expected. Lydia does not know enough about curling to play one on TV or in real life. She can only hope it won’t come to that.
RuJu snuggles deeper into her nest. “Good enough, loveyoubye.”
“Loveyoubye,” Lydia echoes, all one word, as is traditional in their family. RuJu is really only a distant relation, her second cousin several times removed or – something, but a discomfort with expressing emotion clearly extends to all branches of the family.
It might be her imagination, but as she slips out into the hallway she swears she can feel people staring at her. The sensation is unnerving, especially for one so used to being inconspicuous. Not invisible, which she would hate, but unremarkable. Unassuming. Unobtrusive. If not for her overwhelming and almost debilitating compulsion to write, she suspects she’d make a superlative spy, although that same unobtrusiveness is useful for a writer as well. She relies on it, depends on it, takes comfort in it.
Yet here, in the 2018 Winter Olympics athlete accommodations, her superpower of subtlety has deserted her. For once in her life she is extraordinary, the only ordinary human being in an Olympic Village high rise filled to the brim with godlike elite athletes. They, of course, are all at the very height of their physical fitness and physical attractiveness, whereas she… Well, again, not one of the people gawking at her is mistaking her for a competitor, not even a curler, she’d put money on it.
She enters an elevator along with two huge blond men who seem to embody every desirable physical trait evolution could ever devise, feeling unbearably self-conscious under their sideways glances. Unlike her, they are not subtle. Their puzzlement seems to roll off of them in waves as they analyze her, trying to discern if whatever makes her equal to them is merely hidden beneath the surface, or perhaps wondering who let her in by mistake. Thankfully, the elevator reaches the ground floor before they can ask, although it would have been interesting to hear how they’d phrase it.
She may not be an Olympic athlete, but she thinks any average person would be impressed by the speed with which she escapes. A quick hustle across the lobby, a desperate lurch at the front doors, and she’s free, inhaling crisp cold air and squinting into a sun that seems remarkably dim compared to the brightness of home. God, she hates the cold. Still, she’s grateful to be free, even if freedom requires that she wear not one but two parkas.
As she wanders aimlessly away from the Olympic Village, Lydia forces herself to face the truth: it’s entirely possible that she’s made an enormous mistake. Much as she hides it from RuJu, she’s just as miserable here as at home in Los Angeles (but at least in LA she’d be warm). The fact that she’s half a world away from her everyday life doesn’t change anything about her circumstances. Her ex-fiancé is still traipsing the red carpet with the starlet he replaced her with as soon as he’d had the slightest taste of success, still collecting countless awards for her screenplay, still managing to convince the world at large that he deserves almost all the credit for it when the only writing he did was scrawling his name on the title page.
Of course, she’s the one who allowed it. Once he’d explained that he’d never get to direct it unless he was credited as co-writer, she’d wanted his name next to hers on that page, hadn’t even balked when he’d put his own first:
In Name and Blood
Richard Weiss and Lydia Trainor
She’d been thrilled by the way it looked, their names together.
If not for the fact that she’d found him in bed with the lead actress just after filming wrapped, she’d no doubt still be pathetically thrilled to share it with him. She’d loved him. She’d wanted to share everything with him, the awards, the accolades, the money (on the off-chance they ever made any). She’d imagined them on the red carpet arm-in-arm, giving joint interviews, mounting the stage to accept their awards together… She’d imagined a glorious future of personal and professional partnership, of love and creative freedom.
Instead, Richard is the one being inundated with offers to write multiple screenplays and then direct them, while the only thing currently in her future is her Cutting Edge rip-off. God, she doesn’t want to write a worse version of a middling-at-best movie. She still doesn’t know a damn thing about figure skating, much less care about it. She wants to write the movies everyone is hiring Richard to write instead.
Is she angry? She wants to be. It’s pathetic, the way she’d given in so eagerly, the way she’d sold off her talent and success so cheaply, just for a smile from him. It’s easy to feel simple anger when she thinks about it that way, when it’s just business. Except it isn’t really just business, because she loved him, and that personal betrayal hurts in a way she can’t ignite with fury. When she thinks of finding him in bed with Emilie Fowler, of his hands tangled in her long golden hair, everything inside her aches. The merging of their bodies had been purely carnal, but there had been tenderness in the way he touched Emilie’s hair. Lydia has never wanted so desperately to be beautiful than in that moment, beautiful enough to steal him back.
There is a sudden sensation of even colder cold on her face, trailing down her cheeks, and she realizes that despite her best intentions, despite all her resolve not to indulge in self-pity, she’s crying. Silently, thank god, but she’s still not happy about it. She thinks about puppies. She thinks about kittens. She thinks about puppies playing with kittens but it’s no use. The tears keep flowing and it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep silent when her body wants nothing more than to curl up against the pain and sob.
Practicalities first: it’s fucking freezing, as one might expect of the location of the Winter Olympics, and if she stays outside she’ll probably end up with frostbite in the shape of tear tracks, forever branding her as pathetic as hell.
She inhales deeply, cold burning her lungs, and forces herself to take stock of her surroundings. It’s snowing, she realizes with some surprise, flurries of delicate snowflakes dancing in the muted light – Golden Hour being almost over. The nearest building is low and squat and has a sign proclaiming something she has no hope of comprehending because it’s in Korean, naturally. A business, she hopes, and not something purpose-built for the Games. It seems very still, quiet and empty, but she decides to attempt it anyway.
Just as she reaches out to open the door, she hesitates, scanning the middle distance for the athlete accommodations from whence she came. They’re easy enough to find in the modest skyline, although they’re not nearly as tall as she had expected upon arrival. Apparently there are two Olympic Villages, one for the outdoor athletes and one for the arena athletes, and the arena athlete accommodations are smaller. Still, she could find her way back to them by sight. She could sob herself to sleep in the comfort of RuJu’s room, swaddled in the bright pink and coral custom quilt provided by South Korea (truly excellent hosts). But RuJu is a light sleeper, and anyway it will take too long. Her face might be a single tearstained block of ice by the time she reaches her goal. No, the ugly possibly empty building is her best chance for refuge, as long as…
The door opens.
There’s nothing at all noteworthy about where she finds herself. It’s just a long hallway lit by fluorescents – harsh, hideous, but typical of office buildings the world over, and she can only assume that’s what this is. Tragically, it’s not much warmer inside than it was outside. Still shivering, she continues down the hall, following it as it curves left, then right, then left again until she’s forced to consider the possibility that this is some kind of serial killer trap like in Saw. Then suddenly she’s standing at the top of a set of risers inside a large room, high-ceilinged and even colder than the hallway.
A perfect oval of ice dominates the center of the room, and a tall figure on skates dominates the ice. He is dark and lithe and lean, utterly assured as he glides across the surface of the rink, graceful in a way that seems both delicate and somehow deadly. Delicate is typically a feminine word, but there is such control to his delicacy that it is somehow not feminine in the least. No, it’s powerful and magnetic and it draws her in, draws her closer without any conscious decision on her part until she’s near enough to hear the sound of his skates etching illegible calligraphy into the ice.
Lydia doesn’t think she made any attempt to be quiet or inconspicuous but the man who holds her transfixed takes no notice of her, for which she can only be grateful. He’s as lost in the world of his own ecstatic movement as she is – so lost. After all the endless videos of gold medal skating routines, after all the memorized commentary, after watching Benediktas Miller toss Nadia Volkova across the ice again and again and just not getting it, she finally feels enlightened. Not one of those videos has ever conveyed this to her, the sheer power of motion, the wonder and glory of these leaps and spins and of the body defying gravity to achieve them.
Close-to, it is impossible to be unaware of his physical perfection, of his broad shoulders and narrow waist, the solid muscles of his thighs, but it’s not – It’s an awareness beyond attraction or desire, a sense of awe for a work of art she imagines he must have carved as diligently as any sculptor ever could. She watches the flex of his muscles as he moves, wishing she could place her hands on him and feel each motion, wondering if he’d be cold like marble or warm beneath her fingertips. She watches with her heart in her throat and tears in her eyes, but not the tears she thought she’d be crying, no – just tears of emotion she doesn’t know what to do with overflowing because it has to. It’s beautiful. He’s beautiful, the most beautiful thing on the face of the earth, the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen. What she feels is beautiful, too beautiful for words.
She cannot stop watching, even if she wanted to.
Pierce Marchand loves to fly. Not in an aeroplane, of course; something about one’s parents plunging 30,000 feet to their deaths in their private jet quite puts one off that kind of flying – unless one is Adam, his youngest brother, who was only a baby at the time and therefore immune. The next youngest, Sebastian, is a nervous flier at best, and Pierce has always suspected that Dorian, the eldest, is flat-out terrified of it (and seemingly nothing else). Pierce isn’t overly fond of it himself. But there are different kinds of flying, better kinds – specifically, the kind that involves slick ice solid beneath the blades of his skates, chill air in his face as he speeds across the rink, and then that final leap as he propels himself up and turns and turns and turns for what feels like hours but is really only seconds. Weightless, endless. Ah, yes, this kind of flying, Pierce Marchand loves.
He really fucking hates falling, however, which is unfortunate as he’s doing rather a lot of it lately. There’s a single frozen airborne moment where he can feel himself under-rotate, can feel the laws of physics reasserting their tyranny, and then another single moment of resignation as he mentally acknowledges that yes, he’s going to hit the ice, and yes, it’s going to hurt. Then he does hit the ice, and it does hurt, and his breath is knocked out of him so completely that he half-considers staying down.
Yet even as he’s considering it, he’s back on his feet. It is not in his nature to stay down, on the ice or off, and the four years since Sochi – since Nadia – have proven it. That’s what he tells himself, anyway, as he circles back around to get into position for the quad again. Internally he acknowledges the truth, that his performance is slipping, has been slipping and is only getting worse. The why of it is not a mystery – he’s distracted, and god knows he has cause enough. The only real mystery is what exactly he’s going to do about it.
His coach Vadim would tell him to focus – does tell him to, constantly. That is easier said than done when he’s so on edge, knowing Nadia will arrive soon if she hasn’t already. She could be close, no more than a mile away in the Olympic Village. She could be in the rink now, watching him. The possibility, distant though it may be, causes his gut to clench with a sickening combination of apprehension and anticipation. Almost four years since Sochi and he still hasn’t succeeded in ridding himself of his feelings for her. Almost four months since Skate America and his biggest mistake – not fumbling his quad, but allowing the frustration of it to drive him into Nadia’s arms. He’d pounded her into the wall in some storage closet, hating himself all the while, until it was time for her to go collect her medal. That’s when she and Benediktas Miller had qualified for the Olympics, her hair so tangled from Pierce’s grasp that even the commentators remarked upon it.
Benediktas is not as good as Pierce was when he skated pairs. Nadia and Benediktas are not as good as the two of them were together.
He forces these thoughts from his mind and attempts his quad again, but it’s no good. Already he can feel he’s not high enough, not rotating fast enough, so doesn’t even bother with the final turn and lands it as a triple instead. Still, landing anything is an improvement over the previous attempt and he’ll take his victories where he can. He refuses to back down now, not when he’s so close, again, to everything he’s ever wanted. The weight of a gold medal around his neck, the climb up the podium, the crowd cheering loudly enough to drown out the Canadian national anthem – not the anthem of the country of his birth, true, but he doesn’t really care what country he brings home the gold for. When he brings home the gold, it will be for himself alone, and for the years he’s spent burning from the inside out with desire for it. In all his life, he’s never wanted anything more.
Or, no: he’d once wanted Nadia more. But they’d skated pairs together, they’d been partners and lovers and everything to each other. Wanting her was entangled with wanting to win, one and the same. If not for her betrayal in Sochi, they’d have mounted that podium together.
It doesn’t matter. After everything that happened, he’d switched to singles and never looked back. Now, win or lose, he has only himself to blame. And he’s going to win. He has to win. He’s 28 and the punishing years of skating are starting to take their toll. This is almost certainly his last Olympics. Almost certainly his last chance: to quench the fire inside, to prove to everyone – Dorian, Nadia, the world at large – that he’s not just some rich dilettante buying his way into the sport. To prove it to himself.
He throws himself into a series of flying spins, painstakingly adjusting the line of his leg, the angle of his arms, as though to contradict the sly voice of doubt that tells him he can’t prove what isn’t true. Even Nadia had believed it, that their success was bought and paid for, but it had never bothered her the way it bothered him. Bothers him. She’d loved to flaunt their cutting-edge training facility, the new techniques, computerized and expensive, even the minor luxury of private ice time. She would insist he book it even when they didn’t need it, though they’d still put it to some kind of use. Unwillingly, he remembers Sochi, remembers an empty, silent rink much like this one and her body beneath his, neither of them paying any attention to the cold. He’d thrust deep and hard and had absolutely known in the clarity of orgasm that they’d take gold.
Of course, he’d been wrong, but that hadn’t been his fault.
This will be his fault, this final failure, if he can’t focus. He will not allow memories of her to distract him. He will not seek her out, will certainly not fall into the trap of fucking her again, even if she’s made it clear she would welcome him. That fact alone is suspicious. She’s always playing some kind of game and he will not allow her to ruin this the way she ruined Sochi. He will not.
The vow rings hollow even in his own head.
God but it infuriates him, fills him and moves him until he’s propelling himself backwards across the ice with the speed commentators are always calling a hallmark of his style. He doesn’t know about that; he only knows that skating like this is easier than walking, easier than breathing, and it feels better too, more vital. The sound of his blades scraping the now roughened surface of the rink is almost like something deadly being sharpened to a point – some sword he could fall on in repentance for the way Nadia makes him feel. No, some sword he could wield against those feelings, a way of laying them to rest for good.
It’s nothing but fantasy, of course. The only sharp implements on the ice with him are the toe picks of his skates, but he at least can wield those with skill. When the anger is too much, when the speed is too much, he stabs his pick into the surface of the rink and takes flight again, just the way he loves. Ankles together, arms tight to his chest, he closes his eyes and feels the jump, feels each rotation, feels himself complete each one before descending to land perfectly, balanced on the knife edge of his blade. It feels so flawless he knows it must look the same, effortless, light. He feels that this time, light. Free. Invincible. The way he’ll feel when he stands on that podium without her. God, he loves landing quads.
Even as he thinks this thought, something changes, and he is suddenly alert, suddenly convinced he’s being watched. He can feel their eyes on him with an almost palpable touch and an intensity that makes him shiver in a way that has nothing to do with the cold. Still, a lifetime of training and focus allows him to remain outwardly relaxed. Any casual observer, or even the far-from-casual observer he senses, would think he’s skating aimlessly, circling for practice or enjoyment, when in fact he is scanning the rink, searching for the intruder he can feel but not yet see.
At first, there’s no sign of anyone; he’d almost think he was wrong, except for the fact that he still wants to shiver, except for the fact that the hairs on the back of his neck are standing on end and every cell in his body is on high alert. His instincts are not always good but he trusts them. It’s all he can do, especially considering the frequent threats against his life – against all of his brothers’ lives, he’s not special in that regard. He reminds himself he’s more likely dealing with a tabloid journalist or desperate paparazzo.
Pierce eases himself into a lazy spin, slow enough that he can keep his eyes half-open without making himself sick, and focuses on the overwhelming sensation of being not-alone. It grows stronger and stronger until he comes to a stop, opening his eyes completely and staring straight ahead.
Someone – not him – gasps. It’s barely a sound, barely anything at all, but he hears it.
“I know you’re there,” he calls, words echoing in the vast rink. “Show yourself.”
Nothing happens, so he adds “Now!” in the most Dorian voice he can manage. It must be effective enough because there’s a shuffling sound from the spot he’s staring at, and then finally visible movement as someone stands and faces him.
For a single drawn out second, he could swear their eyes meet, despite the entire breadth of the ice separating them. At this distance it’s difficult to perceive any detail beyond long dark hair and a smaller frame that tells him the intruder is female, yet he knows somehow that their gazes are locked. It’s the strangest feeling, rather like knowing he was going to win gold in Sochi, except he also knows he’s not wrong this time. He still wants to shiver but in a different way than before.
And then the spell is broken and the intruder turns and flees, climbing the stairs two at a time before ducking down a hallway that leads to what is supposed to be a completely secure door.
“Wait!” he calls, but this time his commanding tone is not enough to stop her or bring her back.
He curses under his breath and propels himself to the edge of the rink with that hallmark speed of his, hesitating only briefly before ripping his skates off his feet and shoving them blindly into the trainers he’d left waiting for him on the bench. No time to tie the laces, of course, so he simply tucks them and takes off, sprinting to the front of the rink.
“Sir?” one of his security team asks, clearly confused as his boss barrels past him, but Pierce merely waves him off.
“Stay put,” he orders breathlessly before throwing open the front doors and hurtling into the cold evening air.
It’s dark out, which leaves him disoriented at first – it had been full light when he’d started practice. It’s also snowing, which he loves, but that is neither here nor there. He darts to the side, pumping his arms as he rounds the skating rink wall to see the supposedly secure back service door fly open and the intruder stumble out.
“Wait!” he says again, and she glances over her shoulder in surprise before increasing her speed.
He lets her go. Even if she works for some tabloid rag, the fact that he fell isn’t exactly news; he’s fallen in several televised practices recently, it’s becoming something of an embarrassment to him. So he has no reason to run her to ground, which is convenient because there is something distasteful to him about chasing down a fleeing female in a deserted area after dark. Besides, there may be plenty of people in Pyeongchang for the Olympics, but not so many that he won’t be able to find her if he wants to.
Marchand Brothers Book Two: The Billion Dollar Rebound Revenge will be available February 1, 2020! Register for my mailing list below for a reminder!