Welcome to the Snow and Ice Games where the competition is fierce and the romance is HOT in the new novel Love on the Tracks by USA Today bestselling Tamsen Parker.
Rowan Andrews is the unexpected darling of the Denver Snow and Ice Games. Luge has never captured the American public’s imagination as much as figure skating or even hockey, but her outsized personality and dare-devil ways have got everyone’s eyes glued to the track. Including a certain chart-topping heartthrob.
Zane Rivera is the lead singer of License to Game, the hottest band in the country. When Zane finds out Rowan Andrews has had some complimentary things to say about him, he arranges to meet her while he’s in Denver enjoying the games. And when a photo of him kissing Rowan on the cheek goes viral, they both see the advantages of faking a relationship for the publicity.
After Rowan’s injured in her final race, their relationship starts to feel all too real to Zane. But is this rock star ready to fall in love?
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Every time the erg snaps up to its starting point, I set myself again, pretending I'm at the starting gate at the top of the track, getting ready for a run. It's not quite the same movement, what with different shifting parts and no follow-through, but it's close enough to put me in the mind-set, to get me pumped up, to solidify my focus. My second time at the Snow and Ice Games, and I'm going to need to give everything I've got to make the podium here in Denver.
Like on the handles at the starting gate where I'll give the pull of my career, before paddling as though my life depends on it, and then sending myself hurtling down a frozen tube at speeds approaching ninety miles per hour. Laying supine on a tiny metal and fiberglass sled, contorting my body to be as aerodynamic as possible, making tiny shifts of my weight to hopefully lower my time by thousandths of a second. And, oh right, trying not to die in the process.
When I put it that way, luge sounds insane. Maybe it is, but at the end of the day, it's my life. I've spent years training for this, given up on the prospect of having a normal life in the slim hopes that I might slide down this mountain a fraction of a second faster than the next woman.
At least for this part of my training, I can have music. On the run, it's all the grinding clamor of the rough ice and, if it's a race, maybe some cowbell. But mostly it's the vibration and the clatter of two sharp steels slicing over the coarse surface of the track.
A luge track isn't like a hockey rink; there's no Zamboni burrito smoothing our way. Ask any slider who's lost contact with their sled — a.k.a. all of us at some undignified point or another — and they'll tell you that ice burn is more like running a frozen cheese grater over your face.
Here in the relative quiet of the gym, though, I can have music, and I do. I so do.
"Why the hell do you make us listen to this shit?"
Kate's my teammate, my roommate in the SIG village. The only people are allowed in are athletes and coaching staff, making it a haven — except from people who want to complain about my musical selections. Kate is my training partner and one of my best and only friends, and she's roughly my size, so we can trade clothes. But as much as we share, we do not share taste in music.
"How dare you call License to Game crap? They've been crushing the Top 40 lately, and their newest single is catchy as fuck. Admit it. I've seen you singing along."
"Only because you make me listen to it all the time, and it worms its way into my brain and won't leave. I know you think Zane Rivera's the second coming —"
"Ah! That is where I draw the line. Yes, I realize LtG is a boy band, and they're not musical trailblazers. Their music could even be described as derivative of ... well, all the other boy bands that came before them. But Zane Rivera is ..." I shift my hands on the bar of the erg, making a shitty-ass pull, but being able to do a dreamy finger-kiss is worth it. "Perfection."
Kate groans as I shift my hands back, and Travis snaps a towel toward her as he walks by with Aiden, his partner for the doubles event. "Yeah, Kate. Don't crap on Rowan's boyfriend."
I'm lucky my face is already beet red from exertion, otherwise the embarrassment-inspired flush creeping over my cheeks would be stomach-turningly obvious. All the same, I can't help myself from muttering under my breath, "He's not my boyfriend."
"Come on, you'd hit that if you had the chance."
I roll my eyes at Aiden's egging on, although yes, given the chance and he was game? I would bang Zane Rivera like a gong. He's divine, with his black hair, dark eyes, heavy brows, and lips that were made for sinning. Or really, singing, because despite LtG's music being bubblegum, verging on ridiculous tween-bait, the guy really does have a fine voice. Deep, smooth, and seductive, his voice is the only thing that makes me swoony. Otherwise, I'm a very practical girl. Have to be. No room in my life for sentiment, or romance. Just luge. Which I'm very adept at. The other stuff? Not so much.
Kate decides the boys haven't tormented me enough and piles on. "Yeah, but the closest Rowan's ever gotten to Zane Rivera is an autographed photo."
"That you got me for my birthday!"
Which, unbeknownst to Kate, I keep tucked under my mattress wherever I travel. Yes, it's juvenile and stupid, but when I'm having trouble sleeping, sometimes I pretend to talk to Zane — he's an exceptional listener, what with being two-dimensional and all — and it's calming. What is not calming is getting ragged on by my teammates, but all considered, it's not the worst way to blow off steam.
Besides, I have the remote for the stereo under my erg, and on my next glide, I snag it and turn up the music as loud as I can bear and sing at the top of my lungs while I pull, pull, pull.
Who knew banging your head against a concrete wall could be less painful than listening to four twentysomething dudes argue?
Teague's booming voice doesn't do anything to make listening less painful. "Nick, would you shut up already?"
This might be worse than when the band first formed — barely teenagers making what we thought was game-changing music that our parents probably recognized as an excuse to make noise, and lots of it. We fought all the time then, too, but mostly it was over who got the last bag of Cheetos. And fucking Teague, because he was bigger than all of us even then, would always snag it. Giant asshat.
"You've got an ear for hits like a tone-deaf tortoise!"
"Tortoises don't even have ears, shit-for-brains."
"My point exactly."
Thunk, thunk, my head meets the cinderblocks again. If only I could be a tortoise so I wouldn't have to hear my bandmates going at it once again. These days we don't write most of our own music, and you'd think that would take some of the pressure off. Really, it just makes the problems different, not gone.
It's times like these I get the urge to walk away from it all: the band, the money, the fans, our label. Everything. The thing is, though, these guys have been my life for the past ten years. As much as they drive me up a fucking wall, like Nicky and his constant need to be the center of attention — "Christian, would you put your goddamn sticks down and listen for a minute?" — they're also family. I owe everything I have to them, and walking away is not a possibility.
Even taking some space for something I want for myself isn't allowed. I think I'd be able to tolerate this crap if I had another basket to put some eggs in, but my label's been steadfast in its refusal to consider a side solo career. They're worried about it being, weirdly, too successful. Maybe in a few years when LtG isn't the name it is now, but at the moment? That idea's a nonstarter.
Not to mention that aside from the guys and my family, I don't have time or emotional energy to spend on anyone. Yeah, a post-concert hookup or a one-off evening with some starlet my agent sets up, but aside from that, I don't have the space for relationships.
So this is what I have. All I have.
Ignoring the din around me, I pick up the latest issue of Gold Plated, one of the celebrity gossip and fashion magazines. I don't know why Benji subscribes to this crap, but it never fails — the new issue's always on the ugly-ass wagon wheel coffee table that's been a fixture of our practice space since License to Game first became a thing.
While I wait for the fiery shitstorm of doom to burn itself out around me, I flip through the pages, seeing celebrities of varying types, many of whom one or more of us has slept with. Like her. And her. Or him. And oh god, the Martinelli twins. Why had Teague thought that was a good idea? He's usually the one of us with the best judgment ...
After a couple dozen pages of mind-numbing gossip, fashion tips for those of us who don't have stylists, and ads for stuff that somehow makes people feel like shit and want to crack open their wallets at the same time, I get to something worthwhile: a spread on the upcoming Snow and Ice Games.
Before the band had outgrown our childish aspirations and become a bona fide sensation, I'd liked playing sports. Had some delusions of grandeur about being able to play ball in college, delusions I've been able to hold onto since there's always the excuse of, "Well, I coulda, but I signed with a record label and made a shit ton of money singing other people's songs and dancing other people's dances."
While my bandmates tend to go after Hollywood fixtures, athletes are more my bag, and none more than the people who compete at the SIGs. Maybe a strange thing to be a turn-on, but not only is there a sick amount of hard work and dedication, but for three-plus years you're a goddamn nobody slaving away at some obscure sport, and then all of a sudden you're thrust into the spotlight and expected to know how to handle yourself in front of the media, all while gearing up for the biggest competition of your life. Between the delayed gratification and the being able to handle the extra shit suddenly heaped on their shoulders ... yeah, that's pretty hot. Not to mention their bodies. Jesus.
While my bandmates are still tearing each other apart, I slow down from my gossip-flipping to actually read the profiles of the athletes.
I'll tell you one person who hasn't got the handling the press part down, that downhill slalom phenom. Crash Delaney. "Crash" is right. If that kid's not careful, he's going to crash and burn. Too much of a wild card for my tastes. I'm sure a lot of people are rooting for him, because hey, American dream come true, but my money's on his teammate, the old man. Miles Palmer. I've got way more in common with that workhorse than I do with showboat Crash Delaney. I feel like I could have a beer with Miles while we told Crash and my bandmates to get off our respective lawns.
The rest of the profiles are a good distraction from the crap going on around me. I was looking forward to the SIGs before, and now I can't wait. I had planned to watch them at home, camped out on the couch, but wanderlust is hitting me hard. The urge to get the fuck out of Dodge because I am so over my bandmates' sniping and petty arguments is strong.
Maybe I could take some time, go out to Denver for a few days, see some stuff in person? Sure it's last minute, but there are a few perks of being famous. If nothing else, I could score a spot on one of music channels to do an interview, make my manager and my label happy.
I'd drag the rest of the crew along, too, but Christian doesn't like the cold, Teague couldn't care less about sports, and frankly I'd rather be alone for a few days.
The next page I flip to is a story on Rowan Andrews. Five-foot-seven and 145 pounds, the girl wouldn't look out of place in Valhalla. Viking blond and cut as hell, she looks like she could judge warriors, because she is a warrior. Learning about Valkyries in school, I always suspected they wouldn't just decide who lives or dies and then welcome their choices to the afterlife — at least some of them would sneak off to fight, and that would be Rowan. Yeah, there's a smile on her face, but it's of the "You want it? Come and take it" variety.
She's young — only twenty — but she's clearly got her shit together, at least as far as luge goes. I know what people who achieve big success early can be like from personal experience: kick-ass at one certain thing and kinda clueless when it comes to life in general. Don't know enough about Rowan to say if that applies or if I'm just projecting what I know about pop stars. It's her second SIGs, and if the hype is to be believed, she's medaling one way or another this year.
Even with all the shouting and arguing going on in the background, my stomach tightens. She's cute. I'm not sure everyone would think so because her features are strong, like the rest of her — sharp nose, square jaw. No way she's winning Miss America, but I'd take Rowan Andrews over one of those pageant princesses any day.
My fingertip absently traces the curve of her waist in her skin-tight uniform. What would she be like in person? In private? In bed? Get a grip, Rivera. The closest you're going to get to this girl is cheering her on from the side of the track. Her father's notoriously overprotective, and on cue, there's mention of him in her profile.
My mom died when I was ten and to distract me, my dad took me to a Luger Lookout, which is a youth search program for potential sliders. It was the one thing that took my mind off losing her, and I've been sliding ever since.
Well, maybe not the healthiest way to handle a loss, but can't blame them for trying. The rest of the interview is par for the course: she's grateful to be on the team, she's been working hard and is optimistic about her chances but the competition will be stiff, blah blah blah. The last question, as always, is prodding her to reveal something people may not know about her.
My guilty pleasure is listening to boy bands. It drives some of my teammates crazy in the weight room, but I love them. My favorite is License to Game — I've had a crush on their lead singer for basically as long as I've had crushes. Aside from medaling in Denver, probably the thing I'd like most is to meet Zane Rivera.
What the what?
I read it over and over again, charmed but also wary. This can't be a trick Benji or one of the other guys is playing on me, though — they know I'm a SIG junkie, but not the true extent of it. Besides, the magazine doesn't look as if it's been tampered with.
Rowan Andrews has a crush on me? The idea of her listening to me sing while she's working out is unexpectedly hot. Plus I like the idea that she does it despite her teammates' grumbling. I know our music's not some groundbreaking, intellectually stunning work of art or anything, but if it can get a SIG athlete through a tough workout? That's good enough for me.
I trace the outline of her torso and hip again, an idea forming in my mind. As my fingertip finds the fall of her blond hair over her shoulder, I make my call.
Fingers to my lips, I whistle loud and shrill, getting my bandmates' attention.
"Teague, you're right, it's not a great song —"
Our hulking bassist shoves a finger into Nicky's face. "Aha!"
"I'm not done yet. You're right that it's not a great song, but Nicky's right that it'll be a hit."
As expected, Nick vaults out of his seat on the beat-to-shit leather couch and goes right up to the four-inch-taller Teague, bumping his chest, or near as he can. "Booyah, bitch."
If the maturity level in this room could someday rise above eighth grade, I'd be forever thankful. Also shocked as hell, but still, grateful.
"The two of you, knock it off. We're going to put the song on our next album, it'll be the second single to drop and we'll make a shit ton of money off it, all right? We should also pick up that other thing Stanley was playing for us the other day. It won't be as big in radio play, but we'll get back some of the fans we lost on our last album. Unless anyone disagrees with me, that's what we're gonna do."
There are some grumbles around the room, but Teague puts Nicky into what I interpret as an apologetic headlock and gives him some noogies, Christian twirls his sticks, and Benji gives me a thumbs-up. Business as usual.
"All right. I'll call Stanley and let him know. But work's gonna have to wait a couple of weeks, because I've got somewhere I want to be."
Another day, another morning show. Green rooms like the one I'm sanding in are becoming all too familiar.
Smile, stay calm, say you're thrilled and grateful and you'll do your best to bring home the gold. That's all you need to do.
So far, the press has been great. I'm lucky they like me and, unlike some of my teammates, I've done this before. But sometimes I wish I could go back to the peace and quiet of my training days.
I'm fully aware most people wouldn't consider my routine — wake up at the asscrack of dawn to go for a five-mile training run, do school work for a few hours before heading to the weight room, meet with a nutritionist over lunch before heading out to the track to get some practice runs in, then have dinner and do more schoolwork — peace and quiet, but for me, that's how I live. That's what I'm good at.
Excerpted from "Love on the Tracks"
Copyright © 2017 Tamsen Parker.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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