Main The Heart Of Winter

The Heart Of Winter

My life was thrown into turmoil, following unexpected betrayal during the holiday season.Ever since that day my love for all things for Christmas immediately turned into hatred and distaste. However, when a small misshape has unforeseen circumstances,


I was back in my home town for the holidays and facing everything I desperately try to leave behind. I met my former gymnastic partner, handsome Logan Prince who is now a gymnastic Instructor whom I left behind. He was very talented as I was when we won Olympic medals in gymnastics.


Can I contain the feelings that I have for him?
Or will the dam finally burst and will he give me a second chance?
And will I ever finally rediscover my holiday spirit?

Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 157 KB
Download (epub, 157 KB)
 
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
1

The Event

Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 257 KB
2

Under Lying

Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 579 KB
THE HEART OF WINTER





Jennifer Hartley





Contents




Other Books By Jennifer Hartley





Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11





This iѕ a wоrk оf fiction. Names, characters, places аnd inсidеntѕ аrе еithеr thе рrоduсt оf thе аuthоr’ѕ imаginаtiоn or are used fiсtitiоuѕlу, and аnу rеѕеmblаnсе to actual реrѕоnѕ, living оr dеаd, business establishments, еvеntѕ, оr locales iѕ entirely coincidental.





@ Copyright 2019 by (Jennifer Hartley)





All right reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner.





First edition 2019





Other Books By Jennifer Hartley





The Heart of You Boxset - A Boxset of the series The Starting Line, A Distant Spark and The Heart of you.

Other Books in the series

Book 1- The Starting Line

Book 2- A Distant Spark

Book3- The Heart Of You





Second Chance Desires Boxset

Tangled Hearts

Perchance To Dream

Back To you

Aftercare

The Miles Between Us

Marine For Dinner

Want your Romance Books for Free or Discounted?

Get yourself on our Mailing List!

Claim Your FREE Bonus!

As a token of appreciation for downloading my book, I would like to give away a FREE BONUS, Just for you!

CLICK HERE TO CLAIM YOUR FREE BONUS!





Plus, by signing up to our subscription, you will also receive FREE KINDLE ROMANCE BOOKS and OUR NEWLY

RELEASED ROMANCE BOOKS FOR DISCOUNTED

PRICES.

CLICK HERE TO CLAIM YOUR FREE BONUS!

See you on the inside!

JENNIFER HARTLEY





1





Medina Callahan hates Christmas.

Okay, so she doesn’t hate it. It’s just… a lot to handle when what should be a two-day holiday is – in reality – two months of tinsel-fueled madness, homes lit up so brightly you can see them from space, Santas on every corner ho-ho-hoing about discounted products, and carols belting out in every store. The deep-scented smell of spruce, pine, and fir is everywhere and for Medina – it’s just a lot.

; She hasn’t always felt this way. As a kid, it was one of her favorite times of the year: her family all together, presents piled high around the six-foot tree, her brothers taking her and sister Jacqueline on the toboggan across town with the rest of the neighborhood kids, or her parents sharing a kiss beneath the mistletoe. Even as a young teen, when she moved away to train and was competing more, Christmas was one of the few times in the year that she knew they’d all be together. Even though it sometimes worried her to think about the rest of the season ahead, her mom had always found a way to take her mind off it, and, for a brief moment in time, Medina wasn’t a gymnast, she was just a girl looking forward to the holidays and to sneaking a little eggnog when nobody was looking.

But those days are long gone, and all that’s left of Christmas is a bitter memory she would rather forget.

It’s not a big deal. She usually tells herself every November when the stores start stocking baubles and twinkly lights. She usually keeps herself busy, working right the way up to Christmas Eve, then stopping over at her Mom’s for a family dinner with her sister, Jacqueline, before hopping on a flight to somewhere warm and sunny.

It suits her just fine.

The plane is empty, and there’s the added bonus of working on a tan in December. This year, she’s going to a spa in Costa Rica and – quite frankly – she can’t wait.

Just a few more weeks, she thinks, as she lets herself into her apartment and slips out of her runners. A few more weeks to go and then I’ll be away from all this.





“… and if you’re downtown today, be sure to stop by Indigo at Cauly Centre. The holiday gift shop is now open, and there’s plenty of fun for all the family in the new Christmas grotto. Get there early for your chance to meet Santa and his little helpers. But right now, here’s another Christmas classic…”

“No thank you,” Medina says to the talk show man, reaching out and pressing her fist down on the alarm clock.

She really should start using her phone like the rest of the world does, but she’s a little old-fashioned this way and enjoys the simplicity of tucking her phone away at night.

To be fair, she’d had to.

Her inability to sit still for long meant she never could resist the pull of seeing her phone light up as she lay there in the dark. So now, unless she’s traveling, it goes away at night, and Medina wakes up to the sound of local radio.

She stretches out beneath the comforter, a dark wave of hair sprawling across the pillow as she moves, before throwing back the covers and padding towards the bathroom in her slipper socks. It’s still dark out and she’s never been much of a morning person, but she loves her job, and she’s pretty damn good at it.

A decade ago, she could never imagine being this comfortable in front of a camera. Even when she was competing at the very top of her sport, she’d found the presence of myriad lenses daunting and invasive. Now, it was second nature to wake up and spend her morning talking to five and a half million viewers across the country.

Medina runs the shower and stares, bleary-eyed, at the mirror while she waits for the water to heat up.

“Good morning, Benton,” she says, wiping away the last vestiges of sleep. “It’s a brand new day, and we’re going to make it a good one.”





“Good morning Philip,” Medina says, stopping by the front desk to untangle the scarf around her neck.

“Good morning, Miss Callahan,” Philip replies, giving her a warm smile.

“Philip,” Medina says, tilting her head toward her shoulder and giving the young desk assistant a look. “We’ve had this conversation a thousand times; it’s Medie.”

Philip shrugs, unoffended. “Rules are rules, Miss Callahan.”

Medina grins widely and rolls her eyes - their CEO was a real stickler for presentation.

Philip grins back at her.

Medina waves her goodbyes before meeting her producer, Glenna, in the hallway.

“So, we’ve had a slight change in the scheduling,” she says, without preamble.

“Oh?” Medina says, shrugging out of her coat and running her fingers through the back of her hair.

“Yes, the initial line-up is the same,” Glenna tells her. “But Therese seemed big on some ornament guy, a – Maxwell Bosman – so you’ll be doing your final segment with him.”

“Are you kidding?” Medina says.

“Afraid not,” Glenna replies. “Apparently he has the largest Christmas ornament collection in the country… or the world… I don’t know. Here’s the briefing.”

She hands a piece of paper to Medina, who scans it quickly.

“Glenna,” she says, searching for the joke.

“It’s legit, I swear,” her producer says. “Because when I saw it, the first thing I did was call Clara to clarify.”

“And, Clara… clarified?” Medina says with a look of amusement on her face.

“No,” Glenna replies. “Clara hung up the phone on me. I should have known better.”

“I guess if you got this from her, you really got it from Therese so… yeah… oh, God!” Medina says, coming to a stop, still looking at the sheet in her hand.

“What?” Glenna says.

“He’s got a stuffed... partridge... collection,” she says with horror.

“I know! I know!” Glenna replies. “Just do you, and side-step that landmine.

“He built his own life-size pear tree out of recycled products!”

“Mm-hm,” Glenna says.

“For his recycled birds,” Medina says.

Glenna barks out a laugh.

“Just… get through it Callahan,” Glenna says. “Sometimes that’s the job.”

Medina tries to keep her eyes from rolling into the back of her head.

“I’m so glad I got my journalism degree,” she mumbles, heading down towards the studio.

Five minutes later, Medina slides into hair and make-up, hoping that whatever magic Tanya was about to cook up today was enough to make her feel a little bit festive - or at least enough to make her feel like she could fake it.

“So, any plans for the holidays?” Tanya asks as she sweeps the eyeliner pencil beneath Medina’s lower lids.

Medina sighs inwardly. She loves Tanya, really, the woman had worked miracles on days when Medina’s skin had had an overnight meltdown, but she doesn’t want to talk about this. How do you explain to someone, even somebody you see every day, that you just don’t like Christmas? Ultimately, people just don’t understand it, and they try to hand you a list of reasons why you should, and then it gets really awkward. So, she tries not to talk about it at all and in that way, avoids having to lie to anyone.

“Um, yeah,” she replies, grateful that she doesn’t have to make direct eye contact right now. “I’m going on vacation for two weeks.”

“Ooh, where to?” Tanya asks, now dutifully attacking Medina’s lashes with mascara.

“Uh – Costa Rica actually,” Medina replies, hesitantly. “I… um… wanted to break up the long Winter and go somewhere warm.”

“God, that sounds amazing,” Tanya continues, oblivious to Medina’s discomfort. “I’d kill to get out of here for a bit and get some sun. I swear every year my skin just gets more and more dry. Hey, do you think you could hook a girl up with a care package?”

Medina laughs gently. “Consider it done,” she replies.

“You are an angel,” Tanya tells her, grabbing the shade of nude pink that Medina loves.

“It’s the least I can do for the woman who makes me look so good every day.”

“Psh, girl, you look good every day,” Tanya replies.

Medina isn’t so sure about that, but she’s comfortable enough in her skin to accept the compliment for what it is. Her former career as a gymnast acted as a springboard for the current, and she’s very grateful for the opportunities and partnerships she’s been able to create over the years. She’s still not entirely certain how her pale skin and array of freckles equated into a face that was (for want of a better word) marketable – and she has to admit it’s odd to see herself in store-front windows or on billboards – but Medina is more than happy with the career she’s carved for herself following her exit from ballet. And she thinks it can only get better.

Provided she survives the holiday season, of course.

“So, I hear you’re interviewing those gymnasts today,” Tanya, says, finishing off Medina’s lips and standing back to examine the effect.

Medina’s eyes light up at the distraction.

“Yes, Sadie and Roland,” Medina replies, with a smile. “They’ve had a great year.”

“Please don’t kill me,” Tanya says, “but I know absolutely nothing about gymnastics. Mary’s doing their make-up right now, and until this morning, I had no idea that acrobatics and gymnastics were two different things. Sorry.”

Medina laughs loudly.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “I wasn’t exactly saving lives.”

“I’m more of a theatre girl,” Tanya muses. “Like, I completely forgot there were Olympics this year. Did they win?”

“Placed second,” Medina replies. “They were beaten by the French team, over some… interestingly subjective scores.”

“Sounds a little unfair,” Tanya says.

Medina shrugs.

“That’s the sport,” she replies. “That was it for us.”

“So, you know them, right?” Tanya asks.

“Sadie and Roland? Yeah, knew them as kids, although I’ve only seen them a handful of times over the last couple of years. Training for the Olympics practically eliminates any chance of you having free time.”

“It’s nice that you get a little reunion today then.”

“Oh yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”

Tanya picks up an applicator and starts brushing the rouge onto Medina’s cheeks.

“So, you were… a gymnast too, right? Or a pair gymnast?” Tanya asks. “Sorry.”

Medina smiles at the apology.

“Gymnast, yes, although it feels like a hundred years ago now.”

“You know I did Google you once and I have to say, your partner was a cutie.”

Medina tries not to wince and prays Tanya doesn’t dig any further. The only thing that would be worse than talking about the holidays would be talking about him.

“Had a great butt,” Tanya continues, stating it as fact.

Medina bobs her head noncommittally and glances at the clock, hoping Jess would be here in a second to do her hair and save her from commenting on her former gymnastics partner’s derrière.

“What was his name again?” Tanya asks.

“Logan,” Medina replies, softly, frowning at the strange tug in her belly.

“That’s right,” Tanya says. “Definite cutie. Do you still see him?”

Medina sits up a little straighter and puts on her best media face.

“Uh, no,” she replies, swiveling in her chair and pretending to check her phone. “But it’s not uncommon for partnerships to end and for people to move on with their lives. It’s not a big deal.”

Medina’s glad that Tanya’s not looking directly at her right now because, if she’s honest with herself, it was a more of a deal than she’d ever care to admit.





Glenna sits in the booth, keeping one eye on the monitor and the other on the set. Around her, a half a dozen other tech crew sit with headsets over their ears.

She watches Medina smile warmly at Maxwell Bosman, thoroughly charming the man and his chest full of intricate decorations before turning in her chair to face the camera once more.

“Camera one, close in on Medie,” she says, watching the monitor tighten up in response.

“… and I think we’ve all learned something today on how we can capture the magic of Christmas wherever we may go,” Medina says. “Thank you for joining us today and to all you viewers at home, from all of us here at The Morning Show. We wish you a very happy holiday season. And remember, it’s a brand new day, so go out and make it a good one.”

“And, cut,” Glenna says. “Good show everybody.”

She gets out of her seat, dumps her headset, and heads into the hallway with a few of the crew, smiling at the intern hurrying towards her with a coffee. She sips it gratefully, leaning her head against the wall and waiting for that first blissful jolt of caffeine to hit her brain.

“… oh no, I couldn’t, really,” she hears Medina say.

“Oh, you’ll love it,” Bosman says. “It’s a hand-crafted piece. I got it from a little town in Norway, and it’s the perfect addition to your holiday decoration.”

“I don’t even have a tree…” Medina replies.

Wait…

Glenna’s a wall and a sound booth over. She shouldn’t be able to hear anything from the set right now.

Oh, damn it!

“Guys!” Glenna calls, to the vacating crew. “Audio’s live!”

“What?” comes the confused response before they too realize that they can hear Medina talking.

“You... don’t have a tree?” Maxwell Bosman says, and Glenna can hear the scandalized undercurrent in his tone. “But it’s the holidays!”

“I know,” Medina replies. “But you know… I really don’t…”

Glenna races back into the booth.

She can see Medina through the glass standing near the edge of the stage, trying to detach her microphone. Bosman is just behind her, looking a little taken aback that she won’t accept the angel he’s holding in his hand.

“Where’s it coming from guys?” she hisses urgently, silently cursing everybody for not checking their station before they left.

“Come on, just take it!” Bosman insists, trying once more to hand it over.

“I really can’t,” Medina replies, quietly, still tugging at the mic on her collar which now appears to be stuck. “It wouldn’t be right. I don’t really celebrate…

“I insist!” Bosman says. “It will bring you great-”

“I just… don’t... like -”

“- joy.”

“Christmas.”

“You don’t… like… Christmas?” he says, loud and incredulous.

Oh boy, Glenna thinks, her eyes flicking up to the red light above her. They were live on air.

“Somebody find that switch!” she says.

“No,” Medina is saying. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean it like that. I just don’t really see the point of all this holiday madness.”

Bosman purses his lips as if deciding something.

“Okay,” he says, thrusting the angel back in her face. “Then you definitely need this in your life. Take it. It embodies the true spirit of Christmas.”

“I appreciate the sentiment,” she says, turning away from him once again. “But I’m not really sure that exists.”

“It does, I have seen it for myself!” Bosman replies. “If you’ll just let me -”

“I’m sorry,” Medina says, tightening her lips together as she tugs at her shirt. “I just…

Tug.

“… hate…”

Tug.

“…Christmas.”

Tug.

Glenna watches in horror as the guy heads toward Medina, delicate ornament aloft, just as she finally frees the microphone from her collar and swings back ‘round to face him.

Medina’s arm flies out in momentum, knocking him right off his feet and sending him crashing into the on-set Christmas tree, and he lies there, sprawled among the faux-presents, stunned into silence, holding what remains of the shattered angel.

Medina grabs her cheeks, heat creeping into her skin and she turns toward the booth just in time to see the ‘on-air’ light go out.

“Please tell me we were not on the air?” she says, her eyes imploring Glenna’s.

The camera crew is staring back at her, speechless, and Glenna can feel Medina’s panic reaching out and radiating toward her.

Her eyes are wide, and it’s clear she’s asking if anyone else in the studio had heard all that. Glenna winces, and Medina glances from the booth to the camera, her next question plain as day.

Oh yeah, everybody in the studio heard Medina Callahan, the darling of morning television, say that she hates Christmas.

But the more important question was, did the rest of the country hear it too?





2





“Well, viewers, if you’re just tuning in to tonight’s program, we have a doozy of a headliner for you. TV1’s Medina Callahan hates Christmas. The Morning Show host was caught live on camera arguing with one of the world’s finest ornament collectors about whether the spirit of Christmas actually exists.”

Medina sighs, staring at the television from her sofa. She watches the footage of her knocking Maxwell Bosman off his feet.

It looks even worse in slow motion.

“I mean, I’m not sure that was her best move.”

“I think that depends on your point of view, I mean there’s almost an elegance to it. I think she had great form.”

“Sure, but… you know… you better watch out!”

“And you certainly will cry.”

Her phone lights up next to her, and she hits the green button.

“It was an accident!” she says.

“Turn off the TV,” her mother replies.

“For those of you who remember, before getting into television, Medina had long been considered to be one of the best gymnasts in the country, winning pair gymnastics gold at the Olympics with former partner, Logan Prince.”

“Oh, God,” Medina groans, watching the replay from eight years ago, when their score was announced.

“Four years later, they took silver and retired shortly after.”

“And how is this relevant?” Medina says.

“Weren’t they also in a romantic relationship at the time?”

“No!” Medina says.

“I don’t know, but there were definitely rumors.”

“We were not an anything!” she says, burying her face in a cushion, before throwing it directly at the television, to escape the madness.

“Medie,” her mother says, from the other end of the line.

“And you call yourselves journalists?” Medina cries, waving wildly at the duo who seem to be taking great pleasure in dissecting her life.

“Yes, they were favorites.”

“Medina, turn it off,” her mother says, firmly.

“Well she’s not a favorite anymore, wouldn’t you say?”

“Oh my God,” Medina says, rolling her eyes in horror.

“Medina!”

“Alright!”

Medina makes a face as she slams her finger down on the remote.

“It’s off.”

She can hear her mother’s gentle breathing as she waits for Medina to calm down.

Medina, for her part, continues to groan into her lap.

“So,” her mother says, eventually. “What happened?”

“What happened?” Medina says. “We ended our partnership, and I moved on with my life, he moved on with his, and why does it even matter who I was dating at the time? What does that have to do with anything?”

Susan Callahan coughs, and Medina falls silent.

“I meant… what happened today, Medie?”

“Oh.”

“That’s not like you.”

“I know! I know!” Medina sighs. “I just… the guy kept thrusting that damn angel into my face, and I’d just spent twenty minutes listening to him talk about curating your decorations based on the kind of tree you’re going to buy to connect with its… soul – and he just wouldn’t take no for an answer and… I don’t know… it’s just…”

“The holidays?”

“The holidays.”

Medina nods, feeling somewhat numb about it all, and she’s mortified that every news network in town seems to have picked up the story.

“Mom, I’m so embarrassed,” she says. “What do I do?”

“Well, I guess the only thing you can do is go out there on Monday and apologize.”

Medina winces, her hand shooting out to steady the bounce in her right knee.

“I know,” she says, quietly. “I just… I don’t know if I can fix this.”

“Sweetheart, you are a beautiful soul with an incredible heart -”

“Someone literally drew a picture of me dressed as Scrooge!"

“Well, baby girl, then you are going to have to get out there and show everyone that that is not you. Prove them wrong.”

“You want me to lie?”

“Not… lie, hon, just… let them see the real you… be the person they’ve always known… the one who sits on their couch with them every morning, the one who captured their hearts during two Olympics.”

Medina’s phone vibrates against her hand.

“Okay,” she sighs. “Look, Mom, I have to go, I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay, hon, goodnight.”

“’Night.”

She hits the messaging app the minute the call disconnects.



Therese wants to see us tomorrow.

7.30 am.

Sorry.

Glenna

Medina sighs.

“Fantastic.”





Medina tries not to look at Therese directly for fear she may spontaneously combust under the steel of her gaze.

It’s Saturday – technically her day off – but instead of sleeping in and getting lost in a book, she’s down at the studio with a board full of execs and Glenna, trying her best not to wilt under the scrutiny.

“Couldn’t I just… apologize?” Medina asks, meekly. “Tell everybody that I love Christmas?”

Therese looks at her – not unkindly but certainly with the air of someone who does not care for mess.

“You were trending on Twitter,” she says.

“I was?”

She grits her teeth, fighting the curiosity to know what others had said about her.

It’s probably best I don’t know, she thinks.

Therese rustles the sheet in front of her and lowers her glasses to the edge of her nose, peering over them rather than through. Beside her, Medina can see Glenna fighting to cover a smirk. Their CEO was not one to be told by anyone that she had reached an age where she now requires reading glasses. Therese clears her throat, ensuring that all eyes were upon her.

“Hashtag medigrinch, hashtag medinahateschristmas.”

She says that last one slowly, punctuating each syllable.

Medina puts her head in her hands.

“I mean… I could still try - right?” she says.

“Would you mean it?” Therese asks.

Medina shakes her head.

She was good at her job – she was – but there was simply no way she could go out there and lie convincingly. She couldn’t tell millions of people about the magic of Christmas when she didn’t believe in it. They would see right through her. And they’d hate her even more for it.

Therese looks around the room.

“Right, so, damage control.”

Medina looks around the table in alarm.

“Is that really necessary?”

Judging by each of their expressions, it was.

“Is it… bad?” she asks.

Their collective cringe is enough of an answer.

“People are not happy, Medie,” Therese tells her. “I drove through a picket line this morning.”

“For real?” Glenna says. “It must be nice to have so much free time that you can just stand outside a building in the cold with your cardboard sign, protesting about people being human.”

Therese raises an eyebrow, conceding the point.

“Nevertheless,” she says. “This is not the time of year to risk losing viewers.”

Medina presses the heels of her palms against her eyes, suddenly very tired.

She’d barely slept, tossing and turning against her pillows, playing the moment over and over in her mind. And during the lull, the brief interlude between exhaustion and the last vestiges of consciousness, her entire life flashed beneath her eyelids and every mistake she’d ever made lit up in her mind like Christmas lights, pulsing in and out and creating a wave of self-doubt.

She’d given up eventually, hitting the gym in the early hours of the morning – a cap slung low over her brow (just in case) – before making her way to the studio a couple of hours before she really needed to.

She really hopes Therese is exaggerating this one and that people aren’t outside right now protesting her very existence. Things were bad enough.

“Medina, I have to be honest here,” Therese says. “We fielded a lot of calls yesterday – Roger, how many calls did we get?”

Roger Damson – their PR guru – tears his eyes away from his iPad, giving a cursory glance to Medina, before flicking his eyes to Therese and giving her some sort of coded shrug.

Medina thinks he looks bored. Either that, or he’s trying to work out why all of this was worth getting out of bed for. All she’d said was that she didn’t like Christmas. How did this warrant intervention of this scale?

She feels the guilt tugging at her chest, knowing that some of the people sitting around this table had probably only left the building well after midnight – and now they were back here because of something she’d done.

Everybody else is bobbing their heads backward and forward between Therese and Roger, expectantly, and she’s a little relieved that nobody else seemed able to translate Roger’s strange mechanical shoulder movements either.

Therese, however, nods, clearly satisfied that Roger had confirmed her findings and that Medina, through the sheer act of existing, had somehow kick-started the advance of the four horsemen.

“Therese?”

All heads turn toward Brian, one of the studio execs.

“Look, I know this is a less than ideal situation,” he says. “But… people are entitled to not like the holidays. Plenty of people don’t even celebrate Christmas at all. Surely, this is just being blown way out of proportion.”

Therese fixes him with a stare – she obviously disagrees.

Medina shoots Brian a tense smile, grateful for the defense but equally trying to communicate to him to stop digging a hole alongside her. Better to let her bury herself in this snowstorm of a mess.

“Yes,” Therese says, her voice raised above normal. “Plenty of people don’t enjoy the holidays and all the festive crap that comes with it.”

Everybody at the table looks back at her, eyes wide.

“I, for instance, am going to have to spend the early hours of Christmas Eve setting up two game consoles and downloading four hours worth of updates so that when my device-hungry teenagers tear through the house screaming and rip open their gifts at 8am, I do not have to deal with their incessant whining that Christmas is canceled because they can’t play any of the hundreds of dollars worth of games they’ve now tossed aside because the company in their infinite wisdom sells a product that needs an update the second it’s out of the box!”

Medina – who was always taught to look at others and listen when they speak – finds she’s the only one still looking at their CEO. Everybody else is staring awkwardly at their fingers – possibly wishing they were anywhere but here, listening to Therese talk about her kids.

The guilt wave hits her again, and she wonders – not for the first time – why she didn’t just let it go, take the ornament, and thank the weird guy, who travels all over the world looking for baubles carved by gnomes and tinsel birthed by rainbows. Why, when she’d survived this long without anybody having any real idea how much she hated Christmas, did she have to go and tell Mr. Christmas himself, that it just wasn’t her thing?

She catches Roger’s eye, and he gives her a look of sympathy. Clearly, he’s still wondering why he’s here.

Therese clears her throat again, her eyes ordering everyone there to forget her misstep in oversharing. She gives a quick nod, even though everyone else but Medina is examining the crease lines between their knuckles. Her eyes soften, momentarily, before they’re back to business.

“You know what our sponsors care about?” she says.

Medina doesn’t answer – nor does anyone else.

“Ratings,” she continues. “No sponsors? No Morning Show with Medina Callahan. Do you see where I’m going with this? The sponsors are not happy, Medie, and that is the problem. People with cardboard signs, I can handle, but after the whole Tony fiasco, this show – your show – and this network cannot take another hit like that.

Medina winces at the mention of her former co-host who had been booted off the show without ceremony and his building access revoked before the metaphorical ink had dried on his firing orders.

“Therese,” Glenna says, and Medina can feel the eye roll behind her even though she can’t see it. “Come on, Medie is not Tony Gold. The guy was embezzling, he was going into Accounts with his pants unzipped, and he was screwing everybody – literally and figuratively. A year ago, none of you thought this show could be saved, but it was… because of Medina Callahan. You left her alone to do her job and she single-handedly brought mornings back to life, saved all your asses, got more viewers on board than you’d ever seen before, and once a week, at least half those people get a good workout, and we all start to believe that maybe, just one day, we’ll all have her abs.”

Medina tightens her lips to hide a smile. Glenna was a force when crossed, and she knows her producer still feels the weight of that scandal – as if she should have been the one to see it coming, instead of the young intern they’d found crying in the washroom one morning.

Therese tilts her head, the only acknowledgment the CEO would give to indicate that Glenna had a point.

Roger makes a face, clearly agreeing with Glenna’s assessment of the situation.

“Okay,” Glenna says. “So, if we’re all in agreement, then why are we here at this unholy hour?”

Therese sighs, although it’s one stretched with patience.

“Because,” she says. “It’s one thing not to celebrate it. It’s another thing to hate Christmas and believe me; I’m all for people being free to spend their time dreading the damn holiday if they need to. But do you know when do you need to set aside our loathing, pretend that Christmas is not a terrible thing, and categorically abandon our beliefs, wants, and desires?”

The table awaits her answer, knowing anything they might have to add is irrelevant right now.

“When you’re on TV, averaging five and a half million viewers a day, and the entire goddamn country is watching.”

Medina lowers her eyes, blinking quickly against the sting.

“So, the question is now, how do we fix this?”

Medina glances at Glenna, wondering if this meant that they weren’t, in fact, being fired over this.

“Fix?” Medina croaks, swallowing against the dryness that had crept into her throat.

“Yes. Fix,” Therese replies. “You have an image problem, Medie. And shows have been canceled for less.”

Medina closes her eyes briefly, in acceptance.

“Actually,” Glenna says. “I may have an answer to that one.”

Therese spreads her palms, inviting any suggestion.

Glenna shoots a quick glance at Medina – in – apology?

Medina’s brow furrows, wondering why her producer suddenly looks like she’s been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

Glenna swipes at the screen on her phone and aims it at the television on the wall of the room. Medina swivels in her chair to get a better look and pales at the familiar face smiling back at her.

“Hi, Medina. It’s Harry Geyer here, I’m the town selectman for Tinsleton, the biggest little Christmas town in the state and dare I say it - well yes, I do - in the country!”

The only thing keeping Medina from rolling her eyes is her surprise. As if she could forget the man who made it his business to know everybody else’s. His beard had grown out since the last time she’d seen him (a little over four years ago now) and hair that had once been peppered was now a shock of white – making him look more like Santa Claus than ever.

“Although you may well remember me as the proprietor of Waffleton, I do believe,” he continues, chuckling to himself, presumably at the play on his diner’s name, or the notion that she needed the reminder. “Ah yes, I have such fond memories of you as a child, running through my doors after a practice at the gym, celebrating your success by enjoying a pint of my finest chocolate-fudge...”

Medina wants to point out that said pint was usually split a half dozen ways and by the time the boys were through with it, there was precious little room for enjoying much of anything.

Her stomach does a strange roll just then, and she realizes how long it’s been since she was – for want of an easier word – home. A Benton native she might be, but a little over an hour away, tucked just beyond the shores of the lake, was Tinsleton, the town that gave her the foundations she’d needed to go onto become an Olympic champion… a point she’s pretty sure its town selectman was now trying to make by rambling on about heritage and family and the glorious transformation of its streets at Christmas time.

Medina’s stomach does another flip at the grainy footage on the screen, nearly white-washed with age.

“… and the traditional Christmas Carnival that we celebrate every year,” Harry was saying, as Medina tries to shake her head free of the sudden image of her ten-year-old self, with her angel wings, doing flips with a twelve-year-old boy a head taller than she was, whose face was as familiar to her, as her own.

Logan, she thinks, with a small inward smile. How he’d hated that Santa costume.

“And so,” Harry continues. “We would like to invite you back to Tinsleton this Christmas, so that you can rediscover its magic and spirit, to see for yourself what this holiday is really about and share your heartfelt discoveries with the rest of the country too.”

Medina stares at the screen as it turns black.

“You have got to be kidding me,” she says, swinging her chair back to the table.

By the look of maniacal glee on Therese’s face, it’s clear that everybody in the room thinks this is the best idea since Coke turned Santa Claus, red.

She turns to look at Glenna, who has the grace – at least – to look apologetic. Her producer doesn’t know the full story, but she knows enough to understand that this was the worst possible thing she could have done.

“I love it,” Therese says. “Glenna, you’re going too. I want a daily segment; you can edit on the road. Take Steven with you, he has no life, and he works wonders with a camera.”

“I have not been back to Tinsleton in four years!” Medina says, trying to emphasize that sending her there now is unlikely to have the impact they so desperately want it to.

Therese is not even listening to her – she’s gazing out the expanse of window, taking in the city as dawn finishes shaking off the last vestiges of night and the familiar skyline is no longer caked in shadow.

“A hometown reunion,” she says, clapping her hands together as if she’d come up with the idea herself. “It’s perfect. We’ll call it: Finding Christmas.”

She turns suddenly, taking her seat at the head of the table and directing her gaze at Medina.

“So. We’ll get a couple of stand-ins for the show while you’re gone,” she says. “In the meantime, you’ll have audiences eating out of your hand, surrounded by wreaths and holly and crowns of tinsel with those cheekbones and that mega-watt smile of yours. Clara!”

Therese turns to her P.A. who has been sitting alongside her the entire time, silently taking notes.

“See if you can do a little digging, find out the local singles’ scene – Medina, didn’t you date a guy from there once? Is he still available?”

Medina opens her mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

“We’ll rustle up some good-looking boys and Steve can work his magic on getting them in the picture,” Therese continues. “People eat that Hallmark romance stuff right up.”

Medina’s face floods with heat.

“Oh relax, Medie,” she says. “I’m not asking you to do anything with them, just… pick one and make it look like you are. Make people buy it, just like you do with all those sports bras.”

Medina thinks it’s about time that the floor opens up and swallows her whole.

Her boss is sending her to Tinsleton – the town she’d sooner forget if it were possible. A town she knew… a town that knew her. A town which, for all its eccentricities, was part of the reason why she now chose to skip Christmas.

And now they were sending her back there, where she’d have to face a hurt she’d buried at the lodge on the lake, the only evidence of her goodbye, a series of hurried footprints in the snow.

She couldn’t go back there. She’d moved on from that life, from her former career. She’d found sponsorships with sporting brands, created partnerships within the fashion industry, had success on television playing the only person she ever wanted to be – herself.

But was she really herself when she’d left so much of it behind her?

This wasn’t a question she knew how to answer.

And it certainly wasn’t a question she wanted Tinsleton to answer either.

But this was her job – her career – on the line here. Was she really in a position to say ‘no’?

“Well?” Therese says, the bite to her voice indicating that her time was needed elsewhere.

Glenna spreads her hands.

“If you think it’ll work.”

Medina takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.

“I’ve spent half my life in front of a camera,” she says, with a confidence she doesn’t yet feel. “I can make it work.”





3





Logan blinks at the radio then stares at the dial, as if the heat building up behind his eyes could sear the control panel right off. It’s fortunate he knows these roads so well. Otherwise, he’s pretty sure the truck would be side-up in a ditch right now, and he’d be climbing out through the window before the freshly falling snow could bury him there.

Medina Callahan was coming home to Tinsleton.

At least, he’s pretty sure that’s what he heard.

Medina.

His Medina.

Well, not his Medina, he amends, with a pang somewhere between guilt and regret, but, yes, in many ways, she was his Medina. The girl who’d taken his (somewhat sweaty) hand when he was just nine-years-old and had held it the rest of his childhood – had continued to hold it sometime after – even though they’d often driven each other crazy through sheer proximity to one another… even through the awkwardness of her dating one of his best friends, and the inevitable fallout thereafter.

He hasn’t seen her since – wow – park that thought.

She’d been upset – understandably so – and he’s pretty sure he should have handled things… well… differently. But suddenly in a world where they’d had nothing but time – the sum of their combined hours on this earth determining that they’d been circling each other’s orbit more than they ever had anyone else's, including their families – it ran out. Their pairs’ gymnastics partnership had ended earlier that year, four years longer than either of them thought it would last, having briefly called it quits a few months after their gold medal win. It was a fate not necessarily of their choosing, decided both by Medina’s chronic illness as well as his own desire to keep the peace between him and his long-time friend. He had wanted to salvage it for the two of them and stepping away from it had seemed like… like the right thing to do.

He sighs at the memory. Because in the end, he’d realized there wasn’t much left to salvage and he was left holding a ball he wasn’t sure how to play. He remembers telling her that day – the day of their Olympic Homecoming Parade – that her boyfriend of five years, his friend of twelve, had gone. She’d simply nodded and said, “I know,” before taking his hand and heading out of the Tinsleton gym where the horse and carriage awaited them. The irony of him choosing the girl who he’d always resented a little when they were teenagers for coming in between their boyhood shenanigans was not lost on either of them.

And now she was coming back.

She was coming back, and he, honest to God, did not know how he felt about that.

He’d seen the broadcast – the entire town had seen it – and he’d endured an entire day of his mother and Aunt clucking in sympathy. His father was currently pretending he hadn’t seen anything. Logan smiles a little at that, acknowledging that it was his way of protecting Medie, loyalty to his son’s former gymnastics partner outweighing any embarrassing news headline she might have found herself under.

Logan pulls off the road, following the sign for ‘Christmas Trees’ and pulling into the lot alongside a dozen other vehicles, some of which are already sporting six-footers on their rooftops.

“Another one?”

Logan nods, gamely.

“Thanks, Tim,” he says, shaking hands with the guy who’s sold him six trees so far.

“You have to stop doing people favors, Logan, my boy.”

“Hard not to when it’s your own family,” Logan replies, with a grin.

“Yeah, I guess half the town is made up of Princes,” Tom replies, handing Logan the electronic card terminal so he can key in his pin.

“I know,” Logan replies. “We’re a real plague, isn’t it?”

The man smiles.

“But good for business,” he replies, helping Logan to secure the tree onto the truck. “You won’t hear me complaining!”

“Yeah, but it’s not good for my bank account!” Logan replies, with a laugh, knowing he’ll get his money back somehow – even if he has to bounce from house to house between Christmas Eve and New Year’s and clean out all their refrigerators.

He’s back on the road in five - the farmer having told him to drive safely in the dark – and winding down country roads before taking the exit for Tinsleton trying not to think about the color of the Scots Pine above him, the green of its branches reminding him of eyes he hasn’t seen in a long, long time.





Medina takes the turn off the highway, having skipped out of town the minute she’d filmed introductions and smiled beatifically at an – admittedly beautiful – string of shop window garlands. She’d barely been there a minute before eight people she knew had stopped to greet her. It was all so awkward - the polite smiles, the mutual inquiries as to the health of their families, the inevitable compliments and congratulations on her success in Benton all the while side-stepping the monumental, embarrassing encounter that had forced her back here. If she’s honest, it probably wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for her shadow and the camera hanging over his shoulder, filming every step she took, her life now a reality show for broadcast entertainment.

The open roads on the outskirts of town provide a haven away from all of that. It’s dark, and it’s quiet, and she doesn’t have to think about Glenna sitting at the Tinsleton Inn, surrounded by three large computer screens and her editing software.

She inhales slowly, holding it there, before a gentle release, repeating the exercise five times over and trying to rid herself of the tension pitted in her belly. She needs a distraction – something to take her mind off the fact that she’d caught Steve laughing at his phone during a break, only to discover that someone had photoshopped her head onto The Grinch. He’d had the grace to look ashamed, but Medina – who wasn’t nearly confrontational enough to have called him out for it – pretended to take it in stride, laughing at the image and trying to ease the cameraman’s worries at being caught red-handed. She knew she’d been soft on him but really, at this point, she needs as many friends as she can get.

She makes a turn, not really caring where it leads, just trying to escape her feelings, thinking that if she tries hard enough, she really could outrun Christmas.

Her phone starts to ring, the display indicating it was her mother. She shakes her head to clear her thoughts and reaches out for the hands-free, hitting the green button.

“Hey, Mom,” she says.

“Hey, bug, how was today?”

Medina briefly considers the possibility of lying, but the pause is all her mother needs to read the truth of it.

“That bad, huh?”

Medina sighs.

“It was just… it was a lot,” she confesses.

“I can imagine,” her mother replies. “I’m so sorry you have to do all this.”

“It’s all my fault,” Medina says. “I never lose it like that, ever, not in public, not in front of strangers and I just… God, Mom, what possessed me to throw a sweet little man into a Christmas tree?”

“Okay, honey, first of all… breathe,” comes the reply. “Secondly, you did not… throw anyone… into a tree. It was an accident. And the Internet is just being the Internet because that is where people can hide in relative anonymity and throw stones at others to try and distance themselves from their own problems.”

“Oh, Mom,” she groans, lifting a hand from the wheel to press it against the ache in her forehead. “I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes, baby, you can. You can do anything. Haven’t I always taught you that?”

Medina nods.

“You have.”

“Then do it,” her mother tells her. “Win them over. Win them all over. Just like you and Logan did when you were working together.”

Logan.

It was a name they’d circumvented for many years – not completely, of course, because her partnership with him had captured the hearts of the entire country and in many ways, her name was still synonymous with his – but she did wonder why now of all times, her mother had decided to bring him into the conversation.

Medina feels the wisest course of action is to deflect.

“I’m working on it,” she says, sending a silent message to her mother that Logan is a topic of conversation she isn't ready for.

She bears no ill-will towards him, but that also doesn’t mean she wants to talk about him any more than she has done. As far as she’s concerned, that part of her life is long since over and she’d worked hard to carve a life for herself outside the realm and pressures of gymnastics.

“Good,” her mother replies, letting Medina know that she’d got the message. “Where are you now?”

“Driving,” Medina says. “I needed to clear my head.”

“I understand.”

Medina frowns. She’d been so wrapped up in her own feelings, she’d missed it but…

“Mom, are you okay?”

Her mother sighs. It’s weighted and filled with sadness.

"Hang on, let me pull over," Medina says, passing a small intersection, before moving off to the side of it. “Mom?”

“I’ve decided to sell the Lodge.”

“The… you mean… our…”

“Yes, hon, the one in Tinsleton.”

The ache in her gut returns, and she’s not sure what to say.

“Medie? Did you hear me?”

“Oh,” Medina replies.

Probably not the best answer she could have given her mother under the circumstances.

“Why?” she adds, the conflict of emotions declaring battle in her mind.

“Because it’s time,” comes the reply. “Truth is, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now and just… couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt like I’d be selling all of our memories.”

“Not all memories are worth keeping, Mom,” Medina points out, and she hates the bitterness creeping into her voice.

“Medie,” her mother says, gently. “You have every right to your feelings, but let’s not throw away the years we had before that. We both know that we’ve celebrated more there than we’ve ever lost.”

Medina remains silent. This is not a conversation she wants to have.

“Medie, I know that loss has stayed with you and I won’t presume to tell you how to feel about it, but I remember the good times too. And it’s the reason I could never bring myself to give it up.”

“So, what’s changed?” Medina asks.

“You being there has reminded me of just how long it’s been… and as much as we might have continued on with holiday traditions, you and I both know I would never have got you out there.”

“Are you saying it’s my fault?”

“No, honey,” her mother replies softly. “It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s… fault. But the Lodge has stood empty for a long time… and it’s time to let it go.”

Medina blinks back tears, fighting against an emotion she can’t name.

Callahan Lodge had been in her family longer than she could remember – in fact, it was probably the only memory that rivaled the one held by Logan. Granted, she’d not been there in four years, and had no desire to visit there now, but never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that one day it would not be theirs.

“Mom… are you… sure?” she says.

Her voice sounds heavy in her ears.

“I’m sure,” her mother replies. “I’ve already spoken to the boys and Jacqueline.”

Medina smiles at the way she calls her brothers “boys”, considering both Rick and Neal are grown men with families of their own.

“They seemed to understand and supported the decision to sell.”

Medina feels a thousand memories flooding through her at once: bare toes on summer sand; the smell of campfire in the Fall; spying on her sister as she disappeared into the bushes with a boy from down the beach; stolen kisses of her own, beneath the overhang of Spring blossom; and a lifetime of Christmases spent together with music, laughter, and joy.

“I guess… if you feel that’s best,” Medina replies, throwing off the sensation that her mother was making a terrible mistake.

Why should she hold onto it, when no one had any intention of using it anymore? For posterity’s sake? Hardly a reason when her brothers had their own lives and Jacqueline preferred trips abroad. It occurs to her that maybe her mother had been keeping it for her - waiting for Medina to come to terms and say goodbye, and she feels guilty and foolish for having ignored the situation as long as she had.

“The question is,” her mother says, interrupting Medina’s thoughts. “Do you?”

“I…”

Dammit, why am I hesitating like this?

“Yeah,” she says finally. “Yeah, sell it.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” she repeats, hoping she at least sounds convincing. “Look, Mom, I have to go. The roads are pretty dark, and I’ve turned myself around somewhere.”

“Okay, hon. Drive safe.”

“I will. Bye, Mom.”

She waits for the call to end, before heaving a sigh that shudders right across her shoulders and travels down her spine. Resting her head against the wheel, she takes another count of five breaths, pushing out the anxiety that threatens to overwhelm her.

She’s not altogether sure how long she’s been out here, and sleep is probably better for her right now than wandering around in the middle of nowhere. Giving her cheeks a gentle slap, she turns the key in the ignition, sticks her SUV in drive, and swings it ‘round onto the road, turning back towards the intersection…

There's a sudden blast of horn and Medina's neck jerks with the impact as the truck hits her head-on, its lights temporarily blinding her, before the airbag engulfs her in darkness. She hears something clunk against the hood, the hard knock of something heavy falling across the engine, followed by scratches on glass.

She’s a little dazed, and there’s a sting across her temple, but otherwise, she feels unharmed. Medina swipes at the airbag, pushing it out of the way, and climbing – shakily – out of her car. The headlights from both vehicles bathe the intersection she’d swung into – and even in her panic, she berates herself for pulling off like she did, assuming these back-water roads would be quiet. It could have been a lot worse if the car she’d swung into had been traveling at high speed, rather than turning into the road.

Medina walks down the length of the car, to check on the driver of the other vehicle. She’s stopped by the sight of the impact, realizing that the thing she’d felt fall against the front of the SUV was an enormous Christmas tree, its branches now unceremoniously sprawled across her windshield.

Her hands reach automatically for her cheeks, trying to fathom what on earth she’d just done.

There’s movement in her periphery, and she turns her head to see the guy she’d hit leaning over the top of the driver-door and giving her a wry look.

“So… you’re hitting people with your car now, eh?” he drawls.

Medina's eyes widen, her mouth dropping open in response.

"Logan," she says, her voice sounding breathy in her ears.

"Hey, Medie," he says. “So... is it just because it's me? Or are you trying to make sure nobody else gets a tree this year?”





4





This is ridiculous, Medina thinks, even for a small town.

She’s sitting on the back of the ambulance, its lights flashing furiously overhead, warning anyone and everyone nearby that some great calamity – obviously named Medina Callahan – has besieged their humble town and exposed them all to a chaos that rode in on the back of her rather serious (and now clearly, national) case of the bah humbugs.

She lowers the icepack from her head to her lap, watching the colored patterns dance across her denims as the lights rotate above her, and tries desperately to ignore the man alongside her who seems to be thoroughly enjoying the fact that they’re surrounded by the local sheriff’s office, the fire department, the paramedics (of course), two mounted police officers, and about one third of the town.

Both Logan’s truck and her SUV are still in the middle of the road, largely due to the recovery men who can’t stop laughing at the Christmas tree lying limp across the two vehicles, its trunk cracked somewhere near the middle, twisted branches shedding needles with each attempt to move it.

She watches as both men finally grab hold of either side, lifting it clear, and she tries not to wince at the damage now that her view is no longer obstructed. They shimmy along, wheezing every time needles rain down over their boots, shifting the tree to the side of the road.

They’re almost there before the weight of its center drags the lower half down and the trunk snaps in two sending both the tree and the men to the floor. They’re crying with laughter – as are the emergency service personal.

She could have taken it, could have handled it all with humor and grace, if it weren’t for the idiot alongside her who was pointing and cackling in (what could only be described as) utter glee. His chin is tipped upwards, mouth pulled back in a grin so wide it leaves his upper gum exposed while laughter lines crease the corners of his eyes. His shoulders shake as his laugh comes out in bursts of loud hisses.

Medina glares at him.

“You know you’re in very real danger of being murdered right now?” she says.

But Logan is not in the least bit concerned by her threat, and when the tip of the tree snaps off in the guy’s hand as he attempts to recover the broken half, Logan’s laughter only gets louder. He’s bent double, slapping his knee and stomping both feet in quick succession.

Her mouth gapes, and she wonders if anyone would notice if she stuffed a wad of gauze into his mouth. Given the number of eyes on her at this very moment, she’s pretty sure her chances were slim to none.

She sighs, raising the icepack to her temple once more, trying to block them all from view and wishing she was anywhere but here.

“Lighten up, Medie,” he says, bopping his closed fist against her thigh. “It’s just like the Homecoming Parade… except… this time, instead of folks celebrating your victory with you and your gymnastics partner, they’ll be talking about how you tried to run him off the road.”

“Stop it.”

“Because you were offended by my Christmas Tree.”

“I swear to God…”

“Next time, I better make sure I’m hauling a truck full of Ficus,” he says. “They might have fared better.”

“Logan.”

“Maybe it was the type of tree. Do you have a preference?” he asks. “You know, just in case I chance it again?”

“Could we not do this?”

“It was a Scots Pine,” he says, completely ignoring her. “I mean, they’re beautiful and look great next to a fireplace.”

“Logan.”

“What if I’d gone for Spruce or Fir?” he says, tapping his nose with a finger and irritating her thoroughly. “Would that have worked for you?”

“I swear I’m going to -”

“What? Stab me with pinecones? Beat me with a bauble?”

She rolls her eyes.

“You know, you’re awfully chipper for a guy whose truck is about to need some serious bodywork.”

He cocks his head at her, one eyebrow shooting toward his hairline.

“Worth it,” he says. “To spend this quality time with you.”

He waves to the crowd of onlookers and Medina can see a dozen or so Princes among them.

Logan leans over into her ear.

“You’ll never get us all,” he whispers.

“I hate you,” she sighs.

He smirks at the win, raising one hand to his mother who hurries over to them, her face filled with concern. His father, Ned, is not far behind her.

“Medie!” Darlene says, folding Medina into the warmth of her embrace.

Medina’s not sure what to say, her confusion mirroring Logan’s.

“Uh – hi Ma,” he says. “It’s me, Logan. Your son, remember?”

Darlene Prince clucks and reaches one arm out to palm his cheek.

“Well there are so many of you,” she replies, smiling at him with obvious affection.

“Are you both alright?” Ned Prince asks.

Medina nods mutely.

She hasn’t seen either one of them in four years, and the guilt of that knowledge is creeping in fast.

“We’re fine, Ma,” he says. “Medie just thought the fair started a little early this year… wanted to ride on those bumper cars.”

Medina looks away.

“Logan,” Ned says, his voice short with warning. “Be nice.”

Logan raises his palms and shrugs but is otherwise silent.

Medina allows Darlene to fuss over her a little as she tuts sympathetically at the cut along her hairline, pressing gentle fingers into the waves of hair that had slipped loose of her ponytail. She’d known Darlene Prince since she was seven-years-old, and if there was any other substitute for her own mother right now, it was Logan’s.

She can feel the lump forming in the back of her throat as Darlene brushes gently at her cheeks, and she dare not speak for fear of whatever sound might come out in reply. She’d never really meant to let it get this far, to the point where she’d cut so many people out of her life. But the Princes were synonymous with Tinsleton, and it was Tinsleton she had been looking to escape.

“You’re alright, dove,” Darlene says, cupping Medina’s chin. “You’re going to come home with me and have some tea.”

Medina looks somewhat alarmed at this idea. This wasn’t part of her plan.

It was never her intention to come back to Tinsleton and rekindle old connections. She’d strategized, time-tabled, made sure that every moment would be accounted for. And when the cameras were off, she could hide in her room with her mountain of books or drive up to Packer and use one of the gyms there. Nowhere in any part of her plan did it say she would be drinking tea with the locals – especially the Princes. This was a PR exercise, and anything more than that presented a danger that Medina just wasn’t willing to face.

“That really isn’t necessary, Darlene,” she says, hating the way her voice betrays her emotions.

“It’s already decided,” Darlene replies, brooking no argument. “Come on, Ned, let’s go find out how long these kids have to be out here in the cold.”

Medina watches them go, her sadness and guilt flooding what remained of her senses.

“You’ll notice how I wasn’t invited,” Logan says, shaking his head and frowning after his parents.

She tries not to smile, fighting the twitch that threatens her lips. She can feel him watching her, gauging her response and when he’s satisfied that he’s amused her, he relaxes once more, grabbing a few balls of bandaging and beginning to juggle them where he sits.

Medina looks at him then, her curiosity beating out the desire to keep a very firm lid on the box that she’d previously put him in and she realizes he looks very much the same. He has the same boyish features, same disarming smile, same long, regal nose, and the same jawline that ticked when he was tense or jealous.

He looks good, she admits, her eyes casting over the rest of him, resting briefly on the raised curve of muscle beneath his sleeve. She thinks he must be cold, and wonders for a minute what had happened to his jacket, before she realizes that at some point between the crash and the arrival of the authorities, he must have wrapped it around her.

“See anything you like?” he says.

“What?” she replies, startled.

“Should I lift up my shirt?” he asks. “Want to see if I follow Medina’s Fab Abs?”

“Oh… shut up,” she replies, with a sigh.

“Hey, thought we didn’t say ‘shut up’?” he says, his expression mock-serious.

“Well… then… just… jingle all the way, why don’t you?”

He laughs at that, his shoulders beginning to shake all over again.

She watches him squeeze his eyes between thumb and forefinger, wiping at the moisture pooling in its corners.

“Ah, Medie,” he says. “I’ve missed you.”

She’s a little taken aback by that. Sure, they’d worked well together, but sometimes their partnership and drive had come at great personal cost. Medina’s very aware that she’s the reason he lost one of his closest friends, and she’s also cognizant of the fact that back when they were teenagers, he wasn’t altogether happy with having to spend time with her outside of gymnastics. Their relationship had improved between Olympics – when the reality of their circumstances isolated them to a point where they really only had each other – but still, she’s surprised to hear him say he’s missed her, if only because his presence here is having a calming influence on her (even if she does want to smack him a little).

“Uh… what the f-”

Medina snaps out of her reverie and follows his gaze.

“Oh no,” she says.

“Friend of yours?” Logan asks, nodding in the direction of the burly guy climbing out of the large blue van and hefting a rather sizeable camera over his shoulder.

“That’s Steve.”

“Steve?”

“My cameraman.”

“Your… cameraman?”

“Yes.”

“You have your own personal cameraman?”

“No.”

“Does he just follow you around and take pictures all day?”

Sigh.

“No.”

“I mean, I guess your Instagram is pretty curated sometimes.”

She raises an eyebrow at him.

“I’ve read,” he adds with a cough.

“He’s with the network,” she says.

“Ah, yes, the network… TV1,” he says, elongating the name. “I’m Tony Gold, and I’m Medina Callahan, good morning; it’s a brand-new day so let’s make it a good one!”

She takes it back; she’d happily strangle him with tinsel right about now.

“Guess you have a thing for gold, eh?”

Her head turns sharply toward him.

“You know Tony left the show a year ago, right?” she says, not rising to the bait. “And he was a complete jerk.”

He nods his reply, but she doesn’t miss the ball of tension ticking in his jaw. He never did like it when she was partnered with somebody else.

“Medina!”

She looks out, just beyond Steve, and finds Glenna slip-sliding across the icy stretch of road toward her.

“Oh my God, are you alright?”

Medina nods.

“I’m fine, Glen,” Medina replies. “How did you know I was here?”

“Are you kidding?” Glenna says. “It was all over the town.”

“Of course, it was.”

Medina points toward the van.

“Was that necessary?” she asks, trying to ignore the red light being emitted from the camera.

Glenna spares a glance for Steve.

“He offered to drive me.”

Medina sighs.

“Of course, he did.”

Glenna switches her attention to Logan.

“Oh my God,” she says. “Logan Prince.”

Medina rolls her eyes.

“Logan, Glenna. Glenna, Logan,” she says, by way of introduction.

“My wife loves you,” Glenna tells him. “You are probably the only man whose babies she would consider having.”

Logan smiles. “Tell her I would be delighted,” he says.

Glenna turns to Medina. “He’s cute,” she says.

“Don’t feed his ego,” she replies. “It’s big enough as it is.”

“No, please,” Logan says. “Feed it. I need the gratification.”

Medina sends him a side-long look, noticing how red-faced he’d become in the cold.

“Isn’t there a sleigh you could be guiding somewhere?” she says, pushing at his nose with her finger.

Logan is completely unfazed by her dig and stares directly into the camera hovering just over Glenna’s shoulder.

“Hi! I’m Logan Prince, and this here is Medina Callahan,” he says, jerking his thumb in her direction. “And if you were expecting a silent night here in good ol’ Tinsleton, you better think again. In this town, we celebrate Christmas in style – people come for miles around to take in its beautiful sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday. But… you better watch out… you better not… take your eyes off the road… or you just might find yourself sitting out here in the middle of the night with your former gymnastics partner… and a Christmas Tree lodged inside your vehicle."

“Well, Logan,” Medina replies. “Maybe it’s because you chose a tree not native to the region and we all know how you can be, so really, I was just saving you from yourself.”

“And what a way to do it,” Logan says.

"Thanks, Prince."

“I do try,” Logan says.

"Yes, Logan," she replies. "You're very trying."





5





“Good Morning everyone, and welcome to another day in Tinsleton, the biggest little Christmas town you’ll find this holiday season. I’m Medina Callahan, and today, we’ll be sampling the very finest festive bakes. From frosted cookies to fruit Santas, from Yule logs to Christmas cake, I’ll be testing each and every sweet treat ahead of this year’s All Yule Can Eat-athon, an annual tradition going back sixty-three years, where each entry is judged by taste and merit, the final decision resting solely with the townspeople. Join me today, live on Twitter, and help me decide which one of these incredible treats, I should vote for.”

Medina pops the strawberry Santa into her mouth, laughing at the whipped cream that slips out of its center and smacks her on the chin.

Glenna pauses the computer screen and glances at Medina who is sitting alongside her.

“That was perfect,” she says. “Couldn’t have been better even if I’d planned it.”

Medina smiles and tucks a damp strand of hair behind her ears. She watches her producer slip the prerecording into the video software, working her magic and merging it with the other clips they’d filmed that day, before and during the Eat-athon.

It was a good day, and Medina certainly remembers how much she’d loved it as a child. It’s been a long time since she’d been to one, accounting for the fact that she and Logan missed a lot of them when they were training. It’s strange being back here, surrounded by people she knows, by people who seem genuinely thrilled to see her, despite her on-air misstep - and it tugs at her with the same set of feelings she can’t escape. Almost a week back in Tinsleton and it already feels as if she never left.

Glenna looks over to find her friend lost in thought.

“You okay?”

“I guess.”

“Well I’m convinced,” Glenna says, raising her eyebrows.

Medina smiles.

“Sorry,” she says. “I just… I can’t help but feel…”

“What?”

“Disingenuous,” she says.

Glenna frowns.

“In what way?”

“All of this…” Medina says, waving her hand around in the air. “It’s for the show. It’s to make people feel better about me. It’s to make me feel better about myself, to prove I’m not some horrible human being. But I don’t really believe any of it. It doesn’t make me hate the holidays any less. All it does is make me a fraud.”

“Medie,” Glenna says.

Medina looks away, cursing the sting in her eyes.

Glenna puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Medie, you’re doing fine,” she says. “Therese says ratings are actually up.”

“And social media can see right through ratings,” Medina replies.

“What do you mean?”

“People aren’t stupid, Glenna,” Medina says. “All this is doing is opening up a platform for others to continue to throw stones and it’s not you or Steve or Therese in the firing line. It’s me. It’s me every time I check my mentions and find somebody else telling me that if I’m not being my true self, that what I present to the world is not good enough for their wants, needs, and desires, that it serves me right for not being able to live up to this perfect image of myself when I have always known that I am not perfect.”

She gets up then, pacing the room in her dressing gown.

“I don’t want to see some stranger on the Internet telling me I’m fake or fans resurrecting their assumptions about my past misdeeds and airing them out as laundered fact, simply because I’m news at the minute. I just want to be me! And I shouldn’t have to tell the country why Christmas is so hard for me. Christmas is hard for a lot of people, and nobody is entitled to my version of it. Tony Gold got fired for stealing money – a fact everybody knew. A month later, he gets a job on another network, and suddenly he’s everybody’s best friend again. I break one tree ornament, and suddenly I’m the not-so-virtuous Grinch, and if I can’t prove to everyone in front of cameras that I’m somehow worthy of being human, I’ll be publicly dismissed and replaced. Try dealing with that, and then come talk to me about ratings.”

She’s breathing hard, and her skin feels clammy beneath the folds of her gown. She presses the heels of her palms against her eyes and turns back toward Glenna.

“I’m sorry,” she says, flopping down into an armchair.

Glenna doesn’t look at all perturbed by Medina’s outburst. She purses her lips and raps her fingers against the desk.

“You know what we need?”

Medina shakes her head.

“We need… something real.”

Medina doesn’t really want to ask what that means; she doesn’t much care either.

“You leave this with me, okay?” Glenna says, gently, coming over to wrap a comforting arm around Medina’s shoulder. “We’re going to find a way to make this work.”

Medina hides a sniff behind her hand and tries a smile.

“Take the day,” she says. “Find something that makes you happy and do it. No investigative reporting, no looking for festive cheer, just you. You and the town. Find your old haunts, walk down memory lane, get out of your head a bit.”

“Therese’s not going to like that,” Medina points out.

“Therese can kiss my ass,” Glenna replies.

Medina snorts.

“It’s bad enough that my job is on the line here,” she says. “I’m not going to let you put yours out too.”

Glenna tilts her head and considers Medina’s words.

“Okay, you go get dressed,” Glenna says. “Steve and I will meet you downstairs in an hour. It’s time for everyone to meet the real Medina Callahan.”

Medina looks up in surprise.

“And just how are we going to do that?” she asks.

“By just letting the camera run,” Glenna replies, “by letting you show us your roots. And what better way to do it than taking us back to where your journey began? To the reason why the entire country fell in love with you.”

“Uh… what?” Medina says.

“What time does the local gym open?”

“Why?” Medina asks, already wary of the answer.

“Because,” Glenna replies. “On tomorrow’s segment, we’ll be doing gymnastics with Medina Callahan.”





Logan looks on with amusement as Steve, the camera guy, tries his luck on Crinella Prince. He’s gesticulating wildly, his arms laden down with a tripod and one enormous camera. His aunt has her arms folded across her chest and is staring up at the man with a look that brooks no argument.

Medina is on the far side of the gym, completely ignoring the exchange, as she focuses on pulling on her socks.

He shakes his head. Some things never change.

She doesn’t seem at all concerned that her lackey is having trouble getting his rather cumbersome equipment into the gym. In fact, he’s pretty sure she knew this would happen and conveniently disappeared just before he started transporting it inside.

He’s not really sure what to do with the fact that she’s here – not Tinsleton, (that he’s gotten used to), and he’s enjoyed hamming it up for the camera and pushing her buttons when she’s least expected it – but here in this building, it’s another kind of story, it’s their story, and he admits to having boxed that up, along with the tinsel and the tree topper, the day she’d made her retreat, running away from the warmth of the sheets that entangled them, leaving nothing behind her but footprints in the snow.



Logan shakes away the memory, feeling a sudden stab of guilt in his gut. It wasn’t Medie’s fault. It wasn’t his either. She’d needed a friend, and he probably shouldn’t have... well. But she was crying, and he was helpless – and he hadn’t really thought she’d respond in the way that she had. But as heat pooled between them, an urgency taking over any thought that might have cried for reason, they tangled their bodies between the sheets of her bed, their need and their hunger leaving them both trembling, and breathless and spent.

He looks down suddenly at the dark soft foam beneath his feet. Now was probably not the time to be thinking about any of this. It wouldn’t do him any good, and it was probably unfair to Medina. He’d been a big boy back then, and he’d known exactly what he was doing. Holding it against her would just make him look like an ass.

Logan returns his attention to his aunt, who looks like she’s about to tell Steve what he can do with his camera. He sighs and makes his way down there. Parents and kids from the gym were starting to arrive for rehearsals, and he didn’t want a scene. By the time he’s hopped awkwardly from the sound booth down the stairs, Medina has walked over – presumably, like him, to prevent some form of disaster.

She smiles – somewhat shyly – at him, and he wonders if she too was a little lost in memory.

“Is there a problem?” Logan asks, directing his question at Crinella and Steve.

“Yes,” Crinella says. “This… imp is trying to wrestle half a ton of equipment into the gym.”

Logan glances away, catching Medina’s eye. He’s damn sure he just missed another smile.

“I’m just trying to do my job, ma’am,” Steve says, with a huff, his brow starting to sweat under the weight of his kit. “Your town selectman said we would have unrestricted access to whatever we needed.”

“Well,” Crinella Prince says, huffing right back. “There is no town selectman here, so if you want inside, you’re going to have to get through me first.”

“Hey,” Logan says gently, putting his hands on his aunt’s shoulders. “I’ve got this.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he replies. “Why don’t you head over and help the kids.”

Crinella shuffles off, lowering her gaze one last time as she does so.

Steve turns toward him in relief.

“Thank you,” he says. “Now where can I set this up?”

Logan raises his eyebrows.

“Actually, gym rules state that you have to clear any filming prior to the event with the gym manager,” he says.

Steve looks at Medina, his mouth a gaping maw.

Medina presses her lips together tightly, presumably to hide another smile.

“Did you know about this?” Steve asks, irritably.

“I might have had an inkling,” she replies, not daring to look at Logan.

He’s pretty sure it’s because any direct eye contact at this point would result in laughter.

Steve dumps the equipment on the mats, clearly fed up of holding it.

“Well then, you’re a native, you can sort it out with the manager.”

Medina sighs and turns to Logan.

“Could I speak with the manager please?” she says, sweetly.

Logan looks back at her, an expression of pure innocence on his face.

“You are,” he replies.

Medina’s eyebrows bounce in surprise.

“Oh,” she says.

“Oh?” he replies.

“Um…”

“Was there something you wanted to ask me?”

“Yes, I… uh… you’re the manager?” she says.

“Uh-huh. Owner too,” he says, with a smile that’s lightly teasing. “I also run the shop next door.”

“Oh,” she says.

“Oh?” he replies.

“Um…”

“Was that what you wanted to ask me?”

He can feel her mind working. He knows it was probably a little mean to throw that in there and decides to give her a minute to find her head again. He turns back to Steve, only to find a phone between his tree-stump-sized hands, recording their interaction.

“Steve,” Medina says.

“Oh, thank God!” Glenna cries, pulling the hat off her head and unwrapping the scarf from around her neck. “It’s warmer in here than it is out there. I feel like Jack Frost caught hold of my nipples!”

Logan, Medina, and Steve stared at her, the phone in the latter’s hand now directing its attention toward the new arrival.

Glenna looks to the phone, then Steve, and finally to Logan and Medina.

“Do we have a problem?” she says.

“Why yes, Glenna, we do,” Logan replies genially. “See, Steve here is trying to cart all of this stuff inside, but we have rules at the gym, and one of them is that any filming needs to be cleared ahead of time. Gymnasts need to know if they’ll be on camera and parents need to sign consent for their children to be filmed.”

Glenna scratches at the corner of her eye, and Logan’s pretty certain it’s because she hates dealing with legalities.

“Is there a – um – way we could side-step this process?” she asks, and Logan has to smile at the sweetness to her tone.

“Not really,” he replies.

“Okay,” she says. “Then, is there a way we could… speed it up?”

“Perhaps,” he says. “If someone asks nicely.”

Glenna turns to Medina.

“Callahan, let me put it to you this way,” she says. “I am not leaving this building until I get a cup of coffee and the feeling returns to my extremities. Please use those doe eyes of yours and flirt with the man so I can get out of here at a reasonable hour and Face Time my wife before she forgets what I look like.”

Medina swings her body toward Logan, and he’s momentarily distracted by the slight flush to her cheeks.

“Logan?” she says.

“Medie?”

“We would very much like to film some performances today and perhaps do some pre-coverage for the carnival,” she says, softly. “Would that be okay?”

“Hm, I don’t know,” Logan replies. “I’ll have to clear it with the manager.”

Medina makes a face at him, and he can’t help but laugh.

“But, I know the guy pretty well, and I think I could convince him,” he adds.

Medina knocks her foot against his.

“Thank you,” she says.

“You’re welcome,” he replies.





It’s strange – and surreal – being back in action with him.

Granted, he’s way over there working with a troupe of young gymnasts who just can’t seem to go dashing through the snow without tripping up the reindeer in front of them, and she’s over here helping a novice pair rehearse their moves.

She doesn’t mind helping out, she’s performed in this very carnival many times herself, and being roped in the way she had seemed inevitable given both the presence of the cameras and the hoard of tiny people clamoring for Logan’s attention. Sure, there are other coaches about, but Logan is clearly a favorite, and every kid wants a chance to show him their skills. He looked a little mobbed at one point until he alerted them to the fact that Medina was there. She was surprised – and more than a little touched – that they were all so excited to see her, although she supposes she’s a name that’s difficult to escape ‘round these parts when her picture is up on every wall.

She gives her pair a few more pointers to tighten up their performance, giving a thumbs up to Crinella, who’s surrounded by lists – presumably to do with costumes and music – and looking a little flustered. Darlene Prince shuffles along the row of seats just then, collapsing alongside her twin, leaving one seat between them due to the growing mountain of paper. She waves at Medie who gives her a smile, and Medina sees Crinella lean over and point to something on the clipboard she’s holding. Darlene nods and gives Medina a thumbs up in reply.

Medina sighs and braces herself once more. Every time this team’s music plays, Logan looks up and over, and Medina swears she can hear him laughing.

Medina looks back over her shoulder to catch his reaction. He snaps his head back quickly when he realizes he’s been caught out, but the sudden movement has him overcompensating for balance - so he doesn’t fall forward on eight reindeer and a Santa - and he winds up on his ass with his feet up in the air.

The kids start giggling, and Logan throws his hands up with a grin on his face.

Medina laughs. “Is that how they do it at the Olympics?”

He wags a finger at her. “Sometimes, eh.”

She rolls her eyes and returns her attention to her own group – although she shoots a few glances back at him every now and then only to find his lips still twitching.

“You seemed to be concentrating very hard on those bobtails,” Medina says dryly, when he joins her ten minutes later.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says, his smile suggesting otherwise.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about, Mister,” she says, lightly, glancing at him out of the corner of her eyes.

“I was just…”

“Watching to see how I’d cope with the irony?”

Logan puts a hand to his chest in mock offense.

“I would never,” he says.

“Oh, please, nobody is that interested in Rudolph.”

His laughter comes out in a series of high-pitched barks, and she can tell he’s genuinely amused.

The camera is hovering somewhere to the right of her, and she’s certain it’s caught the entire exchange. Logan casts a glance over his shoulder, confirming her thoughts and on a whim, he takes her by the elbow and leads her.

Most of the kids are taking a break or having costumes adjusted, and Medina feels weirdly vulnerable without them. It’s silly, she knows, it’s just Logan, a guy she’s known since she was six, practiced with since seven, won the Olympics with for crying out loud! There’s no real reason for her to feel nervous around him.

They’d been taking digs at one another since they were teens – in their normal lives, of course, and away from their coaches – but somewhere along the way, that banter had become a comfort, securing a force field around them both, offering protection against the harsh realities of their sport. It was that same innate tête á tête between them that had ultimately dismantled her relationship with Elias, but she’d always felt that loss more for Logan than for herself. He’d been his friend first, and Medina had always thought she was somewhat responsible for getting in the way of that.

It had always been a little confusing having two men in her life.

“You got something on your mind there?” Logan says, pulling her right out of her thoughts.

“Mm?”

She looks up at him, a little startled by his proximity as he pulls her casually. She falls easily – a little too easily, if she’s honest – into his arms, and the years melt away into a familiar pattern.

“Something on your mind?” he repeats, his fingers closing over hers.

Medina wrinkles her nose at him, attempting a smile that she hopes will convince him she’s fine.

Logan cocks his head, eyes flitting briefly to the camera and she feels his other hand tighten around her waist, protectively. She’s not even sure he’s aware of it, as he folds her into his space, but she’s also not about to point it out to him – especially with the cameras running.

“You’re a little rusty,” he murmurs when she stumbles a little.

Medina lowers her eyes at him.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting to have to dazzle my first time out,” she says, giving him a look.

He raises an eyebrow at her.

“How long’s it been?” he says, pushing her out and then latching onto her arm so that she can move.

Medina bites her lip, grateful she’s moving.

“You know how long,” she replies.

“You’re excellent, though.”

She whacks him gently on the arm.

“I was being sincere!” he says, with a laugh.

She screws her face up again and darts away from him.

“Hey, come here!” he says, and she giggles in reply.

He catches up to her pretty easily. Logan’s always been fast, and he spends more time in the gym lately than she does.

“I’m going to lift you,” he says, taking hold of her hand and giving it a gentle pull towards him.

“Logan,” she says. “That is not a good idea!”

She’s up in the air before she can finish her sentence, somehow having enough forethought to lift herself and not leave him to do all the work. His arm is under her thigh, her other leg still hanging below.

He’s laughing to himself, with her in his arms.

“What are you doing?” she says.

“You ready? We’re going to go up now,” Logan says.

“You’re going to throw up if you’re not careful!”

But she goes with him, instinctively responding to the way he throws her leg up over his shoulder, jumping with what she hopes had some measure of elegance before her foot finds the floor once more.

Somewhere in the stands, people are clapping, and Medina looks over to find Darlene banging her hands together with glee. Logan does a little bow, and his mother shoos him with her hand, pointing back to Medina and clapping once more.

Medina turns to Logan and grins, and it’s now Logan’s turn to wrinkle his nose at her.

“What are you going to do, huh?” he says, looking directly into the camera and jogging past it with his arms raised in the air. “She’s trying to show me up.”

“Well, maybe, if you weren’t trying so hard to get me to fall on my butt, I wouldn’t have the need,” she says.

Logan looks back at the camera.

“I had this for years,” he says, shaking his head. “One time, she ate my waffles when I went to the bathroom. When I came back, she claimed I’d never had any waffles, to begin with.”

Medina’s eyes bulge, and she whacks him a little harder this time.

“That was you!”

Logan grins.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “That was me. But I’ll be keeping my eye out for her at the Winter Wonderland tomorrow - just in case she's still looking to get back at me for that one. They have the greatest chestnuts though – roasted on an open fire if you can believe it, can you?”



“And if you’re not careful,” Medina says. “They aren’t the only nuts that will get roasted this year.”





6





“Hi, I’m Medina Callahan—”

“Hey!” Logan leapt in front of her and the camera, stretching one leg to the side and waving his arms. “And I’m Logan Prince!”

Medina lowers the microphone and rolls her eyes. “What are you doing?”

“Hijacking your show,” he replies, digging a half-eaten cookie out of his pants’ pocket and taking a bite.

“Is that… from the Eat-athon?” Medina says, pulling a face.

Logan examines the cookie with interest and nods.

“How long has that been in there?” she says, shooting a glance at his thigh.

Logan takes another bite of what used to be a frosted snowman and grins.

“You want some?” he says.

“No, thanks,” she says.

Logan looks back at the camera. “She doesn’t like my cookie.”

Medina pulls him by the shoulder so that he’s standing alongside her. “It’s not… the cookie that’s the problem,” she says.

“She doesn’t want my cookie,” he says, with a pout.

Medina gives a small huff, sending a lock of hair flying.

“Maybe something else?” he says, patting himself down. “I’m good,” Medina says, holding her palm up in front of his chest.

“Do you want to jingle my bells?” he says, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Your… what?” she says, in alarm.

Medina can see Glenna laughing a few feet away.

“My bells,” Logan says, producing a small set of sleigh bells from his jacket. “Do you want to jingle them?”

“Do you want to get your own show?” she replies.

“Yeah, I’m not sure that would work, see?” he says. “They tried to get me to commentate once. Great face, they said, bad energy.”

“Is that because you’re powered by my presence?” she says.

Logan laughs, his hand dropping down to meet Medina’s.

She blinks at the sudden contact as his palm briefly closes over her fingers.

“Isn’t she great?” he says. “So quick with the comebacks. Where’d you learn to be so fast?”

“Oh, well, you know Logan, I had to be fast,” she says, smiling sweetly. “To keep up with you.”

Logan looks at the camera again.

“We were a little competitive when we were younger,” he says.

Medina lowers her thumb and forefinger near enough together. Logan points his finger at hers.

“Is that in reference to my bells?”

“Oh, my g-”

Medina wrinkles her nose and aims a pinch at his side.

“Hey!” he says, moving out of her way. “What would Santa think?”

Medina raises an eyebrow.

“Santa is busy prepping to sit in a chair all day and talk to kids,” she says.

“You have a point there, Dina,” he says. “It’s not easy being the big guy. He must do a ton of paperwork.”

Medina gives him a smile.

“Not to mention homework,” Medina says. “He has to get all those gifts just right.”

“I’d be a terrible Santa,” he says.

“How so?”

“Well… I was never any good at homework.”

Medina tries to hide a smile. “I remember,” she says, peeking up at him through her lashes.

Logan chucks his thumb at her. “I used to copy some of hers,” he says. “Fortunately for me, I don’t think Santa found out.”

“We could always tell him today?” she says.

“Yeah,” he replies, tucking his arm in hers. “I think I’m going to have to accompany you to Winter Wonderland… you know… just to keep an eye on you.”

“Mm-hm,” Medina says, allowing herself to be led by him as they walk the distance up Main Street.

“And to warn whoever’s in charge of the Bumper Cars that he may have to use his right to refuse service sign.”

She uses her free hand to smack him lightly on the chest, and he laughs, grabbing hold of it and pulling her into him in a twirl, before releasing her back out again.

“So, Medie,” he says, sending an impish grin over his shoulder towards the camera. “What are you going to ask Santa for this year?”

She turns her head to look at him.

“An hour of peace,” she replies.

“Ooh,” he says. “I think you have to have been a really good girl to get that one. Have you been a good girl?”

“Well I don’t know, Logan, that depends,” she replies.

“On what?” he says.

“On whether or not Santa’s seen me pole dance.”





“Every year, people travel from all over the area to share in the experience that is Tinsleton’s Winter Wonderland. It runs from mid-December, for twelve days, right up until Christmas Eve and there really is something for everyone. As a kid, I couldn’t resist the frozen lake – which shouldn’t come as a surprise! And there is nothing more beautiful being out beneath the stars with those you love. Join us today as we explore the fair and talk to visitors from near, far, and wide, about what makes Tinsleton so special this time of year and how you can take a little bit of the town home with you this Christmas.”

“And… cut,” Glenna says. “Okay, Steve. Go shoot some B-roll.”

Steve lowers the camera a little and raises his eyebrows.

“Seriously?” he says.

Glenna gives him a ‘why are you still here?’-type look.

“Yes, I’ve got the hand-held,” she says. “Scram!”

Steve trudges off into the midst of the fair while Glenna and Medina watch him go.

“I don’t think he liked that,” Medina says.

Glenna shrugs.

“I just needed to get rid of him for a while.”

“Why?” Medina asks.

“No reason,” Glenna says.

“Glen.”

Glenna turns suddenly on the balls of her feet.

“So – uh – you want to tell me what all that was about?” she says.

“What what was about?”

Glenna folds her arms across her chest.

“You. Prince. Jingling his bells.”

Medina holds her finger in the air.

“Okay,” she laughs. “There was no jingling.”

“Okay, but there’s going to be jingling later, right?”

“Glenna!”

“There was definitely jingling in the past.”

“Oh, my God!” Medina says, pulling her friend away from a group of people trying to get by.

Glenna raises her palms in the air.

“Just calling it how I see it,” she says.

“Well, you’re calling it wrong,” Medina replies.

“So, you’re telling me you and Mr. Flexible never…”

Glenna knocks the tips of both her forefingers against each another and Medina’s eyes go wide.

“I am not… we are not… okay, I am going to go over there now and sample some mulled wine,” Medina says. “Come in case you care to join me.”

“Oh sure,” Glenna says. “You have to loosen you up a little if I’m going to get the full story.”

“There’s no story!”

“There’s always a story.”

“You’re crazy,” Medina says, turning on the spot and spreading her arms wide before heading on toward the stall.

“But I’m not wrong!” she says, walking three steps behind Medina.

“Yes, you are!” Medina sings.

Glenna laughs.

“Alright, alright!” she says. “You win.”

They take a cup each of the warm, spicy drink.

“Mm, that’s good,” Glenna says.

“It is,” Medina says.

“So,” Glenna says. “Did you ever get over him?”

Medina rolls her eyes.

“You got… under him?”

“Glenna!” Medina says, turning away from her producer and heading up the path.

“You don’t have to tell me!” Glenna says. “Just… blink once for ‘yes’.”

Medina waves a hand in the air, continuing to walk away from her.

Glenna grins.

“Not going to answer that one, huh?”

“Not even a little bit!”





Logan rubs a hand through the back of his hair, causing it to stick up in half dozen different directions. He’d had to duck out earlier for a run-through with some of the junior gymnasts, but he’s back at the fair now, having carted a few more crates of snow boots with him.

The fair is busy this afternoon, and word has spread to neighboring towns that there’s a film crew on site. He’s not saying there’s a direct correlation – the fair is always popular – but there does seem to be a lot of excitement in the air. Even his teams looked a little antsy to get out of there, so they could track down the cameras and maybe get themselves on TV.

Dumping the final crate of boots at the booth, Logan leans over the temporary fence and takes in the sight of the lake before him.

“Is that smile for anything in particular or… anyone?”

Logan lowers his gaze at Shera as she joins him.

“I was just… admiring the space,” he says.

“Logan, it’s ice,” Shera says. “You see it every day.”

“Yeah, but not out here with the sky and the trees,” Logan says. “And the freshly fallen snow.”

Shera laughs, warmly.

“You’re such a soft soul,” she says.

“Uh – no – not soft,” Logan says. “Maybe I just appreciate… beauty.”

Shera gives him a look and hands over the keys to the cash box.

“Speaking of beauty,” Shera says. “How’s Medina?”

“Oh, would you look at the time,” Logan says, checking his watch. “Don’t you have to go? Aren’t you babysitting tonight?”

“Look at you, deflecting like a pro,” she says, patting him on the arm.

“I’m not deflecting,” he says. “I just…”

“What?” Shera says. “You can’t tell me how Medina is even though you were spotted entering the fair walking arm-in-arm this morning?”

Logan raises a finger in the air.

“That… is not… how did you?”

“I have my spies,” she says.

Logan busies himself organizing the snow boots by size in order to avoid looking at her. Plenty of the townsfolk owned their own, but the influx of outsiders this time of the year meant rentals were always needed. And even locals visiting the fair didn’t always bring their boots in tow.

“Logan?”

“Yeah?”

“You. Medie. Together.”

“We weren’t…”

He pauses and smiles at the family, walking towards the booth.

“Four?” he says.

“Yes, please.”

Shera helps him find four sets of boots, and they wave the young family through.

“Have a great time,” Logan says.

He turns to find Shera looking at him with her arms folded.

“So?” she says.

“So?” he says.

“Together?”

“I was just… showing her the way,” he says.

“Because Medina is so unfamiliar with Tinsleton?” Shera says, arching an eyebrow.

Logan gives her the stink-eye.

“Well… you know… there are elves here today,” he says. “I just wanted to give her fair warning in case the sight of stripy socks and bell-topped hats freak her out.”

It’s Shera’s turn to give him a look.

“Yeah… keep on making fun,” she says. “See how far that gets you.”

Logan raises his hands in the air.

“Whoa, what?”

“Logan, some stranger on national television decides it’s okay to go around forcing his ideals on everyone, criticizing someone for not sharing them, and then forces Medie into a situation where she – and not he – has to apologize.”

Logan gapes at her.

“And not just to him,” she continues. “But to the whole damn country.”

“I – uh – I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Logan says. “We were just… I don’t know… being us. It felt like… old times, I guess.”

“I’m sure it did,” Shera says, “and I’m sure that it’s easy for the two of you to fall back into that… place.”

Logan rubs his nose with the back of his hand to mask any expression he might be revealing.

“Look,” she says. “I know it’s been a long time. I know it must be… weird. And I know that we’re all pretty used to watching her from the sofa now that it’s easy to forget she exists beyond that but - ”

She puts a hand on his shoulder.

“But try not to forget that she’s also a human being and that it can’t be easy for her to be back here with a camera tracking her every move.”

Logan looks up into the darkening sky, blowing air out of his mouth.

“I’m not saying don’t be yourself,” Shera says. “I’m just saying… don’t cross a line that could really hurt her.”

Logan shoves his hands into his pockets and nods.

“We were all there, Logan,” she says. “And you more than anyone knows what it was like for her.”

He nods again, feeling a tightening in his chest he’s pretty sure has nothing to do with the hog roast sandwich he’d wolfed down on the way in. She was here, again, in Tinsleton and he feels as if the four years between her leaving and her return was a period set apart from time, as if the day she left, he’d stuck a cork in the bottle. Sure, life had carried on. He owned a successful business. He was a well sought-after coach – he himself wasn’t in any way “stuck”. But the bottle held something else, something he’d denied since they were kids, something he’d continued to deny the Winter before the first Olympics, and something he’d fought against all the years leading up to the second. And when she left, when he could still taste the warmth of her lips on his, he’d plugged that release, keeping that moment trapped in time for both his sake and hers.

But now she was here, the cork released, and Logan was powerless to do anything about it.





“And what’s your name?”

“Gracie.”

“Nice to meet you, Gracie. What would you like for Christmas this year?”

“A puppy.”

“A puppy!”

Medina watches the Grotto Santa cast a quick glance at the little girl’s parents, who give a small nod in reply.

“Well, Gracie,” Santa says. “A puppy is a very big responsibility. They need lots of love and walks every day, and you’ll need to be able to feed them and clean up after them. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes, Santa, I can!”

“Well, alright then, I’ll talk to my elves and see what I can do.”

Medina smiles as the girl hops down from Santa’s knee and runs back towards her parents, obviously beaming.

“Santa” waves her over and Medina steps over the rope, making her way through the faux snow with a microphone in her hand. He pats his knee, and Medina laughs, giving a little shrug before she sits down.

“My, my, my, those are some heels on your boots there,” he says.

She laughs again, stretching one leg out in front of her and examining her black knee-highs.

“Well, Santa, you should try it sometime,” she says.

“I just might!” he replies.

“So, what’s your name, young lady?”

“My name is Medina,” she replies, knowing full-well that the guy beneath the suit also knew exactly who she was.

It would probably be inappropriate to ask for some waffles right now.

“And Medina, what have you been up to at the fair today?”

“Well, Santa,” she says. “We have been visiting stalls, talking to the town, and even talking with those who’ve traveled to Tinsleton today to find out what makes this place so special. In fact, we’ve just come from the Giftmas Hut, and I have to say, it’s wonderful to see so many people spreading kindness and being so willing to help out and give to others.”

“Ah, yes,” Santa says. “Giftmas is a very special tradition indeed.”

“For those of you who don’t know,” Medina says to the camera. “Giftmas is where you can donate items of food, toys, or a little bit of something you feel could bring joy to someone this Christmas. Tinsleton has always believed in giving back, and this time of year, the town runs a big drive to help people who are struggling. The community visits shelters and homes where people don’t have as much. Many of the town’s children visit nearby care homes and sing carols with the elderly. It teaches them about kindness, about sharing, and about appreciating what we have.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself, Medina!” Santa says. “That really deserves an HO! HO! HO!”

“Well, it’s important for our viewers to understand that whilst everybody here loves the festivities in Tinsleton,” she says. “That they’re aware we also need to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” the Santa replies. “And we’re especially glad you’re here to help us spread this joy across the country.”

Medina smiles.

“I’m happy to.”

“So, Medina,” Santa says. “What would you like for Christmas this year?”

Medina thinks for a second and glances up, out beyond the rope. She finds Logan staring back at her. There’s a small smile on his lips and something in his eyes that she can’t quite make out, but he’s looking at her like… like what?

It’s no different from the thousands of times he’s looked at her before, when he’s held her in his arms, and yet… it is.

She smiles back at him, unable to help herself, his eyes drawing her deeper into him.

Medina feels the rest of the world melting away, feels herself walking towards him, stepping over the barrier between them before wrapping her arms around his neck and – “Medina?”

She blinks, her senses suddenly reminding her that she’s sitting in a warming hut on Santa Claus’s lap, surrounded by hoards of people, a camera crew, and staring at a man who’s rendered her temporarily speechless.

“Something you’d like for Christmas?” Santa says, giving a knowing glance towards Logan.

“I – um – I can’t think of anything right now,” she says.

“Can’t you?” Santa replies.

She tries not to look at Logan, but her eyes find him anyway before she has the good sense to look away.

“I don’t know,” she says. “Some new shoes would be nice.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Logan hold up a pair of boots, the laces hanging by his fingers, that same small smile on his face.

“Well,” the Santa Claus says. “I guess we all know where you’ll be headed next!”

Medina rolls her eyes and heads over towards Logan, keeping the rope divider firmly between them.

“How did you?”

Logan grins.

“I have magical powers.”

She gives him a wry look.

“Okay,” he says. “So, these are actually for one of the ladies at stall twenty-six. Paul just finished sharpening them and asked if I’d drop them by.”

“And you were being neighborly,” Medina sa