As a fan of sports-themed romances I was thrilled to come across one featuring the world of figure skating. It's not a world often depicted in romances but after the enjoyable time spent with Pairing Off by Elizabeth Harmon I look forward to more. Keep reading to get a tantalizing taste of two opposites attracting, a glimpse at the city that brings them together, along with my impressions of this book. Learn even more about this book, the first installment in the Red Hot Russians series, by visiting the other blogs hosting this tour. Make sure to fill out the form below for the chance to win 1 of 5 e-copies of this book too!
Love in the Big City......
I grew up in a medium-sized Midwestern college town, but when it came time to strike out on my own, I knew exactly where I wanted to go…to the closest big city, which in my case,was Chicago.
I got my wish and spent my post-college years living with roommates, and eventually my husband, in some great neighborhoods on Chicago’s North Side: Lincoln Park, North Halsted and Wrigleyville. I had unforgettable times, made some amazing memories, and drew upon a number of them to create the setting for my debut contemporary romance, “Pairing Off.”
The thing is,” Pairing Off” isn’t set in Chicago. It’s set in Moscow, Russia. But the great thing about being a writer is being able to turn our experiences into our characters’ lives—the essence of writing what you know.
I’ve never been to Moscow, but as I began my research, I discovered it has a number of things in common with Chicago. Both are bisected by rivers, have thriving arts and music scenes, stunning architecture, a variety of neighborhoods—from trendy and upscale, to homey and working class. Oh yeah, andthey both get really, really cold.
With the help of several print travel guides, websites including one by a blogger friend who answered many questions, I tried to create a version of Moscow that’s a little less Tom Clancy and a little more Nora Ephron.
But some of the little details that help bring the setting to life came from my memories of Chicago; the seagulls riding the currents above the river on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the magical look of a wintertime city at twilight, and the cozy ambiance of a neighborhood tavern, complete with sports trophies and a chalkboard menu (though the one in “Pairing Off”is written in Cyrillic).
I had a great time learning and writing about Moscow, and I hope you enjoy your vicarious visit, though the eyes of Anton, who calls it home, and Carrie, who discovers love in a place she never expected.
A scandal-plagued American figure skater's last chance at gold means pairing up with Russia's sexiest male skater...who happens to be the first man she ever loved.
"The Cutting Edge" with a Russian twist.
American pairs figure skater Carrie Parker’s Winter Games dreams were dashed when her philandering partner caused one of the greatest scandals in skating history. Blacklisted from competing in America, her career is over…until she receives a mysterious invitation and is reunited with the most infuriating, talented—and handsome—skater she’s ever met.
Russian champion Anton Belikov knows sacrifice. He gave up a normal life and any hope of a meaningful relationship to pursue his dream. And he’s come close—with a silver medal already under his belt, the next stop is the gold. All he needs is a partner. While he’s never forgotten the young American skater he seduced one long-ago night in Amsterdam, he never expected to see her again…never mind skate with her.
When what starts as a publicity stunt grows into something real between them, Carrie and Anton’s partnership will test their loyalties to family, country, and each other. With only a few months to train for the competition of a lifetime, can they master technique and their emotions, or will they lose their footing and fall victim to the heartaches of their pasts?
She’d seen Galina Borisova at competitions, but they’d never been introduced. Galina looked to be in her fifties and her thin neck, sharp features and spiky bleached blond hair, tinted pink on the ends, brought to mind a flamingo. Her dark eyes and brows suggested neither blond nor pink were her natural shade.
“It is well to meet you. Flight was agreeable, yes?” Galina’s accent was so heavy, Carrie struggled to understand. The ancient Zamboni rumbling past on the ice didn’t help.
“Yes. Spasibo. As I said before, I want to reimburse you for the airfare. I know it was very expensive.”
Galina waved the offer away. “Money is made to be spent. I consider investment. I wish you had let me arrange pickup car.”
“Really, that’s fine. You’ve been more than generous.” The Russian coach’s willingness to pay for and arrange everything now seemed too good to be true. Didn’t Dad always say “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” She had the feeling she’d just flown six thousand miles to see him proven right. “I’m excited to begin training. I was a big admirer of your work with Zelenskaya and Belikov.”
Galina gazed wistfully at the departing Zamboni and the glistening ice left in its wake. “Olga and Anton were once-in-lifetime pair. Every coach should have good fortune to work with skaters so talented.”
Carrie offered a sympathetic smile. Losing her longtime students must have been heartbreaking for Galina. “Well, I’m no Olga Zelenskaya, but I’ve also been quite successful.”
Galina thinned her lips. “In your way. But we all must move forward, not live in past, yes?”
She bobbed her head, as her cheeks grew warm. Just how successful she’d been was the subject of ongoing debate. From the corner of her eye, she spotted someone doing warm-up stretches on the opposite side of the rink. “Is that my new partner? Your emails didn’t provide much information.”
A tall, dark-haired man skated out. Fast and athletic, he stroked halfway around, then cut toward center ice, launching himself into a double axel. After a confident landing, he glided into the far corner and did a camel spin, rotating with perfect form, his muscular body in flawless, T-shaped alignment over the ice.
Carrie caught her breath, but it wasn’t his beautiful skating that made her heart race. “Oh. My. God.”
“Yes, this must be good news for you. Antosha!” Galina waved, beckoning him over.
Carrie grasped the rink board to ground herself in reality, shaking even more than in the cab. This couldn’t be happening. But incredibly, it was. Her new skating partner was AntonBelikov, World silver medalist…and the first man she’d ever made love to.
He gave a polite nod, but didn’t smile. “Hello, Carrie. Welcome to Moscow.”
How could this be? He belonged with Olga, training at a top rink with a top coach. Not here, with a second-rate coach and skating with…her! She gaped and shook her head. “What are you doing here?”
His brows lifted in surprise. “You don’t keep up with news of your sport?”
Under normal circumstances yes, but these past months she’d avoided as much contact as possible with the outside world and especially the skating world. Galina crossed her arms. “Olga has teamed with Valentin Egorov. You are to be her replacement.”
She grasped the board tighter, as her out-of-control life spun into orbit. “That’s impossible.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Galina said. “You will train with me, and partner with one of world’s top male pair skaters. I cannot see how this is bad thing.”
Well gosh, for starters, she knew how he looked naked. Damn good, if memory served. Though seven years had passed since that night, this wasn’t an ideal start to a professional partnership. Even if he and Olga no longer skated together, she assumed they were still an off-ice couple. She searched his eyes for any sign of recognition. There was none. Was she relieved, or disappointed?
And how was it that Galina had simply decided to pair her with Anton, without even a tryout? Skaters were matched after weeks of evaluation, like dating before you were engaged. This felt more like a quickie Vegas wedding. She shook her head, as if that might clear her addled brain. This was ridiculous. They couldn’t possibly skate together. “We’re very different,” she began. “Olga’s delicate and artistic. I’m more of a jumper. An acrobat.”
Anton nodded. “You and Olga are different. But with right coach…and right partner, you could be champion again.”
His smile was much too attractive. Straight, perfect teeth gleamed against tawny skin dusted with the shadow of late afternoon stubble. She flashed back to that smile shining brightly in a stranger’s dim bedroom, as Anton gazed down and gently stroked her face. She crossed her arms over her chest as her cheeks burned hot and she let out a harsh laugh.
“Well, bless your heart.” The damn drawl slipped out, the way it always seemed to when she was nervous. “This is all very flattering but I’m afraid we can’t compete together. I’m an American. I’m not eligible.”
Galina spoke up. “Under international rules, you are eligible by permission to compete for us one year after date of your last competition for United States. Since you never skated at World Championship, your last competition was U.S. Nationals and this year, Russian Nationals begin exactly three days after one-year date. Our skating federation has contacted yours and both are willing to grant permission.”
Wasn’t that nice of them? Normally, a top-tier skater wouldn’t be released to compete for another country so easily. American figure skating was clearly anxious to be rid of her.
“As for citizenships,” Galina continued, “you can be both American and Russian. Becoming citizen here normally takes long time, but our government can be most accommodating when dreams of gold medals are at stake. Now then, shall we get to work?”
Carrie stared. Her hands fell to her sides. These two weren’t talking cruise ships. “Lake Placid is in less than seven months! You can’t be serious.”
But the Russians looked dead serious. Anton shrugged. “Not ideal situation, but neither of us is beginner. I am World medalist. You were U.S. champion.”
“Only because my partner slept with a judge!”
“Is that what you think?”
She gave a bitter laugh. “What difference does it make? Everyone else thinks so.”
“Maybe you have something to prove, then?” His deep, exotic voice sent a shiver up her spine.
God, it was tempting. She’d been so close to her dream of competing at the Winter Games, only to see it snatched away. Here was another chance. Maybe, if she could salvage her career and restore her reputation, she could finally hold her head up. The public would forgive her. Dad would forgive her.
Was this the opportunity of a lifetime…or a disaster waiting to happen?
Just as she had skating dreams, Dad had political dreams; to win Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat this fall…then in a few years, maybe run for president. The Cody scandal had embarrassed him, and as much as it hurt that he’d done nothing to defend her publicly, she understood. His political opponents had slobbered over images of Les Parker’s cheating daughter like dogs with new bones.
Imagine how they would react to her turning Russian so she could compete in Lake Placid.
And suppose Anton suddenly remembered their night in Amsterdam? True, she’d had jet-black hair at the time, and been hidden behind those silly sunglasses she and the other Silverettes wore when they snuck out after curfew. Back then, she’d still talked like Scarlett O’Hara too. But hey, it could happen. How would he feel about skating with a girl he’d deflowered, even if it meant nothing? Nothing to him, anyway.
Besides, who was she kidding? She didn’t belong here. The Russians ruled figure skating—especially pair skating—like the popular kids ruled the school cafeteria. She’d been the queen of that lunch table in high school, and if you didn’t belong there, you didn’t try to sit down. She’d lost her seat in spectacular fashion and now the quarterback wanted to take her to prom.
This was too weird for words, and she’d had enough weird to last a lifetime.
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MY IMPRESSIONS OF THIS BOOK:
This book is described as "The Cutting Edge with a Russian twist" and it's an apt description as it engendered in me the same heartwarming, feel-good feelings as the movie. From its immensely likable main couple to the colorful cast of secondary characters to the vivid depictions of the rigors of ice skating I was fully immersed in this story from the first page to the last. The descriptions of Moscow further enhanced my engrossment in this story and as an homage to the city it was a beautiful addition to the already emotionally engaging storyline.
American skater Carrie came from a family of wealth with a father more concerned with appearances than his daughter's feelings. Growing up she had plenty of heartache that took away her confidence and left her untrusting of others. A recent debacle starring her pairs partner has left her reeling even more and trying to start over in Russia with new partner, Anton. Her past connection with this new partner though could once again lead to conflict as the attraction she felt for him is as intense as ever, but as she doesn't want to be seen as the other woman she keeps her feelings hidden. As the pressure to succeed keeps mounting she finds the support of Anton the only thing she can count on in a world where she feels all alone. With the Games only a few months away, and with pressure coming from her father and blackmail from her ex partner battering away at her self-confidence, she'll need Anton's support more than ever. But will it be enough to win or will she feel like a disappointment once again? Carrie's an immensely likable girl whose self-confidence has taken a beating. She never felt good enough and hides behind a facade of the sweet Southern girl when she longs to speak out. With Anton though she slowly comes out of her shell. She carries guilt over events blown out of purportion but she closes herself off for fear of them coming to light. Her family is more concerned with their future than hers which sets her further adrift until Anton and his family take her to heart. She's a kindhearted girl hurt by those who should've protected her and it's not until she goes half-way across the world that she finds a real family who support her wholeheartedly.
Anton was always made to feel inferior to his glamorous skating partner. When she dumps him he finds Carrie to be the perfect partner as she too was seen as inferior in the skating world. He admired her loyalty though and knew she'd give her all to see them succeed. She also engenders surprising feelings in him from the moment they first met that have them soon becoming more than friends. As Anton works to earn Carrie's trust and to get her to lower her emotional walls, the truth comes out about their past connection which makes her even more important to him. To prove his commitment he's willing to sacrifice his promise to win by upending Russian tradition. Will it pay off in a gold medal, and more importantly will they stay partners off the ice once the Olympic flame is extinguished? Anton is a delectable hero, truly caring and supportive. He's a romantic man in his words and deeds and I loved his broken English and self-deprecating humor. He's loyal to family and to others who don't deserve him and in Carrie is someone truly in need of loyalty which had me rooting for them.
The romance here is a slow burning one as Anton is with someone else at the beginning. The connection between Carrie and Anton slowly builds as they move from friends into lovers and it had me captivated. The sexual tension is quite apparent from the start though and intensifies in subtle touches, glances, and flirty banter as the story progresses and once they finally give in to each other it's richly rewarding. These are two immensely likable characters dealing with pressures from the sport and from family and only together will they survive the drama. The skating scenes are numerous and vividly detailed and I worked up a sweat reading about all the work leading up to their competitions. Moscow too plays a big role in this story as readers are lovingly taken on a tour of the city. As Anton escorts Carrie throughout the city their romance flourishes in a sweet and sensual journey to HEA. The colorful cast of secondary characters, both heroes and villains, further enhanced my reading experienced and have me excited for more action on and off the ice.
My rating for this is an A.
*I got this book from NetGalley for review in exchange for my honest opinion.
I love stories that give a fresh take on classic themes, and feature characters and locations not often seen in romance. Give me a lovable, if less-than-perfect heroine, a gorgeous hero with a heart of gold, take them a little off the beaten path and I'm a happy girl.
I read a variety of genres-- romance to horror and just about everything in between. I am a member of Romance Writers of America. I have worked as a freelance journalist for a number of local publications and am a contributing writer to Romance Writers Report.
When I'm not writing, I love to ice skate, bike ride, hang out at the beach or on my front porch. I love vintage homes, adventurous cooking, spending time with my family and traveling.
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