Chapter One

A frosty chill rolled across the rink as Anna stepped onto the ice. All around her graceful figures glided across the ice, spinning and twirlling skillfuly, the sound of sharp blades cutting through the glassy surface. Anna let out a sigh, her breath condensing into a misty vapour on the air. She looked down at her watch. Nine thirty. Where was he? They had agreed to meet here at nine am this morning to start training. This was important to her and she thought it was just as important to Billy.

'Anna!' called a voice from across the ice. Anna turned her head to see Penny Torrence stood with her hands on her hips and a smug smile on her face. 'You look a little lost,' she said with a phoney sweetness.

'I'm just waiting for Billy,' Anna replied flatly as she shoved her hands into her pockets. Penny tucked a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear as she shook her head and smirked.

'You know what his problem is don't you? Lack of dedication. How can you expect to be the best when your partner can't even be bothered to show up on time? Face it Anna. You're screwed. You may as well give up now.'

Anna frowned at her. 'Billy's dedicated.'

Penny laughed. 'Not as dedicated as Eric and I. We've been here since seven thirty.'

'Yeah?' Anna replied, irritated by Penny's air of superiority. 'Well what Billy lacks in dedication he makes up for with talent. He can skate rings around you and Eric.'

Penny sneered at Anna. 'I'd like to see him try. If he ever shows up that is.' With that she arched her arms over her head and pirohetted over to Eric. Anna surpressed a surge of anger, an anger which was partly caused by Penny's spiteful remarks, and partly caused by the fact that they weren't far from the truth.

Anna and Penny shared a dream. More than anything they both wanted to become the Junior National Ice Dancing Champion. It was what they'd always dreamed of, and for twelve years they had been training day in day out at the only ice skating rink in Trentham, New York. Anna hated to admit it but Penny had always been a little better than her - up until recently.

Over the past year or so Penny had sort of plataued, while Anna's talent grew. Penny was not pleased about this. You could see it in her eyes. Everytime she looked at Anna her eyes almost glowed red, like hot little coals.

The qualifying rounds for the Junior State Championship were three weeks away. There were only sixteen slots in the finals, each one hotly contested. Anna knew it was going to take hard work to qualify, but compared to what it would take to win the nationals that was nothing. Anna stared at the entrance willing Billy to appear, but knowing her desire for him to suddenly materialise was not going to be fulfilled she began to skate around the perimiter of the rink, warming herself up for the practice.

It wasn't until fifteen minutes later that Billy finally appeared. He sauntered out of the locker room, skates slung over one shoulder, blond hair slightly dishevelled. Anna caught sight of him just as he sat down and started to pull on his skates. Silently attempting to quell the little daggers of annoyance she was feeling Anna glided up to the barrier in front of Billy, eyebrows raised.

'Hey Anna,' Billy said, casually noticing her presence.

'Hey Anna?' she repeated. 'Billy, you're almost an hour late. Where have you been?' Billy squinted, grimacing almost, as if her voice was hurting his ears.

'I slept in. I was at this party last night and -'

'Forget it!' Anna snapped, momentarily throwing her hands in the air before letting them fall to her sides. 'I don't want to hear your excuses.'

Billy finshed tying up his laces and got to his feet. 'So don't ask.'

'Billy!' she cried incredulously. 'The qualifiers are three weeks away! Three weeks! We have to be ready for them!'

'We will be,' Billy replied stepping onto the ice and gently placing his hands on Anna'a waist. 'Don't worry about it. We're the best.' Anna looked away from the soothing smile on Billy's face and noticed Penny and Eric gliding across the ice elegantly, matching one anothers moves perfectly.

'You want to see the best?' Anna asked. 'Take a look over there. They're the best.' She nodded at Penny and Eric. 'And you don't know how much it pains me to say that.'

Billy followed Anna's gaze. 'Yeah, they're good. But we're better.'

Anna shook her head in frustration. 'It's not about who's the best Billy! It's about who's ready for it! It's about who's prepared! And right now they have us beaten hands down on that score.'

Billy sighed. 'Look I'm sorry, okay? But I'm here now. Let's not waste anymore time. Let's show those losers what they're up against.' Billy flashed her his trademark smile, a smile that no girl in Trentham was able to resist. 'Are you with me?' he asked extending his hand to her.

'Let's do it,' she replied slipping her delicate hand into his. His long fingers closed around hers firmly as he placed another hand at the hollow of her back and led her to the centre of the ice. Together they made a cute couple. Billy was tall and athletic with blue eyes that were always smiling, a peaches and cream complexion, and blond hair that was permanently sun kissed.

He towered above Anna's elfin, almost sylphlike form. Her hair, the color of burnsihed mahogany was held back in a bouncy ponytail, with a few tousled strands hanging down to frame her heart shaped face in contrast to the paleness of her skin. Her eyes were large and sparkling, a cool shade of grey.

Anna took a small step ahead of Billy, slightly to his left, locking hands with him behind her back.

'Ready?' he asked. Anna nodded her head once and with that they both pushed off on their back feet, their shiny blades glinting as they sliced through the cool ice. Their bodies were poised, backs straight, chins up. There was an aura to them, almost a glow, as they executed a series of seamless manouvres with an almost mechanical grace that came from hours of repitition.

They circled the rink, sailing effortlessly across the ice as their routine became more energetic. The more basic dance moves were now laced with smooth dips, lifts and leaps. Penny and Eric were huddled in the corner watching. Erics face was neutral, eyes blank as he took in the couples.

Penny's face was set in a fierce frown, her eyes were squinty, her mouth pinched at the corners. 'Would you look at that?' she sneered. 'How pathetic. Who does Anna Catalano think she is?'

'Her and Billy are pretty good,' Eric replied.

'They're the competition!' she snarled. 'You don't pay compliments to the competition!'

'Whatever,' Eric mumbled, lounging against the barrier.

'She thinks she's some kind of starlet or something.' Penny sneered with contempt, ignoring Erics impartial attitude. 'Okay, so maybe they'll get through the qualifiers. But we are going to wipe the floor with them at the state championships.'

Time flew by as Anna and Billy worked on perfecting their routine. They paused for a break, breathless and exhilarated. Billy collapsed into one of the seats in the stands.

'I'll go get us some drinks,' Anna said trying not to breathe too hard. Billy nodded. A few moments later she returned with two bottles of water, handing one to Billy.

'Thanks,' he replied unscrewing the top quickly. He lifted the bottle to his lips and took a gulp, checking his watch as he did so. 'Geez, I didn't know it was so late.'

'What time is it?' Anna asked putting the top back on her bottle.

'Time I was out of here,' Billy replied getting to his feet.

'What?' Anna groaned. 'You can't go yet! I wanted to practice that second lift.'

'Anna, it's almost six o'clock. And I have a date tonight.'

Anna shoved her hands in her pockets, her lower lip jutting out just a fraction.'Oh. A date with Miranda I suppose.'

Billy sighed. 'Anna, you and I, we broke up months ago. It's none of your business who I date.'

Anna let out a sound of derision and shook her head slightly. 'As if I care about who you date. I just don't like it when it disrupts our training, that's all.'

Billy looked her square in the eye. 'Anna, it's Saturday. We've been training all day long. Now it's time we had some fun.'

'This is fun,' Anna replied defensively.

Billy's expression turned earnest. 'We need a life outside skating. You know, it wouldn't hurt for you to start dating again. Hey, I know I'm a hard act to follow but the least you can do is try.' He grinned at her teasingly.

'Whatever,' Anna replied. 'Just go. But promise me you'll be on time tomorrow?'

Billy's smile grew as he threw a casual arm around her shoulder and led her to the locker rooms. 'You have my word.'