A Champion’s Hero

When Connie Champion’s dream is within reach, she has to go for it, right? But leaving her family behind to go on a USO tour overseas is one big scary step. But take it she does and soon finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of long rehearsals, international travel, and the chance to sing in front of thousands of soldiers–and tour with the infamous Trevor Thornton, country musics’s hottest star. She’s loving it! Everything seems perfect until her brother, Bishop, announces his engagement to Darbi, the nanny. After seeing them together, Connie longs to ditch her solitary life and find her own true love.

One scary step leads to another, and , in a blink, Connie goes from zero romances to two–and a shot at stardom. Sven Christensen is what every girl dreams of–a financially stable, handsome, and dependable man. Logan Richards is troubled, exciting, and a bit of a bad boy. Not to mention, she’s attracted the attention of the hottest country singer to boot. When circumstances turn a bit dicey on the tour, where will Connie’s loyalties fall? Who will win her heart and be this Champion’s hero?

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Chapter One

Constance Champion sat alone on the hardwood floor of the dance studio. She stretched her aching legs out in front of her as she glanced out the large windows overlooking the darkening streets of New York City. She’d left the lights low so she could watch the setting sun as she practiced the many dance moves the choreographer had thrown at her earlier in the day. 

She couldn’t remember ever being so sore. Even her teeth hurt. She’d left the ranch for this? Had she been sold a bill of goods by Stan, the recruiter for the USO? Singing she could do, but all this choreography? What had she gotten herself into?

She bent her knee, sliding one foot toward her. She removed her dance shoes then tenderly massaged one blistered foot, sighing in relief.

Inside her backpack, her phone bleated out the sound of a screaming goat. Wincing, she rose to her feet, hobbling to get it before it stopped. She rooted through the pocket and found her phone. Darbi…wanting to Facetime.

A wave of homesickness washed over her. As she sank to the floor, she forced a big smile then answered the call.

 “Hey, Darbs. What’s going on? Pardon my appearance, I just finished rehearsing.”

Darbi’s freckled face smiled hugely at her. Connie always envied the nanny’s bright-red hair and her curls, so different from her own golden locks. Her friend’s sea-green eyes all but sparkled. This woman had become her savior. Wanting to have a life of her own, Darbi had flown to Brooksville at Connie’s urging, to be the girls’ nanny so she could embark on this insane USO tour. She’d become one of her best friends.

“Hey, Connie.” Darbi paused then her brother’s face entered the picture, a stupid grin on his handsome face. 

“Hey, sis.”

She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed her older brother Bishop—in spite of how he’d used her to take care of his triplets for almost all of her teenage years. Maybe taking care of those precious girls wasn’t so hard after all. She missed them all more than she thought possible.

“Well, hey there.” What’s going on? They look entirely too happy for their own good.

Darbi thrust her hand at her computer’s camera. “Look!”

Connie gaped. On the woman’s hand sat a fat ruby engagement ring. “Wait…is that Mom’s ring? What the—”

“I know,” Bishop replied, still grinning. “I popped the question. I hope you’re happy for us, Connie.”

“Happy?” Her eyes welled with tears. “I’m thrilled! A little shocked, but thrilled. I never thought I’d see the day my big brother would fall in love again. And, I’m not going to say I told you so.”

Bishop laughed. “I think you just did.”

Unbelievable. Last I heard he was sending her packing because he’d found out who Darbi really was. I thought it was over between them. This is quite the change. Who’d have thought my big brother has a brain?

“We’re so happy, Connie,” Darbi’s Irish lilt more pronounced with her emotion. “It took us a while to realize it, but now…I know it’s soon, but when ya know, ya know.” She glanced up at Bishop with such an adoring expression, Connie’s heart tripped. 

“Darbi, I told you not to worry. Tell me how it happened.”

Her new sister-in-law-to-be explained how she’d been just about to board a plane to go back to Ireland when Bishop and the triplets showed up. He and his ten-year-old daughters had proposed, holding a banner decorated by the girls. She relayed how everyone in the airport had cheered. 

“You almost screwed up, didn’t you, bro?” Connie frowned. 

Her brother wrapped an arm around Darbi. “You know it.” He kissed her, and she giggled. 

“When’s the wedding?” Another pang of homesickness wafted through her. 

“We thought we’d wait until you come home at New Years,” Bishop told her. “We don’t want anything big, just family and a few friends. We want to get married here on the ranch.”

Touched, Connie swiped a tear from her eye. “Oh, you guys, thanks. I was just sitting here feeling sorry for myself.”

Bishop offered her a smug expression. “I told you this tour thing was a bad idea. Ready to come home?”

“Shut up,” Connie told him, indignant. Her lifelong dream had been to sing, and when this opportunity presented itself, Connie, as her family referred to her, jumped at the chance. At the risk of angering Bishop, she’d signed the contract for a year before telling him and enduring his wrath. “The reason I’m feeling sorry for myself is this…” She placed her phone so the camera caught a shot of the huge blisters on her feet. She had blisters on top of blisters. The tips of her toes were bloody nubs. 

“Ugh, gross. I could have gone my whole life without seeing that. What the heck?” Bishop leaned closer to the camera on his tablet. “Are those blisters?”

“They are, and I’m proud of them. All this dancing is something I’m not used to. I’m probably going overboard with practice, but I don’t want to be the dork who holds back the troupe.” She stared at her bedraggled reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, her slender body sheathed in black. A tight tank top stained with a ring of sweat from her neck to her navel covered her upper body while matching skintight leggings squeezed the rest of her. She’d piled her long honey-blonde hair on her head in a knot. Never heavy, and used to exercise, she had thought this gig would be so easy. 

Wrong! I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had. Plus I lack the rhythm of the other dancers. She sighed. I’m never going to get this routine right.Stan will send me packing within the week. 

Then she remembered her first rehearsal singing on stage. She drew some courage from the memory of it, and she smiled brightly at her current exhausted self. This tour meant everything to her, and she didn’t want to give it up, despite the hard work and sore body parts. “The singing I’ve got down cold, but the dance steps? Some days I feel like I’ve got two left feet.”

“Aw, darlin’,” Darbi sympathized. “You’ll get the hang of it. You’re so talented.”

“Want me to call Sven to look for that loop hole?” Bishop wondered.

“Shut up. Speaking of Sven, how is he?” The family attorney had piqued her interest just before she left for New York. She struggled to keep too much interest from creeping into her expression. 

Bishop raised his eyebrows. “He’s fine, why?”

“He said he’d call after I got to New York, and I haven’t heard from him. Has he got some big case working or something?”

“I don’t think so. He was just out at the far—”

Darbi interrupted. “I’m sure he hasn’t called ya because he’s certain you’re too busy to chat. That’s what I’m guessin’.”

Connie didn’t miss Bishop’s look of confusion, but she ignored it. “I’m sure you’re right . Well, I’ve got a bit more rehearsing to do. Congratulations you two. I’m so happy for you. Can’t wait for the wedding.”

“When are you off on tour?”

“We leave in a few weeks. To Kuwait and Iraq to start for the holidays, then to Japan and England. Not sure where we go after New Year’s. I can’t keep up, but I’m really excited. There’s a rumor some hotshot country singer is supposed to be joining the tour soon. I can’t wait to find out who it is.”

“I bet,” Bishop scoffed.

Darbi elbowed him. “You keep us posted. Are ya happy, Connie?”

Connie summoned her brightest smile. “Ecstatic. It’s really hard work, but I know, once I start performing in front of a live audience, it’s going to be everything I ever dreamed it would be. Performing for our troops who work so hard to protect us gives it special meaning. Again, I’m so happy for you guys. Keep me apprised with the wedding plans, Darbi.”

“I’ll be talkin’ to ya soon. We love ya…sis.”

Connie smiled. “Love you all, too. Bye.”

She punched the button to terminate the call. So my big brother is getting married. I knew he’d fall for Darbi. She’s got just the pluck to bring him around. 

A vision of Sven popped into her mind. The tall, well-dressed, well-groomed, blond Nordic god of a man had served as her family’s attorney for many years. They’d all gone to school together and then worked as a team to help Bishop grow the farm from one pair of Arabians to thousands of champions he’d sold worldwide over time. Champions Gate had the strongest reputation in the horse breeding industry for producing winners. Connie remained proud of their success, and Sven had been with them every step of the way. She’d never really thought about him romantically until just before she left for this USO tour. They’d been alone one night after a family dinner where he’d supported her when Bishop had thought she’d lost her mind. He’d made a statement that night she couldn’t get out of her head. 

She’d accused him of flirting with Darbi, and he’d laughed. “Don’t worry. There’s only ever been one woman for me.”

He’d stared deep into her eyes then, but said no more. One look had tripped her heart and sent her mind whirling about what a possible relationship with him might be like. She’d thought about dating him a time or two, but never took it seriously. Now that he’d expressed an interest…

“Good grief, Constance Bishop. You’ve lost your mind,” she told her reflection. “One soul gaze doesn’t mean the man wants to put a ring on it. Get yourself together.” 

She winced as she rose. She replaced her phone in the front pocket of her backpack and gathered the rest of her things. 

The studio door banged open. Connie jumped, emitting a squeak of surprise. 

“I thought I’d find you here,” Wrynn, the tour’s coordinator announced. “You’re going to kill yourself before we ever get to Kuwait.”

Connie huffed out a breath. “You scared the crap out of me. Ever thought about a subtler entrance.” She continued putting her stuff in her backpack.

“I went to find you for dinner, and you were MIA.” Wrynn—short for Kathryn—Rawlings, had become Connie’s closest friend on the tour. The rest of the troupe had done several tours, and Wrynn had taken Connie under her wing to help her acclimate to the crazy work schedule. 

Sitting on the bench, Connie removed her other dance shoe, sighing in relief. 

“Oh, my God, woman. Look at your feet.”

“I know. I’ve over done it.”

“I’ll say. Put on those soft boots, and we’ll pick up a pizza on the way back to the dorm. I’ve got some salve which will fix you right up.”

“That sounds wonderful.” Connie slipped on a soft pair of socks followed by her boots. 

Wrynn grabbed her backpack and helped her to her feet. “I’ve got great news,” she sang.

Forgetting about her feet for a second, Connie wondered if Wrynn’s news had anything to do with the country star joining them on tour. “Spill it.”

Her friend paused a second, grinning.

“What? What is it?”

“Trevor Thornton is joining our tour!”

Connie sucked in a breath, her heart skipping several beats. Trevor Thornton was the hottest new country star on the circuit. His songs had broken billboard sales records for the last year. She’d become an instant fan. It didn’t hurt he was easy on the eyes either.

“You’re kidding!” 

“I most certainly am not.” 

The women joined hands and hopped around in a circle, squealing. 

“I love him,” Connie screeched. “I can’t believe I get to meet him in person.”

Wrynn waggled her brows. “And you get to perform with him.”

Connie felt her mouth drop open. 

Her friend laughed. “You look like a fish.”

“Oh wow,” She performed a boogie dance. “Oh wow. I get to perform with Trevor Thornton. Oh, ow.” Connie stopped dancing and limped on her sore feet.

Wrynn laughed. “You sure do. Now, let’s get a pizza and go home.”

Connie slipped an arm through the crook of her friend’s elbow. “Agreed.” 

Thoughts of Sven and homesickness slipped from her mind. 

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