Saturday, August 16, 2014

Delay of Game - Out Now! Plus More Pre-Order Links

That's right! DELAY OF GAME is available now!

With her father’s health in question, Sara Thomas is focused on reducing his anxiety. That’s no small feat considering his high-stress job, not to mention her own distractions. Everyone knows Sara’s single; no one knows she’s pregnant. There’s never a good time to unexpectedly get knocked up, but now is definitely not it. Regardless, she doesn’t want anyone to know—especially not her father—until she has a game plan in place. But when Jonny, one of her father’s players, seeks vigilante justice on the ice, everything gets tossed out the window.


Cam Johnson’s role as a fourth-line winger with the NHL’s Portland Storm entails more than scoring goals. He has to ensure other teams don’t take liberties with the Storm’s star players. The way Cam sees it, that’s the most important aspect of his job. His teammates call him Jonny; opposing fans call him a goon; the media calls him an enforcer. The title’s unimportant. Cam will always fight for his team—even if he has to break the rules. He’s used to taking penalties, but he never meant for anyone else to suffer from his choices.

When Cam’s actions cause Sara’s worst fears to be realized, he blames himself. He’s screwed everything up; now he has to set things right. Mutual attraction leads to lust, and suddenly Cam is taking penalties at every turn…at least where Sara is concerned. He’s got to think on his feet or he’ll end up with a Delay of Game.


You can buy DELAY OF GAME now at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, All Romance eBooks, and Smashwords.
At Amazon only, and through tomorrow only, you can purchase it for $0.99 since it was not available as a $0.99 pre-order there.


You might have noticed that Barnes and Noble is missing from this list. And you might have placed a pre-order for DELAY OF GAME through Barnes and Noble, and be wondering where it is. Well, pre-orders at Barnes and Noble have to go through Smashwords, and there was a hang-up between when Smashwords processed the complete file, and when they sent it to Barnes and Noble for processing. That hang-up has caused it to be delayed. I am SO SORRY for this. It's a situation that is out of my hands, but that doesn't make it stink any less for any of you who are affected.


If you placed a pre-order through Barnes and Noble and don't want to wait for them to finish processing it (I can't guess how long it will be!), please forward your email confirmation of the pre-order to me at catherinegayle.author@gmail.com, and I will send you the ebook.


TAKING A SHOT, the novella initially included in the SEDUCED BY THE GAME anthology, is releasing separately on September 4, 2014.

You can pre-order it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and Kobo. (There shouldn't be any problems with any of these pre-orders, as this title is complete and fully edited, so there will not be any late changes.)


Katie Weber has lost her health due to leukemia, and now her chemotherapy treatments have taken her hair. She’s not about to show up to her senior prom bald and let her classmates steal her dignity, too. Prom is no place for a girl who looks more like an alien than a high school student, especially when her so-called friends all dropped her like she had the plague at the first mention of the word cancer. Katie could never get up the courage to ask Jamie—her crush for almost two years, ever since he joined her dad’s pro hockey team—to take her. Not with the way she looks now. Besides, her dad would absolutely murder him.

Jamie Babcock knows its bad news to fall for his Portland Storm teammate’s daughter, but he’s had a thing for Katie since the first time he met her when he was just a wide-eyed, eighteen-year-old rookie. Now cancer might take her away before he ever grows the balls to do anything about it, though. Her father won’t be happy about it, but Jamie has to take a shot and ask to take her to her prom. It seems like Katie has just about given up, and he can’t let her go without giving her some good memories…something to hold on to. She’s still got her whole life ahead of her—she just has to keep living it. If he can convince her of that, nothing her father might do to him will matter.


DOUBLE MAJOR will release on September 18, 2014.

You can pre-order it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.
This is a novella of second epilogues to books 1-4 in the Portland Storm series. It is approximately 35,000 words long.

It’s the NHL’s draft day, but the whole Portland Storm team is back together for an entirely different event. Complete with a double wedding, an unanticipated guest, overdue apologies, unexpected goodbyes, and fresh starts, this big day has the potential to get them all called for a Double Major.


You can pre-order it at iBooks and Barnes and Noble. Pre-orders for Kobo and Amazon will be available sometime in September or October.


IN THE ZONE, the fifth full novel in the Portland Storm series, will release on November 20, 2014

**Please note, this is not the final blurb. Just something meant to give you a taste of what the book will involve.


It was supposed to be one night of fake names, half-truths, and anonymous sex. Neither of them was prepared for it to turn into so much more. Keith Burns, star defenseman for the NHL’s Portland Storm, was just looking for a way to pass the time and ease the loneliness of his lavish lifestyle. Brianna Hayden wanted to find herself again after health issues changed everything. That one night turns out to be so much more than either Keith or Brie expects, but anonymity is the name of their game, and the rules were laid down at the outset. Pushing for the truth might land Keith a permanent spot in Brie’s penalty box, but it’s a chance he’s willing to take. Once he gets In the Zone, he’ll be on the forecheck—but Brie’s heart is the goal he’s seeking.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Delay of Game - Sneak Peek - Chapter One

I've given you glimpses into the early chapters of every book in this series, so why change that now? It's time to do that again with DELAY OF GAME.

First off, here's what the book is about:

With her father’s health in question, Sara Thomas is focused on reducing his anxiety. That’s no small feat considering his high-stress job, not to mention her own distractions. Everyone knows Sara’s single; no one knows she’s pregnant. There’s never a good time to unexpectedly get knocked up, but now is definitely not it. Regardless, she doesn’t want anyone to know—especially not her father—until she has a game plan in place. But when Jonny, one of her father’s players, seeks vigilante justice on the ice, everything gets tossed out the window.

Cam Johnson’s role as a fourth-line winger with the NHL’s Portland Storm entails more than scoring goals. He has to ensure other teams don’t take liberties with the Storm’s star players. The way Cam sees it, that’s the most important aspect of his job. His teammates call him Jonny; opposing fans call him a goon; the media calls him an enforcer. The title’s unimportant. Cam will always fight for his team—even if he has to break the rules. He’s used to taking penalties, but he never meant for anyone else to suffer from his choices.


When Cam’s actions cause Sara’s worst fears to be realized, he blames himself. He’s screwed everything up; now he has to set things right. Mutual attraction leads to lust, and suddenly Cam is taking penalties at every turn…at least where Sara is concerned. He’s got to think on his feet or he’ll end up with a Delay of Game.

DELAY OF GAME releases on August 21, 2014, and you can pre-order it now at iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo for only $0.99. (For Amazon Kindle readers, you'll be able to get it for the first TWO days of release at that price. Then it will go up to its regular price of $3.99.)

Okay...without further ado, here's chapter one of DELAY OF GAME. Enjoy!



SARA:

No matter how many of those stupid sticks I peed on, they all said the same thing in the end.
Which meant two things. One, I was royally fucked. (Oh, the irony.) And two, Daddy was going to absolutely murder me.
Granted, he would only kill me if he found out. Since I’d only learned just now that I was pregnant, I definitely didn’t have a game plan yet. I didn’t know what I would do, so I supposed that meant there was a third thing it meant, too—that I was scared out of my freaking skull and didn’t know what to focus on first. But whatever I decided on, I had at least a little bit of time. Daddy wasn’t the most observant person in the world, at least when it came to anything that wasn’t hockey related. I didn’t have to make any sort of rash decision that I might later regret, beyond the one I’d already made and couldn’t take back.
Anyway, with this, I could take the time to figure out what was best. If there was such a thing. I wasn’t convinced there was.
There wasn’t time right now to worry about it, though. My father was Scotty Thomas, a legendary coach in the National Hockey League who was currently finishing up his second season coaching the Portland Storm. Legendary because he’d started coaching when he was only twenty-six, after being forced to retire as a player early, after a slew of injuries. He’d coached his first NHL team to the Stanley Cup Finals. They’d lost in seven games, but in the twenty-eight years since then, he’d won the Cup four times as a head coach. That put him in some pretty rare company, and the Storm organization hoped he could lead them to the same end. It might not happen this year, but they were closer than they had been in a while…and a lot of that was because of him.
Today was the final game of the regular season, and since I was Daddy’s personal assistant—he’d officially hired me when I’d turned eighteen so he could justify paying me a salary—I had to get him out the door in time so we wouldn’t get stuck in traffic on our way to the Moda Center. Personal assistant was really just a glorified title meaning I made sure I got him where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there, but the pay was pretty damn good for an insanely easy job that I had already been doing for years, anyway.
With trembling hands, I shoved the pee sticks and their boxes and plastic wrappings and instruction booklets into a brown paper bag and crushed it all, then buried it in the trash can in my bathroom. For good measure, I took that trash bag out, put a fresh one in, and took the evidence down to the main trash can in the kitchen. No reason to leave that stuff lying around where our housekeeper might find it and tell Daddy. I doubted Rose would do something like that, but you just never know about people. Better to take precautionary measures than have to sort out the consequences later.
Oh. Haha. Yeah, that was kind of what was going on. Except I had taken precautionary measures. I’d been on the pill since I was sixteen, and I never did the deed without a condom. But there was that one night a little over a month ago, with Brad, when the condom broke. And the pill isn’t fail-safe.
Clearly.
It had been a bad date. It hadn’t even been good sex. Definitely not worth ending up a freaking out, shaking, preggers mess over.
I still don’t know why I’d slept with him. I mean, he was hot, sure. And he wasn’t a hockey player, so that was a huge bonus in his favor, at least with me. I’d spent my entire life around hockey players, almost constantly. I didn’t want to have a relationship with one of them beyond working for my father. I didn’t even want to have a one-night stand with any of them. So when a guy who didn’t play hockey asked me out, I tended to jump on it whether I was really attracted and interested or not.
That was what had happened with Brad. He’d hit on me at the gym. But this guy, the hot-but-boring non-hockey-playing biomechanical engineer who couldn’t find my clitoris with a detailed map, step-by-step instructions, and a compass? There was no chance in hell I was ever going to go out with him again after that night. I’d known it from the moment he’d pulled the car up in front of the Red Robin at Cascade Station.
Who takes someone to a cheesy chain restaurant like that for a first date? They weren’t even cheesetastic. They were the bad kind of cheesy, like those plain-Jane slices of processed crap they called American cheese.
But it had been so long since I’d had sex—real sex with a hot guy who took care of himself and his body, not a late-night date with my vibrator—that I’d gone along with him when he’d suggested we take things back to his place.
And the condom had broken.
And now I was pregnant.
Crap. I didn’t even have his phone number anymore. I’d deleted it from my cell almost the moment I’d gotten home. Not that I had a clue what I’d say to him even if I did have his number. Hey, Brad. Long time no talk. So, I know I brushed you off and all that, but guess what? You’re my baby daddy! Congratulations!
I tried to shake all that out of my head. Now wasn’t the time to freak. I had work to do.
“Daddy?” I called up the stairs.
No answer.
He was probably holed up in his office watching film of the Canucks, despite the fact that his cardiologist had told him he had to reduce his stress and get some rest when he could. This would have been a perfect time for the whole rest-and-relaxation thing—an afternoon off before a game. All of his players were resting right now, taking their pre-game naps. But not Daddy.
I headed down the hall and knocked on the open door, trying not to let myself get upset about it. That wouldn’t do either of us any good.
He looked up. “Time already?”
“Yeah. You’d better get your suit on so we aren’t late.”
Daddy paused the video he was watching and got up from his desk, grabbing the cup of coffee sitting beside him.
“Have you checked your blood pressure today?” I asked. I didn’t like to nag, but someone had to or he’d never do some of the things he needed to do. If it wasn’t directly related to coaching hockey, he was generally oblivious. I’d taken over looking after him when my mother abandoned us to run off with one of the players on Daddy’s team years ago. I’d only been ten, but I had done a better job of looking after him in all the intervening years than she’d ever done. By now, thirteen years later, it was second nature to me.
“I’ll do it once we get to the arena,” he promised.
“Your doctor says you need to check it two or three times a day, Daddy. And you’re supposed to reduce your stress and get more rest. And drink more water and less coffee.” I took the mug away from him and headed back to the kitchen so I could dump its contents down the drain.
He followed along behind me, grumbling half-heartedly the whole way. “The playoffs start in three days. How do you suppose I’m going to be able to do any of those things right now?”
I arched a brow at him from the other side of the kitchen island. “Drink less coffee and replace it with water. Then you’ll sleep more. That’ll kill a few birds.”
“And I’ll have more stress because I won’t be as prepared as I need to be for the first round because I was too busy sleeping.”
I sighed. “I don’t want to argue with you about this right now, Daddy.”
“I know, Sara.” He sounded defeated. He came around and kissed my forehead. “I’m trying to do better.”
If I’d been anyone else, he would have been yelling at me right now. I knew that. It was just one more thing I was trying to help him stop doing, because it was all going to add up and kill him. He might drive me crazy sometimes, but I wasn’t ready to lose him. He was my only family. He’d given me the only job I’d ever had. And now I was pregnant and single and scared shitless.
I couldn’t lose him now.
I nodded and washed his coffee cup, then grabbed a towel from the bar under the sink to dry it. “I know you are. Go get dressed.”
While he did that, I put together a snack for him—peanut butter on a toasted multigrain bagel, a banana, and low-fat yogurt with a serving of chia seeds stirred in.
When he took it from me, he scowled at the little black seeds in his yogurt. “What are you trying to kill me with now?”
“Doc suggested them for your cholesterol. They’re chia seeds. Full of omegas and fiber and protein—all the good stuff you’re supposed to be eating every day.”
Doc wasn’t my father’s heart doctor. He was Dr. Larry Mitchell, the head doctor of the Portland Storm. Doc’s focus was mainly on keeping the players in peak physical condition, and his background was more in sports injuries than the heart, but I figured all doctors had to know a thing or two about heart health after all those years in medical school. He was the only person involved with the team I’d talked to about it. Daddy still wasn’t happy that I’d gone to Doc at all, but I needed to know everything I could about how to help keep my father alive, and it couldn’t hurt to have someone else aware of the situation—someone who would be around him when I wasn’t.
Daddy lifted a brow.
“You can’t taste them, so don’t give me a hard time about this. I already tried them to see.” I grinned so he would know I was teasing him. “Just eat it, and let’s get out of here.”
“You spend too much time worrying about me. Who worries about you?”
“You do,” I answered, quickly brushing off yet another not-so-subtle hint that he wanted me to be dating someone. Ever since the issues with his heart had cropped up, he’d been trying to convince me to get involved with some guy or another. It felt like he was trying to be sure I wouldn’t be alone once he was gone. My focus was on making sure he wasn’t gone anytime soon, though. “And I get paid to worry about you, in case you forgot,” I added.
“Can’t forget that since I sign the checks.” He finally did what I asked without any more complaints, and then we made our way to the arena. When we arrived, I went with him to his office for a minute. His assistant coaches, Mattias Bergstrom and Daniel Hamm, were already there doing whatever it was Daddy expected them to do before games.
I kissed my dad on the cheek and said, “Remember to check your blood pressure,” and then I left him to do his thing. I don’t think he or anyone else would ever say boo to me if I stayed down in the coaches’ offices or headed into the locker room for a bit to say hi to the guys, but it was habit for me to go straight up to the owner’s box and hang out with the players’ wives and girlfriends during the games. I’d been doing that since I was a baby, so I didn’t see any reason to change my routine now.
On my way out the door, though, I bumped into Cam Johnson, one of my father’s players. He reached out and caught my arms, gently steadying me. “Sorry, Sara. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Jonny was a big guy, a fighter. He was six foot four and towered over my five foot seven frame, but his height wasn’t the truly intimidating thing about him. The guy was 240 pounds or more of solid muscle. The suit he was wearing only emphasized his broad shoulders and beefy arms, and the buzz cut he always had made it easier to see the muscle even coming down his neck. Who the hell had a muscled neck? How did he even build muscle there?
The really pathetic thing was, I was crazy attracted to him. Had been for a while. I didn’t want to be because he was a hockey player, of all things, and I didn’t want to be with a hockey player. And he was one of Daddy’s players. And that meant he was completely and totally off limits. But every time I was around him, I got these little tingles of awareness.
I hated those tingles. I wanted to throw them into the pit of Mount Doom like they were the One Ring. Mainly because I only felt them when I was around Jonny, never when I was around anyone else. I’d hoped I might feel them with that guy Brad. Same hair. Close to the same height. Fit, but nowhere close to as built as Jonny—but who was?—but it was no good. No tingles. Bad sex.
And now a baby on the way.
Fuck me.
The tingles were going into overdrive right now, since Jonny was so close to me. He had his hands on my upper arms and I could smell his amazing cologne, and I didn’t want to move a muscle other than to maybe lean in a little closer so I could sniff his collar, which would be totally weird and not even remotely all right.
Jonny gave me a concerned look. “Are you okay? Did I hurt you?”
Oh yeah. He’d asked me a question. I totally spaced on that, thinking about neck muscles and those damn tingles. “No, I’m fine. Sorry. I was off in another world somewhere.”
“Okay.” He dropped his grip on my arms, and I wanted to sob. Then he took a step back from me and grinned—at least it was as close to a grin as this guy ever showed. “You look nice tonight. Did you do something different? A new top or something?”
“I…” What? In all the encounters I’d ever had with Cam Johnson, that might be the most he’d ever spoken to me, and he wanted to know if I’d worn a new shirt tonight? Where the hell had that come from? The only thing different about me was that I had learned I was an incubator for a tiny human. “No, nothing’s different,” I hedged. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone about that, and definitely not this guy.
He just nodded and backed away some more, letting his gaze travel all the way down my body and cause a shit-ton more tingles. “Well, you look nice. Maybe it’s your shoes. Those are really nice shoes. I’ve got to go talk to your dad now. See ya later.”
I nodded and spun on my Manolo Blahniks, desperate to get away from him so I could make the tingles stop. Come to think of it, I’d only worn these shoes a few times. Weird that he’d notice something like that. I shook it off and hurried up to the owner’s box as I’d intended to do when I’d first left Daddy’s office.
Dana Campbell—team captain Eric Zellinger’s fiancĂ©e and his best friend Brenden Campbell’s kid sister—was the only other person up there when I arrived, which was utterly perfect.
Dana was one of the best friends I’d made since Daddy had come to Portland to coach, and she was the primary reason I’d spent as much time around Jonny lately as I had. He had taught her some self-defense techniques. They still worked out together sometimes, and she liked having him around, so she always invited him along if we were doing something that wasn’t just the girls. Anyway, talking to her would help me get my mind off all the Jonny-tingles and baby daddy crap going through my head.
I plopped down in the seat right next to hers. “Let’s talk wedding details. I need something to make me smile.”
“How about this?” Dana tucked a curl of her long, blond hair behind her ear and leaned closer to me. “Brenden and Rachel agreed to do a double wedding. We’re going to have it in Providence this summer so Eric’s mom doesn’t have to fly.”
Yep, a double wedding was just what the doctor ordered. I pulled both my legs up so I was sitting cross-legged on my seat and settled in to dish.




CAM:

Ultimately, the result of tonight’s game wouldn’t matter.
This was game eighty-two of the NHL’s eighty-two game season. My team, the Storm, was playing the Vancouver Canucks. No matter which team won this game, and no matter what happened in any of the other thirteen games going on around the league on this final day of the regular season, we already knew our fate and the Canucks already knew theirs.
The Storm would finish in third place in the Pacific Division. We were going to the playoffs, our first postseason appearance in five long years. I’d been here for four of them after spending a few years playing for the Baby Storm—what I’d always called the Seattle Storm, Portland’s minor league affiliate. I knew better than most how long overdue a trip to the dance was around here.
Also regardless of tonight’s outcome, the Canucks would finish in second place in the division. They had gotten into the postseason more often than not in recent years, but they had never won it all.
Those positions meant we would face each other in the first round.
So in a few days’ time, the two teams playing each other tonight would play again—and it would be all-out war for about a week or two. Best of seven. Winner moves on in the toughest tournament in all professional sports to compete for the Stanley Cup. Loser gets to call it a summer early and go home to work on the perfect golf swing.
The only things that mattered now were setting expectations and establishing a tone. We may not have gotten into the playoffs in the last five years, but we had no intention of going down easy, and they planned to make us pay for every inch of ice we wanted to take. For both teams, tonight was all about sending a message about what was to come in the first round.
The matchup would be interesting from a sports network perspective—the perennial playoff contender who had never won the big prize against the team made up of young players hungry to prove themselves and a few aging vets hoping for another shot at the Cup before they retired. It should make for an intriguing series from those storylines alone, but there was a lot more at play than just that.
The season series between our two teams had grown more and more contentious with every game. We didn’t like them; they didn’t like us. That went back pretty much twenty years or so, well before any of the players on the ice were in the league yet. Sometimes it seemed like we’d loathed each other since even before the Storm came into existence. It was a mutual, decades-old hate fest, and things had gotten progressively nastier each time we’d faced them over the course of the current season. The fact that we would have to play an entire seven-game series against them in just a few days had only served to intensify that hatred, if that were even possible.
It was still a scoreless game in the third period, and it had been filled with more than just a few hard—not to mention dirty—hits. On both sides. There was no pretending our play hadn’t skirted the line of legality just as much as theirs had. Anyone who tried to argue otherwise was full of shit.
But what was happening right before my eyes went beyond merely hitting.
I didn’t see what started it—something in the corner behind our net, where several guys from both teams had converged, it seemed—but I heard a bunch of angry shouting, and a scrum broke out in the blink of an eye. Each of our five guys paired off with a Canuck. Everyone in the building got on their feet—both benches, all the fans. No one could sit with that kind of tension on the verge of seriously boiling over. Our goaltender, Nicklas Ericsson, skated away from his crease and off to the corner so he couldn’t get dragged into the fray.
That made me breathe a little easier. Nicky had already missed quite a bit of action this season with a concussion. And really, the last guy you ever want fighting in hockey is your goaltender. The more distance he put between himself and all the shit going down on the ice, the better. That was the way I looked at it, at least.
Every guy on our bench was yelling and tapping his stick on the boards. The coaches paced behind us, screaming at the refs to get the melee under control and cheering our boys on just like the rest of us were.
But then the shit hit the fan.
One of the guys in visitors’ white took Andrew Jensen down hard. Jens was our number one defenseman and my road roommate this year. He wasn’t a fighter, but he had answered the call out there just like any of our boys would do in a pinch. Now he was flat out on the ice and not moving a muscle.
All the guys on the bench went berserk when we saw Jens on his back like that. The linesmen were trying to deal with a couple of the fights that were heading out toward center ice. One of the refs was down on the ice with Jens, and the other was trying to help Eddie Masters, our head trainer, get to Jens since it looked like he was in some serious trouble. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the stretcher come out for him, and that was something you never wanted to see. It almost always meant extremely bad news.
With all that going on, though, no one was doing a goddamned thing about the asswipe in white who’d just taken out our best fucking defenseman.
“Stay on the fucking bench,” Scotty Thomas yelled from close behind me. “No one leaves this bench or you’ll never see another fucking minute of ice time as long as I’m the coach here.”
The assistant coaches were shouting similar shit at us. They just wanted to be sure we all followed the rules. Back in the day, the NHL had experienced issues with bench-clearing brawls, so harsher punishments were instituted now for anyone who left the team’s bench in a situation like this. Automatic suspensions and fines for the player. Fines and possible suspensions for the coaches. Even heftier fines for the teams.
We all knew the rules.
I knew the fucking rules.
But I also knew it was my job to protect my teammates. I could score a goal here and there. I was a serviceable fourth-liner and penalty killer and I could move up the lineup when they needed me to, but I wasn’t going to kid myself. One of the main reasons the Storm kept me on the payroll year after year was because I didn’t let fuckers like that take out the star players on my team. Sometimes doing what was right was more important than following the fucking rules. I knew it. The coaches knew it. The league knew it. Everyone in the whole damn building fucking knew it.
Center Antoine Gagnon was holding his own with a guy who had a reputation as a fighter, much like I did. Good on the kid. Gags was a second-year guy, really young, who was still trying to establish himself as a regular. I’d never thought of him as a fighter before, though.
Keith Burns, our other defenseman on the ice for this shift, had his guy pinned against the glass, and they were both trying to catch their breath after a heavy bout. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went another round before the linesmen got to them to break things up. I hoped for Burnzie’s sake they didn’t. We needed him able to play, especially if Jens was going to be out for a chunk of time.
David Weber was in a big tilt with his guy—another heavyweight fighter for the Canucks—but Webs was a wily veteran who’d been in more fights in his career than just about anyone else on the team other than me. I didn’t need to worry about him.
Henrik Markusson had never even been in more than a shoving match before, though, at least not to my knowledge. Hank wasn’t holding up well. The guy he’d paired off with was pummeling him with one right hook on top of another. I could only hope Hank wouldn’t get hurt like Jens had. We couldn’t afford to lose either one of them right now with the playoffs being right around the corner. Someday soon I needed to take Hank aside and give him a few fighting pointers just in case he got stuck in a situation like this again. When a line-brawl starts, you don’t always get to pick which players are out on the ice for it.
But fighting tips would have to wait. This was happening in the here and now. I made notes in my mind, taking down numbers of the guys in white who would need to be dealt with when I finally got the chance—and I would get my fucking chance, since we were going to have a whole playoff series against each other starting in a few days.
But then I saw it: a streak of white, out of the corner of my eye, heading straight in Nicky’s direction. The same fucker who’d laid Jens out was going for my goddamn goaltender.
Nicky didn’t have to fight him, at least not according to the rules in place. He could refuse. But if this asswipe started throwing blows, what the hell was Nicky supposed to do? He would have to protect himself, and then he’d be fighting, and that was not something I could let happen.
“Stay the fuck where you are. No one leaves this fucking bench.”
I heard Scotty’s shout, and I knew he meant for me—for all of us, really—to stay put and be good little soldiers.
“That means you, Jonny,” Bergy bellowed from right by my ear. “Keep your ass on the bench. Don’t you fucking put a skate over the boards.”
Yeah, that one was definitely directed straight at me and no one else. Bergy knew me well since he’d still been playing when I came into the league. I actually fought him once, so he knew exactly what I was. Hockey player. Fighter. Some people called me a goon. I wasn’t a goon, but I couldn’t sit back and let certain things happen.
Things like this fucker making a beeline for my goaltender.
I felt Bergy’s hands on the back of my jersey, trying to physically restrain me and keep me on the bench.
I didn’t give a shit.
All that mattered at that moment in time was that it was my job to protect my teammates.
So that’s exactly what I did.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More Pre-Orders

Taking a Shot, the novella originally published in the Seduced by the Game anthology, will release on its own on September 4, 2014.


Katie Weber has lost her health due to leukemia, and now her chemotherapy treatments have taken her hair. She’s not about to show up to her senior prom bald and let her classmates steal her dignity, too. Prom is no place for a girl who looks more like an alien than a high school student, especially when her so-called friends all dropped her like she had the plague at the first mention of the word cancer. Katie could never get up the courage to ask Jamie—her crush for almost two years, ever since he joined her dad’s pro hockey team—to take her. Not with the way she looks now. Besides, her dad would absolutely murder him.

Jamie Babcock knows its bad news to fall for his Portland Storm teammate’s daughter, but he’s had a thing for Katie since the first time he met her when he was just a wide-eyed, eighteen-year-old rookie. Now cancer might take her away before he ever grows the balls to do anything about it, though. Her father won’t be happy about it, but Jamie has to take a shot and ask to take her to her prom. It seems like Katie has just about given up, and he can’t let her go without giving her some good memories…something to hold on to. She’s still got her whole life ahead of her—she just has to keep living it. If he can convince her of that, nothing her father might do to him will matter.

You can currently pre-order it at iBooksKobo, and sometime soon at Barnes and Noble.

Add it to your Goodreads bookshelf now.


There's also a box set of the first few books in the Portland Storm series on its way. Portland Storm: The First Period, will be available on December 4, 2014. You can pre-order it through iBooks, Kobo, and sometime soon at Barnes and Noble.


BREAKAWAY

She’s reaching for a breakaway pass.

Dana Campbell has spent the past seven years in self-imposed isolation for a crime she didn’t commit. The danger is well in the past, but her panic attacks make it impossible to have a normal, healthy relationship with a man. Even her counselor has given up on her. She has to find someone she trusts to help her fight through the panic, or her seven-year ordeal will become a lifetime sentence. There’s only one man she feels safe enough to ask.

He got caught with his head down.

As the captain of the NHL’s once elite but now fading Portland Storm, Eric Zellinger knows a thing or two about keeping his focus on the job. Questions are flying about his ability to lead the team back to the playoffs. If they don’t make it, he might be shipped out of town. It’s the worst time possible for his best friend’s kid sister to divide his focus. How can he give her what she needs without jeopardizing both the Storm’s playoff hopes and his future with the team?

It’s her only chance, but it’s his last shot.

ON THE FLY

Injury after injury has put Brenden Campbell’s NHL career on hold for years. Now he’s playing for the Portland Storm and determined to make it stick. Few things in life drive him more than being told he can’t have something he wants, and what he wants most is to prove he belongs. Brenden also wants Rachel Shaw, the cute, little redhead who just got hired as the general manager’s new assistant. But then she went and made herself off-limits, telling him: “I don’t date.” Those three words pretty much guarantee that he’ll do everything he can to change her mind.

Rachel is changing things up on the fly for her family, moving them somewhere she can be the kind of mom her kids deserve. Allowing anyone else to be in their lives is out of the question, at least until her instincts get back on track. How else can she be sure who to steer the kids clear of? Right now she trusts no one, including herself, and especially not a man like Brenden Campbell. He’s way too handsome and a little bit cocky. Falling for a guy like him is a mistake she can’t afford to make twice.

TAKING A SHOT

Katie Weber has lost her health due to leukemia, and now her chemotherapy treatments have taken her hair. She’s not about to show up to her senior prom bald and let her classmates steal her dignity, too. Prom is no place for a girl who looks more like an alien than a high school student, especially when her so-called friends all dropped her like she had the plague at the first mention of the word cancer. Katie could never get up the courage to ask Jamie—her crush for almost two years, ever since he joined her dad’s pro hockey team—to take her. Not with the way she looks now. Besides, her dad would absolutely murder him.

Jamie Babcock knows its bad news to fall for his Portland Storm teammate’s daughter, but he’s had a thing for Katie since the first time he met her when he was just a wide-eyed, eighteen-year-old rookie. Now cancer might take her away before he ever grows the balls to do anything about it, though. Her father won’t be happy about it, but Jamie has to take a shot and ask to take her to her prom. It seems like Katie has just about given up, and he can’t let her go without giving her some good memories…something to hold on to. She’s still got her whole life ahead of her—she just has to keep living it. If he can convince her of that, nothing her father might do to him will matter.

LIGHT THE LAMP

Life’s been rough lately for Noelle Payne, but she’s not one to let negativity rule. So, she lost her job? She’ll find another one. The bank foreclosed on the house? Well, she can live out of her car for a while. There’s always an upside to be found…but now Noelle needs to find something to give her life meaning. She owes it to the universe to figure it out, too, because a stranger just saved her life.

When Liam Kallen’s wife died, his goal-scoring ability died with her. After a trade from the only pro hockey team he’s ever played for, he’s now playing for the NHL’s Portland Storm. Everyone said he needed a change of scenery, but nothing changes until he rescues Noelle. All of a sudden, the world once again looks bright and he’s lighting the lamp like he used to.


Noelle’s cheerful disposition is just the bit of sunlight Liam needs in his life. He wants to give her everything she needs because she’s everything he wants. The problem? She doesn’t believe she needs anything…at least nothing material. The one thing they both know she truly needs—a real purpose—also happens to be the one thing he doesn’t know how to give her. If he can’t help her find that, she might walk away and take all her sunshine with her.

Book 4, Delay of Game, will release August 21 (iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads). Book 4.5, Double Major, releases on September 18 (iBooks, Goodreads). Book 5, In the Zone, will release on November 20 (iBooks, Goodreads).

I will have more pre-order links for Double Major and In the Zone when it gets closer to their releases. Amazon does not currently allow for pre-orders for most indie authors, and therefore I can't give you links to purchase for your Kindle until the books are live. I'm sorry!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Breakaway is FREE

The first book in my Portland Storm series, Breakaway, is free in ebook form.

You can get it free right now at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, All Romance eBooks, and Smashwords. It should be free at Barnes and Noble sometime soon, but I'm still waiting for that to happen.


She’s reaching for a breakaway pass.

Dana Campbell has spent the past seven years in self-imposed isolation for a crime she didn’t commit. The danger is well in the past, but her panic attacks make it impossible to have a normal, healthy relationship with a man. Even her counselor has given up on her. She has to find someone she trusts to help her fight through the panic, or her seven-year ordeal will become a lifetime sentence. There’s only one man she feels safe enough to ask.

He got caught with his head down.

As the captain of the NHL’s once elite but now fading Portland Storm, Eric Zellinger knows a thing or two about keeping his focus on the job. Questions are flying about his ability to lead the team back to the playoffs. If they don’t make it, he might be shipped out of town. It’s the worst time possible for his best friend’s kid sister to divide his focus. How can he give her what she needs without jeopardizing both the Storm’s playoff hopes and his future with the team?


It’s her only chance, but it’s his last shot.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Delay of Game Pre-orders

Hi, everyone! So, you all know that DELAY OF GAME is releasing on August 21, right?

Well, now you can pre-order it at iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. As with LIGHT THE LAMP's pre-order, you can get it for only $0.99. (Amazon customers will have a 2-day window upon release to purchase for $0.99 before it is raised to it's regular price, as they don't offer the pre-order option to everyone. Sorry!)

Here's the back cover copy:

With her father’s health in question, Sara Thomas is focused on reducing his anxiety. That’s no small feat considering his high-stress job, not to mention her own distractions. Everyone knows Sara’s single; no one knows she’s pregnant. There’s never a good time to unexpectedly get knocked up, but now is definitely not it. Regardless, she doesn’t want anyone to know—especially not her father—until she has a game plan in place. But when Jonny, one of her father’s players, seeks vigilante justice on the ice, everything gets tossed out the window.

Cam Johnson’s role as a fourth-line winger with the NHL’s Portland Storm entails more than scoring goals. He has to ensure other teams don’t take liberties with the Storm’s star players. The way Cam sees it, that’s the most important aspect of his job. His teammates call him Jonny; opposing fans call him a goon; the media calls him an enforcer. The title’s unimportant. Cam will always fight for his team—even if he has to break the rules. He’s used to taking penalties, but he never meant for anyone else to suffer from his choices.


When Cam’s actions cause Sara’s worst fears to be realized, he blames himself. He’s screwed everything up; now he has to set things right. Mutual attraction leads to lust, and suddenly Cam is taking penalties at every turn…at least where Sara is concerned. He’s got to think on his feet or he’ll end up with a Delay of Game.

Here's the Goodreads link so you can add it to your bookshelf there.

I'm hoping to be back soon with more pre-order links for more books in the series. :)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

More Portland Storm Titles on the Horizon

Not only will DELAY OF GAME release next month, but I've just had covers made for two more new titles within the series--and they will all release before the end of 2014.

Don't forget--you can pre-order it at iBooks, and you can add it to your Goodreads bookshelves. I should have Kobo and Barnes and Noble pre-orders available within the next couple of weeks. I'll share those links as soon as I have them.

So, do you want to know more about those two new titles? Here you go.


Up first, we have DOUBLE MAJOR. DOUBLE MAJOR is going to be out sometime in September, probably around the middle of the month. Yes, that means it should be out only weeks after DELAY OF GAME!

I don't yet have a blurb for it, but it will be a novella that will act as a second epilogue for a number of the earlier books in the series.

Want a few teaser hints about it? Well, from the cover, you can probably imagine that a wedding is involved. The cover also shows an empty arena because it's the off season. No hockey. That doesn't mean there's no hockey news, though. It takes place on draft day.

You'll get "screen" time with Eric, Dana, Brenden, Rachel, Babs, Katie, and maybe several of the others, as well. I'll share more details about it in the coming months, but for now, enjoy the cover and get excited about MORE BABS. :-)

The other book I'll have coming out is called IN THE ZONE. It's going to star Keith Burns, aka Burnzie--one of the Storm's top defensemen. You'll start getting to know him a little better when DELAY OF GAME hits the shelves. The heroine is someone you haven't met yet, but I think you'll love her.

At this point I don't have a blurb or anything more to share with you than that and this cover--and the fact that it will have a November release. Yes! I said November. Meaning before Christmas. Meaning that in less than a year, I'll have released five Portland Storm novels and two novellas. Whew! What a whirlwind.

As soon as I have either of these books set up for pre-orders at iBooks and elsewhere, I'll let you know. In the meanwhile, you can add them to your Goodreads bookshelves if you want. Here's the link for DOUBLE MAJOR, and the link for IN THE ZONE.

I hope you all continue to enjoy this series as much as you have so far. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for some teasers and sneak peeks at DELAY OF GAME.

~Catherine

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Out Now - Light the Lamp

Light the Lamp is available now at all major ebook retailers.

Life’s been rough lately for Noelle Payne, but she’s not one to let negativity rule. So, she lost her job? She’ll find another one. The bank foreclosed on the house? Well, she can live out of her car for a while. There’s always an upside to be found…but now Noelle needs to find something to give her life meaning. She owes it to the universe to figure it out, too, because a stranger just saved her life.

When Liam Kallen’s wife died, his goal-scoring ability died with her. After a trade from the only pro hockey team he’s ever played for, he’s now playing for the NHL’s Portland Storm. Everyone said he needed a change of scenery, but nothing changes until he rescues Noelle. All of a sudden, the world once again looks bright and he’s lighting the lamp like he used to.


Noelle’s cheerful disposition is just the bit of sunlight Liam needs in his life. He wants to give her everything she needs because she’s everything he wants. The problem? She doesn’t believe she needs anything…at least nothing material. The one thing they both know she truly needs—a real purpose—also happens to be the one thing he doesn’t know how to give her. If he can’t help her find that, she might walk away and take all her sunshine with her.


Through Saturday only, and only at Amazon, it is available for $0.99 because it was not available at that price as a pre-order. Don't wait. Go get it now before it goes up to its regular price of $4.99.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Light the Lamp, Chapter One

To tide you over until the June 12 release of LIGHT THE LAMP, I thought I'd share the first chapter with you. Don't forget--you can pre-order it right now from iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo for only $0.99. If you order from Amazon, you'll be able to get the $0.99 price for the first three days it is on sale, since they don't allow pre-orders.

Okay, now that the business is out of the way, are you ready?



LIAM

I was about to cross over the Hawthorne Bridge when I saw hazard lights blinking on a car up ahead, the bright yellow flash jarring against the darkness of the night. The car had pulled into the cross section between the highway and the exit before it had stopped, which was the worst place to break down short of blocking a lane of traffic. This spot wasn’t really a shoulder, and it was directly over the bridge.
People used those spots to make ill-advised passes sometimes, almost causing wrecks in the process. Earlier tonight, while I was out exploring the city, I’d witnessed someone making a last-second exit by cutting across the exact spot where this car was stopped.
I tried not to worry too much because I didn’t know this person. At first I succeeded because it looked like whoever had been in the car was gone. I assumed the driver must have turned on the hazards, popped open the hood to see what the problem was, and then left the car like that. Maybe someone had stopped to give them a ride.
But as I got closer in my rental car, my heart stopped.
A woman came around from in front of the old Buick and opened the back door on the driver’s side. She kneeled down to the pavement, the free-flowing, flowery skirt of her dress and her unbound blonde hair flying from the wind of speeding traffic. Her bare feet and the open car door were actually in the lane closest to her while she searched for God only knew what.
Images of Livia flashed through my mind—my beautiful, sweet wife Liv, who had never wanted to leave our native Sweden but eventually did it for me. Thinking about her always brought a sharp ache to my chest. Then came the even more painful images of the wreckage, the ones they’d flashed across the news in the immediate aftermath and that the hockey media kept showing every time they talked about my inability to score since the accident.
I swallowed hard and blinked rapidly. Crying and driving would never be a good combination. Besides, it had been over a year and a half. I should be able to think about her without losing it now, shouldn’t I? I had to get it together.
Before I had grasped what I was doing, I’d slowed my car and pulled off onto the shoulder just as I passed the woman and her vehicle. As soon as I came to a stop, I put my rental in park, turned on the hazard lights, and got out, racing back to her with the headlights of the oncoming traffic nearly blinding me.
By the time I was close enough for her to hear my voice, she’d stood up again and closed the car door. She was returning to the front of the old Buick with a flashlight in one hand and what looked like a gallon jug of water in the other.
“Miss?” I shouted into the wind and noise.
Her head shot up, and she smiled at me. “I’m fine!” she called out. “My engine just got too hot. I’m going to add some water and let the radiator cool off for a few minutes.”
I didn’t stop jogging until I reached her. “Why don’t you come somewhere safe with me while you wait for it to cool?” I asked, cringing at the sense of desperation in my voice. You’d think that by the age of thirty-four I would have better control of myself. I bit down on the inside of my cheek, hoping that would help me to calm down. She would think I was a madman if I didn’t relax, and then there would be no way I could convince her to come with me. “You can’t stay here,” I said once I thought I had reined myself in again. “I can drive you away from the highway and we can call for someone to help with your car.”
She blinked at me a couple of times, and I was struck by the blue of her eyes. They were so bright and clear as to be startling. Her smile, though—that wasn’t just startling; it was striking.
This woman isn’t Liv, I reminded myself, and her appearance ought to help me to remember that. This woman, for as beautiful as she was, looked nothing like Liv. I didn’t have the first clue who she was. There was no black ice on the roads; it had been a gorgeous spring day today, and there wasn’t a cloud blocking the moon or stars in the sky, even though a cool breeze was blowing. I had no way of knowing how many drivers out on the roads tonight had been drinking, but the fact remained that this was an entirely different situation.
It had to be. I was here, and I hadn’t been with Liv. I would never be with Liv again.
The woman gave me a wary look. Which she ought to do. What the fuck was I thinking? A young woman alone on the highway at night, and some strange guy races up to her and insists on taking her somewhere “safe”? For all she knew, I was a rapist or a murderer. God only knew what else might’ve been going through her mind.
“I’m really fine,” she said evasively but without any fear tinting her words. It was all very matter-of-fact. She smiled again, a bright enough smile to make my heart jolt back to life. “It happens sometimes, but I know how to deal with it. Once I add some water, it’ll be cool enough in another ten or fifteen minutes, and then I can go. Thank you for offering to help, though.”
She edged past me, her long skirt swirling around her ankles as she made her way to the front of the car. Without hesitation, she unscrewed the jug’s cap and started emptying the water into her engine. A hiss sounded as soon as the water made contact, and I could make out white steam trailing up into the chilly night air.
Ten or fifteen minutes? There were far too many possibilities of awful things that could happen to her in that much time, and my mind raced through each of them indiscriminately.
“Add the water and come with me then,” I urged. “I’ll bring you back in fifteen minutes. I swear I’m not a serial killer or anything. I just want you to be safe.”
She finished pouring the water into the hole and put the lid back on the jug, and then she turned to me. She smiled again, like she had when I’d first called out to her. It was all lightness and peace coming away from her, the complete opposite of me lately. Her blue eyes sparkled like the stars in the sky over us.
“I don’t think you’re a serial killer. You’re too perfect to be a serial killer. Aren’t they all supposed to be kind of strange?” She laughed, a tinkling sound that made me think of the wind chimes Liv had kept outside our house near Gothenburg.
We used to leave the windows open when I was home in the summers so the cool air could wash over us, and those chimes would play their music all night long while I held her. So many of those nights, I had lain awake watching her, praying for a way to convince her to come with me during the National Hockey League’s season. It had taken me years to get her to come. She’d wanted to stay in Gothenburg with her family and her work and her wind chimes. I should have let her stay. If I had, she would still be there when I went home each summer.
“I’m not,” I finally said. God, that sounded stupid.
But she smiled again before slipping past me to put the jug back in her car. She didn’t look at me as though I was behaving like an idiot. When she returned to the front of the Buick, she leaned back and rested her hip against the front bumper.
It seemed like she might never stop smiling, at least in these few short moments I’d been in her presence. Happiness and light billowed off her in waves, making me more determined than I already had been to be sure nothing happened to her. The good things in life—the really sweet and joyful and delightful—needed to be protected. They seemed to be in short supply, at least around me.
“So now you just have to wait?” I said.
She nodded.
I spun around, looking in all directions for somewhere safe I could take her. Not too far up ahead, just off the service road, there was an office building with a well-lit parking lot. A shopping center or a gas station would be better, with lots of people milling around, but right now I’d take anything. That lot was the best bet out of anything within sight.
I pointed to it. “Look, I’ll just take you right over there. We can sit there for a little while and then I’ll bring you back to your car and wait to see if you can get it running. If you can’t, I’ll call for a tow truck, take you home—whatever. I just can’t let you stay here.”
I had been on a road trip with my team when Liv had died. I hadn’t been there to do anything about it. I hadn’t been able to help her. But this woman… I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I went home and turned on the news to find out something had happened to her, not when I’d been right here and could have gotten her to safety.
She looked back over her shoulder at her car, her gaze lingering for a long time while she nibbled on her lower lip as if she couldn’t decide what to do. What was that about? The car wasn’t going anywhere. The engine block was still smoking and steaming, and the hood was still raised. It didn’t make any sense to me.
But then she turned to face me again, biting down hard on her lip. “All right,” she said hesitantly. “I suppose it’ll be okay if we leave it for a few minutes. We’re just going over to that lot?” she asked, pointing.
Thank God she was finally starting to come to her senses on this. I didn’t want to have to haul her away kicking and screaming. Then someone would think I was trying to hurt her. “Yes. We won’t be far. I’ll bring you straight back here in a little while.”
After a moment, she nodded, but it didn’t seem all that decisive. “All right. Let me just get…get my purse…” She moved to the passenger side door and rummaged around in the front seat for a moment. It took a little longer than I’d expected for her to simply grab her purse, but eventually she came out with a light jacket draped over her arm, a small bag with the strap slung across her body, and a pair of shoes.
When she got back to me, I turned around and headed toward my rental car. Her legs were shorter than mine, and she wasn’t in anywhere near as much of a hurry to get out of there as I was, so I reached it well before she did. I opened the passenger-side door and waited for her to get in. The skirt of her dress kept trying to fly away in the wind, and it took her a minute to get it under control and pull it all inside the vehicle. As soon as she did, I closed her door and raced around to the driver’s side. I pulled my seat belt on and checked all my mirrors to see when it was safe to pull out. Once the traffic cleared enough, I put the car into drive and accelerated.
“I’m Noelle, by the way,” she said once we were moving. “Noelle Payne.”
“Liam Kallen,” I replied, checking my rearview mirror again. We’d barely merged before we were essentially on top of the exit.
“It’s really nice of you to stop and help me. Not many people around here would do that. But then you’re not from around here.”
I shot a glance over at her as I flipped on my turn signal. “Most people don’t pick up on my accent anymore.” As with most students in Sweden, I’d studied English since early in my schooling. Living in New York for so many years had virtually eliminated my accent, or so I’d thought. Maybe people were just being nice to me, not mentioning it anymore.
Noelle shrugged. “It’s not heavy, but I hear it. Where are you from?”
“Sweden.”
She nodded with that now-familiar smile curling her lips, and I steered us to the access road. Two more turns in quick succession had us pulling into the parking lot. Seven or eight other cars were parked there, but the huge lot was almost empty. It was a Saturday night, and I was somewhat surprised that there were even that many cars here at all on the weekend, especially at night.
I pulled into a spot and put the car in park. I’d made sure we were facing the split on the highway where we’d left her Buick. We sat there in silence for a minute—long enough that it was starting to feel really awkward.
“Were you on your way to a date?” I asked to break the tension. She raised a brow in question, so I gestured toward her dress. “Or maybe coming home from one?” I added.
Noelle shook her head. “I had a job interview in Salem late this afternoon.”
“Do you think you got the job?” I asked. I couldn’t help but be insanely aware that she wasn’t looking at me at all; her focus was directed at her car. Maybe she had something in it that she didn’t want stolen? With it sitting where it was, though, I couldn’t imagine anyone but a police officer coming along. Not until sometime in the wee hours of the morning, at least, when there was no traffic on the roads to speak of, and by then we should have it moved—whether I called for someone to tow it or she was able to drive it away.
Her eyes flicked over to me for a moment, but then she returned to her vigil. “Nope. I don’t have the right experience, they said.” She fidgeted with her bag, shifting it on her lap and fingering it in a way that made me think she was reassuring herself that it was in her possession. “Why’d you move here from Sweden?” she asked a moment later.
“I’m a hockey player. I play in the National Hockey League.” And that was why my wife was dead. Liv had given up her whole life to be with me, and now I’d lost everything important in mine. Everything except hockey, and I might lose that before too much longer if I couldn’t get myself together.
“Hockey?”
Noelle smiled at me again, just long enough to make me think about how her smile and her laugh and her voice all matched so perfectly. They worked together to become something musical in a thoroughly distracting way. It seemed as though she had to be from somewhere else, not from this earth. I’d never met anyone like her.
She faced forward again, staring out at the highway and her car. “My brothers are big fans of the Portland Storm,” she said.
“That’s the team I play for now.” I’d spent almost twelve full seasons playing for the New York Islanders, right up until a couple of weeks ago. They’d finally given up on me. I’d only scored three goals in the a year and a half since Liv had died. Who knew how long I’d be in Portland? If I couldn’t figure out how to score again, it wouldn’t be for very long, no matter how much time was left on my contract.
“That’s nice,” she said in that tinkling, dreamy kind of way she had, but it didn’t seem as if she was blowing me off or putting an end to the conversation. She just really thought it was nice, I guess. She glanced down at the clock on my dashboard. “Maybe we should start heading—”
She cut herself off so suddenly and her eyes got so wide that I shot my head up to see what had upset her. A little sports car had zipped in front of a pickup truck to get off at the exit where Noelle’s car was broken down. The truck driver lost control, and we could only watch—almost in slow motion—as he crashed into her car.
It burst into flames on contact.
       Thank fuck I’d gotten her away from there.



Noelle


They always talk about how your life flashes before your eyes right before you die, how you see all the important moments zipping by one at a time.
That was close, and yet not close at all, to what I was experiencing. This was watching my entire life, or what was left of it, go up in flames. I didn’t think I was going to die—we were far enough away from the wreck, so we weren’t going to be hurt by the smoke or fire—but everything inside me felt like it was melting from the heat of the blaze and dripping right out through the tips of my toes.
It was one of the most surreal things I’d ever experienced in my life, and it took me right back to the day I’d gotten the call that my parents had died. I’d been a freshman in college, and the call came from a neighbor who’d been watching my two teenaged brothers while my parents came to visit me for the weekend. They never made it to the dorm. For that matter, they never got out of Oregon.
Both then and now, nothing felt real. I pinched my forearm to bring myself back to the present.
“Oh, thank God,” Liam said next to me.
He said it like a fervent prayer, but I wasn’t so sure I was capable of being thankful. Not right now. Not when I knew all the things that were burning inside my car and that I would never see them again. Not when I was trying to catalog the memories those things were attached to since I would no longer have the physical reminders.
He leaned back in his seat, visibly shaking as he turned to look at me, his eyes scanning my face as though he was seeing a ghost, as though he was seeing someone from his past and not me. He’d only known me for a grand total of fifteen minutes. There couldn’t be any big, emotional attachment to me worthy of the way he was looking at me. It was unnerving. “Thank God I got you away from there,” he said softly.
I was still alive, of course. There was that. And life wasn’t any small matter. I nodded because I couldn’t seem to find my voice, and I clutched my purse even closer to me, feeling its meager contents brushing against my fingertips through the threadbare fabric. This was all I had left. My almost-empty pocketbook, the wallet-sized photo album that they’d found in Dad’s pockets, the keys to my now burnt-to-a-crisp car, and Mom’s wedding ring. Other than the clothes on my back and the jacket I had almost left in the passenger seat of my car, this was it. Well, this and my brothers, but they were both far away from here and oblivious to all that I’d lost in the last few months. All that we’d lost.
“I… Wow,” Liam said. He dragged a hand down over his face, his palm scraping against his five-o’clock shadow. “I never expected… Are you okay?”
I was fine. As fine as anyone could be after watching something like that. I smiled, determined to look for the positive, and I gave him a confident nod. Getting caught up in negativity never helped anyone.
“You’re not all right,” he said when I remained silent. “You’re smiling, but you can’t be all right. Not after—” He reached awkwardly over the center console as though he wanted to hold my hand but then pulled his arm back to rest in his lap. “Sorry. I just don’t know what to do…how to help.”
Flashing lights filled the highway surrounding my flaming car—police cars, a fire truck, an ambulance—and that somehow helped to calm me down, to slow my pulse and think about things rationally. I didn’t know what to do, either, but I would figure it out. I always did, and this couldn’t be any different—even if it felt different.
“It’s okay,” I told him. I laughed this time, because I didn’t believe in letting myself get too down. Yeah, my car and just about everything I owned were gone, but I was alive, and I might not have been if not for this man’s thoughtfulness. “Thank you for stopping to help me.”
“How can you possibly be laughing at a time like this?” He let out a little chuckle of his own and shook his head. “You’re so unlike anyone I’ve ever met before.”
“I’m laughing because I’m alive, and that’s thanks to you. I would have been sitting in my car and waiting for it to cool off if you hadn’t convinced me to leave. I would be dead. Or at least dying.” Death by barbeque didn’t sound too appealing.
“Thank God you didn’t think I was a serial killer.” Liam shifted in his seat so he could face me more fully. The yellow lights shining over the parking lot illuminated him in an odd glow, making him look older than I’d thought he was when I’d first seen him jogging toward me on the highway—maybe in his mid-thirties. He had neat, shortly cropped dark hair and eyes I could only guess were brown. There was something incredibly appealing about him, with the strong set of his jaw and the fullness of his lips. Something that made my chest flutter. This wasn’t the time for silly flutters, though.
It was his eyes, more than anything, that drew my notice. They were old—much older than the rest of him—like they’d seen too much to stay youthful.
That made sense based on what I’d felt when he was trying to convince me to leave my car. There had been something more urgent in his request, and I’d known it wasn’t about me. Just like I knew he was seeing someone else when he looked at me now. I couldn’t put my finger on what made me sure, but that wasn’t all that uncommon. I’d always had these hunches about people, a sixth sense or whatever you want to call it, where I could feel a lot more from people than most others could. More than what they wanted anyone to know a lot of the time.
I was fairly sure that was how Liam would feel about it. I didn’t think he wanted anyone to know he had this big hole inside him, but it was big enough to almost overwhelm me, a giant, empty ball of ache, gnawing at him from his center. It was definitely big enough to make me forget about my own problems for a little while. I’d had a big hurt inside me a few years ago, too, when Mom and Dad had died. I’d been nineteen then and had suddenly become a mom to my brothers. I was twenty-four now.
I knew that kind of pain. I hated when anyone else had to feel like that. It made me want to find a way to suck all that hurt out of them and pull it inside myself, because I knew I could find a way to get rid of it.
He smiled at me, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He still looked anxious, with his eyebrows pinched together and his jaw set in a tight line. “Let me take you for coffee. I need something to help me calm down after that. God knows you probably do, too.”
“Shouldn’t we talk to the police?”
“Oh.” His eyes flickered back to the highway and all the emergency vehicles. They’d managed to contain the fire. Only a small stream of black smoke was still billowing up above all the headlights and emergency lights filling the road. Then he met my gaze again. “They have enough going on over there without us. They can call if they need to talk to you. Let’s get coffee.”
They couldn’t call, though, because I didn’t have a phone, and the address the car was registered under wasn’t mine anymore. They wouldn’t be able to find me very easily. I didn’t even know where I would go now. Not until I could get a job. I’d looked into some homeless shelters when the bank foreclosed, but there was no guarantee that any of them would have a bed. That was why I’d been sleeping in my car.
“All right,” I conceded. I didn’t know how to tell Liam all of that without making him feel sorry for me. That wasn’t what he needed right now. Besides, I could spare a few dollars for a coffee with him since I wouldn’t need to pay for gas or car insurance anymore.
Liam started the engine and carefully pulled out of the parking lot. He drove a few blocks before turning into the parking lot at a nearby Starbucks.
After he shut off the ignition, he turned to me with a questioning look. “I didn’t think—Do you need to call someone? Hell, was your phone in the car? Should I take you home so your family doesn’t worry?”
“No, I—” I wasn’t quite sure how to explain that my home had burned up right in front of our eyes, so I just shook my head. “There’s no one I need to call. It’ll be fine for a little while. Let’s go have coffee.”
“You’re sure?”
I nodded, even though that was the furthest thing from the truth. But my brothers, Ethan and Chris, didn’t even know I’d lost the house yet. I’d sort it all out before they finished their semester at college. I’d have somewhere for them to come home to. Then I could explain things. Granted, I didn’t know how I would get a job and a place to live in such a short amount of time when I hadn’t managed it in the last several months, but that wasn’t the important part. I’d figure it out.
Liam gave me another nod, and then he got out of the car. I’d barely unbuckled and opened my door before he’d come all the way around and was standing there to help me out. I wasn’t sure what to do with that, but when he held out his hand for me, this time I took it.
His hand was big and warm, and it enveloped mine completely. It was comforting, like my favorite blanket, the one Mom crocheted for me years ago. I’d been sleeping with it on top of me lately. Not anymore. It was gone now, too.
Instead of taking me to the counter so we could order, he found a quiet table with two chairs in a corner near the windows and urged me to sit.
“What can I bring you?”
“Oh.” I sat down and pulled my purse onto my lap, keeping it close. “Hot chocolate?” I said, digging through my bag to pull out my wallet. It had been forever since I’d splurged on something as decadent as that.
His lips quirked up into a grin. “Hot chocolate. You’ve got it.” Then he turned and walked away before I could even get my wallet free.
A minute later Liam came back and passed a cup across the table to me. “I got you extra whipped cream. I figured you could use it after a night like tonight.”
He had that right. I wrapped my hand around the hot cup and took a slow sip. “Thank you,” I said, pushing the few dollars I’d dug out across the table toward him.
He shook his head and slid the bills back toward me. “My treat. It’s the least I can do…” He took the lid off his own cup of black coffee and took a sip as well.
“Thank you again,” I said, marveling that anyone could drink coffee without adding cream and sugar to it. It was far too bitter for me that way. “You drink it black? That’ll put hair on your chest.” I shocked myself that I’d said it. I hadn’t been thinking about anything but what Dad had always told me and my brothers any time we wanted to drink coffee.
“I’ve already got hair on my chest,” Liam teased, and he winked at me. “I’m not too worried about it.” Then he took another swallow, letting out a hiss at the heat after he got it down.
I was blushing before I could stop it. Mainly because as soon as he’d said it, my eyes had gone to his chest and my mind had started thinking about how broad and muscled it was. I didn’t have any business gawking and thinking about him like that. He was a very kind man who’d saved my life and bought me cocoa, not someone whose bones were available for jumping. I didn’t even know where to begin with the whole bone-jumping thing. In order to hide my embarrassment, I took a bigger drink from my cocoa than I should have, and in the process I nearly burned the roof of my mouth.
“Careful,” he said, but again he sounded like he was teasing me. “It’s hot.”
I let my mouth cool off for a second. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t… I didn’t—” I didn’t have the first clue how to say what I was thinking.
He gave me a questioning look and then shook his head. “Please don’t apologize for flirting with me. It’s been too long, and it feels too damn good.”
Flirting with him? Was I? If I was, it hadn’t been intentional. God, I was so clueless sometimes. My face felt ten times hotter than my mouth had from the hot chocolate, and I couldn’t look at him. Did that mean he was flirting with me, too?
“Why has it been too long?” I asked when I finally found my voice again. He was a professional athlete, after all. Surely there were women who would flirt with him just because of that. And when you added how gorgeous he was into the equation…
He took a long moment to answer, watching me so intensely the whole time I thought I might melt beneath his stare. “Because my wife died,” he finally said. “Most women don’t really flirt with widowers.”
       “Then most women are stupid.” I couldn’t believe I said that.