Thursday, December 4, 2014

Holiday Hat Trick and Portland Storm: The First Period

Two new releases! That's right--TWO of them.

First up, we have HOLIDAY HAT TRICK.

Mitchell “Q” Quincey, a journeyman playing for the Portland Storm, has three goals for his three-day Christmas break.

1.      Move the rest of his gym equipment out of his ex-wife Mia’s house.
2.      Get his lawyer to file a petition for joint custody.
3.      Spend every last minute he can with his baby girl.

When he arrives on Mia’s doorstep, things don’t go as planned. With her whole family gathered for the holiday, the only way he can spend time with their daughter is to spend time with the whole clan. The compromise is doable, if not ideal, because he’s still in love with Mia and she won’t take him back.

Having her ex-husband show up completely unannounced at Christmas throws Mia off her game. The least Mitch could have done is called so she could have emotionally prepared herself to face him. Instead, the love and attraction she still feels for him combine to leave her fumbling for excuses. He’s always been able to leave her flustered, but now that he’s making himself part of the family again, she’s afraid she’ll lose her nerve and fall back into old patterns.

Things heat up on a snowy Christmas Eve, and Mitch decides to change his goals on the fly. With assists from Mia’s family and a bit of mistletoe, he might end up with a Holiday Hat Trick.



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.


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.


Katie Weber has had a crush on Jamie Babcock for almost two years, since he joined her father’s pro hockey team, the Portland Storm as an eighteen-year-old rookie. When cancer takes her health, her hair, and even her friends, she can’t bear to go to senior prom…until Jamie intervenes.


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.

Not only that, but you can pre-order COMEBACK at several ebook retailers.

Nicky Ericsson has had a long fight with addiction, and because of it he lost his spot as the Portland Storm's top goaltender. He's on the road to a comeback--both in his personal life and on the ice. He's throwing himself into charity work, recovery group meetings, training...all the things he needs to do to become the best version of himself he can be, and to keep himself clean. He has no other choice. 

Jessica Lynch has been running the Portland office for the Light the Lamp Foundation for a few years, so she knows a thing or two about addicts. One of the main things she's learned is that even when they try to turn their lives around, sometimes the addictions get the better of them. Because of that, she takes a hands off approach, keeping her heart out of things. 

Nicky's attempts to better himself puts him in directly Jessica's path more often than not, and their attraction is instant and mutual. Can he prove that he won't fall back into old habits, and complete the perfect comeback?

COMEBACK releases on February 19, 2015, and you can preorder it at Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sneak Peek: Holiday Hat Trick

HOLIDAY HAT TRICK, a surprise holiday novella in my Portland Storm series, will release sometime next week, once I've finished getting it through edits and proofreading and formatting. To tide you over, here's the first chapter. :) I'll post links once I have them!


I had three days, three tasks to complete, and zero time to waste.
There were only three days because I was a member of the National Hockey League’s Portland Storm, and we were on our league-mandated days off for Christmas. I’d left Portland for my hometown of Brandon, Manitoba, as soon as the team had finished our final game before the break. I barely made it through security and to my gate in time for the flight, but I would have lost half a day had I waited until tomorrow. As it was, I was due to catch the last possible plane out on the afternoon of the twenty-sixth so as not to miss morning skate on the twenty-seventh. So really, I supposed it wasn’t even three full days when you got right down to it. That was why I couldn’t mess around.
Particularly when you considered the three tasks I’d set for myself.
First, I planned to clear out the last of my things from the small house in our hometown that I’d shared with Mia for the past seven years until our divorce over the summer. We’d moved around a lot during hockey season over the years, but we’d always kept this little house near our families for when the off-season rolled around. I’d need a little help to get my training equipment out, but Jason Redwine and Zach Farmer—two guys who’d been my friends for as long as I could remember—had promised the use of their trucks, along with whatever physical strength was necessary. We would take care of it all together, much as we’d done almost everything over the years, at least until I made it to the NHL. These days I wasn’t always around to help them out when they needed it, but if I could help, I did.
Second, I wanted to spend every spare moment with my little girl, Marley Lynn. I didn’t know what Mia’s plans for the holidays might be, but she’d have to adjust them. Mia might have custody, but Marley was my daughter, too. A daughter I hadn’t seen in months, not since she was just beginning to crawl. Marley was over a year old and she was walking. I had missed so much already, and I’d be damned if I’d let my ex keep my daughter from me while I was in town and could spend time with her. I’d lost so much time already that I’d never be able to get back. I didn’t even know if she’d remember me—I mean, I Skyped with her sometimes, but that wasn’t the same as being live and in the flesh, and during the season we didn’t get enough time off to travel home very often—but I couldn’t worry about that or I’d just tear myself up worse.
And third, I had a meeting scheduled with my lawyer so we could file a formal petition with the courts for joint custody. Mia had been granted full custody at first, because she was breast feeding and my life was far from stable—I had played for eight different NHL teams in the last five years—but things were changing now.
Marley was eating solid foods, and it looked like I might have finally found a home with the Storm. I had contacted a reputable nanny service and knew that I could take care of Marley if she came to stay with me for short visits. I wanted to be able to have longer visits with my little girl—at least something more than the nonexistent ones I was currently receiving.
I was supposed to get a couple of hours a few days a week, but since I wasn’t even in the same country as Mia and my daughter, those visits weren’t happening other than during the offseason, so really only three or four months out of the year. At the very least, I wanted the courts to order Mia to bring my daughter to me on occasion. I’d pay for it, but going for months on end without even seeing my baby, without hearing her infectious giggle was killing me. It was bad enough that I hadn’t heard Mia laugh, hadn’t seen her smile, in so long I almost couldn’t remember how her eyes lit up. If we kept going like this, the same would be true for Marley. I’d be damned if I was going to let that happen.
All of this was running through my head for the thousandth time as I headed for the regional airport’s baggage claim. I didn’t have a checked bag to collect since I would only be here a few days, but it was where my buddies would be waiting for me.
I saw Zach first when I rounded the corner. Actually, it was only Zach. No Jason. It was well after midnight by the time my flight got in, and the late hour was visible in the lines around Zach’s eyes. He had followed in his father’s footsteps and gone into construction after his dreams of pursuing a hockey career had been dashed, although he’d taken it much farther than his dad ever had. Zach built custom homes. In fact, he’d built the very home that Mia was currently living in. He’d probably worked a full day, ten hours or maybe even more, before coming to pick me up. That didn’t stop him from reaching for my hand and slapping the other on my back as he pulled me close in a hug.
“Mitchell Fucking Quincey. You look like ass,” he said, laughing.
“I look better than you.” I sniffed. “I smell better than you, too. You couldn’t take a shower before coming to get me?” He didn’t smell bad, actually, but that was just the way things had always been between us. If we weren’t insulting each other, then there were bound to be real problems.
“Thought I’d bring a little of the job with me, make you feel at home.” He took the handle of my carry-on bag and headed toward the parking lot.
“What’s up with Jason?”
“Fatherhood changes a man,” he said with a beleaguered sigh. “Now I have double confirmation of that fact.”
“Changing diapers, then.”
Jason and his wife had just had their first child, a boy named Simon, about two months ago. I still hadn’t seen the little guy other than in pictures and videos.
I took my gloves and toque from my coat pockets as I walked alongside him, settling them in place before we hit the bracing cold outside. As usual in Manitoba, we were definitely going to have a white Christmas. The snow had blown into drifts almost as high as my waist. I double checked to be sure my coat was buttoned all the way to the top. Being home in the winter made me appreciate the mild Portland weather even more than I usually did.
“Something like that. Shana promised you could have him tomorrow, though.” Zach put my bag in the back of his truck and we both climbed in. “You haven’t changed your mind about anything, have you?” he asked as he pulled out onto the road.
Changed my mind? I wasn’t the one who’d wanted to end things. Even if I had, the divorce had been final for months now. What was there for me to change my mind about? I gave my friend a fuck-off look when he glanced over at me.
“All right, Q,” he said, forcing a laugh back into his tone. “I just thought maybe if you left a few things over there…”
“It’d give me an excuse to drop by? Having my gym equipment cluttering up her house isn’t going to change anything. All it’ll do is have her badgering me about getting it out of her way. She doesn’t want me.”
And that stung like a motherfucker, because there wasn’t a goddamn thing I wanted more than Mia and Marley. I wanted my family back.
She’d claimed that it was all the moves, that they had created too much stress for her, having to go from team to team and city to city. Just as soon as she felt settled and comfortable, as soon as she had a few friends she could talk to, I’d get traded. Or I wouldn’t be re-signed to my team and I’d hit the free agency market, and we’d be on the move again. There was definitely some truth to that. It had been hard on both of us, maybe harder on her because she didn’t have the built-in new friendships that my teammates provided, and because she was the one having to deal with the logistics of moving our house and changing our address.
I was fairly certain that there was more involved than what she’d told me, though. She’d always made friends easily, and she adapted to change better than anyone I’d ever known. I should know. We’d been together since we were in high school. Everyone had always said we were meant to be together, that they couldn’t imagine one of us without the other. In the beginning of our marriage, I knew exactly what they meant. But then things had started to change. Mia stopped being the smiling, laughing, easy-going, sexy, flirty girl I’d fallen in love with. That girl was still in there somewhere. She had to be. I just didn’t know how deeply she was buried or how to bring her back to the surface.
“You know who does still want you?” Zach said, bringing me back from my ruminations. I shrugged, lifting a brow in question, which only made him chuckle. “Vanessa Hough. Next time I see Q, I’m going to sweep him off his feet. He won’t know what hit him,” he mimicked in a high-pitched squeal.
“Naughty ‘Nessa?” Whether I was still in love with Mia or not, there wasn’t a frozen chance in hell I would fall for Vanessa Hough and her numerous charms. She was one of those women who would screw anything with two legs and a dick if she thought that dick might be her ticket out of Brandon.
“The one and only.”
“Fuck me.”
“That she would, my friend. That she would.” Zach pulled up in front of his constantly-a-work-in-progress house and killed the engine. He spent so much time making everyone else’s dream houses that he never had enough time to dedicate to his own place. “She’s pretty good, actually. Might not be the worst thing you could do. Screw Vanessa’s brains out. Move on from Mia.”
I’d been trying to move on from Mia for months, though, and I doubted taking Vanessa Hough to bed would do anything to make it any easier.
I couldn’t help but note that Zach spoke like he had experience of a particular kind with Vanessa. “You’ve slept with her?”
He shrugged, climbing out of his truck. “Once. Almost a decade ago, when I was home for the summer.”
It would have been while he was playing major junior hockey, then—after he’d been drafted. Eventually, he’d suffered a concussion that had ended any hope he might have had to play in the NHL. Maybe it was after he’d known that chance was gone.
“She help you move on from anything?” I asked dryly. I followed him up the steps to his house, carrying my bag. It was too late to drop by my parents’ house. Too late to go to Mia’s and demand time with my daughter. I was going to crash here for the night and get started on my list of tasks in the morning.
“Nah,” he said. “But at least for a little while, I didn’t care.”
        I’d like to not care. Somehow, though, I doubted that ending up in Naughty ‘Nessa’s bed would be cathartic.


“Marley, no!” I said in my best mommy voice. I seemed to say that more than just about anything these days. Once my daughter had started walking, she was suddenly able to get into absolutely everything. Sometimes it felt like she got into it all at the same time. I didn’t know how it was possible.
I’d turned my back for about 2.09 seconds so I could clean up after breakfast. That was all it took for her to grab the cat’s tail, causing Inigo to let out an ear-splitting yowl and race up the Christmas tree. The tree had come crashing down, of course, because that was just how today was going to go.
I raced back into the living room to find that—thankfully—the tree hadn’t landed on my daughter, and Inigo seemed to have escaped her clutches and found somewhere to hide. We had named him Inigo Montoya, after the character from The Princess Bride, because he had markings on both cheeks that looked like scars. Also, the tree didn’t appear to have started a fire or set off a flood, so we should be all right in the long and short term.
Marley looked up at me and giggled, pushing up from the floor into a standing position. She tottered over to me and lifted her arms, and I hauled her free from the disaster zone, brushing my hair out of my eyes.
“How am I supposed to get showered and dressed and make both of us pretty for Gram and Papa if I can’t leave you alone for three seconds?” I asked.
She answered me with a sticky kiss. It tasted like applesauce. I thought I’d cleaned her up before I let her loose, but now that I took a closer look I could see the remnants of her breakfast still clinging to her chin and cheeks.
“I should probably just take you into the shower with me, huh?”
Before she could answer that in any way, the doorbell rang. Who on earth would be here at this hour of the day? And on Christmas Eve, no less. I looked down at myself, scowling at the grungy pj’s covered in applesauce and Lord only knew what else Marley had gotten into. It wasn’t worth trying to sort myself out, though. Everyone in this town knew everyone else, so they all knew I was a divorced mom with a baby. If they wanted me to look presentable, then they needed to send a babysitter and a construction crew.
I planted Marley on my hip and crossed to the front door, not bothering to look through the peephole before throwing it open.
I should have looked.
I really, really should have looked.
Because if I had, I would have known that it was Mitch, and I would have double-checked that the deadbolt was secured and pretended I wasn’t at home. But I hadn’t done that. And now here he was.
On my doorstep.
Looking good enough to eat.
Staring at me the way he always had, like I was good enough to eat, even though I was in grungy, applesauce-covered pj’s with my hair an absolute wreck and a destroyed Christmas tree all over the floor and had no idea how I was supposed to react to him.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded. I should have at least said something polite first. Hi. How’s it going? I miss you—God, how I miss you—so I need you to leave.
The corners of his lips twitched, a tic he’d had since we were teenagers, and he shoved his gloved hands into his coat pockets. “Christmas break. I came to move all that gym equipment you’ve been bugging me about.”
“At 8:30 in the morning? You should have called,” I said, helplessly looking at the disorder surrounding me.
Mitch’s eyes followed mine and landed on the overturned tree and the decorations that had been flung halfway across the room. Then he looked at me again, letting his eyes rove over my grungy attire and frizzy hair and the mess of a baby in my arms, and I felt like the biggest failure as a mother. I wanted to explain it all away. I wanted to be sure he knew Marley and I didn’t live like this, that it had all happened right before he’d rung the bell. But really, only the disaster of the tree had been a last-minute thing. Everything else just was.
“It’s not—”
He cut me off by reaching for our daughter, who giggled and kissed his cheek, and then giggled some more because he hadn’t shaved in a few days and had a decent accumulation of scratchy stubble. His eyes lit up at the sound, and he pushed inside so that I had to back out of the way or he’d barrel over me. “Come on,” he said over his shoulder, and only then did I realize that Jason and Zach, his two best friends, were behind him. “There’s a lot more to do in here than I knew.”
Mitch made his way into the living room as if he owned the place, which technically, he did. He sat Marley down on the couch and put her favorite—and disgustingly filthy—teddy bear in her arms while the other guys came in, winking at me as they moved into the living room. Without any of them saying a word, they took off their winter gear and set to work sorting out the Christmas tree and decorations and the mess I’d been trying to clean up from breakfast, leaving me standing there and staring.
“Why don’t you go get a shower?” Mitch said to me after a minute.
I let out a frustrated huff. “I can do this,” I said feebly, but it made me sound ungrateful for their help, which stung because I actually appreciated their help.
“I know you can.” He grabbed Marley around the waist and lifted her high up over his head until she squealed out loud. She had climbed down from the sofa and had been tottering at a run toward the tree they’d just righted, and he’d stopped her before she had a chance to cause more damage as though it had been the easiest thing in the world for him to do. That only made me feel like a bigger failure as a mother. He caught my eye as he passed Marley off to Jason. “Go on. We’ve got this under control. Take a few minutes for yourself. We should have this all sorted out by then. We can talk when you’re done.”
A few minutes of my own were exactly what the doctor ordered, but it irked that he knew it. Did I look that much of a disaster?
I nodded, skirting around the mess and heading toward the master bedroom. “If you need—”
“We won’t need anything,” Mitch said. “We’ll be just fine.” I gave him a dubious look, and he added, “I may not get to spend much time with Marley, but I promise I can watch her for fifteen minutes with two other adults to help without allowing her to die.”
“That’s not fair, Mitch. I don’t think that,” I argued.
He met my gaze, his unwavering and thoroughly inscrutable. “I know you don’t. I’m sorry.” Then he shrugged, and his features softened, and it was impossible to be mad at him when he looked at me that way. “Will you please let me take care of something for you, just this once?”
It was never just this once, though. Mitch had always taken care of things for me, for almost as long as I could remember. He walked into the room, and everything that had seemed overwhelming and earth-shattering and unmanageable suddenly slowed down and settled into order. He made it possible for me to breathe.
In fact, until he’d walked through the door a few minutes ago, I hadn’t realized that I’d stopped breathing. How long had I gone without filling my lungs? I couldn’t even remember, which probably said a lot.
I must have stood there staring for too long because he closed the distance between us. Before I could prepare myself, he lifted one hand to my cheek. It was all I could do not to press into him, to beg for more of his touch, but I somehow refrained.
With the tip of his thumb, he brushed against my skin. “Sticky,” he said quietly.
“Applesauce,” I replied, mentally berating myself for the flutters of awareness and need racing through my veins.
He kept his eyes locked on mine as he put the tip of his thumb into his mouth and licked it clean. “So it is. Go get a shower, Mia.”
        I raced down the hall, not because I was in a hurry to clean up, but because I didn’t trust myself not to push up onto my tiptoes and kiss him, and that would be the worst thing I could possibly do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sneak Peek #2 - IN THE ZONE

All right, so I already teased you with the prologue from IN THE ZONE. How about the first chapter?

P.S. It releases on November 20. If you haven't already pre-ordered it yet, you can do that at Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. It's also up on Goodreads and ready for you to add to your shelf. I'll wait while you do all of that. Got it? Okay, so here's the first chapter.


“Burnzie! Colesy!” the Storm’s head coach, Mattias Bergstrom, called out to me and one of the new defensemen on the team, Cole Paxton, as the rest of the boys started heading off the ice after a hard practice. “Jens and Ny—you too,” he added, indicating two of our other defensemen, Andrew Jensen and Peter Nylund. “I need a minute before you boys hit the showers.”
We were a few months into the season now, and the guys were finally starting to settle in to the new system Bergy had instituted for us when he took over the team. We’d been playing a similar style under Scotty Thomas the last couple of seasons, but the tweaks Bergy had insisted on had taken a few of us a while to adjust to. Old habits die hard, or whatever the saying was. Anyway, even though we were starting to really click with Bergy’s changes now, he still hadn’t settled on the defensive pairings he wanted. The forwards had been going through almost as many changes as we were. I was starting to wonder if Bergy was ever going to settle on a combination he liked. Every few games he tried out new partnerships, seeing who clicked with whom and what arrangement seemed to be the most effective for the team as a whole.
He was always looking at charts and graphs and other data on the computer, too—something Scotty would have never dreamed of doing. Scotty had trusted his eyes and gut feelings and things like a guy’s plus-minus rating. Bergy, though? He was far more interested in some of the newer stats that bloggers kept putting up posts about—Fenwick and Corsi and all sorts of other things that went right over my head. I didn’t have a clue what any of that shit meant, and I wasn’t entirely sure I cared.
Anyway, he’d been using these new stats to help him and his assistant coaches make decisions about which defensemen he ought to pair together and which forwards worked better on a particular line. I had a strong suspicion that some random stat was behind him calling me and the boys over right now—either that or maybe he wanted each of us to write down some new goals or something. He’d instituted that practice back at the beginning of training camp. If you write your goals down, it’ll keep you accountable, he’d said. He’d insisted on each of us making out goal cards for the entire season on the first day of training camp, and every week since then we’d had a team meeting where we would make up new goal cards for the upcoming week. Maybe he thought we needed to update ours right now.
Colesy gave me a look, one that clearly indicated he thought he was in trouble. The guy was a good defenseman—really good, actually. But the coaches kept talking to him about needing to improve his core strength, saying it would help him in his transitions. That was what all his goals had been about lately—adding extra reps in the gym on core-strengthening exercises, demonstrating improvement in game situations, that sort of thing.
He’d had a great practice today, though. He hadn’t had any problems making the switch from offensive to defensive positioning, and the drills we’d run were seriously challenging on that front. I doubted they were going to bring up his core strength again right now. Besides, why would Bergy include me and these other guys in that discussion if it was really just about Cole Paxton?
I shrugged, as though that would help him shrug it off, too. “Don’t worry about it. He’s not going to rip you a new one.” Not today, at least, and not this guy. Bergy tended to reserve that special form of communication for Zee. Sometimes for me and Soupy, too, since we were Zee’s assistant captains this year. He only really slammed into the leadership group—those of us who had special weekly meetings with him and the other coaches where we got to write down other leadership-oriented goals. The rest of the guys tended to get the you-disappointed-me sort of speech more than anything else. That was another way he was different than Scotty. Our former head coach preferred to yell at everyone indiscriminately, and if he wasn’t yelling at you, then you were really in hot water.
We skated to the boards near center ice, where Bergy and his assistant coaches, David Weber and Adam Hancock, were waiting. Until last year, Webs had been one of the boys, but he’d retired in the off-season. Handy was a longtime coach in the league. He’d been the head coach of a few teams over the years—both at the AHL and the NHL level—and he’d been an assistant coach more than just a few times, too. I figured Jim Sutter, the Storm’s general manager, had brought him in to give Bergy and Webs an experienced voice to help them make the adjustments smoothly and successfully. Bergy had only been an assistant coach for a couple of years before getting promoted. It wasn’t all that long ago that I’d played against him.
“So here’s the deal,” Bergy said once the four of us came to a stop. “I’m going to change things up again with you four, starting with Thursday night’s game. I want to see Jens and Ny together, and Burnzie, I want you with Colesy.”
“That’ll give both pairs a bit of snarl and risk-taking, along with a bit of safety,” Handy said. He was the assistant coach that was supposed to be overseeing the defense, but Bergy seemed to have a hard time letting go of that particular responsibility. Bergy had been a defenseman himself, and he’d been in charge of us for the two years he’d been an assistant coach.
I had no doubt that I was supposed to be the snarl of my pair. Jens and I had been partnered together almost all last season and part of this season. We both played a pretty similar style, though—physical, hard-hitting, in-your-face hockey. My snarl might be a little nastier than Jens’s, but it really depended on the day of the week and what side of bed we had each rolled out of, and I liked to shoot the puck more than he did. Jens was more about making a good first pass and letting the forwards deal with the offensive side of things, at least most of the time.
Before Jens had come to the Storm and throughout quite a bit of this year, I’d played alongside Ny. He was your prototypical Swedish defenseman, right down to doing everything like a machine. He skated well, had a decent shot and a lot of skill, and he played a sound positional game. Coaches liked to put him out on a power play unit because his pass was as good as his shot from the point and he had excellent on-ice vision. He could be a power play quarterback.
I hadn’t been paired up with Colesy at all, though, other than a random shift or two. His style was closer to Ny’s, only he was less offensively skilled and more defensively minded than the other three of us. Most people in the hockey world would call him a stay-at-home defenseman, but that wasn’t really accurate. He tended to sit back and let the game come to him, so he rarely got caught out of position.
Now he was going to be my partner—at least for the next game or two. It was anyone’s guess how long we’d stay together. I’d spent time playing alongside every other defenseman on the team in the first two and a half months of the season. Changing things up that often didn’t make it easy to form good communication or chemistry—both of which were imperative.
Which Bergy knew. He’d played defense in the NHL for over two decades. That was what confused me about why he was switching up the pairings and forward lines so often. We’d barely be starting to figure our partners out when he’d throw another wrench in things and we’d have to start all over again.
Bergy cleared his throat. “Everyone good with that?”
It wasn’t like we had much say in the matter.
“Yeah,” I replied for the lot of us. “Whatever you want.”
“Good deal,” Webs said. “So starting with practice tomorrow, that’s how we want you paired up for five-on-five work. Jens and Ny will be the 1-A pairing; Burnzie and Colesy will be 1-B. Burnzie, you’ll be on the first power play unit with four forwards, just like you’ve been doing lately. Jens and Ny will handle the second unit.”
Handy scanned a page on his clipboard and squinted. “And for penalty kill situations, I want to try Burnzie and Colesy as the first pairing. Jens, you’ll work with Luka for that,” he added. Luka was Slava Lukashenko, another veteran defenseman who was apparently being moved down to the third pairing now since Colesy was going to work with me.
“Everyone clear?” Bergy asked.
“Yeah,” we said. “Got it.”
“Get out of here then.” Bergy picked his own clipboard up off the boards and started flipping pages, so we skated off in the other direction. “Colesy! I need one more minute,” he shouted before we got off the ice.
Colesy groaned and turned back the other direction.
Damn. I’d been hoping they’d leave the guy alone. I shot a glance over my shoulder, but it didn’t look like Bergy was pissed off or anything. They wouldn’t yell at him, as I’d said earlier, but I still worried about him.
He was a guy I’d taken under my wing, so to speak, when he’d signed here as a free agent over the summer. Out of all the guys involved in the team leadership, I had always been the one planning parties and making sure the new guys knew they were invited along to shit, making everyone feel welcome…until this year. I’d passed that responsibility on to Soupy. Mainly it was because Bergy seemed to think that Soupy needed to branch out and get to know all the guys on the team as a whole, while he thought the opposite was more true for me: I needed to get to know one or two on a really good individual level.
Colesy had been my primary focus on that score. He was different than most of the guys, so I’d been making an effort to include him, even if I left everyone else to Soupy. He was kind of standoffish in a way. Had been since he’d first shown up in Portland. He was a good player, took care of his shit, never caused any problems, but he tended to keep to himself. I had started making extra effort with him once I noticed he wasn’t always coming along to hang out off-ice with the boys. I sometimes took him out to lunch, one-on-one, to get to know him better. Was he just shy or introverted, or did he feel like he didn’t fit in for whatever reason? I knew all too well the harm that could cause—feeling like you didn’t belong—thanks to my brothers. At least once we’d gotten a little older.
Being on a team, though, there’s no room for a guy to feel left out or as if he doesn’t fit. I wasn’t going to let that happen to Colesy.
That was how I started to figure out that he was gay. It was little things, but I recognized them. I mean, he wasn’t wearing bright pink and getting manicures and talking like a girl or anything like that. He wasn’t obvious about it; by all appearances, he was trying to keep it a secret. What gave him away was more how he would smile at the bartender at Kells when we’d have lunch there sometimes, or how he would force his gaze away from a couple of the guys we would see around town when we were out, as though he didn’t want to get caught staring at a guy he thought was hot.
I never said anything to him about it because he never said anything to me about it. It was his secret—his to reveal or keep hidden. But at the same time, I wanted him to feel comfortable enough around me that he would know he could tell me if he wanted to.
There wasn’t a single out guy in the whole NHL. Not one. There no way Colesy was the only one keeping it hidden, though. There had to be at least 800 guys playing in the league. I didn’t get the feeling that he was ready to be the ambassador, to wear that mantle and hope others got the courage to follow him, but there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to do a fucking thing to make him feel ashamed of who he was.
I’d already done enough of that for one lifetime, and it had cost me more than I’d had to give.
Colesy was only a couple of minutes behind the rest of us getting to the locker room. I took my time undressing and heading for the showers, allowing him a chance to catch up with me.
“Coming to Amani’s?” Soupy asked when I was almost done getting dressed.
Amani’s Family-Style Italian Restaurant was a favorite hang-out for the guys. The menu was full of things that made for great pre-game fuel, and we tended to go there a lot more often than just game days. It wasn’t my favorite, though. And I wanted to take Colesy out and talk to him, see what the coaches had wanted with him, that sort of thing. I shook my head. “Can’t do it today. My favorite waitress is expecting me at Kells.”
“Favorite hookup, you mean?” He had one brow lifted in question.
“Yeah, fine. Whatever.”
“Mmm-hmm. Whatever,” he repeated, rolling his eyes.
The guys all acted like I was taking a different girl home with me every night lately. Probably because I hadn’t been hanging with them as much as they were used to, so they were trying to figure out what was up with me. The truth was, ever since that night after Zee’s and Soupy’s weddings, when I’d been with Allison, I hadn’t really wanted to be with any other woman. I’d been pretty fucked up since then—thinking about finding the one. And some insane part of me kept wondering if Allison had been the one.
Not that I’d ever see her again. Even though we’d stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, talking between intermittent bouts of sex, sharing what bits of ourselves we could without delving too far into the truth of who we were, she’d left the next morning. Somehow she’d slipped out of my hotel room without me waking up. No note. No phone number. Not even her real name. It was as if she’d never existed, if not for the scent left behind all over me, the slight indentation of the pillow she’d used, and the pieces of her soul she’d inadvertently revealed more through body language than through anything specific she’d said.
She had definitely existed. She’d been as real as they come.
I could only hope that the night we’d shared had given her the boost in confidence she’d needed. I supposed I would never know.
Colesy came back into the locker room half dressed, still pulling a clean T-shirt on over his head while he was walking. I caught his eye and angled my head so he’d come over to talk to me.
Soupy started backing away. “I’m going up to kiss my wife before we head out.” He’d married Jim Sutter’s assistant, Rachel, so he was always running upstairs to sneak in a quick make out session whenever we were at the practice facility. And yet he was giving me a hard time about my sex life. He might as well have reverted to being sixteen years old with the way he’d been acting over the past several months.
“Later,” I called over my shoulder. Then I turned to Colesy. “Wanna grab a bite with me away from the rest of the guys?”
He gave me the side eye. “You don’t have to hang out with me all the time, you know. You can keep going with your life as usual.”
“I know. I want to grab some lunch with you, though.”
Plopping down on the seat in front of his stall, he glanced at his watch and then set to work putting on his shoes. “Yeah, I’ve got time for that, I suppose.”
“You suppose? Hot date after lunch?” I said it jokingly, trying to keep things light, but I was actually curious. Not that I expected him to answer me honestly.
“Not exactly.”
“Then what, exactly?”
He scanned the locker room, as though he was checking to see who all was still around and how close-by they were. It was nearly deserted. Other than the two of us, only Viktor Ellstrom and Liam Kallen were still here, and they were holed up in the opposite corner, having a conversation in Swedish. They were oblivious to anything around them.
“Bergy encouraged me to take some dance classes to work on my core,” he said finally. “I’ve been going to ballet lessons and ballroom dance, and I don’t want the boys to know and give me a hard time about it.”
As soon as he mentioned dance, something clicked in me. I got choked up and had to fight the old, familiar gut-wrenching ache back down. I swallowed hard to keep the bile at bay. “Yeah? Dance lessons, huh?”
“They’re helping. Clearly.” He got up and shoved his laundry into his duffel to take home with him. “But you know how the boys can be about these things.”
I definitely knew how guys could be about other guys who danced. And I knew what being bullied about something like that could do to a person. I’d done it, right along with everyone else, caving in to the peer pressure that kids put on one another. I’d done it to my own fucking brother. I’d picked on him, teased him relentlessly, called him gay and queer and faggot and pussy and sissy and a thousand other things I’d never meant and could never take back.
And he’d killed himself.
“Right,” I said slowly, trying to rein all my thoughts back in before I lost my shit in the middle of the locker room. I nodded. “I do know. Why don’t I come with you?” There wasn’t a better way I could think of to deal with all the fucking things running through my head than to confront it head-on.
“Yeah?” Colesy said.
“Yeah. Absolutely.”
       I was going to take some fucking dance lessons. Maybe I’d get lucky. Maybe then I’d be able to put Garrett to rest.


“Your frame has improved,” I said appreciatively to Charlie Winston, one of my students in a class full of retirees. “Markedly,” I added under my breath, in the hope that it might hide the shock in my voice.
Only a week ago, he was barely keeping either hand in its proper position, his arms hadn’t even been an afterthought, and his footwork? He could have hardly been worse at stepping if he’d been trying to do poorly. That had meant that Madge, his wife and dance partner, had been forced to essentially lead herself around the dance floor. I’d rarely seen such improvement in someone his age, particularly in such a short amount of time.
“Been practicing, Miss Hayden!” he called out as he twirled Madge under his arm before taking her back into a proper closed hold.
“Brianna,” I corrected him. It was fine for my school-aged students to call me Miss Hayden, but it felt weird to have a man who was old enough to be my grandfather do that. “Or Brie, if you want.”
“Oh, he wants, all right,” Madge said, rolling her eyes, and all the other ladies in the class tittered right along with her. “Why do you think he’s been practicing so hard all of a sudden? Lord knows he’s not trying to impress me.”
Charlie flashed me a smile so wide he nearly spit out his dentures. He pulled his lips down over them, drawing them back into place, never missing a step.
I could only shake my head. A few years ago, men close to my twenty-six years were the ones hitting on me. These days, it was rare to come from anyone other than a man like Charlie—men who were far too old for me, married, and completely harmless in the long run.
Was it awful that I secretly wished someone less than harmless would hit on me every now and then? I mean, I didn’t want anything horrible to happen, but it would’ve been really nice to have a bad-boy-type flirt with me every now and then.
Someone kind of like that guy, Jacob. He’d done a heck of a lot better than simply flirting with me. We’d had an amazing night, and then I’d left just as I’d planned to do before I had shown up at his hotel.
I didn’t know why he came to mind right now, when I was nearly laughing over the idea of Charlie flirting with me. I shook Jacob clear of my mind, yet again, and closed the distance to Dan and Sharon, one of the other couples in my class.
“Chin up,” I said, gently putting a finger under Sharon’s chin and easing it into the proper position. She’d been staring at her feet again, which she tended to do right before losing her footing. She didn’t trust her feet to do their job even though they weren’t the problem. It was all in her mind. Actually, it was probably Dan, more than anything else, that she had a hard time trusting. She didn’t seem to think he could lead her properly despite the fact that she was the one who tended to stumble.
Once they were situated, I worked my way through the other pairs, correcting the occasional hand placement or counting time for a couple that was rhythmically challenged.
My seniors were one of my favorite groups to teach. They weren’t technically the best dancers—far from it—but they were here because they really wanted to learn. They enjoyed themselves. They weren’t here because someone else was pushing them into it, and they weren’t here because of some intrinsic drive to be the best. They were here to have fun. To enjoy one another. To keep themselves fit as their bodies started to give out on them.
Like mine had.
At least they had the excuse of age. I was twenty-six—way too young for my body to be the problem, and yet it was.
I glanced up at the clock over the entry to the Rose City Ballroom Dance Academy, the school that had brought me across the country to join their staff a couple of months ago. We’d run a little over today, probably because I was enjoying myself with them a bit too much. “Time’s up, folks,” I called out. “Don’t forget to stretch, and I’ll see you next week.”
“You might see Charlie sooner than that if you’re not careful,” Madge said.
I could only shake my head, but there was no hiding my smile. “Don’t forget to keep practicing your box step and under-arm turn. I expect to see improvement when I see you all again.” I grabbed my bottle of water and headed up to the front office to prepare for my next class.
The receptionist, Tanya Dennison, looked up when I came through the door. “Four of your ladies for the next class called to say they were sick and not coming.”
“You mean I might actually have enough men this time?” It was a beginner ballroom dance class for the average adult, and most days I had about twice as many women as men. That wouldn’t be such a big deal in some other forms of dance, but everything in ballroom required a partner. I’d been forced to teach some of the women to lead in recent weeks, which only made it harder for them to follow whenever they did have a male lead since it was all so new to them.
“You might have too many men today,” Tanya said with a grin. “Cole Paxton brought a friend—Keith Burns. Big guy. Fit.” Tanya paused dramatically, waggling her eyebrows at me. “Hot.”
“That’ll be a nice change of pace.” I might even be able to take one of the men as my own partner today and use him to demonstrate for the others.
“Honey, you have no idea how nice. Keith Burns is like sex on a stick. I wanna lick him up.”
I did my best not to get too excited about having another good-looking man in my class. He wouldn’t be looking at me, after all. He’d undoubtedly do the same thing most of the other men in the class always did and trip all over himself trying to get paired up with Alexis or Jenni, two college-aged girls who came dressed to impress each week. “He’s already here?”
“Getting changed with Cole.” She let out a dreamy sigh and leaned back in her seat. Her eyes took on a wistful expression. “You do realize I’m going to be a jealous witch all day now, right? Because you’ll be in there dancing with those amazingly hot guys, and I’m going to be stuck out here answering the phones.”
As if on cue, the phone rang and Tanya had to get back to work. I rolled my eyes at her on my way out the door.
Charlie, Madge, and the other retirees were making their way out of the dance studio when I returned. Charlie stopped to place a kiss on my cheek while his wife planted her hands on her hips and laughed. “He never gives up once he’s got his mind set on something, Brie,” she said. “And I think he’s got his mind set on charming you.”
“But it’s you I go home with,” he said, linking his arm with hers.
“For forty-six years and counting.” Madge was beaming at him as they sauntered out the door, grinning at me over her shoulder as they left.
I headed over to the sound system to change the music for the class of younger students about to come in. A couple of deep, rumbling male voices echoed in the studio a minute later, and I looked up. Cole had come in with his friend. They were facing the far wall, setting their gym bags down where they’d be out of the way. The new guy—Keith—had the same muscular build as Cole, and his tight jeans and form-fitting T-shirt only emphasized it. Big, firm butt, massive thighs, trim waist.
He was probably a hockey player, too, then, or at least a skater of some sort. Cole had told me they were all built that way, that anyone who spent that much time on the ice would have the same big thighs and bum. Speed skaters, figure skaters, all of them. That had started me thinking about Jacob, too, because he’d been built the same way. He’d said he worked out a lot, but I had a feeling it went beyond that.
In one of the early classes Cole had come to, I’d asked him how he’d come to develop such muscle in those specific areas because it caused him problems in keeping his posture correct for ballroom dance. I was constantly having to remind him to tuck his bottom under, telling him it shouldn’t be sticking out, and then he would joke that there wasn’t anywhere else for it to go unless someone was going to cut it off. His posture was definitely improving, though. He had been working hard at it.
I started crossing over to meet my new student, but I nearly stumbled halfway there when he turned around and I saw Jacob staring back at me.
The Jacob.
The one-night stand guy.
The man who had made me feel desirable again—sexy and feminine and beautiful—even if it had only been for one night. The man I wasn’t supposed to ever see again. The man I’d been trying to forget for months because thinking about him only made me long for things I could never have.
I’d convinced myself he was part of a fairy tale, and fairy tales don’t come true. At least they never did for me. My life had consisted of a series of setbacks and disappointments, at least lately, and even though my heart was pounding and my breath felt fluttery, the fact that he was here right now could only mean I was being set up for an even bigger disappointment than ever before.
Guys like him didn’t happen to me.
“I hope it’s all right that I brought someone with me,” Cole said, closing the distance between us. Jacob—no, Keith—came with him, the gold flecks in his amber-brown eyes blazing like fire and practically burning a hole through my flesh. “You always tell us that they’re open classes, though, that anyone can come as long as they pay, so I figured it would be okay. Brie, this is Keith Burns, one of my teammates. Burnzie, this is Brie Hayden. She’s my ballroom instructor.”
I struggled to keep my tongue in my mouth where it belonged because I kept thinking back to that night, to the way his hands had felt on my skin, the rich, salty taste of his skin, the way he’d looked at me—all of me—as though I was worth looking at. In fact, he was looking at me in exactly that same way right now, searing me. If I wasn’t careful, I might melt into the floor from the heat in his eyes.
He held out his hand. “Brie, huh? That’s odd. You look more like an Allison to me.”
That left no doubt, no possible chance, that he was merely a look-alike for my Jacob. He’d never said he was a professional hockey player. He’d only told me he worked out a lot. Granted, that was because I’d asked him for half-truths. I’d told him I was a teacher—which I was—but I wasn’t the kind of teacher I knew he’d been imagining.
Vibrating like a tattoo gun, I reached for his hand. His fingers closed around my wrist. His hand was as big and strong and hot as I remembered everything about him being.
“That is odd. I’ve been Brie my whole life.”
“Maybe you should try Allison on sometime and see how it feels. I think it would suit you.” His grip on my hand was loose, yet I couldn’t move it to save my life. He grinned, a Cheshire cat sort of expression. “I’ve always wondered what it might be like to go by Jacob. Just for kicks. We could try it out together.”
The studio door opened and half the class streamed in, and I jerked my hand away from him as fast as if he had scalded me.
“Excuse me. I have to teach a class,” I mumbled, rushing to put some distance between us so I could shove all my marbles back into my head where they belonged. Somehow, some way, I was going to have to hold it together well enough to teach a class with him in it. I couldn’t fathom how I would manage it, though.
     I greeted the other students coming in, smiling and making small talk and all the things I usually did at the beginning of a session. But the whole time I felt Keith Burns’s gaze branding my body with his mark.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sneak Peek: In the Zone

As I've done with the previous books in the Portland Storm series, I'm going to give you a taste of what you can expect when you get to read IN THE ZONE, available on November 20. In case you haven't pre-ordered it yet, you can do so now at Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

All right, so here we go. This one actually starts with a prologue, so that's what you'll get for now. Enjoy!


As a player in the National Hockey League, hooking up with a random guest—regardless of how hot this random guest might be—at your team captain’s wedding was a bad idea, plain and simple. It was definitely not something I would ever do, but I had a pretty strong suspicion that a few of the boys had done exactly that when they’d left the reception.
I had been a member of the Portland Storm since a couple of years after I was drafted, and our captain Eric “Zee” Zellinger had been around that whole time. Zee and I weren’t best friends or anything—that was Brenden Campbell’s role for him, known as Soupy to the guys, and I don’t think I’d ever had anyone in Portland I’d call my best friend, anyway—but we were good friends. I was one of his assistant captains, and I couldn’t get behind the idea of running off with some girl who might have been one of his or Soupy’s best childhood friends when I was only in town for their joint wedding.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, Zee and his bride, Dana, and Dana’s brother—coincidentally Soupy—had invited tons of chicks to the ceremony in Providence, so there were ample opportunities. This was where the three of them had grown up. But the last thing I wanted to do while I was in their hometown was to take some girl who was a friend of theirs back to my hotel room for the night. Doing something along those lines would undoubtedly require strings, and I didn’t want any strings, even if I wouldn’t have minded having a little company.
I’d flown in a couple of days ago, in time to participate in the rehearsal and bachelor party and all that jazz, and I’d been feeling a strong itch, if you get me, all fucking day. There had been so many women—amazingly gorgeous women decked out in pretty summer dresses that amplified all their curves—surrounding me the whole damn day, and I was in bad shape. And my flight back to where I grew up in Nova Scotia wasn’t until Monday. I intended to spend the rest of my summer there, at the cabin I’d built on the bay in Annapolis Valley.
Don’t ask me what I had been thinking when I planned this trip or why I hadn’t scheduled the return trip for tomorrow, but it’d be two more full days before I could get back home. Even then, I didn’t know who I might find to help me scratch this particular itch. I mean, there were plenty of girls who would, but that didn’t mean I wanted to open that can of worms. So many of them were just looking for daddies for their babies, guys who had the money to get them out of Nova Scotia, and that wasn’t my idea of a good plan. Again, it all came down to strings.
That was why, once I had made sure Nicklas Ericsson, one of my teammates who I had been worried about all day long, got back to the hotel safely, I returned to my own room for the night and found myself looking through the Providence area “Casual Encounters” listings on Craigslist. I didn’t really expect to find anything that would pique my interest. Mainly I was looking for a diversion, a way to pass the time. But then I stumbled on an ad that made me stop and think. The subject line read: BBW, no strings, I just need a boost in confidence, w4m.
No strings? That, plus the part about needing a boost in confidence, definitely got my attention enough that I opened the listing to see if it was legitimate or some sort of scam—a prostitute looking for a job or God only knew what else. Surprisingly, what I found not only seemed genuine but it made me seriously think about replying.

I think I’m probably crazy for posting something here. I hope I don’t end up regretting this decision. You hear all sorts of horror stories about this kind of thing, but a girlfriend suggested I try it and I attempted to convince myself that maybe they’re just stories. I hope so because I don’t know what else to do. Here’s the deal: my longtime boyfriend spent years telling me I was getting too fat for him, that he didn’t find me attractive anymore, that I had to get back to a size two or he wouldn’t be able to get turned on any longer. I tried everything, but I have a thyroid problem. That was what caused me to gain the weight, plus a few other things, and even with medication I couldn’t get back down to the size he wanted me to be. He cheated with a woman who looks how I used to look, and he left me, and I’ve been trying to find a way to believe in myself ever since. I don’t want to date right now. I don’t even want a friends-with-benefits kind of thing. I just want to have an experience with a man who finds me attractive as I am, so maybe I can start to believe it again, too. No real names. I want to meet at a hotel or somewhere equally neutral.

She hadn’t attached a picture, which was probably the safe thing to do. Those stories she’d heard about? They weren’t just stories. Some bad shit definitely happened as a result of these ads, so you couldn’t be too careful.
Not only did this posting feel legitimate to me, it pissed me the fuck off. I mean, I’d seen firsthand the horrendous results that could come from picking on someone because of something they had no control over. What happened to my brother, Garrett, the way he’d ended up taking his own life, was something I had to live with every day of my existence. I never wanted to see anything like that happen again, even though there were horror stories just like it on the news every day. Not only that, but I love women. I love women of all shapes, colors, and sizes. They are the most fucking beautiful, amazing, wonderful creatures on this earth as far as I’m concerned, and any asshole who would do something like that, who would make a woman feel like she wasn’t good enough for him because of a fucking problem with her health? It made me want to do a lot of things that would land me in prison.
But it also made me want to answer her ad.
So I did, emailing her through the system.

I’m only in town for a couple of nights—I fly out tomorrow. I would love to meet you and help you to see how beautiful I’m sure you are and how you don’t need a son of a bitch like that guy in your life anymore. I’m already at a hotel. You can come to me if you want.

I added my hotel information and took a picture—of my face, not my dick, like a lot of asswipes on Craigslist do—and sent it to her.
Then I waited. I brushed my teeth and jumped in the shower, just in case she actually decided to show up. When I got out and checked my email again, there was a response from her.

I’ll be there at eight with condoms. I’ll call you Jacob, and you can call me Allison.

She didn’t attach a picture, but I hadn’t asked for one. It made me wonder if she was so ashamed of how she looked that she couldn’t even bear the thought of sending a photo of herself through email. Thinking about that possibility only made me want to beat her ex to a bloody pulp even more than I already did.
I glanced at the clock. It was already 7:45, so I wouldn’t have to wait long. I pulled on a clean pair of shorts and dug out a University of Minnesota T-shirt from my college days before I’d turned pro. Then I stretched out on the bed and turned on the TV so I would have something to do to pass the time.
At two minutes to eight, a soft knock sounded at my door. I flipped the TV off and checked the mirror out of habit. Everything looked good.
When I opened the door, I was floored by the beauty of the woman standing in front of me. She had long, strawberry-blond hair and midnight-blue eyes and the most perfect little pixie nose, and she had on glasses with chunky frames that could have looked awful but on her they looked smart and sexy. And she wasn’t anything close to fat, no matter what her asshole of an ex had told her. She had curves everywhere, though—hips that flared out, a waist that dipped in, a rack I was already salivating at the thought of burying my face in. I could see all of those curves even though she was wearing a loose, floor-length skirt and an ill-fitting, short-sleeved blouse—not something that was designed to accentuate her assets. She wasn’t skinny, but she definitely wasn’t fat.
She was beautiful. She was perfect.
“Hi,” she said shyly. “Jacob?”
“No, I’m Kei—” I cut myself off when I remembered she wanted this to be anonymous. For tonight, I wasn’t Keith Burns, top defenseman for the Storm. Tonight, I was Allison’s Jacob. “Yeah, Jacob. And you’re Allison?”
She gave me a little nod and glanced over her shoulder, like she was checking to see if anyone had noticed her. “Can I come in?”
I stepped back from the door so she could pass through, and I closed it after her, intentionally leaving the lock undone. I didn’t want her to feel like I was going to try to force her to stay.
“Want to sit down?” I asked. This whole situation was awkward. Did she want to talk first or just get down to business? I was leaning more toward at least talking for a little while. It might be anonymous sex, but that didn’t mean it had to be cold and distant sex.
Allison nodded and went over to the chair in the corner, pulling the tote bag she’d brought with her onto her lap. “I’ve never done this before,” she said.
“Me neither.” One-night stands? Yes. One-night stands with perfect strangers? Never. I smiled and pulled the roller chair out from the desk, turning it so I could face her. I couldn’t stop myself from staring, practically devouring her with my eyes. I was already hard, and she hadn’t even been here for two minutes yet.
“You’re a lot bigger than I expected you to be from your picture,” she said.
She was a lot hotter than I’d expected her to be, but that didn’t seem like the right thing to say at the moment. She was a little younger than I’d guessed she would be, though. Maybe even a few years younger than my twenty-eight. I’d thought she’d have lived a little more life based on the things she’d said in that ad. Still, she was definitely old enough that she ought to know how gorgeous she was, no matter what her fucking ex had said and done.
And now I was back to wanting to bash his face in.
I shrugged, as though that could force aside all the negative energy I was feeling toward some man I’d never met. “Yeah, well, I’m a— Wait…do you want fact or fiction?” I didn’t want to make her any more nervous about this than she already was. If she didn’t relax, this wouldn’t go well, and I wanted it to go well for her. I wanted it to be the best damn sex of her life, and I wanted her to walk out of here believing in herself, knowing she was as amazingly sexy as I thought she was. All of that meant I needed to give her what she wanted, though, whatever that may be.
“How about partial truth?” Allison suggested. “Don’t lie about anything, but don’t tell me everything, either. Hold some of it back.”
I could do that. “Okay. I’m big because I work out a lot.”
She nodded. “It’s hard to tell things like that from a single picture.”
“Did you pick me because of my picture?” I’d always known I was a good-looking guy. Women had always hit on me because I was the whole package, at least the way they saw it. I looked good, I took care of myself, I made a shit-ton of money, and I was relatively famous without being paparazzi-worthy. It was fun to be me. At least on the surface. Sometimes it could be lonely, too.
I owned this huge house on the river back in Portland—some of the guys called it a mansion, and I supposed it wasn’t far from one—but it was just me and my dogs living there. It was a lot of space—almost 15,000 square feet—and girls I picked up in a bar and brought home for the night didn’t tend to stick around long enough to really share it with them. Sometimes I had parties there, but that was only a temporary means of filling up all the empty corners and quiet rooms. Everyone went home eventually, leaving me to my solitude until I couldn’t take it anymore, until I needed fun and noise and companionship again or else I would wallow in my loneliness until my guilt ate me alive, and then I would throw another party so I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.
That wasn’t to say I disliked my life. I enjoyed being single. I enjoyed being able to party and have a good time and not have to worry about anyone but me. I definitely took advantage of all the advantages I’d been given. But sometimes the thought of having someone waiting for me at home when I got back from a road trip sounded nice. Sometimes I missed the noise of growing up in a house of three boys, with friends coming and going, and everyone yelling, and chaos reigning. I missed hearing my mom shout over our noise to tell us to keep it down, insisting that the neighbors would complain.
My neighbors in Portland sometimes complained, too. Only when I had those parties, though. Otherwise, it was only me and the dogs and a ton of silence and empty space.
And yet, here I was, sitting in a hotel room in Providence, getting ready to have sex with a woman I’d never met before and whose real name I didn’t even know. I supposed that was yet another way of filling up the empty spaces inside me, if you wanted to look at it that way.
Allison shrugged, and then she blushed, which only made me think about things I could do to make her blush some more. “I picked you because you were the only one who responded with a picture of your face and not of…other parts of you.”
“I don’t really want pictures of my anatomy floating around the Internet,” I joked.
“Yeah. Good. I don’t either.”
“So what do you do, Allison?”
“I teach,” she said cautiously.
I could definitely picture her in front of a classroom full of kids. That probably meant she had an entire closet filled with clothes like the ones she had on, though. Maybe a little more professional looking, but nothing that would emphasize her figure or draw attention to how beautiful she was.
“You’re not from around here?” she asked. “You said you were only here for a few nights.”
“I’m from Canada,” I replied. She had asked for truth, but not the whole truth. I lived in Portland now, at least most of the time. Still, I was definitely not from Providence. “Some friends got married here today. I was in the wedding party.” All of that was truth.
Gradually, she started to relax. Her shoulders weren’t so tense, and she even set her bag down on the floor beside her instead of holding it on her lap as though it held the last vestiges of her sanity.
“So you really won’t stay long, then? And you’re clean?” she asked. “I should have made sure of that before I agreed to come over here, but I was so nervous about what I was doing that I didn’t even think—”
“I’m clean,” I interrupted. “I’m not a saint. I’ve slept with a number of women, but I always use protection and I’ve been tested recently.”
“All right. Good.” She nodded as if she was trying to make it all okay in her head. “I’m clean, too. I had three partners before…well, before him. No one since. I’ve been tested, too.”
She was so nervous that a part of me wanted to tell her we didn’t have to do anything if she didn’t want to. But I worried that she might take that as a sign that I wasn’t interested. Given what she’d talked about in her ad, and the fact that her confidence seemed almost fragile right now, I didn’t want to do anything she might misconstrue. I needed her to feel wanted, especially since I really, truly did want her.
“How long has it been?” I asked. She’d said that they’d been together for a long time, but I had no idea how long it had been since he’d cheated on her and hurt her so badly.
“Almost a year.”
“And you haven’t dated anyone since? You haven’t had anyone tell you how beautiful you are in all that time?”
“I don’t—” She cut herself off and thought for a moment before continuing, taking her time as though she was weighing each word. “It’s hard to believe I could be beautiful these days because my body has changed so much, and he told me how fat I was for so long that it’s all I can see.”
“Well, it’s a fucking lie.”
Allison stared at me for a long minute, and then she shook her head. “I wish it were easier to believe that.”
“That’s why you’re here, though. So I can help you start to believe it again.”
“Yes.” She took a deep breath, and I watched her chest rise and fall with it. “Can I… Do you mind if I kiss you?”
“I’d mind if you didn’t.”
She nodded and bit down on her lower lip like she was trying to build up the courage to do it.
“Come here.” I stood up and closed some of the distance between us, trying to make it easier on her. She didn’t have to be the one to initiate everything. It had to have taken a ton of courage to post the ad in the first place. I held out my hand, waiting for her to take it.
After a moment, she got to her feet and took my hand, and I gently eased her closer to me. She stopped when we were inches apart, bracing her hands on my biceps. I rested mine on her waist. She was soft and warm, and the gentle slope of her hips made me almost desperate to get my hands on her ass. But that had to wait. If I rushed her, she’d probably leave.
“This is nice,” she murmured. Even this small amount of contact already had her breathing a little heavier, and I knew her pulse had to be hammering through her veins—just like mine was.
I nodded. Nice wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t want to think too much about trivial things like that. The heat between us seemed to intensify her perfume, but maybe it was only that we were so close together now. It was sweet and powdery, and it made me want to bury my nose against her neck so it could fill me.
Allison laughed, a nervous sort of laughter, and she licked her lips. Luscious lips. Full and pink, and they looked amazingly soft. “Should we just go for it?”
Instead of answering her, I went for it.
She sucked in a breath right before my mouth met hers. Her lips were even softer than they looked, and I sucked the lower one between both of mine. It took a few moments, but she relaxed into me and hummed against my lips, moving hers apart far enough that I could slip my tongue in her mouth.
I teased her for a minute, my tongue brushing lightly alongside hers and flicking every now and then, until she started to mimic my actions. She angled her head, taking the kiss deeper, and she slid her hands up my arms to settle on my shoulders.
Or I thought she would settle them there. Instead, she started to glide them everywhere, her palms and fingers seeking out the ridges of every muscle. The flats of her palms came down my chest, exploring my pecs before traveling lower, to my abs. I felt my muscles ripple beneath her touch, and she sucked in another breath in response.
I kissed her cheeks, her neck, settling my lips on her collarbone even though the soft fabric of her blouse was still in the way. “Allison?” I hadn’t moved my hands from her waist, even though it was killing me to keep them still. I wanted to cup her ass and draw her to me. I wanted to delve under her shirt and mold her breasts to my hands. I wanted—God, how I wanted—to slide that skirt down her hips and explore her slick core with my tongue.
“Yes?” Her voice hitched on the word, and she slipped her hands around to my sides so they tickled my ribs. Then she tugged me closer to her, until her nose hit the dip of my clavicle and my cock pressed into her belly.
“Do you want me to touch you?” I needed to hear her say it. I couldn’t assume and take what I wanted. It wasn’t enough for me that she had come to my hotel room with sex being the intention. Because with little I knew about her, I needed her to give me explicit consent.
She nodded, and I hoped she wouldn’t stop there. She didn’t. “I want to feel your hands on me,” she said.
An inch at a time, I dropped my hands back and down until I had a cheek in each palm. Her ass was as soft and sweet and curvy as the rest of her. I squeezed her, drawing her closer still, and she let out an almost inaudible moan.
I’d never been this turned on before while still fully clothed. My cock was hard enough to jackhammer through a fucking concrete wall. Allison stretched up on her tiptoes, putting her arms around my neck and holding on tight. That pushed her breasts right up against my chest, twin cushioned pillows with rock-hard little nubs poking into me. I let out a groan at the sensation.
“I want to take your clothes off,” I said. Allison was nodding and reaching down to tug the hem of her shirt up almost before I got the words out. I put one hand on hers to stop her. “No. I want to do it slowly, using my hands. My teeth. Every time I uncover an inch of your skin, I want to kiss you there, to see you and taste you and soak you in. And then when I’ve got you naked, when I’ve kissed and licked and sucked every hot, trembling, silky-soft inch of your amazingly beautiful body, I want to lick your pussy until you’re writhing and moaning and coming all over me with the best fucking orgasm of your life.”
With every word out of my mouth, the pounding of her heart grew more frantic, her breathing more agitated, and her eyes—those gorgeous midnight-blue eyes—got bigger and darker and more intense.
“Oh,” she said, breathy and soft.
“And while you’re still coming, while your pussy is still clenching and quivering, and it’s all hot and slick and wet, that’s when I want to lift your legs up, rest your feet on my shoulders, and fuck you like you’ve never been fucked before until you come again.”
“Yes,” she said finally, a strangled sound coming from her throat. “Yes, Jacob.”
Jacob? Oh right. That was me. “You’re sure?” I needed for her to want every bit of that as much as I did.
“You brought condoms?” I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I wanted them ready and waiting when I was—when I had her ready for me.
Allison nodded. She backed away and bent to her bag, pulling out a brand-new box that was still sealed. She set it on the nightstand closest to her.
Before she could turn around, I picked her up and tossed her into the middle of the bed. I kissed her again, covering her with my body while she moaned with pleasure.
        Then I followed through with each and every one of the promises I’d just made her.