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When it comes to scoring in the pro hockey league, Alex Larue is crushing it-with the hot puck bunnies. He’s the life of the party, the guy with all the jokes . . . and the one whose Party Guy mask keeps the real him well hidden. The last thing he needs is anyone finding out about his troubled past, or the nightmares that haunt him still.
Brie Bennett is less than impressed by Alex from the moment she meets him. And even though he insists on volunteering at the charity she runs, she doesn’t trust him. He’s hiding something…but so is she. She’s not just the rich, privileged New York princess he thinks she is. The animosity between them is undeniably addictive and as their worlds keep colliding it becomes supercharged with something else – attraction. But if they stop playing games and let each other in, they both might lose.
As I stand on the busy Brooklyn sidewalk waiting for the light to change, I notice a boy, about eight, looking at me. His mom is saying something about their plans after school but he's not listening. He keeps glancing over his shoulder at me, sneaking quick glimpses and then looking away. When we make eye contact, I smile.
"Are you Alex Larue?" he asks and I can tell it's a courageous act for him. He turns instantly red. His mother stops talking and looks back at me, confused.
"I am," I reply and his whole face lights up brighter than a Christmas tree. "What's your name?"
"I'm Dylan," he announces. "And I'm super excited you're playing for my team now."
"I'm super excited to be playing here too," I tell him and his mom looks more confused so I introduce myself to her. "Alex Larue. I play for the Brooklyn Barons hockey team."
"Oh! Yeah he loves them," she says as she smiles. "His dad takes him to a few games a year."
"I didn't like you when you played for San Diego because you always made our players mad and they end up punching you and getting penalties," Dylan explains and I can't help but chuckle. His mom looks worried about his candor. "But then my dad said that now that you play for us you'll make other teams mad instead so I decided to like you."
"Thanks, Dylan. I'll try my best," I vow and smile. "Hey, do you want your mom to take a picture of us?"
"That would be awesome!" he says as his eyes light up in excitement. After his mother takes a picture and I say good-bye, I make my way toward the Starbucks where I said I would meet one of my new teammates.
It's great that Dylan is happy to have me in Brooklyn. I'm a little shocked to be here. The season started three weeks ago and I assumed San Diego was going to keep me since they'd made a bunch of trades in the summer and I wasn't one of them. But here we are—middle of October, only one week into the season—and I'm suddenly a Baron.
Luc Richard is waiting just inside. He smiles at me. "Bonjour!" He gives me a quick man hug. "How was your flight?"
"Good. Came in a little late so I didn't get to the hotel until three in the morning," I explain. "You want anything to drink?"
He wrinkles his nose and shakes his head. "I don't do caffeine during the season. And I never do Starbucks. Overpriced toilet water."
"Tell me how you really feel." I laugh. "I actually like their coffee."
Starbucks is comforting to me. I've lived in a bunch of different cities and one thing is a constant—there's always a Starbucks. I don't tell him this because it makes me look like a pussy. Luc and I are acquaintances and I like him because all the people I trust in this world like him a lot, but I don't really know him. That means I go into my usual happy-go-lucky, jokester mode. Honestly, even the few people I trust haven't seen much else.
"To each his own." Luc shrugs as I walk over to stand in line.
"So did management pick you to be my buddy because we're both French?"
"Nah, it's because no one else wanted to do it," Luc says with a grin so I know he's kidding. The team management always assigns a new player a veteran to help them assimilate to the team and the city. "It might be the French thing but I don't think they put that much thought into it. We have so many new rookies or trades that anyone who has been on the team more than a year has a buddy this season."
I nod. "Yeah they really cleaned house in the off-season. You and Devin must be psyched you get to play with Jordan."
Luc's face lights up. Luc grew up with Jordan and Devin Garrison playing hockey in Maine. Devin is the captain of the Barons and Luc was traded here a couple years ago. This summer so was Jordan, who incidentally I used to play with in Seattle. "Yeah. It's pretty stellar. I didn't expect that would happen during our careers. But I think the girls are more excited than we are."
Right. Devin and Jordan married sisters, Callie and Jessie Caplan, and Luc is engaged to their younger sister, Rose. Luc smiles again as he runs a hand through his long shaggy hair. "How about your family? Are they excited about your trade or do they wish you'd stayed in San Diego?"
I shift from one foot to the other and pretend to examine the menu board. "I get traded every couple of years, so this is no big deal."
He nods, thankfully accepting my nonanswer. "So I was wondering if you wanted the name of the real estate broker Rose and I used when I was traded here. She's fantastic."
"Yeah! Definitely," I reply as the line inches forward. "The sooner I can get out of the hotel the better."
"Yeah, we spend enough time in them on the road," Luc agrees.
I glance down the line to see how much longer it'll be and that's when I see her. She's right there in front of us and honestly, I'm ashamed of myself for not noticing her the second we entered. I must be slipping. Long, shapely legs in a charcoal pencil skirt. She's wearing dark stockings with the line in the back, which is seriously hot, and a pair of red leather heels. I can't see her face but between that body and the long, thick, rich brown hair, hell, I'm getting hard.
"Elle est jolie." I nod toward her. A bonus of having a fellow Frenchman on the team is that we can have candid conversations and no one here will understand us. She'll never know I was calling her pretty.
Luc looks up and his eyes do a swift up and down but he seems unimpressed. "Oui."
He's head over heels in love with his fiancée Rose so I don't take it as a reflection of my taste. It could be a supermodel in front of us and he'd react the same. Still, I push it further like I'm known to do. I'm nothing if not consistent.
"Regardez ce cul." My eyes linger on the perfect curve of her ass under that tight skirt. "C'est manifique."
She's got her head tipped down and her phone up. Clearly she's absorbed in something on the screen. We could probably talk English and she wouldn't even notice. But I don't. I miss talking in French. I don't do it nearly enough.
"Jordan est correct," Luc tells me and chuckles. "Tu n'as pas un filtre."
I grin and shrug at his comment that Jordan is right about me not having a filter. The line shuffles forward and I check out her ass again, only to realize she's spun around. I immediately, and probably way too abruptly not to be noticed, snap my head up. She's just as pretty from the front as the back. The chestnut color of her hair is mimicked by her big doe eyes. Her skin is flawless and her lips are full and pouty and glossed with the perfect cherry color.
"You're French?" she asks, her eyes darting from me to Luc.
I glance at Luc and he looks like he's shitting his pants. I give her a relaxed smile because I'm confident that just because she recognized the language doesn't mean she understood the words. "Yes."
"We're both from Quebec, originally," Luc explains. "We play—"
"Hockey?" she finishes for him and we both nod. "Yeah, I thought so. I mean with the arena just down the block. I figure there's a lot of French Canadian hockey players around here."
"Are you a fan of the Barons?" I ask. She doesn't look like a typical hockey fan and she definitely doesn't come across as a puck bunny, but you never know. And there's something about her that feels like déjà vu, which is odd because even if she was a Barons' superfan, I've only been a Baron for forty-eight hours. That said I've slept with a lot of women on previous road trips to New York. But I would remember if I saw her naked.
"I'm Alex Larue," I extend my hand. She places hers in mine, but it's reluctant. Her hand is warm and delicate but her handshake is firm. I cock my head to the side. "This is my teammate Luc Richard."
Luc extends his hand and I realize she's far less hesitant giving her hand to him. "I'm Brie."
The line shuffles forward again and it's her turn to order. She asks for a grande sugarfree vanilla iced latte with an extra shot, soy milk and extra ice. Most high-maintenance drink I've ever heard and it might be a red flag to a guy looking to date her, but that's never been what I've looked for. Besides, the high-maintenance ones are usually fantastic in bed. She starts to pull out her wallet to pay but I step forward and gently place a hand on her back.
It's meant as a friendly gesture but she swiftly steps away from it. I ignore that and address the cashier. "I'll pay for her drink. And an Americano for me, please."
The cashier nods. Brie looks at me, a frown fighting for control of her face. "You don't have to do that."
"I know. But I'd like to, Brie." I give her my best, most dazzling smile. "And if you're interested in a hockey game I'd love to give you some tickets. I would just need your phone number."
She smiles. It's pretty but it's also guarded. Very. "That's not necessary, but thank you for the offer."
I think I know what the problem is—she must have a boyfriend so I say, "You and your boyfriend could make it a date night."
Her smile softens. She looks amused. "This isn't about whether I have a boyfriend. I'm just not interested…in hockey tickets."
She's shooting me down. I glance at Luc who looks like he thinks it's hysterical. The barista calls out my Americano but her drink, being the Mensa project that it is, is still being made so instead of going to grab some cream at the condiment stand, I use the extra time to hit on her again. Since I've already been shot down, might as well add flames to the wreckage.
"Have you lived in New York long?" I ask her.
"Since I was eight years old," she replies.
I smile again. "You must know the city well."
"Like the back of my hand," she replies absently as her big brown eyes look over my shoulder at the barista.
"I'm just got here last night. I would love someone to show me around," I tell her and that finally brings her eyes back to me. "I'm betting you'd be a perfect fit."
I say that line casually but then realize the innuendo in it. I have a bad habit of saying stuff that can be taken the wrong way. I think it's because English is my second language and I learned it on the street, not in a classroom. I usually don't mind it 'cause most people just think I'm that kind of guy, which makes it easier for me to be looked at as the jokester, but at the same time, I don't want to offend people. In this case though, I let the inadvertent innuendo stand. I can tell by the way her eyes widen that she catches it. She's as smart as she looks.
The barista calls out her drink. We both reach for it at the same time; our fingers touch. Neither one of us pulls away. She looks me straight in the eye, shoulders back. She's not tense, she's just confident and it lights a fire in me in places she's made clear she's not interested in.
"You have your teammates like Luc here to show you around," she reminds me coolly but then she takes a step closer and the fire inside me gets hotter. She's a few inches away and she's even more stunning this close. Flawless skin and thick lashes and a scent like warm vanilla. "Thank you, again, for the drink."
She steps back, gently tugging the drink and her hand away from me and she takes a few steps toward the entrance to the Starbucks. My mind is racing as I stare at that perfect ass and try to figure out one last way to get her number. I hate losing. Luc is snickering beside me because apparently me getting shutdown is entertaining.
She stops with her hand on the glass door and turns her head back toward me so quickly that long, luxurious mane of hair flies about her head. "When is your next game?"
"We play tomorrow night at seven," I tell her.
"Marquer un but pour ma manifique cul demain soir, Alex," she replies in perfect French with a perfectly smug smile on her lips.
My mouth falls open. She just told me to score a goal for her perfect ass. Luc bursts out laughing. Brie disappears out the door and into Brooklyn's morning foot traffic. She understood everything I said about her. Every. Single. Word.
Luc is still laughing—loudly. I want to punch him. "I thought for a second there all those rumors about your mad skills with the ladies was exaggerated," he says, "but apparently it just sucks with ones who can understand you."
"Yeah, yeah." I shrug like it's no big deal but I'm actually feeling a little embarrassed, which hasn't happened in decades. "I was just being honest. Seriously, she was gorgeous."
"She's pretty and pretty smart if she's staying clear of you." Luc grins and I give his shoulder a shove.
"Let's go. I don't want to be late to my first practice." I start toward the door and he follows. Outside we head east toward the arena, which is just a few blocks down. I can't help but scan the faces of people passing by, hoping I'll see her again but of course I don't.
When we get to the arena we head straight to the locker room. Most of the team is already there and as soon as I walk in the guys start to holler and clap and I get that warm rush inside me that I only ever get from being on a team. Devin Garrison stands up and walks over. "Glad to have ya, Rue."
He gives me a quick hug. Jordan stands up and walks over, grinning. "Brother! We're reunited at last!" He hugs me, hard and long and the warm rush inside me gets warmer.
"No one I'd rather play with again," I tell him and I mean it.
As Jordan walks back to his locker I walk over to mine. My name is written in Sharpie and stuck to my locker with hockey tape like it always is when a player is new. I should be getting a nameplate soon. If it doesn't show up by the end of the week I'll make one myself. I hate the tape thing.
Temporary, half-ass stuff like that reminds me of my childhood. In the foster system most of the time you only get a garbage bag to schlep your belongings to a new home because suitcases aren't in the budget. It's disheartening and degrading and for some reason the tape reminds me of that.
As we change Luc decides to regale everyone with our Starbucks encounter. Jordan looks up at me and grins his goofy lopsided smile when Luc finishes the story. "These New York girls will eat you alive, Rue. You should have settled down before they traded you."
"I'll never settle down." I remind him what I've told him since I met him his first year in the league. "Besides, you and your brothers stole all the good women."
Devin smirks at that from where he's lacing up his skates. "Yeah we did."
"So you're just going to spend your life breaking hearts?" Jordan questions. This from the guy who went through women faster than underwear before he got back together with Jessie.
"I don't break hearts. I break headboards," I reply and wink. He groans and thankfully Devin changes the subject.
I love Jordan. He and a few other guys I've played with throughout my career, like Avery Westwood and Sebastian Deveau, are the closest thing to family I have, and I'm happy they've all found someone they can see themselves spending their life with. I love their girlfriends and wives but when I see them together, it's kind of like watching an out-of-focus foreign movie without subtitles. It's vaguely fascinating but completely incomprehensible.
Practice goes well. I feel comfortable right away, maybe because of how many players I already know or because I'm getting used to playing on a new team every couple of years. But Coach doesn't seem impressed with me. I keep telling myself he's just sussing out a new player, but then he pops his head into the locker room when I get out of the shower. "Larue, swing by my office on your way out."
I nod. "Yes, sir."
I look at Devin because he's the Barons' captain and probably knows the coach better than anyone else on the team. He gives me a reassuring smile. "Coach is a good guy. Nothing to worry about."
I change quickly and as I grab my jacket and shove my feet into my shoes, Luc calls out. "I'll text you the Realtor's info."
"Thanks, buddy." I head out the door and down the long hall to the coach's office. He's sitting behind his desk and motions me in.
As I step into the office he says, "Close the door."
I feel like a kid in the principal's office. I sit down and he sighs, which feels like another bad sign. "So, you were management's pick. I wanted to keep Allen. He was having trouble scoring, but he liked to keep a low profile on the ice. You like to push buttons and cause opponents to take penalties. That might give us a chance to score, but it's drama. I don't like drama."
"But management thinks you're some kind of team unifier." He gives me a shrug. "I think our team morale is fine, but they think you can make it better than fine. I don't think we need a locker room hero. I was outvoted, so prove me wrong."
"I will." I've won over coaches before, and he's not going to be any different. He sighs again, clearly unconvinced, so I add, "I wasn't drafted, so I had to bust my ass to earn a walk-on chance with the Royales. If it's grit and determination you're worried about, I promise I have that. I will give you all I've got."
He stares at me for a long moment and then gives me a terse nod. It's not a sigh, so I take it as a win. If you're not a superstar, being bounced from team to team every few years is the norm. I'm a good player but not a great one, so I knew this would be my fate when I joined the league, but I've never had to deal with a coach who actively didn't want me before. He grabs a piece of paper off his desk. "In the meantime, the management was asked to have a player featured on the sports show Off the Ice."
He hands me a piece of paper. "They do day-in-the-life kind of profiles, right?"
"Yep." He rolls his eyes and the crease between them deepens. "It's another distraction no one needs but the fans like it and they buy the tickets, so once again I got outvoted. So the team wants the profile to be on you. Our tickets sales were down last year and didn't pick up the first month of this season, and they think your profile will put more butts in seats. Like I said, you weren't hired for your on-ice abilities."
Ouch. And fuck. I nod even though the last thing I want in this world is to have a television crew follow me anywhere. When I played in Seattle they profiled one of the guys and it looked like a nightmare. They followed him everywhere except the shitter and I'm sure they tried. But I just nod again because I'll take it up with PR, not Coach. He's pissed off enough as it is, the last thing I should be doing is complaining to him. He leans back in his chair. "So contact Liz in PR. She'll set things up for you. Her number is on the sheet. I'll see you on the plane tomorrow. Be early. Not on time, not late. Early."
I stand up and give him an easy confident smile. "Yes, sir."
He turns to his computer screen so I head out the door. Well, that kind of sucks donkey's balls, I think. There is no way in hell I am doing a TV show that's going to expose my personal life to the masses. It's Jordan or Luc or Devin or hell even that quirky young kid Tommy with the wild slap shot they should be profiling, not me.
I frown as I step out into the chilly fall air and walk across the arena parking lot toward the subway. My phone buzzes with a text from Luc with the name, email and number of his real estate broker. I contemplate calling her now, but decide I'll email her later since I have somewhere to be. I usually find a group home or charity to volunteer at after I get settled in a new city and while I was unable to sleep last night, I looked up some places online. Normally I would give myself a couple weeks to settle in, but this place I've decided to volunteer at only does orientations and applications for new volunteers once every few months, so I either go today or I wait months. That'd be way too long. Too much free time without focus. When my teammates are with their families I volunteer. It's the only thing that I feel connected to outside of hockey.
As I approach the subway entrance I see a young, too skinny guy sitting on a dirty duffel bag holding a shitty piece of cardboard that says "Any help is appreciated" but he's spelled "appreciated" wrong. He's probably in his early twenties and looks like life has kicked him in the teeth for at least half that time. He briefly makes eye contact as I approach.
He looks up and blinks and for a second I think he doesn't realize I'm talking to him. "Always," he says quietly.
I glance past the subway entrance and see a little deli on the corner. "Wait here, I'll grab you a sandwich. Any preference?"
He hesitates before answering. "Honestly, anything would be great."
I head to the deli. It's tiny and packed. I glance at the time on my phone screen. I'm not sure how long it takes to get from one place to another in this city but I think I'm flirting with being late for the volunteer thing. I hope I'm wrong. Ten minutes later I hand the guy a paper bag with a ham and cheese sandwich, a pastrami on rye, two apples, and a bottle of water. Then I hand him forty bucks and a hot coffee.
"Thanks, man, you're the best."
"Hope things get better for you, man." I nod and walk to the corner, pulling up Lyft on my phone. When the car shows up I ask the driver how long it'll take to get there and he winces. "Hope you're not in a hurry, dude. That's on the other side of town and traffic is a disaster."
"It is what it is," I reply and try not to groan in his face. I'm going to be late. Of course. Because the only kind of karma I have is bad. Ugh. This whole first day in the Big Apple can bite me.
I hate today," I declare dramatically and Len laughs in my face.
"Thanks, pal," she replies tartly. "Since you spent the last three hours in here with me, I appreciate that."
I smile sheepishly at my best friend, who also happens to be my accountant. "You know I love you. It's just I hate math. I hate paperwork. I hate numbers."
"Yeah, yeah." Len nods, her eyes back on the laptop screen in front of her. One hand zips around the track pad and the other twirls one of her dark curls around her finger. "I swear we're only friends because together we are a whole, fully functional person. Separately we're disasters."
I nod. We've been saying that since we met at age twelve in school. I'm intuitive and street smart, she's analytical and book smart. She tutored me in high school when I was struggling with calculus and I, more than once, have saved her from sketchy potential suitors and internet scams.
"We're almost done here and then you can get back to your precious children," Len says and smiles to offset her judgy tone. She loves these kids as much as I do, she's just too scared to admit it. If she didn't she wouldn't volunteer here at Daphne's House, which is the charity for homeless teens that I founded. She offered to teach a budgeting class as soon as the doors opened; I didn't even have to ask or beg and I would have done both.
"Yeah but before I leave here you're going to give me that horrible number and it will put me in a bad mood," I sigh, dramatically again. The number I'm referring to is the amount of donations we need for the last quarter of the year.
We're doing a fund-raiser in a few weeks and if the number we have to hit is astronomical I'm going to get depressed. I would dip into my own savings again, but at this point if I do, I won't be able to pay my own bills. This year we just haven't gotten the media exposure we have in the past and if people don't know about us, they can't donate. I've tapped out all my personal contacts. My parents have been more than generous with donations and would help me out if I ask, but my dad just retired and I am not eating away at his hard-earned savings. He and Mom have made plans for that money and they deserve to keep them.
"I wouldn't worry about it," Len says and gives me a comforting smile. "Just have Vic invite all his snooty friends to the fund-raiser. They love to throw money at things they think makes them look like a good person. It's easier than actually being one."
I let that go like I always do because Len has every right to be bitchy and I am still feeling guilty for setting her up with Robert, one of Victor's close friends, who dated her for almost two months and then completely ghosted her. Instead I correct her on the one thing I can without feeling bad. "Victor. You know he hates being called Vic."
Her wide, perfectly glossed mouth takes a downward turn. "See? Snooty."
I can't help but laugh. I've known since almost day one that Len didn't like Victor. But she tolerates him and respects my decision to date him. Still, I get the distinct impression she didn't think it would last six days let alone six months.
I glance at the clock. "How much longer, tax master? I have a new volunteers coming in here and need to prep the classroom for the GED lesson."
"Fifty grand…give or take ten grand," Len says firmly. Her blue eyes finally look up and meet mine and when she sees my pale face she adds. "Not too bad. I think you'll be able to make that at the Hamptons thing."
"So sixty thousand dollars?" I croak, feeling sick.
- On Sale
- Oct 10, 2017
- Page Count
- 308 pages
- Forever Yours