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On the Line
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 6, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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As one of the best players in the NHL and the “golden boy” of the league, Avery Westwood knows he has to keep his cool–on and off the ice. His whole life is a carefully constructed image of perfection for the media and his brand sponsors. Of course, that means he can never let his true feelings show. But when it comes to the sexy sister of his former teammate, Avery might be willing to make an exception . . . even if it means breaking all his own rules.
As far as Stephanie Deveau is concerned, having a thing for Avery is the equivalent of psychological napalm. Tres bad idea. Then he moves in next door, all sexy smiles and a deliciously hot body that she can’t resist. Something’s happening between them–it’s intense, a little (a lot) out of control, and real. Only Avery doesn’t know everything about Stephanie’s past. And the one exception to his rule might just be the one girl who could destroy his career.
Jessie Caplan and Jordan Garrison finally tied the knot. Their wedding was so amazing I didn’t want it to end. The bride was breathtakingly beautiful and her groom looked happier than I had ever seen any man look. Ever.
It was crazy that the calm, confident, beaming guy who got married tonight was the same train wreck playboy I met years ago when he first started playing hockey in Seattle with my brother, Sebastian. The whole night, from the dusk ceremony to the reception under the stars by the lake, had so much love you could feel it in the air.
“Explain to me again why I’m on a canoe in the middle of the lake rehashing the wedding that we just attended?” Avery asks.
I lift my head to level him with a hard stare. “The canoe was your idea,” I remind him, and tip my head back to look up at the starry sky. “Being teamless has turned you into a criminal.”
He laughs at that. The sound is deep and soothing, but it rocks the rickety canoe we “borrowed” from a dock. I spent a little bit of time with Avery Westwood while we were both in Seattle, and I have never seen him so relaxed. Maybe being a free agent agrees with him.
When he walked into the pre-wedding cocktail party Friday, it was the first time I’d thought of him since he left Seattle and went back to his hometown of New Brunswick for the summer. After congratulating Jordan and Jessie, he walked right over to me, and he hasn’t really left my side all weekend. It was probably just because we are two of the only single people here, but I was thrilled because he was different from the typical, distant Avery.
We were walking back to the hotel from the wedding reception, along the edge of the giant lake that sits in the center of Silver Bay, Maine, when Avery spotted the canoe and suggested we take it out. “The stars will be amazing out there and I bet it’s cooler,” he enticed.
I agreed because I wanted a break from the muggy weather, I wanted to see stars and…I wanted to keep hanging out with Avery. Out of the all Winterhawks players, or hockey players in general, Avery would not be most people’s first choice for a fun date. He doesn’t exactly have a reputation as being someone who knows what fun is. But tonight, I had a blast.
Even though he was my brother’s teammate, I never felt like I knew that much about him; no one really did. I only knew the basics: he was quiet, hardworking and superstitious. Then one day I’d learned he was also uptight, self-centered and a complete puppet to the whims of his father, who was also his business manager. That revelation came when I found out that one of his closest college friends had developed an addiction to painkillers. Avery’s biggest concern was how it made him look, so he walked out on his friend to make sure his image wasn’t tarnished. That’s when my opinion of Avery turned from indifferent to unfavorable. And unlike everyone else in his life, I wasn’t afraid to tell him. When I confronted him, surprisingly, he didn’t get offended or argue. He agreed he was an ass and then he went out and made things right with his friend, which made me realize he wasn’t all bad.
He shifts gently in the canoe and it rocks again, jilting me out of my reverie. He’s leaning back against one end of the canoe and I’m against the other. Our feet—mine bare because heels suck, and his in expensive dress shoes covered in sand—are resting next to each other in the center. He reaches up with one arm and points. “See those stars that kind of form a horseshoe? There.”
I follow the tip of his finger with my eyes. “Yeah.”
“That’s the Gemini constellation,” he explains.
“That’s my zodiac sign!”
He tips his head forward and smiles. “I know. That’s why I’m showing you.”
He knows my zodiac sign? He laughs at my expression of shock. “You mentioned it on one of our runs.”
Right. The running. For the last couple months of the hockey season, Avery had jogged in the park near my apartment, where I always worked out. We would cross each other on the running trail and he would always turn around and run with me.
“I’d point out your constellation, but you barely talked on our runs,” I quip with a teasing smile.
“I talked. I asked you questions,” he replies.
“Why is that?”
He thinks about it for a minute, his left hand hanging over the side of the canoe, skimming the water with his fingertips. “Sometimes it feels like I talk for a living. I liked listening to you. And besides, if you want to know anything about me, you can probably Google it.”
He’s right. Sort of. But there’s got to be more to him than what he gives away in press interviews. I pretend to dig my phone out of my purse as I say, “Please hold. Googling your astrological sign.”
“Aries.” He chuckles at me. “Any other questions? Ask away. I’m an open book.”
“You are this weekend,” I agree, and look back up at the twinkling sky. “It’s a pleasant surprise.” He was being witty, sarcastic and fun. He had opinions—and he was sharing them in candid, honest ways that I’d never seen him do with anyone else.
I look at him instead of tilting it back to the stars again. “So you’re definitely not re-signing with Seattle?”
He’s still looking up at the stars, the moonlight cascading down over his perfect skin, making his slight summer tan look more golden. His dark hair glints and his damn lashes are so thick and dark I can see them flutter from across the canoe even in this low light. In his dark summer suit he looks like model in a Ralph Lauren ad right now.
“In forty-eight hours I’ll be a free agent. I’ll be open to any team, anywhere,” he explains, and there’s not even a drop of excitement in his tone.
“And where does Avery Free Agent Westwood want to go?” I ask as I realize how much I’m going to dread running now.
“Los Angeles or Manhattan,” he answers, again with no joy or excitement
“Shouldn’t someone be excited about such a big life change, especially when he is the one choosing it?” I blurt out bluntly as the cool breeze picks up a little. It feels good so I close my eyes, lift my hair and let it wrap around my bare shoulders and neck.
“It’s not a personal choice. It’s a business decision,” I hear him answer. “There’s no point having feelings about it.”
I open my eyes and give him a bit of a glare.
“What?” he asks.
“That was the first typical Avery answer you’ve given to me this entire weekend,” I explain. “I don’t like it.”
“Okay.” He pauses and takes a deep breath, rubbing the back of his neck for a moment. “I would love to stay in Seattle, but my father explained it wasn’t what’s best for my brand and, like it or not, if I want to have options after hockey, I need to do what’s best for the brand, so I am. Even if it sucks and, yes, it sucks.”
“Much better.” I smile and close my eyes again, enjoying another breeze. “You sound like a human being again.”
“That doesn’t come easy for me,” he admits, his tone sheepish. “Being human. Unfiltered and honest.”
“I like it.”
“That’s why I’m trying,” he replies.
I open my eyes and find him staring at me. Intently. So intently I feel like I should blush, but I don’t know why. He shifts a little and shifts again. I grab the sides of the canoe in panic and he grins. “Don’t worry, I won’t drown you.”
“I would pick L.A. if I were Avery Free Agent Westwood,” I murmur softly, absently, as the rocking boat slows and I let go of the side of the wooden boat to skim my hands across the glasslike surface of the water. “Palm trees, sunshine, movie stars…Oh! You could date a movie star if you lived there!”
He laughs. “I don’t want to date a movie star.”
I roll my eyes. “Don’t tell me even they aren’t good enough for Avery Free Agent Westwood!”
I’m teasing him. I’ve been doing it a lot tonight. I realize I like it. A lot. And he doesn’t seem to mind, since he breaks out in the hottest grin most times, so I don’t see why I should stop. He sits up a little. “When have you ever seen a Hollywood romance that didn’t crash and burn in a million ugly, public pieces? No thank you. I’m trying to avoid having my personal life splashed across the Internet, remember?”
“Right. Not good for the image.” I nod as I stifle a yawn. The noise from the wedding reception has faded to a murmur, and even the music has stopped. The lights from the houses that speckle the lakeshore are mostly gone. It’s late and my flight tomorrow is at seven. “We should head back.”
I crawl to the center of the canoe and sit on the centerboard as I reach for the oars. The whole boat shifts drastically to the left and then the right, and I squeak out a panicked sound as I watch him move to sit beside me. I shake my head and put a hand on his chest when he gets close enough. It’s like touching a wall it’s so flat and smooth and hard. “I’ll row. You just sit there and look pretty.”
“I am not letting you row me home,” he says, like it’s the most horrifying idea he’s ever encountered.
It makes me laugh. I grab the oar handles and start to move us.
“Seriously, Stephanie. Let me.”
“Oh, come on, what’s the big deal?” I ask, and keep rowing.
We’re not that far from the dock anyway. A couple more good paddles and we’ll be there. But he’s still kneeling near the center of the boat, frowning at me. He reaches for the oar, his hand landing on mine, and I pull away, which makes the boat kind of start to spin to the left. “You don’t have to defend your manhood with me, Avery. I know you’re all man. I got the press release on that.”
I smile at my own joke, but he doesn’t. He tugs the oar again and I let go of the other one to push him back, but he’s ready for me this time and pushes into me. He’s stronger, of course, so I start to tip back. I let go of both oars and grab his neck and shoulder. Now no one is holding the oars. We’re just holding each other. His eyes look like coal as they seem to sweep over my face, and when they land on my lips it makes my tongue dart out and wet them.
“The man I am with you tonight isn’t the man from the press releases,” he says suddenly in a low, rough voice as his fingers spread out over my lower back.
I take in a deep, sharp breath but I can’t seem to let it out. “I know.”
“Do you?” he whispers back, and leans closer.
My heart is thumping so hard like it’s trying to break through my chest and touch the one thumping just as wildly through the front of his white dress shirt.
I think he’s going to kiss me, and suddenly I want nothing more than to kiss him back. The feeling is swift, all-consuming and powerful, like a craving. Like when I would want a pill so bad I could think of nothing else—which makes me panic. I shift abruptly, reaching—almost lunging—for the oar, and the canoe lurches. Avery’s big body rights itself too fast, his weight yanking the wooden oar to the left and tossing me that way with it, and then Avery loses his balance, and before I can even scream, we’re underwater.
It’s not deep at all, so my feet find the bottom, and I’m standing and sputtering in waist-deep water seconds later. Avery is, too, on the other side of the upside-down canoe. We stare at each other over the capsized boat. He doesn’t look like he’s going to kiss me again, which is a shame because Avery looks even hotter soaking wet. Ugh. What is wrong with me?
“We have to get out of here before someone sees me like this,” he explains, his voice tight with stress. “Can you imagine the bullshit stories if I’m caught like this?”
Well, that moment’s gone. Typical Avery Westwood is back in all his uptight, image-obsessed glory.
Before I can answer, he’s pushing the canoe to the dock and climbing up on it. He reaches down and pulls me out of the water like I’m made of cotton candy or something equally airy. I reach for my shoes, which I left on the dock, and when I stand up my brother and his girlfriend, Shayne, are staring at us with amused smiles.
“We had a little bit of a nautical disaster.” I shrug.
“I can see that.” Shayne smiles.
“Avery, you know the whole point to skinny-dipping is that you’re naked, right?” Sebastian jokes, and slaps his captain on his wet shoulder.
“Ha-ha.” Avery rolls his eyes. “You really want to give me tips on skinny-dipping? With your sister?”
My brother’s shoulders get rigid and his smile disappears.
I laugh. “Don’t worry, Seb. You know it’s not like that with me and Avery.” I can feel Avery’s eyes on me but I don’t look over. “He was my running buddy and now he’s my canoeing buddy…except he needs a little work on his paddling skills.”
Shayne and Seb laugh at that, but I don’t hear Avery join in. I think I might have hurt his feelings, but I’m sure he’ll get over it. That moment in the canoe was crazy and it needed to end the way it did, because anything else would have been pointless. Okay, maybe incredibly enjoyable, but pointless.
I don’t want to have a one-night stand and Avery doesn’t actually date. And even if he did, I am not an ideal candidate for a guy obsessed with what people think. Yeah, I may have ruined a perfectly good party dress and taken a small chunk out of his ego, but it had to be done.
Ten weeks later
“You call me a lot.” I smile into the phone. “You need to get a life.”
“I have an amazing life, thank you very much,” my brother counters. “I’m just making sure you do too.”
I put my Kindle down in my lap, stretch out on the porch swing and inhale the cool, salty night air. “Yes, Sebastian, my life is good. Just like it was last week when you called. And the week before that. And the week before that.”
Sebastian and I haven’t always been close, but we were essentially inseparable when I lived in Seattle. When I decided to transfer to San Diego with the lawyer I worked for, he was supportive but concerned. Even though he’s my younger brother, he’s always acted like a protective older one, which is why he calls me so much. I know he’s just worried about me because I haven’t lived away from a support system—from him—since I got out of rehab.
I loved being around Sebastian—he’s a friend as much as a sibling—but Seattle was never really my dream home. I’d fantasized about California since I was a kid, so when my lawyer announced he was transferring and offered me the chance to go with him, I decided I had to take it. It was also a chance to stand on my own two feet without the safety net of my brother being just a ten-minute drive away.
“Did you enroll in the design certificate program you were telling me about?”
“Yeah. I’m jumping in with both feet, taking two classes this semester,” I explain, and I feel a rush of excitement I haven’t felt for any kind of school before.
“You know if you wanted to quit your job and be a full-time student, I would pay your way,” Sebastian says casually, like it’s no big deal for him to support his adult sibling.
But it is. And I can’t let him do it again. He already supported me while I got my GED and my first online degree. “I know, but I like online classes and doing it in my spare time.” Interior design really excites me, and this is something I really want to do for myself.
He seems to accept that answer because he changes the subject. “How’s the roommate situation?”
“Good. Even better than I expected, actually,” I confess, and I feel relief when I say it.
I’ve never had a roommate before, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out. Maddie is a legal secretary at the firm where I work. I met her my first day in the San Diego office. We really hit it off at work and even went to drinks and dinner a couple times in the first two weeks I was here. When I told her I still hadn’t found a place to live and that I wanted to be as close to the beach as possible, she mentioned that she lived in a two-bedroom place by the beach on Coronado Island and that her roommate had just moved to San Francisco. She invited me over to check the place out and I fell instantly in love. It was an old semidetached cottage that had somehow escaped being torn down by a developer. She said the owner didn’t want it turned into condos but, unfortunately, he also didn’t want to spend a lot of money maintaining it. It was drafty and out of date but it was only half a mile from the beach, and when it got quiet late at night you could hear the waves. I loved it. “She’s out on a date tonight. With Ty.”
“Really?” Sebastian sounds shocked, which I expected. Ty Parsons is a hockey friend of his who plays for the San Diego Saints.
Last month when I moved, Ty came over to see if I needed anything. Turns out he lives just around the corner—in an oceanfront million-dollar condo. He met Maddie that night, and I could tell he was attracted to her. She was cheerful and sweet, with long ash blond hair, wide brown eyes, sun-kissed freckles and giant boobs. He asked her for her number that night, and now they were on a dinner date.
“Yeah. He better not wreck her,” I mutter, and Sebastian laughs. “What? I like her. I don’t want her hurt, and I don’t want her blaming me because I introduced them.”
“Maybe he’s got noble motives,” Seb counters.
“Didn’t you say he used to be your wingman at the Olympics?” I say, rocking the porch swing as I reach for the blanket I brought out earlier and pull it up over my legs. I swear I could sleep out here, it’s so peaceful.
“Not all hockey players just want to get in a girl’s pants.” He chuckles. “And speaking of hockey players not interested in sex, have you seen the news?”
“No. I’ve been happily out of the loop today. Why?”
He pauses. “Westwood signed with the Saints.”
I sit up, the swing rocking violently under me thanks to my abrupt movement. I almost fall off of it. “What? The Saints? As in San Diego?”
“Yeah. He’s moving to San Diego,” Sebastian confirms. “It’s all over the news, but I had to call him myself to confirm it, because it’s like the last team I thought he would sign with. They suck.”
“He’s moving here?” I repeat, and stare out at my quiet little street. “He confirmed that?”
“Yeah, he did. I have no fucking idea what he’s thinking.”
“He said it was between Los Angeles and Manhattan. He said that the whole point of a new team was to be in a larger market with more access to endorsement deals.” It’s exactly what Avery told me in Maine last June. “He never mentioned San Diego.”
“Yeah, we’re all pretty stunned,” Sebastian says, and sighs. “You know Westwood, though. He doesn’t exactly like to share his thoughts. But he said it’s what he wanted.”
My heart feels like it’s been replaced with a hummingbird. Am I having a panic attack? No. I’m not panicked. I’m just…startled? Yeah, I’m startled. And I’m…excited? I don’t want to be excited. Being excited over Avery is not a good idea. Besides, it’s not like I’ll see him just because he’s here in the same city as me.
“I gave him your number,” Sebastian announces.
“Why?” The question flies out of my mouth too loud and too blunt.
“What? Is that a big deal?” my brother asks, confused. “You guys were friends here. I mean you got along when we all hung out, right? And he doesn’t have any friends in San Diego yet.”
“He’s going to have a whole team of friends.”
“Are you crazy?” Sebastian scoffs. “He’s the best player in the league: everybody hates him. It’s going to take a while to bond with them. I didn’t want him all alone.”
Something hits me and I say, “Alex is here, isn’t he? And they got along when they both played in Seattle, right? He can be Avery’s friend.”
Sebastian’s deep rumble of a laugh fills my ear. “Larue? Yeah he’ll be an ally in the locker room, but what about the rest of the time? Avery’s not exactly going to go pick up chicks with Rue, which is Alex’s only hobby.”
Alex Larue has bounced around from team to team every couple of years. He is a grinder on the ice, gets the job done, but there is nothing flashy or pretty or particularly skilled about it. He likes to say his claim to fame is he leads the league in sleepovers.
“Right. Avery doesn’t date,” I remind myself as much as my brother.
“Actually, he did date someone this summer,” Sebastian tells me.
It’s another jolt of surprise. I feel like my brother is a human defibrillator and he just keeps zapping me with one shocking announcement after another.
“He has a girlfriend?” Why is my voice so unsteady?
“Apparently. I heard a rumor anyway, but when I asked him about it, he said it was over.” He pauses. “So anyway, is it a problem? Can you hang out with him?”
“No. Yeah. It’s fine. I’m just surprised, I guess, that he’s coming here at all.” The wind picks up, and I’m suddenly chilled, so I grab the blanket and my Kindle and head inside. “When does he get here?”
“Well, training camps start next week, so probably like tomorrow or the next day,” Sebastian says, like it’s not a big deal. But my already racing heart picks up speed. “So be nice if he calls you. Remember, he needs a friend.”
“Okay,” I promise, and I can only hope that’s all he needs.
We talk about the vacation Sebastian just took with his girlfriend, Shayne, and some other mundane stuff, and then he tells me he’ll call me on the weekend and hangs up. I fold the blanket over the back of the couch and head upstairs to my room.
Avery is coming to San Diego? Seb was right; that didn’t make sense. New York or L.A. would have sold their souls to acquire him. And I knew that’s where his overbearing, micromanaging dad/business manager wanted him to go. San Diego is a new team—an expansion team—and has only been in the league for four years. They are fighting to steal some of L.A.’s fan base, and it is a struggle because they haven’t been doing all that well. They haven’t made the play-offs yet. Why would the best hockey player on the planet sign here?
The truth is I don’t want Avery Westwood in San Diego. San Diego is my place to start something new, and Avery is the past. It wouldn’t be that big a deal if I’d been able to stop thinking about the last time I saw him, at Jordan and Jessie’s wedding. Before that wedding Avery had been a comfortable but distant acquaintance. He lives behind a façade—a fake personality built for the media and sponsorships—and I don’t know a single person who could say they were part of his inner circle because he doesn’t have one. Even his close friends think he’s an island unto himself.
Then that weekend of the wedding he dropped the façade with me. He was funny and sarcastic and opinionated and charming. So damn charming. Seventy-two hours after he showed up for the wedding, I found myself on the verge of kissing him. And even though I haven’t seen him since that night, which was almost three months ago, I still feel if he let his guard down like that again, and kept it down, I might develop a hell of a crush on him.
Physically, that makes perfect sense. He is all tall, dark and muscles. Seriously, he is built more like an MMA fighter than a hockey player. He has thick, almost black hair with a bit of a wave to it and incredible copper-brown eyes framed by dark expressive brows and a perfect roman nose. He also has the sexiest, prettiest wide mouth, and sometimes it flashes the most panty-wetting, mischievous smile I have ever seen. Sadly, I’ve only seen it a couple of times because he isn’t much on smiles…or happiness in general. And now I know Avery is charming, too, when he lets himself be.
But letting myself develop a crush on Avery Westwood would be the equivalent of psychological napalm. He is off-limits in so many ways it is almost impossible to count.
- On Sale
- Dec 6, 2016
- Page Count
- 308 pages
- Forever Yours