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Read by Holly Chandler
Read by J. F. Harding
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Jude Braddock. Hockey god. That’s how everyone sees him now. But when they were teenagers, Zoey knew him as the kid who didn’t have enough nerve to make a move on their one and only disastrous date. Seems he doesn’t have that problem anymore, though. According to the rumors, he’s with a different woman every night. After a rough divorce, the last thing Zoey needs is more heartbreak. But Jude’s cocky, playful attitude is mighty hard to resist.
Jude knows he isn’t built for long-term relationships. But he’s getting sick of women pounding on his door in the middle of the night looking for a rematch. When Zoey comes back into his life, it’s like fate has given him a second chance. He’ll do anything to make her happy again. Is this what love looks like? He has no idea. All he knows for sure is that this time, he’s playing for keeps.
The first and biggest thanks for this book go to my family. I edited this book beside my dad’s hospital bed. He’s fine now, but it was a big, unexpected scare that, as big, unexpected things do, brought our family closer together. Thanks to my mom, Ken, Sonia, Max and Zoe for allowing me to lug a hard copy of my manuscript around everywhere, even the hospital, so I could still meet my deadline. You guys are a great group of humans, and I’m lucky to call you my family. And thanks, Dad, for being superhuman and proving the doctors wrong. Again.
To my husband, Jack, thanks for providing me with humor, encouragement and support. You’re the best, and I love this adventure we’re on together. To my dogs—yes, my dogs—Belle and Gus. Thanks for snuggling me while I write and for letting me finish a chapter before I take you on walks. Now if you could stop stepping on the power bar and turning it off, that would be nifty.
Thanks to my agent, Kimberly Brower. You’ve been nothing short of perfection from day one. With this series in particular, you guided me through unexpected twists and turns, and thanks to your advice and encouragement, I know I produced the best book possible.
To my editor, Leah, thank you for coming up with a crazy, big change. This series is better off thanks to your efforts, and I’m more grateful than I can express. I’m so lucky to have you in my corner. Thank you to everyone at Forever for all you do to edit, publish and promote my books.
Thanks to all the other authors who have been an amazing support system. To my friends like Ari D, his sidekick Peter M, Ray and Mel M, Bev T, Jenn D, Katherine H, Des G, Mike “Shoelaces” H, Joe D, Carlos “One More Shot” M, Sarah J, DeAnna Z and so many more, thank you for showing me such overwhelming love and support. Thank you, Ruthe Douglas, my Fiesta sister, for bringing “Oh Mylanta!” into my vocabulary so I could put it in Zoey’s. Sorry, Devon, but my goal is to make that catchphrase world famous. And to my friend and Realtor extraordinaire, Chris W, thank you so much for answering all my realty questions for this book.
Last but never least, a million thank-yous to the bloggers who work so diligently and passionately to promote books and authors and share the reads they love. You all rock!
I lock my car and make my way across the hospital parking lot. It’s a gorgeous day—the sun is shining in the cloudless sky, and the temperature is a perfect seventy-eight degrees. I’d be bitching about having to spend it indoors if it weren’t for such a good cause. Today I’m doing a meet-and-greet at the children’s hospital with a few of my teammates and the Stanley Cup, the second in a row for the San Francisco Thunder. The only thing that beats lifting that Cup above my head on the ice after our win is sharing it with kids.
Not everyone is back from summer break yet, so it’s a small but excited group. I normally wouldn’t be back in San Francisco yet either, but this hasn’t been a normal summer for me. Nothing has been “normal” for me in a long while. It’s not that things are bad; they’re just…different. And I have been realizing I am not the best with dealing with changes on my own.
The last big change I’d faced in my life was being traded to San Francisco from the Milwaukee Comets, but I didn’t do that alone. They traded my teammate, my best friend since I was seventeen, Levi Casco, as well. And then there was my dad getting sick, but I had my family to go through that with me.
As I reach the sidewalk where the team is gathered, I see my youngest sister and Thunder publicity dynamo, Dixie, pacing a hole in the concrete a few feet from a bunch of guys from the team. I make my way toward her, stopping to hug and high-five a couple of the guys on my way by. Dixie’s got her face buried in her phone, which is typical when she’s working. She doesn’t look up, but somehow she knows I’m coming. As soon as I’m standing beside her, she says, “Are you sober? Are you hung over? Oh, and no hitting on the moms or nurses.”
“Nice to see you too, sis,” I reply and roll my eyes.
The word “sis” finally gets her blue eyes off her phone screen. They land on me with an expression that could wilt flowers. “Do not use that word in public, Jude.”
“Sorry.” I roll my eyes again, and she frowns. “And FYI, I’m sober, and I will keep my dick out of the staff and mothers. Thanks for thinking you have to tell me that, though.”
“Of course I have to tell you that,” Dixie replies matter-of-factly. “Unfortunately, I know your dick and your brain are mortal enemies. Anything your brain says, like ‘don’t bang people at team events,’ your dick purposely defies.”
“You are a total weirdo,” I tell her for what’s probably the millionth time since she was born into the family. “And you need to stop saying ‘dick’ in front of me.”
She stops pacing, just out of earshot of the team. She shoves her phone in the pocket of her off-white summer blazer and tilts her head up to hold my eye. “If it makes you feel any better, this is Dixie Wynn, publicist for the San Francisco Thunder, talking, because it’s my job to keep the dick of our best player in its pants at public events. It’s not your sister Dixie Braddock talking. That said, both of us—Dixie Wynn and Dixie Braddock—are still disgusted your Little Jude ended up on the internet.”
“There’s no proof it’s my not-so-little Jude. And you don’t think it’s weird that your job is to keep my dick in my pants?” I can’t help but ask because, damn, she could have gotten a job anywhere else. My two other sisters, Winnie and Sadie, are living and working in our hometown of Toronto.
“Oh, it’s weird,” she agrees and gives me a humorless smile. “But you know what’s really weird? You’re the only player on the entire team who needs to be reminded to keep his dick in his pants at team events. Not even creepy Eddie Rollins needs the reminder.”
Ouch. I must look as wounded by that as I feel, because her expression softens for a second before her eyes dart around to make sure no one is watching. She’s ridiculously anal about keeping the fact that we’re related a secret from the rest of the team. A lot of the management is aware, but no one from the team except Levi knows. It’s kind of weird that no one has guessed. Especially since we have almost identical blue eyes and high cheekbones. We’re both blond too, but my hair is more of a sandy color than hers is.
“We’re scheduled to be inside in five minutes,” Dixie tells me, and I simply nod as her eyes scan the players gathered on the sidewalk. “Where’s Levi? He’s never late. In fact, he’s usually the first one here. Can you call him for me?”
“No.” She frowns at my quick and assertive response.
“He called you a lot this summer,” she counters.
“Yeah, because he thought my dick was on the internet, and management made him,” I reply. Her frown deepens, as does that little crease between her eyebrows she gets when she’s annoyed. The truth is Levi had called me a few times this summer, and some of the calls came before the dick pic scandal. I just ignored them because I was still pissed at him for dating my ex-girlfriend behind my back.
In an effort to avoid Dixie’s judgmental stare, I look away, and my eyes land on Levi. I knew he’d never be late. He’s the same old calm, reliable, emotionless Levi. Only I can’t help but notice as he gets closer, he doesn’t look like that Levi anymore. His posture is loose, his hair longer than I’ve ever seen it, careless stubble covers his jaw, and his smile is light, jovial. Everything about him seems to be the opposite of the cool, emotionally detached, almost moody guy who was my best friend until two months ago. Now he looks like someone I don’t know, and that stings, like a sunburn inside my chest.
He glances up, our eyes connect and he gives me a Levi smile I recognize—tight, small and quick. I smile back, but it isn’t completely authentic. This is what we are now. This is what we’ve become. Best friends with a deep crack running through the foundation of our friendship. One I don’t think can or will ever go away. And it’s eating at my soul to admit that. But I don’t know how to get around the fact that he started sleeping with my ex-girlfriend without telling me.
“Hey!” Levi reaches out and grabs me in a hug. I hug him back, but it’s awkward and brief. “How was your vacation time?”
I shrug and keep my smile light. “Fine. Not long enough.”
We are due back for training camp in two weeks, after only ten short weeks off. Levi nods. “Yeah. It’s gonna be a long season, but it was worth it.”
He rolls his shoulder, probably without even thinking about it. He was injured last year in the playoffs, and I’m sure the shoulder is still not one hundred percent. “When did you get back to San Fran?”
I shrug again. “Two weeks ago. I went back to Toronto for a while, but after the picture thing happened, I came back here. Needed some alone time.”
His brown eyes grow dark, and he nods tersely at that. I’d sworn to him it was a misunderstanding, the picture wasn’t me, and in true Levi fashion he didn’t believe me but backed me up anyway. Between his support and the fact that the dick pic taken by the puck bunny didn’t have my face in it, the team management decided not to cut me loose. Thankfully.
“How’s your dad doing?” Levi asks, his face filled with sympathy. It’s the only unfiltered expression he gives me now. I know he truly is gutted about what I’m going through with my father, who was recently diagnosed with ALS, and I do appreciate his concern. My family is also like a family to Levi. He became an honorary Braddock the summer after high school, when he lived with us.
But the fact he’s been like a brother to me is why the shit he pulled with my ex hurt me so much.
“He fell this summer. Had to spend a couple days in the hospital with a fractured wrist and some broken ribs, but you know him, he’s bouncing back,” I explain quietly. I’m still having a hard time dealing with the fact my big bear of a dad may only have a year or so left.
I pull myself together as Duncan Darby walks over, his phone to his ear. “Okay, babe. Yeah. I’ll call you when I’m done. Love you.”
He drops his phone from his ear and pulls me into a bear hug. I hug him back easily. Duncan is a giant, hilarious man-child. He’s a defensive beast on the ice and as sweet and loyal as a puppy off. “Braddock! You Playgirl centerfold, you!”
I roll my eyes. “Wasn’t my dick.”
He nods emphatically. “Right. I forgot.”
I ignore the completely un-ignorable exaggerated wink he gives me. Levi clears his throat. “Was that Carla on the phone?”
I watch Duncan nod. He started dating Carla Soto almost a year ago. She’s best friends with Tessa Haynes, my ex and Levi’s girlfriend. Yeah, we’re one big happy family. Not.
“Yeah. She wants me to swing by work when I’m done.”
“I was going to swing by and see Tessa too,” Levi tells him. “I was going to surprise her with lunch. Carpool?”
They’re like suburban husbands now. The realization makes me feel very lonely. Luckily, I don’t have to stand here awkwardly and listen to them talk any longer, because Dixie is walking toward us. She stops in front of us and claps her hands to get the group’s attention. “Okay, everyone! We’re going to go into the lounge on the main floor, and the kids will filter in a few at a time to get pictures with you guys and the Cup.”
Everyone nods. “The PR staff will be giving out Stanley Cup cookies and little stuffed mascots. Any questions?” Dixie asks.
No one has any questions, so she leads everyone inside. A couple minutes later we’re in the long, antiseptic-smelling room, and the kids are starting to come in. It’s brutal to see so many kids pale, frail and in some cases attached to tubes and IVs, but there’s no place I’d rather be. I always take the time to shake their parents’ hands and chat with them a little bit. Not because I’m trying to flirt with the hot moms, but because I can only imagine how hard this is on them. I’m feeling helpless and furious about my dad’s health; I assume those feelings are even deeper when it’s your child.
As the event winds down and the last of the kids finish with the photos and make their way to the cookies and toys, I see Dixie huddled in the corner with one of the nurses. She glances at me but doesn’t really acknowledge me. That crease between her eyebrows seems deeper than normal, so I walk over to find out what’s going on.
“He’s just devastated,” the nurse says to Dixie as I approach.
“Who?” I ask. Dixie hasn’t realized I’ve joined them, and she jumps a little when I speak.
“A little boy,” the nurse tells me as she smiles a big, flirtatious smile and smooths her bright pink scrubs. “Christopher. He’s a huge Thunder fan, but his white blood cells got low last night. He’s in isolation until we can pump them up again, so he couldn’t come today. I’m Kina, by the way.”
I smile at her and shake her hand. She bats her eyelashes at me with a smile that tells me I could violate Dixie’s little rule with her.
“He’s one of the reasons we organized the event,” Dixie explains, and her brow pinches so tight I’m tempted to press my thumb between her eyes and flatten out the crease. I decide against it, because she’d probably slap me. “His mom wrote us with a few of the other moms and asked us to visit.”
I feel for this kid. I hate the idea that he’s going to miss us. Dixie’s expression perks up a little. “Could we have Levi hold the Cup up outside the window to his room?”
“Why Levi?” The question flies from my mouth with a hard edge that has both Dixie and Kina startled. “I mean, I could do it.”
“Well, you are his favorite player,” the nurse explains with that flirtatious smile, adding, “And mine.”
I ignore her last comment, because Dixie told me to, and nod. “Well, I’d love to see him. Can’t I go in the room if I’m sanitized or whatever?”
“You’d have to wear full scrubs and a mask and everything,” she explains. “It’s a bit of a pain.”
“You know what’s a bigger pain?” I ask and smile. “Being a sick kid and missing your chance to see the Cup and meet your favorite player.”
The nurse smiles; this time it’s more excited than flirty, thankfully, because I’ve never been great at ignoring a flirty woman. Dixie, on the other hand, is staring at me with a stunned and confused look rather than a happy one. I shrug at her. “What? It’s not a big deal.”
She doesn’t respond, so I ignore her and ask Kina to take me to his room. Twenty minutes later, wrapped in a bunch of scrubs and booties and with a giant mask on my face, I’m in Christopher’s room. He’s pale and skinny, but his smile is hearty and full of life. I give him a jersey with the whole team’s signatures and I have Levi hold up the Cup outside his window and all the other guys wave at him. He’s only nine, which guts me, but I don’t let him see it. I joke with him and take pictures. We talk hockey and how when he’s better his mom is going to let him play on a team. I tell him I’ll get him tickets to a Thunder game when he’s well and take him around our arena. He’s thrilled. Then I let his mom almost strangle me with a grateful hug before I leave.
I strip out of all the special clothes and find Dixie waiting for me by the elevators with the rest of the team. “That was amazing of you.”
“It was nothing.”
“Jude!” I turn as Kina jogs down the hall toward me. “Thank you so much. You’re amazing.”
She shakes my hand and then hands me a folded piece of paper. “My number. Call me if you’re wondering how Christopher is doing or, you know, you want to hang out.”
She flashes that flirtatious grin again before heading back to the nurses’ station. Dixie glares at me and shrugs. Duncan, Levi and the guys are chuckling as we all crowd into the elevator. “Only Jude turns a good deed into a lay,” Duncan quips, and it instantly pisses me off.
“I didn’t do it because of that,” I say, my tone flat and even.
“You do everything for that,” Eddie Rollins, our backup goalie, chimes in, and the elevator erupts in laughter.
“Fuck you guys,” I mutter and storm off the elevator as soon as the doors open.
I’m already opening my car door when I hear Dixie call my name. I want to ignore her and just drive away, but knowing her, she’ll hunt me down, so I stop and wait for whatever it is she wants to say.
She is almost breathless when she reaches me, and I realize she must have been chasing me. She stops half a foot away and smooths her blond bob. “Thank you for doing that. You went above and beyond.”
“It was nothing,” I reply casually, but I’m happy she was impressed enough to say something. “He’s a kid. He deserves a little above and beyond.”
“Yeah, he does. So thank you for being an awesome human.” She lowers her voice before adding, “And I’m proud of you, as a sister.”
“Yeah, well, you could have defended me in front of those assholes,” I reply and sigh.
She glances over her shoulder toward the guys who are jumping into their own cars. “They were just teasing you. And besides, it’s not like it’s a wild accusation.”
“I wasn’t nice to the kid because I wanted to bang the nurse.” I can’t believe I have to defend myself on this. “I don’t bang every girl I meet, even when I can. And trust me, I could have gotten in those scrubs with or without being nice to the kid.”
Dixie rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling. “If you don’t bang every girl you meet, then why are you currently staying at a hotel and not your apartment?”
“What?” Fuck. How did she find that out?
“I was coming out of the coach’s office after a meeting last week, and I heard Duncan tell Eddie you’d moved into a hotel because too many of your prior hookups were showing up at your place unannounced trying to get another ride on the…how did he word it? Braddock-mobile.”
She shivers—actually it’s more like a convulsion—as she says that. I clench my jaw in anger. Fucking Duncan Darby and his big mouth. She’s staring up at me with a smug smile on her face, and I know the only answer is to lie. “Darby is talking out of his ass. I checked into a hotel because I wanted a staycation.”
“A staycation? Did you just honestly feed me that bullshit excuse with a straight face?” Dixie questions. She is the most annoying sister on the planet. She really is.
“So why is it that for the first time since you moved here you aren’t letting Sadie, Winnie and me stay with you for our annual girls’ weekend?”
I wish my dad had indulged me when she was born and I requested we trade her for a puppy. “I thought I’d treat you all to a five-star hotel. It’s not like I’m making all of you cram into that shoebox you call an apartment. But if you all want to stay with me instead, by all means, go ahead.”
“Thanks. We will. See you tomorrow night.” She turns and marches off toward her car.
Goddamn it, I think as I watch her walk away.
I pull the nurse’s number out of my pocket and tear it into pieces.
The unexpected guests that were showing up at my apartment weren’t just annoying; to be honest, it was embarrassing and a wake-up call. I was way too liberal with where I put my dick. I wanted to say it was because of everything that happened with Levi and Tessa, but even I couldn’t sell myself on that lie.
Dixie’s red Fiat buzzes by me, and as my sister catches my eye through the windshield, I stick my hand out my window and let the torn-up phone number trickle out of my hand and to the pavement. I don’t even think twice about it.
It’s not going to be a crappy day. It’s not going to be a crappy day. It’s not going to be…
“Morning, Zoey. Adam Penner’s office called.”
It’s going to be a crappy day.
“Thank you, Anastasia.” I give the receptionist at my office a smile and wave off the slip of paper she’s trying to hand me. I know his number. I don’t need the paper, and I don’t want to see his name in front of me, even if it’s in Anastasia’s perfect penmanship.
I continue to the back of the office, where my desk is tucked away in the corner. Next to my co-worker Marti’s desk, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Marti’s desk is the exact same dark wood as mine, but it’s covered with stacks of house listings and file folders full of pending deals. Mine is bare. Well, except for the tiny antique clock my grandma gave me and the phone, which is blinking, probably because Adam has left me a bunch of messages there too. Ugh.
I remind myself to pick up some flowers for my desk at lunch. They might not be pending deals, but they will still bring some life to the barren surface. Marti is hunched over her laptop, a coffee in one hand while the other darts around on the mouse. “Morning, Zo.”
I hate being called Zo. Always have. But I’m new to Golden Gate Realty, and residential realty in general, and she’s been my mentor, helping me with everything at the office and in this new phase of my career, so she can call me whatever she wants.
“Hey, Marti.” I smile, and as I round my desk I pull my own laptop from my bag. “How’d the showing in the Presidio go last night?”
“They made an offer by the time I showed them the master bath.” Marti smiles triumphantly. “I told them the client wanted to wait until the weekend to take offers, which made them panic about a potential bidding war, so they upped the offer to five grand over asking. My client took it instantly.”
“Good job, rock star!” I praise her and try not to let that little ripple of jealousy poison my bloodstream. Marti’s been at Golden Gate for a year. She’s been in residential real estate for three years. She’s established. I just moved from commercial to residential last month and have only been at Golden Gate for ten days. I’ll be closing deals on million-dollar homes one day too. Hopefully soon.
“How about you? How’d that lead in the Haight work out?” she asks, absently twisting her light brown hair around her finger.
“They were a nice couple. I think they liked me, and I was fairly confident they’d hire me to sell their place,” I explain and pause before the bad news. “But then I saw another agent buzz their apartment as I was leaving.”
Marti’s eyes cloud over briefly, but it’s long enough that it makes me think the confidence in her words is fake. “Well, you’ve still got that one-bedroom condo listing. I know it’s been a few weeks, but someone will make an offer soon. I know it.”
I stare at the red light blinking on my desk phone and turn to Marti again. “I’m going to run next door for a coffee. Want another? My treat.”
She glances at the phone and back at me. “I’m good.”
I haven’t told Marti the dirty details of my life. She knows I’m separated and that I worked in commercial real estate at Penner Realty prior to this. She doesn’t know that my soon-to-be ex-husband is Adam Penner, owner of the company. Or that my husband isn’t signing the divorce papers, even though it was his idea to end it.
Marti shakes her head. “One is enough for me this morning, but thanks.”
- "Denault launches a new series, featuring the bad boys of the San Francisco Thunder, with gusto, passion and heaps of tension and sensual detail. Several genre-defying complications makes the story feel unexpectedly fresh. Moreover, the consistent reinforcement of the female characters' strength and individuality turns this book into something unique, and provides plenty of incentive for fans of sport romances to seek out this new series without delay."—RT Book Reviews
- "Sexy, sassy, and a perfect new adult read for fans who love hockey and romance, not necessarily in that order. An excellent new sports series launch."
- On Sale
- May 9, 2017
- Hachette Audio