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Playing Hard: A Chesapeake Blades Hockey Romance (The Chesapeake Blades Book 3) by Lisa B. Kamps (1)

Chapter One

 

Silence surrounded her. Empty and almost eerie. It shouldn't be this quiet, not with fifteen thousand people on the other side of those thick concrete walls painted red, white and blue.

Shannon Wiley pushed away from the table, empty now of fliers and brochures touting the rest of the year's schedule for the Chesapeake Blades. It would have been nice if the colorful brochures had disappeared because fans had taken them, but that wasn't the case. Charles Dawson, the team's PR Director, had boxed them up ten minutes ago then disappeared with Taylor LeBlanc, the team's captain—along with everyone else.

Shannon snorted, the indelicate sound echoing around the empty concourse. She was making it sound like something dramatic had happened when nothing could be further from the truth. Her teammates had simply gone home—or back inside to finish watching the last ten minutes of the game between the Banners and Vegas.

Which is what she should be doing—heading home. A glance outside the large window was more than enough to show her that the weather wasn't getting any better. The flurries that had been forecast had taken on a life of their own, turning into thick, fat flakes that coated the sidewalk and the street.

A trickle of worry crept along her neck when she thought of Sammie Reigler, one of the Blades' defensive players. Sammie hated driving in this shit. Shannon should have offered to take her home—

No, scratch that. Shannon was pretty sure that Sammie's ex-husband, Jon, was taking care of that. Shannon seriously doubted that Jon would be Sammie's ex for much longer, not if the sparks that had been leaping between them the last couple of months meant anything.

Good for Sammie. She deserved to be happy, and it was obvious that there was still a lot of love between Jon and her. Maybe Shannon should start a pool, get everyone to bet on how long before the couple officially reunited.

Because yeah, that was definitely going to happen. Shannon had no doubts about that. Which was perfect, because Sammie definitely deserved to be happy.

Everyone did.

"Abso-fucking-lutely," Shannon murmured under her breath then grabbed her gear bag and tossed it over her shoulder. She glanced around, looking for her stick, then rolled her eyes at her forgetfulness. Her stick wasn't here because she had given it to the young girl who had come up to the table and asked for her autograph.

Right after telling Shannon that she wanted to be a goalie, just like her.

Shannon blinked against the odd film of moisture burning her eyes then shook her head. Anyone watching her would think she was definitely losing it, the way she was standing there with a ghost of a smile teasing her lips as she swiped at her eyes.

Fuck them if they did. Wouldn't be the first time people thought she was weird, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.

And she didn't care anymore now than she did when she was growing up.

She gave herself a mental shake then headed along the concourse toward the main doors. The concession stands were already closed, their staff paying no attention to her as they cleaned off counters and swept floors, probably anxious to get home. Shannon didn't blame them, not when she felt the same. People drove like idiots in weather like this.

She rounded the last curve of the concourse then veered left, heading for the exit, when someone called her name. She hesitated, wondering if maybe she was imagining things, then heard it again.

"Shannon! Hey, Wiley. Wait up."

No, that voice definitely wasn't her imagination. Deep, rich, warm. She didn't have to turn around to know who it was, not when that same voice had caused an embarrassing blush to creep into her face fifteen minutes ago.

Kind of like it was doing right now.

She froze, torn between turning around and acting bored—or running for the door like the hounds of hell were after her. And shit, could she be any lamer than that? So what if Caleb Johnson was a star winger for the Banners? So what if he was six-feet four-inches of pure masculine deliciousness? He was just a hockey player.

Just like her.

Just like her teammates.

Except none of her teammates had ever made her skin prickle and dance with awareness as they raked her with their gazes.

"Get a grip, Wiley." She muttered the words under her breath then winced as they echoed around her. Shit, they came out louder than she had planned. Had he heard her?

She took a deep breath then turned, her sigh of relief almost as loud as her muttered words when she saw that he was still several feet away—definitely not within hearing distance. The staccato rhythm of each crutch against the shiny tile floor was another point in her favor, the sound helping to mask whatever idiocy decided to fall from her mouth.

Shannon adjusted the grip on her gear bag, swinging it from her right shoulder to her left, then watched him with as nonchalant an expression as she could manage. It was harder to manage than she thought it would be, considering all she wanted to do was rake his body with her eyes, from the thick black hair hanging over his forehead all the way down to the soft cast covering his left ankle—and everywhere in between.

No, not with her eyes—with her hands. With her mouth. With—

She swallowed back a groan of frustration and looked away, cursing the blush heating her face. What the hell was wrong with her? She didn't act this way over guys. Ever. So why now? Why with him?

She had no idea but she needed to get over. Now.

Caleb came to a stop less than two feet away, his weight braced on the crutches as he leaned toward her. No, he wasn't leaning—that was just her imagination.

Or maybe wishful thinking.

She pushed a few strands of hair from her face and tried to act nonchalant like sexy, gorgeous men came up to her all the time instead of running away the first time she opened her mouth. "Hey. What's up?"

"You heading out?"

Shannon almost rolled her eyes and said, Duh. Almost. She stopped herself at the last second, practically biting her tongue to keep the word from spilling from her mouth. "Yeah, pretty much."

Did he hear the sarcasm in her voice? She hoped not. If he did, he did a good job of hiding it.

"Are you heading home or going out?"

Shannon frowned. What kind of question was that? Of course, she was going home. Where else would she be going in this kind of weather? "Just home."

"Feel like grabbing a quick bite?"

And dammit, there went her face, heating up again at all the different images popping into her squirrel brain at his last word. Or maybe it wasn't the word—maybe it was the way he was watching her, those sparkling green eyes entirely too intense as they focused on her.

And holy shit, was he actually flirting with her? No. No way.

But what if he was?

Taylor LeBlanc's words came back to her in a flash of startling clarity: Do not go there. Caleb is a nice guy but he's the biggest player ever. The. Biggest. So just don't go there.

Is that what he was doing? Setting up nothing more than a quick play, looking to add Shannon's name to his list of conquests?

She narrowed her eyes at him, doing her best to ignore the way her heart skipped and danced in her chest at the sight of that dimple peeking out from his right cheek. "I'm not sleeping with you, Johnson, so just forget it."

If the words surprised him, he didn't show it. He actually leaned a little closer, his grin widening, causing that damn dimple to deepen in his cheek. "Fair enough. But the offer still stands: feel like grabbing a bite to eat?"

Shannon was speechless. Not just from his smile or his offer, but because he was still standing there instead of slinking away with his tail between his legs. That's what usually happened when she struck down an offer—which was fine by her, because the last thing she wanted was to be with a guy who was intimidated by her.

But Caleb didn't turn to leave, didn't act like he was intimated by her at all. He just stood there, watching her with those deep green eyes. Waiting. Like he really wanted nothing more than to grab a bite to eat. With her.

No fucking way.

She glanced over her shoulder, at the snow that seemed to be getting heavier, then turned back to Caleb. If she were smart, she'd tell him she couldn't. If she were smart, she'd tell him she needed to head home before her trusty car decided not to be so trusty in this shitty weather. "Aren't you supposed to hang out after the game for a meeting or something?"

"Yeah, but it won't take long."

Shannon chewed on her lip, torn by indecision. She should say no, she really should.

Caleb leaned forward and nudged her with his elbow, like she was just one of the guys he was trying to talk into doing something. "It won't be long, really. I'll even treat."

"Um—" She stepped back, trying to ignore the flare of heat caressing the skin where he'd touched her. "Yeah, sure. Why not?"

"Great. How about I meet you in the garage in—" He glanced at the watch on his wrist, an expensive timepiece that probably cost more than what she made in one season with the Blades—which really wasn't saying much. "Fifteen, twenty minutes?"

"Why the garage?"

"Isn't that where you parked?"

"Would I really be heading outside in this shit if I was?"

Confusion flashed across his face. Had she been too sarcastic? Probably—because everything that came out of her mouth ended up sounding that way. Perfect. Just perfect. Now he'd change his mind, suddenly remember something else he had to do.

"Why aren't you parked in the garage?"

"Because I was told we couldn't park there." She adjusted her grip on the bag, waiting for him to rescind his offer. "The garage is for season ticket holders and players and staff."

"They seriously told you guys not to park there?"

"Yeah, seriously." Shannon stepped back, wondering why he hadn't changed his mind yet, then decided to take pity on him and give him an out. "I should probably get going—"

"You're still going to meet me, right?"

"Um—" Okay, she hadn't expected that. At all. She started to open her mouth, to ask him why, then snapped it shut when he moved closer.

"We're heading to The Maypole. Do you know where it is?"

"Not a clue."

"It's not far from here." Caleb gave her directions, his gaze barely leaving hers as people started streaming into the concourse. He glanced around, wincing as a few people called out to him, then turned back to her. "So I'll meet you there?"

"Um, yeah. Sure."

"Great. Give me about thirty minutes." He winked—yes, he actually winked at her!—then started hobbling away on his crutches, weaving through the crowd like a fish swimming upstream.

Shannon waited until he disappeared from sight, then let the crowd push her toward the exit and outside. She shouldn't go, she really shouldn't. This was some kind of set-up. Or maybe some kind of weird hazing or something. She'd get to the bar—if it even existed—then sit there and wait. And wait some more. Meanwhile, Mr. Entirely-Too-Sexy-For-His-Own-Good would be having a laugh about the whole thing.

If she were smart, she'd just go home.

But what the hell. She was hungry, and bar food beat a frozen dinner any day. She'd go to the bar—if it existed—grab a bite to eat by herself, then head home. And if it turned out the bar was nothing more than a ruse, no big deal. She'd find somewhere else to eat then go home.

And call herself every name in the book for being so stupid and naïve.

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