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Valentines Days & Nights Boxed Set by Helena Hunting, Julia Kent, Jessica Hawkins, Jewel E. Ann, Jana Aston, Skye Warren, CD Reiss, Corinne Michaels, Penny Reid (1)

Chapter One

WTF MAKES VIOLENCE SO HOT?

VIOLET

It’s 6:51 on Thursday morning, and I’m thirty seconds away from an amazing orgasm. Women everywhere should take a page from the man manual. Just because I don’t sport the obvious signs men do, such as morning wood, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take care of my personal needs before I hit the shower. My day is always better when I start with a shot from the orgasm bottle.

I’m right there, teetering on the brink of heaven. Every nerve ending is on fire in the best way possible. My muscles are tight, fingers moving at a furious pace, the vibrator—God bless the damn vibrator—is hitting the s-s-s-spot, and everything is about to go blissfully white.

And that’s the moment my mother’s shrill voice breaks all orgasmic magic, destroying my morning jill-off. She must have let herself in again, as is typical.

Here’s the thing; I don’t live with my mom. I moved out more than four years ago—into the damn pool house. Technically, it’s on the same piece of property, but it’s supposed to be my private space. My refuge from my crazy awesome, albeit super-inappropriate mother.

The door to my bedroom crashes open as I shut off the vibe and pull up the covers. My vagina is raging. I can’t even begin to explain. It’s the female equivalent of blue balls.

“Mom!” I slump further under the comforter. “How many times do we need to have this talk?”

“You should be out of bed already! I have something for you!” She waves her hands around in the air like the crazy inflatable balloon guy on TV. It’s too much this early in my day.

“I literally just woke up. I need five minutes before we have a conversation, okay?”

Her arms fall to her sides, her shoulders dropping with her smile, which would make me feel bad, except she’s let herself into my home and barged into my bedroom unannounced. So all I have is frustration.

“Oh, sure.” Her dejection is blissfully short-lived. “How about I put on a pot of coffee?”

My mom loves to be useful, and while I’m annoyed, I don’t want to hurt her feelings in spite of the inconvenient interruption. “That’d be great.” Any reason to get her out of my room is a good one, but a fresh pot of coffee is more than welcome.

She backs out and closes the door, leaving me in peace. For three seconds I contemplate finishing what I started, but there’s no way I’m going to come with my mom tooling around in my kitchen. Instead, I toss my vibe into the nightstand and make a stop in the bathroom to wash my hands.

At twenty-two, I should be able to maintain some distance from my mother. However, she has a great deal of difficulty with the concept of personal space. In my freshman year of college, I threw out the idea of moving into an apartment close to campus. My mom and Sidney—my stepdad—had recently tied the knot. They were worse than virginal teenagers. I’ve had the misfortune of walking in on them in compromising positions more than once. The third time was my breaking point.

Guilt-ridden and embarrassed by the psychological damage he had caused, Sidney offered to renovate the pool house. I agreed only because it saved me thousands on rent.

When I first scored my job several months ago, I started looking for my own apartment again, in part because of the frequency of my mother’s unplanned visits. Being the ever helpful parent, she tagged along on the expedition and told me roommate horror stories à la Single White Female. Seeing as the only places I could reasonably afford were shared accommodations, I chose to stay put in the pool house a while longer. As I no longer carry the burden of tuition, revisiting that option seems like a good plan.

I wipe my vagina-scent-free hands on my T-shirt as I enter the kitchen. My mom sits at the table and leafs through one of the gossip rags she loves to read while she sips a cup of coffee.

“I think they made Buck look way worse here than he really is, don’t you?” She turns the magazine around so I can see the horrible pictures of my stepbrother.

I grab a mug, fill it with liquid heaven, and drop into the chair across from my mom. “I think Buck does a decent job of making himself look bad all on his own without the help of the media.”

My stepbrother is such a whore. I’m tempted to apply this label to all professional hockey players. It’s a blanket statement, an overzealous and possibly incorrect generalization. However, based on personal experience, I believe it’s true for the most part. It certainly applies to the one hockey player I dated last year. I consider him to be like Voldemort: he who shall not be named.

The third page of last week’s entertainment section confirms this hypothesis. The evidence is splashed all over the grainy two-page spread of Buck with his hand up some woman’s skirt. In a public bathroom. He appears to be devouring her face while getting her naked inside a stall—with the door open. So dirty.

The picture itself isn’t a surprise. Hundreds of similar images can be found through an Internet search. Buck has shared his manstick with half the female population in the continental US, and probably a few up in Canada. The woman he’s making out with is the problem. He’s not macking on a random hockey hooker. Oh no. It’s his former coach’s niece. Her name is Fran. She’s adorable, and now she looks like a total puck bunny, thanks to Buck.

In his defense, he said he didn’t know who she was. He’s not bright and he was hammered, so it likely was an honest mistake—not that it makes his whoring ways any less abhorrent. This little incident is the reason behind his recent trade. His return to Chicago means I’ll be seeing a lot more of him again.

“Well, I think they’ve blown this way out of proportion. Sidney’s excited to have him back in the city, though. Anyway . . .” She pushes a piece of paper toward me. Upon inspection, I realize it’s a plane ticket.

I snatch it up and frown. “What’s this? Why does it have my name on it? What’s in Atlanta?”

“Surprise!” She does jazz hands. “It’s Buck’s first away game.”

“Mom, I can’t—”

“We’re going as a family to support him. He’s had a rough couple of weeks.”

“It’s not my fault Buck can’t keep his dick in his pants and out of his coach’s niece.”

“Violet!” Her brow arches and her lips purse as if she’s sucking a lemon. “Don’t be so crass! This isn’t about Buck’s . . .” She trails off and gestures below the table.

“Yes it is. Buck doesn’t care if I come to his games.”

“He was very upset when you couldn’t make the last few. Maybe if you’d been at this one”—she points at the magazine—“he might not have gotten himself into so much trouble.”

“Are you guilting me into coming?” I glare over the rim of my mug.

“Not at all. I’m just throwing out hypotesticals.”

I cough-choke. “Do you mean hypotheticals?”

“That’s what I said.”

Correcting her is as pointless as fighting her on this. Once my mom makes up her mind, rationalizing an alternative is like slamming your head into a titanium wall—painful and futile. I need to reconsider the apartment situation.

I give getting out of going to the game a last-ditch effort. “I have to work this weekend.”

“No you don’t.”

“How do you know?”

She ignores the question. “A car will be at the house to pick us up at six.”

“I don’t get off until five. How are we even going to make it to the game on time?”

“The flight isn’t until tomorrow morning.” She taps the date on the ticket, which I’ve failed to read.

“Oh.” So much for finding a way out. It looks like I’m going to another hockey game. Yippee.

“It’ll be so much fun! We can go outlet shopping! Whelp, I’ve got to go! Don’t want to be late for my Pilates class!” She jumps up and bounces out the door, off to her next thing.

After my mom leaves, I check the time. I have half an hour to get ready. Nabbing the magazine from the table, I rush to my nightstand, grab my vibe, and hit the bathroom—first it needs a wash—then I flip to the milk advertisement. The subject matter is a fuckhot guy who completely misses his mouth and dribbles a glass of milk down his chest. I don’t know why it’s so hot. I mean, milk isn’t really a sexy drink, but whatever.

I heft my foot onto the vanity and go to town while looking at the milk porn guy. The orgasm I missed earlier takes me to the floor, and the magazine lands on my face. It doesn’t matter. I’m coming and it feels good.

The jilling session takes longer than I expect, so I have to drive faster than usual to get to work. As a recent graduate from the accounting program at the University of Illinois, I scored the job through my internship—which Sidney set up for me. Having a stepfather who scouts for the NHL does have some perks. I’m a junior accountant for a PR firm specializing in—wait for it—sports financial management. This includes investing professional hockey players’ fortunes. I’m surrounded by hockey all the time.

Charlene, my bestie and colleague, sits on the edge of my desk, sipping her coffee while I frantically organize files.

“I can’t go out tonight. I have too much to do for the Kuntz account,” I tell her.

“You’re bailing on me to work late on a Friday?”

“My mom’s making me go to Buck’s game tomorrow in Atlanta. Apparently, we need to band together as a family to support his inability to keep his dick in his pants.”

Charlene makes a sympathetic face. “He really messed up this time, didn’t he?”

“Don’t get me started. He’s such an idiot. Anyway, we’re flying out early in the morning, so I need to be prepared for Monday before I leave for the weekend.”

“Can’t you work on it while you’re there?”

“My mom wants to go shopping, so I’m not sure how much free time I’ll have. Plus, I have a hundred pages to finish for book club on Tuesday.”

Charlene rolls her eyes. “Friggin’ Lydia. I say we blackball her out of the club.”

“You can’t blackball people out of a book club.”

“Says who? I was happy reading mindless smut. I’m buying the CliffsNotes.”

It’s not a half-bad idea. Although being the competitive person I am, I would hate to go into the book club discussion with only a vague understanding of the crappy book Lydia’s making us read. I’ll suffer through it if I can come up with an intelligent argument why it’s so terrible.

“I’ll probably bring the book to the game in case I can get in some reading time.”

“Oh, come on, Vi. Chicago are having a killer season. I bet the game will be awesome.”

“Uh-huh.” I’m sure she’s not wrong. However, I don’t have the same warm fuzzies toward the game or the players as Charlene.

She’s been a die-hard Chicago fan her entire life. She watches every game and even participates in those pools where you create your own team. Like Fantasy Football, except with hockey.

“Anyway.” Charlene flaps her hand around. “That’s not the point. The point is you’ll be hobnobbing with the players afterward, right? Which means you’ll meet Darren Westinghouse.”

“Who?”

Charlene curls her lip and gives me a snooty look. “He plays right wing for Chicago.” She starts listing his stats; it sounds something like blah, blah, blah. I tune most of it out until she asks, “Will you take a picture of him if you get the chance?”

“First of all, Char, hockey players don’t ‘hobnob,’ they hang out. Second, I plan to skip the after-party crap. I’ll have to catch up on work.” I pat the file folders on my desk.

“What a load of BS!” She looks around to make sure no one is paying attention. Jimmy, whose cubicle is across from mine, raises an eyebrow and points to the phone at his ear, so Charlene lowers her voice. “Come on, Violet, you have to go. For me, please? Just long enough to snap a pic. Then you can go be boring in your hotel room by yourself.”

“I’d send you in my place if I could.”

I have no problem watching hockey, even though the rules evade me for the most part. Some of those boys are hot, but the appeal ends there. Buck is a perfect example, as is the one—and only—hockey player I ever dated. He wasn’t even an NHLer, just some douche in the minors I went out with last year looking for a leg up. Unfortunately, I turned out to be the owner of said leg. Not only was he awful in bed—just because those boys are built doesn’t mean they’ve got the equipment to match—he also humiliated me in a way I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

“Come on, Vi. You can enjoy the man candy, if nothing else.”

“Yeah, because skanky guys are such a turn on.”

“Darren’s not a skank.”

I appease her rather than argue. “I’ll see about the photobomb. No guarantees.” Mostly the after-parties are a food free-for-all for the players, complemented by hordes of bunnies looking to be dessert.

She squeals and claps her hands. “You’re the best!”

I hold up my hands. “No promises, but I’ll try.”

Charlene convinces me to break for lunch, and we gorge at the all-you-can-eat Thai buffet nearby. Fortunately, the amount of food I consume doesn’t slow my roll in the afternoon.

By nine in the evening I can no longer focus on the computer screen. My stomach is growling so loudly I keep checking to make sure a bear hasn’t wandered into the office.

Drive-thru fast food is my poison of choice. I scarf down three tiny burgers and a large fries while I drive home. I reluctantly skip the milkshake because indigestion and flying don’t mesh well.

My mother has left a sticky note on my door to remind me we’re leaving for the airport at ass o’clock in morning—those are my words, not hers. The logical thing to do would be to pack my stuff and go to bed so I’m not exhausted in the morning. Instead, I change into a T-shirt and my favorite pair of Marvel Comic-inspired boxer briefs—they fit so nicely—and channel surf. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I know, my mom is standing over me.

“Violet! Why are you still sleeping? We should’ve left ten minutes ago! We’ll miss the flight.” Her shrill morning voice functions as the worst kind of alarm.

I try to hide under a throw pillow, but she snatches it away.

“Get up, get up, get up!” She grabs my arm and pulls, forcing me to my feet.

Due to my complete lack of preparation, I pack in a rush, tossing clothes into a bag at random while I pull on jeans. I grab the first bra I find; it’s extra loud, boasting a fuchsia leopard-print pattern and black lace accents. I don’t have time to search for something else—not with my mom tapping her talon nails on my door, hovering as usual. I have the foresight to pack my copy of Tom Jones so I can finish it for Tuesday’s book club discussion.

My mom drags me to the car while I’m zipping up my bag, afraid we’ll miss our plane. She’s totally overreacting. We only have to speed-walk through the airport to make it to our gate for boarding.

Sidney, being the awesome guy he is, books first-class tickets. The seats are roomy and comfortable. This allows me to pass out until the flight attendant comes by to offer drinks. I ask for a mimosa—it’s mostly orange juice—and leaf through the copy of The Hockey News Sidney brought. It’s the same old, same old. Stats and more stats with a few pictures of disheveled, hot hockey players scattered within.

I abandon the magazine and pull out my copy of Tom Jones. Maybe it’ll bore me back to sleep. I’m annoyed I have to finish this for Tuesday. I like reading. Hell, I even took a couple of English lit classes in college purely for enjoyment. I might’ve enjoyed this book had it not followed on the heels of the fun, sex-filled stories I’ve partaken of lately.

After reading the same paragraph twenty times, I give up and play mindless games on my phone for the rest of the flight.

There’s a car waiting for us at the airport—because that’s how Sidney rolls—and we’re whisked away to the hotel. It’s the same one the team is staying at, so it’ll be easy to escape the after celebrations should Chicago win.

However, we run into a bit of an issue with the hotel concierge. They’ve booked us a suite. This wasn’t part of the deal; I expected to have my own room. I bite my tongue and pretend it’s totally fine because I don’t want to appear ungrateful—even though I didn’t ask to come on this impromptu trip in the first place.

On the upside, the suite is huge. There’s a spacious living room, and I have my own bedroom with a private bath, complete with a Jacuzzi tub. I lock myself away and have a two-hour soak, where I once again try to read more of my book. I accidentally get the cover wet and have to lay it on the vent to dry.

Getting dressed is an adventure. I did a crap job packing. I’m fortunate enough to have a pair of black jeans to wear. Sadly, the only bra I have is the fuchsia one, which worked with the black hoodie I wore on the plane. However, I’m clean, so I’m not recycling the hoodie, and my options are limited to a pale pink tee or a blue one with stains on the boob. The pink one will have to do. I pull on the shirt and check out my reflection in the mirror. Oh yeah, the leopard print is way obvious through the thin fabric. I cover it up with a light sweater and call my outfit a success.

Glasses fog in arenas, so I jam in my contact lenses. I also look much less nerdy without glasses, and considering I have to meet a whole new set of teammates tonight, I’ll use all the anti-nerd help I can get.

By the time I finally get my contact lenses to stay on my eyeballs—it takes three tries—there isn’t time for my mom to assault my face with her pallet of eye shadow. She’s a big fan of blue. I always end up looking like someone from a 70s sitcom.

Armed with my wool coat and my messenger bag, which houses a scarf, mittens, hat, my semidry copy of Tom Jones, and my phone, I’m game ready. As an afterthought, I check for my pack of cigarettes. I don’t actually smoke. They’re my crutch when I want to extricate myself from uncomfortable social situations. It happens a lot. I’ve learned to release the smoke slowly so people don’t notice I’m not inhaling.

The arena is packed. Luckily, we have great seats, and Sidney knows everyone, so getting to the first row isn’t a problem. I settle in, appreciating the ample legroom and unobstructed view of center ice. Sidney orders a round of beers as Chicago take the ice. Half the crowd explodes into cheers despite it being an away game.

I’m mesmerized by the way these guys glide over the perilously slick surface with such ease. I’m petrified of skating, much like some people are afraid of snakes and spiders. Wearing blades on my feet screams of danger. I struggled mastering Downward Facing Dog; I don’t need to slice open an artery in an attempt to expand my sports repertoire.

Sidney stands and pumps his fist in the air as Buck skates onto the ice. Buck is mammoth, like a yeti. A huge, perverted, hairy whore of a yeti. According to the sportscasters, Buck’s an excellent hockey player. I’d agree, based on his yearly salary alone. No one gets that much money for sucking, not even extremely skilled prostitutes.

Behind me, a gaggle of girls—whose skirts could double as headbands—giggle obnoxiously about some guy named Alex Waters. The name is vaguely familiar. They mention a hat trick. He must be an awesome player to pull off one of those.

Their discussion takes an interesting turn when one girl brings up the size of individual team members’ junk. I assume they get their stats from personal experience.

At the drop of the puck, penis conversations cease. Buck’s team scores a goal in the first three minutes. I’ve never seen anyone move as fast as their center. He’s like a bolt of red lightning shooting across the ice. Chicago easily maintain the lead through the end of the first period. Seconds before the buzzer goes, I bolt up the stairs and find the closest bathroom, hoping to avoid the rush. My bladder is ready to burst thanks to the giant beer I’ve consumed.

Unfortunately, there’s a line of women suffering the same plight, so I have to grit my teeth and do Kegels until a stall opens. The whole pee adventure takes far longer than I anticipated, and the game is already into the second period by the time I re-enter the arena.

As I approach my seat, I notice shit going down on the ice. Like, seriously going down right in front of me. I’m equal parts elated and horrified when one player slams another into the plexiglass barricade. He smashes into it headfirst, his helmet and cage saving his face.

Vibrant hazel eyes—the color of moss cut with a shot of bourbon—meet mine. It’s only for a second and then he’s gone again. He and the Atlanta guy struggle to pull off their gloves while holding each other’s jersey. Helmets hit the ice.

The excitement of the crowd is infectious. Everyone else is screaming, and I’m tempted to join in, but there’s violence, and it seems wrong to enjoy it, so I keep my lips sealed. The concept of mob mentality makes much more sense now.

The guy with the nice eyes has the advantage. The name Waters is written in big, black letters across his shoulders. He’s number eleven. This is the magic man, huh? His face is obscured by a flailing fist, but I admire his tenacity. He’s giving as good as he’s getting.

The refs get involved, breaking up the fight and inciting the crowd by calling penalties. Waters looks pissed. Not mildly so, either; he’s raging-like-a-lunatic pissed. He glides across the ice, hurtling himself into the time-out box. He throws his helmet across the small space only to pick it up and do it again. A ref cautions him, so he drops to the bench in a snit.

Waters is far from calm while the ref chews him out. His face is red and his lips mash into a thin line. He’s vaguely familiar. Even sweaty and angry, he’s rather attractive. I can see why the women behind me are dressed for their shift on the corner.

Sidney was kind enough to get another round of beers, so I sip mine while observing Waters. He’s watching the seconds drop off his five-minute penalty. He surveys the arena, looking in my direction, or at least I think he does. My contact lenses make my eyes dry, so I can’t be positive. The girls behind me assume he’s looking at them and twitter like twelve-year-olds. I roll my eyes. Waters cocks a brow. Oh no, he must think it’s directed at him. On the plus side, my eye roll has helped clear my vision. Sort of.

I make a real show of digging around in my bag for my eye drops. By the time I finally find them, his focus is on the game again.

The excitement seems to be finished for now, so I take out my book. Two paragraphs in, the buzzer sounds, drawing my attention away from the story I’m half-heartedly reading. Waters hurdles out of the time-out box, helmet and gloves on. I’m rather impressed with this move. I couldn’t do it in a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, let alone a whole ensemble of body armor.

A blur of black comes to a halt as Waters’ stick smashes into the ice. He pivots in a move that’s both graceful and aggressive and barrels toward Atlanta’s goalie, dancing with the puck as he goes. He pulls back his stick and slaps the puck across the ice like it’s a rubber meteor. It goes right between the legs of the goalie and ricochets off the net.

Waters has been on the ice for all of fifteen seconds.

The hockey hookers behind me lose their minds, screaming their annoying banshee heads off. The rest of the crowd get to their feet and yell with them. As do I. It seems reasonable, more so than my enjoyment over face bashing. The game is fast paced and the bodies rush by. I’m like a cat following one of those laser lights around. Suddenly an arm smashes into the plexiglass in front of me. I startle, spilling beer on my coat.

At first I’m inappropriately excited at the possibility of another fight. Instead, I’m met once again with the same stunning eyes. I swear Waters smirks as I wipe beer off my chest. I frown and give my boob a squeeze, for what purpose I’m unsure. I doubt he catches it. He’s off like a slingshot, skating after the puck.

Buck’s team crush Atlanta 6-1. I clap and cheer, my enthusiasm authentic. I attribute it partially to the amount of beer I’ve consumed. Once the players leave the ice, we file out of the arena. Crowds make me nervous, so I want to wait until most of the people have cleared the stadium, but Sidney is anxious to find Buck.

“Come on, Vi.” He slings an arm around my shoulders, protecting me from the masses.

My mom hooks her arm with mine, sandwiching me between them. “Did you have fun?”

“It was okay,” I say as Sidney maneuvers our way through the crowd.

“Just okay? You were cheering with the rest of them.” Sidney gives my shoulder a squeeze.

“I think she liked the fight!” my mom yells above the noise.

“It wasn’t just the fight,” I reply.

Sidney chuckles. “We’re finally turning you into a hockey fan.” As a scout and coach for one of the best minor league teams out there, he’s highly respected in the hockey community. It affords him major privileges and some cool perks, such as front-row seats at games.

The hallway to the locker room smells of perspiration and stale equipment. I imagine the odor inside is infinitely worse with all the naked, sweaty guys milling around, snapping at each other’s asses with wet towels.

Buck ambles out of the locker room with a towel draped across his bare shoulders and his hockey pants on, thank the Lord. The amount of fur he sports makes him resemble a matted yeti.

I stay close to the fringe of the crowd to avoid appearing in photos. The paps snap pics of Buck in his hair shirt while Sidney looks all proud and manly off to the right. They ask Buck a few poignant questions. His answers are stock; likely something his agent coached him on. That guy gets paid well with all the fuckery Buck gets into.

When Buck goes to the locker room to shower, we head out. Traffic from the stadium to the hotel is horrendous. Sidney orders a round of beers as soon as we get to the bar. I gladly accept the drink, my mild buzz having worn off during the lengthy drive.

The team’s arrival is closely followed by a stampede of puck bunnies. I’m surrounded by scantily clad, too-warm bodies, and high-pitched chatter. While Buck regales Sidney with the finer details of the game—as if he wasn’t there—I seek out the red EXIT sign. Rooting around in my bag, I find my smokes and make my move toward the beacon of temporary freedom, excited for my reprieve from social discomfort. Buck notices my attempted escape and grabs my arm.

“Where you going?” Buck shouts.

I hold up the pack of smokes; I’d have to yell in order for him to hear me otherwise.

He wrinkles his nose in distaste. “You really shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for your health.”

I’m irritated by the attention he’s drawing to us and my fake bad habit, so I fire off an insult. “So are venereal diseases. You don’t hear me lecturing you on your whoriness.”

He ignores the comment and drags me to his team’s table. It’s covered in heaping plates of food, which the guys inhale at an unprecedented rate. Half-dressed women flit around like fruit flies near wine.

Seeing as I’m here, I’ll try and make good on Charlene’s request. All I need to do is figure out who Westing-what’s-his-face is so I can snap a pic, feign a headache, and get out of here.

I find an empty seat; the chairs on either side of me are vacant, aside from a jacket carelessly tossed across the one on my right.

A random chick snags Buck before I can ask after Charlene’s crush. The smile slapped across his face might look friendly, but I’ve been around him long enough to know better. I enjoy his growing frustration as she snaps selfie after selfie. When she grabs his junk, I take pity on him.

“Hey, beefcake, enough with the soft-porn photo shoot. Grab a chair!”

Both his head and the girl’s snap in my direction, as well as those of half the team. I may have raised my voice too much. With the way Buck is smiling, I must be the color of a tomato. His relief and the girl’s incredulity are rather satisfying, so the awkwardness is worth it. The slut-bag mumbles something, and Buck grows grim. “That’s my sister.”

Her expression turns from irritation to discomfort; she apologizes and teeters off on her outrageous heels.

Buck drops into the seat beside mine, throwing his arm across my chair. “Thanks for the save. I thought she was gonna whip my dick out right there.”

I scoff. “Whatever. Your micro-wang is barely visible to the naked eye. Besides, I didn’t want to listen to you whine about a herpes flare-up.”

Movement in my peripheral vision catches my attention as one of Buck’s teammates takes the seat beside me. I hope he didn’t hear me slagging Buck’s doodle.

I glance at him in time for a set of boobs to practically smack me in the face as a waitress places a drink in front of him. It looks like milk. I give him the side-eye as she moves away. The guy sitting to his right asks him a question, drawing his attention away from me.

I recognize him from the time-out box: Waters. Holy shitballs, is he ever hot. His dark hair is cut short, and he’s got some wicked scruff going on. Even with the beard growth, I can tell he’s been blessed with one of those rugged jawlines.

Nerves, embarrassment, and Waters’ hotness have a cumulative effect, making me sweaty. I pull my sweater over my head, not accounting for static, and my T-shirt sticks to the woolly outer-layer. Face covered with fabric, I scramble to pull the shirt into place. The silence at the table is telling. Once I wrestle free of the sweater, I’m met with a number of wide eyes focused on my chest. I look down. Right. My bra is visible through the pale pink cotton, and now everyone at this table, including Buck, has seen it unfiltered by the shirt.

Buck leans in and whispers, “Put the sweater back on.”

I play dumb. “Why?”

“Everyone can see—” He motions toward my chest without looking.

I wave him off. “It’s not that obvious.” It’s totally that obvious.

He shoots me one of his glares. It’s meant to be threatening, but it makes him look constipated. I leave the sweater off to irritate him. It’s effective. His face turns an interesting shade of red.

“I need another beer.” He slams his mug on the table and eyes me as he gets up and goes to the bar, despite the half-full pitcher of beer on the table.

I’m about to put the sweater on again when Waters turns to me.

“Hi, I’m Alex.” He’s all pretty smile and white teeth. They’re probably fake. Those eyes are something else, though, even if he is sporting the makings of a black eye. I try hard not to look directly at him, afraid I’ll be ensnared by his rugged, handsome face.

“I’m Violet.”

“I didn’t realize Butterson had a sister.”

Even his voice is familiar, satin smooth and deep. He takes a sip of his drink, leaving behind a milk mustache he quickly wipes away. It’s then I realize where I recognize him from: the milk advertisements. Sweet Lord, I’ve been jilling off to him. My mortification reaches new heights, causing me to say something more insane than usual.

“I’m his stepsister. He likes to keep me a secret since he wants to go all Ophelia on my ass.” My eyes widen at my terrible joke. Though, if he’s anything like Buck, he won’t get the reference.

“Butterson would make a crap nun, eh?”

I swear he’s made an accurate reference to Shakespeare. Stunned, I make direct eye contact. Or I try to. His eyes keep bouncing between my chest and my face, so that’s a challenge.

Normally, I’d be put out by his blatant ogling, but I’ve asked for it with the sheer shirt and the ostentatious bra.

I further my own embarrassment and his by cupping my breasts and squeezing. “They’re nice for real ones, huh?”

His eyes shoot to mine. Busted.

“I uh—I didn’t mean to—I wasn’t—”

This is one of the most entertaining interactions I’ve had with a member of the opposite sex in ages. I make a snicker-snort noise and look away.

Buck leans against the bar, talking to a girl whose skirt is so short it’s abundantly clear she’s not wearing underwear. I nudge Alex with my elbow. His arm is like a rock. “Check out Buck’s friend.”

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Cooter-flasher leans forward and gives our table an even better view.

“Is that—am I looking at her beaver?”

Mid-swig, I choke on the mouthful of beer, sputtering and coughing. After I recover, I ask jokingly, “‘Beaver’? Are you Canadian or something?”

Those vibrant eyes move to mine. God, he’s awfully pretty. And close. He’s really close. Likes inches away, rock arm brushing mine close. I can even smell his cologne or deodorant—whatever it is, he smells yummy.

He’s silent for what seems like a long time. Or maybe it’s because I’m staring. Or the question may have stumped him.

My experiences with Buck—and the one hockey player I dated previously—have led me to the assertion that hockey players aren’t notoriously intelligent. I’m aware this isn’t a universal truth. But Buck certainly reinforces my perceived stereotype: he’s definitely not a rocket scientist. He’s not even a rocket scientist’s assistant. However, I’m almost positive Alex made a literary pun a moment ago. Waters could very well be an unexpected anomaly. I’m intrigued.

“Yeah, I’m Canadian.”

“Does everyone in Canada call pussies beavers? Like the Brits call them fannies?” I can’t believe I ask him this. I’m barely buzzed; otherwise, I’d blame it on drunkenness.

He blinks a few times. “Did you say ‘pussy’?”

It’s possible his helmet wasn’t up to code and he sustained a head injury during the fight. There’s a sweet bruise on the side of his chiseled jaw. His nose is crooked with a decent bump from what I imagine could be multiple breaks. It’s not ugly, though. It’s sexy, in an I-fuck-people-up way.

“No, I said ‘pussies,’ plural, as in more than one.” I’m making a complete ass out of myself.

To avoid saying something worse, I excuse myself so I can pretend to smoke. I grab my bag and sweater and leave the beer. Based on the crap coming out of my mouth, I don’t need to add any fuel to that fire.

Buck grabs my arm as I pass him. “Hey, what’s with you and Waters?”

Alex is shrugging into his jacket. Maybe he’s leaving. Too bad; he was fun to talk to and nice to look at.

I sigh with irritation. “It’s common courtesy to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, or did you miss the rules of social etiquette in kindergarten?”

“Rules of what?”

“Never mind. What else am I supposed to do? Ignore him? I was being polite.” And Alex is entertaining.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know these guys that well yet and he’s got a rep. Be careful who you get friendly with.”

“I wasn’t giving him a handy under the table. We were talking. I’m going for a smoke.”

Leaving him with the Beave, I head for the door. The temperature has dropped in the past half hour, so I pull on my sweater. Finding my smokes, I pop one between my lips and search for my lighter. I can’t find it anywhere.

“Need a light?” I pull my head out of my purse to find Waters holding a pack of matches.

“Are you following me?”

He shrugs and gives me a grin that could obliterate my panties. If I were dumb enough to allow myself to be affected in such a way. I’m not. Mostly.

“I thought you might like some company.” He flips open the matchbook and tears one free.

I purse the cigarette between my lips. Alex strikes the match and curves his palm to protect the flame. He watches while I inhale, the embers burning orange as I take a shallow drag and cough.

“Shit!” Tears spring to my eye as I eye toke the smoke. Swearing like a sailor, I cover my eye with my palm.

“You’ve got a dirty mouth, eh?”

“Only when I try and smoke with my eyeball,” I say between coughs.

Alex tosses the matches on a table and pats my back until I stop hacking up a lung. “Butterson doesn’t seem too happy.”

Through the window I spot Buck and the Beave. She’s not pulling the selfie business, so he doesn’t seem to mind her hanging off his arm while he glares in our direction. He’s being a colossal douche tonight.

“Screw Buck.” I take a fake drag of my cigarette.

Dimples appear in Alex’s cheeks as I exhale a cloud of smoke and choke back another cough.

“Do you even smoke?”

I debate lying and decide against it. “Not really. I do it as a way to escape awkward social situations.”

“So you came out here to get away from me?”

“Not you in particular.”

His tongue peeks out to sweep across his bottom lip. He’s got a nice mouth, even with the split in the corner. Remembering the way he took out the Atlanta guy makes me warm all over. Thoughts such as these are bound to get me into trouble. Hockey players are bad news. Especially ones as hot as he is.

He’s looking at me expectantly. Dammit. He must have asked a question. My mind is wandering like a squirrel on Red Bull.

“Sorry, what?” I flick the ash on my cigarette.

“You were reading during the game—what book?” He sounds genuinely curious and a little offended.

Tom Jones. I have to finish it for my book club on Tuesday.”

Wow. Do I ever sound like a winner. He must have been watching me while he was in the time-out box.

“Fielding at a hockey game? Kind of cerebral with beer and violence, isn’t it?”

I blink as if I’ve been high beamed with a flashlight. Alex knows who wrote Tom Jones, and he’s used the word cerebral in the appropriate context. I was right; he did get my Shakespeare reference. Alex Waters has singlehandedly obliterated my misapprehension regarding the inferior intellect of hockey players—with one sentence. In doing so, he’s become infinitely hotter than he was five seconds ago.

“You’ve read Fielding?” I take a step closer. My voice is low, as if I’ve switched into phone-sex operator mode.

“I-I-I—”

It’s adorable. He’s wearing an expression I’m familiar with: panic merged with fear. I sport the same one when I inadvertently revealed my extreme nerdiness. Most nights I would much rather be at home curled up with a book or playing solitaire than out at a bar. Hence the excessive beer consumption and the fake smoking crutch.

“I think literacy is sexy,” I whisper.

“Me, too.” His dimples make an appearance.

I have one of those rare moments where my brain fritzes and I do something completely out of character. It’s so outside of my personal code of conduct that I’ll probably relive the incident over and over trying to figure out what flipped the switch. For the time being, I’m blaming the beers, jetlag, and his accurate literary references.

I grab Waters by the shirt and pull his face to mine.

His mouth is soft and warm. The stubble on his chin scratches my skin, and I like it. I shove my tongue into his mouth. Well, that’s not true. I slide it across his bottom lip, touching the barely healed split, and he parts for me. Soft, warm, and wet meet more soft, warm, and wet. He tastes like chocolate and, more faintly, coffee liqueur.

His hand runs a hot trail along my side, and he pulls me tight against him. He’s all hard edges and heat, and I can feel . . . holy . . . there’s a massive bulge pressed against my stomach.

After far too short a time, he breaks the kiss, trailing his lips across my cheek to my ear. “Do you want to get out of here?”

“Buck will kill you.”

“I can take him.”