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Bruiser by Whiskey, Samantha (1)

Chapter 1

Hudson

“Are children always this noisy?” Lukas asked as we walked across the expansive gym floor of the newly opened Dorsal Kids Club.

We paused just in time to keep from crashing into a pair of waist-high kids as they chased each other with pool noodles.

“When you put a couple hundred of them in close quarters,” I answered.

Lukas’s eyes constantly shifted, as if each individual sound drew his attention. “And remind me why we’re here?”

“Because my agent informed me that if I wanted to secure that endorsement deal, I’d show up for the opening.” I forced a smile for a couple of wide-eyed parents as we made our way toward the glass-lined conference room.

“Well, you are a PR nightmare.”

“Speak for yourself.” I shot him a raised eyebrow.

“I’m every publicist’s wet dream,” he argued. “I don’t get into fights. I keep my nose clean, and I was just voted the sexiest man alive in Norway.” He shrugged. “Add that to my scoring record—”

“On or off the ice?”

“I do well in both places.” He smirked.

“And one day that is going to bite you in the ass.”

“Maybe you’d be less cranky if you got a good bite on the ass,” he threw back, his accent drawing more than a little attention from a group of moms. He gave them a wink. “You could always call up that social worker.”

“Don’t start,” I warned him.

Immediately, visions of Shea filled my head. Soft, touchable hair that reminded me of merlot. A petite frame that possessed lush, fuckable curves that I knew would fill my hands perfectly because they already had in those short moments I’d carried her in my arms to get away from the paparazzi. Delicate features on her gorgeous, heart-shaped face covered by all that flawless skin made even more perfect by a small smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose—they all added up to the dick-hardening perfection that was Shea Lansing.

Especially those eyes. Those gunmetal-gray eyes that took in every detail. The ones that never quite met mine.

The ones that held a wariness in them that let me know I didn’t have a shot in hell with her.

“Connor could set you up with her—”

“I mean it,” I snapped.

Lukas whistled like a bomb dropping and made a little explosion sound, but he let it go. “You know, when you said you had to go to the boys and girls club, I thought it was...you know…”

“A club?” I offered.

“Yeah, like Thirty-Five.”

I laughed out loud. “You thought I was going to the bar at one p.m. on a Saturday?”

“You can understand my confusion.” He gestured to the kids shooting hoops.

“No, I really can’t, but now I get why you tagged along.” I shook my head, but at least my smile was genuine as we walked into the conference room. Smiles were rare for me lately. And lately was the past year or so. Maybe the move to Seattle, to the Sharks, had been for the best.

I wasn’t ready to say what she had done was, though. Maybe I never would.

“Mr. Porter!” A middle-aged brunette clapped her hands. “We’re just so honored to have you here with us!” The woman gave me a once-over and did the same to Lukas, her eyes widening. “So. So. So honored,” she repeated, her tongue darting out to swipe her lower lip.

“Happy to be here,” I answered, quickly looking away. A few years ago I would have gone for it—hell, it seemed like Lukas was entertaining the offer—but I’d learned to be way more careful about who I slipped my dick into. There were certain levels of crazy that weren’t worth a quick orgasm.

Then again, there were some women worth going crazy for, period.

Shea. A flash of auburn hair, gray eyes, and curves filled my memory, but I shut it down, the same way I knew she’d shut me down if I ever got too close.

“Lucy, sit down,” Clara ordered in her gravel-filled voice. “Hudson,” she greeted me with kind eyes that crinkled at the corners. “I’m glad you made it. Let’s show you around.”

She quickly ushered us from the room, shutting the glass door before Lucy could follow.

“Now, let’s fill you in on what we’re doing here,” Clara said, leading us into the open gym we’d just come through. “Do you mind?” she asked as a two-person camera crew joined us.

“Not at all,” I answered, knowing it was expected of me.

She nodded and began. “As you know, the center is designed for the mentorship of youth. I won’t say ‘at-risk,’ since our only requirement is that a young person desires a role model.”

Clara spent the next half hour walking us through the center and describing the program. Role models were volunteers, background checked, trained, and matched with a “Little,” whom they mentored. The first mentorship meetings were held in the center until all parties felt comfortable interacting in the outside world. Most match-ups lasted a year, but some went on for longer. Some didn’t survive the first meeting.

It was all about the connection between the Big and Little.

We made it through the aquatics center, the crafts room, the commercial kitchen, and were headed back through the gym by the time she finished describing the process.

“And all of these kids need matches?” I asked, looking at the dozens of kids and adults engaged in different activities from shooting hoops to painting in the art room. Everything was open, visible through giant glass windows that let in the light.

“No, almost all of these kids were matched before opening, and today is their first meet-up.”

At least that was one area I wouldn’t be expected to volunteer. I didn’t exactly have that open, warm and fuzzy personality that made kids gravitate toward guys like Connor or Eric.

Or Lukas, who currently had four kids trailing him across the gym floor like he was the Pied Piper, despite the worried glances he kept throwing toward his unwanted entourage.

“Mr. Porter, is this a good time to ask you a few questions?” the guy holding a mic asked.

I fought every instinct I had to decline to comment, just like I did at every post-game interview. Fines or no fines, I wasn’t a fan of the media or the way they twisted words for headlines.

Why the hell did they want my opinion anyway? There was no point to a post-game interview. They watched the same game I played.

But here, the game was PR and securing millions in an endorsement deal that I didn’t honestly care about, anyway.

“Clara?” Lucy interrupted, saving me from answering. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but we have a problem.”

“It’s okay,” Clara answered. “What’s up?”

Lucy’s eyes flickered nervously from the camera team to me before she finally whispered, “I’ve already called her mother, but...she rejected another one.”

Clara sighed. “Where is she?”

Lucy nodded toward the conference room, where a small, red-headed girl leaned against the wall.

“I’m sorry to cut this short, but it looks like my attention is needed elsewhere,” Clara told the team. “Mr. Porter—”

“I’d like to tag along, if I could,” I interjected. Getting out of the interview would be a bonus, but mostly, I was weirdly curious to know how many mentors the girl had rejected already, and why.

I liked picky people, even small ones.

Clara’s brow puckered like she was weighing the propriety of bringing me along against the money I’d donated. With a small nod, she said, “Of course. It would be good for you to get an idea of what goes into to pairing Bigs and Littles.” She looked over at the crew. “No cameras, though. This part isn’t for the public. Lucy, why don’t you take the news crew over to Mr. Vestergaard. The camera always seems to love him.”

“It’s a mutual love,” I assured the crew, looking over to where Lukas was shooting hoops with some of the kids and their Bigs.

Once we’d ditched the camera crew, Lucy, Clara, and I made our way into the conference room, which had emptied to leave only the redhead.

Lucy closed the door behind us.

“Another one, Elliott?” Clara asked.

The girl met the older woman’s gaze with raised eyebrows and a dismissive shrug. Her hair was dark red and braided down over the side to rest beneath one of her shoulders, strands coming loose all over the place. Her jeans were fitted, but torn at the knee, and the black Vans on her feet matched her retro Pink Floyd T-shirt from the ‘75 tour of Wish You Were Here.

“Elliott,” Clara urged again, a clear tone of warning in her voice.

“She smelled like pickles,” the girl said.

I laughed and was rewarded with glares from all three females in the room.

Elliott narrowed shockingly pale green eyes at me.

“Pickles,” Clara said, returning her attention to the girl. “The first one was too snobby, according to you—”

“She talked down to me like I was a charity case.” Elliott folded her arms across her chest.

Lord help this kid’s mom when she became a moody teenager.

“Right, and the second was too girly—”

“She wanted me to do ballet. Do I look like I want to do ballet?” She held her arms out.

“You look like you need some skates and a stick,” I commented. The girl needed an outlet for all that animosity. At that age, I had, too. Hockey was the only thing to ground me, to keep me centered, to let me work out my shit in an environment that didn’t lash back at my personal life.

The girl’s eyes widened. “Oh. My. God. That’s who you are. You’re Hudson Porter.”

“Maybe,” I answered, tucking my thumbs in my pockets.

“No maybe. You’re him.” She nodded, coming off the wall and walking straight up to me. Her neck craned way back so she could meet my eyes. “You’re smaller in person.”

I snorted. “I’m six-five. Ice doesn’t change that.”

She tilted her head. “You’re bigger than the guy out of Nashville. Ormond? I thought for sure that’s who was getting traded to the Sharks.”

Damn, kid knew her stats. “Were you hoping for Ormond?”

“Not really. We needed a fighter, and you’re bigger than he is,” she repeated.

“Oh, is that all?” A smile tugged at the corner of my lips.

“No, you were also drafted first round by Ontario, and he went ninth round to…” She pursed her lips.

“Boston,” I supplied the answer.

“I was going to get there,” she assured me. “Boston, then traded to LA, then to Nashville. You don’t have a history of being traded.”

“You sure know a lot about the NHL. You play?”

She ducked her head, kicking her foot at the carpet. “Nope. My mom won’t let me. She thinks it’s too violent.”

It wasn’t, not at her age, at least, but I wasn’t about to tell the kid her mom was wrong. “So you watch a lot?”

“When my mom doesn’t catch me, or check my YouTube history,” she muttered that last part, which made me laugh again.

Where I’d grown up in Ottawa, hockey was a simple fact of life, not something you had to sneak behind your mom’s back.

“Huh,” Clara said, drawing my eye. I’d forgotten the other two women were standing there, watching us. “Mr. Porter, have you ever thought about being a Big?”

Big was something I just...was, but not something I’d considered in the way they meant. My gaze swung back to Elliott.

Her eyes widened, and she grinned. “Yeah, have you?”

“I hadn’t,” I admitted. “But I like you. Don’t girls have to be mentored by women?” I asked Clara.

“They’d probably take a bear as my mentor at this point,” Elliott declared.

“I would not give you a bear,” Clara answered. “You’d probably skin it alive. Mr. Porter, we usually do, but we’ve had an exceptionally hard time matching Elliott to someone she approves of, so if her mother agrees, I don’t see why you couldn’t be her Big...if you want to.”

Elliott looked up at me with those wide, green eyes, and a spark of something grabbed ahold of my heart and twisted. It was hope.

Shit. Was I mentor material? Did I have the time? I did now, but once the season started…

“How much time do you take up, kid?” I asked.

“An hour a week,” she answered quickly.

An hour. I had that.

“What about weeks where I’m on the road more than home?”

“We can skip,” she assured me.

I weighed it in my mind as she began to bounce on her toes.

“Please?” she asked, her voice smaller.

She just needed an adult for an hour a week. Someone to talk to. Someone to be there.

“Yeah.” I nodded my head. “Yeah, I can do that.”

“Really?” Her entire body went rigid with excitement.

“Really,” I promised. “I’ll do it,” I told Clara as the door opened behind me.

“Elliott! You can’t seriously tell me you’ve rejected another Big!”

That voice. Chills shot up my spine, followed by a flash of heat as she stepped into my line of sight.

Shea.

Her hair was a riot of waves down her back, covering the simple white button-down she wore tucked into her jeans, emphasizing her tiny waist and generous hips. My palms itched, the same way they had the first time I’d ever set eyes on her.

Did I believe in love at first sight? No. Love was something that grew with time and trust.

But fuck me, I’d fallen into lust at first sight, that was for damn sure.

Five months later? Apparently still lusting.

But what was she doing...

“Pickles. She smelled like pickles!” Elliott argued.

“Elliott Mae Lansing, you had better not have turned down a perfectly good Big because of her lunch choice,” she warned, leaning closer to Elliott.

Their hair was the same color. Lansing.  

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

“Mom! It’s okay! Mr. Porter is going to mentor me!” Elliott pointed at me just as all the pieces clicked together in my head.

Shea had a kid. That kid was Elliott.

Shea spun, her hair whipping behind her as she looked to where Elliott pointed. At. Me. Her eyes landed on my chest, no doubt on the Sharks logo stretched wide across my pecs, and they flew wide as she looked up...and up, finally meeting my gaze.

She swallowed.

I froze. She looked up at me over her glasses, and man did those eyes hit me like a fist to the gut. She was so damn beautiful.

“Porter,” she said softly.

“Shea.”

We stared at each other for what felt like a heartbeat and an eternity all at once.

“You know each other?” Clara asked, breaking the spell.

Shea blinked and shook her head, then turned back to her daughter. “No. He cannot be your Big.”

“What?” I asked, my voice rising.

“No. Find her someone else,” she instructed Clara.

“What’s wrong with me?” Damn, her rejection stung.

“We’ve tried, Ms. Lansing.”

Ms. She wasn’t married. Not that it mattered, since she wanted nothing to do with me.

“Mom! Please! He’s so cool, and he knows all about hockey, and he’s super nice, but not too nice, and he doesn’t smell bad!”

“That’s a ringing endorsement if I’ve ever heard one,” Lukas said as he joined us.

Shea barely spared him a glance before looking back at me, her fair skin blushing deep pink. “Porter—it’s not that I don’t like you.”

“Damn,” Lukas muttered.

“Hudson,” I corrected her. “If you’re going to tell me I’m unfit to mentor your kid, at least use my name.” Because I wanted to hear it from her lips, even just once.

“Mr. Porter,” she said with her I-mean-business voice. “I’m so sorry, but with your lifestyle and career obligations, it’s just not fair for you to mentor Elliott.”

“Isn’t that for me to decide?”

Her blush deepened. “With all due respect, she’s my daughter. It’s for me to decide.”

“Fair enough. But I have the time for Elliott. I like her. She’s smart and honest.”

She fidgeted with her glasses, pushing them up her nose. “Yes. I know. And opinionated,” she threw a look over her shoulder at Elliott, who had folded her arms across her chest again.

“I think that’s why I like her,” I said honestly.

She wavered, I saw it in her eyes. Then she lifted her chin in the air. “It’s just...not appropriate.”

“Mom!”

“I’m sorry, Elliott. It’s not. Grab your bag. I’m taking you home.”

Elliott shot me a pleading glance.

“Nothing I can do about it. Your mom is the boss.”

“Even in your building,” Lukas laughed.

I glared over at him. “Not funny.”

“Your building?” Shea asked.

“According to one of the volunteers out there, it’s his building,” Lukas answered.

“No, it belongs to the Dorsal Club, just like the door says.”

“He bought it for us,” Clara answered, watching Elliott get her backpack from the hanging pegs at the back of the room. “Rescued us like a real knight in shining armor.”

“I’m not anyone’s knight,” I countered.

Shea’s forehead puckered.

“Mom, please?” Elliott asked again, her backpack slung over her shoulders.

Shea softened as she looked at her daughter, then at me through the corner of her eye. “I just...you can’t. I’m sorry, Elliott.” She turned fully toward me. “Mr. Porter. I’m so sorry.”

Without another word, she took Elliott’s hand and walked toward the conference room door. Elliott looked back at me, sadness coming off her in waves so strong I could almost feel them.

“You know why they really chose me over Ormond?” I asked her, needing to see her smile again.

“Why?” she asked, nearly at the door.

“I’m better.”

She grinned, and my heart lightened just a bit.

“And so humble,” she laughed.

Shea halted at the door, looking back at me.

“I don’t lie,” I said, looking her straight in the eye as I answered her daughter. “And I never present myself as something other than what I am. I’m sorry that’s not good enough for you.”

She blinked rapidly, then left, taking Elliott with her.

* * *

Three days later, I still hadn’t shaken the encounter, Elliott, or Shea’s rejection.

What the hell was so wrong with me that I couldn’t mentor her daughter? I at least deserved an explanation, and I was going to get one.

The drink I carried sloshed in the plastic cup as I made my way through the maze of cubicles in the social services office. The atmosphere was chaotic. Phones rang, file cabinets closed, children raced by, chased by a woman with a clipboard. A few babies cried, as did the parents who held them.

I looked the way the security guard had directed me and found a pop of color—Shea’s hair—standing out amongst the seemingly endless sea of gray.

“It’s going to be okay,” I heard her say as I approached her desk.

“You’re sure?” a woman asked, clutching a tissue and a blue folder.

“I am,” Shea assured her.

I stopped just outside the opening to her cubicle, turning my back to the doorway. Damn, I hadn’t given a single thought to what her day might be like, or what she even did on an average day. All I’d thought about was convincing her to let me mentor Elliott.

“These programs are going to give you that relief you need to get everything back on track,” Shea told the woman.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” the woman replied.

“You don’t have to,” Shea responded, her voice closer.

I turned, drawn like a magnet to any chance I had to see her.

“It’s my job, and one I’m more than happy to do. You just take care of Marie and Mark. That’s the best thank you I could get.”

The two women appeared in the hallway as Shea pulled her in for a hug.

Her eyebrows skyrocketed over her black glasses when she saw me standing there. I resisted the urge to shift my weight or run my fingers over my hair. I wasn't thirteen. This wasn’t junior high. I refused to let a pint-sized firecracker make me sweat.

Clammy hands did not equal sweat, damn it.

“I’ll see you next month, okay?” Shea asked.

“Absolutely. Thank you, Miss Shea.” The woman wiped away tears from big, brown eyes, and looked away from me, scurrying by, keeping to the far side of the hallway like I might bite her.

Or hit her.

I’d never hit a woman in my life, but she didn’t know that. And I was anything but little. I flattened myself against the thin wall of the cubicle to give her as much space as I could.

“Porter?” Shea asked, her voice thin and soft.

“Hudson,” I corrected her again.

She smoothed her hands over the curve of her denim-clad hips. “Right. What are you doing here?” Her light blue top brought out the slight bluish tinge to her gray eyes.

“I brought you bubble tea,” I said, offering her the large, black-dotted beverage I’d carried from three blocks over.

“You what?” Her eyes dropped to the tea and then rose to meet mine.

“I brought you...bubble tea,” I said again. Fuck, I was an NHL star who netted millions a year, and still awkward as fuck when it came to this woman.

Her mouth dropped open slightly, and my gaze dipped. Her lips were full and a delicious shade of pink without the tint of makeup. I could kiss her all day and not worry about getting smeared by cosmetics. Honestly, I’d kiss her all day even if she was slathered in red lipstick. Then I’d walk around downtown Seattle with her brand all over my face, wearing her approval—her permission—like a badge of honor.

If I ever let her out of my bed.

“I saw you drinking it at Connor’s barbecue, right? Honeydew?” I waited another few seconds as she gawked up at me. “Bubble tea.”

“Bubble tea,” she repeated.

“Don’t make me say it again. It’s a ridiculous name.”

Her lips quirked up, and her posture softened. “Okay, umm...come in? I have about twenty minutes until I have to head out to do a home visit.”

I followed her into her space and perched on the edge of her desk as I handed her the tea.

“Thank you,” she said softly. “I can’t believe you remember what I was drinking.” She sat in her chair and put the straw to her lips, taking a sip.

“I’m good at things like that.” And every detail when it comes to you.

“Mmmm,” she half-moaned, and I clenched the side of the desk. “So good. Okay, Mr. Porter, you didn’t just stop by to bring me tea, so what’s up?”

“I want to mentor Elliott.”

“I thought this had been asked and answered.” Her soft tone diminished the bite in her words.

“I’m here for reconsideration.” I ran my fingers through my hair before I could stop myself from the nervous tell. “Look. You don’t like me. I don’t know why, and I really don’t have to. Elliott is your daughter, and you don’t have to explain your reasons—I have to prove myself. There’s a difference.”

“There is,” she agreed, taking another sip. I braced my palms on either side of me and leaned down so there were only a couple of feet between us, but she didn’t roll her chair away, just looked up at me with those expectant gray eyes. “So prove yourself.”

I had my toe in the door.

“Right. Okay. I’ve been background checked so thoroughly I’m sure you could know my blood type if you wanted. I graduated from the University of Ottawa with not just perfect grades, but perfect attendance. That means I show up. I don’t walk away when I make a commitment.”

“Like your current commitment to beat the crap out of people?” she asked, tilting her head as she sipped the tea.

“Whoa. I’m a hockey player. I don’t just run around the streets of Seattle punching people.” That had never been my M.O.

“Are you telling me that you’ve never had a fight off the ice?”

My jaw clenched. “I’ve had one or two.”

She turned in her chair, reaching up to open a cabinet. The inside was decorated with pictures of Elliott—in some, Shea looked like a kid herself as she held her baby daughter. She tugged down a paper, and I cringed, seeing the bright red banner across the top.

“And is this one of the two?” She pointed to the split-frame front page, which boasted a picture of Connor, our power forward, with his sister over his shoulder, and me mid-punch right beside him as I took out a much smaller guy.

It was anything but flattering.

“Right. Yeah, see, that was her drug-dealer.”

“I don’t care.”

“And I was just trying to—wait. You don’t care?” This time it was my mouth dropping open.

“Nope. Reasons never sway me. Not when it comes to Elliott.” She sipped at her tea like we were discussing the weather, not my worthiness in her eyes.

“That’s. I…” I blinked. “I don’t have words.”

“You don’t need them.” She put the cup on her desk and leaned back in the chair. “Look, Porter—”

“Hudson.”

“I like you. I know Connor likes you. I know you’re a good guy. I’ve read your background check from when he was adopting Hannah. I also know that you were arrested for assault at fifteen, and it just got worse from there.”

“Did the report say why?” I nearly growled.

She swallowed but showed no other reaction to my change in tone. “No, and it doesn’t matter. I know it didn’t stick. Nothing you ever do sticks. You can beat guys up on the ice, or on the street, and you’re...Teflon. And that’s okay. I’m sure you have your reasons. But those reasons will never be good enough to bring that kind of violence around my daughter.”

“I would never hurt Elliott. Or you.” I willed my hands to relax, my posture to soften. Someone had hurt Shea. Her reaction wasn’t simply from being a social worker. There was history that I had to be sensitive to even without knowing the specific details, if I wanted to help Elliott.

“And I know that. I think. But I just can’t let her be around any level of violence.”

“I’d be a good mentor for her,” I argued. “She needs someone who can dish that sass back at her. Challenge her. Who shares her love of a sport that you don’t.”

Pink stained her cheeks. “I know she loves hockey. It’s not like I don’t monitor her web history. But allowing her to sneak in some time watching it, and thrusting her right into the heart of your...chaos are two different things. It isn’t something I can do.”

“Name one other person who could be a better mentor for her,” I challenged.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

I scoffed. “She’s a little busy, don’t you think?”

“You asked.”

“You’re frustrating.”

“You’re oddly insistent.” She tilted her head again, and my palms itched to feel the soft skin of her cheeks. To cup her face and kiss her blind. Fuck, I was even further from that fantasy than I had been when I’d walked in.

My fate with Shea had been decided the minute she’d read my file.

“I just want to help,” I said. “I like her.”

“And she likes you. Trust me. I’ve had about fourteen billion pleas from her to reconsider. But you can’t be serious, Porter. You’re an NHL star. I get wanting good press, but you can’t slap Elliott on an endorsement ad and think it gets you there.”

My jaw flexed once. Twice. I sucked a deep breath in through my teeth and let it out through my nose.

“You know about the endorsement deal.”

She quirked an eyebrow at me. “That you donated money to the Boys & Girls Club, named a building and get to profit from it? Yes. I know. And my kid isn’t part of that transaction.” She folded her arms under her breasts and gave me a look that said she wasn’t going to be swayed.

I hopped off her desk. “Right. Okay. I get that you see the worst in humanity on a daily basis. Dads who beat their kids. Moms who deal drugs. Neglected babies. Abandoned wives. I understand that your first instinct is to see the worst in people, and I don’t fault you for it. Hell, I respect you, Shea. I respect every single thing you do and know you give your job one hundred percent. You save lives. I just play hockey.”

“Porter, that’s not what I meant.” She stood, only coming up to my mid-chest in her little ballet flats.

Hudson,” I emphasized. “I’m a person beneath that jersey. Behind those reports. So I’ll say this one time, not because it’s your business, but because I’m hoping you’ll reconsider so I can mentor Elliott. I was arrested at fifteen for beating the shit out of my alcoholic dad, who was going at my mom with a knife when I got home from practice.”

Her lips parted and her eyes flew wide.

“I have no regrets about throwing that piece of shit out of my life. Our lives. It saved my mother, my brother, and if I have to pay for that with a record you shouldn’t even be able to access because it’s sealed, then so be it. Second, I donated about eleven million for that building, which is less than I make in a year. A year, Shea. Did it secure me that endorsement? Sure. And when you finally realize that endorsement was a contract for a million dollars a year for the next five years, and you do the math, maybe you’ll reconsider.”

“I…I…” Her mouth opened and shut.

“I would never allow the press near me, or Elliott. Or had you not noticed that I don’t do interviews. That I didn’t do one at the Dorsal center?”

“I didn’t,” she admitted.

“I’m more than a jersey. More than these,” I lifted my hands, “which, yes, is why I was picked up by the Sharks. I protect my team. I protect my family. And if that’s still not good enough for you, then…” I shook my head. “Then I guess there’s nothing else to say.”

She deflated, which somehow made her eyes even bigger. “I just…”

Before she could stammer out another excuse, or tell me I still wasn’t good enough for her or her daughter, I opened my wallet, flipped past the pictures of my mother and brother, and pulled out a card. “I know you’ve made up your mind, and I won’t push you again. But just in case you change your mind, I think I’d be good for her.” Good for you, too.

Unwilling to even accidentally brush her hand when she obviously wanted nothing to do with me, I placed the card on the smooth surface of her desk.

Then I walked out.

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Forbidden: House of Sin by Elisabeth Naughton

The Spark of a Kiss (Park City Firefighter Romance: Station 2) by Sarah Gay