Read Center Ice Online

Authors: Cate Cameron

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Sports & Recreation, #Social Issues, #Emotions & Feelings, #Dating & Sex, #Marriage & Divorce, #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #canada, #teen, #crush, #playboy, #Family, #YA, #athlete, #Small Town, #Center Ice, #entangled, #Cate Cameron, #opposites attract, #hockey

Center Ice

This Entangled Teen Crush book contains adult language, underage drinking, sexual situations, and crazy squirrels. It may cause you to become a fan of hockey—or at least hot hockey players.

The hometown hockey hero won’t know what hit him…

Karen Webber is in small-town hell. After her mother’s death, she moved to Corrigan Falls to live with strangers—her dad and his perfect, shiny new family—and there doesn’t seem to be room for a city girl with a chip on her shoulder. The only person who makes her feel like a
real
human being is Tyler MacDonald.

But Karen isn’t interested in starting something with a player. And that’s all she keeps hearing about Tyler.

Corrigan Falls is a hockey town, and Tyler’s the star player. But the viselike pressure from his father and his agent are sending him dangerously close to the edge. All people see is hockey—except Karen. Now they’ve managed to find something in each other that they both desperately need. And for the first time, Tyler is playing for keeps…

a Corrigan Falls Raiders novel

Table of Contents

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by Cate Cameron. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com
.

Crush is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

Edited by Alycia Tornetta

Cover design by Jessica Cantor

Cover art by iStock/Massonstock

ISBN 978-1-63375-267-2

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition May 2015

Chapter One

– Karen –

The squirrel attacked on the sixth day. Five days of peaceful, almost solitary running, and then…carnage.

Well, that might be a little strong. But those little guys have
sharp
claws, and I was wearing shorts. Also, I had no idea what to do. I’d been running along just fine, concentrating on my breathing as I started up the steep hill, and then there was a blur of movement, a painful scratching on my leg, and I looked down to see a pair of beady little rodent eyes staring right back at me from halfway up my thigh.

I may have made a noise, maybe something like a panicked giraffe. And then I possibly did a strange little dance, trying to stomp hard enough to shake the squirrel loose. The movement just made him hang on even tighter, digging his claws farther into my exposed skin. “Get off,” I yelled at him. “I’m not a tree!”

“Stand still.” The voice was confident and male, and my inner feminist wanted to stomp a little harder just to show that I wasn’t taking his orders. But standing still kind of made sense, so I froze, then peeked back over my shoulder. I recognized the guy, of course. He’d been the only other person I’d ever seen in the park this early in the morning, circling around the same route I used. About my age and a pretty good runner. Very fit. I tried not to notice how he was even
better
looking up close and hoped that in addition to being gorgeous he was also good with rodents.

“He just jumped on me, for no reason,” I said. I guess I didn’t want this guy to think I’d been provoking the squirrels? “Don’t hurt him,” I added. I was remembering some of the teenage boys I knew, assholes who’d probably take an incident like this as an excuse to prove their manhood with violence and gore.

The guy ignored me. He scooped a stick up from the side of the path, about three feet long and almost as thick as my wrist.

“No, don’t hit him!” I wondered if I’d be able to outrun the guy with a squirrel firmly attached to my thigh.

He continued to ignore me. He came in close and brought the stick right up to the squirrel, like athletes do when they’re lining up for a hard swing. But instead of pulling the stick back, he edged it down a little, slow and steady. “She’s not a tree,” the guy said, and there was maybe the hint of a laugh in his voice, as if he knew he was echoing my ridiculous words. “Come on, little guy. Back to the forest.” The stick kept moving, and the squirrel put one forefoot on it and then the other. He was still staring at me, and I started to wonder whether he was trying to communicate.
My babies are trapped! I need your help!
Or maybe something less immediate:
developers want to destroy my habitat; you must STOP them
. But probably he was just a crazy little rodent. When the stick got as far as his hind legs, there was a moment when it really seemed like he might be about to make a leap farther up, fighting his way onto my shorts—spandex, thankfully, so I didn’t have to worry about him burrowing beneath the fabric—but instead he flicked his tail, spun around, and leaped off me. He scrambled up the nearest trunk and started this weird chirping, staring down at us in outrage.

“He’s cussing you out,” the guy said.

“Not me! He
liked
me. He’s swearing at you.”

“Yeah, probably,” the guy admitted. He sounded like he was used to people swearing at him, which made no damned sense, because he was gorgeous and a hero. He crouched down and looked at my thigh. “No blood, but you’ve got some scratches. Looks like they’re swelling up a bit. Are you allergic?”

“To squirrels?” I squinted at him to see if he was serious. “How would I know that? I mean, I’ve never had a reaction to squirrel scratches in the
past
, but…”

“Guess you’re about to find out.” He straightened up. His shoulders were really wide, and I wondered if I’d underestimated his age. His face seemed young, but most guys my age were still pretty skinny. He wasn’t fat, for sure, but there was more muscle on him than I was used to seeing. And possibly I’d picked the wrong time to notice that, because he was looking at me as if he thought maybe I was going into shock or something. “You okay?”

“Yes,” I said automatically. I took a careful step forward along the path. “Doesn’t hurt.”

“You should rinse it off.” He frowned. “Maybe. I mean, I’m not a doctor. I have no idea what you should do. But if you want to rinse it off, I can take you to the creek.”

“There’s a creek?” Five days in this park with no squirrel attacks
and
no knowledge of a creek. Apparently day six was all about exposure to new things.

“Yeah. There’s a path to it just up here.”

“I don’t want to interrupt your run…”

“I can walk you back to the fountain, if you’d rather.”

I hate myself at times like these. It’s not weak to take a little help, and it doesn’t mean I’m pathetic and needy if I let someone do something for me. But sometimes it’s like I’m psychologically unable to accept assistance. “No, I’m fine. I’ll go rinse it off in the fountain, but I don’t need help.” At least I was self-aware enough to realize how stupid that comment was. “I mean, I appreciate your help. Before, with the stick…that was excellent. And I’m really glad you didn’t hurt him. But I’m okay now.”

His stare was almost as intense as the squirrel’s, but with him I got the feeling he was trying to receive information, not send it. “Okay,” he finally said.

He watched me as I started walking, and I gave him a little wave and said, “Thanks again,” then turned resolutely and started jogging. The scratches didn’t hurt, but they
were
pretty itchy. I wondered how many people were walking around this world with an undiscovered allergy to squirrel scratches. I kept jogging until I was sure I was out of the guy’s sight, and then I slowed to a walk.

Attacked by a squirrel
.

It was like picking a scab, and I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I let myself imagine how I’d tell the story to my mom. She’d already have heard about the cute boy, of course, and she’d probably have been bugging me to talk to him. “You’re so shy, Karenina,” she’d have said. For the record, my name is Karen,
not
Karenina, and my mom was the one who named me, so you’d think she of all people would have respected her own choice, but apparently not. Mom had been a dancer, and I was named after a famous Canadian ballerina, which was fine, but apparently my mother had realized too late that the ballerina was elegant and graceful
despite
her name, not because of it. But Mom had never seen me as anything but beautiful, and she’d apparently decided to give me a more glamorous nickname to match. “Talk to him, Karenina. What’s the worst that could happen?”

That’s what she would have already been saying, and then when I told her about the squirrel, she’d have laughed and been excited, and scolded me a little for turning down the help. “If a handsome gentleman offers you assistance, why not take it?”

Once, in real life, I’d responded to a similar statement by pointing out what had happened to
her
when she’d let herself be taken in by a handsome gentleman, when she was only a couple years older than I was then. She’d frowned, then leaned forward and kissed my temple, hard. “I got
you
,” she’d said fiercely. “I have no regrets.”

By the time I got to the fountain, I was crying, thinking of the conversation I’d never get to have. I splashed some water on my face, first, and tried to get myself under control. Then I hoisted my leg up and rinsed off the scratches. They were nasty-looking, bright pink ridges with a thin white line down the middle of them. I poked at them because it felt better to have pain on the
outside
of my body, then splashed some more water on my face and headed out of the park. I was tempted to run again and wear off more of my negative energy, but I thought I’d better go find an antihistamine in case this squirrel allergy turned into a real problem.

When I got back to the house, Will was awake and in the kitchen. “Do you want breakfast?” he asked. He was eating a bowl of cold cereal, which I could easily find for myself, so it was sort of a weird question. I wondered what he’d have said if I’d asked for bacon and eggs or waffles or something. But he was my father, at least in an accidental-sperm-donor sense, and I guess he was trying to take care of me.

“I’ll have something later. Do you have Benadryl?”

“Allergies?” He sounded concerned, but I had no patience for that bullshit.

“Nothing serious. I always get them this time of year. Not that you’d know about that.” I smiled sweetly and shifted around a little so he wouldn’t be able to see the lines on my leg. “So, is there Benadryl somewhere, or should I add that to Natalie’s list?” Natalie was Will’s wife, mother of his
other
children, and it seemed to work best if we kept communication with each other in written form.

“I’ll check the master bathroom,” Will said, setting his bowl down on the counter. “The kids don’t have allergies, so it wouldn’t be in theirs.”

“Of course no allergies,” I agreed. That would be a flaw, and imperfections were not allowed in this household. I was tempted to find a way to expose them to angry squirrels just to test the theory, but it seemed like a pretty complicated plan would be required.

I followed Will out to the bottom of the staircase and waited for him there. I’d never been upstairs in this house. I mean, I’d only lived there for about a week, so it wasn’t a huge deal. My bedroom and a small bathroom were in the basement, food and the doors to outside were on the main floor…that was all I needed. And absolutely all I wanted. These people were strangers, and there was no need for me to see their bedrooms. Not unless I was putting squirrels between their sheets.

Will came back downstairs with empty hands. “I couldn’t find anything,” he said. “Is it bad? Do you want me to drive you to the drug store?”

I shook my head. “No, I’m fine,” I said pathetically. I actually was; washing the scratches in the fountain had been a really good idea, because they were way less puffy and itchy than they had been.

“I’m sure Natalie can pick something up for you later today, if you just tell her what you need.”

Another sad nod. “Okay.” I turned and took a few steps toward the basement stairs, but I stopped when he said my name.


Are
you okay?” he asked, moving closer. “I don’t just mean the allergies. Overall, I mean. Natalie and I were thinking that you might want to talk to somebody.” He must have seen the expression on my face, because he stopped walking. “I mean, we’re both here for you, of course. But if you wanted to see somebody else…a professional…we could set that up for you. If you wanted.”

“Because of what? Because I’m some sort of deviant or something?” I couldn’t believe these people. “Seriously? Why don’t
you
all go to ‘a professional’? You could talk about your compulsive need for perfection. Or what it’s like to have a kid you never bothered to meet suddenly show up on your doorstep.”

“Maybe I should.” It was seven o’clock in the morning, but he already looked tired. “I could go with you, if you wanted. Maybe Natalie, too, or even the kids. We’re in a strange situation here, Karen, and there’s nothing wrong with getting some help with it.”

And there it was again. Getting help. But if I hadn’t taken it from the hot runner, I was
not
going to take it from some dried up old therapist. “If you guys need help, go for it. But I’m fine.” I whirled and stomped down the stairs to the basement, keeping my head carefully turned so he couldn’t see my face. Realizing that a messed-up situation was messed up did
not
mean that there was something wrong with me. The rest of them could cruise around with smiles painted on their faces if they wanted to, but I wasn’t going to lie that way. My mother was dead, I was living in small-town hell with a father I’d never even met until the day before the funeral, and his whole family hated me. A therapist wasn’t going to help with any of that.
Nothing
was going to help with any of that.

I pulled my phone out and punched the familiar codes in, then held it to my ear. The voice was familiar, light and easy. “Hi, Karenina. I’m going to be a bit late tonight. If you go to bed before I get home, sleep tight! I’ll see you in the morning.”

A simple message. My mother’s last words to me. And they’d been a lie. Not deliberately, of course, but she hadn’t seen me in the morning. She’d never seen me again.

My phone asked me if I wanted to delete or save, and I hit save, then replayed the message. I tried to pretend it was real. I closed my eyes, lay back in the bed, and imagined I was back at home, in our funky little apartment in the city. I was sleepy, so I’d go to bed early, and when I woke up the next morning, I’d see my mom.

I played the message again, and again.

And then I opened my eyes. My imagination couldn’t change reality. I couldn’t go to the past. I was stuck in the present. And I wasn’t sure how the hell I was going to get through the future.

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