Authors: Rhonda James
(Sticks & Hearts Series Book 1)
Text Copyright © 2016 Rhonda James
All Rights Reserved
Published by Rhonda James, Author LLC
Cover Layout and Design: Taylor James
Formatting: CP Smith
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
The following story contains mature themes, profanity, and explicit sexual situations. It is intended for adult readers.
This book is dedicated to three women who helped make this story what it is today.
Christine Tovey - I remember the day when I first ran this storyline and title by you. You were the first to champion it, and for that, I thank you.
Sarah Piechuta - Your love for B and Cassie is what kept me going, even on the days when it felt as if the words weren't there. Thank you for falling in love with B as hard as I did.
Melissa Mendoza - We did it! In this scary world of writing, I am nothing without you. I love that you see my inner 'Roni' and choose to love me anyway!
Welcome to Ann Arbor
," a soft-spoken female voice greets over the train's intercom.
It's two in the afternoon on a hot August day, and I'm dragging my oversized suitcase behind me, struggling to keep it upright due to the heavy contents I'd crammed inside. Standing on my tiptoes, I cup my hand over my eyes and scan the crowd for a recognizable face. After a few seconds, I spot him standing on the far side of the platform, hands shoved deep in his pockets, with a goofy grin plastered on his face. He takes five steps forward, and I abandon my suitcase to run toward him. When I get within three feet, I launch myself in the air, throwing my hands around his neck as he spins me around.
"Scotty!" I shriek loudly in his ear, then pull back to get a good look at him. He's changed a little since we've last seen each other. His hair is longer, and he's sporting a nice tan. "Nice color there, hot shot. Bet it feels good to play outside for a change." I ruffle my hand through his shaggy hair.
My brother is a hockey player. And a damn good one at that. Before finishing high school, he'd been recruited by Great Lakes University and given a full scholarship to be their starting goalie. Ever since he was a kid he's spent the majority of his year either playing hockey, or training for the upcoming season. This is his last year of college, and he's already been drafted to play for a professional team in Detroit after graduation.
"Yeah, Ashley made me drive her to the lake nearly every day this week," he takes a step back to admire me. "Damn, Cass, you've gone and grown up on me. You look great, kid."
I punch him lightly in the arm, hating that he still thinks of me as a child. "I'm not a kid any longer. I'm nineteen, hardly the giggling teenager you left at home."
"You'll always be my baby sister, no matter how old you are. Get used to it." He gives me a playful wink and walks over to collect my suitcase. I follow him to his car, a black Dodge Charger our grandparents recently gave him as an early graduation present. He lifts my suitcase and tosses it in the backseat as if it weighs nothing, then motions with his hand for me to get in.
A low whistle blows through my teeth as I rub my hand over the leather seats. "Nice wheels. Bet this sucker is a chick magnet."
"I wouldn't know about that. Ashley's usually with me whenever I'm driving," he responds with a laugh. "But, yeah," he says, grinning like a little boy, "it is pretty sweet."
Scotty and Ashley began dating at the beginning of their sophomore year. I like her a lot, and she seems to be good for him, because after they started dating he took to calling mom and dad more often. Ashley is very close to her parents, so it was only natural for her to encourage him to work on his relationship with our parents. Not that there were ever any problems between them; he just pulled the 'I'm away at college and free from the shackles of my demanding parents' card and would go months without calling home. Mom used to fret over it, but dad would always assure her he would come around eventually. Usually when he needed money.
We ride in silence as I look out the window, taking in the architectural intricacy of the buildings near campus. I'm arriving a few days early, so the campus hasn't been flooded with students yet. The thought of spending three days at my brother's apartment, hanging out and seeing the way he's been living the past few years, makes me giddy. I've missed him.
"Thanks for letting me crash here," I call out to him, dropping my suitcase near the door as I make my way deep into the house he shares with three of his teammates. "Where should I put my stuff?" I poke around and see the telltale signs of four guys living together. Beer can towers. Towels left on the bathroom floor. Posters of half-naked women hanging on the wall. The one thing that surprises me is that the fridge is stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables.
"Cage is gone for a few days. You can crash in his room until the dorms open up." He comes around and leans over my shoulder to peer into the fridge. "You hungry? I could make something. Or I could order something from one of these places." He turns and opens a drawer crammed full of takeout menus.
"Geez, you guys must order out a lot." I pull out a few and ponder my choices. Thai food. Pizza. Gyros from a place just a block down the road. I only know this, because someone has taken the time to write it on the menu. The Chinese food menu is tempting, but I steal a glance back over at the fridge and make a healthier choice. "I think I'll just have some of this fruit salad."
"It's nice to see someone eating it. Coach makes us meet with a nutritionist once a month, and she gave us a list. We're notorious for buying it and then letting a crap ton of it go to waste," he explains as I grab a fork and dig in.
"No one in their right mind would let food like this go to waste." I stuff a few bites of melon in my mouth. "This is how I eat when I'm at home."
"Come on. I'll show you Cage's room. He won't mind you're here. He's been up north, staying at Derek's family cottage and coaching a pee-wee hockey team for the last two weeks. Hell, I'll bet he's got some chick riding his—" His face turns a funny shade of crimson, and he cuts himself off mid-sentence.
"Is that your subtle way of saying your best friend is a player? Are you sure it's safe for me to sleep in his bed? I'm not going to catch anything, am I?" I counter sarcastically. I follow Scotty up the stairs, bowl in hand, and he opens the second door on the right.
He throws his head back and laughs, and I revel in the sound. I've missed this since he left for college. "No chance. I changed the sheets this morning. My room is just across the hall. If you need anything, just let me know. His room has an attached bathroom, and if you need towels, they're in the cupboard beneath the sink."
I take a look around the room, enjoying the masculine blue and grey color scheme. A large, king-sized bed takes up a huge chunk of the far corner. There's a desk in one corner, and a dresser on the other side of the room. I can't stop staring at his bed. It's freakishly huge. Who is this guy anyway?
"Is your best friend the Incredible Hulk?" I laugh and make eye contact with Scotty. The look on his face shows he doesn't get my humor. "That's probably the largest bed I've ever seen. You could sleep like six on that thing."
"I wouldn't be surprised if that theory hasn't already been tested," he looks over the room once more. "Listen, I have plans with Ash tonight. Do you think you'll be okay to hang here without me?"
"Oh, sure. I don't expect you to put your life on hold just because I'm here." I smile, doing my best to hide my disappointment. "Go. Have fun. I'll just curl up with a good book until I fall asleep. It's been a long day, so it probably won't take long." I offer up a wide smile to reassure him I won't fall apart in his absence.
"We'll hang out tomorrow. I promise."
"I'm going to hold you to that." I kiss him on the cheek and turn to pull a pair of yoga pants out of my suitcase. He lingers in the doorway for a moment before he smiles and turns to go.
I quickly change before heading back downstairs to have a look around. From what Scotty has told me, I know he lives with guys named Brantley, Jordan, and Derek, but I have yet to meet them. There's a flat screen television mounted on the living room wall, and the largest sectional sofa I've ever seen takes up the rest of the room. A small bookcase sits below the T.V., and I crouch down to check out their selection.
Fight Club, Fast and Furious, Die Hard.
All the typical choices a guy would make. Not to mention they have copies of every movie made in each series. I continue scanning and see a wide array of Adam Sandler movies, a few chick flicks, and a boatload of porn.
Rolling my eyes, I stand and come face-to-face with a shelf lined with picture frames, each one containing group shots of the four teammates. I notice how happy they look in each setting. In two of them they're wearing hockey gear and holding up a trophy from when they won the Frozen Four two years ago. Scotty has told me he believes they'll win it again this year, since most of the players are seniors who have kicked ass together over the last three years. One of the photos shows them in what looks to be a bar, standing side by side, arms draped over one another's shoulders, with a drink in one hand. The smiles on their faces tell me these guys are the best of friends. I pull that one down and run my finger around the rim of the frame, studying their faces. It dawns on me that I don't know anything about Scotty's life now. We'd always been close, but with him being two years older, and a guy, once he'd taken off for college, we practically lost touch. It's one of the reasons I chose to transfer to this college. I'm hoping we can reconnect before he leaves to play in the NHL and his life becomes filled with traveling and rubbing elbows with famous people. I have a feeling once he's gone, we'll lose touch completely. And this thought hurts me deeply.