Authors: Jami Davenport
Tags: #Friends to Lovers, #Seattle Sockeyes, #Sports Romance, #Contemporary, #Sports, #Romance, #Hockey Romance, #Genre Fiction, #Contemporary Romance, #Literature & Fiction
God help him.
She gaped at him with big, doe-like brown eyes and looked ready to bolt any second or scream like crazy. Either one wouldn’t be good, especially now that Isaac understood the connection between Avery and Cooper Black. He didn’t need to give the team captain one more reason to hate him.
“Hey, I’m Isaac,” he said softly, not making any quick moves toward her.
She said nothing but backed up another few steps.
“I’m just going to take my dog and leave. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” He reached for Hal’s collar, and the dog snarled at him. He caught her alarmed expression followed by a frown and the obvious concern in her eyes.
He smiled at her. “He’s a bit of a cranky pants.”
Her face became an unreadable mask then she nodded, glancing from him to the dog and back again. One corner of her mouth lifted, and the girl almost smiled. A thrill of satisfaction raced through Isaac at coming so close to making her smile because he was pretty damn sure she didn’t smile often. He’d never realized it could feel so good to make someone else happy, even if it was a brief moment in time.
Blushing, the girl stared shyly at her feet and retrieved the trailing end of her horse’s lead rope. Isaac watched her go, as he held a straining Hal’s collar. She walked toward the barn, paused, and glanced over her shoulder, giving him a little wave. Isaac waved back.
Shaking his head in disbelief, he pulled a reluctant, grumbling Hal across the field to the house. She had a crush on him. He’d seen the signs before, and it was sweet. In fact, it warmed his heart. He didn’t know what her story was, but he’d put a little sunlight in her life.
Isaac rarely derived pleasure from giving happiness to another, and it felt strangely euphoric. If he didn’t watch it, he’d start visiting children’s hospitals and serving on the soup line at a homeless shelter.
As he reached the house, Isaac turned and watched her wander away with the horse at her side. Near the barn stood Avery, scrutinizing his every move with suspicion and distrust. It’d only been last night since he’d talked to her about keeping their hook-up a secret, and he missed her already. How weird was that?
Loneliness overwhelmed him, and he shook it off because he was loner for a reason. He didn’t need people in his life. He didn’t need his family. He didn’t need a wounded teenage girl crushing on him, and he sure as hell didn’t need a relationship with a woman, especially a woman as unique as Avery, and definitely not when he’d been warned off her.
That was him, Isaac Wolfe, the guy who didn’t need anyone.
* * * *
Avery heard Tiffani’s laughter and ran out of the barn. She hadn’t heard the formerly joyous Tiff laugh since the shooting, and it was a welcome sound to hear until she witnessed the source.
Hands on hips, Avery stood near the barn and scrutinized the interaction between Isaac and Tiffani, ready to intervene at a moment’s notice. Only Tiff appeared to be holding her own with the big, bad hockey player and his cantankerous boxer.
The last thing she’d expected to see had been the boxer loving on Tiffani as if she were his long-lost owner, and Isaac hovering nearby with a concerned expression on his ruggedly handsome face.
Isaac Wolfe? Concerned?
She found that hard to believe.
Avery stifled a yawn. She’d stayed up way too late doing her research on the Sockeyes’ newest team member. The man had amassed quite a bit of press, none of it good. Not one damn bit. He was characterized as a selfish asshole through and through. A bad boy with a capital B-O-Y, complete with a serious drinking problem and anger management issues. A guy whose lousy attitude alienated his every teammate, and put him on the verge of being ousted from the NHL by the simple fact that no team would take a chance on him—except the Sockeyes.
Only this man who stood guard over Tiff didn’t look like the subject of all those articles. Regardless, Avery was protective of the fragile teenager. She would not let her misplaced attraction to Isaac override her concern when it came to Tiff. She poised herself to intervene and rescue the girl if necessary.
Several seconds later Isaac dragged the boxer toward his house. Tiff picked up her horse’s lead rope and led Dexter toward Avery, pausing to wave at Isaac, who waved back. Just like they were old friends? Isaac? Friends with anyone? Hard to believe. And especially hard to believe with Tiff, who didn’t trust anyone.
“Are you okay?” Avery fell into step besides Tiff.
Tiff nodded, her face flushed, almost as if she were embarrassed.
“Did he say anything inappropriate to you? Threaten you in any way?” She’d kill the bastard if he had.
“No, he’s nice.” Tiff stared at her with alarm in her eyes and shook her head quite emphatically.
“Okay. Good. I’m glad.”
Tiff shrugged and hurried ahead of Avery into the barn. Big, amiable Dexter tagged along behind, snagging a few last blades of grass before entering the barn.
Avery ignored the drops of rain hitting her face and stared at Isaac’s house, as confused as ever. Torn between her attraction to Isaac, her instincts for self-preservation, and her family’s warnings.
* * * *
Isaac had another good night on the ice. In the locker room, not so much. He’d made a lame attempt at a joke after the team’s win, but it fell flat. The guys stared at him as if he were speaking a foreign language then turned their backs on him as they laughed and talked among themselves.
Forcing himself to be a good teammate, Isaac crossed the room to Cooper and held out his hand. Cooper stared at it, frowning, then shook it. The team captain attempted to disguise his dislike of Isaac with an insincere smile, but Isaac caught it, even if no one else did.
“Good game,” Isaac said simply.
“You too, Ice,” Cooper countered. “Nice move you put on Tranoski to block that shot late in the third. Saved our asses.”
Isaac shrugged. “Wouldn’t have mattered if you hadn’t scored the winning goal a few minutes later.”
Cooper shrugged and sat down on the bench to remove his skates. Isaac moved down the line to Tom Glanden. Glanden’s best buddy on the team had been traded for Isaac, as if Glanden didn’t already have enough reasons for hating Isaac.
“Hey, nice score in the first,” Isaac said, extending an olive branch, even though he expected a negative response in return.
“Fuck you,” Glanden snarled. “Leave me the hell alone. Everyone on this team is pretending to be happy you’re here. But not me. I’m just counting the days until you screw up and they kick your ass off the ice for good.” With that, Glanden turned his back on Isaac.
Isaac swung his gaze around the room, glaring at anyone with the guts to be caught staring at him. The locker room hushed as players hustled to get dressed and get the hell out of there. Isaac hadn’t exactly scored points with his teammates, but then he never did. Not even when he tried his damnedest. He’d never been good in social situations, even those in locker rooms.
Blake watched quietly from the locker next to his. “Hey, don’t let him get to you. He’s just one guy.”
“He’s speaking the truth. They hate me, and I don’t blame them. It’s not like signing me doesn’t carry some heavy baggage that most teams choose not to lug around. The Sockeyes’ management traded a popular third line defenseman for a known jerk like me. There’s bound to be resentment.”
“A talented jerk who was instrumental in our last two wins,” Blake pointed out with a half-smile, which turned to a frown as he looked over Isaac’s shoulder. Isaac turned in time to see Cooper stalk to Glanden’s locker, mad as hell, hands fisted at his sides, and looking ready to chew major ass. Glanden glanced up. His slow smile turned to surprise when it became apparent by Cooper’s anger that he wasn’t going to be applauding the winger’s treatment of Isaac.
“We’re a fucking team,” Cooper shouted, not bothering to keep his voice down. “Ice is our teammate, a valuable part of our drive to the playoffs, just as much as any of you are. We don’t get to make personnel decisions in this locker room, but we sure as hell need to accept them and put past differences behind us for the good of the team.”
Glanden kept his eyes down and said nothing.
“Anyone else here have a problem with the trade?” Cooper’s steely gaze touched every man in the room. Guys shuffled their feet and shook their heads, not one of them interested in crossing the captain when he was in one of his take-no-prisoners moods.
Glanden shot of look of pure hatred in Isaac’s direction while Cooper’s attention was directed on his teammates. When Cooper’s gaze swung back to Glanden, he hung his head. Great, just what Isaac needed. The captain’s defense would create a bigger rift. Already Isaac could sense a division among the team, and it’d take a superhuman effort on Cooper’s part to keep them working as a tight unit.
Most of the guys left the locker room, but Cooper lingered. Isaac pulled on his street shoes and shrugged into his leather jacket. He approached Cooper’s locker. “Hey, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I need to handle these guys on my own.”
Cooper glanced up, a frown on his face and his brows drawn together, as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, or at least the weight of the team. “This is my team, and I won’t tolerate anyone ripping it apart from the inside.”
“I’m doing my best to get along.” Isaac forced the defensiveness from his voice.
Cooper studied him long and hard, making Isaac want to squirm, but he managed to hold himself steady. “Look, Ice, you may not like me, and I may not like you, but I recognize when a guy is trying and I respect that.”
“Good night,” Isaac said simply.
“You, too. Good game, by the way.”
Isaac turned to leave, anxious to get home and possibly catch a glimpse of Avery, even though he knew he shouldn’t be tempting himself.
Cooper’s voice stopped him in his tracks. “Yeah?” Isaac looked over his shoulder.
“Make sure you stay away from the twins, and we’ll do just fine.”
Was the guy a frigging mind reader, or what?
Isaac swallowed back the gut feeling his days were numbered in Seattle and in the league, especially if he couldn’t keep his hands off Avery Maxwell.
Chapter 7—Brotherly Love
If Avery didn’t know better, she’d swear Isaac was avoiding her, or so it seemed. But since life wasn’t all about her, more likely he was immersed in learning the ropes with his new team.
Her great rides of a few days ago got fewer and far between as the week wore on. Riot turned back into his indifferent self, while the other horses she rode went around the arena completely uninspired.
When Cooper and Izzy offered the twins tickets for Saturday night’s game, Avery jumped on it. Emma wasn’t quite as thrilled, not being into sports much, but she reluctantly agreed to go.
Tanner Wolfe, Isaac’s younger brother and the quarterback of the Seattle Steelheads, joined them in the owner’s box along with Izzy, Bella, Ethan, and Lauren. After welcoming their guests, Ethan and Lauren huddled in the front row of seats, intent on the game and clutching their iPads as they made notes and consulted with each other.
Bella set her sights on Tanner, and he gladly obliged. They got pretty cozy during the first period, disappeared during the second period, and returned at the end of the third period, looking disheveled yet quite satisfied. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what they’d been doing. Avery wondered where they’d been doing it. Knowing Bella, it could have been anywhere including several semi-public places. With Tanner’s rep as a player, he probably didn’t care where they did it either, as long as they did it.
Like Avery should talk. She’d screwed Isaac’s brains out in an unlocked barn lounge. Even though it’d been late, anyone could’ve interrupted them, including one of her sisters. The worse part was she didn’t regret it a bit. In fact, she craved a repeat performance, as forbidden as it was.
Isaac skated around the ice with graceful aggression. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. All of the guys could skate, but Isaac, well, he mesmerized Avery with impossible changes of direction, fast sprints, and skating backward as well as he skated forward. He played as if his life depended on every move he made. The young goalie relaxed whenever Isaac took the ice. Otherwise Brick was tense and almost fidgety, but Isaac had his back, and the other team didn’t stand a chance of scoring with Isaac as the defenseman. If Izzy noticed Avery’s rapt attention focused on a certain player, she didn’t say a word, probably because she did the same with Cooper, shouting out warnings, clenching her fists, and leaning forward in her seat. Nope, Izzy wouldn’t be noticing a damn thing about Avery’s single-minded interested in Isaac.
After the game and a win, Avery wandered down to the locker room with her sisters and Tanner, hoping to catch a glimpse of Isaac. Most of the guys had left the locker room when Cooper finally came out, wrapping Izzy in his arms and giving her a huge kiss with lots of tongue.
Emma made a face and a gagging sound. Emma would.
“Get a room.” Tanner rolled his eyes, even as he and Bella shot heated looks at each other. Talk about needing a room.
A few seconds later, Avery’s heart forgot how to beat, signaling the arrival of Isaac. He walked out of the locker room, dressed in a custom black suit with a blue shirt and green tie. His dark hair was wet from his shower, and he smelled heavenly. Avery couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across her face.
Isaac spotted her immediately. His mouth tipped up in a secret smile, and his eyes said it all as he looked her up and down. Before he could speak, Tanner stepped forward and sucked all the warmth from the room with his next words.
“Hey, big brother, I wondered when you’d crawl out from under the nearest rock,” Tanner sneered at Isaac, who visibly stiffened. Isaac’s jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed. Tanner, usually all charm and smiles, glared at his brother with undisguised hatred and disgust.
The temperature in the hallway dropped to below zero with a wind chill of fifty-below. It was like watching a train wreck and not being able to look away; even Izzy and Coop stopped molesting each other to stare at the two men.