Authors: Jami Davenport
Tags: #Friends to Lovers, #Seattle Sockeyes, #Sports Romance, #Contemporary, #Sports, #Romance, #Hockey Romance, #Genre Fiction, #Contemporary Romance, #Literature & Fiction
Yet, Avery had seen flashes of brilliance from him, seen moments when he showed off his incredible gaits and talent, but such moments were fleeting and rare. She’d made it her personal mission to find a way to make him a happy horse again. If only his current owner would give her enough time to do the job correctly.
Maybe Bella was right. Maybe Avery needed to find a hot one-night stand just for fun to suck the tension out of her so she could better relate to the horses. A tense rider made for a tense, unhappy horse. Until she could relax, her four-legged partners would suffer, especially Riot.
And for Avery, it was all about the horses.
Chapter 2—That Damn Dog
That damn dog. As soon as Isaac opened the door to bring in groceries, the little shit ran between his legs and took off after some invisible prey, streaking across the neighbor’s pasture faster than any fat boxer had the right to run. He disappeared out of sight, but Isaac heard him barking.
He yelled for the mutt, knowing it was pointless. While Hal always came back, they’d only lived here a couple days. Isaac doubted the animal was smart enough to find his way home.
With a sigh, he put his groceries on the porch and jogged after the dog, knowing the fat boxer would tire pretty fast, and Isaac would eventually catch up with him.
Instead of taking the meandering gravel road that wound past the neighboring horse barn, Isaac jogged across the field Hal had streaked through only a minute ago. He cursed under his breath as the wet, knee-high grass soaked his jeans. Then he stepped in a puddle of water, splashing it all over his clothes. His shoes squished as he ran.
Damn, ill-mannered dog
The dog, a drooling, snorting boxer, hated him. No wonder. The two of them were way too much alike. He used to accuse his girlfriend of getting the dog because he reminded her of Isaac.
The thought of Jenny sobered him and weighed him down. He slowed his pace to a walk, feeling slightly ill.
Hal had been orphaned after the loss of Jenny, Isaac’s on-again-off-again girlfriend since high school. She’d been the only somewhat constant in his sorry life except for hockey. In their dysfunctional way, they’d loved each other. Not that Isaac had much experience with love, but he’d cared about Jenny. She’d been the most important person in his life next to his sister until that fateful night three years ago when everything changed forever.
Now Hal was his constant reminder of what a total douchebag loser he really was, and how he systematically destroyed the people in his life who mattered most.
Hal and he fit together well. They were both assholes and didn’t like anyone. He swore the damn dog blamed him for what happened to Jenny, which made five of them, counting his two brothers and his father.
Blowing out a breath and watching it float away in the cold air, Isaac shook off his relapse into self-recrimination, and picked up the pace again, driven by fear that something might happen to Hal. He was steaming by the time he jogged into the gravel parking area surrounding his neighbor’s large barn. A city boy from birth, he breathed through his mouth rather than inhale the strong scent of horse manure.
Isaac paused in front of the barn and closed his eyes for a moment, sending up a silent plea to whoever the hell listened to those kinds of things—if anyone did—that grouchy Hal hadn’t done any damage to the horses, people, or himself.
Out of options, he walked into the large barn, pausing while his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting in the long aisle. Horses poked their heads over their stall doors and made these weird noises, almost like they were happy to see him. No one was ever happy to see him. Not anymore.
Isaac stepped farther into the barn. A small blonde girl brushing a huge animal saw him and stopped what she was doing. She stared at him, her eyes huge in her gaunt face, looking like she might run like hell at any moment.
Isaac halted, keeping his voice steady and calm, so he didn’t scare her off. “Hey, I’m looking for my dog. A boxer. Have you seen him?”
The teenager chewed on a fingernail and stared at the ground, keeping one hand on the horse’s neck, as if the animal were some kind of lifeline. Isaac didn’t know a thing about horses. Did they attack when their owners felt threatened like some dogs did?
Isaac stepped closer, maintaining a safe distance from the horse’s hooves. “Excuse me. Have you seen my dog?” Something in the teenager brought out a rare and long buried protective instinct in him. He didn’t want to hurt her or add to her obvious alarm.
She glanced up at him, alarm in her eyes. Dropping the brush on the concrete with a clatter, she scurried down the aisle, disappearing through a door and slamming it after her. Isaac scratched his chin. Hell, he’d been decent enough, hadn’t raised his voice, hadn’t been a jerk. For him, he’d behaved like a nice guy.
Maybe she was deaf or something.
Definitely or something.
The door opened again, and a leggy blonde beauty came flying out, heading toward him with fury in every step she took.
Isaac rocked back on his heels.
What the hell?
He just wanted to find his dog. This woman marched toward him as if he were a terrorist, and she was a soldier poised to take him down. Not that he was scared—not much scared Isaac, especially when it came to women. If anything, he found her anger amusing and arousing, while he found her hot, really hot, and damn sexy.
He grinned at her, figuring his rare trademark grin would shoot her down before she got close enough to castrate him. It didn’t. He backed up a step and protected his privates by putting a few hay bales between them.
The woman—a very attractive, make-a-man-hard-in-a-split-second woman—stopped mere inches from him. She was tall. He was taller. She was bad-ass, he wrote the book on bad-ass. Yet, while he might be famous for his crappy attitude, her attitude trumped his and took no prisoners.
He liked that.
Damn, but she could imprison him any time, put him in handcuffs, and tie him to her bed. He’d be all over that scene in seconds and all over her in less time.
She wore a stained T-shirt tucked into these form-fitting riding pants which hugged every curve. And those boots. She wore knee-high black boots. They were scuffed from hours in the saddle, but they fit like they were made for her legs. What guy wouldn’t get a hard-on ogling a woman dressed like that? Now if only she’d been carrying a riding crop. He’d cream his jeans right there.
One look and he’d fallen for this woman, or at least fallen for her delectable body and blazing blue eyes. Women didn’t do this to him.
But she had him from the second she almost yanked that door off its hinges and stalked toward him with smoke coming out her ears.
Lord, help him.
Isaac instantly went hard. His dick might be fast, but his brain was faster, imagining this angry angel writhing underneath him while he showed her just how hard this real man could ride. Even better, he’d flip over onto his back and let her ride him. He groaned out loud at that thought, which earned him an impressive scowl from her.
He hadn’t felt this instant attraction to a woman since—since—he visibly shuddered and banished those painful memories from his mind.
She was the perfect angel to his devil. He wanted her, and in that instant, he knew he’d do anything to have her. Even if she didn’t want him, he’d find a way to convince her because his dick and his body wanted her. Oh, yeah, they wanted her, and who was he to argue with the big guns.
He grinned—it felt strange to do so, but she had that effect on him. He was one of the meanest, nastiest guys in the NHL, yet she was willing to do battle and take him on.
And that impressed him more than anything.
* * * *
The dickwad who’d scared the crap out of poor Tiffani grinned at Avery. She suspected he used that very grin to disarm a woman and get back in her good graces and her bed. This clueless bastard would get neither from her, despite his rugged good looks, deep blue eyes, and sexy dark stubble that added emphasis to his strong jaw line. Avery flexed her fingers without thinking. She itched to trace a finger along that very jawline.
He darted a quick look at her hand. For a brief moment the smile slipped off his face. He probably thought she was going to throw a punch. She’d let him keep thinking that. This wasn’t about her and her misplaced desire, this was about Tiffani.
Like a mama bear defending her cub, Avery stopped in front of him, hands on her hips, and glared up into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen in her life. The man was oh-so yummy, and he most likely knew it. Avery was tall, standing five-foot-ten in her boots, but he had to be at least six-foot-two and built like an athlete. He wore ratty jeans, a rattier T-shirt, a faded hoodie, and he was the sexiest thing she ever seen. Everything about him screamed trouble.
She glanced around for backup, just in case the man might not have the best intentions. Tiff would call 911 at the first sign of trouble, and Eduardo should be back any second with a load of hay from the hay barn. Even so, her instincts told her his kind of trouble wasn’t life-endangering but would be just as lethal.
She turned back to the sexy stranger and took a deep breath, gathering the nerve she’d need to properly dress him down. “What the hell right do you have scaring Tiffani like that?”
He stopped smiling, but one corner of his mouth quirked in an amused smirk. “Sorry, I didn’t realize she was deaf. I didn’t mean to scare her.”
“She’s not deaf,” Avery said, not offering any further explanation. Tiffani’s issues were none of his damn business. “And this is private property.”
“Sorry, I’m looking for my dog.” He didn’t look the least bit contrite.
“Dog?” She frowned even harder, as it all started to make sense. She’d bet next month’s training income he owned the drooling boxer who had just chased Sam’s expensive show horse all over the paddock before Avery could corral the unruly beast and drag him by his collar into an empty stall.
“Yeah, a boxer.” He tilted his head, and gave a small shrug, his blue eyes wide with innocence, but his innocent act looked all wrong on him.
Without a word Avery motioned to him and turned on her heel. She heard his footsteps behind her. She stopped before a stall and peered in. “This dog?” she said as she pointed at the fat, winded dog lying flat on his side on the clean shavings.
Mr. Hot and Sexy moved closer to her, so close she could smell the soap he used in the shower and feel the heat from his big body. He peered in the stall at the panting dog. “That’s the one.”
Damn, he was attractive in a bad boy sort of way—just the kind of guy Bella went for but not usually Avery’s type, if she even had a type. He shoulder brushed against hers, and she bit back a gasp. His touch scalded her and sent all kinds of happy signals to her female parts.
Avery found her tongue and managed to squeak out the next sentence. “We caught him chasing one of the horses. You need to keep your dog confined. These horses are valuable, and we can’t afford to have stray dogs injuring them.”
“Sorry,” he said again, not sounding sorry. “He got away from me. I didn’t know the fat, little sucker could run that fast.”
“Now you do.” Avery scowled, letting him know she wasn’t amused. “Do you have a leash?”
The man held out a pair of big hands, palms up, and shook his head. “No, I’m afraid I didn’t take the time to grab one.”
“Fine, use a lead rope.” She handed him one from the nearby stall.
“Thanks, I’ll return it.” He reached for it, and his fingers brushed hers. Avery inhaled sharply, and she swore she heard him do the same. She raised her head to meet his intense blue gaze and almost collapsed in a heap right in front of him. He was too damn sexy for his own good. Her pulse sped up and her throat closed up, rendering her speechless. He smirked again, as if he knew the effect he had on women. It was enough to slap her out of her momentary lapse.
With a shrug, he approached the dog. The dog leapt to its feet, hackles raised, and snarled showing an impressive set of yellowed teeth.
“Are you sure this is your dog?” She watched the two with skepticism as they circled each other like prize fighters in a ring.
“Absolutely.” He made a move to grab the dog’s collar.
Still growling the boxer ran to her side and glommed onto her, leaning against her leg. Avery frowned, wondering if the guy was abusive or something to this poor animal. “He’s afraid of you.”
“Trust me, he’s not afraid.” Again that sexy smile showing double dimples on each cheek. “He just hates me. He likes women, not men.”
Avery was confused, as she took the lead rope from him and snapped it on the boxer’s collar. He wagged his tail and stared adoringly at her. As soon as she handed the end of the rope to the owner, the dog went stiff-legged and snarled. “But he’s your dog?”
For a minute his guard dropped and she saw deep pain cross his handsome features. It disappeared so fast, she wondered if she’d imagined it.
“He belonged to a friend, and I promised to care for him.”
“Oh,” Avery didn’t ask any more questions, just backed out of the stall.
“I’m Isaac, and this is Hal.” He followed her into the aisle, stepping much too close for comfort.
She didn’t need introductions because this was going to be her only encounter with this guy. “Fine, now take Hal off the property and make sure he doesn’t come back.”
“Will do.” Her brush off didn’t faze him. If anything, it encouraged him. “I’ll see
later. We’re neighbors.” He pointed to the house Sam’s brother-in-law had bought six months ago. Avery had no idea Brad had decided to rent it, especially to a guy who didn’t look like he had a penny to his name, but then appearances were deceiving. Maybe she’d made too many assumptions about this guy.
Isaac stared down at her, as if he wanted to say something more. Avery licked her lips, feeling a surge of excitement race through her. He reached out and touched her cheek, a gentle touch for a man so overtly masculine. She shivered, and a cocky smile slid across his face, lighting up his eyes.