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Authors: Jaci Burton

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BOOK: Melting the Ice
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Yet he hadn’t called her and hadn’t been back.

She rolled her eyes and took her bowl to the sink, rinsed it and put it in the dishwasher.

Did she expect him to follow up, to chase her down like he’d promised?

“What is wrong with you? You don’t want or need him in your life except to model your clothes.”

She marched into the living room, determined to change the channel. But her phone rang and she picked it up, smiling when she saw who it was.

“Stella. What’s up?”

“I’m downstairs. Are you busy?”

“Not at all. I just came home and threw on sweats. Long day.”

“I’m coming up. Buzz me in.”

Stella was Carolina’s best friend, and you just didn’t say no to her. Besides, she could use the pick-me-up, and since Stella was a fireball of energy, she couldn’t think of a more perfect time for a visit. She buzzed her up and went to the door to let her in.

“Hello, love,” Stella said as she breezed through the door and shrugged off her short leather jacket.

“Your style always kills me, Stell,” Carolina said.

Stella looked down at herself. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing now, oh fashion maven?”

“Not a damn thing. You’re stunning as always.” Carolina looked at Stella, always marveling at her friend’s fashion sense. Stella was tall, so the black leggings showcased her amazing dancer’s legs. She wore a gauzy top that rode to her hips, and finished the look with distressed combat boots. With her spiky short blonde hair and her sexy, killer blue eyes, the woman was a man magnet.

Stella waved her hand. “Stunning, my ass. And you look like shit. Have you slept yet this year?”

“And to think I wanted to see you so you could brighten up my day.”

“No you wanted to see me because you know I’ll bitch slap you with the truth. You’re working too many hours. And I brought beer.”

Carolina wrinkled her nose. “When have I ever liked beer? And you know I have to work a lot right now.”

“Whatever. I’m putting the beer in your fridge. And because I know you’re a beer hater, I also bought wine. The good kind—not even from a box.”

Carolina laughed. “You’re so sweet to think of me. Let’s get to drinking.”

Stella popped a beer, then fumbled through Carolina’s gadget drawer for the corkscrew and drew the cork out of the wine bottle while Carolina grabbed a glass from the cabinet.

“And you bought a cabernet. You remembered.”

Cocking a hip, Stella waved the corkscrew at her. “Of course I remembered. We’ve been friends for almost six years now.”

“I know. But you’d be surprised how many self-absorbed people I know.”

Stella handed Carolina the glass, then lifted her beer and clinked it against Carolina’s wineglass. “Honey, I work in the dancing world. I know all about self-absorbed.”

Carolina led her into the living room and they sat on the sofa. Stella’s gaze strayed to the television and she cocked a brow. “Hockey? You’re watching hockey?”

She knew she should have turned off the television before she let Stella in. “It’s . . . research.”

“I’ll say. Hot men, fast skates, all that adrenaline. Yum.” Stella propped her feet on the coffee table and took a sip of beer. “Which one’s your favorite?”

She should’ve just blown it off and made up someone. “Actually, I went to the same college as Drew Hogan. He’s going to do some modeling for the new line for me.”

Stella looked at the TV, then leaned forward. “No shit? You know him that well?”

“Remember that guy I told you about, the one I had the drunken interlude with during college?”

Dragging her gaze from the television, Stella looked at her. “Virginity guy?”

“Yeah.”

“That was Drew?”

“That was Drew.”

Stella laid her feet on the floor and put her beer down. “You have got to be kidding me. And you’re still speaking to him?”

“It was a long time ago, Stella.”

“Yes, and he was a big dick to you that night. Correction. He gave a big dick to you that night, and then he acted like a douche.”

Carolina shook her head. “We were both drunk.”

“And he took advantage of you. Then dumped you. Asshole.”

Carolina loved that her friend was so fiercely protective of her. “It wasn’t exactly like that. Did I make it sound like that?”

“You didn’t need to make it sound like that. That’s how it was, wasn’t it?”

She shrugged. “Not really. I mean yes, I was a virgin, but God, I chased after him. Lusted after him. He just gave me what I’d wanted. What I asked him for. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t—didn’t love me like I wanted.”

Stella sighed. “And you’re still speaking to him. You’re way more forgiving than I would be.”

“Clearly, you’re a mean bitch. Who broke your heart so badly?”

“No one, because I won’t let a guy get within a mile of it. I’ve seen too many of my friends messed up by men. They’re all vicious heartbreakers. Best not to fall in love, that way you won’t get hurt.”

Carolina shifted on the sofa. “Seriously? But you date a lot. In fact, you’re always going out with guys.”

“Exactly. Different guys. They’re fun, and they have penises, and if they know what to do with them, they might get to hang around for a while. But keeping them, long term? No way. As soon as I think I might be developing feelings for one, he’s out the door.”

After all these years of knowing Stella, she had no idea her friend felt this way about men. And she could deny it all she wanted, but some guy had broken her heart. Why else would she protect it so fiercely?

She was so gorgeous. Tall and lithe, with a killer figure and a man’s attitude about sex and dating. She could quite possibly be every man’s dream.

“So who broke your heart, Stella? Seriously.”

Stella picked up her bottle of beer and took a long swallow. “I’d rather hear about the hot and studly hockey player who’s back in your life again. You should tease the hell out of him, then leave him high and dry.”

Carolina laughed. “You have a mean streak.”

Stella grinned. “I know. But that’s me. So tell me about you and—oh shit, he just scored. Goddamn, he’s good.”

Carolina jerked her attention to the screen and caught Drew’s score on the replay. He’d skated past the defender and caught a pass from a teammate, shooting the puck past the goalie and into the net.

It had been a magnificent shot, so filled with power she had felt it zing all the way through her television.

“Hello? Did you just orgasm watching the replay?”

She rolled her eyes at Stella’s comment. “Not funny. It was a good shot, though.”

“So how much are you seeing this Drew Hogan guy?”

“I’m not seeing him at all. We did spend Thanksgiving together, but only because I stayed here to work, and my mother and brother conned him into dragging me out of the house. So I worked the homeless shelter with him. Then he took me ice skating. And we went out to eat later that day.”

“So, you spent the entire day with him. Did you get him naked? Did he get you naked?”

“He most definitely did not get me naked that day.”

Stella laughed. “So he got you naked another day.”

“I had to get his measurements.”

“Ohhh, so you
did
get him naked.”

“Not naked. He had his boxer briefs on.”

Stella glanced at the television again, then pulled her attention back to Carolina. “I’ll bet he has a killer body.”

“He’s ripped, for sure. Even more so now than he was in college.”

“And you want to fuck him again?”

“Honestly, Stella. You’re so . . . blunt.”

“So? What’s wrong with women loving sex? When was the last time you got laid?”

She had a point. “Too long.”

“Okay, then. Go jump hot stuff’s bones, then dump him, hard. You’ll get a great release and it’ll be nice payback. But hey, first we should go to a game. I love hockey. Can you introduce me to some of the players?”

“Why? Do you want to ruin one or two of them, leaving them well satisfied but crying in your wake?”

Stella laughed. “Maybe.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good. Since they’re in town, send hot stuff a text message. We can go party with them after the game.”

“Uh, it’s a little late, don’t you think?”

“It’s Friday night. What else are you going to do?”

“I was going to work tomorrow.”

“You can start a little later. Let’s have some fun tonight.”

She narrowed her gaze at Stella. “You’re a very bad influence.”

Stella laughed. “No, honey. I’m the best friend you’ve got. The one who’s going to prevent you from turning into a sweater-wearing cat lady who owns a rocking chair. Now send the text. They’re deep into the third period now and up by two goals, and I’d wager your guy is going to be ready to party after the game.”

Carolina could not believe she was doing this, but she grabbed her phone and sent the text.

“You’re going to make me regret this.”

“No regrets. Just fun.”

Carolina didn’t know about the fun part. But the message had been sent.

And she already regretted sending it.

TEN

AFTER A GRUELING GAME THAT ENDED WITH A three–to-one win, Drew was ready to let off some steam. So were some of the other guys.

He was shocked when, after showering and getting dressed, he grabbed his phone and found a text message from Carolina.

My friend Stella and I want to meet up with you after the game for drinks. Are you and your teammates heading somewhere?

Huh.

He wondered who Stella was. A fan, maybe? Either way, he was happy to hear from Carolina. He texted her back the name and location of the bar he and a few of the guys were headed to, and told her to meet them there.

McGill’s Bar was dark and packed, a typical hangout for the before, during, and after-the-game crowd. Drew always felt comfortable coming here because the fans were respectful and didn’t give them a hard time. They could hang out, drink a few beers, play some pool, and unwind. The big-screen TVs to watch the games didn’t hurt any, either. Since it was mostly guys, he didn’t have to deal with the hockey groupies.

So when Carolina walked in, looking cool and sexy in a brown leather jacket and dark jeans that hugged her slender legs, she definitely got the once-over from all the guys in the bar. And the tall blonde with her was gorgeous. Drew moved from the back of the bar to meet them.

“Hey,” he said, winding his arm around Carolina. “Glad you could make it.”

“Drew, this is Stella Slovinski. Stella, Drew Hogan.”

Drew shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, Stella.”

“Same here. Good game tonight.”

He arched a brow. “You’re a fan?”

“I love hockey. Carolina and I watched the game at her place.”

He shifted his gaze to Carolina’s. “You watched my game, huh?”

She shrugged. “It was on while I was eating. Then Stella dropped by, and she likes hockey.”

Drew grinned. “I love a hockey fan. Come on back. We’re playing pool.”

He led them to where the guys were in the middle of a game. He introduced Carolina and Stella to the six other guys who’d come with him to the bar.

“Nice saves at goalie tonight,” Stella said, striking up a conversation with Avery.

“Thanks.”

“Can’t believe you let that one in the third period slide by you, though. Were you napping back there?”

“Oh, tough critic,” Trick, Drew’s fellow forward said with a wide grin. He signaled the waitress. “Beer, Stella?”

“Definitely. And you have room to talk, Trick. You missed an easy pass from Drew while you were an inch from the goal.”

Trick laughed. “I like her. She has balls.”

“Well, no, I don’t, but I don’t mind busting yours.”

Drew laughed, then turned to Carolina. “What can I get you to drink?”

She grabbed a chair. “I’ll have a glass of wine. Something red, if they have it.”

“Coming right up.” He went up to the bar and ordered a glass of cabernet for Carolina, watching as Stella engaged the players. Deep in conversation with them, Stella seemed right at home while Carolina observed.

Actually, her gaze tracked back to him at the bar. But as soon as she saw he was looking at her, she slipped off her chair and joined Stella in conversation with the other guys.

Okay, he liked that she didn’t want him to know she was watching him.

She liked him. He knew it, and he understood the history between them and why she was wary.

His fault, really, but he was the one who was going to have to do something to change that.

He handed her the glass of wine.

“I was just telling your friend Trick here that he’d better get his ass in gear if he wants his stats to be as good as yours before the season starts,” Stella said.

“Oh, a statistician in our midst,” Drew said.

“Yeah, but I think she has her math wrong, because I’ve outshot you three to one.”

“My math is never wrong, Trick. Just ask Carolina.”

“I’m afraid Stella is right on that,” Carolina said.

“Yeah? How would you know?”

“She’s a hard-core hockey fan, and follows every player on the Travelers. She probably knows your stats better than you do.”

Trick leaned back to observe Stella. “No shit. Are you some kind of mathematician?”

Stella laughed. “No. I’m a dancer. But I’m very good at math.”

“So, you’re smart and beautiful. Score two for you, Stella.”

Avery moved over and pulled up a chair next to Carolina. “And you’re some kind of . . . designer, right?”

Carolina smiled at Avery, surprised he remembered her at all from their brief meeting at the mission on Thanksgiving. “That’s right.”

“What kind of designer was it again?”

“Clothing.”

“Oh. So you’re big into fashion and stuff.”

Carolina smiled. “Yes. You could say that.”

“And you’re friends with a hockey stats geek.”

“Hey,” Stella said, giving Avery a glare.

Avery laughed. “Touchy, touchy. Sorry. A beautiful, dancing, hockey stats genius.”

Stella nodded. “Better. And now you owe me a beer for the insult.”

“Consider it done. But how good are you at pool?”

BOOK: Melting the Ice
9.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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