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Authors: Jaci Burton

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BOOK: Melting the Ice
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Now? Now was a different story. Now he was settled, with a good career and a stability in his life he hadn’t had before.

Except Carolina wouldn’t give him the time of day.

He aimed to change that.

THREE

CAROLINA TOOK A CAB TO MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, went to the box office to pick up her ticket, and made her way to her seat, surprised when she realized it was in the middle and down low.

Great seats. She’d have an amazing view of all the action and the players. She took out her sketchbook and readied for the game.

When the players came out, which happened to be right near where she was seated, she shifted in her seat to watch them take the ice.

It was just as she’d imagined, only so much better seeing it in person. Despite being loaded down with heavy uniforms and protective gear, they glided across the ice, as breathtaking in form as a figure skater who wore the lightest of costumes. Carolina settled in and watched the players warm up, the grace and fluidity of motion they used to slide the puck back and forth as graceful to her as any skater she’d ever seen.

When the game started and the referee dropped the puck between the two opposing players, she leaned forward, her gaze already trained on Drew, one of the forwards. He and his teammates struck fast, grabbing the puck and driving ahead toward Denver’s goal.

Drew was lightning fast. Carolina no more than blinked and he had skated down the ice toward the goal and taken a shot. It missed, but his teammate had scooped it up behind the goalie and shot it toward another one of the Travelers players.

The interplay fascinated her. She’d watched a lot of games on television, but there was nothing like being at a game. The action was fast paced, and she found herself leaning forward, her pencil clutched tightly in her hand. By the time Denver had snatched the puck and moved to the other side of the ice, she realized she hadn’t sketched anything because she’d been too absorbed in the game.

Time to change that. She focused on Drew, the way his body moved when he skated. Of course she wouldn’t be able to get a decent sketch of his body, but she drew the lines to give her an impression of movement.

“Hey, whatcha doin’?”

She looked up at the man sitting next to her. He was maybe in his late forties, wearing a Travelers jersey and clutching a beer in his hand.

“Sketching.”

“You a reporter?”

She smiled at him. “No.”

“So why you drawin’ pictures?”

She really didn’t want to get into why she was doing this. “I just like to draw. It . . . brings the game alive for me.”

“Oh. I get it. Better than takin’ a picture with your camera, huh?”

“Yes. Something like that.”

He slapped her on the back. Hard. “Good for you, honey.”

She winced and went back to watching the game, flipping the page so she could sketch some action shots with more than one player, wanting to get the speed of the skates, the teamwork involved, and the way the puck seemed to disappear when they all crowded around it.

Men at work. This was Drew’s job, and as she zeroed in on him, she highlighted his face, glad now that he’d gotten her these seats so close-up. She depicted the fierceness of his features as he concentrated on fighting for the puck. And when he was slammed against the boards right in front of her, she saw the ends of his hair peeking out from his helmet. His hair was wet from sweat despite how cold it was in the Garden. Not surprising, considering there wasn’t a moment he was on the ice that he wasn’t moving.

Movement. Men were constantly in motion, which meant they needed style and comfort. While she wanted the men’s clothes in her line to look amazing, she also knew men placed a high premium on freedom and ease in their wardrobe. Carolina jotted down some notes, her mind whirling with the possibilities of what she could create. She could write faster than she could draw, but she already had five or six ideas she wanted to sketch later, including underwear.

She grinned, wondering if Drew would model those for her, then forced that thought aside. Fitting him for underwear might be more than she could handle.

But wouldn’t he look magnificent in a print ad? She could already envision it in her mind, the angle of his body, the way they’d set up the shoot.

It was perfect. Now she’d have to drum up the courage to ask him to do it.

 • • • 

DREW’S ENTIRE BODY KNOTTED UP WITH TENSION AS Boyd Litman shot the puck at him. He raced forward and fought one of Denver’s defenders for it, wrestling it away and skating toward the opposing goal.

Tied one to one in the third, the last thing they needed was a tie. This had been a tough game already and he knew everyone was beat-up and exhausted. There were two minutes left in regulation. Time to end this thing.

He passed the puck to Ray Sayers and skated past the defender, getting himself into position by the goal, fighting with the defender to stay where he needed to be while Sayers and Litman fought to keep the puck away from Denver’s defender.

When the puck came toward him, he jostled with Marquette on Denver’s team, one of their toughest defenders. He took a shot and missed.

Dammit. A quick glance at the clock showed they were down to the final minute. With renewed determination, he fought for possession and gained it back, and made a tricky shot toward Litman who was right at the goal.

Litman slid it past the Denver goalie and it went in.

Drew had never seen anything sweeter than when the goal lit up. He raised his stick in the air and skated toward his teammates while the fans in the Garden went wild.

That had been a great victory, hard-won because Denver was a tough team to beat.

As they worked the line to shake hands with their opponents, Drew searched the crowd and saw Carolina, standing and clapping along with everyone else.

He liked seeing that smile on her face. He skated over to the boards and motioned for her to come down. She did.

“You played very well, though I wasn’t sure you were going to finish it off in regulation.”

“Neither did I. Will you stay and wait for me?”

She looked uncertain. “I have some work to do.”

“Did you eat?”

“Well, no.”

He shook his head, then smiled at her. “Have dinner with me.”

“I suppose I could.”

“Great. I won’t be long. Just wait right here.”

“Okay.”

He stayed long enough to sign a few autographs for some of the fans, then headed to the locker room to take a shower. He hurried out of there before he got stuck doing media interviews, which would likely piss off his coach, but he wasn’t in the mood tonight.

Not when he’d convinced Carolina to go out to dinner with him.

She was still waiting in her seat, her knees drawn up, her sketch pad on her lap. She hadn’t seen him, so he watched her. She was so engrossed in her work that nothing could shake her out of it.

She had her hair pulled behind her ears and she was worrying her lower lip with her teeth, which brought his attention to her mouth. It might have been eight years since that hot night in the dorm, but he could still remember the sweet innocence of her taste, how she’d flung herself wholeheartedly into sex with him.

She might have been a virgin, and she’d known nothing about sex, but she’d wanted to sleep with him, had been eager to rid herself of what she’d referred to as the unpleasant yoke of virginity.

He’d been surprised that, at twenty, she’d still been a virgin. When she was a teen she’d been a little overweight, but she’d always been beautiful, with her dark hair and stunning blue eyes. What was wrong with guys that they hadn’t leaped at the chance to be with her?

Then again, what the hell had been wrong with him that he had missed out on her the two years they’d been together in college? He’d been so wrapped up in sports and his friends and screwing every girl he’d had the chance to be with that he hadn’t noticed her. Or maybe he had noticed her, but she’d been Gray’s little sister, and you didn’t screw your best friend’s sister. That was one of the rules.

Or it had been, at least until graduation night, when he’d been plenty drunk and Carolina had been plenty brave enough to ask him to take her to bed.

He’d broken the rule. And had never regretted it.

When she finally looked up and saw him, she tucked her sketchbook into her bag and came down the stairs.

“Took you long enough,” she said, her gaze scanning his face and hair. “Did you use extra gel and a blow-dryer?”

He liked that she gave him a hard time. “Yeah. It was a rough night. Plus, I wanted to look pretty for you. Did it work?”

She held her gaze on his awhile. “I won’t need to put a bag over your head, so I guess you’ll do.”

He laughed and grasped her hand. “Come on. I must have burned a thousand calories on that game. I need a big steak.”

He led her out through the side door, where he’d already arranged to have a car.

“Ooh, a private car, huh?”

He laughed as he held the door for her and then climbed inside. “Hey, I get some perks, ya know.”

The car drove them to Sparks, one of his favorite steakhouses.

“I love the food here,” Carolina said as Drew helped her out of the car.

They were seated right away and presented with a wine list.

“Wine?” he asked.

“I shouldn’t. I have so much work to do.”

“Think how relaxed you’ll be and able to work after you have a nice meal and some wine.”

She cocked a brow. “I think you’re full of it. A full stomach and wine and all I’ll want to do is climb into bed and fall asleep.”

“Then think how productive you’ll be tomorrow after some rest.”

She laughed. “You might be right about that. I’ve been working nonstop for months.”

“You needed a night off, then. Too much work muddles the brain cells and you can’t think clearly.”

“I did get some sketches drawn during your game.”

“Yeah? Can I see them?”

He read the hesitation on her face.

“Oh. I don’t know.”

“Are they secret sketches?”

“Not really. They’re just difficult to explain.”

He gave her a look. “So, you think I’m an idiot.”

“I didn’t say that.”

He held out his hand. “Then let me see them.”

“Fine.” She dug her sketchbook out of her bag and flipped to a page, then handed it to him.

He looked at them, stunned by her talent as he reviewed the pages she’d drawn of him and some of the other players. She’d caught everything about the game and the players. The speed, the intensity in their expressions. He could feel the action and the emotion on these pages. He lifted his gaze to hers. “Wow, Carolina. These are really good. I had no idea you had talent like this.”

He saw the blush creep across her cheeks as he handed the sketchbook back to her.

“I had to do them fast. They’re just messy drawings.”

“No, they’re . . . amazing. You captured the fast pace and passion of hockey like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

“What I really wanted to do was show how you all move.”

“I’d say you did that perfectly.”

Their waiter showed up. Carolina deferred, so Drew ordered a bottle of wine for them.

“What’s your intent in doing the drawings? Obviously you’re not looking to design hockey uniforms.”

She let out a short laugh. “Uh, no. But I am thinking about sports when I design for men. How to take movement into consideration. And comfort. Men don’t like to feel restricted or weighed down in clothing. You want to feel comfortable, even in”—she looked around and leaned forward—“underwear.”

“So you’re going to create a line of men’s underwear, too?”

“Yes.” Her lips tipped upward at the corners. “How do you feel about modeling underwear?”

He shrugged. “I feel fine about it, but how do you know I’ve got the goods to do it? Maybe you want to use some dude who does that for a living.”

“I suppose you have a point. I’d have to . . . see your body again.”

He smiled. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

She rolled her eyes. “Look. You’re going to have to be a professional about this if we’re going to work together.”

“Hey, I can get naked and not think about having sex with you. Maybe.”

“Can you?”

“I’m not twelve, babe.”

“Or twenty-two, drunk, and unable to remember my name?”

He leveled a not-quite-happy look at her. “I knew exactly who I was sleeping with that night.”

“Maybe you did. It was the day after you forgot who I was.”

“Yeah, I screwed up big-time that night, and the day after. I could give you a lifetime of I’m sorry’s, but that can’t change what happened or the fact I treated you like shit afterward. But I’ll still say it, as many times as you need to hear it—I’m sorry, Carolina.”

FOUR

THEIR WAITER BROUGHT THE WINE, AND TOOK THEIR food order, so Carolina didn’t have time to respond to Drew’s apology. Probably a good thing, since she had no idea what to say to him.

She’d waited years for that apology, had played over and over in her head what she’d say to him if he ever said he was sorry.

She’d planned to throw his apology back in his face. She’d tell him she’d cried over and over again for months after he walked out on her and never called her. She’d felt worthless and used and in love with someone who obviously felt nothing for her.

But that was the twenty-year-old, brokenhearted Carolina who’d had all those feelings.

Drew had never once made any promises to her that night, and all her feelings had been just that—
her
feelings—the ones of a very young girl who’d wrapped all her hopes and dreams in fantasy, none of which had been his fault. She’d known he was leaving campus, that he had a promising career ahead of him with a hockey team. Instead, she’d manufactured some love story in her head that had nothing to do with reality.

Which, again, hadn’t been his fault at all. It had taken her a long time to come to grips with that. But she’d moved on, finished college, and had become an adult. She’d had other relationships and had shoved Drew into a drawer of the past.

BOOK: Melting the Ice
9.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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