Authors: Victoria Denault
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For my brother Ken. I admire you more than you know.
I couldn’t have begun to write this book without the incredible support of my husband, Jack. Thank you for believing in me and pushing me to believe in myself. You have a unique way of making me believe the impossible is possible and I love you more than words can say.
To my amazing agent, Kimberly Brower—I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your career guidance, sage editing advice, and incredible enthusiasm for not just my work but for the literary world in general. You are the best agent ever!
Thank you to my editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, for your amazing insights and suggestions. Sebastian and Shayne are snarkier and sexier because of you. To everyone at Forever Yours that touched this book, be it through PR, cover design, copyedits, or any other way, thank you so much. Knowing I have such an amazing, talented team working with me helps me sleep at night and keeps me sane (well, saner than I would be without you. LOL).
To the friends who take it upon themselves to be my unpaid PR team and personal cheerleaders—Sarah Jillain, Crystal Richard, Shelda Kirkland (lil’ B), Crystal Shepeard, Sandra C, Mike Hiron, Bev Tyler, Peter Milligan, DeAnna Zankich, my family, and so many more—I adored you all before I started this journey (yes, even you, Peter) and I’m so blown away by your enthusiastic support.
Thanks to UCLA Extension, particularly the Writers’ Program—Linda, Carla, Cindy, Katy, Jeff, Sarah, Phoebe, Chae, Nutschell, and Amanda. You all work/worked tirelessly to create and run a program that helps make dreams come true. Also, as a former employee I have to say, you all made work feel like play and coworkers feel like family, so thank you.
Despite having a background in marketing, I am not at all skilled at marketing myself. Because of that I am so incredibly thankful for all the bloggers and fellow authors who take the time to promote, review, and recommend my books. I don’t know what I would do without you all. The romance community is an amazing place to work thanks to all of you.
Last but never least, thank you to all the readers who have given the Hometown Players a chance. As Sebastian would say,
There’s no way we can lose now. With only sixty seconds left in the game, the San Diego Saints need three goals just to tie it. Not going to happen. Their captain, Beau Echolls, gives me a hard shove when no one is looking.
“Stop touching me. No matter how hard you try, my greatness won’t rub off on you,” I taunt and give him my most annoying, cocky grin.
He scowls at me. His eyes narrow and his lip snarls. “Fuck off, Deveau. You fucking suck.”
“More goals than any other defenseman in the league this year,” I brag, leaning forward and tightening my grip on my stick as the ref holds the puck over the face-off circle. “You’ve scored how many goals this year? I’ve lost count. Is it one or two?”
The ref drops the puck, but I don’t have a chance to get into the play before Echolls cross-checks me, hard. Beau is a big boy—six foot four and probably over two hundred pounds. The slam of his stick across my back sends me face-first into the ice.
The pain through my shoulders is blinding for a second, but rage soon takes over, and it’s all I see as I jump up. My gloves are off before I’m fully upright, and as I skate toward him he’s flinging his own gloves across the ice. I’m expecting the linesmen and the ref to grab both of us, but the game has been getting more and more aggressive with every period, and they’re done putting out fires. I hear the ref call out, “Let ’em go!” and it’s on.
The fight is brief. We’re yanking on each other’s jerseys and spinning around, and then Echolls swings twice and misses both times. I swing three times and land two—an uppercut and a haymaker that knocks the asshat flat on his back. The crowd, because we’re in San Diego, is mostly booing the crap out of me, and I could not care less.
As the ref peels me off Echolls and skates me toward the penalty box, I lift my arms and grin at the crowd. I fucking love that. It’s why I chose to play defense and why I also choose to be an enforcer on the ice. I live to get under the skin of the other team and their fans. It’s a rush like nothing else.
We pass Jordan, who’s laughing in delight at me. “Gordie Howe hat trick. Nice job, Deveau.”
I grin as I realize he’s right. Tonight I scored a goal, got an assist, and now a fight, all in one game. The ref gives me a little shove toward the tunnel. “Only ten seconds left, just go to the room.”
“Yes, sir.” I grin, and he shakes his head and skates away.
I get a few pats on the back from my teammates as I pass the bench, exit the ice and head to the locker room. Feeling much better now. That fight drained the frustration I was feeling over the uncomfortable conversation I’d had with my ex-girlfriend earlier today. We’d broken up the day before I left on this road trip after dating for about two months.
In the last couple of weeks things had changed with us. Andie started getting too possessive. She wanted to hang out every single free minute I had and would get angry when I wanted to stay home alone or go out with just the guys. She insisted I call her three times a day from road trips. Three times. When we were in Montreal and Toronto last week I called her only once one day, and she woke me up at four in the freaking morning and started ranting at me, telling me I was selfish and that if we were going to be serious about this relationship I needed to respect her needs. As soon as I got home I explained to her that my needs weren’t the same as hers and that we’d be better off going our separate ways.
Another one bites the dust.
I walk into the empty locker room and start to peel out of my equipment. My left wrist is throbbing a little bit from the punches I landed, but I try to ignore it and bend to untie my skates. As I tie a towel around my waist the rest of the team filters in.
Alex Larue tosses a glove at me. “Wanna grab a celebratory drink?”
“Pas ce soir.”
I shake my head and tell him no in French before explaining in English. “It’s been a long week, and we have an early flight tomorrow.”
Alex looks around the locker room. “Jordy? Chooch? Avery?”
They all shake their heads no. Alex looks like we just ran over his cat. “You guys and your monogamy are killing me!”
“Actually,” I say and adjust my towel, “Andie and I broke up.”
That gets everyone’s attention. They all turn to me with varying looks of sympathy.
“Sorry, buddy,” Jordan tells me quietly. He
feel sorry for me; he’s the reason I started looking for something serious. Last year Jordan got back together with his high school love, Jessie. They have this crazy kind of attraction and admiration for each other that made me start wanting more than my usual fun but superficial one-night stands.
“You wanna go out after a home game, I’m there,” I tell Alex. “But there’s no point to hookups after away games. It won’t lead to anything.”
“Come on,” Alex moans as we walk to the showers. “You have to admit the free and easy hookups are fun. And
I hang my towel on a hook and turn on the water. “There is more to life than easy pussy, Alex.”
“You know that’s your problem, right?” Avery interrupts, his eyes are serious. “You want a serious relationship with someone you meet in a meaningless hookup.”
“What are you talking about?”
“How did you meet Andie again?” Avery asks.
“She found him on the dance floor at a bar after a game and dry-humped him until he took her home,” Alex explains for me, because he was right next to me when it happened.
“Exactly.” Avery nods like he’s just enlightened me, but he hasn’t. So then he sighs and adds, “When was the last time you heard of an epic romance starting with dry-humping and nudity before phone numbers are exchanged?”
I think about that. Jessie and Jordan, the couple who put this whole committed, meaningful relationship notion in my head, definitely didn’t meet like that. They’d been high school best friends.
“Doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” I argue, because it’s the truth.
Avery chuckles as he turns off his shower and reaches for his towel. “Leave it to your abstinent French ass to do things the hard way.”
“At least I’m doing it at all,” I counter back. The guy hasn’t had a girlfriend in all the years I’ve known him. He’s never taken a girl home that I’ve ever seen, or even kissed one. There are rumors it’s happened once or twice but Westwood’s sex life is like Sasquatch. No one knows for sure if it’s real.
I’m still thinking about Avery’s words when I crawl under the sheets of my hotel bed an hour later. He’s not wrong. The simple, standard way of finding a girlfriend would be to ask friends to set me up or go on dating sites and find people who have been prematched to my wants and needs. But the fact is, with my job, I don’t feel comfortable going on a dating site. I make millions a year and have a face that is fairly recognizable. It isn’t an option. And as for asking friends…well, that just seems so…forced.
I’ve always been a believer in fate. I want the right person to wander into my life organically and unexpectedly. Avery is right. I am looking for that sexy, spontaneous encounter—the kind the best one-night stands are made of—and then I want it to be more. That’s who I am and who I will always be. Someone who likes a challenge, who never takes the easy route and will take passionate and wild over comfortable and calm any day. If that means I crash and burn—a lot—so be it.
When Avery asked me and a couple of other Winterhawks to attend the grand opening of Elevate Fitness, a gym one of his college buddies owns, I wasn’t super thrilled with the idea. Now as I stare across the crowded, two-story foyer, I’m happy I agreed to come.
Avery shrugs. “No idea. Judging by the fact she’s holding a wine bottle, I’d say either part of the catering team or works here at the gym.”
“Or she’s a hardcore alcoholic who is owning it,” Jordan Garrison adds. I laugh. Avery chuckles. His fiancée, Jessie, smacks him in the chest but she’s smiling.
“She’s gorgeous,” I mutter as I sip my martini. It’s more an observation to myself, but I can’t help but say it aloud as I watch the girl in the clingy emerald dress refill someone’s wineglass.
“You have a girlfriend, Seb,” Jessie reminds me quietly but sternly.
“Not anymore,” I reply as I glance at her. She doesn’t look as surprised as I would expect.
“What happened to Dawn?”
Jordan wraps an arm around his future wife and speaks for me. “Same thing that happened to Andie four months ago and Melissa two months ago. And the same thing that will happen to the woman over there if he has his way.”
“Whoa now,” I say, and I’m a little offended. “I wanted it to work. I
want it to work.”
“Uh-huh,” Jordan says, but it’s dripping in sarcasm.
“Not all of us find true love at eighteen,” I remind him. “But you can bet when I do, I won’t screw it up.”
“Ouch.” Jordan clutches his chest like he’s wounded, but he knows I’m right. He and Jessie spent years not speaking before they finally reconciled last year. I glance back at the beauty in the emerald dress. She’s talking with the owner, Trey Beckford. It’s quite the fancy event for a gym. Open bar, the best caterer in Seattle and everyone is dressed up.
“You should ask Trey who she is,” I advise Avery, the reason we’re all at this event. Trey and Avery played in college together but Trey dropped out—of school and hockey—his junior year while Avery left for the NHL.
“What do I look like to you? eHarmony?” he replies and rolls his eyes. Avery has always been a little on the intense side, but lately he’s been even more uptight than normal.
“You owe me for making me put on a suit for this thing,” I counter and adjust the knot on my tie, as if to prove my point.
“You wear suits to games all the time,” he argues and rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, and that’s enough time in them. I should be at home in sweats right now.” I sigh, which is dramatic, even for me. “I wish we hadn’t traded Alex. He was such a great wingman.”
Avery looks over at Emerald Dress. “Why don’t you try introducing yourself and asking for her number. I know that’s not usually your way, but it works for the rest of mankind.”
“What’s Seb’s way?” Jessie asks.
“Get naked and ask questions later.” Jordan laughs at his own joke—loudly. Emerald Dress is close enough to hear him now and glances up at us. My eyes catch hers for just a heartbeat, long enough to see that they’re a smoky blue, maybe gray? Without the slightest reaction at all, she continues her conversation with a brunette about the same age in a white dress, turning her back to us. No one seems to even notice the moment but me.
My sister wanders over. She’s my date for the night, like she always is when I have an event and I’m single. Stephanie smiles brightly at me. “This place is really awesome! Even the bathrooms are state of the art. And the changing rooms look more like a fancy spa than a gym locker room. You have to check it out.”
I nod. “I will.”
Stephanie sighs. “I’d kill for another glass of champagne.”
I glance at my now empty martini glass. “I’ll find you some.”
.” Steph smiles. and I give her a wink.
I walk over to the bar, which will serve as a juice bar when this place opens, but right now it is covered in bottles of liquor. There’s a pretty redhead behind the counter smiling at me as I approach. “You’re Sebastian Deveau.”
I smile and respond in French, because women love that shit. “
Her smile deepens and her eyes get wide with excitement. “I love you. I’m a huge Winterhawks fan and you’re my favorite. I was at the game where you got that scar.”
She points to my chin, and I lift my hand and trace the small white line that runs along my jaw where the end of a stick from a Los Angeles Sinners player caught me last season. It wasn’t that big a deal, but I remember there was a ton of blood all over the ice, and it looked fucking gross.
“I was so scared for you. But you came right back out after they stitched you up and finished the game.” She tilts her head and sighs, her eyelashes fluttering like a Southern belle admiring her Prince Charming. I chuckle.
“Yeah, it looked worse than it was. And hey”—I grin cockily—“clearly chicks love scars.”
She looks confused by that and blinks her big blue eyes. “But it was horrible to see you hurt. You don’t need a scar to look good.”
I nod and realize that she’s so not my type. “That’s very sweet. My sister is dying for more of that champagne they were pouring earlier. Do you happen to have some?”
“I’ll grab a fresh bottle from the back,” she says with a smile and scurries off.
I’m about to turn and scan the hefty crowd for Emerald Dress again, but suddenly she’s standing in front of me. She’s holding a bottle of the champagne I’ve been looking for. Her eyes lock on mine, and her posture straightens. Her eyes are a deep, smoky gray color just like I’d thought but this close I can see the flecks of blue and green peppered around her irises. Her brown hair is messy in that way that’s on purpose, and her skin is this amazing ivory color with freckles across the bridge of her nose she’s trying to diminish with subtle makeup. Her body is even more perfect up close than it appeared across the room. She’s lithe but tight and toned.
I smile my special reserve smile. The one I only break out for special occasions that involve special people I am not just trying to impress but trying to undress. She takes it in, starts to turn pink and lowers her eyes. For a second I’m disappointed. Is she a delicate flower type? Damn, I hope not.
“Just what I was looking for,” I murmur and wait before adding, “Veuve Cliquot.”
“We might be out,” she says, the pink tinge to her cheeks receding as she tips the bottle in her hand to show it’s empty. “But if you flashed that smile at Sara she’s probably off wrestling the last glass out of someone’s hand just to give it to you.”
I fight a laugh. “You like my smile?”
“I didn’t say that,” she answers quickly, and a sexy little smirk covers her own pink lips. “And I’ll never say that, because women like Sara will say it enough for the rest of us.”
So much snark. I think I’m in love. I
I’m in lust.
“Great party,” I say to her as a compliment because she might be the caterer if she knows the staff’s first names. “And this place is incredible. I don’t think Seattle has ever had such a high-tech gym.”
“Fitness center,” she murmurs back and her voice is soft and sexy. “Elevate Fitness is for the marathoners, the Iron men and women, the professional athletes looking to take it to the next level or for the housewife, businessman and average Joe looking to change their lifestyle.”
“You’ve got their slogan memorized?”
She points to my empty martini glass. I nod and watch every move as she slowly turns and bends, her hips twisting and her ass jutting out toward me as she leans over to pick up the bottle of Grey Goose.
the things I will do to her when she lets me…
“I should. I wrote it.” She gives me another sexy little smile. So she’s not the caterer. She works here. Instructor or business manager or…Avery had mentioned the owner, Trey, was “married to a great girl”…fuck. Is she Trey’s wife?
“I teach classes here,” she clarifies before I have time to panic.
“Let me guess…” I let my eyes wander slowly over her, leaning on the counter to get a gratuitous look at her long, shapely legs. “Spin class instructor?”
She shakes her head and slides my drink over to me. I make sure my fingers graze hers as I take the glass off the counter. The feel of her skin sends a ripple down my spine right into my groin. Fuck, she is already under my skin. I’ve never experienced something so intense so quickly before, and it makes me move away first. She likes that. It makes her blush again.
“Wanna have another go?”
I smirk. I can’t help it. I know she means another guess, but…“I haven’t had a first go…yet.”
She blinks those big, sexy gray eyes and then she smiles. It’s wide, it’s deep and it’s full of suggestion. She starts to speak, but before anything comes out Sara is back holding a bottle of pink champagne. “Found it! Last bottle.”
She starts to uncork it, smiling so brightly at me I want to squint. I turn my attention back to Emerald Dress. She looks at the champagne and realizes I must be getting a drink for someone else. I can see the thought skitter across her expression. She doesn’t like it. I like that she doesn’t like it. But before I can explain it’s for my sister, she announces, “I should go. Excuse me.”
I watch her tight little ass swing back and forth under the silky material as she saunters off down a hall to the left of the main room where everyone is gathered.