Two Chapters of FAKE PLAY

Well, someone suggested showing the first chapter or so of the book coming out this Tuesday, 6/30. So here you go (after the blurb). Hope you enjoy.

Blurb: Connor Ellison, one of Atlanta Edge’s best wingers and biggest prankster, is given an ultimatum by the coaches and the PR department. He must stay married until the end of the run for the Cup or be available for trade.

Lily Jones wants nothing to do with the insane demand. But he convinces her the best decision is to play along. If they remain married and pretend to be in love, he offers to save her family’s ice rink from bankruptcy. Anyway, it’s only until the end of the hockey season. Then they can go their separate ways.

Easy-peasy. No way will they go to the finals. No way will they truly fall in love.

No cliffhanger. Standalone.

For blurb and links click on
https://carlaswafford.com/my-books/

#hockeyromance #femalehockeyplayer #malehockeyplayer


******

 

Chapter One

Lily

I wipe the drool from the corner of my mouth.

Why aren’t my eyelids lifting? I rub at the itching and swollen feeling with my knuckles.

What’s up with my arms and legs? They weigh a ton and ache like a son of—ugh, the throbbing around my skull pulsates in time with my heart.

When did I get the flu?

No. Not flu.

Flashes of memory flicker through my sore brain.

Drinking. Laughter. I’m certain I went partying with friends after my flight arrived in Las Vegas.

That’s right. I’m in Vegas.

Even before landing, Elise, Kimi, and I talked about how exciting the weekend would be as we never did something so outrageous and spur of the moment. The round trip tickets were unbelievably cheap, and we planned to save more by sharing a room.

The trip to Sin City was a first for me. Sin City. So different from Atlanta. Plus it would help me to forget about my troubles back home and just be a girl without a care for a couple days.

With some effort, I open and close my eyes. I force clearer thoughts to the forefront, despite the throbbing in my head, in an attempt to recall details of the last few hours.

Celebrating in Vegas after a New Year’s Eve hockey game is the perfect place to let go. The hotel where the party was being held had been crazy full and loud, so much fun. Lights glittering as dancers bump and grind against each other. People laughing, smiling, drinking without a thought about tomorrow.

Elise, my oldest friend, as in since the third grade, knows everyone, and she introduced me to several tall good-looking, athletic men who play for the Atlanta Edge Hockey team. They played the Vegas team and won. So everyone was keyed up. And actually, I did know the players, but most didn’t remember me, and the few that did, I was barely recognizable to them. Short dresses and sparkly jewelry are not my usual attire. So I danced and danced all night into the early morning, letting myself go like never before. Two—or was it three?—margaritas later, the night became fuzzy, but I do remember laughing a lot. More than I have in…well, five years.

The party was sponsored by several local charities that NHL supports. Elise had managed to get us invited days earlier in Atlanta after meeting the captain of the Edge, Ryan Schmid. The man is gorgeous. Good enough to lick.

But my best friend called dibs.

Oh goodness, my head hurts. The room nearly glows with white light from the windows.

As soon as I gently press fingers to my temples, I realize it’s the wrong thing to do. Spikes of pain shoot behind my eyeballs.

Yep. Way too much fun and alcohol.

The long groan coming from my mouth echoes into what sounds like a cavernous room.

Wait. With three females sharing a budget-minded room off the strip in Vegas, there is no way anyone can think of it as roomy.

Finally, my eyes clear enough to see I’m not in the low-rent room I shared with Elise and Kimi. This room is spacious. The bed faces floor-to-ceiling windows with only gauzy curtains closed against the bright sunshine. Furniture fit for any mansion is scattered throughout the sitting area. A small table with two chairs placed in front of one massive window gives it a picturesque look.

A black bra swings on the back of one chair as air blows from a nearby vent. I realize it’s the one I packed to wear underneath the fancy new dress I purchased for the New Year’s party.

My ebony silk sheath lays in a heap on the floor.

Another groan floats into the air.

I stiffen.

What? Not me. And certainly not Elise or Kimi. The sound is too deep, too male, and too sexy.

Sexy?

I recognize the timbre, but in another context. Pleasure? A memory of callused hands sliding over my shoulders and down my back. My last relationship has been years ago. So who? My head aches too much to think that hard about it.

The bed moves.

Earthquake? Or am I still drunk, and it’s my imagination?

Once more a rumbling groan fills the room and the bed shakes again.

That isn’t my imagination.

I carefully turn to see the other side of the bed.

Holy crap. Connor Ellison sits up on the edge of the bed and stands to stretch. Holy crap. He’s butt naked, every inch of his back, ass, and thighs bare and beautifully sculpted to its finest.

How do I know Connor, the star right winger for the Atlanta Edge, from his backend? Maybe my memory’s coming back, but I’ve been admiring him from afar for nearly two years, since he was traded and brought over from the affiliate in the northern part of New York State. I even have a private Pinterest board with pictures of him. Of course, many are without his shirt and gear during locker room interviews.

He strides over to open a door. From where I watch, lying on my stomach, head at the foot of the bed, a little catty-cornered on the mattress, I see a commode. He stops in front of it and spreads his legs slightly and pees. One hand on the wall above the tank, he shakes his head as if to clear his mind and he groans.

I close my eyes long enough not to see…you know…the flow. Gross.

Maybe I’m still a little drunk for I’m looking again.

Thankfully he finished.

He remains in the same spot, staring at the wall. A blush warms my face. Not just because he didn’t shut the door, but I can see his balls, full and well-formed hanging between his legs. For some perverted reason, that’s the sexiest view I’ve ever observed in my twenty-eight years. Geez. I’m so not myself.

Closing my eyes again for a few seconds, I hear him flush, and then wash his hands. Fascinating. A man who believes in cleanliness.

When I lift my eyelids, he’s walking toward the bed. I force my attention up from his beautiful appendage. He hesitates. So he finally sees me. He stops and looks around and brings his gaze back to mine.

“Oh, fuck.” One big hand scrubs his face and then he uses the back of a wrist to rub his eyes.  And then thrusts his fingers through thick chestnut hair. After a heavy sigh, he says, “Darling, you need to go. I have a bus and plane to catch in a couple hours.”

Great. He doesn’t remember my name. Isn’t that special?

“Lily. My name’s Lily.” I sit up and whimper. The room’s spinning. I’m not much of a drinker.

“Nice to meet you, Lily. I’m Connor.”

“I know.” My mouth is so dry. “You’re Connor Ellison, winger for the Atlanta Edge. I’ve seen your picture everywhere in Atlanta.” I’m not about to explain I’m part owner of the rink his team practices in.

“All right.” His gaze moves from mine, over my nude body—I jerk the sheet’s corner to my breasts—and then he surveys the room. He purses his lips. “Excuse me, but I need to get my shit together.” He walks over and picks up a pair of dark dress pants from the floor near my feet. For a couple seconds, I watch as he pulls them up and over a firm ass sans underwear.

Lightheadedness comes over me, not from the view, goodness knows it’s a wondrous sight, but my body alerts me as to how I mistreated it the night before. I bend over.

With hands on my knees, and my head nearly between them to keep from throwing up or fainting or both, I take in slow breaths. That’s when I see it. The biggest freaking diamond ring with matching wedding band. On my finger.

I straighten, lifting my hand in front of my face. “What? Is this real?”

It has to be a fake. Some type of joke.

I look at Connor. His confused look tells me he’s as clueless as I am.

My face and body become hot as a July day in Vegas and my stomach roils. I waste no time and streak to the bathroom. The startled expression on his face barely registers before I lean over the commode and barf. I close my eyes. I’ve learned from experience, I will throw up until I have the dry heaves if I look at what comes out of me. Yep, I’m one of those people who throw up when others do and even worse when it’s me.

“You don’t look pregnant,” he says, not bothering to hide his curiosity.

What an Einstein.

“No. I’m not pregnant. I don’t drink often. Either it’s something I ate or the amount of alcohol.”

“Okay. Hold on. I’ll be back.”

Carefully, I place the commode lid down and flush. Then I rest a cheek on the cool surface. In a couple minutes, I’ll get up to take a shower. For now, I need to stay still until I’m in control of my body. My stomach actually feels better, though slightly sore.

Somehow I fall asleep like that for who knows how long. When I wake, he’s standing over me. He still has the dress pants on and nothing else. My gaze follows the sprinkle of hair on his chest down to a thin line at his waistband. Such a hot view this close. Fascinating how it disappears behind the vee of material.

“Here. Drink this.” He offers me a glass. I blink and look up to his face.

Did he noticed I looked at where his pants gape open at the zipper?

He taps the cold glass against my shoulder. “After you finish it, you’ll need to drink water. There’s a bottle in the fridge. I figure the nausea is worse than the headache.”

“Thanks.” I lift my hand and take it, bringing it to my mouth. Bubbles tickle my nose. Surprised, I move it away and rub off the fizz from my skin. “What is it?” It smells familiar, but I can’t place it.

“Ginger ale. It’ll help your stomach. Plus you need liquids in you. Alcohol dehydrates.”

“Yeah.” I sip at the drink.

“Go slow. You don’t want it to come back up.”

I nervously gulp. The thought alone makes me queasy.

“Hey, careful.” He stoops in front me and brushes my bangs to one side. I must look like hell.

When a drop of condensation drips from the glass onto my chest, I gasp as a swallow of the drink is going down. Choking, I realize I’m naked on the bathroom floor.

He slaps me on my back, not too hard, but enough for me to automatically straighten and thrust my breasts into his face as I try to move from his touch. Isn’t that just great? Let’s compound my embarrassment.

“You want the water instead?” His eyes focus on the display. A small smirk comes to his lips.

I hunch over and cross my arms over my chest without dropping the glass. That’s when I see the rings again.

“What about these?” I stick my hand in front of his face, redirecting his attention.

He pulls his head back.

“Fuck. Why didn’t you tell me you’re married? I don’t do married girls.” He stands and smooths his hair back from his face. “I don’t need that kind of trouble. Hell, that’s the last thing I need.” He moves into the bedroom, and my gaze follows his movements as he paces the floor, mumbling. I try to keep my attention off how his pants hang, showing the male cleavage at his hips. He stops and glares at me. “I have to leave. Hurry. Get dressed. Who do you belong to?”

“Belong?” What century does he live in?

“Yeah, like husband, wife, or whatever. Who’s going to try to beat my ass, or sue me for breaking up your marriage? Shit, shit, shit. I don’t need this.” He begins to pace again. “Why does it happen to me? One last night before I walk the fucking straight and narrow, that’s all I asked. Shit, if PR finds out what I did, sleeping with a married woman, and tells coach, my ass will be on waivers.” He turns to me and scowls. “You probably don’t even know what that means and don’t give a fuck.”

“In your case, it means that the Edge will make you available to other teams, that is, your contract and privileges. And if more than one team wants you, the one with the least points can claim you.” If anything, my dad ensured I knew everything about the game he loves. For that matter, I love it too though he mostly ignores that fact.

Connor stares at me as if I spouted the secret to winning the Stanley Cup. I want to laugh, but I’m still sitting on the bathroom floor—stark naked. Crap. I snag a towel from the shelf near the sink and wrap it around me. Warmth seeps in. Between having no clothes on and the chill from the tile, my skin has cooled to the point I’m shivering.

“From your accent, I figured you didn’t know anything about hockey.”

I roll my eyes. “That’s how much you know. I don’t have an accent. You’re the one with an accent.” I refer to his occasional harsh consonants from the northeastern states.

“What? Me? How can you say, I don’t have an accent, Miss Southern Belle?”

Ignoring his sarcasm, I walk by him toward the other end of the room as I take another sip. He warily keeps an eye on my hand. What? Did he really think I’ll waste good ginger ale by pouring it on top of his arrogant head? Though the idea did cross my mind. Gathering up my clothes from the table near the windows, bundling them to my chest, and using the crook of my arm to keep them in place, I jerk my bra off the chair.

That’s when I see it.

Hand shaking, I nearly drop the glass when I place it on the table next to the sheet of paper that caught my eye. The black print on blue-and-white paper blurs as I scan it and proceed to read it three more times. It looks official. My heart pumps so hard, I’m afraid it will burst. I glance over my shoulder toward where he remains staring at me.

He’s standing in the middle of the room, feet planted apart, arms crossed over his broad chest, looking all masculine and sexy as hell. Damn him. One dark eyebrow quirks up.

“You need to leave, sweet cheeks. I really don’t want your husband causing trouble. I never fuck married women,” he says with an undertone of derision. He snatches up his shirt from the end of the bed and jabs his arms into it. When I stay, frozen in my panic, he asks, “What do you have there?” His tone sounds a little nicer as if my expression has him concerned.

Despite my frozen shock at what I discovered, in the back of my mind, I note that his shirt remains unbuttoned. Each muscle on his chest and abs are gorgeously carved. Have I touched them? My fingers twitch with the desire to do so.

“Are you okay?” His worry filled words bring me back to my senses. The fear of what the paper means has probably caused my face to pale. I know I feel scared.

“Here’s the answer to the twenty-five thousand dollar question. At least, that’s how much the rings costs,” I say in a tiny voice. The paper trembles as I hand it over. “Look at the receipt attached to it. Now we know where they came from.”

“What the fuck?” He does the same as I did. His gaze runs across it over and over again before he lifts his head. His eyes fill with such anger, I take a step back. “What joke is this? Who put you up to it?” His attention goes back to the sheet in his hand as he shakes his head. “I don’t know any of these people.” His gaze drills into mine. “Your name is Lily Ana Jones?”

I nod. “That’s me.” Pointing a finger at the writing, I continue, “It’s no joke. You signed it too. The witnesses and officiate are no one I know. So I think you and I really did this. That is, as far as I know. And from what that says, my name is now Lily Ana Ellison.”

He drops into the chair as if his world ended. The marriage certificate floats onto the floor.

“I’m fucked,” he mutters.

 

Chapter Two

Connor

“You have really fucked up big time, Ellison,” Matthew Kowalski says as he gives me a disgusted look.

I don’t remember his title, I only know he’s involved in public relations for the players. Usually a congenial man, but recently, he’s shown an unsympathetic side I wish I never had to contend with.

Yesterday, when the team’s plane landed in a private airport near Atlanta, I received orders to bring my agent at eight the next morning to the coaches’ conference room on the top floor of the arena. How in the hell had they found out about my foul up so fast?

I glance over at head coach McMillan, assistant coach Levine, and then Ramsey Fournier, the general manager, the man who can easily place me on waivers which is as good as being fired. They look at me as if I planned all of this to irritate the fuck out of them.

My agent listens to our conversation on the speaker phone. He’s located in Chicago and had another meeting to attend at noon. No matter how much money I make him, he can’t be in two places at once with less than twenty-four hours’ notice. At least that’s what I tell myself. Deep inside, I wonder if he’s tired of my bullshit like the men sitting around the table.

Then again, I’m glad he couldn’t make it. If he saw their expressions, he’d probably be working on my contract, preparing to negotiate with a new team.

“Before you get your panties all in a twist, it can be corrected easily enough.” I hold up my hands as if in surrender. “The girl and I are planning to get an annulment.”

As I didn’t have sex with Lily—damn, I hope to hell not—I asked my lawyer to look into how quickly the paperwork can be processed in Nevada. Only thing is, he claims not having sex has nothing to do with getting it annulled, but he will find a way. An annulment will sure as hell be less of a fuss. The thought of having to hand over half of my savings to someone I barely know…well, it’s not going to happen. I’ve worked hard for my financial independence from my parents.

“No,” Fournier bluntly says.

That brought my head up so fast I wrenched my neck. I massage the tight area as I try not to glare at him.

“What do you mean by no?” I ask, struggling to keep an even tone.

“If you go through an annulment or divorce, the press will say you pulled another stunt. You promised no more wild parties, crazy pranks, and certainly no irresponsible acts with puck bunnies. We need to show the community our players are serious about their sport and this community. We need families to buy season tickets and support us. Having a picture of you obviously drunk and half-naked going viral is not the way we expect you to represent the organization.” A vein bulges above his right eye by the time he finishes.

I look at the man and barely restrain a yawn. Yeah. That would impress the shit out of them. Yawn like I couldn’t be bothered to listen to them.

They don’t understand the last twenty-four hours have been a son of a bitch. Though I don’t remember much from New Year’s Eve, I know I didn’t get enough sleep, and I don’t need him to give me the same speech for the third time. I’m not stupid. I just don’t give a damn.

That’s not entirely correct. That is, about the not giving a damn. I care. I love hockey, and the independence it gives me from my dad, but I know if I continue on my self-destructive path, I’d die long before I’m thirty. Most of my life, I’ve heard one of many versions of the same lecture from my parents and now from my team, but the last sentence of Kowalski’s speech is new. He’s talking about the photo that unexpectedly popped up this morning.

Someone at the wedding chapel secretly snapped the picture and uploaded it to the Edge’s social network under the handle The Edge’s Biggest Fan. If I ever find out who the bastard is, I…won’t do shit. My hands are tied until I can get the PR department off my back. From the expressions on Coach’s and Fournier’s faces, my ass will be going elsewhere if I touch the hair of another living being who isn’t in the rink.

“Gentlemen, I believe he understands the organization’s position on his situation, and he’ll act accordingly. Right, Mr. Ellison?” Fournier stood up and buttoned his Armani jacket, signaling the end of the conversation.

Maybe I am stupid. “Yes? I will stay married?” I narrow my eyes. Is that what he meant?

His gaze drills into me. “Happily married for at least six months. After we win the Cup, you can do whatever the hell you want.” Then he turns on the heels of his Italian leather loafers and strolls out.

Without a word more, Kowalski and Levine follow in his wake as they head toward the elevators and their offices on the top floor.

Shit. I really didn’t like the words, “Whatever the hell you want.” That didn’t sound encouraging to my future career with the Edge. This year the team had gotten their asses together and played like the pros we are, and the oddsmakers favor us to win the Cup despite how sucky we’d been last year.

“After we win the Cup…” Fuck. What will happen if we don’t? His mood will be so shitty, he’s powerful enough to guarantee I never play with another team, ever again.

“Everything will work out,” McMillan slaps me on the back. “Here’s her address if you don’t have it.”

He drops a sheet of paper on the table in front of me. I don’t bother mentioning Lily texted her address to me before we parted. I will need to contact her for the divorce, annulment, or whatever.

“Thanks,” I say while trying to sound sincere.

“If there is any consolation, we won’t be going to Vegas again this season.” With a chuckle, he walks out.

Very funny. The man is a riot. Not.

I stare at the address as if it will provide the answers I need. Snapping myself out of a trance, I pick it up and fold it into a pocket-size square.

One thing about the other night truly bothers me. Why did I do it? I have no desire to get married until my late thirties and have children. That’s when I plan to retire like my old man had. Only difference is I’ll do my kid right. I’ll make sure he feels like more than a photo op for the perfect hockey family.

<<<>>>

I pull up in front of the house and park on the street. Lily’s home is a well-kept bungalow in a middle-class neighborhood about two miles from the rink her father owns and manages. The rink happens to be where the Atlanta Edge practices between games whenever possible. Have I seen her there before? I remember her dad. Buzz Jones was a former enforcer for Chicago in his rookie years until being traded to New York. After five years there, he bounced around several NHL teams, never finding a home for more than a year or two. His last team being the Edge.

In the dim evening light, flickering in the window indicates someone is watching TV or has it on for background noise. I do that on the odd occasion. When you live alone, the quietness can be depressing.

I try to peer through the thin curtain to see if Lily’s by herself. Never in my life have I been in such an uncomfortable situation. I’d rather crank up my car and head back home, but I don’t have an alternative.

When she walked out of the hotel’s honeymoon suite yesterday, she appeared to be in agreement that an annulment was best. So I’m not sure how she’ll take me backing out on our deal. Not only backing out, but insisting she lives with me in a big farce of pretending to be happy newlyweds. Considering how pissed off she was that day, I’ll have my work cut out.

I pat my pocket. The rings clink together. Yeah. I have a load of groveling to do.

After a deep inhale, I step out of the car and see movement on the front porch. Who was crazy enough to sit outside in this weather? It has to be at least near freezing. For Atlanta, that’s nuts-numbing cold with the humidity.

When I start up the steps, a man stands, just a few inches below my own six-three. Obviously, with the gray hair and fighter stance, it has to be her dad.

“Mr. Jones, I don’t know if you remember me from the Edge’s practice sessions, but I’m Connor Ellison.” I stick my hand out.

He looks down at it and sneers. “I know who the fuck you are. I wondered how long it would take you to grow a pair and show up.”

His gravelly voice filled with anger sends me back one step. The front door opens and Lily steps outside, almost eye-to-eye to her father.

For some reason, I’ve forgotten how the top of her head nearly reaches my chin, and the way she looks at me as if she can see straight into my soul. Damn, all of that turns me on.

“Dad, please be nice. I explained everything to you. I’m handling it. Nothing for you to get all wound up about.”

“Nothing? You aren’t nothing. He has to understand he can’t get away with this.”

“I’m not eighteen. Remember, I’m twenty-eight.”

With effort, I pull my thoughts back to the conversation, especially catching the ending. She’s two years older than me? She actually looks much younger.

“But—“

“Come in, Connor,” she interrupts her dad. “We’ll let Dad cool off out here for a moment.”

She stands to the side and waves me through. I take another glance at Mr. Jones. He looks as if he wants to jump me and beat me to a bloody pulp.

I hesitate. I don’t want to upset the man further. But I need to talk with Lily. So I walk in. He huffs and turns his face from mine.

The place is neat with big, comfortable furniture and an open floor plan. More modern than I expected considering the old-style design of the house. It felt like a true home. More so than my place.

“Nice house.”

“Thanks. Have a seat. Want a drink? Dad keeps Bud in the fridge.” Without slowing, she picks up a remote and shuts down the TV and then heads toward the kitchen area. “Or we have soft drinks and bottled water.”

“Beer. So you got my text,” I plainly state. With her nonchalant attitude from the moment I showed up on her front step, I take it she received my message.

“Yeah. I must say, I didn’t expect to hear from you for at least six weeks.” She refers to our agreement to communicate after some time passed in case she turns up pregnant. Otherwise, my lawyer and hers will do the talking.

Before we left the hotel suite, Lily and I had searched for condom wrappers. There was one still in my wallet and an unopened box in my suitcase testifying none were used. I always suit up for sex. I never remember being so drunk as to forget. We agreed it also can be a sign that nothing happened. Considering our inebriated state, we probably started with a heavy make-out session, got naked, and then passed out.

“Yeah.” I take the beer she offers. “That was the plan until the emergency meeting this morning. It was with the team’s PR guy along with my coaches and general manager.” I pop the tab and take a long swallow.

“That doesn’t sound good.” She eases around a coffee table and gracefully sits on the edge of the sofa. Her jeans are faded with strategic cuts on her thighs. The tight T-shirt has Atlanta Edge Rules written across her full breasts.

Shit! I need to keep my eyes anywhere but there. Plus not wanting her on the defensive by having me towering over where she sat, I move toward a recliner, but hesitate when she shakes her head. Obviously, it’s her dad’s favorite spot. I ease into the overstuffed chair across from her.

“No. Not good at all.” I take a deep breath. What man likes to admit to fucking up? “I need your help.” One of the things my mom taught me is women love it when men show their vulnerability. It goes against my nature, but I have to play this right or my career will go up in flames. “As you’re a fan,” I nod to her shirt, “you probably know I’ve made a few bad decisions the last couple years.”

“You could say more than two years. Showing up late to training camp the first day of your rookie year was pretty stupid, and the time you were arrested for sliding down the banister at a New York Marriott wasn’t too smart. You could’ve broken a leg, and how would you’ve helped your team during the playoffs? And how about—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough already.” I run my hand through my hair, seriously restraining myself from pulling it out. She’s talking about my pranks, and I might lose the only two things I care about: my team and the NHL. “Please listen. Okay?”

She nods. Her eyes narrow as if she expects the next words to be a lie. That makes my blood pressure skyrocket, but I stay in control.

The front door creaks open. Her dad steps into the house. Most likely he stayed outside long enough to regain control of his temper. I understand that. I might need to chill outside before I finish my plea.

“We can’t get an annulment right now.” My words come out even and soft, hoping her dad doesn’t hear.

“Why?” she asks in a whisper.

“Yeah. Why the hell not?” The older man towers nearby, arms crossed over his chest, ready to do battle for his daughter.

“Dad. Please. Let me handle this.” She turns back to me. “You promised.” She refers to my assurance to get the marriage annulled without delay.

I stand up.

Lily’s whole body tensed. Without even touching her, I can tell she’s stiff enough to snap in two. I’ve seen that stance on my mom a few times growing up. A woman who is uncertain of a reaction. Is it directed at me or her dad?

My hands remain at my sides, unthreatening. I want to make it understood I’m not here to harass or force her to do anything she doesn’t want to. I’m here to talk.

“You can’t trust a joker like him. I read the shit he pulled. Don’t listen to him,” Mr. Jones says as if he wants to fight.

She looks over at her dad. “Please. I know what I’m doing. You said you’d stay out of it.”

Mr. Jones’s shoulders slump as he drops his arms. Nodding, he rubs a palm across his face, the scrape of bristles against calluses breaks the tension. He looks toward me and gives me a threatening stare as if to say he’ll kick my ass if I hurt her. Finally, he breaks the stare-down and looks toward his daughter.

“I’ll be in my study.” He tilts his head toward a smallish looking, book-filled room beyond the kitchen. “Before I go, does anyone want coffee?”

“Thanks. No.” She looks my way, and I shake my head as I hold up the beer. “Close your door please.” Lily gives a weak smile.

Once it swings shut with a firm click, she returns her attention to me.

“Please explain.” She waits, watching me. Once again, her face closes down. She really thinks I’m about to give her bullshit. Nevertheless, I’m certain she’s the type of person who will give me a chance.

“A couple of weeks ago, the team’s management gave me an ultimatum that if I don’t get my act together off the ice, they wouldn’t extend my contract next year. Maybe even place me on IR as a healthy scratch before then.” Being placed on Injured Reserve for a healthy player can be a sign to other teams I’m a troublemaker. A decision that can send a player’s future income down the drain.

She nods. I can tell by how she’s listening, she understands the importance of what I’m saying.

“So today, they told me this latest prank—though it isn’t one—that I better show the world I’m a responsible adult and the Vegas wedding is for real. So I have to stay married.”

“Then you need to find another bride.”

The way she stares at me, I’m certain she wants me to eat dirt.

“No. It has to be you. It’s your name on the marriage certificate. It’s you who I woke up next to. I have a plan—”

“No, you don’t understand. I don’t want to be married and not to you. It was a mistake that I barely remember.” She rises to her feet next to the sofa and crosses her arms.

“So you’re remembering. I’m glad. Nothing has come back to me yet. I’m thinking someone spiked my drink.”

“It sure wasn’t me. You need to leave now. Go and find someone else to marry.” She crosses her arms and twists her mouth in obvious impatience.

Damn, I do like that sassy look.

“You haven’t been listening. You and I are married. This isn’t going away easily. No annulment, no divorce until the season ends.” I step closer to her, my gaze only drops a few inches. Rather odd to be able to look into her brown eyes without bending down. There have been a few women who came close but she’s near enough to six foot.

She leans back, glaring down her nose at me as if she’s the one taller. It’s unusual to have a woman glare at me as if I’m a bug beneath her feet. Most want to please me and are quite accommodating.

“How tall are you?” I blurt out.

Baffled by my sudden change of topic, she wrinkles her forehead and blinks. “That has nothing—”

“Don’t make a big deal about it. I’m just curious.” I rarely find a woman with whom I don’t get a crick in my neck while talking to her.

She tilts her head, studying me. As if she came to a decision, but uncomfortable about it, she takes a deep breath. “Five-eleven and half.”

Damn. Only a half inch off. I like it. There isn’t anything skinny about her. Slim with surplus in the right spots. Breasts a bit more than handfuls, and hips wide enough to handle me. I’ll have no need to worry about hurting her as I have most of the women I’ve fucked.

Best to keep those thoughts to myself and return to the present situation.

“Sit.” I hesitate and then add, “Please. Let me tell you how we’ll get through this disaster together.”

 

 

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