Jacey Vaughn has a newly minted MBA when her father dies unexpectedly and leaves her his NHL team. Well-versed in business but not so much in hockey, Jacey navigates this new world with a few stumbles. She definitely doesn’t plan on falling for the team captain. At the first hint of scandal, a local Las Vegas reporter latches on, and Jacey finds herself in the newspaper with headlines that hurt instead of help. Jacey’s determined to keep her father’s legacy alive and make the team successful, but while she has no problem denying her feelings to the media, she can’t lie to herself.
Carter Phlynn has known nothing but hockey his entire life. Drafted into the NHL at age eighteen, winning the Stanley Cup is all he’s ever wanted. Nothing has ever disrupted his focus. Not until he meets his new boss. Jacey gets under his skin like no one else, and while dating the team owner would be a disaster for his career and reputation, he can’t get her out of his head. Carter has never had a relationship last more than a month, but the more he’s around Jacey, the more he can’t picture his future without her.
Monday, October 31st: End of the Night
Jacey leaned against the taxi window, legs crossed. She tried to make herself as small as possible to accommodate the two extra-large hockey players beside her. Carter took the middle seat to shield her from the one-hundred-proof Kevin Scott. On a good day, the six-foot, four-inch left wing could charm with the best of them, but tonight his auburn hair looked like crazy porcupine quills, and the dark circles under his eyes weren’t from costume paint. The Eau de Bourbon cologne didn’t help. Shortly after Carter had angled him into the cab, Kevin’s head lolled back, his eyes closed, and the snoring began. At least the cab driver’s loud, Simply Sinatra radio station drowned most of it out.
“You really know how to show a girl a good time, Phlynn.”
“Now you call me Phlynn? We are so moving in the wrong direction.”
“I kind of want to kill Scotty. Is that a normal, ownerly feeling?”
Kevin’s head dropped onto Carter’s shoulder, eliciting a disgusted wince from the captain. Carter pushed him back against the door. “Oh, he’ll pay for interrupting our date. There’s an afternoon practice tomorrow. He sleeps through it, Nealy skins him alive. He shows up like this, he’ll wish he was so lucky.”
Even though she’d already sort of known, it was different to hear him say it. “Date?”
He stared at her a minute, his expression unreadable. For a brief second, she thought he’d take it back, say he misspoke. The hope in her voice was embarrassing enough to make her consider tucking and rolling right out into the street. Then his smile flickered back. “I know these aren’t the most romantic circumstances right now, but the night started off pretty well.”
Heat crept up into her face as the first hot kiss replayed in her mind. He’d caught her mid accusation, and once the shock wore off, her Id came out to play and shoved Super Ego Jacey in the closet. She couldn’t remember ever letting go like that. Her pulse sped up at the memory.
Carter curled his fingers into hers and kissed each knuckle slowly. His lips felt warm and smooth as silk against her skin. She shot a nervous glance at Kevin, but he was dead to the world. And Carter didn’t seem to care one way or the other. He turned her hand over and kissed the pulse point at her wrist. “Night’s not over yet.”
Id hip-checked Super Ego Jacey back in the closet and threw away the key. I am so gonna regret this.
* * *
After they dropped Scotty off at his house, only the cabbie’s occasional, rear-view-mirror glances kept Carter a gentleman. Jacey looked like a sexy super villain in the glowing horns and that dress. The glittering black flame hemline kept inching up her legs. The black wig looked hot, but he wanted to take it off and run his fingers through her soft curls while he kissed the responsible out of her. Arms folded under her chest, he could see her mentally wrestling with something. He’d bet anything its name was Madden.
“You trust him, right?”
“The brother you still picture with braces and acne.”
“I don’t…okay, maybe I do. It’s just…”
“Diamond Cove. Here we are!” The cabbie turned the music down and slowed the car to a stop in front of their neighborhood gates. Carter handed over the fare and tip then helped Jacey out. She’d been relaxed around him all night, and he couldn’t get over it. The no-nonsense woman who’d turned his life upside down step by step actually had a soft side.
He key-fobbed them in and offered his arm. She took it without reservation, and as they fell into step, he felt something hit the back of his leg. Her devil tail. For a minute, he stared transfixed as it swayed from her backside. A sharp poke to his stomach snapped his head back around.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to leer at a lady with a pitchfork?”
“Ahh, let me think. ‘Wear a helmet. Homework before hockey. Stop picking on Shane; he’s smaller than you.’ Nope, must have missed that one. And I was not leering. I was admiring.”
“Uh huh. Shane?”
“Reese. We grew up together. Closest thing to a brother I’ve had.”
“What did Madden do? I mean, aside from sleep with the enemy. You were about to say.” Carter directed his gaze to the sidewalk lit by the fancy streetlamps. He didn’t want to put more pressure on her by staring. She didn’t pull away, but he could feel her tense up.
“You don’t have to answer that…”
“He always had a head for numbers. Mix that with poor impulse control, and you get a world-class gambling addict. Twelve-step programs for Madden were more like thirty-six steps. But supposedly, he did it—quit. I knew Vegas would be bad for him. He ran up a huge debt with a loan shark. To a normal person, the answer to debt isn’t more gambling. To an addict…”
“I get the picture. He keeps making it worse.”
“He’s not a bad kid. He has a good heart. But I think we’ll have to sell the house. I was going to anyway, eventually. It feels more like a Hollywood set than a home. We’ll pay his debt, and then I’ll make sure he—”
“Jacey, stop.” Carter stilled and gave her no choice. She faced him, her expression curious, and it broke his heart a little. “You didn’t ask for any of this, did you? You probably had some job lined up with a Fortune 500 company. Then your father passes and leaves you with a basically new hockey team to run all by yourself. The way you talk, I can tell this isn’t the first time you’ve assumed responsibility for your brother. Why do you do it?”
“What else would I do? My father is the reason I had the chance at the best education, made the best contacts. This team was his soul, and he left it to me. I can’t walk away from that. I won’t. And Madden…he’s the only family I have left. Yes, he’s a screw-up, but I’m not giving up on him. He needs me; I’m there. It’s who I am.”
The passion in her voice and the certainty in her eyes touched him. What would it be like to have someone feel that way about him? Shock set in as he realized he wanted to be on the receiving end of that devotion. It was a scary thought and one he immediately questioned, but the answer remained the same. Any man would be lucky to have Jacey on his side.
He stepped forward. When she didn’t back away, he cupped her jaw and kissed her. It started out soft, but when she didn’t protest, he deepened it. A few seconds went by before she returned it, tentative. He pulled back just enough to rest his forehead against hers and looked into her half-lidded eyes.
“What was that for?”
She smiled and leaned up to kiss him this time. He slid his free arm around her waist and hauled her closer. It elicited a surprised purr from the angelic devil woman, and the sound stole his last scrap of reason. “Your street’s one block over. Mine’s around the corner, and it’s still relatively early. Do you want to come over for a while?”
He fully expected her to say no. Jacey, the list-maker, the pro/con weigher, the only person who could define Type A better than he could would never agree to it—especially on a work night. He could see the mental war on her face, and every silent second made his heart beat harder. Had he gone too far? They’d more or less obliterated the boss-employee professional boundary tonight. But if she said yes, they were likely to do something they couldn’t take back or laugh off.
“I don’t know what this is. I know professionally that I shouldn’t, but tonight, as crazy as it was, I relaxed for the first time in a really long time. I like being with you, God help me.”
The last part sounded so resigned that he had to laugh. “Gee, thanks.”
“You know what I mean.”
He brushed a light kiss to her lips, the corner of her mouth, then the base of her ear. “I like being with you too. Let’s go work on that relaxation some more.”
GIVEAWAY: For an e-copy of this book from the author, what do you enjoy most about sports romances?
Thank you to Katie Kenyhercz for reaching out for a review. I have been sitting on this one for a while, but I finally read this on Memorial Day here in the States. I had been waiting to read this one until after I had finished Graduate School and boy am I glad I did. I love hockey romances almost as much as I love watching Hockey!
Right from the start, Jacey and Carter have a bit of sexual tension between them. They shouldn't because Jacey is the owner of the team that Carter plays hockey for. Carter turns down an offer to another team when he meets Jacey and his agent doesn't understand why. Frankly, neither did Carter or his best friend and fellow teammate.
When a reporter starts making a name for herself at the expense of Jacey, Carter, and the team, she puts herself out there to out an end to it. That is until the reporter uses her connection to Jacey's brother and causes the NHL and other team owners to call an emergency meeting to determine what to do about this situation. Afterall, there isn't a woman owned team that isn't backed by her husband.
It has been a while since I was captivated by a sports romance that way I was with this one. I look forward to more book by this author!