Table of Contents

Title Page




Knoxville Bears Series


Dirty Pages Book Shop

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52


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Also by Toni Aleo

About Toni Aleo





Copyright © 2024 by Toni Aleo

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Pucks and Books Copyright © 2024 by Toni Aleo at [email protected]

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the copyright owner, and where permitted by law.

No generative artificial intelligence (AI) was used in the, writing of this work. The author expressly prohibits any entity from using this publication for purposes of training AI technologies to generate text, including without limitation technologies that are capable of generating works in the same style or genre as this publication. The author reserves all rights to license uses of this work for generative AI training and development of machine learning language models.

Editing: Silently Correcting Your Grammar: Lisa Hollett – AS ALWAYS, THANK YOU!

Cover: Care Dee, THANK YOU!

Proofing by Jenny Rarden -THANK YOU


Created with Vellum




Knoxville Bears Series

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52


A review is basically a huge hug for an author


Also by Toni Aleo

About Toni Aleo



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Pucks and Books

Pucks and Coffee

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Pucks and Pits


About Pucks and Books

A romance only bookstore owner meets a hockey player that reads smut?!

Louisa McDavid figures after escaping from the cult she grew up in, the universe owes her a happy ending. Her sisters are all safe, she owns her own business, and she doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of her. But as a woman in love with love, why has it been so hard for her to find one of the good ones?

Everything changes when Ciaran Carter basically steps out of the pages of one of Louisa’s beloved smutty books and into her romance-only bookstore. Tall, muscular, handsome, and he likes to read? He’s the perfect book boyfriend come to life. And he plays hockey? Bless. It doesn’t get any better.

Louisa and Ciaran strike sparks off each other from the moment they meet. He’s got big dreams, and she’s got big secrets. And together, they’ll set their little corner of Tennessee on fire.

This book is for those who want to be gangbanged by all their book boyfriends.

I feel you deeply.






I swear the only man worth a damn is a fictional man.

I squint at the ceiling, trying to reason with myself for why I’m allowing the guy I swiped right on to motorboat my pussy. Yes, motor-fucking-boat my pussy. He blows raspberries as he shakes his head against my needy center. The sounds are not even a bit sexy and are completely turning me off.

I’d been so excited.

For once, his picture wasn’t a lie, and he was as attractive in person as he was in his photos. It was a relief since, lately, everyone I’ve been hooking up with has Photoshopped their photos or did that stupid turn-your-photo-into-a-cartoon shit. I love how no one is ever as they seem. It’s fucking infuriating, but Johnny…his photos were real, and when his golden-haired, bright-green-eyed, tall, sexy self walked through the door of my shop, I didn’t waste time pulling my panties off. He had me on my back in my bedroom within seconds, with my legs over his shoulders, holding my hips up to his mouth, giving me a head rush just how I wanted, and I knew it was going to be so good.

But I was so painfully wrong.

I wish I hadn’t been reading the new smutty monster novel I’d just gotten into my shop when my phone had dinged with a new match. I was too eager to swipe right, and the regret is so real right now. Let’s be honest, I should have known better. No real man has abilities like a dragon with two cocks, yet I figured one cock was better than none. Now, though, I realize I was very wrong and should have just stuck to my book and toy, rather than lying on my back, completely unsatisfied.

Every eight seconds or so, his nose does brush my clit, but then I am left with nothing and wondering what the hell he is doing. I don’t know who taught this dude how to eat pussy, but whoever it was truly did a disservice to anyone who swipes right on Johnny Rocket.

His name should be Johnny Dud.

“Do you want me to move my panties?”

He grunts against my swollen flesh, burying his face between my lower lips with renewed gusto. Within moments, I realize his gusto is bullshit. Just like he is. This is so disappointing. I clear my throat and look down to find him watching me, his brows furrowed, and he looks like he’s enjoying himself immensely. At least one of us is. “Can you add a finger inside me?”

He groans deeply as he moves his thumb into my opening. “Fuck, you’re tight.”

His praise thrills me, and my desire burns deep in my gut. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. He moves his thumb in and out of me, but his fucking mouth is everywhere. Everywhere but where I want him. I lick my lips, arching off my bed. “Can you focus on my clit?”

I part my folds for him, exposing my clit, and his eyes darken more. He nods and sucks my clit into his mouth. I come off the bed as light explodes behind my closed eyes. I moan loudly, jerking up against his mouth, wanting more, needing more. Heat swirls deep in my gut, my toes start to curl into my sheets, and my whole body tingles. A slow, satisfied grin moves across my lips because, finally, I feel myself almost there. Okay, so he needed direction. I’m the eldest of five—I am great at giving direction, no big⁠—

Before I can even finish that thought, he goes still, groans loudly, jerks violently against my pussy, and then I feel the hot spray of his come on my back.

You’ve. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

I blink up at the ceiling as his orgasm rocks his body. He jerks, he groans, and then he gasps against my pussy. A pussy that isn’t even wet at this point.

“Wow. That was good, huh?”

I blink again as he lowers me to the bed. I rise to my elbows, meeting his spent gaze as frustration burns through me. “What was?”

He pauses, his gaze moving from satisfied to confused. “That.”

“Your orgasm? Are you going to finish me?”

His brows shoot up at my exclamation. “You didn’t come?”

I gawk at him. “I didn’t have a chance.”

“I’ve been down here for twenty minutes.”

“And couldn’t find my clit until I pointed it out to you!”

He looks uncomfortable, but he lowers his head. Before I can even settle in to hope for my release, he asks, “Well, how much longer?”

Yup, romance novels have officially ruined me, because no fictional man has ever asked how long it would take to make his lover come.

Monster or human.

God, real guys are worthless.


Eliza presses her lips together to keep her laughter in. I’m surprised she isn’t allowing herself to guffaw at my dismay. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that she knows I’m pissed. I haven’t come since we moved to Knoxville, except by my own hand or toy, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s my own damn fault. I spend hours reading about these sexy men and feral monsters and how they worship their female in and out of bed, and instead of finding anything like what I read, I find dudes who motorboat my pussy and come without even making sure I come first. And then have the audacity to ask me how long it will take me!

I’m fucked.

“It’s my own fault,” I mutter, stabbing the tape on the box of the newest shipment with my nails to open it. “I set myself up for failure, thinking I’ll get what I read about.”

“I mean, if it’s written, it’s doable, yeah?”

I shrug. “Well, you let me know if you come across a dragon with two cocks,” I throw at her, and she snorts, her cute little nose wrinkling with the sound. I love my sister, and I’m so thankful that she is living this life with me. Our second chance.

“Technically, human men, they can do more. They just choose not to because they’re selfish.”

I point to my wise younger sister. “Exactly. But you know what? This is actually Austen’s fault.”

That has Eliza cackling. Our perfect younger sister isn’t to blame. Yes, she may have introduced me to the world of romance, where men fall to their knees for their ladies, and because of her, my shop, Dirty Pages, was born. But my unrealistic expectations of men are my own fault. There isn’t a man out there who will worship me or have two cocks. They don’t exist, and the sooner I realize this, the better off I’ll be.

“Austen is the reason you have this shop, for one. And for two, I feel you keep picking duds.”

“You think?” I deadpan.

She grins, her hazel eyes dancing with laughter. We favor each other a lot, both with dark hair, though hers has more blond throughout it—that she paid for—while mine is the same dark brown it’s always been. My eyes are multicolored hazel, and Eliza’s are pure hazel. Our faces are round and our eyes wide-set, framed with dark lashes. She has a lush mouth, whereas my lips are thinner.

We used to be the skinniest of all our sisters, but that was mainly because we gave the younger ones our food growing up. It was always Eliza and me against everyone, protecting our sisters. Our mother wasn’t a mother; she was a carrier, and we raised the girls. We took the brunt of the abuse to protect our younger sisters, and I don’t regret a damn thing. It fills me with pride to know my sisters are thriving, to know they are safe and loved.

Since coming to Knoxville, Eliza and I have gained weight, but I think it’s healthy and shows we’re healing. After living in a cult our whole lives, where meals weren’t always provided if you misbehaved, I am aware that having access to food whenever I want is proudly showing on my hips and tummy. I’ve never had a little gut, but I do now, and I don’t care. I’m happy.

Even if the only way I get off is from my own fingers or whichever toy is charged.

If I remember to charge it.


“So, are you done with online dating?”

I give her a sideways glance. “Eliza, we live in a small-ass town where everyone hates us. Who am I supposed to sleep with here?”

Eliza rolls her eyes, but she knows I’m right. Our peepaw, the man who saved us from our mother and the physical abuse that the cult brought down on us, moved us to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he has built a hockey arena in the middle of a small neighboring town. Blitz is outside of Knoxville, and it’s Christmas year-round. One would think the locals would be stoked to have a hockey team and a place where hockey fans can come spend their money, but they’re not. They hate my grandfather, and they especially hate me now that I’ve opened a bookstore that carries only romance books.

Apparently, no one in this town has smutty romance books on their Christmas list.

Well, some do, but they claim they don’t and enter through the back door. I find it hilarious, but I only laugh once the payment is made and they’re out of the shop.

“Hockey players are coming, my sweet sister. Be patient,” Eliza calls to me from where she leans on the front counter. Behind her is a wall of flowers and greenery with “Dirty Pages” in scripty neon lights in the middle. It’s a popular photo spot, but for me, it’s where I work most of the time. While I’d rather cuddle up in one of the chairs and read all day, I have to make sure the shop is stocked and I score the best special editions. Bookworms go nuts for special editions.

It’s me; I’m one of the bookworms.

I meet my sister’s gaze and shake my head. She is my best friend, and my life wouldn’t be the same without her, but sometimes I wonder about her. “And we’ve been warned not to sleep with any of them, especially after Austen went off and got engaged to one.”

Eliza grins, and I can’t help it; I do too. Our sister is living in bliss with her hunky hockey player in Nashville, Tennessee, one she was never supposed to get involved with. After a mix-up with housing, our virginal sister found herself sharing an apartment with a devilishly sexy man. She had been sent to Nashville to learn how to run a team in preparation for being the GM for the Knoxville Bears. And she was supposed to come back here, but once Dimitri Titov set his eyes on my baby sister and made her his, she was a goner.

Now, she is working for the Nashville Assassins, and I couldn’t be prouder. Or happier for her. I miss her, greatly, but I know she is being worshipped and loved. She deserves to be loved properly. We all do.

Hmm, maybe I should consider these hockey players…

I don’t even look at Eliza as I open a box, unloading the newest delivery of fantasy romances I ordered. I know one of these boxes contains a shipment of hockey romances, but I refrain from opening that box. I’ll get my hopes up, and the next thing I know, when I try to get with a hockey player, he’ll just hand me a puck instead of an orgasm.

“I just want to be fucked,” I groan, meeting my sister’s gaze. “I’ve spent so much time in therapy, trying to heal from all the shit we went through. And now that I love sex and enjoy it, I want to be pleased the way I deserve.” I shake the newest naughty Hades and Persephone–inspired novel at her. “I want to have endless orgasms and then be fed pomegranates. Is that too much to ask?”

Eliza snorts at me. “Not at all. You’ll be someone’s Persephone, Lou. Don’t worry.”

Always the optimist, my sister, but I know the truth.

The only way I’ll get what I want is if I write my own happily-ever-after.

Which will include a hunky, possessive guy who gives me all the orgasms and pomegranates.





I pull down my hood a bit to cover my face when I hear the owner of Dirty Pages moving boxes and grunting. I know her assistant, who I assume is her sister, saw me come through the back, but she only shot me a grin as a half-dressed guy ran out the front door, and then the owner came down, yelling about how guys are trash. I only came for the book in my hand, but it’s real hard to continue reading when she’s going on and on about her opinion of men.

That we’re all selfish trash.

I mean, she’s not completely wrong.

I guess I should be more offended, considering I am of the male gender, but I get it. There are guys out there who just ruin it for all of us. Or maybe my opinion is a little skewed since I deal with the guys who are usually angry they didn’t make it right into the NHL. So to ease that pain, they sleep with anything with tits, drink, do drugs, and gamble their time and chances away.

It was the main reason I left the AHL team in Arizona. I drafted high, first round, but I didn’t make the roster for the Sharks. Instead of getting mad or blowing off steam through toxic vices, I dug in and worked my ass off on and off the rink. Was it enough?

Nope. I never saw the Sharks’ ice, but that’s okay. Things happen for a reason, and I have to trust myself. Or I’ll go crazy and end up like most of the washed-up AHL players. That won’t be me. I will see the Nashville Assassins’ ice. Hell, I almost made the roster this year and they love me there, but there were better guys, according to them. To me, I’m the best, but it’s just not my time yet. It’ll happen. It has to.

“I want to have endless orgasms and then be fed pomegranates. Is that too much to ask?”

I love pomegranates.

And I’m a dude, so I love to come.

But making a girl come? That’s what really gets me off.

Her request tears me away from the page I’ve read four times, and I almost volunteer as tribute. I haven’t hooked up with anyone since moving to Tennessee. I’ve worked my ass off on the ice, so surely I can do my duty to show this girl that not all men are as awful as she claims. It would be an honor, honestly, because Dirty Pages’ owner is hot—like, next-level hot. I’ve seen her around town, and while everyone loves to talk shit about her and how she is bringing porn to their town, I’m thankful for her.

I grew up reading. The earliest memories I have are of my grandma reading The Hobbit to me. When I wasn’t skating, I was reading. I never got into video games or Lego; it was books and hockey. When I stumbled upon my mom’s Harlequin novels… Well, let’s just say I didn’t need porn like my friends had. Then I got into audiobooks, and I thought life couldn’t get any better. I could listen to the book I was reading and work out. It was fantastic.

But the one thing I never could get into was e-readers. I think it’s because my grandma never had one, and neither did my mom. There were always stacks and stacks of books throughout the whole house. Hell, every time a sibling moved out, my mom turned the left-behind room into a library.

My gift to her when I drafted was to pay off her house, and then I had designers come in and build her real libraries, with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and rolling ladders. I think that’s another reason I love this shop, not only for the hot owner and the books, but for the massive number of bookcases and rolling ladders. It reminds me of home, and that reason alone has me coming here more than I should.

I share an apartment with one of my teammates, Alejandro Cruz, and while I love the big doof, he teases me relentlessly when he sees me come home with one of these books. He won’t just let me be, let me read in my room or on the patio. No, he has to tease me and act a fool until I give in and play video games. When he realized I read naughty books, he called me a pussy and told me to watch porn like a real man.

He grew up with three brothers, the baby of the family, so he doesn’t know how to act unless he’s bullying someone. It’s rather concerning, but under all that roughness is a good dude. I’ve known him since I was a kid, and when we both found out we were traded to the Assassins and would be going to Knoxville together, we were stoked. I’d just forgotten how much of an annoying dick he can be.

The younger sister lets out a not-so-ladylike snort that makes me smile and pulls me away me from thoughts of Cruz. “Not at all. You’ll be someone’s Persephone, Lou. Don’t worry.”

Lou. Hmm, I wonder what that’s short for. No one ever says her name around town; it’s always “that Dirty Pages hussy.” I really don’t know why people are like that.

I love a woman who loves her sexuality, and I feel that romance books help women realize their wants, their desires and, most of all, their kinks. It’s actually a service to men everywhere—if they’d just swallow their pride and listen. A hard feat for some, apparently, but not for me. Though, I don’t have time for any of that. I’ve got goals to achieve, and I truly don’t have time for anything else.

“How does it feel to always be so optimistic, Eliza? Because for me, it’s annoying,” Lou says, her voice getting louder as Eliza’s laughter follows her. I look up just as she walks by, a huge box in her arms as she grumbles something about her sister being a stupid ray of sunshine. I almost chuckle at her dismay, but then I’m taken aback by how tightly her jeans hug her hips. She carefully sets down the box, squatting with the motion as the fabric of her jeans strains from the curve of all that ass. I lean back, stretching my body like a cat as I watch her move. I pray her pants split down the middle so I can see more, but then I’m distracted as she shakes her hair out behind her, the dark, shoulder-length waves flowing along her back.

My mouth goes dry when she drops to her knees, her cute little toes curling up under her ass as she pulls her hair into a high, messy ponytail. She’s wearing a crop top, and I can see the curves and rolls along her ribs. I want to grab them, squeeze her flesh between my fingers as I get lost in the crook of her neck. I can see the perfect spot I’d bite and soothe with my tongue. I’d get her earlobe between my teeth and then whisper the dirtiest shit in her ear. Things she’s only read, but I’m going to do to her.

I swallow hard, my eyes traveling along every inch of her neck and jaw, and yeah, I need to go.

Like now.

I close the book, not even the least bit interested in it anymore, and start to get out of the huge stuffed leather chair when Eliza comes around the corner with another box of books. She meets my gaze, grins, and then looks at her sister.

Eliza is a beautiful girl too, but she’s smaller than I like. I don’t enjoy the fear of breaking a girl with my cock. I need someone hearty, someone who can handle each rough thrust I intend to deliver. I’d break Eliza. She’s little, no curves. But Lou? Lord, she has so many curves and dips that I’d ignore every traffic sign warning me of just that and drive full force into her.

Yup, I really need to go.

“Maybe if you were a little more optimistic, then you wouldn’t be so stabby.”

Lou sends her sister a dark look, but she must have noticed me out of the corner of her eye. She whips her hazel gaze at me, her eyes widening and her mouth falling open in the perfect O before she sputters, “How long have you been there?”

Oh, she’d choke on my cock, but I’d welcome it.

Jesus Christ, I need to get out of here.






Yup, I’m going to stab my sister.

I can’t look away, despite my embarrassment and not knowing what this intruder has heard. I watch as he lifts himself from the chair, and confidence rolls off him in waves. He stands to his full height, massive, and tucks his hands into the front pocket of his black hoodie. I could assume the hoodie is just big on him, but I’m pretty sure that thickness is all him. I bet he’s corded with muscles, and by the look of his thighs in his jeans, I think I’m right. But none of that matters when his cornflower-blue eyes meet mine. It’s almost like he’s trying to hide his features with his hood up, but nothing can hide the hard lines of his jaw or the plumpness of his top lip.

Especially when he grins.

Oh, the sun has nothing on the shine from that smile. His teeth are bright white and straight, a stark contrast to the dark hair on his jaw. His eyes settle on me, and heat spreads through me like lava, straight to my pussy, making my clit throb for him. I curl my toes up under myself tighter, squeezing my thighs together as he heads for the back door. I feel as if he isn’t going to answer me, but then his lips quirk.

“Long enough to know that we are both fans of pomegranates.”

My body goes cold, and I cut my gaze to my sister as she holds a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide and full of laughter. I should probably climb in this box and die with the dragon fantasy novel I just received, but I look back in his direction, only to see him slip out the door with not even a second glance. I gawk at his exit and then look back at my sister.

“Did you know he was here?”

She shrugs, feigning innocence. “I saw him come in, but then your gentleman caller came rushing down the stairs⁠—”

“He saw that?!”

“I can neither confirm nor deny that.”

I stare at her, my heart pounding. “He probably thinks I’m a whore.”

She ignores my whining and walks over to where he was sitting. She reaches for the book on the end table and holds it up. While it’s an oldie, it’s packed with the kinkiest sex I’ve ever read. My jaw drops, and she snorts. “Our rather massive, pomegranate-eating guy may be a bit of a whore too.”

I gasp. “He was reading that?”

“Yeah, for the last hour.”

“What!” I holler, my eyes widen. “Here?”

“No, somewhere else,” she says dryly. “Yes, here, Lou!”

How was that man here, and I didn’t even know it? “That’s weird. Right? Odd?”

“Not really,” she says, putting the book away. “He’s here every Tuesday and Thursday.”

“Huh?” Surely I would have noticed. But if he came in the back, I wouldn’t have. I’m always at the desk unless I’m stocking books. “Are you serious?”

“Totally serious. He doesn’t talk, doesn’t buy, just reads. In this spot.”

“Something isn’t computing here.”

“What isn’t computing? A hot guy reads hot books in your store without you knowing it?”

“Yes,” I complain. “How long have you known?”

“For a couple weeks,” she says simply, sitting down in his chair, grinning. “I thought you knew.”

“Don’t you think I would have said something?”

She shrugs. “I thought maybe you didn’t care.”

“Eliza, really? I make it a priority to welcome customers, especially super-hot guys with cornflower-blue eyes who read kink.”

Eliza gives me a bright grin. “You should come over here. He’s left his scent behind.”

“You freak,” I tease, but I scoot toward her until his spicy scent hits me, and I groan in appreciation. God, he smells like sex.

My sister only laughs. “Takes one to know one. You came over here sniffing too!”

“Because you told me to.”

“So, if I said to jump off a bridge, you would?”

I nod. “Especially if he’s at the bottom!” That has Eliza choking on her laughter. I don’t laugh, though; I’m too dizzy from his scent. “Jesus, who is he?”

“I don’t know. But he’ll be back Thursday, and you should bring a pomegranate to share with him.”

I blink. “I can’t believe you allowed me to go on like that when he could hear it all.”

Eliza doesn’t seem the least bit concerned. “He obviously thought it was funny.”

“Because that’s what I want—a super-hot guy who reads knowing I just want to be fucked.”

She gives me a dry look, and that makes me feel like she’s not understanding the problem at all, which is beyond me. “I don’t see any issue here.”

I groan loudly, lying back on the floor and looking at the high ceilings of the shop. When my peepaw built this for me, I told him I wanted it to be very Victorian-like, and he delivered, with the high ceilings and gorgeous black crown molding along the dark-green walls. Gold pendant lights hang in the most perfect spots, giving a Slytherin House vibe to the place. For some it may also give off dark romance vibes, but for me, it’s just my aesthetic. Thankfully, I carry all romance—from vanilla to full-on smut. Something for everyone.

Even the super-hot, pomegranate-eating dude.

“I bet his name is John.”

Eliza makes a sound of distress. “Ick, no. I feel like it’s Chad or Chandler.”

I move my gaze to her. “Chad and Chandler are out there getting laid. John sits in a romance shop, listening in on conversations not meant for him, and reads raunchy smut.”

Eliza’s eyes shine with mischief. “No matter what his name is, I bet you wouldn’t mind screaming it.”

I grin at her, fighting back the giggle that would like to escape.

Because while my sister is maddeningly optimistic, she’s also nearly always right.





Cruz drops to his knees, kicking his leg out to block my shot, but since I knew he was going to do that, I lift the puck with my blade, sending it over his leg and into the back of the net. I don’t celebrate because I know it’ll only add fuel to the fire. My roommate was out late, drinking and fucking, so he’s struggling this morning and pissed at me for making him come to work out with me.

Not that I care even a bit.

I got no sleep either.

A certain bookshop owner had me tossing and turning all night.

“Fuck!” he spits as he swats the puck out from behind him and down the length of the ice. He skates toward the bench, leaning on the boards and downing a whole bottle of Gatorade. I skate around the goal, ignoring his groaning as I play with the puck. Picking it up, tapping it on one side of my blade and then the other, before lifting the puck up and over my shoulder to my skate. I kick it up and then swat it back into the goal. I haul ass for another puck, repeating the move, over and over, until I can’t miss unless I try.

Man, I love hockey.

I love the feel of a stick in my gloves, how my skates crunch against the ice, and the way my legs burn when I dig in, skating hard. I love how my nose gets cold even though I’m sweating buckets. I love the sounds of stick to puck, the crack, the slap, and then the reward of the goal horn when I score. I fucking love this sport. Everything about it. And I don’t care that sometimes the sport doesn’t love me, because I love it enough for both of us.

And I will succeed.

Nothing will get in my way.

Nothing can distract me from my goals.

Not even a cute bookshop owner with an ass shaped like a heart. When I see Cruz skating back toward me, his helmet up and his face red from exhaustion, I try not to laugh at him. He looks pathetic, but he was aware we had a planned workout this morning. One thing I don’t miss is my workouts, and he knows that. His dark eyes are red from no sleep, and he looks like he’s gonna puke, but I feel no pity for him. “Maybe you should stop drinking.”

Cruz doesn’t even meet my gaze. “Kiss my ass, Carter.” I snort at that, and he lowers his helmet. “But you’re right, and I’m gonna do better.”

I shrug as I move the puck back and forth. “One of the main goalies could get hurt, and they’d need you. Or you could be scouted by another team. You gotta be on your A game, Cruz.”

He exhales hard, setting up before rolling his shoulders.

“They’re always watching,” I remind him.

I expect him to cuss at me, but instead, he says, “I know. You’re right.”

That surprises me because he has been a bit out of control lately. His confidence took a hit when he didn’t get chosen for the second spot on the Assassins. In my opinion, he was better than Gratzelle, the backup they selected instead, but I am biased. He’s my closest friend, and I know his potential. He is NHL material, just as I am. “Was it worth it?”

“The drinking, no. The hookup, fuck yes.” His grin is unstoppable, and I know he had a good time—which is cool, he deserves it—but without the drinking, for sure. “She was a freak. She had me screaming her name, and I never scream a girl’s name.”

Freak. Within seconds, images of Lou on her knees with her toes curled up under her sweetheart of an ass come to mind. I wish I had taken a picture. Her, in all her beautiful glory, on her knees in front of all those books… Fuck me. The way her hair fell along her shoulders, how she smelled of roses and lavender. How I would do anything to run my tongue over the curve of the roll along her back. Shit, within seconds, it becomes mighty tight in my girdle, and I groan inwardly. I usually head to the bookshop after my morning workout, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I haven’t done much but think of the Dirty Pages owner and all her dirty desires that I would gladly jump at the opportunity to fulfill. But I can’t. She’s a distraction I can’t afford right now.

I have way too much going on to get involved with someone.

And from what she said, she may want to be fucked, but she also wants to be worshipped, and to worship her would mean to open myself up to emotions I’ve done a damn good job of holding back. It wouldn’t be hard to worship her. I’d fall to my knees so fucking quickly for her, and I’d enjoy doing so, but at what cost? My heart isn’t available for anything but hockey. I learned the hard way what it means to love a person, and I won’t do it again. Been there, done that, and I have no desire to do it again.

In all honesty, I should stay clear of the bookshop, just take Cruz’s taunting, yet I enjoy my time in the shop. I get a coffee down the road, and I just relax. I can resist the desire to give Lou what she wants; I know I can. I’m there for the books. That’s it.

Maybe if I say that a few more times, I’ll start believing my own thoughts.

When Cruz is ready, I line up and shoot, getting the puck past him with ease. As he cusses, I grab another puck, but before I can send it to the back of the net, I can’t help but think of Lou.

And how, while I know I can resist her, I don’t know if I want to.





“Who wants to go see Austen this weekend!”

At my sister’s words, I glance up from where I’m tearing apart my pomegranate-orange muffin before stuffing a piece into my mouth. I am ignoring the fact that this coffee shop has these as a special, and I’m also ignoring the fact that I wanted to get one for hot reader guy. I feel that would have been a little over the top and stalkerish. Instead, I focus on my sister Elliot, who is the one suggesting going to Nashville to see Austen. It’s been a month since we last saw her, and we make it a point never to go longer than that without seeing one another.

Elliot sits with her legs crossed up underneath her, but she leans back in her chair with her mug up by her lips. She is stunning with her long chestnut-brown locks and bright, hazel-blue eyes. She’s wearing a pair of biker shorts and an oversized bright-orange Knoxville Bears shirt. She was hired by our peepaw to work for the Bears as their social media adviser, and because of that, my sister is always wearing her Bears gear. I haven’t even tried on any of mine. I’m only wearing orange if I go to jail.

Not that I plan on going…unless it’s because I’ve gotten railed in public.

By hot reader guy.

God…I am crazy.

Or horny.


I shake my head free of all those insanely crazy thoughts and glance to Clara, my baby sister, and an overwhelming feeling of love flows through me. I stayed in the cult, married to that awful man, so I could keep her safe. That was, until she found me bloodied, and then she begged me to leave since she would be following in no time. I still have such guilt about leaving her, but my love for her overtakes that.

Clara sits beside Elliot in jogging pants and an athletic top that shows off all her gorgeous skin and tight muscles. She has gotten into fitness since moving to Knoxville and has been working out like a fiend. Her thick, dark hair is up in a high ponytail, while her blunt bangs hang over her dark-blue eyes that shine behind full lashes. Like Elliot’s, Clara’s lips are thin and her jaw sharp. Both are gorgeous, and I’m so thankful we are all free of those demons.

Eliza, Austen, and I dealt with the worst the cult brought down on us, but Clara and Elliot didn’t experience as much and weren’t subjected to the abuse we older girls experienced. We took their places a lot, trying to distract everyone from them, because we had no other choice. We didn’t want them to feel what we did, and I don’t regret that. I hate that they still need to go to therapy and that they still fear that the Grandmaster or our mother might try to come find us again.

But I know we’re safe. I made sure of it; Peepaw made sure of it. No one knows where we are, and if they do find us, then we’ll deal with it. As a family. This is our chance to have the life we deserve, and I won’t allow anyone to touch my sisters.

“Austen said we can stay with her this weekend while Dimitri is on his road trip,” Clara says after taking a sip of her smoothie. “We could go do a huge sleepover with raunchy TV and snacks.”

Elliot shoots her a look. “Real snacks? Or carrots?”

Clara glares. “Both, since apparently you guys don’t know how badly you’re messing up your bodies with the junk you eat.”

I have muffin sticking to my lips as I toast it to her. Around a full mouth, I say, “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”

Clara’s glare deepens, and I snicker as Eliza rolls her eyes. “Either way, that sounds fun,” Eliza quips, tucking her feet under her as she blows on her tea. “I’m down. Can we close, Lou?”

“I don’t know. I’d rather not,” I say as I lean back in the fluffy chair. We are all the way in the back, away from everyone with their judgy eyes and low opinions of us. I hate that my sisters get shit on because they’re associated with me. But most of all, I hate that no one sees how great my shop is. All those men with their negative opinions are probably getting laid now that their wives are shopping at my store. Assholes. “I have a lot of shipments coming in on Saturday, and I don’t want to miss them.”

“Can Peepaw come and get them?” Clara suggests, and I think that over.

“He could, but I have that new shifter romance coming out Tuesday, and I want to make sure everything is ready. The preorders are out of this world, and I don’t want to be behind.” Clara’s lips pucker as Elliot’s face falls. I hate disappointing them. “You guys go,” I suggest, even though I hate that I won’t get to see Austen. I don’t want to take away from my sisters. “This is a busy month for me, release-wise, and I don’t want to be playing catch-up. Everyone already hates me. I don’t want to not be able to produce what I say I’m gonna have.”

The girls share a look, and I know they don’t want to leave me out. “Truly,” I stress, taking another bite of my muffin. “I want you guys to go. I’ll be fine. I’ve got so much to do this weekend.”

I look to Eliza for help, and thankfully, she smiles. “I’m down if you two are. I miss Austen and don’t want to miss a chance to hang with her.” Then she looks back to me. “Unless you need me to help.”

I wave her off. “Not at all. I’ll be fine. Go. I really want you guys to.”

Clara isn’t convicted. “But you’ll be alone.”

I scoff at that. “I have my TBR. I’m never alone.”

Total lie. I’ve been experiencing that lonely feeling for a while, but I don’t want my sisters to know that.

“We could leave today,” Elliot suggests. “Dimitri flies out this afternoon.”

“Yeah, you should. Beat the weekend traffic.” I sound way more excited than I feel. I share the apartment above the shop with Eliza, while Clara and Elliot still live at home with Peepaw, so it’ll be weird to have the whole apartment to myself, but I want them to go. Austen needs us just as much as we need her.

“Okay. Are you sure?” Eliza asks me, and I nod.

“Absolutely, go.”

She sends me a grin, and they agree, thankfully. I take a sip of my lotus tea just as Eliza lowers her voice and leans toward us. “The guy behind the counter plays for the Bears and is the coffee shop owner’s son.”

We all follow her gaze to where a rather lean and tall blond with the brightest blue eyes is making an espresso. His shoulders are massive, and his arms are ripped with muscles. He is stunning, even with his missing front tooth.

“He wasn’t even drafted. He tried out for the Bears and made the team,” Elliot supplies. “He’s really nice. Coleson Katz is his name.”

I see the dreamy look on Eliza’s face as she watches him. “I wonder if he’ll train me so we can open my coffee bar within the year.”

Eliza and this damn coffee bar. Girl doesn’t have a clue how to make coffee, only that she loves it and wants to serve it at the shop. She’s absolutely right that coffee goes with books like peanut butter goes with jelly, but I can’t even help her since all I know how to do is drink coffee. I’ve been trying to put her off from it because I don’t think she knows what she’s getting into, but she is as persistent as she is optimistic.

And a total pain in my ass.

“I can talk to him for you,” Elliot offers, and Eliza waves her off.

“I can make it happen. I’ve just got to get past the fact that I find him rather attractive.”

“Even with the missing front tooth, that smile is desirable,” I add, watching as he grins at a customer.

“It is. But just like everyone else, he doesn’t really want to talk to me.”

Clara grins deviously at that. “That’s more of a reason to talk to him, then.”

“Hear, hear. Show him how incredible we McDavid women are,” Elliot announces, toasting her cup to us, and of course, we do the same.

We all snicker as we bump our drinks together, and then I lean back in my chair since I’m finished with my muffin. It was really good, and I can’t help but wonder if sexy reading guy would like it. I’m so ridiculous, because surely I’ll never see him again. Why would I? After all he heard and saw? Ugh. The humiliation of knowing he witnessed Johnny running out of the shop half naked makes me never want to see him again. I can’t blame hot book guy for hightailing it out of the shop. I sounded and looked like a deranged whore.

Hell, who am I kidding? I read monster smut and wish I could be taken by a dragon with two cocks.

I am a deranged whore.





I liked Riggs McCoy the moment I met him.

We had dinner before I was traded over to the Bears, almost like a meet-and-greet kind of thing, and I knew I was making the right choice in leaving Phoenix. I found the head coach not just a hard-ass, but compassionate. While he looks like he hates life most of the time, on the rare occasions that he smiles, it’s hard to think that he is anything but a good dude. Or maybe I gravitate toward him because he’s a natural father figure, and since I don’t have a dad, I look up to Coach McCoy. It’s hard not to.

After showering and getting ready to head out, I receive a text message from Coach, asking to meet with me. I wasn’t expecting that, but I don’t hesitate to head to his office. The walk isn’t long, but I find myself lost in the design of Davenport Arena.

It’s all so new, so flashy, with high ceilings and bright-orange and black accents. We have four restaurants that are open daily. We have a pro shop that carries Bears and Assassins gear, and we have an outdoor rink for families to enjoy. There’s even a hotel attached to the arena, which is freaking cool as hell.

I’m used to shitty arenas for AHL teams, but this one is almost like an NHL arena. It’s over the top, but I love it. When the season isn’t in progress, the owner, Dan Davenport, plans to hold concerts and different events. It’s really cool and super profitable, and it’s brought so many jobs to the people of Knoxville and Blitz.

But the people of Blitz aren’t on board.

They say it’s all too flashy for the small town. Insist that it took away the country feel. But for me, I think it only adds to the awesomeness of the small town. Or maybe I just really like where I’m at right now and wish people would be more supportive. We’ll see how the first game goes. Ticket sales are lower than projected, but I have a good feeling about how it’ll turn out.

When I reach Coach McCoy’s office, he’s sitting behind his desk, his dark, shoulder-length hair around his face as he looks down at his phone. He has a nicely trimmed beard and dark-brown eyes that I swear can cut you with one glance. When he looks up at my arrival, I wave awkwardly while he pushes his phone away. “Carter.”


“How was your morning skate?”

“Good. Felt great out there.”

“You looked good. I was watching.”

I smile at that, but then I hope that doesn’t mean he was watching Cruz since my friend looked as if he was about to die.

“Cruz was sucking wind and lucky as hell I wasn’t coaching.”

Well, that’s unfortunate.

“Yeah, he had a long night.”

He rolls his eyes as he leans back in his chair, causing it to groan under his weight. Coach McCoy played in the NHL for ten years before becoming a coach. He’s been all over, but he jumped at the chance to coach the Bears because of how close he is to Dan Davenport. Like me, Coach is built like a Mack truck and doesn’t miss a day in the gym. Anything he asks us to do, he can do himself, and I think that’s why I like him so much, as not only a coach, but as a person.

“So, listen. Lots of talk about you the last couple days,” he says, changing subjects, thankfully. I’d rather not talk about Cruz. “You’ve been impressing everyone, not that I’m surprised. You should have made the roster with the Assassins, but their loss is my gain.”

His words build back some of the confidence I lost from not making the NHL team. “Thanks, Coach.”

“Only speaking the truth. And because of your hard work and dedication, I want to offer you the captain position.”

My heart stops dead in my chest. Chills run down my spine, and emotion clogs my throat. “Really?”

“Yes. Your leadership is impressive and seems as easy as breathing to you. You are what I want the boys to look up to. You are my captain, and I would like to congratulate you for being chosen as the first captain of the Knoxville Bears.”

I can’t breathe. I can only blink as I hold his gaze. He smiles widely at me, and I find myself returning the gesture. “Really?” I ask again, and he laughs.

“Really, Carter. You are the first one in the rink and the last to leave. You are always there for the guys and always out to help people. Truly, we couldn’t think of a better captain for this inaugural season.”

“I’m sorry. I’m speechless,” I laugh, almost choking on my words.

He laughs with me. “No worries, son. I get it. And while I know you’ll more than likely get picked up by the Assassins in no time, I want you to know how proud we are of you and that you’ve earned this title.”

I feel as if I float out of the office, so fucking proud, I can’t stand it. The first thing I do as I walk to the coffee shop is call my mom. I don’t even get to finish my sentence before she is whooping and hollering for me.

“My baby! I knew you were on the road to better things! Phoenix wasn’t it, baby. But Knoxville—this is it!”

I smile proudly as I get in line. “For sure. I’m stoked.”

“You should be. I’m so proud of you, my love. The captain! The first ever! No one will ever forget your name!”

“Right? God, I feel good.”

“You should! I wish I were there to celebrate.”

“Me too,” I say sadly, hating how far away Michigan is. It’s closer now than Phoenix was, but still, it isn’t like I can go home for dinner and to celebrate. “But I’ll see you for Christmas?”

I had hoped she and my grandma would come for my first game, but my grandma isn’t up for traveling and Mom doesn’t want to leave her. It doesn’t upset me…much, mostly because I bought them the streaming pass for all my games. Knowing they’ll be watching is enough for me. I’m used to being alone at this point.

“Absolutely. I can’t wait.”

“Me neither.”

“That reminds me, though. Guess who came by the other day.”

My stomach clenches because I don’t even have to guess. “Mom, don’t take away my high.”

“You’re right,” she decides, clicking her tongue. “We don’t need to bring up the bad when we’re flying so high, my love. I’m so proud.”

I swallow and wonder why my ex came by my mom’s, but I don’t really want to know. “Thanks, Mom,” I say, annoyed, but then my eyes settle on the muffin of the day.


I smile as thoughts of Lou take the place of my ex in seconds. What a coincidence that’s the muffin. But then, is it? I haven’t stopped thinking of my pomegranate cutie, even if that’s a really bad idea. I can’t help it. I want to know more about her.

I’m on my way to the shop next, and I can’t help but wonder if Lou would want one.

“What can I get you?” asks the girl behind the counter.

While I know I shouldn’t, I say, “A cinnamon latte and two pomegranate-orange muffins.”





My sisters left for Nashville an hour after we finished at the coffee shop, and when Austen found out I wasn’t coming, she called right away.

“I shouldn’t be offended that you’re choosing your shop over me, right?”

I laugh along with her since we both know that’s not the case at all. I’ve always put Austen first—she knows that—and making the decision not to go see her wasn’t an easy one to make. “Totally. I’m a bitch for it.”

She snorts at that. “I do miss you.”

“I miss you,” I say while printing out all the preorder slips for the shifter romance that is keeping me from seeing my sister. “If this book weren’t coming out, I would be there.”

“I know. I already preordered it. It’ll be on my e-reader Tuesday.”

“You and that e-reader. I can’t. I love the way books feel in my hands.”

“Same. But this way, no one knows when I’m reading something super raunchy.” She lets out a soft laugh. “Though, Dimitri knows right away.”

I grin. “I bet he does, lucky duck.”

“He is incredible,” she says with a breathy sigh. I hate how jealous I am of her relationship with Dimitri. They are totally in love, and I yearn to feel that with someone. To be adored the way Dimitri adores Austen.

Sometimes I feel like I’m not worthy of that kind of adoration, but I try to fight that feeling with everything inside me. I am worthy. I’ve been to hell and back, and happiness is in my future, I just know it.

I have to hold on to that belief, after my “marriage”—or rather, claiming—to a man who beat the ever-living snot out of me because I’d rather care for my sisters than him. He was a demon, and getting away from him was the best thing I’ve ever done. I survived, I won, and I will be happy. I have to trust that. If I don’t, he’ll win.

And I refuse to let him ever have power over me again.

“Have you two picked a date yet?”

Austen sighs happily, but I know she gets asked that daily. Especially by Dimitri’s mom, who really wants to plan a wedding. “Not yet. We’re just enjoying being engaged. There’s no rush, ya know?”

I don’t, but I couldn’t be happier. “Absolutely. I can’t wait for the day, though.”

“Me either,” she says, and I don’t have to see her to know she is grinning from ear to ear. Dimitri has that effect on her. “We are looking at houses, though, and I think we might get a dog.”

“Aw! How exciting!”

“Yeah, I’m pretty stoked. Things are going great, and I love working for the Assassins.”

“I’m so happy for you.” And I am, even if I’m green with envy. She’s living the life all of us want. “The shop is going great, though Eliza is driving me crazy with this coffee bar idea.”

Austen laughs. “Just let her do it. If it doesn’t work out, what does it hurt?”

She’s not wrong. “I hate the thought of her not succeeding.”

“Lou, you can’t protect her from failing. You have to let her live. You let me be, and look how great I’m doing.”

“I know,” I agree, exhaling. It’s hard to remember that my sisters don’t need my protection anymore. Once the printer is done, I line up the stack of papers and put them in a folder. “You know how I am.”

“Yes, a true mama bear.”

I grin at that.

“And we all love you for it.”

“I love you too.”

Just then, the bell rings, alerting me to the front door. I look up as a group of women enter. “Welcome!” I gush with a wave, and they smile happily as they wave back, all greeting me the same. “Hey, let me let you go. Customers just came in.”

“For sure. I’ll miss you this weekend. Don’t work yourself too hard.”

“I’ll try. Love you.”

“Love you.”

We hang up, and I put my phone down as I call out, “Let me know if you need any help.”

One of the ladies turns to me and grins. “I heard you had, like, a full monster romance section.”

My grin takes up my whole face. “In your monster era! Girl, I got you!”

This is what I love, introducing people to all the wonderful worlds out there. With a little pep in my step, I guide her to the section and excitedly tell her about all the different books. I show her some of my favorites, and we chat about her new love for tentacle play.

“Same, girl,” I exclaim, and then I reach for my favorite monster romance ever. “But have you met the dragon with two cocks?”

She gasps, taking it from me, and I giggle happily as her friend says, “My granny always makes fun of my shifter love. Says I must be into having sex with dogs if I read about it.”

Everyone rolls their eyes, including me as I grip her wrist. “Girl, I don’t agree, and there is no judgment here. Fuck who or whatever you want as long as you’re happy.” I wave my arms around me. “Judgment-free zone here. I support getting your pleasure.”

The girls all enthusiastically agree, and I beam at all of them, making sure to make eye contact with each one of them before leaving them to discover all the smutty happiness of monsters. I check in on her other friends, who are now looking at billionaire romances and even some surprise pregnancies, before walking around to make sure everything is in place. I fix some books that had been pulled out and put a few away. As I walk around my desk toward the back, I find myself checking the chair the hot guy likes to sit in. It’s empty, much to my dismay, and I wonder if he’ll be coming in today. While I’m hopeful, I highly doubt it.

I hate that I can’t stop thinking of him. His blue eyes, the way his lashes were longer than mine. That full top lip and the smile that sent heat straight between my legs. I move to his chair, while cursing myself for calling it that, in the hope his smell still lingers. Disappointment floods me when I find it doesn’t. I clean up around it, but even though Eliza had put away his book, I set it back out for him. I don’t know why, or even what I’m thinking with my intent to keep the book there, but I just feel I have to.

It’s his spot.

Deranged whore…

I head toward the women and enjoy their laughter as I check in. “How’s it going?”

“So good,” one of them says with a bright grin. “I don’t understand why people are so mean about this place. It’s super freaking cool in here.”

“Truly. I’m obsessed with the vibe!”

“For real. I feel like I’m at Hogwarts or something.”

Pride burns through me. “Thank you. Believe me, I had to stop caring what everyone thought. I’m not worried. They’ll come around.”

The blonde scoffs. “I wouldn’t hold your breath. We’re in the middle of the Bible Belt.” She lifts the books that fill her arms with a grin. “But I’ll be supportive of you. These special editions are incredible!”

I beam. “Thank you. I appreciate that so much.”

I follow them to the desk, where I ring them up as we chat about all the new stuff I have coming. I’d painted the huge wall behind the desk with chalkboard paint, and it has all the release dates listed for special editions and new books, and once it catches their eyes, they all start preordering what they want. I am on cloud nine with excitement and pride.

I love my little shop.

Once I package all the books and their bags are full, I send them one last grin before looking down at my computer that just dinged with a notification from my email. I open the email to find that my package will be here today instead of tomorrow, which is great, but it bums me out since I could have gone to see Austen after all. I guess I still could. I reach for my phone to text the girls that I’ll head up tomorrow, when a white pastry bag is dropped in front of me.

I look up, and instantly, I don’t think I’ll ever breathe right again.

Towering over me, hot reading guy looks down at me with those sinful blue eyes trained only on me. Gone is the hoodie, leaving him in only a T-shirt stretched over his shoulders and biceps. As I suspected, he is deliciously massive with a trim waist. But it’s his eyes that hold me in place. They’re so blue, and now that he doesn’t have his hood up, I can see the trail of freckles along his nose.

I want to count each freckle and then trace them with my tongue.

I press my hand to my chest as heat gathers deep in my stomach, and my pussy throbs at the thought. His eyes darken as his gaze stays locked with mine. Neither of us says a word; we just stare at each other, and I hate my desk at this moment.

It’s in my way of touching him in all the ways I’ve thought about since he left two days ago.

Unable to handle the silence, I blurt out, “Hi?”

His lips tip at the sides, but his eyes never leave mine. “Hi.” He points to the bag. “I saw that and thought of you.”



Oh, the way he says you feels almost like a caress. With my eyes still trapped by his, I reach for the bag, and when I open it, I’m finally able to pull my gaze from his. I feel him watching me as I look into the bag to see a muffin from the coffee shop. The same muffin I had this morning. My face splits in a wide grin as I look back at him. Without a word, I open the drawer beside me and pull out my own white pastry bag with a muffin inside.

I set it before him and then meet his humored gaze. “I saw it and thought of you too.”





Her white pastry bag drops beside the one I brought her, and her eyes snap up to mine as her lips curve in a tentative smile.

“I saw it and thought of you too.”

She has part of her hair up in a bun, while the rest flows down over her shoulders and around her face. She has round eyes that shine in such an interesting color. With each beam of light coming through the windows, they go from brown to a dark blue to a moss green. So intriguing. Her cheeks are flushed pink, and her eyes are exploring mine in a devastating way. I wasn’t sure how I felt about getting her the muffin, but knowing she got me one has me hot in all the right places.

I grin back. “Well, that’s a surprise.”

Her lips twitch a bit at the sides, showing off deep dimples. “A surprise I got you a muffin, or a surprise that I’ve been thinking about you?”

“Thinking about me, huh?”

Her eyes darken a bit just as my stomach drops. I’ve never experienced this kind of pull to someone whom I know nothing about. Usually, I don’t even crave a woman until I’ve tasted them.

This is weird. It’s weird I brought her a muffin. What the hell am I doing? And why in the hell do I want to close the distance between us and kiss that grin right off her face?

She leans forward, parting the two pastry bags and leaning on her elbows before cradling her face in her palms. The motion makes her face appear fuller and her eyes darker. Her gaze is pure fire as it trails down to my lips, and I swear I feel her stare like an electric current. Everything is sizzling, and it’s hard to form thoughts when all I want to do is kiss her.

I don’t even know her.

Her eyes move to mine then, and I feel my breath catch. “I have. A lot.”

“Good thoughts?” I don’t even have control of myself at this point. Why am I still talking? Or more importantly, why is my voice all husky like that? As if I’m trying to seduce her or something. That wasn’t my intent. I wanted to give her a muffin and read to relax, but as I get lost in her kaleidoscope-of-colors gaze, I know there will be no relaxing. Nope, I’m wrapped tighter than tape on a stick shaft.

Her cheeks fill with color. “Mostly. But I am mortified you heard all that.”

“You don’t look mortified.”

The heat travels down her neck, and I desperately want to follow it with my tongue. “Oh, I’m masking right now, acting like I don’t want to hide under my desk and eat my muffin.”

My lips tip up, but I don’t look away. “Want me to join you?”

Her eyes flash with heat. “Would you like to?”

“Ah, answering a question with a question,” I tease as she stands back to her full height. “Fine. Yes, I’d enjoy eating a muffin with you under your desk.”

But neither of us moves, and we just stare at each other. I’m giving her the out. She doesn’t have to do what I suggested, and I wonder if she’s wondering what’s going to happen once we’re under that desk. Will we just eat? Or will there be more?

Because I really want to kiss her.

With a burst of confidence, she takes the bag I brought her and slowly pushes her chair out of the way. I take the bag she got me and start around the desk. She lowers herself, and I do the same before we lean against the back of the desk. I fit comfortably, which is surprising.

“This is a big desk,” I observe, and her lips twitch.

“The better to fit under, my dear,” she says, loosely quoting Little Red Riding Hood. I flash her a grin, and she looks away, almost shyly. “Actually, my peepaw made it for me. I wanted something that was massive but easy for people to lean against when they take pictures. It hides all my junk, and I love all the little compartments.”

“It’s nice, really sets the vibe for the place.”

“For sure,” she agrees, taking out her muffin. She holds it up to me. “Have you tried it?”

I hold her gaze. “Have you?”

Her lips quirk, hiding her smile. I want to see it. Just as much as I want to have my next breath. “I have.”

“Lucky,” I say, taking the one she got me out of the bag. “Because they only had one left when I tried to order two, and I wanted to get it for you.”

Her eyes widen, and then she holds it out to me. “Take a bite.”

I am fully aware that I have my own muffin, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lean forward and take a nice chunk out of hers. I nod as I chew, the sweetness of the orange making the bitterness of the pomegranate shine. This may be my new favorite muffin, and that may have everything to do with her. I flash her a small smile. “Now that’s good.”

“Yeah, this view is good too,” she says, her eyes falling a bit in a sexy, hooded look. She hasn’t moved her hand back, still holding the muffin for me, and I know I’m pushing the limits here, but I don’t care. I want her to eat from my fingers. I lean in again, taking another chunk and nipping her pinkie. Her breath catches, and heat shoots right to my cock.

Oh, I like that noise. I like that a lot.

Her tongue comes out, wetting her bottom lip, and I lean forward, taking the rest of the muffin into my mouth, but this time nipping her thumb. She doesn’t pull away, and I hold the digit between my teeth as our eyes stay focused on each other. Her chest is rising and falling in cadence with how hard my chest is pounding. She’s wearing a long-sleeved crop top that strains against her chest with each breath she takes. Her legs are tucked neatly behind her, her thighs on full display because of how short her skirt is. She reminds me of a naughty librarian, and all the dirty thoughts going through my mind are downright smutty.

Which works since I’m sitting in the middle of a smutty bookstore.

I let go of her thumb and swallow the bite that has practically melted in my mouth. She drops her hand to her lap as heat and desire swirl with all those colors that make up her gaze, which stays trained on me.

I reach into my bag and pull out the muffin, but as I raise it up to her, she brings her hand to my wrist to push it down. “I don’t want that.”



Our eyes are locked in a heated embrace I’ve never felt before. Every inch of my body is totally aware of the girl in front of me, and I want to lose myself in her. My voice is low and full of sex as I ask, “What do you want?”

With her other hand, she takes hold of my shirt and yanks me to her. Our noses collide, and I’m stunned as my eyes search hers. I wasn’t expecting her to do this, and I sure as hell wasn’t expecting her to whisper against my lips, “You.”

I move first, taking her mouth with urgency. I drop the muffin, clutching her thigh as I snake my other hand around her waist to pull her closer. She rises willingly to her knees, her chest pressing into mine as our lips move together. I take her by the back of the thigh and squeeze, loving how she feels like heaven in my hand. She runs her tongue along my bottom lip, and I groan deep in my chest before opening my mouth for hers. Our tongues meet, just a small bit, but then we’re kissing so deeply, so roughly, I feel it all in my chest. I’m breathless when she pulls back, only enough space for us to breathe as my eyes flutter open to meet hers.

“What are we doing?”

I chuckle against her lips, squeezing her thigh as her mouth grazes mine. Sweet little kisses and nips that have me burning from root to tip. “I think the kids call it making out.”

Her laugh is soft, while her eyes are wild. Her lips are so soft, glossy, and I love how her thigh feels in my hand. “We don’t know each other.”

“I know you taste fucking good.”

Her breath catches before she admits, “I don’t want to stop.”

The color that fills her face is so damn beautiful. “Trust, love. I don’t intend to.”

Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I can stop.






I may say I’m a deranged whore, but I’ve never done anything like this.

Not that I’m complaining or even judging myself because, holy shit, this dude can kiss, but I’ve never kissed a guy without knowing his name. I am the queen of swiping right, but even then, I make sure I’m interested in the guy. I don’t know a thing about this guy except that my panties are drenched and if he doesn’t stop grazing my thigh with his thumb and move it up, I may combust from within. Jesus have mercy, who is this man?

His lips feel just as full as they look. They cushion mine as he assaults my mouth with his tongue. He isn’t sweet—no, he’s rough and takes what he wants from me. I have no issue giving him what he wants because I want it just as bad.

I want more.

I start to close the distance as he circles his other hand around me, holding my hip tightly as our kiss becomes more desperate, more wanton. Just as I go to straddle his lap, needing him close, needing to feel his body against mine, the bell over the front door sounds. Our mouths stop and our eyes open, meeting each other’s surprised gaze. We’re both breathing hard, and I don’t want to stop, but damn it, I have to.

I kiss his top lip and whisper, “Don’t move.”

I crawl away from him and don’t miss his sharp intake of breath. I look back to see him taking in my backside and thighs. I know he can see my butt cheeks since I’m only wearing a thong under my little skirt. Heat floods my gut and I want to resume what we’ve started, but I have a customer. I stand up, wiping my mouth as I turn to greet whoever just ruined the best make-out session of my life. I should be embarrassed, but I’m not. I’m worried he’ll realize this is nuts and run out the back. I plaster a grin on my face, and to make sure he doesn’t move, I place my toes on his thigh. When I hear him chuckle, I cover it by greeting my return customer. “Ellen! How are you?”

I feel his fingers circle my ankle.

“Louisa! Why are you always so damn cute?”

I usually love talking to Ellen, she’s one of my favorites, but when hot reading guy’s mouth starts to trail up my calf, I want her to leave.


“Aw, you’re too sweet!”

“Are you a naughty librarian?” she teases, and I don’t know how I’m talking right now when his lips are brushing against my heated skin.

“Nope, showcasing books that have the ‘Brat’ trope. So I dressed the part.”

I feel his smile before his teeth sink into the spot between my calf and back of my knee. My breath hitches, and it’s a struggle not to cry out or close my eyes in bliss. Ellen is none the wiser. She giggles as she leans on the counter. I know she can’t see him or even what he is doing, what with how big the counter is, but what surprises me is not the embarrassment, but the thrill of him touching me while she talks to me.

Okay, maybe I should accept that I am a deranged whore.

And at this moment, I don’t give two flying fucks.

He traces his tongue along the back of my knee before placing small kisses and nips along my tender flesh.

Meanwhile, Ellen tells me, “Well, I love it, and I think you’re adorable! Did my preorder come in?”

“Ellen, you sneaky girl, you know it doesn’t come out till Tuesday.”

She smiles sheepishly as his tongue slides along the curve of my knee.

I may die here.



Jesus, take me.

“Darn it, I was hoping you had it.”

I shake my head jerkily. When he bites the top of my thigh, I squeeze the edge of the counter to keep from exploding right there. “It hasn’t even come in. Sorry.”

“No worries,” she says kindly, waving me off. “Are you okay? You look flushed.”

I feel him grin against my skin, and if I didn’t love this, I’d kick him. “Just fine. A bit hot.”

She nods before grabbing one of the books I’ve showcased today. “I’ll get the Billionaire’s Bratty Nanny.”

“Great choice. Such a hot read,” I somehow get out. She hands me the book, and I fight back a moan when he taps my knees. I know what he wants and I know I’m crazy, but I part my legs for him as I move to get her a bag. I have no control over my body when his tongue runs the length of my panty-covered lips. I slam a fist into the desk and bite my lip.


“I’m fine,” I croak out, shaking my head. “I stubbed my toe.”

“You poor thing.”

There is absolutely nothing poor about me at this moment, but I need her out of here.


His fingers dig into the backs of my thighs as he kisses me through my panties before running his tongue along every swollen inch of my core. He is sampling me, and fucking hell, I want him to devour me. Put me out of my misery, blow my fucking mind, and make me his.

I’m on autopilot as I take her payment and hand her the bag. I grin widely at her. “Have a beautiful day. I’ll see you Tuesday?”

“Absolutely! Have a great day, Louisa.”

Once the door shuts, I lean back and look down at him. His eyes meet mine, all dark and hooded, and I watch as he runs his nose up against my lips. “Louisa.”

Oh, my name on his lips has me almost igniting on the spot.


“Take a lunch break.”

Disappointment runs through me. I can always eat, but I’d rather carry on with this. “Oh.”

His lips curve, his teeth flashing at me and causing my toes to curl. “Oh, don’t be disappointed. We aren’t getting food.”


“No, my lunch is this pretty pussy right here.”

Heat pools in said pussy before it starts throbbing hard for him. His eyes are so dark, his lips swollen from our kisses and turned up in a sexy and full-of-promises way. He licks his lips, and I almost come undone. My voice sounds like I’m choking on gravel when I say, “I’ll lock the front. You lock the back?”

I don’t know who moves the fastest, but the next thing I know, I’m running to the front while he runs to the back. I almost start to tear my clothes off, but I don’t want to seem too eager. But really, that ship may have sailed. Oh, who the hell cares! Though, I keep my clothes on. I start toward the back, not wanting to wait for him. When I round the corner, he is turning back from locking the door, and then his eyes fall on me. He runs his hands over his mouth, taking me in.

“You are fucking gorgeous.” My heart swells before he points to the chair. “Sit.”

I can’t breathe, and my pussy is throbbing to the point of pain. “There? That’s your chair.”

“I know. I want you in my chair, so when I sit there in the future, I’ll have the memory of your pussy on my lips.”

How I am even standing at this point is a miracle, but little does he know, he doesn’t have to ask twice.

So, I sit down, swinging my legs like a kid waiting for a treat.

Though, my treat is over six feet tall and with a sinful mouth that is making me the ultimate promise.






Did I have the intention of devouring Louisa when I walked in?

I think I may have, which is a huge problem but one I am promptly ignoring as I look her over while she sits in my chair. Her legs swing back and forth in excitement, and her face is flushed and so damn gorgeous. I love her nose, how it turns up a bit at the end. But most of all, I love how her eyes change with the desire swirling deep in them. She’s wiggling with anticipation, and my cock can’t take it. I grip myself, shaking my head as I drink her in.

“Did you know I’ve been coming to this shop for two months?”

Her mouth parts a bit, her legs stopping. “No way.”

“Yup. I always come through the back, and you never notice me.”

A blush fills her cheeks. “I don’t know how.”

“You’re busy, a hard worker,” I say on a groan as I adjust myself.

“Want help with that?” she asks, her eyes dropping to where I grip my cock through my sweatpants. She licks her lips, and I almost let her—fuck, I almost reveal my cock to stuff her sweet mouth with it.

“Not yet. I want your pussy in my mouth.” Her chest is rising and falling with a vengeance, and I can’t wait to hear her scream. “I’d watch you, you know?”

Her eyes darken as she leans back, parting her legs for me.

I step between them, taking her jaw in my hand before leaning down to kiss her. I don’t, though. I linger over her lips, our eyes locking. “I’d sit right here and wonder what it would be like to have you like this. To taste you come in my mouth, to hear you scream, to feel you wiggle under my touch.” Her breath is coming out in spurts as her eyes burn into mine. “I’d sit right here and just know that you’d take my cock so damn good.”

Her eyes fill with fire as she arches up to me, her lips grazing mine. With nothing but pure hunger in those swirling eyes, she whispers against my lips, “Then what are you waiting for?”

Shit, what am I waiting for?

I take her lips then with determination, my heart slamming into my chest as she meets my kiss with each stroke of our tongues. It’s a messy kiss, and damn it, I love it. She captures my bottom lip between her teeth, and I hiss out a breath as I squeeze her jaw. She lets me go, grinning devilishly at me as I lean back. “Channeling your inner brat, I see?”

She bites her bottom lip as I push her back into the chair. “Only for you.”

“Mmm.” I squeeze her chin between my fingers. “Then I guess I can’t eat this pretty pussy if you aren’t going to be a good girl.”

She pouts out her bottom lip at me. “So, you’re all talk?”

I chuckle as I lower myself to my knees. “Fuck no. I want this pussy in my mouth more than I want to breathe.”

Her legs part more, and my eyes never leave hers as I run my hands up her thighs. I’m waiting for her to tell me no, to have second thoughts, but nothing but pure desire is shining in her eyes, and I know she wants this as much as I do. I take ahold of her panties at her waist, and she lifts that sweet ass so I can pull them down and off. Her panties are soaked, and that thrills me in ways I can’t even imagine. This girl is driving me wild. I’m wound so tight, I can hardly move, let alone breathe, as I throw her panties to the floor. I hook her legs over the arms of the chair and take in her glistening center. She’s bare and swollen, her desire bright all over her lips. Desire I caused, and fuck, if that doesn’t turn me on even more.

I look up to see her watching me, her lips parted as she takes deep breaths. “You’re gorgeous.”

Her eyes fall shut a bit before she licks her lips. “Please.”

“Mm,” I groan, lifting my shaking hand from behind her knee. I run a finger through her desire and lips as she arches off the chair. “Say it again.”

I slide one finger inside her, and she jerks against my hand.

“Please,” she moans without hesitation.

She’s so tight, so fucking wet. Shit, I might blow right here. I pull my finger out slowly as our eyes lock. I swear I’ve never seen anyone so gorgeous in my life. Her hair is in her eyes, her lips are swollen, and her pussy is weeping just for me.

“Fucking beautiful.”


“Oh, my love, that pretty begging is dangerous,” I tell her as I slide my middle and ring finger into her. Her pussy squeezes my fingers as her head lolls back, the sultriest moan I’ve ever heard in my life leaving her lips. Without thinking, I bite out, “I’ll get addicted.”

“Yes!” she cries, her fingers digging into her thighs as she pushes down against my hand, causing my fingers to go deeper. I curl them up, hitting her right at the spot I know is going to have her trembling within seconds. I lean down, running the tip of my tongue along the hood of her pussy. She hisses and then cries out when I flick my tongue along her swollen nub.

“Fuck, you taste so good,” I mutter against her pussy, my voice shaky. I take another lick, teasing her as she thrashes beneath my mouth.

“Oh, oh, please,” she moans.

I wanted to go slow. I wanted to savor her, but I can’t. I need to see her come undone. I press my hand into her stomach, holding her in place right where I want her. I start to fuck her hard with my fingers as I suck that pretty little nub between my lips. I suck her as she cries out before I start to flick my tongue against her swollen clit. The thrill of knowing I have her aroused like this is overwhelming. She wants me; she needs me as much as I need her, and I can’t get enough. I need her to come. I want to make her feel good.

I move my hand faster inside her, curling my fingers into her, and she begins thrashing beneath my mouth. Her moans are intoxicating, her body is my wonderland, and when her legs start to shake, my balls grow heavy. She slides her fingers through my hair, her nails digging into my scalp as she grinds against my face. It’s maddening. I fucking love it. I press harder on her stomach to keep her still as I move my tongue and fingers faster. Her moans are loud, guttural, and damn near mind-blowing. I feel her tense around my fingers, she arches up, and then she’s squirting all over my face.

I lean back, catching her release in my mouth before covering her pussy with my lips and drinking her sweet nectar. Her cries are deep, and she shakes beneath my mouth as I continue to fuck her with my fingers and drink her dry. This has never happened to me. I’ve never made a girl come like this, and my earlier words come back at me tenfold.

I’ll get addicted.

Shit. I may already be.





His fingers still fuck me as I ride the waves of the best orgasm of my life.

Holy. Fuckadoodle.

That was intense.

I open my eyes to find him watching me, my release all over his face and shirt. I’m too shocked to feel any bit of shame. I’ve never gushed like that, but I’ve never been eaten out like that before either. He devoured my pussy like it was that muffin, and to say I’m flabbergasted is an understatement. My whole body is shaking, my insides feel like I’m burning to ash, and I don’t want this to end.

“Please,” I moan, bearing down on his fingers as he curls them up into me. He runs his tongue along my lower lips, and I can’t take it. I need more. “I want your cock.”

His rough laugh sends chills down my spine. “It’s yours.”

I swallow hard as he removes his fingers from me and then stands. I watch as he puts his fingers in his mouth and sucks on them.

“I always lick my plate clean.”

I think I just came again.

He pulls his shirt over his head. “Take your shirt off.”

I do it quickly, along with my bra, as he pulls down his pants, and my gaze falls on where his cock is jutting out at me. I’ve seen a lot of dicks. Small, big, wide, thin, and everything in between, but I’ve never thought a dick was beautiful.

His…is beautiful.

It’s not one like authors write about, with all the males having huge, long cocks. While it’s on the bigger side, it’s the girth of it that has me squirming on his chair. It has to be a Coke-bottle’s width around. Has to be. And my mouth dries at the sight. I lick my lips, meeting his gaze. “I’m not a virgin by any means, but I don’t think he’s gonna fit.”

He chuckles as he strokes it, his eyes intent on me. “Oh, you’re going to take it all, love.”

My insides clench as he lifts me out of the chair like I weigh nothing. He sits down, and I straddle his waist, his cock brushing my sensitive lips. He cups one of my breasts as he squeezes my ass with his other hand. “So gorgeous.”

Every time he says it, I can’t help but believe him. I’m not saying I don’t think I’m beautiful, but when he says it, there is no denying it. I lean in, licking his lips as I run my wet pussy along his shaft. He takes a sharp breath, his hands squeezing my hip and boob. He looks down at where our parts are mingling before looking back up at me. “I’m clean. I get tested every three months for my job.”

I nod. “I am too.”

“Are you on birth control?”

“I am.”

“Can I fuck you without a condom?”

I’ve lost my damn mind, but I trust him. I don’t know why. I have no reason to, but I do. “Please.”

His jaw clenches, and he shakes his head as he brings his hand up to cup my jaw. “You’re killing me, love.”

My body is on fire as I lean in, sliding my nose along his. “Fuck me.”

“Gladly.” It’s all he says before he positions his cock at my entrance and slowly guides me down. The stretch is borderline painful, but I love it.

I throw my head back, moaning loudly. “You can’t fit. I can’t…”

“You will,” he demands, grabbing me by the back of the neck and bringing my face to his. He trails his lips along my jaw as I squeeze him. I try to relax, but it’s too much. He’s too big. It’s too much. He glides his lips over my cheek, sucking on my earlobe before pressing his lips to my ear. He moves his hand to my pussy, brushing his finger over my clit and sending me through the roof. I cry out, arching my breasts into his chest as I slide down a bit more on his massive cock. He kisses my ear again but doesn’t stop stroking his finger along my clit.

It’s all too much. He’s too much, but then his lips are moving. “The last two nights, I couldn’t sleep until I stroked my cock with you on my mind. Each time I came, I would grunt your name, and I knew I couldn’t resist you the moment I walked in here today. Lou, come for me. Take my cock like the good girl I know you are.”

Yup, I come, and I come hard. I scream like I’m being killed as my head falls back, and he impales me to the hilt.

I’m so full I can’t breathe as he groans loudly against my ear. “Fuck, love. You are a gift.”

My whole body is on fire, and every part of me is trembling for this man. He lifts me then, slowly lowering us to the floor as his big body covers mine. I wish I had time to soak in the cut of his body, the tattoos along his shoulders, but it’s taking everything out of me just to fucking breathe.

I hook my legs around his hips, digging my heels into his tight ass as he captures my mouth with his. He’s throbbing inside me, and it feels so damn good, I almost don’t want him to move. His tongue strokes mine, and I can taste myself on his lips. He smells so fucking good; I want to burrow myself in his neck and never move. I squeeze him with my pussy, and he groans deeply against my mouth.

“Naughty girl,” he whispers against my lips. “You want me to fuck you?”

“Please. God, please.”

“God isn’t here, but I am.”

This would be a perfect moment to ask for his name, but there is no time before he is moving in and out of me. Each time he pulls out, emptying me, I gasp, but then he slams into me, filling me to the brim, and I whimper just for him. He takes hold of my legs and pushes my knees to the floor, going deeper into me, and I cry out as the pain blinds me. But it’s so delicious, there is no stopping the moan that escapes from deep within my chest for him.

Each thrust is intense, but when he takes his hand from my knee and runs his thumb along my clit, I jerk against him. “I can’t!”

“You will,” he insists, stroking me as he stills inside me. “Come for me, baby.”

I don’t know how, but I feel myself going rigid. My fingers bite into his forearms, and soon, I’m squeezing my eyes so tightly, stars appear. When I snap, falling over the edge, a silent cry leaves my lips as he starts to pound into me.

“That’s my girl. Yes, Lou. You’re so lovely when you’re coming on my cock.”

It’s insane, it’s beautiful, and I am fucking lost.

His thrusts become more urgent, more demanding, and when he slams into me with a roar, filling me up with his release, I can only hold on and hope I stay in one piece. I feel as if he splits me in two, but fuck if I don’t love it. He thrusts once more, and then his weight is suffocating me.

But I welcome it.

I crave it.

He rolls to the side of me, turning me so his cock stays inside my pulsating center. He kisses me hard, playing with my tongue as he holds me close. He’s so warm, so big, and he smells so very manly that I never want to forget the scent for the rest of my days. I nip at his bottom lip then his top before pressing a kiss to his nose. He glides his lips down my jaw, my neck, and then bites my chin before grinning at me.

God, he’s stunning.

I cup his jaw, stroking my thumb along his cheek. He glides his nose over mine, and I ask, “What’s your name?”

His lips curve deeply, and when the dimples flash, I can’t help but grin back. He feels amazing beside me. I fit right in next to him, his body wrapping around mine like I’ve never experienced in my life. In my defense, the men I’ve been with have never wanted to cuddle or hold me. Usually, they fuck me and leave, but he isn’t moving. He holds my exhausted and lusciously spent body as he gazes down at me. He kisses my lips again. “Ciaran,” he says and then spells it for me.

“Ciaran,” I repeat, and his hips move into mine, pushing his spent cock deeper into me.

I feel his cock jerk inside me, and my breath catches.

“Oh, I like the way you say my name.”

I flash him my most devastating grin. The one that usually gets me laid. “Ciaran,” I repeat, running my lips over his, and I feel his cock throbbing just for me. “I want more, Ciaran.”

He captures my jaw in his big hand. “Then more is what I’m going to give you.”





Well…I’ve found myself in a situation.

A situation I know how I need to navigate, but my wants don’t line up with the needs.

And that’s a problem.

A problem I’m having a hard time trying to solve, especially when thinking isn’t an option with Louisa’s legs all tangled up with mine. I look down into her face, her head tipped back as she takes in huge gulps of air and lets them out, her breath warm against my jaw. Her chest presses against my chest, and her heart beats in cadence with mine. I slide my hand down her throat, her shoulder, before taking her side in my grip. I have her ass in one hand and the other at her side, sliding my thumb along her rolls that have been taunting me since I met her. She feels so good in my hands, like I knew she would.

And that’s not helping my problem.

She draws circles along my nipple with one of her fingers as she moves her other hand through the hair on my stomach. I’m still deep inside her, going soft, but I have no desire to separate yet. I love how I feel inside her. I love how her body squeezes me and how warm and tight she is. I knew I was attracted to her, but nothing could have prepared me for what I’m feeling now. I did so well, keeping my distance, but all it took was a muffin.

And here I am.

It was a damn good muffin. And everything we just did? Well, it was even better than the muffin.

Which adds to my predicament.

Usually after I hook up, I’m out the door before my heart slows down and my cock grows too soft, but as my heart rate begins its descent and my breathing returns to normal, I don’t want to leave. I want rounds two, three—hell eight and nine, if possible. I want all of her. Each cry, each moan, and every drop of her pleasure.

I know that should be enough to get me out the door, but I cuddle closer, kissing her jaw before nuzzling her neck. I love how she smells, the rose scent just as pretty as she is. Her skin is so soft, so beautiful, and the thought of her getting dressed makes my stomach hurt. I’m not done with her, and while that’s a huge issue, it’s not an issue I want to address or deal with.

I run my tongue down her throat, to her shoulder, and then back up. She arches into me, and I bring her closer, sucking gently on her neck. I’m rewarded with a sweet little moan that tickles my gut in the most satisfying way. I want to hear it again. I repeat the motion, and once more, she leans into my mouth, wanting what I’m offering.

“I don’t usually jump a guy like I did you,” I hear her say, and I chuckle.

“I thought I did the jumping,” I say against her heated skin. “Or rather, we jumped each other.” I place a kiss and then lean back to look down into her face. Her gaze is darker, the brown of her hazel eyes on display. “I’m not judging, Lou. I want you just as bad.”

Want, not wanted…

She chews on her bottom lip. “I just didn’t want you to think I’m a whore, especially after that idiot running out of here on Tuesday. He didn’t even get me off, and there was no sex. He literally came on my back when he was eating me out. Badly.”

I blink, surprised by the rage that burns within. I want to know why he came on her back while eating her, but then I get it. I almost blew my load too; her pussy is fucking magical. But the real question I need to ask myself is, why do I care who comes on her? This is a one-time thing. She can do what she wants. But that whole line of thinking goes to shit when she blushes so sweetly, my teeth hurt.

She chances a glance at me and whispers, “Sorry, I’m nervous, and I tend to overshare when I’m nervous.”

“Whatever do you have to be nervous about?” She doesn’t answer, but I can tell she needs my reassurance. I don’t know why I want to give it to her, or even why she thinks she needs it. She doesn’t even have to explain herself. As long as she’s not fucking him anymore, I don’t give a damn.

Wow. I really just thought that. Yup, I’m in deep shit.

I swallow hard, knowing I need to disentangle myself from this gorgeous siren, but instead, I move her hair out of her eyes, unable not to touch her. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“I wanted to,” she admits, licking her bottom lip. “Just so you know I’m not out here sleeping around with everyone. I’m actually picky⁠—”

“Louisa.” She presses her lips together, and I kiss them. She melts into the kiss, and I cuddle her closer. Against her lips, I whisper, “I don’t care about anyone before me.”

And I just said that out loud. It’s as if I’ve lived by the rules I made since my ex, and here I am ignoring every single one because of…what? Fantastic fucking sex? I need to get out of here. Now. But I don’t move, and I know it’s not because of the fantastic fucking sex. It’s because of Louisa. I’ve been intrigued by her since the moment I saw the sign for Dirty Pages. And when I saw her, fuck me, I wanted her.

And now…

Gone are my thoughts when her lashes kiss her cheeks before she cups my jaw. I’m completely distracted by her as her eyes burn into mine. Fuck, she’s so gorgeous. “I think pomegranate-orange muffins are my new favorite.”

I grin. “Me too.” I kiss her nose then the side of her lips before squeezing a chunk of her ass. She giggles as I murmur against her heated skin, “You are so beautiful.”

Her lips curve. “I don’t know why, but I believe you believe that.”

“You don’t?” That surprises me. Surely she knows how gorgeous she is.

“I mean, I do. But it’s different when you say it.”

“I’m only speaking the truth.” I move my nose against hers. “You’re beautiful, Lou.”

“I obviously like the way you look.”

I knew that before she even said it. When her gaze landed on me the other day, it was heavy with want, and I felt as if she was looking inside me. Deep inside. Even now, I feel it everywhere. “So far, we are both fans of muffins and we like the way the other looks.”

She snorts, rubbing her chest into mine. “And the sex is explosive.”

“Oh yes. How could I forget that?” I tease huskily.

“Rude,” she practically moans.

“Right? I’m ashamed,” I mutter as her lips curve when she leans in, pressing her lips to mine. The kiss is gentle, sweet, and slow. She draws my mouth open, her tongue sliding along mine as I cup her boob in my hand. I can’t get over how good she feels, and I don’t want to ever stop touching her. She licks up the roof of my mouth, and I groan against her mouth. When her lips turn up at the sides, I can’t help but be breathless. I don’t want this to end. I don’t, but still, I have to ask, “Do you need to reopen?”

I see her pause, and the hesitation is there. “I don’t, but I probably should.”

“So, I should leave?” I don’t move, though, and neither does she.

“No way. Not yet,” she decides without faltering. “I’m just saying I should because I didn’t go visit my sister with my other sisters because I wanted the shop to be open and I’m waiting for a shipment.”

“How many sisters do you have?”

“Four. I’m the eldest.”

I move my hand up her neck and thread my fingers through her hair as I tip her head back. “Is your assistant your sister?”

“Eliza? Yeah, she’s the second eldest, then there is Austen, who lives in Nashville, and finally, Elliot and Clara, the babies.”

“You guys must be close.”

She nods. “They are my best friends.” I can tell; her eyes are shining with love and pride. “Do you have siblings?”

“I do,” I tell her, cupping her by the back of her thigh and hooking it higher up on my hip so she’s closer. “I’m the youngest of nine.”

“Holy shit!” she exclaims, her eyes wide, and I can’t help but smile. It’s a common reaction. “I thought I had a lot of siblings.”

I chuckle softly. “The eldest is almost forty, and I’m twenty-two.”

Her eyes widen at that. “You’re twenty-two?”

I eye her. “Is that a problem?”

She laughs nervously, which I know by the way her lip comes between her teeth, halting her laughter. “I’m twenty-eight.”

I have to fight back my grin as I graze my lips along hers. “Mm, a cougar has caught me,” I tease, and she laughs loudly, the throaty sound sending chills down my spine and heat straight to my cock. “I’m kidding. Age is just a number, love.”

She kisses my jaw then my bottom lip before meeting my gaze. She brushes her fingers along my cheek, and I’m lost in the blue of her eyes at the moment. I know once I’m between those thighs, they’ll go brown again, and I can’t wait to see the color shine as she screams my name.

Now that she knows it.





If I had to go through all the trauma with the cult, and then all the shit guys after, to get to Ciaran—ugh, I love his name—I would absolutely do it all over again.

The way Ciaran looks at me, the way he holds me, how he drops that little nickname of love in the most striking way, has me chomping at the bit for more. I want to drown myself in his words, in the pleasure he brings me and how good he makes me feel. I don’t want to let him leave. I want to kidnap him and keep him all to myself.

But again, I look awful in orange.

I run my tongue along his lips, and his grip on my ass tightens. I feel his cock coming back to life, and even through the exhaustion, I want him. Desperately. I feel as if I’m betraying my sisters by not reopening the shop, but I refuse to let that hold me back. I trap Ciaran’s gaze as I whisper, “I don’t want to open the shop back up.”


“If I don’t, would you like to come upstairs?”

He kisses my lips, then my nose, before his wanton gaze has me growing tight everywhere. “I was hoping to come upstairs if you opened or not.”

Yup, fuck opening the shop. My breath catches audibly, but I recover quickly by sitting up. I don’t know why, but I cover my chest with my arm as I go to stand, but he stops me by pulling my arm away, releasing my girls.

“What are you doing?”

His words surprise me, and my eyes widen as I look down at him. “Bracing the girls so I can get up.”

He shakes his head in something like annoyance. “Don’t hide them. I need my fill.”

A flush burns along my cheeks, and I know it’s trailing down my throat, even my chest. He makes me giddy. “Mmm, keep that up, and we won’t make it upstairs.”

He moves so fast, I can’t even prepare myself. He takes hold of my thigh, rolling us over so I’m on top of him. Fluid rushes out of me and pools along his stomach, but neither of us cares. Our eyes are locked, and our breathing starts to become labored. I don’t understand this pull, this unreasonable need for him, but I don’t want to question it. I just want to feel his pleasure.

I swallow hard as he cups my ass in his hands, squeezing my cheeks apart. His eyes are full of all things naughty as he says, “Who said anything about making it upstairs?”

The desire that swirls in his cornflower-blue eyes has me wheezing for air. He brings his hand up, cupping my neck before drawing me down into a lusty, messy kiss. It’s all teeth and tongue, and the desire that gathers deep in my stomach has me trembling in anticipation. I tear my mouth from his, sucking on his bottom lip, then his chin, his neck. I track down his body, kissing his pecs, his nipples, and then each of the abs that adorn his toned stomach. He has that dangerous deep-cut V that points straight to his cock.

A cock that is standing at attention, ready for me.

When I take him by the root, his hips jerk up and he hisses through his teeth. The power I feel is absolutely mind-blowing as I look up at him from beneath my lashes. His eyes darken when he slowly shakes his head. “You keep looking at me like that, love, and I’ll take back control.”

I lick my lips, arching my brow at him. “Seems like you like being at my mercy,” I tell him before curling my tongue along the crown of his thick cock.

“Fuck,” he hisses, his jaw tight, the veins popping along his neck.

It’s a sight to behold, for sure.

“I don’t think you want me to stop.”

He’s panting, his eyes wild, as I run my tongue from root to tip before repeating the motion.

“Don’t, Lou. Don’t you dare,” he warns, his voice dark and delicious.

“Mm, now who’s doing the pretty begging?” I ask just as his eyes flick to mine from where he was watching my tongue along his cock. Before he can say anything, though, I take him into my mouth. I grip the base, working it up and down with the bob of my head. He tastes salty, but that intoxicating smell of man floods my senses, and I ignore the pain in my jaw from taking him so deeply into my mouth. He’s so thick, but I want to please him. I want to give him everything he gave me, ten times over.

He threads his fingers through my hair, guiding me up and down on his cock. He tangles his fingers in the strands, squeezing, and I welcome the pain, woozy with the sounds of his pleasure. My pussy throbs, knowing I’m doing this to him. I’m causing this big, gorgeous man to come undone. When his hips start to buck, I take him deeper, tears spilling down my cheeks at how full he’s made me.

“Yes, Lou. Fuck, my cock was made for your mouth.”

Jesus, I’m going to come myself. I moan around his cock, and a sound leaves his lips from deep in his chest. My pussy throbs and I want to come, but I want to spoil him. I suck his cock fully into my mouth, his hips jerking up as his head drops back and my name falls from his lips. I move my hand between my legs, finding my nub and working it as I take him in and out of my mouth.

“Are you touching yourself?” he asks, and I open my eyes to find him watching me. Without removing his cock, I only nod, groaning around him as I pick up speed on my clit. “Stop.”

I cry out, but I do as he says.

“I will make you come,” he vows, and my pussy clenches.

I pull his cock out of my mouth, and through tears, I beg, “Please.”

He groans loudly, and I take him back in my mouth before he can utter another word. I work him, fast, urgently, and when he comes, he bucks up, pulling my hair as he fills my mouth with his come. It’s hot, salty, and I want more. I suck him dry, enjoying the way he thrashes and jerks in my mouth. I open my eyes, finding him watching me, those blue eyes almost as dark as a cloudy sky. A satisfied grin moves across my lips before I dip the tip of my tongue in the crown of his cock, and a string of curses falls from his lips.

“Fucking hell, Louisa.” He squeezes my hair in his hand, my name sounding so dirty on his lips.

I meet his gaze again, licking my lips. “Like you, I always lick my plate clean.”

Something flashes in his eyes before he drags me to him, our lips meeting in earnest. His hands are everywhere, pulling me close and wrapping around me to hold me against where his heart is slamming into his chest. I relish the feeling and how he holds me. Like I’m important. Something no one has ever done.

He tears his mouth from mine, running his nose along my jaw and lips. “I think I blacked out.”

I snort and then giggle loudly. “Good.”

“Devilish girl.”

I laugh at that since I’ve never thought of myself as devilish, but I do enjoy how he brings out this side of me. I lick my lips, and then the doorbell rings. His arms tighten around me, and I giggle against his neck.

“Any other day, no one is here,” he mutters against my ear.

I nod. “Right? Jeez,” I say, trying to pull away, but he isn’t letting me go. I look at the back door, and in the window at the top, I can see the hat the guy is wearing. It’s my delivery. “It’s my books. I’ve got to get those.”

He grumbles. “But that means you have to get dressed.”

I giggle as I untangle myself from him. “I could just put on your shirt,” I suggest, grabbing it from where it lies beside us. It’s wet from my release, but it isn’t like the delivery guy is going to be touching me. I throw it on and decide this needs to be quick so we can shower and get dirty again. I look over my shoulder at Ciaran to find him watching me. Gone is the playfulness, and concern fills his eyes. I bring in my brows, confused. “I can get another shirt⁠—”

“No,” he says, standing in all his hot, naked glory. His cock is still glistening with my spit, and I see marks where my nails dug into his hips. Jesus, I wish I could take a picture to have for later because Ciaran looks all kinds of delectable. But before I can gush over him, he takes my hips in his large hands. “I love my shirt on you, especially when I know your come is all over it.”

I lean into him, and the bell sounds again. I want to ignore it, but I know I can’t. “Give me five.” But he doesn’t let me go. Confused, I ask, “Ciaran?”

His eyes search mine. “Louisa,” he says softly, and my heart aches at the tenderness. “What happened to your back?”





I feel her tense in my arms. I see the excitement, the lust, and the joy leave her eyes instantly.

And I feel like the biggest dick in the world.

I wish I could take it back. I wish I hadn’t said anything, but her back has been mutilated. That’s the only word I can even think to use to describe it. She has so many scars, some deep pink and keloid, and then some that are thin and white. Her shoulders and upper back are riddled with them. It looks as if she’s been beaten, but surely that can’t be true. We don’t live in the back-slashing ages, so why in the hell does this gorgeous woman look like she’s been abused?

And who the fuck did it?

I get the feeling she isn’t going to answer me, and I almost press, but I refrain as I watch her struggle. I don’t like the look she has, or how it makes me feel like the slush on the ice that’s full of spit, blood, boogers, and the occasional tooth. I don’t want to be the one to cause that expression on her face. To hurt her. That wasn’t my intent. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to upset you,” I find myself saying quickly.

She swallows hard, moving out of my arms, and I struggle with letting her go. She inhales deeply, letting it out in a rush before shrugging. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she says, waving me off.

I scoff. “So, you’re not only hot when you come, but you’re adorable when you lie.”

Her eyes cut to mine over her shoulder as she walks away. “Really, it’s nothing.”

“Doesn’t look like nothing,” I call to her, but she ignores me. I move out of the line of sight of the door and listen as she accepts her shipment.

“Sorry, I was sleeping. I’ve had a migraine all day.”

“No worries, Ms. McDavid. I got twelve boxes for you.”

I listen to him put the boxes in the back room as I pull up my boxers, forgoing my pants so she doesn’t think that I want to leave. I should leave. The door is right there, and I’m not distracted by her at the moment. But I can’t. I don’t want to, which will pose an issue later. But right now, I want only her. I want to soothe those scars with my lips. I want to comfort her. I want to please her.

I want to make her forget the person who put them there.

When the back door shuts and the lock snaps into place, I come back out as she sets a packing slip on her desk. She leans on it, her eyes moving up and down my body before meeting mine.

Tense silence falls between us, and I hate it.

“New books?”

She nods, a small smile pulling at her lips. “The new shifter romance. Comes out on Tuesday.”

I nod. I know which one she’s talking about. “I planned on reading it Tuesday.”

“You didn’t preorder?”

“No,” I admit. “My roommate makes fun of my reading.”

“Jackass,” she mumbles. “Though, I don’t meet many guys who read romance.”

I shrug as I lean against the wall behind her desk, drinking her in. She looks real good in my shirt. It’s tight over her breasts but hits her at mid-thigh, hiding all her yummy bits from view. The same yummy bits I want back on my tongue. “I love romance, I love the intimacy, and I enjoy the words rather than watching a guy plow through a female.”

Her lips quirk, and I know I could be honest. That my love life has been a train wreck of shit and I haven’t felt true intimacy in my life.

Until what we did in the middle of her shop.

I ignore that thought, and it’s easy when she licks her lips as she leans on the desk. She is braced on her hands, her eyes meeting mine. I hate that there is space between us. I step toward her while she asks, “Have you always been a reader?”

I nod as I reach for her, pulling her into my arms, her back to my chest and her ass warm against my hips. She fits against me perfectly, and when I cuddle her neck, I kiss her flesh before I say, “I’ve been reading since I was a kid. My mom taught me early, and there wasn’t a night she didn’t read to me.”

She leans her head into mine as a breathy sigh leaves her pretty lips. “That’s sweet.”

“Yeah, she read to all of us. And when each one of us moved out, I turned the room into a library.”

She gasps. “Oh my God, you’re a dream.”

I chuckle against her neck. “She loved it.”

“As would any bookworm.”

“True. You said you just got into reading?”

She leans her head back into my shoulder, and I meet her gaze. “I did. My sister Austen is a reader, and she introduced me to this world. I’m obsessed and wanted to have a place for people to get lost the way I do.”

I kiss her jaw. “You’ve built one hell of a space. I love coming in here.”

“Coming in here? Or coming in me?”

I grip her tighter. I know what she’s doing, and it’s fine. I’ll play her game of distraction, but I will find out why her back is like that. Who did that to her, and if I can do the same to them. The thought of tying the asshole who hurt her to a hockey net and shooting pucks at his dick feels like a decent punishment. If it was a girl, a puck to the pussy wouldn’t feel good either, so whichever way, I’m winning. One thing is for sure—no one will touch her ever again.

For the love of God, who am I?

Ignoring that answer and even that question, I cuddle her closer, kissing her jaw. I really should put some distance between us. I really should take my shirt and leave, but instead, I say, “Well, before I brought the muffin, it was coming in here. But after the muffin, it’s the latter.”

Her face is bright with a grin as she brings her hand up to cup my head. Her fingers thread into the hair at the back of my neck, and my eyes drift shut from the sensation. I love how she touches me. “Do you still wanna go upstairs?”

I do, but I shouldn’t. “Yes.”

Her eyes darken with desire, the brown so deep and breathtaking. She turns in my arms, wrapping her arms loosely around my neck. “Can I cook for you?”

I trap her in my arms, leaning on the desk and pressing my hips into hers. “Only if I can have you for an appetizer and dessert.”

Her breath catches. “So, we aren’t going to the store to get some muffin mix?”

My lips quirk at the side as I lean in, capturing her bottom lip with my teeth. I nibble softly before I kiss the skin. “I don’t need muffins anymore.” I cup her sex, and she gasps, arching into my hand. She’s wet, and it makes me want to take her right here. I slide my middle finger inside her, and she clutches my shoulders, her eyes widening before a soft moan leaves her lips. “I’ve got the sweetest dessert right here.” I move my finger out of her and then push two back in, her heat sending a burst of fire to my cock.

“Ciaran,” she breathes, and I’m lost.

“My love,” I say roughly against her lips. “I have every intention of devouring you.”

Her words are strangled as she cries, “Please. Ciaran, please.”

I remove my fingers and then pick her up, ignoring her complaints.

I only laugh as I carry her upstairs.

To consume her completely.





“Do you want me to wash your shirt?”

I’m still wearing said shirt as I plate him my homemade pizza. Luckily, I had just made a new batch of dough this morning for me to have this weekend, so I am excited to share it with Ciaran. The kitchen is filled with the aromas of basil and pepperoni, and I can’t wait to see what he thinks. I turn with his plate to find him watching me, wearing only his boxers. He is huge in my little kitchen, taking over the space with his long legs and wide shoulders. I worry my chair might snap underneath all his weight. He’s ripped with muscle, but the chair did hold earlier as he held me down on the table and licked me until I was a trembling mess.

I was surprised I even remembered how to make pizza after that.

His eyes are sultry as he watches me set the plate before him. “I can make sure it’s clean before you need to go,” I tell him.

“I don’t want my shirt washed.”


“Not at all,” he promises, his eyes so damn sexy. He snakes his arm around my thighs, bringing me between his legs. “I haven’t had anyone cook for me in a while.”

That makes me proud for some reason. I grin like a fool. “I hope you like it.”

“I know I will,” he says, kissing my stomach, leaving me breathless. He pats my ass, and I back out from between his legs until he stops me. “Where are you going?”

I point to the chair, giggling. “Sitting down.”

The possessiveness in his eyes has heat gathering between my legs. I mean, who am I kidding? Ciaran looks at me, and I’m ready for some action.

I’m his deranged whore.

Lord, slow your roll, Lou! I get my world knocked off its axis from the pleasure he gives me, and I’m calling him mine.

I’m pathetic.

Ciaran shakes his head, pulling the chair closer so I don’t have to leave the space between his knees. He picks up my legs, draping them over his before reaching for the bottle of wine I had placed on the table, along with two cups of water. “Wine?”

I smile happily, popping a piece of tomato into my mouth. “Please.”

He gives me a lusty look, and I laugh. “You and that word,” he mutters, pouring me a glass. I don’t miss the grin pulling at his lips or the way he keeps looking over at me as he pours the wine. He pours himself a glass and then hands me mine. I hold it up to his, and he meets my glass, his eyes intent on mine.

“To pomegranate-orange muffins,” I tease, and that has him grinning even bigger.

“And to kisses beneath a desk.”

I smirk back at that as our glasses clink. I take a sip when he does and then watch as he takes a bite of his pizza. He does that nodding thing he does when he enjoys the taste of something. I’m knocked back to earlier, under the desk and his hot kisses, but then pride fills me deeply as he meets my gaze.

“This is the best damn pizza I’ve ever eaten.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

He shakes his head. “I love it.”

The way he says those three words makes me wish he was speaking of me and not the food. I know that’s insane, and I also know that I’m currently being a hypocrite. I loathe instalove stories; they drive me insane. Unless they’re fated mates…then I’m down, but I can’t help this feeling I’ve got. Like he’s it. Which, again, is ridiculous! I don’t even know him.

“Are you from Knoxville?”

He looks up at my question and then swirls his tongue to capture a string of cheese from the pizza. It’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’m suddenly not even hungry for food. “No, I’m actually from Michigan, grew up in East Lansing.”

I nod as I chew my bite.

“Are you from here?”

“Nope. I’m from all over. My family moved a lot. But I have lived in Knoxville for almost five years now.”

“What brought you here?”

Well, that’s a loaded question that I have no intention of answering. My past is embarrassing, and while I know it wasn’t my fault—but instead my mother’s—I still feel like people will pity me or judge me for what I went through. For how long I stayed. When really, I had no choice. I had to protect Clara and Elliot. I had to hoodwink everyone on the inside so that my sisters could be safe. I swallow hard, and I don’t lie. “I came to live with my peepaw and sisters.”

“Are you close to him?”

“Yeah, he’s more a parent than my real parents are.”

“So, your parents are not in the picture?” he asks, his eyes meeting mine.

I feel so exposed, but I don’t want to lie or deflect. I appreciate that he wants to know me.

“They’re not. My father passed away, and I haven’t spoken to my mom in years.” I can see the apology in his eyes before his lips even form the words. “Don’t apologize. He was an evil person. As is my mother, which is why I came to live with my peepaw.” I see it in his eyes; he wants to know if they put the scars on my back. Despite the guilt I still feel for doing what I didn’t want to do, I distract him with my own question. “Are you close to your parents?”

He shakes his head. “Not my dad. He knocked up my mom up and left, but I am very close to my mom and grandma.”

I’m confused. “Is he your siblings’ dad?”

He laughs. “No. My bad. I guess I could have led with that.” He places his pizza down, taking a long sip of his wine. “My mom was married at a real young age, like seventeen or something, and had all eight of my brothers and sisters pretty fast. There are two sets of twins, so they added up quickly.”


“Exactly,” he agrees with a smile. “But their dad was older and died before the eldest graduated high school. Then my mom met my dad, and here I am. Her pleasant surprise.”

I grin. “So, she raised you by herself?”

“With my grandma’s help—and all those siblings. I’m not really close to any of my brothers or sisters. They’re all so much older than me, and I think they feel I’m not really a part of the family.”

“That’s not fair. You most definitely are.”

“Sweet of you to come to my defense.” He winks at me. “But don’t worry. My mom tells me all the time that I’m her favorite.”

I giggle. “Sounds like a good momma.”

“The best,” he agrees before taking another bite of his pizza. He moans and nods again. “So damn good.”

His words make me gooey inside, but then a phone rings. I bring in my brows as I look around at the normal spots I leave my phone, but then he pulls his out. He makes a face and declines the call. “My roommate. Probably wondering where I am.”

I arch a brow. “Don’t wanna tell him you’re here?”

He laughs. “No. He’s a pain in my ass.”

“Do you not care for him?”

He shrugs. “I’ve known him for a while, and I guess he’s my closest friend. We grew up together. He’s a dick sometimes, but we’re cool.”

I slowly nod as his phone starts to ring again.

He makes a face and then looks up to me. “I’m sorry. Forgive me?”


“Don’t tell my mom I answered the phone at the table. She’d kick my ass. But he doesn’t normally call me twice in a row.”

I only nod, feeling worried for his roommate as he answers.

“Yo. No way. Shit. Yeah, no problem. Give me ten. I’ll head your way.”

My heart sinks. He hangs up the phone and then looks at me with disappointment shining in his blue gaze. “I have to ask for forgiveness again, Lou.”

“You gotta go?” I ask sadly.

“I do. Cruz drove his car into a ditch and needs my help getting his shit out and a ride home.” He rushes to eat his pizza and then downs his wine. He looks over to me, and his hesitation is apparent. “Can I call you later?”

I want to say he can come right back, but I don’t want to seem too eager—or pathetic. I don’t want him to know I’ll miss him the moment he’s gone. “I’d like that.”

We exchange numbers, and then I take off his shirt to give it back to him. He looks over my bare chest and then shakes his head. “I hate having friends.”

I chuckle at that as he throws on his shirt, and then he gathers me in his arms. “I owe you dessert.”

I grin up at him. “I mean, the appetizer almost had me unable to walk.”

He clutches my ass cheeks in his hands. “That was my plan all along.” He kisses me then, deep and all tongue. It’s hot, and I never want to stop. He runs his tongue along mine, and then he sucks my tongue into his mouth. He tastes like the wine he drank, and I want more. He presses his hips into mine, the hard line of his cock making it real hard to let him leave. I pull back slightly, meeting his heated gaze as he cuddles me tighter in his arms. He holds me so close, I rise to my tippy-toes, but I’m secure in his arms. He kisses my nose then my top lip before leaning his head on mine. “I’ll call you.”

I want to make him promise, but I can’t project my issues on to him. If he wants me, he’ll call or text. If he doesn’t, at least I had this afternoon. I can’t make him want to be with me. He either wants to, or he doesn’t. “Okay.”

He doesn’t move, though. He still holds me, grazing his lips along mine and holding me tight against him. I kiss his lip then his chin before nuzzling my nose into his neck. “If you don’t go now, I’m gonna climb you like a tree and make you mine.”

He squeezes me, chuckling as he kisses my temple. “Maybe that’s what I’m hoping will happen.”

Before either of us can give in to our desires, his phone rings once more. “Damn it.” He holds me with one arm while he uses his other to bring his phone to his ear. “Yo. Dude, I’m coming. Relax.” He hangs up before pressing his lips to my forehead. “I gotta go.”


Reluctantly, he lets me go, but not without a long, vigorous kiss goodbye. The kiss is so hot, I consider doing as I threatened and climbing him like a tree to hump his face. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. To my dismay, he pulls away, and I grab my robe before I walk him downstairs. Our kiss at the door is quick and not what I wanted to say bye with, but his phone had started ringing again.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s fine.”

“I’ll call you,” he promises, and I want to believe him. I do. But this all seems too good to be true. He answers his phone and waves at me as he walks out. I shut the door once he’s through it and lock it. I lean my back against the surface, breathless, and then I press my hand to my chest.

My heart hurts.

I’m scared.

What if I never see Ciaran again?





I can’t believe I left Louisa for this.

Cruz is cussing like a sailor as he clears out all his personal items from his car. He’s pissed, and I guess I would be too if a whole-ass deer had jumped into the window of my brand-new Camaro. When the officer told Cruz, “Welcome to Tennessee,” I think it only pissed him off more. I get it. He had bought the car for himself when we moved here, and he loved it. Cruz slams things around, shaking with anger, while I’m just thankful this is the reason he is in a ditch and not because he was drinking. Oh, and that he’s alive.

Though, I might kill him for causing me to leave Louisa.

The disappointment was apparent in her eyes and has me raging to kick my friend’s ass, but I refrain, helping him load my truck with his things. He is already pissed as hell, and picking a fight with him won’t help either of us. “Where were you? You never leave me hanging like that.”

Oh, so he’s picking a fight. Bet. “I was busy. My life doesn’t revolve around you.”

“You’re never busy,” he throws back at me, and I scoff. He isn’t wrong. I’m either working out, working on the ice, or reading, so I guess I have always been accessible. But today, I wasn’t. I wouldn’t have been tonight either if he hadn’t called. I would still be wrapped up in Louisa’s body, eating her pizza, and enjoying every bit of her. I’m actually wondering what she’d say if I called to come back over after I get Cruz situated. I think she’d welcome me back in her home, and I’m surprised by how badly I want that.

When I walked out of her place, I assumed the distance would help me think, really decide what the hell I am doing here. But all I can do is think of her. How her body responded to me, how she cried and moaned with her release, and how fucking good she took my cock. The little sigh she made when she lay on my chest has my stomach fluttering, as does the memory of how pleased she was when she watched me eat her pizza. How she wanted so badly for me to like it, when that was a given. The pizza was fantastic, just as she is, and I want more of both.

I want her, badly, and I think I knew that from the moment I saw her.

But there is a reason I hesitated, and the way I’m feeling right now is why.

I can’t willingly give myself to someone.

But this thing with Louisa may not be a case of willingness. I may have no choice, and that terrifies me. One day, and I’m already ready to ignore all the rules and boundaries I’ve made for myself. I’m ready to give myself to someone I don’t even know. What am I thinking?

This isn’t me; this isn’t who I am. I’m driven, I have goals, and I’m going to make them come true. It would be stupid of me to fall for Louisa when she is here and I’m leaving. Allowing myself to have her will render me devastated and broken, leaving her behind.

What am I doing here? This is probably just sex. She wanted to be fucked, and I did that. Yes, I want more. And yes, I know she does too. So what’s wrong with that? A lot. I could fall for her. Easily. No one has ever made me feel like she did. No one has ever just fit along my body the way she does. I’ve never wanted intimacy with anyone, but I want it with her.

Yup, this is a clusterfuck.

After loading the truck, I get in while Cruz finishes signing paperwork and handing his keys off to the towing people. I lean back in my seat, Louisa heavy on my mind. I absent-mindedly scroll through my phone, not really paying attention but needing the motion to ground me. My heart is pounding, and my stomach is a mess with anxiety. I know what I want, but can I allow myself to indulge in my wants? If I keep going to her, being with her, will I even have a choice? I always put my career first. But that’s because while hockey has hurt me a bit, it’s nothing compared to what she did to me. Fucking fuck, why am I thinking of her?

I find myself clicking on my mom’s contact, and when she answers, her voice full of joy, I can’t help but smile. “Hey, Mom.”

“Hey, baby! I’m surprised you’re calling. I’d thought you’d be out celebrating.”

I chuckle before explaining that Cruz got into an accident and needed my help. I leave out that I spent the afternoon and most of the evening pleasuring Louisa, but that’s mainly because I want to keep that for myself. No one else.

“I’m glad he’s okay,” she says softly, and I nod.

“For sure. Though, his car is totaled.”

“Damn, that’s too bad.”

“It is,” I say, my heart beating so hard against my ribs it aches. “Hey, Mom. I know I said I didn’t want you to tell me, but why was Mikayla at the house?”

Mom takes in a quick breath, and then I hear her let it out through her teeth. She does that when she’s surprised or stressed about something. In this instance, I’m sure it’s a mixture of both. “Are you sure you want to know?”

“Yeah,” I say, needing the reminder of why I need to steer clear of Louisa. Maybe I can get an e-reader…or just accept Cruz’s taunting. “What did she want?”

“She came by to see if I’d give her your number.”

I make a face, my chest still aching from the solid thump of my heart. “Why?”

“I didn’t ask, nor did I give it to her. But I did call her mom.” At her pause, I can’t help but think that, of course my mom did. She’s always been overprotective of me. “Mikayla left Wyatt because he put her on a budget. She didn’t like it, so she took the baby and left. Her mom is insistent that Mikayla still loves you and wants to be with you, but as I’ve said time and time again, she’s a money-hungry bitch, and I told her mom the same.”

Without realizing it, I’m taken back to the day Mikayla left me. The way she looked at me like I wasn’t enough and then proceeded to shatter my heart. That day, I swore I’d never love again or ever put myself in a position to fall in love. I know deep in my soul that if I continue to see Louisa, I would willingly be putting myself in that position again. I’d taunt myself with all her body has to offer, and when I did fall, it’d be my fault when it all came crashing down on me. I can’t do that to myself. I can’t do that to her. But the alternative is never seeing her again.

I don’t know which one will hurt more.

Falling for Louisa or leaving her alone.





“So, you chose to get laid over seeing your sister who lives so far away?”

I snort at that, and Austen grins as she stares back at me through the phone. Somehow, all four of my sisters have fit themselves in the view of the camera so they can all listen to my retelling of what happened between Ciaran and me.

“I came nine times, Austen. Nine,” I tell her, and she lets out a shocked breath as Eliza snickers. “You’d blow me off for nine times, and you can’t tell me you wouldn’t.”

My sister doesn’t even deny it, as Eliza says, “I knew you two would hook up. He was always watching you, and I couldn’t understand how you never talked about him. I thought maybe there was bad blood or something, so I never said anything.”

“I never even noticed him,” I admit, and Eliza shakes her head.

“You’re always in the zone at the shop,” Clara insists, her eyes bright.

“Yeah, or you’re reading,” Elliot supplies, and we all laugh at that. “I like his name. Ciaran. Sounds all sexy and dangerous. Is he tatted? Piercings? Tell us.”

Eliza cups Elliot’s shoulder, leaning into her. “No visible tats or piercings, surprisingly. But hot isn’t even the word. He’s all big and gorgeous, and he has these blue eyes that just consume you. I’m telling you guys, you should have seen her face when their eyes met. I mean, sparks flew.”

I felt them, but I didn’t know it was noticeable.

Clara wiggles with excitement. “Finally, not a dud!”

I hesitate, my stomach churning a bit. “Definitely not. Though, I’m worried that since I put out with no effort on his part whatsoever, he won’t call.”

Austen gives me a pointed look. “Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t already doom this just because you expect that. You said yourself this is different. That it felt different.”

It did. But is that enough?

“Exactly,” Elliot says. “Don’t forget the pull you described. If you felt it, surely he did.”

I nod, hopeful. “I know he did, but not everyone gets stuck in an apartment with a guy and falls in love,” I tease at Austen, but my sister just beams. “Why do you think forced-proximity books sell so great? It’s forcing people to fall in love.”

Austen scoffs. “We could have been on different sides of the city, and we would have fallen for each other.”

“True,” I agree, loving her over-the-top loving look. “But sharing a wall rushed the process.”

My sisters all giggle as Austen shrugs. “Maybe so, but you two didn’t need anything. The pull has him eating you out on the kitchen table with no need for you to return the favor.”

We all laugh at that, except Eliza. “Please tell me you bleached everything.”

I laugh loudly as I turn the phone to show her the bleach spray I used. “Done.”

“Thank goodness,” she mutters as everyone laughs at her disgusted look. I get it, though. I probably should have had a bit of consideration, but Ciaran really didn’t give me time to react.

Not that I wanted to.

“I’m jealous,” Austen says, and all of us look at her in surprise.

“What, is Dimitri lacking?” Elliot teases, and Austen smacks her.

“No! Not at all. Loads of fun orgasms. But how do you just go down on a guy?”

“I dropped to my knees. It was really easy,” I supply dryly, and I don’t miss Eliza choking on her drink. Clara laughs as Elliot nods in agreement, though Austen looks annoyed.

“Yeah, it’s easier on your knees. Though, I do enjoy being on my side. Ya know, like…” Elliot makes the crude motion of giving head as she lies on her side, which has Clara dissolving in laughter.

Eliza is grinning as Austen smacks Elliot. “I’m serious.”

Clara snorts. “So are we!”

“Ugh. You guys are annoying!”

“What is it, Austen?” I ask, trying not to laugh at how red her face is or how annoyed she is. “What has made you jealous?”

My middle sister shrugs, unsure of herself. “I still struggle with it, and I love Dimitri with all my heart.”

My heart aches at her confession. The laughter dies, and I swallow hard. The younger girls never experienced the Halo, and I’m thankful for that. Being surrounded by guys as they walked around, touching and scrutinizing every piece of you in an effort to decide whether you were worth their time. We couldn’t have sex until we were wedded, but that didn’t stop the guys who forced their pathetic penises into our mouths for their pleasure. It was disgusting, and I hated every second of it.

I lost my sex drive during those years. Most of all, I hated that Eliza and Austen had to be a part of it. I’d sob when someone would grab them, the way their eyes would widen and how they’d cry for me to make it stop. I became numb to it all, and when I was married, I had hoped I’d never have to go through it again. But my ex-husband would rather fuck my mouth than my pussy.

I guess it is surprising that I was so willing, so wanton, for Ciaran’s cock, but I know I only wanted to pleasure him the way he had me. Years of healing and therapy and finding out what empowered my sexuality helped.

“I wanted to,” I admit, my stomach clenching with need only Ciaran can give me. I wonder what he’s doing, how his friend’s car is, and when he’ll call. “I only do it when I want to.”

“Because that power is ours,” Eliza says proudly. “We get to decide now. We get to do it because we want to. It’s fun when the number one thing on your mind is pleasing the person you’re with.”

Austen’s cheeks fill with color. “I want to please Dimitri, but he never asks, probably because he knows what we went through.”

Clara reaches over, cupping Austen’s face to guide her to look at her. “Do it because you want to. Not because he asks or you feel he expects it.”

Eliza nods. “He’s a good dude and he won’t ever ask, but believe me, he wants it.”

“Oh, totally,” Elliot snorts. “What guy doesn’t?”

We all snicker at that, and then thankfully the conversation moves to their plans for the weekend. “The books came in today, so I may get done tomorrow morning and head up,” I say, when really, I wish I hadn’t. I wonder if Ciaran will want to hang out. If he’ll want to see me. I know I want to see him.

“You won’t be busy with Ciaran?” Clara sings his name, and I roll my eyes.

“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him,” I tell her with a dry look.

I notice a look on Elliot’s face, and then she asks, “Wait, Ciaran. How is that spelled?”

I spell it for her, and then her eyes widen. “Oh my God. I’ve been saying his name all kinds of wrong. Lou, he plays for the Knoxville Bears. Ciaran Carter… He is being introduced as the captain tomorrow!”

My jaw drops as Clara and Eliza start giggling. Austen, my sweet sister, only beams. “Hey, I told you guys from the top, hockey players are a dream. The stamina, the hands… Yum.”

I choke on spit and then start laughing as I shake my head. His career never came up, but it makes sense why he’d need to be tested regularly. They can’t have STIs slowing the guys down on the ice. “I had no clue.”

“Well, when you spend your time with his dick in your mouth instead of asking him questions, I can see how that wouldn’t come up,” Eliza teases, and even I can’t help but snort at that. She’s such a dork.

“And who’s really trying to know what he does when you’re being eaten out on the table?” Austen asks, and I nod eagerly.

“Yeah, I wasn’t thinking at that point.” I can’t stop grinning, but then I wonder if my peepaw will have an issue. After Austen, surely he learned his lesson. “I should probably tell Peepaw.”

Austen grimaces, and I know it’s because she’s still not talking to our grandfather. He tried to keep Dimitri from going into the NHL, all because he was involved with Austen. Peepaw wanted to separate them so that Austen couldn’t get hurt. It’s the reason Austen is in Nashville—not only for Dimitri, but because she wanted to work there instead of for our peepaw. After that, he realized that he didn’t want us involved in his business, but somehow Elliot snuck in to do social media for the team. I’m not sure how he’ll feel that I’m seeing Ciaran.

If that’s what I’m doing.

“Or maybe not since this is eight hours old and I don’t even know if he’ll call.”

Elliot nods. “Just wait a bit. See what happens.”

“Don’t want to rush it,” Clara offers.

“And I know the sex was good, Lou. But maybe figure out if you like him outside of the bedroom or table or chair or wherever else you guys decided to defile,” Eliza jokes.

“I do like him,” I say, though I don’t know if I’m being honest. We talked and we laughed, but we were mostly naked. What if it’s different when we’re clothed?

“Just be careful,” Austen tells me. “I can tell you’re smitten.”

I shrug, feeling silly as they all watch me. I know they aren’t judging me or even thinking ill of me, but I can’t help feeling a bit of embarrassment. I don’t know Ciaran. I only know that I love what he does to my body, and I enjoy doing those things to him. I know that there is something inside me that wants him. An invisible string that neither of us can see, but I can feel, drawing me to him.

Does he feel it? I don’t know, but damn if I don’t hope so.





I didn’t call Louisa last night, and she didn’t call or text me.

I hate how thankful I am for that. I didn’t sleep; all I did was toss and turn with her on my mind. I picked up my phone more times than I care to admit, because I wanted to hear her voice. Listen to her laugh and that damn breathy sigh she makes. I wanted to hear my name on her lips. I wanted… I want her.

I swallow hard, the nervousness eating away at me as I look out at the press gathered in the room. Today is supposed to be a good day, but I feel guilty for not reaching out last night. I feel like I’m being just like those fuckers who hurt Louisa before, the poor excuses for men she has been subjected to. But I know I’m not that guy. I’m just struggling, and I swear I know if I go to her with my concerns, they’ll disappear once her multicolored eyes meet mine. Which is the reason for my distance. I need to think. I need to decide what I am doing, because she’s not just some girl I can fuck and ignore. She’s the kind that can get under my skin, wiggle her way into my heart, and belong there for the rest of my existence and beyond.

It’s terrifying.

Beside me, Cruz stands, as does the rest of the team. We are all dressed in our game-day suits, all imposing and massive. I’m proud of these men. We are working for our dreams. But my mind isn’t even here. It’s back in the shop, Louisa in my chair, her most delectable bits on display for all my desires to be fulfilled. I’d make her laugh. I’d make her scream. I’d make her mine. Shit, I should have called. But to say what?

I had a great time, but I could fall for you and then I’d be fucked when you broke up with me because you found someone else. Or because I’m going to make it to the NHL. Maybe you just want to fuck without feelings?

But that would be a lie. I can’t just fuck her. I’m already craving the intimacy only she can give me. That sigh, that laugh, those eyes. More. God, I want all of her. I groan inwardly, running my hands along my face, wishing I were anywhere but here.

Wishing that when I looked out into the crowd, I saw her face.

Damn it all to hell.

“You good, dude?”

I look over to meet Cruz’s concerned gaze. I’m always so taken back by his suited form. He looks professional, but more like a mob boss than a goalie. Like me, Cruz is super tall, built like an ox. But unlike me, his whole torso and neck are covered in tattoos.

“You look like you’re going to be sick.”

I bet I do. No sleep, horny, and having a mental battle the equivalent of WWII—yeah, I’m sure I look peachy. “I’m fine.”

He cups my shoulder. “You’re going to be a great captain.”

Of course he thinks that’s what’s wrong with me since that’s what should be going through my head. Nerves and fear about leading a team. But I feel none of that. I’m excited, and I’m ready to captain this team to the championship. If I get called up before then, that would be awesome, but I plan to take this role seriously. I want to be the best first captain in history and set the bar high. I know I will, but instead of thinking of my new title or that I’m in a room full of press ready to hear from me, I’m pining over a girl I shouldn’t be.

“Thanks, Cruz.”

“You sure that’s all?” he asks, quietly and only for me.

I nod. “Yeah, just a lot on my mind.”

“I heard you on the phone. Please tell me it isn’t Mikayla.”

My chest tightens at her name. I thought I would hate her forever, but I don’t. I am thankful for the good times, but if I never saw her again, I’d consider it a miracle. “She was asking my mom about me, but Mom shut her down.”

“Thank Jesus.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“Then what is it? You’re acting weird, bro.”

I swallow hard. “I met someone.”

When he doesn’t comment, I look over at him to see him watching me with concern in his eyes.

“Sorry. You don’t meet girls. You hook up.”

I’d laugh if I had it in me. He isn’t wrong at all. “Yup. Lots on my mind.”

He blows out a breath through his teeth, making a whistling sound. “Well, I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Neither was I,” I admit, shuffling my feet to shake out the nerves. “So, my thoughts are a bit jumbled.”

He nods slowly. “The best ones do that to you.”

Cruz doesn’t struggle with relationships. He’ll jump into one really quick, and he doesn’t let each one that crashes and burns ruin him. I envy him for that. I wish I could just jump in with no cares, but all I can think of is the pain that Mikayla caused me. The betrayal. The loss. They’re all things I don’t ever want to experience again.

Fuck, I’m a lost cause.

“It could be good.”

I nod. “Or it could be Mikayla to the second power.”

Even saying the words, I know that Louisa isn’t even a tiny bit like Mikayla. For one, she’s not a cunt.

Cruz shrugs, holding my gaze. “Listen, I know what she did, but how are you supposed to find a woman to live this life with if you don’t give anyone more than your dick?”

He isn’t wrong, but giving more means giving my heart. I’ve locked that sucker down. But one night with Louisa, and the case I have it in is cracking a bit.

More reason to run.

“And now, our captain, Ciaran Carter.”

With a heaviness in my soul, I walk up to accept my jersey with the C on it. I should be excited. I should be stoked—proud, even—but I just feel empty.





The C on my jersey should really stand for Coward.

I sit in my truck across from Dirty Pages. I don’t usually go in through the front, so I’ve never had the chance to take in the breathtaking view of the front of the shop. The windows that run from floor to ceiling are open today, the golden curtains tied back to let the sun in. Mums in all the fall colors cover every free space, along the walkway, below the windows. In the town of Christmas, Louisa’s store looks more like a shop belonging in the show Wednesday. Everyone else is red, green, and white, but Louisa’s shop is made of black brick.

It’s stunning. It’s her. And I’m dying inside.

On the large black door is the sign for the store, which is a stack of books with a feather duster dusting the top of them. It’s a great play on both the name of the shop and what Louisa sells. It’s genius, really, and I wish I could tie her up and run feathers all over her body until she’s a trembling mess and her lips can’t form anything but my name.

But that won’t be happening.

I swallow as I spin my phone in its holder. It’s probably not the best thing to do to my phone, but I’m anxious. I know I should go in, be honest with her, but I can’t. I know if I do, I’ll have her under that desk and gone will be my sense of self-preservation. I’ll give her all of me, and fuck what happens.

I’ll have her.

I bite my lip when I see her moving through the shop. She’s stacking books, and I assume it’s all the preorders for Tuesday. She’s wearing a pair of tight leggings and a lacy cropped shirt that I notice covers her top completely. I didn’t notice until now that she hides the scars that I want to know everything about. That I want revenge for.

I want to protect her. I want to make sure no one ever hurts her again, but knowing she could break me keeps me from doing so. It’s pathetic. I know I’m a coward. But all I know is how to run. It’s all I’ve ever done. I let my head fall back, squeezing my eyes shut to try to clear my mind, but it isn’t working.

I don’t want to do this.

I want to go in there. I want to gather her in my arms and ask how she slept. I want to admit that I didn’t sleep at all. That I’m struggling because I want her—God, I want her—but I’ve been hurt so badly, and I don’t ever want to feel that pain again. Throwing this wall up, though, is going to hurt her. Which will hurt me. So really, I’m fucked no matter what I do. Though, the pain now will only be a sting compared to the heartbreak that would ruin us later.

I lift my head to watch her a bit more, and I clench my hands because I want to grab her so badly. I could help her with the books. I could hold her as we both read and maybe reenact what has us curious. I could let myself be with her.

I know I can’t wait much longer.

I reach for my phone and reluctantly dial her number. I watch as she puts a pen in her mouth, setting down the papers she holds, and then she pulls her phone out of her back pocket. I watch as her eyes light up, a wide grin spreading across her beautiful face before taking the pen out of her mouth. She gives a little wiggle, and my heart swells in my chest.

Then promptly shatters.

“Hey, you.”

I hesitate, my lungs not even working as my heart begs me not to do this. “Hey, Lou.”

I can’t take my eyes off her as she dances in a circle, her joy at my call gutting me deeply. I’m such a fucking coward. “I have to say, I’m excited to hear from you.”

I close my eyes, letting my head fall to the steering wheel. I slam my head into it, over and over, as I speak. “Sorry I didn’t call last night. My roommate’s car was a whole thing, and then I got back late.”

“No worries. You’re calling now.”

Not with the intention I know we both want is what I want to say, but I don’t. “Yeah, listen. I need to be honest with you.”

I open my eyes and find her slowly lowering herself into a chair. She brings her lip in between her teeth, and my stomach clenches. “Well, that doesn’t sound good.”

I clear my throat free of the emotion that is silently suffocating me. I don’t want to be like the guys who’ve hurt her, but I’m realizing I’m exactly that. “I had more fun yesterday than I can even put into words, but I feel like I gave you the impression it was more than a one-time thing.” I watch as all kinds of emotions move across her face. Anger, disappointment, and then embarrassment. She closes her eyes, and then she covers her mouth. My heart breaks in my chest at the sight of her, and I can’t take it. “I don’t mean to hurt you,” I say roughly into the phone.

She scoffs, but I can see I have hurt her. She looks at the ceiling, blinking hard as she forces a laugh. “You haven’t. I’m fine. I assumed it was a one-time thing, but I mean, I had a great time and wouldn’t turn down another hookup.”

The word hookup sets my teeth on edge.

I swallow thickly, and I almost get out of the car when I see the tears roll down her cheeks.

Those tears eviscerate me.

My own voice is gravelly as I force myself to say, “Yeah, we’ll have to see. I’m super busy, and I really don’t have the time to devote to you. You know how it is.”

“Absolutely. No worries.”

I admire her strength, but it doesn’t ease the self-loathing. All it does is make me want her more. Make me want to take back every single thing I just said and devour her. Get between her legs and make her forget every lie I spoke. Damn it. Why is this so hard? What is wrong with me?

I don’t need anyone to answer that for me. I know exactly what is wrong with me.

I want her.

Hell, might as well tear the C off my jersey and replace it with a T for Trash.

Because I am the pure trash she spoke of.





I wipe away the stupid tears, hating myself for being so vulnerable.

I knew this was going to happen. I did. I expected it. But still, sitting here crying over sex? I mean, come on! I’m just as tragic as the heroines in the instalove stories I’ve read. I was stupid enough to think something could happen between us. That it wasn’t a one-time thing. But I knew. Oh, I knew. We jumped each other with no cares, no questions, nothing but the primal need for each other. That stupid pull was just me being a horny bitch, and these tears, well, I don’t know what they are.

I’m absolutely not crying over the fact that he dumped me.

He didn’t dump me! We weren’t even together. We just fucked, and it’s cool. I can get the same pleasure from my toy and my dragon with two cocks book. My tears fall faster at the loneliness that follows that thought. But fuck that! I wipe my face aggressively. I’d rather care for myself and love myself than depend on some fucking man.

Each time Ciaran apologizes, it only makes me madder, and I feel so dumb. I made this into something it wasn’t. He gave me no promises, except those of orgasms, and I ran with it. I wanted it to be more. I wanted so badly what the heroines in my books have, what Austen has, that I allowed myself to yearn for something more than what our time together was.

It was just sex.

Great sex.

Mind-blowing sex.

“You don’t have to apologize, Ciaran. It’s cool.”

He hesitates, and I don’t understand that. “I’m truly sorry,” he says in a throaty, almost emotion-clogged tone.

As if he’s hurting doing this…. What the hell?

If this was a one-time thing, why is he struggling? Why is he acting like I’m the one ending it? His actions and words make no sense to me, but I can’t stay on the phone. “No worries. Don’t be a stranger.”

And I hang up, hoping like hell I never see him again. Which isn’t true. I wish I could see him face-to-face. Ask him why he doesn’t want me. Doesn’t he see how great we fit together, how wonderful the pleasure is between us? Maybe he’s embarrassed. Maybe he didn’t have a good time and I just imagined it, but then…the way he held me… All possessive-like. As if I was his.

I was.

But no more.

Then it dawns on me.

What if my scars grossed him out?

I felt his gaze on them when I removed his shirt before he left. Is that what happened? My tears fall faster, and anger vibrates within me. If so, fuck him. I am more than my scars, and I won’t allow him to make me self-conscious of them. I survived, I got out of that fucking cult, and I got my sisters out. I’m the heroine of my story, and I don’t need anyone. I don’t need him. I don’t need anything.

Fuck. Him.

I swipe the tears from my face again, fury coursing through me. I want to call Eliza, or even Austen, but I’m not ready to admit what happened, or even what I assume is the reason he doesn’t want me. Fucking asshole. Tears burn in my eyes, falling in heaps, and I hate myself for it. Why am I crying? I cried enough when my ex beat me with his belt. When I got Austen out, when I got Eliza and Elliot out, and then when Clara was finally free of them. When my mom stood there and watched not only my ex abuse me, but her husband, and she didn’t protect me. I have cried enough; no one deserves my tears. Especially not some guy who obviously doesn’t know a good thing when he sees it.

I wipe them away, blistering with anger as I force myself to get up. I will not sit here and cry over him. I won’t let his lack of need for me affect my life. I have things to do, I have a business to run, and hell, I could go see my sisters.

I’m good. I’m fucking great.

As I tuck the rest of the preorder slips in the front of each of the books, my heart aches. I really wanted something with him. I did like him, and it was more than sex. I may not know everything about him, but the excitement of learning all those things made me giddy. Now…now, I’m just mad. I’m mad that I feel like I wasn’t enough. I’m pissed that I think it’s my scars, and I’m offended that I still want him.

God, I want him.

I’m so dumb.

I walk toward one of the bookcases, the front one where I want the new release’s extra copies to go. I climb the ladder, making room on the top so I can shift books up to create an open space at eye level. When the bell over the door dings, I want to scream since dealing with someone right now is the last thing I want to do.

“Welcome to Dirty—” My words cut off when I look over my shoulder to find Ciaran shutting the door behind him.

God, he’s beautiful. In a dark-blue suit that fits his body like a glove and stretches tightly along his thighs. He’s wearing an orange tie, and he didn’t shave this morning. His scruff is sexy, just as he is. His hair is brushed to the side, but what has me breathless is the purely tortured look on his angelic face. My mouth goes dry as my mind reels in confusion.

I step down, my hands shaking as I guide myself off the ladder. I turn, meeting him with a seething look. I wasn’t ready nor prepared to see him. Unable to control myself, I spit, “So, what? You called this off between us while you sat outside?” His eyes darken, but he doesn’t look away, his gaze unyielding as he nods. I don’t know why that makes me even more upset. “That’s super cute. Your book is by your chair. Excuse me while I work.”

He doesn’t move, nor does he say anything. His eyes are on me, making me feel all kinds of things. Uncertainty, nervousness, irritation, and a fluttering feeling in my stomach that I’ve become accustomed to when I’m under his gaze. Anger bristles within me. “What are you doing here?” I ask. I should kick him out; it’s my shop.

“I couldn’t do it.”


“I had to talk to you, face-to-face.”

I bring my brows in, confused. “You talked, I listened. We’re good.”

“No, we’re not,” he tells me, his eyes swirling with anxiety.

“I don’t get it. I don’t know what you’re doing here or even what you need to say. You’ve said enough.” He takes a step toward me, and I hold up my hands, stopping him mid-step. “Don’t.”

He swallows before licking his lips. My stomach clenches at the sight, remembering what it felt like to have that tongue on me. Jesus, how can I be thinking that when he doesn’t even want me? “Louisa⁠—”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. Damn it, my heart is trying to escape my body. Honestly, I know it doesn’t matter, but I can’t help asking, “Tell me this. Is it because of my scars?”

His eyes widen before he presses his lips together. “Louisa⁠—”

“Don’t placate me. Be honest. Are you disgusted by me? Is that why⁠—”

I don’t even realize he’s moving again before he’s in front of me. He reaches for me but stops, his eyes burning into mine. “Can I touch you?”

I shake my head. Tension cracks between us, and my heart is pounding so hard, it’s painful, but I refuse to stand down. I need to know the truth. I need to know I didn’t romanticize this. That he felt it all, just as I did. Even though it feels like every nerve ending is exposed, I have to know.

“Answer the question.”





Tell me this. Is it because of my scars?

I’m not sure if it’s the question or the way her lips tremble that has me wanting to drop to my knees and grovel at her feet. Hell, it may be both, or maybe even everything that has transpired in the last twenty minutes. I was so wrong. I couldn’t control myself; I couldn’t keep myself in the truck when the line went dead and I watched her start sobbing. I couldn’t take it. I have to confirm I’m making the right decision—or determine if I’m getting in the way of my own happiness.

As I stand in front of her, I feel as if I am doing the latter. Ruining something before it can even get started. I hurt her, when that is the last thing I want to do. But for her to think I cut this off because of her scars? That pisses me off. I want to ruin the person who hurt her.

“I should be mad at you for even thinking that.”

Her eyes narrow, her cherubic cheeks filling with color as she tips her chin up at me. “Mad at me? Ha! Sure, buddy, whatever you need to say to make yourself feel better.”

She’s incredible. “Channeling your inner brat?” I ask, trying to defuse her wrath, but I think I only make her madder. The furrow between her eyes deepens, and her eyes are dark, pure fire burning deep within. The silence is as menacing as her gaze. “Lou, there isn’t an inch of your body that I don’t want, scars and all. I want you. All of you.” The furrow releases a bit, but not fully. She leans into the ladder behind her, and I want to close the distance between us. I want to gobble her up and ease the error of my ways. “I have and probably always will think you are the most beautiful woman ever created.”

The only reason I know her bottom lip trembles is because I’m watching her lips. She tries to hide it by pressing her teeth into the plump flesh. I watch as her eyes flood with tears, and I hate myself for ever making her think it was her scars.

“I never meant to make you feel like that.”

She shrugs as she looks down to where she is toeing the floor. “Well, I went worst-case.”

“I wish I had done a better job of not causing that to happen.”

“I mean, you were honest.”

I shake my head. “I wasn’t.”

Her eyes snap up to mine. “Huh?”

“I wasn’t honest,” I admit. “I lied through my teeth. Not only to you, but to myself.”

She blinks, confusion swirling deep in her eyes. “Why?”

“Because I’m scared,” I admit, chancing a step toward her. She doesn’t recoil or stop me. Her gaze stays locked with mine as she takes in deep breaths, letting them out through her nose. I should be pleased, but I’m worried I’ve ruined this already. That I rushed myself into what I thought was right.

“You think I’m not scared?” she asks, her eyes staring into mine. “I was minding my own business, hating men and every day falling in love with a new fictional man, but then you came in here, and all I want is you. I have never blindly hooked up with someone quite like we did yesterday.” She shakes her head, looking away, heat creeping up her neck. “I felt this pull inside me for you. I have never wanted anyone the way I wanted you.”

My chest seizes at the past tense of the word. There is so much more I can say, yet I ask, “Wanted?”

She looks up at me and scoffs. “You’re an idiot if you think I’m gonna be vulnerable again.”

I take another step toward her, and I watch as she grips the ladder, her knuckles white. “I’ve blindly hooked up with girls, but I’ve never stayed the way I did yesterday. I feel the pull, Lou. I feel it deeply inside me, and each time I look in your eyes, I want to close the distance between us. To satisfy my pure, raw need for you.”

She swallows, her breath coming out in spurts. “Then why did you say it was a one-time thing?”

“Because that’s all I know. You talk about being vulnerable with someone. I shared things about my family with you, and I don’t do that.”


“I never cared to,” I tell her. “Until you.” Her lips part as I take another step toward her. I need so badly to touch her, to comfort her. “I’m sorry, Lou,” I plead, my fists clenching to keep from gathering her in my arms. She looks like a dream, leaning on the ladder for the taking. I could slide those leggings down her incredibly shapely legs and devour her pussy with my mouth. “Can I touch you?” I ask once more, needing her consent.

Fuck, I need her to want me again.

Her lip trembles, and she shakes her head. “Why?”

“I need to.”

“No,” she corrects, her eyes searching mine as her chest rises and falls with each breath she takes. “Why did you say what you did on the phone?”

My heart stops dead in my chest. Can I truly admit everything about Mikayla? I don’t want to talk about her here; I don’t even want to give her name power in this situation. But I owe it to Lou. I know she deserves an explanation. I lick my lips, exhaling hard. “Can I take you out?”

“What?” she asks incredulously, obviously over my shit. I don’t blame her.

“I know I don’t deserve your time, but can I take you out?” Her eyes narrow, and I know she’s about to say no. Quickly, I add, “It’s hard for me to concentrate here when all I want to do is pull your pants down and suck your clit between my lips until I’m drowning in your release. Until my name is the only word you can remember. Fuck, I want you so badly, Lou, but I owe you more than endless orgasms.”

She only blinks, her breath shaky as she holds my gaze. Desire swirls in her eyes, and I want to holler out in triumph. She still wants me! But wanting to fuck me and wanting me for me are two different things. I want the latter. I know this now.

“I don’t know, Ciaran,” she says slowly, and when a tear rolls down her cheek, I have to fight the urge to wipe it away. As I watch it roll, I can’t resist. I reach out, and she watches me attentively as I swipe the tear away, my thumb lingering for a moment. Her skin is warm, soft, and my need for her only grows.

“Please,” I beg, and I’m not ashamed. I step closer, and her breath hitches as heat radiates from her. She’s so close to me. All I have to do is arch my hips, and I would be touching her. Her breasts almost graze my chest, and her lips taunt me. All plump and parted just for me.

Her eyes trail along my face, from my cheeks to my jaw to my lips before meeting my gaze again. “I feel like there is an ocean between us now,” she says sadly. “I need to know why you said what you did. Saying you’re scared isn’t enough.”

I nod slowly, leaning into her, and when our bodies touch, she gasps as a groan leaves my lips. I don’t grab her, though. I grip the ladder, holding it tightly below where she’s clutching it as I gaze into her sweet eyes. “Then let me swim the expanse of this ocean and tell you.” Another gasp leaves her lips, and I lean closer. “Let me take you out.”

I can practically feel her heart slamming into her ribs as I get lost in her gaze. “Okay.”

I fight back my grin. I haven’t won. Yet. “Can I kiss you?”

She shakes her head. “Not yet.”

I nod, and then I smile. “I understand, but know this, Louisa,” I say, moving closer so that my lips graze her ear. “I’ll have your mouth on mine by the end of this day, and when I’m done with those lips, your other lips will be next.”

I’m rewarded by a small moan that has me tight all over. As I move away, watching her watch me, I see her eyes are wild, her face crimson. She’s breathing hard, making it really difficult for me to think straight with the rise and fall of her breasts. I take her in, and I’m so thankful I came in here.

Because I think Louisa is a risk that is worth the reward.





I’d be an idiot to assume that Ciaran’s statement isn’t a promise.

A promise I’m damn sure he intends on keeping.

I have to resist, I have to stay strong, but damn if I don’t want to. My horny ass wants everything he promises, but I refuse to be used and discarded at his leisure. If he wants me, he’s going to work for it, no matter how badly I want to just fall face first between his legs and willingly choke on his cock. I hate to admit it, but he hurt me, and I have to remember that. I can’t allow him to seduce me without my questions being answered.

Ciaran made me question myself, and I can’t let that slide.

No matter how badly I want him.

I sit across from him at the coffee shop down the road. His predatory gaze has my body tingling and heat gathering between my legs in no time. I cross my legs tightly, squeezing my thighs together as we sit in silence. We ordered our drinks, a mocha latte for him and a lotus tea for me. He also ordered us muffins, but I refused to react to the smile he shot me when the lady handed him the white bag. It sits on the table between us, a reminder of how things started with us.

Damn muffins.

I wring my hands, squeezing my fingers tightly as I watch him stir his latte. When he places the spoon on the table, I look up to meet his gaze. Even dressed as if he could command a boardroom full of important people, he seems unsure of himself. Ciaran is nervous, and I don’t like how that makes me feel. I want to comfort him, ease his concerns. In doing so, though, I would be accepting his behavior, and that’s not happening. I have been shit on my whole life, and it took me a long time to realize my value. I will not let my sense of worth falter ever again.

Ciaran blows out a breath after taking a sip of his latte. I’m unsure if it’s from the temperature of the drink or his nerves, but I don’t say anything. I don’t touch my drink or even reach for the muffin I wouldn’t mind eating right now. Resisting my need for Ciaran is making me really hungry. More so for him than the muffin, but I’d take the muffin to curb my appetite. I feel in doing so, though, it would be as if I’m waving a white flag, excusing how he made me feel, and I have to stand strong.

When, really, I don’t want to be strong. I want to wrap myself in his arms and just bask in the comfort he can provide me. I want to give him my body, let him draw the pleasure out of me, and hold me so close I can feel his heartbeat. I yearn to touch his lips with my own, to drown myself in his toe-curling kisses.

“What are you thinking about?”

Ciaran’s question catches me off guard, and I look away. “Nothing.”

He smirks, and I swear he knows I am thinking all kinds of naughty things. How he knows this is beyond me, but I don’t react when he says, “So adorable when you lie.”

“How do you know I’m lying?” I challenge, and I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had just kept my mouth shut, because in an instant, a wicked grin moves over those thick lips, and I find myself squeezing my thighs tighter.

“You have the same look you do when my mouth is on yours.”

I scoff. “Like I’d be thinking of kissing you.”

That grin only widens more. “Who said anything about kissing?” I glare, and the naughtiest gleam shines in those blue eyes. “Maybe you weren’t thinking any of that, but you are now.” Asshole. “And, my love, I haven’t stopped thinking of those lips since I first tasted them.”

I’m going to combust.

“Can you answer my question now?” I snap, unable to keep up with this teasing. Our eyes clash, and I think he’s holding his breath. His lips are pressed in a hard line, his jaw taut, and his grip on the coffee cup tightens, his knuckles turning white and veins popping along his wrist. He’s fucking gorgeous. He swallows visibly before letting out the breath he was holding. The tension around us is thick and suffocating, and I hate it. Oh, how I hate it.

Ciaran clears his throat as he continues to hold my gaze. “Which is?”

“I never assumed you’d stall, Ciaran.”

His eyes bore into mine. “I never have.”

“Then why now?”

“Because what if my reasoning for trying to push you away won’t earn your forgiveness? Or your trust?”

I didn’t expect him to say that or to see the anxiety swirling in his sweet eyes. His actions only confirm that the pull between us is felt on both sides. He cares what I think. He wants my forgiveness, which leaves me having to resist dissolving into a puddle of goo for him. I need his respect; I need his truth.

I need him.

But I also need to reassure him. I hold his gaze. “I’m here, Ciaran. If I didn’t want whatever this could be, I wouldn’t be here.”

“But I hurt you.”

“You did,” I admit. “And I want to know why.”

He nods and then exhales heavily. “I mean, it’s the same old tale that guys go through. Some bounce back, and some just shut down. I shut down.”

I don’t comment. I don’t even react to his statement. I just allow him to take his time.

It takes a moment as he stares at his coffee, drawing in a deep breath. His jaw is so tight, I worry he’ll crack his teeth, but finally, he goes on. “Her name is Mikayla, and we met in high school, dated all the way through. She was a year younger than me, so when I graduated…oh, um, I don’t think I told you that I’m a professional hockey player.”

I shake my head. I already knew this. “We didn’t really have time to discuss careers.”

He smiles sheepishly at me. “We didn’t, not that I had an issue with that.”

Despite my better judgment, I agree, “Nor did I.”

He smiles, and my chest aches at how gorgeous he is. How the dimples in his cheeks peek out, how straight and white his teeth are, and how stunningly his eyes shine. “Well, I am.”

I nod. “That’s really impressive. Hockey isn’t easy.”

“It’s not,” he confirms. “I drafted right out of high school to the Sharks. Mikayla still had a year of school, so she didn’t come with me, but we were still together the whole time. I never stepped out, never wanted to. I loved her. But I found out later that she had been stepping out on me a lot.”

I bite into my lip to keep the venom I want to spew inside. I don’t know this girl, but I can’t help but hate her for hurting him. I’m not a fan of cheating. I don’t like reading books about it, and I don’t like seeing it in shows. It’s just not my jam. I know it can happen, and sometimes it’s not preventable, but for me, it would be. I could never hurt someone like that, and I know that Ciaran is hurt.

He swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he goes on. “I came home the summer she graduated with the intention of marrying her. Had the ring, the whole nine yards. I had planned on asking on the Fourth of July since it was her favorite holiday.” He pauses, shaking his head.

I can tell he’s struggling, and I can’t help myself. I reach out, taking his hand in mine. His gaze follows my hand as I thread our fingers together and rub my thumb along his. He looks back up, and I urge him to continue with my eyes. I know how this is about to end, but I still need to hear it. I need him to tell me.

“The day before the Fourth, I picked her up to go tubing, and she was crying. I asked what was wrong, and she told me she was pregnant. We hadn’t planned on having kids yet, but she knew I wanted them. I grew up mostly alone with no dad, so I wanted a kid I could love like my mom loved me.”

My heart stops in my chest. “Oh, Ciaran,” I murmur, squeezing his hand.

He smiles grimly as he nods. “Yup. I had assumed the tears were because she thought I’d be mad, but I assured her I wasn’t. Then as soon as we got to the river, I dropped down on one knee, asking her to be my wife. She said yes, and I thought we were good.” He laughs with absolutely no humor whatsoever. “It took a month for her to tell me the baby wasn’t mine.”

Pure rage burns inside me. “No way.”

“Yeah. It shattered me.” He looks down at our hands. “I was such an idiot. I didn’t even add up timing or anything. I just assumed it was mine.”

“As anyone would.”

“I told everyone she was pregnant, and I was so excited. I was going to be the dad I never had. I was going to love her the way my dad didn’t love my mom. I had all these plans.”

“I can only imagine,” I say, my heart pounding for him.

“I had been buying things, and I was looking at houses in Phoenix. I even bought her a new SUV for us to fill with kids. I was happy, I was excited, and then it all came crashing down.”

I blink, my soul aching for Ciaran.

“I’ve spent the better part of the last four years keeping myself locked down, not willing to give myself to anyone.”

“And then I came along,” I say, and he chuckles, nodding.

“Like a wrecking ball to my chest,” he admits, cupping my hand with his other one. “I don’t want to hurt you, Lou. But not being able to be near you or touch you or kiss you is something I’m not ready to accept yet.”

“No one is asking you to,” I tell him, but he doesn’t agree.

“My goal is the NHL,” he explains, his eyes holding mine. “I am currently playing for the local team, the Knoxville Bears, which is the AHL team. But I want to play for the Nashville Assassins, and they’re almost three hours away. I’ll have to leave you behind because asking you to go would mean leaving⁠—”

“Why are you worrying about tomorrow’s problems?” I ask, cutting him off. “Why can’t we just live in the now?”

He presses his lips together. “Because I don’t want to hurt you.”

I understand what he is saying, and I get it. His eyes are set on the NHL, on leaving Knoxville for the big leagues, and I support it. I want that for him. Could we be setting ourselves up for failure when what we have might be doomed? Maybe. But does that mean we can’t try?

I don’t think so.

I won’t accept that.

“We’ve both been through some shit, and I can’t ignore a good thing when I feel it. Especially when I thought I’d never experience what you make me feel,” I admit, and his eyes darken as they hold mine. “I know it’s only been a short amount of time, but honestly, the alternative is walking away from each other. Is that really what you want?”





Louisa’s question stuns me.

“I feel that’s obvious,” I answer without hesitation, though my stomach is doing flips and my heart is hammering against my ribs. I hate talking about what Mikayla did to me, how all that ended and the pain it caused me, but telling Louisa was easier than I thought. Her eyes are so inviting, so kind, and comforting. But it feels like more than that. I wanted to reassure Louisa it had nothing to do with her, that when I tried to end this and failed miserably, it was only due to me and my issues. “I don’t want to walk away at all, Lou. I want to continue seeing you—daily, if possible.”

Her lips quirk at one side as she cups my hand with hers. “Daily, huh?”


She snorts in the most adorable way as she continues to rub her thumb along the backs of my knuckles. It’s soothing, sweet, and I can’t get enough.

“The conversation we had on the phone wasn’t fair to you or me,” I confess. “I am truly sorry. I hope you believe that.”

“I do,” she says, and my heart feels as if it can start beating again. “I can understand how you’d want to push me away after all that. I’m sure it’s hard to trust someone.”

“Yeah, but this is different. I don’t know why, but I hope you know I didn’t intend on hurting you. And your body is a gift, Lou. Really.”

Her lips curve as she looks away. “I think I jump so quickly to worst-case because I have never allowed myself to be so exposed. I don’t usually get completely naked with a guy, not that you gave me much of a choice,” she accuses, her eyes bright and teasing, and I grin excitedly.

“Yeah, that’s the only choice I won’t let you have.” I lean in, pulling her as close as I can with a table between us. In a low tone, I tell her, “I need you naked. I need to see every inch of your skin, taste it, worship it.” I kiss her nose. “Worship you.”

Her breath catches, her eyes darkening as her face flushes, leaving me breathless. Her eyes burn into mine as she whispers, “Ciaran.”

Just my name, and boy, does it do me in.

“Do you forgive me, Lou?” I ask, needing to know before I take her lips with mine. “I promise I won’t ever do anything stupid like that again.”

She swallows, her eyes trapped in mine. “I promise never to hurt you like she did.” Her promise catches me off guard because she doesn’t owe me that. Yet, my heart stops dead in my chest before falling into my stomach with a thud. Or at least, that’s how it feels. “I don’t know what will happen between us, but I won’t ever disrespect you the way she did. I’ve been hurt too, Ciaran. I know how badly that can mess you up, and I would never do that to someone I care for.”

For some crazy fucking reason, I believe her. I think that’s what made me get out of the truck to see her, the fact that I know she is different. That while our first encounter was rushed and we didn’t think things through, there is something here. Something I desperately yearn for. I reach for her, cupping her face in my hands and running my thumb along her bottom lip. That pull between us has my chest hurting as we search each other’s eyes. It almost feels like we’re promising each other forever, but that can’t be. We don’t know each other. The only thing we truly know is that we want the possibility of forever.

“Have I crossed the ocean yet?” I ask quietly, and her lips curve.

“You’re getting close.”

Now my lips turn up at her teasing. I use my other hand to grab her chair and drag it toward me so that my legs trap hers. I wrap my arm around her waist and haul her to me, as close as I can without bringing her into my lap. If she ends up there, no telling what will happen.

I cup her jaw once more, running my thumb along her lips. I could kiss her. Lord knows I want to, but I don’t want her to think this is just physical. It’s not. It’s more than that. I lean in, pressing my forehead to hers, our noses touching as I hold her gaze. I draw in a deep breath, loving her scent and wanting to rub my nose all along her beautiful body.

I still have so many questions. Who hurt her? Who caused those scars? And honestly, why hasn’t anyone locked her down? She’s a damn catch. But I don’t ask any of them. Instead, I ask, “Do you have plans tonight?”

Surprise moves across her face before she shakes her head. “Not really. I was going to go to Nashville to see my sisters, but I may be able to be persuaded to stay in town.”

I grin at her, squeezing her hip in my hand. “Then let me persuade you, love,” I whisper against her cheek. I trail kisses over her cheek to her ear, where I swirl my tongue along her earlobe, enjoying the sweet gasps that leave her lips. I squeeze her jaw in my hand before whispering in her ear again. “Stay in town. Let me take you to dinner tonight.”

“I mean, that only takes a couple hours,” she says, and I grin against her ear, loving her challenge. “I could head out after.”

“True,” I agree, running my nose along the shell of her ear. “Or you could stay, and I could take you ice-skating, show off my skills and impress you.”

Her breathy giggle makes my gut tighten with want. “I don’t know how to skate.”

“I’ll teach you.”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to get hurt.”

“That won’t happen,” I promise, kissing the side of her head. “I will make sure of it.”

I suck her lobe between my lips, and she moans softly, only for me. “I could still make it to Nashville by one in the morning, then.”

I grin. She’s such a brat. “You could,” I say, running my tongue along her jaw before meeting her gaze. “Or you could spend the night with me, riding my face and my cock.” Her quick intake of breath does me in, and I’m unable to keep my next question inside. “Lou, can I kiss you?”

She doesn’t even answer, only nods, her eyes pure fire. Without hesitation, I capture her mouth, needing to taste her, and she welcomes me eagerly. I didn’t expect her to deepen the kiss, but soon, her tongue is moving along my lips, asking for entrance. I don’t have the willpower to deny her. I slide my tongue along hers, and she clutches the lapels of my suit. God, she’s hot, and I love how she feels under my hands, against my lips. I have never wanted to kiss someone so much, despite my heartbreak, despite my fear. Jesus, I want her.

When we part, we’re both panting, our eyes dark and full of lust for each other. I feel her everywhere, and I can’t believe I thought I could walk away from this woman.

I need her, but then I remember, she hasn’t agreed.

I brush my nose against hers. “Lou.”

Her lips curve a bit as she leans into me, her breasts grazing my chest. “Ciaran.”

My cock is rock hard, but I will cross the ocean that I created between us. “Say yes.”

Her eyes dance with mine, her lips all swollen and puffy from our kiss. I want them to stay like that, evidence of our kisses on display for everyone to know she’s all mine. I’m so engrossed in her beauty, in her scent, in all of her. I know I’ll be devastated if she says no, but the gleam in her eyes tells me she won’t.

She can’t. She wants me just as wildly as I want her.

With a husky sigh and a grin just for me, she says, “Yes.”





I like Ciaran.

I like Ciaran a lot.

I mean, I knew I liked how he kissed, how he brought me pleasure, and how he made me laugh, but sitting across from him in a ritzy hotel restaurant with low lighting and a violin playing, I realize I like him more than I assumed I could in such a short time, if that even makes sense. I don’t know. I just know I haven’t stopped smiling or giggling since he picked me up. When he picked me up, still in his suit, he didn’t even take in my whole outfit before he murmured, “Beautiful.”

Just that one word, and I don’t think I’ve stopped swooning.

Dinner is exquisite. The food is incredible, but the company is even better. I have never been so captivated by a man as I am with him. Each story he tells is a production, and I find myself on the edge of my seat as I listen. He grew up in Michigan with his mom and grandma. All his siblings were out of the house by the time he turned ten. He never met his dad and hasn’t cared to find him or have a relationship. He told me about the fact that he has been playing hockey since he was four. His older brothers played, and they found he was a natural. He played for the US team for the Olympics, and his travel team was one of the best in the States. He considered going to the Russian leagues so he could play more, but he really wants to make it here, and I respect that.

I respect him.

Ciaran isn’t like some of the hockey players I’ve met. Maybe it’s because Austen’s fiancé is already in the NHL, but a lot of his friends seem like they’re full of themselves. Like they’re God’s gift to hockey. But I don’t get that vibe from Ciaran. He’s confident and loves the sport, but unlike some I’ve met, he’s humble.

“I’ve got a question,” he says as he tucks his credit card back in his wallet.


He gets up, holding his hand out for me, and I take it. He tucks my hand in his arm, and we start for the front door. “Are you and your sisters named after Jane Austen characters?”

I grin, and I don’t know why it pleases me that he put that together. “We are. My mom read every Jane Austen novel she could get her hands on when she was younger. My peepaw said he wanted her to know what true love was—though, that backfired.”

He brings in his brows as we walk out to the car. “How so?”

“My mom never found that true love. She just found trash,” I say, shaking my head. “I don’t like talking about her.”

“I get it,” he says as he opens the door of his truck for me. He helps me in, but when I think he’ll shut the door, he reaches for me, gripping the back of my neck and pulling me to him. Our lips meet, and heat burns throughout my whole body. Chills run down my spine at his gentle touch, how his thumb moves below my jaw possessively. When we part, our eyes meet, and his lips curve up in a devastating smirk. “I wanted to do that all through dinner.”

My face breaks into a wide grin. “Why didn’t you?”

He shrugs. “I really don’t know, only that I couldn’t resist any longer.”

I kiss his top lip, cupping his face in my hands. “Don’t resist. Kiss me whenever you want.”

Pure heat fills his eyes, and a guttural groan leaves his lips before he takes my lips with more urgency. I gasp against his mouth, and that gives him the opening he needs. His tongue curves along mine, tasting me all over, and I’m lost in the kiss. It’s so deep, so thorough, and I can’t get enough. I thread my fingers through his hair, and he groans as he pulls back. “I will not take you in this truck with the whole city here to see us.”

“Why not?” I tease, my eyes playful and wanton.

He points to me, taking a step back. “You’re dangerous.”

“Duh,” I laugh, and he grins. “You’re just now figuring this out?”

He only laughs, shutting the door and coming around the truck. When he gets in, he starts the truck before taking my hand in his, lacing our fingers. It seems so natural, holding my hand on his thigh as he drives. I feel unsteady, and I can’t help but take in his profile. His long lashes, his puffy lips, and the coarse hair along his jaw. I want to run my lips, my nose, my fingers, hell, every single inch of myself along that hair.

“So, where did you grow up?”

I laugh because the better question is where haven’t I lived. I explain that we moved around a lot, leaving out the reason. The truth is that once people realized a cult was in town, they chased us off or got the authorities involved, thinking we children were in danger. We were, but we knew better than to admit that to anyone. “Think Amish. That’s how I grew up.”

“So, no technology?”

I nod. “Exactly. When I’d go to the bigger towns near wherever we lived, I’d get on the internet, and I’d watch TV because I was rebellious.”

“You?” he teases. “Rebellious? I don’t believe it.”

I giggle as I squeeze his hand. “Yeah, yeah,” I laugh, shaking my head, and it surprises me how badly I want to tell him everything. I’m beyond embarrassed about my past, and I never want to talk about it, not even with my sisters. I wish to leave all that crap in the past. I don’t want to relive a moment of it. “I only had my sisters, and we only had the Bible to read, which, thinking back, I wonder if it was even the real version. I don’t know, but my sisters and I made up games. We would go into the fields and make flower crowns. I learned how to cook for big groups by the time I was ten. I know how to make butter from scratch, milk a goat, and I can sew my own clothes if I wanted to. But I don’t,” I add, and he nods.

“So, when the apocalypse comes, you’re on my team.”

I snort at that. “Oh, absolutely. You’ll be the best dressed, best fed, and most fully sexually sated male in the world.”

He grins devilishly at me. “Sexually sated, huh?”

“Oh, totally,” I giggle, grinning back. “Don’t know if you realize, but we could be in the smuttiest romance novel.”

He chuckles at that. “Oh damn, you figured me out. I’m testing all my ideas out on you for my own novel.”

Our laughter is better than the music playing. “Oh, I love that! Can I be in your dedication?”

He brings my hand to his lips. “You are the dedication, love.”

My toes curl, my stomach tightens, and I’m not a fan of this no-car-sex rule he has made. “Are we still not doing it in the truck?”

Ciaran’s laughter hits me square in the gut, but then his brows furrow. I look out the windshield, seeing the rink he has parked in front of isn’t lit and it’s obviously closed. “Well, shit,” he says, his voice laced with disappointment. “I didn’t realize they would be closed.”

There is not a single soul out here. “That sucks.”

“We could go to the arena—” He holds out his phone and then shakes his head. “Nope, too late.” He looks over at me. “I’m sorry. I didn’t plan this well.”

I wave him off. “It’s totally cool. We can plan this for another day.”

Ciaran’s eyes twinkle. “So, I get to see you another day?”

“I thought you said daily, hourly?” I tease, and he brings my hand up to his lips again.

He presses his lips to my knuckles. “I did. I wasn’t sure you’d still want that.”

“I do,” I confess, locked in his gaze. “There is no one out here if you want to ignore that no-sex-in-the-truck rule.”

He chuckles, but there is no humor to it. His eyes look sad. “I’m not a fan of hooking up in the car.”

“No? Need more room?”

He nods. “That, and it’s the only place Mikayla and I could do anything. She kind of ruined it for me.”

My stomach sinks, and I hate that for him. I slowly nod, my thumb moving along his. “Okay.”


“Don’t you apologize,” I warn, holding his gaze. “But know that when you’re ready, I will eagerly make new memories with you in a car.”





I’m in so much trouble.

Her words ignite every desire in my body, and soon, I lean toward her, meeting her lips to mine. I’m not ready, not even close, the story of Mikayla still heavy on my mind, but I can’t deny the need to do exactly what Lou is suggesting. To take her right here, accept the mind-blowing pleasure she’s offering me until I can’t remember the name of the girl who broke me so long ago, but I won’t. When I take Louisa in a car, it’ll be because I want to make new memories with her, not because I want to forget the bad ones. I owe her more than that. To use her to forget. I won’t do that. I care for her.

I quickly realize that thought is truer than I could have imagined.

Louisa… She… Well, she is the sun.

I know that sounds beyond corny, and I cringe even thinking it, but it’s true. She’s hilarious, and I love her laugh. It comes so easily, and the way her face lights up has me tight everywhere. She listens so intently, never interrupts, and makes me feel like every word I speak is important. Mikayla never cared to listen to me talk about hockey, but Lou has hung on every word I’ve spoken. She makes me feel like I’ve known her my whole life. I know that only happens in books, but she is my reality.

And then how her eyes shone in the candlelight, fuck me, I wish we were in a time where electricity wasn’t used, because this girl belongs in the candlelight.

My lips move with hers in a dance I crave. She tastes like the wine she drank and feels like heaven. I cup her jaw, stroking it with my thumb as we part. I open my eyes to find hers still closed, her lashes kissing her cheeks. “You’re so intoxicating, Lou.”

Her eyes flutter open just as her lips form a small smile. I love the blush that comes over her cheeks when I compliment her. It’s as if she is taken aback by my words, as if she’s never heard them before. Which I can’t fathom. I’m sure she’s had a long list of guys chasing her. I have to know, and I know that’s dumb because I’ll more than likely get jealous, but I ask, “Have you been in love before?”

She’s visibly surprised by my question, but she recovers quickly. “I’ve never loved a real man, but I can give you a list of fictional men I’m in love with.”

I grin widely at her. “Is it a long list?”

She nods. “Yes, and I’m not ashamed. They range from men to dragons with two cocks.”

I laugh out loud at that before kissing her nose. “I read that one. It’s awesome.”

“Isn’t it an amazing read!”

I pull out of the parking lot as our laughter fills the cab. “It is. Crazy shit, and made me a little sad I don’t have two cocks.”

“It’s the only thing you’re missing, really,” she says, and I laugh deeply.

“I need this list. Got to research my competition.” Her eyes sparkle, and my heart can’t take it. I squeeze her hand with mine as I head back to the shop. “I would take you back to my place, but my roommate is home, and I will not subject either of us to him right now.”

“I don’t think you really like him,” she comments, eyeing me.

I shrug, chuckling a bit. “I love him. He’s the brother I never really had. But he talks entirely too much, and I don’t want to share you with anyone.”

“Fair enough.”

“Not that I’m assuming we’re hooking up.”

She gives me a sly look, and it’s obvious she’s holding back her laughter. “Are you not?”

“Maybe,” I admit, chuckling a bit. “I don’t want you to feel this is only physical.”

She gives me a look. “Stop. I know it’s not.”

God, she drives me wild. We share a grin as I drive through town toward her shop. I turn onto her street, and before I pull up to the curb in front of the shop, I ask, “When are your sisters getting back?”

“Sunday, probably.” I shut the truck off as she asks, “Why?”

I smile over at her, a bit embarrassed. “Just wondering if you’re going to say you’re leaving to join them.”

She leans on her free hand, placing her elbow into the console to look at me. Her eyes are so bright, the prettiest shade of greenish-blue I’ve ever seen. She honestly pulls every bit of air out of my lungs with that sexy look. “Why would I do that?”

I can’t help myself. I lean toward her, pressing my forehead into hers. I inhale deeply, her rose perfume making me dizzy with hunger. “Because even if I come inside, you could still have time to go.”

Her eyes dare me as she grazes her lips along mine. “Do you plan on getting your fill of me quickly?”

“Absolutely not,” I mutter against her lips. “But I need to pace myself in case you do plan to go.”

“Pace yourself? How does that work?” she challenges, and everything inside me is lava.

“I honestly can’t answer that because I don’t think I have it in me to pace myself with you,” I choke out, and her teeth nip my bottom lip, lust swirling in those intoxicating eyes. “But I’d try.”

Her eyes soften a bit as those delectable lips curve up in a sneaky little grin. She takes away my breath and my thoughts, I swear. “I’d rather you don’t try.”


“No. I’d rather give you the night, if you want it.”

“I do.”

“Then it’s yours,” she says, and I lean in closer, cupping her jaw.

“Then trust, my love, you will ride my face and my cock, over and over, until we both pass out from exhaustion.” I kiss her bottom lip. “But in case you didn’t know, I’m made for endurance, and it takes a while for me to get tired.”

Her eyes glitter, and heat goes straight to my cock as she asks, “Promise?”





The way Ciaran holds my hand has me feeling like I do when I meet the hero in a novel. That tingling feeling, that knowing he is about to be important, that instant attraction, that instant need for him. All that and more is what Ciaran is inspiring in me. As we reach the door, I pull out my keys, and he cups my hips in his hands. He brings me back into his chest, my ass hitting him right where I want him, and Lord, I feel every mouthwatering inch of his hard length. His hot mouth closes over my neck, his tongue tasting me as his teeth graze my flesh. I gasp, leaning into him, and he wraps his arms around waist, holding me close.

“You taste so damn good.”

My inner praise slut purrs for him, and then I realize I’m actually making a purring noise.

He chuckles against my neck. “Each time you make a new noise, I think it can’t be hotter than the last, but damn, you prove me wrong.”

I giggle breathlessly. “I am trying to open this door.”

“Try harder,” he demands against my ear, sending heat straight between my legs. “But don’t think I’ll stop.”

I press my ass into his length, rubbing him with my cheeks, and when I’m rewarded with a groan, a satisfied grin comes across my face. “Shall we both stop, so I can open the door?”

He chuckles against my ear. “Or I could make you come right here?”

I lean back into him. “And I could make you come too,” I say, meeting his gaze. “I’m all for playing your games, Ciaran.”

“That sounds like a promise,” he mutters against my cheek.

“It is.”

We smile against each other’s lips, his eyes burning into mine. “Are you busy Friday?”

I grin. “Trying to lock me down that day?”

His eyes sparkle, and God, I love the blue of them. “I have a game. Can you come?”

He wants me to come to his game?

Why am I swooning?

And shit, I should probably tell him about my relationship with his team. I start to nod, already agreeing because I refuse to allow my status with the Knoxville Bears to come between us. I dare my peepaw to try anything, because I’ll lose my mind worse than Austen ever could. I have pure happiness curved around my whole body at the moment, and I won’t let anyone take him from me.

I’d be a fool to let that happen.

Before I can agree, someone says, “It’s bad enough she has to sell sex in the shop, but now she’s out here selling herself.”

Ciaran’s head snaps up, his brows furrowing.

I shake my head. “Ignore them.”

But he doesn’t listen to me. “Hey, fuck off.”

I can’t make out who they are, but I think it’s the older couple that sells Tennessee memorabilia next door. Like everyone else, they aren’t fans of my shop or me, so I’m not surprised they have something to say.

Willard, the owner, scoffs. “Oh, don’t worry, son. If I know anything about her, she’ll still give you what you want even if we call her out.”

What a jackass.

I feel Ciaran’s anger radiating off him. “Do you even know her?”

I look over to see the couple’s surprise at his question.

“No?” Ciaran asks before going on. “Do you know her name? That she built this from the ground up for the purpose of helping women get lost in books and find their sexuality? How can you fault her for that? How dare you call her anything but what she is. A wicked-smart businesswoman who is thriving.”

I gawk at Ciaran in awe as my ovaries high-five excitedly in my stomach.

Oh, I like him a lot, a lot.

The couple babbles some kind of response, but I can’t make it out. Ciaran doesn’t seem to care and carries on, directing his comments to the woman. “And I’ve seen you in the shop, looking around and discovering what Louisa offers. Let me know, and we can show you exactly what you’re lacking from your husband.”

“I give my wife more than what she needs!”

I don’t even have time to laugh before Ciaran says, “If you think you are, then you are greatly wrong, sir. Read the book on her nightstand. Step up your game at home and leave this incredibly brilliant woman alone. Support her. Don’t bring her down.”

I gasp involuntary as pride at this man defending me courses through me. I’ve never had anyone stand up for me. It’s always been me fighting for everyone, for myself. I didn’t realize how much I’d like someone doing that for me. It’s refreshing and beautiful. Ciaran makes me feel special, wanted, needed.

Oh, I like him.

I unlock the door, pulling Ciaran in with one thing on my mind.

Making him mine.





I’m going to eat him alive.

I push Ciaran into the door, and he looks down at me with anger still swirling in those blue depths. I lean into him, cupping his jaw, but then he turns us, pressing me hard into the door, leaving me gasping for my next breath. He takes my jaw in his hand, squeezing it as he tips my head back to look up at him. “You ever try to stop me from protecting or standing up for you again, Louisa McDavid, and I will punish you in ways that have you unable to think and walk.”

Oh. Sweet. Jesus. Above.

I blink up at him. “Is that supposed to be a threat? Because I can tell you right now, that sounds great. And even if I want you to stand up for me, I’d be inclined⁠—”

His laughter is deep before he cuts off my words by taking my lips with his. His kiss is possessive and paralyzing as he covers my body with his. Our tongues are a tangled mess of hotness, and I’m shaking with need for him. I push off his suit jacket, and he lets me go to shove it down his arms. I tug his shirt from where it’s tucked into his pants, running my hands along his warm skin, the muscles of his abs, before unbuttoning his pants. When I take hold of his hard length, he groans against my lips, and I stroke him from root to tip. He arches into my hand, deepening the kiss before pulling his lips from mine.

Ciaran runs his teeth along my jaw as I continue to stoke him, running the pad of my thumb along the wetness that gathers at the head of his cock. He feels so good, his hands so hot as they squeeze parts of my flesh. My hips, my ass, my thighs. His mouth is sucking and biting along my jaw to my neck, my throat. He pulls up my flannel shirtdress, hooking his hands in my leggings and thong before pulling them down as he lowers himself to his knees. I gaze down at him, my breath labored as he lifts my leg at the ankle, undoing the buckle on my heels before taking them off. He kisses the arch of my foot, then my ankle, then my exposed knee before doing the same to my other leg.

I can’t breathe. I can’t do anything but watch him in awe. He pulls my leggings and thong the rest of the way off, throwing them into a pile with my shoes and his jacket. Ciaran’s eyes meet mine, and when he smiles, my heart soars out of my chest. “Are you wet for me, love?”

I gasp, my legs trembling under his touch. “Why don’t you find out?”

“Gladly,” he murmurs before lifting my leg and hooking it over his shoulder. He kisses my knee, running his tongue in circles as if to give me a preview of what he’s about to do to me. It sends shock waves through my body, my back bowing off the door as I mewl for him.

“More,” I beg. He bites my flesh, and my cries fill the shop. “Please, Ciaran.”

He only chuckles, in no hurry to give me what I want. As he moves his lips along my thighs, swirling his tongue, nibbling on me, and grazing kisses over my skin, I’m a puddle for him. If this is my punishment, he may have found a way to keep me from running my mouth, because fuck me sideways, I want him between my legs.

I look down at where his dark hair is clutched in my fingers to find him looking up at me, mischief in those blue eyes. “I want you.”

“Me? Oh love, you got me.”

And then he takes me whole in his mouth. Sucking before running his tongue from my entrance to my clit. I buck up, screaming his name as I squeeze his hair in my hands. He open-mouth kisses my pussy just like he does with my mouth. Exploring every inch of me, savoring me, tasting me, before he decides to fully assault my clit. He holds my hips in his big hands, pushing me hard against the door as he swirls his tongue around my clit. His strokes are slow, calculated, and he’s enjoying himself entirely too much.

“Keep it up, and watch how I suck your cock.”

He hums against my sensitive flesh. “Don’t tempt me with a good time, love.”

“Oh, you are in for it,” I say raggedly as I try to arch into his mouth, but he doesn’t allow me to.

He presses his hand into my gut and then slides two fingers into me while continuing to suck my clit. His fingers are thick, warm, and feel delicious inside me. When they fill me completely, his groan is glorious, and I almost come at the sound of it. He pumps them into me in rhythm with his tongue against my clit, and within seconds, I’m screaming louder than ever. My body trembles under his mouth, and the edge is right there. I can feel it, my whole body going taut as my mind reels from the pleasure he’s bringing me. Then I come, and it’s with a strangled sob as the pleasure wreaks havoc on my body. I explode, and when my legs give out, Ciaran has me.

He catches me, cupping my body against his before turning us, cradling my head before laying me down on the floor. I’m practically panting as he settles between my legs, pushing up my shirt to expose my bra. He reaches for it, pulling the cups down before covering one of my breasts with his lips, sucking my nipple deep into his gorgeous mouth. He gives love to the other one before he thrusts up, filling me completely with his cock in one swift move.

Our moans become one, and I feel like I’m being split in half. He’s so big, filling me beyond what I thought my body could handle, but boy, does Ciaran prove me wrong. He takes me by the backs of my knees, pushing them into the floor, and then he goes deeper, and my cries are downright sinful. When I open my eyes, I find that he’s not only watching where he is deep inside me, but a smirk is playing on his lips.

He’s magnificent.

Ciaran’s shirt is see-through from where his sweat is beading. His shoulders and jaw are tight, and the veins in his neck make me yearn to bite him. His fingers dig into the backs of my knees as he moves into me, each thrust deeper and harder than the last. His eyes are wild, and I know mine must be just as eager. He slides in and out of me with a grunt, and each time he pulls out, I cry at how much I want him back. His thrusts become more urgent, wilder, and I feel myself cresting once more. I’m thrashing beneath him, his name falling from my lips with each thrust. When I come, I squeeze him tightly, and he comes right after me.

I’m gasping for breath, my heart about to burst out of my chest as he thrusts once, twice, and then a third time before a shiver moves up his body, his grunt making me grin. He lowers himself onto me, covering me with his big body, and I wrap my arms and legs around him, wanting him close. He presses a kiss to my nose then my mouth before drawing languid kisses from me. I run my fingers through his hair, along his neck, as our tongues play. When he pulls away, it’s to kiss the side of my lips before nuzzling his nose in my neck.

“Am I hurting you?” he whispers against my burning skin.

“Not at all,” I tell him, angling my neck so he has full access to it.

His kisses are slow, sweet, and his cock is still hard, deep inside me. Fuck, I love it. Against my neck, he asks me in a low whisper, “Can I stay?”

I smile, looking at the ceiling and completely overwhelmed by all the feelings swirling in my chest. “I didn’t realize you thought you were leaving.”

His chuckles against my neck only make me smile harder, and when his lips meet mine, I don’t know if I ever want him to leave.

Which may be an issue when Eliza gets back.





Cruz sets me with a look.

A knowing look.

A curious look.

One that tells me he has something to say.

I ignore it with ease as I step onto the rink, and soon the excitement of being on the ice hits me. I get that giddy feeling in my chest, and my mind is at ease with the sounds of my skates on the ice and the crack of my stick against the puck before it sails through the air, the net catching it with a woosh. I take in a deep, lung-filling breath, and the cold air burns my nose, but God, I love it. I smile, loving this feeling but realizing that the smell of the ice, this sport, the sounds my stick makes when I score, aren’t the only things that give me what I crave anymore.

My smile turns to a smirk when I think of all the sounds I’ve been rewarded with from Louisa’s succulent mouth. The way she makes me laugh, how I adore the way she challenges me and talks back with no cares whatsoever. I love the feel of her pressed against me as we sleep. That fucking sigh…it annihilates my heart when she does it. It’s so simple, just a small little release of breath before she falls asleep. Usually, she does it when she’s nuzzling in close after I bring her to a quaking orgasm, and that little sound makes me want to do it all over again.

And again and again.

“Hey, asshole. You still paying your rent even if you aren’t sleeping in our apartment?”

I roll my eyes at Cruz’s dramatics as I play with the puck. “The rent isn’t even due yet.”

“Still. Where have you been for the last three nights?”

I couldn’t even hide my grin if I wanted to. I never thought I could enjoy sleeping with someone again, but with Louisa, it is entirely too easy after all the sex we’ve had. We had even more sex the day following our date but then none last night, and I still fell asleep effortlessly with her in my arms. Like I was meant to.

“Just out,” I answer, dancing around the elephant in the room.

It’s way easier when it’s just her and me. We’ve fallen into an easy routine. When I’d left to go work out after the first night, I had packed a small bag without really packing it. It was mainly my toiletries from my locker, so not enough to cause concern about what I was bringing over. While she worked, I read in my chair, and we’d talk in between customers or things she had to do. I got her lunch, and she cooked me dinner. We’ve done the same thing all weekend, and it’s been easy. Louisa makes it easy.

Fuck, I like her a lot.

“Just out? You haven’t been home in three days.”

I glance up at him. He is wearing all his gear, his helmet down and over his eyes, but it can’t hide his curiosity or his hurt that I haven’t been there. “Miss me?”

He scoffs, loudly and obviously. “Not at all. I can walk around completely naked, and no one bitches.”

“Oh, was it too much for me to bitch about your dick swinging all over the fucking place?”

Cruz gives me a look. The kind of look I know he gives our opponent before he blocks their attempt at scoring. “Don’t hate ’cause your dick is smaller than mine.”

Asshole, but then, Louisa loves my dick, so really, who’s winning? Not that I am saying that. Instead, I try to throw him off. “The ladies don’t complain.”

“’Cause you got a beer-bottle dick, you freak,” he throws at me, shaking his head. “And we both know it’s not ladies. It’s a lady. Who is she?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So, you mean to tell me that you are hiding your lady friend from your best friend.”

“Best friend is pushing it, don’t you think?” I ask him, and he actually looks hurt.

“You are my best friend.”

Shit, I did hurt his feelings.

“Because I’m awesome.”

Not that I’m going to apologize. The dude is a dick, and he doesn’t even really like me. He just doesn’t want to be alone.

“Whatever,” he says over his shoulder. “Who is she?” he repeats as if my answer might change.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Is she ugly?” he laughs, and I glare.

“Fuck right the fuck off,” I seethe, and he laughs harder.

“Oh, you like her. Interesting.”

I watch as he lines up, and I’m tempted to throw a puck right between his legs. Bastard would probably block it, though. Neither of us says another word as I start to shoot. I work on my breakaway, my penalty shots, and even some bank shots, where I try to get the puck to go in by hitting the goalie in the back from the far corner. Cruz isn’t a fan of those, but I’m pretty damn good at them, so he deals with my shit. I enjoy doing them with the hope the pucks sting a bit because he assumed Louisa was ugly.


When we go for a water break, Cruz leans on the boards while he squirts a bottle of Powerade, his favorite, into his mouth as I down my Gatorade. “Is she your girlfriend?”

I promptly choke on my drink. “What the hell?” I ask around my coughing. “I just met her.” But even saying the words, I know the truth. She is my girlfriend, not that either of us has put a label on it, but she’s mine just as much as I’m hers. I not telling Cruz that, though. I’d never hear the end of it.

“And you’ve slept at her place for the last three nights. That tells me she’s important, because even if it was just sex, you wouldn’t stay with her.”

I spit the mouthful of water I just sipped to clean my mouth onto the ice before reaching for my Gatorade again. I don’t answer him, and he laughs.

“So, you’re free for frolicking? I’m going out with a girl tonight, and she wants to bring her twin. Twins, Carter. Twins. Double the pleasure, double the fun.”

The thought of touching someone else isn’t appealing. Not even in the least. “I’m good.”

“’Cause you’re staying with her tonight?”

I side-eye him and shrug. “Maybe.”

“Why are you being so secretive about this? You don’t hold back your exploits, and I know all about Mikayla.”

Why am I tight-lipped? I’m not sure. Is it the fear of talking too soon? Of putting too much pressure on something that is still fragile? Fuck, four days ago, I tried to call it off between Louisa and me. How can I stand on this ice and call her my girlfriend when I haven’t discussed it with her? I don’t even know if she wants to date me. We know there is something here, but we said we were taking this day by day, and I was fine with that. Now, though, I’m not. I just got offered a night out with twins. I don’t want that, obviously, but what if some dude walks into the shop, saying he wants to read Louisa like a book?


I’m sure she’d say no, but she wouldn’t have to.

She could say yes, and I couldn’t say shit.

Yeah, I don’t like that thought.

Or that possibility.





I park in the back of Dirty Pages, near where Louisa parks, before grabbing my things and getting out. My heart is pounding and my stomach sort of hurts, though I’m unsure why I’m nervous. Or maybe it’s not nerves but rather fear of her rejection. This is why I haven’t put myself out there. This feeling that Mikayla left inside me. The thought that I’m not worthy of someone to care for me or want me how I want them. It’s so much easier to just fuck around, get my pleasure, and be done, but I have realized very quickly that isn’t possible where Louisa is concerned.

It’s terrifying, honestly.

I head through the back door and drop my bag by the door that leads up to her apartment. I hear no chatter from customers or even Louisa herself, only silence, and when I turn the corner, I find her sitting with her knees under her chin and a book in her hands. She has her glasses on, thick red frames that glow against her skin. She only wears them when she struggles with her contacts or when she doesn’t want to wear them. Her lips are parted, her eyes trained on the words she reads, and I swear I’ve never seen anyone so beautiful in my life.

I lean into the wall, watching her, surprised she doesn’t notice me. Then again, she didn’t notice me for months before this, so I shouldn’t be all that shocked. She’s so engrossed in the book, her eyes moving fast as she reads. She’s wearing a huge sweatshirt with leggings, and her tennis shoes are on the floor below her, her toes curled against the edge of her chair. Her hair is up in a messy bun as tendrils fall everywhere along her shoulders, and her face is makeup-free. She looks all homey and comfortable. I want to find a way to sit behind her, hold her, and read as she does.

Jesus, I’ve got it bad for her.

“Must be a good book.”

As soon as the words leave my mouth, I regret not announcing myself. At the sound of my voice, Louisa screams, jerks back, and tumbles to the floor in a heap of limbs, and the book goes flying past her desk. I move instantly, catching the chair before it smacks her as she hits the floor with a thump. She cries out, but when I reach for her to make sure she’s okay, she’s laughing hysterically. The sound is so angelic, so beautiful, and soon, I’m laughing too. I set the chair down to the side, and then I take her hand, lifting her until she comes flush to my chest. Her eyes are bright, a beautiful sea of green and blue as she looks up at me, still giggling.

“You scared the shit out of me!” she accuses, and I kiss the complaint right off her lips. She leans into me, her arms wrapping around my middle as I pull her closer, and within moments, my senses are going nuts. She feels so good in my arms, all thick and warm. She tastes like that lotus drink she likes, and I want to drink from her lips for the rest of my life. I instantly wish I had stopped to get her one of her drinks, just to make her smile.

I pull away before the kiss gets too intense. “I was standing there for five minutes before I said anything,” I explain, checking her over for injuries. It doesn’t appear she has any, and I’m thankful for that. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“No worries.” Her fingers dance along my back, and a shiver runs through me, making her grin. “I was really into that book.”

“Is it the new one that comes out tomorrow?”

She gives me a guilty look, her head moving up and down reluctantly. I set her with a look of my own, trying to scold her, but it’s damn hard when she’s pouting like that.

“Which means you started it without me?”

“I did. I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help it.”

I look around us, seeing piles of the books that she hasn’t put up yet. “I see that it is preventing you from picking up all the extras and preorders.”

She groans, nodding. “I know. I’m a disgrace.”

“The messiest bookshop owner I know, but also the sexiest.”

She beams, kissing my bottom lip then the corner of my lips. “I took your copy upstairs so we can read tonight.”

I take her ass in my hands, pressing my growing length against her. “So, what you’re saying is we won’t be sleeping.”

She grins, pressing her hips back into mine. My breath hitches as she teases, “Don’t act like you ever plan to sleep here.”

I scoff. “I do, actually, but you’re a tyrant when it comes to my sleep.”

Her laughter is music. “Me? I think you’ve got it all wrong, buddy. I know restraint.”

I laugh at that since we both know neither of us has any sort of restraint when it comes to the other.

“How was your workout?”

As I gaze into Louisa’s eyes, I hate how much I compare her to Mikayla. Or rather, not compare her, but recognize the fact that Louisa is nothing like her. Mikayla never cared, never asked, just wanted to reap the benefits of my career. I know it hasn’t even been a week, but Louisa doesn’t care about anything but me. It’s so fucking refreshing and astonishing.

“Good. Exhausting,” I admit, and she smiles as my heart thuds in my chest. “Cruz asked about you.”

“Did he now?”

“Yeah, he’s in his feelings that I haven’t been back to our apartment.”

“We can go there tonight if you want.”

“I don’t want to share you or expose you to that asshole,” I say, brushing my thumbs along her jaw. “Knowing him, he’ll hit on you, and I’ll be down a best friend.”

She giggles. “Stop. He wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Yes, he would,” I say with certainty. “But I will have to introduce you two sooner rather than later so he’ll shut up.”

She giggles, tucking her hands under my hoodie. A hiss leaves my lips at the coldness of her hands as I gather her closer. I kiss her lips, pressing my hips to hers and loving the sigh that my mouth captures from her. Our kisses are slow, sweet, and searching as her taste blows my mind. When she tugs on my bottom lip, my stomach clenches, and my heart slams around in my chest. What if someone else comes along and they’re rewarded with these kisses?

My kisses.

She releases my lips, and I pull back, opening my eyes to see a blissful, wanton look on her face. Her cheeks are warm with color, her lips puffy and swollen from our kisses, and fuck, I want her.

All of her.

Her eyes flutter open, and then she reaches up, cupping my cheek. “You okay?”

I nod, lost in her eyes and the feel of her thumb along my jaw. The fear of rejection is real and taunting me. I hate how that makes me feel, but I trust this woman. I do. Fully. “Cruz asked if you were my girlfriend.”

Her lip quirks at the side, and she brings her other arm up to wrap around my neck. “What did you say?”

I swallow hard, and if she weren’t looking deep into my eyes, I know I wouldn’t have the nerve to say what I want to say. “I didn’t want to assume you were without asking first.”

A full, stunning smile moves across her lips. “Are you asking?”

I squeeze her hips, my heart practically beating out of my chest. I swallow past the lump in my throat. “I didn’t want to put labels on us, ya know? But the whole time I was on the ice, during the ride here, and then when I was watching you read, this irrational fear gathered in my chest that someone could come along and snatch you up.”

She scoffs, her eyes dazzling with mischief. “No one could do that, not now.”

“Not even a dragon with two cocks?” I tease, and the sweetest laugh leaves her lips.

“Okay, you’re right. I take that back. Only the dragon could.”

I grin, gathering her as close as I can without crushing her. “I’m yours, Louisa.”

Her eyes go half hooded as she brushes her thumb over my bottom lip. “I know you are.” I bite her thumb, and she gasps, arching up into me. “Just as I’m yours.”

“So, we’re labeled?”

“Labeled,” she agrees, pressing her nose into mine.

“Good,” I sigh, kissing her lips before pulling away. She lets out a sound of distress as I turn, but I grin over my shoulder at her. “One second.”

“So rude. You label us, and then you run off?” she calls at my back, and I laugh as I walk over to my bag. I grab what I need and then head back to her. Her eyes widen when I hold up a Knoxville Bears jersey with my name and number on it. Her breath catches as I step closer to her, throwing the jersey over my shoulder before reaching for her sweatshirt. I pull it up and over her head, ignoring the fact that her bra is sheer, and toss the sweatshirt onto the desk. I bring the jersey over her head, and my heart soars at the sight of my jersey on her body. It comes to her thighs and drowns her, but she’s a sight to behold.

Louisa in my jersey is the goal I never knew I wanted to score.





Ciaran’s jersey may be massive on my body, but for me, it’s a perfect fit.

Just as we are.

This weekend has been a whirlwind of emotions and firsts. It’s crazy, but Ciaran being at my apartment—sleeping in my bed, sitting on my couch, reading with me, eating at my table with me, showering with me—became so normal for me that it was terrifying. I thought I would freak out a bit, falling asleep in his arms since I’ve never done that.

I used to clutch the side of the bed when I slept with my ex-husband, for fear he would touch me. I practically slept on top of Ciaran. There was no space between us, and I didn’t want there to be. I feel safe with him, and when he leaves, I miss him. I feel silly, stupid even, but I can’t help it.

I want him. I want us. This. Everything. And the fact that he just asked to put a label on us has my heart swelling to ten times its size.

Ciaran’s eyes are full of satisfaction as he looks me over in his jersey. I run my hands along the logo, then the C, before beaming up at him. “C is for captain, correct?”

“Yeah. I’m a big deal.”

“You are,” I agree, grinning as I meet his gaze. “How do I look?”

“Like a hockey girlfriend.”

I smile widely at that. “A first for me,” I say slowly, and then I remember that I haven’t told him about my connection with the Bears. I don’t know how I haven’t told him yet. We spent the weekend talking about our lives outside of each other, and I had all the opportunities in the world, but I never mentioned it.

“My girlfriend,” he says huskily, pulling me from my thoughts. He takes my hips in his hands, bringing me flush with him, and I move my arms up and around his neck, holding him to me.

“I like the sound of that,” I murmur, our eyes brimming with heat and want. His gaze drops to my lips, and I watch as he starts to move in to take them, but I can’t kiss him yet. “Did I tell you Austen’s fiancé is a hockey player?”

He pauses at that, his eyes cutting up to mine. “Your sister?”

A lump forms in my throat at the confusion in his eyes. “Yeah. She actually works for the Nashville Assassins.”

Ciaran’s brows come together. “She does? Why didn’t you tell me that when I told you I wanted to play for them?”

“You were telling me about your ex. I didn’t want to interrupt you with my own stuff.”

He nods, seeming to agree, but I can see the hesitation in his eyes. I think this is why I didn’t tell him before, and now I’ve waited too long. Fear creeps into my chest as I hold his gaze.

“She is engaged to Dimitri Titov and is an analyst for the Assassins.”

He nods. “I know Dimitri, and I’m pretty sure Austen evaluated me, but I didn’t put two and two together.”

I bite the inside of my cheek and swallow hard. “Austen didn’t realize you are who you are until Elliot told us you were being announced as captain.”

His eyes narrow. “Elliot?”

“She’s the social media specialist for the Knoxville Bears.”

My stomach is in knots as realization moves over his gorgeous face. His lips are pressed together hard, his jaw tight as he searches my eyes. “El?”

I swallow. “Probably. She doesn’t like her full name because it can be a guy’s name.”

“El is short for Elliot. Your baby sister.”

I nod, and since I don’t know what to say, I correct him. “Second to last. Clara is the baby.”

He swallows. “Elliot is the owner, Dan Davenport’s, granddaughter.”

“Yeah, as am I.”

Ciaran only blinks as he holds my gaze. I don’t look away; I couldn’t if I wanted to. His eyes are dark, his lips parted, while his breaths are a bit labored. I can see him calculating, trying to process what I’ve said, what I haven’t told him until now. “I’m dating the granddaughter of the owner of the team I play for?”

“You are,” I say slowly.

“And you didn’t think you should have told me this from the jump?”

I lick my lips, but our gazes stay locked. “I should have when I found out you played for the Bears. But you tried to call this off, and then you told me why, and after that, I honestly kept forgetting about it because it doesn’t matter to me. I’m not dating you for what you do. I’m dating you for you.”

My words ease some of the tightness in his jaw, but then he asks, “But is Mr. Davenport going to have an issue with this?”

“For me, it doesn’t matter, but I can tell it matters to you.”

He gawks at me, as he should. “He owns the team I play for. He pays me, decides whether I get ice time or if I get traded, Lou,” he says. But while I expected him to raise his voice, he doesn’t.

But the volume of his words doesn’t matter. The reality of what he has said hits me square in the chest. “You’re absolutely right. I was selfish and wrong not to tell you sooner,” I say, emotion choking me. “I’m truly sorry, but I was so caught up in us. Everything else didn’t matter.”

He moves his hands from my hips, gathering me closer, much to my surprise. “I get it,” he murmurs against my lips. “I felt the same.”


I bite my lip, my heart aching, and I look down at his chest. I inhale deeply, closing my eyes as I ask, “Does this change things?”

He grasps my chin, guiding me to meet his eyes. “It changes nothing.”

“Are you sure? You’re not mad?”

“Not mad. Surprised, but not mad. I get it. It’s easy to get lost in just us when there isn’t anyone or anything to remind us of real life.”

I sigh deeply, nodding. “Too easy.”

“Absolutely,” he says, moving his hand along my throat, stroking the vein in my neck with his thumb. “But it doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

My throat goes dry. “I’m sorry.”

He kisses me softly, and I lean into it. Needing it to know he isn’t upset with me. He has every right to be mad, take his jersey, and walk away, but he doesn’t do that. He only holds me, running his thumb along my throat. “Are you going to tell him, or do you wanna just do our own thing?”

I shake my head. “I think that’s where Austen messed up, by not telling our peepaw. I want to be honest. I plan on telling him before I come to the game Friday.”

“How do you think that will go?”

“Fine. I’m not worried about it. He tried to ruin Dimitri’s career, but then Austen quit the Bears and it really hurt him. I think he learned from it and only wants us to be happy.”

He blinks. “He tried to ruin Dimitri’s career?”

I grimace. “Yeah, but he’s trying so hard to get back his relationship with Austen, I don’t think he’d do it again.”

He grimaces. “That’s a little worrisome.”

“Do you want your jersey back?” I ask without really thinking, and I hate how small I sound.

His brows furrow deeply, his eyes pinning mine with a look. “I don’t.”

“I’d understand⁠—”

“Lou,” he insists, cutting off my words, “my jersey belongs on your body, okay?”

His eyes burn into mine, waiting for me to agree, but I feel so guilty. “I feel like I hid this from you, and that wasn’t my intention, I swear.”

“I know it wasn’t,” he tells me, holding me so there is no space between us. “It’s okay. Everything is fine.”

Then why does it feel like it isn’t?





How I didn’t put two and two together is bizarre and truly unlike me, but then again, I’m pretty sure I know why I didn’t. Like she said, when we’re together, nothing else matters. I’m too thoroughly taken with Louisa to worry much about anything else. That should concern me, but really, it only reinforces for me that this is real. That getting out of that truck a few days ago was an action beyond my control. Louisa belongs in my arms, my face nuzzled in her neck, and that sigh she makes is a song for only me.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not waiting for the other shoe to come crashing down on me.

I’d be stupid not to feel that way. This is all going too well, too easy, too perfect, and it would only make sense for something like the owner of the team to come between us. As I gaze into her eyes, I find myself praying that it doesn’t. That Dan Davenport accepts me and knows my dating his granddaughter has nothing to do with how I play hockey.

I lean my head to hers, kissing the bridge of her nose as I beg God to allow me to keep this beautiful creature. To let me have happiness for once after everything I’ve dealt with—the failure of not making the NHL, everything Mikayla did, and the fact that I’ve deprived myself of happiness for years.

Please, let me have her.

“I think you’re mad.”

I open my eyes at her whispered confession. Her eyes are darker, more greenish-brown than the blue they were when I first got here. I cup her jaw in one hand, my other still stroking her throat. “I promise I’m not. Just surprised and a bit nervous he’ll forget that I’m a good hockey player, not just the guy defiling his granddaughter.”

As I wanted, she grins, but she shakes her head. “I don’t want to stress you out. I’m sorry. I promise I’ll take care of it.”

It blows me away how easily she takes ownership of all this. I’m used to being blamed or taking the brunt of any wrongdoing, but that’s not how Louisa rolls. She’s honest, she’s beautiful, and she’s a dream.

“You’re too good for me, Lou.”

She scoffs. “Hardly.”

I don’t know how she doesn’t see that as true. “Well, I think so.”

Louisa’s eyes sparkle as she holds my gaze. “The fact that I’m in your jersey may be distracting you into thinking that.”

I grin. “No, I knew the first day I set eyes on you. When I listened to you defend yourself against a group of people that had come in to give you shit.” Her brows rise at my truth. “You fought for yourself, told them that this is your business, and you’ll do with it as you want because you built it. You said that no one would tear you down or take away the magic of what you provide the women of this town.”

My lips curve up at not only the shocked expression on her face but also about remembering my favorite thing that she’s said. “You said, and I quote, ‘We live in a Christmas town. Don’t you guys realize that Santa bangs Mrs. Claus 364 days out of the year, and on the one day he isn’t, he will be delivering smutty books to all the smutty ladies of this town? Both closet smuts and full-blown, proud smuts.’”

Her eyes are bright. “That happened when I opened. You’ve been coming here that long?”

I nod. “Yeah. Just sitting, reading, and hoping to catch a glimpse of you or to hear you speak.”

“Ciaran,” she breathes, pressing her nose into my lips. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“I wasn’t ready,” I tell her, my lips against the spot between her eyes. “I think I knew that when I allowed myself to be seduced by you, I’d be a goner.”

She leans back, meeting my gaze. “Excuse me. Who seduced whom?”

I chuckle, letting my hands slide down her body to her ass, where I take two big handfuls. “Love, you seduced me the moment my eyes landed on you,” I whisper against her lips. “And you haven’t stopped since.”

“Don’t plan on it,” she promises, molding her body to mine.

“I would expect nothing less,” I say before I nip at the end of her nose. “I stayed up many nights stroking my cock with you on my mind.”

Her breath hitches, her eyes dark. “You said that the first time you were inside me.”

I nod, my cock fucking harder than a steel pipe. “It’s true. When I read, every heroine is you, and I’m the hero, taking you in all the naughty ways.”

Something flashes in her eyes, desire maybe, as she moves her hand between us, squeezing my length. A groan leaves my lips involuntarily, and her grin only grows at the sound. She looks around, but we both know no one is here. She takes my hand, letting go of my engorged flesh, and guides me toward the bathroom. Over her shoulder, she asks, “How would you like an image to bring up in your head when we’re not together?”

“What kind of image are you thinking?” I ask as she pulls me into the very posh bathroom and shuts the door. It matches the décor of the rest of the shop, dark and pristine, and there are fresh flowers throughout the space.

When her eyes darken more, her lids heavy, she slowly lowers herself to her knees, and gone are all my thoughts about the bathroom. Replaced by only her. “Your cock in my mouth while I wear your jersey.”

I’m speechless as she unfastens my pants, her eyes trained on mine. I pull her hair out of the bun, threading my fingers into her silky strands as she takes my sex out of my pants. Her hands are cold, the sensation against my hard, hot cock breathtaking, but I don’t stop her. Only hiss as I lean back into the door. She takes me by my base, and I watch as she curls her tongue along the head of my cock. A harsh sound leaves my lips when she cups my balls, fondling them as she runs her tongue along the slit on my head, licking away the drops of my desire for her. Her mouth is hot, her lips thick as she takes me into her mouth, flattening her tongue against my flesh before guiding me slowly, almost agonizingly, to the back of her throat. I meet resistance, and her eyes glow for me as tears gather.

I love when she does this.

“Fuck, Lou. My cock belongs in your mouth, doesn’t it?”

She nods around my length, sucking me, swirling her tongue around my flesh and causing me to buck deeper into her mouth. She takes me, and it feels like she’s swallowing me whole. Heat gathers in my gut, tightening as she picks up one hell of a rhythm. Her hand strokes my base as she sucks me in and out of that sinful mouth of hers. Her other hand fondles my balls in time with each bob of her head. She takes me deeper each time, gagging but not giving up as she brings me closer and closer to my release.

Her eyes meet mine, tears gathering at the corners, and when one falls, I wipe it away with my thumb, breathless, feeling my legs quake under me. “Yes, love. Fuck yes. I love when my cock stretches your mouth like that.” My voice is strained. I’m surprised I got that out, honestly. But fuck, I had to tell her how much pleasure she brings me. How gorgeous she is. “Fuck, I wish you could see how good you take me, your little nose brushing my skin.” I groan deeply when she hums for me, her eyes only on me, her heated, sultry gaze making me hot everywhere. “You are fucking gorgeous, Lou. So perfect. Keep going, love. I’m going to fill up that pretty mouth, and you’re going to take it all, aren’t you?”

She nods again, and I groan loudly. My head falls back, banging into the door as she picks up the pace, sucking me deep into her hot mouth, until I can’t hold off any longer. I want to prolong this, I want to relish the feel of her mouth moving up and down my cock, but it’s all too much. She’s too much, and I can’t hold back. I go to my toes, my balls exploding before bliss takes over, rocking me to my core. I groan from deep within as I jerk into her mouth. She hums her pleasure, and it leaves me unsteady. Lights go off behind my eyes as she sucks me dry, taking all my come as if it’s the best thing she’s ever tasted in her life. My heart jackhammers in my chest as my body spasms everywhere. When I open my eyes, I watch as she pulls off my cock with a pop, her lips curving when she finds me watching her.

She was right. This is the image I want forever.

Her lips swollen and red while curved up just for me, on her knees with my name and number on her back.

Yup, I’m a goner.





“Do you like flowers?”

Ciaran is still leaning against the door, watching as I clean up and fix my hair from where he let it out of my messy bun. He has on his black Knoxville Bears hoodie and some jeans, looking all sexy and sporty. His hair has fallen into his eyes a bit, but he brushes it to the side when our eyes meet. I love how he looks when he comes, all spent and lazy. As if we could both cuddle up in his chair and read. It’s not a bad idea, really, but I’m still worried he’s upset.

“Like, on the road? Or in a garden? In the bathroom or in the house? Or, like, someone buying me flowers?”

“Buying them for you,” he tells me, and I shrug.

“I don’t know. I’ve never gotten flowers like that, but I assume I would like them.”

That seems to catch him off guard. His brow furrows as he holds my gaze in the mirror. “Really? No one has ever brought you flowers?”

I shake my head, turning to look at him as I throw away the paper towel I just used. “No one, not even my sisters. Though, I have bought them, and I have bought my sisters flowers. Wow, they are a bunch of bitches, huh?”

He chuckles as I walk toward him. He reaches for my hand and brings it up to his lips, kissing my palm then my wrist before wrapping it around his neck. The motion brings me in close, and his scent hits me hard. Once again, I’m more inclined to find a soft spot for us to cuddle and read than do all the crap I need to do. He presses his lips to mine, and I lean into the kiss, anchoring my hands against his chest, loving the feel of his hard body. When he pulls back, much too soon, his eyes are hooded and sexy. I kiss his jaw then his neck before cuddling into his chest. He holds me close, and my eyes drift shut in pure bliss.

But my mind won’t let me be. “I really am sorry.”

His lips move along my temple as he speaks. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”

“I don’t want you to be upset or nervous about my grandfather. I promise, I’ll handle him. Or I can call Austen and tell her to push for you to come to the Assassins.”

He doesn’t laugh like I wanted, but his lips do turn up against my temple. “Don’t you even think about it. I’ll earn my spot, and then I’ll have to figure out how to have my sport and you.”

I swallow, the thought of him leaving hitting me square in the gut. He has been honest since the beginning about making it to the Assassins, but every time we talk about it, I get sad. I don’t want to be three hours apart. It’s hard enough with Austen so far away, but thinking of that distance between Ciaran and me hurts. It sucks, but we’ll make it work. We have to.

He kisses me again, squeezing me with his large arms. “Why hasn’t anyone bought you flowers?”

I close my eyes and nuzzle his chest. “I guess no one ever wanted to.”

“You said you’ve never been in love, but have you dated since you broke Amish?”

I snort at that. He makes it sound so easy, but it was far from it. Not that he knows that or that I’m ready to tell him. “I have been on Tinder and other dating sites, but nothing serious. A bunch of super-awful guys, really.”

“What about when you were growing up? Was there someone who caught your eye?”

My heart starts to speed up a bit, and I hate how this topic makes me feel. I want to tell him, I want to explain it all, but I just hate giving my past power over my present.

I clear my throat of the emotion. “Growing up, girls were kept with girls and boys were kept with boys. We weren’t allowed to mingle until we were of age.”

“Of age? Like, eighteen?”

My heart is slamming into my ribs, and I know I’ve said too much. When I don’t say anything else, he strokes his fingers along my back.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”

I let out the breath I wasn’t aware I was holding, and then guilt burns through me. He was honest with me, told me his past, yet I’m holding on to mine.

“I can feel your heart pounding. I don’t want to bring up bad memories. I just wanted to know about the flower thing because I want to get you flowers, but I wasn’t sure if you liked them.”

Gosh, he’s sweet. I move my nose into his shirt, rubbing it as if to rub my fear away. “It’s just so much, Ciaran,” I admit as I lean back to look up at him. His blue eyes shine for me and are so welcoming, encouraging, but it’s hard to open up that part of myself. “I have been in tons of therapy to help me get past the trauma, and then the embarrassment is real.”

“Embarrassment? I’d never judge you, Lou.”

“No, I know,” I stress, holding his gaze and hating how I’m going about this. I need to be honest. Those people, that place, have no hold on me. I am me. Louisa McDavid. I got my sisters out, I survived, and they’ll never find me again. They won’t.

“It’s just…” I pause, swallowing hard. “I know I said it was like the Amish, but it was actually a billion times worse.”

“How so?”

I hesitate, longer than I intend to, but then I whisper, “It was a cult.”

If he’s shocked, his face doesn’t show it. He only stares into my eyes, rubbing my back with his finger. I can see the wheels turning in his eyes, processing what I just said. “A cult? Like a for-real cult?”

“It was very real,” I mutter, shaking my head.

“Did you join, or were you born into it?”

“I was born into it, but I had to join because it wasn’t as if I was given a choice.”

He blinks. “So, you’re telling me that you escaped a cult?”

“I did.”

Much to my surprise, he blows out a breath, slowly shaking his head. “I knew you were too good for me. Escaping cults, running a business, kind, beautiful, smart.”

His words wrap around me like his arms. Strong and true. As I stare into his warm eyes, my own eyes start to burn with tears. I don’t know if it’s because we’re talking about my past or the fact that he’s being so supportive and caring. He doesn’t owe me this, but it’s who he is.

He gathers me closer, shaking his head. “Are you sure you want to be my girlfriend? I’m just a pain-in-the-ass hockey player who tried to push you away, when we both know I was dumb as hell for that. I’m nowhere near your level of awesomeness.”

I can’t help but sputter with laughter as he brings me up to my toes. “You are so my level of awesomeness.”

“Not really,” he teases, kissing my nose. “I never escaped a cult, but I can make a wicked bank shot.”

I grin. “I can’t wait to see you do it.”

His eyes shine as he grins back at me. He moves his hand up to my cheek, swiping away the tears that have fallen without my notice. Emotion chokes me as his eyes drift along my face, so kind and so sweet. “You know you’re incredible, right?”

My soul sings for this man. “When you say it, I do feel it.”

His lips quirk. “You’re incredible.” I blink back the tears. “I am in awe of you, Lou.”

I lean into him, forehead pressing to his lips. “Thank you. I really appreciate your saying that.”

“It’s the truth.”

And I know he believes that. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how much I fought, how difficult it was to get out, but it was all worth it. All that, and now I have him in my arms. I kiss his chin and nuzzle my nose against the hair on his jaw.

“Can I ask you something, Lou?”

“Of course,” I say without hesitation, which I immediately realize wasn’t the smartest thing to do. I pull back, meeting his gaze.

“Did you get your scars when you were with the cult?”

My lip wobbles, but I can’t lie. I just can’t. Unable to form the words, I nod slowly. I feel his body tense up at my answer, his eyes a dark, thunderous blue as he holds me in his arms.

He nods before leaning in, pressing his forehead to mine. “And your mom didn’t protect you?”

The emotions burn through me—fear, sadness, betrayal. I close my eyes. “No. She encouraged it.”

His body vibrates with anger, and I squeeze my eyes shut, humiliation coursing through me.

“Lou, look at me, love.”

I swallow hard, and while I don’t want to, I do as he asks. His eyes are so dark, so kind and encouraging, as he cups my cheek, rubbing the pad of his thumb along my bottom lip.

“I want you to know, no one—and I fucking mean no one—will ever touch you like that again. Trust me, Lou, if I ever get the chance to meet these people you so bravely escaped from, I will kill them.”

My heart is in my throat. His eyes are full of conviction, of the promise in his words. Breathlessly, I whisper, “Ciaran⁠—”

“No, I’m serious. I look great in orange. You’ll see that Friday,” he says, and the light moves back into his eyes, taking my breath away. He leans in, grazing my lips with his. Against them, he whispers, “No one will ever hurt you again. Not even me. I promise, Lou. Fuck, I promise you.”

I close my eyes at his words before he takes my lips with his, holding me so close I feel like we’re becoming one.

He pulls his mouth from mine, kissing the corner of my lips, my nose, then both my cheeks. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

I lean into his lips and bask in his promises.

Promises no one has ever offered me.





I don’t want to let her go.

This girl is my weakness, and I have to protect her at all costs.

As I run my hands along her back, I can feel the scars, and anger erupts inside me. I hate her mother, her father, the people who allowed this beautiful soul to be hurt. I would have protected her. Why didn’t I meet her instead of Mikayla? I would have done everything in my power to protect Louisa. To care for her and give her whatever she needed. Why did I waste years on someone who wasn’t deserving?

This girl, Louisa, is who should have gotten all my time, devotion, and attention.

I kiss the spot between her ear and neck, and the breathy sigh that leaves her lips has the anger extinguishing and lust replacing it. I kiss her earlobe then her temple before dusting kissing along her jaw. Before I can take her mouth, though, we hear voices. She goes still, and I pull back to look at her.


She grimaces. “Worse. My sisters.”

At that, I can’t help but laugh as someone yells Louisa’s name. Then I hear three different voices singing her name in varied tones and levels of volume. When they start to harmonize, she rolls her eyes. “Man, I was hoping to wait them out,” she grumbles as I move out of the way so she can grab the door handle. Before opening it, she looks up at me with watery eyes. She looks so relieved, so beautiful, as she whispers, “Thank you, Ciaran.”

Oh, she’s pulling at my heartstrings. “For what? Caring for you? I don’t need thanks for that.”

Her eyes sparkle. “Still, I don’t think you realize how much I appreciate that.”

I lean, kissing her nose. “It’s easy with you.”

Her lips curve, her eyes bright, as she pulls the door open, but before she goes out, her eyes lift to mine. “I should probably warn you… They’re a lot.”

I chuckle before I lean down to kiss her lips. “I’m sure they’re just as lovely as you.”

She gives me a look. “No. I’m the sane one.”

“The hell you are!” one of them calls. “She’s the basket case. I’m the normal one.”

I laugh as I follow her out, to find three beautiful women looking at us in a very knowing way. Eliza grins, her eyes moving between us before she points to Louisa. “The store is open, and you’re fooling around with your…lover?”

Not only does Eliza’s question make me grin, but the way she says “lover” is a treat. She sings it as if she’s Taylor Swift herself, but tone-deaf. Before I can correct her, tell her that Louisa is my girlfriend, I think I kind of like the word lover. Reminds me of my favorite Hades and Persephone retelling. That works for us, given how this all started. Hm. I glance over at Louisa to find her eyes on me. “I kinda like lover,” I tell her, and her lips quirk a bit.

“Very Persephone and Hades.”

I nod. “I was thinking the same thing, and it works.”

“It does, but isn’t it a step down from girlfriend, though?”

I shrug. “Or a step up?”

Now she’s grinning, and so am I. She smacks me playfully before going to greet her sisters, hugging them one by one as I watch. It’s apparent they all love one another greatly. Each of her sisters’ gazes is full of admiration and awe toward their eldest sister. A pang of jealousy runs through me. I never had that. My siblings don’t talk to me or even acknowledge me. It’s disappointing, but I’ve accepted it as it is. My mom and grandma love me enough for all eight of my siblings.

When Louisa reaches for Eliza, her younger sister pauses, grabbing Louisa’s face in her small hands. They all favor one another, but each one is different in her own way. All so beautiful, yet, for me, Louisa is by far the most stunning one of the siblings. Eliza sets her sister with a look. “Were you crying?”

“Yeah, but no big deal.”

At once, three sets of eyes narrow at me, and if I weren’t terrified of being jumped by Louisa’s sisters, I’d laugh. For such small women, they look like they could tear me limb from limb.

Thankfully, Louisa quickly says, “Not his fault. I was being emotional about something.”

They’re still glaring at me. The baby, Clara, blows her dark bangs out of her eyes before asking, “About what? Did he cause it?”

“Don’t worry about it. And no,” Louisa says, waving her sister off. “I’m fine. Stop and let me introduce you to my lover.”

My cock twitches to life as Louisa side-eyes me, a grin playing on her sweet lips. Their glares falter as excitement takes over their faces. I hold out my hand, and Clara takes it to shake and then Elliot.

“Ciaran, these are my sisters, Elliot and Clara.”

“It’s great to meet you,” I say and then look at Elliot. “I’ve seen you around.”

“Yup, and you’ll see way more now that you’re captain. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

I grin at Eliza. “We’ve met.”

“A time or two,” she says with a wink. “I’m excited to see that this played out how I assumed it would.”

I feel a blush move across my cheeks at her words. I feel like Eliza always knew I had eyes for her elder sister. She’d catch me watching Louisa, and instead of calling me out, she would just flash me a knowing look. Almost like she was urging me to make a move. I wish I hadn’t waited so long, but I know it was for the best. Louisa was worth the wait.

“Me too,” I agree as Louisa steps closer to me, and I reach for her, snaking my arm around her waist.

“I have to say, you claim you don’t look good in orange, but I think you look great,” Elliot says. “And is that a Carter number four jersey? Hmm, so he’s marked you.”

Eliza scoffs. “You make it sound like he pissed on her leg.”

I scoff as Louisa teases, “He did and then put the jersey on me. It was quite eventful.”

Elliot’s eyes are playful. “And then you got it on the bathroom while your shop was open? How scandalous and totally how the town sees you.”

That has them all giggling, but I can’t help myself and mutter, “Fuck this town.”

Clara’s green eyes sparkle. “Oh, I like you, ’cause I feel the same way.”

“Same,” Elliot agrees, and Eliza rolls her eyes.

“They’re old-school Bible pushers here. Relax. Louisa can handle herself very well, except when she has preorders that need to be sorted and she leaves them all over the store for anyone to take.”

Louisa glares at her sister, who is looking around with a very annoyed expression. “I didn’t have help since someone decided to make their ‘weekend’ into a five-day vacation.”

Eliza shrugs. “We knew you were busy, and Austen was lonely.”

I chuckle at their banter, but then I feel someone staring at me.

“I hope you know we love our sister and will kill for her,” Clara announces, and Louisa stiffens beside me.


I squeeze her side. “It’s fine,” I tell her before looking back to Clara. “I am well aware. Though, I’m pretty sure your sister can hold her own.”

“She can,” Elliot adds, crossing her arms. “But she won’t need to if we think you’ll hurt her.”

“Guys, relax,” Eliza chimes in. “He’s a nice guy.”

“He is,” Louisa insists. “Truly.”

The babies of the family don’t seem to agree, and I have this need to reassure them. “Listen, I know she’s too good for me⁠—”

“She is,” Clara says, interrupting me. “She’s too good for anyone.”

“She’s the strongest and most amazing person I know,” Elliot adds, her loving gaze falling on her eldest sister. “I would do anything for her.”

“Same,” Clara adds. “So, don’t break our trust.”

“I don’t have any intention of doing so,” I promise, looking between the two women. Eliza is snickering beside them, while Louisa bristles against my side. I lean in, pressing my lips to her ear. “It’s fine.”

She sets me with a look that says she doesn’t agree, but she doesn’t fight me on it, only rising to her toes to kiss me on my lips. “Told you they’re a lot.”

“Maybe I like a lot,” I murmur against her mouth.

Her lips curve into mine. “Well, you’ve got your hands full now.”

I cup her ass, squeezing her cheeks in my palms. “Just how I like it.”





Louisa’s breath catches as she arches her center against mine. God, I just came, but fuck if I don’t want her again. It’s becoming a normal thing for me, a constant want and need for her. I flash her my most devastating grin and lean in close. Against her ear, I whisper, “You are very lucky your sisters are back, or I would take you right here.”

I feel her grin against my cheek. “I mean, we can blow them off, go upstairs.”

Oh, I like that idea. I wrap my arms around her, but before I can agree and whisk her away, Eliza tsks at her sister.

“Lou, why are all the books everywhere?”

Louisa blushes, leaving my arms. “I’ve been a wee bit distracted. I’m getting it done today.”

“I guess I should help,” Eliza sighs and then points to their younger sisters. “You two can help too.”

They both groan, and before Louisa can get too far, I grasp her wrist in my hand. I pull her to me, and she comes closer, a beautiful look on her face. I cup her jaw with my other hand before kissing her lips. She melts into the kiss just like I wanted, and while I would love to deepen it, stroke her tongue, taste her, I refrain since her sisters are here. I pull back, rubbing her chin. “What can I do?”

Her eyes are hooded and dark with lust. “You can go relax, read, while I get everything done here.”

“You sure? I can help.”

“Very sure. Go on. I’ll join you as soon as I can shake these crazy people.”

I kiss her once more, but then she’s called by Eliza. I watch as she walks away, still wearing my jersey, and my heart swells in my chest. Fuck, she looks good. I lick my lips and head toward my chair as Louisa’s and her sisters’ banter fills the shop. I sit down in my chair, and my phone rings. I pull it out to see it’s my mom.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Hello, my love. How are you?”

“Good, thanks. You?”

“Well, thank you,” she says, but I can hear the uncertainty in her voice.

“You sound off.”

“I know,” she agrees, her voice strained. “Listen, I hate to bring this up, but Mikayla and her mom won’t let me be. Mikayla wants to speak to you and is asking to come to a game.”

My whole body goes rigid. What the hell. “Block them.”

“I did, and then they called Grandma. Then I blocked them again, and they showed up at the house.”

“What the fuck,” I mutter, shaking my head. “I don’t have time for her crap.”

“I know, my love, and I’m sorry. Do you want to talk to her?”

Fuck no, but I know she won’t leave my mom alone. Mom has entirely too much to deal with since my grandma is struggling with her health. I could get the cops involved, get a restraining order, but then that will definitely have her coming here, and I don’t need that. I don’t want anything to come between Louisa and me, and knowing my ex, she’ll do something rash and over the top.

Nope. I need to nip this in the bud.

“I’ll call her.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Ignore her, and if she comes to the house, call the cops.”

“I’m sorry, honey. I know you don’t want this right now.”

My gaze falls on Louisa as she climbs the ladder to put away some books. She’s stunning, and knowing what I know now, her escaping her past and building an incredible present, I refuse to allow anything or anyone, including me, to hurt her. Or mess up her future.

I will protect her.

I will care for her.

And I will worship her.

“It’s all good. But if she tries to come at you funky, let her know I mean every word I say to her.”

My mom pauses. “What are you going to say?”

I press my lips together, looking around to make sure no one is close enough to hear me. “That I’ve been over her and want nothing to do with her. I have moved on, and nothing can touch what I have right now.”

“You moved on?” she asks, and I can hear the excitement in her voice. “As in, you’ve met someone?”

“I have,” I admit, and even I can’t fight my smile.

She squeals, and my smile turns to a smirk. “Who is she? Where did you meet her? When can I meet her?”

I chuckle softly, leaning back and crossing my ankles. “Her name is Louisa, I met her in her bookshop here in town, and as soon as possible, Mom. I know you’ll like her.”

I know my mom is over the moon, and when I feel someone watching me, I look over to see that Louisa’s eyes are trained on me as she stands on the ladder. Her brow is perked, a small smile playing on her lips, and I’m in awe of her. “She’s smart, exquisite, and looks really good in my jersey.”

Louisa’s lips curve, her eyes lusty and striking.

Leaving me out of breath.

Mom laughs. “Oh my. You got it bad, don’t you?”

“I think I do.”

“Well, I can’t wait to meet her—and also for Mikayla to find out so she can go fuck right the hell off.” My laughter fills the space, and Mom laughs with me. “I knew something was going on. I could hear it in your voice. I’m very excited for you, my love. It makes me so thrilled that you’re obviously happy.”

I swallow past the lump of emotion in my throat that I refuse to acknowledge at this moment as I hold Louisa’s gaze. Her eyes are only for me, as mine are for her. She knows I’m talking about her, and it pleases me to see that she enjoys it. I want to tell everyone. If I were a social media kind of guy, I’d tell the world. But telling my mom is all that matters.

“I am, Mom. I really am.”

And to make sure that never changes, I have to deal with Mikayla.





I lean on the ladder, my chin on my hands while I wait for one of my sisters to pass me books, but really, I’m in this position to watch Ciaran. His legs are out in front of him, and he’s leaning on his elbow on the armrest, his phone to his ear, looking like a buffet of yumminess. Though, that is not what’s captured my attention. It’s the grin on his lips. It’s so genuine, so happy, and so beautiful. I heard my name, and I’m pretty sure he is talking about me. With that knowledge and the smile on his face, it’s easy to say I feel beyond special.

I feel adored.


Oh great, I’m thinking of the l-word after a week. I need to remember this moment when I get annoyed with the heroine in whatever love story I read next. I am no longer allowed to bitch, moan, and cuss at the heroine anymore.

For I am a victim of instalove.

I press my hand to my chest as my heart slams into my ribs, reminding me how deeply I already feel for Ciaran. How badly I want to be his forever and then some. Just as quickly as that feeling washes over me, so does the fear of rejection, and it stuns me. Hits me square in the chest. Soon, the what-ifs start swirling in my head. What if he doesn’t feel the same? What if he never does? What if this is just a means to end? What if he gets to the NHL and leaves me behind?

Before another what-if can assault me, Ciaran shifts his attention to me, and his smirk turns to a full-out grin that makes his eyes shine. As I gaze into his gorgeous eyes, I think, what if he loves me too? What if he is made just for me? What if he is everything I’ve been looking for? What if, no matter what happens, we’ll be just fine because we love each other?

Well, I like that line of thinking.

Because what if he is my forever and more?

Before I can run to him, I’m smacked on my ass by the back of a book. I glance down to Eliza, who is looking up at me with a gleam in her eyes. I wiggle my ass to her and grin. “Oh yes, Daddy. Harder,” I moan, and she snorts with laughter. And I don’t miss the way Ciaran’s head snaps back up and his eyes lock on us. Heat swirls in those blue gems, and when he reads the situation, he laughs as he shakes his head.

Oh, I love him.

“Care to do some work instead of ogling your lover boy?”

I glare at Eliza, but even I can’t hide my smile. I reach for the books, shelving them, then take a stack from Elliot and another from Clara. I turn to take more, but I find that Ciaran is looking up at me from the bottom of the ladder. He cups the back of my calf, rubbing his thumb into the muscle of my leg.

“Can we do that later?” he asks in a low voice, just for me.

I giggle as I step down so we are at eye level. “I’m sure we can make that happen.”

Heat burns in his eyes as he slides his hands up the backs of my thighs to my ass. “Don’t tease me, Lou. I just decided I want you on this ladder.”

I run my tongue along my bottom lip.

“Your ass bright red,” he murmurs, squeezing said ass. “And then coming apart, holding on for dear life, as I suck you whole into my mouth.”

God above, his mouth is filthy, and I love it.

Breathless, I say, “It’s truly the only thing missing from Beauty and the Beast, huh?”

His rough chuckle sends lust straight to my gut. “My beauty,” he says, grazing my cheek with the backs of his knuckles.

“Beast,” I murmur, leaning into his touch. Before I can stop myself, my curiosity gets the better of me. “Who were you talking to?”

“My mom.” He runs his thumb along my lip. “I told her I’m seeing someone special, and she wants to meet you.”

“Let me know. I’m there.”

His eyes burn for me, hooded and hot. “I need to go run some errands.”

I hate the disappointment that shoots through me. He has to leave me. Not only does he have a life outside me, but it’s his job. I can’t just keep him only for myself.


“When will you be home—er, sorry. I mean— Oh my God, I’m sorry,” I sputter, and his eyes widen a bit, as does the grin that covers his face. I groan inwardly and shake my head, feeling so stupid. “I mean, are you coming back here? Or going to your apartment?”

“I brought a bag.”

Giddiness wiggles its way to my heart. “Oh.”

“Do you want to eat out or eat in? I can pick something up on the way back.”

“Whatever you want,” I say, pressing my hands into his chest, and while I don’t say it, it’s clear that I’m down for whatever as long as it means he comes back.

“I vote for Chinese.”

At Eliza’s comment, we both look over at her.

She waves. “Yeah, we’re all here, and I do live here.”

My younger sisters all giggle as Ciaran chuckles, his eyes darting back to mine. “Chinese?”


He leans in, kissing me hard and so thoroughly, I clutch his chest for balance. He squeezes my ass, his other hand cupping my ribs as he draws smaller, sweet kisses out of me. When he presses his forehead to mine, his eyes hold my attention, and I feel like he needs to say something.

Winded and not wanting him to leave, I ask, “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just gotta take care of some things.”

I’m stalling. “Anything I can help with?”

He nips at my nose. “Just be you.”

My heart swells, my stomach clenches, and I almost scream the words in his face. I kiss his lips then his nose before nodding. “Go on, before I kidnap you and only feed you muffins.”

His eyes dance with mine. “You make that sound like a bad thing.”

He smacks my butt and then winks at me as he backs away. He tears his gaze from me and then looks to my sisters. “Ladies, don’t tease her too much.”

Clara snorts. “Oh, it’s on.”

Elliot nods. “I’m gonna make her wish she never kissed you in front of me.”

Eliza laughs loudly. “Teasing is our love language.”

Ciaran only laughs, looking over his shoulder at me. “Bye, my love.”

My love.

I wave in a sparkly, Ciaran-induced daze before I exhale when he goes out the door. I feel three sets of eyes on me, and sure enough, my sisters are grinning at me before all talking at once.

“Lou is in looove!”

“Lou and Ciaran sitting in a tree!”

“Well, that escalated quickly,” Eliza muses. “He went from unable to look you in the eye to eye-fucking you in front of your sisters with no restraint whatsoever.”

I beam, waggling my brows at her. “Oh, there was restraint. Trust me.”

Clara giggles happily as she sits in my desk chair, propping her feet up. “I think he’s dreamy.”

Elliot leans against the desk. “For real. I think you two will be married before Austen and Dimitri.”

I roll my eyes, and Eliza asks, “Did you tell him about New Beginnings?”

I instantly tense. Damn it, I loathe those two words. I don’t usually call the cult that I came from by its name. I hate the title because it wasn’t a New Beginning but rather one of the nine circles of hell.

“Is that why you were crying?”

I sometimes hate how well my sister knows me. “Somewhat. I didn’t get into the nitty-gritty details.”

Elliot looks away, and Eliza grimaces. My baby sister is the only one brave enough to ask, “Did you tell him about Peter?”

Hearing my ex’s name makes my stomach twist with fear.

Eliza glares at our baby sister. “Clara, why would you even give his name life? Come on.”

Elliot smacks her. “Exactly. Gosh.”

Clara quickly becomes guilt-ridden and looks down at her feet. “Sorry, Lou.”

I wave her off and turn to climb the ladder. “No, I haven’t.” I feel them watching me, and they don’t need to ask for me to know what they’re wondering. I shrug. “He is nothing. He doesn’t deserve to be acknowledged. Especially to someone I care so much for.”

I’m met with silence as I fuss with the books, making sure they’re straight and trying to avoid answering my sisters’ questions. I assume the conversation is over, but then it’s Eliza who whispers, “Ciaran would want to know.”

I tense up, my heart hammering in my chest. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It will to him,” she says softly, and I hadn’t realized she’d moved until she grasps my ankle. I look down at her, and she gives me a tentative smile. Gone is the teasing, replaced by fear and hatred of what we’ve been through. “He seems like the kind of guy who wants to know anything and everything about you.”

I don’t acknowledge her comment or even respond, because I know she’s right.

And I hate when she’s right.





My relationship with Cruz may be a bit toxic, with the back-and-forth we do, but I knew when I called him, he’d be there for me. I’ve been driving around for hours, trying to clear my head and find my balls to call Mikayla. Each time I try, I’m reminded how much I hate the sound of her voice, and I don’t go through with it. I need to. I can’t go back without doing so. It’s not fair to Louisa. It’s not fair to my mom to deal with my crazy ex, and it’s sure as hell not fair that I have to call her at all, just to put a stop to all this.

But then my mom always did say that life isn’t fair.

Cruz listens intently as I explain everything, basically word-vomiting all over him. To my surprise, he doesn’t say much or even interject with his own witty comments or an “I told you so,” but then, he knows how serious it is with Mikayla. How serious it is that I am unloading on him.

“Fuck, dude. That’s a lot.”

I nod as I sit in front of the only Chinese restaurant in town. It’s good, and I hope the girls like it. I ordered enough for Louisa and all her sisters, in case they join us. “Only you would fall for the owner’s granddaughter.”

I don’t correct him because I am falling. There is no denying it or even trying to resist. I want everything that Louisa can offer me, on a personal level. “Yeah, I know.”

“But from what you’re saying, I get the feeling she’s going to take care of it. And hell, if she can get you called up, let her.”

“No, I don’t want that. You know me. I don’t take handouts.”

“Righteous fuck,” he mutters, and I scoff. “I mean, all you can do is trust her and hope Davenport doesn’t kick you off the team and ruin your career.”

I groan, leaning my head back. “God, I’m glad I called you.”

“Right? I’m basically your Dr. Phil,” he says, and I roll my eyes. “I think it’ll be fine. Do you trust her?”

“I do,” I admit, breathing in deeply. “I kind of want to contact him myself, though.”

“Not surprised. But you might want to ask her how she feels about that.”

“True,” I agree, sighing heavily. “And what about Mikayla?”

He scoffs. “Hire a hit man?”

“My mom would do it, probably.”

“Probably, but I like her and don’t want her in jail.”

“Yeah, she’s a cool chick.”

We laugh in agreement before he says, “I think you need to stop being a crybaby bitch and call the chick who belongs in a padded room. You have too much shit going on to deal with her psycho ass.”

As much as I don’t want to agree, I know he’s right. “How would you go about it?”

I’m met with Cruz’s laughter. “Bro, I’d tell her to go fuck herself—and her momma—and to never contact you again. Short and simple.”

I exhale the breath I was holding. “I feel like if I call her, I’m going to go off and unload.”

I can practically hear him thinking. After taking a deep breath, he asks, “Would that be so bad? Maybe you need to. Maybe that’s your closure.”

“I don’t know,” I admit, considering his question. “I don’t want to talk to her. I hate her.”

“I know,” he says slowly. “But I think you may need to tell her your truth, get it off your chest, and then nothing will be holding you back.”

I like the sound of that and how it makes me feel. We hang up after I thank him, and the store owner comes to my car to give me the food. I place the bags on my passenger seat and then send a quick text to Lou. She answers when I’m turning out of the parking lot.

Louisa: Can’t wait to see you. I’m hungry. For you. And, I guess, some lo mein.

I grin from ear to ear as I head toward the shop. Cruz is right. I can’t truly fall for this girl and give her my heart until I let go of what broke it. I feel my heart start beating harder the closer I get to the shop. When I pull up beside Louisa’s Nissan Rogue, I put my truck in park and reach for my phone. I find Mikayla’s number, and I stare at it for a few before hitting it.

I feel my body going into panic mode. My skin tingles, my heart is racing, and I feel like I’m going to puke. My chest tightens when her voice fills the line.


Instantly, I’m taken back to the moment she told me her daughter wasn’t mine, but her neighbor Wyatt’s instead. She was wearing a USA tank top and short shorts that showed off her thin legs. Her bright-blond hair was in a slicked-back ponytail. She was beautiful, America’s girl, and I mean that in every sense of the word. She slept with all of Michigan, while convincing me she loved me.

“Mikayla, it’s Ciaran.”

She gasps. “CC! Hey!” Her nickname for me makes me cringe. I wasn’t a fan back then, but I loved her, so I went with it. Now, though, I never want to hear it again. “It’s so good to hear your voice!”

“Let me be clear. This isn’t a call to reconcile. I’m calling to tell you to leave my mom alone,” I demand, my hand shaking against the wheel. “Don’t go to her house. Don’t call her. Leave her alone.”

“I mean, I only contacted her to get to you.”

“Stop,” is all I can get out before I clear my throat. “I have nothing to say to you. I don’t want you, I don’t want to see you, hear your voice, or even be in the same room as you. You broke me, Mikayla. Into pieces.”

“I was young. Like, come on, we were good together.”

I’m speechless at her retort. With the restraint of a saint, I bite out, “Mikayla, you slept with twelve different dudes while I was gone for a season. That’s basically a dude a month.”

“Like I said, I was young. I’ve grown, and my love for you hasn’t ever stopped.”

“We have two very different definitions of love,” I explain. “When I love someone, I could never hurt them how you hurt me. I would never lie the way you lied. Deceived, betrayed… I mean, hell, Mikayla, you put me through the wringer.”

“I wouldn’t do it again,” she tells me with a laugh that sets my teeth on edge. “Give me a chance.”

“A chance?” I ask, and the laugh I release isn’t one of humor. “You told me you were pregnant⁠—”

“I never said it was yours.”

I close my eyes, the grief of that moment swamping me again. “No, but you should have. And waiting a month was appalling.”

“I was confused. I wanted you to be the dad.”

“You’re a con artist,” I snap. “You only want pleasure and money and go from guy to guy until you drain them, and then you move on.”

“Oh my God, don’t be dramatic. It wasn’t like that, and you know it. I love you.”

“You love what I can give you,” I throw back, my hatred for her growing. “You never loved me.”

“That’s not true! I do love you. You’re just kind of boring. Like, always reading and never wanting to go out. I want to have fun, do things⁠—”

“Exactly,” I say, cutting her off. “You want to spend my money and show off. I don’t want that.”

“No, you’d rather read and get lost in a world you could have if you went out.”

“I don’t want to go out. I don’t need to go out. I’m good. But really, this is neither here nor there. I will never allow you to do that to me.”

“You’re making a mistake.”

“No, I’m dodging a bullet. Though, even if I hadn’t found the girl of my dreams, I wouldn’t have given you another chance.”

I’m met with silence. “You’re dating someone?”

“I am, and I’m happy,” I stress. “Listen to me, Mikayla. I moved on, I mourned you, and now I’ve found someone who has given me more in a week than you did in four years.”

She scoffs. “If you’re trying to make me jealous⁠—”

“I have no intention or desire to do any such thing. I don’t want anything to do with you. I don’t even want you to want me. You are dead to me.”

I can tell my words sting by how venom laces her tone. “Whatever. You’ll come crawling back.”

“I won’t,” I promise. “Not when I’m fully put back together and ready to love again.”

With that, I hang up and promptly block her number. I lean back in the seat, letting out a heavy breath, and I notice Louisa is coming out the back door. Her brows are creased with concern as she approaches the truck. I throw the door open, and she comes up beside me as I meet her worried gaze.

“Clara said you were out here talking on the phone and looked upset. Are you okay?”

She reaches for my neck, cupping it and stroking the base. I slowly nod, covering her hand with mine. “Fine.”

Lou’s gaze searches mine. “You sure?”

“I was on the phone with Mikayla,” I tell her, and I hate that she stiffens at the mention of my ex’s name. “She’s been bothering my mom, trying to get back with me, apparently. And I had to put a stop to that.”

She blinks at me and swallows hard. “Did it go okay?”

“Better than I could have expected,” I admit because it did go well. I said what I needed, and I feel so much better. I grasp her hips, pulling her in close. “I told her that she’s wasting her time. I don’t want her, haven’t wanted her in years, and that the girl I’m with has made me feel more in a week than she did in four years.”

Her brow softens, and it’s a beautiful sight to watch her concerns float away.

“That I found the girl of my dreams and I’m happy.”

Her smile is dazzling as a sweet blush warms her cheeks. “The girl of your dreams, huh?”

I lean in, pressing my nose to hers. “Yup, I have everything I want in my hands.”

Her lips part before she cups my face, her palms warm and inviting against my flesh. “As do I.”

As our lips meet, my heart swells for this girl.

The girl I’m hoping is falling for me—just as quickly as I’m falling for her.





The work week goes quickly, between preorders and talking about the new releases in the store, and it’s easy to say I’m busy every day.

At night, I’m Ciaran’s.

He hasn’t slept at his apartment since we fell into my bed together that first time. I know his roommate has an issue with it. But me? I’m loving every second. There is something special about falling asleep in his arms and waking up either sprawled across him or with his large body tangled with mine. Each day, something new of his invades my space. Razors and a toothbrush have been added to my bathroom. He has a mug in the kitchen, and his shoes are by the door. One of his hoodies is on the back of the chair in the kitchen, and his charger is plugged into the wall on his side of the bed. His nightstand has a few books, his reading glasses, and his water tumbler.

It all happened so quickly, effortlessly, and I wouldn’t change a damn thing. I love it. I love him in my space. Eliza isn’t a fan of the noise, but I ordered her noise-canceling headphones the day she came home, so she hasn’t complained much since they arrived. Mostly, I think she’s too happy for me to really be annoyed by us. Also, it isn’t like Ciaran bothers her. When he isn’t with me, he reads or watches TV with her. They get along fantastically and love to team up against me and tell me how messy I am.

Of course I’m dating the one guy who is a clean freak like my sister.

A wide smile pulls at my lips as that thought comes to mind. As much as I bristle at the teaming up they do against me, I also love it. They like each other, and that’s all I could truly ask for. For my sister, my best friend, to adore the guy that I love. Not that I’ve told him that, or that he has said it to me, but sometimes I feel like he wants to. But then I remind myself it’s been like ten days and only my dumb self falls as quickly as I have. Either way, I’ve fallen deeply for him, and it’s time to own up to that.

I pull into the player and staff entrance of Davenport Arena and park near where I know my peepaw will be. I haven’t been to the arena much the last couple weeks, but it isn’t like I’m expected to be here. I only came for the food when my peepaw was showing off the arena to all the developers and team owners. To make an appearance. Peepaw loves showing off his granddaughters, says we make him look approachable. I don’t know how—Clara, Elliot, and I have really bad resting bitch faces, but I guess Eliza is all sweet and lovely.

After parking, I head in, using my keycard to enter the back way that is reserved for executive staff. I greet security as I go through and then head toward my peepaw’s office. Davenport Arena is huge—and a huge addition to this town. I wish more people would realize that. Tennessee wants to be a hockey state… Well, here we are, providing an enormous building for hockey to be played in. I adjust Ciaran’s jersey on my shoulders before tucking my hands in the sleeves since it’s chilly in here. I can’t wait for the game tonight. I’m excited for Davenport Arena to put on its first-ever game for the Knoxville Bears, but also, I’m ready to see Ciaran play. I’ve watched videos of him on YouTube, and he’s damn good. I’m ready to cheer him on and then let him score when he gets home.


I startle at my name being called before I turn to see my peepaw coming down the hall toward his office that I was just about to enter. I smile brightly at him as he envelops me in a huge hug. “Darling, you know the game isn’t for another four hours, right?”

I nod, hugging him back. “Yeah, I wanted to see you before.”

He beams, his bushy white eyebrows rising. “Little ole me? What do you wanna see me for?” He wraps an arm around my shoulders, tucking me into his side. He’s a big man, over six foot, over two hundred pounds, with an even bigger personality. I love this man, the father I never had. He’d searched for and found us, over and over, since I was born. He would beg my mom, his daughter, to leave and he’d help her restart her life, but she never wanted to. She didn’t want to leave my father and then, when he passed, the Grandmaster. Meanwhile, my sisters and I ran to Peepaw. Without a second thought, he gave us a home and helped us build our dreams.

He saved us just as much as we saved ourselves.

Peepaw pulls at my jersey. “Look at you in your Bears gear. I like it.” He pushes the door open and lets me go in first. “Oh, it’s a Carter jersey. Good guy. He’ll be in the big leagues soon enough. You a fan?”

I sit down and look up at him as he walks around his desk. “You could say that.”

Peepaw’s crooked grin is on full display as he settles in his big chair. It groans with his weight as he leans back. “I hadn’t realized you’d had the opportunity to meet him.”

“He’s a reader, has been coming to my shop since it opened.”

Peepaw seems surprised. “I think I knew that. All the guys will be on their phones or the game consoles, and he’d be in a chair, reading. He’s a shy kid. I’m curious how he’ll handle the captain role.”

“He was born for it,” I find myself saying, and of course, I have that stupid dreamy grin on my face that only Ciaran draws out of me. Peepaw’s grin drops instantly. Fear creeps its way into my chest at the sight, and he leans on his elbows. He presses his thumbs into his eye sockets and groans.

“You’re seeing him?”

I press my lips together as I nod. “I do see him. A lot.”

“Louisa, don’t be funny,” he chastises, and I swallow, the anxiety of all this making me want to flee. “Are you involved with him?”

“I am,” I say proudly, holding his gaze. “He’s very important to me, and I wanted to tell you so that we don’t find ourselves with another Dimitri Titov situation.”

Peepaw exhales heavily and then inhales until his lungs are full before letting out another hard exhale. Almost as if he’s taking cleansing breaths.

I watch him, and my stomach twists. “We won’t have another Dimitri Titov situation, will we?”

“You girls are going to give me a heart attack, aren’t you?”

His eyes are accusatory, and I can’t help but smile. “I mean, you put five girls who grew up in a cult in the vicinity of hockey players. What did you think would happen?”

“Nothing!” he booms. “They should be scared to touch you guys.”

I grimace. “They are when they find out that we’re yours.”

“So, you bait them, get them hooked, and then tell them about me?” he asks, his face the picture of annoyance.

I hold up my hands since I guess I did do that. “Unintentionally.”

“Like it would matter,” he mutters. “You girls are something. Of course these boys come sniffing. I should have moved y’all to Canada.”

“There are hockey players there too.”

He gives me a dark look. “I’d have moved you to the part where they aren’t.”

I don’t point out that I don’t think that place exists. Instead, I say, “I really like Ciaran, Peepaw. A lot.”

He taps his fingers against his desk. “Is it serious?”

“It is,” I confirm, and when he looks at me, I can see the concern in his green eyes. “I may have rushed into this—my feelings came very fast. But I feel that after everything that happened, I’m owed happiness. Ciaran is my happiness.”

The tapping stops and he presses his lips together, but his chest still rises and falls very quickly. “So, you’re in love with him?”

I feel my face burn with a blush. “I am.” We stare at each other, and when a tear slides down his cheek, the breath is knocked out of me. “Peepaw?”

He wipes it away quickly, waving me off. “Oh, my Louisa, I don’t think you realize how scared and worried I’ve been about you. After everything your mom subjected you to, after how you protected your sisters, and that sham of a marriage… Darling, I feared you’d never be able to love.” My heart stops dead in my chest as he holds my gaze. “I prayed and hoped that someone would find you and make you feel all those things your grandma did for me. What your momma should have had.”

When my own tear leaks free, I wipe it away and then another as I hold his gaze.

“I wish it weren’t one of my boys because I don’t want people thinking you’re getting him ahead—and Ciaran will make the big leagues. But it is what it is, and I can promise you we won’t have ourselves another Titov situation.”

Ciaran will make the big leagues.

That statement makes my chest hurt, but I mask it with a grin. “Thank you.”

“Anything for you, darling.” He stands up, and I do the same, meeting him for a tight hug. As he kisses my temple, I wish I weren’t thinking about Ciaran going into the NHL, but I am.

Ciaran will make the big leagues.

And what will that mean for us?





I look around the locker room, my teammates all seated and getting ready for the game in their own ways. For me, I meditated, I cried, and then I threw up. Good times all around. Each of us is dressed, and the only thing missing are our helmets. Mine is in my hands, and with my fingers in the ear holes, I spin it around to release some of my nerves. I try to focus on the new orange carpet or the curtains, but it’s not working. I’m ready. I want to hit the ice.

I want to see Louisa’s face when I score.

God, I miss her. I left early this morning, napped here at the arena, and I haven’t been home yet. I mean, to her apartment. Though, at the rate I keep leaving my crap there, I may as well call it my home too. I’ve moved in without either of us saying I have. I’m unsure if we’re not acknowledging this fact because if we do, we’d have to question if we’re moving too fast. We might be. But when you know, you know. And I know I’m happy sharing a space with Louisa.

More than happy.

When the roar of the crowd reaches into the locker room, I take a deep breath. The arena is sold out, which is huge when so many people tried to say they wouldn’t support the venue. Or the Bears. Well, Dan Davenport offered the town free tickets, and now, we’re sold out. Or at capacity. However you wanna look at it, the arena is full and fucking loud.

Give country boys an orange shirt and some beer, and they’re down to party.

I stand up and find myself pacing as I spin my helmet on my fingers. I nod to each of my teammates as I pass by, waiting for the cue to go. I’ve already given my speech, which was all uplifting and shit but very short, but I wonder if it stuck for my teammates. Everyone is visibly nervous, and my stomach aches at the sight. Maybe I didn’t uplift as much as I wanted.

I clear my throat, and a few eyes move toward me. “I’m proud of this team,” I start, still spinning my helmet on my fingers. “We have worked hard, come together, and now we’re going to show why the Knoxville Bears will be the best team in the league.” The guys start to nod, and pride settles in my chest. “We will prove to this town we belong here. We will win, and we will do it as a team.”

The room fills with agreement and loud chants. I put my helmet on my head and then start a slow clap. The guys join in, the room loud and full of excitement as we start to clap louder and in time. Everyone gets up, meeting in the middle as we clap faster, and when we stop, the room explodes in “K Bears!” We tap our fists, clasp shoulders, and hype one another up as the cue comes for us to line up in the hall.

The crowd is loud as they sing along with Jay-Z’s “Run This Town.” At the back of the line, I rock back and forth as I watch and listen to each of my teammate’s names and numbers. Cruz stands in front of me, second to last since he’s the starting goalie.

He glances back at me and nods. “Ready?”

“Ready as I’m gonna be.” I laugh, and he flashes me a wide smile.

“And Number Ninety, our starting goalie, Alejandro Cruz!”

I slap him on the back as he smacks his gloves together and heads through the tunnel. I’m thankful for how loud the crowd cheers for my friend, and I step forward since I’m next. My stomach is in knots, and I may puke once more. Might help. But before I can do that, the announcer is calling my name.

“And now, the captain of the Knoxville Bears, Number Four, Ciaran Carter!”

I take off in a run, hitting the ice with ease as the crowd erupts. The next few moments are a blur as I look around, taking everything in. The crowd is electric, the lights blinding and the music deafening, and I’m obsessed with it all. Eagerness courses through me, and soon, I’m searching for my love.

She has her grandfather’s suite here, but when I’d told her I’d gotten her glass seats, she’d said she wanted to be as close as she could to me. I look to the left, right by the home team penalty box, and there she is. Her eyes are bright blue and green, swirling with all the excitement that fills her gorgeous face. Her hair is half up, curled, and she’s wearing light makeup. My jersey looks stunning on her, but it’s the pride in her eyes that has my chest puffing up and cockiness urging me on.

I wink at her, and her grin takes up her whole face. I may not be able to hear her, but I know she’s screaming only for me, and damn if she doesn’t look incredible doing so. I tear my gaze from hers and stand with my team as the national anthem is sung. Next is the honorary puck drop, and when Dan Davenport walks the orange carpet, twirling a puck in his hand, my stomach drops at the sight of him. I should have known he would be the one to drop the puck. Though, that doesn’t ease my concern that he could chuck that puck at my head.

He comes to the end of the carpet, stopping between the captain of the Georgia PuckDawgs and me. He shakes the captain’s hand and then turns to me, holding out his hand. I take it, and he pins me with a look. He leans in, his head angling to the side so that no one can see or hear him speak.

“I don’t have to say that if you hurt her, you’re done. Correct?”

I look over at him just as he looks at me. Davenport’s eyes are hard, serious, with no humor whatsoever. While I’m glad Lou talked to him, I wish I were more prepared. I could have come up with a speech of promise. To reassure him that I have no intention of ever hurting Louisa. Only loving her, fully.

But I don’t have time to say any of that, only to nod and agree. “Correct.”

Davenport nods, and we line up. And when he drops the puck, I win it with ease. I pick up the puck, shaking hands with the other captain before handing it back to Davenport. Louisa’s grandpa nods to me and then turns to head back down the carpet. I glance over my shoulder, and Louisa is watching me, concern furrowing her brows. I flash her a bright smile, and she sends me one back, mouthing, “Good luck.”

Gone are the nerves, replaced by confidence that Louisa is basically feeding me with just her eyes and her smile. I have never felt like this when I play, this cocky feeling that I’m the best out here and I’m about kick everyone’s ass. I’ve always been very confident in my game, but now, with Louisa watching and knowing that she wants me to succeed, I feel like I’m even better than I thought. I want to prove that to her. I want her to see how she inspires me to be the best I can be. A bolt of energy runs through me, and I’m ready to show off for her.

To thank her for being here for me.





From the moment Ciaran hits the ice, I decide I will never miss a game. He belongs on the ice. He moves across it like it’s land and not a sheet of slick, frozen water. I’ve watched my fair share of hockey, but Ciaran—and I am well aware I’m biased—he’s magic on it. The way he moves, confidently, eager, makes me think of how he makes love to me. He plays thoroughly, just as thoroughly as he makes me scream, over and over. He’s a sight to behold, and in just the first two minutes of his being on the ice, I know he belongs in the big leagues. That the Knoxville Bears are too small for him.

He’s destined for bigger things.

As much as I want to be scared of that, I can’t deny it. I don’t want him to leave, but I would never hold him back. I want him to succeed, and I know he will.


My mind doesn’t change with each game I watch. It’s been three weeks of home games, and each time, I find another part of his game that impresses me and makes me so proud to be his. In ten games, he has scored fourteen goals. He is the most talked-about player on all the AHL blogs—and yes, I read them all. Just as I tell everyone, even the blogs know he owns the ice. Watching him lead his team makes me so damn hot, I can’t keep my hands to myself once he gets home.

And yes, my apartment is no longer mine; it’s ours.

Oh, and Eliza’s.

My sister is beyond supportive, and we have adjusted without a hitch. I think it’s because she knows how much I love him. So many times, I’ve wanted to tell him, especially after each game when he comes home. He always looks so proud, so excited to see me. And when I tell him how fully he impresses me, he has his mouth on me, inside me, and owns me just the way I want. He has me in a state of constant bliss, and all I want to do is scream how utterly in love with him I am. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t yet. There have been so many opportunities, so many hidden moments when I could have just whispered my feelings, but it’s not like he has said those words to me.

I feel loved. I do. It’s little things. Like how he holds my spot in my book for me when I forget my bookmark in the shop. Or when he brings me wine for my bath. Or how he holds me at night, his nose nuzzled into my neck before he drifts off. Eliza says we’re boring, that we never go out and do things, but why do we need to? We have everything we need when we’re home. Food, books, and each other.

It’s easy—God, it’s so easy—but surely that means that something is bound to happen. I don’t know what it could be since he completely cut off his ex and my peepaw is actually keeping his word and not trying to ruin Ciaran. He isn’t trying to be Ciaran’s friend, but he isn’t being a dick, which is always a win. We are good, Ciaran and I. Really good.

I can’t help but assume the thing that will mess this up between us is the fact that I haven’t told him about my ex. I know I should, but I don’t want to. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean anything. I never loved Peter, and we weren’t even really married. Only bound by the cult, which means absolutely nothing to me.

But Eliza’s words still haunt me, He seems like the kind of guy who wants to know anything and everything.

I probably should let him know about that part of my life since doing so would be truly closing the door on all that, but I hate the idea of giving the cult any more of my time. They got enough; I want to enjoy the life I fought for. I want to enjoy being with Ciaran. I want to tell him that I love him. That I’m proud of him. That I love being his. He is the one I chose because he makes me feel something I’ve never felt in my life.


When I hear the front doorknob jiggle before the door opens, I look over my shoulder from my place on the ladder, which I have climbed to fix a shelf, to find him coming in. He looks up from the door, and when his eyes settle on me, heat spreads in my belly at how his eyes darken. I’m wearing only his jersey, though I know he can’t tell that. I take a step down the ladder so I can meet him halfway to congratulate him on his win, but he shakes his head and I pause.

“Don’t move.”

He shuts the door behind himself, dropping his bag to the side before leaning into the door. He has on his game-day suit, dark gray with a light-orange shirt under it, and a gray tie. “Louisa.”

I swallow hard as I turn on the ladder, sitting on one of the rungs and crossing my legs to tease him. “Ciaran.”

My lips curve, and his eyes are hooded as he drinks me in. “Tell me you’re not wearing a goddamn thing under that jersey.”

I lick my lip then trap my tongue. “Ciaran, I’m not wearing a goddamn thing under your jersey.”

He presses his hand into his chest as he lets out a long breath, rubbing the spot above his heart. “Have I told you you’re beautiful today?”

I shake my head. “Not even once.”

“I’m an asshole,” he announces, pushing off the door as he pulls at his tie. “I should have told you no fewer than a hundred times today.”

I uncross my legs and come down a step so I’m closer to eye level. “A hundred?”

He throws his tie to the side then undoes his cuff links, his beautiful blue eyes never leaving mine. He steps up to the bottom of the ladder, and I look down at him as he grips the ladder behind me. “Truly, a hundred. That’s how many times I thought it.”

Heat creeps up my chest, and I take another step down, finally meeting his eyes. They narrow as he leans in. “Didn’t I tell you not to move?”

I pout. “But I wanted to kiss you and tell you how proud I am of you.”

He cups my cheek then the back of my thigh, rubbing his thumb over my flesh. “But I said not to move so I could show you how much I really like scoring and knowing that when I turn, you’re there, screaming only for me.”

I cup his face and press my lips to his. It’s a gentle kiss, a sweet one, and when I pull back, I say, “I’m so proud of you.”

He kisses me again. “It won’t be the same next game, without you there.”

I run my thumb along his jaw. “No, but I’ll watch on TV, and I’ll scream so loud you’ll hear me, for sure.”

“Oh, I know I will.”

“And when you call me after the game, I’ll flash my boobs at you for each goal.”

“What if I get another hat trick?”

I grin. “Then I’ll answer the phone naked.”

He groans loudly, snaking his arm around my waist. “And you’ll miss me?”

I scoff. “Not at all. I’ll get my bed back.” He bites my neck, and I giggle loudly, which has him grinning against where he bit. “Miss you isn’t the phrase I’d use.”

“No?” he asks, lifting his head so he can see me. “What would you use?”

My heart is heavy, and even though I’m trying to joke around, my voice is sad as I whisper, “I’m going to be miserable without you.”

Ciaran’s eyes darken. “You think?”

“I know,” I promise, running my fingers along the hair on his upper lip. He hasn’t shaved in a couple days, and I have to admit, I really like this rugged look. “Minutes will feel like hours, hours will feel like days, and days will feel like weeks.” Our eyes meet in a shared sadness. Even though we knew this was going to happen, be it from road games or him being called up to the Assassins, I don’t think there would ever be enough time to prepare. I’ve gotten used to him in my bed. I’ve gotten used to us as a unit…with Eliza, God bless her. I don’t want him to leave. Ever. “You haven’t even left yet, and if I could, I’d kidnap you and keep you all to myself.”

“And do what to me?”

“Anything I want,” I insist, nipping at his bottom lip as all kinds of dirty thoughts come to mind. My pussy weeps for him as I stay locked in his hooded and dangerous gaze. I don’t have to ask; I know he is picturing me before him with his cock deep in my throat. Damn it, I want him.

“Anything you want? Hmm, I could be down. But what about what I want?” he asks before sliding his tongue from my ear to my chin.

“Which is?” I ask breathlessly as I get lost in the sensation of his tongue on my skin.

He trails his teeth along my neck. “To taste your pussy right here.”

“You’d have no objections from me.”

“None?” he asks.

I take in a shaky breath as he moves his hand from the back of my thigh to the front.

“Never from me.”

He kisses the side of my jaw before running his thumb along the slit of my pussy. “Mmm. Always so wet for me.”

I arch against his thumb. “Only you. Please…touch me.”

He chuckles against my jaw and then presses the pad of his thumb into my throbbing clit. I buck against his thumb, crying out from the pressure, and Ciaran watches, heat in those shining eyes.

Heat that is all mine.

Just as I am all his.





I am not one for sex after a game. I’m usually exhausted and dead once I leave the rink, but before, I wasn’t coming home to Louisa. Now that I do, all it takes it one look in those bluish-greenish-brown eyes, and a bolt of energy hits me square in my chest. I’ve never had someone waiting for me, and Lou always does.

I could get home past midnight, and she’d be awake, waiting, ready to tell me how great I did and listen to me bitch about bad calls and dick players. The feeling of having her support me, to be there to decompress with, is something I’ve never experienced before. I know I haven’t lived with another woman before, but I don’t think it’s that.

I truly think it’s Louisa.

All of her. And fuck if I’m not completely hers.

I press my thumb harder into her throbbing clit, and my breath comes out in spurts. I slide my thumb down off her nub and through her wetness to her entrance. Her eyes darken as I slide it into her, wiggling my thick digit and then capturing the cry that leaves her mouth with my own. I swirl the tip of my index finger around her nub, gently, slowly, but enough to make her moan into my mouth. I pull back, kissing her chin before smacking her thigh. “Step up.”

She whines a bit but does as I ask, while my thumb stays in her searing heat. She feels so good—tight, wet, and all fucking mine. Her slick channel has my cock straining in my slacks. It’s pure steel at this point, and I want to bury myself deep inside her.

My need to taste her is greater.

When she’s where I want her, I push my jersey up to reveal her pussy for my viewing pleasure. She takes hold of the hem of the jersey, tucking it under her chin as her eyes burn deep into mine. I move my gaze from her face and take in her center. I love so much how her thighs touch, how there is no hair covering her pussy, but most of all, how wet she is for me. I place a kiss to her mound, and she rewards me with a little mewl of a noise that has my toes curling in my boots. I kiss her again at the hood of her clit, then the spot where her thighs touch, before running my tongue along her slit. She cries out, arching forward for more, and a deep chuckle leaves my mouth, which has her squirming, much to my delight. My grip on the ladder tightens as I dip my tongue into her and find her clit with the tip.

That has her moaning just how I want. I swirl my tongue between her lips, grazing her clit, but I want to see it. I want more. I pull back, looking up at her. “Open yourself for me.”

Her breathing is already labored, but I swear it speeds up as she moves her hand down and uses her index and middle finger to expose herself fully to me. “Yes, my love. Just like that. You see what I see?”

She only nods, breathless.

“Fucking beautiful.”

She groans loudly, bucking her hips up, almost as if she is offering herself to me. Unable to resist, I lean in, taking that little nub into my mouth. I suck it hard before swirling my tongue along the bundle of nerves. She arches off the ladder, my name coming from her lips over and over and only making me want to please her more. I slide my thumb in and out of her quickly, no rhyme or reason except to bring her to the edge. I take turns, sucking then licking her pulsating clit until she is coming so hard, she almost falls off the ladder.

I don’t let her, though. I hold her hip as I continue fucking her with my thumb, drawing out her pleasure. I pepper her lower half with kisses as she continues to float on her pleasure cloud, and fuck if I don’t love watching her come. Every single inch of her body comes undone, from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. She shakes and thrashes, my name the only sound leaving her lips. She takes a deep breath, and then her gaze falls to me.

“Fucking. Beautiful,” I tell her, in awe of her as I remove my thumb from her body. I bring it between my lips, sucking it and relishing her taste. “And my favorite flavor.”

Her face burns with a blush, and it pleases me greatly as I shake off my jacket, throwing it to the floor. She watches me, her lips parted, panting as I remove my shirt and then undo my pants while toeing out of my boots. Once everything is in a heap on the floor, I reach for her, bringing her down the ladder and entering her with one hard thrust. We both let out our own sounds of pleasure, mine a loud moan, while Lou hisses and then squeezes my cock in the most glorious way. I’m fully sheathed in her, and even though this isn’t the first time, I wish I never had to move. I wish it were totally acceptable for me to walk around with this gorgeous woman on my cock, because I would in a heartbeat.

As I pull out, I take her by the back of her knee, hooking it over my arm and thrusting up into her once more. Her breasts bounce with each thrust, and she holds on for dear life—though, she doesn’t need to. I have her. Completely. Fully. I always will. Each thrust is harder than the last, and I try to calm down by rutting into her while claiming her mouth with mine. Problem with that is kissing Louisa is sometimes better than sex. Her mouth is a dangerous and beautiful thing. She explores my mouth with her tongue between little breathy sighs that have my balls tight and my cock screaming for her.

I’m gonna blow if I don’t stop kissing her. I pull back, and she traps my bottom lip with her teeth, a playful look swirling with the desire in her eyes. My heart slams into my chest at her beauty as I hiss before I thrust hard into her. She cries out, releasing my lip, and I pull all the way out, just to tease her.

“No, please, Ciaran. I need it.”

I chuckle as she tries to lower herself back onto me, but I don’t let her. “I’ll give you what you need.” I hold her leg tighter in my arm then watch as I slowly guide myself back into her. So slow, it’s almost painful, until I’m fully encased in her sweet, delicious heat. “And you need to come on this cock now, Lou. Come for me.”

She cries out as I move all the way out then slam back into her. It only takes two more thrusts until she’s digging her heel into my ass from where her leg is wrapped around my waist while she bellows my name and comes all over me. I am lost in the pleasure she brings me and how fucking beautiful she is on my cock. How well she takes it so deep and so enthusiastically. Seeing her swollen pink heat split open wide over my thick cock is a sight I would kill for. Fuck, I want more. I want all of her. My fingers bite into her thigh, slamming into her over and over. My balls pull up tight, and heat explodes in my gut before I am the one bellowing her name deep from my soul as I thrust up and fill her with my come. She shakes underneath me, her eyes wild as she clings to me, holding me tight against her.

I can’t breathe. I can’t even think as I pant against her bare chest. I shift to the side, kissing one of her boobs before turning to the other to give it the same love. I press a kiss to the middle of her chest, feeling her heart pounding in her chest just as hard as mine is. I then kiss her throat, her jaw, before her mouth meets mine. I melt into her kiss as her arms wrap around my neck, holding me closer than before. When we part, our eyes meet, and I’m in awe of her. She has truly been such a pillar in my life these last couple weeks. She comes to my games, she cheers for me, and then she’s here when I come home to her.

“I’ll be miserable without you too, Lou.”

Her eyes widen for only a moment before she leans her head into mine. “Good. Misery loves company.” I grin for her, and she returns it. “But don’t let it affect your game, you hear me? I’ll be here when you get home.”

I kiss her nose. “Promise?”






“I’m having dreams again.”

Eliza looks up from where she is eating her bagel, but I ignore her, my gaze on my iPad where my therapist looks back at me. I’ve been with Dr. Shaw since I left the cult, and I adore her. She has helped me heal in ways I never thought would be possible. The last couple appointments I’ve had have been just check-ins since I’ve been great, but I think she knew when I called to move my appointment up that something was up. Something I’m not excited to admit or even recognize, but I’m not sleeping, and I need some insight into why.

Dr. Shaw nods, typing on her keyboard as I wait for her to ask me whatever she needs to. I don’t have to look at Eliza to know she feels a bit betrayed that I haven’t told her what I’ve been struggling with since Ciaran left. In my defense, I haven’t wanted to recognize that I’m not sleeping because of these dreams. I tried to brush them off as a one-time thing, but for the last five days, each night has gotten worse. I don’t understand why I’m dreaming again when I haven’t had issues in over a year.

“What exactly are you dreaming, Louisa?”

I swallow hard, and I know Eliza is watching me. “It’s as if that night is playing on repeat,” I admit, looking down at my hands. I pick at my nails, my heart knocking into my ribs, and I close my eyes. I inhale deeply and let it out in a whoosh as my skin tingles. “I wake up in a cold sweat, and I can’t go back to sleep.”

“When did it start again?”

“The first night my boyfriend wasn’t home.” I open my eyes, and Eliza looks stricken. I send her a small smile and shrug. “I’m fine.”

“Hardly,” she mutters, shaking her head. “You’re dreaming of the guy who almost killed you. That’s far from fine.”

Dr. Shaw agrees. “She’s correct, you know.”

I sink my teeth into my lip as I look down at my hands again. “I don’t know why this is happening.” I exhale through my nose. “Do you think it’s because Ciaran isn’t here? I sleep so well with him, and I know it’s been over a year since I had the dreams. But I feel like it’s odd they’re coming back when he’s not here.”

“Maybe. The security Ciaran gives you is gone with his absence.”

“Yeah, but why now?”

“Have you told him about Peter? About what he did?”

Eliza gives me a look, almost as if to remind me she told me so and I’m an idiot. I ignore her and shake my head. “I told Ciaran bits and pieces but not about him.”

“Why haven’t you told Ciaran about Peter?”

“I don’t want to,” I tell her, biting my lip. “I know Ciaran will be supportive and stuff, but I don’t want to give my ex airtime in my life, honestly.”

“But obviously your guilt over not telling Ciaran about Peter is causing the dreams again,” Eliza interjects. “It’s clearly something you need to tell him since you know he’d want to know.”

I give my sister a look. “It doesn’t matter, though. I was never in love with Peter, and our marriage didn’t matter.”

“But I think you know it’ll matter to Ciaran,” Eliza throws back at me. “I think when you tell him, you’ll feel better. Plus, Ciaran being gone is a lot for you. You two have spent every waking moment together since you met, and now he’s traveling. I can understand how the past can rear its ugly head when Ciaran is not here to reassure you or distract you.”

Of course, Dr. Shaw agrees, and once more, I hate how smart and all-knowing my sister is.

I spend the rest of the day considering what was said in my therapy session, and I can’t help but wonder if they’re right, if I am guilt-ridden because I haven’t told Ciaran that part of my life. He’s been honest about his past, yet I hide my shit in the closet. I hate that I’m once more thrown back into that night. There is a reason I blocked it out, but it’s back. As I lean on the desk in the shop, the silence and stillness of the store make my mind whirl even more. I swear my back is burning, but surely that’s my imagination.

I adjust my shoulder, stretching and trying to ignore the pain as I lay my head on the desk to attempt to even out my breathing. It’s labored, and with each deep breath in, pain erupts along my back. I stay like that for a long moment before blackness takes me, and I’m catapulted back to that night.

I feel blood sliding down my back as I lie on the floor, my nose pressed into the carpet as my tears flow just as fast as the blood. I can’t move or talk or even sniff away my tears because I don’t want him to know I’m crying. I don’t want him to know he’s hurting me. He’ll take pleasure in that and cause more. I squeeze my eyes shut when I hear his footsteps around me. He circles me like I’m his prey and he’s taking his time before attacking once more.

“Louisa, Louisa, what am I going to do with you?” Peter’s voice sounds like he has glass in his throat, making it rough and diabolical.

My body tenses up, my stomach clenches as I hold my breath, waiting for the next strike. I feel him crouch down beside me, and I hear the clank of his belt buckle hitting the carpet.

“Do you know how bad it makes me look that my wife covered for her sisters as they left?”

I swallow thickly, my heart beating so hard it’s making me light-headed.

“I come before your sisters. You’d do well to remember that.”

The fuck I do. And the fuck he does. I try to remind myself that Eliza, Austen, and Elliot are safe, and for that, I’ll take this beating. It was a risk to cover for them, to steal Peter’s money for them to get to safety, but I had no choice. I had to save them before they were put in this position. Under the hand of a man who doesn’t love them but only wants to dominate them. To keep them for their sexual usefulness.

When I feel the coolness of a blade along my shoulder, I gasp, squeezing my eyes closed.

“Did you really help them, Louisa?” I push myself up, but he stops me, grasping my neck and slamming my face back into the carpet. “Answer me!” he roars, and I hold in my cry.

“Yes,” I say as proudly as I can.

“You stole from me?”


“How dare you!” he yells, gripping my neck. “Do you realize I am being accused of not having control over you?”

“Fuck you,” I mutter without hesitating, and I wish I had thought that through.

“Such a mouth,” he murmurs, moving the blade along my back. “Maybe I should cut that tongue out your fucking mouth and see how that goes for you.”

I tense up, fear replacing my pride. I don’t say a thing because I know he will.

The only love he has for me is the love of hurting me.

“I have to punish you, you know,” he says, and I whimper a bit at the thought. He’s already beaten me with his belt. Is he really going to stab me?

“Are you going to kill me?”

He chuckles, leaning in, his lips grazing my ear. “Not today.”

A chill runs up my spine, but then pure, white-hot pain erupts across my shoulder. I scream, unable to resist, and that only makes Peter madder. He holds my face down into the carpet and carves his knife into my back. Over and over, until thankfully, by the grace of God, I pass out.

I wake with a jerk, saved from the dream by my ringing phone.

My body is trembling, my heart is pounding in my chest, and sweat gathers at my brow. I look around, trying to calm my breathing and remind myself where I am. I’m safe. Peter can’t find me. He won’t. I’m fine.

I reach for my phone, and when I see a photo of Ciaran and me cuddling in his chair, my heart starts to slow. I answer once I feel my voice gets somewhat steady. “Hey!”

“Lou, guess what!”

My face breaks into a grin at the excitement in his voice. My heart sings for him, and I’m so thankful he called. I needed his voice. I need him, but we only have three more days until he’s home. Hopefully then, my dreams will stop, and maybe I’ll tell him about my trauma. I’m unsure, but his voice has me grinning from ear to ear. “What?”

“I got called up. I’m playing for the Assassins tonight!”

My giddiness disappears as sadness washes over me. I’m proud, oh-so proud, but I can’t stop the fear that this could be the end for us.





I’ve thrown up four times.

“Prove yourself. This spot may be yours” was what Coach said to me when he called me this morning.

As I pace in the Nashville Assassins’ locker room, ignoring the emblem in the middle of the room because the guys believe if you step on it, we lose. Since I don’t need any bad juju, I circle it, trying to control my breathing. I feel eyes on me, but no one says anything. I’m sure they know I need to calm down. I need to get my head right so I can be an asset to this team.


After my eighth circle, I know I need to start putting on my gear. I head to my spot at the end, which, surprisingly, is next to Dimitri Titov, Louisa’s sister’s fiancé. Dimitri has been great since I arrived. He and Austen picked me up from the airport, took me to lunch, and made me feel like family. I hadn’t expected to feel so welcome, and their kindness eased a lot of my nerves. In the short time I’ve spent with Austen, I find that she is very different from Louisa. Austen is a bit more reserved and doesn’t look as if she’s up to trouble. I swear, nothing but mischief burns in my Lou’s eyes, and damn if I don’t want to be on the receiving end of her thoughts. There is never a moment when Lou and I aren’t touching, but with Austen and Dimitri, they only hold hands in front of me. If Lou were here, she’d be in my lap and I wouldn’t let go.

I miss her. Fuck, I miss her so damn much.

These last five days have been torture without her. I hate sleeping alone now, especially when I know how good it feels to be wrapped up in Louisa’s arms. I miss hearing that sigh I love so much and receiving her morning kisses. I miss finding her with her nose in a book or putting books away on that damn ladder I devoured her on. I miss breakfast with her and Eliza. I miss coming home to her after a game and not only feeling like I’m the best hockey player on earth, but then showing her how great of a hockey girlfriend she is.

God, I’m addicted to her.

I sit back in my locker and glance over at the black jersey with purple accents. The Assassin, holding its hockey stick, ready for battle, in front of the Batman building, has me breathless. I reach out, running my fingers over the logo then my number along the sleeve. I did it. I’m here, and I’m about to show the fuck out.

I swallow past the lump of emotion in my throat. I hear my mom and grandma in my head, telling me how proud they are of me. I remember the feel of the backslapping hug Cruz gave me when I told him. But most of all, I can still hear the emotion in Louisa’s voice when she told me how excited and proud of me she is. I told her first, and I’m glad I did. Her reaction is the one I hold close as I get ready.

I have to continue to swallow to keep the bile down, but the burning of the bile reminds me how hard I worked to get here. How this is it. How I can’t blow this. I need this, even if I’m scared out of my mind what will happen between Louisa and me. After these five days, I don’t want to live apart from her, but what else can we do? We’ll have to make it work. There is no other choice. I love her too much to let her go.

When I feel a tap to my knee, I look over to find Dimitri grinning at me. “Ready?”

“Nope. Trying not to puke.”

He laughs. “I know that feeling. You’ve got this.”

I exhale the breath I was holding. “I hope so.”

“I know so,” he says, tapping my knee once more as he stands to put on his jersey. “By the way, Austen told me she thinks you’re great for Louisa.”

He’s trying to distract me. Thankfully, I look up at him and nod. “I hope I am. She’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”

Dimitri nods, grinning from ear to ear. “Yeah, those McDavid girls are something. Austen came out of nowhere, and man, I fell hard.”

“I know that feeling,” I say, before grabbing tape to tape my legs. “I wasn’t ready for Lou. Though, I don’t know if I could have been ready.”

“Right?” Dimitri agrees, shaking his head. “I didn’t want any distractions, but Austen came, distracted me, and made me hers.”

“Sounds familiar.”

We share a knowing look before I return to taping my legs. When he clears his throat, I look over to find that he’s sat back down. “I’m not trying to fuck with you or anything like that before your game, so don’t think too hard on this, but Louisa has been through a lot.” He pauses, his eyes searching mine, and I don’t know what to say or even how to react. “You know about…er…it?” He doesn’t say it, but I know what he is implying. I nod, and he exhales. “Okay, good, so you know it wasn’t the greatest for them, but Louisa took the worst of it. The girls wouldn’t have gotten out without her taking all that she did.”

Louisa’s mangled back comes to mind, and my heart drops. As anger courses through me, I hold his gaze. “Do you know where they are? I’d love to go kick ass.”

Dimitri grins in agreement. “No, but let me know if you find out.” A bond forms between Dimitri and me, and I am thankful for his support to kick the asses of the people who hurt my love. “She’s a gem and deserves the world. Remember that.”

“Not a problem,” I promise. Though, I don’t know why I’m promising him that. Maybe because I want his respect.

Louisa is everything and more for me, and I’ll protect her at all costs.

The next few minutes go by in a blur. I dress on autopilot. I cast aside the thoughts of Louisa and what Dimitri said, getting my head in the game. I walk quietly with the team down the tunnel to get ready for warm-ups. I can already hear the crowd. Can already feel their cheers and chants all over my skin. I rock back and forth on my skates, my stomach in knots as I stare at Aiden Brooks’s back. He’s the captain. Everyone has been so welcoming, but I have to admit, meeting Aiden was a highlight. Super cool dude and welcomed me with open arms. I don’t ever want to leave.

I want to be an Assassin.

My heart is in my throat as the horn sounds and the guys start for the ice. I follow behind, and when I hit the ice, the strap of my helmet flaps against my neck as I pick up speed. I round the goal, once then twice, before I notice her. How I went even this long without knowing she was here is beyond me. Louisa stands at the glass behind the goal, sporting my Knoxville Bears jersey and a pair of tight black leggings. She has on boots that come to her knees and a purple beanie on her head, her hair in waves along her shoulders. Her eyes are on me, a small, proud smirk sitting on those beautiful lips of hers.

My heart stops dead in my chest as I take her in. On her face is the number four in purple, along with the Assassins’ logo on the other cheek. Her face is bright, her eyes glistening just for me, and I’m amazed to see her. She came. She’s here. For me. We didn’t think she could make it because driving would have taken too long. She must have caught a flight, and no telling how much that cost.

But she’s here.

For me.

If I thought I couldn’t fall for her any more than I already have, I was completely wrong.





The look on Ciaran’s face was worth me begging my peepaw to fly me to Nashville in his small private jet. My grandfather was reluctant, not wanting me to distract Ciaran, but I was insistent, needing to be here for him. All the stress, leaving the shop with Eliza, and hauling ass is worth it all with the way his eyes hold mine. I swear his eyes are glossy with tears at the sight of me, but surely that’s just the lights. I lean on the glass, flashing my widest and brightest smile for him as he drinks me in, leaving nothing but heat and want in my gut for him. When his lips slowly tip up at the sides, I slap my palms on the glass, screaming his name.

Austen giggles beside me, but I don’t pay her any mind as Ciaran’s gaze stays locked on mine. “You didn’t tell him you were coming, did you?”

I shake my head, unable to look away from his heavy blue gaze. “Nope. I wanted to surprise him.”

“Oh, he’s surprised.”

Tears suddenly burn in my eyes, pleased that I was able to surprise him. I hate that there are glass and ice between us, but I hope he knows how proud of him I am. How impressed that he’s made his dreams a reality. God, I love him. I’m so fucking honored to be his. I watch as he starts skating toward me, and my breath catches in my chest.

What is he doing?

I watch as he tears his gaze from mine and skates toward the doors that lead to the tunnel for the players to come out of for the start of the game. He opens the door and then comes through it, leaving me confused. I angle my head so I can see him, and he’s standing at the bottom of the stairs that are guarded by security to keep fans from going into the tunnel. He points to me, and then the guard looks over at me.

“Lou!” he calls, and I bend forward so I can see him better. “Come here.”

I don’t even think twice. I hurry past all the onlookers, and as I reach him, he throws his gloves down before holding his hand out to me. I take it eagerly as he guides me down the stairs and into his arms, his gaze heated just for me. Our lips instantly crash together, as do our bodies. He’s huge in his gear, and I hate that all the padding keeps me from feeling his body against me, but his lips devour mine. Soon, thinking isn’t even an option. He moves his fingers up the back of my neck and into my hair, holding me in place as he feasts on my lips. Our tongues are a tangled mess, and I am lost in the kiss, the rest of the world fading away, leaving just us.


Just how I love us.

When he releases my lips, we are both panting, and I can faintly hear people’s cheers and catcalls, but my eyes are focused on Ciaran’s. Nothing else matters but us. He presses his head to mine, which is a feat with how tall he is with his skates on. I reach up, moving my thumb along his cheek, and I say, “Surprise.”

His lips twitch as he gathers me closer with his other arm. “The best surprise of my life.”

I beam up at him, brushing his nose with mine. “I wouldn’t miss this. I am so proud of you, and I had to be here to cheer you on.”

“I don’t think you realize how much this means to me.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I promise, stroking my fingers along the back of his neck. “Plus, you score so much better when I’m around.”

Ciaran’s eyes burn for me, and he drops his lips to mine. He squeezes me to him, feeling as if he wants to become one. I wouldn’t complain; I’d willingly be an extension of him. He parts from me, only a mere inch, before whispering, “Lou.”

His voice is so hoarse, so full of emotion as our gazes lock.


He swallows hard, his jaw ticking as his eyes search mine. My heart starts to pound in my chest, and something shifts between us. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m so trapped in his eyes, I can’t even try to figure it out. In a way, it doesn’t matter as long as he keeps looking at me like this. Like no one is here, like he shouldn’t be warming up instead of holding me. Then it dawns on me that he probably does need to get back on the ice. As much as I don’t want to, I say, “I have missed you so much, but don’t you need to get⁠—”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “I need to say something.”

My brows draw together, my heart speeding up once more. “What?”

Such adoration fills his features, and he leans in, his eyes dancing with mine as his hand comes up to cup my jaw. “I can’t go another moment without telling you that I am completely and entirely in love with you.”

My breath hitches as my eyes widen.

“I have felt like this for a while. I was waiting to hear if you loved me, but seeing you here, knowing you’re here to support me, I can’t not tell you how much you mean to me. How much I love you. Which is a lot.”

The tears come fast and rush down my cheeks. His eyes widen in surprise as he catches each one, wiping them away. I can see he is about to apologize, but I shake my head, stopping his words. “Ciaran, I love you too. I’ve loved you for a while now.”

I see love swirl in his blue depths. “You have?”

“I have,” I admit, nodding. “Since the moment you fell into my bed and didn’t leave. I knew my heart was yours.”

He sighs deeply, pressing his nose into mine. “Say it again.”

I smile against his lips. “I love you.”


I laugh as I promise, “I love you.”

He kisses me then, a soul-deep kiss that has my body going taut and leaving my brain fuzzy. Our tongues dance, our hands clutch at each other, and when we part, we’re both out of breath. His eyes meet mine, and a smile pulls at both our lips, our love burning bright between us.

“I’ve never wanted to hear those words until you.”

My heart swells. “I’ve never loved anyone in my life, and I know it’s because I was meant to love only you.” Ciaran kisses me again and continues to do so until I finally have to push him away when his teammates are calling for him. “Go. We have all night.”

He doesn’t go far, still holding on to me. “We have forever, and I still don’t want to let you go.”

Oh, this guy. “Go score for me.”

“Done,” he says before kissing my nose. “I love you.”

I kiss his lips. “I love you. Go have fun.”

He winks in such a playful way, I’m left breathless. As I watch him head back onto the ice, a grin so wide it brings on a fluttering in my belly, I know deep inside me that no matter the distance, no matter what happens, I’ll never love anyone as much as I love Ciaran Carter.





I’ve never loved anyone in my life, and I know it’s because I was meant to love only you.

Louisa’s declaration carried me through the game. It had to, because the moment she made that statement, my nerves were gone and were replaced by confidence that only she provides me with. I thought of her words the whole time I was on the ice. Each time I looked at her, it was as if she was saying the words all over again. I’ve never felt so damn alive in my life.

And it’s all because of her.

Louisa stands at the end of the players’ exit beside Austen, her eyes bluer than anything right now and set just on me. Seeing her waiting for me has the butterflies playing their own game of hockey with my heart. I’m in awe of her, I’m in love with her, and I never want to let her go. Ever. I watch as her gaze lands on me, and then her eyes widen at the bouquet of red roses I paid an attendant to go get me after warm-ups. It seems trivial to give her flowers when I want to give her the world, but from the look in her eyes, I’m glad I got them.

Louisa starts for me, the grin that moves across her face leaving me breathless. I reach for her just as she does me, our lips meeting with heated need as I wrap my free arm around her luscious body. I cradle her against me as my tongue slides with hers, and her hands cup my face with such gentleness. When she pulls back, I groan deeply with need for her, and she grins up at me. “You were incredible,” she gushes, bouncing on her heels. “I can’t even. You belong on Assassins’ ice!”

I beam at her, pleasure coursing through my body at her words. “It was all for you,” I tell her, and her eyes darken. I fight back the smirk I want to flash her, and I hand her the roses. She takes them, sweetness in her eyes as she brings them to her nose to smell them. Before she does, though, I watch as her brows pull together. She reaches into the bouquet and brings out the puck that I scored my first NHL goal with. My name, number, and the date are written along tape that they wrapped around the puck. Her stunned gaze meets mine, and I smile. “I want you to have it.”

She blinks up at me. “Are you sure? This is a big deal.”

“It’s yours.”

Her lip quivers as she wraps her arm around my neck, bringing me down for a long, lusty kiss. I snake my arms around her, bringing her off her feet to deepen our kiss. When she wraps her legs around my waist, I hold her ass in my hand as she drinks from my lips. I can hear people, I can hear the taunts and the “get a room,” but none of it matters. Only Louisa matters. She tears her lips from mine, her eyes all dark and sexy, and I’m lost for her.

“Tell me,” I demand, and her lips twitch.

“I love you.”

I sigh before pressing my lips to her nose. My eyes drift shut, and I whisper against her nose, “I love you too.”

I can feel her smile against my chin before she moves her lips to my ear. She kisses my lobe, then the shell of my ear, before whispering, “Good, now take me back to the hotel and show me how well you score when it’s just you and me.”

I squeeze her ass in my palms as she leans back into me, looking so damn beautiful. I can’t breathe at the sight of her. “Have I told you how beautiful you are today?”

She shakes her head. “Nope. You were too busy being a hotshot NHL hockey player.”

God, she does it for me. “How rude of me since you are the most gorgeous hockey girlfriend I’ve ever seen.”

Her eyes sparkle. “Take me back to the hotel, Ciaran.”

I don’t need to be asked more than twice. I lower her to her feet and take her hand, our fingers threading together. I wave to some of the guys, and when we look for Austen and Dimitri, we learn they already left. Thankfully, I rented a car when I got to the hotel earlier, so I have a way to get us back. I make sure Louisa is settled before shutting her door and heading around the small Kia that I really don’t fit in but was all they had on short notice. Before I can reach for the door handle, my phone sounds. I look down to see it’s a text from my agent.

Congratulations on a game well played. That goal was sick, right off the goalie’s back. Super dope. Listen, I talked with Mrs. Adler, and she isn’t sending you back to the Bears. She wants you to stay until they figure out what is going on with the player who got hurt, so keep showing out, and hopefully the spot will be yours. Way to go, Carter. You’ve worked hard for this.

Excitement rushes through me as I pull the door open and get in, handing my phone to Louisa. She takes it, curious, and starts reading what is on the screen. She squeals happily before taking my face in her hands and bringing me in for a hard kiss. I laugh against her lips, and when she pulls back, she explodes, “Oh my God! Congratulations! I am so proud of you! I told you. You’ve got this, babe! You’re so awesome!”

I cup her jaw. “Thanks, my love.” She beams at me, and I kiss her once more. It’s just a peck, but I know she feels how much I love her. I pull back and start the car. “That’s another week apart.”

She waves me off. “Only on off days. I’ll come up for games and stay the night. It’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

She eyes me. “What? We profess our love for each other, and then you want to break up because of some distance?”

I glare at her. “I’m not saying that at all. I’m just making sure you’re good with it.”

She glares right on back. God, I love her sass. “I’m not gonna lie. I was scared out of my mind that you’d hit the big leagues and leave me behind.”

I scoff at her confession, and she flashes me a shy grin.

“But now that I know you love me like I love you, I am confident you won’t leave me behind.”

I chuckle. “You should have known from the top—I can’t leave you behind.”

She sets me with a look. “You got spooked and dumped me before.”

I hold up my hand in protest. “I was an idiot, we know this, but now I’m your idiot.”

“All mine,” she agrees, squeezing my hand with hers. “But truly, I am good with whatever helps you get to where you wanna be.”

My heart aches at her words. “I wanna be wherever you are.”

“I know. Same,” she says sadly. “But let’s make it through the week, see what happens.”

We sit in comfortable silence for a moment. Then something comes to mind. “We could get a house halfway,” I suggest, pulling onto the main highway.

“Yeah, but that’s still a two-hour drive in and out of the city. I’ll do it, but it’ll be a lot on us.”

“I know, but at least we’ll be together at night, when I’m not traveling.”

She nods, considering it. “True. Like I said, let’s get through this week.”

I swallow a little nervously, and then I say, “I told Cruz I wouldn’t be re-signing a lease with him.”

Louisa’s eyes widen as she looks over at me. “Ah, so we’re finally admitting we’re living together?”

I chuckle, taking her hand in mine. “Figure it’s about time.”

She threads our fingers together, bringing my hand to her lips. She kisses my knuckles and then grins against the back of my hand. “It is, especially since we’re making big plans.”

I look over at her, and her eyes lock with mine. “Are you good with making big plans with me, Lou?”

“There is nothing I’d rather do than make plans with you, Ciaran.”

I’m thankful for the stoplight because it gives me the opportunity to take her mouth with mine. As we kiss, her hand sliding into my hair as mine cups her throat, the truth is in her words.

We’re making plans. Big ones.

For our future.


When we part, I kiss her top lip and whisper, “I love you, Louisa McDavid. The Persephone to my Hades.”

Louisa’s eyes shine just as brightly as her grin. “The beast to my beauty, I love you.”

And then we kiss again, until people are honking at us to go.

Not that either of us cares.





I’m startled out of a dead sleep by Louisa’s gasping scream.

I wrap my arms around her, her body so tense in my embrace that it scares the shit out of me. She’s naked from where I spent the night showing how much I love to score with her, but even I can’t enjoy the thoughts of that anymore with how she’s screaming. She doesn’t move, though—just screams, her hands balled up in fists. Then she’s moving her legs up and into her chest. I wrap my arms around her legs, squeezing her in my arms, trying to soothe her with my embrace. I nuzzle my nose in her neck, kissing her heated flesh and whispering, “Lou, I’m here. It’s okay. I’ve got you.”

She jerks against me, almost as if she’s trying to get out of my arms, but then she goes still. Her heart is beating so hard, I can feel it making her body vibrate. Her breathing is labored, and soon she is shaking in my arms. I hold her closer, peppering her with kisses all over her shoulder and neck, reminding her that I’m here, and slowly her heart returns to a normal beat. I stroke my thumbs along her knees and close my eyes when she starts to cry. It breaks my heart to hear her cries, but what’s worse is feeling them. Her whole body shakes with each deep inhale and exhale. I kiss the back of her head, and I tighten my hold on her as her hands clutch my wrists where I hold her.

“You okay?”

She doesn’t answer right away, but then she whispers, “No, please. Just hold me.”

That was my plan. We stay like that for what feels like hours. I don’t move; I don’t say anything. I just hold her, unable to think of what else to do. Finally, as the sun begins to rise, her sobs subside and she relaxes in my arms, and I’m able to breathe steady again. I kiss along her shoulder, the raised skin of her scars a constant reminder of a past she doesn’t want to relive. With the light of the sun shining into our room, I’m met full force with the abuse she endured. This isn’t the first time I’ve traced these scars or hated the person who put them there. All I can think is that Dimitri told me that she took a lot of the abuse in order to protect her sisters. I’m not surprised. Louisa is the strongest woman I know, loves her sisters fiercely, and that only makes me love her more. She stiffens under my touch, which is new.

It catches me off guard. “Do you not want me to touch you?”

Her voice is rough as she whispers, “That’s not it. I just—” She pauses, her voice so enraged, it hits me in the gut. “I hate them.”

She doesn’t need to explain; I know what them means. The scars. “They’re a part of you.” I kiss one and then rub my nose along it. I’m reminded of when she thought these would keep me from loving her body. Oh, how wrong she was. “Lou, you’re utter perfection, scars and all.”

Louisa relaxes more and then turns in my arms, coming face-to-face with me. Her eyes are bloodshot, her nose running and red. But to me, she’s beautiful. She tucks her hands beneath my jaw, and I bring her flush with my body. Once her body is aligned with mine, I brush a stray piece of hair out of her eyes, eyes that hold such sorrow. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

She shakes her head and moves her face into the crook of my neck and shoulder. I hold her closer, kissing her cheek and closing my eyes. Sleep takes me once I know she has fallen asleep, and I don’t wake until my alarm sounds. I realize the moment I come to consciousness that Louisa isn’t in my arms. I reach for her, thinking she rolled over, but she’s not there. I open my eyes, and she isn’t in bed like I thought. I sit up and find her at the breakfast nook, her knees against her chest as she sips a cup of coffee.

I blink a few times, taking her in before I ask, “When did you get up?”

She looks up from where she was staring at her coffee. She’s wearing a shirt of mine, and it barely covers her ass the way she’s sitting. She gives me a small smile before answering. “A couple hours ago.”

I push the blankets off me and get up, stretching since I’m sore. I reach for a pair of boxers and pull them on before turning to head toward her. I find her watching me, her eyes moving along my body as I close the distance between us. I take her jaw in my hand, tipping her head back so I can kiss her softly on her plush lips. She grasps my wrists, and I smile down at her. “Good morning, beautiful.”

Her lips curve. “Morning.”

I kiss her nose and then head into the bathroom to do my morning routine and to get dressed for the day. I watch her behind me in the mirror as I brush my teeth, and I can tell something is up. I don’t know if it’s the dream she had or if it’s for another reason, but something isn’t right. I finish up and then walk back to where she is, sitting across from her to pick up the room service menu. “Wanna order food in? Or go out?”

She shrugs. “Don’t you have practice?”

“Yeah, but not for a couple hours. I want to eat with you first.”

Her lips twitch as she nods. “Let’s order in.”

We do, and when the order is placed, I set the room phone on its base before reaching for Louisa’s chair and dragging it beside me. Without asking, she puts her legs in my lap, and I run my hands along them happily. She leans into me, setting her head on my shoulder, and I kiss her temple. “Lou?”


“I love you,” I tell her, and she lets out that sigh that gets me every time.

She sits back, her eyes meeting mine. “I love you.”

I lean down, kissing her knee before setting her with a look. “What’s wrong?” I don’t know what I was expecting, but I sure wasn’t expecting the tears in her eyes. Distress moves across her beautiful face as her eyes search mine. I swallow thickly, emotion suffocating me. “Are you mad at me?”

She shakes her head. “No, not at all.”

“Then what’s going on?” Her lips move, but no sound comes out, and the sight kills me. I hate seeing my confident, gorgeous woman struggle like this. “I want to help. Let me help.”

She looks away, and her shoulders fall with the movement. My stomach clenches, my heart thudding in my chest, because when she looks up, tears sliding down her face, my heart breaks. I almost want to tell her not to tell me, but I can’t stand knowing she’s hurting. So, I sit, hoping my eyes give her the support she needs as she stares into them.

With a shaky breath, she whispers, “I’ve been having really bad dreams.”

“About?” As soon as the words leave my lips, my pulse kicks up in speed. Her eyes are so sad, and I hate that I asked. I don’t ever want her to look this distraught. I only want to bring her happiness.

But then she says, “About the person who put these scars on my back.”

I’m glad I have her legs in my lap, because I need something to anchor me. I’m pretty sure by the way she’s looking at me, this isn’t going to be easy.

On either of us.





Words are failing me at the moment.

I watch as Ciaran’s thumb strokes my knee, and I feel so fucking stupid. I had assumed that my dreams would stop the moment I was back in his arms, in a bed we share. But sleeping with him isn’t going to face down these demons. I don’t know why they’re back or even how to make them go away. I just know I need him to know, so that if they continue, he knows why and doesn’t get worried. I swallow, the emotion so thick in my throat, I feel I’ll choke before I can tell him what is wrong.

What is always wrong.

I close my eyes and fight back the tears. I don’t want to cry; I don’t want to continue to be hurt by my past. But that’s the thing about trauma. You think you’ve overcome it, and then it comes back full force, smacking you right in the chest. I’m so frustrated, so embarrassed, and while I know I’m strong, I don’t feel that way right now. I feel like the weak young woman who lay in a pool of her own blood. I was so scared of him, but I can’t forget that I got my sisters out and then myself. We are thriving now because I didn’t give up on a dream of a future for us.

I can’t let myself forget that.

Because Ciaran is my future.

Unable to look at him, I clear my throat free of the emotion and let out a shaky sigh. He threads his fingers through mine then, bringing my hand to his lips for a soft kiss of encouragement. Of love. Love for me, and I love him more than I did a second ago for his support. I blink a few times, trying to clear the tears as my heart is beating out of control in my chest.

On an exhale, I whisper, “Like I said before, the cult was absolutely horrendous in its treatment of women. I took the brunt of it because I didn’t want any of my sisters to experience a moment of it. Even so, Eliza and Austen were forced into things no one should be forced into.” I chance a look up, and Ciaran is sitting still, watching me intently. I lick my lips and inhale deeply, my chest hurting from the motion. My shoulders fall as I blow out the breath. “There was this ritual in a place called the Halo, where we were put in the middle of a ring, and the men of age would walk around and decide who would please them. I was used in every way possible. They’d bite us, smack us, and stuff their dicks in our mouths. It was degrading and disgusting, but the Grandmaster said it was in the Bible that a man had to be pleased by his wife. So a man had to find the woman who gave him the most pleasure.”

Ciaran stills beside me. I don’t even think he’s breathing as his eyes darken. “Lou, my God. I’m speechless.”

I nod. “That’s not the kicker,” I say with a soulless laugh. “There was this bastard, Peter.” His name is like venom coming from my lips. “He had decided he wanted Clara, but at the time, Clara was only nine. I figured I could get her out before she came of age at fourteen, when he could technically court her. But she had already started her cycles by the time she turned twelve, so he pushed to court her early. I caught wind of it from Austen—she was the Grandmaster’s favorite, and no matter how I tried to distract him from her, he would still put her in the most disgusting situations. Make her watch as he raped our mom, or he would tie Austen up and fondle her, force her to give him oral pleasure. I mean, it was bad, and since I couldn’t save her, I knew I couldn’t let Peter take Clara.” I wipe a tear away that escapes at the thought of that fucker touching my baby sister. “She would have never gotten out if he had locked her down, and so I offered myself.”

Ciaran moves his thumb to catch more of my tears, and I smile a thanks before looking down at my hands. Before I can go on, though, he tells me, “You are the best sister, Lou. I wish I were loved by my siblings the way you love yours.”

A sob gets caught in my throat, and I choke on it, coughing until my eyes leak tears and my chest hurts. When it subsides, thankfully from taking a sip of my coffee, I look up to meet Ciaran’s worried gaze. I feel like if I look at him as I say what I need to say, I won’t see the images of what that bastard did to me. I’ll only see Ciaran’s kind, beautiful blue eyes. I’ll only see the love he has for me. My heart pounds loudly in my chest, and I swear he can hear it as I go on. “Peter raped me constantly, forced himself on me even before our courting was over. He beat me whenever I tried to protect my sisters or stand up for myself. He was a monster, and not in the way I like. Like truly, an evil bastard.”

“Tell me where he is, and I’ll kill him, Lou.”

My chest aches at his demand, his love for me. “I would never ask that of you.” I thread my fingers with his, rubbing my thumb along the back of his hand. “The night he left my back the way it is was the night Austen left. I had stolen a bunch of money from him and gave it to Austen to get herself out, to get to my peepaw, and to get Eliza and Elliot out next. He beat me bloody with his belt and then slit me open with a knife, over and over, until I passed out from the pain.”

“Lou,” he murmurs, and I shrug.

“He continued beating me and cutting me every night until, finally, we were able to get Clara out. I had to leave before she did, though. Because he tried to kill me when Eliza and Elliot got out since the Grandmaster was pissed and blamed me. The only reason I didn’t die from my injuries was because Austen rushed me to the hospital when she found me. Three days later, we picked up Clara, and we never looked back.”

“My love,” he whispers, moving his fingers along mine. “I hate that this happened to someone as amazing as you. I wish you’d let me go after them.”

“So you can be just as bad as them? I’m done. I’m out. I’m thriving and surviving, not them. I won’t let you drop to their level, give them power once more.”

He slowly shakes his head. “You’re incredible.”

I give him a small smile. “Thanks. Though, now I’m screaming and crying from my dreams, so I don’t feel very incredible.”

He leans in, kissing my top lip. “You are,” he promises, kissing me again. His eyes burn into mine as he cups my face and gently moves his thumb along my jaw. “I just don’t get it, though. How can a mother let this happen to her child?”

I roll my eyes. “My mother isn’t a mother. She was a broodmare and cared more for herself than any of us.”

“But still, she could have stopped him. Where is the compassion?”

I shake my head. “She couldn’t stop him. Women had no power there, and I was his.”

“What do you mean, his?”

I don’t like the look in his eyes, almost like he suspects something that isn’t true. Cautiously, I say, “He owned me.”

“No, that doesn’t make sense. How can he own you if you didn’t want him?”

“Nothing about that place made sense.”

“Lou, how could he own you?”

Did I leave something out? I thought I was pretty thorough, but then, it is a lot to tell. With my chin held high, I state the one fact that I hate the most.

“I took Clara’s place as his wife.”





It’s moments like these that I’m reminded my heart isn’t my own.

It’s Louisa’s, and I’m in awe of her.

Pure, unadulterated awe of the strongest, most beautiful, and most incredible woman I have ever met in my life.

“You were married to this bastard?”

Silence stretches between us as our gazes stay locked. I can see the fear in her eyes, and I can still hear her screams. It kills me. I want to wrap my arms around her, hold her, and try to make her completely forget her past. Louisa’s eyes search mine for a moment longer before she nods. “I was, in the eyes of the cult.”

I want to scream. I hate that this wonderful woman went through this. He can’t come back, can he? She is truly mine? “Did you divorce him?” Once the words leave my lips, I hate them. It doesn’t fucking matter. She got away. She won. I just have to make sure he isn’t coming back for her.

Her brows pull together. “I didn’t have to. It wasn’t legal. I was given to him, and I was his until he was done with me. Since I left, I don’t abide by their rules anymore.”

Chills run down my spine, and I want to rip the fucker to shreds for not only hurting her, but for putting her in such a nightmarish position. He forced her, he abused her, and he gave her no choice but to protect her sisters. I hate him, and I don’t even have to know the fucker to know I would kill him at first glance. All she’d need to do would be to point him out, and I’d rip him limb from limb. Before either of us has time to say anything else, a knock sounds at the door. I gently move her legs and get up without a second glance, my mind reeling as I try to process this. I open the door, and I know the guy greets me, but I can’t hear past the pounding of my heart in my ears.

How could anyone let this happen to her?

A lump forms in my throat as I watch the guy wheel in our food. I hand him some cash before shutting the door. When I turn, I find Louisa watching me, her brows still furrowed and her jaw set tightly. I clear my throat, and I feel my hands start to shake. I squeeze them tightly and check my watch. I still have plenty of time. “Why didn’t anyone stop him?”

Her eyes are watery orbs, so lost in the pain of her past. “It’s the way things are. It’s normal in that world.”

“That’s not normal. That’s abuse, torture. I can’t even imagine.”

She swallows hard. “Try living it.”

I sit across from her and lift both of the covers off our food. “I want to kill the fucker. Just letting you know.”

“I know,” she agrees, a small smile pulling at her lips.

“Did you ever care for him?”

She laughs at me, though there is not an ounce of humor in her words. “No. I loathed him, hated him, thought daily of ways to kill him.”

I shake my head after I swallow the huge bite of pancakes I just threw into my mouth. “I’m surprised you didn’t.”

She lets out an exasperated sigh. “I couldn’t, and if I had fought him, he would have waited for Clara and then taken her as his. She was young, easily manipulated. I couldn’t let that happen.”

I swallow past the lump of pancakes, and my body shakes with anxiousness. “You’re an amazing sister, my love.”

“I love them.”

“Anyone who is loved by you is one lucky son of a bitch,” I tell her, reaching across the table for her hand. “What are these dreams?”

She looks away, her eyes wild and sad. “I dream of him beating me and cutting me. Raping me. They are soul-deep, terrifying dreams.”

My stomach drops. “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how awful that was.”

“It was. But I’m out now.”

I nod, proud of her. Something is nagging in my gut, though. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“Because I don’t owe you my past, my trauma, Ciaran. I want you to have my future, but my past is mine. I have my own issues, and it’s my right to process and talk about them at my pace, not yours.”

She’s absolutely right, but still. “You didn’t have to tell me everything, but you should have told me you were married.”

She shakes her head, standing as her eyes narrow. “I will not apologize for keeping my past where it belongs. Do you think I’m proud of the things I had to do, of what I was put through? No. I hate that part of my life, and while I know it shaped me into who I am now, my past is not our future, Ciaran.”

“I get it. I do, but I hate that you’ve carried this and not confided in me.”

“I didn’t want to. I don’t want to keep reliving it.”

“I understand,” I say, squeezing her hand.

She gives me a small smile; it doesn’t reach her eyes. “I know you told me about Mikayla and it wasn’t easy. But what happened in your past directly affected us, and all that shit I went through doesn’t make or break us,” she tells me, her eyes holding mine hostage. I want to look away, but she won’t allow me to. “The only reason I told you is because of how bad my nightmares are. I don’t want you to worry. I just want your support.”

“That’s not a problem, Lou. I will always support you, and I’m not upset with you at all. I’m sorry if that’s how I’m coming off.”

“No, I’m just keyed up.”

“So am I,” I agree, rubbing her knuckles with my thumb.

After a moment, she looks down at her food. “I was trapped. I was forced to be his. I know you don’t understand—I mean, fuck, a cult? What the fuck, ya know? These things shouldn’t be happening, but that was my reality, Ciaran. My life. And I was forced into things I wouldn’t even allow you to wish on Mikayla.”

That has my heart stopping dead in my chest. Tears stream down her face, and it takes everything in me not to close the distance and brush away each one. Unable to resist, I pull her into my lap, cuddling her close to my chest. I kiss her temple, her brow, before nuzzling my nose against the shell of her ear. “You’re right. I don’t understand. It’s beyond me how something like that is still happening.” I hear her swallow. “I wish I had found you earlier, saved you from all that.” She leans into me, and I squeeze her in my arms. “Not that you needed me to save you—you did it yourself and saved your sisters, like a fucking warrior.”

When she smiles, my heart lurches in my chest. “True, but I’d rather have had you.”

I smile against her ear. “You didn’t deserve that bullshit from anyone. It sickens me that they even called it a marriage.”

“Right?” She scoffs. “That wasn’t a marriage. A marriage is love, support, and happiness. That’s not what that was. It was pure hell.”

I shake my head, my nose brushing against the shell of her ear. “You’ll never feel that way again. Even if I am a dumbass, I’ll be a better husband.”

Her lips curve up. “You would be a good husband.”


Her eyes dance with mine. “Could?”

I give her a look. “Will,” I promise, and her eyes… God, they take my breath away. “I love you, Lou.”

She melts into me, as if all the tension leaves her body as she turns her head, her nose meeting mine. “You do? Even after all that?”

“My love,” I breathe, dragging my thumb along her bottom lip. “I love you more because of it. I am so proud to call you mine, to be on the receiving end of your fierce love.”

Tears fall in rivers down her round cheeks, and I wipe them away as soon as they drop. “You’re not mad I didn’t tell you earlier?”

I slowly shake my head. “Not at all.”

“I was worried you would be.”

“I am nothing but livid for you and your sisters, pissed you guys were put through that, and murderous toward those bastards who hurt you.” I press my nose to hers. “But I am proud, Lou. In awe of you, and I swear I will always be there to comfort you and chase away those bad dreams with lusty kisses that you love.”


“Love, promise is a weak notion compared to what I want to vow to you,” I whisper against her lips. “I will chase away every bad dream. I will love you, so hard that none of that will ever hurt you again.”

She kisses my top lip. “Thank you, Ciaran.”

I shake my head. “What are you thanking me for?”

Her eyes search mine, and I catch another tear that escapes. “For loving me.”

A grin breaks across my face. “My love, don’t you know I’m addicted to you?”

She gasps, and my grin widens as she brings her hands up to cup my cheeks. “I love you, Ciaran.”

“I love you.”

More than I could ever put into words.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t work each day to prove that to her.





Once our lips meet, every ounce of tension is gone.

I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off me, and I’m so thankful for Ciaran’s understanding.

I love him. Deeply.

It’s been fast, instalove at its prime, and I don’t care. I love it. Oh, how I love him.

I stroke my fingers along his jaw as we part, both of us panting. He moves his nose with mine, our eyes locked in the same heated embrace our lips were just in. When he licks his lips, he licks mine too, and I can’t help my grin as heat floods my belly. He brushes a piece of hair behind my ear and whispers, “Did I tell you how much it means to me that you came here, that you’re with me right now?”

Damn it, he gives me all the feels. I was just so vulnerable with him, and I was scared it wasn’t enough. Still, he looks at me like I’m the greatest thing in his life. “I’m not your ex or your dad or anyone else who has hurt you. I want to be here for you. I want to cheer you on. I want to love you—more than anyone ever has.”

His eyes drift shut at my words as we share a long breath. His body is like a haven for me, protecting me from my fears and comforting me without intentionally doing so. It’s natural for him. When his alarm goes off, we both look at his phone as it chimes. A curse leaves his lips. “I gotta go.”

“Boo,” I pout, and he kisses me loudly on the lips.

He lifts me with ease, sitting me back in my seat before pointing to my plate. “Eat, you.”

I beam up at him. “Maybe you should eat me?”

His eyes darken as those thick lips curve in the slyest of grins. “Lou, don’t make me choose between savoring that sweet pussy and going to practice.”

I snicker as he walks away from me, even though I know he doesn’t want to. “And if you had to choose?”

He exhales hard, grabbing his keys from the bathroom by the door. “I’d choose you, because there is nothing I love more than having you shatter against my tongue.”

I make a show of fanning myself, and he chuckles low in his chest. “Lord, I might have to take care of myself since you’re going to make me wait.”

Heat burns deep in his eyes, and I watch the gears turning in his head. He looks at his phone again, then to me, before looking back at his phone. He starts counting on his fingers, and I can’t help but giggle. “You’re so silly!” I laugh, and he shoots me a devastating grin. When he throws down his phone and his keys, I laugh louder, shaking my head. “You’re serious?”

He scoffs as he takes me by my hips and tosses me onto the bed. He grabs hold of my panties, pulling them off with ease before covering my body with his. He traps my head between his palms on the bed before pressing his forehead to mine. “I have twelve minutes. I can get you off at least four times.”

I groan when he presses his hard cock against my already dripping center. “Four times? That’s mighty confident of you.”

“Do you doubt me?”

I fight back my grin, his eyes making me burn everywhere. “Yes.”

A deep growl leaves his lips as he nips at my bottom lip. “Devilish woman.”

“Your devilish woman,” I correct him as he kisses down my neck, pushing up my shirt to take a nipple in his mouth. I cry out, wrapping my legs around his waist to hold him to me.

“Only mine,” he says against my heated skin.

And when he touches my center with that mouth of his, I come undone with only two strokes of his hot tongue against my sensitive nub. He presses his tongue into me as I shatter beneath him, and then he slowly slides a finger inside me, curling it up and blowing my motherfucking mind. I scream his name, and he chuckles against my pussy, his tongue and breath molten against my body. When he swirls his tongue around my clit again, I jerk against him, trying to move his head.

“Finish in me.”

He scoffs. “Lou, my love, this isn’t about me. It’s all about you and this pussy that belongs in my mouth.”

What can I even say to that? There is no stopping him. No, he plays my pussy like he’s the stick and it’s the puck. He knows how to work me, how to make me scream, and how to get me to explode just for him. By orgasm four, I’m a wet mess, and when he wipes his mouth, grinning down at me, I’m breathless.

He cups my pussy, making me jerk against him as he leans toward me, putting his weight on his free hand. “Lou.”

“Hmm?” I practically purr.

His eyes are thunderstorms of blue, glowing just for me as he asks, “Whose pussy is this?”

I don’t even hesitate; we both know the answer. “Yours.”

Ciaran loves my response and rewards me with a passionate kiss before squeezing my pussy in his hand. I buck against his hand, my whole body quivering as he draws the kisses out of me. When he reluctantly pulls away, my heart bangs against my chest for him. Walking toward the door, he calls over his shoulder to me, “I want you in that position when I get back.”

I look down at myself, my shirt up past my boobs and my legs spread-eagled just for him. I shrug. “I can make that happen.”

He winks, and I almost come again. “Love you, love.”

“Love you,” I call back, and when the door clicks, I close my eyes. I could honestly go back to sleep right now. But before I can drift off, my phone sounds. I reach for it to see that Austen is calling me. I clear my throat free of the gravelliness from all my orgasms. “Hey!”

“Hey, you. What are you up to?”

I look down at my naked body, and I want to say I’m trying to recover from being devoured by my boyfriend, but instead, I say, “Nothing much. You?”

“Bored. Wanna go get a pedicure?”

I sit up. “I would love to!” I move my hair out of my face. “I can tell you how incredible my boyfriend is.”

“Oh my. Do I really wanna hear about it?”

I grin. “I told him everything.”

She pauses. “Everything?”


“How did it go?” she asks carefully. “Was he upset?”

“Not at all. He was supportive.”

She sighs happily. “Thank God. I am so thankful you found him, Lou. You deserve to be loved right. After everything, you’re the one who deserves all the love in the world.”

“We all do,” I correct her. “And we all will get that.”

“True, but you more so than anyone.”

I grin, my emotions growing thick. “Let’s agree to disagree and get going.”

“I’m not agreeing to that, and I know that the girls will all agree with me.”

“Whatever,” I say with a laugh, loving how much she loves me.

“I’ll come grab you.”

“It’s okay. I’ll walk. On the way to the hotel last night, I saw a shop two blocks up. It’s so nice out, and I need fresh air.”

“Okay. Send me the address and let me know when you leave.”

“Will do.”

“See you soon. I love you, Louisa.”

“I love you more.”

We hang up, and I feel on top of the world. I head into the bathroom, showering and getting ready to meet her. I didn’t bring much stuff with me, and I guess I can go shopping while I’m out with Austen. I make sure to pick up the keycard for the room and grab my backpack before going out the door. I send Austen the address of the nail salon and let her know I’m leaving now. I almost text Ciaran that I’m going out with Austen, but I know I’ll be back before him so I’m not worried about it. I don’t want to distract him, especially when I’m sure he’ll be a bit late.

The cool Nashville fall air hits me in the face once I make it outside, and I breathe in deeply. I’m so full of love, and for once, I feel good about my life. I feel like things are finally going the way I want them to.

But before I can think another thought, pain explodes throughout my body, and then I’m met with darkness.





I fucking love her.

So damn much.

Never in my life have I thought of anything but hockey when I’m on the ice. Even when all the shit happened with Mikayla, I was able to separate my personal life from my game. I was able to leave it all behind once my skates crunched into the ice. A sheet of frozen water has always been my escape, but even with the need to prove myself and show off for the coaches, players, and staff of the Nashville Assassins, I can’t get Louisa out of my mind.

I try, boy do I, but I can’t shake her. She is the star of my thoughts and my heart. I can’t stop thinking about our morning and all the shit she went through. I remember how her face twisted in fear, hurt, and hatred when she was retelling her past. When she opened up for me, becoming the most vulnerable she has ever been with me, I knew for a fact that she was it for me. Her strength, her beauty, her wit, they’re all I’ll ever want. I have her forever, and I plan on making it the best future she could ever imagine.

I’m reminded of when I started to feel she was worth the risk to my heart. Even now, I know she is.

Louisa is everything.

There seems to be a lot of traffic at the front of the hotel, so I head to the back and park in the parking garage. With each step I take, my heart beats harder in anticipation of seeing her. I made reservations for us for dinner, and I want to take her to the Parthenon. I want to bring her back to the hotel and give her all the pleasure in the world. I will worship her and love her until neither of us is able to move and I chase away all her bad dreams.

Because only good should come to my love.

But when I get to the room, she isn’t there. Her stuff is still here, but there is no sign of my love. She said she’d be here. Did she change her mind? No. That’s not what’s happening. I know that for a fact. She wouldn’t do that. Maybe she went out with Austen? But wouldn’t she have told me that? Something isn’t right.

I dig my phone out of my pocket and hit her contact, but to my dismay, she doesn’t answer. I sit on the edge of the bed and dial her again. Still no answer. I send a text asking where she is, but I receive no response. My heart is in my throat as I dial her again. And again. Uncontrollable fear courses through me. Did I ruin this somehow? Was I not compassionate enough? Fuck me. I go to call her again, but then my phone rings with a number I don’t recognize.

My stomach clenches, and I hold my breath as I answer with a rough, “Hello?”

“Ciaran,” a voice cries. It takes me a second to register that it’s Austen. “Louisa was in an accident and is in surgery at Vanderbilt.” I’m up and out the door before she even finishes. She says more, but I don’t hear it. Not over the slamming of my heart. I can’t even answer her. All I can do is run.

To Louisa.





I feel as if I’m not even in my body.

“Most of the injuries to her body are on her right side,” the doctor explains. “We successfully set her right leg and arm. She has pins in her ankle, femur, knee, wrist, and elbow. She has a slight fracture along her scapula from the impact of being hit by the truck, but we think it’ll heal with no issue. A few of her ribs are broken and two pierced her lung, but we got that under control.”

I feel like I’m gonna puke. So much damage has been inflicted on the love of my life—as if she hasn’t already been through enough. Austen sobs across from me, Dimitri’s arms around her as she holds Louisa’s hand. I hold Lou’s other hand, the injured one. I run my thumb in circles along her palm as I gaze up at her. She looks so peaceful, so beautiful, and I feel like I’m the one who was hit by the delivery truck.

“The saving grace was the backpack she wore. It had padding but also contained a hockey jersey. And when she was hit, the backpack cushioned her head from the fall. I don’t know how. Maybe she saw the truck coming and tried to move out of the way. I’m unsure. But honestly, how it happened doesn’t matter. She has no brain damage and no injuries to her face.”

Austen’s voice breaks as she asks, “When will she wake up?”

“We have her in a medically induced coma because of the pain. We had to do a lot of work on her. She needs to heal a bit before we wake her up.”

“But she will wake up?” I ask, my voice as rough as Austen’s.

“She should.”

She should.


But might not.

Bile burns my throat as I lean in, kissing her hand and closing my eyes against her skin. My body doesn’t even feel like mine—hell, it doesn’t feel anything. I’m numb. Tears stream down my cheeks and onto her bed, but I don’t move. I stay where I am, holding her hand and praying for her to wake up. To see her smile. To hear my name on her lips. To hear that fucking sigh that I love more than life itself. To tell her I’m sorry and then show her how sorry I am. I need the opportunity to love her so fucking hard, she never ever wonders if I do.

I need her to tell me she loves me.

I knew she was too good to be true. No. I can’t think like that. She’s going to wake up. She’s going to look at me and tell me she loves me. She won’t leave me. Louisa isn’t everyone else; she’s more. She’s mine as much as I am hers, and fucking hell, I need her to be okay. A sob moves through me, and I grip the sheets of her bed as I squeeze my eyes shut tightly.

And I stay right there, not moving, only monitoring Louisa. I refuse to leave as the nurses walk in and out. As doctors come and go. When Eliza, Clara, and Elliot arrive. When Dan Davenport shows up. I don’t move. I don’t speak. I don’t acknowledge. I only watch, praying that she heals. That I truly have forever with her. That her future is mine like she said. Because I want it. I want all of her.


When a hand slides along my back, I tense, knowing what is about to be said. “I can take your spot while you go get some rest, get some food?”

I don’t look at Eliza. In a hoarse voice, I tell her, “My spot isn’t up for grabs.”

She cups my neck and then leans her head to mine. “Can I get you anything?” I can’t answer her, and I think she knows that. “Okay. I’m here, Ciaran. We all are.”

But that doesn’t ease my fear or make any of this better. Not to sound like an asshole, but I don’t want them. I want Louisa. As I watch the rise and fall of her chest, the pain is unbearable.

I need her to wake up.

I need to tell her I love her and never stop saying it.

To thank her for trusting me with the worst parts of her past.

It feels like an eternity as time passes. More people come and go, but I don’t move. I can’t. I don’t even make eye contact with anyone until the doctor comes in to announce Louisa has been stable long enough and they’re removing the tube from her throat. Reluctantly, I stand up to give them the room they need. I don’t go far. Though, that doesn’t stop Dan from coming up beside me. I hold my breath and feel his gaze on me while I watch them work on Louisa. She’s so pale, and all I want is for her to wake up.

I’ll bring color to her cheeks. I know I can. I just need the chance.

“You should probably head to the arena.”

I don’t trust my voice to be steady, so I shake my head.

“Son, this is your career.”

“And she is the love of my life. I can’t leave her,” I bite out, my voice breaking. “Fuck my career. Nothing will matter if I don’t have her.”

Dan’s eyes widen as he takes a deep breath. “She would want you to go.”

“I know, but I will be here when she wakes up.”

“That could be hours, days. You could go pla⁠—”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I snap, meeting his serious gaze. “Now, if you care about my career that much and you can make a call, that’d be great. But if not, that’s fine too. But I’m not leaving.”

With that, I settle back in my chair and take her hand once more. I thread our fingers and press my lips to her knuckles. Behind me, I hear Austen say, “Dimitri called Shelli and Elli.” She speaks of the GM and owner of the Assassins, and I remember that he’s close to them. “They are aware of the situation and said to check in tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Austen,” I somehow get out, and she cups my shoulder.

She leans in, her lips by my ear. “Thank you.”

I don’t know why she’s thanking me, but I don’t have it in me to find out. As she moves away, I lean down to press another kiss to Louisa’s hand. The doctor nods, apparently satisfied with her work, and then tells us, “It’s all on her now. Let us know if you need anything.”

Tears blur my vision, and against Louisa’s knuckles, I whisper, “Come on, my love. Wake up. I need you.”

I close my eyes, my tears leaking out, and I know my words to be true.

I need her to look at me with those kaleidoscope hazel eyes.

I need her to be beside me, reading at night.

I need her to smile at me when we discuss our favorite parts of books.

I need to hear my name on those lips when she comes or even when she’s upset with me.

But most of all, I need her to love me.

I was so scared, so frightened, to allow myself to love her, but I have never felt fear like I feel right now.

The terror of losing her.





I ache everywhere.

But mostly on my right side.

I feel my hands being held, and I don’t have to open my eyes to know Ciaran has my right one. I’ve memorized the way his fingers fit with mine. But where am I? I try to open my eyes, but they don’t move. When I attempt to move my limbs, I’m met with resistance, and panic blooms in my chest.

What happened?

“Oh, he fell asleep,” Austen says with a sigh.

“He’ll probably piss his pants,” Clara adds. “He hasn’t used the bathroom at all. I get it. I don’t want to leave her side either, but even I have to pee!”

“You just don’t love her the way he does,” Elliot teases, and when I hear a slap, I know Clara popped her one. “Ouch! I was kidding!”

“Still. Not cool,” Clara snaps, and I want to laugh at them. I try to smile, but I don’t know if I do. I feel as if I’m under water. All foggy and disoriented.

“Let him sleep,” Eliza insists. “He has to be exhausted, and if he does piss his pants, no one say a word.”

Everyone agrees, but I know for a fact that they’ll tease him relentlessly. Though…why are they here? Why hasn’t Ciaran slept? What in the world is going on? Why does everything hurt? I try to open my eyes again, and it hurts to do so. I groan at the pain, and the room falls silent.

“Louisa?” I hear Austen ask. “I think she moaned.”

“You’re hearing things,” Elliot says to her. “She hasn’t moved in three days.”

Three days! What the hell! Despite the pain, I force my eyes open, blinking and groaning at the onset of pain. My blurry gaze falls on Austen, her eyes bloodshot and her face red. Her eyes widen, and she cries out, “Louisa!”

The sound pierces my ears, but the look of pure relief on her face has me ignoring the pain. “Oh my God, Lou,” Eliza breathes. “Get the doctor.”

The room is white, sterile, and I know instantly that I’m in a hospital. I move my gaze to each of my sisters, who all start crying. And I love them, I do, but I need to set eyes on Ciaran. I shift my eyes to where Ciaran is lying against my thigh, my hand in his. I see streaks on his cheek from tears. The tip of his nose is red, but he looks so peaceful. His lashes kiss his cheeks, and his deep inhales and exhales move his whole body. His brow is furrowed, almost as if he’s tense even in sleep. It kills me to see him like that. I swallow hard, but nothing leaves my lips when I try to call for him.

“Hold on, Lou. Don’t talk. You probably need water. Hold on,” Eliza stresses, brushing my hair behind my ear.

I look up at her and then back to Ciaran before meeting her gaze again.

“He hasn’t left your side.”

My heart pounds at that. My eyes widen because what about his games! It’s been three days! Oh my God, surely he didn’t fuck up his career. I feel like Eliza knows what I’m thinking, but she only shrugs as my peepaw comes into view.

“Hey there, Lou.” I try to smile, but I must look like I’m in pain, because he says, “I’m sorry. The doctors are coming.”

I look back at Ciaran, and with all my might, I wiggle my fingers. I watch as he jolts awake, his eyes on our hands before he snaps his gaze to mine. Such beautiful relief comes across his gorgeous face before his blue eyes well up with tears. They fall quickly as he stands, moving in so that our foreheads touch. “Louisa,” he says on an exhale. My heart thuds in my chest. “I love you.”

Peace falls over me, and I try to say it back, but once more, no words leave my lips. He must know what I want to say, though, for he gives me a dazzling grin before the room is full of nurses and a doctor. Even through all the questions, the poking and prodding, my eyes stay locked with his, my heart crying for him. It isn’t until Austen explains what happened that I finally move my gaze away.

I was hit by a delivery truck, and it drove over my leg, which is why it’s broken.

What. The. Hell.

Who the hell gets hit by a whole-ass truck nowadays? Like, really? This is my life? How did it hit me and I didn’t even know it was coming? I wasn’t even on my phone. But my mind was on Ciaran. I can’t believe I didn’t see a truck coming, but then…I never saw Ciaran coming either. He takes my hand the moment the doctors step away from me. He takes the cup of water from the nurse and brings the straw to my lips. I take a pull from the straw as best I can, and I’m thankful for the cold water rushing down my throat. I’m actually able to smile when Ciaran pulls the straw away, and his hand lands on his chest as he takes a deep breath. His eyes are full of tears when our eyes meet.

“There is my smile.”

He leans in, kissing the smile off my lips, and I feel every single emotion in the kiss. He’s still shaking, and I want to ease it all. I want to reassure him; I want to comfort him. “I’m okay,” I whisper against his lips as we part.

“I know that now. But before, I couldn’t breathe.”

I squeeze his hand, and he sits down, his other hand cupping our hands in his. “Ciaran.”


“I love you.”

“I love you more, my love.”

I want to fight him on it, but I don’t have it in me. So, I allow him to think he loves me more, even though there is no possible way.





Louisa and I aren’t alone until the next day. I slept for the first time in days, and though I needed it, I’d much rather have talked to Louisa. While I know she has a family, and they love one another, I wish they’d leave us be. I’ve wanted to be alone with her the whole time. Since the moment she woke, I have gone over and over what I want to say when we’re finally alone. But now, all I can think to say is, “I love you, Lou.”

Her lips quirk, and I’m met with her teasing eyes. “You’re just saying that ’cause I got hit by a truck.”

I can’t help but chuckle, and it feels good after three days of constant worry. “Probably so, huh?”

“Oh, totally. Who gets hit by a goddamned truck?” she says with that mischievous gleam in her eyes that I love beyond reason.

“You, apparently. Weren’t you paying attention?”

“I mean, I guess not! I probably wasn’t walking right after all that loving you gave me.”

She waggles her brows, and I laugh, shaking my head. “Great. So it’s my fault?”

“All your fault for keeping me completely distracted all the time.”

I grin at her. “Same, my love. Same.”

We laugh together quietly, our eyes locking with each other’s. She leaves me utterly breathless, and I’m thankful for the color that is coming back to her skin. Seeing her eyes open and sparkling is something I’ll never take for granted again. That smile is stunning and as beautiful as she is.

I lean back in the chair by her bed, blowing into a straw with the wrapper on, and my breath carries the paper toward her, hitting her in the nose. She giggles as I declare, “Ten points.”

The doctor had suggested that Louisa blows the paper off straws, that it can help her lungs, so I stole a bunch from the cafeteria, and we’ve been beaning each other all morning. She’s covered with white paper wrappers, as is the floor. Even all the girls got in on it before they finally left us alone, and while we had a blast, I’m glad to have this time with just Louisa.

When she slides her hand into mine, I thread our fingers, looking up to find her watching me. I stare into her eyes for a long time, neither of us saying a thing, just our fingers tangling and untangling. We have so much to say, but all I care about is letting her know how much I love her. Before I can utter a word, though, she reprimands me. “You’ve missed two games, Ciaran.”

I’m surprised by her statement. I hadn’t expected it. “I did, but Mrs. Adler is good with it, understands what’s going on. And Dimitri really stuck his neck out for me. Everything is fine.”

“But it could have not been,” she urges, her eyes holding mine. “You should have gone.”

I scoff at that, shaking my head. “Lou, there was no way I was leaving you. I physically couldn’t.”

“Your career is imp⁠—”

“You’re way more important,” I say, cutting her off. “I made the right choice, Lou. I don’t regret anything, and I’ll never leave your side.”

Her shoulder drops, her eyes getting glassy. “What if they send you back to the Bears?”

“Then I’ll be closer to you.”


“Lou,” I say back, squeezing her hand. “I found myself in you, and it scared the living shit out of me, but all this made me realize that it scares me more to live a second without you.”

I move to the side of the bed, sitting close so our bodies touch. I bend over her, trapping her head with my hands against the mattress. As she looks up at me, I can see all the beautiful emotions in her eyes. Love, acceptance, bliss… Joy. Our love.

My heart.

Overwhelmed by emotion, I lean my head to hers, our noses touching while we stare into each other’s eyes. My voice is rough as I say, “I thought you left me.”

She gives me a dark look. “I would never.”

“I know that, but still, it scared me. Then I got the call that you’d been in an accident, and all I could think was I knew you were too good to be true.”

“I’m here. I’m yours…just a little broken.”

“So, I’ll hold you together until you feel whole.”

Her eyes sparkle with unshed tears. “When I’m with you, I’m whole.”

“Exactly,” I agree, catching her tears that fall. “That bastard owned you like a possession. Now, you’ll be my equal because you love me enough to choose to be mine forever. If you want my forever.”

Louisa’s breath catches, her tears falling quicker down her round cheeks. “I do. I truly do.”

I blink, overwhelmed by her admission. Chills run down my spine, my gut curls with heat, and I’m stunned to silence.

She cups my cheek with her good arm, running her thumb along my jaw. “I don’t like accidents, especially the kinds that involve trucks running into me.”

“Yeah. Zero stars,” I say with a chuckle.

“Do not recommend,” she agrees, her eyes still burning into mine. “But I love that we accidentally got each other the same muffin, and that was the moment I chose to love you for the rest of my existence.”

My heart jumps into my throat, and I cover her hand with my own. “I would miss every game for you.”

She beams at me. “I wouldn’t let you.”

Unable to resist, I kiss her. I capture her sweet lips with mine, heat burning throughout me and my heart pounding so fucking hard, it hurts. But I welcome it.

It means this is real.

We’re real.

She runs her tongue along my lips, and I groan against her mouth. She takes advantage of my parted lips and swirls her tongue with mine. She tastes like the applesauce she ate earlier, and the tears that spring to my eyes are from not being able to taste her lips in four days. I needed this. I needed her.

The reassurance.

I move back, and she whines in protest, trying to pull me to her, but I resist this time. “I think that since I can’t do anything, you should at least let me kiss you whenever I want.”

“No complaint from me when I’m not trying to profess my love to you.”

I swear she has hearts in her eyes, the lopsided grin that covers her lips just for me. “I know you love me, Ciaran.”

“Sure, but did you know that I want to spend my days reassuring you that I’ll never love anyone else but you and chasing away every bad thought that plagues you?”

Her grin falters, only a bit, as her eyes shine for me. “I didn’t know that.”

“I do,” I say, rubbing her injured hand with my thumb but never breaking eye contact. “When I’m not reassuring you with words, I will make love to you. And when you need more, I’ll give you whatever you need. I want to love you through all our accidents, good and bad.”

“Ciaran,” she breathes just as a tear escapes down my cheek. She wipes it quickly, her eyes a deep bluish-green, shining with love. “I want all that. I do. Only with you.”

I feel like I can’t breathe; I’m lost in her eyes. Lost in the love she has only for me. I wish I had prepared better, but how was I supposed to know she’d get hit by a truck and I’d be asking for her love for the rest of my life? “I don’t have a ring.”

“You don’t need one.”

Inside my chest, my heart skids to a halt for her, and my breathing stops as I stay trapped in her beautiful gaze. “I love you, Lou.”

“I love you,” she promises, and I kiss her again, needing to feel her lips. Needing her to encourage me that this is really what she wants. That she wants me. That she’ll always want me.

As we part, our eyes lock, and I let out a heavy sigh. A small, shy smile forms on my lips, but when she smiles, I feel like I’m on top of the world. “Give me your future, Lou. Let me help shape it into something our kids, grandkids, and beyond will speak of. Something they’ll be as proud of as I know we will be. Be at every one of my games you can make it to. Let me put away books with you. Let’s make the big plans, because I want nothing more than to make a life with you. You are the heroine in my story, Lou. Let me love you like your favorite book boyfriend.” Tears stream down her cheeks, and I go to wipe them away, but then I notice something in her hair. I reach for the straw paper that’s stuck in her strands. I lift her left hand, wrapping the paper around her ring finger and then twisting the ends so it’s a makeshift—yes, also cheap and maybe a bit tacky—ring, but when I look up at her, she’s beaming just for me. Her eyes ease my guilt over not having a ring, and then the words leave my mouth just as quickly as I get the puck off my blade. “Will you marry me, Louisa?”

Her breath catches, but she recovers, cupping my hand with the one I just put a paper ring on. “Yes, because loving you endlessly is my big plan anyway. I was just hoping you’d be on board.”

“I am.”

“Good, then kiss me.”

And I do, deeply, as all the love in my soul pours into the kiss, just for her.

For this girl who owns my heart.

When she pulls back, her eyes flutter open and our lips still linger close to each other. I kiss her top lip, then she kisses my nose, and I look deep into her eyes, loving what I see with every bit of my being.

My future.





The crowd is electric as I sit in my seat on the glass wearing my number four Knoxville Bears jersey. My sisters all sit up in Dimitri’s box, but I wanted Ciaran to see me when he hit the ice. I wanted him to know I’m here and that I’m so proud of him. It was hell getting me down here since my ankle is still a shitshow. I had some complications from surgery that no one knew about, and because of that, my ankle scooter has become my new best friend. I should have gone to the suite, but like I told the girls, Ciaran needs to see me.

I spin my engagement ring around my ring finger with nerves. Ciaran and Eliza had surprised me by taking the paper ring that Ciaran had made me all those months ago in the hospital and setting it in resin to keep it forever. I love it, and I don’t want anything else, much to his dismay. He wants me to have something flashy, a huge diamond, but I want no such thing.

I want our paper ring that he proposed with.

I want his love.

And I know it’s all mine.

Everyone around me wears Assassins jerseys, but Ciaran isn’t on the team yet. After my accident, he was sent back to the Bears for more development. I was devastated and guilt-ridden, but he promised me it was all good. He said as long as I was okay, everything else would play out how it was supposed to. He believes it was fate since someone has had to carry me around the shop and up to our apartment.

He is the book boyfriend authors write about.

It took time for me to accept that he had lost his chance because of me. Though, he claims there was no choice to make. Whenever I get in my feelings, he reminds me that he’d make the same decision over and over.

And each time he says it, I swoon.

I don’t know how I got so lucky, but thank God for pomegranate-orange muffins and hot hockey players with sinfully filthy mouths.

The horn sounds for the players to hit the ice, and I struggle to my feet. I lean on my good leg, patting the glass with my palms as I wait for him to come out. Ciaran was right when he said he’d make it back to the Nashville Assassins. It only took fifty-nine goals in forty-one games, but he proved himself, and here we are.

Me cheering, and him living the dream he’s worked for.

Just how I love us.

I take that back. I love us the most when we’re in bed, reading, and later, when he puts that filthy mouth to good use.

Oh, I just love him.

Everything about him, about us, about our love.

When he comes out of the tunnel, my breath catches at the sight. He looks incredible in purple, the black on the jersey so striking with his features. His blue eyes are ablaze, and he has sexy scruff all along his jaw. His stick hangs from his glove as he twists it, warming up his wrists. His helmet isn’t fastened, and the strap waves wildly behind him as he does his laps. He has a beautiful, determined look on his face. That is, until he sees me.

He stops so abruptly, a spray of ice flows ahead of him, and I can’t help but laugh. His eyes widen, and then his lips spread into a big grin before he shakes his head in shock. He skates back toward the door like he did before, and the butterflies go insane in my belly. The last time he did this, he told me he loved me. A moment neither of us will ever forget.

When he leans up against the rail, he sets me with a look. “Lou, what in the world are you doing down here? I thought you’d go up in your family’s box.”

I shake my head, hopping toward him. He grimaces, and I can see him considering climbing the stairs in his skates. “I’m fine,” I tell him, looking more like a flamingo than a hockey girlfriend. He doesn’t listen and drops to his knees, climbing the stairs to give me his hand. I take it and hop toward him, and when I’m in front of him, he looks up at me. He’s so damn handsome. “I wanted you to see me.”

“Then take a picture from the box where I know you’re safe,” he reprimands, though he is still grinning so widely for me. He takes hold of my hips, shaking his head as I place mine on his large, padded shoulders. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“I wouldn’t dare. I only wanted you to know that I’m here, screaming for you.”

“I always know. You don’t have to go out of your way, risking reinjuring yourself, for me to know that, my love.”

I lean down, pressing my head to his. “True, but I wanted to.” His eyes flash with heat. “I want you to see me when you score, only a sheet of glass between us, and hear me screaming just for you.”

Ciaran reaches up, cupping my face. “I don’t deserve you.”

“You do,” I promise. “And sorry, but you put a ring on it. No returns.”

His eyes sparkle and his grin grows, his white teeth gleaming in the lights. “I wouldn’t return you for anything,” he tells me, stroking my lip. “Five stars. Perfect fiancée. Though, I refuse to recommend you to anyone. You’re mine.”

A breathless giggle escapes my lips. “And you’re mine.”

“Endlessly,” he promises. He moves his knuckles along my cheek, and I savor the way his eyes hold mine. “Tell me.”

“I love you,” I declare, and our lips meet. He takes my lips with his in a deep, lusty kiss that is unstoppable.

When he pulls away, I press my nose to his. “I can’t get enough of you saying that to me,” he says with a smile.

“I have big plans to say it a lot.”

“Of course,” he agrees, squeezing my hips.

I kiss his nose. “Good luck, score a lot of goals, hit a lot of guys, and skate fast.”

He winks, obviously entertained by my uplifting hockey pep talk. “That’s my plan, and then I’ll score again when I get you home.”

“Well, duh,” I tease, booping his nose, and he laughs in earnest. “I love you.”

He kisses my lips once more. “Not as much as I love you.”

Before I can fight him on that, he’s gone, looking over his shoulder to grin at me.

He’s my reason for breathing.

I was wrong before. The only man worth a damn isn’t a fictional man, but my man instead.


My hot, hockey-playing, forever boyfriend—er, I mean fiancé.

My future.





I love hugs and here I am, being super awkward and begging you for a review. Believe me, I hate it more than you do. But, this is me swallowing my pride and begging. Why? This is a new series, it needs reviews to gain traction! You are the reason I’m successful. I could write all day but without you loving and enjoying my characters, I’d be nothing. Whether you loved or hated this story, you made it this far, so please review! Your reviews play a HUGE role in determining whether others read my books, and writing is my full time job. It supports me, my family, and my book addiction. LOL. I write for you, and believe me, as much as I hate bad reviews, I need them too. Not everyone will love me, but even bad reviews intrigue people. I know I’ve read books because of one stars before! Regardless of whether you have the time to review or not, thank you so much for reading. I am truly grateful for you.






Starting a new series can be intimidating for sure, and it was. LOL. But it was also exciting. I have had this idea for Ciaran and Lou since I wrote Heavy Shot. When I met Lou, I knew she needed the ultimate book boyfriend who would love her for every scar. Oh, how I love Ciaran. He was so much fun to write, but it’s the series as a whole that excites me. While I love the Assassins, the Bullies, and the IceCats, it’s such a blessing to create a new team—and also to offer it as an Amazon Exclusive.

I just hope you love it as much as I loved writing it.

Lisa, my pillar. You are my emotional support human and somehow know exactly how to help me succeed. Thank you.

To my betas, thank you for being honest and helping me make this book what it is.

To Bobbie Jo, my sister, my everything. Thank you.

I love you, Michael, Mikey, Alyssa, and Phoebe.

As always, thank you, the reader of this book. Each book is a new opportunity to gain new readers. I wouldn’t be who I am without you. Thank you.

I am forever grateful for you.





Knoxville Bears

Pucks and Books

Pucks and Coffee

Pucks and Likes

Pucks and Pits



Breaking Away

Laces and Lace

A Very Merry Hockey Holiday

Wanting to Forget


Rushing the Goal

Puck, Sticks, and Diapers

Face-off at the Altar

Delayed Call


In the Crease

One Timer


Nashville Assassins: Next Generation

Dump & Chase

Power Play

Bring It Home

Blades of Glory

The Chase is Over

Dirty Toe Drag

Heavy Shot


Bellevue Bullies Series

Boarded by Love

Clipped by Love

Hooked by Love

End Game

Spiked by Love

Saved by Love

Her Choice

Chosen by Love


IceCats Series

Juicy Rebound

Wild Tendy

Hard Hit

All the Sauce

Hat Trick


Taking Risks

Whiskey Prince

Becoming the Whiskey Princess

Whiskey Rebellion


Patchwork Series



Broken Pieces


Spring Grove Novels

(Small-town romances)

Not the One

Small-Town Sweetheart



Let it be Me

Two-Man Advantage




Misadventures with a Rookie

Misadventures of a Manny


Assassins Series

Taking Shots

Trying to Score

Empty Net

Falling for the Backup

Blue Lines






make sure to Join my Mailing List:


My name is Toni aleo and I’m a #PredHead, #sherrio, #potterhead, and part of the #familybusiness!

I am also a wife to my amazing husband, mother of a WKU Hilltopper and a gymnast, and also a fur momma to Phoebe, Gaston el Papillon & Winston.

You can usually find me hollering for the whole Nashville Predators since I’ll never give my heart to one player again. When I’m not in the gym getting swole, I’m usually writing, trying to make my dreams a reality or being a taxi for my kids. I’m obsessed with Harry Potter, Supernatural, Disney and anything that sparkles! I’m pretty sure I was Belle in a past life and if I could be on any show it would be supernatural so I can hunt with Sam and Dean.

Also, could I LOVE hockey anymore?

[email protected]


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