Main The Risk (Briar U #2)
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What of Hollis story ms. Kennedy
01 October 2020 (18:08)
Liked the book! I was on the edge of my seat the whole time reading, I just couldn’t put it down!
27 April 2021 (23:59)
Pure minde is a comfortable ...
04 May 2021 (22:04)
love this story, the chemistry between the characters is just amazing
08 May 2021 (10:31)
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09 May 2021 (20:18)
I loved this book so much!! Definitely my favorite from the whole off-campus/briar u series :D
25 May 2021 (03:02)
hollis and rupi laughtrip duo HAHAHAHAHHAHA it's just soooo funny. Love the book!!
29 June 2021 (19:46)
AMAZING! My fav of all the series!
19 July 2021 (19:31)
Hello there. So lemme clear up. This book is not bad but if you are uncomfortable with intimate scenes that are descriptive then pass on this book. I was super uncomfortable reading this but i loved the storyline and i skipped scenes. I guess i have to get used to the scenes. If u r looking for a forbidden love trope then here it is. I give this book a rough 7 outta 10 because the characters were damn funny and the chemistry was mind blowing. I am only 15 and mybe thats why I found it a bit too uncomfortable. Anyway totally my opinion and i support you if you love this book☺☺
31 July 2021 (15:29)
chef's kiss, thats all
09 August 2021 (18:40)
Definitely one of the best reads....Elle Kennedy is the best!
14 August 2021 (19:20)
Definitely on my top 3 favorite of the Off campus/Briar u series
26 September 2021 (11:11)
OMG THAT BOOK! Brenna and Jake are my favourite you guys! read read read itttt
27 October 2021 (09:17)
Toshko loshoto momche
best couple ever! Im disappointed they are not mention enough in the rest books of briar u series.. jake and brenna are the cutest guys! Totally worth the hype!
30 October 2021 (14:19)
Loooove them!! The best briar u couple FOR SURE! also i think the perfect jake would be mathew barzal and brenna would be eliza gonzalez .. HOT COUPLE ALLERT
12 November 2021 (15:17)
I cannot get the file to open
17 November 2021 (06:43)
ZLibrary Team (Valeria Bookos)
@Sharie, please try another reading app.
17 November 2021 (13:30)
Jake is a stand up guy. Dangerously so.
27 November 2021 (09:27)
The Risk Briar U Elle Kennedy Contents The Risk 1. Brenna 2. Jake 3. Brenna 4. Brenna 5. Brenna 6. Jake 7. Jake 8. Brenna 9. Jake 10. Brenna 11. Brenna 12. Jake 13. Brenna 14. Brenna 15. Jake 16. Brenna 17. Brenna 18. Jake 19. Brenna 20. Brenna 21. Jake 22. Jake 23. Jake 24. Brenna 25. Jake 26. Jake 27. Brenna 28. Brenna 29. Jake 30. Brenna 31. Brenna 32. Jake 33. Brenna 34. Jake 35. Brenna 36. Brenna 37. Brenna 38. Brenna 39. Jake 40. Jake 41. Brenna Epilogue The Chase Other Titles by Elle Kennedy Author’s Note About the Author The Risk A sexy standalone novel from New York Times and international bestselling author Elle Kennedy! Everyone says I’m a bad girl. They’re only partly right—I don’t let fear rule me, and I certainly don’t care what people think. But I draw the line at sleeping with the enemy. As the daughter of Briar’s head hockey coach, I’d be vilified if I hooked up with a player from a rival team. * * * And that’s who Jake Connelly is. Harvard’s star forward is arrogant, annoying, and too attractive for his own good. But fate is cruel—I require his help to secure a much-coveted internship, and the sexy jerk isn’t making it easy for me. * * * I need Connelly to be my fake boyfriend. * * * For every fake date…he wants a real one. * * * Which means this bad girl is in big trouble. Nothing good can come from sneaking around with Jake Connelly. My father would kill me, my friends will revolt, and my post-college career is on the line. But while it’s getting harder and harder to resist Jake’s oozing sex appeal and cocky grin, I refuse to fall for him. * * * That’s the one risk I’m not willing to take. 1 Brenna My date is late. Now, I’m not a total bitch. Usually I’ll give guys a five-minute window. I can forgive five minutes of tardiness. At seven minutes, I might still be somewhat ; receptive, especially if the lateness is accompanied by a heads-up call or text informing me he’s going to be late. Traffic is an evil mistress. Sometimes she screws you. At ten minutes, my patience would be running thin. And if the inconsiderate ass is both ten minutes late and didn’t call? Thank you, next. I’m walking right out the door. At fifteen minutes, shame on me. Why the hell am I still at the restaurant? Or, in this particular case, the diner. I’m sitting in a booth at Della’s, the ’50s-themed diner in Hastings. Hastings is the small town I’m calling home for the next couple of years, but luckily, I don’t need to call my father’s house “home.” Dad and I might live in the same town, but before I transferred to Briar University, I made it clear I wouldn’t be moving in with him. I already left that nest. No way am I flying back to it and subjecting myself to his overprotectiveness and terrible cooking again. “Can I get you another coffee, hon?” The waitress, a curly-haired woman in a white-and-blue polyester uniform, eyes me sympathetically. She looks to be in her late twenties. Her nametag reads “Stacy,” and I’m pretty sure she knows I’ve been ditched. “No, thanks. Just the bill, please.” As she walks off, I pick up my phone and shoot a quick text to my friend Summer. This is all her fault. Therefore she must face my wrath. ME: He stood me up. Summer answers instantly, as if she’s been sitting by her phone waiting for a report. Actually, forget “as if.” She totally has. My new friend is unapologetically nosy. SUMMER: OMG! NO!! * * * ME: Yes. * * * SUMMER: What. a. dick. I am so so so so sorry, Bee. * * * ME: Meh. Part of me’s not surprised. He’s a football player. They’re notorious douchecanoes. * * * SUMMER: I thought Jules was different. * * * ME: You thought wrong. Three dots appear, indicating she’s typing a response, but I already know what it will be. Another long-winded apology, which I’m not in the mood to read at the moment. I’m not in the mood for anything but paying for my coffee, walking back to my tiny apartment, and taking off my bra. Stupid football player. I actually put makeup on for this jerk. Yes, it was just supposed to be an evening coffee date, but I still made an effort. I bend my head as I rummage around in my wallet for small bills. When a shadow falls over the tabletop, I assume it’s Stacy returning with my check. I assume wrong. “Jensen,” drawls an insolent male voice. “Got stood up, eh?” Ugh. Of all the people who could’ve shown up right now, this is the last one I want to see. As Jake Connelly slides into the other side of the booth, I greet him with a suspicious scowl rather than a smile. “What are you doing here?” I ask. Connelly is the captain of the Harvard hockey team, AKA, THE ENEMY. Harvard and Briar are rivals, and my father happens to be the head coach of the latter. He’s coached at Briar for ten years, winning three championships during that reign. The Age of Jensen—that was the headline of a recent article I read in one of the New England papers. It was a full-page write-up about how Briar is killing it this season. Unfortunately, so is Harvard, all thanks to the superstar across the booth from me. “I was in the neighborhood.” There’s an amused gleam in his forest-green eyes. The last time I saw him, he and a teammate were lurking in the stands of Briar’s arena, scoping us out. Not long after, we kicked their asses when our teams played each other. Which was tremendously satisfying and made up for our loss against them earlier in the season. “Mmm-hmmm, I’m sure you just happened to be in Hastings. Don’t you live in Cambridge?” “So?” “So that’s an hour away.” I give him a smirk. “I didn’t know I had a stalker.” “You got me. I’m stalking you.” “I’m flattered, Jakey. It’s been a while since someone was so besotted with me that they drove to a whole other town to track me down.” His lips slowly curve into a smile. “Look, as hot as you are—” “Aw, you think I’m a hottie?” “—I wouldn’t spend the gas money to come here just to get my balls put through the wringer. Sorry to disappoint.” He runs a hand through his dark hair. It’s a bit shorter now, and he’s rocking some scruff that shadows his jaw. “You say that as if I have any interest in your balls,” I answer sweetly. “My metaphorical balls. You wouldn’t be able to handle the real ones,” he drawls. “Hottie.” I roll my eyes so hard I almost pull a muscle. “Seriously, Connelly. Why are you here?” “I was visiting a friend. This looked like a good place to grab some coffee before I drive back to the city.” “You have a friend? Well, that’s a relief. I’ve seen you hanging out with your teammates, but I assumed they have to pretend to like you because you’re their captain.” “They like me because I’m fucking terrific.” He flashes another grin. Panty-melting. That’s how Summer described his smile once. I swear, the chick has an unhealthy obsession with Connelly’s chiseled good looks. Phrases she’s thrown around to describe him include: hotness overload, ovary explosion, babelicious, and mackable. Summer and I have known each other only a couple of months. We pretty much went from strangers to best friends in about, oh, thirty seconds. I mean, she transferred from another college after accidentally setting part of her sorority house on fire—how could I not fall hard for that crazy girl? She’s a fashion major, a ton of fun, and is convinced I have a thing for Jake Connelly. She’s wrong. The guy is gorgeous, and he’s a phenomenal hockey player, but he’s also a notorious player off the ice. This doesn’t make him an anomaly, of course. A lot of athletes maintain an active roster of chicks who are perfectly content with 1) hooking up, 2) not being exclusive, and 3) always coming second to whatever sport the dude plays. But I’m not one of those chicks. I’m not averse to hookups, but numbers 2 and 3 are non-negotiable. Not to mention that my father would skin me alive if I ever dated THE ENEMY. Dad and Jake’s coach, Daryl Pedersen, have been feuding for years. According to my father, Coach Pedersen sacrifices babies to Satan and performs blood magic in his spare time. “I have lots of friends,” Connelly adds. He shrugs. “Including a very close one who goes to Briar.” “I feel like when somebody brags about all their friends, it usually means they don’t have any. Overcompensating, you know?” I smile innocently. “At least I didn’t get stood up.” The smile fades. “I wasn’t stood up,” I lie, except the waitress chooses that moment to approach the booth and blow my cover. “You made it!” Relief fills her eyes at the sight of Jake. Followed by a gleam of appreciation once she gets a good look at him. “We were starting to get worried.” We? I hadn’t realized we were partners in this humiliation venture. “The roads were slick,” Jake tells her, nodding toward the diner’s front windows. Rivulets of moisture streak the fogged-up panes. Beyond the glass a thin stripe of lightning momentarily illuminates the dark sky. “Gotta be extra careful when driving in the rain, you know?” She nods fervently. “The roads get really wet when it’s raining.” No shit, Captain Obvious. Rain makes things wet. Somebody call the Nobel Prize judging committee. Jake’s lips twitch. “Could I get you anything to drink?” she asks. I shoot him a warning glare. He responds with a smirk before turning to wink at her. “I would love a cup of coffee—” He squints at her nametag, “—Stacy. And a refill for my sulking date.” “I don’t want a refill, and I’m not his date,” I growl. Stacy blinks in confusion. “Oh? But…” “He’s a Harvard spy sent here to get the goods on Briar’s hockey team. Don’t humor him, Stacy. He’s the enemy.” “So dramatic.” Jake chuckles. “Ignore her, Stace. She’s just mad that I was late. Two coffees, and some pie, if you don’t mind. A slice of…” His gaze travels to the glass cases at the main counter. “Oh damn, I can’t decide. Everything looks so tasty.” “Yes you are,” I hear Stacy mumble under her breath. “What was that?” he asks, but his slight smile tells me he heard her loud and clear. She blushes. “Oh, um, I was saying we only have peach and pecan left.” “Hmmm.” He licks his bottom lip. It’s a ridiculously sexy move. Everything about him is sexy. Which is why I hate him. “You know what? One of each, please. My date and I will share ’em.” “We most certainly will not,” I say cheerfully, but Stacy is already hurrying off to procure some stupid pie for King Connelly. Fuck. “Listen, as much as I enjoy discussing how your team is trash, I’m too tired to insult you tonight.” I try to tamp down my weariness, but it creeps into my voice. “I want to go home.” “Not yet.” The lighthearted, somewhat mocking vibe he’s been giving off hardens into something more serious. “I didn’t come to Hastings for you, but now that we’re having coffee together—” “Against my will,” I cut in. “—there’s something we need to discuss.” “Oh, is there?” Despite myself, curiosity pricks at my gut. I cover it up with sarcasm. “I can’t wait to hear it.” Jake clasps his hands on the tabletop. He has great hands. Like, really, really great hands. I’ve got a bit of an obsession with men’s hands. If they’re too small, I’m instantly turned off. Too big and meaty, and I’m a bit apprehensive. But Connelly has been blessed with a winning pair. His fingers are long but not bony. Palms large and powerful but not beefy. His nails are clean, but two of his knuckles are red and cracked, probably from a skirmish on the ice. I can’t see his fingertips, but I’d bet they’re callused. I love the way calluses feel trailing over my bare skin, grazing a nipple… Ugh. Nope. I’m not allowed to be thinking racy thoughts in the vicinity of this man. “I want you to stay the hell away from my guy.” Although he punctuates that by baring his teeth, it can’t be classified as a smile. It’s too feral. “What guy?” But we both know I know who he means. I can count on one finger of one hand how many Harvard players I’ve fooled around with. I met Josh McCarthy at a Harvard party that Summer dragged me to a while back. He initially threw a tantrum when he found out I was Chad Jensen’s daughter, but then recognized the error of his ways, apologized via social media, and we got together a few times after that. McCarthy’s cute, goofy, and a solid candidate in terms of FWBs. With him living in Boston, there’s no chance of him smothering me with affection or showing up at my door unannounced. Obviously, he isn’t a long-term option. And that goes beyond the whole my-father-would-murder-me matter. Truth is, McCarthy doesn’t stimulate me. His sarcasm skills are severely lacking, and he’s a bit boring when his tongue isn’t in my mouth. “I mean it, Jensen. I don’t want you messing with McCarthy.” “Jeez, Mama Bear, retract those claws. It’s just a casual thing.” “Casual,” he echoes. It’s not a question, but a mocking I-don’t-believe-you. “Yes, casual. Would you like me to ask Siri to define the word for you? Casual means it isn’t serious. At all.” “It is for him.” I roll my eyes. “Well, that’s him, not me.” Yet, inside, I’m troubled by Jake’s frank assessment. It is for him. Oh boy. I hope that isn’t true. Yes, McCarthy texts me a lot, but I’ve been trying not to engage unless it’s something sexy. I don’t even respond with “LOL” when he sends me a funny video link, because I don’t want to lead him on. But…maybe I didn’t make our fling status as clear as I thought I did? “I’m tired of watching him walk around like a lovesick puppy.” Jake shakes his head in aggravation. “He has it bad, and this bullshit is distracting him at practice.” “Again, how is that my problem?” “We’re smack in the middle of the conference tournament. I know what you’re doing, Jensen, and you need to stop.” “Stop what?” “Stop fucking around with McCarthy. Tell him you’re not interested and don’t see him again. The end.” I mock-pout. “Oh, Daddy. You’re so strict.” “I’m not your daddy.” His lips curve again. “Though I could be if you want.” “Oh gross. I’m not calling you ‘Daddy’ in bed.” Proving she’s the master of bad timing, Stacy returns as those words exit my mouth. Her step stutters. The loaded tray she’s carrying shakes precariously. Silverware clinks together. I brace myself, expecting a waterfall of hot coffee to scald my face as Stacy lunges forward. But she recovers quickly, righting herself before disaster strikes. “Coffee and pie!” Her tone is high and bright, as if she hadn’t overheard a thing. “Thanks, Stacy,” Jake says graciously. “I’m sorry for my date’s potty mouth. You can see why I don’t take her out in public much.” Stacy’s cheeks are flushed with embarrassment as she scurries off. “You traumatized her for life with your filthy sex fantasies,” he informs me before digging into his pie. “Sorry, Daddy.” He snickers mid-bite, a few crumbs flying out of his mouth. He picks up his napkin. “You’re not allowed to call me that in public.” Mischief dances in his green eyes. “Save it for later.” The other slice—pecan, from the looks of it—sits untouched in front of me. I reach for the coffee instead. I need another hit of caffeine to sharpen my senses. I don’t like being here with Connelly. What if someone sees us? “Or maybe I’ll save it for McCarthy,” I counter. “Nah. You won’t do that.” He gulps down another bite of his pie. “You’re breaking it off with him, remember?” Okay, he really needs to stop issuing orders about my sex life as if he actually has a say in it. “You don’t get to make decisions for me. If I want to date McCarthy, I’ll date him. If I don’t want to date McCarthy, I won’t date him.” “Okay.” He chews slowly, then swallows. “Do you want to date McCarthy?” “Date, no.” “Good, so we’re on the same page.” I purse my lips before taking a slow sip. “Hmmm. I don’t think I like being on the same page as you. I might be changing my mind about the dating scenario… I should ask him to be my boyfriend. Do you know where I can buy a promise ring?” Jake breaks off a flaky piece of crust with his fork. “You haven’t changed your mind. You were over him five minutes after you had him. There’re only two reasons why you’re still screwing him—either you’re bored, or you’re trying to sabotage us.” “Is that so?” “Yup. Nothing holds your attention for long. And I know McCarthy—he’s a good kid. Funny, sweet, but that’s his downfall right there. ‘Sweet’ won’t cut it with a woman like you.” “There you go again, thinking you know me so well.” “I know you’re Chad Jensen’s daughter. I know you would take any opportunity to mess with my players’ heads. I know we’re probably going to be facing off with Briar in the conference finals in a few weeks, and the winner of that game gets an automatic bid to the national tournament—” “That auto-bid will be ours,” I chirp. “I want my boys sharp and focused on the game. Everyone says your dad’s a straight shooter. I was hoping the same thing could be said for his daughter.” He tsks in disapproval. “And here you are, playing games with poor, sweet McCarthy.” “I’m not playing games,” I say irritably. “We hook up sometimes. It’s fun. Contrary to what you believe, the decisions I make have nothing to do with my father or his team.” “Well, the decisions I make are for my team,” he retorts. “And I’ve decided I want you to stay the hell away from my boys.” He swallows another mouthful of pie. “Fuck, this is excellent. You want some?” He holds his fork out. “I’d rather die than put my lips on that fork.” He just laughs. “I want to try the pecan. You mind?” I stare at him. “You’re the one who ordered the damn thing.” “Wow, you’re cranky tonight, Hottie. I guess I would be too if I got stood up.” “I didn’t get stood up.” “What’s his name and address? Want me to go rough him up a bit?” I grit my teeth. He takes a bite of the untouched dessert in front of me. “Ah fuck, this one is even better. Mmmm. Ohhh, that’s good.” And suddenly the captain of the Harvard hockey team is groaning and grunting in pleasure as if he’s acting out a scene from American Pie. I try to remain unaffected, but that traitorous spot between my legs has other ideas, tingling wildly at Jake Connelly’s sex noises. “May I go now?” I growl. Except, wait a sec. Why am I asking for permission? Nobody is holding me hostage here. I can’t deny I’m mildly entertained, but this guy also just accused me of sleeping with his guys to ruin Harvard’s chances of beating Briar. I love my team, but not that much. “Sure. Go if you want. But first text McCarthy to tell him it’s over.” “Sorry, Jakey. I don’t take orders from you.” “You do now. I need McCarthy’s head in the game. End it.” I jut my chin in a stubborn pose. Yes, I need to define things with Josh. I thought I’d stressed the casual nature of our involvement, but evidently he’s reading a lot more into it if his team captain is referring to him as “lovesick.” However, I also don’t want to give Connelly the satisfaction of siding with him. I’m petty like that. “I don’t take orders from you,” I repeat, tucking a five-dollar bill under my half-empty cup. That should cover my coffee, Stacy’s tip, and any emotional distress she may have suffered tonight. “I’ll do whatever I want with McCarthy. Maybe I’ll give him a call right now.” Jake narrows his eyes. “Are you always this difficult?” “Yes.” Smiling, I slide out of the booth and slip into my leather jacket. “Safe drive back to Boston, Connelly. I’ve been told that the roads get really wet when it’s raining.” He chuckles softly. I zip up my jacket, then lean forward and bring my mouth inches from his ear. “Oh, and Jakey?” I swear I hear his breath hitch. “I’ll be sure to save you a seat behind the Briar bench at the Frozen Four.” 2 Jake It’s nine thirty-ish when I get home. The two-bedroom condo I share with my teammate Brooks Weston is nothing I could ever afford on my own, even with the sweet rookie contract I signed with the Oilers. We’re on the top floor of the four-story building, and our place is ridiculous—I’m talking chef’s kitchen, bay windows, skylights, a massive rear deck, even a private one-car garage for Brooks’s Mercedes. Oh, and it’s rent-free. Brooks and I met a couple of weeks before the start of freshman year. It was at a team event, a “get to know your teammates before the semester starts” dinner. We hit it off immediately, and by the time dessert was served, he was asking me to move in with him. Turned out he had a second bedroom in his Cambridgeport condo—for free, he insisted. He’d already received special permission to live off campus, a perk of being the filthy rich son of an alum whose donations would be sorely missed if the school didn’t keep him happy. Brooks’s father pulled a few more strings, and I was given a pass from the dorms, too. Money really does pave the way. As for the rent issue, at first I’d balked, because nothing in life is free. But the more I got to know Brooks Weston, the more apparent it became that for him? Everything comes free. The guy hasn’t worked a day in his life. His trust fund is huge, and he gets whatever he wants handed to him on a silver platter. His parents, or one of their minions, secured this condo for him, and they insist on paying the rent. So for the past three and a half years, I’ve been given a glimpse into what it’s like to be a rich boy from Connecticut. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no mooch—I tried to give him money. Brooks won’t have it and neither will his parents. Mrs. Weston was aghast when I raised the subject during one of their visits. “You boys need to focus on school,” she’d clucked, “not worry about how to pay the bills!” I’d choked back laughter, because I’ve been paying bills for as long as I can remember. I was fifteen when I got my first job, and the moment I held that first paycheck in my hand, I was expected to contribute to our household. I was buying groceries, paying for my cell phone, gas, our cable bill. My family isn’t poor. Dad builds bridges and Mom’s a hairdresser, and I’d say we are solidly between lower and middle class. We were never rolling in the dough, so experiencing Brooks’s lifestyle firsthand is jarring. I’ve already secretly vowed that once I’m settled in Edmonton and hitting all the incentives in my NHL contract, the first thing I’m going to do is write a check to the Weston family for the three years and counting of unpaid rent. My phone buzzes as I kick off my Timberlands. I fish it out of my pocket and find a text from my friend Hazel, who I had dinner with earlier in one of Briar’s fancy dining halls. HAZEL: You make it back ok?? It’s raining like crazy out there. * * * ME: Just walked thru the door. Thanks again for the grub. * * * HAZEL: Anytime. See u Saturday at the game! * * * ME: Sounds good. Hazel sends a couple of kissy-face emojis. Other guys might read more into that, but not me. Hazel and I are completely platonic. We’ve known each other since grade school. “Yo!” Weston shouts from the living room. “We’re all in here waiting for your ass.” I shrug out of my wet jacket. Brooks’s mother sent a decorator over when we first moved in and made sure to purchase everything that guys don’t think about, like coat racks and shoe racks and dish racks—apparently men don’t give much consideration to racks, outside the tit variety. I hang up my gear in our separate entryway and then duck through the doorway that leads to the main room. The condo has an open-concept layout, so my teammates are scattered in both the living room and dining area, and a few have taken up residence on the stools at our kitchen counters. I glance around. Not every guy on the roster has shown up. I’ll let it slide, considering I called this meeting last minute. On the drive home from Hastings, I was stewing over Brenna’s taunt about the Frozen Four and worrying about how she’s distracting McCarthy. Which led to a mental investigation of all the other distractions that might be hindering the team. Since I’m all about action, I sent a mass text: Team meeting, my place, now. The majority of our starters—nearly twenty of us—fill up the space, which means my nostrils are greeted with the combined scent of various body washes, colognes, and the BO of the assholes who decided not to shower before they came. “Hey,” I greet the guys. “Thanks for coming.” That gets some nods, several “no probs,” and general grunts of acknowledgement. One person who doesn’t acknowledge me is Josh McCarthy. He’s leaning against the wall near the brown leather sectional, his gaze glued to his phone. His body language conveys a hint of frustration, shoulders stiffening ever so slightly. Brenna Jensen’s probably still tugging him around by the cock. I battle my own sense of frustration at the notion. This kid shouldn’t even be wasting his time. McCarthy is a sophomore and he’s decent looking, but no way does he belong in Brenna’s league. The girl is a smoke show. Hands down, she’s one of the hottest women I’ve ever laid eyes on. And she’s got a mouth on her. The kind that needs to be silenced every now and then, maybe with another mouth pressed up to it…or a dick sliding between her red lips. Oh fuck. I push the thought aside. Yes, Brenna is gorgeous, but she’s also a distraction. Case in point: McCarthy hasn’t even lifted his head since I entered the room. I clear my throat. Loudly. He and the other handful that were still on their phones swivel their heads toward me. “I’m gonna make this fast,” I tell the room. “You better,” Brooks drawls from the couch. He’s wearing black sweatpants and nothing else. “I left a chick in my bed for this.” I roll my eyes. Of course Brooks was banging somebody. He’s always banging somebody. Not that I’m one to talk. I’ve had my share of girls over at our place. I feel sorry for our downstairs neighbors, having to deal with the parade of footsteps marching up and down the stairs. Luckily for them, we don’t throw many parties. Hosting a party sucks balls—who wants their house to get trashed? That’s what the frat houses are for. “Aren’t you special,” Dmitry, our best defenseman, cracks to Weston. “I left my bed too for this meeting. Bed, period. Because I’m goddamn exhausted.” “We all are,” a junior left-winger named Heath pipes up. “Yeah, D, welcome to the tired club,” mocks Coby, one of our seniors. I cross the room toward the kitchen, where I grab a bottle of water. Yeah, I hear them. This last month has been intense. Every Division I conference is balls deep in their tournaments, which means a solid month of the most competitive hockey you’ll ever see. We’re all vying for auto-bids into the national tournament, and, if that fails, hoping for a good enough record to be selected to the finals. Entire seasons are on the line here. “Yes,” I agree, uncapping my bottle. “We’re tired. I can barely keep my eyes open in class. My entire body is one big bruise. I live and breathe these playoffs. I obsess over strategy every night before bed.” I take a slow sip. “But this is what we signed up for, and we’re so close to reaping the reward. This matchup against Princeton will be the toughest one we’ve faced all season.” “I’m not worried about Princeton,” Coby says, smirking arrogantly. “We already beat them once this year.” “Very early in the season,” I point out. “They’ve picked up steam since then. They swept the quarterfinals against Union.” “So?” Coby shrugs. “We swept our series, too.” He’s right. Last weekend we played some of the best hockey we’ve ever played. But we’re in the semifinals now. Shit just got real. “This isn’t best two out of three anymore,” I remind the guys. “This is single elimination. If we lose, we’re out.” “After our season?” Dmitry says. “We’ll get selected to the national tourney even if we don’t make it to the conference finals.” “You’d bet our entire season on that?” I challenge. “Wouldn’t you rather have that guaranteed bid?” “Well, yeah, but—” “But nothing,” I cut in. “I’m not gonna hang our hopes on the possibility that our season might be deemed good enough to move forward. I’m gonna bet on us kicking Princeton’s ass this weekend. Got it?” “Yessir,” Dmitry mumbles. “Yessir,” some of the younger guys echo. “I told you, you don’t have to call me sir. Jesus.” “You want us to call you Jesus?” Brooks blinks innocently. “Not that, either. I just want you to win. I want us to win.” And we’re so damn close I can practically taste the victory. It’s been…fuck, I don’t even know how many years it’s been since Harvard won the NCAA championship. Not during my reign, anyway. “When was the last time the Crimson won the Frozen Four?” I ask Aldrick, our resident statistics guy. His brain is like an encyclopedia. He knows every piece of trivia there is to know about hockey, however miniscule. “1989,” he supplies. “’89,” I repeat. “That’s almost three decades since we called ourselves national champions. Beanpot games don’t count. Conference finals don’t count. We keep our eye on the ultimate prize.” I conduct another sweep of the room. To my irritation, McCarthy is checking his phone again, and not at all discreetly. “Seriously, do you even know what was being done to my dick when you texted about this meeting?” Brooks gripes. “Chocolate syrup was involved.” A few of the guys hoot. “And all you wanted was to give us the speech from Miracle? Because, yeah, we get it,” Brooks says. “We need to win.” “Yes, we do. And what we don’t need are any distractions.” I give Brooks a pointed look, then direct the same sentiment at McCarthy. The sophomore is visibly startled. “What?” “That means you, too.” I lock my gaze to his. “Stop playing games with Chad Jensen’s daughter.” His expression turns stricken. I don’t feel bad about outing McCarthy to whoever didn’t know, because I’m pretty sure everyone and their mother already knew. He wears his hookup with Brenna like a badge of honor. He’s not sleazy about it by engaging in locker-room talk, but he also can’t shut up about how beautiful the girl is. “Look, I’m not one to usually tell you guys what to do with your dicks, but we’re talking about a few weeks here. I’m sure you can keep it in your pants for that long.” “So nobody is allowed to hook up?” a junior named Jonah pipes up, aghast. “Because if that’s the case, then I’d like for you to call my girlfriend and tell her that.” “Good luck, captain. Vi’s a sex maniac,” Heath says with a snicker, referring to Jonah’s longtime girl. “And wait a sec—didn’t you leave the bar with a hot redhead the other night?” Coby demands. “’Cause that doesn’t sound like you’re practicing what you preach, bruh.” “Hypocrisy is the devil’s crutch,” Brooks says solemnly. I smother a sigh and hold up a hand to silence them. “I’m not saying no hookups. I’m saying no distractions. If you can’t handle the hookup, don’t do it. Jonah—you and Vi fuck like bunnies and it’s never affected your performance on the ice. So keep fucking like bunnies for all I care. But you—” McCarthy receives another stern look. “You’ve been screwing up in practice all week.” “No, I haven’t,” he protests. Our goalie, Johansson, speaks up. “You missed every shot on goal during the shooting drill this morning.” McCarthy is dumbfounded. “You stopped all my shots. I’m getting shit because you’re a good goaltender?” “You’re our top scorer after Jake,” Johansson replies, shrugging. “You should’ve gotten a couple of those in.” “How is it Brenna’s fault that I had an off day? I—” He stops abruptly and glances at his hand. I assume his phone buzzed with a notification. “Christ, you’re proving Connelly’s point,” a forward named Potts grumbles at McCarthy. “Put your phone away. Some of us want this meeting to be over so we can go home and crack open a beer.” I swivel my head toward Potts. “Speaking of beer… You and Bray are officially banned from all frat parties until further notice.” Will Bray balks. “Come on, Connelly.” “Beer pong’s fun, I get it, but you two need to abstain. For fuck’s sake, you’re starting to get a beer belly, Potts.” Every set of eyes in the room homes in on his gut. It’s currently covered by a thick Harvard hoodie, but I see the dude in the locker room every day. I know what’s under there. Brooks makes a tsking noise at me. “I can’t believe you’re body-shaming Potts.” I scowl at my roommate. “I’m not body-shaming him. I’m simply pointing out that all those beer pong tournaments are slowing him down on the ice.” “It’s true,” Potts says glumly. “I’ve been sucking.” Someone snorts. “You’re not sucking,” I assure him. “But yeah, you could afford to lay off the beer for a couple weeks. And you—” It’s Weston’s turn. “Time for abstinence on your part, too.” “Screw that. Sex gives me my superpowers.” I roll my eyes. I do that a lot around Brooks. “I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about the party favors.” His jaw instantly tightens. He knows precisely what I mean, and so do our teammates. It’s no secret that Brooks like to indulge in a recreational drug or two at parties. A joint here, a line of cocaine there. He’s careful about when he does it and how much, and I suppose it does help that coke only remains in the blood for forty-eight hours. This is not to say I tolerate that shit. I don’t. But telling Brooks what to do is about as effective as talking to a brick wall. One time I threatened to tell Coach, and Weston said go ahead. He plays hockey because it’s fun, not because he’s in love with the game and wants to go to the pros. He could give it up in a heartbeat, and threats don’t work on someone who isn’t afraid to lose. He’s not the first to dabble in the occasional drug, and he won’t be the last. It does appear to be purely recreational, though, and he never does it on game day. But the after-party? All bets are off. “If you get caught with it or fail a piss test, you know what happens. So congratulations, you’re officially going clean until after the Frozen Four,” I inform him. “You feel me?” After a long, tense beat, his head jerks in a nod. “I feel you.” “Good.” I address the others. “Let’s focus on beating Princeton this weekend. Everything else is secondary.” Coby flicks a cocky grin in my direction. “And what are you giving up, captain?” My brow furrows. “What are you talking about?” “You call a team meeting. You tell poor McCarthy he can’t use his dick anymore, you take away Weston’s party favors, and you deprive Potts and Bray of their beer pong championship title. What are you going to do for the team?” A hushed silence falls over the apartment. For a second I’m speechless. Because is he for real? I score at least one goal a game. If someone else scores, it’s usually with my assist. I’m the fastest skater on the Eastern Seaboard, and I’m a damn good captain. I open my mouth to retort when Coby starts to laugh. “Bruh, you should’ve seen your face.” He grins at me. “Relax. You do plenty. You’re the best captain we’ve ever had.” “Aye, aye,” several of the guys call out. I relax. But Coby does have a point. “Look, I won’t apologize for wanting us to be focused, but I am sorry if I’m being harsh on you guys. Especially you, McCarthy. All I’m asking is for us to keep our heads in the game, can we do that?” About twenty heads nod back at me. “Good.” I clap my hands. “You can all take off now. Get some sleep and bring your A-game to morning skate tomorrow.” The meeting adjourns, the group dispersing. Once again, our neighbors are forced to suffer through the footsteps, this time the heavy stomps of two-dozen hockey players thudding down the stairs. “Dad, may I please go back to my room now?” Brooks asks sarcastically. I grin at him. “Yes, son, you may. I’ll lock up.” He flips up his middle finger as he dashes toward the bedrooms. Meanwhile, McCarthy lingers by the front door, waiting for me. “What am I supposed to say to Brenna?” he asks. I can’t tell if he’s angry, because his expression reveals nothing. “Just tell her you need to concentrate on the tournament. Tell her you guys will get together after the season.” They’ll never get together again. I don’t voice the thought, but I know it’s true. Brenna Jensen would never condone being “put on hold” by anyone, let alone a Harvard player. If McCarthy ends it, even temporarily, she’ll make it a permanent split. “Briar has won three national championships in the last decade,” I say flatly. “Meanwhile, we’re over here, winless. That’s unacceptable, kid. So tell me, what’s more important to you—getting mind-fucked by Brenna Jensen or beating her team?” “Beating her team,” he says immediately. No hesitation. I like that. “Then let’s beat them. Do what needs to be done.” With a nod, McCarthy walks out the door. I lock up after him. Do I feel bad? Maybe a little. But anyone can see that he and Brenna aren’t destined to be together. She said as much herself. I’m simply speeding up the inevitable. 3 Brenna “Where have you been? I called you three times, Brenna.” My dad’s brusque tone never fails to raise my hackles. He speaks to me the way he speaks to his players—curt, impatient, and unforgiving. I’d like to say that it’s always been this way, that he’s been barking and growling at me for my entire life. But that would be a lie. Dad didn’t always snap at me. My mother died in a car accident when I was seven, which thrust my father into a maternal role as well as a paternal one. And he was good at both. He used to speak to me with love and tenderness on his face and in his voice. He’d pull me onto his lap and ruffle my hair and say, “Tell me how school was today, Peaches.” His nickname for me was “Peaches,” for Pete’s sake. But that was a long time ago. Nowadays, I’m just Brenna, and I can’t remember the last time I associated the words “love” or “tenderness” with my father. “I was walking home in a downpour,” I reply. “I couldn’t pick up the phone.” “Walking home from where?” I unzip my boots in the cramped corridor of my basement apartment. I rent it from a nice couple named Mark and Wendy, who both travel quite a lot for work. Add to that my separate entrance, and I can go weeks without having any interaction with them. “From Della’s Diner. I was having coffee with a friend,” I say. “This late?” “Late?” I crane my neck toward the kitchen that’s even tinier than the hallway and glance at the clock on the microwave. “It’s barely ten o’clock.” “Don’t you have your interview tomorrow?” “Yes, so? Do you think me getting home at nine thirty means I’m going to sleep through my alarm?” I can’t keep the sarcasm out of my tone. Sometimes it’s difficult not to snap at him the way he snaps at me. He ignores the taunt. “I spoke to someone at the network today,” he says. “Stan Samuels—he runs the master control booth, solid fellow.” Dad’s voice becomes gruff. “I told him you were coming in tomorrow and put in a good word for you.” I soften a little. “Oh. That was nice of you. I appreciate that.” Some people might feel awkward about calling in favors to get ahead, but I have no problem using my father’s connections if it helps me secure this internship. It’s hyper competitive, and although I’m more than qualified—I’ve worked my ass off to be—I’m at a disadvantage because I’m female. Unfortunately, this is a male-dominated field. The broadcasting program at Briar offers official work placements for students in their senior year, but I’m hoping to beat everyone to the punch. If I can land a summer internship at HockeyNet, there’s a fair chance I’ll be able to continue working there for my senior placement. That means an advantage over my peers and a potential job when I graduate. My end-game has always been to become a sports journalist. Yes, HockeyNet is only a decade old (and the originality coffers must’ve been running low the day they chose their name), but the network covers hockey exclusively, and when it launched, it filled a deep void in the sports coverage market. I watch ESPN religiously, but one of the major complaints about it is its lackluster hockey coverage. Which is egregious. I mean, in theory, hockey is the fourth major sport in the country, but the bigger networks often treat it as if it’s less important than NASCAR or tennis or—shudder—golf. I dream of being on camera and sitting with those analysts at the big boys’ table, breaking down highlights, analyzing games, voicing my predictions. Sports journalism is a tough route for a woman, but I know my hockey, and I’m confident I’ll slay my interview tomorrow. “Let me know how it goes,” Dad orders. “I will.” As I cross the living room, my left sock connects with something wet, and I yelp. Dad is instantly concerned. “You all right?” “Sorry, I’m fine. The carpet’s wet. I must have spilled something—” I stop when I notice a small puddle in front of the sliding door that opens onto the backyard. It’s still raining outside, a steady pounding against the stone patio. “Crap. There’s water pooling at the back door.” “That’s not good. What are we dealing with? Runoff directing water into the house?” “How would I know? Do you think I studied the runoff situation before I moved in?” He can’t see me rolling my eyes, but I hope he can hear it in my voice. “Tell me where the moisture is coming from.” “I told you, it’s mostly around the sliding door.” I walk the perimeter of the living room, which takes about, oh, three seconds. The only wet spot is near the door. “All right. Well, that’s a good sign. Means it’s probably not the pipes. But if it’s storm-water runoff, there could be several culprits for that. Is the driveway paved?” “Yeah.” “Your landlords might need to consider drainage options. Give them a call tomorrow and tell them to investigate.” “I will.” “I mean it.” “I said I will.” I know he’s trying to be helpful, but why does he have to use that tone with me? Everything with Chad Jensen is a command, not a suggestion. He’s not a bad man, I know that. He’s simply overprotective, and once upon a time he might’ve had reason to be. But I’ve been living on my own for three years. I can take care of myself. “And you’ll be at the semifinals on Saturday night?” Dad asks briskly. “I can’t,” I say, and I’m genuinely regretful about missing such a vital game. But I made these plans ages ago. “I’m visiting Tansy, remember?” Tansy is my favorite cousin, the daughter of my dad’s older sister, Sheryl. “That’s this weekend?” “Yup.” “All right, then. Say hello for me. Tell her I look forward to seeing her and Noah for Easter.” “Will do.” “Are you spending the night?” There’s an edge to the question. “Two nights, actually. I’m going up to Boston tomorrow, and heading back Sunday.” “Don’t do—” He halts. “Don’t do what?” This time, it’s my tone taking on that sharp edge. “Don’t do anything reckless. Don’t drink too much. Be safe.” I appreciate that he doesn’t say, “Don’t drink at all,” but that’s probably because he knows he can’t stop me. Once I turned eighteen, he couldn’t force me to abide by his curfew or his rules anymore. And once I turned twenty-one, he couldn’t stop me from having a drink or two. “I’ll be safe,” I promise, because that’s the one assurance I can give with confidence. “Bren,” he says. Then stops again. I feel like most conversations with my father go like this. Start and stop. Words we want to say, and words we don’t say. It’s so hard to connect with him. “Dad, can we hang up now? I want to take a hot shower and get ready for bed. I have to wake up early tomorrow.” “All right. Let me know how the interview goes.” He pauses. When he speaks again, it’s to offer some rare encouragement. “You got this.” “Thank you. Night, Dad.” “Night, Brenna.” I hang up and do exactly what I told him—take a scalding-hot shower, because the twenty-minute walk in the rain chilled me down to the bone. I’m redder than a lobster when I emerge from the cramped shower stall. My little bathroom doesn’t have a bathtub, which is a shame. Hot baths are the absolute best. I don’t like sleeping with wet hair, so I do a quick blow-dry and then rummage around in my dresser in search of my warmest PJs. I settle on plaid pants and a thin long-sleeve tee with the Briar University logo on it. Basements tend to be cold as a rule, and my apartment is no exception. I’m surprised I haven’t come down with pneumonia in the seven or so months I’ve lived here. As I get under the covers, I pop my phone out of its charger and find a missed call from Summer. I have a feeling she’ll call again if I don’t respond, probably five seconds after I fall asleep, so I preemptively ring her back before she can ruin my good night’s sleep. “Are you mad at me?” is how she greets me. “No.” I curl up on my side, the phone balanced on my shoulder. “Even though I set you up with Jules and vouched for him?” Her voice ripples with guilt. “I’m an adult, Summer. You didn’t force me to say yes.” “I know. But I feel terrible. I can’t believe he didn’t show.” “Don’t worry about it. I’m not the least bit upset. If anything, I dodged a bullet.” “Okay, good.” She sounds relieved. “I’ll find someone even better to hook you up with.” “You most certainly will not,” I say cheerfully. “You’re officially relieved of your matchmaking duties—which you bestowed on yourself, by the way. Trust me, babes, I have zero issues when it comes to meeting men.” “Yes, you’re good at meeting them. But dating them? You suck at that.” I’m quick to protest. “Because I’m not looking to date anybody.” “Why not? Having a boyfriend is awesome.” Sure, maybe when your boyfriend is Colin Fitzgerald. Summer is dating one of the most decent guys I’ve ever met. Intelligent, kind, astute, not to mention hot as fuck. “Are you and Fitzy still obsessed with each other?” “So obsessed. He puts up with my crazy, and I put up with his dorkiness. Plus, we have the best sex ever.” “I bet Hunter loves that,” I say dryly. “I hope you’re not a screamer.” Hunter Davenport is Summer and Fitz’s roommate, and he was recently rejected by Summer. She agreed to go on a date with him, only to realize her feelings for Fitz were too strong to ignore. Hunter didn’t take it well. “God, you have no idea how hard it is to try to be quiet when Fitz is doing his magical magic to my body,” Summer says with a sigh. “Magical magic?” “Yes, magical magic. But if you’re worried that Hunter is lying in bed listening to us and weeping inconsolably, don’t be. He’s got a different girl over here every night.” “Good for him.” I snicker. “I bet Hollis is green with envy.” “I’m not sure Mike’s even noticed. He’s too busy mooning over you.” “Still?” Dammit. I was hoping he was done with that. I briefly close my eyes. I’ve committed some asinine acts in my life, but hooking up with Mike Hollis is high on that list. We were both drunk out of our minds, so all we did was share a sloppy make-out session and I fell asleep while giving him a hand job. It definitely wasn’t my finest moment, nor was it all that memorable. I have no idea why he’d want a repeat. “He’s smitten,” Summer confirms. “It’ll pass.” She giggles, but the humor dies quickly. “Hunter is being a jerk to us,” she admits. “When he’s not screwing anything in a skirt.” “I guess he was really into you?” “Honestly? I don’t think it’s about me. I think it’s about Fitz.” “I can see that. He wanted to fuck Fitz,” I say solemnly. “I mean, who doesn’t?” “No, you brat. Fitz straight up lied when Hunter asked if he had a thing for me. Hunter views it as a betrayal of the bro code.” “The bro code is holy,” I have to concede. “Especially among teammates.” “I know. Fitz says there’s a lot of tension at practice.” Summer moans. “What if affects their performance in the semifinals, Bee? That means Yale will move on to the finals.” “My dad will straighten them out,” I assure her. “And say what you will about Hunter, but he likes to win hockey games. He won’t let a beef over some girl—no offense—distract him from winning.” “Should I—” A buzz in my ear mutes her question. “What was that?” “Text message,” I explain. “Sorry, keep going. What were you saying?” “I was wondering if I should try to talk to him again.” “I don’t think it’ll make a difference. He’s a stubborn ass. But eventually he’ll put his big-boy pants on and get over it.” “I hope so.” We chat for a while longer, until my eyelids grow heavy. “Summer. I’m going to sleep now, babes. I’ve got that interview in the morning.” “Okay. Call me tomorrow. Love you.” “Love you, too.” I’m about to turn off the bedside lamp when I remember the text. I click the message icon and narrow my eyes when I see McCarthy’s name. Hey, B. It’s been really awesome chilling with you, but I need to take a step back for a while. At least till playoffs are over. Gotta focus on the game, you know? I’ll give you a call once everything settles down, k? xo My jaw falls open. Is this a joke? I read the message again, and, nope, the content doesn’t change. McCarthy actually ended it. It appears that Jake Connelly just declared war. 4 Brenna I can usually hold my own in most situations. I’ve never suffered from anxiety, and nothing really scares me, not even my father, who’s been known to make grown men cry with one look. That’s not hyperbole—I saw it happen once. But this morning my palms are sweaty and evil butterflies are gnawing at my stomach, and it’s all thanks to this HockeyNet executive, Ed Mulder, who’s been off-putting from the word go. He’s tall, bald, and terrifying, and the first thing he does after shaking my hand is ask why a pretty girl like me is applying for a job behind the camera. I hide a frown at the sexist remark. One of my TAs at Briar, Tristan, used to be an intern here and he warned me that Mulder is a total jerk. But Tristan also said none of the interns report directly to Ed Mulder, which means I won’t need to deal with him past this interview. He’s just one obstacle I have to get through to strike internship gold. “Well, as my cover letter stated, I eventually want to be an on-screen analyst or a reporter, but I’m hoping to build experience behind the scenes, too. I’m majoring in Broadcasting and Journalism at Briar, as you already know. Next year I’ll be doing a work placement at—” “This isn’t a paid internship,” he interrupts. “You’re aware of that?” I’m caught off-guard. My palms feel slippery when I wring them together, so I place them on my knees. “Oh. Um. Yes, I’m aware.” “Good. I find that while male applicants come in knowing the details, the female ones often expect to get paid.” He’s gone from vaguely sexist to obscenely so. And the comment doesn’t make much sense, either. The job posting on the HockeyNet site clearly specified this was an unpaid internship. Why would men expect one thing and women expect another? Is he suggesting that the women didn’t read the posting correctly? Or that we can’t read at all? Beads of sweat break out at the nape of my neck. I’m so off my game here. “So. Brenda. Tell me about yourself.” I gulp. He called me Brenda. Should I correct him? Of course you should correct him. Screw this guy. You own him. Confident Brenda—I mean Brenna—rears her spectacular head. “Actually, it’s Brenna,” I say smoothly, “and I think I’d be a good fit here. First and foremost, I love hockey. It’s—” “Your father is Chad Jensen.” His jaw moves up and down, and I realize he’s chewing gum. Classy. I answer in a careful tone. “Yes, he is.” “A championship-winning coach. Multiple Frozen Four wins, right?” I nod. “He’s a great coach.” Mulder nods back. “You must be proud of him. What would you say is your biggest strength, aside from having a semi-famous dad?” I force myself to ignore the snide note in his inquiry and say, “I’m smart. I think on my feet. I thrive under pressure. And most of all, I genuinely love this sport. Hockey is—” Annnd he’s not listening to me anymore. His gaze has shifted to the computer screen, and he’s still chewing his gum like a horse chomping on some oats. The window behind his desk provides a fuzzy glimpse of the reflection from his monitor…is that a fantasy hockey lineup? I think it’s the ESPN fantasy page. He suddenly glances at me. “Who’s your team?” I wrinkle my forehead. “My college team or—” “NHL,” he interrupts impatiently. “Who do you root for, Brenda?” “Brenna,” I say through gritted teeth. “And I root for the Bruins, of course. What about you?” Mulder snorts loudly. “Oilers. I’m a Canadian boy, through and through.” I feign interest. “Oh, that’s interesting. Are you from Edmonton, then?” “I am.” His eyes flick back to his screen. In an absentminded tone, he says, “What would you say is your biggest weakness, aside from having a semi-famous dad?” I swallow an angry retort. “I can be impatient at times,” I confess, because there’s no way I’m doing that cheesy bit about how my biggest weakness is that I care too much or work too hard. Gag. Mulder’s attention is once again diverted to his fantasy hockey team. Silence falls over the spacious office. I shift irritably in my chair and examine the glass case against the wall. It displays all the awards the station has won over the years, along with signed paraphernalia from various pro hockey players. There’s a lot of Oilers merch in there, I note. On the opposite wall, two big screens are showing two different programs: an NHL highlights reel from this weekend, and a Top Ten segment counting down the most explosive rookie seasons of all time. I wish the TVs weren’t on mute. At least then I could hear something interesting while I’m being ignored. Frustration climbs up my spine like ivy and tightens around my throat. He isn’t paying a lick of attention to me. Either he’s the worst interviewer on the planet, a rude jackass, or he’s not seriously considering me for this position. Or maybe it’s D) all of the above. Tristan was wrong. Ed Mulder isn’t a jerk—he’s a mega asshole. But unfortunately, good, hands-on internships at big networks like HockeyNet don’t come along every day. It’s slim pickings out there in the internship market. And I’m also not naïve enough to think that Mulder is a special case. Several of my professors, both male and female, warned me that sports journalism isn’t the most welcoming field for women. I’m going to face men like Mulder during my entire career. Losing my temper or storming out of his office won’t help me achieve my goals. If anything, it’ll “prove” his own point in his misogynistic head: that women are too emotional, too weak, too ill equipped to survive in the sports arena. “So.” I clear my throat. “What would my duties be if I got this internship?” I already know the answer—I practically memorized the job posting, not to mention my CIA-worthy interrogation of Tristan the TA. But I might as well ask some questions, seeing as how Mulder isn’t interested in returning the favor. His head lifts. “We’ve got three intern slots to fill in the production department. I’m the head of that department.” I wonder if he realizes he hadn’t answered the question. I draw a calming breath. “And the duties?” “Highly intensive,” he replies. “You’d be required to compile game highlights, assemble clips packages, help to create teasers and B-roll. You’d attend production meetings, pitch ideas for stories…” He trails off, clicking his mouse a few times. AKA, the perfect job for me. I want this. I need this. I bite the inside of my cheek, wondering how I can turn this disastrous meeting around. I don’t get the chance. There’s a loud knock on the door, and it flies open before Mulder can respond. An excited-looking man with an unkempt beard thunders into the office. “Roman McElroy just got arrested for domestic abuse!” Mulder dives out of his leather chair. “Are you fucking shitting me?” “There’s a video of it all over the Internet. Not of the wife-beating, but the arrest.” “Have any of the other networks picked this up yet?” “No.” Beard Man is bouncing up and down like a kid in a toy store, and he can’t be a day younger than fifty-five. “Which talking heads do we have on set?” Mulder demands on his way to the door. “Georgia just got here—” “No,” the boss interrupts. “Not Barnes. She’ll try to give it some sort of feminist bullshit spin. Who else?” I bite my lip to stave off an angry retort. Georgia Barnes is one of the two female analysts at HockeyNet, and she is amazing. Her insights are topnotch. “Kip Haskins and Trevor Trent. But they’re doing a live segment right now. The Friday Five.” “Screw The Friday Five. Have Gary write up some copy, then get Kip and Trevor to debate the fuck out of it and break apart the arrest video frame by frame. I want a whole segment on this McElroy thing.” Mulder skids to a stop in the doorway, suddenly remembering my existence. “We’ll finish this on Monday.” My mouth falls open. “I’m sorry—what?” “Come back Monday,” he barks. “We’re dealing with a monster exclusive here. The news waits for no man, Brenda.” “But—” “Monday, nine o’clock.” With that, he’s gone. I stare at the empty doorway in disbelief. What the hell just happened? First he opened the interview with a bunch of sexist comments, then he didn’t listen to a word I said, and now he’s abandoning me mid-interview? I understand that a professional hockey player being charged with abusing his wife is big news, but…I can’t come back on Monday. I have classes. Tristan warned me about Mulder, but the man was even worse than I’d expected. I angrily gather up my purse and coat and rise to my feet. Fuck that. I’m not returning on Monday. I’m not letting that asshole— Dream internship, I remind myself, then repeat the phrase over and over again in my mind. ESPN and HockeyNet are the two biggest sports networks in the country. And ESPN isn’t hiring. Therefore… I guess I’m skipping school on Monday. Rochelle, Mulder’s cute blonde receptionist, glances up from her desk when I walk up. She officially reschedules the interview, and I leave the HockeyNet building with the worst feeling in the pit of my stomach. For the first time in ages, it’s not raining, so I arrange for an Uber and stand outside by the curb. I call my cousin while I wait. “Hey,” I say when Tansy picks up. “My interview’s over.” “Already?” “Yup.” “How did it go?” “It was a total disaster. I’ll tell you about it later. I just ordered an Uber—can I still head to your dorm?” The plan was for me to hang out there alone while Tansy is in class. “Yeah, I left my key with my RA. She’s in room 404. Knock there first and get the key. I’m in 408.” “Cool.” I glance back at the high-rise I just exited, with its sparkling windows, glass lobby, and massive white-and-red HockeyNet logo. A sigh slips out. “I hope you’re ready to get lit tonight, because I need to drink the memory of this interview right out of my head.” “I hate you so much. How do you always manage to look so good without even trying?” Tansy gripes later that evening. We’re in her suite at Walsh Hall, one of the Boston College residences. Tansy shares it with three other girls, and bunks with a chick named Aisha, who’s away for the weekend visiting her parents in New York. Aisha is a girl after my own heart, because she transformed her desk into a vanity. I would’ve done the same thing to my desk at home, if I had one; I’ve always preferred doing homework while sprawled on my bed or couch. I grin at Tansy’s reflection in Aisha’s huge mirror, then continue applying mascara to my upper lashes. “I’m putting on makeup,” I point out. “How is that not trying?” She makes a grumbling noise in her throat. “You call that makeup? You put on a dab of concealer and a bit of mascara. That doesn’t count as trying.” “And lipstick,” I remind her. “And lipstick,” she concedes. She rolls her eyes at me. “You know colors other than red exist in this big, beautiful world, right?” “Red’s my color.” I purse my lips at her, then smack them together in an air kiss. “My friend at Briar says it’s my trademark.” “It totally is. I can’t remember the last time I saw you without it. Maybe Christmas morning?” She pauses. “No, wait, we both wore red lipstick that day. It matched our Santa hats. I looked awful, though. I remember that. I can’t pull off red lips.” “We have the same complexion, Tans. You could absolutely pull it off.” “No, I mean swag-wise. You need to possess a certain amount of swagger to rock the red.” She’s not wrong. It’s a look that requires confidence. Ironically, it’s what gives me confidence. I know it sounds absurd, but I feel invincible every time I slather on some crimson lipstick. “I can lend you some of my swagger if you want,” I offer. Tansy’s nose scrunches up as she grins. The silver stud in her left nostril catches the light and seems to sparkle. “Aw thanks, Bee. I knew there was a reason you’re my favorite cousin.” “Well, the others aren’t exactly prime candidates for that honor. Leigh and Robbie are too preachy about religion. And don’t get me started on Alex.” We both grimace. Alex is our uncle Bill’s daughter and she’s incredibly annoying. I hear the chirp of an incoming message. “Hey, can you check that?” I left my phone on Tansy’s desk, and she’s closer to it. She reaches over from her bed. “Someone named GB says he misses you. He used about a hundred u’s and five, no, six, heart emojis. Oooh, and it’s the red heart. That means he’s serious. So. Who is GB and why haven’t you mentioned him?” I sputter with laughter. “GB stands for Greenwich Barbie. That’s what I call my friend. Summer. She’s a hot rich girl from Connecticut.” “Liar. I’ve never heard you mention a Summer,” Tansy accuses. “She transferred to Briar at the beginning of January.” I stick the mascara wand back in the tube and twist it closed. “This chick is insane, like in a good way. She’s hilarious. Always up for a party. I can’t wait for you to meet her.” “Are we seeing her this weekend?” “No, unfortunately. She’s performing her girlfriendly duty and supporting Briar at the semifinals against Yale tomorrow night. Her boyfriend is on the team.” “Why does she miss you?” “We haven’t hung out since last weekend. And yes, I know a week is not a long time at all, but in Summer years that’s a decade. She’s melodramatic.” My phone chirps again. “See what I mean?” I chuckle, tucking my mascara and lipstick into the small makeup case I brought with me. “Pass me my phone, will ya? If I don’t text her back, she’s liable to have a panic attack.” Tansy checks the screen. Her shoulders stiffen slightly. “It’s not Summer,” she informs me. I knit my brows. “Okay. Who is it?” There’s a long pause. Something shifts in the air, and suddenly a cloud of tension settles between us. Tansy studies me, wary. “Why didn’t you tell me you were still in touch with Eric?” 5 Brenna The tension seeps into my body, turning my shoulders to stone and my spine to iron. And yet my fingers feel like jelly, and I begin to tremble. Luckily, I’m finished putting on mascara; otherwise, I would’ve poked an eyeball out. “Eric messaged?” I’m bothered by how weak my voice sounds. “What does it say?” Tansy tosses me the phone. My gaze instantly lowers to the message. It’s brief. ERIC: Call me, B. Need to talk to you. Uneasiness trickles down my spine like drops from a leaky faucet. Shit. What does he want now? “What does he want?” Tansy speaks my thoughts, only she sounds far more distrustful than I am. “I don’t know. And to answer your question, we’re not in touch.” That’s not entirely true. I hear from Eric two or three times a year, usually when he’s high as a kite or drunk off his face. If I don’t pick up, he keeps calling, over and over and over, until I do. I don’t have the heart to block his number, but the heart I do possess splinters each time I answer his calls and hear how far he’s fallen. “Did you know my mom ran into him, like, six or seven months ago? It was around Halloween.” “Really? Why didn’t she say anything about it over the holidays?” “She didn’t want to worry you,” Tansy confesses. A heavy breath gets stuck in my throat. The fact that Aunt Sheryl thought I would be worried tells me the state Eric was in when she saw him. “Was he high?” “Mom thinks so.” I exhale slowly. “I feel so bad for him.” “You shouldn’t,” Tansy says frankly. “He’s the one who chooses to keep indulging in that lifestyle. His mom got him a spot in that super-expensive rehab in Vermont and he refused to go, remember?” “Yeah, I remember.” I feel bad for Eric’s mother, too. It’s so frustrating trying to help someone who refuses to admit they have a problem. “Nobody is forcibly pouring booze down his throat or making him do drugs. Nobody is holding him hostage in Westlynn. He can leave town anytime. We did.” She’s right. Nothing is keeping Eric in Westlynn, New Hampshire, except for his own demons. I, on the other hand, fled to Boston right after high school graduation. There’s nothing wrong with my hometown. It’s a perfectly nice place, meeting the small-town requirements of tranquil and quaint. My dad and his siblings were born and raised in Westlynn, and Aunt Sheryl and Uncle Bill still reside there with their spouses. Dad waited until I moved out before he relocated to Hastings, Massachusetts. Before that, he made the hour-long commute to Briar so that I could continue to attend school with my cousins and friends. I think he’s happier in Hastings, though. The town is five minutes from campus, and his house is a roomy old Victorian with a ton of charm. My ex-boyfriend chose to stay in our hometown. He spiraled after graduation, falling in with all the wrong people and doing all the wrong things. Westlynn isn’t overrun with drug dealers, but that’s not to say you can’t find drugs there. You can find drugs anywhere, sadly. Eric is stuck. Everyone else has moved on, and he’s still in the same place. No, he’s in an even worse place these days. Maybe I shouldn’t feel sorry for him, but I do. And our history makes it hard to write him off entirely. “I don’t think you should call him.” My cousin’s stern words jolt me back to the present. “I probably won’t.” “Probably won’t?” “Ninety percent won’t, ten percent might.” “Ten percent is too high.” She shakes her head. “That guy will only drag you down if you let him back in your life.” I blanch. “God, don’t even worry about that happening. A hundred percent chance it won’t.” “Good. Because clearly he’s still obsessed with you.” “He was never obsessed with me,” I say in Eric’s defense. “Are you kidding me? Remember when you got mono junior year and couldn’t attend school for a couple of months? Eric had a total meltdown,” she reminds me. “He called you every five seconds, skipped class to go see you, freaked out when Uncle Chad told him to stop coming over. It was intense.” I avert my eyes. “Yeah. I guess it was a tad dramatic. What do you think of this top, by the way?” I gesture to my ribbed black crop top. It ties around the neck and the back, exposing my midriff. “Hot AF,” Tansy declares. “You know you saved no time by saying AF instead of ‘as fuck,’ right? Same amount of syllables,” I tease, all the while battling relief that she accepted my change of subject so readily. I don’t like dwelling on that time in my life. Truth be told, thinking about Eric is as exhausting as it was actually dealing with him back in the day. One thought of him, and I feel as if I just climbed Everest. My ex is an energy vampire. “I speak internet lingo,” Tansy retorts. “The one true language. Anyway, you look hot, and I look hot, so let’s go out and show everyone how hot we are. You ready?” I swipe my purse off her roommate’s bed. “Ready AF.” We end up at an Irish pub in the Back Bay area. It’s called the Fox and Fiddle, and populated primarily by college students, judging by all the younger faces. Sadly, there’s a conspicuous lack of hockey attire. I spot one or two maroon-and-gold jerseys, the colors of the Boston College Eagles. But that’s it. It makes me long for Malone’s, the bar in Hastings where all the Briar hockey fans congregate. Tansy checks her phone as we walk inside. We’re meeting her boyfriend here. Or maybe it’s her ex-boyfriend? Fuck buddy? I never know when it comes to her and Lamar. Their on-again/off-again relationship has the head-spinning quality of riding a Tilt-O-Whirl. “No text from Lamar. I guess he’s not here yet.” She links her arm through mine on our way to the bar. “Let’s order shots. We haven’t done shots since Christmas.” There’s a huge crowd waiting to be served. When I catch the eye of one of the bartenders, he signals that he’ll be a minute. “I really wish you went to BC with me,” Tansy says glumly. “We could do this all the time.” “I know.” I would’ve loved to attend Boston College with her, but they rejected my application. I didn’t have the grades back then; my relationship with Eric pretty much torpedoed my ability to concentrate on school. I went to community college instead, until I was able to transfer to Briar, where I don’t have to pay tuition since my father works there. “Sweet. They’re showing the Bruins game.” I gaze up at one of the monitors mounted from the ceiling. A blur of black and yellow whizzes by as the Bruins go on an offensive attack. “Hurray!” Tansy says with mock enthusiasm. She doesn’t give a crap about hockey. Her game of choice is basketball. As in, she only dates basketball players. I try to flag down the bartender again, but he’s busy serving a group of chicks in teeny dresses. The pub is surprisingly packed for ten thirty at night. Normally, people are still pre-drinking somewhere else at this time. Tansy checks her phone again, then types something. “Where the hell is he?” she mutters. “Text him.” “Just did. He’s not answering for some rea—oh wait, he’s typing.” She waits until the message appears. “Okay, he’s—oh my God, you have got to be kidding me.” “What’s wrong?” Irritation flashes in her dark eyes. “One sec. I need to call him and figure out what the hell.” Oh boy. I pray there isn’t trouble in paradise, because I know Tansy can sometimes get fixated on her boyfriend slash ex-boyfriend slash fuck buddy. I’m still not sure. What I do know is that I was looking forward to a fun weekend with my favorite cousin, especially after my dreadful interview this morning. Holy shit did that suck. I watch the Bruins game as I wait for Tansy. Neither of the two bartenders comes to take my order, which is probably a good thing because my cousin stomps back in a huff. “You won’t believe this,” she announces. “The stupid idiot got the bars mixed up. He’s at the Frog and Fox near Fenway. We’re at the Fox and Fiddle.” “Why does every bar in this city have the word fox in it?” “I know, right? And I can’t even be too mad at him, because it’s an honest mistake.” She blows out an aggravated breath. “Anyway, he’s there with a bunch of friends and he doesn’t want to move his whole group over here when you and I can just hop in a cab and be there in ten minutes.” “He has a point.” “You don’t mind leaving?” “Nope.” I ease away from the bar. “Let me hit the ladies’ before we go.” “Cool. I’ll order the car. Meet you outside?” “Sounds good.” Tansy exits the pub, while I amble toward the restrooms. Despite the Friday-night crowd, there’s no line for the ladies’ room. I walk in to find two girls in front of the mirror, chatting loudly as they fix their makeup. I nod in greeting and duck into a stall. “If you want to go to the Dime, then let’s go to the Dime,” one of the girls is saying. “I told you, I don’t want to.” “Are you sure? Because you keep blabbering on about Jake Connelly and his amazing tongue.” I freeze. I swear my pee stops midstream like some sort of magic trick. “We’ve got nowhere else to be tonight,” the first chick says. “Let’s just hit the Dime so you can see him. Maybe you guys will hook up again…” “Unlikely. Connelly doesn’t do repeats.” The second chick sounds dejected. “Going there is pointless.” “You never know. You said he had a good time, right?” “He was getting a BJ. Of course he had a good time.” I press my lips together to fight a smile. Aw, listen to that. Jakey got some the other night. Good for him. Except then I remember the stunt he pulled with McCarthy, and I’m no longer smiling. I quickly resume peeing, eager to leave the bathroom so I don’t have to listen to this shit anymore. A wistful sigh echoes from beyond the stall. “You have no idea how hot it was.” “Actually, I do. Because you can’t shut up about it.” “He’s such a good kisser. And when he went down on me, he did this thing with his tongue, like…I can’t even describe it. It was sort of like…a kiss and a swirl.” Discomfort forms in my gut. I’ve had my share of dirty conversations with my girlfriends, but these chicks are going into a lot of detail. And they know they’re not alone in the bathroom. They saw me come in. “I’m surprised he returned the favor. Guys that good-looking don’t usually give a shit if the girl gets off. A lot of them would take the blowjob and bail.” I flush the toilet and noisily exit the stall. “’Scuse me, need to get in here,” I say airily, gesturing to the sinks. They step aside but keep talking. “Well, he wasn’t like that at all,” Jake’s chick assures her friend. “He wanted to get me off.” This time, I pay closer attention to their appearance. The friend is a tall brunette. The one Jake hooked up with is short, with auburn curls, huge boobs, and enormous brown eyes, resembling a very sexy deer. Is that Connelly’s type? Hot Bambi? “Then let’s go to the Dime,” the brunette insists. Hot Bambi bites her lower lip. “I don’t know. I’d feel weird showing up at his favorite bar. I mean, we hooked up four days ago. He probably doesn’t even remember me.” I run my soapy hands under the hot water. Four days and she’s concerned he’s already forgotten about her? Is that how little she thinks of herself? Maybe I ought to chime in and advise her not to bother tracking him down. Jake would eat someone like her alive. “Fine, I guess we’re staying here,” the friend says on their way out. “We should find a…” Their voices trail off as the door swings shut. I dry my hands with a paper towel and ponder what I just heard. So. Four days ago, Jake and his amazing tongue got some Hot Bambi action. Talk about hypocrisy. Where does he get the nerve, telling me who I can hook up with and ordering McCarthy to dump me? Here he is, oral-sexing hot deer women and spending his Friday night at some bar, likely trying to pick up. Meanwhile, poor McCarthy is sitting at home, unable to jerk his own dick without asking Connelly’s permission. Screw that. Fortitude straightens my shoulders as I go outside to find my cousin. She’s by a parking meter on the sidewalk, standing at the back door of a sporty black sedan. “Ready?” she calls when she spots me. I join her at the car. “Yes. But change of plans. We’re making a quick stop first.” 6 Jake The Dime is my favorite place in the city. It’s the epitome of a dive bar. Cramped. Dark. The pool table’s missing three balls, including the eight ball. The dartboard is cracked in half. The beer tastes watered down half the time, and the food is covered with a layer of grease that congeals like a rock in the pit of your stomach. But despite its failings, I love it. The place is small, which means larger groups usually venture elsewhere. And the clientele is mostly male, so it’s the perfect spot to visit when you’re not looking to hook up. That doesn’t stop Brooks, of course. My roommate can find a chick anywhere. Take him to a convent and he’d seduce a nun. Take him to a funeral and he’d be banging the grieving widow in the bathroom. Or hell, on the casket. Dude’s a slut. Right now, he’s at a corner table making out with our waitress. Only two servers are working tonight, and Brooks has his tongue in one of their mouths. The other one, an older dude with a beard and glasses, keeps clearing his throat pointedly. She keeps ignoring him. When he calls, “Rachel, your table’s waiting,” she breathlessly unlatches her lips from my teammate’s and waves her coworker off. “Can you handle it? Tips are yours.” I’m assuming she doesn’t want the job anymore and this is her way of quitting, because there’s no way she’s escaping without punishment. The other waiter and the bartender keep exchanging sullen looks, and I’m pretty sure one of them already phoned the manager. While Brooks is in the corner feeling up the waitress, the rest of us are enjoying the Bruins game and listening to Coby Chilton complain about the two-beer limit I’ve enforced. He can bitch about it all night, for all I care. We’re playing Princeton tomorrow afternoon and nobody is allowed to show up to a game hungover. Hell, I forbade Potts and Bray from going out tonight altogether. I don’t trust the beer pong duo. “If you could bang any hockey player, dead or alive, who’d it be?” Coby asks Dmitry. Since a second ago he’d been talking about beer, the change of subject is jarring. “What?” Dmitry sounds extremely confused. “You mean like a female hockey player?” “And when you say ‘dead,’ do you mean I’m fucking her corpse or am I doing her when she was alive?” Heath pipes up. “Nah, I’m talking NHL. And none of that necrophilia shit.” Coby’s expression conveys horror. “Wait, you’re asking us which dude we’d fuck?” a senior D-man demands. I swallow a laugh. “Yeah. I’d pick Bobby Hull. I like blondes. How ’bout you guys?” “Hold up. Chilton,” squawks Adam Middleton, our most promising freshman. “Are you gay?” The eighteen-year-old glances around the table. “Has he always been gay and I’m just finding out? Did y’all know?” “You wish I was gay,” Coby shoots back. The freshman’s eyebrows crash together. “Why would I wish that?” “Because I’m a great lay. You’re missing out.” “What is happening right now?” Adam asks me. I press my trembling lips together. “No clue, man.” “I heard a bunch of chicks debating this shit in Harvard Square the other day,” Coby explains, polishing off his second (and last) bottle of Sam Adams. He rolls his eyes dramatically. “They were choosing the lamest dudes. Tyler Seguin! Sidney Crosby!” “I’d do Crosby,” Dmitry pipes up. “I wouldn’t even need to picture some girl to get hard. I’d just think about his stats line.” As laughter breaks out at the table, I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, and pull it out. HAZEL: Whatcha up to tonight? I’m home and bored. I shoot a quick text back, telling her I’m out with the boys. HAZEL: Use condoms! I laugh out loud, drawing the attention of Coby. “What are you giggling about over there?” He scowls. “You better not be chatting up a girl. You banned hookups, remember?” “I banned distractions,” I correct. And so far it’s been working. McCarthy was in top form at morning skate, proving that his flirtation with Brenna Jensen was the cause of his recent bout of sucking. He didn’t come out with us tonight because he wanted to stay home and watch all the available game tape from Princeton’s season to prepare for tomorrow. See what happens when you eliminate pesky distractions? “Also, I’m not chatting up a girl,” I add. “I’m texting Hazel.” “Oh nice, tell her I say hi,” Coby orders. Hazel was my “date” for a team event last year, so most of my teammates know her. Coby, in particular, took an immediate liking to her. Granted, Coby takes a liking to anyone with tits. And to blondes, apparently, regardless of gender. “Are you ever gonna give me her number?” he gripes. “Nope. You’re not allowed to mess around with my friends.” I don’t want Chilton anywhere near Hazel. He’s a major player, and he’d break her heart. She’s too inexperienced to handle someone like him. To be honest, I don’t think she’s ever had an actual boyfriend. I assume she hooks up, because she’s an attractive, twenty-one-year-old woman, but I’ve never seen her with a man. In the past I wondered if maybe she was a lesbian, but I haven’t seen her with any women, either, and I’ve definitely caught her checking out dudes before. I think she just doesn’t have much game. And Coby has too much of it. A loud wolf whistle cuts through the rock music blasting in the bar. It comes from the direction of the pool table. The two men standing there have abandoned their game to gape at the entryway. I follow their stares and…da-yum. Brenna Jensen is marching across the room. And she looks good enough to eat. She’s wearing high-heeled leather boots, a short skirt, black leather jacket. Her chocolate-brown hair is loose around her shoulders, and her full lips are blood red. Another dark-haired girl trails after her. Also pretty, but Brenna holds all my attention. Her dark eyes are on fire, and every molecule of heat is aimed directly at me. “Connelly.” She reaches our table, baring her teeth in a mocking smile. “Boys. Fancy meeting you here. Mind if I join you?” I pretend to be completely unfazed by her arrival. Inside, suspicion coils like a rattlesnake in my gut. “Sure thing.” I gesture to the sole empty chair. “Afraid there’s only one seat, though.” “It’s okay, we won’t be staying long.” She addresses her friend. “Want to sit?” “Nah.” The girl is clearly amused by all of this. Whatever this is. “I’m gonna call Lamar. Come grab me when you’re done.” She moseys over to the bar, phone already glued to her ear. “It’s so hot in here,” Brenna remarks. “All the bodies crammed in this shoebox are generating some serious heat.” She unzips her jacket. What she’s wearing underneath makes everyone’s eyeballs pop out of their sockets. “Aw fuck,” I hear Coby mumble. The crop top bares her flat, smooth belly, and it’s cut low enough to showcase some impressive cleavage. She’s also not wearing a bra, so I can see the outline of her nipples, two hard beads straining against the ribbed material. My cock stirs behind my zipper. She appraises my teammates before focusing on me. “We need to have a chat, Connelly.” “Do we?” Her gaze sweeps over the table again. Each guy, even the lowly freshman Adam, receives a thorough examination. To my displeasure, the longest scrutiny is awarded to Coby, whose tongue has fallen to the Dime’s sticky floor. “Have a seat already,” I say darkly. “Don’t mind if I do.” Flicking up an eyebrow, she saunters to Coby and settles directly on his lap. He makes a choked noise. Part surprise, part joy. I narrow my eyes at her. She smiles. “What’s wrong, Jakey? You told me to have a seat.” “I think a chair would be more comfortable.” There’s an edge to my tone. “Oh, but I’m super comfy right here.” She wraps a slender arm around Coby’s neck and rests her hand on his broad shoulder. He’s six-four and two hundred and forty pounds, making Brenna appear tiny in comparison. I don’t miss the way his hand curls around her hip to keep her in place. “Jensen,” I warn. “Jensen! Hey!” Brooks, coming up for air, finally notices Brenna’s arrival. “When did you get here? Is Di Laurentis with ya?” “No, Summer’s back in Hastings.” “Oh. That sucks.” Shrugging, he resumes the game of tonsil-hockey he’s playing with our soon-to-be-unemployed waitress. “So here’s the thing,” Brenna says. She might be in Coby’s lap, but she only has eyes for me. “You ordered Josh to break up with me.” I raise my beer bottle and take a slow sip, contemplating what she said. “Break up, eh? I thought you weren’t dating.” “We weren’t. But we had a good arrangement going. I liked him.” It’s strangely frank of her. Most women probably wouldn’t enjoy admitting how much they liked the person who just dumped them. I experience a weird tug in my stomach at the notion that she might’ve actually been into McCarthy. “I liked the way his hands felt on me,” she continues in a throaty voice, and suddenly every man at the table is eating up her every word. “I liked his lips…his fingers…” A strangled cough comes from Adam the freshman. I silence him with a deadly glare. He gulps down some beer. “I guess you’ll have to find other hands and lips and fingers to keep you occupied,” I tell her. When Coby opens his mouth, I glare at him before he can volunteer his body parts. His mouth promptly slams. “I told you, you don’t get to make decisions for me,” Brenna says coolly. “I didn’t make any decisions for you. McCarthy made up his own mind.” “I don’t believe that. And I don’t appreciate you interfering in my life.” “I don’t appreciate you interfering with my players,” I retort. My teammates’ heads swing back and forth from me to Brenna. “Are we really going to have this argument again?” she asks in a bored tone. Her index finger trails down Coby’s arm. His eyes glaze over. Shit. Brenna is not only smoking hot, she’s also magnetic as hell. And her perfect ass is currently pressed up against the crotch of a hockey player who’s full of pent-up aggression and anticipation for tomorrow’s semifinals. “Did you come here to yell at me, Hottie? Because that’s not going to bring poor, sweet McCarthy back.” I’m goading her. Mostly because it’s fun to see her dark eyes smolder with anger, like two hot coals burning in a fire pit. “You’re right. I’m not going to get McCarthy back. So I guess it’s time to find a replacement.” Her fingertips reach the hand that Coby placed on her hip. She laces their fingers together, and I frown when I glimpse her thumb rubbing the inside of his palm. I think he might actually groan. The music muffles the sound, but his tortured expression tells me he’s not unaffected. I glower at him. “Focus, man. She’s just playing a game.” “It’s not a game. I think your boy here is hot.” She tosses her silky hair over one shoulder and slants her head to meet Coby’s appreciative gaze. “What’s your name?” “Coby.” Gravel thickens his voice. Oh fuck. We’re in trouble. He’s looking at her as if she’s already naked. Hell, I think everyone in the bar is. “I’m Brenna,” she coos. “It’s so nice to meet you.” “So nice,” he echoes, visibly gulping. Brenna grins at me, and then unlaces their fingers and slides her palm up Coby’s beefy chest. She presses it to the Harvard logo that’s decaled onto his gray sweatshirt, her palm flattening over his left pec. “Your heart’s beating so fast. Is everything okay?” “Everything’s just fine.” He’s completely under her spell. From beneath heavy eyelids, he admires the curves of her body. Then he shifts in his chair, probably because he’s sporting a massive hard-on. “Focus on me, Chilton,” I order. “Don’t let her lure you to the dark side.” “Don’t listen to him, Coby. I mean, do you really want Connelly to run your life? He’s such a buzzkill. Who likes a buzzkill, right?” She snuggles closer to him. “So what do you like to do other than play hockey? Do you like to dance?” “Love it,” he mumbles. His gaze is glued to her chest. I know for a fact he’s got zero moves. “Coby, don’t fall for this. She’s not interested.” They both ignore me. “We should go dancing sometime. We’ll have so. Much. Fun.” She strokes his pec before gliding her hand up to his bearded chin. She strokes that, too. “I’d bet having our bodies so close like that would make your heart beat even faster.” Adam starts coughing again. Beside him, Dmitry looks utterly captivated. They all do. Brenna has that effect on men. I scowl at Coby. “She’s teasing you. This is payback for my perceived crimes against her.” Brenna smirks defiantly. “Actually, I happen to find Coby incredibly appealing.” “I’m sure you do,” I drawl. To the dumbass whose lap she’s on, I offer more encouragement. “You can do this, man. Crawl out of the darkness.” When he finally speaks, the words are strangled, as if they’re being pried out of his mouth by force. “Sorry, Jake. I think I love her.” She laughs, easily sliding off his lap. Coby shoots to his feet, too. “We should go dancing tonight,” he says eagerly. I sigh. “Weak bastard.” With a sigh of her own, Brenna gently touches my teammate’s arm. “Sorry, babes, but Connelly was right. I was playing you.” He gawks at her. “For real?” “For real. I was manipulating you, and I apologize for that. You were an unwitting pawn in this little chess game between me and your captain.” Coby looks so disappointed I have to choke down laughter. I don’t feel sorry for him, though. I did warn him. Brenna turns to me. “See how easy that was?” She shakes her head irritably. “The only reason I’m not crying over this McCarthy thing is because it was a temporary arrangement. But let this serve as a warning to you, Connelly. Stay out of my life. My love life, my sex life, my life in general. You have no right to force someone to break up with me. That’s just childish.” “And what you did right now wasn’t childish?” I challenge. “Oh, it was. I don’t deny that. I absolutely stooped to your level, because I was trying to prove a point. If you mess with my life, I’ll mess with yours. Keep accusing me of distracting your guys, and guess what, I’ll start doing it. And based on what I just saw, it won’t be difficult at all.” She pats Coby on the shoulder. “Again, I’m truly sorry for involving you. For what it’s worth, I think you’re wicked hot, and I have this friend—Audrey—who I kind of want to set you up with. You’re exactly her type.” Coby’s expression brightens. “Really?” Brenna holds up her phone. “Smile. I’ll text her a pic of you and see if she’s interested.” I watch in total disbelief as Coby actually stands there and poses for a picture. He flexes his biceps, for fuck’s sake. And then, to add insult to injury, he says, “Thanks.” The idiot is thanking her. Christ. My teammates are unbelievable. Brenna slides her phone into her purse and seeks out my gaze. “Enjoy the rest of your night, Jakey.” She gives me a wink. “And don’t forget… If you mess with me, I mess right back.” 7 Jake I find myself in the kitchen at three in the morning chugging a glass of water at the sink. I’m not sure what woke me up. Maybe the thunder? It started pouring when Brooks and I got home from the bar and hasn’t stopped since. Not even a lull. Or maybe it’s guilt that jolted me out of my slumber. I’d never admit it to Brenna, but…I do feel bad about sticking my nose in her business. When she’d confessed to liking McCarthy earlier, I can’t deny I felt like a total jerk. “Oh!” a female voice squeaks. “I didn’t realize anyone else was up.” I lift my head in time to see a shapely figure skid to a stop about six feet away. Either the shadows are playing tricks on me, or she’s wearing nothing but a thong. She takes a few steps forward, a curtain of blonde hair swinging behind her. The kitchen light flicks on, and yup, she sure is topless. Her tits are on full display for me. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I thought I’d be alone in here.” Yet for all her protests, she doesn’t make an effort to cover up. And since I’m a man, I can’t help but stare at her chest. She’s got nice boobs. They’re on the small side, but cute and perky, with pale-pink nipples that are currently puckered from being exposed to the air. But the coy twinkle in her eyes puts me off. Although I hadn’t heard anyone come in, I assume Brooks invited her over. And since she’s practically naked, I assume she and Brooks aren’t exactly pulling an all-night study sesh in his bedroom. Which means she definitely shouldn’t be looking at me like that. “You’re crashing with Brooks tonight?” I ask as I rinse out my glass. “Mmm-hmmm.” I wrinkle my forehead. “When’d you get here?” “Around midnight. And before you say it, yes, it was a booty call.” I resist the urge to shake my head. Brooks Weston is something else. Making out with one chick all night, and then booty-calling another. “Do you mind getting me a glass? I don’t know where anything is.” She licks her lips. “I’m thirsty.” She’s thirsty, all right. I open the cupboard, grab a drinking glass, and hold it out. Her fingertips brush my knuckles suggestively as she accepts it. “Thank you.” “No prob.” I withdraw my hand. “You look cold,” I say with a pointed glance to her nipples. “Actually, I’m feeling really hot right now.” She giggles. “And you’re looking it.” “Looking what?” “Hot.” I try not to raise my eyebrows. This chick is bold. Too bold, considering whom she came to see tonight. “Weren’t you just with my roommate?” I nod toward the corridor. “Yeah? So?” “So you probably shouldn’t be telling some other guy he’s hot.” “Brooks already knows what I think about you.” “Does he.” An itchy feeling crawls up my spine. I don’t like the idea of people discussing me. And I seriously hope I’m not part of whatever kinky games the two of them play behind closed doors. She pours herself a glass of water from the filtered dispenser in the fridge. Then she stands there and drinks, topless, no care in the world. She’s got a gorgeous body, but something about her rubs me the wrong way. It’s not the brazen attitude. I like outspoken girls. Girls who bust my balls. Like Brenna Jensen—she’s the very definition of bold, and she doesn’t make me want to sprint out of the room. This girl, on the other hand… “What’s your name?” I ask warily. I don’t know where the distrust in my gut is coming from, but her presence is unnerving me. “Kayla.” She takes another long sip, propping one hip against the granite counter. She’s completely unfazed by the fact that she’s wearing teeny panties and nothing else. “We met before,” she tells me. “Did we?” Visible displeasure darkens her eyes. Yeah, I don’t imagine this is a girl who likes being forgotten. But I genuinely have no recollection of meeting her, ever. “Yes. At Nash Maynard’s party?” “You go to Harvard?” “No. We talked about that at the party, remember?” she says tightly. “I’m at Boston University?” I draw a blank. There’s a black hole in my memory where this alleged interaction is supposed to be. “Babe,” a sleepy voice drifts from the hallway. “Come back to bed. I’m horny.” I give her a dry smile. “You’re being summoned.” She grins back. “Your roomie’s insatiable.” “I wouldn’t know,” I say with a shrug. “No?” She finishes her water and places the glass in the sink. Curiosity gleams in her expression as she studies my face. “You and Brooks have never…?” She lets the question hang. “Nah. I don’t swing that way.” She tilts her head thoughtfully. “What if there’s a girl in the middle to act as a buffer?” Annnd we’re done here. It’s too late and I’m too tired to be discussing threesomes with a strange girl in my kitchen. “I don’t do that either,” I mutter on my way past her. “Pity,” she tells my retreating back. I don’t turn around. “Good night, Kayla.” “Good night, Jake.” A teasing lilt. Jeez. So many invitations in one measly encounter. She would’ve let me bang her on the counter if I’d made a move. If I were into threesomes, she’d have me and Brooks banging her together. But neither notion appeals to me. I go back to bed and make sure to lock my door, just in case. Early the next morning, I make the trek to see my folks. This requires a quick ride on the Red Line, followed by a not-so-quick one on the Newburyport/Rockport line, which takes me all the way to Gloucester. It’d be faster to borrow Weston’s car and drive up the coast, but I don’t mind taking the train. It’s cheaper than gassing up the Mercedes, and it provides me with quiet time to reflect and mentally prepare for today’s game. Our entire season rides on this game. If we lose… You won’t lose. I heed the self-assured voice in my head, tapping into the confidence I’ve been cultivating since I was a kid playing Pee Wee hockey. There’s no denying I was talented from an early age. But talent and potential mean nothing without discipline and failure. You need to fail in order for the win to mean something. I’ve lost games before, games that counted for rankings, trophies. Losing is not supposed to crush your confidence. It’s meant to build it. But we won’t lose today. We’re the best team in our conference, maybe even the best in the entire country. The train rolls into the station around nine o’clock, and since it’s actually not raining this morning I decide to walk home instead of Uber’ing it. I breathe in the crisp spring air, inhaling the familiar scent of salt and fish and seaweed. Gloucester is a fishing town, the country’s oldest seaport, which means you can’t walk five steps without seeing a lighthouse, a boat, or something nautical. I pass three consecutive houses with decorative anchors hanging over the front doors. The two-story house where I grew up resembles most of the other homes lining the narrow streets. It has white siding, a sloped roof, and a pretty front garden that Mom tends to religiously. The garden in the backyard is even more impressive, a testament to her green thumb. The house is small, but it’s just the three of us, so we’ve always had more than enough room. My phone rings as I’m approaching the porch. It’s Hazel. I stop to answer the call, because she’s supposed to show up this afternoon for the game. “Hey,” I greet her. “You still coming to Cambridge later?” “Never. I’d die before betraying my school.” “Oh shut up. You don’t even like hockey. You’re coming as a friend, not a fan.” “Sorry, yes, of course I’m coming. It’s just fun to pretend we have a massive rivalry. You know, a forbidden relationship. Well, friendship,” she amends. “There’s nothing forbidden about our friendship. Everybody knows you’re my best friend and nobody cares.” There’s a slight pause. “True. So, what are you up to right now? If you want, I can drive up early and chill with you until the game.” “I’m about to walk into my folks’ house. Mom’s cooking up a special game-day breakfast.” “Aw, I wish you’d told me. I would’ve joined you.” “Yeah right. That would have required you waking up before eight o’clock. On a Saturday.” “I totally would’ve done that,” she protests. “‘The world doesn’t exist before nine a.m.’ That’s a direct quote from you, Hazel.” I chuckle. “What are we doing to celebrate after you win today? Oooh, how about a fancy dinner?” “Maybe? I’m sure the boys will want to go out partying, though. Oh, and I’ve got somewhere to be around ten. You can come with if you want.” “Depends what it is.” “Remember Danny Novak? His band’s playing in the city tonight. It’s their first gig, so I promised I’d be there.” Danny was a teammate of mine in high school. One of the best stick handlers I’ve ever seen, and that dexterity with his hands serves him well as a guitarist, too. He never could choose what he loved more, hockey or music. “What kind of music do they play?” “Metal.” “Ugh. Kill me now.” Hazel sighs. “I’ll let you know later, but right now it’s a tentative no from me, dawg.” I snicker. “I’ll see you later, okay?” “Yup. Tell your parents I said hi.” “Will do.” I hang up and walk through the unlocked front door. In the small entryway, I toss my hockey jacket on one of the iron coat hooks, which are shaped like—what else—anchors. “Mom?” I call as I unlace my boots. “Hi, baby! I’m in here!” Her greeting wafts out from the kitchen, along with the most enticing aroma. My stomach growls like a grumpy bear. I’ve been looking forward to this breakfast all week. Some guys don’t like to pig out on game days, but I’m the opposite. If I don’t eat a huge breakfast, I feel sluggish and off. In the kitchen, I find Mom at the stove, a plastic red spatula in hand. The hunger pangs intensify. Fuck yeah. She’s making French toast. And bacon. And is that sausage? “Hey. That smells fantastic.” I saunter over and plant a kiss on her cheek. Then I raise my eyebrows. “Nice earrings. Are those new?” With her free hand, she rolls the shiny pearl on her right earlobe between her thumb and index finger. “Aren’t they pretty? Your father surprised me with them the other day! I’ve never owned pearls this big before.” “Dad did good.” Rory Connelly knows the secret to a healthy marriage. Happy wife equals happy life. And nothing makes my mother happier than shiny baubles. She turns to face me. With her dark hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail and her cheeks flushed from the stove, she appears way younger than fifty-six. My folks had me when they were in their mid-thirties, so she’s constantly referring to herself as an “old mom.” She definitely doesn’t look it, though. “Hazel says hi, by the way. I just got off the phone with her.” Mom claps happily. “Oh, tell her I miss her. When is she coming home for a visit? She wasn’t here for the holidays.” “No, she was at her mom’s this year.” Hazel’s parents got divorced a few years ago. Her dad still lives in Gloucester, but her mom is in Vermont now, so she alternates holidays with them. “She’ll be at the game today. Are you guys coming?” “I’m afraid not. Your dad won’t be home in time, and you know I don’t like driving on the freeway alone.” I hide my disappointment. My parents have never been too invested in my hockey career. Dad was always too busy with work to attend any of my games, and Mom just plain wasn’t interested. When I was little, it hurt my feelings. I’d see all my friends’ families in the stands, mine would be nowhere in sight, and envy would flood my chest. But whatever. It is what is. That’s my attitude about most things. Can’t change the past, don’t cry over the present, don’t stress about the future. It’s all pointless, especially regret. “Well, try to make it to the finals if we’re playing in them, okay?” I say lightly. “Of course. Now stop looming over me and go have a seat, superstar. I’ll take care of everything.” “At least let me set the table,” I argue, trying to grab plates from the cupboard. She swats my hands away. “No. Sit down,” she orders. “This might be the last time I’ll be able to serve you before you have your own staff waiting on you hand and foot.” “Nah, that’s not gonna happen.” “You’ll be a professional hockey player this fall, honey. That means you’ll be famous, and famous people employ household staff.” I made the mi