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Prologue: Deanna

September

Why do I do this to myself?

Come to bars, take shots of tequila, and hope to find another fuck. I can’t believe this, but I miss Zane. Of the few guys I have available to regularly fuck, he hasn’t been around for months. He’s a sweet guy. Honestly surprised me that he goes along with my ‘no strings attached, you won’t be the only guy I’m sleeping with’ lifestyle. He doesn’t seem the type to do that for long.

But he has.

He’s the nicest of the guys I see. Well, the guys I did see. That has to be the reason why I miss him. I’m in a dry spell. The other guys found girlfriends, so my pool of guys is down to Zane.

Which is what brings me to the bar.

I need to get laid.

As my gaze scans the guys on either side of me along the bar, I wonder if I’m getting tired of this or if the guys here look unappealing because my mistake was coming on karaoke night. Either way, I wish I figured that one out before I walked in. I down another shot. Surely I’m not tired of the hunt, of the thrill of finding a new fuck buddy. This is fun. No one gets close. No one gets hurt. It’s perfect. I sigh when no one catches my eye. This is not one of my good nights, apparently.

A body rams hard into my side, and my ribs go straight into the bar’s edge. “Fuck.”

“Damn. Sorry. Motherfucker bumped into me.” A hand gingerly rests on my elbow, the touch at odds with the harsh tone and words of the man. “You okay?”

A shudder runs through me at the sound of his voice. It’s deep and gruff and commands attention. My gaze runs from the hand, up the arm, across a vast chest, and then lands on his face. Holy shit, he’s hot. His eyes are dark green and so serious. His hair is a dark red, and he has ridiculously strong-looking jaws.

“You okay?” he repeats.

“My ribs hurt. Buy me a drink to make up for it?”

His eyes widen ever so slightly, the only sign that I’ve surprised him. “Yeah, sure.” He takes the empty barstool next to me. “A drink or another shot?” he asks as he waves the bartender over.

“Two shots, please.”

Once he orders me two more shots and a beer for himself, he gives me a once-over. I let him look, let him take in my tight, low-cut shirt, and my shorts. It might be September, but it was still warm when I walked in here. It’ll probably be a little chilly when I leave.

“I’m Brayden.”

“Deanna. You here by yourself?”

He nods. “Just needed to get out of the house. Ended up here somehow. Didn’t realize there would be karaoke.” He winces as the next singer, who is terrible but energetic, begins her song.

“Same here.” Needed to get out of the house, needed to get fucked. Same thing, right? Brayden would be perfect. He’s a big man, tall and wide, muscular too. Just the right amount, though. Not too buff that you’re worried a hug may kill you or that he’d be like a rock if you rest your head on him. He seems strong and sturdy. Have I mentioned lately that he’s insanely hot? And he has this whole serious look that makes me want to force him to be fun. What would his smile be like? Does he smile? Can he smile? He doesn’t look like he does, if he can. What a ridiculous thing to wonder. A man as gorgeous as him surely has plenty of reasons to smile, so obviously he does.

My shots are placed in front of me and I knock them back one after the other. Heat runs through me and I turn on the barstool toward Brayden. I think I’ve had a few too many at this point. “You’re smokin’ hot.”

A faint smile quickly appears on Brayden’s face and just as quickly disappears. I’m beyond disappointed that I got not even a half-assed smile. “You always tell people you don’t know that you think they’re hot?”

I lay a hand on his arm. His muscular arm. “But I do know you. Your name is Brayden and you injured me.”

He reaches out and gently runs his fingers over my ribs. I wince. “Fuck, you weren’t kidding.” The expression on his face changes as he touches the tender area. He frowns when I suck in a breath. He must think it’s because my ribs are sore, but they’re not. His knuckles grazed my bra and I wish I wasn’t wearing one. Brayden’s hand falls. “Give it a few days and you’ll be as good as new. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I bumped into you that hard.”

“It’s okay. So, what do you do for a living?”

“I don’t want to talk about work.”

I frown. All I asked was what he did. I wasn’t going to dive in and ask every detail about his job. Quite frankly, I’m playing nice until it’s mostly appropriate for me to ask him to take me somewhere else to fuck my brains out. Plus, small talk helps weed out the creeps. “Okay. Then, what do you do for fun?”

Brayden eyes me for a moment. “Honestly?”

“Well,” I shrug, “you can lie if you want.”

He laughs and holy freaking shit, there’s a smile! I grab the edge of the bar to steady myself. The man goes from sexy and edgy to downright beautiful and I’m-going-to-faint-he’s-so-hot status. “I don’t do much for fun.”

“There must be something,” I push.

“Well, in my spare time, I like to buy houses, renovate them myself as much as I can, and then sell them.”

In his spare time? What does this man do for a living where he either has a lot of spare time or he has a lot of money to do such a thing, or both? And he does all of that hard labor for fun?

“So you’re good with your hands?”

Dear lord. There’s that smile again. My body leans forward on its own accord. “Of course I’m good with my hands, darlin’.” Swoon. Normally, I’d be internally barfing right now, but it rolls so easily off his tongue with a slightly Southern accent that a swoon can’t be prevented.

Holy hell, what is happening to me?

“What about you?” he asks.

I take a moment to let my brain reform from its state of mush before answering. “I find my fun in many ways. Just depends. Sometimes, it’s going to a concert, playing pool, acting silly, doing something a little wild, whatever.”

“Like karaoke?” he asks.

I laugh. “On occasion.” An idea hits me. “Excuse me for a moment. I need to visit the ladies’ room.” I step away and make my way through the throng of people. Elbows and shoulders bump into me along the way, making me feel like a pinball. Brayden watches me go; I know because I glance back and see him. Once I’m sure he can’t see me anymore, I move toward the DJ in charge of taking names for karaoke. Let’s hope Brayden won’t kill me for signing him up and picking his songs.

My excuse is that he can use some fun and if Mr. Serious goes through with it, then he’s definitely worthy of getting laid tonight.

Afterward, I do make a pitstop in the bathroom. By the time I return to Brayden, there’s a glass of water in place of my empty shot glasses. I raise an eyebrow at him.

“Don’t want you drunk,” is all he says.

So, I drink my water. Brayden has switched to water too. He’s a guy who walks on the safe side of the line, which is a good sign. Brayden turns on the barstool toward me and asks a question, but my eyes fall to his thighs.

How did I not notice those before? His legs must be powerful based on how big those suckers are. Oddly, it reminds me of Zane.

“Deanna?”

I lift my gaze. “Why don’t you give me a kiss?” I ask.

Watching his face carefully, I see that I’ve surprised him again. He barely widened his eyes. For the most part, this guy keeps his emotions close to the vest. That intrigues me because it reminds me of myself in a way.

Brayden grabs my hips, pulls me off the barstool until I’m standing between his knees, and tilts his head a bit to the right. He rests his forehead against mine, his lips a breath away. Oh, no. He’s one who likes anticipation. That can be good and bad because it can be such an agonizing, yet amazing thing. He licks his lips, stealing my breath when his tongue brushes my mouth, which parts immediately. His hearty chuckle is almost too much to deal with.

“Next up is Brayden.” The DJ’s voice calling out breaks into our little bubble.

Brayden frowns.

“He means you,” I say. “Do this for me? Please? I’ll make it worth your while, especially if you give me a good show.”

He eyes me long enough that I think he’ll say no. “I’m supposed to get up there? For you?” He somehow manages to say that without it sounding like an insult.

“Yes.”

“You’re not taking no for an answer?”

“Correct.”

He sighs, but stands and makes his way to the stage. He grabs the microphone from the DJ, blinking a few times from the bright lights. Damn, he’s stiff as a board up there. Definitely out of his comfort zone. He rubs a hand over his head a few times. There’s a shift in the crowd, as if they’re just as surprised as he is that he’s up there.

“Oh my God, Brayden!” someone shouts. Okay, so apparently, someone here knows him.

Brayden forces a chuckle. “Obviously, this isn’t my usual stage.” Is that a hint as to what he does? Maybe he’s some indie singer that I’ve never heard of before, but that doesn’t quite make sense. There’s a laugh through the crowd too. His eyes seem to find my general area. “First, let me say that darlin’, I know I just met you, but I already don’t like you a little bit.”

That worries me until I see a faint smile.

When the music starts for “Low Rider,” he groans. “Seriously?” he mumbles, but the crowd rumbles with excitement. Chairs scrape across the floor as people stand to dance. I can’t help but grin. When his deep voice gets seemingly deeper as he sings the first line, I shiver. The music and the words fall away and all that’s left is the tone of his voice. Holy hell, his voice is hot.

Then, I’m distracted because he actually does give me a show. His hips do a little wiggle and he manages to slowly dance. It’s hilarious because it’s obvious he’s uncomfortable. It’s probably a sign of how evil I am to find pleasure in this.

When the song is over, he takes a deep breath, but the DJ says, “Hold up, man; she signed you up for another one.”

“For fuck’s sake.”

The crowd cheers, though. His next song is more of a hint based on his accomplishment of doing the first song. The music starts for “Gettin’ You Home” by Chris Young and Brayden relaxes a little until a few women in the bar catcall him. Ha. Sorry, ladies, but he’s going home with me. What surprises me the most, as he gets into a groove with this one, is that the man can actually sing. And with that low voice? I’m squirming in my seat from that alone.

When the song is over, Brayden quickly leaves the stage, weaves through the people, and comes over, but he doesn’t look at me. He pulls his wallet out, waves the bartender over, and hands him some cash. “I believe you said something about making that torture worth my while?” Finally, those dark green eyes focus on me.

I hold my hand out and he takes it. He insists on driving since he only had the one beer. That’s totally fine because I took a cab since I knew I’d be drinking. God, it’s been forever since I’ve left with someone I don’t know and gone back to their house. Too late to hope he’s not a bad guy. We could go to my house, but I try not to do that too often, if at all.

My phone buzzes in my pocket, and I find a text.

Zane: Back in town. When can I see you?

Such a simple question. If he had just messaged me earlier, it could’ve been tonight. But now I’ve met Brayden.

Me: Tomorrow.

I haven’t had sex with the man yet, or even kissed him, and I’m already hoping tonight isn’t the last I’ll see of him. I clear my throat to prepare myself for my usual speech. If I wasn’t already hoping to see him on a regular basis, then I wouldn’t worry with it.

“Is this a normal thing for you?” I ask instead.

“Pickin’ up girls from a bar?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“Not really. Not that often at least. I’m pretty focused on my work.”

Oh. Well, I wonder if that means this is automatically a one-time deal? “I’m a chronic no-strings-attached girl, but I do have a fuck buddy, and sometimes have buddies. I haven’t had sex in two months, though, and I’m clean. Just wanted to let you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Brayden enters a nice neighborhood, and it’s a really nice one. He definitely has money if he lives in this area. He pulls into the driveway of a home that’s a bit secluded compared to the others. When he has the truck in park, he looks at me.

“Are you done talking?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

We get out and it’s silent as I stand behind him while he unlocks the door and then disarms the alarm. He turns to me the second he’s done, kissing me so fiercely, I take a stumbling step backward. Oh, hell. I grab his shoulders because I need something to hold onto. Brayden grabs my thighs to pick me up. It doesn’t matter where he’s taking me as long as we’re getting naked and doing dirty things once we’re there.

I knew Brayden would be perfect.

I’m not wrong.

I definitely need this to last longer than just one night.

 

Chapter One: Brayden

The last time I saw Deanna, she dragged me into a quilt shop. Our fuck-buddy relationship went from sex only a few times a week to her asking me if I’d go shopping with her. A no was on the tip of my tongue until she said she’d make it worth my while. Whenever those words come out of Deanna’s mouth, the woman follows through.

So, I went shopping.

Except, Deanna didn’t buy a damn thing. She browsed for a bit before she pulled me into the quilt shop. I followed along aimlessly, ready for the part that would make it worth it, when we suddenly found ourselves in the back of the store in what appeared to be the break room.

“Have sex with me.” That’s what she said seconds before she grabbed my neck and pulled me down for the hottest kiss between us yet, and things are always off the fucking charts with Deanna. I had no time to object but only once before I was having sex with her in the break room of a quilt store.

I dragged her out the moment we were done. She had a big grin on her face and because I knew she was watching me carefully for a reaction, I gave none. If I was caught having sex in public? God, it could’ve been so bad. I’m still waiting for the owners of the shop to review their security cameras, catch us, and send the police to my house with the appropriate charges. She also didn’t get a reaction because I was pissed. How could this one woman so easily without saying more than four words get me to have sex with her in a public place? It’s insane!

Hot, but insane.

That was when I knew for sure that I definitely couldn’t make an exception for her. So before the season started last week, I had sex with her one last time. It’s been a week and a half, we’re on the road, and I’ll be damned if that woman didn’t get under my skin. I can’t stop thinking about seeing her once we get back.

Deanna is a bad idea, though. She pushes me out of my comfort zone. First with the karaoke singing, which I’m still hearing shit about, and then with the sex in the quilt shop. She’ll be a distraction during the season and that is something I refuse to have, even for some of the best sex I’ve ever had.

And it’s absolutely the best sex of my life.

However, I can’t have her fucking things up for me. My new mantra should be Say no to Deanna.

My focus is hockey. Always has been. I’ve never been able to find a balance between hockey and my life when hockey is in season. It’s why I’m in my thirties, single as they come, and my last serious relationship was over five years ago. I want to bring this team further in the playoffs. I want to hold the best trophy in all of sports over my head, and I want my teammates to be able to do the same. The last thing I need is a woman to distract me from my goals.

And Deanna is the kind of woman who could knock me flat on my ass and destroy everything around me in the process.

“Damn, I’m ready to get home,” EJ says as he sits down next to me with a plate of food. “I miss my princess.” His princess is his infant daughter who he learned about at the end of last season.

“Did you ever find a nanny?”

He scoffs. “Bree goes through nannies like they’re diapers.”

“Bree does or you do?”

He glares at me while he stabs his fork into his pasta. “My mom hasn’t liked any of them either. The search is being tabled for the moment. I’ll know the perfect nanny when I meet her. You still seeing your karaoke girl?”

That’s what they’ve decided to call Deanna since I won’t reveal her name. I shake my head.

“Something happen?” EJ asks. He’s brave to ask, but we’ve become a bit of friends. Not to say my teammates aren’t my friends, but we don’t normally hang out if hockey isn’t involved in some way. My mom was a single parent and EJ is raising his daughter with the help of his mother. I’ve offered to babysit. He’s never taken me up on the offer, but he’s invited me over to hang out and his daughter kind of likes me. So, we hang out some, which is why he probably feels he can ask.

“Season started,” I answer.

“So? You don’t fuck during the season?”

“Leave me alone, EJ.” I don’t like talking about this shit and I’m not talking about it with him, especially when so many of my teammates are around. No wonder my friends are few and far between. I keep to myself too much.

“Okay, okay. Want to see the latest picture of Bree that Ma sent me?” He’s already pulling his phone out, and his daughter is a more enjoyable topic of conversation than I am.

Soon, we’re on the ice for a game against Detroit. Our season is off to a hot start, having won four of our five previous games. I try not to think too much about past games or future games. Only the here and now. Only what’s right in front of me.

Right now, the puck is on my stick. We’ve had a few opportunities to score so far, but no one has slipped the puck past either goalie. I want to change that. I don’t have an opening, so I pass to Nathan O’Donnell, who is waiting. He rears his stick back, the puck flies through the air, hits the arm of a player, but still makes it past the goalie.

One to zero.

We work hard, once spending almost two minutes in Detroit’s zone peppering their goalie with shots and keeping them from clearing the zone. It also wouldn’t truly be the start of the season if I didn’t hook one of their players. It’s my first hooking penalty of the season. I don’t know why I have this bad habit or why I can’t seem to rid myself of it, but I hate it. It’s like the same way my muscles are familiar with skating, they’re familiar with reaching out and hooking someone.

I’ve been able to reduce the number of times I do it a season, so there seems to be hope that I can eliminate the habit altogether. My team is able to kill off the penalty with only a few close calls. Once I make it back to the bench, Marco slaps my shoulder.

“Thanks.”

“For what?”

“We placed bets on when you’d get your first hooking penalty and a few of us, myself included, had this game.”

“Fuck off.” I shove him away. He’s the exact type of person who can be distracting during a game. That’s fine...if he’s distracting our opponent.

I get onto the ice for my shift, happy to focus on the one thing that matters the most to me. This is all I have and it won’t last forever. I plan to give it two hundred and ten percent, which means I don’t have room for anything, or anyone, else.

~ ~ ~

“My birthday is coming up.”

I laugh. “Yeah, Mom. I know. I’m shopping for your present today.”

She gasps, but it’s all for dramatic effect. “You’re just now shopping for my present, Brayden?”

“Cut me some slack. I was on the road for the past two weeks.”

“Which is the perfect time to find me something while you’re traveling.”

“Too late for that now. Is there anything in particular you want?” I ask.

“Oh,” she starts and I can picture her waving her hand. “You know I don’t need anything.”

True, but... “Not what I asked.”

She’s quiet for a moment before finally admitting that she would like a new clock for her mantel. That’s my mom; the most exciting thing she can ask her son for is a clock. She doesn’t like asking for anything, though, after having raised me on her own with little help. She’s stubborn, too. When she gives in and tells me what she wants, best believe that’s what she gets.

We talk while I drive, but hang up once it’s time for me to shop. My mom doesn’t ask if there is a woman in my life. She gave that up a few years ago. Should it mean something when a mother doesn’t ask her only son about any potential wives and, by extension, grandchildren? It seems as if she’s given up on that idea. It’s not that it’ll never happen, but it’s not my current focus.

And yet...

I can’t help but be reminded of the last time I was shopping. I haven’t heard from Deanna since the last time I saw her, but then, when she gave me her number the morning after I first met her, her words were, “Use it if you want to see me again.”

She never texted me wanting to have sex. It’s not surprising that she hasn’t texted. She did spout something about how she had a fuck buddy, so she’s probably been satisfied by him the past two weeks. Meanwhile, I can’t stop thinking about her. This is exactly why she needs to stay out of my life. She’s already fucking with my head. The only time she’s out of my head is when I’m on the ice.

I spend the next hour shopping for a clock and avoiding thoughts of Deanna. I find the clock, but am walking around the outdoor shopping center when my feet lead me to the door of the fucking quilt shop. I really don’t know what it is about this woman. We mostly fuck. She likes to talk some after sex, but not in a getting-to-know-you kind of way. The only personal question she asked was the night we met. She asked me again about my job. She wanted to know what I did and I froze. I blurted out that I was a financial analyst. That’s my normal go-to lie if I’m lying about my job. Girls think it’s boring and they don’t ask questions.

I’m about to return to my car, but stop short when I see Deanna, smiling and laughing as she stands behind the counter, chatting with a customer. She works here? Before I can think twice, I storm through the door. Her eyes widen when she sees me. Luckily, the customer is walking away.

“What the fuck, Deanna?”

She takes my hand, calls someone to take over the register, and leads me back to the break room. “Okay, so surprise,” she smiles, “I own this place. We were never going to get caught, but it was fun to think you might, right?”

What? “You’re fucking crazy.”

That causes her to grin. “You’ve been worried about it, haven’t you?” She laughs, covering her mouth with her hand. “I’m sorry, Brayden, really, but I wanted to push you a little without actually putting us in any danger. My employee that day happened to be my best friend, so it all worked out.” Her fingers walk up my chest.

“I hate you.”

“Yet you still want to fuck me, don’t you?” She smirks.

I grab her hand when she starts walking her hands downward.

“What’s in the bag?” she asks when I don’t reply because yes I want to fuck her, but I’m having a hard time remembering why I don’t want to.

“A present for my mother.”

Deanna plucks the bag from my hands and peers inside. “A clock?” she asks with curiosity.

“It’s what she asked for.”

She hands the bag back to me and glances around the room. “So, it’s been two weeks.” Her eyes flick up to mine and I grin.

“And?”

She shrugs. “You barged into my shop. Just making conversation.”

“I got an explanation, so it sounds like I can leave.” She frowns, and I add, “Unless there’s something you want to ask me?”

Deanna folds her arms over her chest. I have a feeling she’s never had to ask her fuck buddies for sex; they’ve always reached out to her. She wants me? She can ask for me. I grab her hips and pull her flush against me.

“You like to play games with me, Deanna.” I lean forward to press a kiss to her jaw. “I don’t like playing your games.” That makes her laugh and I kiss her neck. Her back arches as my mouth travels to her chest to place a kiss on what cleavage she has exposed. A breathy moan catches in her throat and she grabs the back of my head. “Sounds like you want me to fuck you again. Do you?” I bring my mouth up to hers, but I don’t kiss her yet.

“I don’t like your games.”

I chuckle. “We’re even then.”

Her hand tightens in my hair before she breathes her answer, “Yes please.”

I kiss her finally. Kissing her is never enough. I’ve only been with her a handful of times, but I know that already. There’s too much tension, her mouth a source of too much pleasure, and the woman doesn’t know how to keep her hands to herself or in relatively safe zones. I pull away before her hand gets too close to the waistband of my jeans. “Come to my house tonight.”

She hesitates for a moment. “I have plans.”

“More important plans?”

“I can be swayed to cancel if you’ll feed me.”

I shake my head. “See me tomorrow.” At her frown, I add, “I’ll feed you then.” I don’t like the idea of being responsible of her canceling whatever plans she has. I give her one more kiss and leave. It’s not until I get to my truck that I groan with mild regret. I was doing just fine until I saw her again. Without trying, the woman draws me to her.

One more time can’t hurt, right?

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