Monday, September 26, 2016

Introducing... Dark Dove (Episode One) by Shari J Ryan


Episode One by Shari J Ryan

Today is another day without a dime to my name, and I’m not sure how much longer I can continue like this, but something has to give. Someone has to give in and give me a job. The hole in the wall pizza shop on the next block over with a hiring sign didn’t even let me fill out an application. Maybe it’s the puffy red eyes—they probably think I’m doped up on something, but what they don’t know is, it’s from tears. So many tears—I don’t know how my body produces enough of them each day.
I’m not this girl. I’ve never been this girl. It’s been a year since the collapse of the career and reputation I built for myself, yet not a day goes by that I don’t wonder how I could have let things get so bad. In any case, now I am this girl, alone in the middle of Boston, with no family around, no friends, no car, no job, and no money. I’m eating crumbs left behind from the last box of crackers I could afford, and I’ve tried to ration it to once a day, but I’m running low.
I’m not opposed to begging on the street, but I’ve tried that, and I’ve been ignored. Not even a penny was dropped into my cup. The morals I have left won’t let me take my actions further, even though I daydream about selling my body and becoming a drug runner. The thought scares me more than starving, though.
With defeat branded into my head, I trudge up the stairs to my apartment. Key in hand, I slip it into the lock and twist but the key doesn’t turn. No. Please, no.
“Achem,” a man interrupts my failed attempt of unlocking my door. Knowing his voice, I turn around slowly to face him. He’s looking at me like everyone looks at me these days. “Look, Harley, it’s been three months. I feel bad for you, kid; I do, but I have applicants on a waiting list to get into this building, and you’re not paying your rent. I wanted to do your old man a favor and help you out as long as possible, but…I’m sorry.”
“No,” I cry; the tears burn down the side of my cheeks over the raw skin that the last tears caused. “I have nowhere to go.”
“I’m sure you gotta friend or sumthin, Harley, come on, don’t make this harder than it has to be, okay?”
“You don’t understand,” I beg. “I’m trying my hardest to find a job, but no one will cut me a break.”
“You’re a pretty girl. We all got options and they ain’t always pretty, ya know what I mean, doll?”
“No,” I grunt. “No.”
“Look, I saw some rented space down the street. There was a sign looking for help and it included room and board. I don’t know what it is, but maybe it’s something. If not, there’s a homeless shelter down near Milk Street. They’ll help you.”
I can’t do much other than stare at this man and wonder how he pulled himself out of poverty. I thought if anyone would understand, it would be him. He used to live in Boston Commons, on a park bench. Someone obviously gave him a break. I only know this from my time at Boston University when I would see him while running in the mornings. That was back when my life was headed in a good direction.
“Can I get my stuff at least?” I ask, sniffling.
He nudges me out of the way and opens the door, standing to the side with his arms crossed over his chest. “You have two minutes.”
I grab my backpack from the closet and fill it with as much crap as I can stuff inside. The last thing I take is my empty box of crackers.
I don’t need the full two minutes he gave me and I walk past him, clutching the crackers as if it were my last lifeline. “Chin up, kid, it can only get better.” Yeah, or I can die living on the streets unless I’m lucky enough for starvation to take me down first.
Ambling down the stairs to the first floor and into the early December air, the chill immediately bites through my skin. It’s so cold it hurts to breathe. Of course, it isn’t helping that the sun is beginning to go down, which means it’ll only get colder from here.
I walk down the block toward the shelter, looking at each building for the hiring sign the landlord was talking about. When I hit the corner, I see it. It says exactly what he said. That’s so strange, though. What job comes with room and board?
I knock on the door, pretty much not expecting anyone to be here after work hours, but I might as well try. Rubbing at the glass with the back of my sleeve to clear a spot of the fog away, I’m not surprised to find solid darkness filling the interior. So much for that idea.
Not so shockingly, there is no answer. Of course. Though, I do hear the faint noise of what sounds like footsteps.
With one last try, I knock harder, hoping to summon someone to the door. After waiting it out another couple of minutes, I’m surprised when the glass door is unlocked and opens a couple of inches—not wide enough to see inside, though. “What do you want?” an ominous voice asks.
“Hi, um, I’m inquiring about the job with room and board,” I say, trying to look in through the dark crack.
“What qualifications do you have?” he asks without pausing.
“Well, I don’t know what the job is for but I’ll tell you I’m desperate. I have nowhere to live, no food, no money, but hey, I have a psych degree from Boston University, so that’s gotta be something right? Not that any fast food restaurant seemed to think so, but maybe you’ll be different.” The sarcasm is most likely not going to help me get this job but I feel as though I’ve been crossed off of the list during the same second the guy asked me what qualifications I have. I think it’s pretty clear that the only real qualification I have is failure.
“The last thing I suggest you do is mistake me for an idiot…” the guy says. “Something tells me a pretty girl like you with an actual psych degree wouldn’t be knocking on unknown doors looking for unlisted jobs.”
“I didn’t mistake you for anything…” I snap while trying not to shiver against the brutal wind. “The tone of your voice and articulation says to me you’re not exactly some idiot hiding behind a dark door like a bouncer in a sleazy night club.”
A brief moment of silence grows between myself and the door, and I’m beginning to feel mildly uncomfortable standing here. Bad idea.
“You’re hired,” he says sharply.
“Excuse me?” I ask. Shock fills me into wondering if I heard him correctly, but he has every chance to change what I think he just said.
“Meet at Hotel Long Warf in an hour. Axel will find you.”
“Uh, oh, okay, can you tell me what the job entails?” I ask, feeling like this conversation is about to come to a quick end. Axel?
“You said you were desperate,” the guy says. “Desperate people don’t care what the job is.”
“Then just tell me if I can keep my clothes on,” I mutter demandingly.
“Why wouldn’t you keep your clothes on?” he asks with a sound of distaste.
Okay, so now I feel ridiculous and embarrassed in front of a man who won’t show his face. Great. “I’ll be at Hotel Long Warf in an hour.” This is still a bad idea.
The door slams and the lock hinges from the inside, leaving me with only a question on whether or not I hallucinated that whole conversation. Months of looking for a job led me to nothing, and now this? I’m smart enough to know that nothing comes easily without consequence, but with no other option, I have to take my chances that the consequences are slim compared to the alternative.
I head down several streets, holding myself tightly against the rising winds from the harbor. Once I arrive at the hotel, I walk inside, finding myself in the center of an upscale lobby, one I shouldn’t be in dressed the way I am.
“Can I help you, Miss?” a man in a full-length butler looking suit asks me. “Are you lost, maybe?”
“I’m just waiting for someone.” Someone, I don’t know, I mutter to myself. Feeling awkward, I spin around, taking in more of my surroundings, particularly seeking a place to sit while I wait out the next thirty minutes.
“There’s a coffee shop next door, Miss. I might recommend you wait there.” Mortified to be viewed the way I am, even after living this way for more than a year now, I hurry back outside and step into the coffee shop next door. The problem here is, I don’t have money to buy anything, which qualifies this visit as loitering.
I make it twenty minutes before I’m asked to leave, which is longer than I expected to stay.
Forced to wait the next ten minutes outside, I huddle in a deep crevice of the brick wall, partially shielding myself from the wind.
“Are you the desperate psych degree?”
I look up, finding a largely built man in front of me. He’s dressed in an expensive blue suit, one that shimmers under the street light. His crisp, white dress shirt is a sharp contrast from his lightly tanned skin, and his dark hair is shaven short but with a bit of length on top.
“Are you Axel?” I ask him, pointedly.
“No, I’m John, and I like to randomly look for desperate women with psych degrees in the middle of Boston. Of course, I’m fucking Axel,” he says with a squint of his right eye.
“Fair enough. I assume you won’t have the same issues walking through this hotel as I just did?”
“You’re with me. There won’t be a problem. Let’s go.” He stops short in front of me, turning back quickly. “Lose the cracker box first.”
“No!” I snap. “It’s all I have left.”
“You’ll be provided with anything you need. Lose the box.” Did he just say, anything I need?
Assuming we’d walk in through the front doors to the lobby, I’m a bit taken aback when we walk around to the side of the hotel toward a fire escape door. This is what I was worried about. I reluctantly drop the cracker box into a dumpster across the narrow walkway and meet Axel in front of the red, metal door.
Axel knocks once, and a rough around the edges looking man dressed in casual clothes, full tattoo sleeves, and a long beard opens the door, then ushers us in before heading off in another direction.
I’m not sure how much longer I can hold in my questions but I’m also running on hope that there are answers waiting for me wherever we end up.
In silence, I follow Axel down five or six sets of stairs into a windowless warehouse looking area, except without anything that would belong in a warehouse. It’s empty, large, and my quiet breaths are echoing. Six levels below street level? What is this?
We walk into another area, one that has finished floors, battleship gray painted walls and modern furniture. “Have a seat,” Axel tells me.
I do as he says, and I rest uncomfortably on the firm couch as he removes his suit jacket. He hangs it up on a coat rack behind an empty desk and rolls his sleeves up to his elbows, showcasing sleeves of tattoos on both arms. The artwork looks similar to the other guy’s who opened the door.
Axel takes the chair from behind the desk and lifts it up, carrying it toward me. Placing the back of the chair down a few feet from the end of my toes, he sits down, straddling the chair and resting on top of the seat’s back. “Before we make things official, we’re going to be testing your skills. Depending on the results of the test, we will discuss what’s next.”
“What kind of test?” I ask. “I’m not up for anything illegal.”
“Desperation doesn’t come with questions.”
“Are you desperate too?” I ask. “I find it strange that you haven’t so much as asked for my name yet.”
“We are desperate to weed out the wrong people for this job, in hopes of finding the right person. Desperation has a different meaning to everyone,” he says with a straight face. “Your name has no relevance to this position.”
“What position? This is curiosity, not desperation…just to clarify since we both have different views on desperation.”
Axel straightens his posture and rests his hands on the top of the chair. “Once we know you’re qualified, we’ll go over all of the specifications.” He stands and replaces his chair back behind the desk. “Not that the questions are out of the way, are you ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.”
Axel continues down a hall different from than the one we came from, leading us to a similar looking area as the rest of the space down here. He takes a key from his back pocket and opens a utility-looking closet. Leaning into the dark room, he flips the light on, illuminating a woman in the center who’s sitting at a table, which is the only piece of furniture in this small room. “Go on in,” he tells me.
“What am I supposed to do in here?” I ask, looking back and forth between Axel and the women. She looks dazed and half asleep. “You’re not locking me in here are you?”
After I step inside, he places his hand on the doorknob as if he’s ready to do what I just questioned. “I’m locking this door. The door will be unlocked in five minutes and one of you needs to walk out, or neither of you are leaving. If you try to work together, neither of you are leaving. If you try to escape, neither of you are leaving.” Without a moment to process what he said, the door slams shut.
Holy shit, what the hell does he mean by that? The woman looks up at me slowly and I notice dark circles beneath both of her eyes. My gaze skates to her exposed arms where I see track marks, and my analysis of why she looks the way she does is immediately conclusive. “Are you okay?” I ask her.
“I’ve been sitting in this room for an entire day, detoxing,” she says, her words sounding more like growls. “And what the fuck did that asshole mean by one of us leaves, or neither of us does? Are you detoxing too?”
I don’t answer her. I’m not here to detox. He obviously meant one of us has to leave here alive. I lean my back up against the wall, feeling a sickness grow through my gut. I try to breathe through my stress but she’s glaring at me with a look I can’t decipher, nor do I want to. I don’t know if she’s capable of killing me, but if it’s her or me, I can’t let it be her. I should never have knocked on that damn door today. My desperation has officially gotten the worst of me and now it’s going to be the cause of my goddamn death. This looming fear of my oncoming end is speeding toward me quicker than I wanted. I tried. I really did, but it obviously wasn’t enough. “Wow, you’re more fucked up than me…” Her words percolate my attention, pulling me back to the present.
“Yeah…” I tell the woman. How can I get out of this in one piece? I think for a minute, searching around the room, seeing a tin can on the table. How the hell does he expect this to happen?
I know…
“I’m not doing this again. I can’t. The pain, the suffering, the nightmares. No way am I detoxing again,” I blurt out, pretending to scratch my arms while wildly looking around the room to avoid eye contact.
I hated college. My parents always thought psychology was the door to the future or some crap like that. Staying awake in lectures became excruciating after freshman year.  I mean, Freud? I’d rather read about a wet noodle. I needed something else. Something interactive. Something beyond normal.
The only class I ever enjoyed, and couldn’t wait to attend wasn’t because of the course, but the professor, Dr. Mason Phillips. He was the most controversial, yet respected teacher in the department and I loved every moment of his lectures. Experimental techniques, dark history and practices from the wars, and even unethical behaviors used to benefit the greater good. We all knew his discussions went completely against the grain of both the school and curriculum, but it was the most intriguing stuff I could ever get my hands on.
“I can’t either!” she seethes.
“Obviously. But most people in our situation wouldn’t even be sitting up straight right now. That tells me you have more control over yourself than they think you do,” I say, stuttering for effect while sliding my back down the wall.
“You’re new here, which means I’m the one who’s leaving this time,” she says, trying to glare through me. Her eyes are screaming a false sense of assertion.
“They’re not letting either us out of here,” I say with a groan as I throwing the back of my head against the wall. “This was just a trap to see how bad we really are before they start the process. This time, though, it’s going to be different.” Taking a moment to create an awkward pause, I watch her fidget in the seat, squirming with discomfort. “Sometimes, I wonder if there is only one way out, you know?”
“What do you mean, like hallucinating or some shit?” she asks.
“Nah, I mean, taking myself out…out, like ending it all, kind of thing.” I cross the room, pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, feeling her anxiety build slowly while she keeps the corner of her eye on me.
“Will you stop?” she shouts. “You’re making me nauseous.”
“Oh geez, sorry, I’m just trying to make a decision.”
“What decision?” she asks.
“Is it all worth it? Starving every day, waiting for the next fix. Hoping money comes in so we don’t have to feel like this.”
“You’re so right,” she says before dry heaving over the side of the table. Once she stops gagging, she lifts her head and sweeps the back of her arm against her mouth. “What’s worse is, the bastard left us with nothing to complete your plan. That’s why he’s just a bastard.”
I walk up to the table, refocusing on the tin can. This was all premeditated. I look inside the tin and find a small blade as well as a piece of string, and I dig my hand inside, retrieving both. “He left us this,” I tell her, placing the objects down onto the table.
“A blade with no coke. Not cool, not cool.”
“A blade can be used for more than dicing up blow,” I tell her.
She lifts her head again, narrowing her eyes at me. “You want to be the one who walks out of here, don’t you?”
“Nope,” I lie. “I’m not going make it another few days anyway. I’ve been living off of crumbs and my new home is the side of the street. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be the one who walks out of here, you know?”
“Yeah, I don’t want to be that poor fucking loser either,” she says.
“Do you mind if I—” I reach for the blade.
“No way, you’re not making me be the one who goes out there to get tortured by those shitheads.”
“We’ve all done it before…” I say to her.
“You’re full of it,” she says.
“No way, I can’t lie. I have this thing where my eye twitches every time I lie. It’s my freaking tell-all. It’s gotten me in so much trouble, so I gave up on even trying to make up stories,” I explain with theatrics.
“Well, your eye ain’t twitchin’ right now,” she points out.
“Yeah because I want to be done. I’ve wanted to be done for so long and there hasn’t been as big of a motivator as this right now. You look like a good person who can straighten out. I’d rather you get your chance out there.” I force a quick blink into my right eye.
“You’re lying, you see? You twitched. Your eye just fucking twitched.”
“Look, you’re right. I want out. I don’t want to die right now. I’m hoping someone will give me food and shelter tonight. That’s all I really want.” Another blink, and three more for good measure.
“What the fuck? You’re talking out of two sides of your mouth and you’re lying about it all.” She’s breathing heavily and sweat is beading up on her head. She’s breaking.
“Screw you, loser, I’m not going out there and feeding myself to the dogs for you.” She takes the blade and quickly slits a line down the center of her wrist.
“What the fuck! That’s my blade!” I shout. “Stop, stop, stop!” Do I sound convincing enough?
“You can have it when I’m done, if they don’t get to you first,” she says, laughing weakly while she takes the string and wraps it tightly around the same wrist she just slit. “So let’s hurry this process up. Want to help?”
I nod, refusing to touch her. Instead, I watch her fall to the ground. I hear her head crash into the cement as the single high-tone of the blade dribbles against the ground.
Staring for a long minute, I watch her chest stop rising and I turn for the door with a daze swimming through my lucid mind.
Ten steps and a now unlocked door separates me from a hallway filled with four men, and I find Axel in the center of them all.
“That was less than five minutes and you didn’t lay a finger on her,” Axel says, looking at his watch.
I shrug with uncertainty. Is this it? Are these guys going to end me too? “You said you’d feed me. I’m starving and didn’t feel like waiting much longer.”
They all share a look, and one of them grins widely. “Perfect,” Axel says. “Just perfect.”

Please note: these episodes are not edited.
Copyright 2016 – Shari J. Ryan

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Excerpt Reveal... Sophia Henry's Unsportsmanlike Conduct

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Sophia Henry
Pilots Hockey; Book 4
Genre: Contemporary Sports Romance
Release Date: October 18, 2016
Published by: Random House Flirt

The author of Delayed Penalty returns with the story of a free spirit who believes she’s found forever with a playboy on a singles cruise. Discover why Kelly Jamieson calls the Pilots Hockey series “fun and flirty, warm and sweet.”

Kristen Katsaros wants a life full of adventure and laughter. After a difficult childhood, her motto is to live each day like it’s her last—because it just might be. So when Kristen’s parents send her on a post-grad singles cruise in the Caribbean to meet a Greek husband, she promptly hooks up with the hottest guy she’s ever met. Pasha’s decidedly not Greek, but Kristen gives him a pass because he’s got fun written all over his rock-hard abs.

Pavel Gribov, the cocky playboy of the Detroit Pilots hockey team, can score any girl he wants. But when a teammate drags him on a singles cruise, he can’t resist the chance to help out a drop-dead gorgeous damsel in distress by pretending to be her boyfriend. Before long, the fake fling turns intimate, fueled by something much deeper than lust.

Kristen and Pasha both agree to walk away once the cruise is over, but reality hits like a slap shot when Kristen finds out Pasha lied about everything. Just when she’s ready to start living again, the two stubborn survivors must decide if they can bear to lose the best thing that ever happened to either of them.

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Pre-order Links:
Amazon US : AU : CA : UK


Chapter 1

Day 1
Cruising in the Caribbean

Is there anything more perfect than breathing in the salty scent of the ocean while jogging around the top deck of a cruise ship in ninety-degree weather?
Well, sure, seventy-five degrees would have been a better temperature for running, but I wasn’t complaining.
Sweat glistened on my arms and a gentle wind blew the flyaway strands of hair away from my face as my feet pounded the track.
Mental fist bump to my parents. They’d succeeded in their quest to find me the perfect college graduation gift, even if I hadn’t realized it at first. When they presented me with a printout of an itinerary for a cruise a few months ago, my first reaction was complete and utter terror, because the mere thought of being on a large body of water with no land in sight gave me hives. But I didn’t want my amazing parents to think I didn’t appreciate their generous gift, so I kept it inside and went along with the planning.
And so there I was. Sea breeze in my hair, a cardio remix of Lil Wayne’s “How to Love” blasting through my earbuds, and a tropical destination. Nothing could ruin this moment.
Except the familiar face of the person running toward me. Which sent my version of personal paradise plummeting to the ocean floor. Because in this case, “familiar” and “welcome” were not synonymous.
Maybe Spiros hadn’t recognized me. Maybe I could pretend I didn’t see him.
“Kristen!” he called.
Not even paradise could deter Murphy’s Law.
So I did what any smart girl who wanted to avoid her friendly stalker would do: I spun around, and ran the opposite way, putting more distance between us.
Note: When the self-proclaimed “smart girl” is unfamiliar with the territory where she is running, glancing over her shoulder to see if Spiros was still there is not the best idea. Because within three strides, I smacked into another runner.
Not a light, whoops-sorry-I-bumped-you collision. A head-on, semi-to-semi crash, where both bodies lay crumpled in a pile of twisted, burning limbs.
Burning, not only because the scorching Caribbean sun pounded on us from above, but also because the other semi had the body of a Greek god.
No joke.
As a good Greek girl on a singles cruise set up by my Greek Orthodox church and paid for by my straight-off-the-boat Greek parents, I knew Greek gods. And the hunk of muscle I’d knocked into was Adonis in the flesh.
Instead of scrambling to my feet, I found my gaze frozen on his face. Particularly on the sexy scruff dusting his upper lip and jawline. His twelve o’clock shadow was a distinct contrast to the absence of hair on his chiseled chest. Even the sweat rolling off the tip of his nose didn’t detract from his perfection, nor did the red undertone in his sun-kissed skin, flushed from running in the heat.
“Dude!” I exclaimed, yanking the earbuds from my ears. Then I broke into a cough and couldn’t stop.
Adonis picked up his sunglasses, which must’ve fallen when we crashed, and replaced them over his eyes. He waited until I finished my coughing fit before speaking. “Maybe you need to pay attention, since you were running the wrong way on this track, yes?”
“I didn’t—” I couldn’t finish my thought. I was still trying to catch my breath as I considered the situation: Adonis knocked me down, and he had the audacity to blame me?
“Well, if you were going the right way, why didn’t you run around me?” I asked breathlessly.
“I was playing chicken.”
“Excuse me?” Who says something like that?
He jumped to his feet. “I waited to see if you would back off first. You call this game chicken, yes?” He bent down and held out his hand.
At least he had some manners. I clasped his hand and allowed him to pull me up, impressed at the lack of effort it took him to lift me.
“Common courtesy dictates that people don’t usually play chicken while running.” I brushed a palm over my butt, even though the track seemed fairly debris-free.
He drew the back of his hand across his hairline, wiping away a film of moisture. “I think this same common courtesy dictates that people don’t look over their shoulder when they run.”
True. Technically, my poorly planned attempt to escape Spiros’s approach caused the collision.
“I’m sorry I ran into you,” I said.
“Are you also sorry because you were running the wrong way?”
“Who are you, the track police?” I asked, resting my hands on my hips and leaning away from him, my breath finally under control.
“This track has rules. Today we run this way.” He pointed in the direction I’d originally started running. Then I followed his finger as it traveled in another direction, stopping at a red sign with the heading track rules in thick white letters.
Who pays attention to what day it is or obnoxiously large signs about rules when they’re on a cruise?
“Well, I’m really sorry. I got flustered. I’m trying to avoid that guy running toward us.” I nodded slightly toward Spiros, who had caught up to us by now.
Yep. Spiros Loukas, my annoying admirer, who’d also been running the wrong way on the track, stood at my heels. Just like at home.
Paradise lost.
I can’t explain why my protective instincts kicked in for the gorgeous girl who’d just slammed into me, but when the out-of-shape oaf she’d been avoiding reached out to place his thick, dirty hand on her, I jumped into action.
Without a second thought, I stepped forward and slid my arm around her slim waist, placing myself between the girl and the man who’d chased her straight into me.
“Kristen, are you okay?” the guy asked, panting.
The slob must’ve jacked up his speed when he saw the collision. It seemed a little sad that such a short burst took so much out of him. He needed to get in shape if he wanted to impress anyone.
“I’m fine. I had this rock of a pillow to fall on.” She swatted my stomach with the back of her hand, causing my muscles to involuntarily contract under her touch.
“Wanna join me for a few laps?” the man asked her, completely disregarding me.
But I’m not the type of guy who lets himself be ignored. “Who are you?” I demanded.
“I should be asking you that question,” he countered.
“I’m her boyfriend,” I said.
Kristen, as the huffing man had called her, stiffened. I patted her waist, silently asking her to go along with the scheme I’d quickly concocted.
“Excuse me?” He ran a hand through his unkempt brown hair as his beady eyes shifted back and forth between me and Kristen.
“You gonna tell him or should I smash his face?” I asked.
“We’ve been, um,” she stammered, “seeing each other?”
Her voice rose slightly, which would have made me smile if I hadn’t had to scare off the stupid fuck who didn’t realize this poor girl was running away from him. At least she was quick enough to go along with the story I’d created to help her.
“What? Since when?” he asked. “Who is this guy?”
I squeezed the tiny girl into my sweat-soaked side and felt her bare skin against mine. A quick glance down told me her hot pink shirt had ridden up to reveal a tight, toned waist. It made me want to get sweaty with her. And not by running together.
“He is not your business. What are you even doing here?” she asked, effectively taking the spotlight off me.
The quickness with which she regained her composure intrigued me, as if she was a pro at going along crazy schemes with no preparation.
“I signed up for this cruise months ago,” the man said defensively. “After your parents—” He stopped and shook his head. “I hoped we could spend some time together.”
My body tensed, but I kept my arm around Kristen, my hand still resting on her hip. She allowed me to stay close.
“It’s a singles cruise. Go meet someone.” She paused. “Someone new.”
“Or I’ll smash your face,” I promised. My fingers slipped down and skimmed her backside before curling into a fist behind her. Kristen reached around and swatted at my hand until I returned it to her waist. She’d obviously gotten the wrong idea about my accidental ass contact.
Dough Boy didn’t speak, but his eyebrows slid closer together as his head swiveled from Kristen to me. I tried to keep my expression neutral, which was hard because this guy had to be an idiot not to realize that she didn’t want him to bother her. It had taken me less than two minutes to figure it out.
When neither Kristen nor I caved, his sloped shoulders dropped. Then he sighed and spun around, heading straight for the elevator instead of resuming his run.
Once he was out of sight, I reluctantly released my hold on Kristen’s waist. “Why are you trying to avoid him? Other than the obvious.”
A soft sweet laugh escaped from her deep pink lips, a trait shared by many of the beautiful Greek American girls surrounding me on the ship.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“Possessive creep.”
“Kinda like a stranger who randomly puts his arm around my waist and claims to be my boyfriend?” she countered.
Her sarcastic comment didn’t put me off, because there was no conviction in her delivery. None of the animosity she’d been projecting toward Dough Boy came across toward me, just a feistiness I appreciated. I enjoy people who challenge me.
“I saved you,” I reminded her.
“You did, actually.” She adjusted the front of her shirt, peeling the fabric away from her sweaty skin. “Why would you do that?”
“I am a gentleman,” I said. Saying the words reminded me to lift my gaze from her tight stomach back to her beautiful face. “I guess American girls are not used to this,” I added before abruptly leaving her to continue my run.
I didn’t pursue women. They came to me because it was their foolish life goal to “land” a hockey player. No challenge. No connection. No love. Just a girl who wanted the status of being with me. Needless to say, we’d have fun, but there was no future. There was never even a second time.
Usually my protective instincts emerged only when it came to my family—including my sister, Katia, and her best friend, Svetlana, who was like a second sister. But something about Kristen made me jump between her and Dough Boy. She didn’t know who I was or what I did for a living. And she’d never stood outside the team’s locker room or waited for me to show up at my favorite bar, so I had anonymity on my side.
If Katia had been here, she would’ve teased me for the caveman-like growls that had rumbled in my throat as I stood toe to toe with Kristen’s stalker.
The Caribbean sun must have been melting my brain, because this Kristen girl was not my sister, just a stranger in obvious distress. And I couldn’t blame Dough Boy for trying to get with her, because she was by far the most gorgeous girl I’d seen on this boat.
When Blake Panikos, my good friend and teammate on the Charlotte Aviators hockey team, had first invited me on a cruise set up by a conglomerate of Greek Orthodox churches in the metro Detroit area, I immediately declined. Despite being raised by Russian Orthodox parents, I’m not a religious person. The thought of being stuck on a boat with a group of religious fanatics made me want to chop off my dick with a hacksaw.
But Blake, who had been recently divorced, kept needling me to go. After various attempts to sway me into taking the trip with him, he finally sold me when he showed me some of the girls who would be on the cruise. He pulled up his Instagram account and scrolled through pictures of the girls he’d met at the church he frequented when we played together in Detroit on Charlotte’s minor-league affiliate team. Flipping through photo after photo of the most gorgeous Greek girls Detroit had to offer sealed the deal. A week in the Caribbean surrounded by sexy singles looking to hook up was worth the effort it took to relearn the sign of the cross.

~~~~Also available in the Pilots Hockey Series ~~~~

Pilots Hockey; Book 1
Release Date: September 1, 2015



Pilots Hockey; Book 2
Release Date: February 16, 2016



Pilots Hockey; Book 3
Release Date: June 7, 2016



Meet Sophia Henry:

Sophia Henry, a proud Detroit native, fell in love with reading, writing, and hockey all before she became a teenager. She did not, however, fall in love with snow. So after graduating with a BS in English from Central Michigan University, she moved to the warmth of North Carolina for the remainder of her winters.

She spends her days writing books featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. When she’s not writing, she’s chasing her two high-energy sons, watching her beloved Detroit Red Wings and rocking out at concerts with her husband.


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