Copyright © 2015 by Lynda Aicher
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
“And the puck goes wide. Branchek picks it up, passes to Nueburger, who sends it up the boards to be picked off by Craig.”
Dylan Rylie muted his tablet to cut off the drone of the announcer and concentrated on the players flying over the ice. The camera tracked the puck as it was shot into the offensive zone, three men chasing it down. His focus stayed on the goalie. The man was squeezed tight to the bar, stick on the ice, glove raised and ready. But his shoulder dropped—there—when he leaned in to prepare for the shot.
Yes! Dylan jabbed a finger at the screen, a satisfied smirk tightening his lips. Triumph lit him up better than the caffeine from the cup of coffee sitting at his elbow. He jotted down the note in the worn spiral notebook, attention still on the game that continued to play.
The offense fired off a slap shot that was low and easily caught by the other team’s goalie. Of course it would be. The setup had been hurried, the shot rushed and ill aimed, but the lines were tired and the whistle allowed fresh legs to take the ice.
Movement across the room jerked his mind from the game. A disheveled blonde strutted across the great room, strappy heels dangling from her fingers as she shoved a lock of hair away from her face. She gave a double take to the passed-out form on the couch before picking her way around the pillow-littered floor.
The open layout gave Dylan a view of most of the ground floor, except the three bedrooms down the hall. It was one of the reasons he’d bought the house. That and the lake view off the huge back patio that was perfect for summer parties.
He paused the game and popped his earbuds out, crooked smile in place when the woman finally caught sight of him. He was sitting on the far side of the kitchen bar—a great vantage point for exactly this. She faltered, her expression flashing from shock to indecision before settling on forced confidence.
“Morning, Cowboy.” The low purr she tried to insinuate into her greeting was mocked by her faded lipstick and the wrinkles creasing her silk blouse.
He gave her a full-watt smile and tipped his cowboy hat in a down-home Texas greeting. “Morning, darlin’.” He pulled the words out in a slow drawl that he’d dropped from his normal speech pattern long ago. “Hope your evenin’ was memorable.”
Her throaty laugh was part seductive, part embarrassment. Chances were she’d forgotten much of it. Two years of sitting in that exact spot to catch the morning-after parade had trained his ear to the varying innuendos. If he remembered right, she’d been latched to Feenster’s lips when the ball had dropped at the stroke of midnight and had stumbled down the hallway with him not long after.
“You need a cab?” He picked up his phone, the number already queued up.
“I drove, but thanks.”
“Your coat should be in the room by the front door.” The woman looked vaguely familiar, like she’d been to one of his parties before, but he honestly couldn’t be certain. He slid off the bar stool and sauntered down the hall to hunt down her jacket. “It’s damn cold out this morning. You’d better bundle up before heading out.”
Her steps were silent on the hardwood as she followed him. There was a small pile of coats spread over the leather love seat, and he looked to her for direction.
“It’s the long black one, there.” She pointed to the quilted down coat draped over the back. Given the crotch length of her skirt, he guessed she entrusted the calf-length coat to keep her warm. She slipped on her platform heels, and he double-checked out the window to ensure his walkway was free of snow and ice. “It was a great party.”
“I aim to please,” he drawled, crooked smirk in place as he helped her into her coat. “Happy New Year.” It was January first—a brand-new start to another year. And with his contract expiring with the Minnesota Glaciers at the end of the season, a critical one for his pro career.
She paused at his side, the frigid air blasting through the open doorway to chill him instantly. His thermal shirt was a useless barrier against the winter freeze. She ran her red nails down his bicep. “Let me know when you have another party.” She pressed a piece of paper into his palm then rose up to brush a kiss to his cheek. “Good luck at the game tomorrow.”
“Thanks, sweetheart. Drive safe.” He straightened his hat and watched her teeter down his drive. There was one precarious slip that had him shoving away from the doorjamb, but she got her footing and somehow made it to her car without falling.
The sky was gray and heavy with clouds that warned of snow better than any weatherman. His granddad had taught Dylan to read the sky around the same time he’d taught him to ride a horse. A deep inhale froze the lining of his nostrils and brought the dank weight of the pending moisture through the dry air.
He sent a final salute in the direction of the car as it pulled away from the curb, identified the remaining vehicles in his driveway then finally shut the door on the insufferable cold. A harsh shiver tightened his nipples into stony pebbles. What the hell? He’d spent half of his twenty-four years living in the northern climates, far away from the baking Texas heat where he’d been born. He should be more than used to the weather by now.
It didn’t mean he had to like it.
If he had any luck at all, he’d be traded to a southern team and get the hell out of the devil’s perverse version of a frozen hell. His derisive snort echoed off the high ceiling. That red-horned bastard had been laughing at Dylan since he’d been granted his wish at the age of twelve and left Texas to train in Massachusetts. And he’d thought he’d hated the heat…
“Is she gone?”
He jerked around up to see Justin Feeney peeking around the corner to peer into the great room. Dylan crossed his arms over his chest and gave an exaggerated look toward the front door. “Depends on which she you’re talking about,” he answered, dropping his southern drawl. There’d been three shes since he’d taken up his station at the bar over an hour ago.
Feeney scrubbed his face and took a tentative step into the room, gaze swinging over the area in a scattered search for the puck bunny he was trying to dodge. “About this tall.” He held his hand to midchest. “Long hair, blond—I think.” He scowled when he caught sight of Dylan’s grin. “You’re fucking with me.”
Dylan unfolded the slip of paper crumpled in his hand and squinted at the writing. “Was her name Cindy?” He held up the paper, and Feeney gave him the middle finger salute in answer. “What? I was only asking?”
Dylan’s bark of laughter shot across the room, startling the lump on his couch into bolting over and off the small space. Kevin Karver landed on the floor with a solid thump and belated curse. The backup goaltender was generally more graceful than that. But then, he normally wasn’t suffering from a probable hangover either.
“Blame Cowboy,” Feeney grumbled. He shuffled over to plop down on the freed-up couch. “I swear the bastard throws these parties just so he can laugh at us in the morning.”
Karver managed to shove himself up to brace his back on the couch, head hanging. He mumbled something, but it was too faint for Dylan to hear. Whatever. He had nothing to do with how much either of them drank last night. That was their own dumb doing.
He grabbed two mugs from his cupboard and poured the coffee before his teammates asked for it. He was pretty sure all of the bunnies were out of the house, so he tossed his battered cowboy hat on the counter and ran a hand through his hair, dropping a part of his cultivated image in the process. He snatched up the ibuprofen bottle and brought it with him as he carried the mugs to his teammates.
“Here.” He tossed the medicine at Karver, who caught it with his gloved hand, probably more on reflex than current awareness.
The pills rattled in the bottle, and Feeney popped his eyes open, an appreciative grin covering his knobby features. Having taken more knocks to his face than even most enforcers were prone to enduring, the man wore the crooked nose, permanent forehead welt and scarred cheek with pride. “You do love us, Cowboy.”
Dylan rolled his eyes and shoved one of the coffee mugs at him. “Wrong. I’m proactively avoiding extra sprints today because your saggy ass is too hung to keep up.”
Feeney rolled his hip and pretended to peer at his butt. “She wasn’t complaining about my ass last night.”
“That’s probably because she was too drunk to figure out if that squishy thing she was groping was your ass or your dick.” Karver elbowed him, jostling the other man’s coffee.
“Hey!” Feeney licked the spilled liquid off the back of his hand, glaring at Karver. “My dick was plenty hard last night.”
“So it was your saggy ass she was complaining about this morning,” Dylan joked. The death glare Feeney shot his way had him laughing.
“What time is it?” The groggy question came from Denny Shaffer, who was slowly making his way to the other couch, squinting against the not-so-bright light in the great room.
Dylan checked the clock. “A cheery eight a.m.” He headed to the kitchen for another coffee to the tune of disgruntled groans. Shaffer was a rookie who, at twenty years old, had spent the majority of the season playing on the Glaciers’ affiliate team. He wasn’t scheduled to be at the Glaciers practice today, but the kid looked like he needed the shot of caffeine worse than Feeney.
“If anyone asks—”
“I didn’t get the alcohol from you,” Shaffer finished for him. He took the offered mug and slugged down a gulp with only a minor grimace. “It’s a damn stupid law anyway. I can be forced to fight a war for my country and I have to pay taxes. Hell, I can even raise kids without anyone complaining, but your government doesn’t trust my intelligence to handle a beer or two. Fucking stupid.”
No one argued with the Canadian. The drinking age was one of those things that only made sense to politicians, and Dylan didn’t argue politics or religion. In his opinion, there could never be a winner with either topic, which made it pointless to discuss.
“Is anyone else here?” Feeney asked.
Dylan glanced up from making a second pot of coffee. “Bowser’s crashed downstairs, or at least his car’s still out front.” He hadn’t gone down to the rec room to check, but a curly-haired brunette had emerged from its depths that morning, a saucy wink aimed his way as she’d sashayed by on her way out.
“Did anyone catch the monkey that shit in my mouth last night?” Karver moaned.
“You sure it isn’t bunny shit?”
Karver whipped a pillow at Shaffer, who easily caught it and tucked it under his arm. “I don’t know about you, little boy, but my bunny was too busy coming to shit.”
Dylan grabbed a round of sports drinks out of the fridge and handed them out to the guys when he came back to the great room. Their thanks were barely out before all three were chugging them down. He lounged back in the leather recliner, feet propped uncaringly on the expensive coffee table between the stacks of cups and empty bottles, and took a swig of his drink at a more leisurely pace.
“How do you do it?” Shaffer asked, brows colliding in a confused frown as he eyed Dylan.
“Drink all night without a hint of a hangover in the morning?”
He leaned forward to knock on his shin. “Hollow leg. Didn’t you know?” The rookie’s expression waffled between disbelief and an unwillingness to question an older player. “Rattler bite when I was four. My granddad had to cut off my leg with a pocketknife to save me.” He held a straight face for a second or two until Shaffer caught on to his bluff and whipped a pillow at him.
Dylan laughed and deflected the pillow toward Karver, who snagged it out of the air and shoved it behind his head.
“The pussy only fake drinks,” Feeney said, his eyes hidden behind the hand that propped his head up. “He leaves the real stuff to us men.” And his being one year older than Dylan and willing to get stupid drunk launched him into the status of a real man.
“No way.” Shaffer gaped at him. “But your parties are legendary.” Last night was the rookie’s first appearance at one of Dylan’s bashes, since he held most of his parties during the summer.
“Good to know my reputation precedes me.” Dylan smirked at the man and took a satisfied sip of his drink. That was the main reason he held the damn parties, so at least the mess and hassle was worth it. Any press was better than no press when it came to keeping his name in front of the fans. His agent had hounded that into him since he’d signed with the man six years ago.
“How was the parade today?” Karver asked, his voice having lost some of the gruffness of earlier.
Dylan shrugged. “All right.” He kicked the other man on the knee. “I missed yours though. She must’ve fled really early.”
“Naw. She didn’t even stay the night.”
“Even better,” Feeney muttered.
“What about you?” Shaffer nodded to Dylan. “Any luck in the bunny hop last night?”
“A man doesn’t kiss and tell,” Dylan answered, putting on the southern charm he played as easily as the hockey puck. He thought of his big, empty bed and smiled, letting the others believe what they wanted. His image as a party boy was his own doing and he worked hard to keep it going.
“No. If a man’s smart, he fucks and runs,” Karver interjected. He lifted his head off the couch to spear Shaffer with a pointed stare. “Always glove up no matter what she says or how drunk you are.”
At Shaffer’s retort, Dylan ducked out of the room before the conversation came back to him. The grousing over the previous night continued as he took up his seat on the bar stool and restarted the game he’d paused. He wanted to finish his notes before practice so he could work on his shots for tomorrow night’s game.
At some point, Bowser stumbled up from downstairs to flop into the recliner Dylan had vacated. Dylan half listened to the other guys’ conquest conversation but wasn’t that engrossed in it. Hooking up with one of the many willing women who wanted nothing more than to say they’d screwed a pro athlete was a distraction he didn’t need. He’d been there, done that, which had fed into his image. He’d also learned the women wouldn’t help his game, and that was his sole focus right now.
“What are you watching?” Bowser asked when he trudged into the kitchen. At five foot ten and lean, he was one of the smaller forwards, which meant he had to be crazy fast on his skates to stay ahead of the bigger guys. He looked over Dylan’s shoulder. “That last night’s game?”
“Colorado lost, right?”
“Two to one,” Dylan confirmed. The Glaciers played the Avalanche at home the next day, which gave them ice advantage but nothing more. “You in the lineup tomorrow?” Bowser had spent most of this season as part of the Glaciers’ twenty skaters who dressed for each game, but as a third line winger, his spot was questionable every game.
“As far as I know.” The man shrugged as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “I always assume I am and hope I’m right.”
Dylan followed that philosophy himself. His second pair defense spot was a bit more secure than Bowser’s, yet anything was possible in a game that changed nightly based on injuries and luck—good or bad. That was precisely why he was studying the other team. Chance wasn’t a game he liked to play.
He checked the time and stopped the game. “Any of you hungover slugs up for a bike ride?” he asked as he passed the sprawled-out men.
“Outside?” Shaffer whined.
“Downstairs,” Feeney answered for Dylan. “Cowboy has a fuck-awesome gym down there.”
Karver was already moving to stand. “I’m in. I need to sweat the alcohol out before practice.”
“Shit,” Bowser moaned. “I guess I have to if the rest of you are.”
“You bench riders have such a hard life,” Karver mocked.
“Like you can talk.” Bowser smacked the man on the back of his retreating leg.
Dylan shook his head and disappeared down the hall to his bedroom. Working out wasn’t an option for him. Not when the average retirement age for pro hockey players was twenty-five. This season was too critical for him to fuck around or fuck up, and the pressure of that weighed on him every damn day.
Welcome to the Minnesota Glaciers professional hockey team, where the play is hot both on and off the ice.
“If you’re looking for something to warm you up while you wait for spring to arrive,
this is definitely the book for you.” – 4 stars, RT Book Reviews
“GAME PLAY, the first book in the upcoming Power Play series, was so hot I needed a break to let
the Kindle cool down.” – 5 stars - Top Pick, The Romance Reviews
“Game Play is so much more than your typical sports romance. Simply put, it's romance at its finest!”
– 5 stars, Life with Two Boys
“I'm a hockey romance reader and this one is one of the best I've read. I HIGHLY recommend it!”
– A+, Smitten With Reading
“I strongly recommend this one!” - 5 stars, To Each Their Own Reviews
“Game Play is a sexy, emotional story that will appeal to most romance fans, not just us sports romance junkies!”
- 4.5 stars, Save Your Money For Books
“This book was a great love story between two people who had a lot in common but were so very different.”
- 4.5 stars, Lustful Literature
“This was totally different than other hockey romances because the heroine is also a kick-ass hockey player.”
– 4.5 stars, Jen’s Reading Obsession
“I really understood Sam’s grief…and following her emotional journey from being angry to loving the sport again
was as uplifting as the romance.” – B, Dear Author
“Game Play is one of those romances that stayed with me… It made me think - and think some more.”
– 4 stars, Romance Novel News
“This has to be my favorite sports romance so far this year.” – 4 stars, Loves Romance Books
“I loved the chemistry between these two characters in every aspect of their lives together.”
– 4 stars, Marcilene’s Fan Zone
“I cannot WAIT to read the rest of the series, as well as to dive into the rest of Lynda Aicher’s books after this. Because Game Play was a total hit!” – 4 stars, The Book Cellerx
“Anytime I had to put my kindle down I was desperate to get back to the book to watch the drama play out and the passion erupt!”
– 4 smooches, Red Cheeks Reads
“…if you’re a hockey romance fan, you’ll enjoy this book.” – Romance at Random
Book One : Game Play
One night, one time, nothing more. That's all it was supposed to be. They'd agreed their first night together would be their only night together—and Minnesota Glaciers defenseman Dylan Rylie was fine with that. Giant hickeys and claw marks on his ass had never been his style, even if the very memory of Samantha Yates's merciless sexual energy gets him hard within seconds. He needs to focus on getting a better contract, not mind-blowing orgasms.
One night, one time, nothing more. Fresh off representing the US at the Games and with nowhere else to play, Samantha gave in to one night of frantic passion with the Glaciers' brawny hotshot. She couldn't get hurt—not if she controlled the outcome. And she planned to leave Minnesota soon, anyway. She didn't expect to be recruited to coach Dylan after they'd gotten down and dirty.
When brutal on-ice workouts lead to kinky locker room sessions and "one night" falls by the wayside, Samantha insists on keeping things casual, despite Dylan's quiet hope for more. But when Dylan goes down—hard—and his career is in jeopardy, Samantha is the first one by his side. What will it take to keep her there after he's healed?