A new stand-alone romance about trading favors, battling wills, and winning love.
When I joined Seattle’s NHL expansion team, I thought it was the start of something great. But nothing ever goes the way you expect. Take my introduction to my new neighbor. She came rolling in on the hot mess express at midnight, making a racket while she tried to get into my team captain’s apartment. Did I mention that he’s married to a woman who definitely was not her?
Imagine my surprise when I end up with an injury that has me out of the game for weeks, and she’s the one to offer to help me. I should probably add that she’s not the captain’s mistress. She’s his sexy, pastel-haired younger sister.
So we come up with an arrangement: she rehabs me so that I can get back on the ice sooner, and she can add a professional athlete that isn’t her brother to her client list. Seems simple enough. As long as I can keep my hands to myself and my hormones in check.
As far as bad days go, this is one of the worst I’ve had in a very long time. I can get over the four-hour flight delay from LA to Seattle and sitting beside a man who smelled like old cheese and three-day-old underwear on the plane. But add in one of my suitcases taking a detour to Alaska—or maybe it’s Nunavut; who the hell knows?—and the fact that my remaining suitcase now has a broken handle and is missing a wheel, and this day just keeps getting worse.
The icing on this crap cake? Less than an hour ago I walked in on my boyfriend, Joey—now my ex—plowing into someone who wasn’t me on our brand-new living room couch. The one my brother bought for us as a housewarming gift. I guess that’s what I get for surprising Joey by arriving two days earlier than expected. On my birthday.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come to Seattle and beat this douche down? I can leave first thing in the morning.” My brother RJ is at his in-laws’ house for the weekend, which is an hour and a half outside the city. That he’s this fired up on my behalf makes me feel marginally better about the whole thing.
However, my brother is an NHL player, and a father and a husband. Allowing him to beat up my ex for being a douche and a cheater may assuage my decimated ego and help heal my broken heart, but it’s not a great idea. For one, if RJ lays a beatdown, there’s a good chance he’ll wind up charged with assault. Then his face will be splashed all over the media, Joey will make a spectacle, and I’ll get dragged into it. The last thing I want is my face on social media in connection with my famous brother and my slimy ex. So as much as Joey might deserve a broken nose and black eye, I’ll say no thanks to the potential fallout. “I sincerely appreciate your willingness to engage in violence on my behalf, but I don’t think it’s worth the assault and battery charge.”
“I hate that you’re dealing with this on your own, and on your birthday, Stevie. If I’d known you were coming early, I would’ve planned for us to be around this weekend. What if I come get you and bring you back to Lainey’s parents’ for a few days?”
“It was a last-minute change of plans.” And obviously not a great one. “And it’s nice of you to offer, but the fact that you’re setting me up with a place to crash is more than enough.” I sincerely love my brother, but I am definitely not interested in hanging out with his in-laws during my postbreakup moping phase. “Besides, I start work at the clinic on Monday, so that would be a lot of back-and-forth for no reason. I promise I’ll be fine.” I watch the numbers flip by as the elevator ascends. Soon I’ll be able to have a nice little meltdown after my craparific day. “I’m almost at the apartment. Why don’t I call you in the morning?”
“Okay. I’ll be up for a while longer, so if you run into any problems getting in, send me a message. The lock system is tricky until you get the hang of it.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine; thanks again, RJ.”
“Anytime, Stevie. You know that. I’m really sorry. Happy birthday, kiddo. We’ll have dinner, and I’ll get your favorite cake when we’re back in town, okay?”
“Sure, sounds good. Thanks again. Love you, bro.” I end the call and tip my chin up to keep the tears from falling.
The elevator chimes its arrival at the penthouse floor. I suppose the one plus to finding out my now ex-boyfriend is a cheater is that I get to stay in a much nicer place. At least until I can find a new apartment.
I adjust the broken handle of my suitcase as the doors slide open and roll-drag it and myself out of the elevator. I’m exhausted times a million and looking forward to a cathartic snot sob session. A pint or five of ice cream would also be nice.
I wish I could adequately appreciate the splendor of the open foyer, but my morose mood does not allow me that indulgence. As I step onto the soft, luxurious carpet, the broken wheel of my suitcase gets caught in that two-inch gap where the doors open.
“Seriously?” I yank on it, struggling to dislodge the broken wheel while the doors start to close, bumping against my bag before they slide open again. I toss my purse on the floor so I can wrestle it free, but it’s jammed in there good and tight. The elevator beeps loudly, signaling that the doors have been open too long.
It’s late, almost midnight, and I’m hoping these walls are soundproof because I’m causing quite a ruckus. My suitcase finally pulls free, and I stumble back, tripping over my purse and landing on my ass. At least the carpet is soft and the floor is clean. I lie there for a few seconds, waiting for a piano or a safe to fall from the ceiling and land on top of me, because it’s been that kind of a day.
When nothing else bad happens—for now—I pick myself up off the floor and decide the best way to deal with my suitcase is to slide it across the carpet to avoid making more of a racket than I have already. Unlike in a regular apartment building, there is no long hallway on the penthouse floor. Instead there are four doors in the open foyer—two on the left and two on the right—making it easy to locate apartment 4004. I guess that means it’ll be quiet, if nothing else.
In the middle of the foyer is a glass-topped table with an enormous arrangement of flowers, which accounts for the heavy perfume smell. I skirt the table as I slide my bag across the carpet toward my temporary new home, then remember my purse is still sitting on the floor by the elevators.
The key card they issued at the front desk seems to have migrated to the bottom of my bag. I shift around the contents searching for it, but it’s like it belongs to Mary Poppins with how much crap I have in there. I use my suitcase as a chair, the flimsy plastic exterior cracking loudly as my ass hits it. Oh well; it was destined for the garbage anyway with how mangled it is. A jagged piece pokes me in the butt, but I’m too tired to move.
The key card and my phone have both magically disappeared into a quarter-size hole in the lining of my purse. It takes me forever to fish them back out. I pull up the instructions on how to open the door, since apparently this building’s key system requires a step-by-step explanation. After dragging myself to my feet, I key in the six-digit code, swipe the card, and turn the handle, but all it does is beep at me.
“I just want to lie down,” I mutter to the door. I give the code a second shot, but I get another longer, louder beep. “What the hell? Why won’t you open?” I whisper-yell. Each time I make an attempt to get in, the beep grows louder and longer while my patience wears thinner.
I yank on the handle, frustrated. I don’t want to call RJ again because I should be able to open a damn door on my own. I’m probably missing something small. Also, it’s late, and he has a toddler who doesn’t always sleep through the night and loves to get up at ass o’clock in the morning. Kody is super adorable, though, so his rooster-level early rising is mostly tolerable.
The door directly across the hall swings open. Awesome. Now I’ve woken my temporary neighbor. Talk about bad first impressions. I turn with the intention of issuing an apology, but my mouth is suddenly desert dry.
A man stands in the open doorway. A very, very large man. My brother is a big guy; he towers over everyone with his six feet two inches. But this annoyed-looking man’s head barely clears the doorframe. He’s also broad. Excessively broad. He’s an excessive amount of man in general.
Beyond being ridiculously tall and broad, and irritated based on his scowl, all he’s wearing is a pair of boxer briefs. I might be able to get over his overwhelming size and his insanely gorgeous dark-brown, sleep-tousled hair complemented by fiery hazel eyes, a rugged square jaw, and full lips. I can also deal with all that toned muscle and his rippling abs and bulging biceps, finished off with a nice dusting of hair that leads my eye from his navel—it’s an innie—down to his boxer briefs. But that’s where I get stuck, because his crotch has the phrase BEWARE OF FALLING ROCKS with a rockslide right where his peen should be. So now it looks as if I’m checking out his package. I kind of am.
“What the hell is going on? It’s almost fucking midnight, and you’re out here making a goddamn racket. Some of us are trying to sleep.” His voice is deep, gritty, and loud. He crosses his bulky arms over his cut chest, which should help cover up some of the nakedness but only seems to draw attention to how thick his arms are.
Also. Wow. Talk about hostile.
“Sorry. I’m having some problems with my key card and my suitcase.” I flash the key card and motion to my destroyed bag. I’m suddenly super sweaty. Likely from embarrassment over getting chewed out by a hot guy in his underwear.
Hot-underwear man scoffs. He doesn’t acknowledge my apology. Nor does he offer his assistance or tone down the dickbagness. “Where the fuck you get that key from?”
“How is that any of your business?” I scroll through my messages, trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong with the key card and the code so I can get into the apartment and away from this grade A asshole extraordinaire.
“It’s my business because you’re up here on my floor making an unnecessary amount of noise, and I’d put money on it that you paid someone off for that key card.”
I pause my message scroll so I can glare at him more effectively. “Excuse me?” This guy takes the jerk cake with his asinine accusations. Such an epic waste of hotness.
He tips his chiseled chin up, glares down at me, and jabs a finger in my direction. He really is intimidating. “Which one of the security guys did you pay off? Or were there other favors involved?”
“Favors? What are you even talking about?” I’m super confused right now.
Underpants a-hole leans against the doorjamb, smirking as his eyes move over me. I’m wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a cartoon birthday cake on it. My hair is tucked into a beanie since I’ve been traveling all day and the humidity has not been kind to it. “You think I haven’t seen this a million times? Chicks are always bribing security for keys to get up here.”
“I did not—”
He cuts me off before I can put him in his place. “Look, sweet cheeks, I don’t know what you’ve been snorting or mainlining or whatever, but there’s no way you’re getting in there without a code. And even if you do, I’m gonna go ahead and say that this whole shitshow”—he points to his face and motions toward me—“is one hell of a boner-killer, so stop embarrassing yourself and take your broke-down ass back the way you came.”
Did he just say my face is a boner-killer? I have so had it with assholes tonight.