Monday, June 18, 2018

WILD CHILD

With: A.S. Green

WILD CHILD is a second-chance romance that was inspired by a weird run-in I had with someone in a grocery store. In my case, we weren’t past lovers or anything, just someone I used to know. When we literally ran into each other, it was really awkward. I got the idea he didn’t remember who I was, so I acted like I had no idea who he was. To this day, I wonder if he was doing the exact same thing to me.

In this excerpt, Jax has arrived on Little Bear Island to provide private security for a celebrity wedding. He’s been instructed to go to the ferry office to pick up a local girl, who will show him the way to the venue. Unbeknownst to him, the local girl is the “girl who got away” six years earlier.



Jax

I flip up the sun visor as a stunning redhead emerges from the doorway. She’s dressed in a Foo Fighters concert tee and tons of silver bracelets. Her black miniskirt is stretched tight across her tanned thighs. F**k. She used to be exactly my type. Back when I had one, that is. Totally rock-and-roll. Like that redheaded ’80s chick from the Whitesnake video.
The old man goes inside while she crosses in front of my car. A gust of wind blows her long red curls across her face, and she quickly piles the heavy mass onto the top of her head, securing it with an elastic she pulls from her wrist.
I toss my paperwork onto the dash before she jumps in. She opens the door and hops onto the seat, giving it a little bounce and bringing with her a faintly floral scent.
“Good morning,” I say.
She turns toward me with a welcoming smile. F**king great mouth. A smile like that once damn near stopped my h— Oh, shit. Oh, f**k no. Impossible.
I knew Little Bear Island had sounded familiar. I thought maybe I’d seen it featured on a travel show or something. But no. Now I remember where I first heard the name. On the lips of Natalie Rip Your Heart Out O’Brien. The one woman besides Gram who ever really mattered to me.
Gone are the bright-blue hair and Poindexter glasses she wore back when I thought she was mine. I can tell there’s more meat on her bones, too, which—f**k me—only makes her look more amazing.
I might not have recognized her so quickly if she hadn’t smiled. Shit, that smile. She used that same f**king smile on me mere seconds before she threw me away—us away.
Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to give her the satisfaction of seeing my pain. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
The smile has dropped off her face by now—small mercy.
I don’t think about what that might mean, because I’m too far into self-preservation mode. It might make me a coward, it might make me a huge dick, but I reach out my hand and give her the best blank look I can manage. Then I force my mouth to form the words I hope will burn her as badly as she burned me.
“Jackson Sparke. Pleased to meet you.”

About the Author:
I live in the cold, upper Midwest with my husband and three kids. I spend summers on Lake Superior, which is the muse for my contemporary romance, Summer Girl, and I’m a sucker for down-to-earth men who work with their hands (if they play guitar, that’s an added bonus). I love all things Irish—particularly music, dancing, and Jameson. When I’m not writing or reading romance, I’m traveling, camping, visiting book clubs, blogging for Writer Unboxed, and writing paranormal and contemporary young adult novels (under my real name).

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Must Have Faith


Congratulations to "Dee", the winner in Deborah's giveaway. Please contact JUST CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE to claim your prize. Thank you to all who participated!

Hi there! I am so honored to be featured as a guest on Just Contemporary Romance. I’m Deborah Garland and my debut contemporary romance novel was published last summer. It’s been a long road to getting published for the first time but it feels like a longer road to the next release.
On June 4th, the next book in the series, Must Have Faith, Darling Cove Book 2 was released. The Runaway Bride is Back! Except it’s not your usual runaway bride story. There’s a twist: What if the jilted groom wasn’t a jerk? What if he’s the good guy?
~
Forgiving isn't easy. Forgetting may be impossible.

Greg Mallory isn't the kind of man to wallow just because he was left at the altar. Not when there are plenty of women to help him forget his heartbreak. But as the only Mallory son, he has an obligation to carry on the family name. When Greg's runaway bride returns, his head tells him to keep his distance, but his body and heart are both begging for a second chance.

Faith Copeland bolted out of Darling Cove with a shameful secret and stayed away for ten years thinking Greg Mallory would never forgive her. Coming home means facing her past and Greg. She just didn't think he still had the power to make her melt after all this time.

One moment alone proves their attraction is stronger than ever. Are they brave enough to start fresh? Or will past secrets destroy their second chance at happy-ever-after once and for all?
~
Greg and Faith were childhood sweethearts. They’ve only been in love with each other. They learned how to love by falling in love with each other. So when Faith took off two days before their wedding, they both lost out. They were both broken and empty.

Despite the fact that Faith had left, she too had lost out because of her actions. She didn’t get to marry the love of her life.
I introduced Greg in the first book Must Love Fashion and the response to the handsome cop and brooding jilted groom was something I took note of in reviews for MLF:

“I am wondering if Greg gets his story or happily ever after. Hopefully so!”
“I really hope there is another book about Gwen’s brother’s life because I see some drama there.”
“I’m anxiously waiting for the second book in this series, which I hope is about Gwen’s brother, Gregory. That poor man is in desperate need of some loving!”
I had to give the people what they wanted. Enjoy an exclusive sneak peek at Must Have Faith:

~
Greg gave into the idea that had been flickering in and out of his mind. “Actually…I’ve been thinking about looking into joining one of the FBI’s New York City Task Forces.” He couldn’t imagine saying these words out loud to anyone. Except Faith wasn’t just anyone.

“Really?” With a vigorous smile, she snapped her head back. “That is amazing!”
Christ, did she know how her enthusiasm affected him? It was so hot. He rubbed his forehead, getting his wicked thoughts under control. “It’s just something I’ve been considering.”

She squeezed his shoulder. “You were made for something like that Greg. God. I hope you go for it.”

He appreciated the enthusiasm, except this talk was screaming loud and clear that he and Faith were on different paths. With no chance of intersecting. “Yeah. Well...we’ll see.”

He’d been staring at the wall and hadn’t realized Faith had moved closer to him. When he turned to look at her, her face was inches from his. He could smell the coffee on her breath, a hint of her sweet taste underneath. Her skin hummed with the thunderous desire he too was feeling from having her so close.

Without considering the consequences, he ran his knuckles against her cheek. Her skin flushed with heat and her eyes sparkled. Tips of her white teeth crushed against her lower lip. Full and pink. Kiss me, they had always called out to him.

Greg ignored his better senses and lowered his mouth to hers, dying to taste her. It was a slow descent as his eyes watched hers and then dipped to look at her mouth. With so much happening around them and not knowing if she’d accept the kiss, he rested his mouth against her lips for a moment.

Not exactly kissing him back, she smiled and breathed into his mouth. “What are you doing?”

He smiled back. “I don’t know,” he whispered, but kept the fleshy part of his lower lip on hers.

“Okay,” she said with an adorable shrug.

Links:
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2IIh7Sg
Darling Cove Series Page on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/2xp8WJm

Author Bio:
Deborah Garland is a versatile author of women's fiction, contemporary and paranormal romances. Her books are about love and the struggles of complicated relationships. The heroines are strong and witty and the heroes fall hard for them.
She lives on the North Shore of Long Island with her husband and two pugs, Zoe and Harley. They like to vacation up and down the East Coast, but her favorite place is on a bar stool on a Friday night with a Grey Goose cosmopolitan, listening to her husband tell her the same stories over and over.

Follow Deborah on:
Goodreads:  http://bit.ly/2w6a4kb

Contact Links:
Newsletter Sign up: http://bit.ly/2HI3Mgc

2 Giveaways!

#1
I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to buy a couple of great books. All you have to do is comment below and tell me…what is Greg’s sister’s name? Hint- It IS somewhere in this post. Comments with the right answer, will be chosen at random for the gift card. Check back here at JCR on the 18th to see if you're a winner!

#2
Darling Cove Book 1, Must Love Fashion is up for a Goodreads Giveaway. Enter here

Thank you Maureen for having me on Just Contemporary Romance!

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST June 17th. Due to GDPR regulations you no longer need to submit your email address in the comments. If you have been selected as a winner your name will be posted at the top of the post. You may then contact maureen@JustContemporaryRomance.com to claim your prize. Your email address will be shared with the author/publicist providing the giveaway. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Meet Lily Baker from Coleen Kwan’s Dating For Keeps


I’m Lily Baker, and I’ve just had one of the worst dates ever. I’ve never had much luck with men, which is why I decided to use a dating site in the hopes of meeting a decent man. But tonight my date dumped me on the dance floor in front of everyone. To make things worse, Caleb Willmett witnessed everything. The first time I met Caleb I could barely put two words together. He’s hot and impossibly good-looking without even trying, and now, would you believe it, he’s sitting with me in my car! I know he’s just doing it because he feels sorry for me, but it’s nice of him. And I’m finding it surprisingly easy to talk to him; maybe because I know there’s no danger of us ever getting involved…

DATING FOR KEEPS

Unlucky in love Lily Baker is ready to get back in the dating game. But her first night out ends with the guy ditching her—in the middle of a dance floor. Wonderful. Public humiliation on top of rejection. And worse, Caleb Willmett, the sexy local contractor with an unfortunate desire to remain single, witnessed the whole thing. But where Lily sees disaster, Caleb finds opportunity.
The only long-term relationship Caleb wants is a business partnership with Lily’s father, but the man won’t give him the time of day. If Lily can arrange a meeting for him, Caleb promises to help her find a guy worth dating. Perfect trade. And this should be easy—just look for someone completely opposite of himself, someone who’s willing to settle down.
But when Lily unexpectedly captures his heart, playing matchmaker for her becomes the most difficult job he’s ever done.
Each title in the Pine Falls series is STANDALONE:
* Unexpectedly Yours
* Kissing Her Enemy
* Dating for Keeps


Excerpt from Dating For Keeps


“Well,” Lily said, hoping she sounded nonchalant, “according to my dating index, on a scale from one to ten, that date scored maybe a one-point-five, possibly one.”

Caleb’s eyebrows rose. “You mean he actually gets a positive score?”

“He did show up.”

“That’s really a minus in my book.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right. He’s a minus five.”

Caleb twisted in his seat to face her, his large, blunt hand spread on his knee. “So, mind if I ask why he was such a jerk on the dance floor?”

Lowering her gaze, she fidgeted with her scarf. “Well, it seems the only reason he agreed to the date was an attempt to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. She was one of the vendors at the festival. In the middle of the dance, he realized I wasn’t right for the job, so to speak, and was so disappointed, he left.”

Caleb swore under his breath. “That is seriously screwed up. Whoever set you up with that guy needs to be told off.”

Lily nibbled on her lower lip before deciding to tell him the truth. “Actually, I met him on a dating site, eCherish. It was my first date through them.” She sighed. “I suppose I should’ve known better.”

“Hey, don’t blame yourself. A dating site is only as good as the people who sign up.”

“I bet you’ve never used a dating site before,” she said.

“Can’t say I have.” His full lips tilted into a lazy grin. “But that’s not to say I haven’t had a few dud dates in my time.”

“Oh yeah?” Somehow she was starting to feel better already. “I think you and I might have different ideas of what constitutes a dud date.”

“Well, one time I took a woman out for dinner to a steakhouse, and she complained about me wearing a plaid shirt. I mean, come on. It wasn’t the country club; it was Ribs n’ Roast.”

“Is that all you’ve got? I once went out with a guy who shoplifted a box of candy for me right in front of my very eyes. He thought it was romantic!”

Amusement sparkled in Caleb’s face. “All right, I gotta admit that’s pretty rough.” He leaned forward. “How about this? It was a first date with a woman I’d known for about a month. We had a couple of drinks and a pleasant chat. I thought she was nice, but a little intense. A few hours later, a friend of mine showed me her Facebook profile. She’d changed her status to ‘in a relationship’ and already uploaded a photo of me, calling me her new boyfriend. I don’t appreciate that kind of manipulation.”

“See, I knew we were talking apples and oranges when it came to dud dates,” Lily said. “Nothing embarrassing actually happened to you on those dates. Not like the time I accidentally set myself on fire.”

His eyes widened. “How the hell did that happen?”

“It was a noisy restaurant, and the guy was a low talker. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. So I leaned in, got too close to the candle, and the brim of my hat started burning.”

“Holy crap. Were you okay?”

“Luckily a waiter threw a jug of water over my head and put the fire out.” She paused, remembering the incident. “It was an orange raffia hat. I made it myself.”

While the waiters and other diners had rushed to her aid, her date had just sat there gibbering uselessly. The next day he’d texted to tell her he couldn’t see her anymore because he was so traumatized by what had happened.

Sighing, Lily leaned against the headrest. “That happened two years ago, and that was the last date I went on until today. Guess my luck hasn’t changed much since then.”


Monday, June 11, 2018

Cowboy SEAL Redemption


Giveaway Alert!

Three former Navy SEALs
Injured in the line of duty
Desperate for a new beginning…
Searching for a place to call their own.

Jack Armstrong’s been slowly piecing his life back together after a career-ending injury bounced him from the SEALs. The only trouble is, his family’s on their way to his new haven in Montana...and Jack refuses to let them know he’s still hurting. Desperate, he makes a deal with local bad girl Rose Rogers: in exchange for some extra security, she’ll play the perfect loving girlfriend.

Rose doesn’t trust any man, much less some tough-as-nails former SEAL. But the more they settle into their ruse, the more things start to feel real, and the more Rose’s true fear surfaces—that she’ll never be good enough for love. But Jack isn’t about to lose Rose. He’s done running when things get tough, and he’s determined to prove—once and for all—that even the most troubled hearts can find their way to redemption.

Amazon:              https://amzn.to/2ko0XTy
B&N:                     http://bit.ly/2kkDqCL
iBooks:                 https://apple.co/2J45Lv1

Excerpt:
No man had ever held her close like this. Like you just held a person because you woke up together. And okay, maybe she’d never really spent the night with a guy. The few times she’d allowed herself to be charmed into sex, she’d always vamoosed either once the act was done or once the guy dozed off.
She didn’t stay. She didn’t do it again. And she did not, God forbid, cuddle. Someone holding her was supposed to be stifling. It was supposed to feel awkward. She was supposed to want to make fun of an act as soft and pointless as this.
Mostly she wanted to cry again and stay here forever. What was this man doing to her? And why him? Was it the scars—internal and external? The sob story? Or just those eyes?
“Do you have nightmares?” he asked out of nowhere.
She shifted in his arms. “Why would I have nightmares?”
He kissed her bare shoulder. “PTSD.
“Hate to break it to you, sailor, but I never went to war.”
“You survived your own hell,” he said so matter-of-factly, she couldn’t even think up a response. “War isn’t the only thing that stamps itself on you, and death isn’t either. You know, when I was in the rehabilitation center, someone told me foster kids suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than military veterans.”
“What asshole said that to you while you were in a rehabilitation center?”
He shrugged. “Mike.”
“I’d like to wring that little fucker’s neck.”
Jack’s mouth curved into a smile. “I’d rather you didn’t. My mother likes you, but she wouldn’t approve of that.”
“Your sister likes me too.” Which she shouldn’t have said or even thought. What did it matter what his family thought? It was a fake like, for a fake her…but she liked them in return.
Except Dick Bag Mike.
“My sister worships you and might not care if you wring Mike’s neck.”
She laughed. Oh, damn him for having half a charming family. Vivian was adorable, and his parents were…
Well, she didn’t want to think about how lovely they were.
“You had your own trauma, Rose. I just wondered if it still bothered you. Nightmares. Panic attacks. I’ve done it all, so…”
Trauma. As though she were a victim. She had been, in a sense, but not like her sisters. They’d all looked after each other. They had put each other first at great risk to themselves. Only Rose had ever taken their father’s teachings to heart.
Always look out for number one.
“Just tell me the truth,” he said, and it was all gentle and impossible to fight him off.
The truth. She didn’t want to acknowledge the truth, but lying to Jack seemed so impossible. “S-sometimes. I’ve had nightmares. Rarely, but sometimes.”
“Mine have gotten fewer ever since I started talking. I told my sister I loved her last night.” He paused, rubbing his lightly stubbled chin against her temple. “I don’t think I’ve ever done that. And it was something. Telling Madison how much she hurt me changed something. I’ve still got scars, Geiger is still dead, Madison is still married to my brother, but…”
“But what?”
“See, that’s the thing. There didn’t used to be a but. It was a list of horrible, dark things, and it ended there. Everything was awful. Now? I still feel beat down by those things, by those hurts and scars, but…there’s a but. There’s more.”
She wanted to cry. For him. Because of him. She knew what it was like to have a but. Her sisters had always been that. It was so strange to realize that, over the past year as her sisters had been building their lives, she’d lost that but for herself.
She had her bar, her power, and her freedom. It should have been enough, but the list of bleak was holding her down, and she didn’t know how to be as brave as Jack and believe in a but.
“I’m not your happy ending, Jack,” she rasped.
“I don’t believe in happy endings anymore, Rose. Maybe I never did. I do know we don’t get what we deserve, and hard work doesn’t always pay off. That doesn’t change the beauty and hope of having a but.” He smiled then, so open and perfect and beautiful. “I care about you, Rose.” A gesture she didn’t deserve.
“I wish you wouldn’t,” she whispered.
“I know.” He sighed and brushed his lips across hers, light and quick. “I have to go do my chores before the family wakes up. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Come with?”
“Yeah, you can watch me do manly chores, we can eat breakfast with my family, and then you can head home and get some rest before you have to open the bar.”
She should refuse, stop diving deeper into this thing that was going to end so very badly if she let him get more attached.
If you let yourself get more attached.
“Say yes,” he murmured against her neck, nuzzling there.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

The One You Can't Forget

With: Roni Loren

Giveaway Alert!


Most days Rebecca Lindt feels like an imposter…

The world admires her as a survivor. But that impression would crumble if people knew her secret. She didn’t deserve to be the one who got away. But nothing can change the past, so she’s thrown herself into her work. She can’t dwell if she never slows down.

Wes Garrett is trying to get back on his feet after losing his dream restaurant, his money, and half his damn mind in a vicious divorce. But when he intervenes in a mugging and saves Rebecca—the attorney who helped his ex ruin him—his simple life gets complicated.

Their attraction is inconvenient and neither wants more than a fling. But when Rebecca’s secret is put at risk, both discover they could lose everything, including what they never realized they needed: each other

She laughed and kissed him. This morning she'd melted down. But somehow this man had her laughing and turned on only a few hours later. Everything inside her felt buoyed.

She felt…light.

She'd forgotten what that felt like.

Indiebound: http://bit.ly/2rYtDGZ

Excerpt:

Fifteen minutes. That was how long it took for Marco and Kincaid to abandon Rebecca and Wes in the kitchen under the auspices of Let me show you the view from Marco and Does this building have original details? from Kincaid.

Kincaid had motioned at Rebecca as she slipped out of the kitchen, some invented sign language that probably meant Talk it out with the hot chef but looked more like a drunken game of naughty charades.

Rebecca had promptly flipped her off.

But now here she was. Alone with Wes again.

Wes stood behind the large island, black bandanna keeping his hair back, gray T-shirt putting all that colorful arm ink on display, and forearms flexing as he sliced and diced an onion with practiced precision. If not for the simmering annoyance, it would’ve been a nice show to watch from her spot sitting on a stool on the other side of the counter. But he hadn’t said a word to her since they’d gotten into the condo. Just chop, chop, chop and irritated grunts.

“Do you need any help?” she asked for lack of anything else to say.

“Can you help me murder my brother?”

“I was thinking we could get rid of them both in one go. How far is the drop from the balcony?” Rebecca tapped her chin. “We could make it look like an accident. I know someone who could defend us.”

Wes smirked.

The little break in the wall helped her relax some. “Why’d you give in anyway? I was about to get us out of it. I had a whole argument prepared. There were bullet points. Closing statements. We could’ve saved ourselves this lovely moment.”

He frowned and dumped the onions into one of the prep bowls. “Yeah, but you didn’t see the look on my brother’s face.” He pushed a basket of strawberries and a paring knife toward her. “Can lawyers hull strawberries?”

“Sure.” She took the berries and stole one of his empty prep bowls. “So what kind of look was that?”

“The Don’t ruin this for me look. The Remember all the times I’ve helped you out look. That look.”

“That’s a lot for a look to say.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t hard to get the point. He’s always working and doesn’t get to go out and meet women. He likes your friend, and she seems to like him for whatever reason”—he shrugged and grabbed a bell pepper from the stack of vegetables—“so I’m hanging out with my ex-wife’s lawyer and taking one for the team.”

She wrinkled her nose.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing. I’m just having a high school flashback.” Thankfully not the kind she’d had Friday night, but one that was unpleasant enough in its own right.

“How’s that?”

She concentrated on cutting the stem off a strawberry. “I had a friend whose parents would only let her go on group dates. So I always got dragged out with her and had to be the date of her boyfriend’s best friend, who pretty much reminded me every ten minutes that he was there as a favor and was taking one for the team by hanging out with me. It was super awesome for my fifteen-year-old ego.”

“Ouch. What an idiot.”

“Yeah, I should’ve just told her to leave me out of it and sneak out like everyone else.”

“No, I meant him. What a douche.”

“Oh. Yeah. He was.” But even as she said it, she felt a pang of guilt in her gut. Craig hadn’t made it through prom night. So douche or not, she felt guilty talking bad about the dead. “We were just in a doomed-to-fail setup. Popular jock and high-strung goody-goody were not a wise combination. Two different planets and all that. He probably thought I was an insufferable Miss Priss.”

His lip curled. “Were you?”

She lifted her hand and held her index finger and thumb an inch apart. “Maybe a little. I wasn’t…not. When they brought weed to date night, I couldn’t just say no and let them do their thing. I gave everyone a lecture about how long it stays in your system and how having something on your record could ruin your college chances.”

He cringed. “Ahh, you were that girl. We had one of those at my school, too.”

“Yeah?”

He nodded. “Laney Becker. And she thought I was a douche.”

“Were you?”

He lifted his fingers, repeating her motion back to her but widening the gap further.

“Nice.”

“I probably would’ve done better if I’d been friends with someone like her. I could’ve used a girl telling me not to blow off class and get high. Or doing a lot of other things I shouldn’t have been doing back then.” He tossed more chopped veggies into a bowl. “And I’m sorry about the ‘taking one for the team’ comment. I didn’t mean it that way. This is just…a screwed-up situation. I’m willing to call a temporary let’s-forget-we-have-history truce for today.”

“I’m on board with that.”

“Good.” He frowned down at her chopped berries. “Hold up. That’s not how to hull.”

She looked down at the berry in her hand. She’d cut off the top. The stem was gone. She didn’t see any problem. “What’s wrong?”

He set down his knife and stepped around the island. “You’re wasting a big part of the berry that way. Here.” He held out his hand for the paring knife, and she handed it over. He shifted until he was right next to her and held the fruit in front of her. “The woody part is just under the leaves. That’s what you’re after.”

He poked the tip of the knife right beneath the leaves and then made a circle around the stem. He popped out the stem and only a little piece of the berry, leaving much more of the fruit intact.

“See.” He held the strawberry in his palm, the sweet scent of the ripe fruit wafting up to her. “Lots more berry, and you also don’t lose the shape of the fruit that way.”

“Oh.” She tried to focus on what he was showing her and not on the fact that he was so close and she could feel his body heat against her arm. Her hormones apparently had no qualms about this man. They remembered what his lips tasted like and were ready to ignore everything she knew about him. Stupid, misguided hormones.

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Friday, June 8, 2018

Just One of the Royals

With: Leah & KateRooper

Star hockey player Daniel Sacachelli wants only two things: 1) for the Falcons to win next season, and 2) for his secret — the fact he’s actually the prince of Eldonia — to never make its way to Chicago. But if Daniel keeps avoiding his crown, their family will lose their kingdom forever.
Madison Myong can’t believe that her will-they-or-won’t-they best friend Daniel is really a prince! He’s always seemed more rebel than royal. But now, he needs to clean up his image, fast. Posing as his long time girlfriend, Madison accompanies him back to Eldonia, intending to give Daniel a makeover fit for a king.
Only, the more royal Daniel becomes, the more Madison misses her best friend. And if she does her job right, she’ll lose him forever...



Excerpt:

I can’t help but feel a shudder as the thought moves through me--what would happen if the Falcons found out my secret? And not the one about Madison. The other secret, the one that I keep buried deep in my chest.

I feel my hands grow slick under my gloves. The puck whizzes past me and I skid on the ice to grab it. I need to remember who I am--just a Long Island kid in Chicago. Everything else is background noise.

As practice wears on, we all start goofing off a little, seeing how far we can push Coach, it being the last skate of the season and all. Tyler Evans tries to replicate one of Bell’s trick shots and falls on his face. I snatch a sweet goal off a perfect pass from Tremblay just as Coach blows the whistle. We head to the bench. I feel that tightness growing in my chest.

Hockey is over for the summer. Sure, I won’t miss waking up at 5 a.m. for practice, or heading to bed with muscles so stiff, I can barely move. And it will be nice to actually have time to sit down with Ma for a meal together. I’m sure the guys and I will make it down to the rink over the summer. There’s no way Tremblay’s gonna let his team get soft. But it’s not the same. There’s just something about all of us decked out in our jerseys, the roar of the crowd, Madison getting on my case about what I’m eating, even the blare of Coach yelling in my ear--it makes me feel like I belong here. That I somehow have a place in all this.

The chatter of my teammates pulls me out of my thoughts.

“Hey, Sacachelli,” Gerver says as I step off the ice. “What are you doing tonight?”

“I dunno, why?”

“My brother’s having a party. Gonna be a lot of hot college girls there.” He flashes a wicked smile. “You should show.”

A college party is exactly my scene…and exactly the kind of thing that keeps getting me in trouble. That keeps making me not good enough for Madison. “Yeah, thanks, man. Think I’m just gonna chill tonight.” Maybe I’ll text Madison and see how her talk went with her parents. Maybe she’ll want to hang out, just the two of us.

“Suit yourself, bro. You know where I live if you change your mind.” Gerver claps me on the shoulder.

The whole team files out but I hold back. I want one last look at the rink, before it’s all over for the summer.

But my eye catches something else.

Someone in the stands.

A huge, hulking man with tanned skin and a shiny bald head. He’s wearing an all-black suit and a pair of dark sunglasses, even though he’s inside.

It looks like my secret has found me all the way in Chicago.

My whole body freezes and I can’t even take in a breath. Because the last time I saw this man in Chicago, he had come to tell me my father was dead.

The man gestures for me to come toward him. I can hear the upbeat voices of my teammates in the locker room, but I’m alone out on the ice. Somehow, my body moves of its own accord, and I skate across the rink, and climb up into the stands.

Each step I take is filled with dread as I go up the stairs toward the man. He stands still as a statue, his mouth a thin line.

My throat is so tight by the time I get to him, I can barely form the words: “E-Eva? What’s wrong with her?”

 The man, Dwayne Boulder, says nothing. His massive body looks out of place against the tiny stadium seats. He only gestures to the door at the top of the stands, which leads to the lobby.

I stare at the door, then dart past him, my skates nearly catching on the top step.
When I get to the lobby, my heart nearly stops.

There she is. “Evangeline,” I breathe.

She looks up at me, and smiles that pert, impish smile I love so much. “Big brother.”

A giant grin stretches across my face. I grab her in my arms and lift her up in the air. “What are you doing here?” I say, as her arms tighten around my neck. “When I saw Dwayne, I thought something was wrong…”

“Oh, you know Dwayne,” she says. “He had to make sure your teammates weren’t actually foreign agents, or anything like that.” Her posh accent always takes me off guard when I haven’t been around her in a while.

I pull back so I can take her in. Every time I see her, she looks so much older. I guess that’s because I only see her once a year. Man, for sixteen, she certainly looks grown up. Her reddish-brown hair is swept up in a bun, and there’s enough jewelry around her neck to fill a treasure chest.
“Come on,” I say, “what are you doing here?”

Eva has never once come to visit me in Chicago. I don’t think she’s ever left Europe.
“Can’t a loving sister come watch her big brother play,” she says, giving a smarmy grin, “whatever game this is?”

“You stay around, and I’ll get you out there with a stick in your hands.” I smile and poke her ribs. “If Dwayne doesn’t kill me first.”

She looks behind me and I can feel his presence there. “Maybe some other time, Dan-Dan.” Her amber eyes glint mischievously.

As happy as I am to see my little sister, something gnaws in my gut--a hunch she’s not just here for a visit.

I throw an arm around her shoulder. “Seriously though, Eva. What are you doing here?”
She wiggles out from under my arm and walks ahead of me. “I’ve…I’ve come to bring you home.”

My whole body freezes. “Eva. I am home.”

“No, this isn’t the home of...” she says without looking at me, “...the future King

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