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Welcome to the blog of Catherine Gayle, USA Today bestselling author of Contemporary and Regency Romance.

Another Sneak Peek: Neutral Zone

November 11, 2017

 

 

                      Chapter Two

                                        Luke

As if it wasn’t bad enough that I was as jealous as all get-out of the man driving me home, halfway back to my parents’ house, my years-long crush on him was starting to get the better of me, all due to staring at his hands.

In other words, I had the boner to end all boners, and I was trying to casually hide it beneath the jacket I’d awkwardly draped across my lap.

And I was almost positive I was failing.

To Colesy’s credit, even though he was bound to have noticed my problem, he kept his eyes on the road. His radio was tuned to my favorite station, and he kept tapping his fingers on the wheel in time with the drum beat—hence my current obsession with his hands.

“Did you ever play?” I asked.

“Play?” He cocked his head toward me in question as he pulled to a stop at a red light.

“Drums.” I nodded, indicating the way he was pounding out the beat on the wheel, but that only made me pay attention to those hands more than I already had been. They were long and strong, with a few calluses here and there. A man’s hands. A hockey player’s hands. A working man’s hands. Not overly manicured or pretty or perfect.

Studying those hands made me hotter than I already was. I shifted my jacket again, trying to keep things hidden.

His lips quirked up in a grin. “Believe it or not, in middle school, I was in band. Played percussion. I was always better at playing the keyed instruments than drums, though—xylophones, marimbas, that sort of thing. And I really enjoyed playing timpani.”

I didn’t even know what timpani meant, but I chose not to reveal my ignorance. “So you never played on a set? Never had a garage band?”

Colesy snorted in laughter. Damn, that was hot.

“Nah,” he said. “My dad would’ve been thrilled if I’d started up a rock band as a teenager, though, even if it meant noise and drugs and partying. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have been such a disappointment to him.”

“How the hell could you be a disappointment to anyone?” I demanded. “Least of all, your parents.” As far as I saw it, the guy had everything.

Or at least everything I wanted.

He raised a brow and studied me, and a waft of his cologne hit me out of the blue. Damn. He even smelled good—like a clean breeze with just a hint of spice. And I was clearly too drunk to be trusted around him.

“Not everyone has a family like yours,” he said.

“You should be glad about that.”

He half laughed, turning back to stare out at the streetlights. “I’d give anything to have a family like yours, Luke. You have no idea how good you have it.”

I wondered what he meant by that, but Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” came on the radio, and he reached over and turned up the volume, effectively cutting me off before I could get started. Then the light changed to green, and when he started driving again, we both sat there with nothing but Gaga’s tune keeping the silence at bay.

The song faded out and the DJ was just coming back to the mic when Colesy turned the corner onto my parents’ street. It killed me that the drive had been so short. I wasn’t ready to go inside. Wasn’t ready to get out of his car. I wanted to stare at his hands and breathe in his cologne and bask in the glow I felt from having his attention all to myself for a lot longer.

“You’re lucky, you know,” he said.

“How do you figure that?”

He slowed down and then came to a stop next to the curb in front of my parents’ house. Then he faced me, one arm draped casually over the steering wheel. “Because your biggest issue is that your sisters want you to sing karaoke, to loosen up and have some fun.”

“My biggest issue is that no one’ll let me play hockey.”

“No one’s stopping you from playing hockey. Maybe they’re not going to pay you for it, but they’re not stopping you from playing.”

“You know what I mean, though,” I groused.

“Sure, it sucks. But it’s not the worst thing that could happen. And you know it. Look at all the shit Katie went through. Look at what Harry and Dani are dealing with for his dad. You know things could be worse.”

“Now you’re being all mature and level-headed on me.” And I got the sense that he was avoiding saying something that was eating at him, but I didn’t have the first clue what it might be. Cole Paxton had always been one of the quieter guys around, and he kept his private life private. That was possibly the biggest reason that coming out the way he had was such a surprise to everyone. It was completely out of character.

I knew he’d done it to take the heat off a friend and teammate, too, which only made me respect him for it all the more. The guy had a hell of a lot of character. He’d done something that put him under a microscope, which was the last thing he wanted, but he’d done it anyway.

He gave me a half laugh, which only made him seem hotter to me. “You coming to skate with us tomorrow? Harry said you were.”

“I don’t know, man. Not really feeling like it.”

“Then maybe all those scouts who passed on you were right. Maybe you don’t have what it takes.”

Ouch. I reached for the door handle, but he stopped me by putting a hand on my elbow, which shot tingles of awareness down my spine. I didn’t turn to face him, because there’d be no chance I could hide what he was doing to me.

Fuck, I was a mess. Even when he said something to sting my pride, I wanted him. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to be with him.

“I don’t really believe that,” he said. “You know I don’t. I don’t think anyone does—but I’ve never taken you to be a quitter. Never thought you’d give up so easily.”

“Maybe you don’t believe it. But I’m starting to think I do.” And with that, I climbed out of his car and headed inside before he could say something else that would make me feel like an ass.

                                                                  Cole

When I walked into the Storm’s practice facility the next morning to get in some ice time and a session in the weight room, I took a quick glance around to see if Luke had decided to show up.

Then I immediately wished I hadn’t looked, because Koz had set up a yoga mat on the floor—not far from our logo in the middle—and was doing yoga.

Naked.

More specifically, he was in a plow pose, his ass high in the air and his limp dick dangling between his legs.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Hammer demanded, nearly stumbling into me from behind. Hammer was what everyone called Chris Hammond, my regular defensive partner and the oldest veteran on the team. “No one wants to see that shit.”

He had a point. Maybe none of us were overly concerned about jumping in the showers together or changing clothes, but that didn’t mean we wanted to see more than was necessary.

“Naked yoga,” Koz shot back. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

“You look like you’re trying to suck your own dick. Probably the only way you can get a blow job.”

“You’re just jealous, old man,” Koz responded, without breaking form. “You wish you looked this good naked. Come to think of it, maybe you should learn to do it. You probably can’t get a good blow job these days. Need to learn to service yourself.”

“If anyone in this room can’t get any action,” Brenden Campbell said as he lumbered into the room and slipped past me, heading for his stall, “it’s you. Because you don’t know when to shut the fuck up.”

“Fuck you, Soupy,” Koz shot back at him.

“No thanks. I’m good.” Brenden Campbell, better known as Soupy, tossed his gym bag in his stall and started stripping down to get ready to skate. “Come to think of it, though…you seen any action lately? Maybe that’s why you’re behaving like more of a fucktard than usual. Got blue balls.”

Koz lifted his hand to flip off Soupy, somehow avoiding falling down, while all the guys laughed.

Damn, it was good to be back around these boys. Maybe they got on my last fucking nerve sometimes, but these days, they were my family.

I skirted around Koz to get to my stall, determined to ignore him, even though the jackass made it next to impossible to do anything of the sort. Nicky Ericsson, our top goaltender, was already suiting up two stalls down from mine.

“Kids all ready for the new school year?” I asked, pulling my pads into place.

“Nils is starting middle school and Hugo’s a freshman now. Elin’s got a new boyfriend every time I turn around, and I don’t like any of them. And if that’s not bad enough, Molly thinks she’s a teenager, too.”

“Molly’s just a toddler,” I said, trying not to crack up.

“Two going on twenty. She thinks she’s as old as Elin and can do all the things Elin gets to do. She’s got a boyfriend. Some three-year-old kid at the park. I’m not ready for this shit.”

I laughed.

“Just wait till you have kids,” he said.

Fat chance of that happening, but I chose to let it slide. The guys were good about treating me like I was just like the rest of them, which was nice, even though I wasn’t.

The door opened again, and I glanced over my shoulder. Harry’s bright-red hair was the first thing I saw, but just behind him, I caught a glimpse of Luke Weber looking somewhat less sullen than he had last night when I’d dropped him off at his parents’ house. He met my eye for a brief moment, with a flash of some indeterminable emotion shining in his eyes, before he turned and followed his brother-in-law to an empty stall so he could change.

Good. I might have pissed him off last night, but not enough that he was going to completely avoid me.

I finished changing and headed out to the ice to stretch, having a hard time keeping the grin off my face.

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