Jennifer Sucevic kicks off a brand new series this week with an enemies-to-lovers, brother’s teammate, hockey romance, and I have the first chapter for you.
“I had a really good time tonight,” Aaron says, gaze pinned to mine with an intensity that has me wanting to take a quick step in retreat.
Instead, I force a smile. “Yeah. Me, too.”
It’s not a total lie. I did have a good time. But that’s all it was—good. Kind of like when we study together at the library or grab coffee at the Roasted Bean before class.
He glances away and shoves both hands into the pockets of his perfectly pressed khakis. “I hope we can do this again.” There’s a pause before he tacks on, “Soon.”
I’m treated to a long, soulful stare that leaves me feeling borderline uncomfortable.
Yeah…I’m pretty sure that’s not in the cards for us.
Aaron is nice.
There’s just no spark between us.
I’m searching for that elusive little tingle you get at the bottom of your tummy whenever you’re near that person or even catch a glimpse of them from across a crowded room. It’s the kind of irrepressible energy that sizzles in the air, charging it until drawing a full breath into your lungs feels impossible.
No matter how much I might wish otherwise, Aaron and I just don’t generate that kind of chemistry.
There’s only one person—
I take a deep breath, slamming the door closed on those thoughts.
What I feel for that guy isn’t attraction.
Trust me, if you gave me enough time, I could come up with a laundry list of descriptive words that start with a vowel.
I blink back to awareness, only to realize that Aaron is patiently awaiting a response.
Oh, right. He wants to do this again.
As I open my mouth to let him down gently, the words stick in my throat. The last thing I want to do is lead him on, but at the same time, I don’t want to hurt him either. What I need to do is strike the perfect balance. We have several pre-med classes together this semester. If I’m sick and can’t attend class, Aaron is the one who catches me up to speed and makes sure I have all the notes.
They’re usually color coded and placed in order of importance.
If there’s been one lesson learned this evening, it’s that I should avoid dating guys I see on a daily basis.
As Carina, my roommate, would say—don’t shit where you eat.
She’s right about that.
He inches closer. “If you’re in agreement, I’d like to move this relationship forward. I like you, Juliette.” He glances away briefly before his muddy-colored eyes refocus on me with a mixture of heat and intensity. “I’m probably getting a little ahead of myself here, but I think we could be a real power couple. We share similar aspirations—both of us have set our sights on furthering our studies in medicine and becoming physicians. I’ve never found someone who fits so perfectly into my five- and ten-year plan. It’s almost like we were made for one another.”
My eyes widen as a garbled sound escapes from me.
A little ahead of himself?
Five- and ten-year plan?
We’ve been out precisely three times, and the chances of there being a fourth have dwindled to the single digits.
My tongue darts out to moisten my dry lips. I need to tell him that this—whatever he thinks this is—isn’t going to happen. “Aaron…”
He perks up and sways closer. “Yeah?”
There’s so much hope and expectation packed into that one word.
Why does this have to be so difficult?
The problem is that he really is a nice guy. And what he said is absolutely true, we do have a lot in common. It’s the reason I talked myself into giving him another chance.
And then a third.
There are a lot of douchey guys at this school who are only interested in sleeping with a chick before moving onto the next warm body. Sometimes within the span of the same evening. They don’t have five- or ten-year plans that involve one specific girl. They don’t even have twenty-four-hour plans that involve the same female.
So, when you happen to find a guy who has the opposite mindset, you need to take the time to delve deep and really get to know him before tossing him back into the wild for someone else to snap up.
“I had a nice time, too,” I say carefully.
“Good.” The tension filling his narrow shoulders drains as he beams in relief.
Aaron has a wiry build. His limbs are long and lean, much like a runner. Unlike some of the football or hockey players that strut around campus with their muscles on display as if they’re god’s gift to the female species.
Ugh. They seem to be everywhere.
As I stare into his earnest eyes, I make a last ditch effort to convince myself that he’s exactly the type of guy I’m attracted to.
Deep down, in a place I’m loathloathe to acknowledge, I know it’s a lie.
Carina, damn her, would also tell me that the worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
That girl really needs to stay out of my head.
His hands reemerge from the depths of his pockets before rising to my face. It would be difficult not to notice their slight tremble. I force myself to stand perfectly still and not evade his touch at the last moment. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about this situation, I’m not sure what will.
His eyelids droop to half-mast. “I’m going to kiss you now, Juliette,” he mutters thickly. “I hope that’s all right.”
And with that, the mood has officially been killed.
Not that there was much of one to begin with, but still…
Unlike him, my eyes stay wide open as he moves toward me in slow motion. I steel myself for impact instead of flinching away.
Maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe Aaron will surprise the hell out of me and will end up being a phenomenal kisser. I’ll magically lose myself in the caress as time and space cease to exist.
It’s tentatively that his lips settle over mine. They’re dry and papery to the touch. It’s kind of like being pecked by a distant aunt or uncle.
Everything inside me deflates with the knowledge that this isn’t going to end any other way than me carefully letting him down, because there’s no way in hell I can do this again.
In fact, I’d pay good money to never do this again.
I press my palms against Aaron’s chest to push him away when someone clears their throat. Aaron jumps back as if he just stuck his finger in an electrical outlet.
My gaze slices to the tall, muscular blond guy who has grinded to a halt beside us.
My belly does a strange little flip before I swiftly stomp out the sensation.
Dark blue eyes pin me in place for a drawn-out heartbeat, making it impossible to breathe before shifting to Aaron. It’s only when I’m released from his penetrating stare that the air trapped in my lungs rushes from me and I realize there are five more oversized hockey players crowded in the hallway outside my apartment door.
Ford Hamilton, Wolf Westerville, Colby McNichols, Riggs Stranton, and Hayes Van Doren are seniors on the Western Wildcats hockey team. Wherever they go, fangirls are sure to follow. I glance around only to realize they’re all by themselves. It’s weird not to see their entourage trailing after them.
Is it possible that hell has officially frozen over?
Colby flashes an easy-going grin as he snags my gaze. “Hey, McKinnon. Looks like someone has a hot date tonight.” Like Ryder, he’s blond and entirely too handsome for his own good.
His dimples are lethal to any female with a beating pulse in the vicinity.
Present company excluded.
Heat scalds my cheeks until it feels like they’ve caught on fire. The last thing I need is for the pretty hockey player to open his big yap to my brother.
Like I need the fifth degree from him.
Hard pass, thank you very much.
I might be the older sibling by fifteen months, but that, apparently, doesn’t matter. Maverick takes his protective brother duties seriously. Dad drilled that into his head when he arrived at Western the year after I did.
Before I can snap out a response, they jostle and joke their way down the hall to the apartment next door. Ford lives there with Wolf and Madden while Ryder and five other teammates have a place located a couple blocks off campus known around school as the hockey house. For the last three decades, the residence has been exclusively occupied by Western hockey players. The current group of guys who rent the property will select the teammates who live there the following year.
It’s a whole thing.
Thankfully, my brother lives off campus at the house. He’s the only junior who was invited to do so and that has everything to do with Ryder. They’ve been tight since elementary school. I seriously don’t think I could handle having him in the same building. He’s all up in my business enough the way it is.
My skin prickles with awareness when I realize that Ryder hasn’t followed his friends down the hallway. His gaze is still locked on Aaron, who looks seconds away from pissing himself.
And I get it.
Ryder McAdams can be intimidating.
Especially when he glares.
Which is exactly what he’s doing at the moment.
Poor Aaron. In comparison, he looks like a scrawny, underdeveloped high schooler.
My date clears his throat before mumbling, “I, ah, should probably go.”
There’s a pause before he hesitantly sways toward me again. He only gets a few inches before Ryder crosses his thickly corded arms over his brawny chest. Aaron’s movements stall as his face turns ashen.
“Umm…” He releases a high-pitched laugh that’s strained around the edges. “How about a hug instead?”
When Ryder’s eyes narrow, Aaron gulps, his throat muscles convulsing with the movement. In the silence of the hallway, the sound is deafening.
He finally reaches out, wrapping his sweaty palm around my hand before giving it three hearty pumps and promptly releasing it. I don’t even get a chance to say goodbye as he swings around and races to the elevator like the hounds of hell are nipping at his heels.
He stabs the button a bunch of times and glances over his shoulder at us warily. When the bell chimes, announcing the car’s arrival, he shoves his way inside before the doors have a chance to fully open, disappearing from sight.
Once the metal contraption closes, I scowl at Ryder. “Why’d you do that?”
One thick brow slinks upward. It’s enough to have me gritting my teeth.
“Do what? I never said a word.”
True enough. But still…
I’m aggravated with him for messing with my date. There was absolutely no reason for it.
“You purposefully stood there and made him feel uncomfortable.”
Why am I picking a fight?
It’s not like I wanted to kiss Aaron. If anything, I should be thanking Ryder for his timely interruption.
I almost snort, because there’s no way in hell that’s going to happen.
“How’d I do that? By standing here and patiently waiting for an introduction?” His gaze stays locked on mine as he tilts his head and scratches his shadowed jaw. “Seems kind of odd.”
I bare my teeth before swinging away to dig through my purse for the apartment key. As soon as my fingers wrap around cool metal, I yank it out and jamb it in the lock with more force than necessary. The door reverberates on its hinges as I step inside and swivel to face Ryder once more before promptly closing it with a loud bang.