An angsty new surprise baby, second chance, hockey romance is out this week from Alison Rhymes, and I have the prologue and the whole first chapter for you right here.
I was ten when I met the love of my life.
As a hockey coach’s daughter, it was inevitable that I’d lose my heart to a player. Though I doubt my dad expected it to happen during a summer hockey camp at such an early age. Had he, I probably wouldn’t have been asked to tag along as often. It’s not as though I even knew what was happening back then anyhow.
Besides, I’ve always loved the sport. My dad was blessed with daughters, and he encouraged our interest in his chosen profession.
My sister, Willa, played a few years of youth hockey, but it didn’t last long and that wasn’t ever the path I wanted to take. The sidelines are my favorite place. Catching the subtle nuances of each player, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, that’s the part I love.
I might not have played the sport, but I’d been on the ice plenty, and the hero worship I always had for my dad had me soaking up every word he said like a sponge.
Dad played the game his whole life, as soon as he could toddle on both feet, my grandfather put him in a pair of skates and padded him with goalie equipment. He said dad had more horsepower at the age of three than a HEMI V8 engine and needed an outlet for it all. Personally, I think my grandfather fell in love with the sport too late in life to play himself, so he lived vicariously through my dad. Either way, Dad excelled at it and was drafted to an NHL team right out of college.
He left the league and started coaching junior hockey when I was six and Willa was four. He didn’t quit the sport, though. Instead of playing for the NHL, he moved to coaching for the Wester Hockey League. Junior hockey always intrigued me. It wasn’t the path my dad took; he played youth hockey and earned a college scholarship for it. A lot of boys don’t do that and instead move to junior hockey at an earlier age, some as young as fifteen.
It’s not easy. You often have to leave your family, and many will play until the age of twenty before they can pursue a full-time education. That was if they don’t get picked up by a professional team, which wasn’t guaranteed.
Grandpa felt like it would be putting life on hold in hopes of the pros, if my dad went to play junior hockey rather than college hockey. Anyone who hoped to play a professional sport took a certain amount of risk, but I always looked at WHL players as edgy rebels because of my grandfather’s take on things.
Because if my dad hadn’t been drafted at the end of his college career, at least he already had the education and a degree to fall back on.
Growing up with a dad that coached a WHL team meant an endless stream of teenage boys around all year long. But it was the summers I remember best. Dad coached a hockey camp at the University of North Dakota and brought the family with him most years when Willa and I were on summer vacation from school.
That was where I first saw Cillian Wylder. He stood out for all the wrong reasons. Dad always started with skating drills; Cillian wasn’t the best. Not the worst, either, but the middle of the pack wasn’t where any elite player wanted to be and that was firmly where he was. His speed on a straight away was fine, good even, but he’d lose it all with every turn and then needed to play catch up to the leaders.
I wrote him off as just another helmet head with dreams that would never come to fruition. That was most of the boys Dad worked with honestly. Except the following day when he switched them over to drills that included a stick and puck. Cillian’s puck handling was exceptional. Not only could he shoot from the center of his stick, but from the heel and toe as well. All with a high degree of accuracy. It’s not a common trait in seasoned players and certainly not something seen regularly at peewee levels.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him while he had the puck. Looking back, I recognized it was the first time I’d ever been fascinated by anyone other than my dad or the random celebrity that me and all my friends had a crush over.
Hanging out by the tunnel to the locker rooms wasn’t something I ever did, instead keeping my interaction with the players to a minimum. My dad and hockey were the reason I was there, not to meet a new batch of stinky boys that would be gone in two weeks’ time anyhow.
That day was different.
That day, I moved down to the ice so the boy with so much potential couldn’t help but hear me.
“Lunge into your turns more. You’ll move with more power and won’t fall behind as easily.”
“Me?” he asked, removing his helmet as he paused to look me over the same way I did him. Sweat soaked his light hair, dripping and running down his face. It didn’t take away from his gleaming blue eyes that pierced me so directly I didn’t think my feet could have moved from that spot even if I had tried.
“Yes. Bend your knee more, it will make a difference.”
“Who are you?” He blinks at me a few times as if he hadn’t noticed me at all until I spoke. Maybe he hadn’t. But I was one of only a few spectators allowed in to watch and since I didn’t take much time to brush my hair back then, it was a mass of messy curls making me even harder to miss.
“That’s coach’s daughter, dude,” another boy said, bumping Cillian as he moved past into the tunnel.
“I have a name, dude,” I said with an exaggerated eye roll. I idolized my dad, but I hated when someone wrapped my entire identity around him. When I turned back to Cillian, he was smiling.
“What is it?”
“What?” I asked, confused.
“Your name?” he asked, beaming.
“Thanks for the tip, Isla Cole. I’ll work on it.”
Work on it, he did. By the end of camp that year, he could almost keep up with faster skaters. The following summer, he was faster than most. After the first day, he pulled his helmet off and searched for me in the stands to wave at me. I reciprocated and moved down to the ice.
“Much,” I confirmed. “Did you get a skating coach or something?”
“No, we can’t afford that. I hung out at the rink when the figure skaters were getting coached,” he said. “You can learn a lot if you listen and watch.”
“That’s smart. Figure skaters are great with edge manipulation and body position. Dad sometimes has some come in to teach his players a thing or two.”
“Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to play for him.”
“Keep up the hard work, and you’ll play where you want,” my dad chimed in, stepping up behind Cillian.
“Now leave my daughter alone.”
Cillian flushed, and I chuckled. Dad liked to come across as a hard ass, but he was a big cinnamon roll.
“Yes, sir,” Cillian repeated, then took off.
Conversations with him were similar the following few years. Brief and revolved around his improving skills. He wanted my approval, I supposed. Though I didn’t understand why.
I didn’t go with Dad to the camp when I was fifteen, opting instead to take a trip with my grandparents and Willa to San Diego. The beach sounded better than Grand Forks, North Dakota, for my summer before high school. That meant I didn’t see how much Cillian Wylder had improved. It must have been great though, because the following year, he moved to Seattle to play center on my dad’s WHL team.
Cillian scored two goals in that first game with the Timberwolves. After, he looked for me while I waited outside the locker room for my dad.
“Am I good enough for you to go on a date with me, Isla Cole?”
“You know you’ve never even told me your name, right?”
“Cillian Wylder, but I think you already know that,” he answered, eyes sparkling at me. He’d been a cute boy, but he was past that now. At sixteen, he was getting handsome, chiseled and defined in ways guys were when they spent all their free time working out, instead of partying in the woods with cheap beer and cheaper joints.
“Do you have a death wish, Wylder?”
“No, I asked your dad first.”
“So, you’re either brave or stupid. What did he tell you?”
“He said, and I quote,” he said, using his fingers to emphasize the word, ‘‘‘You can fucking try but she’ll probably eat you alive for having the audacity to ask me before you ask her.’”
“He’s not wrong.” Dad always knew me well, but he also taught me well. “Ask me again after your next game, and we’ll see if your playing can earn a shot with me or not.”
“Deal.” He extended his hand out for me to shake. I grasped it with a smirk and a shake of my head.
The motherfucker scored a hat trick the following game.
“Dinner tomorrow?” he asked after the game.
“Why me?” We had been acquainted in a strange way for six years, but all added up, our conversations never lasted more than an hour tops. He knew nothing about me other than who my dad was, which made me suspicious of his intentions.
“Why not you?”
“Answer the question, Wylder. Or it’s a no for me.”
“You were the first one, other than my mother, who saw potential in me,” he said, his thumb nervously pulling at his bottom lip. “Yes or no, Isla Cole?”
The words were enough, but the anxious gesture was what tossed me over the edge I’d been teetering on. I was just a normal girl, nothing particularly special or outstanding, yet I made this beautiful, talented boy’s confidence waver.
Such small things wreaked havoc on a young girl’s confidence and heart.
I said yes and the following night he took me to the cheapest burger joint in town. It impressed me because he didn’t care how different we were. It didn’t matter to him that I had money, and he didn’t; he wasn’t trying to impress me in ways that didn’t count. Instead, he leaned on his charming personality and our mutual love of hockey.
I met the love of my life at ten, though I didn’t love him until we were sixteen.
Willa once asked me if I’d known then how my life would take shape, if I’d have still agreed to that first date with Cillian Wylder.
“Yes,” I’d answered her with a confident nod. Despite it all, yes.
Three years later
“How does it feel to be the second all around pick in the NHL draft, Wylder?”
“It doesn’t even rank compared to being inside you, Isla,” he grunts as he thrusts into me. It’s been a long, long two days with the draft but we’re finally back home in Seattle. Regardless of how exhausted we are, he couldn’t wait to get me undressed as soon as we walked through the door of our condo.
Cillian has always been insatiable since we first lost our virginity to each other at sixteen. It didn’t happen right away; we’d been dating for months before the subject even came up. Neither of us felt rushed or pressured about it. But once we did take it that far, it opened a floodgate on his libido.
Cillian isn’t a selfish lover, nothing like what I expected after hearing other girls talk about sex with their boyfriends. Never once has my boyfriend finished before me. Hell, he practically makes a game out of seeing how many orgasms he can give me before his own. Competitive even with himself.
We’re in his favorite position; him propped up against my headboard, my knees on either side of his hips while he pumps them up into me. When he really needs the connection with me, this is how we start. Cillian says he likes to watch my face, but I know he also likes the easy access to my pussy and breasts. Regardless, this is how he makes love to me. As opposed to post game sex which is more just adrenaline rush fucking. Not that I don’t love that, too.
“You’re so beautiful, Isla. I don’t tell you enough,” he says, one hand cupping my cheek as the other weighs my breast.
“You tell me all the time.” I laugh, and he doubles his thrusts. “Oh, god.”
“Don’t argue with me.” He lifts me off his dick. “Get up here,” he says, beckoning me with his chin as he guides my core to his mouth after scooting his body down into a lying position.
When I picked out this bed, I didn’t consider how often I’d appreciate this upholstered headboard being both comfortable for cushioning my head banging against it as Cillian rails me, and for times like now when I can grip it as I ride his mouth.
Cillian moans at his first taste of me, his tongue dipping in when his fingers spread me apart. My hips sway with a slow rhythm at first, picking up pace the more enthusiastic he gets. Gripping my ass cheek in one hand, he pushes the fingers of his other into my pussy, all while his mouth focuses on my clit. In seconds, I’m exploding on a scream, eyes blurring at the edges.
“Fuck, I love how you taste,” he says, still lapping up my release.
“You tell me that all the time, too.”
“Reminders of how perfect you are never hurt,” he tells me, once again maneuvering me into the position he wants me.
“Spread wider for me, Isla,” Cillian commands, bringing me out of my orgasm brain fog. I make room for him between my legs, and he wastes no time slamming his hard cock back inside me. “Give me that mouth.”
I arch my neck up to mold my lips against his, and he grips the back of my neck with his large hand to remove any discomfort. Holding me, he kisses me deeply until he’s fully spent inside me.
Pulling my legs up over his hips, I lock my ankles around his lower back and my arms around his shoulders.
“I’m proud of you, Cill.”
“Wouldn’t be here without your advice,” he mumbles into my neck, making me laugh.
“I just gave you a simple pointer at the age of ten. You did all the work.”
“You gave me simple pointers every summer and I took each one as a mission. Don’t sell it short.”
“Whatever, Superstar.” I press a kiss to the top of his head that rests on my chest.
“It’s going to suck being so far away every season.”
“We’ll figure it out,” I promise. His contract is for three years. I have two more years of school here in Seattle.
“I’ll be making real money now. It will be nice not to have to rely on you for so much and be able to take care of you.”
“You know that’s never been an issue.”
“It’s an issue for me.”
“I get that.”
He rolls us so we’re on our sides, face-to-face.
“I love you,” he tells me, brushing the hair off my face.
“I love you, too.”
I’m not perfect, though he makes me feel like I am. But maybe that’s because we’re perfect for each other. Cillian is very tolerant of my fiery temper and impatience; in return, I’m accepting of how his schedule rarely can prioritize me. He works hard and when he gets a break, sometimes he needs to entertain himself with things that allow him to decompress. If that means he needs a couple of hours playing Modern Warfare or whatever, I don’t complain. I’m perfectly capable of entertaining myself on the other side of the couch. I love video games anyway, so we often play one together.
In the three years we’ve been together, we haven’t had many hard times or arguments. Speedbumps, sure, but nothing that we haven’t gotten past with anything more than a thoughtful conversation. He shows me the same type of care and support that my family does, and I do the same for him.
“We’re going to be okay.” The words are meant to reassure me, but I think he’s trying to convince himself. And for the first time, I’m nervous about it all.
* * *
The months pass too quickly, and before we know it, the day of Cillian’s departure is upon us. My anxiety has been at an all-time high these last two days while helping him make last-minute arrangements and pack his belongings. Though, I’ve tried very hard to hide it from him, I know he’s picked up on some of it.
We’ve been so connected at the hip since we were sixteen that it’s going to be a huge adjustment, not to mention that I’ll miss him like crazy. Everything since draft day has been a whirlwind. Cillian has dealt with so much press and paperwork, on top of the logistics of moving across the country. Luckily, one of the guys on the team, Torsten, is someone he knows from youth camps and has offered to let him room with him. It’s made everything easier, since Cill only had to worry about clothes and gear instead of apartment and furniture shopping.
It makes me feel better knowing he won’t be completely alone either.
“You’ll be there for the first game?”
“Quit asking, you know I will be. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.” I press another kiss to his lips.
“I’m going to miss you,” he tells me between kisses.
“The way you’ve been stripping me naked every chance you get kind of clued me in to that.”
“Two months is a long time; I’m just stocking up.”
“Orgasms? You’re stocking up orgasms?”
“No, brat. I’m stocking up on you.”
“Time will fly, Cill. You’ll be busy with practices, and I’ll get a jump on all my classes. Before you know it, you’ll be scoring your first goal in your NHL game and then fucking me blind afterward.”
He pulls me closer, wrapping his arms more tightly around me. So much shorter than him, I have to tip my chin up on his chest to maintain eye contact. Cill has grown to six-foot-two, three quarters of a ruler taller than me.
“We’ll video call every night,” he says almost like it’s a question.
“Hey.” I squirm my arms under his so I can reach to cup his cheeks. “I’m never going to not be there for you. If you need me, call, and I’ll answer. Night or day.”
We’re both fully aware that Cillian is closer to me than anyone in his life. Including his mother. They love each other, unconditionally, of course. But he grew up so much on his own until he moved here, and we started dating. It’s made us very dependent on one another. For all the parts I hate about him moving away, maybe it’s good for us in ways too.
Maybe this will make us stronger as both people and a couple.
“Who’s going to hang out with you when there’s a thunderstorm?”
“In two years, we’ll probably only have two at most.” I’m a storm chaser at heart, completely fascinated by them. While we get plenty of windstorms here, thunder and lightning are fairly rare. I love them when they do occur. “I’ll call you if there is one and you can still hang out with me.”
“Not the same,” he mumbles, kissing my forehead for punctuation.
“No, not at all. But it’s temporary and this is a huge accomplishment. Live it, Cillian. I’m not going anywhere.”
“It’s good advice, son,” my dad says, walking up behind Cillian. He has come with me to drop him at the airport, but he kept his distance while we said our final goodbyes. “Take it to heart. Enjoy every moment you get in the league; it doesn’t last forever.”
“Am I supposed to be this nervous?”
“Yes, Cillian.” Dad laughs. “I’d be seriously worried if you weren’t. You’re going to kill it, kid.”
“Get a move on, or you’re going to miss your flight,” Dad tells him, patting his shoulder and stepping away.
“I love you, Isla Cole,” he says, dropping his forehead to mine.
“I love you, too, Cillian Wylder-future Hall of Famer.” He laughs, but I shut that down by sealing our mouths together with a kiss full of love, pride, and promise. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Be good,” he says, wetness shining in his eyes that I know matches mine.
“You know it.”
I don’t take my eyes off him until his large build and messy blond hair are out of sight. He turns back once, sending me a reassuring smile at the last second before disappearing. Then my dad’s arm lands on my shoulder, giving me a comforting side hug.
“You ready to go home, Isla?”
“Yeah, Daddy,” I say through the tears.
“The two of you will be okay,” he says when we’re back in the car.
“How do you know?” I ask, turning down the radio that plays as the ignition starts. I want to believe what he’s telling me, but I can’t help being frightened of our distance. Or of his new life that won’t include much of me. Insecure isn’t a word I think anyone would use to describe me… before now, anyway.
“This is how,” he says, unlocking his phone and pulling up an app. “This was your seventeenth birthday. It’s the day I decided to stop hating the kid for dating you.”
He’s pulled up a folder labeled Isla. The first picture is Cillian and me sitting at the table of the restaurant we went to with my family on that birthday. I’m blowing out candles on a ridiculously elaborate cake, but Cillian’s sight is focused on me. Full of the same love and pride I feel for him every day. As I flip through, there are so many more pictures just like the first one; me doing something and him watching me.
“He loves you the way men love a woman they’ve been with forever. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, you’re both young and life is throwing some major changes your way. But in the end, I think you’re going to be okay. Love like that doesn’t just go away.”
“We’ve never spent any lengthy time apart, it’s scary when I let myself think about it. I’ve been so excited for him, but now that it’s happening, I keep thinking he’s going to see that he doesn’t need me?”
“Love isn’t about needing each other. You want each other, which is much more powerful and profound. Hockey is a hard life; you know that because you’ve grown up in it. And you’ve seen how it can work.”
I’ve never seen my mom worried or stressed when Dad was away, be it for a short trip or an extended one. They have always had an unwavering faith in one another. He has never given any sign that he’s been anything but true to her, and he’s always so happy to get home after a trip to see ‘his ladies’.
The same can be said for Cillian. Never in our three years together have I had doubts that he’s been with anyone else when he’s away. I don’t doubt him now either, only the situation. The time.
If we’re as strong as I think we are, and we’re meant to be, then this is just a stepping stone. One of what will surely be many in our long lives together.
If we can survive the next couple of years, we can survive anything.