Book Description: When an accident takes the lives of her mother and step-father, Sophie moves to Verona to care for her brother, Christopher. Sophie struggles to connect with him, but can’t find common ground. Obsessed with anything hockey, its Christopher’s greatest passion and the one thing that will help her get closer to him. She finds an ally in Firebird Callahan, the loud-mouthed center for the Verona Wolves. Not only does Callahan school her on hockey, he gives her the cringe-worthy nickname, Mistletoe.
Excerpt from Verona Wolves: Broken Stick
Five minutes later, Sophie arrived at the ice arena. Christopher told her to park in the lot, but she only found a parking garage. It said ARENA PARKING, so it should be fine.
She scurried to the first door she saw. It didn’t have a sign posted near it, but women came out of it, so she assumed it was an entrance. It should take her where she needed to go.
A lady on her way out held the door for Sophie, and Sophie thanked her with a smile.
She took Christopher to buy hockey gear yesterday, and he left his stick in her car. Now, he had hockey practice and didn’t have what he needed. She wanted his hockey season to be perfect, but it was already bumpy.
She and her sister still scrambled to get the hang of this parenting thing, and Christopher didn’t give them any breaks. But given what happened to him in the last few weeks, he should be moody, so she let it slide.
Sophie opened the door to the main arena and peeked inside. A zamboni made runs over the ice. The stands held thousands, and television screens and advertisements covered the walls.
She realized this wasn’t the place. This was the arena for the Verona Wolves, a team part of World League Hockey.
Sophie backtracked. There must be a hallway leading to the public rink. The ramp’s directions led her here and there wasn’t another rink on the street, so it was close.
She trotted through the halls searching for it. Weighted down, she toted a bag with her tablet and work materials in it, a zip-up hoodie over her arm, and Christopher’s hockey stick. She wore Christopher’s Pup’s T-shirt, but it was tighter than she thought it would be, and her amble breasts stretched the logo.
Sophie tucked the stick under her arm to read the note from her boss. Her attention glued to her cell as she typed and walked to her destination. She banged into the wall a few times, and paused near an intersection to complete the message.
A man dashed around the corner and knocked into her. The impact slammed her into the concrete wall. Sophie landed on her brother’s stick and her back burned. She gritted her teeth as she hissed, pain running down her spine.
She dropped the stick, and it fell to the floor.
The man startled and ripped off his headphones. He held a phone, and it appeared to be an accident. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.” He had slung a duffle bag over his shoulder and wore a tight black long-sleeved shirt and loose track pants. “You all right?” He shoved his earphones and cell into his sack.
“What are you made of? Concrete?” Sophie pressed her lips together, her jaw rigid as she groaned and rubbed her back. She spoke under her breath in Italian, “Hard as rock.” She readjusted the strap on her bag over her shoulder and checked the floor for the stick.
“Shit, I’m told.” He smoothed his wet reddish-blond hair as he sought to make a joke.
When she went for the stick, he swept it up before she did.
“Must be coprolite, because it really hurt,” she replied in a whiney tone as she ripped the hockey stick from him with a swift hand.
“Corpro what?” Still in a stupor, he gawked at her with a vacant expression.
“You know—fossilized feces—like rock.” She shifted her focus to the stick as she examined it for damage. She noted the split wood on the shaft. “Damn it,” she uttered in Italian. She stomped her foot as she ran her hand over the fracture, her pout growing. “I snapped it. Christopher will be so mad at me. I just bought this stupid thing yesterday, too.” She grumbled as she banged the butt of the stick on the tile and scanned the surrounding signs.
“Lemme see.” In a lightning-quick action, he stole the stick and surveyed the damage.
She stepped closer and fawned over the stick’s injury. “It’s bad, isn’t it?” she whispered in a babyish voice. Sophie inhaled the cologne mixed with a cedarwood and lavender body wash radiating off him. The fresh scent ignited butterflies in her belly, but now was not the time to flirt, so she gulped and drove back the interest. Because of this seductive-smelling man of steel, Christopher would have to sit out on his first practice, and he would be livid with her.
His eyes narrowed as he checked out the stick from various angles. “Ouch—sorry. You must’ve hit it exactly right. Happens with those cheaper brands.”
“Cheap my ass,” she breathed. “They are not.” She crammed her cell in her back-jean pocket and was furious with herself. Stretchy, her jeans hugged her body and revealed the outline of her phone.
“Who’s Christopher?” He gave her a quick once over. “Your boyfriend?” His question was sarcastic, but she couldn’t tell if it was a joke or he hit on her.
“My brother,” she corrected. She shied from the dapper man’s eyes. On closer scrutiny, she noted his roots were flaming red, and he added blond highlights to tone it down. She wasn’t fond of redheads, nor did she date jocks. His flirting wouldn’t get to her.
“He plays junior hockey.” She seized the stick and studied the damage further.
“Junior hockey?” Confused, his eyes narrowed, but his manner was cordial. “The Wolves are a World League team.” He shifted a three-foot duffle bag on his shoulder. Black, it bore a prominent sports brand emblem on the side. It resembled the hockey bag Christopher threw his gear in for practice.
“No, like kids’ hockey.” She was unsure of her answer and fumbled with her words.
“Kids? Like pee wee? Bantam?”
“What’s that?” She met his gaze and though he found the exchange humorous, she didn’t.
He had a cheerful smile, his teeth an unnatural white like he bleached them. His top row was perfect and straight, and she guessed they were false. If he played hockey, it wouldn’t surprise her.
“Kids hockey.” He slicked back his hair with both hands, but it tumbled down again and fell into his face.
After discharging a huff, she bounced the stick on the ground to ease her nervousness. “Christopher plays for the Pups. He’s a freshman in high school.”
“Oh, he’s a Midget, eh?” He motioned toward her shirt.
“Midget,” he spoke in a deeper tone as he sought not to snicker. “That’s what they call kids his age.”
He drifted closer and picked at the yellow tape woven around the rounded end of the stick. Christopher taped it yesterday on the car ride home, and this guy peeled it up with ease. It must not be stuck tight.
His attention ticked to the logo on her breast. His eyes lingered and he fisted the toe of the stick.
“Really?” She laughed off her ignorance.
“Now you know.” In play, he rattled the stick until she met his gaze.
She fisted the shaft and kept the stick steady. “Sorry, I’m not familiar with hockey ranks.”
“Apparently,” he quipped as he withdrew his hand to tuck hair behind his ear. “And I was just fucking with you.” He snickered and danced on his feet as he waved the discussion away with his hand. “I know who the Pups are.”
“And I don’t mean to be grumpy, it’s just—”
Her phone beeped, and Sophie pulled it out of her pocket to view the message from her brother.
You bring my stick?!
She huffed and palmed her forehead. Sophie pleaded with him, “You know hockey stuff. Can you help me? Is this fixable for the night?” She tapped the end of the stick on the tile and gestured to the damage. Sophie joked as she shot him a stressed smile. “Like, with tape? Don’t you guys use it to fix everything?”
“Tape doesn’t fix everything.” He threw her a mischievous smile and held in a chuckle. A genuine redhead with light skin, there was a troupe of freckles dancing over his nose and dotting his thick neck.
She pushed her lips together and studied the stick, her attention fixated on the break. “Darn,” she grunted. “I thought maybe it could be a temporary fix.”
He plucked at the tape on the curved end of the stick again and brushed against her side. The flirt caused her to meet his eyes. “But, hey, since it was my fault, I’ll get you one he can use. I’d hate to see the kid have to sit out on a game because he doesn’t have one.”
“Thanks.” Her tone brightened with his offer. “And it’s practice, silly. They don’t start games until October.” She giggled as she took in his expression. “As a hockey guy, you should know.”
“’Ya got me there.” He shrugged and showed his palms. “Practice, then. How old did you say he is?”
“Fourteen—almost fifteen. His birthday is at the end of this month. The twentieth.”
She shivered and bounced the stick. They cranked the air conditioner up in here because of the ice, and there was a drastic temperature difference inside versus outside.
She set her bag down and put on the zip-up hoodie she carried. The emblem of Azure Magazine was on the front. Sophie picked up her bag, hoisted it over her shoulder, and met his gaze. “And thanks so much. You made a terrible day better.” She removed her hair from under the collar of her sweater.
“Glad to help…” He gestured for her to fill in her name with his hand.
“Sophie Moretti.” With a sunny smile, she held out her hand in greeting.
“Hunter.” He shook her hand, his grip tight, and his hands rough and calloused. Dry, the skin on his fists bore a few splits. He peeked at her fingers, rings covering most of them. She loved jewelry, and it showed.
“Nice to run into you, Hunter.” Her cheeks reddened as they shared a laugh.