I’m so, so so excited (yes, three times excited) for the third book in the Dallas Demons Series, Breakout, to be released this Wednesday! In anticipation of release day, not only do I have the first chapter here for you to read, but the second chapter, too! Happy Monday! 🙂
The One Online Dating Service Profile Question: Which season is your favorite? Spring, summer, winter, or fall?
My write-in answer: Hockey Season.
This feels like home.
I can’t explain why, but there’s something magical about being at an ice rink. The cold, bracing air. The crisp scent of a fresh sheet of ice. The sound of skates cutting against the surface.
I draw the air in deep and slowly exhale.
I’m truly in my happy place now.
I move down the steps, already knowing where I’m going to sit. I adjust the strap on my tote bag to keep it up on my shoulder and zero in on my favorite seats in the Dallas Demons practice facility.
I take a seat, close to last row at the top, and set my gingerbread latte down next to me. I open my tote and retrieve my iPhone, a pen, and my notebook, placing them in my lap.
And as soon as the Demons take to the ice to practice this Saturday morning, I’ll start shooting.
I tug down on the long sleeves of my black-and-white-striped T-shirt, the one I’ve layered under a white cropped chunky sweater this morning on this chilly November day. I have loved hockey since I was a little girl, when my dad took me to my first Demons game. My goal is to work in sports TV someday. And in my dream, I’m working as an editor on hockey productions.
But two years after graduating from TCU, I’m still stuck taking freelance jobs doing graphics and design work for corporate accounts. I’m lucky to get the experience, I know that. But the work is mind-numbing. I’m not excited about what I do, and I ache to edit again.
I smile to myself as I think about it. I love editing. I enjoy the challenge of laying down video, set to the right music, with the perfect graphics to provide a punch to a viewer within seconds. I love working on opens—the opening sequence to get the viewer set for the show—and who would think that it can take days to get that forty-five-second piece done just right?
My phone vibrates in my lap. I glance down and see it’s my roommate and best friend, Kenley.
“Hello?” I say into my cell while reaching for my coffee and taking a sip.
“Hi, Lexi,” Kenley says in a rush. “I know you are at practice shooting, so I’ll be quick.”
I smile. My best friend knows I come to every Demons Saturday practice when they are in town, because it’s a great chance to record some videos for me to practice my edits on and save to my YouTube channel. I might be doing bank websites now, but I’m determined to fight my way into the doors of the Dallas office of Total Access Total Sports.
“No worries, what’s up?” I say, picking up on the excited tone in her voice.
“I just landed a huge event for Confection Consultations,” Kenley explains, referring to her chocolate and dessert consulting business. “I’ve been asked by the Demons for Dallas Foundation to coordinate all the dessert tables for Casino Night with the Dallas Demons!”
“Kenley, that’s huge,” I cry, excited for her. “Does Nate know yet?” I ask, referring to her boyfriend, Nate Johansson, who happens to be one of the superstars of the Dallas Demons.
I smile at the irony. I’ve been a fan my entire life. Kenley barely watched hockey for more than five minutes prior to meeting Nate. But not only does she end up meeting a Dallas Demon but falling madly in love with one.
In the meantime, I’m in the stands shooting them.
But there’s no doubt Nate and Kenley were meant to be, and I’m so happy for them.
I bite my lip. And maybe, just maybe, I can find my own Nate someday.
“No, he doesn’t,” Kenley says, interrupting my thoughts. “I texted him to call me when he’s done with practice. I’m so excited about this. I want to make Nate proud, you know?”
I grin. “He’s already proud of you. Now you get to show everyone in the Demons organization how crazy talented you are.”
“You’re coming to this event with me,” Kenley says. “And then you can drool all over Harrison Flynn all you want.”
I feel my cheeks burn hot. Harrison Flynn is the captain of the Dallas Demons, and he’s smoking hot. Kenley knows he’s my celebrity crush, and what makes this whole thing even weirder is that Kenley is now friends with Harrison’s wife, Kylie. And I actually got to meet Harrison and Kylie in a social setting last week, at a party at Nate’s house, and all I could think of was how surreal the whole scene was.
My life really is like that stupid Kevin Bacon separation game, I muse wryly. But all roads lead back to the Dallas Demons instead of Kevin Bacon.
“Shut up,” I say, grinning.
Kenley laughs. “Okay, I’ve got to go. I need to start planning this menu. And you are coming, Lexi Nicole Stewart. So don’t even try to fight me on it.”
“Ha, I know you’re serious when you use my full name.”
We hang up, and I swipe open the video recorder on my phone. The players take to the ice, and I spot Nate and Harrison right away. Nate sees me and waves, and I wave back.
Harrison waves at me, too.
I give an embarrassed smile back, thinking of all the pictures of him I have stashed on my iPhone.
Thank God he doesn’t have the ability to read minds, I think wryly.
But it’s still so insane to think I know him on a social level. And Nate. Dallas Demons. I hang out with them now, not simply shoot them, and I can’t wrap my head around it yet.
Just like I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Kenley’s sister, Amanda, is married to Ryan, a producer at Total Access Total sports.
The place I dream of working someday.
And while Ryan has kept his eyes open for me at Total Access Total Sports, nothing has come up that I would be a fit for.
So all roads around me lead to the Dallas Demons, except for the one I’m driving on apparently.
I reach inside my tote and fumble around for my hairband. I retrieve it, then take a quick glance around the rink as I wind my long auburn hair into a messy knot at the nape of my neck. I recognize a lot of the people: the ones who always come to take pictures with their professional gear, the hardcore fans, girls chasing players, and of course, me, the nerd doing video edits.
I’m about to start shooting when my phone beeps with a message. I check and roll my eyes. It’s another prompt question from The One Online Dating Service. And for the 107th time since I signed up, I question my sanity. I’ve met nothing but freaks and liars through their service, and the questions they prompt are supposed to help match me with The One. I put in my cancellation notice last week, but for some wacky reason I keep getting these questions. So now I answer them in my head purely for my own entertainment.
Like what guy, outside of the ones here, would love my answer of Hockey Season as the best season of all? In Texas? Yeah, right. This is football country. So not many. And while I love the idea of the right guy coming along, as I want what Kenley has with Nate and Amanda has with Ryan, the odds of The One suddenly falling into my lap are about . . . zero.
I delete the stupid question and go back to shooting.
I start focusing on different players, video the coaches instructing the drills, and record some fun shots of Nate and Harrison goofing around in a hockey stick battle like two little boys. I make a note to show Kenley that when I see her at home later today. She’ll love it.
Then I capture some beautiful slapshots by Matt Rhinelander. The young forward is crazy talented, but from what I’ve gleaned from social media, he’s a bit wild. But hell, he’s twenty-one and has barely turned that. I’m only twenty-four, but I’ve always been older than my years. And I never had to grow up with all social media focused on me, either.
I think of a great song to match with his wicked slapshot and reach for my notebook to jot it down. I rest my phone on my lap and flip the page over. This song would be per—
“Puck!” a baritone voice from behind me yells.
Right as I jerk my head up, a guy is over the top of me, shoving me down into the metal bleacher. I lose my balance and fall backward, with the guy landing on top of me. I bang my head, my phone goes sailing, and so does my coffee as I feel it splatter against my hand.
I hear the puck ricochet off the bleacher behind me, creating a loud bang as the frozen puck bounces off the metal.
And that puck would have hit me in the head if this guy hadn’t pushed me down.
“I’m so sorry,” the guy murmurs as he pushes himself up. “I didn’t want you to get hit, and I reacted. Are you okay? Did I hurt you?”
Oh my God.
I can’t think.
My head is smarting but that’s irrelevant.
Because right in front of me is the hottest guy I’ve ever seen.
And his incredible blue eyes—ones the color of the deep Mediterranean Sea—are waiting for me to answer.
The One Online Dating Service Profile Question: How do you go out on a Saturday morning? Do you dress and get made up for a trip to the grocery store? Or are you a yoga pants and ponytail kind of girl?
My write-in answer: Damn it, damn it, damn it, why am I not wearing makeup today?
I somehow manage to remember how to sit up, but I’ve lost the ability to speak.
Because crouched across from me is the sexiest man I’ve ever laid eyes on.
This guy is hot. He has a Mediterranean look—olive skin, jet-black hair that is cropped short, and a sexy five o’clock shadow shading his jawline. He’s broad across the chest. No wonder he crushed me when he fell on top of me. And he smells amazing, like spice and cedar. I noticed that the second he pinned me to the bleacher with his rock-hard chest.
“Are you okay?” he asks again, and I hear concern reflected in his deep voice. “Did you hurt your head? Is it cut?”
I notice his gaze is holding steady on mine, and I’m struck by how blue his eyes are. I’ve never seen eyes that color before.
I instinctively reach for the back of my head. And then I feel the messy knot I’ve forced my hair into.
Oh shit. I totally forgot my hair is a haphazard knot.
I also remember I have no makeup on.
Gah, I’m sure I look like a hot freaking mess.
And as a result of this realization, I want to grab my stuff and dive under a bleacher.
“Um,” I say, heat coloring my cheeks as I think of how bad I must appear right now, “yes, yes, I’m fine. And thank you for looking out for me. I should’ve been paying attention.”
He picks up my phone, holding it out to me. “You’re welcome. I knew you wouldn’t see it, and I didn’t want you to get hit in the head. Pucks are dangerous when they’re flying like that.”
I take my phone from his hand, and as our fingers touch, an electric jolt runs down my spine.
“And you’re sure about your head? You hit it pretty hard.”
“It’s sore but I’ll live,” I say reassuringly, smiling at him.
“Good, living is a favorable prognosis,” he quips, a smile lighting up his face.
And his smile is gorgeous, revealing a perfect set of white teeth.
For the first time in years, my heart skips inside my chest.
I reach for my latte cup and place it on the bleacher next to us. “Yes, very favorable. The prognosis for my latte, however, is grave. Half-gone,” I say in a serious tone as I shake the cup. “For a coffee addict this is an elevated level crisis.”
“Hmmm,” he says, glancing at the cup, “so while I saved you from a puck hit, I deprived you of your caffeine. You might want to reevaluate how you feel about me. Because the best I can get you now is arena coffee, which is like offering you a cup of tar.”
My heart jumps again. He has a good a sense of humor, and my pulse accelerates in response to this discovery.
“Yet you make it sound so inviting,” I say dryly.
Now I’m testing him. Most guys don’t get my sense of humor.
But as this guy laughs deeply, I realize he does.
I gather up my notebook and pen. We both rise together, and we’re mere inches apart. Once again I can smell his intoxicating cologne, and I inhale the scent, much like I did the ice when I first walked into the rink.
“I’m Niko,” he says.
“Lexi,” I say, smiling at him.
“Well, normally I don’t shove women into bleachers and fall on them to meet them, but it’s nice to meet you, Lexi.”
I laugh, and he does, too.
“It’s nice to meet you, too,” I say. Then I lift an eyebrow. “Even if you did try to give me a concussion in the process.”
His eyes sparkle at my smart-ass comment.
“I bet a puck to the head would give you a worse concussion that me falling on top of you.”
“True,” I concede.
And not nearly as much fun, I think to myself.
I sit back down, avoiding the spilled coffee on the step in front of me, and Niko takes a seat next to me, which makes butterflies shift in my stomach.
“So you shoot the players?” Niko asks, shifting his gaze back to the Demons practicing on the ice.
Okay. Niko hasn’t run off after falling on top of me, elected to move to the seat next to me, and is now engaging me in conversation.
I pause for a moment.
Could he be interested in me?
I shake the thought from my head. Riiiiight. Guys like Niko are never interested in girls like me.
Guys who are hot like Niko are interested in gorgeous girls.
Girls like Kenley.
I’m the girl they talk with about Demons hockey.
Shit. I absently rub the back of my head. Maybe I do have a concussion from hitting that bleacher after all.
“Um, yeah, I video practices,” I admit. “I like to edit.”
Now I have his full attention. “No kidding?”
His eyes light up again, and I feel a tingling sensation sweep through me.
“What do you edit?”
Since odds are zero that Niko would be interested in the redhead with messy hair and no makeup, I might as well reveal my inner nerd to him.
“I edit little features of the Demons. I try to make it whenever they have a Saturday practice at home so I can shoot. Then I edit the video and add music and effects, just to see what I can do with it.”
Niko’s eyes remain locked on mine. “Why the Demons?”
“Because I’m a Puck Slut.”
Niko’s eyes widen in surprise, and I flash him a smile.
“I’m kidding. I’m not a Puck Slut,” I say. “I love hockey. I have ever since I went to my first game as a little girl.”
A slow, sexy grin passes over his face. “I don’t know, Puck Sluts love hockey, too.”
I laugh. “Love hockey or the players?”
We both share a laugh.
“Still, editing is an interesting hobby to have,” Niko says.
“I wish it were more than a hobby,” I admit, picking at the edge of my notebook. “I would love to edit sports. That’s what I studied in school. TV and editing.”
I jerk my head toward him. “Are you serious?”
Niko grins. “Yeah, I majored in Electronic Media and Film at Townson University. That’s north of Baltimore.”
I feel my jaw drop. “I can’t believe it. I was in the Film-TV-Digital Media program at TCU.”
“So you really do know how to edit,” Niko says.
I nod enthusiastically. “I do, and I love it.”
“I can tell.”
“Your eyes reflect it,” Niko says softly.
My breath catches in my throat. He noticed that? Nobody has ever noticed that before.
“You can see that?” I ask, surprised.
“Yeah. Your eyes lit up when you mentioned the program at TCU.”
Oh I really hope he can’t read my eyes right now because they would scream how interested I am in him.
“So what do you do?” I ask, trying to refocus my brain. “Are you with the media?”
“I am,” Niko says. “But I’m new to Dallas. I recently moved here, actually.”
“Really?” I ask, curious. “Where from? Baltimore?”
I furrow my brow. Somewhere in the back of my brain I remember Amanda talking to me and Kenley about someone she knew moving here from Seat—
I’m trying to pull it out of my memory when I hear a familiar voice call Niko’s name.
“Hey, Niko, are you ready for our meeting?”
I turn around and see Ryan approach us. I wrinkle my brow in confusion.
“Ryan?” I know Amanda’s husband had filled in on the Demons package while they were searching for a new producer, as they abruptly had to fire theirs a month ago. But now that they had hired one, I didn’t expect to see Ryan at the rink anymore.
“Hey, Lexi, I didn’t know you knew Niko,” Ryan said, flashing me a smile.
Suddenly I remember who Amanda said was moving from Seattle.
The new Dallas Demons TV producer.
And with a shock I realize who that is.
You can preorder Breakout here: myBook.to/8823