Professional hockey player Zac Elliott is in top form. He's having the best season of his career, the local fans can't get enough of him, and he's in the middle of the most successful contract negotiations of his career. When the sexy little spark between Zac and the team owner's daughter blazes to life, no matter how forbidden, he can't resist.
Philanthropist Heather Ryan can't keep her hands off of Zac. If her father finds out, it could end Zac's career and ruin her reputation. What they share is deeply passionate and intensely private...until the press exposes their illicit relationship.
Now the fans have viciously turned against Heather, Zac's game is faltering, and even his team has deserted him. The only way out of the penalty box is for Zac to play hockey like life—and love—depends on it...
About the Author
Veronica Forand is an attorney and an award-winning writer of romantic suspense.
She's lived in Boston, London, Paris, Geneva, and Washington, DC and currently resides near Philadelphia. An avid traveler, she loves to roam across continents with her husband and kids in pursuit of skiing, scuba diving, and finding the perfect piece of chocolate.
She is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Kiss of Death, RWA's chapter for romantic suspense and mystery, the RWA Contemporary Romance Chapter, the Valley Forge Romance Writers, the Washington Romance Writers, and the International Thriller Writers.
Susan Scott Shelley
Susan Scott Shelley is an award-winning author of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America, and is active in several RWA chapters. For as long as she can remember, she has been in love with Love and all the sweeping grand gestures, heart-sighing moments, and quiet comforts it entails.
In addition to writing romances, she is also professional voiceover artist and enjoys lending her voice to a wide range of projects.
Her favorite things include running, sports, hard rock and old Hollywood movies. An unapologetic optimist, she believes life should be lived with laughter and a sense of wonder. She currently resides outside Philadelphia with her very own Superhero and spends her days writing about tough heroes, smart heroines, and love being the strongest magic there is.
Read an Excerpt
Flirting on Ice
An Atlantic City Hustlers Story
By Veronica Forand, Susan Scott Shelley, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Veronica Forand and Susan Scott Shelley
All rights reserved.
The soothing ocean and the bustle of the seaside businesses on the boardwalk contrasted perfectly with each other. The setting calmed Zac. He strolled along and watched families and tourists enjoying the cool fall weather. A little boy in an Atlantic City Hustlers hockey sweatshirt ran by him with an ice cream, never noticing the team captain only a few feet away. Zac preferred the anonymity. He needed this day to relax and clear his mind. He hopped off the boardwalk, his movements hindered by the large slice of pizza in his hand, and continued his walk on the beach.
A woman wearing jeans, an oversize Princeton sweatshirt, and a baseball hat that covered her hair and shadowed her face caught his attention. She was yanking a leash attached to a very large golden retriever.
The dog sat with its paws wedged into the sand, refusing to move no matter how hard the woman pulled. It leaned away from her, adding to the tension in the leash.
"Brindy, let's go. We can't stay here all day." She tugged the leash again, and the dog reacted by lying down. She threw up her hands and sat next to the animal.
Zac strolled over. He'd never owned a dog, although they always seemed to like him. Perhaps he wouldn't be much help, other than to carry it up to the woman's car.
"Is your dog okay?"
"Besides being lazy and stubborn, she's fine." Laughter tinged her words, and she remained in the sand, arms draped over her knees. Her long fingers rubbed the dog's head, where the fur faded from golden blond to snow white around its eyes and nose.
Fantastic, another hockey fan. Being one of the top scorers for the Hustlers, he was used to the attention, but today, he wanted to blend in and be just another guy out for a walk on the beach. The animal glanced up from her position on the sand to look at Zac, but didn't budge. The woman also turned her face toward him. Her sculpted eyebrows lifted as though surprised by his presence.
He almost did a double take. The incredible woman he'd been thinking about for months was sitting in front of him like a dream. "Heather."
Her face ignited into a smile, the same smile she wore when she skated around the arena helping out with the youth hockey program. Week after week, she spent time helping the kids learn to skate and cheered them on as they began to appreciate the game of hockey. Although her family foundation funded the program, she had no obligation to be there, but damn he was glad she always showed up. He'd managed to become closer to her during their time together, but wanted to know her on a more personal level.
"It's strange seeing you here on sand instead of on the ice." Her voice sounded amused and confident and comfortable.
"I agree." Typically, she wore a Hustlers jacket and tight jeans that formed her figure perfectly. He'd also never seen her long dark hair tucked into a baseball hat before.
She stood up. The dog didn't. Heather held her hand out to him. He went to shake it, but she dropped the leash in his hand instead.
"Brindy doesn't want to listen to me. Maybe you can convince her to move."
Brindy remained on her side in the sand, her near-death act given away by the occasional thumping of her tail when Zac scratched her neck. "I've never owned a dog, but I bet I can entice her to move. Can she eat pizza?"
"At this point, you can offer her a beer and a night out on the town, and I'd be okay with it."
He lifted a slice of pepperoni from his pizza and offered it to the dog. Brindy made a miraculous recovery. She bounded onto four paws and latched onto the pepperoni, barely missing his fingers. The dog shook herself, and sand flew in all directions. Zac shut his eyes, but neglected to protect his lunch. A faint dusting of sand now coated the cheese and sauce on his pizza. He handed it over to Brindy. She wagged her tail and swallowed in two happy gulps. So much for lunch.
Heather stood back a few steps, laughing. "I'm so sorry. Let me buy you another piece. Do you have time?"
He was meeting the team for dinner at McNally's Pub in a few hours, but the chance to have private time with Heather away from everyone's scrutiny made him want to cancel. Team captains, however, didn't miss team dinners to spend time with team owners' daughters. Then again, dinner was hours away. "Sure. I have time."
They strolled across the beach, Brindy lumbering along next to them, perfectly healthy and with a full stomach to boot.
* * *
Heather climbed the steps to the nearly empty boardwalk. The lazy Saturday she'd planned had taken an interesting turn. Zac Elliot, one of the most sought-after bachelors in Atlantic City, walked beside her, as gorgeous up close as he appeared in press photos and on TV screens. His looks only enhanced the good person underneath. In the four years he'd been a part of the Hustlers, they'd worked together often at her family foundation's various children's programs. Zac's involvement with the kids went beyond the typical player's role. His actions showed he cared as much as she did. Although they were together with the kids once a week, she'd never had the opportunity to spend any quality one-on-one time with him. More than anything, she wanted to get to know him better.
Brindy trotted by Zac's side, fully recovered from her feigned exhaustion. He reached down and rubbed her hair. "Great dog."
"She's been a part of my family for ten years, but she's actually my parents' dog. I'm watching her this weekend."
They entered a pizza shop heavily decked out in Thanksgiving decorations. Tangy tomato sauce, spices, and freshly baked dough permeated the small space.
Smiling at the man behind the counter, she scanned the menu then settled on her favorite. "A slice of Hawaiian pizza."
"I'll have the same." Zac's eyebrows lifted. "No one I know likes that topping but me."
"I can never order those toppings on a whole pie, because I'm the only one who would eat it."
"I'd share it with you." Zac pulled out his wallet.
"No, my treat, remember?" Heather waved him away and handed over a few bills.
The shop's owner walked out from behind the counter and greeted Brindy. He stared at Zac. "Hey, can I get your autograph for my kids?" At Zac's nod, he handed him a menu pad and a pen. "I played some hockey in my day. Here's how you can beat that hot-shot goalie when you play New York next week ..."
Heather stood back and observed last season's MVP in action. She smiled when Mr. Pizza switched topics, and Zac followed right along. Her previous opinion of him solidified. He really was a nice guy off the ice. Cute and kind, an irresistible combination. The stirring of attraction deepened. He seemed to care, about the fans, about her dog. The desire to get to know him heightened.
They agreed to sit on an outside bench overlooking the water while they ate. The sky, a brilliant, cloudless blue, kissed the dark waters of the Atlantic. Heather lifted her face to the sun and smiled. The sand, surf, and the salt air never failed to lift her spirits, but her elevated mood was due to Zac's presence.
Brindy settled at Zac's feet. Heather let her gaze wander over his well-worn sneakers, muscular calves, black mesh shorts, and gray sweatshirt pushed up to his elbows. The tattoo of a fighter plane covering his left forearm flexed when Zac folded his pizza in half and lifted the slice to his lips. The sun glinted off his dark blond hair and golden skin. She forced her focus away from his sculpted features and concentrated on the dog. "She's definitely made a new friend today."
Zac's blue eyes crinkled at the corners with his smile. "Dogs can tell when people like them. My high school hockey coach had a black Lab, Kane. I spent a lot of time with his family, and bonded with Kane. I always wanted a dog of my own."
His voice carried a wistfulness she wanted to soothe. "Why don't you get one now?"
"I'm not home enough. What's the point of having a pet if I have to hire a nanny to go with it? I'll get one someday, either after I've retired from hockey or when I have a family who can take care of him when I'm on the road."
"A black Lab?"
He nodded. "Just like Kane."
"I took the girls in my family foundation's empowerment program on a visit to an animal shelter last week. We helped with their adopt-a-thon. I keep saying I'm going to get a dog. Having someone to greet me when I get home would be nice."
"I wouldn't think you'd have to rely on a dog for that." Interest darkened his gaze, and he twisted his body to face her. He slid his arm to rest across the back of the bench, his fingertips almost close enough to touch her shoulder. The warmth from his thigh seeped through her jeans, and she had to stifle the urge to shift even closer to his inviting heat.
She smiled. Sitting so close to him, she could see the thin scar that ran along his jawline, from his cheek to his chin. A cold breeze buffeted the coast. She shivered and wrapped her arms around her torso.
His hand brushed her shoulder and sent a fresh wave of goose bumps rising. "You're freezing. We should move away from the water."
"I should probably get home. My mom is supposed to call soon, and she'll want to video chat so she can see Brindy."
"Where do you live? I'll walk you, in case Brindy goes down again." He grinned, and a dimple appeared on his cheek.
She laughed, and pointed in the direction of her beachfront apartment building. The walk home took twice as long as usual, with Brindy sniffing everything she encountered and Heather and Zac strolling side by side, close enough for their arms to brush with every step.
Too soon, they arrived at her building and rode the elevator to her penthouse. When they reached her front door, Heather turned. "Thanks for coming to Brindy's aid."
"Anytime." His lips quirked into a sexy smile that could charm anyone. He'd definitely charmed her.
Heather raised her gaze to meet his. "I'm glad I had the chance to get to know you better."
"Me, too." His eyes sparked with an intensity she'd seen on his face during a game. Concentration, pure and simple, and fully focused on her.
She looped the handle of the leash around her wrist. "Would you like to come in?"
"I have to go. I'm meeting the team for dinner soon." He shifted closer until only a few inches separated them.
"We just had pizza."
Strong fingers brushed the back of her hand. She nearly lost her grip on the leash, but then his hand closed over hers and his thumb continued the teasing caress on her skin. "I have to stop by a rookie's house first. Sweeney's not playing with his head on his shoulders, and I need to figure out why. Believe me, if the dinner wasn't a team thing, I'd blow it off to spend more time with you."
Her chin lifted, anticipation sweetening the moment. His head tilted toward her, his eyes darkening. Drawn like a magnet, she rested her hand on his chest, feeling the hard muscles bunch at her touch. Her fingers itched to crawl under the soft material of his sweatshirt and explore the hidden ridges.
He trailed a finger over her cheek, leaving her skin tingling. Tipping the brim of her baseball cap up, he licked his lips.
Her stomach clenched, and she thought her heart would pound right out of her chest. Zac's hand cupped her shoulder. Her lips parted, and the tug of attraction she'd experienced shifted into a tether tightening with every passing second.
His lips descended. And detoured to brush against her cheek. The heat of his touch sizzled her skin, but left her lips untouched, unquenched, and unsatisfied.
She blinked and met his stare, disappointed.
He again traced his fingertip down her cheek in a slow, straight line. "I'll see you later."
The quiet determination in his voice sent tingles dancing through her lower abdomen. She nodded and gripped the leather strap, fought the urge to tug his shirt and bring his mouth down to hers.
He crouched and ruffled Brindy's fur. Then he stood and paused. Smiling at Heather, he took a step closer to her. She matched his step and moved closer to him, but Brindy barked and nudged their legs, breaking the spell.
Within seconds, Zac was gone. She leaned against the door and looked down at the dog. "Let's just keep what happened here between us, okay?"
* * *
Late the next morning, after returning Brindy to her parents, Heather entered her apartment building's quiet lobby. She hadn't slept much the night before. Thoughts of Zac kept her awake. But rather than feeling exhausted, energy poured through her system. An afternoon and evening free of responsibilities stretched before her. Maybe he'd call. Maybe they'd meet up. Maybe they'd sink into the kiss she should have planted on him before he'd left.
The elevator pinged, and then footsteps clicked over the polished floor.
"Good morning, Heather." The team's general counsel, and her new neighbor, waved and headed in her direction. No matter what time she came into the lobby, he always seemed to be there, waiting to talk to her.
She continued toward the row of mailboxes on the far wall. "Hi, Ben."
He rested his hand on the wall directly above her head. "How are you enjoying your weekend?"
Taking a step away from his invading presence, she shrugged. The near- kiss with Zac replayed in her mind. No way would she share that kind of information. "I took care of my parents' dog. You?"
"I was out late last night with the team. Those guys are animals. You should have seen the bleached blonde cocktail waitress climbing all over Zac at dinner. He loved the attention. I overheard something about her going home with him."
The illusion that their chemistry had meant anything to Zac shattered. How had she misjudged him so completely? With Ben watching her, she couldn't react. Heather forced her cheeks to lift into a smile. "Well, good for him."
Ben shifted closer. His cologne overwhelmed her. "If you're free, would you like to go to brunch with me? Or coffee?"
"I'm sorry. I have something to do." She turned away from Ben. Instead of heading for her apartment, she turned toward the doors leading to the garage. A drive always cleared her mind. Hopefully, it would clear the sagging-sails, sucker-punch-to-the-gut feeling, too.CHAPTER 2
A fundraiser at his boss's house would be difficult enough during contract negotiations, but adding the presence of the boss's daughter would make this night a nuclear disaster. He hadn't spoken to Heather since their time strolling the boardwalk together a few weeks ago. A time he remembered as being one kiss away from perfection. Apparently, she hadn't felt the same way. Why would she tell a member of the front office, especially Ben, that he was an arrogant jock? That the slimy worm of an attorney relayed the information had been beyond excruciating. He'd always prided himself on understanding women, but he'd sure misinterpreted her interest in him. Screw it. He'd show up for the charity. Shake some hands. Leave.
A peal of laughter snapped his attention back to the road in front of him. He glanced at Keira, his blind date for the evening. He'd agreed to take her out as a favor to a teammate, who was most likely dating this woman's friend. Lately, however, women with a drop dead gorgeous shell surrounding nothing of substance didn't appeal to him. The casually dressed Heather on the beach seemed so much more inviting than Keira, who sported a dress so short she couldn't be wearing anything underneath.
Everything about Heather was authentic, welcoming, and comfortable. And, truth be told, sensual and alluring. Damn it to hell, the woman had burrowed into his psyche. He was twenty-eight years old, and he'd never met anyone like her. Women like Keira could never compete. One quick circuit of the room and then he'd drop off Keira and head home.
They arrived at his boss's house, and he parked close enough to allow himself a quick get away without involving the valet service. He escorted Keira into the house. Someone had done an amazing job of decorating the Ryan family's main hall with thousands of white lights, and dozens of red and white roses wrapped with red, white, and black ribbons for the Hustlers team colors.
Excerpted from Flirting on Ice by Veronica Forand, Susan Scott Shelley, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2014 Veronica Forand and Susan Scott Shelley. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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