Superstar hockey player Patrick “Trick” Niemeyer and dancer Stella Slovinski have picked up where they left off a year ago, resuming their hot, uncomplicated affair. Stella refuses to call it dating, or a relationship. But lately, Trick is looking for more…
Stella’s been burned before—in a relationship she never talks about—not with her family, not with her friends, and definitely not with Trick. But now it’s the holiday season and Trick is determined to give Stella his heart wrapped up in a bow. He knows Stella is the right woman for him, but he’ll have to melt the ice surrounding her heart to keep her from walking away.
Includes a preview of Jaci Burton’s QUARTERBACK DRAW and LOVE AFTER ALL.
Praise for the novels of Jaci Burton
“Jaci Burton does raw, passionate romance like no other.”—Joyfully Reviewed
“A wild ride.”—#1 New York Times Bestselling Author Lora Leigh
“The characters are incredible. They are human and complex and real and perfect.”—Night Owl Erotica
“[Jaci Burton] delivers the passionate, inventive, sexually explicit love scenes that fans expect.”—USA Today Happy Ever After reviews
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Patrick “Trick” Niemeyer walked into McGill’s, his favorite after-game bar hangout, with several of his fellow players.
It had been a grueling game tonight, and they’d eked out a win by only one goal over Winnipeg. Since it was Friday night and they were on home turf, they deserved to celebrate.
“I need a drink—or three,” Drew Hogan said.
He and Drew were of like minds there, which didn’t surprise him since they were friends and had been as long as they’d both played for the New York Travelers.
“Let’s get this party started.” Trick led the way to the bar.
“How many of us are having beer?” Avery Mangino, their goalie and the main reason they’d won tonight, turned and counted as all of them raised fingers.
“Okay, that’s a half dozen.” Avery turned to the bartender, who slid bottles across.
Trick took a long draw from the bottle, then sighed. Nice and cold, like the ice had been tonight. But the crowd had been hot, and so had the game. They’d had to work hard for this win, and it had been a nail-biter all the way to the buzzer at the end of the third period.
“We need to avoid these close ones,” Avery said, leaning against the bar. “You all are going to have to score more goals next time.”
“It’s Trick’s fault,” Drew said. “He let that asshole steal the puck on a power play and slide one past you.”
“I agree,” Boyd Litman said. “Let’s blame Trick.”
“I don’t know,” Trick said. “You looked a little slow, Boyd. Stay up past your bedtime last night?”
“I say we blame the defense,” Drew said.
Avery frowned. “Don’t mess with my defense.”
“Someone fucking with us?” Colin Kozlow slung an arm around Avery’s shoulder. “If it wasn’t for us, we’d have been down by several goals since you pansies could only sink two in the net tonight.”
They spent at least a half hour giving each other shit, ordered up a few more beers, then set up at the pool table. Nothing like winding down after a particularly grueling game.
Trick had found a comfortable spot leaning against the wall, watching the guys take their shots, when the door opened and two women walked in. Not that women being in the bar was unusual, but these two caught his eye.
He noticed the blonde right away. Tall, with short hair and big blue eyes, she stood out even across the room. She was slender, and wore black leather boots over skintight jeans. She had on a long coat that hid the rest of her body, but Trick knew that body well, just like he knew the woman well.
He hadn’t seen her in a while. They’d been hot and heavy on and off for several months late last year, and some earlier this year, and then they’d lost touch. She was a dancer, and about as busy as he was during his season. It had been a no-strings kind of thing, just the way he’d wanted it, and so had she.
He couldn’t even remember why they’d stopped seeing each other.
He sure liked seeing her right now. So did every other guy in the place. Stella was the kind of woman who commanded a man’s attention without even trying. It was the way she moved, with a confidence and grace like she didn’t give a shit if a man looked, but she had to know they were all looking.
She didn’t make eye contact, in fact was laughing with her female friend as they grabbed a table at the opposite corner of the room. She shrugged out of her coat, and he saw she was wearing a body-hugging top.
She’d lost some weight since the last time he saw her, which was . . .
Hell . . . March, maybe? He’d been at the tail end of his season, and busy, trying to make the playoffs, working his ass off. He hadn’t called her. She hadn’t called him.
And then the Travelers had lost in the playoffs, and he’d taken time off, gone to visit his mom. He’d taken a vacation, done some endorsements, and he’d still never heard from Stella. It wasn’t like they’d even dated. It had been more like a series of hookups.
Fun ones, too. His lips curved at the thought.
“You’re up, Trick,” Avery said.
He took his shot, and when he finished, he grabbed another beer and took up his spot against the wall, trying not to look at Stella, while still watching her.
Stella was deep in conversation with her friend and hadn’t once looked his way.
He wanted to talk to her. It would be polite to go over and at least say hello, right? Otherwise, he’d be rude, and he wasn’t an asshole. They knew each other, and he’d at least spotted her. If nothing else, they could put their relationship to bed.
So to speak.
He pushed off the wall and headed her way.
“So then he said— Oh, shit.”
Stella arched her brow at Greta’s curse. “Oh, shit . . . what?”
“Oh, shit, you have got to check out the hot guy heading our way. And he’s got eyes only for you.”
She dragged her gaze away from Greta, and on . . .
“Oh. That’s Trick.”
“You know him?”
Her lips curved. “I most definitely know him.”
She stood just as Trick got to their table. “Well, hi. I didn’t know you’d be in here tonight.”
He smiled back at her. “This is my favorite bar, remember?”
“I actually did remember that just now.” She turned. “This is Trick. Trick, this is my sister, Greta.”
Greta stood and shook Trick’s hand.
“Nice to meet you, Greta.”
“You, too, Trick.”
Stella motioned for Trick to take a seat. He stretched out his long, oh-so-fine body next to hers.
It had been a long time. She normally never missed guys she’d slept with, but Trick? She’d missed having him in her bed.
“I didn’t know you had a sister.” He looked them over. Greta was pretty, blonde like her sister, with her hair worn longer and pulled back in a ponytail. Their facial features were similar, and they both had those striking blue eyes, though Greta’s were a darker blue.
“She’s visiting from out of town.”
Trick made sure to give Greta some attention. “Is that right? And where is out of town, Greta?”
“Currently, I’m in D.C., but I’m in town for a job interview, so if it all goes well I might be moving here to New York City.”
He grinned. “Great time of year for it, too. All the decorations are up for the Christmas holidays.”
“I know. I’ve been gawking at everything and Stella has been showing me all the holiday sights. It’s fantastic. The tree at Rockefeller Center is amazing. And the window displays are works of art. I love it!”
“I’m sure having you move up here would make Stella happy.”
“It would make Stella very happy,” Stella said with a grin. “Now we just have to hope she didn’t bomb the interview.”
“Hey,” Greta said. “I totally aced it.”
“Where are you interviewing?”
“A PR firm.”
“And she’s right. I’m sure she did ace it,” Stella said.
“Did they say when they’d get back to you?”
“Surprisingly, by the end of the week,” Greta said. “Usually these things take a while, but I’m the last candidate they interviewed. I talked to the head of the firm as well as the VP. I’m hopeful.”
“She’s very good at her job,” Stella said.
Trick liked that Stella pumped up her sister. “So you’re staying the weekend, Greta?”
“I am. And what do you do, Trick?”
Greta frowned for a few seconds, then her eyes widened. “Ohhh, of course. I should have known. You have the fierce, competitive look about you.”
“Do you like hockey?”
“I love hockey. As a matter of fact—”
“Yes. She loves hockey,” Stella said, interrupting her sister. “So maybe you can hook her up with some tickets if she gets the job and moves up here.”
“I’d be happy to.”
Greta shot a bemused look at Stella. “So . . . how do you and Trick know each other?”
Stella shrugged. “Oh, Trick and I go way back. We’re old friends.”
“Is that right? Knowing how much of a hockey fan you are, Stell, I don’t doubt that. So you’ve been to his games?”
“A few.” Stella gave him a knowing smile. “I’m kind of a fan.”
Trick laughed. “We actually met through one of my teammates. Stella’s a friend of Carolina Preston, and she was dating Drew Hogan.”
Greta leaned back in her chair and picked up her drink, taking a sip through her straw. “Interesting. How come you never told me this?”
Stella shrugged. “Not much to tell.”
It was obvious Stella didn’t want her sister to know about what went down between them. He got that. Sometimes your sex life was your business, and he wasn’t about to reveal anything.
He stood. “I won’t take up any more of your time. Good to see you again, Stella.”
“You, too, Trick.”
“And great to meet you, Greta.”
He walked away, wishing he could have had some alone time with Stella, but this wasn’t the right time or place. She needed to spend time with her sister, and he needed to get back to his friends.
It was good to see her again, though, and it reminded him how much he liked being with her.
He wanted to see her again. The question was—did she feel the same way?
Stella resisted the urge to watch Trick walk away, knowing the view would be spectacular.
For some reason, when they chose this bar, she hadn’t expected Trick and his friends to be here. How stupid of her. Maybe subconsciously . . .
Greta grasped her wrist. “You did not tell me you knew Trick. And you could have introduced him as Patrick Niemeyer of the Travelers. I don’t know how I missed that connection when he walked up. Probably because I’ve only ever seen him before in uniform.”
She leveled a benign gaze on her sister. “Yes. I know Trick.”
“Is that why you took me to the hockey game tonight?”
“No. I took you to the game because we both like hockey.”
“Uh huh.” Her sister tapped her nails on the table, studying her, then her eyes widened. “Oh, my God, Stella. Did you have a thing with him?”
Greta rolled her eyes. “Now you’re being coy, and you’re never coy about men. Spill it.”
Having a little sister had always been great. They were only a few months over a year apart, and it had been fabulous growing up together. But it also meant Stella had very few secrets. Though she had managed to keep a couple.
Trick had been one of them.
She waved her hand back and forth. “It was no big deal. We hooked up off and on for a while late last year. It ran its course.”
Greta searched the bar, her attention settling on Trick and his friends. “I don’t think it has run its course at all. Not for him and definitely not for you. I saw your eyes light up when he came to our table.”
Stella tracked Greta’s gaze, and found Trick leaning against the wall, pool cue in his hand. It just so happened right at that moment he looked over. His lips ticked up and she felt the shot of heat all the way across the room.
“See? See? I told you,” Greta said. “God, I can almost feel that zap of chemistry between the two of you. So why aren’t you still seeing each other?”
“I don’t date. You know that. I’m too busy dancing.”
Greta sighed. “Come on, Stell. It can’t always be about work. You’re entitled to have some fun.”
“Believe me, I manage time for fun. I just don’t do long-term fun with one guy.”
“You have weird rules.” Greta stirred her drink. “Why not do a long-term thing?”
She didn’t want to think about how badly that had turned out the one and only time she had allowed a man into her heart. The way she did it now was much better. “Because I’ve been building my career, and men get in the way of that. They’re fun for sex when I need it, and nothing more than that.”
“That sounds cold and lonely.”
Stella laughed. “Honey, I am rarely cold and lonely. I can get a man when I need one.”
“So, random hookups? Bleh.”
“Hey, I don’t see you towing a man behind you right now, sis.”
“And you won’t. After that debacle with Richard, I need a break.”
Stella wrinkled her nose. “Richard was an asshole who didn’t appreciate you.”
Greta raised her glass. “I’ll drink to that, and enough on the topic of my dickhead ex-boyfriend. I’d much rather talk about all those hot hockey players over there. How many of them do you know?”
Stella took a sip of her beer, then smiled at her sister, who could probably use a really fun night. “Uh, all of them.”
Greta slanted her a look of disbelief. “You are lying to me.”
Greta pushed her chair back and stood. “Come on. You’re introducing me to them.”
Stella laughed. It was a good thing she and Trick were still on great terms, because she was entering the fray once again.
Not that she minded. She wanted more time to talk to Trick, and this was her way to do it without strings.
And who knows? Maybe her subconscious did bring her to this bar tonight for a reason.
Maybe it was time to hook up with Trick again. She didn’t know why they’d lost touch before, but he was the right kind of man for her—the kind who would enjoy playing, but didn’t want attachments.
She was all for that.
Trick saw Stella and her sister approaching, so he put up his cue and headed their way.
“We saw you had a game going, and Greta wanted to meet the guys,” Stella said.
Man, she looked good in her tight jeans and black leather boots, and the clingy top did nothing to hide that killer body of hers. He really wanted to gather her up in his arms and take a taste of her. Too bad they were in public.
“We were at the game tonight,” Greta said, motioning to her sister. “Something Stella failed to mention.”
Trick shifted his attention to Greta, before looking again at Stella. “You came to the game? You should have texted me. I would have gotten you tickets.”
“I didn’t want you to think I was going to hit you up again after all these months just for tickets.”
“Why? We’re friends, Stell. I’d be happy to give you tickets.”
Greta elbowed her sister. “See? He’d be happy to give you tickets.” Greta gave him a hopeful look. “I don’t suppose there’s a game tomorrow night.”
“Sorry. I have the weekend off. But once you get that job, you can have tickets anytime you want.”
Greta grinned. “Awesome. Now you can introduce me to all your friends.”
“That I can definitely do.” He swung an arm around Greta’s waist and pulled her into the crowd. Stella hung back, waving at Drew, Avery, Boyd, and the rest of them. She and Trick would often go out after games and have a few drinks with the guys, before hitting up either her place or his for a wild romp of some amazing sex.
Just thinking about his hands and his mouth on her made her regret losing touch. But one of her rules was she never went back for seconds once a fling was over, because that might just mean emotional involvement, and that she just wouldn’t do.
But Trick was fun and easy and sexy and hot and not at all demanding of her time. He understood her life as a dancer, how much of her days—and often nights—it commanded. He didn’t whine or pout when she had to cancel on him. He traveled a lot, so he knew work took precedence over everything—including sex.
In a lot of ways, he’d been the perfect non-boyfriend.
So why had they stopped seeing each other earlier this year? She’d been slammed with performances for the show she’d been doing, and he’d been so busy with the end of hockey season, trying to make the playoffs. They hadn’t had much time for each other and had to keep canceling. That much she remembered. They’d just drifted apart.
After her show ended she’d taken some time off—but only a couple of weeks before she’d started auditioning again. There was no such thing as time off for a dancer. If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat or pay the rent. She really liked eating and enjoyed having a roof over her head.
She’d auditioned for a lead dance role in a new show on Broadway, and after a ridiculous amount of auditions, had gotten the part. Now she was even busier, but still . . . it had been a long time since she’d played with a hot guy.
Trick was definitely a hot guy. She watched him as he shot pool with his friends. He was tall, muscular, but not too much in that body-builder way. Just enough that he was strong. He wore jeans and a long-sleeve Henley, which showed off every one of those muscles, especially his biceps.
Plus, he had a fantastic back. Being a dancer, there was just something about a man’s back that she found enticing. So much strength there, and in the arms and legs.
She’d seen Trick naked, knew everything about his body.
A flash of heat engulfed her, and after he took his shot, he turned and gave her a look that was pure sexual attraction.
Yes, it was still there between them. He grabbed his beer, laid his pool cue aside, and came over to her.
“Not playing?” he asked.
“I’m content to just watch.”
“Your sister seems happy in the mix.”
Stella’s gaze drifted over to the pool table, where Avery was helping Greta line up a shot. “My sister knows how to play pool, but she’s enjoying letting Avery put his hands on her.”
“I’m sure Avery doesn’t mind.”
Stella nodded. “I’m sure he doesn’t, either.” She shifted her gaze back to Trick. “Greta broke up with her boyfriend recently. A real jerk. She could use some attention from a nice guy.”
“Avery’s a nice guy.”
Trick slid onto the barstool next to hers. “So am I.”
She swiveled to face him, sliding her legs between his. “Oh, no, you’re not. You can be very bad.”
“You think so?”
“You like me bad.”
Stella laughed. “And this is a lot like verbal foreplay.”
He slid his hands across her knees and down her legs. “I prefer the other kind of foreplay. Why don’t you go home with me tonight?”
She drew in a breath. “As tempting as that sounds, I need to entertain my sister.”
Trick looked over at the pool table. “Your sister looks like she’s being entertained just fine by Avery.”
“You know, if it was anyone else I’d say fine, they’re on their own. But I haven’t seen Greta for a few months and I promised her we’d spend the entire weekend together.”
He nodded. “I understand. But I want to see you again, Stell.”
This went against all her rules. But his touch seared through the denim of her jeans. “I want to see you, too. When’s your next game?”
“Tuesday night. It’s an away game, though. I’ll be back in town on Thursday.”
“Okay. I have rehearsal on Thursday until late.”
His lips curved. “This is why we lost touch before. Those damn schedules of ours.”
“True. But we’ll figure it out.”
“I’ll text you when I get back in town.”
“You do that.” She slid off the barstool. “In the meantime, I intend to kick everyone’s ass at the pool table.”