Former NHL star Jaxson Lund has returned to the Twin Cities, but he's at loose ends, unsure if he belongs at Lund Industries, or where he stands with Lucy, his ex-girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Mimi. Despite the signs she'd like to leave him in the penalty box, the attraction burning between them reinforces his determination to prove that he deserves a second chance...
Lucy Quade is in a good place with a steady job, a nice apartment, and a well-adjusted daughter, which is why she's hesitant when Jax insists on co-parenting. It's not that Lucy doesn't trust Jax...she's just unconvinced he can handle multiple responsibilities when he's been singularly focused on playing hockey. But when issues arise with Mimi, Lucy's shocked at how levelheaded and paternal he acts, giving her a glimpse of the Jax she used to know, the sexy, sweet man she fell for years ago.
Once Lucy lets her guard down, Jax goes all in to show her how good they are together, but will their past remain too large an obstacle to ever overcome?
About the Author
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"Mommy. What time will Daddy get here?"
Whenever the hell he feels like it.
Not an answer I could give my precocious eight-year-old daughter, even when it was the truth. "He said after six. Since it's now six fifteen, he'll be here at any moment."
Mimi sighed heavily. Then she kicked her legs up and hung upside down from the back of the chair, balancing on her hands. It was obvious to everyone she inherited her natural athleticism from her father. Embarrassingly I was one of those people who trip over their own feet . . . and everyone else's.
"You sure that hanging like a monkey in a tree won't upset your stomach?" I asked her. "Or give you a headache? I'd hate for you to miss an overnight with your dad."
"I have to practice so being upside down doesn't make me sick," she replied with another sigh, as if I should've already known that.
"Ah. So what are you practicing for this week?"
"It's between a trapeze artist or an ice skater. If I decide to have a partner I'll have to be used to being upside down."
Last month Mimi wanted to be an astronaut. The month before that a dolphin trainer. While I've always told her that she can be whatever she wants to be when she grows up, it's exhausting finding an activity that holds her attention. After spending money on dance lessons, gymnastics classes, martial arts classes, T-ball, soccer club, fencing, swim team, tennis lessons, golf lessons and horseback riding lessons, I'd put my foot down and said no new organized activities. If none of those worked then she needed to wait until she was older to try others.
Still, I feared she'd play the guilt card and I'd find myself buying tickets to the circus, a Cirque du Soleil show or a Disney on Ice program. Or . . . maybe . . .
"I'm sure your dad would love to take you to a performance." Not really dirty pool-Mimi's father, Jaxson Lund, was a member of the billionaire Lund family as well as a highly paid former pro hockey player, so money had never been an issue for him. And there was nothing he loved more than humoring Mimi's requests, even if it was to alleviate the guilt that he'd missed being a regular presence in her life for most of her life.
The doorbell pealed and Mimi squealed, "I'll get it!" twisting her lithe little body sideways from the chair to land lightly on her feet, agile as a cat.
I heard her disengage the locks and yell, "Daddy! I thought you'd never get here."
He laughed. That sweet indulgent laugh he only had for our daughter. "I missed you too, Mimi."
"I got my stuff all packed. I'm ready to go now."
Without saying good-bye to me? That stung. But I sucked it up and started toward the entryway.
"Sure. Just let me get the all clear from your mom first."
Then Jaxson Lund and I nearly collided as we turned the corner simultaneously.
His big hands circled my upper arms to steady me.
I had to tilt my head back to look at him as he towered over me by almost a foot.
It was unfair that my ex actually looked better now than he did when he and I met a decade ago. His dark hair was shorter-no more long locks befitting the bad-boy defenseman of the NHL. No scruffy beard, just the smooth skin of his outlandishly square jaw and muscled neck. His eyes were clear, not bloodshot as I'd usually seen them, making those turquoise-hued eyes the most striking feature on his face . . . Besides that damn smile. Hockey players were supposed to have teeth missing from taking a puck or two hundred to the face. I knew Jax had a partial, but he'd never removed it when we were together. The lips framing that smile were both soft and hard. Druggingly warm and soft when pressed into a kiss, but cold and hard when twisting into a cruel sneer. A sneer I'd been on the receiving end of many times.
That shook me out of my musings about Jax's amazing physical attributes.
Jax had called me Luce from the first-a joke between us because I warned him I wasn't loose and wouldn't sleep with him on the first date. An inside joke made me feel special-he made me feel special-until I realized Jaxson Lund used that killer smile and those gorgeous twinkling eyes as a weapon on every woman he wanted to bang the boards with; there wasn't anything special about me.
I forced a smile. "Jaxson. How are you?"
He retreated at my cool demeanor and dropped his hands. "I'm fine. You're looking well."
And people thought we couldn't be civil to each other. "Thanks. You too."
"Anything I should know before Meems and I take off?"
Meems. He'd given our daughter another nickname, even when Mimi was already the shortened version of Milora Michelle. "Nothing worth mentioning. She's been looking forward to this all week."
Those beautiful eyes narrowed. "So don't disappoint her, right?"
"Luce. I'm not-"
"Daddy, come on. Are we goin' or what?" Mimi demanded.
"We're goin', impatient one." Jaxson hauled her up and cocked her on his hip with seemingly little effort, because his eyes never left mine. "We can do the switch back at the Lund Industries thing on Sunday afternoon?"
"You'll be there?"
"I work there, remember?"
In the past six months since Jax had joined the family business, I'd hardly seen him hustling around the building in a suit and tie, so I had no idea what his actual job title was. As far as I could tell, he didn't "work" there like I did. Sunday's event was a retirement party for a woman I doubted he knew personally. "I'm surprised. I wasn't aware that you knew Lola."
"The poor woman was tasked with getting me up to speed on all departments when I started at LI. I'd still be aimlessly wandering the halls if not for her."
"Lola will be missed, that's for sure. So if you want to bring Mimi's things on Sunday, that'll work. I planned on going for the two hours."
"Sounds like a plan. Speaking of . . . what are your plans for the weekend?"
None of your business. "Oh, this and that. Mimi has more things planned for you two than you could fit into two weeks, say nothing of two days."
His dark eyebrow winged up. "Now I'm taking that as a personal challenge."
Mimi held her arms out for a hug. "Bye, Mommy."
"Bye, wild one. Behave, okay?"
"Promise to call me tomorrow sometime."
She sighed heavily. "I'd call you all the time if I had my own cell phone."
I chuckled. "Nice try. Use Daddy's phone. Or Grandma Edie's."
"But all of my friends have iPhones."
"Eight-year-olds do not need a cell phone." I sent Jaxson a stern look as a reminder not to swoop in and buy her one just because he could. Then I kissed her cheek. "Love you, Mimi."
"Love you too."
Jaxson gathered Mimi's stuff with her chattering away at him like she always did. I wondered how much of it he paid attention to.
Not my concern. I'd had to learn to let go of a lot of my issues with Jaxson's parenting style since he'd returned permanently to Minneapolis.
I waved good-bye and locked the door behind them.
As I readied myself for my first date with Damon, my thoughts scrolled back to the first time I'd met Jaxson Lund a decade ago . . .
I'd left work early to take my mother to the doctor. After I'd dropped her off at her place, I pulled into one of those super fancy deluxe car washes that offered one-hour detailing inside and out. Winter in the Twin Cities meant tons of road salt and freeway grime, and my poor car needed TLC. Not that my Toyota Corolla was anything fancy, but it'd been a major purchase for me after I'd graduated from college. My first new car, and I took good care of it.
With an hour to kill, I grabbed a magazine and a Diet Mountain Dew. The lobby wasn't jam-packed with other customers-which was a total contradiction to the lines of cars outside-but I embraced the quiet for a change and settled in.
My alone time lasted about five minutes. A guy blew in-the wind was blustery, but not nearly as blustering as the man yakking on his cell phone at a thousand decibels.
"Peter. I told you I'm happy to stay at the same salary." Pause. "Why? Because a salary freeze for a year isn't the end of the world for me. Especially if that means they can use that extra money to lure the kind of D-man we need."
I rolled my eyes and wished I'd brought my earbuds.
"No. What it speaks to isn't that I'm not worth more money. It shows that I'm a team player."
I tried to ignore the annoying man. But he paced in front of me, forcing me to listen to him as well as watch his jean-clad legs nearly brush my knees as his hiking boots beat a path in the carpet. From the reflection in the glass that allowed customers to see their cars going through the automated portion of the car wash, I knew he was a big man; tall, at least six foot four, with wide shoulders, long arms and long legs.
And huge lungs, because his voice continued to escalate. His pace increased. He gestured wildly with the hand not holding the phone. He couldn't see me scowling at him, as his head was down and his baseball cap put his face in shadow. Not that he'd looked my way even one time to see if his loud, one-sided conversation might be bothering me.
Look at me, look at me! My job is so crucial that I can't even go to the car wash without dealing with such pressing matters.
Ugh. I hated when people acted inconsiderate and self-important.
He stopped moving. "Fine. It's stupid as shit, but an increase of one dollar if it'll make you happy to have on record that my salary went up again this year. I'll let you keep one hundred percent of that dollar instead of your usual twenty percent commission." Pause. "Do you hear me laughing? Look. I'm done with this convo, Peter. Call me after the trade is over. Bye."
I flipped through a couple of pages.
He sighed and shoved his phone in his back pocket. Then I sensed him taking in his surroundings for the first time. The lack of customers, no car going through the car wash to entertain him.
Please don't assume I'll entertain you. He was definitely that type of guy.
I silently willed him to go away. But I'll be damned if the man didn't plop down on the bench directly across from me. I felt his gaze moving up my legs from my heeled suede boots to where the hem of my wool skirt ended above my knees.
Continuing to ignore him, I thumbed another magazine page and took a swig of my soda.
"Ever have one of those days?" he asked me.
The smart response would've been no response. I'm not sure what compelled me to say, "One of those days where you're enjoying a rare moment of quiet and some rude guy destroys it with an obnoxiously loud phone conversation? Why yes, ironically enough, I am having one of those days right now."
Then he laughed. A deep rumble of amusement that had me glancing up at him against my better judgment.
Our eyes met.
Holy hell was this man gorgeous. Like male model gorgeous with amazing bone structure and aquamarine-colored eyes. And his smile. Just wry enough to be compelling and "aw shucks" enough to be charming and wicked enough that I had a hard time not smiling back.
"I'm sorry. I don't normally carry on like that, but he was seriously missing my point."
"So I gathered." Dammit. I'd confessed I'd been listening in.
He leaned in, resting his forearms on his knees. "I'm serious. I'm not that annoying cell phone guy."
"Maybe not normally, but you were today."
"You don't pull any punches, do you?"
"No. Also now you've moved on from being 'annoying cell phone guy' to annoying guy determined to convince me that he's not annoying cell phone guy . . . which is even more annoying."
His grin widened. "I'm supposed to apologize for that too? Okay. Sorry for interrupting your quality time reading"-he snatched the magazine off my lap-"Redbook and this article on how to prioritize organization in day-to-day life."
My cheeks flamed even as I scooted forward to snatch back my magazine. "Gimme that."
"After you answer two questions. First, are you married, engaged or currently involved with someone? And if the answer is no, will you go out on a date with me so I can prove that I'm not annoying?"
I laughed. "I actually believed you couldn't get more annoying, but I was wrong."
"Are you single?"
"Annoying and tenacious-there's a winning combo," I retorted.
"And she hedges yet again. Fine. Don't answer. I'll just read this fascinating article that's got you so engrossed you can't even answer a simple question."
"Gimme back my magazine."
He lifted a brow. "I doubt it's your magazine. I'll bet you took it from the stack over there that's for customers to share."
"Fine. Keep it."
"Let's start over." He tossed the magazine aside and offered his hand. "I'm Jaxson. What's your name, beautiful?"
Calling me beautiful threw me off. I automatically answered, "Lucy," and took his hand.
"Lucy. Lovely name. Please put me out of my misery, Lovely Lucy, and tell me that you're single."
"I'm single but I'm not interested in flirting with you because you're bored at the car wash and I'm convenient."
He flashed me a grin that might've made me weak kneed had I been standing. "I'm far from bored. Let me prove it by taking you out for dinner. I promise I'll be on my least-annoying behavior."
That's when I realized he still held my hand. That's also when I realized I was a sucker for his tenacious charm, because I said, "Okay. But if that cell phone comes out even one time I will snatch it from you and grind it under my boot heel as I'm walking away."
"I'd expect nothing less."
I tugged my hand free before he did something else completely charming like kiss my knuckles. "Are you single?"
"Yes, ma'am. And this is the first time I've asked a woman I met at a car wash for a date."