Sawyer Bennett never disappoints. Max will steal your heart and leave you begging for more.” Stacey Kennedy, USA Today bestselling author
The ice is a cold mistress. As the league’s most eligible goalie, Max Fournier has access to his fair share of willing puck bunnies, but right now he’s more interested in bringing home another championship than a one-night stand. A romantic at heart, Max believes in love; he’s just not great at relationships. So when he finally meets a nice girl who’s not blinded by his celebrity, he’s feeling the heat—and the pressure to save her from herself.
Between working two jobs and raising her sister’s kids, Julianne Bradley doesn’t have time for sports—or men. All she knows about Max is that he’s the sexiest customer to ever grace her gas-station counter. And he sees past her tired eyes and makes Jules yearn for things she can’t have: a glamorous fling, a passionate lover, and the time to enjoy both. Max makes her feel like Cinderella, even though Jules has enough baggage to crush a glass slipper. Luckily, he’s no prince—only a fierce competitor determined to win her heart.
The Carolina Cold Fury series from New York Times bestselling author Sawyer Bennett can be read together or separately:
And don’t miss her Arizona Vengeance series:
The Love Hurts series features sexy standalone novels:
SEX IN THE STICKS
And the Sugar Bowl series is one treat you’ll want to read in order:
“One of the best voices in contemporary romance.”—New York Times bestselling author Lauren Layne
“I really loved Max and Jules’s story. . . . Max Fournier—sigh—may just be the sweetest man alive, (you know what I mean!) he literally has a personality to melt the coldest of hearts.”—Jezabell Girl and Friends
“It was everything that I wanted from a Sawyer Bennett novel.”—Once Upon a Book Blog
“I absolutely loved it and could not put it down!”—Kelly’s Book Blog
Includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
Read an Excerpt
I stick the nozzle in my gas tank, depress the handle and flip the catch down to hold it in place. Letting the petrol flow on its own, I head across the nearly empty parking lot to the gas station that is lit up like a bright beacon out here on Possum Track Road. I’m starved and I know my fridge is empty at home, so I’m going to break down and buy some junk food for my dinner. I just won’t tell Vale about it as I don’t feel like listening to her rag at me.
Vale Campbell . . . pretty as hell and nice to look at but I dread having to hang out with her. That’s because she’s one of the assistant athletic trainers for the Cold Fury and, most importantly, working with me on my strength and conditioning. She would most certainly say Snickers, Cheez-Its, and Mountain Dew are not on my approved list and then she’d have me doing burpees, mountain climbers, and box jumps until I puked.
So I won’t tell her about this little cheat and I’ll gladly take whatever she hands out to me during training camp. I’m committed to starting this season as strong as I have ever been, and I’m going to get the coveted starting goalie position, which became available when Ryker Evans announced his retirement this summer. The Cold Fury has been a championship team and I smell another winning season in the making. Not about to let two major injuries in as many years get me down.
No, I’m coming back with a vengeance and a need to prove myself to my team and fans.
Watch out hockey world . . . Max Fournier is back.
Pulling the door to the convenience store open, I immediately see two guys at the cooler checking out the stock of beer. Both wearing wifebeaters stained with grease and faded ball caps. I, myself, pull my own hat down farther to hide my face to avoid getting recognized tonight. It’s late, I want to get my junk food and get gone. We’ve an early morning practice tomorrow and I just want to get home.
I turn right down the first aisle, which merchandises the chips and other snacks, slightly aware the other two customers are heading to the counter to check out. I keep my back to them just to be safe and peruse the options.
Funyuns. Potato chips. Doritos. Corn nuts. Reaching for a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips, I hear one of the guys drawl in a typical North Carolina redneck accent, “Hey sweet thang. How ’bout a pack of Marlboro Reds and how ’bout handing me that there box of condoms. The extra large size.”
The redneck’s companion snickers, and then snorts. I turn slightly to see them both shoot conspiratorial grins at each other, and one guy nudges the other to egg him on. While the clerk turns to get the condoms, the redneck leans across the counter and stares blatantly at her butt. The other guy says loud enough that I hear, “Mmmmm . . . that is fine.”
Turning my body full so I face the counter, I see the woman’s back stiffen and she turns her head to the left to look at a closed doorway beside the cigarette rack. I’m wondering if perhaps a manager or another employee is in there and she’s hoping for some help.
But she doesn’t wait and turns to face the two assholes, squaring her shoulders.
And goddamn . . . she’s breathtaking. Looking past the polyester red and gold vest she wears with a name tag—clearly a uniform—her face is flawless. Creamy skin that glows, high cheekbones, a straight nose that tilts slightly at the end, and a sexy as hell mouth that I bet would be full and lush were her lips not flattened in a grimace. Her hair is not blond, but not brown. I’d describe it as caramel with honey streaks, and it’s pulled back from her face in a ponytail with long bangs falling from left to right across her forehead.
While she faces the two men resolutely, I can see wariness in her eyes as she sets the cigarettes and condoms on the counter in front of them. “Will that be all?”
Her voice has a southern accent but it’s subtle. She looks back and forth between the two men, refusing to lower her gaze.
Redneck number one nods to the twelve-pack of beer he had previously placed there and says, “That was the last of the Coors. You got any in your storage room?”
“Nope, that’s it,” she says firmly, and I can tell it’s a lie.
“Are ya sure?” he asks, leaning his elbows on the counter and leering at her. “Maybe you could check . . . I could help you if you want, and we could make use of them condoms there.”
I’d roll my eyes over the absurdity of his attempt to woo a girl who is, obviously, way out of his league, but I’m too tense over the prospect that this could be more than just some harmless goofing by two drunk rednecks.
“What do you say, sweet thang?” he says in what he tries to pass as a suave voice but comes off as trailer trash.
“I say there’s no more beer back there,” she grits out, giving a look over her shoulder to the closed door, and then back to the men.
And that was a worried look.
A very worried look, so I decide that this isn’t going any further. Grabbing the closest bag of chips, I stalk up the aisle toward the counter as I pull my hat off with my empty hand. I tuck it in my back pocket, and when I’m just a few feet from the men, the woman’s eyes flick to me, relief evident in her gaze. I smile at her reassuringly and drop my eyes down to her name tag.
Julianne. Pretty name for a really pretty girl. The sound of my footsteps finally penetrate and both men straighten to their full heights, which is still a few inches below mine, and turn my way. My eyes move to the first man, then slowly to the other, leveling them both with an ice-cold glare. With the power of my gaze, I dare both of them to say something else to the beauty behind the counter.
Because I suspect the only sports these guys watch are bass fishing tournaments and NASCAR, I’m not surprised neither one recognizes me as a goalie with the Carolina Cold Fury. Clearly the lovely Julianne doesn’t either, but that’s also fine by me.
The sound of fingers tapping on the cash register catches everyone’s attention, and the two men turn back to her. “That will be nineteen dollars and eighty-six cents.”
One of the guys pulls a wallet out of the back pocket of his saggy jeans and nabs a twenty, handing it to her wordlessly. Now that they know there’s an audience, neither one seems to be intent on continuing the crass game they were playing. At least I think it was a game, but I’m just glad I was here in case their intent was more nefarious.
Julianne hands the guy his change and they gather their purchases and leave without a word.
As soon as the door closes, her shoulders drop and she lets out a sigh of relief. Giving me a weak smile, she looks at the bag in my hand and says, “Is that all?”
“Uh, no actually,” I say as I give her a sheepish grin. “Got distracted by those assholes. I need a few more things.”
“Yeah,” she agrees in a tired voice, brushing her long bangs back before turning away from me to an open cardboard box she has sitting on a stool to her left. She reaches in, pulls out a carton of cigarettes, which she efficiently opens and starts stocking the rack of cigarettes behind the counter. I’m effectively dismissed and there’s no doubt in my mind she doesn’t know who I am.
I head back down the chips aisle, take a bag of corn nuts and continue straight back to the sodas. I grab a Mountain Dew, never once considering the diet option because that would totally destroy the point of having a junk food night, and then head straight to the candy aisle. Two Snickers in my hand and I’m set.
When I get to the counter, she must hear my approach as she turns around with the same tired smile. Walking to the register, her eyes drop to the items that I set on the counter, robotically punching in the price of each one. I watch her delicate fingers work the keys, taking in her slumped shoulders as she rings in the last item and raises those eyes back to me.
They’re golden . . . well, a light brown actually but so light as to appear like a burnished gold.
A piercing shriek comes from behind the closed door, so sharp and high-pitched that it actually makes my teeth hurt. I also practically jump out of my skin, the noise was so unexpected.
The woman—Julianne, according to that name tag—does nothing more than close her eyes, lower her head, and let out a pained sigh. It’s such an agonized motion that for a brief moment I want to reach out and squeeze her shoulder in sympathy, but I have no clue what I’m empathizing with because I don’t know what that unholy sound was. I open my mouth to ask her if she’s okay when the closed door beside the cigarette rack flies open and a tiny blur comes flying out.
No more than three feet high, followed by another blur of the same size.
Then another piercing shriek from within that room, this time louder because the door is now open, and for a terrible moment I think someone must have been murdered. I even take a step to the side, intent on rounding the counter.
Julianne moves lightning fast, reaching her hands out and snagging each tiny blur by their collars. When they’re brought to a full halt, I see it’s two little boys, both with light brown hair and equally light brown eyes. One holds a baby doll in his hands and the other holds what looks to be a truck made of LEGOs.
Looking at me with apology-filled eyes, she says, “I’m so sorry. This will only take a second.”
With firm but gentle hands she turns the little boys toward the room and pushes them inside, disappearing behind them. Immediately, I hear a horrible crash, another shriek, and the woman I know to be named Julianne curses loudly, “Son of a bitch.”
One more screech from what I’m thinking might be a psychotic pterodactyl and my feet are moving without thought. I round the edge of the counter, step behind it and head toward the door. When I step over the threshold, I take in a small room set up to be a combo office/break room. There’s a small desk covered with papers along one wall, another wall with a counter, sink, and minifridge under it, and a card table with rusty legs and four folding metal chairs to its side.
It also suddenly becomes clear what manner of creature was making the noise that rivaled nails on a chalkboard.
A little girl, smaller than the boys, is tied to one of the chairs with what looks like masking tape wrapped several times around her and the chair, coming across the middle of her stomach. Her legs are free, and the crash was apparently a stack of toys she had managed to knock off the top of the table.
“Rocco . . . Levy . . . you promised you’d behave,” Julianne says in a quavering voice as she kneels beside the little girl and starts pulling at the tape. The little boys stand there, heads hanging low as they watch their mom attempt to unwrap their sister.
I can’t help myself. The tone of the woman’s voice, the utter fatigue and frustration, and the mere fact that these little hellions taped their sister to a chair, has me moving. I drop to my knees beside the woman, my hands going to the tape to help her pull it off.
Her head snaps my way and she says, “Don’t.”
My eyes slide from the tape to her, and I’m almost bowled over by the sheen of thick tears, glistening but refusing to drop.
“Please . . . do you mind just waiting out there. If any customers come in . . . just tell them I’ll be out in a moment,” she pleads with me, a faint note of independence and need to handle this on her own shining through the defeat.
“Sure,” I say immediately as I stand up, not meaning to further upset this poor lady with the beautiful tear-soaked eyes. She clearly has enough on her plate without me adding to it.
She turns back to tearing at the masking tape, being extremely gentle, I notice, with the pieces on the little girl’s arms. I glance to the two little boys, and although I see their heads are bowed down in what looks like apology, they both have slight smirks on their face.
Little hellions for sure.
I back out of the break room and consider just leaving my snacks on the counter, but I dismiss it. I want to make sure everything is okay, because unless I’m mistaken, that beautiful lady is on the edge of a serious meltdown.
She doesn’t keep me waiting long, only a few minutes before she’s backing out of the door and pulling it shut behind her. She gives a final plea to the kids inside: “Will you please just behave for the rest of the night, and if you do, we’ll go shopping for a new toy for each of you this weekend, okay?”
Nice. Bribery usually works with kids.
I don’t hear any type of response from the inside, and with a mighty sigh, she pulls the door shut and turns to me. She jumps slightly, maybe so lost in her thoughts that she forgot I was there, but then her eyes dart down to the items on the counter.
“I am so sorry you had to witness that,” she says as she rushes to the register, then rings up the rest of my purchases, which she hadn’t gotten to before the hellions busted loose.
“Not a problem,” I say with a chuckle. “You handled it well.”
She blows out a gust of frustrated air upward from her mouth and her bangs lift slightly before falling down. “They can be trying at times.”
Finally, she looks me in the eye and says, “That will be seven dollars and fifty-nine cents.”