In a league full of troublemakers, Cold Fury defenseman Roman Sýkora stands out—at least when it comes to negative publicity. When he’s not chilling in the penalty box, the sizzling Czech skate demon is racking up tabloid headlines for his scandalous behavior with the ladies. But now Roman’s feeling the burn from management to clean up his act, or else. Luckily he’s got an enticing distraction: a fun-loving barista who plays the ukulele and brings out a side of Roman he didn’t know he had.
Lexi Robertson came to Raleigh, North Carolina, to finally meet her father, Brian Brannon, and her half sister, Gray, both of whom work in the Cold Fury’s front office. That’s where she first meets sexy, intimidating Roman—who’s really a big softie at heart. As one relationship takes off, another begins: Brian seems to be clicking with Lexi’s boss at the coffee shop. But when the friction between Roman and her new family heats up, Lexi wonders whether she’s a pawn in their game. Feeling hurt and foolish, Lexi’s ready to quit while she’s ahead. Trouble is, Roman’s not ready to quit on her.
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
Praise for Roman
“A quirky ukulele-playing barista bringing the bad boy hockey star to his knees? It’s like Sawyer Bennett handpicked these characters specifically for me. Roman makes being on ice hot!”—USA Today bestselling author Lili Valente
“The author did an amazing job. . . . Ms. Bennett pushed these characters; forced them to look within.”—Shh Moms Reading (five stars)
Includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
About the Author
A reformed trial lawyer from North Carolina, Sawyer uses real-life experience to create relatable, sexy stories that appeal to a wide array of readers. From new adult to contemporary romance, she writes something for just about everyone.
Sawyer likes her Bloody Marys strong, her martinis dirty, and her heroes a combination of the two. When not bringing fictional romance to life, Sawyer is a chauffeur, stylist, chef, maid, and personal assistant to a very active daughter, as well as a full-time servant to her adorably naughty dogs. She believes in the good of others and that a bad day can be cured with a great workout, cake, or even better, both.
Sawyer also writes general and women’s fiction under the pen name S. Bennett and sweet romance under the name Juliette Poe.
Read an Excerpt
I had to look up the address to The Grind, but when I saw it was in the historic Five Points neighborhood of Raleigh, I immediately knew where it was. It’s just pushing half past seven and the tiny customer parking lot behind the connected row of businesses on Glenwood Avenue is already filled. I have to parallel park two streets over and I’m practically frozen and wishing I was a coffee drinker by the time I reach the glass double doors that lead inside.
I hadn’t really paid attention to this place before when I was in the area. There’s a fantastic pizza joint to the right of it that I’ve eaten at a few times, but somehow I’ve never really noticed the two-story stucco building done in peach with dark brown shutters framing the front windows.
When I open the door to The Grind and walk in, I’m immediately assaulted by the funky decor, which is not how I thought a coffee shop would look. Granted, the only one I’d been in before was a Starbucks, and that was with a girl I’d briefly dated—okay slept with a few times—but it was nothing like this. Mismatched furniture, a riot of colors, and crazy music coming from the corner of the establishment.
My head turns toward the sound and my jaw drops as I see Lexi sitting on a low stool atop a small wooden stage. She’s strumming a ukulele while she sings into a microphone mounted on a stand. Even more astounding is that she’s singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” At first glance it seems ridiculous to me that she plays the ukulele, but I’m practically struck dumb by her voice. It’s a combination of Stevie Nicks’s raspy tones with Adele’s rich smoothness, and she layers the notes and the words to the song with the slightly higher pitch of the ukulele beautifully.
I step farther into the coffee shop to get away from the door as people walk in and out, and merely watch as Lexi sings. She’s wearing what she had on in the arena this morning, and the ripped jeans and lacy top seem to fit perfectly with the sexy woman who sings like a Grammy-winning star and plays the ukulele like it’s the most fashionable thing in the world.
As is everyone else, I note. My gaze sweeps the interior, and everyone’s raptly listening to Lexi as they sip their overpriced java and lounge on ostentatiously mismatched furniture. Every single person has a smile on their face, tapping their feet to the beat of her song and swaying back and forth with the melody.
I look back to her and watch her mouth move near the microphone. Her eyes are soft, and she’s got a sweet smile as her gaze roams over the audience with confidence and affection. Her eyes land on someone near the stage, and for just a moment she seems to sing only to that person. A flood of what might be possessiveness wells up inside me as my eyes slide to where she’s looking, and I’m dumbfounded to see Brian Brannon sitting at a pub table near the stage. He’s smiling back at Lexi, drumming his fingers on the table near a small teacup.
What in the heck is he doing here?
My eyes cut back to Lexi and she gives him a grin before singing the last words and strumming her instrument one last time. The entire place erupts into cheers, the loudest being from Brian Brannon, who stands up from his stool and claps heartily in approval. My own hands come together to clap, unable to stop myself and the amazement over her performance.
“Thank you,” Lexi says into the microphone, and once again, that husky voice slams into me like an aphrodisiac. How can a woman’s voice have that much of an effect on me, but then again . . . it was like listening to an angel sing just a bit ago.
“I’ve got one more song tonight, and it’s my favorite,” she says into the mic as she softly strums. “You regulars in here have heard me sing it before, but tonight . . . I’m just really feeling this tune, so I’m going to share it with you again.”
A lone voice calls out from the back of the room, “Get it, Lexi,” and then a few wolf whistles, before she starts to play.
And then she launches into “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” in a jaunty, upbeat tempo while her Dr. Marten taps in rhythm on the wooden platform. Her voice causes tingles to pop out over my skin and I marvel at the way her dark hair shines under a lone pendant light that radiates down on her from above.
So perplexing as my eyes move back to Brian once again, who is listening to Lexi with a huge smile on his face.
I contemplate turning around and walking out, because I have no clue why the CEO of the Cold Fury is here. I also have no clue what his relationship is with Lexi, but whatever it is, it’s a very personal one for sure. I can just tell by the looks they exchange as she sings.
But ultimately, my curiosity gets the better of me, and besides, I came all this way tonight to see this woman, so I’m not about to give up yet.
While Lexi sings, I listen with half an ear while I order a bottle of water at the counter. The girl behind the counter seems positively put out that she can’t make me a cup of coffee, but I make sure to float a few bucks in the tip jar all the same.
In the dim yet cozy atmosphere of The Grind, I find my way to the opposite side of the room from where Brian Brannon sits and choose a low-slung chair that rests up against the wall where I can observe Lexi.
I sip my water while she sings, and I watch the interplay between her and my ultimate boss.
When she finishes her song, she says “Thank you” again to the cheering crowd and reminds them she’ll be back again the following evening. Then she stands up and I notice that people start flocking to the stage, not to talk to Lexi, but to put money into a tip jar sitting on the wooden platform that I hadn’t noticed before.
Lexi, however, steps off the stage and walks up to Brian Brannon, who stands to greet her. He holds his arms out and she walks into them, laying her cheek against this chest briefly as he embraces her. They hug for a long moment, then they pull away, although his hands hold on to her shoulders. Lexi looks up at him with absolute adoration as he talks to her, and she nods at something he says. Then Brian leans down and kisses her on her cheek softly before pulling away and walking toward the door.
I watch as Lexi stares after him a long moment, a wistful look on her face that causes my stomach to churn. What the heck is between them? Given the hug and the kiss, my mind immediately turns to the worst scenario.
That they’re dating.
Is that why Gray was so cold to her? Because her father is dating someone that’s probably her age?
So weird, and so disappointing for me if that’s true.
But is it true? Lexi was just flirting with me this morning in the locker room, and it’s something I need to know for sure.
My thoughts are jolted as I realize Lexi is walking toward me with one hand holding her ukulele by the neck, sometimes stopping at tables to exchange a few words with the patrons, probably giving her praise for her performance. She walks away from the table that sits right next to my chair and doesn’t even see me as she starts to pass by.
“Lexi,” I call out, and she spins around on me, her face once again lighting up with welcome as she recognizes my voice before she even sees me.
“Roman,” she exclaims as she steps back toward me, and I’m oddly invigorated by the happiness I hear in her voice. “What are you doing here?”
I stand up from the chair and my eyes shoot down to the instrument in her hand. “Finding out that you have a hidden talent, apparently.”
She grins even as her cheeks turn pink. She holds up the ukulele and shrugs. “It’s a weird talent, for sure.”
“It’s a talent,” I say pointedly. “And your singing and playing were beautiful.”
“Awww,” she says sweetly. “Thanks. But seriously, what are you doing here?”
“I struck out with you due to bad timing,” I tell her as I take a step toward her. “Thought I’d try to get your phone number one last time before I give up.”
“You don’t strike me as a man that ever ives up,” she says, and then points back down to the seat I’d just vacated. “I’ve got a bit of time, though, before I start if you want to talk.”
“Start what?” I ask.
“I’m working until closing at 10 p.m.,” she says, and moves to take the chair next to the one I’d been sitting on, resting her ukulele against the side. She pats her hand on the cushion beside her and nods toward it. “So sit down, take a load off, and I might even give you my number.”
I plop back down into the chair, angle my body toward her while my fingers fidget with the paper on the water bottle in my hands. No sense in beating around the bush. “So, I need to throw this out there . . . I saw Brian Brannon in here listening to you.”
Another rush of pink to her cheeks accompanied by an alarmed look. “Oh, that . . .”
“Yeah, that,” I mimic in a teasing tone so I keep this light as it should be. “Are you dating him? Because while I’m all for casual dating with no commitment, I totally cannot get on board with sharing you with my boss.”
Lexi’s eyes open wide in astonishment and she exclaims, “God no! Are you kidding me?”
“You two look awful close,” I point out. “And I could tell this morning in the locker room that things weren’t cozy between you and Gray. Before I try to get that number from you, I need to know if I’m wasting my time.”
“You’re not wasting your time with me,” she says hurriedly, and then leans toward me, and with a lower voice continues, “I can’t tell you the nature of my relationship with Brian Brannon, at least not yet, but you can absolutely believe it’s not romantic.”
“What?” I ask in a joking manner. “Are you like his secret love child or something?”
The minute Lexi gasps, I realize I’ve hit the nail on the head, and then it’s confirmed by the guilt I see on her face.
I lean in closer to her and whisper, “You’re his secret love child?”
“No,” she practically hisses at me. “I mean, yes . . . I’m his daughter, but you cannot tell anyone. He and Gray aren’t ready to announce it, but I’m not a secret love child. Well, actually, it was a secret my mom kept from me and I just found out several months ago, but I wasn’t created out of love. At least not on his part, I don’t think . . .”
Her words trail off, leaving a sad vibe behind as she stares at her hands. I reach out, put my hand under her chin, and lift it up. “I won’t tell anyone, Lexi. Your secret is safe with me.”
She lets out an exhale of relief, and I’m surprised when her own hand comes up and she pushes her fingers through mine. She pulls my hand down into her lap and lays her other hand on top. “I’m sorry. This is just really weird, and awkward, and I like the time we’ve spent talking, as little as it’s been. I hate to lay this on you, and as you can see, my life is a little tumultuous right now. Maybe you should walk—or run—in the opposite direction.”
“Now why would I do that?” I ask her seriously. “Do you know how long I’ve been searching for a woman who can play the ukulele?”
My goal is achieved as she laughs, and it’s warm, rich, and husky, which warms my blood and again speaks to me for some reason. “You’re crazy,” she says softly.
“Totally,” I agree with her. “But seriously . . . what’s the deal? How did you find out he was your father and why didn’t you know before?”
Lexi glances at her watch, apparently decides she has time, and says, “My mom never told me Brian was my father. They broke up before she found out she was pregnant. I didn’t find out until she was sick with cancer and dying, about a year ago.”
I feel a vague sadness for her losing her mom, and a slight happiness for her finding her dad. But those feelings are dulled, as it’s hard to have true empathy for her situation when I don’t understand the significance of family. I was never close to my parents back in Prague, and I left home at the age of thirteen to play hockey abroad. I’ve only seen my parents a handful of times since, and we hardly talk. I’ve been on my own for so long it’s a bit difficult for me to understand the concept of familial bonds. Add in the fact that in professional hockey you can get traded and uprooted at any given time, it’s always been a bit hard for me to form deep bonds with people in my life.
Still, learning this little bit of her history, I find myself even more drawn to her. She’s still fabulously mischievous, funny as hell, and sexy as all get out. Her backstory makes her even more interesting, and her singing made her a million times more attractive to me. Not quite sure how I feel about her being the daughter of Brian Brannon, which makes her hockey royalty, but I know I absolutely want to take her out, and I absolutely want to get in her pants. I assume, however, that with a woman like Lexi, there’s a certain order to things.
So I go ahead and ask, “You’re going to give me your number, right?”
“Why, yes I am,” she says without hesitation.