THE SCORING SECRET: Coming January 2024
The next book in the Off the Ice series is The Scoring Secret! It doesn’t have a formal blurb yet, but it’s basically You’ve Got Mail for the Tinder age.
What follows is the unedited first draft of the first two chapters. These are subject to change as the book is written! Don’t hold me to any of this, but here’s a sneak peek at what I’m planning for Ty and…Kiley!
Chapter One: Ty
It sounds obnoxious, but I really do have the best fucking life. I don’t remember the last time I needed an alarm to wake me up for my early morning run, for example. The South Florida sun calls to me—a hockey kid from upstate New York—like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.
I roll out of bed whistling and pull on shorts and running shoes. It’s a warm one today, and the bright morning rays feel good on my bare chest. I take the first lap down the strip easy, warming up, then pick up my pace. Sweat pricks my skin in that lazy, good workout kind of way.
Ahead of me, a beautiful Black woman bounds into view, her long legs stretching in an eye-catching way that drags my gaze to her high, tight ass, just in time to realize she’s not alone, and the lighter brown-skinned man she’s running toward doesn’t appreciate this white boy ogling her.
I give him a shameless grin and sprint past them. No harm, no foul.
And just ahead of them is a curvy redhead with a jiggly tummy that would look real good beneath me on a bed. Back arched, pale tits turning pink as she gets closer to a release…all the creamy white skin painted with my own release, after she has another.
It’s not hard to imagine how we could spend the next few hours, if she’s single and willing.
And if she’s not, then there are plenty of fish in the sea. Or in the sea-adjacent park, as it were.
Best. Fucking. Life.
I’m about to pull alongside her and introduce myself when my phone vibrates in my hand.
Without breaking my stride, I answer, not bothering to look at the screen. Nobody calls me at seven in the morning unless it’s important. “Yello.”
It’s the general manager for the NHL team I have the honour of being the captain of. The team I led to the Cup finals last year. “Ty, I’m sorry to call so early. Do you have a minute?”
Ten hours later, I’m landing in Montreal. In the middle of a blizzard.
All right, blizzard is slightly overstating the situation, but there isn’t a jiggly belly in sight, because it’s February and Montreal is 1500 miles north of the south Florida sun I already miss more than I should.
This is professional hockey.
One minute you’re planning out a lazy morning fuck with an agreeable stranger, and the next you’re throwing everything you need for the next two weeks into an oversized dufflebag, because you’ve been traded to Hamilton Fucking Ontario—that’s right. I’m only going to be in Montreal for the night, because the team that acquired me is on a road trip.
Ty Connor, say goodbye to the sun, say hello to a series of hotel rooms as you learn the systems and structures of a whole new organization.
Because the team you led to the Cup Fucking Final no longer has need of your very specific, spectacular talents.
Time for a rebuild in Miami, and rebuilds don’t happen around thirty-two-year-olds who eat up too much cap space.
It’s not that I’m unfamiliar. I’m fucking familiar. Hamilton is only an hour and a half from where I grew up outside Buffalo. It’s what you drive past—gritty steel plants and all—on your way to the hockey centre of the world, Toronto.
I mean, it could be worse. I could have been traded to Toronto.
Fucking hell, I miss my apartment with a clear view of the Atlantic Ocean already.
At the moment, peering out of the car window at the restaurant where I’m about to meet most of my new teammates for the first time off the ice, all I can think is, I wish I’d packed a warmer coat.
Layer in the hideous argyle socks and the fucking weird bagpipe-playing boar mascot
Shit goes from bad to worse when I can’t play the next night in Montreal, because moving from an American team to a Canadian team comes with some immigration logistics that we can’t just magic away on a Saturday afternoon. I have to watch from a box up top as my new team loses.
The team itself is fine. Good, even. Different vibe than Miami. Younger, but not as young as the Miami team will be when they’re finished their rebuild stage one. Keen, but still figuring out their systems.
Not so entrenched in what structures work that they aren’t open to new ideas, and as a former captain…I have ideas. A lot of them.
So then I think, all right, this ain’t all bad. We win in Minnesota.
Four days after I’m traded, I finally land in Hamilton. It’s not quite a blizzard, but it’s definitely not running shirtless weather, either. The team owns a couple of condos across the road from the arena, and they put me up in one of those rooms.
The captain’s wife puts me on a group chat with a real estate agent she likes.
I arrange for my G-Wagon to be transported north. The Lambo can stay in Miami for when I visit.
And I change my location on Tinder.
There’s an art to being on apps as a professional athlete. My profiles are pretty anonymous, even with photos that show enough to not be a creep. My standards are reasonably high. She has to be roughly the same age as me or older. I want our early conversations to cover the basics in a straightforward way, like protection and no strings and this is probably just once. If all of that turns us both on, we’re good to go.
It takes a while to find those partners, and I know that.
I should definitely not rush into finding a warm bed, just because I miss the fucking sun, and it had been a while even when I was in Miami.
Okay, there’s a minor element of me still smarting from not catching some red flags on a hook-up in the summer, but the best way to get over a rough game is charging back onto the ice.
I was horny as fuck back in Miami, and now that I’ve got a (temporary) bed in Hamilton, I’m still fucking horny.
So when I match with a woman named Anna on a night off, and she brings up all of my basic requirements within a few minutes of chatting, I figure…why not go for it.
Get back on the ice. It’s been a few months, and my dick is lonely.
I swear she introduces herself at Ava when she opens the door, which makes me pause. But when I repeat it, with a question mark, she looks at me like I definitely misheard.
“Anna,” she says with a pretty enough smile that it’s fine. It’s not as if I’m using my real name either. “And this is Daffodil.”
A warm panting body nudges against my calf, and I nearly jump out of my skin.
“You said you like dogs.” She says it smoothly, like we talked about dogs for longer than a nanosecond before pivoting to do you use toys and do you like to watch, because yes and yes. That’s why I’m here.
No offense to Daffodil.
Chapter Two: Kiley
Freezing rain is not the best way to start a day, especially when one is about to go pick up an energetic dog for a week of quality Aunt Kiley and Puck extended walks.
But I still bounce out bed, full of energy. It’s just how I roll.
I have spent my entire adult life feeling like something good is right around the corner.
I’m an eternal optimist, even though I went to journalism school—and minored in drama—at exactly the moment in time the journalism industry contracted with devastating finality. I’ve used that degree for a lot of things. Touring with a theatre troupe on the fringe festival circuit. Getting temp admin work to pay the bills in between creative gigs. Copywriting for an ad agency out in Vancouver.
And then, almost a year ago, coming home to Hamilton, Ontario. Where my best friend, Harper, is a paediatric nurse and madly in love with the most senior player on the NHL’s newest expansion team, the Hamilton Highlanders. Where my twin brother, Grant, is a sports medicine physician and one of the team’s doctors.
Where I work at the hospital as a ward clerk, because I had just enough experience to fill in as a temp and I basically never left.
Through all of that, my optimistic outlook on life never wavered. All of it was life lessons I could channel forward. The idea of writing a novel started to percolate hotter and hotter, until I was sketching out scenes and sharing them with trusted friends.
So it was fine that Vancouver proved too expensive for an underemployed writer.
I told myself I’d come home, get a day job, and spend my time figuring out what kind of novel I want to write.
Instead, I perfected my dating app profile—thanks to having the maturity to finally listen to my brother, who is a Grindr Pro—and I’ve poured myself into enjoying a truly slutty year, with more misses than hits, but it’s all been…interesting.
And I returned just in time to assume part custody of my brother’s dog, Puck.
Grant adopted the chocolate lab before he got the position with the Highlanders, and now he needs to travel a week a month with the team during the hockey season.
Aunt Kiley to the rescue.
This morning, I collect Puck from Grant at the arena—and I stick around, because it’s super gross outside. Cold and wet, which Puck doesn’t mind but we’re at the end of the winter when I mind it a lot.
And the Highlanders have an indoor dog park area for the team and team-adjacent puppers.
I bump into Harper’s boyfriend, Kieran, on my way out of the medical bay. He drops to a squat and offers his palm to Puck. “Hey there,” he croons softly. Then he stands and checks his walk. “You heading upstairs?”
I grin. He knows that Puck and I use the indoor dog play area more than any of the players’ dogs do—and he doesn’t mind at all. Harper and Kieran are basically Puck’s godparents, anyway. “Why, do you want to panic grill me on what kind of engagement rings Harper might like best?”
“Is that the attitude you want to take, when I might actually have photos of engagement rings on my phone?”
My mouth drops open. “Are you serious?”
Now he’s grinning. “I have a favourite, but I thought I should run my gut check past you.”
“When are you going to ask her?”
“I don’t know. The right moment, whenever it happens. I just want to be prepared.” He holds the door open for Puck, and she pulls a little at her lead, eager now to get upstairs.
I remind her that we’re walking at my speed, and settles down.
As long as I can remember, Forge dogs have been been well trained, and Puck is no exception. If anything, I think Grant went above and beyond with her training, because he lives in a high-rise condominium apartment. We exercise her a lot, because there’s no backyard to go out into when she’s squirrelly. We need to anticipate her energy needs and meet them in advance.
Upstairs, I check to make sure we’re alone in the space, then let her off leash and she runs to her favourite part of the doggy climbing structure.
Kieran immediately pulls out his phone and shows me the rings he’s considering. They’re all stunning, and each of them would be a good pick for Harper. They match her personality and style.
“Which one do you get the most excited about when you think about asking her?” I ask him.
He bites the side of his lower lip in concentration and flips back and forth before a funny look settles on his face. A little soft, a little nervous. “The solitaire,” he says, and I swear his voice shakes.
Kieran Marsh, who is nothing but confident, even when he’s going all in on my bestie, is overcome by the possibility of proposing to her.
I love it.
I’m about to give him a hug when there’s barking in the hall.
I call for Puck, who comes to me even though she’s wondering who this new dog arriving is.
Then Ty Connor comes in, being tugged along by a sleek black lab.
As soon as they’re inside the room, the lab yanks away from Kieran’s new teammate and dashes to me, nosing at my pocket.
“Sit,” I immediately snap, firmly.
The dog sits. For a split second. But then it surges back to nose at the treats I use to reward Puck for being good.
“Sorry,” Ty says, swearing under his breath. This is the first time I’ve seen him up close, and he’s a lot. Tall, lean in most places, broad across the shoulders. He’s wearing a puffy jacket over a Highlanders shirt and fitted sweatpants that cling to his muscles. “Got distracted. Daffy, don’t do that.”
Daffy? Like the duck?
I again tell the dog to sit, and this time, I hold eye contact until the dog stays. Finally, when I think she’s got it, I flick a very quick glance at her clearly frazzled owner. “Can I give a treat?”
Ty doesn’t answer. He’s staring at me with startling green eyes. His dark, straight hair flops forward over his sharp, classically handsome features.
Kieran, who looks like he’s trying not to laugh, says his name.
Ty starts. “Yeah?”
I sigh. “Your dog? Can I give them a treat for sitting?” I smile down at the lab. “You’re a good dog.”
Good is a stretch here, but…she’s trying.
“It’s not my dog,” Ty says. “Just, uh, dog-sitting for the morning, I guess.”
I fish a treat out of my pocket and reward the dog. Then I pick up the lead, straighten up to my full five-foot-ten inches of height, and hand the leash over. “First rule of dog-sitting is know what they can and can’t eat. Second rule is, don’t let go of this.”
“So many rules, so early in the day,” he says, suddenly smiling in a way that lights up his whole face. I’m sure that’s devastatingly effective on women who don’t care about dog safety.
Does he think they don’t apply to him?
I frown. “Our dogs need to share this space, so, yeah. Rules.”
I glance at Kieran, hoping he’ll back me up. I don’t want to be rude to his new teammate, but this guy literally just moved here. Why is he dog-sitting, anyway?
Kieran is clearly on the same wavelength. “I need to head downstairs for practice. And so does he, soon, so you’ll have the space to yourself shortly.” He gives Ty an exasperated look. “Do you have a plan for the dog during practice?”
“Her owner’s…” Ty looks at his smart watch. “Ten minutes away, she swears.”
There’s a thread of uncertainty, even as he tries to make it sound like no big deal. My eyebrow shoots up, I can’t help it. Dog-sitting, my ass. He’s been here for a hot second and he’s already found an unreliable puck bunny with a badly behaved—or at least under trained—dog. Of course he has. He makes sweatpants look like they belong on a fashion catwalk. Of course he’s tumbled into bed with someone who probably spends more time on her hair than on keeping her dog properly exercised.
Ty Connor is officially ridiculous.
Kieran clearly wants to remove himself from this entire situation. He takes a step towards the exit. “I’ll see you later, Kiley.”
“Oh, this is Kiley!” Ty grins again. “The famous Kiley.”
If literally anyone else on the team said that to me, I’d probably reply with charm. My brother is one of the team’s doctors, my best friend is about to be engaged to one of their stars.
My dog reins supreme over the arena.
Plus, I follow most of the team on Instagram, and half of them follow me back. I genuinely love everything the Highlanders are doing for my little city, and I do my part in hyping them up. Of course I’m famous here.
But there’s something about the way this man says it. Like…he expects me to be impressed that he’s heard of me. While he’s holding the lead of some random puck bunny’s poorly behaved pup. As if women everywhere always fall for his charm, and that gets him out of trouble.
Annoyed tension twists up my spine. I want to snap back something like, and you are? But I’m not sure I have that in me, or how it would go over with Kieran. So instead I simply I tug on Puck’s leash. “Come on, Puckster. Let’s go explore down the other end of the hall.”
And I leave him staring at my back.
Ty Connor isn’t going to ruin my positive vibes. The day is still young, and good things can still happen. Just maybe not while I’m in the same building as the cocky hockey superstar.