Defensive Hearts-Chapter 1
Btu Alumni, Book 7
One year ago
“Didn’t your mother ever warn you your face could freeze that way?” I pull up short, my steps halting on the stairs as I swing my gaze over to the blonde cocooned in her husband’s arms, bouncing her hazel eyes over my features.
When I went upstairs to unpack, there was one Donnelly in the kitchen. Now there are three, plus the Donovan who married into their family. This is way more people-ly than I’m used to in my downtime.
All I wanted was a drink after being buried in moving boxes for the last hour. But, instead of finding a beverage to quench my thirst, I’m greeted with an assessment that has me wishing I kept a jockstrap on me when I finished unpacking. I know the woman is a mom, but damn it takes talent to make a grown man wish for ball protection with a single facial expression. Also…what the hell is it about kitchens that cause people to gather like it’s a freaking waterhole in the Serengeti?
I force the muscles in my face to relax, smoothing out the scowl currently being critiqued before it leads to more commentary. It’s one thing dealing with criticism from the talking heads about my performance on the ice. However, coming face-to-face with a similar analysis in my free time is not a situation I have experience with.
On a good day, nobody would ever mistake me for Stanley Sunshine, Suzy Sunshine’s hotter older brother, but even I can agree my attitude lately leaves a lot to be desired. And snapping at this woman? Yeah…that would be detrimental to my health. Or worse—my career.
Why? Well, that clean-cut white guy she must be standing on tiptoe to see over is both her older brother and my new team captain, Ryan Donnelly.
Ugh. I can’t seem to escape them.
“I’d apologize for my sister”—Ryan waves a hand at the blonde who has switched her scrutiny to him in an epic side-eye—“but it’ll probably be easier if you just get used to her.”
He makes a good point.
She may not be as recognizable as the athletes she manages PR for, but anyone who is anyone in the sports world knows who Jordan Donovan—formerly Donnelly—is. And for those of you in the back of the class who may not know, the chick has bigger cajones than anyone in the locker rooms she frequents.
“That’s a motherfucking fact.” The booming amused statement comes from Jase Donnelly swiveling to and fro on the barstool next to Ryan.
I’d question why he’s here since he doesn’t even play for our team—in fact, he plays for our rivals, the New York Storm—but as Ryan’s younger brother and Jordan’s Hemsworth-looking twin, I guess it makes sense, though I can only make that assumption based on what I’ve seen in the movies or on TV because that is certainly not a family dynamic I have dealt with firsthand.
As if sensing I need the prompting—because they are vastly more intelligent than me—two massive skulls press against the backs of my thighs until my knees buckle and my feet move. I shuffle the rest of the way into the kitchen thanks to my own personal manners patrol—my two Great Danes, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm—and join this impromptu Donnelly family gathering.
“Shut up, Jase.” Jordan scowls at her twin.
“What’d I do?” He shrugs, holding his hands up as if to say, I’m innocent.
Jordan shifts onto her forearms, her long ponytail swinging forward onto the countertop. “Why are you even here? I thought Gemma was coming over.”
Jase shifts in his chair, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “Sh-she is,” he stutters, setting his phone down on the counter.
The corner of Jordan’s mouth rises, her cheekbone twitching with the movement. Whatever expression she’s making while typing on her phone has Jase scrambling to appease her.
“Have I told you I love you today, wombmate?”
“Suck-up,” Ryan cough-says into his fist, causing Jordan to jerk her attention back to him.
“Don’t act all innocent, Ry. You keep talking smack and watch what happens.”
Ryan pales under his summer tan, Adam’s apple bobbing slowly as if to confirm: See, everything you’ve heard about her is true.
“Your wife is a menace, Donovan,” Ryan complains to the man once again cocooning the woman in question.
Jake Donovan, the goalie for the Blizzards and another one of my new teammates, laughs at his brother-in-law before glancing my way. It doesn’t matter that he’s dressed in a faded Blizzards Hockey tee, gym shorts, and a backward navy ball cap; the man is just as formidable without the bulk of his goalie gear and skates as he is with it.
But…him winking at me with one of those twinkling green eyes, including me in this insanity, is…weird, as is Jase jumping up and shouting “FACT” as he throws booyah arms.
What the fuck is this?
Is this what a typical Donnelly family powwow is like? And do they regularly have them on Tuesday afternoons?
Nothing, absolutely nothing about this scenario looks like my life from a mere week ago, but for some unexplainable reason, that tiny eye movement has a strange sense of camaraderie pumping through my veins.
I shake off the sensation and focus back on the conversation playing out in front of me. It feels like I should be taking notes, so it’s probably best I pay attention and don’t miss anything.
“Don’t try pinning this on me, Cap,” Jake challenges. “Your sister is a product of her upbringing.”
“Yet you still married her, Brick,” Ryan challenges back, his posture improving as his confidence returns.
This time Jase’s “FACT” is a bellowing cheer.
“Yes, he did,” Jordan retorts, utterly undeterred by her brothers’ comments. I’d even go as far as to say there’s an air of smugness to her statement. “So don’t force me into having my husband kick your ass, Ry.”
Jase loses it, his body sliding off his chair like water off a duck’s back.
Completely unfazed by his brother’s antics and his sister’s threat, Ryan leans back onto his elbows. “Never gonna happen, Jor.” He swivels his head around lazily and hooks a thumb at his chest. “I’m his captain.”
“Mmm, is that so?” Jordan angles her body to face Jake’s before walking her fingers up his chest. The moony eyes he stares down at her with have me tempted to call my dentist to check for cavities.
What in the—
First, I stumbled into this confounding conversation. Now…this? Am I high on dust? Were my moving boxes coated in some type of psychotropic drug? I swear that has to be it. It’s either that, or I’ve somehow entered an alternate reality.
This is not the same Jake Donovan I know from the ice. My experience with the over-six-foot wall of a man—aptly nicknamed The Brick Wall to our fellow puck heads—is of him fiercely and systematically blocking my shots on goal. This version has me wondering if I somehow stepped onto the set of some cheesy romantic comedy.
This is so not my scene. Accepting Ryan’s offer to live with him until I sort out my housing issues was difficult enough for…reasons.
But…this? Being tossed into what is obviously a ridiculously tightly knit and way too hunky-dory happy group is as fun as sitting in an ice bath after a brutal practice.
I know it makes me an asshole of the highest order, but the way they seamlessly and effortlessly include me in…well…anything is tripping me the hell up. Is this some sort of new age hazing I’ve never heard of? I get that I’m the new guy, the rookie who was traded midpreseason under…complicated circumstances—but why the fuck are they treating me as if I’ve been part of their squad since college like the rest of them have?
What’s their angle?
And Ryan? Nobody is actually this nice, are they? Experience tells me it can’t be possible. He has to be hiding some epic assholery behind his “nice guy” persona.
Fuck me. I know why trust is such a hard thing for me to give, but none of this makes it feel like any less of a double-edged sword.
“Sorry to tell you this, Cap, but…”
The smile blooming across Jordan’s face is just this side of evil, effectively snapping me out of my suspicious musings. The hairs on the back of my neck rise as she lets her incomplete sentence linger.
Holy shit. What is it about this woman that constantly makes my balls want to retreat inside my body like a turtle seeks shelter inside his shell?
“Pussy outranks pucks every time,” Jordan finally finishes.
Who is this woman? It makes me sound like a stereotyping patriarchal douche, but women who look like her don’t typically bro around like one of the guys. It’s…weirdly refreshing. Though again, I feel that slice of sharpened steel against my psyche.
Ryan’s body folds in two, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm taking advantage of his bent position to lick all over his face, long tongues slipping into his open mouth as he mock-gags to the soundtrack of Jordan’s cackle.
My muscles seize, ready and waiting for Ryan’s rebuke.
I know it.
How dare the great and powerful captain be violated by the lowly rookie’s dogs with drive-by French kisses.
Except…instead of evicting me from his home, Ryan laughs. Like full-on belly laughs, complete with an arm banded around his middle, shoulders bouncing like a too-warm puck ready to be swapped out, a palm slapping the granite countertop with skin-ringing force.
“Well, hello to you too.” Ryan gives each of my pups a hearty scratch between their floppy ears before smoothing his hand around to cup them under glistening, slobber-filled jowls. “That’s the most action I’ve gotten in a while.” He plops a smooch on Pebbles’s black nose.
“Eww.” Jordan sticks a finger in her mouth with a dry heave. “TMI, bro.”
“Says the girl boinking our best friend,” Jase chortles.
“Boinking?” Jordan’s brows smash together. “Really, Jase?”
I knew…knew Ryan’s offer to live with him was too good to be true.
This is precisely the type of situation that makes my skin crawl. And now, all because the Blizzards’ organization struggled to find temporary housing that allowed Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, there’s no escape from this group of inappropriate oversharers.
“All settled in?” Ryan dodges Jordan’s attempt to ruffle his hair, bobbing and weaving on his barstool.
My answer to the polite and completely genuine question is more grunt than actual English. My pups huff as they take their places beside me, leaning against me as I instinctually spread my feet apart to brace myself for their familiar weight. My shoulders fall, my whole body deflating at the sound. There is nothing like being judged by your dogs to put a man in his place.
I have to dig for it, but I eventually find the gratitude these people deserve. They may have me completely off balance with their openness and generosity, but I should know better than to hold others’ actions against them.
Still…it’s harder than it should be because fuck me, I’m triggered.
These days that’s all it takes to trigger me faster than the goal lamp after a slap shot, and this conversation has been littered with sentences comprised of them.
It’s amazing, really, how such tiny things can have the capability to upend a person’s entire existence, how such simple, short sentences can alter life to nearly unrecognizable proportions. They say bad things come in threes, and that certainly seems to be the case as of late.
“Alright.” Jordan presses up on her toes to kiss the underside of Jake’s jaw before pushing him away from her. “You three”—she circles a finger around to include her husband and brothers—“go play Mario Kart or something. Lord knows you could use the practice.”
“I’m pretty sure it was my Yoshi owning your Rosalina’s ass on Rainbow Road last night,” Jase boasts, moonwalking away from her. I swear the only thing bigger than his probably Viking-somewhere-in-the-Donnelly-lineage looks is his over-the-top personality.
“Keep talking shit, wombmate, and watch what happens.”
Jase hisses, making a cross with his fingers. “Devil woman.”
“Word to the wise.” Ryan steps up to my side while Jordan chases Jase out of the kitchen. “My sister is going to mama bear the crap out of you since you’re one of the new guys and because she’s a sucker for fur babies, but she also has a twisted sense of revenge should you mess with her.”
“Duly noted.” I nod, reaching down to pet Bamm-Bamm, who’s still by my side, unlike his sister, who’s prancing around with Jase.
“Good luck.” Ryan claps me on the back, and I’m about to ask With what? when I notice Jordan has come around to our side of the island counter and perched on top of it.
And now I’m back to wishing for my jockstrap. Scratch that—I’ll take all my hockey pads to guard against the serious expression now gracing Jordan’s pretty face.
“Talk to me about why you thought it was a good idea to punch Stanton.” Jordan laces her fingers together, folding her hands over her knee.
“Why? Worried I’m going to do the same thing to Ryan?”
“First off…” Jordan slices a finger through the air. “Lose the attitude. I’m not the enemy here. In fact, if you let me, I can help you.”
“I don’t need your charity.” I grab the back of my neck, pacing in a small circle.
“Charity?” She barks out a laugh. “Oh, honey, no. You would be paying me.”
“Then why?” I spin back to face her. “Are you really worried my aversion to captains will extend to your brother and I’ll go after Ryan?”
“Please.” Jordan rolls her eyes. “I don’t know what things were like in Minnesota, but if you even tried going after Ryan, the entire Blizzards roster would have your very fine broody ass.”
An unexpected laugh bursts from my lips. “Are you allowed to talk about my ass like that? You’re married.”
Jordan smashes her lips together like she’s trying to restrain a laugh of her own before calling out to her husband. “Babe, Jenson here is concerned about me complimenting his ass.”
Jake doesn’t even bother to pause his Mario Kart as he answers, “I don’t care where you get your appetite, baby, as long as you eat at home.”
“Gross,” Jase shouts.
“Not cool, bro,” Ryan adds.
I scrub a hand over my face. What rabbit hole have I fallen into?
“Thanks, babe.” Jordan returns her attention to me. “Now spill.”
Yeah…that would be a no. Because the why behind me punching my old captain in the face is not really something I like to think about.
Chance, I’m pregnant.
Oof, hearing those three words was like having Freddy Krueger himself jump out of my dreams to deliver that bombshell like a living nightmare.
“There’s nothing to spill,” I mutter.
“Mm-hmm.” If the expression on Jordan’s face is anything to go by, she doesn’t believe a single word I’m saying. “Because sending fists flying at people’s faces screams nothing to spill.”
“Are you sarcastic like this with all your clients?”
“Aww.” Jordan claps her hands with a happy shrug. “I love how easily you’ve accepted that I’ll be your publicist.”
“And the answer is yes,” Jase calls out, obviously eavesdropping on my conversation with his twin, though I shouldn’t be surprised given what I witnessed earlier. “Sarcasm is the love language of the Covenettes.”
“Covenettes?” I ask, arching a brow.
“It’s what my idiot brother calls my girl gang. Don’t mind him.” Jordan waves him off. “Tell me about what happened with Stanton.”
“I don’t know.” I smack my hands against my thighs. “I don’t typically condone violence off the ice, but the jackass needed to learn that actions have consequences.”
“You mean kinda like how karma served you up three of the worst words a hockey player—hell, any athlete—can hear?”
Oof. Talking about hitting the nail on the head and triggering a person.
You’ve been traded.
Not my finest hour, that’s for sure.
“Be nice, baby,” Jake cautions, sending me an I’m sorry my wife believes in brutal honesty glance over his shoulder.
“Looks like I’m not the only one who doesn’t pull their punches,” I say in an effort to change the subject.
“Don’t worry.” Jordan hops down from the counter. “You’ll learn to love that about me.” She pats me on the chest. “We’ll talk more later,” she threatens before flouncing away and climbing onto her husband’s lap.
Finally, after doing my damnedest to avoid purging my guts, I’m blessedly alone in the kitchen and can get that drink I initially came down for. Unscrewing the cap on a Gatorade bottle, I chug back half its contents then one of the phones on the counter lights up with a text. I glance at it out of habit and damn near swallow my tongue.
On the screen is a selfie of one of the most fuck-hot women I have ever seen in a set of gray lingerie that should be illegal to send over a text message.
My jaw drops as I take in her curves and her long dark locks spilling around her shoulders, curling around the cleavage spilling over her bra. A surge of heat ignites between my legs as my eyes wander lower to her full lips and captivating gray eyes twinkling with playful promise.
I gape at the photo like some kind of ticking time bomb waiting to go off any second, torn between the temptation of this beautiful woman and the urge to close my eyes to shut out the memory of who she reminds me of.
I don’t know who she is, but she’s clearly trying to get someone’s attention. When her next text comes through, the who she’s trying to reach becomes obvious.
PROTEIN PRINCESS: Would this make you show me your hockey stick?
She’s a bunny.
Of course she’s a bunny. Women don’t send text messages like that to people like Jase Donnelly unless they are a puck bunny thirsty for hockey dick.
I should know. I’ve had my share of experience with the type.
But I’ve learned my lesson: no more puck bunnies. They only come with drama.
Drama and lies.
Drama that ends up with you getting traded from your hockey team.
And lies about being pregnant with your child.
**defensive hearts will be live February 23rd. preorder now.**