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The Keeper: Chapter 12


“Wanna grab dinner?”

I look over at Boone, who hasn’t stopped staring at his phone. Over the past twenty-four hours, I’ve learned he’s not just our co-captain. As far as I can tell, he’s also our social director. He may have actually missed his calling. “Is Kingston gonna be there?”

“Come on, cradle robber, you know he is,” he taunts with a goofy-ass grin.

He also never seems to take anything but his game seriously.

On the ice, he’s a killer. Off the ice, he’s the joker.

“Fucker. She’s barely five years younger than me.”

“Yeah, I know. But it’s so much fun to piss you off. Kingston’s sister is like this on-off switch for you. Him too, now that I think about it.”

“Yeah. I’m gonna pass on dinner.” I’m not willingly forcing myself to deal with Jace any more than I have to.

“You’re never gonna mesh with the team if you keep hiding in here, Hayes.” He’s not wrong, but there’s not a chance in hell I’m telling him that or that I’m having dinner with Jace.

“Listen, I’m trying to respect Kingston and steer clear. At least for now.”

“We got three more days, Hayes. You gonna hide the whole time?”

There’s a knock on the door, and Boone waits to see if I’m gonna change my mind.

I’m not.

“All right. But I’m gonna get you to come out with us at some point,” he tells me before he grabs his coat and leaves.


Not two minutes later, there’s another fucking knock.

“Dude. What? Did you forget your key card?” I yank the door open and stop, frozen in place. “You’re not Boone.”

“No,” Lindy’s eyes light up. “I’m not.”

“Princess . . . how are you here?”

She lifts up on her toes and kisses my cheek, and I swear I feel that one fucking touch everywhere. “Wanna run away with me?”

“What?” I laugh. “I kinda signed a contract that says I need to be here tomorrow.”

“That’s okay. It’s just one date. I’ll have you back tonight. You game?”

“To run away with my wife? Fuck yeah, I’m game.” I grab my hoodie and take her hand in mine. “Where to, Mrs. Hayes?”

She stops and looks at me, her eyes fucking shimmering like I haven’t seen in a long damn time. “I might not hate the sound of that as much as I used to.”

“I guess that’s a start.” I squeeze her hand. “Want to grab something to eat?”

“Uh, uh, uhh. I decided it was my turn to do the wooing. I’ve got plans for us.” She pulls a box from behind her back and hands it to me.

“What’s this?” I pull on the black-velvet bow as Lindy smiles at me.

“Open it and see.”

I lift the lid and the tissue paper and find a light-gray peacoat and a black cashmere scarf. “You bought me a coat?”

“Yeah, hockey boy. It’s snowing in Washington, and you’ve only got a hoodie with you. Now put it on, and let’s go.”

I slide it over my arms, and Lindy takes the scarf and folds it around my neck. “So handsome.” She smiles at me, and the world feels fucking right. “You ready?”

“Lead the way.” I follow my wife down through the lobby, where a town car is waiting for us out front.

The driver moves to open the door, but I cut him off and hold it open for Lindy, then slide in next to her. “You know, Jules warned me about you Kingstons and your wooing.”

“Can we please not talk about my family tonight? I need a little distance.” She crosses her legs and folds her hands in her lap nervously. “Tonight, I’m embracing being a Hayes.”

“Princess . . . I love you being a Hayes. But a few days ago, you weren’t even sure you wanted to be married. You can’t run away from your family forever. And when you decide you’re ready to be mine, I’m gonna need it to be because you want me, not because you don’t want them.”

“I know.” She lays her hand over mine. “But I realized something when you called earlier.”

“Oh yeah? What did you realize?” I ask her and bring her knuckles to my lips.

“I realized standing up for myself today wasn’t me running away from my family. It was me running toward my life. And I want that life to include you.”

“Lindy . . .”

The driver stops the car. “We’re here, Ms. Kingston.”

“Thank you. I think we should be about an hour.”

I look through the tinted windows at the twinkling lights in front of us. “Where are we?”

“You’ll see.” She opens the door and tugs me out after her. “I just thought we could use a little fun tonight.”

We walk through a roped-off parking area to a small ticket booth and then into a Christmas Village. Holiday lights are strung across the aisles, highlighting booths full of food and games. A twenty-foot-tall, lit tree is off to one side, with Santa sitting in a big red, regal-looking chair and a line of kids in front of him. In the center of it all is an outdoor ice rink and skate rental. I tug down Lindy’s soft white hat until the fuzzy white pompom bounces. “We going skating, princess?”

“We sure are, hockey boy.” She tugs on the collar of my peacoat. “Wanna watch me kick your ass?”

I wrap my arm around her waist and squeeze her ass. “I’d much rather watch your ass than kick it, baby. But if you think you can skate faster than me, I’ll race you. Just don’t think I’m letting you win.”

“Bring it, hockey boy.”

I spend the next hour looking for reasons to touch my wife.

To hold her hand.

To grip her hips. Her waist. Her face.

No one bothers us. Hell, no one even realizes who we are until we’re sitting on a bench once we’re done and taking our skates off. A little girl with a purple hat and matching mittens stops in front of us with a napkin and pen held in front of her. Her mother stands off to the side, silently watching her. “Excuse me. Are you Madeline Kingston?”

“That depends.” Lindy smiles. “Do you promise not to tell anyone?”

The girl pulls her mitten off and holds up her pinkie finger. “Pinky swear.”

Lindy pulls off her glove and links their pinkies. “Then, yes, I’m Madeline Kingston. Do you like figure skating?”

The little girls eyes grow as big as saucers. “I’m Sarah, and I watched you win the gold medal last year. You were amazing,” she says with this level of awe in her voice that makes me want to say, Yeah, kid, she really is that great. “I want to skate like you one day.” She looks over at me and tilts her head. “Are you her partner?”

Lindy rests her hand on my leg. “Can I tell you a secret?”

Sarah moves in closer and nods her head excitedly.

“He’s better than my partner. He’s my husband.”

Fuck . . . what those words do to me.

“He plays hockey,” Lindy tells her.

“Hockey?” Sarah’s face pinches. “Ehh. I like figure skating better than hockey.”

I think I just got dissed by a first grader.

“Would you sign this for me?” Sarah shoves the pen and napkin toward Lindy, who does the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. She signs the napkin.


Madeline Kingston Hayes


Once Sarah and her mom walk away, I turn toward Easton to ask if he wants to get something to eat, but the heat in his eyes stops me. “You okay, hockey boy?”

“You planning on taking my name, princess?” His voice is thick with emotion, and suddenly, it’s just him and me. The rest of the rink fades away, and something tugs at the back of my mind. Something important.

I move onto his lap and cup his face in my hands the way he seems to like doing to me.

“I was thinking about it,” I whisper against his lips, giving him a truth I’m not sure I even realized until now. “Is that okay with you?”

“It’s your choice, baby. You hold all the power. You always will.” Easton’s hand grips my head as he deepens our kiss, and I get a sense of déjà vu. His tongue licks into my mouth, and I hum a quiet moan. “You ready to get out of here?”

“Yes,” I whisper breathlessly, and Easton stands with me still in his arms.

“Put me down, hockey boy. We can’t scare the kids.”

“Fuck the kids.” He kisses me again, and I almost agree. Almost.

“Easton . . .” I pull back.

“Fine.” He drops my legs and lowers me to the ground. “Tell me you got a room at the hotel, because I’m sharing with Boone, and I don’t want an audience for what I’m about to do to you, princess.”

“Better. I got a suite.”

Easton groans and takes my hand in his. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”


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