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The Pucking Wrong Guy: Chapter 2



I grimaced at the sunshine and sighed for the millionth time since my plane had touched down.

I was standing in the parking lot of the arena, just staring at the building.

Practice started in thirty minutes. And I had a bunch of bullshit I needed to do before I stepped onto the ice.

Instead, I decided to procrastinate a little bit longer and call my good ole buddy Lincoln.

“How’s the land of milk and honey?” Lincoln drawled as soon as he picked up.

“Ugh, you sound way too smug and self-satisfied. You just had sex.”

“Yep,” he said with all the happiness of an asshole who was being laid regularly by his soulmate.

“Tell my bestie I say hi,” I snorted.

He scoffed. “She is not your bestie,” he immediately shot back. “Monroe only has one best friend, and that’s me.”

I cackled, because he had the same reaction every time we had this conversation, and it was making me feel better.

“You’re standing in the parking lot, aren’t you?” he said.


“Just getting pumped to see Soto.”


There was silence for a moment.

“This season is going to be weird.”

I swallowed, because now wasn’t the time to get all emotional about the fact that I’d given up my dream life to spend a year in California.

To get my dream girl.

Ok, it was worth it.

“I’m going to go piss off Soto,” I said, rather than answering, because I needed to hold onto my mantra that big girls don’t cry and all of that.

“Knock ‘em dead.”

“One year,” I said.

“One year,” he answered.

And then the phone clicked off.

Now that I’d gotten that dreamy motivational speech, it was time to go in.

I started towards the colossal structure before me, because L.A. obviously had to overcompensate for things…

Its architecture was sleek and pragmatic, tall columns framing the entrance, reflecting the sunshine and the pulsating energy around. The oversized windows, branded with the team’s insignia, gave me a sneak peek of what was inside – a sea of blue seats, the pristine ice waiting for skates, and the anticipation that only a roaring crowd could generate.

In that moment, I could almost hear the distant cheers, the sound of blades cutting through the ice, and the satisfying thump of a puck connecting with its mark.

I took a deep breath, the salt tinged air mingling with the distant hum of the city.

And for the first time…my fingers tingled with anticipation.

Let’s go, boys.

I ambled into the Cobras locker room, the colors assaulting my eyeballs like a fashion disaster at a circus. Seriously, who decided that purple and yellow were the ultimate power combo? My inner fashion critic went on strike right then and there.

But, I had to begrudgingly admit, the place wasn’t a dump. The lockers shone like they were auditioning for a toothpaste commercial, and the gear was so neatly arranged, one of the employees had to have a raging case of OCD.

As some enthusiastic voice from the front office droned on next to me about team history, my mind decided it was a great time for a mini-vacation. My feet, however, were on a mission of their own, leading me down the locker-lined path like they knew something I didn’t. Maybe they thought there was a hidden treasure chest of snacks at the end of the line of jerseys.

I caught bits of the presenter’s spiel about team dynamics and the upcoming season. Yeah, yeah, synergy, chemistry, blah, blah. My brain was pondering more important matters, like how in the world I’d ended up in this fucking locker room. But there I was, surrounded by the scent of sweaty balls and Lysol.

And there he fucking was.

When I turned the corner, John Soto was leaning against one of the lockers, my rival extraordinaire, or as I liked to call him, the poster child for ‘bad hair dye,” looking like a mole on someone’s left ass cheek.

Not my left ass cheek, obviously. There was only perfection there.

But someone’s…

“Do you need anything before practice, Mr. Lancaster?” The office minion finished his spiel, staring at me hopefully like he was going to get a tip after one of the more boring experiences of my adult life.

Maybe he’d accept a stick of gum. That had worked for Kevin McCallister, after all.

“Nice of you to grace us with your presence, Lancaster,” Soto drawled then, yanking my attention away from bubble gum tips, to his ugly face.

The trade had just happened, so I’d missed most of preseason training.

But fuck my life.

Hopefully, Layla knew how to make cookies because I would deserve several panfuls after my sacrifice this year.

Blake, not Layla—I needed to remember that was her name now.

Soto chuckled, temporarily pulling my thoughts away from my soulmate. I shivered in mock disgust as I stared at him. Reddish hair that could probably be seen from space, a nose that seemed to have been designed by Picasso during his abstract phase, and eyes that were more watery green than a kiddie pool at a summer camp—Soto was a walking masterpiece of genetic mishaps.

It was like the universe decided to throw all the quirky features it had in storage and mash them together into a character that even a caricature artist would hesitate to sketch.

Other members of the team were watching us, and I gave them a little salute, because I was classy like that.

“Hell must have iced over, boys. Ari Lancaster is in the house,” Soto droned.

Soto’s voice, I swear, was like a high-pitched car alarm that got stuck on repeat. You know those cartoons where a character inhales helium and starts talking like they’re auditioning for a chipmunk choir? Well, Soto must have had bad helium for breakfast, because his voice would have made those chipmunks weep.

“Someone had to class you up, boys,” I drawled, surveying the team, mentally cataloging what I knew about them from playing against them the last few years.

First up was Callum, the human wall they called a defenseman. I had to hand it to him, the guy had a wingspan that could probably block out the sun. His nickname could’ve been ‘No Entry Zone’ with those arms, but for all his defensive prowess, he moved like a glacier in the Sahara. Give that guy a GPS tracker, because he could use some directions on the ice. He’d be relegated to second line now that I was here, but he wasn’t glaring at me, so props to him.

Then there was Tommy, the sniper with a shot that could probably take down satellites. His accuracy was like a heat-seeking missile, and he had the kind of poker face that would make Lady Gaga proud. But get him into a fight, and he turned into a deer caught in headlights. I guess body checks weren’t part of his playlist.

And let’s not forget Frankie, the speed demon on skates. Seriously, if he went any faster, he might turn into a blur and disappear into another dimension. The guy was like a caffeine-fueled cheetah, darting around the ice like he was late for a date with destiny. But his focus sometimes took a vacation mid-game. I swear, he’d be zipping along one moment and then suddenly doing the ice equivalent of interpretive dance the next.

My gaze flicked back to Soto. He had no strengths. Only weaknesses. And I didn’t want to hurt my pretty brain going over them.

L.A. didn’t suck. But they were nothing like my boys in Dallas.

One year.

Soto sighed and held out his hand to me. “Truce?” he suddenly offered, and honestly, keeping the laughter in was all I could do because…


I acted like I was considering it and started extending my hand…before abruptly yanking it back.

“Sorry, Soto. I can’t even pretend to like you.”

Soto’s face curled up in a snarl as he dropped his fake ass peace offering. “Fuck you, Lancaster.”

I winked at him.

“Sorry, not without dinner first. Your tiny dick would be so forgettable, I’d have to at least get a steak out of it.”

The locker room erupted in laughter, and I was impressed. Maybe these guys had a sense of humor after all.

I strolled to the locker with my name on it so I could get ready for practice, pleased with how the day was going. I could feel his gaze on my back, like he was trying to shoot lasers into my buttcheeks.

“Walker Davis,” a voice next to me said as I pulled my skates out of the bag I’d brought with me.

I glanced over. Ah, Walker, the team’s resident heartthrob—before my arrival, of course—and all-American poster boy. If life were a rom-com, he’d be cast as the dashing lead who effortlessly steals hearts and has a smile that features in forty billion Instagram pages. Brown hair that probably had its own fan club, the kind of jawline that made sculptors reconsider their life choices, and eyes that sparkled like they were in a perpetual photoshoot—Walker was the embodiment of every high school crush come to life.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he woke up every morning to a choir of birds helping him get dressed.

Get him in a room with Lincoln and me, and people would be fainting all over the place.

He was also the only All-Star on the team before today, his skills actually surpassing my boy Bender. He was a lot younger than Bender, too.

We’d be a dream team if you put him on the ice with me and Lincoln.Something to think about for later…

“Ahh, Walker, the goalie with a face that could launch a thousand ships,” I drawled.

He snorted and extended a hand like he was offering a VIP ticket to the ‘I’m Gonna Steal Your Girl’ show. ‘Nice to have you on board,’ he said, all charming and Disney prince-ish. I shook it, fighting the urge to ask if he always had a wind machine following him around.

I got dressed and followed him down a hallway to practice.

Out on the ice, it was the first time I felt like maybe I hadn’t landed on an alien planet—the cold bite of the rink, the familiar swoosh of skates. New team, but same ice. As I skated around, I could pretend for a second that I was home in Dallas, about to lay Lincoln on his ass.

But then Soto skated by me and I remembered how bad this place sucked.

A whistle blew, and it was time for practice to begin.

Cobras Head Coach, Kim Palmer, introduced me like I was the star attraction at a circus. ‘Ari Lancaster, a man who needs no introductions after the hell he’s put this team through. He’s God’s gift to hockey and we’re lucky bastards to have him.’ Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what he said, but close enough.

Coach Kim himself looked like he’d just stepped out of a motivational poster. Salt-and-pepper hair, stern jawline—the kind of guy you’d expect to find delivering a halftime speech in a sports movie. He had that ‘I’ve seen it all’ aura, like he could predict our plays before we even made them. I half-expected him to start quoting Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War.’

He was a decent coach surrounded by mid-tier talent. Not much he could do about that.

Drills were the name of the game as practice began. Skating, passing, shooting—we were like a discombobulated dance troupe, except with more helmets and fewer sequins.

Soto, in his ever-enthusiastic state, decided it was a fantastic idea to try to check me, like we were in the NHL version of a WWE showdown.

I laughed as I pried myself off the boards. ‘Is that all you got, birdbrain? Because your check was about as effective as your mama’s mouth last night.’

Soto’s face went a violent shade of red that almost matched his awful hair. “Fuck you!” he roared for the second time today, because his pea-sized brain obviously couldn’t think of anything more creative than that.

He moved to come after me again when Walker skated by, all diplomacy and dimples. ‘Soto, wish you tried that hard to hit people in games.”

Alright, this Walker guy wasn’t too bad.

Soto grimaced at Walker’s comment, but surprisingly, he didn’t say anything else. He just skated off in a huff.

I winked at Walker, and he rolled his eyes. We got back to practice, the drills blending into each other like a workout montage. The ice echoed with the slap of pucks and the scrape of skates, a soundtrack of effort and anticipation.

It felt all wrong.

After all these years, I could read Lincoln and my other Dallas teammates easily, predict what they were going to do before they did it.

The only thing I could predict with this team was that Soto would suck.

At least I could take solace in why I was doing all of this. What the end game would be.

When Walker asked if I wanted to hit happy hour afterwards, it was easy to say no. Because today…my plan for that endgame began.


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