The Pucking Wrong Guy: Chapter 5

ARI

The crisp chill of the ice seeped through my gear, waking me up better than a double shot of espresso. The arena erupted into a chorus of enthusiastic furor at our entrance and the energy hit me like a tidal wave, a deafening roar of cheers and applause that could rival a rock concert. It was the kind of thunderous applause that made your eardrums question their life choices.

Underneath my skates, the ice was as smooth as a freshly waxed dance floor. Each glide was like a sweet serenade from the rink itself, reminding me that I was the lead in this little ice ballet, and I had a standing ovation to earn.

I scanned the seats where Blake was supposed to be, but she was fashionably late, leaving a conspicuous gap in the crowd.

Or maybe she wasn’t going to come.

No, I’d been assured by my contact at Blake’s agency that her roommate would be as persuasive as she needed to be if the tickets came with the condition she had to bring Blake.

Tonight was the place to be, after all. There were celebs everywhere according to the team PR goons. The roommate would not want to miss out.

I shook my head and brought my mind back to warmups. I had a soulmate to impress and a game to win, and I intended to do it with flair.


The game was about to kick off, and the announcer’s voice echoed through the arena, introducing each member of the Cobras. It was yet another strange moment, hearing my name connected to this new team instead of the Knights.

Walker, always the motivator, slapped me on the ass and threw out a, ‘Slay, baby!’ I blinked at him in disbelief.

‘Did you just tell me to slay?’ I asked, my eyebrow arched.

He grinned. ‘Seemed like something Lincoln would say, you know? Get the vibe going.’

I couldn’t help but shake my head, my expression deadpan. ‘Lincoln is much cooler than that, Walker. He would be shook if he was with us right now.’

“Oh,” Walker said glumly, his features falling like I’d spit in his ice cream.

I patted Walker’s rear, and I gave him a nice nod of appreciation. ‘Thanks though, buddy,’ I said before gliding around the ice.

The game was about to begin, and it was time to show them what this Cobra was made of.

I let the electric energy of the arena wash over me. Dallas fans were better in every way, of course. But in a pinch, an L.A. crowd would do.

This was what I lived for, after all—the adrenaline, the spotlight, the game. I couldn’t help but flash a cocky grin as I lifted my stick in acknowledgment of the fans. They loved a showman, and I was more than willing to oblige.

I gave a little bow because I was fancy like that, and the crowd went wild. Hockey for me wasn’t just about playing the game; it was about putting on a performance. The crowd was here for entertainment, after all, and I aimed to give them a show they’d never forget.

I may have been showing off for the crowd, but there was really only one thing on my mind at that moment—the fact that Blake was here.

There she was, in my jersey, looking like my wildest wet dream. The fabric clung to her like a glove, accentuating all the right curves. Her gold hair framed her face, and those eyes…fuck. Those eyes were blowing my mind.

Like they always had.

She would have looked better in silver and blue, but the view right then was pretty close to damn perfection. She was outshining every star in this arena.

Blake was also staring at me in total shock, her eyes wide and surprised.

And dare I say…excited?

At least she remembered me. I would’ve been quite disappointed if in three days’ time I’d been forgotten. I’d tried to be more memorable than that at our little lunch date.

Not that it had been three days since I’d seen her. You can bet your bottom lip I was catching as many glimpses of her that I could. I’d been past the restaurant twice today just to get my fix.

Now I understood why Lincoln was such a fan of that little app. My BFF was brilliant.

I’d have to remember to tell him that next time too.

As Blake and I stared at each other, the roar of the crowd seemed to dim. It was as if time slowed, and in that suspended moment, it was only the two of us, lost in a sea of people.

I winked at her and blew a kiss, snorting with how freaking red she got.

She was a-dor-able.

Her roommate started bouncing around like a pinball, spitting questions at her.

‘Get your head in the game, Ari!’ Coach Kim’s voice snapped me out of my Blake induced reverie, his tone no-nonsense.

I nodded, trying to focus. The game was about to begin.

As a defenseman—the best in the league, might I add—my role was critical. I always had to be ready to intercept passes, break up plays, and deliver bone-rattling checks when needed. My job was to protect Mr. Prince Charming on the blue line. It was helpful that Walker was a shot-blocking machine. But based on last year’s team…he needed me. Bad.

The puck dropped, and the game exploded into motion. The Boston Reds charged forward, and I readied myself for the onslaught that was about to begin.

“Let’s do this, boys,” I shouted as Tommy skated past.

He winked at me, skating faster, and I decided I liked him. At least for now.

Determined to impress Blake…and everyone else, I intercepted passes with surgical precision, disrupting Boston’s plans at every turn. The crowd roared with each successful play, their energy spiking higher with each passing second.

A few minutes into the game, we found ourselves on a power play. Our first goal came from a blistering slap shot from the right circle, a rocket that left the opposing goalie helpless.

I whooped and tackled Tommy, along with the rest of the team. Getting that first goal of the season was clutch.

Play continued, and a few minutes later, Boston suddenly had a deftly executed breakaway, blowing past Soto as I was checked hard into the glass. Walker made a jaw-dropping save.

“That’s my fucking goalie,” I yelled as he sent the puck across the ice. He smirked at me cockily.

Maybe Walker was a little bit of a badass. I could consider letting him into Lincoln’s and my badass club.

Maybe.

While most of the team was meeting my expectations, Soto was blowing right past even the shit of what I expected from him. He was fucking sucking, a huge liability seemingly more interested in causing bedlam than playing the game. At one point—in a bizarre twist—he smashed me against the boards, a move that had me snarling in both frustration and disbelief.

‘Your mama hits harder than that, Soto,’ I quipped, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

He just smirked at me like the giant douchebag he was, and the game continued on.

During breaks, my gaze wandered over to Blake. She was tracking my every movement, it seemed, blushing prettily every time I skated past.

“Having fun?” I mouthed at one point, smiling as she ducked her head and nodded shyly.

Fuck, she was killing me with her perfection.

As the game reached its climax, we found ourselves in a tight spot. The score was tied, and time was running out. Tommy seized the moment once again. With a burst of speed, he danced around defenders and unleashed a wrist shot that found the top corner of the net.

Tommy pumped a fist in the air as he skated across the ice. I checked the clock. Two more minutes and the win was ours.

Boston wouldn’t go down without a fight, though. With thirty seconds left to go, their coach signaled for their goalie to head to the bench and sent out an extra skater in a last-ditch effort to secure a win.

As a defenseman, I usually focused on protecting our own net rather than scoring, but sometimes, the stars aligned just right.

Case in point.

With twenty seconds left, the puck found its way to me at the blue line. With the net empty, and the arena buzzing with anticipation. I decided to have some fun.

I wound up for a slap shot, and the puck sailed toward the vacant net, hitting the back of it with a resounding thud. The red light illuminated, and the arena erupted into a deafening roar.

The crowd was fucking wild. I did a little shimmy, just for Walker, and then I skated toward the glass in front of Blake’s seat, blowing her a big kiss. I was tackled to the ground before I could see her reaction, the buzzer sounding as the game ended.

My teammates were pounding me on the back, the crowd’s applause continuing to echo around us.

And I thought to myself…maybe the season wouldn’t be so bad after all.


Blake

Charlotte’s voice was a constant stream of excitement, echoing off the dimly lit corridor that led to the locker rooms. Her fiery auburn hair bounced with each step, her hazel eyes glittering with glee. She couldn’t stop talking about the game, about the celebs we’d seen…about what Ari Lancaster had done.

‘I still can’t believe you’re trying to claim you don’t know him,’ she hissed, sounding a bit surly.

I shifted uncomfortably, attempting to downplay the situation. ‘Charlotte, you’re making a big deal out of nothing. I served his table at Franco’s. That’s it. We barely talked.’

I sounded nonchalant, but inside, I was a different story. I was replaying the moment when his eyes locked onto mine, the wink he’d given…the blown kiss.

And obsessing/freaking out over the fact that his name was Ari.

My first crush was a boy named Ari.

But there was no way this was the same guy.

Kids from a group home didn’t end up becoming star hockey players.

He’d been twelve when we’d met, and that Ari didn’t play hockey. It was a miracle that I’d been adopted at ten. Ari being adopted after I’d left would have even been rarer, not because he wasn’t incredible…but because people didn’t usually want older kids. Not unless they had a motive.

And there weren’t any kids at that place playing sports.

It was just a weird coincidence.

I’m sure there were a million Blakes out there with similar features.

An arena employee, clad in a sharp suit, met us at the end of the hallway and interrupted my inner freak out. His smile was almost as blinding as the arena lights had been as he guided us toward the locker room.

‘You’re two lucky ladies, being invited into the locker room on opening night,” he smirked.

The way he said it made me feel dirty, like we were groupies expected to service the athletes once we got in there.

“Where did you say you got these tickets?” I murmured to Charlotte, realizing I’d never asked. For all I knew, it was a player who had those kinds of expectations that had given her them in the first place.

Charlotte either didn’t hear me, or didn’t want to answer, because she didn’t acknowledge my question as the door leading to the locker room was opened.

I should just leave. Yep, that’s what I needed to do. What was I thinking? I should go home, cuddle with Waldo, and call Clark, figure out why he’d gone quiet.

That’s what a good girlfriend would do. Someone who owed Clark as much as I did…

But my feet didn’t seem to be in agreement with my head because I followed Charlotte through the door, my heart threatening to burst out of my chest.

The sound of laughter spilled from behind a door at the end of the hallway in front of us. We started forward, but Charlotte stopped halfway down and turned toward me. ‘Blake, don’t fuck this up for me,” she said seriously.

My eyes widened, hurt flooding through me at the unfriendly tone of her words.

“Of course,” I finally monotoned back after I got over the sudden switch in my roommate’s personality.

The door at the end of the hallway swung open before she could say anything else, and we were instantly enveloped in a whirlwind of sensations. The air was thick with the potent blend of cologne, sweat, and adrenaline—a heady cocktail that made my head swim and my nerves ramp up even more. I’d grown up around rich people, world leaders, socialites…but hot as fuck professional athletes had not been in the Shepfields’ crowd.

This was a first for me.

As I ventured deeper into the locker room, a warm blush hit my cheeks. The players weren’t covering up on our behalf.

My modeling jobs had gotten me used to naked bodies.

But none of the male models were as hot as these guys.

Their gazes tracked us as we walked through the room. It felt like a spotlight was trained on us, and most of them had a gleam in their eyes like they wanted to eat us alive.

“Well, well. What do we have here?” one of the players purred. A douchebag looking red head that I remembered had tackled—oops, wrong sport—checked Ari at one point. As unfamiliar as I was with hockey, I was pretty sure you weren’t supposed to hit your own teammate.

Accident or not, he wasn’t my favorite.

Charlotte shot him a flirty grin as he leaned against the lockers and took her in. His gaze flicked to me. “Two for one special? Must be my lucky day,” he said.

“In your dreams, Soto,” a deep, growly voice said from behind me.

Ari Lancaster.

I was shaking slightly as I turned, almost unbidden like I couldn’t resist his gravitational force, and I was having trouble breathing all of a sudden.

Of course, my mind had gone to what he would look like under clothes…but it certainly hadn’t prepared me for this.

His emerald eyes met mine with an intensity that stole my breath. Time stood still as our gazes held with a charged connection.

He was only wearing a towel, and it was sitting obscenely low on his lean hips. His skin was a sun-kissed bronze color that had me salivating, a sinful masterpiece, chiseled by the gods of desire themselves. Every inch of him exuded raw, unadulterated sex appeal, a living testament to masculine perfection.

His broad shoulders sloped down to a taut, sculpted chest that begged for exploration, each defined muscle an invitation to temptation. His abdomen was a landscape of sinewy ridges and valleys, leading the way to a set of washboard abs that had me wanting to weep. That sexy-v, the one responsible for wet panties everywhere, dragged my eyes directly to his towel…that was slowly rising in front in a huge tent that had my eyes wide and a squeak passing from my lips.

I quickly yanked my gaze up to Ari’s insanely handsome face, an unrepentant smirk on his lips. He lifted an eyebrow, daring me to say something, his damp, ebony locks falling over his forehead, the wet tendrils framing his striking face like a sensual curtain. Glistening droplets of water clung to his bronzed skin, tracing a path down the landscape of his chest.

Ari Lancaster was the embodiment of desire.

His gaze was roaming my body hungrily, so I gave myself a few more seconds to take him in.

Tattoos adorned his golden skin everywhere. Intricate designs, some inky black and others vibrant with color, painted a vivid story that I could spend hours exploring. In the center of Ari’s sculpted chest lay a tattoo of a large, broken birdcage. The intricate details of the cage were etched with precision, its bars twisted and shattered, as if they could no longer contain the wild spirit within.

Inside the fractured cage, a magnificent bird soared, its wings stretched wide as if it had just tasted the sweet nectar of freedom. The bird’s feathers were exquisite, each one a testament to the beauty that lay beyond the confines of captivity.

My body reacted with a rush of warmth, a primal response to this magnificent specimen before me. Every cell in my body recognized his perfection on a visceral level. My core clenched with needy emptiness. My breasts felt tight and aching. My breathing was unsteady. I—

An arm slid into mine as Charlotte pressed against me. I actually jumped from the interruption to my lust fest.

“Introduce me, roomie,” she purred as she eyed Ari’s body…and huge erection, like he was her last meal.

The room suddenly came alive again, the noises of the other players filling the air as the spell I’d been under was broken. We were, in fact, not alone. And I’d probably just embarrassed the hell out of myself by eye fucking their star as if I was in a trance.

“Blake,” Charlotte hissed, shooting me a harsh side eye.

Something nasty slid around inside of me.

I realized…I was jealous. It wasn’t a sensation I was used to. Actually, I couldn’t remember having this particular feeling once with Clark.

Right. Boyfriend. Clark.

Fuck, I was a terrible person.

It didn’t change the fact that it was making me sick to my stomach to think of her seeing the same delicious sight that I was seeing.

What if he thought she was hot? I mean, she was hot. Charlotte always had a guy a snap of her fingers away.

“Hi,” I found myself saying, also realizing that Ari and I hadn’t said anything to each other yet.

“Hi, sunshine,” he drawled.

“Sunshine?” Charlotte’s gaze bounced between the two of us. “Sorry, have you actually met my roommate?” she said sarcastically.

The smirk on Ari’s face slipped away, and his gaze hardened as he seemed to size up Charlotte for the first time. He yawned and his gaze came back to me, a clear dismissal that I was positive Charlotte wasn’t used to.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Charlotte said in a sickeningly sweet, desperate sounding voice…that was also unlike her usual tone.

“Why you bothering with Lancaster, sweetness?” The skeezy red head, Soto I think Ari had called him, sidled up to Charlotte and slid his arm around her waist. She reluctantly turned away from Ari and flashed Soto a fake, flirty grin.

Soto didn’t seem to mind though, because his hand slid further down and he squeezed her ass as she placed her palms on his chest.

After my roommate’s strange turn in behavior tonight, I was almost thinking they deserved each other.

Soto glanced at me over Charlotte’s head. “You two coming out with us tonight to celebrate the big win?”

“Yep,” Charlotte all but squealed, right at the same time I said “no.”

“Aww, come on, Blake. I need my bestie with me,” Ari said cajolingly, drawing my eyes back to his—bare ass.

While I’d been distracted, he’d turned around and dropped the towel, showcasing a backside so yummy that…I wanted to sink my teeth into it.

That was a weird, but very accurate description for what I was feeling as I took in the sight.

I squeaked and turned away, but not before realizing he had a large butterfly tattooed on his back.

I heard the low husk of his laughter, but I didn’t dare turn, not caring how idiotic I looked.

A long minute passed. “What do you say, BFF? Going to help me celebrate?” Ari said in a voice that was scarily alluring.

I’d never been attracted to the sound of a voice before, but judging by the way my insides were fluttering, a tingling pulsing warmth spreading everywhere, Ari had changed that.

Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.

My internal alarm was blaring as I took in Ari’s clothed form.

He was puffing out his bottom lip beseechingly. Which was somehow attractive on him instead of annoying.

“Okay,” I found myself saying softly.

Ari gave a fist pump and then another freakishly attractive man with light brown hair was slinging an arm around his shoulder. “Let’s get drunkkkk!” he yelled. And the whole locker room cheered in agreement.


Sitting in the sleek black sports car next to Ari, Walker in the backseat, my nerves were on edge. Adrenaline from the game and locker room was pulsing in my ears, an odd mix of unease and excitement that I didn’t know what to do with.

Charlotte had left me in the locker room to “go fuck Soto”. Her words exactly. She’d said she would meet me at the bar we were headed to. And I’d somehow ended up in the car with the two hottest men I’d ever seen in my life.

Although Walker somehow didn’t have even close to the same effect on me as Ari.

Ari and Walker’s conversation about the game flowed around me like a river, their voices blending into a distant hum. I couldn’t help but glance at Ari every now and then, and he seemed to return the favor, his gaze flicking my way every few seconds in a hungry way that had me shifting in my seat uncomfortably.

My fingers toyed with the hem of my jersey as I tried to focus on their chatter, but my thoughts kept drifting. I couldn’t help but stare at Ari’s hand resting casually on the gearshift, his tattooed fingers strong and capable. They looked like they could do so much more than just handle a car. Like they…

Guilt tearing into me, I pulled out my phone and texted Clark a quick “hello”, wondering if he’d answer me this time.

Ari’s voice interrupted my thoughts, and I jolted in my seat. ‘Who ya texting?’ he asked, his tone casual.

I hesitated for a moment, my heart racing. Clearing my throat, I tried to sound as nonchalant as he did. ‘Just my boyfriend,’ I replied, clutching my phone tightly.

From the back seat, Walker let out a knowing inhale, and I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious. I knew how it appeared, like I was teetering on the edge of something I shouldn’t. Like I was some slut about to hurt the guy who loved me for a chance with a NHL star. There was a name for girls like that, wasn’t there. Puck something?

I desperately clung to the idea that I was merely making friends in a new city, even if those friends happened to be with two incredibly appealing men.

“Boyfriend, huh? I knew you were too pretty to be single,” Ari drawled, not sounding upset at all.

I bit down on my lip. “He lives in New York. I—I’ve been with him since I was 16. He’s the son of the Shep—my parent’s friends.”

“Can’t be too smart,” Ari commented. “Not following you to Cali. Who knows what might be waiting to scoop you up.”

Walker snorted from behind me, and I didn’t dare to look back at him.

“He runs SEC Media with his father. It keeps him quite busy,” I said lamely, not adding that I’d recently obliterated his heart.

“If you were my girl, there wouldn’t be anything that would keep me away.”

I choked on some spit in my mouth, so shocked at what he seemed to be insinuating.

“Good thing I have a new bestie to keep me safe,” I finally said lightly, ignoring the storm of tension building in the car.

Ari chuckled lowly. “Yes, that’s a good thing, sunshine.”

Walker and Ari went back to talking about the game, leaving me shaking in my seat for the rest of the drive.

And Clark never texted me back.

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