Exciting news! Have an official cover reveal coming for Cross Stroke on Dec. 17th. you can sign up at the link below. The release date for the book is January 16th so mark your calendars. i'll have a blitz party going on that week with some fun giveaways.
BRIEF Excerpt of upcoming book CROSS STROKE
It doesn’t seem possible. One brief interaction, one night, can change a person’s whole life. One mistake…um…I suppose it was a series of mistakes, brought me to this place and this conclusion; I don’t do well with the whole love thing. Yeah. Love’s too risky, too destructive, too…fatal. That’s why my new motto is, there shall be no more falling in love. The mantra repeats in a silent thrum inside my head, matching the thump of my blood, until it’s tattooed on my heart.
Taking a long breath for much needed courage, I tug open one of the glass double doors, of the Bernard University Arena for the first time. As I do, my phone rings. Letting go of the door, I step back. Students push past me, coming and going from the rink, like I’m invisible. Since I’m not, I pull my wheeled skate bag behind me to step out of the way of the entrance and pull my backpack off my shoulder to hunt for the ringing phone.
“Come on. Where are you? I don’t have time for this.” I admonish my phone. It answers me with another ring. I’m already late and should ignore the call. But I’m pretty sure it’s my mom and I don’t want her to freak out if I don’t answer. When I manage to retrieve the annoying implement of technology from the tangled mess of clothes I stuffed in their earlier, the screen lights up with my mom’s gorgeous face. Again.
“Hi, Mom. What’s up?” Although, I don’t know how there can possibly be anything new to tell me since her last call—a few hours ago.
“Hi, honey. Just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
“Great, mom. I’m doing great.” Just like I was this morning.
“How are your classes going?”
“No classes yet, Mom. Told you, they don’t start ‘til next week.” I’m so late for practice, but I do my best not to be curt. I know she calls me twice a day every day since I’ve been here, out of love and concern. She didn’t used to be like this; an anxious, overbearing mom. I did that to her. But she needs to understand, I’m doing better now. I love how much she loves me, but she doesn’t need to worry anymore.
“Oh, right. I forgot. So, have you met any new friends?” The same question she asks every time she calls. Of course, what she really means is, “have you met any new boyfriends?”
“Nope, not yet.” Not since this morning, when you asked. “Don’t really have time for socializing, with classes starting, my research and skating. In fact, I’m headed in for a practice session right now and I’m super late.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll let you go then.” The thick concern in her voice reaches through the phone and tugs at my heart.
“Mom, I’m good. Really. You don’t need to worry about me. It’s beautiful here. The school is outstanding. The little house you found for me is amazing. Everything’s really good. And I’ll see you in November. Please stop stressing.”
“I know you’re fine, honey. I just like to hear your voice. And remind you, you are a strong and powerful woman, in control of your own destiny,” we recite simultaneously.
“I remember, Mom” You’ve told me a zillion times. “Everything’s okay. I promise. I’ll call you in a few days?”
“Okay, honey. Love you up to the sky.”
“Me too. Talk to you soon.” I sense her reluctance to hang up as I disconnect. But I can’t assure her any more with words alone. I’m going to have to let my actions while here, at Bernard, speak for my determination to fix my life. I totally get the whole strong and powerful woman thing and controlling my own destiny, the reason I’m giving up relationships. Although, I’m sure it’s not exactly what my mom means about taking control. Truth is, she wants me to find so-called ‘true’ love one of these days. She says I’ll ‘know when the right guy comes along.’” Not. Interested. Finding Mr. Right involves the painful possibility of connecting with too many Mr. Wrongs along the way. Time to focus on my future sans sticky relationships, which do nothing but screw me over—and not in a good way.
I stop at the front desk and sign in before walking into the rink area. A shiver runs down my spine. Holy shit! It’s cold. “Huh, where are the white walkers? Winter is definitely here.” I snicker to myself, as my thoughts drift to my favorite television show in an attempt to ease my nerves.
Several benches line one wall. Dropping my backpack, I sit to put my skates and guards on. Taking a minute to warm up, I jump up and down to get blood flowing to my limbs instead of pounding inside my head with nervous energy. Could it be any colder here? Patting my arms to alleviate the feeling of ice water running through my veins, I take the opportunity to look around the rink.
Championship hockey and figure skating banners decorate the perimeter walls. They stand out in the glaring overhead lights—in neon gold, red and blue—like radiating warning signs to remind me how good these teams are. I take a long deep breath. The freezing air turns my heated lungs into popsicles, much like the rest of my body. My eyes drift to the ghost mist when I blow it back out. “Surprised it doesn’t freeze into a plate of ice at these temperatures,” I mumble.
This rink is much colder than UDel’s. Or maybe it’s my newfound, uncharacteristic anxiety making it seem like it is. The size of this place is overwhelming. It’s huge, with hundreds of black and gold, individual seats, instead of bleachers. I almost expect the Penguins to take to the ice any second now. Between the cold and the overwhelming arena, I can’t keep my teeth from clattering inside my head.
There are only a couple of people on the ice and they’re hockey players, not figure skaters. One of the six-foot-walls-of-humanity pushes past me as he comes off the ice. “Excuse me, sweetheart,” he says. I don’t look at him or acknowledge his comment. Nope. Just step out of his way. Hmmph. Sweetheart my ass. Boys are assholes.
I move back to the same gate the hockey player exited.
“Did you sign in for this session, Tracey?” Bob, the rink manager comes up behind me and asks. He holds out the clipboard with the required sign in sheet.
“Yes, thanks. Took care of it at the front desk when I came in.”
“Okay. Good. We like to keep a count of skaters for each freestyle session.” He glances up at the digital clock on the gigantic jumbotron hanging from the middle of the mile-high ceiling. I mean seriously, they could hold the Stanley Cup in this place. “Cutting it kinda’ close, aren’t you? The session’s almost over,” Bob continues, with a friendly smile, reminding me of my late arrival. Not that he needs to. I’m more than aware of my tardiness. As my mom loves to call it.
“No need to be nervous,” he offers, as if he can read my mind. “You’ll feel better as soon as you take the first stroke on our flawless ice.” He smiles again and walks away.
I pinch my eyes closed. Calm down. Breathe. I can make this work: take the lessons I’ve learned, make changes and move on with my life. Wait. What lessons? Oh right. Love sucks.
Thought I knew all about the so-called fuzzy, warm, things called love. I so didn’t. Not if what happened with Sean is any indication. Thought I knew what I wanted. I was ready to reach for the stars with two hands, both professionally and personally. Then came Hurricane Sean and everything I knew or wanted was annihilated. Now, the only thing I know for sure is, I wish I had never met him—never laid eyes on him.
I close my eyes again, and I try to will all thoughts of Sean out of my head. When I open them and stare across the shimmering expanse, the lone hockey player, still on the ice, flies past me and glances over. Another shiver flashes down my spine. I don’t even know why I feel this trembling rush of nerves. It’s only a team practice.
Funny. Skating rinks used to be my safe haven. The place where all stresses slid away with the first glide of my blade on the ice. Standing in an arena, waiting to perform, I owned it. The music washed over me, invading my senses, the ice and I became one. It was just my music, the cold, glistening surface and me.
All that was BS. Before Sean. Yup. There always seems to be one really stupid or one really awesome thing, which changes your life forever. Sean was my one really stupid thing. Things I believed, BS, evaporated like water on a Phoenix summer sidewalk.
Standing here, about to step or should I say, glide onto the ice for my first freestyle session, I’m a complete mess. My heart beats with an enthusiastic attempt to explode against my chest. My stomach is determined to work its contents back out into the world and the weird Santa jelly-belly shaking of my legs has increased to seismic proportions.
The hockey player zips past me again. The wind of his speed, sweeps across my face. As Bob said, this session is almost over, but I only wanted a few minutes to get the feel of the ice anyway. However, when I take the first stroke on the ice, this is not what I had in mind. The feel I was looking for wasn’t the one where my ass hits the frigid unforgiving surface right in front of a pair of black hockey skates.
They slid to an abrupt halt to avoid running over me, their sharp edges spraying me with cold shavings. In my frantic state of synaptic overdrive, I forgot to remove my neon purple skate guards.
“Yeah. Those don’t work too well on the ice. You might want to remove them before trying to stroke.” I look up up up until I reach the face of the taunting skater.
Yowsa. His ice blue eyes shimmer like lasers right through the Plexiglas visor of his hockey helmet. Strands of sun-kissed streaked hair peek out from his helmet and frame cheekbones, which would be the envy of every Express model. Absurd. No one looks that good in a helmet. Did he say something about stroking? My naughty, little, sex-starved mind drifts—for a second—to stroking other types of hard surfaces: the kind that could melt cold ice and my bones. Seems the blood has no problem reaching lower regions of my body now. Stop it. Right. Sworn off sex. Forever. Well…at least until I can let someone get that close again—if I ever can let someone get that close again.
But when Hottie McHot wiggles his fingers and his brow as he stretches his hand out a little further toward me, it’s like he has a front row seat to the opening night of my porno imagination. Although my ass has lost all sensation from its imminent fusion to the icy surface, I can feel the warm pink blush creeping up my neck and face.
For an experienced skater, taking off skate guards, before stepping on the ice, should be as natural as removing shoes, before jumping in a pool. It’s a pretty lame, rookie mistake.
“No thanks. I’m good.” I ignore his chivalrous gesture.
“Whatever. Take it easy, Bambi,” he says, slips on his glove and skates away before I’m able to push myself up.
“Hey. My name’s not…” I call after him. But he pays no attention to my objection and his lack of interest is fine by me.
Oh yes. Now I remember the second most important lesson learned since Sean; never fall for a gay guy—no pun intended—unless, of course, you’re another gay guy. Been there, done that and it was soul-crushing. Although I suppose, in technical terms, Sean is bisexual. It’s irrelevant. Because what he really is, is a cheating, douchebag liar. Okay, maybe I’m still a little angry…and broken. Anyway, he’s the primary reason I transferred from UDel and one of the reasons I don’t accept help from the sort-of-magnanimous hottie.
How do I know McHottie’s gay? Oh it has nothing to do with judgie outward appearance observations or judgie anything, for that matter. Nope. I love men who prefer to get it on with their fellow man. And therein lies the problemo. I, Tracey Hayward, have a definite defect in my uterine radar; a fancy way of saying, I’m totally fucked when it comes to picking boyfriends. It seems whenever I fall for a guy—again, no pun intended—I’m sure to find out his only interest in me is as his new BFF. I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to gay men. I don’t mean in a weird-conscious-I-know-what-I’m-doing kind of way. No idea why. Maybe it’s some kind of Karmic thing, God’s little joke or something. If I’m hormonally attracted to a guy, after hanging out with him for a while, I’m trying to jump all over him while he’s explaining to me I’m a great ‘friend’ but... No joke. It’s happened several times.
The last time was with Sean. I thought for sure a super jock, sex on a stick, quarterback would be a safe bet. I was almost right. Our relationship went way beyond friendship. Except, thinking about it now, we may’ve skipped the friendship stage. A “friend” would never have treated me the way Sean did. My association with that dirt bag was devastating to the point where I almost didn’t survive the deep abyss of heartbreak.
I did some tremendously stupid things as a result, and can never make up for the worry and distress I caused my family. They had my back through the crazy, self-destructive behavior and hours of self-pity; the reason my mother has become the definition of a helicopter mom. But I’m determined to regain my self-confidence. No guy, especially a snake like Sean is worth giving up…what I almost gave up.
Which is why I intend to steer clear of any over-zealous attraction to the opposite sex…no matter how much my already used V-card begs me to try to get back into the game. I’m focusing on marine studies and research, with a few figure skating competitions and shows in my free time. No partying. No temptations. No super-hot athletes—including hockey players.
Getting myself to an upright position, nervous jitters still flutter my insides like hundreds of inebriated butterflies. Whoever said nerves and adrenaline were great tools to enhance one’s performance was either someone who never performed in front of others or an alien from another planet, ignorant of human physiology. Now, as I hang onto the boards balancing on one leg at a time to slip off my guards, I realize I’m a normal, nerve wracked human. After placing my guards on the edge of the boards, I push off on freshly sharpened blades, gliding in the opposite direction of McHottie.
Yup. Just one look at him and I’m feeling yummy warm sensations right down to my toes—the sensations which set off bells and whistles in more ways than one. It tells me one thing; if I want him, he must be gay.
Never again and I mean never again. I know how it works. It’s how it always starts: a chance encounter, a heart-racing glance at a panty melting face and body. The first encounter with my next big mistake. Disaster. Not this time. My middle name is going to be Snow White while I’m getting my graduate degree. Um…two names. Same idea though. I’m focusing on the new, celibate, Tracey Snow White Hayward and what I need to do right now.
Forget your current state of humiliation. Shake if off—the apropos advice of Ms. T. Swift blaring over the PA system in the rink.
There are only a few people left in the arena now anyway, since it’s the last free-style practice session of the day. Maybe no one noticed—except for the hottest guy on the planet, that is. Which doesn’t matter because, nope, no, nada, niet, will I get involved with another gay guy—or any guy at the moment—only to get my heart pulverized.
After two weeks off the ice, I only need a few minutes to get the old skating legs back. My dad was a pro hockey player, so I learned to skate almost before I could walk. The ice is like home to me—when I’m not experiencing this unusual nervousness about new surroundings. The Zamboni gears up to make its entrance onto the ice. I glance at the clock. There’s about fifteen minutes left in the session; enough time to do some stroking to warm-up—a little footwork and then I’ll try a double or two.
An abrupt switch to The Black-Eyed Peas—telling me to Pump It—interrupts T. Swift’s song and I do as The Peas suggest, taking off at a fast and furious speed—back in the zone. The frigid wind turns my cheeks to the feel of cold-glazed marble and the resistance of the hard surface makes my muscles strain to the point of complete exhaustion. Still, the strenuous action of flying around the ice is the most liberating sensation ever. Maybe the second most liberating sensation. And maybe I’m not quite as pure as Snow White.
My gaze drifts back to the wicked diversion of McHottie’s tight, round ass as we keep crisscrossing each other at blurring speeds. Can’t help notice his high-speed, sharp cross-overs, Mohawk cuts and pivots while using his long, hard hockey stick to cup his puck with acute dexterity. Yikes. Only I could get hot in a cold rink thinking of a hockey stick as a metaphor for…for the metaphor I’m thinking of. I need to get laid. But since the mere thought of actually doing the deed has my insides twisting into a pretzel, it looks like my ever-loyal vibrator will be getting a little more action this semester.
McHottie zips past me again and my gaze drops right back to his incredible ass. It’s probably the kind of ass with those amazing indents on either side: the ones no woman could ever achieve if she did ten-thousand squats a day, the ones you want to run your fingers over and…Get out of your dirty mind, Tracey.
Damn. It. What is it with me? After Sean splintered my heart into millions of pieces, I swore I’d stay away from all men and use skating as my only adrenaline-charged escape. Seems my body is sending me mixed messages. Some parts of me—no need to mention which ones—are not too keen on the idea of life without steamy sex; other parts can’t seem to let anyone get close enough to be intimate. It’s a big problem. But it’s okay, because I’m not looking for sex—steamy or otherwise.
My mind goes back to the thought of McHottie’s dreamy, ocean-blue eyes and—although I’m in a frigid ice rink my lady parts are experiencing warm wet sensations. Argh. I’m a hot mess.
Focus on the ice. The nagging inner voice tries to keep me from making the same stupid mistakes. This time I intend to listen. I shake out of the sultry thoughts and refocus.
When everything else falls apart, skating is my release—my salvation. Despite the shit storm my life has become, it’s so good to be back in skates. The adrenaline rush overtaking me, the elation of flying around the ice. It’s time to go for it—a double Lutz for the last move of the day. It’s my most difficult jump. But everything feels so right—I’m in the zone. Connected. The music is pushing me faster, harder. I build speed toward the opposite corner of the rink and as I look over my shoulder—ready to push off and soar—McHottie comes into my field of vision. It’s too late to pull out—no pun, yet again—and we crash like the Titanic into the catastrophic iceberg. Although in this case, I’m not sure which one of us is the doomed ship and which one is the damn iceberg, because we’re both sprawled out on the ice in a tangled mass.
“What the fuck?” McHottie gallantly asks. “You’re supposed to look before you go into a jump!”
I suck in a big breath and cartoon shake my head a couple of times, not only to recover the wind knocked out of me and clear my collision-hazed brain, but to keep myself from screaming obscenities. “Excuse me?” I very politely query. “I was looking, but you cut across my path.” Okay. I may’ve mumbled ‘jack-ass’ afterward, can’t be certain.
“I cut across? You skated right into my path. And you broke my hockey stick. Christ!”
Pretty sure he’s not speaking in metaphors. “I didn’t break anything.” Yet. “What are you doing on the ice with a hockey stick and puck during a free-style session anyway. You’re not even supposed to be here.”
“If you look around, Bambi, we’re the only ones on the ice.” The hot, super douche suggests while pushing himself up from the ice and pulling off his helmet. “The rest of the figure skaters left a while ago. You were late.”
Holy oh my God! He is be-yond gorgeous with his caramel, sun-streaked, surfer-style hair and his tanned chiseled face. “It…it…doesn’t matter what time I got here.” I manage to put my tongue back in my mouth and use it for speaking. “This is still a free-style session and you’re not supposed to be on the ice,” I reprimand him, while pushing myself up.
This time the dickhead doesn’t offer his hand in assistance, which is, once again, fine with me. Cripes! Has every college campus changed their admission requirements for men? 3.5 GPA and Must Be Total Asshole.
“You know, Bambi, you might want to take a few more lessons before trying those doubles and triples. You’re a walking—or should I say skating—disaster. If you don’t kill yourself first, you’re going to take out another skater while you’re learning.”
“While I’m learning! Listen, jackass.” Yes. This time I went right ahead and said it aloud and I’m pretty sure his beautiful Titan god-like face grimaced a little in response. I grew up in rinks around some unrestrained, expressive, male hockey players. Which means I’m never at a loss for not-so-sweet animated expletives.
“First of all, my name is not Bambi,” I point out, even though I get the whole snarky Bambi reference. “Second of all, I’ll have you know I was the Senior Ladies National Collegiate Gold Medalist two years in a row.” I put up two fingers to fully illustrate to the Neanderthal the correct amount of years.
“Huh. Yeah?” He scoffs, while putting his helmet back on. “And who was your competition, Will Farrell?”
“Ha ha, Very funny, jackass!” I yell to his spectacular ass as he skates away. What a jerk. Who cares if he has gorgeous ocean blue eyes, a perfect chiseled jaw and amazing kiss-me lips—he’s still an asshole. Lucky for me there’s no chance of any mutual attraction between the two of us. Unlucky for me I think my skating tights melted when I took one look at his supermodel face.
Damn. My day was already in the crapper. The thought of handling the extra graduate course and putting in all the practice time for hockey, is weighing heavy on my mind. And then to add to the already stressed thoughts, Bambi and her sparkling green eyes, first, fall at my feet like toxic manna from heaven and then, plow into me like a bulldozer and break my favorite stick. Fuck this day.
Did she call me a jackass? Pfft, jackass. Where does she come off blaming me? I had the right of way. She totally cut me off. Yeah. She has some skills on the ice. Her edge work is a thing of beauty and she maneuvers faster than some guys on the hockey team—with her long legs, full lips and cute little ass. But her safety skills are fucked.
“No practice today, dude?” Wolfe asks as I push past him on my way into the locker room. He’s one of the best defensemen on any college team in the country and my roommate—one of them. Incredible his last name is Wolfe. But …well…if the name fits.
“Nah. Got some research to do. I’ll catch you later at the house.” Official team practices haven’t begun yet, but some of the guys decided to get a jump-start on the season. As captain I should stay, but the university is allowing me to take a graduate course early and I need to get going on research to keep on top of things before the season begins and I’m super busy.
I begged the Dean to let me take the class. He said if I managed to keep my GPA at 3.5 they would consider it. I worked my ass off and squeaked by with a 3.51. Now I’m not sure how I’m going to keep it up with regular full-time classes, the grad class and hockey. But after working so hard to convince him I could do it, I can’t back out now.
“Sounds good. Have a couple cold ones waiting, because I plan on melting the ice today,” Wolfe’s voice shakes me out of my stressed thoughts. Giving me a thumbs up, he skates off.
I nod and give him the universal-guy smirk for, I-know-what-you-mean-dude, even though my mind is back on how to juggle all the shit on my plate this semester. And then the vision of Bambi, the one-woman terminator-on-ice, flashes through my head—thoughts of her ass in her short little skirt pushing backward on the ice, toward me. What the hell? No way do I need that kind of grief. Feisty little bitch.
In the locker room, I cram the helmet and pads into my bag and toss what’s left of my stick in the trash. Shit. I loved that stick. It’s been a part of my life longer than most of my friends.
Peeling off the rest of my sweat-drenched clothes, I grab a towel from my locker and head for the shower. When the water hits me and I start lathering up, all thoughts go right back to Bambi and my cock jumps in response to the mental image of her vibrant green eyes, gorgeous plump lips, perfect round ass, as she cut across the ice. What? No.
This isn’t my MO. Since Abbey, I make sure never to let a chick under my skin or inside my head. It can lead to the kind of commitment which risks letting someone down in a catastrophic way. For three years now, I’ve pursued enough lusty adventures to help me forget. But never with anyone looking for long term, only with chicks who aren’t interested in falling in love. I can’t do the ‘I’m here for you’ relationship thing. Obvious, in the way I failed Abbey in the most epic way possible. I’m not the kind of guy a woman can depend on—not hero material. No more relationships.
Instead, I hook up with chicks whose only interest is in racking up their score with another athlete. They use me for a good time with the added benefit of boosting their popularity and I use them to help me forget. Even more, though, the way I make them feel makes me feel good. I don’t mean just physically—physically goes without saying. I mean it makes me feel good about myself again, like I’m doing something good for someone. Maybe it’s cocky, but it’s the way it is— symbiotic exploits of lust-filled usage. Huh, maybe I can use that sentence in my thesis.
And again, the memory of the adorable little spitfire yelling at me across the ice flashes inside my head. What the actual fuck? Why can’t I stop thinking about this surly chick whose real name I don’t even know?
Guess it’s because of this long shitty day; must be triggering needy hormones. Yeah. Normal, horny, male hormones. I’ll work it off later tonight. There’s sure to be a long line of hot rockets waiting and willing to relieve my…stress—totally not interested in feisty skater girl.