***Excerpt 1, Chapter 1 – Pepper meets the hero
ur 2 cold
I glare at the four-month-old text, barely glancing at the bearded hipster bumping past me on the sidewalk. The sender? That’d be my ex. The hockey goalie who slapped away our year-long relationship with a text. Well, a series of texts over a five-minute span.
I’m killing time, and like someone who keeps picking, picking, picking at a scab, I’d pulled up those texts to stare at that last one. Cold?
Ambitious. Driven. Yes.
I shove the phone into its pocket in my purse. I am not my parents. Thinking of those two fills me with a familiar but fuzzy unease.
A searing wave of fuck-that-asshole follows. He’s still infecting my life—what I need is closure. I can’t let that infection spill into my new life here in my old hometown. I yank the phone back out, resigned at this point to looking like an idiot to anyone who might be watching.
An article on Facebook from yesterday waves at me—hello, perfect revenge!
Tap, tap, tap. A quick search, a phone call, and… Yes.
I mash the end call icon on my Samsung and do a tee-hee dance on the sunny sidewalk. I sheepishly glance around to see who witnessed my little bout of enthusiasm on Sarasota’s Main Street, but the locals and the few meandering tourists are preoccupied with their own lives this morning. Why should I care anyway, right?
Because thanks to my vengeance-driven donation, there’s now a Madagascar hissing cockroach at the Bronx Zoo graced with the name Phil Stoddart.
It might be a placebo, but damn, it feels fantastic.
That task hasn’t wasted enough time, so I pop under the barely cooler shade of one of the pin oaks lining the street and enter today’s tasks in my app. It’s my last day for errands before I start work with my new medical practice. Ha—look at me being all casual. My new medical practice.
Try first. Yesterday, seeing the nameplate next to my door—Dr. Rodgers—had brought goose bumps along my arms, making everything terrifyingly and excitingly real. I’m finally starting my career as a sports medicine doc. See, it’s that life I can’t wait to start after twelve grueling years of schooling, but instead, I’m five minutes early for a coffee date I’d rather not go on, much less be early to. So yeah, I’m stalling.
My high school best friend set me up with a colleague at her law firm. A lawyer? No, thanks—got enough of them growing up. (Read: my parents.) But since she’s the only old friend I still want to hang with here, I succumbed. What’s one morning?
All right. That’s as much as I can reasonably stall. Now to face Rick the Lawyer, make small talk, and sip overpriced coffee. Maybe he’ll surprise me. With the fresh reminder of Phil’s opinion of me, maybe it’ll be good to swim in the dating pool again. Live a little.
I dodge the sidewalk amblers and push through the door of the Mocha Cabana exactly one minute early. The rich scent of coffee and sweet pastries envelops me. Customers of all ages are bunched around the café-style tables. The population has definitely skewed younger since childhood. When I moved away, the realization that not everyone was seventy-plus years old was an eye-opener.
I do a quick scan—all I have to go on is that he’s my age, he’s got dark hair, and his name is Rick. And he’s a lawyer.
I paste on a smile.
My gaze latches onto the man by the corner window, whose unnervingly masculine face is bisected by the fluctuating shadow of a nodding palm frond outside. The table in front of him is practically Lilliputian, he’s so huge. He’s the only man in the place matching Rick’s description, though, and my heart does a tee-hee dance of its own. And I can tell, in that odd way that happens sometimes, that he knows I’ve arrived and is aware of me viscerally. That he’s watching without watching, because the air between us has that crackly, weighty anticipation that triggers my sixth sense. This guy will have significance in my life, it says.
Combined with a rush of attraction? Not the reaction I want for a lawyer—or for anyone right now.
But Lordy, he must work out in his off hours. He’s fit in a way you rarely see outside of movies and comic books. His hair is midnight black, and if it wasn’t just past his ears, I’d totally peg him for active military—but not in the way you might think. He doesn’t have those all-American good looks honed into sharp cheekbones and jaw like you associate with Marines. No. It’s in the posture, the confidence, the strength. He owns—dominates—the space around him.
He has sharp cheekbones, but they’re not part of an overall shiny, do-gooder package. Instead, they’re combined with an olive skin tone, shadowed eyes, and a commanding nose that all adds up to Devastating.
Yipes, this easily-six-foot-two stack of hunky muscle is a lawyer and—I swallow—my blind date.
Pulse stupidly racing and that weighty awareness tingling up my back, I shuffle into line to order my café mocha. Deep breath. Live a little, I remind myself.
Swim in the dating pool? Now I want to splash in it, and I can’t tell if it’s because I want to cause a distraction or revel in the sheer fun.
One thing I do know—this reaction is so not like me.
# # #
***Excerpt Two – In Honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the hero hurling…***
Everything changes in the third quarter. Normally the game is played in thirty-five minute halves, not quarters, but we made a concession to the Irish players from New York who aren’t used to the heat and humidity down here. New players with fresh legs and lungs replenish their ranks. As the quarter wears on, it’s becoming clear—these aren’t just new players, they’re the first string. We’ve been playing against their second string this whole time.
Mark’s already sporting a broken finger, but he’s still playing. However, Romy got sidelined with a pulled hamstring, so we’re playing one down.
At the end of the third quarter, one of their forwards catches a wicked-fast pass. I could hear the smack from here as it hit his palm. He deftly tosses it to his hurley and starts a solo drive down the center of the field. Paolo shoulder charges him, but the forward recovers and nimbly bats it to another of their men. Mark flies off the ground—arms at full stretch—in a diving block but narrowly misses. He lands with an oof and bounces back to his feet. I’m soaking up all of it—the trajectories, the layout—and assimilating it with how they’ve played off each other in previous drives.
I know my teammates—I trust them. And that might give us an edge too, depending on the cohesiveness of their team. With trust, we can take risks. When you don’t have that? You play it safe, only doing what’s expected.
So I’m ready when their forward tries to get past. I twist and block him, but hear and feel a slight pop in my knee. We’re all shoulders and footwork, the scent of fresh churned grass and dirt filling the air, along with the crack of our hurleys meeting, but I use my height and size and steal the sliotar from him. With a decisive thwack, I send it straight down the field out of our territory. Fuck yeah. Winning means squat if you’re not competing against the best. Plus it feels good to take New York by surprise.
I’m feeling great, my muscles are warm and thrumming, and my cardio is handling the sprints on the field. I flex my knee and feel a twinge of pain, but it’s not bothering me much. Nothing to take me out of the game. The whistle blows for the end of the quarter, and we jog to our side of the pitch. It’s hot as Hades in the Florida sun, and we all beeline for the water jugs lined up on a table.
Our setup feels a little Bad News Bears compared to the kind of field and bleachers New York is used to, but I can’t seem to care. I pull off my helmet, sip my water, and dump another cup over my head.
And because I can’t help it, I make my way over to Pepper, even though I must stink with sweat.
“You guys are looking great out there.” She grins at me from where she’s sprawled back on that blue blanket of hers. Our blue blanket, a little known sappy part of me pipes.
Seeing her deliciously laid out below me has me thinking all kinds of thoughts about what we can get up to after the match. “What do you think of the game?”
“It’s hard sometimes to get the hang of what’s going on. Sometimes I’m expecting a hockey move, and then someone does something only allowed in rugby or volleyball. I have no clue who’s winning. So you can score by putting the ball through the goal posts and also into the net?”
“Yeah. Through the posts is a point, and in the net is a goal, which is worth three points.”
“Conor’s scored three goals, and New York one, but I wasn’t paying attention at first to the ones through the posts. Are you winning?”
“Nope. Tied, Galway 1-8 to us, with 3-2. The first number in those scores are the number of goals, the second are the points. We’re only keeping up because Conor is a machine the few times we can get near the net.”
Bonus: On Youtube – Americans watch hurling for the first time –>