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Boone (E-Book)

Boone (E-Book)

An emotional friends to lovers hockey romance

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1,350+ 5 Star Reviews

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Boone Rivers uses his fame and fortune as a professional hockey player to his advantage, but not in the way most people would think. Volunteering as often as his busy schedule will allow, Boone meets one brave young boy who turns his world upside down.

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As a first-line right winger for the Pittsburgh Titans, I thrive on the thrill of the game. I live for the smell of the ice, the cheer of the crowd and the way my heart pounds whenever I step into the arena. But once I’m out of my skates, my focus is on giving back to the city of Pittsburgh.

It’s funny how life puts people in your path. I meet Aiden while visiting the children’s hospital and I’m struck by the strength and resilience of this 12-year-old kid fighting for his life. As my visits continue, we bond over video games and hockey until one day Aiden’s older sister walks into his room and I realize there might be a bigger purpose here.

Lilly Hoffman has the weight of the world resting on her slight shoulders. Aiden’s illness isn’t getting better, she’s at risk of losing her job and their father is looking for the answers to his prayers at the bottom of a liquor bottle. I find myself wanting to lessen Lilly’s burden and what starts as a simple act of friendship turns into so much more. As we grow closer, I can’t help but fall for this fiercely protective and independent woman with a tender heart and bruised but not yet broken spirit.

As we face a future of never-ending uncertainty, I vow to be Lilly’s source of strength and comfort. Lilly and Aiden have reaffirmed to me the importance of giving and receiving love unconditionally, even in the darkest of times. And no matter what happens next, no one can take that from us.

Boone contains subject matter that may be sensitive to some readers. If you would like additional details, please click here.

Read Chapter One

Boone

Studying the grid of yellow and red pegs, I focus on a decidedly barren area. Leveling a confident smirk across the top of my game board I say, “D-6.”

I whistle—my missile firing from my destroyer to sail over to Aiden’s side, where he should take over the sound effects and give me a definitive explosion.
Instead, he grins. “That’s a miss.”

“What the hell?” I mutter, plugging the D-6 hole with a yellow peg. I glance up at him suspiciously. “You do have all your ships on the board, right?”

Aiden rolls his eyes, something only an eleven-year-old can do with utter perfection. “Don’t try to put this on me just because you suck at this game.”

“Whatever,” I say with a wave of my hand. “Make your move, dude.”

“J-2.” I don’t have to look at his face to know he knows it’s a hit. I can hear it in his smug tone.

Aiden emits the whistling sound of his missile and arcs his hand up and over the board, mimicking its theoretical flight path. I scowl as I make a less-than-effusive bombing noise. “Direct hit,” I grouse.

Pumping his fist, Aiden exclaims, “Yes!”

“You must be psychic or something.”

“I just have good deductive reasoning,” he replies with a shrug and then glances at the clock. “For example, a nurse should be rolling in anytime now to hang a new bag.”

And as if Aiden knew she was standing right outside his hospital room door, said nurse walks in. A cheery, middle-aged woman with burgundy-tinted hair that she wears cut super short glances at the board, then to me, then to Aiden. “How bad are you kicking his butt today?”

“Bad,” Aiden says.

“I think he’s a cheater, Lori.” Yes, I know her name is Lori, just as I know she’s been a nurse for twenty-two years and she’s married with three adopted children.

Hang out in the children’s hospital enough, you get to know people, and Lori is one of the regular pediatric oncology nurses.

“Not my sweet Aiden,” she croons as she works to change out a bag of some IV medication. He’s on a lot of different ones.

Aiden has acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

More specifically, secondary refractory leukemia.

I’ve learned some stuff about this kid and his incredibly long journey battling this disease. Diagnosed at five, he underwent induction therapy for a month, which was a combination of chemotherapy drugs designed to kill as many of the leukemia cells as possible in the blood and bone marrow. After that he had consolidation therapy, which was higher doses of drugs over a few months designed to kill remaining cells that couldn’t be seen on tests. After that, over two years of maintenance chemotherapy to kill anything that survived the first two phases and to keep it from coming back.

By age eight, he was deemed cancer-free and living his best life.

At age eleven, it returned. I first met Aiden at the beginning of March when he entered the hospital for another round of chemotherapy to attempt to put him back in remission. Unfortunately, he didn’t respond to treatment the way he had before and it was determined his best chance was an allogeneic bone marrow transplant.

That was completed three weeks ago and I haven’t been able to see him until this week as he was at an increased risk of infection, thus his visitors were limited. Even today, I still have to wear a gown, gloves and mask to sit in the room with him and that’s because in addition to killing the cancer, the chemotherapy kills his red and white blood cells. He needs those—particularly the white—to fight infections. It makes his situation very precarious since he’s highly susceptible to many types of complications, which means he’s going to be in the hospital a while. This isn’t a treatment you can recover from at home.

Now it’s a waiting game to see if his bone marrow recovers, his blood cells reform and the leukemia has been eradicated.

“Your dad not here yet?” Lori asks Aiden.

I glance at my watch. Steven Hoffman is usually here during the days with his son and I’ve met him a few times. Nice guy who’s quite jovial, despite the sad nature of what his boy is going through. He’s always quick with jokes and never fails to make his son laugh.

Aiden glances at the clock and frowns. “I don’t know where he is. He’s usually here by now.”

“I don’t have any major plans today,” I say, studying my battleship grid for my next move. “I’ll hang until he gets here.”

I peek up at Aiden and see the relief on his face. He’s still mostly bald from the intensive round of chemo he got before the transplant but I notice a light coat of peach-like fuzz starting to come in. For some reason, that signifies hope to me even though I’m not sure it means much.

Aiden smiles gratefully. “Yeah? You can do that?”

“Sure,” I reply with a shrug as if it’s no big deal. I actually have a shit ton of stuff to do as we’re leaving tomorrow morning for an away game, but that’s not as important as this. “Are you allowed to leave your room?”

“Yup.”

“He needs a gown and mask,” Lori says, her gaze cutting over to Aiden. “Want to walk or ride?”

“I think it’s a ride kind of day,” he says, indicating he’s tired and probably couldn’t walk far.

I wink at Aiden. “Let’s get you in the wheelchair and go pop wheelies down the hall when Lori’s got her back turned.”

The nurse shoots me a mock glare and I wink at Aiden, which causes him to snicker.

“Or… a leisurely roll down to the café for some ice cream,” I amend.

Lori smiles. “That’s more like it.”

“Come on, kid,” I say, scooting off the end of the bed where I was sitting. I move the rolling table that holds the game and push it into the corner. “Let’s go harass some people.”

Finished hooking up his new meds, Lori unplugs Aiden’s IV pole and I step out of his room to get a wheelchair. There’s a big storage closet down the hall that keeps a few extra ones as well as chairs for additional visitors.
By the time I get back to Aiden, Lori has him in a paper gown and mask with gloves, ready to go on an adventure.

“We’re twins,” I note as he settles slowly into the chair.
I try not to notice how much thinner he looks since before the transplant and the way he pants a little from the minimal effort. Lori attaches the infusion pump to a bracket and the bag to the small pole on the back of his wheelchair. I know from experience we have hours of battery life on this pump but I’m guessing Aiden won’t last but about thirty minutes. Good thing we need to eat ice cream fast.

“Where to?” I ask dramatically as I push him out of the room.

“Let’s go check out the pretty nurses in the first-floor café,” he says as we stroll down the hall.

Chuckling, I take a right turn at the next intersecting hall that will lead us to the patient elevators. “How about we go for an ice cream in the café?”

“And if there happen to be pretty nurses… bonus.” Aiden twists his neck to grin at me over his shoulder.

“You’re too young to be noticing that,” I chastise.

“You’re the one who checks them out, not me,” he replies with a smirk.

Shaking my head, I reach the elevator alcove and press the down button. “I know we’ve only known each other a few weeks, but are you always such a smart-ass?”

“Language, Mr. Rivers,” he chides, something I’ve said to him on occasion when he cusses. I’m not overly stern about it though because the kid has good reason.

The elevator dings and I take hold of the handles to push him in. The doors slide open and a woman is waiting to get off. I start to pull Aiden’s chair back a little to give her room but stop when he exclaims, “Lilly!”

I had only given her a passing glance but my eyes snap back to the woman I know to be his sister since he talks about her all the time. I’ve never met her since she works a lot.

Her light blue eyes—duplicates of Aiden’s—flick to me and then back to Aiden with a warm smile. “On an escape mission?”

“Going for ice cream,” I say, leaning forward and reaching my hand out to her. “I’m Boone Rivers and you should join us.”

“No thanks.” She accepts my hand for a quick shake, then waves us away. “I’ll just wait in your room.”

“Come on, Lilly,” Aiden says as the doors start to close on her. They bounce back open as she holds out an arm. “You deserve a break. Come have ice cream.”

Deserve a break?

That’s an interesting phrase and indicates she’s a woman who doesn’t slow down for much. She seems to be wearing a work uniform—jeans and tennis shoes, but her dark green T-shirt has a logo on the front that reads Moni’s Deli, LILLY printed on a plastic name tag. She’s also got on a matching green ball cap with the same logo and her long brown hair is in a ponytail threaded through the back.

“Yeah… come have ice cream,” I mimic Aiden’s request. “My treat.”

Lilly mulls it over for only a moment before she smiles, “Okay. Yeah… sure.”

She steps out of the elevator and holds the doors open. “You two head down. I’ll go get gowned up.”

I wheel Aiden in as Lilly walks back toward his room where a metal casing is attached to his door that holds gowns, masks and gloves. We’re silent as we ride down to the lobby level, although I have a dozen questions about his sister. I don’t ask them though, instead getting him settled at the table while I order three soft cones.

Lilly’s at the table by the time I return, sitting close to Aiden with her hand resting on his shoulder. Whatever he’s saying has her laughing and she seems a little more relaxed. I don’t know exactly how old she is but I’d guess early twenties although the expression in her eyes says she’s lived way more than that. I can tell just by observing the siblings for a few moments that they’re incredibly tight.

“Here you go,” I announce as I reach the table, doling out the soft-serve cones. “Hope chocolate is okay with everyone. It’s all they had.”

When I sit down, Lilly says, “Aiden told me you’ve been coming to visit him.” So she does know who I am. I didn’t make that clear when I introduced myself, but I figured she knew since she never questioned why a strange man was taking her brother for ice cream. “Do you do that a lot?”

I nod. “I try to get over here at least once or twice a week to visit the kids. Of course, this is the first time I’ve been able to see him since the transplant.”

“He brought Drake McGinn and Van Turner the week before the transplant,” Aiden says, smiling through a small mustache of chocolate ice cream, his mask pulled down temporarily so he can enjoy the treat.

“So I heard.” Lilly’s eyes crinkle in amusement as she takes a tiny taste of the swirl. Her mask hangs to the side from one ear and it looks cute in a goofy way. “Dad mentioned it.”

“Where is he, by the way?” Aiden asks before taking another long lick of his cone.

And there it is again… that pinched look of worry on Lilly’s face. It’s there only for a moment and Aiden didn’t see it as he was focused on his ice cream. Her expression smooths by the time his attention is back on her.

Her smile is wan though, and I can tell something is wrong. “He’s not feeling well today, so I thought I’d come and hang with you.”

“But who’s running the deli?” Aiden asks.

“Georgie’s there. He’s got it covered.”

Aiden snorts. “You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t catch the place on fire.”

Lilly laughs and rubs her brother’s fuzzy head. “You let me worry about the deli and Dad. You worry about getting stronger.”

It’s a charming byplay between these two. I don’t know much about Aiden’s family other than he has a father and sister. I assumed there’s no mom in the picture because he’s never mentioned one, but I don’t get deep into personal questions. I make my visits about what the kids want to do and talk about, so I let them lead the conversations. Aiden has been content to talk about hockey and play games when I visit.

My purpose here is to take their minds off their illness and to let them escape reality just a bit.

Lilly leans over and presses the back of her hand to Aiden’s cheek. He doesn’t pull away or flinch like I would imagine many eleven-year-olds would when shown physical affection or touch concern.

“You look flushed,” she observes.

“Just excited about the ice cream,” he says with a chocolaty grin.

“Feel good on your mouth?”

His eyes crinkle and he nods. “Really good.”

I frown and Lilly catches it. “The chemo causes painful mouth sores. They’re mostly healed though.”

“I couldn’t eat for almost two weeks,” Aiden says with another hearty lick of his ice cream. “I had to have TPN.”

I look to Lilly in question.

“It’s intravenous nutrition since it hurt too much to eat with the sores.”

Jesus. I had no clue, but apparently things were pretty shitty after the transplant.

“How’d you sleep last night?” Lilly asks her brother.

“Like a rock. I never even heard you leave.” Aiden frowns at her. “How late did you stay?”

Lilly shrugs. “Around two, I think.”

Two in the morning? I’m guessing she works full time at the deli and it appears maybe she stays with her brother a good chunk of the night.

I settle back and eat my ice cream, watching brother and sister talk. After her initial questions to see how he’s feeling, she doesn’t talk about his medical condition again. Instead, they talk about his morning when he visited with a new buddy he met down the hall who also has leukemia. It’s fascinating how this illness is just an ordinary part of his life now.

“Boone and I were playing Battleship this morning,” Aiden says.

“Did you kick his butt the way you kick mine?” She smirks.

“Worse,” Aiden gloats with a sly look my way. “You should play him… you’d have a chance to win.”

“Gee, thanks,” I say, holding my hand to my heart. “See if I buy you ice cream again.”

Aiden laughs and Lilly smiles, but the humor doesn’t quite reach her eyes. She checks her watch again and I wonder if she has to be somewhere or if I’m intruding on her time with her brother.

As soon as we finish our cones, I stand from the table and put my hand on Aiden’s shoulder. “I got to get going, buddy.”

Lilly stands too, holding her hand out for our wadded-up napkins. I hand mine over without a thought and she pulls Aiden’s from his hand as he asks, “Can you come back tomorrow?”

“Aiden,” Lilly exclaims, looking over her shoulder as she walks to a nearby garbage can. “I’m sure Boone has more important things to do.”

I ignore his sister. “Got an away game tomorrow. I’ll come see you possibly on Tuesday, but definitely by Wednesday. Miriam is probably getting discharged by the end of the week and I have something for her.”

Miriam is a four-year-old girl with brain cancer. She had what her parents say is a successful surgery and she’ll be continuing with chemotherapy and radiation after her release. At four, she’s not overly impressed with the fact that I’m a hockey player, but she did like the stuffed animal I gave her on my first visit. It’s probably her parents who appreciate my visits more than anything since they can take a break from worrying about her and have some adult conversation.

My eyes cut to Lilly and she doesn’t seem perturbed but she does worry at her bottom lip. I peg her as the type who doesn’t like relying on anyone but she’s also not going to stand in the way of Aiden having visitors if it makes him happy.

“I really like coming here,” I assure her.

Her smile is relieved and appears genuine. She nods as she takes hold of Aiden’s wheelchair and grudgingly admits, “He loves when you visit and talks about you all the time. I appreciate it so much.”

We head out of the café and I let them precede me through the door to the lobby. I’ll be turning left, out to the parking garage. They’ll be turning right toward the patient elevators.

I hold my fist out to Aiden for a bump but startle when I hear a man call out, “Lilly! Aiden!”

We all turn toward the lobby doors and I see Aiden’s dad standing there. He’s swaying, a dopey smile on his face. “My children,” he yells. “My babies.”

“Oh God,” Lilly moans, and I see her staring at her dad in horror for only a split second before she kicks into action. “Stay with Aiden,” she commands as she rushes across the lobby toward her father.

Several people gawk and the receptionist stands hesitantly from her desk, phone in her hand as if she’s going to call security. Lilly holds her hand out to the woman as she rushes by. “I’ve got this. I’ll get him to leave.”

I glance down at Aiden quietly sitting in his wheelchair. Wetness glistens in his eyes and I can tell he’s pained by this situation as his dad is obviously very drunk. I can also tell this isn’t a surprise to him, but it is to me as I’ve seen him around and he’s never been this way before.

Lilly takes her dad’s arm and talks in a low voice, trying to get him back out the door. He jerks away from her. “I’m not leaving,” he bellows. “My kid has cancer and by God, I’m going to spend time with him.”

“Dad,” I hear Lilly’s plaintive cry as she makes another grab at his arm.

I don’t know just how inebriated Steven Hoffman is but as he tries to wrench free of his daughter’s grasp, he inadvertently knocks her to the side and she stumbles.

“Help her,” Aiden says, and I bolt into action.

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Product Release Date: January 9, 2024

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