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Gage (Paperback)

Gage (Paperback)

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Veteran player Gage Heyward retired from the league following a successful career. Now the Titans need him, but does he have what it takes to get back on the ice and pull this team together?

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After achieving the goals I set for myself, I walked away from my professional hockey career. It was a tough decision, but the right one at the time. When the Titans organization approached me about joining the team they were rebuilding following a devastating plane crash, I felt a passion for the game and a competitive spirit I hadn’t felt in years. The opportunity to make a huge difference to a lot of people spoke to me, and I accepted their offer and headed to Pittsburgh without a second thought.

Jenna Holland is also new to town, having moved from Phoenix to Pittsburgh to take a job with the Titans. Her past has left her with scars—both physical and emotional—and she’s slow to trust others. But the more I learn about Jenna, the more I want to know. The more I need to know. Because the beautiful blonde with honey gold eyes and a wall around her heart has me enamored.

My game on the ice is the best it’s ever been, but it’s my game off the ice I’m focused on these days. Because while Jenna may not be willing to take a chance, I know the potential is there for something big. Something life changing. Now I just need to convince her to take the shot.


Read Chapter One


I’m getting to know Pittsburgh well, particularly the North Side where the arena is located. The city is comprised of several contiguous neighborhoods in which many of the Titan players live. I promised our goalie coach, Baden, that I’d help him move his friend Jenna into an apartment this afternoon, and my navigation system tells me it’s less than a mile from the arena. I finished up a workout with Stone, then spent a bit of time reviewing game film on my own before heading out.

Coming out of retirement, and as the oldest Titan on the team at age thirty-five, I always have to go above and beyond to maintain my position on the first line. That means not only stellar play on the ice and keeping my body in optimal physical condition, but also getting to know my opponents. I’d been out of the league for almost a year, having retired from the Seattle Storm where I spent the last seven years of my career.

I thought I was done with hockey, but apparently, hockey wasn’t done with me.

When Callum Derringer called with an offer to join the Titans after a devastating plane crash wiped out their roster, I reached deep inside to determine whether I still had what it takes to be competitive.

I knew it wouldn’t be a problem physically. I’m still in great shape—some would say the best of my life—but it remained to be seen whether I had the heart for it. I decided to retire last year because, frankly, I wasn’t getting the same thrill from competition that once drove me. I didn’t feel like I was leaving anything on the ice when I walked away.

The prospect of skating with a team that was being built from nothing appealed to me, not only the challenge but the opportunity to be a part of history within this league. To help shape and form what would hopefully be a new dynasty spoke to my conscience more than anything. The ability to mentor young players moving up from the minors who would be out of their element. Helping a city still reeling from the loss of its beloved hockey team.

Simply put… I wanted to do some good with my life, and this seemed like the way to make that happen. I had nothing tying me down to prevent me from accepting. The money offered—while very nice—wasn’t important. Between my previous salary and endorsement deals, which I wisely invested, I wouldn’t have to worry about finances for the rest of my life.

In the end, it was an easy yes, and I don’t regret a thing.
I hang a right onto North Avenue from Allegheny and see a large moving truck parked before the loft apartments where I’m supposed to meet Baden and Sophie.

When I approach, I see Sophie standing near the rear of the truck, the roll-up door lifted and the back filled with furniture and boxes. This section of North Avenue is a two-way street with parallel parking on both sides, and all the spots are taken. I stop and lower my window. Sophie grins as she sees me.

“You standing guard?” I ask her as I nod toward the truck.

“Protecting us from a parking ticket,” she replies with a grin as she moves my way and bends to see me. “There’s a fire hydrant on the other side, so I’m prepared to roll out if a cop comes. Baden just took the bed rails up—there’s parking in the back alley.”

“Got it,” I reply with a thumbs-up.

After I park and lock my car, I round the block and Sophie points me toward the door. “Second floor. Unit two.”

Trotting up the stairs, I grimace at the compact U-shape of the stairwell. It’s going to be a bitch bringing up that couch I saw in the truck. I find unit two’s door ajar and push it open, noting a small living room with good lighting and a balcony where I can just make out the very tips of the downtown buildings. The flooring is new—light gray stain—and the kitchen is white on white, making the small area appear bright and open. There’s no hallway to speak of, just another room with a closed door, and from inside, I hear the whir of a power drill.

In the kitchen, a woman with long blond hair hanging down to her mid-back stands on a step stool. Balancing a bit precariously, she stacks plates in a cabinet from an open box on the counter. She’s wearing a pair of black workout leggings, a long-sleeve shirt, and running shoes.

Still standing at the threshold, I rap my knuckles on the door to get the woman’s attention. “Hello.”

She glances at me over her left shoulder, and I smile. “I sure hope you’re Jenna, or this is a very awkward situation where I walked into the wrong apartment.”

She smiles back, a short stack of salad plates in her hand. “I am indeed Jenna. You must be Gage. Come on in.”

“Guilty as charged,” I reply as I step inside and return the door to the same position I found it.

Jenna turns back to the cabinet as I move toward the kitchen for a handshake. She places the plates on the shelf and backs off the step stool.

With the sun behind me and facing her, I’m startled by her eyes. A brown so light that in the brightness, they’re almost honey gold. In the span of seconds, I also can’t help but notice that she has scarring on the right side of her face near her jaw. It doesn’t take up much real estate, but it’s pink and mottled and hard not to notice. It disappears down into the front of what I see now is a turtleneck shirt fitted to her body.

My eyes drift back up to hers to take in more of that amazing color, but she’s not looking directly at me anymore, her gaze averted to the side. I also notice that she’s moved one hand across her belly, the other hovering near the collar of the turtleneck as she fidgets with it, attempting to pull it up higher over her scarring.


Did I make her self-conscious when I noticed the welted skin? It’s not something I did intentionally, but I’m sure it doesn’t make it less bothersome to her. Despite the fact that her shirt hugs her gorgeous, curvy body, I’m guessing it was chosen to cover her scars.

The positioning of her arms and hands is defensive, and the fact she won’t look at me is indicative that I’ve caused her to retreat.

I’m not one to hide from an awkward situation, though, and I force conversation so she’ll have to look at me. “How was your trip here from Arizona? You came with your sister, right?”

She drags her eyes back to mine and pastes on a lackluster smile. Nodding toward the door I’d seen off the living area, she says, “Yes. Emory is in the bedroom with Baden trying to put the bed frame together if you want to go in.”

I opt to stay and converse. “And the trip?” I ask, a reminder she didn’t answer my first question. “That’s a hell of a drive.”

“We broke it up into three days,” she replies quietly, letting her hands drop and angling for the step stool. She climbs back on, reaches into the box, and pulls out another stack of plates without elaborating further.

It’s dismissive, and I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. “I’ll just go see what Baden wants me to do. We’ll get you set up in no time.”

“Thank you,” she murmurs, placing more plates in the cabinet with her back to me. “I really appreciate it.”

My tone is easy. “Not a problem at all.”

And it’s not. I’m glad to help out because she’s Baden’s friend, and any friend of Baden is a friend of mine.

In the bedroom, I find said buddy using the drill to drive a screw between the metal frame and the headboard. He lifts his head and grins. “You made it.”

“I made it,” I agree and turn to the woman who must be Jenna’s sister. I stick out a hand to the raven-haired beauty with blue eyes—the exact opposite of her sister’s golden coloring, from her hair to her skin to her eyes. “You must be Emory. Nice to meet you.”

Emory stands from where she was squatting beside Baden, and we shake. “So great to meet you too. We appreciate your help.”

We don’t bother with small talk. Baden and I get to work unloading the truck, using our considerable strength to work our way through the contents. There wasn’t a lot of furniture. Just a bedroom set with a bed, dresser, and two nightstands, and a couch, which was indeed a bitch to get up those stairs. The rest were boxes of clothes and kitchenware—much of it newly bought in Arizona and loaded onto the truck to save her from needing to shop here. Baden explained the bedroom set and couch were from Emory’s house, and Jenna bought additional living room furniture online that will be delivered in a few weeks.

Until then, the only other furnishings are a folding card table with two metal chairs. Spartan living for sure, but I’m sure she’ll have a nice home set up soon.

Baden and I head down for the last round of boxes from the truck while the Holland sisters work to unpack the mountain of ones we’ve already unloaded.

Before we grab the last stack, I stop him with a hand on his shoulder. “Need to ask you something.”

Baden turns to face me. “What’s up?”

“I’m pretty sure I offended Jenna when I got here,” I say, bothered that I’ve been here almost two hours, and she won’t look at or engage with me at all. I explain what happened when I arrived. “I swear, man… I didn’t give any outward reaction to the scars. My eyes just sort of flicked there and then right back again, but she totally withdrew after that.”

“Yeah… I noticed she was acting shy around you.”

“She won’t even meet my eyes,” I grumble in frustration. “You know I’d never intentionally do something to hurt—”

Baden stops me with a soft punch to my shoulder. “Don’t even go there, dude. Jenna’s an amazing woman, and I adore her, but I also know the type of man you are. I know you’d never do anything to make someone feel bad about themselves.”

“I need to fix it,” I reply, determined to set things straight.
“You didn’t break anything,” Baden points out, and I appreciate his efforts to make me feel better. “She’s had a lot of trauma in her life, and it’s made her sensitive.”

I’ve been called a sensitive guy before, a moniker I don’t mind, and the squeeze of heart muscles proves it. “I have a feeling you’re talking about more than her scarring.”

“She was in a bad fire. She’s got a lot more scars than what little you can see—emotional and physical. She’s had a hard time putting herself out there because a lot of people abandoned her during her recovery. So it’s more than just what you see on the outside.”

I hold up my hand, indicating he should stop. I don’t want him sharing confidences that aren’t his to tell. I also don’t need to hear more to know, without a doubt, I must let her know I didn’t intend any harm when I looked at her scars.

“Arrange for me to have a few minutes alone with her,” I say as I help him pull the last two boxes off the truck.

He nods and picks up the stack by himself. “Stay here. I’ll send her down.”

I lean against the side of the truck, hands tucked into my pockets, and within no more than thirty seconds, Jenna is coming out the door with the truck keys in hand. She manages to look at me as I push off the truck but holds out the keys, as if she wants to dump them and run in the opposite direction. “Baden said you needed the keys so you could move the truck away from the hydrant.”

I take them from her, not willing to let her know this was a setup so I could get some time alone.

Jenna starts to head back inside, but I call out, “Wait.”

She stops but turns only partway and to the left to look back at me. It’s habitual—I can tell—clearly intended to keep the unmarred portion of her face in my view.

I don’t know this woman at all, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again after today, but I know I’m not going to take the easy way out. I’m not going to let her either.

I step onto the sidewalk and move around her, so she’s forced to face me. I’m pleased to see she doesn’t hesitate to tip her head back to meet my eyes, and I think that’s her courage shining through.

“I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable when I first walked in,” I say.

She flushes, but holds my gaze. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You do,” I admonish kindly. “You’ve been withdrawn since we met, and I can pinpoint the exact moment. It’s when I caught sight of the scars on your jaw.” Pointedly, I look at them again, and she reaches to her turtleneck to pull it up.

Without thinking, I catch her hand and hold it in mine.
Pulling it down, I say, “Don’t hide.”

She blinks at me in surprise, but I can feel her relax. I let her hand fall from my grip.

“Sorry. Habit, I guess,” she mutters.

“I can understand that,” I reply with a smile. “But honest to God, Jenna, that’s not what first caught my attention. It was your eyes and the way the light hit them that shocked me more than your scars. So yeah… my gaze might have dropped to your jaw as I was taking you in, but if you think back… they went right back up to your eyes. They are captivating.”

She tilts her head, eyebrows drawn slightly inward with obvious skepticism.

“If I made you uncomfortable about the scars, it was unintentional. I’d like to tell you they’re hardly noticeable, but that would be a lie.” Jenna flinches, but I’m not done. “What I will tell you as truth is that while they are noticeable, they are not what first captured my attention or held it. Your eyes completely outshine the scars.”

Like a wide-eyed owl, she blinks at me as if she’s never been paid a compliment. And I could absolutely go on because she’s a stunning woman. Her face is gorgeous, with high cheekbones, full lips, and golden hair that flows for miles in silky layers. Her skin is sun-kissed, like she grew up with the sun always shining down on her.

But it’s mostly her eyes that are hard to look away from.
Finally, her expression softens, and she shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let it bother me.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” I assure her.

“Actually, I do,” she says with a deep sigh. “I’m working hard to put myself out there and give humanity a chance to be real with me. I should’ve given you the benefit of the doubt. I can see you’re a nice guy.”

“I’m a totally nice guy,” I say, spreading my arms out. “And now you can say you made your first friend in Pittsburgh.”

Jenna sticks her hand out and smiles. “It’s very nice to meet you, Gage.”

I again take her hand, soft and delicate. “Nice to meet you, too, Jenna. And if you ever catch me staring at you, be assured it’s totally your eyes that have my attention.”

I had not meant for that to come out as a flirtation, but damn if it doesn’t sound that way to my own ears. Clearly to Jenna’s as well—she blushes but manages a joke. “Maybe I’ll wear mirrored aviators around you. Wouldn’t want you bumping into walls or anything.”

I tip my head back and laugh. Squeezing her hand before I release it, I jingle the keys. “I’ll move the truck, and then I’ll be up to help with the rest of the unpacking.”

“You don’t have to,” she says as I brush past her to round the truck. “I’m sure you have better things to do.”

“Nothing better to do than help out a pretty friend,” I assure her, and I can’t help but like the fact that I make her blush again.

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Product Release Date: July 5, 2022

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